Someone else might say: "It gives percent-score based on the amount of positive reviews a movie gets from film critics compared to the negative reviews."
Someone else might say that same thing but use the word "aggregate".
Someone else might say "It's a bunch of critics saying shit, so I don't care."
Someone else might say "It tells us about movies."
Landon Palmer, at Film School Rejects, wrote an article called "Why Rotten Tomatoes is Bad for Film Criticism" Which brings us to the questions following "What's Rotten Tomatoes do?"
"Can Rotten Tomatoes confirm if a movie is good or bad?"
"Does an aggregate score really tell us anything about a movie?"
"Do the things critics say matter?"
"What does RT tell us about movies?"
And "What's this have to do with Playing for Keeps?"
Director: Gabrielle Muccino
Can juggle the ball: Gerard Butler
Is it just me or did she do a really really good job?: Jessica Biel
Holy hell: Uma Thurman
She seems mischievous and hilarious to me: Catherine Zeta Jones
Watching him is like being afraid clowns and ending up in an elevator with a clown: Dennis Quaid
Gets what she wants: Judy Greer
"Act supportive, then sort of hurt but strong": James Tupper
He also did a really good job, right?: Noah Lomax
What It's Good For:
-senseless romantic comedy fun
-the creepy landlord
-justification for when I tell people Dennis Quaid can really freak me out sometimes
-shows the potential benefits of coaching youth soccer
-reminds you that no matter how good your life can be going nothing is for sure and it can go downhill
-making people who are paranoid about their significant other having a friendly relationship with an ex even more paranoid
-could inspire you to be a better dad
-not every youth soccer coach will have a similar experience
-could make someone who is paranoid about their significant other having a friendly relationship with an ex even more paranoid
-could make you feel bad about your parenting experiences
The questions I asked in the intro have pretty obvious answers.
No, Rotten Tomatoes cannot confirm if a movie is good or bad.
An aggregate score is just a number, so it tells us absolutely nothing about a movie.
What critics have to say about a movie only matters if you trust the critic. I could care less what Mick LaSalle says. And there are some people who would pay good money to NOT hear what I have to say. So do you need an aggregate of 100+ critics? If you trust in this consensus, then the aggregate does matter. If you don't, well...what's the number really mean? And do you really trust one person so much as to take their word, every single time, on whether or not a movie is worth seeing or not?
RT does collect movie news in a way I like. And that's mostly what I use it for. Plus I enjoy the Weekly Ketchup. And the "5 Favorite Films". I LIKE Rotten Tomatoes. But.
Is 2% really an appropriate score for Playing for Keeps? Does it accurately convey the quality of the movie? Red Dawn has an 11%. Does this mean RD is a better movie than PfK? If no, what does this number actually tell us? More critics liked RD than PfK. That's it. And what does that tell us? Who are these people? Do you trust what they have to say? The Audience Score for PfK? 55%. If there's such a difference, who do you trust more? The critics or the people?
The Artist has a 98% on RT. Do you know what movie I hate? The Artist. Do you know what movie I would rather watch than The Artist? Playing for Keeps. (Before you think I'm just an idiot: keep in mind most of The Artist is George Valentin moping because he refuses to adapt to changing technology, and he is so obstinate and selfish he refuses the help of those who are trying to help him and is going to commit suicide without even making sure someone is going to take care of his dog. The only reason he is happy at the end is because he can be in movies again because of his dancing. A skill he already had. George Valentin ABSOLUTELY refused to adapt in any way, shape, or form throughout the entire movie. Peppy had to make a film adapt to George. And you could argue he was upset because he had an accent or a speech impediment so couldn't really talk, so would have failed at talking pictures even if he had tried...but someone truly motivated would hire a speech coach. Remember The King's Speech? I just don't see why a narrative about a guy who is happy when people are catering to him but QUITS when the going gets tough and refuses to help himself is an interesting narrative? Especially when we're supposed to root for him and be happy for him at the end? It'd be like in The Dark Knights Rises if Batman, once he got his back broken, just stayed in the prison and moped, and Catwoman and Blake/Robin stopped Bane, stopped the bomb, and went and rescued Bruce right before he was about to commit suicide and said "Hey, you can come back and be Batman now." Wouldn't you be like..."That sort of sucks?")
Do you know what movie has a 69% on Rotten Tomatoes? Men in Black III. Do you know what movie I would rather watch than Men in Black III? Playing for Keeps. Do you know what movie I think is better than Men in Black III? Playing for Keeps.
