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Movie reviews and safe option of sneering

Perry de Havilland has pointed out previously that film critics seem to regard it as safer to sneer at films than to praise them.

Praise a film (at least praise a serious but non knee-jerk leftist film) and you run the risk of being considered weak minded. Sneer at the film – and you are a sophisticated person who is not taken in by commercial tricks.

The film critic of the Daily Telegraph is one of the sneering school of critics (that a Conservative newspaper allows its cultural coverage to be dominated by the standard knee-jerk crowd is, sadly, normal). In his review of The Village he duly sneered at the film – and, for good measure, sneered at The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable as well.

Well this got my attention (which, I suppose, is the point of a review) as I liked both of these films. Many people got to see the Sixth Sense – but, and in my opinion unfortunately, most people followed the far stronger and more unified critical attacks on Unbreakable and did not see the film.

Recently Unbreakable has been shown on British television and many people have said to me that they thought it was a good film. “Did you go and see Unbreakable when it was on at the cinema?” – “No, because the critics said…”

It seems to me that what the critics really hated about Unbreakable was that it was not ‘tongue in cheek’ or a ‘good romp for the kids’ but also did not make any ‘serious’ (i.e. leftist) political points. Unbreakable was essentially a non political but serious film which examined the question of what if a man really did have ‘special powers’, why would he deny them – and what would make him not deny them.

Of course one could say “Of course old Paul Marks liked the film – the hero is a bald security guard” as I am a bald security guard. However, the film stands up in the view of most people who have seen it (and most of these people are not bald security guards).

As for The Village itself:

Well yes, I liked the film (so thank you to Daily Telegraph reviewer for sneering at it – otherwise I would not have gone to see it). There are a couple of twists in the film (one fairly mild another more radical), but the film is well made, does make sense (and the more you think about the film, the more sense it makes that certain things happen the way they do) and was a good film to watch.

If you go to see the film (because of what I write here) and do not like it – well I am sorry to have badly advised you. However, at least I am giving my honest opinion – not just sneering to seem hip.

21 comments to Movie reviews and safe option of sneering

  • anglosphere2003@hotmail.com

    Agreed. I liked “The Village” as well. Also I worked out the main twist very early on (unlike “The Sixth Sense” which I fell for hook, line and sinker).

  • Hank Scorpio

    It seems to me that Shyamalan has been steadily going downhill since the Sixth Sense. Yes, I thought Unbreakable was good, but definitely not as good. Signs I frankly just thought was silly; aliens allergic to water invade a planet that is composed of 70% water??? Isn’t this analogous to me invading a planet where saw blades and knives periodically fall from the sky? And their secret weapon is weak knockout gas? Color me unimpressed.

    The Village was even worse than Signs, in my opinion. I won’t post any spoilers, but the “twist” is pretty damned weak in that film. IMO, Shyamalan should just avoid emulating Hitchcock if he can’t pull it off (It’d appear lightning has only struck once for him in this regard, maybe twice depending on how much you like Unbreakable). It’s obvious that he does have talent as a director, so why the need to follow the same “twist” gimmick with every movie? Even Scorsese and Kubrick like to shake up their schtick from time to time.

    Anyway, on critics, I tend to have a few critics whom I usually agree with, and I really only go off of their opinions. If they unanimously call a movie a turkey I feel pretty safe about avoiding it. If there’s a split opinion I’ll wait for the DVD. Unanimous love and I’ll likely see it in the theatre. Your mileage may vary.

  • Shawn

    I have liked all of Shyamalan’s films so far, especially ‘Signs’. To me at least there seems to be a strong sense of conservative values in his films, and I wonder how much this has to do with the sneering. Film’s of this nature always seem to evoke the most virulently cynical and elitist response from liberal cultural commentators.

  • Like the previous commenter, I worked out the twist fairly early on too. I was a bit disappointed with it because, although it was described as a horror, I found the horror a bit tame.

    I’m also wondering whether the film deserves to be sneered at, since it struck me that one possible interpretation of the film is that it is itself a sneer at the modern trend towards gated communities, which I expect many people round here would regard as a perfectly legitimate means of protecting oneself from crime.

