Pop Rocks

Pop Rocks: Everyone's A Critic

While looking for ways to avoid writing about Charlie Sheen again researching topics for today's column, I found myself going through Roger Ebert's web site over at the Chicago Sun-Times.

Christ, but that guy writes a lot. He was fairly prolific even before he lost his voice to cancer, but now...there's his journal, the movie glossary, his Great Movies, the Answer Man. I mean, I bitch about having to write this thing twice a week. And I don't even have cancer, that I know of.

Then there are the reviews. Ebert still covers every movie opening in a given week (which leads to much consternation among those of us in the field who struggle to handle one), and remains the dean emeritus/grand poobah/Duke A #1 of movie critics.

A few years back, the guy helpfully put together a list of rules for movie critics. And because I never shirk at an opportunity to feel inferior, I thought I'd see how I measured up.

Advise the readers well. We must tell the readers what we ourselves love or hate.

Specifically, don't tell people what they'll love, tell them what you love. I've probably dropped the ball on this, but thanks to my liberal use of profanity, I'm pretty sure readers are never confused about how I feel about a particular movie.

Provide a sense of the experience. No matter what your opinion, every review should give some idea of what the reader would experience in actually seeing the film.

Put simply: let them know if they like similar movies, they'll like this one. I try not to be as obvious as "If you liked Look Who's Talking Now, your sphincter will prolapse in delight over Baby Geniuses 2." But it's also advisable to avoid negative comparisons, such as, "If you liked Look Who's Talking Now, you should be sterilized with a cheese grater."

Keep track of your praise. If you call a movie "one of the greatest movies ever made," you are honor-bound to include it in your annual Top Ten list.

This isn't usually a problem. I can count on one hands the number of times I've used the phrase "one of the best films of the year" since 2008. It'd be a lot harder to keep track of "worst movies ever made."

Do the math. If one week you state, "'Mr. Untouchable' makes 'American Gangster' look like a fairy tale," and the next week we say, "American Gangster" was "Goodfellas" for "the next generation," then you must conclude that "Mr. Untouchable" is better than "Goodfellas."

I included the whole rule because it's hilarious. Plus, I usually take the opposite tack: "Norbit makes Scary Movie look like Duck Soup." It's entirely meaningless and requires no outside verification.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar