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Kevin Smith Launches Movie Review Show

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by Matt Singer
May 21, 2012 12:48 PM
7 Comments
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"Spoilers."
"When I was a kid, I loved watching 'Siskel & Ebert,'" says Kevin Smith. "They were kind of the first guys who jumped on the TV and geeked out about movies. I said 'Wouldn't it be great to have a show about movies where we don't review movies: we revere movies?'" "Why yes!" replied executives at Hulu, who promptly greenlit Smith's movie show "Spoilers," which premieres on the web channel on June 4th.

In an interview with Wired, Smith describes the show as a break from the old "fat guy and a skinny guy" movie review format -- instead it's "a fat guy and 50 other people." This slightly more P.C. description comes from Hulu:

"Kevin Smith's Movie 'Revue' -- This multi-act film extravaganza mixes lively group chats, interviews with movie and pop culture icons and animated shorts. Each week, Kevin, special guests and movie lovers passionately sound off on the year's most anticipated summer blockbusters, gushing over their favorite scenes and debating the details frame by frame."

The show is Smith's attempt to replicate the experience of seeing a movie on opening weekend and then discussing it on the Internet in a real-life setting in front of TV cameras; in each episode, Smith and 50 fans who sign up at his website will see a movie together then adjourn to a nearby TV studio for an impassioned conversation -- though not, necessarily, an excessively critical one.  In the same Wired interview, Smith notes that he'll "never be a guy who’s just like, 'It’s bullshit! It sucks! It’s the worst!' I know what goes into making a movie. I know nobody sets out to make a bad movie."  

Smith will never be a guy like that because, as he's made quite clear by now, he's not exactly a fan of film critics. When his recent film "Cop Out" received the worst reviews of his career, Smith took to Twitter to vent his frustrations, indicting critics for a variety of sins, including turning the world of film fandom into a "nasty bloodsport" and reviewing movies without paying for their tickets. Smith tells Wired that "Spoilers" "ain't doing it like those critics... Film criticism became very, you know, yes-or-no, black-and-white, thumbs-up-thumbs-down kind of affair. You don’t really see movies handled by 'professionals' on TV the way they’re handled on the internet. That’s where you see people just love on a movie. So, I’m like, 'Let’s do that version.'"

There's a certain kind of brilliant logic in the idea of a Kevin Smith movie show.  Long sequences of Kevin Smith movies are basically movie shows anyway: see the "Star Wars" Death Star discussion in "Clerks" or the Superman sex conversation in "Mallrats." Smith has often argued in favor of a different form of movie fandom: a kindler, gentler, more populist iteration where film criticism is the domain of passionate hobbyists rather than working professionals. Here is Smith putting his money -- or Hulu's money, I guess -- where his mouth is. I imagine "Spoilers" will represent Smith's vision of ideal film criticism. For that reason alone, it should be fascinating to watch.

That said, I'm a bit confused by certain elements of the show. Smith claims he loved watching "Siskel & Ebert" -- he even filled in for Ebert a few times during his various convalescences after cancer surgery -- but he also bemoans the fact that criticism has become a "yes-or-no, black-and-white, thumbs-up-thumbs-down kind of affair." He hates that film critics don't pay for their movie tickets but he says he's going to pay for his 50 "Spoilers" audience members' tickets. He claims to adore the way the Internet examines movies, but he detests critical negativity. He says his show will revere movies rather than review them, while also bringing the experience of an online message board to television. An online message board without negativity? You'd have better luck trying to find an ad for sex toys on "The 700 Club."

As a guy who came of age in New Jersey in the 1990s, I worshiped Kevin Smith. Later, I even contributed to a pop culture website Smith started called Movie Poop Shoot --back then, Smith not only like film criticism, he encouraged it -- and as far as I was concerned, being associated with the guy at all meant I'd reached the absolute zenith of the profession.  If you don't think I spend a lot of time these days grappling with the fact that one of my teenhood idols spends a fair amount of his time bashing my chosen profession, you should see my therapy bills.  