    Does anyone else agree with me?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Interesting point, Paul. I dunno — a lot of film reviewers give M.Moore’s repulsive film an easy pass. I guess the sneering tends to be aimed at “commercial” stuff like Spiderman 2 (which I thought was terrific).

    Changing the subject — anyone know when or if the next James Bond is out any time soon?

  • a lot of film reviewers give M.Moore’s repulsive film an easy pass.

    Let me quote Paul’s article to explain that:

    It seems to me that what the critics really hated about Unbreakable was that it was not ‘tongue in cheek’ or a ‘good romp for the kids’ but also did not make any ‘serious’ (i.e. leftist) political points.

    Now what was that you were saying, Johnathan?

  • limberwulf

    I hope I am not about to give away the whole story, but if you have not seen it, read further at your own risk.

    I think “The Village” was a great story from a sociological viewpoint. Shyamalan pointed out the weaknesses of two of the foundations of the typical socialist, commune loving people, and touches on a third.
    1) Escaping technology does not mean escaping hardship and stress.
    2) Utopias require control, and control requires ignorance on the part of the controlled.
    3) Vast resources are required to make a utopia even conceivable.
    The movie may have been a little on the slow side, and was certainly not a horror (ok by me since Im not a big fan of horror), but it did drive home some good points. I dont always rate a movie as good just because it was hard to figure out till the end, or because I was riveted the whole time. Sometimes a movie is just good because it is a great illustration of an idea or thought, and that idea is portrayed in an audio-visual fashion that reaches a greater audience.
    I would imagine the critics didnt like it because it was a pretty negative spin on the whole elitist utopian society that they all think is somehow possible.

  • Six months ago I uncovered some fantastically unashamed leftist bias in Screen-Online’s reviews of some Ealing Comedies.

    Amusingly Michael Brooke‘s boss had written the reviews so the author will have learnt exactly what I thought.

    Aren’t blogs great!

    Sadly the Haloscan comments for that post seem to have been deleted because Michael and I had a ding-dong debate about the BFI’s taxpayer funded work. In a nutshell we both believed archiving and preserving old movies was a “good thing” but he thought funding it through taxes (ie armed robbery) was legitimate and I didn’t!

  • GCooper

    At a slight tangent to the comments (though not, I hope, to the original post) I must endorse the point about the Telegraph’s appallingly bien pensant arts coverage.

    I’m not a great cinema-goer and pay scant attention to the paper’s opinions of films, but you can hardly escape the conclusion that there are great acres of a supposedly conservative newspaper that might just as well have fallen out of a copy of the Gradniua.

    This is, if anything, even truer of the paper’s TV coverage, which frequently betrays an astonishingly Leftist slant.

  • Susan

    Actually Shyamalan himself said in an interview recently that The Village is a commetary on “Bush’s” War on Terror.


    i.e. using warnings of “imaginery monsters” (orange alerts) to control sheep-like followers.

    I’m amazed that the European sneerocracy has missed this chance to bash Bush once again.

  • Verity

    Susan, why weren’t you over on the multicultural thread? I was looking out for you.

    G Cooper and I have been duking it out with someone called Julius and our old Lefty, but ever courteous, friend A_t.

  • Tim

    The Telegraph occasionally has good film reviews but as Paul says, the paper’s head reviewer, Sukhdev Sandhu, is a knee-jerk leftist who joined, with wearying predictability, the chorus of approval for Michael Moore’s film. The best film critic in the UK is Anne Billson, who sadly no longer reviews films for The Sunday Telegraph but can be found in that paper’s TV guide. Her reviews of the week’s films on TV are little gems of wit, and I can almost invariably rely on her opinions when planning my viewing.

