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Guess What? Some People Aren't Going To Like 'The Dark Knight Rises' & Why Aggregated Movie Scores Are Meaningless

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by Kevin Jagernauth
July 17, 2012 12:03 PM
58 Comments
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Warner Bros. gave the thumbs up on the floodgates to open on reviews for "The Dark Knight Rises" yesterday, and for the most part, advance notices have been strong. We gave the film an A grade and critics from Variety, The Wall Street Journal, Time, Rolling Stone, HitFix, Empire and more have all given their stamp of approval on Christopher Nolan's finale to his Batman franchise. But as we mentioned earlier today, some folks have had the audacity to dislike the film. Christy Lemire from the Associated Press, Christopher Tookey at the Daily Mail and Devin Faraci at Bad Ass Digest are among those who have weighed in negatively, but Marshall Fine at Hollywood & Fine had the unfortunate distinction of being the first one online to offer a voice of dissent. And the reaction was both extreme and embarassing.

Scores of fanboys hit the comments section at both Rotten Tomatoes and Hollywood & Fine to mash their shaking fists of fury into their keyboards. At one point the traffic was so high, Hollywood & Fine's site crashed, and as you might imagine, comments were vitriolic, even though it's a safe guess the majority of the infuriated nerds hadn't seen the movie for themselves. (In fact, many critics haven't caught the film yet either -- Roger Ebert and many more see the film tonight/) The situation got so out of hand, and the comments at times so offensive, that Rotten Tomatoes had to issue a statement of sorts, noting that in the interim they would be closely policing feedback under the negative reviews for trolls/general idiocy and that in the long term, they will "move to a Facebook-based commenting system that doesn't allow for anonymity."

But spending (a rather depressing few minutes) skimming through the comments of Fine and Lemire's review, and jumping over to the IMDb discussion boards (even more depressing), it becomes apparent that there is an unhealthy obsession over the film's score on Rotten Tomatoes. And it's something we've seen not just with Nolan's film, but in how the relative merits of movies in general are being judged on a system that already takes the arbitrary nature of grading a movie, and makes it even more arbitrary. The very nature of aggregating the "scores" of a movie in a reductive system of "fresh" or "rotten" essentially renders that score meaningless by the very simple fact that it removes any middle ground. Films are either fresh -- or not -- and it's both damaging to rounded critiques of movies and meaningless all at the same time.

For example, Playlist contributor James Rocchi gave "The Dark Knight Rises" a carefully considered 3 out of 5 in his review for Movies.com. According to RT, that means the movie is Fresh, but for Nolan fanboys, he might as well have declared it was the worst movie of all time. But in actuality, Rocchi said the movie was both "flawed" and "pleasing," the kind of nuance a punch card movie rating site doesn't allow for. But all you have to do to get an indication of just how silly this whole game of watching aggregated scores can be is just see the vast difference in ratings between Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic (which uses what they argue is a more weighted system) for the same film. RT declares "Moonrise Kingdom" at 94, while MC says it's 84, while "Madea's Witness Protection Program" comes in at 22 vs. 42 split. Is Wes Anderson's movie not as good, or Tyler Perry's slightly less awful as result? What is the difference between 22 and 42? What do those numbers even mean?

Grading a movie, or assigning it a score, is already a tough job for movie critics. Does an A for "The Godfather" mean the same as a 9/10 for "The Hangover" or 4 stars out of 5 for "After Hours"? No, absolutely not. Not to go into the boring details of what the many considerations a movie critic pores over before assigning a score, but the idea that a review can be broken down into a yay or nay, and then ranked from best reviewed to worst is problematic from the start (just look at the IMDb Top 250 -- which has thrown "The Avengers" into the 44th slot -- as another example of random ranking) and negates a variety of factors.

All this to say: don't get bogged down in (for lack of a better word) "statistics." Find a few reviewers you like and whose opinion you trust and read them regularly. Even more, read reviews that don't agree with your thoughts on a movie. But don't let a number or letter or star determine the value of a movie for you before you go see it, and learn to be critical even of movies you do like. And guess what? People are going to dislike movies you love. Someone is going to fucking hate "The Dark Knight Rises." Armond White will probably say "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" was much better. And that's okay. At the end of the day, your feelings on a movie shouldn't be swayed by an aggregated score, and if it is, then you're a fan of popular opinions, not of movies.

