Mark Kermode has seen about a hundred films to my one, but as his opinion of the one we've both seen coincides with mine, I naturally find him an intelligent film critic. The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex is a collection of essays - on the economic facts behind block blusters; the baseness of the selection process for the Oscars; the awfulness of going to the flicks today where 90% of the commercial thinking goes into flogging popcorn; the hideousness of 3D, and diatribes about very bad films, especially Sex and the City 2. He's broadcasting his opinion of this "ghastly and putrid and vomit-inducing" film in this YouTube clip:-
When I first heard this I had imagined Mark Kermode was a small "l" liberal provoked into a tumbrel moment but he says he's an old Trot, so seeing the Sex and the City 2 as the nadir of American capitalism and imperialism comes naturally to him.
There are also engaging anecdotes of how he started life as a film critic when a boy scribbling pages about Dougal and the Blue Cat (the film spin off of The Magic Roundabout) then maturing to Blazing Saddles - in order to relive the experience. One bout of entertainment went a long way in those pre-internet, DVD and even video days.
On block busters - he sees them, in corporate speak, as an Opportunity not a Threat to good film-making. To make money - and they almost always do - they have to include a big star, great special effects and a newsworthy budget (he makes the point that the 100 million plus dollars spent in themselves are an audience draw - if it's that expensive people go to see what the pricey buzz is about).
"If you spend enough money, bag an A-list star and pile on the spectacle, the chances are your movie will not lose money (unless it's a comedy), regardless of how smart of dumb it may be. . . an intelligent script will not (as it is widely claimed) make your movie tank or alienate your core audience. Even if they don't understand the film, they'll show up and pay to see it anyway - in just the same way they'll flock to see films that are rubbish, and which they don't actually enjoy. Like Pearl Harbour."
(Pearl Harbour, the movie, has the weakest, wettest, love story ever devised to insult you, the audience member.)
"The idea that creative risk must be limited to low or mid-priced movie-making (where you can in fact lose loads of money) while thick-headed reductionism rules the big-budget roost is the opposite of the truth."
Mark Kermode does love movies and does love his job as film critic even if it means seeing everything including all the Saw series. He talks of the annoyance critics cause film makers who denounce them as elitist snobs, when they are not quoting them out of context to ramp up their movies.
"the difference between film criticism and pub talk. Pub talk can be all opinion and nothing else; film criticism, if it is done properly , should involve opinion, description, contextualisation, analysis and . . entertainment. . .
To illustrate these essential elements, here are five short reviews of Saw 3D, each adding another key ingredient:
Saw 3D is rubbish.
2) Opinion and description:
Saw 3D is a horror film that is rubbish.
3) Opinion, description and contextualisation:
Saw 3D is the seventh episode and the first stereoscopic instalment in a long running horror series, and it is rubbish.
4) Opinion, description, contextualisation and analysis:
Saw 3D is the first stereoscopic instalment in a series that began life as a tortuously inventive low-budget chiller but which as descended over the course of six sequels into gory, boring torture porn which is rubbish.
5) Opinion, description, contextualisation, analysis and entertainment.
It took the once-inventive but increasingly depressing Saw series seven movies to resort to the hackneyed headache of 3-D, but despite the promise that this is "The Final Chapter" (just wait until the sums say otherwise) you keep wishing those protruding spikes would leap a little further out of the screen and puncture your eyeballs to ensure that you never have to watch rubbish like this ever again."
(The movies marketeers extract "inventive" from that paragraph and mount it on the marquees.)
Kermode is a total cineaste, a lover not just of movies but of movie theatres; of the smell of celluloid and the look of reels from the pre-digital age, which always jumped at the same point; the actual physical appearance of a strip of film with frames missing because the projectionist had snipped a piece showing a female naked bottom for a souvenir. He's the vinyl lover - even the shellac lover - groaning at the CD and I-Pod and lamenting that the skilled projectionist has been replaced by a button pusher.
He's good fun and good company. If you want to spend an easy 10 minutes look him up on YouTube on any film and he'll come out with something worth listening to.