Critics aren’t the final word on worth of movies

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 1/10/19

In the late 1980s, while I was a reporter at a small daily newspaper in the Sandhills, the sports editor (a man improbably named Lance Spear) and I hatched a plan to break into the movies.

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Critics aren’t the final word on worth of movies

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In the late 1980s, while I was a reporter at a small daily newspaper in the Sandhills, the sports editor (a man improbably named Lance Spear) and I hatched a plan to break into the movies.
We didn’t want to act or write or direct or produce.
We wanted, instead, to write about movies. We wanted to be movie critics.
We pitched our simple plan for a column we called “The Screening Room” to the editor, who agreed to the idea so long as it didn’t take us away from our actual, important duties, and so between 1989 and 1993, I was a movie critic.
Without harboring any fantasies of being the next Pauline Kael or Roger Ebert, I nevertheless took the task seriously and enjoyed the experience.
I saw scores of movies and wrote lots of copy about them and was rewarded with several North Carolina Press Association awards for my time and effort.
But “The Screening Room” enjoyed a relatively short life.
After a while, Lance moved away to teach journalism at a university in the Midwest and I soldiered on by myself a bit longer as the paper’s sole critic before, just after the release of “Jurassic Park” in 1993, which was one of the last movies I reviewed, I retired from the task.
I didn’t miss it because what had started off as a fun and diverting sideline had, over many months and many movies, become less fun and more of an obligation. A few times, facing tight deadlines, I even altered the format to include movie rental reviews. It was then I knew the enthusiastic plan pitched in 1989 had grown long in the tooth.
But every once in a while, I miss the soapbox from which I had once stood sermonizing on cinema.
I would have liked, for example, to review “Wonder Woman,” the 2017 release starring Gal Gadot as the title superhero.
The movie, popular with audiences and critics, has a 93 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
But I didn’t care much for it, giving up entirely on the 2 hour, 26 minute-long film about a third of the way through.
Where, I wondered as I remembered the glowing critiques of this stale movie, were the naysayers? I wanted to fill that void.
I had a similar feeling a couple of weeks ago, wishing I could write about the new Will Ferrell comedy, “Holmes & Watson,” which had a dismal Christmas Day opening and was slaughtered by professional critics, achieving a very low 8 approval score on Rotten Tomatoes.
When my wife and I saw “Holmes & Watson” – and no, we were not coerced; and yes, we voluntarily paid $18 for two matinee-priced adult tickets – we were literally the only two people in the theater, so tainted is the film’s reputation.
But is “Holmes & Watson” as bad as critics say?
In my no-longer-professional opinion: No.
“Holmes & Watson” was no gem, but we – that is, the entire theater – laughed a lot, enjoyed silly performances from Ferrell and his sidekick, John C. Reilly, and most important, had a good time.
It’s possible, being long absent from the movie critic scene, I just don’t understand how these things work anymore. But after my experiences with critically-lauded “Wonder Woman” and professionally-panned “Holmes & Watson,” I think maybe the best, most trustworthy critics are ourselves.


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