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58 Comments

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  • jeremy sivertsen | August 4, 2012 4:36 PMReply

    Its fun to look at what critics and other people are saying about a movie to see if you have a similar opinion, but in the end thats all any review is an opinion. It shouldnt matter what other people think of a movie as long as you enjoy it. Personally I loved TDKR but I still think TDK is better. Both movies are in my top 5.

  • anusuya | August 1, 2012 2:20 PMReply

    I dont think Batman dies. I think he bailed out when he was flying the jet so low with the bomb. otherwise i agree with this version -- a perfect piece which treats each unanswered question one by one. http://www.howzzit.com/2012/07/27/the-many-mysteries-of-the-dark-knight-rises/

  • Reza | July 19, 2012 1:21 AMReply

    Which reviewer you follow religiously? I think I wanna start doing this. Averaging reviews from a handful of reviewers I trust.

  • Ria | July 18, 2012 10:36 PMReply

    Wow. Now I have seen everything. All these for a movie? Glad I have no desire whatsoever to see it. I saw the last one(only because my friend wanted to see it)and liked only the Heath Ledger part. But attacking a critic because he did not like the movie - please.

  • Matt | July 18, 2012 8:46 PMReply

    RT shouldn't be the be-all-and-end-all but its fine to use it as a rough guide. A horrible movie will most likely have a low socre, a great movie will probably have a high score. RT shouldn't determine what movies a person sees.

    Great point on finding reviewers that you tend to agree with. RT introduced me to Roger Ebert and Joe Morgenstern and whenever a movie comes out they're opinions matter more to me than the RT score.

  • Maitland McDonagh | July 18, 2012 7:10 PMReply

    Sorry, everyone, but this battle is lost: Critic who write for major media outlets (with a handful of exceptions, including the New York Times) are force to assign ratings, from thumbs up/thumbs down, stars, numerical ratings that are massaged into an average. The practice is reductive and stupid, but a logical response to the fact that few people can be bothered to actually read reviews anymore. They just look at the ads to see whether someone declared the movie 'a five-star must see' and act accordingly. It's hopeless.

  • Paul | July 18, 2012 6:30 PMReply

    Thanks for the piece. I tend to see what I want, I am pleased when stuff I want to see gets good reviews, but generally there will always be movies I like that everyone else thinks is rubbish, or vice versa (I hated Pirates of the Caribbean, tried watching it 3 times cause I thought I was missing something) Unfortunately the stupid angry people tend to be the most vocal, with an occasional sensible comment inbetween.

  • dj | July 18, 2012 5:44 PMReply

    When people go to Rotten Tomatoes, they shouldn't even be harping over the percentage score which is pretty meaningless since it is a percentage of positive reviews that is calculated. They should be looking at the average rating given by the critics, which is shown just underneath the percentage. Avengers has a 92% fresh score, but an 8.0 average rating. TDKR is at 85% fresh, but 8.2 average rating. This is why Metacritic is better. They don't calculate percentage of positive reviews, but rather aggregate an average score of all the reviews, and they give top critics more weight than lesser critics. As far as IMDB goes, their Top 250 may have a few that seem way out of place, but for the most part it is a very good list.

  • IW | July 18, 2012 11:38 AMReply

    I think budget plays a role, too. Nothing on RT keeps me from seeing a movie I'm interested in (I know how to skim reviews and glide past the spoilers in search of possibilities). But lots of "iffy" movies come out weekly, and on a limited budget I can't "try out" every movie that "might" be good. Which means that if a movie gets enough negative reviews on RT, I'm not likely to shell out the cash just for a chance to say, "Oh, but those naysayer critics were so wrong." Most of the time they turn out to be basically right -- the movie was a waste of time and money, and definitely not an "interesting failure". So, not all of those negative reviews are likely to be baseless, which means I end up saying: "Thanks, RT, you saved me some much needed cash to spend on a movie with better potential."

  • Mike | July 18, 2012 11:35 AMReply

    Rotten Tomatoes simply gives a percentage of positive reviews / total reviews. How many critics liked it?

    Metacritic simply selects a few reviews and gives an average score. How much did critics like it?