Do you know what movie has a 59% on Rotten Tomatoes? Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. Do you know what is one of the stupidest movies I have ever seen? DBAotD.
I consider Spider-Man 3 to be the worst movie ever made. And it has a 63%.
When I saw the midnight showing of SM3, I'd say 1/4 of the people walked out. When I saw Playing for Keeps (on the opening weekend), people applauded.
Really though...what's the difference between Playing for Keeps and Young Adult? Okay, I'll give Young Adult a leg up in the directing category. But. Look at the plots:
Playing for Keeps:
-George moves to Virginia to be by his son (and because he secretly wants his ex-wife back).
-George's career isn't going well and he's having money troubles
-In attempting to win back his ex, George forms a relationship with Lewis, his son, for, really, the first time (since this is the first time George has tried being a legitimate father)
-the former couple have beers and a meal together and we see sparks
-nothing really awful happens to anybody, unless you consider the neediness, caused by lack of romantic attention, of Thurman's, Greer's, and Jones's characters. And the heartbreak Matt must feel
-both movies have characters named Matt
-George was a selfish person and is becoming a good person
-George is validated
-Ends with the reunited family playing soccer together
-Mavis Gary goes from Minneapolis to her home town in the hopes of reclaiming her high school boyfriend.
-Mavis's once popular book series (which is about characters in high school) is about to be cancelled
-In attempting to win back her ex, Mavis forms a friendship with Matt (a high school loser who she actually comes to see as a person)
-the former couple have beers and a meal together and we see sparks
-awful things happened to Matt
-both movies have characters named Matt
-Mavis was a selfish person and is disintegrating, and, it is hinted, has mental issues
-Mavis is validated
-Ends with Mavis, alone, staring at her damaged car
They both have similar plots. But Young Adult is more dramatic. Matt being crippled because people thought he was gay. Mavis freaking out at the party. Mavis maybe having mental issues. PfK doesn't have any similar drama.
Ebert said PfK is "pretty much from the assembly line."
He said of YA, "It breaks with form, doesn't follow our expectations..."
Look. I'm not saying they're the same movie. Or that they're on an equal playing field. I think Young Adult is a better movie. But all they all that different? I think the line is finer than what others probably. One has an 80% RT score and the other a 2%.
So someone sees the 80% RT score, reads a review saying YA is darkly funny, inventive, and emotional (despite following a robotic character). They go see the movie.
Someone sees the 2% RT score, reads a review saying PfK is misogynistic, ho-hum, and forgettable. They don't see the movie.
Yet the audience score for YA is 50%. And the score for PfK is 55%.
I'll say it again. People applauded, and said "Yay!" when Playing for Keeps ended. They were laughing throughout the movie. People were sniffling at the end. I cried. I don't care. I was happy for the little kid. I was happy for George.
So what does the tomato score matter? What does an aggregate of critics matter? Who are these people anyway? Do they know you? They get paid to do what they do, but what does that mean? Who am I to question what they do? No one is paying me. I don't know you. You don't know me. I could sing the praises of Playing for Keeps. Does that mean you'd like it? I could paint the movie as the latest sign of the Mayan Calendar's End of Days proclamation. Does that mean you wouldn't like it?
This is why I think film criticism is, in its current state, pointless. It's plot summary and opinion. What do either of these things really tell us about the film? Does reading a summary of Titanic prepare you for the emotion of Titanic? Does reading that "The visuals of Avatar are stunning. This is a must-see movie," tell you anything about the movie you couldn't see for yourself? Maybe you weren't sure if you should go see the movie, so you read that and you went. But then maybe you hated the plot? Maybe you disliked the characters? What did the review saying "the visuals of Avatar are stunning. This is a must-see movie," really tell you?
Can the critics of a time really tell us anything? The critics of the time didn't think van Gogh was very good. The critics of the time thought Moby-Dick was rubbish. The critics of the time misunderstood Fight Club. If the critical opinion of movies, books, art, and music fluctuates so much over time, what good, then, are the initial summaries and opinions of critics? Wouldn't it be more worthwhile to aggregate opinions of a movie over time? Would Forrest Gump be rated as high today as it was when it was released?
Isn't this what IMDB scores give us? The ratings are constantly in-flux. The top 250 changes all the time. The Matrix has an 8.7 score right now. In 10 years, if the site is still around in 10 years, people could vote it down to 7.2. It'd just be better if we could see more than top 250, bottom 100, and genre. And if we could see a chart of individual scores over time (like what's the yearly rating of Forrest Gump since 1994?).
