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How Rotten Tomatoes has changed film criticism.

How Rotten Tomatoes has changed film criticism. (photo)

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The uproar Armond White raised by panning “District 9” has raised a lot of interesting points about The State of Film Criticism. It prompted Slate‘s Daniel Engber to fret over his original pan of the film; being one of the few dissenting voices on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes was, he wrote, “beginning to make me nervous.”

So Engber did a little number-crunching and ranked 20 prominent critics from most to least contrarian based on how often they agreed with the Tomatometer. No surprise, White’s the most contrarian — but even he only went against the group 50% of the time. Everyone else spreads out from there to 83% (where the AV Club‘s Keith Phipps sits). Engber then proceeds to extrapolate conclusions (“successful” — presumably meaning employed — critics can neither agree or disagree with the consensus too often) and wonder if critics keep track (consciously or otherwise) of their rate of dissent.

What strikes me about the question is a) its meaninglessness b) the fact that it’s presumably acceptable to draw conclusions through mathematical evaluations. White’s 50% ratio doesn’t (necessarily) mean he’s calibrating his opinions against the mainstream, just that they’re literally coin-toss random as to where he’ll fall each time. Beyond that, Engber’s definition of pro critics is awfully narrow — it’d look a lot different if it included, say, Cinema Scope‘s Mark Peranson or the Village Voice‘s J. Hoberman — critics with the luxury of choosing what they write about, implicitly rejecting the mainstream.

Almost exactly 11 years ago, Slate ran a little rant by Jacob Weisberg about, yes, The State of Film Criticism, called “Uncritical Critics” and prompted by Warner Bros.’ “unprecedented step…of refusing to let reviewers see ‘The Avengers’ before it was released.” (Ah, for the days when refusing to let critics see a movie in advance was unprecedented.) Skip over Weisberg’s now deeply dated complaints and notice what’s not there: a single measuring of presumably objective consensus that works for most audiences vs. individual reviewers. Rotten Tomatoes was founded a whole two days before Weisberg held court — back when establishing consensus amongst critics involved the hard work of reading a bunch of reviews, seeing the movie, measuring those reviews against your opinion and so on. You know, the bad old days, when people read newsprint and your local critic’s word might be all you had to go on.

Rotten Tomatoes renders all this context irrelevant; it gives you an instant snapshot of the establishment, large and small, valid and vapid. You don’t have to read the review at all, much less follow a critic consistently over time, measure your sensibilities against theirs and gauge how their viewpoint is applicable to yours. That’s exactly what Jonathan Rosenbaum was talking about in 2001 in a holiday movie round-up, responding to a reader complaining “he could never tell from my reviews whether I was recommending a movie or not.” His eminently reasonable response: “Recommending particular movies is something I can do for friends or relatives, but trying to make recommendations for strangers — even though plenty of critics do — seems a little presumptuous. Why should strangers give up their own tastes and accept my interests and limitations as their own?”

But Rotten Tomatoes inverts that premise: recommendations are collective; you can gauge a critic’s reliability by virtue of mathematical objectivity. Once, you got mad at your local critic based on personal taste; now, you do it with quasi-scientific authority, backed by legions of anonymous reviews crunched into a mean decision. And that idea of aggregate authority vs. the hapless individual critic may be the biggest change in the reader/critic battle in the last ten years.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.