    So if Moonrise Kingdom is RT94 and MC84, it means 94% of critics gave the movie positive reviews, and on average critics rated it as 84/100.

    Yes, people should not get outraged over the scores for movies they like. But people can only watch so many movies in their life, and looking at a score beforehand can help people choose what they want to watch before they die, and what movies they shouldn't waste their time on. Other than that, fans will defend the things they like.

  • Paul | July 18, 2012 9:15 AMReply

    The same disgusting thing happened to critics of The Avengers, these fanboys/manchildren need to get out of the house more and get a life. I loved Nolan's first Batman movie "Begins" but not the last one so much, however i already have my ticket for "Rises" on friday and nothing any critic says will sway me from going, but they have a job to do and their honest opinion is a part of it, fanboys really dont know anything about films.

  • Gabe | July 18, 2012 6:30 AMReply

    I think this movie is going to be great :)

  • Brad | July 18, 2012 1:38 AMReply

    This was a well thought out piece. I am really saddened that people are attacking film critics for posting negative reviews on a film. Last time I checked a movie review is usually made up of a person's opinion of a film, based on specific criteria. I may not agree with said persons reivew, but that doesn't mean they are idiots for having that opinion and should be open to death threats. Last time I checked people are allowed in a free society to have opinions that differ. Thats why they are opinions and not facts.

  • James | July 18, 2012 12:55 AMReply

    The pointlessness of movie criticism and the life and work of "professional critics" is becoming more and more obvious.

  • Maitland McDonagh | July 18, 2012 8:59 PM

    Professional criticism is the farthest thing from pointless. That isn't to say that -- especially now, when anyone can create a website and call him/herself a critic -- that there isn't plenty of ignorant nonsense disseminated in various media. But serious critics -- people who love movies enough to devote their lives to seeing every kind of movie they can, reading about genres, filmmakers, national cinemas, eras and the infinitely complicated relationships between movies and the worlds that spawn them -- can change the way you look at movies. They can persuade you to take a chance on something that doesn't sound like the kind of movie you'd like because you've never seen a movie like it before. They can introduce you to actors, writers and directors you've never heard of, or make you see things with which you're familiar in a different way. Critics -- real critics -- aren't thumbs up/thumbs down spectators at some fight to the death between The Dark Knight Rises and Rashomon. They're guides, and I for one owe many of them a debt of gratitude for directing me to movies I might otherwise never have seen, which is what I've always tried to do in my reviews.

  • Brilliant | July 17, 2012 9:42 PMReply

    Fantastic article that articulates perfectly what I've thought of this system for years. Thank you for this :)

  • Jason | July 17, 2012 8:56 PMReply

    You are wrong about the people who are attacking the reviewers. In a sea of pointless and trivial movie garbage, Chris Nolan is an oasis who provides substantive, thought provoking screenplays and an amazing visual spectacle. There is no comparable director who executes such flawless and engulfing movies. The fact that these reviewers are incapable of appreciating the brilliance of his movies is evidence in support of their acculturation to the decomposing fecal matter that usually passes for movies. Lemire gave positive ratings to Magic Mike and Battlefield while panning Nolan. She really needs to take an introspective look into what she values because she is a rubber stamp for the movie executives who flood theaters with cliched boring plots which provide nothing of value beyond anesthesia for your mind.

  • Matt | July 18, 2012 8:38 PM

    You're missing the entire point of the article, and big words and metaphors dont make you smart.

  • Sam | July 18, 2012 6:25 PM

    1. Magic Mike is excellent, and plenty of critics that like TDKR agree.

    2. Lemire said something along the lines of "when you have a director who makes such great movies anything less than great is dissapointing." That's hardy panning Nolan.

    3. I don't care what you think of Nolan, the repulsive misgony, death threats, and anger towards people that dislike the movie (let alone people that said it's "good but not a masterpiece") is fucking unacceptable.