Really, what determines a movie's worth if not time? Think about museums. There's a sculpture from 64 AD. It is worth millions of dollars because it's a fucking sculpture from 64 AD. But it could have been the cheapest sculpture made at the time. It's just lucky enough to have survived. So we value it. If a film continues to captivate and hold our interest decade after decade, and its still-watched contemporaries become fewer and fewer, doesn't it mean its value is increasing? So why an emphasis on initial critics opinion? Why an emphasis on critical opinion at all? And why are these scores static?
Equilibrium has a 37% RT score. IMDB score? 7.6. If Equilibrium is being watched in 10 more years, 20 more years, will its RT score change? Is that 37% a true indication of its worth as a film? Or does it tell us that, in 2002, 63% of critics gave it a thumb down? I personally think Equilibrium is a 5.5 or 6 at best. I think it's cool and throw it on for fun. But I would never argue with someone who says it's a bad movie the way I would argue with someone who says The Artist is a good movie. But say in 15 years a lot of the 2002 film critics have retired. We have a new wave of film critics, most of whom saw and loved Equilibrium. They write new reviews and RT includes these. Is the RT score for equilibrium suddenly at 62%? But what if public opinion has dwindled and no one is watching it anymore? Does it matter what the score is if no one is watching the movie?
"The score will get people to watch the movie!" Will it though? Why? A 62%. How?
It would take people stirring up interest in the film. Does the score alone do that? Debatable. Articles in newspapers could. A new critic writes about how much he or she enjoys and loves Equilibrium. This article can influence someone to take a chance and watch the film.
"Okay, now you're just talking crazy. Earlier you said critics telling people their opinions on movies is pointless!" On new releases, yes. It's one thing to say "Hey, this new movie is out, I really liked it! You should go see it! It's about a tiger on a boat with this kid and they're lost at sea!" when there are commercials for this movie all over the place, it's playing in the theater RIGHT NOW, and a lot of other people and newspapers and magazines are talking about it. It's quite another to say "Hey, there was a movie that came out in 1941. It's called Sullivan's Travels. It makes me laugh and smile and emote. I think it's great. I recommend it."
Do you see the difference between the two? In both scenarios, the informer has no idea if you'll like the movie or not. But in the first scenario, odds are you already know about the movie. In the second scenario, you may not. If the critic is telling you about movies you haven't heard about, on a consistent basis, wouldn't you return again and again, even if you don't like every movie, because you're hearing about movies you never knew existed? If that same critic is just telling you about movies you already know existed and sometimes you agree and sometimes you disagree with whether these movies are good or bad...why read this critic?
Why is Citizen Kane still around? Because people continue to talk about it and make people watch it. Do people still talk about and watch Crash? I'm seriously asking. I have no idea. I don't. All I hear people say about Crash nowadays is how overrated it is.
"You know, if I go to Rotten Tomatoes and look at the list of top 100 romance movie Sulivan's Travels is right there."
Again. That's awesome for letting us know the movie exists. And the Tomato Score is 100%! But it has five reviews in the last five years. Why? Because what are critics going to tell us about the film? Using the current model? They'll summarize it. And they'll say "I liked it. You should watch it." If all the other critics feel the same, why even write about the film? Is there going to be the one asshole who says, "I hate this movie! DON'T SEE IT!"? Maybe. But is he being a critic or a douche bag?
The current mode of criticism is pointless because how a critic feels about a movie today may not be how he or she feels in six months, or two years, or five years. Even worse, it discourages retrospective. Why? Because the current format only has summary and "is it worth seeing or not". When this is all you're supposed to say, how can you say anything new? Unless you suddenly dislike the film. "I thought this was good. But, five years late, I changed my mind."
"So what should film criticism be Mr. Smarty Pants?!?!?"
This (my site). And this (Cinema Beans). And this (Film Critic Hulk).
It should be analyzing the film in a certain context. Through a specific frame. Could you imagine 100 critics, instead of summarizing a plot and saying whether they liked or disliked the movie, each discussing some aspect of the movie. Maybe one critic is a sound expert? Another focuses on narrative structure? Maybe one breaks a film down through psychology. And if that sounds boring, these people don't write boringly. They write in a manner that's scholarly but interesting, because if they don't no one will read. For an example of what I'm talking about, see Grantland.
