Written by: Daniel McDonald
A subject that has come to mind quite often in my 52 years of finding reviews of film or theatre “beyond fascinating,” is why did I read and take as gospel ANYONE’S opinion on these two art forms that are such subjective, personal, singular “point of view” spectator events?
I have voiced observations regarding the unusually vituperative, pre-judgmental, uninformed critical comments (many times before seeing the project in question) made by a segment (calm down, dudes I said a SEGMENT – and don’t tell me you don’t know who I’m talking about) of horror fans. The truly confusing factor is that these comments appear 5 to 1 more often on horror/Sci-Fi sites, than any other genre. We come to these sites because of a shared love of all things horror- yes? So why do I see so many fans, who just like me (weeell not JUST like me) are here because they enjoy other similar minded fan’s opinions and ideas, and want to feel comfortable sharing their own? Why the differences of opinions (they’ll happen A LOT in life – trust me, I’m what, 117 years old now?) why or why not this clashing, toxic, wasted air occurs is a beast of its own creation, hopefully not perceived as an attack, rather than the tone of what I’m discussing here, which I hope is an examination of why, rather than a damnation of those who may or may not participate in that activity.
Last week I read the terrific press on my friend Andy Karl’s new Broadway Musical GROUNDHOG DAY (yeppers based on that movie, and in my opinion it is wonderful). Then four days later, the rapturous reviews for Bette Midler’s megawatt star turn in an amazingly fresh, “they don’t make ‘me like that anymore” revival of the iconic HELLO, DOLLY! (again, a magnificent VERY EXPEN$IVE theatre experience.) NOW TRUST ME, I REALLY AM GOING SOMEWHERE WITH THIS!!!
As I read the press the element of happiness for my friends, the positivity of the agreement of minds with MAJOR national critics weren’t my overwhelming thought and emotion. I reflected a bit, and realized it was genuine SHOCK of reading such positive, exceptionally generous press with colorful, effusive adjectives with solid factual basis. I was genuinely feeling happiness…but something much more powerful and (I think) unfortunately RARE than that. Critical assessments that came with well-informed factual examples, words that came with consideration of not just what they were telling us, but WHY!
I have become somewhat numb to two opposing but equally damaging and annoying, sad realities of the entertainment industry. Studios whose overpaid stars and inflated budgets force them to not only allow, but ENDORSE the lying, deceitful, purposely misguiding, deceptively edited Promotional Campaigns that give viewers heightened expectations using unrealistic trailers and to a lesser degree print materials. This happens so often and consists of either overstuffed giving too much away or deceptively edited giving a confused, unrealistic impression of the production.
I chose two films of opposing…well just about everything! Last year’s totally atmospheric, very disturbing THE EYES OF MY MOTHER, and last summer’s highly anticipated, critically divided, but box office disappointing mega-budget Blockbuster, KONG: SKULL ISLAND (whose Craft Services budget was probably higher than T. E. O. M. M.s entire production budget!)
Each of these productions received (as they should have) entirely different Industry treatment and receptions, showing (naturally), some HUGE differences, and some surprising similarities.
The effectively shocking feature film debut of writer/director Nicolas Pesce, THE EYES OF MY MOTHER a low budget (unreleased information) independent art house/psychological horror film was, in my and most critics opinion one of the most cinematically gorgeous, memorably shot, framed, lit films (Zak Kuperstein telling us “The vvitch be damned”) I’ve seen since the heyday of De Palma in his prime. I’m a total sucker for storytelling through visionary images, I often reference De Palma’s use of LONG tracking shots and RAZOR SHARP (sorry folks, had to go there!) editing to give his “no dialogue or expositional info needed” scenes EXACTLY the rhythms he feels they should have (Connor Sullivan and Pesce himself- surprise!). In interviews in 1976 both Oscar nominated Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie credited De Palma for the effectiveness of their performances.
Pesce has style and technique to burn, that heady mix of a brilliant, fresh out of film school ball of images, energy and passion (added to an old soul’s confidence in his audience’s ability to trust his storytelling skill), to pick and choose images (and frighteningly “amped up but authentic” sound effects by Micheal Kurihara) also helping his composer (Ariel Loh) to know exactly when score was needed, and when not to use it, achieving maximum effect with both tools of sound. Not for one second does Pesce the writer, not assist Pesce the director with minimal but effective dialogue to help (somewhat) humanize, but never really rationalize or feel obligated to completely justify the damaged, frustratedly isolationist world that each member of this family has been given. It’s a seriously double edged (at times almost humorous sword…I said A L M O S T) sword. Stunningly slow burning performances from the four major characters will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.
Interestingly, the press that usually calls out these subjects of rough looking horror, was called out for making a far too well-made genre piece… far too-well made? Are they judging the talent and technical brilliance, or that a new phenom made exactly the type of genre film he wanted to make – and kicked it in the ass (artistically, the box office for this niche effort did far less well than NEON DEMON, a similarly nihilistic piece which also had a much higher budget cost) in the process – critics be damned…I. J. S.
On the opposite side of the genre wheel we have Warner Brothers’ star studded reboot/prequel KONG: SKULL ISLAND, which came out of the gate swinging, with an opening weekend besting the low $40s prediction at a ripe $62 million, then came the one two punch of some of the most ridiculously inadequate reviews of any film this year, and even worse, the $170 million dollar plus opening weekend of Disney’s BEAUTY& THE BEAST… which instantly slayed all comers (including the highly praised, solid money maker LOGAN and our Pal KONG, which took a huge second weekend hit, the PG-13 crowd and families really embraced B&B.)
The press, which was a mixture of “pretty good monster movie” or “all-star cast has nothing to do”… or my favorites, the constant comparisons to the 1933 B&W classic.
it just seemed as if many of them simply didn’t want to like it, so they dug deep to find negative things to say. Reviews seemed to be a mixture of what a waste of monkey… oops I meant money… ha… ha, or too violent not family-friendly…it’s a fucking movie about an ill-fated crew landing on an island of monsters – what did they want, vegan beasties?
As great as the Peter Jackson KONG could be at times – that (beautiful to look at) stultifying first 45-minutes nearly did me (and many critics at that time) in.
SKULL ISLAND makes efficient work of character introductions, motivations and possible shady doings in less than 20 minutes. So now many of those same critics are griping that there’s too much hustle and bustle – a “rushed” feeling to the expositional information, it’s too slick and surface-y…. are you getting the picture? I simply don’t understand someone paying $10 for a ticket, sitting there, arms folded saying “Go ahead, just TRY to entertain me, I dare ya!” I always felt there was a much better chance of entertainment if one agrees to “take the ride” and then decide if the experience was worth the time.
Granted, with a $185 million dollar price tag (before marketing costs, which ain’t cheap) our Monkey boy needs to break the $350 million dollar price tag to just break even. SKULL ISLAND has brought in $165-plus domestically, so with help, the world wide take could create a 20-30 million dollar profit, not great, I get that (editor’s note: KONG raked in an additional $396 million in international markets, pushing the film over the $562 million mark, deeming it a certified success). But this film helmed by Indy director Jordan-Vogt Roberts is thoroughly entertaining, with state of the art FX and more “money shots” than great porn, yet I’m already reading since 2014’s GODZILLA was much more profitable, the disappointment of K. S. I. might actually put a kink in the MONSTER FRANCHISE machine that would include GODZILLA vs KONG, something millions of fans are greatly anticipated. Why would that type of toxic negativity be circulated by the press? Is this what the relationship between critics and entertainment have been reduced to?
…I. J. S.