  • F.P. | July 18, 2012 4:00 PM

    Oh please. Nolan's films are good, and I'll even say some were criminally overlooked at the Oscars, but you're not owed a good review from Christy Lemire or any critic for that matter. And in the end, WHO CARES what critics say? What does it have to do with you? If you're so convinced she's awful, avoid the Associated Press reviews! And mind you, most of her top 5 films for 2011 were independent films, not the 'rubber stamp' Hollywood films you claim. And surprise, but MAGIC MIKE happens to be really enjoyable and was made for TDKR's craft services budget. Will it compare to TDKR? Probably not, but if she didn't care for it, so what? S.F.W.??? You haven't even seen it to know if, I dunno, maybe she's right!

  • Paul | July 17, 2012 10:12 PM

    No, brilliance would be making a Nolan-style Batman movie while not changing a thing about the story.

  • Rohan | July 17, 2012 6:33 PMReply

    I must admit that this is actually a good article. Thanks for writing it, Kevin. I agree with your statement in the very last paragraph, "read the review of the reviwer you like." It's a really good advice. I read Mr. Fine's review this morning just to see why he is the most hated man right now on the net; I am a fan of Mr. Nolan and his work, but I have to say that Mr. Fine's review was completely juvenile. His attack was on the film-maker, and I see why the fans went crazy. I'm against what they typed and their death threats, of course, are redundant and childish. Mr. Fine's mistake as a critic here, isthat you shouldn't be attacking a film-maker. You are entitled to your opinion, so it's better to stick from point A to B, and Z then close your review. Other mistake that Mr. Fine made in his review is that he compares 'The Dark Knight Rises' to 'The Avengers.' We are talking about die-hard fans here, they are all pumped up to see this film. And even I was a bit disturbed, because how can someone compare Nolan's work with 'The Avengers.' - The Avengers is an entertaining film, but when it comes to Nolan's work of art, I am sure we all know how Mr. Nolan writes and directs his films.

  • Paul | July 17, 2012 10:09 PM

    Yeah, The Avengers was just written and directed by Joss Whedon; a genius in his own right.

  • Jhereko | July 17, 2012 7:45 PM

    No, Mr. Fine didn't make a mistake in posting his thoughts on the film (and by natural extension the filmmaker) whatever they may be. The ridiculous, nasty and consistently unreasonable Nolan fans are the only ones at fault here. What other filmmaker would a critic have to worry about criticising because of a rabid fanbase?

  • Zinjo | July 17, 2012 6:09 PMReply

    Scores are for the willfully illiterate! The studio doesn't need to worry about the critics because of two principel factors. Nolan is a brand that has consistently delivered and Dark Knight sufficiently raised the bar on his films that will bring out those who wish to see him either surpass it or stumble before it. Either way is a win-win for the film and studio bosses. Judging by the pre-release ticket sales in my area, what we should be looking for is a new record for openning weekend box office with this one...

  • John | July 17, 2012 5:38 PMReply

    I love "The Playlist" for great news articles, interesting analysis, and in-depth movie reviews. But this article by far takes the cake for greatest of the blog. Not only are your right, but you actually changed my opinion. I have been checking TDKR's Tomatoes score frantically hoping that it winds up above a 90% (which I think it probably will). But now I realize that I shouldn't be checking RT for more than a mere check-up on a film I want to see. Thank you again, and great article Kevin.

  • StephenM | July 17, 2012 5:24 PMReply

    Great little article. Needed to be said. Thanks, Playlist.

  • F.P. | July 17, 2012 5:10 PMReply

    "Someone is going to fucking hate "The Dark Knight Rises." Armond White will probably say "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" was much better. And that's okay. At the end of the day, your feelings on a movie shouldn't be swayed by an aggregated score, and if it is, then you're a fan of popular opinions, not of movies."


    The absolute, hands down, best lines I've ever read from a writer on this site. Bravo, Kevin.

  • BC Armstrong | July 17, 2012 5:02 PMReply

    Very well said. I'd give you an A+, but it would be meaningless.

  • DG | July 17, 2012 2:36 PMReply

    Normally I'd agree with the fanboys and say the guy who gave TDKR a bad review should die but really his punishment must be more severe

  • Steve Laddie Din | July 18, 2012 10:22 AM

    Thank you, Bane.

  • Neil | July 17, 2012 2:33 PMReply

    "Armond White will probably say 'Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance' was much better."

    LOL so true.

