I like reading reviews, usually of books and movies. I like it when the reviewer has some insight about the item being reviewed that helps me see things I missed, educates me, or clarifies my own feeble thinking.
Does that sound like I’m reading the review after the fact? Aren’t reviews supposed to help us make decisions on what to read or watch? Well, I use them sometimes for that purpose, but as often as not I want to read a review after finishing a book or movie, being curious what other people think.
Rotten Tomatoes is a good place to get a sprinkling of opinions on a movie, although I don’t think I’ve ever seen them link to my favorite movie reviewer: The Filthy Critic. (Caution: he really is filthy.) In addition to being very funny, he is insightful and surprisingly sensitive despite his foul-mouthed language and crude facade. Earlier this summer on Wikipedia I saw this description of Mr. Filthy:
Filthy very often astutely and/or sagely points out examples of expository cliches and nonsensical devices used to drive paper-thin plots, and is merciless toward the over-reliance on special effects to dull the audiences’ awareness of failed character development. He is equally impervious or at least semi-impervious to scripts that rely on deliberate pomposity to give the appearance of “art house” cinema. He is very succinct with his criticism, and only few movies receive his highest rating of “Five Fingers”.
– Wikipedia, The Filthy Critic (15 July 2006)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Filthy_Critic (previous revision)
I especially appreciate his services when there is a movie I don’t like (for example, Envy) and Filthy has given it a “one finger” rating (guess which finger). It almost makes it worth the time I wasted on the movie when I then get to enjoy his condemnation of it. It’s good to have someone point out in colorful detail how Hollywood makes a lot of crappy movies.
I like the Wikipedia excerpt above, but it was noted (accurately, I think) as violating the NPOV policy. However, I think this is rather bland in its place, as seen today:
Filthy frequently comments upon perceived expository cliches and nonsensical devices. He sees many of the films reviewed as overly reliant on special effects to dull awareness of poor character development. He also feels many of the reviewed movies rely on deliberate pomposity to give the appearance of “art house” cinema.
– Wikipedia, The Filthy Critic (2 August 2006)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Filthy_Critic (current but inevitably previous revision)
Not to be overly critical of the Wikipedian who made that change. It is an encyclopedia, after all, and they are just trying to make it less of a fan article.
I appreciate objectivity but subjectivism can be so much more fun.
With book reviews, I don’t have as reliable a starting place as Rotten Tomatoes is for movies. I occasionally while away the time on Amazon reading reviews and marveling at the range of opinions. If it’s a book I enjoyed, I might sort and look at the negative reviews first, or vice-versa. I often learn new things and the good reviews will sometimes cause me to revise my opinion.
I grew up a voracious reader but have really slowed down on book consumption. After college I think I was burnt out for a while from reading so many textbooks and at the same time the Net was taking over as my primary source of words. Right now I have about 40 books on my “to read” shelf. I spend too much time on my feeds instead.
I think I’d enjoy sharing my opinions of books and movies and etcetera here on movingtofreedom.org, although I hesitate because I’m not sure how much I have to offer in the keen insight department. But that hasn’t stopped me from any of my other writing ventures so I’m going to give it a shot. These may tend to be brief “I like it” kind of items, thus the label “minimalist” reviews.
Hopefully, if not nourishing, I can at least keep them short. Maybe I can offer something that will help you decide if a book or movie is worth reading or watching. Or if you’re like me and you’re reading the review post-consumption, maybe you’ll nod your head in agreement or tell me why I’m wrong or what I missed.
You’re probably not going to find many reviews of current items. I’m not very cutting edge and it takes me a while to get to things. (Some of those 40 “to read” books were actually timely when I got them.) It’s likely I’ll end up reviewing personal favorites to provide material for this feature, like Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon and Baroque Cycle.
What is the business of this blog again?
As always, does this have anything to do with free software and a free society? Let’s say yes, because I’m thinking one of my first reviews will be of Richard Stallman’s book: Free Software, Free Society.
I may sometimes slant the reviews towards the concept of freedom. For example, I recently saw Pixar’s Cars and it got me thinking about how we’ll make and distribute movies in the future. (Incidentally, I love Pixar movies and it bothers me more than a little that they’re now part of Disney.)
I’m also thinking about referral links. If I mention an album or movie, should I be linking to CDs and DVDs for sale and thereby promote the recording and movie industries? I don’t want to support the RIAA and MPAA, but the things they produce become a part of our shared culture and if we enjoy them we should be able to own copies of the work. There’s just this question of what it means to own a copy and what rights we have over our copy that needs to be answered satisfactorily.
Also, the idea that Hollywood makes so many bad movies may enter in to our discussion of why exactly these people should be allowed to control our computers. Not that if they made better movies it would be ok, but it annoys me when they complain about damage to their industry from “pirates” when maybe a bigger problem is they’re doing such a poor job. I’ve heard that the movie studios use fraudulent accounting practices to make it appear that their movies rarely earn a profit (presumably to pay out less in profit sharing). We might point out that if it is true that they’re not making any money then maybe there isn’t a lot of economic value in their product and they should just stop what they’re doing.
Note that this business about the accounting is unsubstantiated and I have no references. Conspiracy theories can be entertaining though, and I’m just some crank with a blog, so there you go. I suppose we can Google around and find something like this review of Edward Jay Epstein’s The Big Picture:
It is depressing to watch the quality of American cinema degrade, as if it were some kind of glittery radioactive isotope. But Edward Jay Epstein provides comfort with “The Big Picture” (Random House, 375 pages, $24.95), offering a compelling backstory to the awfulness we see at the cineplex.
“The Big Picture” is Hollywood’s “Moneyball” — a groundbreaking work that explains the inner workings of the game. (Movies in this case, not baseball, although each could probably learn from the other.) There is, Mr. Epstein argues, a powerful economic reason that movies aren’t very good anymore: They don’t have to be.
By 2002, Buena Vista Home Entertainment International, another division of Disney, had reaped $198 million in sales and rentals from “Gone in 60 Seconds” videos and DVDs. Only $19 million of that sum was credited to the movie itself, though, thanks to the complicated royalty system that Hollywood employs. This reduced number is an important accounting trick since the movie’s star, Nicholas Cage, was contractually entitled to 10% of the video gross.
Indeed, one of the key components of the clearinghouse system — boosting studio revenue enormously — is hiding income from a movie’s (seeming) profit-participants. There is nothing illegal about it, although the effect is a nasty little game of hide and seek. One of the virtues of “The Big Picture” is Mr. Epstein’s astonishing access to numbers that the movie studios go to great lengths to keep secret, so as not to offend people like Mr. Cage.
– Jonathan V. Last, Wall Street Journal
I wasn’t previously familiar with this book. The link just appeared high up in a search for movie studios hide profits. Anyway, I really shouldn’t get in to Hollywood that much. Bunch of grassf**kers, as the Filthy Critic would say.
I have more coming up on the topic of software and my own position in the continuum of same from proprietary to free, so please stay tuned!