Pop Rocks: Everyone's A Critic

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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.

Respect the reader's time.

I try and make it a point to keep my reviews between 500-750 words, but I can't promise each word will be equally worth reading.

Do not make challenges you are cannot to back up.

In the past, I've challenged readers to avoid certain movies in order to force Hollywood to stop producing so much crap, and they've failed me every time. Now I challenge them to push-up contests.

Respect the reader's money.

Hey, if people are willing to spend good Lotto money on Date Movie, isn't my problem. The whole point of a movie review might be to help the audience make more informed choices, but they have to actually -- you know -- read them and give consideration to what the review says. It's increasingly apparent, to both those of us who write reviews and the studios themselves, that people aren't paying a lot of attention to critics anymore. Exhibit A: $836 million worldwide box office take for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Beware of verbal parallelism.

You mean like, "If you love meaningless list wankery, you'll love today's Pop Rocks?" No problem.

Trailers. Have nothing to do with them. Gene Siskel hated them so much he would stand outside a theater until they were over.

And Siskel is dead now. Hollywood remembers those who wrong her.

But seriously, I hate trailers...until I end up watching them over and over again and losing all sense of reason regarding the likelihood the film will actually be good.

Be wary of freebies.

You got me. I've accepted a couple of "after-party" invites for movies, one of which I liked, one I didn't. The one I didn't, I declined to review. That was shortly before I vowed never to accept such an invite again.

I never wrote for any place that could afford the luxury of sending me on a junket, so I could make some noble comment about not wanting to besmirch my reputation, but critics are beneath most organizers' notice. And besides, some guy working two jobs and paying $3.85 a gallon probably doesn't want to read "I just saw Seth Rogen light a fart on the set of the new Kevin Smith movie!" when he's trying to decide what movie to get from Redbox.

Accept no favors.

And if you do, understand the favor comes with a high price. And that people will remind you of it until your [professional] dying day.

No commercial endorsements.

This is really the only place Ebert sounds a bit out of touch, as he's just about the only remaining movie critic any company would even consider paying to shill their product.

I, however, would happily endorse Stone Brewing Co. or New West Records.

Be prudent with free DVDs.

As a member of both the Online Film Critics Society and the Houston Film Critics Society, I receive end-of-year "for your consideration" screeners as well as various selections throughout the year. They're usually recycled as beverage coasters or practice extraterrestrial murder discs like the alien bad guy used in I Come in Peace.

No advertisements.

Again, this isn't an issue for the 99.9% of us who would donate a kidney just to get a sniff of a network TV gig.

Be prepared to give a negative review.

AKA, the Pete Hammond Factor. As one of the Los Angeles Times' "crankiest critics" of 2007, I feel pretty safe in checking this one off.

No posing for photos!

Hey, it was my first Sundance Film Festival. I was young and impressionable and Danny Glover was right there. Roger Murtaugh! Tell me you would've acted differently.

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