As someone who loves film criticism, and who also grew up watching "Siskel & Ebert," I'm eager to see what a Kevin Smith movie show looks like.  I love film criticism on TV and keep waiting for the format to make a comeback. Smith has some really good ideas, too; there's definite value in a movie review show that airs after a movie premieres instead of before so the audience can join in the conversation.  But a movie review show, even one that "reveres" film, needs to have the ability to go negative.  To say that Siskel and Ebert were guys who "jumped on the TV and geeked out about movies" is an incomplete view of their body of work.  Siskel and Ebert never panned movies?  Of course they did!  Most of the show's memorable moments were heated disagreements that involved someone bashing a film (or their co-host). Hopefully Smith takes that lesson to heart. Otherwise, there's a real risk that his new movie show will indeed spoil the format.

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7 Comments

  • Nez | May 22, 2012 5:51 PMReply

    I think I'll have to pass on this one. Though I'm a fan of Smith, his work and his love of movies, his apparent inability to do anything without involving his buddy Jason Mewes has slowly worn me down. I just can't stand watching the guy on screen and it looks like (from the teasers on Hulu) he'll be involved in Spoilers.

  • Dave | May 21, 2012 4:33 PMReply

    It's about time someone figured out that movies are best critiqued by actual, working-for-a-living filmmakers, and NOT by people-who-wish-they-could-make-movies-and-this-is-the-closest-they'll-get.

  • Thuan Dang | May 23, 2012 1:25 AM

    "Filmmaking is film criticism. Actually, on a certain level, I think that film critics are filmmakers in their own right, depending how good they are. For instance, Armond White, who’s very controversial, I think of him as a filmmaker because he literally changes the dialogue on a film. He can warp your perspective if he can get into your brain and change your perspective of how you see a movie. That is filmmaking as much as an editor or a cinematographer. Just because they actually touch the film doesn’t mean that’s the limitation of how you affect the filmmaking. You can affect filmmaking by affecting how people filter it too."

    Joseph Kahn on Armond White and film criticism

    http://www.moveablefest.com/moveable_fest/2012/04/joseph-kahn-interview-detention.html

  • Ben Mortimer | May 22, 2012 6:28 PM

    But what about bias? The film industry is actually a remarkably small community, and the 'filmmakers' I imagine you're talking about are the ones at the top of their game rather than those cranking out direct-to-DVD nightmares, in which case, they're not going to want to say unpleasant things about their friends and colleagues - nor for that matter people they might hope to work with in the future.

    Aside from this argument, it would be interesting to know what qualifies a 'filmmaker' in your opinion? Should it be limited to directors? Writers? Producers? All of the above? They all have an insight into the industry, but it's very different from one another. What about below-the-line crew like cinematographers? Or make-up artists? Or production designers? Is their opinion valid? If not, why so? For that matter, does the opinion of a particular filmmaker count more than that of another? Would you say Wes Anderson has a more valid point than Chris Nolan? What about Michael Bay, or Brett Ratner?

    You might also want to question what sort of professional 'filmmaker' has such little interest in their own career as to spend time criticising the work of others. If they really have such great insight into storytelling and direction, wouldn't it be better used making movies?

  • Katie Schenkel | May 21, 2012 1:10 PMReply

    I'm a film blogger who occasionally gets free passes to early movie screenings as a reviewer. While I tend to point out the good bits even in movies I hate, I do understand Smith's point here. A large amount of reviewers in both print and online write nasty, over-the-top reviews because they know that will get read... even if the movie wasn't that bad. It is an issue and one that makes it very hard for the more thoughtful bloggers in particular to get taken seriously.

    That being said, I don't like the idea of blinding revering movies and not looking critically at them - that can almost be as bad as over criticizing them. I hope that's not what Smith meant about his new show.

  • Matt Singer | May 21, 2012 3:27 PM

    Katie-

    Do some critics pile excessive hate on movies to get attention? Sure. But how is that connected to whether or not they get in to the movie for free? If someone is going to bash a movie in order to boost their website's traffic, how will the way they get the ticket make any difference whatsoever? If that sort of person is dependent on access, I would think they'd be *less* likely to hate if they go to early screenings, because by writing extremely negative reviews they run the risk of angering a publicist and losing their access.

  • Jordan Hoffman | May 21, 2012 1:07 PMReply

    "I know nobody sets out to make a bad movie."
    The evidence speaks otherwise.

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