What about me? What am I doing right now in this piece? I'm discussing critical and audience reaction to Playing For Keeps and thus using PfK as a means to analyze institutions of modern culture: film critics and Rotten Tomatoes. Do you know anything more about the plot or quality of the movie than you did when you started reading? If you've watched one trailer for the movie, probably not. But hasn't Playing for Keeps taken on more importance than you otherwise would have given it? Are you a little more willing to see the movie in order to take a stance on this subject? Is a 2% accurate? Or am I right and the 2% is unfair?
Given my idea of film criticism, it wouldn't matter if a film critic were talking about new releases or not. A critic instead of writing about Argo could have discussed how, with Argo, we must actually pay attention to Ben Affleck's career, which means Gigli is now relevant and worth watching not as a movie itself but as the moment that altered the trajectory of Affleck's work in film. A critic could re-visit Garden State and see if perception of it has changed over the last decade. Is it still a cult film? Is it growing in reputation, or has its momentum stalled?
The range of topics opens up. Which I think makes film critics way more relevant than they are today. Someone from The Milwaukee Journal could write the most interesting things about film anyone has ever read. That is if he or she were allowed the freedom of context, rather than having to stick to summary/opinion. Giving summary/opinion he or she could still be interesting. But it's not the same. It'd be like...if Michael Jordan were only allowed to shoot three-pointers. Would we still talk about how cool Michael Jordan was? Maybe. Would he be MICHAEL JORDAN! No. Because he wouldn't have been dunking.
I say let critics dunk.
The next section of my inquiry is "Did I Like It". Which will be so hypocritical after all of this. But people still like to know what other people think about things. I'm not saying critics can't give their opinions, or shouldn't. I just don't think it should be the purpose of what a film critic does.. Notice that "Did I Like It" is at the very end.
Do I like Rotten Tomatoes? As a news center, yeah. At a film community, yeah. But as a prognosticator, Rotten Tomatoes tells us more about our current "professional" film critics than it does about the quality of a movie. Sort of the way the groundhog tells you more about the amount of clouds over Pennsylvania on February 2nd than it does when Spring will come. (Which we could then ask the question why if the shadow is what's important do you need the groundhog at all? Couldn't you just tell if your own shadow was on the ground? Which is a metaphoric way of saying, shouldn't you just talk to friends and watch trailers and go see the movie yourself and see what you think? What good are the current models of critics? Which then gets us into the fun of the holiday of Groundhog Day and how people really enjoy it and have celebrations. So aren't critics then sort of...part of this movie-going ceremony? They don't really tell us anything, but they're fun to have around? I'll buy that argument too. I still think we can find a better use for them though. Critics and groundhogs.)
Did I Like It:
Yes. It's simple. It has the mushy ending. But. I liked Gerard Butler in it. I liked Jessica Biel. And I thought the predator approach of the soccer mom's was entertaining. It's not like Butler was seducing them and being mean to them. All the women were sexualyl aware and and hyperactive, at least in regards to George. I'll accept that and laugh at the situations. I thought Butler accurately conveyed George's confusion at parenting and had real emotion on his face when he was happy and sad. I thought he was in character. Same with Biel.
The build up to Quaid fighting George? Dumb. The actual fight? Dumb. But I'm not expecting brilliance here. I'm just expecting logical sense and emotion. And this had logical sense and emotion. Except for it getting dark in Virginia at like 7pm in what appears to be August or September? But whatever.
I thought the ancillary characters were comic and one-dimensional. But the main three characters convinced me they had depth and heart.
And I felt the movie could resonate with people. We're witnessing the time in the life of this character when he stops being selfish and starts thinking of his family. And it isn't easy for him. We see him try and fail. We see him flounder sometimes. There are several cycles of ups and downs. It isn't "bad, gets better and better, is great, then is bad, then the character is redeemed" like a lot of Mono-myth narratives/Adam Sandler movies. We see "it's meh, gets better, takes a step back, takes a step forward, takes another step back, makes up for it, fucks it up, makes more progress, but then is going to leave." And the relationship with the son and the relationship with the ex are progressing at different rates. It isn't "All good!" then "All bad!" There's progress with the son but stagnancy with the ex. Then there's a step back with the son and a step back with the ex. But then there's a step forward with the mom that's completely devoid of anything having to do with the son. The son "sets them up" but it isn't the in "wink wink look how smart the kid is being, he knows what's up" kind of way. He just asks his dad to come along with them. Does he know what he's doing? Maybe. But we never see evidence it isn't as innocent as he wants his dad to come along.
2% is ridiculous to me.