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"Reviews"

"In short, what began as an almost Homeric struggle comparable to the Trojan defiance of Greek attack quickly downspiralled into a menagerie of mayhem, violence, blood, and gore, suitable for a motion picture with no taste and kowtowing to the style du jour, the brainless, cliched, action film."

Sound familiar? It's the nasal, swiny voice of the movie reviewer. You have to bear their incessant, self-righteous editorials on actors, special effects, promotions, and the whole movie industry every time they get their rare chances to vent every Wednesday or Friday in the newspaper or whatever.

Oh, for Pete's sake, let it stop. Let the attack on movies end and the scrutiny towards movie reviewers begin. The usual opinion of your average movie watcher is to take the contrarian stance of a newspaper or magazine review before you go into a movie. It's just known that reviewers are clueless about writing about a movie in such a way that they say what's really important, and grasp onto what most viewers will like or dislike about it. They have their own agendas, their own bones to pick, their own little reputations to nurture so they can be big and famous.

To have to put up with the main reviewer in Dallas's newspaper, Philip Wuntch, is punishment enough, as he prattles on and on about this and that, but what's worse is listening to reviewer-wannabes in the university paper whose careers need even more preening and fluffing.

For instance, why do reviewers love to throw in references to movies or people no one's ever heard of? Okay, fine, they do this because they've seen a lot of movies (which, by the way, requires a graduate-level education, at least) and they've seen certain aspects of movie-making done in small, unknown films that a big blockbuster could NEVER do as well, but the reader doesn't have this same kind of insight. Part of reviewing is knowing your audience and knowing what to expect them to identify with. And all too often, the reviewer is never called out for making snooty references to small independent films that serve only to impress other reviewers. Reviewers are given free rein to lambast movies at their own will, even though they often miss discussing the best or worst parts of the movie.

[Funny thing is that the day after I write this, the Monday version of the school newspaper posts this review of Double Jeopardy. It didn't skip a beat. Bahaha.]

And what about when reviewers go off on a tangent and show their obsessions with the corrupt, phony, two-bit movie industry? One paragraph, you're reading about how the actor won an award for this or that movie five years ago (and here's a mini-review of that movie) and the next, you're enduring a rant on how Hollywood companies regurgitate the same scripts over and over using simple character chemistry formulae (yes yes, he's the schitzophrenic man, she's the hard-working lonely woman, and here's her adorable son, and they have a pet too!).

There's a guy online who insists on continuing to see trashy movies like Chill Factor. Naturally, he gets upset at it and comes home to write about how bad it was online. Well no SHIT! Why did you go see it? Were you fooled by the preview of Skeet Ulrich and Cuba Gooding Jr. as everyday working men thrust into a multi-million dollar action movie into thinking it would be GOOD? WHY do reviewers go to see movies they know they won't like, or at least try to review it objectively to compensate?

My bro gave me Confederacy of Dunces to read, last Christmas. I didn't get around to reading it until last summer, but the main character is this fat, middle-aged medievalist kind of guy who still lives at home with his mom. He spends his days lamenting the state of the world, and makes sure to reinforce this fact by going to the cinema every day. Every movie he sees, he must yell and scream out at the screen as it pollutes his eyes with hollow filth. Yet, still, he sees every movie.

Naturally, there are two things to realize here. One, here I am talking about all the reviews I read about reviewers who see all the movies they hate. Kind of hypocritical. The important difference is that I'm just a guy. I like to watch movies. I don't get paid to do it, I'm not responsible for telling other people what to expect from things. If I read a review, I read it to get a feel for its pluses and minuses, without overly biased content intermingled with it. Opinion is necessary to a review, granted, but just enough that one has a feel for what the reviewer thinks could have been done better. To me, I read these things to get a sense of what the movie's about and whether or not I should invest the time and money to see it.

The other thing is that, as a personal site author, I'm held accountable to a lot of the same criticisms listed earlier. Personal site authors will often fall prey to the seductive lap dance of intellectual, obscure references, incredibly biased and boring content, etc. The difference this time is that it's a personal site. It's whatever the author wants to post. He is not responsible to anyone. Sure, if his content sucks, people leave. And that's it. The author should continue writing about what interests him. The keys are personal fulfillment and experimentation.