    Nice article though. Roger Ebert tried to tackle the same issue in his blog when "District 9" came out, and while many fanboys are still unreasonably sniping at critics because TDKR is "supposed" to be the best movie ever(and not because they have actually seen the film), I'm sure somebody out there is having a change of heart because folks like you guys are willing to take the time to address this issue. Keep up the good work guys.

  • Marko | July 17, 2012 2:14 PMReply

    I'm depressed by the fact that this is even news.

  • Ryan Sartor | July 17, 2012 1:47 PMReply

    With aggregated scores, things sometimes do come down to that question of chicken or the egg. Last awards season, I would notice when a film like 'J. Edgar' tanked out on Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes and realized that it wasn't going to go anywhere, perhaps not as a result, but that it was an indicator of what would happen.

    I think if 'The Dark Knight Rises' had something like a 90 on Metacritic, it would have a much better chance at a Best Picture nomination. I think that sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes do affect the perception of a film.

    I think 'Moonrise Kingdom''s ecstatic reviews and high score on both sites has helped it to make twice as much money as 'The Darjeeling Limited.'

    People should make up their own minds about things, but I think that aggregated movie scores mean a lot in today's movie culture where perception is certainly still king.

  • Christian | July 17, 2012 1:30 PMReply

    I think you realize how big this movie is when a sites writing not one but two articles on people being upset over bad reviews. Anyways I'm really pumped for this movie, but I'm not that surprised by the negative reviews. When that said it was a lot more like Batman Begins I had a feeling that would happen. Plus a lot of people loved TDK just for the Joker, now that he isn't in it they're disinterested.

  • cirkusfolk | July 17, 2012 1:25 PMReply

    The review from Bad Ass Digest sounds to me like the most accurate one I've read so far as far as my opinion goes, but sadly it's negative :(

  • Xian | July 17, 2012 5:15 PM

    Maybe Devin is just a Marvel fan at heart... some folks simply prefer Marvel characters and story arcs to DC's. Maybe he just isn't a fan of Christopher Nolan (many feel he is the second coming of (take your pick or merge them together) Hitchcock or Kubrick, while others feel he's falsely cerebral and makes cold, overly complicated films that don't stand up to scrutiny). The thing is, as many in the blogosphere have written today, film fans are becoming mere fanatics... treating movies and cinema history as if it were turf to be defended (and as film lovers become increasingly niche in their fanaticism about certain films, they run the risk of ignoring much of what world cinema has to offer). Fanboys (and girls) seem to coalesce into online gangs who defend certain directors or creative artists at the drop of a bad review... Suddenly the online film community has fractured into gangs of people who go to extremes in their comments... Holy crap! I just realized, as I write this, that Walter Hill could turn this into a concept for Warriors Part 2 (you heard it here first... dibs!). Anyway, lighten up folks... it's only a movie.

  • AS | July 17, 2012 1:24 PMReply

    People are being a little too hard on the fanboys. I think you could actually look at the whole situation as being very positive. I mean, isn't it great that there are people out there that are so passionate about film that they will go as far as to threaten someone's life over it? If no one cared about films enough to get angry about one person's opinion, the art form would cease to exist... or at least take up a significantly smaller portion of mainstream consciousness. The worst response any film can have is indifference. But with this whole "Dark Knight Rises RT score" situation, everyone wins. Nolan can be pleased that he has such a devoted and passionate fan base out there and the critics who blast the film will have more traffic than ever before. It's a win win, if you ask me. Some people ask "why do people care about what the critics say?" and the answer is obvious. Human beings have an intrinsic need to have their opinion validated. In this instance, the film hasn't come out yet so people don't have an "opinion" to be validated. It's their expectations that need the validation. It's completely understandable and everyone should just calm down and embrace the passion. After all, no one's getting too upset about whether Michael Bay's movies get trashed.

  • Narb | July 18, 2012 11:50 AM

    Wait, what? Being too hard on fanboys who post threats of physical punishment and death over a movie intended for entertainment? No, if anything we're not being hard enough on them. I don't think it's great at all that someone's passion about entertainment is so great that they would threaten someone's life. I rather think that's a problem. Threats of injury and death are no light matter. I think a few of these "fanboys" need a little time in the legal system to sort out their issues.

  • tristan eldritch | July 17, 2012 1:05 PMReply

    Why are people so hellbent on having a critical consensus anyway? More often than not, cool, interesting, risky, or ahead of their time movies are either very divisive, or completely misunderstood by critics the first time around. It seems like such a silly thing to get worked up about.