  • Tony H

    I concur with G Cooper’s comment about leftist bias in the Telegraph’s TV coverage. Read the “pick of the day” comments in the Saturday weekly TV supplement to get an idea.
    As for critics, I honestly haven’t watched a movie, or avoided one, because of critics’ reviews – ever. At best, they’re entertaining, like Clive James used to be, but don’t take them seriously.
    “The Village” – I’d never heard of this until a few days ago when I took my son to see “King Arthur”, having been hooked by reading a piece about the delightfully fetching Keira Knightley (?) who plays Guinevere. (Complete tosh, dreadfully acted for the most part especially by the Kevin from Essex character playing Arthur, but quite exciting battle scenes.) Prior to the film there was a trailer for this Village thing. Looked absolutely dreadful: silly, portentous, overblown, shallow, utterly boring. Sort of Stephen King on a bad day – which is saying something.
    Who was it above who mentioned Hitchcock in the same breath as this jejune trash? Please keep a sense of proportion.

  • Hank Scorpio

    “Who was it above who mentioned Hitchcock in the same breath as this jejune trash? Please keep a sense of proportion.”

    That would be me. And no, I don’t put them in the same league directorially speaking, but Shyamalan’s greatest influence is obviously Hitchcock. He’s said so in countless interviews, and his movies reflect it. The twist that ties together seemingly inconsequential details throughout the movie, the use of MacGuffins, etc are all trademarks of Hitchcock.

  • flaime

    I liked The Sixth Sense. It was a pretty enjoyable film. Not great but not bad.
    Shyamalan peaked there. Each of his following films has gotten successively weaker in story, increasingly more reliant on the gimmicky end.
    I happen to think The Village was very pretty, moderately well acted, but it had no story to support it and was a terrible film because of that.
    Signs was worse, but not by much…

  • David Hecht

    One of the things I find useful is to calibrate reviewers: after all, a weathervane that consistently points away from the wind is–in its own way–as useful as the more conventional kind.

    When I first moved to Washington, I noticed that the then-film critic for the Washington Post, Rita Kempley, always sneered at action, war, and SF movies, most of which I thought were quite worthwhile. After a while, I’d plan to go to the movies and would ask my friend, “What did Rita say?” “Ripped it to shreds!”, he’d answer. “Cool! Sounds like we’ll enjoy it then!”

  • My husband and I like to read Roger Ebert’s reviews precisely because he does not automatically sneer at movies – in fact, he has been criticised for liking too many movies. He also judges on its genre and says why he likes or hates a particular movie, so you can make an informed decision. (His archives are online, so you can see how well his taste aligns with yours.)

  • Susan

    Verity: I did leave a comment on the multi-culti thread now. For some reason I didn’t see that post at all. I think it was the words “Robin Cook” which caused me to scroll past without registering what it said.

  • ET

    So, anyone buying tickets to see “The Gallant Gallstone” this weekend?

  • Chris S

    I’m surprised folks here aren’t more critical of the leftist paranoia that saturates The Village.

    Covington is a collective of several dozen people who don’t use money. Government is by dictate of a few elders. No one leaves the village because of the monsters in the woods, and oh yes, “the towns” are horribly corrupt, money obsessed, violent places so no one really wants to go there anyway. The decades of isolation have gone swimmingly — the economy works, there’s been no crime, the children are obedient and truthful. {Eventually there is an act of violence, but it’s due to mental deficiency.)

    When we do get a glimpse of the world outside the village, we see a newspaper absolutely chock full of stories of rape, violence, and war, so Shyamalan apparently endorses the elders’ views. I can forgive lame twists and bad acting, but art should be true to human nature, and this film founders on the same misapprehension shared by so many utopian fantasies.

  • limberwulf

    Chris S,
    That was sort of my point in my review, only I thought the movie showed the futility of that isolationist life, perhaps because I found the life of the villagers horrifying due to my own personal views. The no money economy was effective because the group of families there were less than 1 generation, and the resources of the area had been artificially supplemented by an infusion from a large inheritance. Such a thing could be realistic on the short term, short being under 30 years, and restricted to families that were all there on agreement, no immigration, total seperation.
    The “towns are evil” attitude was shown to be false when contact was made and people from the “outside” were not as evil as expected. The entire existence of the isolationists depended on deceipt and fear and manipulation, and that existence was one of hardship, though not due to crime. People died due to lack of technology more than anything else. Perhaps the movie was intended to show how great a leftist comunity would be, but all I saw was how false, hollow, and ultimately foolish the concept would be.
    Just my interpretation, Im probably being naive about the director’s intentions.