I seem to be having a much better time at the movies this summer than the consensus at Rotten Tomatoes wants me to.
For those out of the Web loop, Rottentomatoes.com is a terrific catch-most movie website that, among other things, collects movie critic reviews, averages their ratings out and tells you a percentage of critics who thought an individual film is either "fresh" or "rotten." You can also read many individual reviews there.
It's one of a few places online which many say have made it easier, in the current journalistic nervous breakdown, for newspapers and magazines to jettison movie critics. To which the most obvious counter-argument is that consensus gave us the presidency of George W. Bush and look how that worked out. Consensus can tell you a lot of interesting things but not often whether a movie is enjoyable or not.
My personal problem seems to be that I'm enjoying myself entirely too much. Until last week, in fact, I hadn't assigned myself to a single cinematic mega-turkey since Michael Haneke's vile remake of his self-righteously sadistic Austrian swill "Funny Games." Last week, though, I knew it would be worthwhile to see exactly how on earth the cloudland geniuses allowed Steve Carell and Mike Myers to go toe to toe at your local megaplex. That meant I saw Myers' "The Love Guru," a deposit left in Hollywood's litterbox that verily screams for immediate scoop and removal.
Otherwise, my usual low summer expectations for cinematic art have meant that I've had a pretty good dumb time at the movies. I wish I hadn't had to sit through the first hour of "Chronicles of Narnia" but it was fascinating to see, afterward, how much difficulty people in the people, inside the critical consensus and out, had amitting that the movie's first hour is heavy-going.
That's because so much taste is hopeful self-definition. Working critics--those actually paid to express their taste to others--are just as liable as insecure teenagers to be saying "I am the sort of person who hates 'You Don't Mess With the Zohan' for such and such reason" or "I am the sort of person who's much too good for the likes of 'The Strangers.'"
We all do this. It's part of life from teen years on. It's called "individuation." The more you see it in a critic, the less useful he or she probably is (except as a NEGATIVE guide.) Just as high school kids can develop a consensus that Mr. Schmidt the chemistry teacher is the meanest SOB in school when he's, in fact, the best teacher, a critical and even audience consensus can be very wrong for years, even decades. All it means is that people, to be thought of a certain way, are saying "we're the sort of cool people who don't like (fill in the blank)."
I defy anyone now with a good heart and open mind to see "Ishtar" and "Heaven's Gate" and find them the calamities that critical consensus once did. (I defended them years ago, knowing that there were a few other eccentrics out there crying out in the wilderness with me.)
I think this summer, when movie critics have been on the occupational bubble, has been a kind of quiet purity exam for those doing the job. The questions it asks are "Can see how radical it is for Adam Sandler to make a movie as unabashedly Semitic in America as 'You Don't Mess With the Zohan?'" And "Can you see the secret sophistication and merriment of 'Iron Man?'" And "Can you enjoy the B-movie maker who has finally come out to play in M. Night Shyamalan's 'The Happening?' where the hilariously overhyped 'New Spielberg' and 'New Hitchcock' used to be?" And "Can you get down with the elementary and hearteningly traditional fright film craft of 'The Strangers?'" (whose great line--prominently quoted in the trailers--is the memorably chilly reply to the question shrieked by the harrowed victims of home invasion 'why are you doing this to us?' To which their torturer, wearing a white hood, replies "because you were home," an answer, I submit, we'll be hearing in our heads for years.)
It's very simple really: I know going in this stuff isn't Bunuel, or Bergman or Antonioni or Kurosawa but in a Hollywood truism oft-quoted by Gore Vidal, sometimes "s---- has it's own integrity."
Some of it has this summer anyway.