  • Steve Laddie Din | July 18, 2012 10:24 AM

    spot on, Trist. So what do you do about the ones who get so worked up--about movies they haven't seen?

  • The Playlist | July 17, 2012 3:06 PM

    "Why are people so hellbent on having a critical consensus anyway?" Mostly to help validate their own opinions, invalidate others and often to validate opinions of things they haven't seen yet. You see it on this blog all the time. For instance, we gave a negative review of "The Savages." And yet tons of people who hadn't seen it yet kept pointing to Rotten Tomatoes to "prove us wrong." The sentiment was, "hey everyone, don't worry, this movie is still great," LOOK Rotten Tomatoes even says so. When the RT score dropped it was no longer fresh, the same people -- who had still yet to see The Savages, but somehow were emotionally invested in its success -- tried to discredit Rotten Tomatoes' system as being fallible. You can't win with people like that.

  • sp | July 17, 2012 2:17 PM

    tristan eldritch , I agree with you completely. This happened with Wizard of Oz, Casablanca,etc...

  • Wash | July 17, 2012 1:00 PMReply

    I gave this article a 7, on a scale of starfish to appendix.

  • Great Scott! | July 17, 2012 12:55 PMReply

    The system I have used for at least the past 10 years, before RT and Metacritic were so popular, continues to work pretty well for me. I go by the IMDB rating. Under 7.0, I probably won't like it. Between 7.0-7.5, I probably will at least more enjoy it than not. 7.5-8.0, I'll probably like it a lot. Higher than 8.0, it could easily become a new favorite. Shift this scale roughly a full point higher when looking at television shows instead of movies. Also, it obviously works better the longer the ratings have been accumulating.

  • kitcon | July 17, 2012 12:51 PMReply

    It isn't just the scores they're obsessing over, those "fanatics" worship Nolan like a god and any film or critic that comes up against him or his films is a pretender, a blasphemer, a heretic that they need to crush. It's intolerance and hooliganism rolled into one. They're probably just a small fraction of Nolan fans but they're a loud and rowdy bunch. Not even the Twihards can compare.

  • WRT | July 17, 2012 12:44 PMReply

    The Playlist: defenders of conventional internet dork taste. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES FOR BEST PICTURE! NOLAN IS THE NEXT KOOBRACK! Please continue posting a bloated article for each negative review the movies receives, and remind us that even Citizen Kane and TG Pt. II got negative reviews -- TDKR being 2012's answer to these films, of course

  • The Playlist | July 17, 2012 1:16 PM

    Umm, did we say we want it for best picture? Way to be reductive. You got it twisted. We're more interested in the right to an opinion. It's Voltaire. Though I wouldn't expect you to understand what that means.

  • daniel | July 17, 2012 12:27 PMReply

    Great article. Thanks.

  • tristan eldritch | July 17, 2012 12:22 PMReply

    Man, I really want to enjoy this movie as much I did INCEPTION, but Faraci's review - -" bloated and long yet rushed, deeply serious yet utterly silly, politically minded yet ultimately vapid" - reminds me of everything I loathed about DARK KNIGHT.

  • Steve Laddie Din | July 18, 2012 10:26 AM

    Oooh, watch it, Tristan. You can say things like that about TDK in public. Whisper it if you must but put the radio on loud and make sure the person you're talking to isn't wearing a wire.

  • waefguitar | July 17, 2012 12:49 PM

    Dude, this will be 100 times better than inception.

  • Observer | July 17, 2012 12:10 PMReply

    Why are you you defensive? Your own website gave a rave so fanatical that even money couldn't buy such a review.

  • Huffy | July 17, 2012 1:05 PM

    They aren't being defensive, they're pointing out how ludicrous contemporary fandom has become when a critic can't even write a review of a film without a gaggle of retards personally attacking him despite having never seen said film.

  • Kate | July 17, 2012 12:41 PM

    And this very website's critics frequently disagree with each other. You have to actually pay attention to the name on the review. The Playlist has at least 15 critics working for them.

  • Uhh... | July 17, 2012 12:22 PM

    That's completely immaterial.

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