Blind Spots and Expectations

I thought the other day, despite all the movie reviews I write, I may not actually be a very good reviewer.

Which is not to say that the things I write aren’t interesting or insightful or, at the very least, fun to write. But my approach is very different than a typical film critic, I think.

I read an interview with Tarantino as part of my review of Django Unchained that got me thinking. He discusses Christoph Waltz’s character in fascinating depth and how that influenced the plot. I hadn’t realized any of it and though I really enjoyed the new understanding it gave me; I was a little disconcerted that I hadn’t noticed any of it on my own. More than that, several reviewers were asking questions about the plot and I was struck by the realization that those ideas never crossed my mind.

Was I not looking closely enough?

Or what was I missing that I just went along with the story Tarantino presented without questioning; without even really thinking about it.

I was going to write this whole entry about how plot is a blind spot for me in story because there are things I just don’t see. Which is when I started examining my approach.

Because I’m not really a reviewer or a critic. I’m a systems analyst. It’s just my nature and it’s how I approach almost everything. So, when I watch a movie the system is made up of: casting and production values and the script and the director and the lightning and music and pace and stunts along with the emotional or intellectual reaction it evokes. Does the movie, with all those pieces, do it’s job well?

Mostly I’m looking for system faults – how could it have been done better?
What should have been done in place of that?
What is the weak link among those pieces?
If a movie works mostly well it gets three stars because it did it’s job well and I’m good with that. If it did remarkably well in one area or another or, better yet, as a whole then that exceptional work gets 4 or 5 stars. But most movies I see fall into a range of adequate because they do the job that was expected of them well enough.

Kel and I were discussing that crucial piece of the puzzle: expectations. Part of a movie’s ability to do it’s job is what you as the viewer perceive that job to be. If a movie has a dream cast and a fun and intriguing premise your expectations set the bar for how well all of those pieces have to work. It’s really frustrating, when you have high expectations or see the potential in a project and it doesn’t live up to it. Of course I’m going to give it 1 or 2 stars not because it really was that bad (unless it actually was). On the other side, a lot of really mediocre movies end up with 2.75 or 3 stars because even if it’s not actually a good movie – all the pieces performed as well as could be expected so the movie did it’s job. McG, for instance, I seem like I’m kind to him but the truth is I expect so little from his films that as long as they aren’t as horrible and cheesy as Charlie’s Angels he’s pretty much done his job as well as he’s capable of. I’m a system’s analyst more than a critic.

And when it comes to plot, believability is a huge part of the equation. The thing Tarantino did is he wrote the Dr. Schultz character so thoroughly and then cast Christoph Waltz to play him brilliantly so that his characteristics actually did drive the plot. The system worked flawlessly so I didn’t question the story he presented to me. I fault movies for plot holes or story logic when the pieces presented don’t fit together. I’ll accept any sort of irrational or illogical stories as long as you can make me believe them. (I mean, seriously, I gave Pirates 3 4.75 stars for the writing.)

The critics who questioned Tarantino’s story looked at it and said, “That’s not logical. I wouldn’t have done that in that situation.” But Tarantino’s answer is, “You’re not Schultz. That’s absolutely what he would do.” He constructed the character and the story so believably that it worked. So I didn’t notice.

If you read my reviews I hope they’re fun or maybe you’re curious about my perception of the system. Or don’t read them. Variety will likely never hire me as a critic. But I write reviews for movies for the same reason I write reviews for books – for the experience of writing down my thoughts and to help me remember them – rather than for all three of the people who read them.

February 3, 2013 | Commentary | this post contains affiliate links

2 responses to “Blind Spots and Expectations

  1. Often I wonder about my “reviews” on the films I’ve seen and have come to a similar conclusion. I’m not a reviewer or critic. Merely a film fan who knows what she likes to watch and what she doesn’t. If a film entertains and gets me engaged, that’s what counts for me.

    It’s great reading other peoples/critics reviews and seeing their take on things, but ultimately, your reviews are your thoughts and your take on what you saw.

    • aj

      I really enjoy reading other people’s thoughts on movies also because it’s fun to see what they saw in something that is a perspective I don’t have.