So what about other forms of review? The other major kind that bothers me is computer game reviewing. Book reviews I don't have as much against. There aren't as many reviews for books, and they're not as outrageously bad as movie and computer game reviews. They're written by people who at least have some knowledge of how to write. That helps volumes. Even as bad as some book reviews from customers on Amazon.com can get, they're far better than the album reviews for bands like the Beastie Boys and the Smashing Pumpkins. The way I feel about the gaming industry, in a nutshell, is this: it's a bunch of high school dropouts who most likely have read very little literature attempting to put forth their programming and artistic skills to create a cohesive, intriguing, atmospheric game that a bunch of other dropout kids who love computers will go out and spend money to buy, so they can become rich and brag to their friends about their sports cars and then go back home and tell their parents to fuck off because now they're 3433t. The half-finished games they vomit out are reviewed by gaming review companies, which in turn are also made up of high school dropouts or failing college students. And these folks don't even get to use their computer, artistic, or programming skills! They have to WRITE!

Oh, and it's not pretty. As a game reviewer, be sure to express your disdain for the same, identical FPS shooters that have been coming out. Don't forget to mention a few names of big computer gaming industry individuals that you've met. Mention a few of the classic, untouchable games that no one will question your judgment about. Stay in line, give a little rant about how graphics do not make games, complain about the poor programming, etc. Or, on the other side of the coin, write a review that never ceases to raise the bar of hyperbole and superlatives. The game is AMAZING! The graphics are SPECTACULAR! I have never seen anything so AMAZ...er...ABSOLUTELY STUPENDOUS! In fact, I'll go so far as to say this is the BEST GAME EVER MADE?

Sound impossible that someone would write that? It's not. Be sure to read this review of the Unreal Tournament demo. Yes, that's right. It's just the demo they're reviewing, not even the full game.

The good thing about reviews is that the Internet has improved your success at concluding what the real beef is about a game or movie or recipe or whatever. Amazon.com has customer reviews, which are not very helpful in reading one by one (biased customers, good/bad experiences, fans, etc.), but fascinating when compiled together to form a consensus. The extremes remain accessible to be read, important to reach a final decision from, yet the consensus is there to dilute the bad apples. Epicurious.com has had recipe reviews from its readers for awhile now, and that enjoys the same benefits. There are tons of movie and gaming review sites that actively publish new reviews, in which you can screen and filter in order to get what you need. You're not constrained to reading one opinion any more, unless you want to.

Applications and sites that compile vast amounts of seemingly unrelated data in order to reveal trends and actual usable content will continue to be huge. Perhaps (as David Brin predicts in "The Transparent Society"), virtually everything, including you and I, will have an attention/content rating based on what others are or aren't saying about them. Epinions.com sort of has the idea. Rate the article, rate the reviews, rate the criticisms, compile ubiquitous identity histories -- that is, if people have one identity they use online, others can look to see how reputable they are through a big database. Not my idea, but an interesting one indeed. God forbid all this will translate eventually into every individual on the planet having their own stock you can buy.

This already exists to a degree. EBay, the big auction site, and all the copycats springing up now are valuing more and more types of things for trade. Lycos has a Top 50 site that compiles the top 50 searches through its search engine so that readers can see which topics are the most popular among Internet users. Not surprisingly, among the recent top searches were Pokémon, Pamela Anderson, and Anna Kournikova. The top searches are obvious, but as you get down to the bottom of the 50 most popular searches, you see more of the emerging hits and trends and so on. All this is important because it widens your perspective and shows you things you've never considered or seen before, and it gives you a vast wealth of opinions to dig through. It's empowerment for the mind. You're not victim to the insecure, immature ramblings of a struggling critic.

Yes, now you're victim to hundreds and thousands of struggling critics! Ah, but at least there's more to see, more to choose from. At least you can contribute your own thoughts. At least one person doesn't keep you from missing something great because of his lack of responsibility.

My advice? If you're looking for a good review site, just see how they reviewed Out of Africa, The English Patient, and The Matrix. If they review the first two with praises, and the third with things like "cliched" and "bad bad Keanu", then keep moving. Likewise goes for gaming sites and their reviews of Tiberian Sun and Trespasser. If they like either of those games, just keep on walkin'.

Mistakes like those are simply inexcusable. ;) This tried and true strategy has filtered the staggering number of review sites down to a few gems, one of which I will end this Soapbox with: Old Man Murray's game reviews. Visit it. Bookmark it. Love it.

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