There are over 300 films at the Film Festival, so how do you make up your mind what to see? You read critics, of course. But who are they?
Where are they coming from? And how can you trust them? Three of NOW Magazine's film critics weigh in on what they look for when they're taking notes in the dark.
What do you lok for when reviewing a film?
Norman Wilner: I want it to work within its genre, I want it to have something interesting to say and/or do, and I want it to not suck. People don't do this job wanting the movies to be bad. You keep hoping to see something great. I start off assuming everything will be good until proven otherwise.
Susan G. Cole: I look for someone with a style. Oliver Stone, David Lynch and Tim Burton all have a style. I also look to see if a filmmaker has something to say.
Barrett Hooper: I always think, "If I had paid to see this movie, was I entertained or would I feel ripped off?"
Are you happy with the term "film critic"?
SGC: Personally, I prefer reviewer. I'm familiar with the formal issues in filmmaking. But film critics are those who can name every Tarkovsky movie ever made. I want to tell our readers what they'll be able to relate to.
NW : I'm okay with it. It's something I've striven to be. It might sound awful, but I don't care how other people are going to respond to a movie. I can't concern myself with that. If somebody has been reading me long enough, they know my likes and dislikes.
Do you avoid any genres?
NW : No.
SGC: I scare easily. I'm very happy that there are other people who want to go see the horror stuff. I tried six times to sit through Polanski's Repulsion. I did see Silence Of The Lambs because there's a point at which thrillers turn into art.
BH: I'll see anything. I paid to see Sex And The City, and didn't mind it. I love horror/sci-fi fantasy/bizarre twisted odd and unusual foreign movies. Sometimes a filmmaker or subject will turn me away. Or an actor.
Are there any actors you can't stand watching?
BH: Scarlett Johansson. I get that she's attractive, but I find her completely charmless.
NW : I reflexively cringe from Ben Kingsley now, because he's lost himself in mannerisms. But it depends on the filmmaker. Look at Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder. The idea that he was playing the joke part of an over-weight, aggressive producer, based as far as I could tell on Joel Silver and Scott Rudin, sounded really lame. But when I heard that Ben Stiller was directing, I thought it might be okay, because Stiller knows how to handle Cruise. He did that great bit for the MTV Movie Awards where he played Cruise's stunt man. That tempered it somewhat.
Are you tougher on films by good directors than on films by directors you know nothing about?
SGC: I hate when the money's wasted. If I know that $100 million has been put up someone's nose instead of on the screen, I'll be outraged. I want to see it up there. I do have a higher standard for good filmmakers.
BH: Think about Spielberg. He's obviously an incredibly gifted filmmaker whose last 10 years have been up and down. Look at a film like Munich. Had it been directed by someone we didn't have such high expectations for, would it have been better received?
NW : I wrote a really passionate defence of Munich. I think people missed the 9/11 allegory in it. I also think because it's Spielberg and he's trained people to read things so literally, people are really uncomfortable now that he's an adult and he's working with metaphor and allegory. At this point, you could say Minority Report was visionary about the surveillance state. But a lot of people thought of it as the Tom Cruise thriller where he pops his eyeballs out.
Do you take into acount a film's budget , especially if the director's working on a shoest ring?
NW : I have no patience with people who hide behind their budget as a limitation, because these days there are so many ways to make a movie. It's like somebody who comes up to you and gives you their novel, saying, "Hey, I wrote this! Chapter six is missing and some of the pages don't have the letter "i" on them, but I wrote it all by myself with no help!"
Have you ever changed your opinion about a film?
NW : I've changed my opinion about performances in the context of films. Some movies are no fun to sit through, but two days later you may remember the punchlines, not the five minutes of dead air between things. There's a film called Just Friends, starring Ryan Reynolds, Anna Faris and Amy Smart. I hated it theatrically, but since then I came around and thought Faris was so good that I'd see it again. I did, and really enjoyed it.
Would you have reviewed it differently?
NW : Probably. It's set up like a gross-out comedy and plays out some obvious jokes. But there's a generosity of spirit about it.
BH: One of the biggest traps you can fall into is coming out of a critic's-only screening and having someone say, "What'd you think?" Suddenly, everyone has an opinion that may be entirely different from yours. In some way, that informs what you think. Or you may interview someone involved in the film. They can sway you, even subconsciously, so you think it wasn't as bad as you thought. A paying audience doesn't have that advantage.
Have you ever walked out of a movie?
NW : No, but I wish I had sometimes, especially at film festivals, where I could be seeing 30 other films at the same time.
BH: Only ones I've paid to see. I've never written about a film that I've walked out on.
Can you name your film guilty pleasures - films you know aren't great but you'd watch over and over?
NW : I don't think there's such a thing as a guilty pleasure. Don't apologize for the things you like. SGC: Anything with Angelina Jolie, Drew Barrymore or Sharon Stone.
BH: Anything starring a Kevin: Costner, Spacey, Bacon.
Most memorable film experiences?
NW : Seeing Kung Fu Panda at Cannes.
BH: Seeing Ong-Bak at the Uptown Theatre during Midnight Madness at the Film Festival.
SGC: Seeing Bound with a mostly lesbian audience. Let 's talk a bit abo ut a mov ie's hype.
How do you avoid having it afect you?
SGC: One of the great things about being a reviewer is seeing a movie early. I often suffer when I've heard too much hype about a film and then go see it. I saw Juno late and thought it was just... fine. When a film's over-hyped, it messes with my perceptions.
BH: At the same time, we are part of creating that buzz. Our reviews are part of what people will look to in some way. I'm one of those critics who read Internet websites, read all the previews. I want to devour as much about the next Indiana Jones or Star Wars movie as the next person. And it leads to a lot of disappointment.
NW : I'll avoid a trailer if I can. They can blow a plot point and put stuff completely out of context. I don't believe a marketing department represents what a film is about.
BH: Tarantino's next film is called Inglorious Bastards, a World War II epic he's been writing for a decade. The script is online and I have a PDF copy of it, but I haven't read it. I decided not to. I want to see what he does. So I've embargoed myself from any Inglorious Bastard information, even though there are reviews of the script out there.
Last film that surprised you?
SGC: Mamma Mia! I had zero expectations and wasn't an ABBA fan. Usually, movie musicals are a disaster. And Meryl Streep proved she can do anything.
NW : WALL*E. It wacked me until I cried.
BH: Man On Wire. If you'd told me I'd be interested in a documentary about a man who walked on a wire between the towers of the World Trade Center, I'd have said, ‘Sure, as a five-minute short film.' It had me for 95 minutes. It's phenomenal.