With movie theaters open again, yet such limited content, I have once again found myself scrolling Rotten Tomatoes and its app Flixter to determine if a movie is worth seeing or not. I usually consider movie recommendations in one of the following categories:
- Critics & audiences agree. This could be a high score or a low score, but in general, these are the movie reviews I tend to believe the most. Consensus between the supposed experts, the critics, and the people just out to spend a few pleasant hours being entertained, is equal. Either it’s good or it’s bad. Current movies in this category: Stillwater, starring Matt Damon. Critics give it 74%; audiences give it 72%. That’s pretty dang close. Others that are in this category: The Suicide Squad (91% from critics / 84% from audiences) and Black Widow (80% from critics / 91% from audiences). These are not as close together as the ratings for Stillwater, but they are generally in the *highly or mostly positive* category for both.
- Audiences love, critics hate. When I see this kind of split, I usually think “This is a movie with a specific target audience that loves this kind of movie despite its many flaws.” If I’m part of that same demographic, I might take a chance on the movie. If not, this is the kind of movie I skip. Currently in this category: Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins. Critics give it 38% fresh; audiences are at 74%. Likewise with Space Jam: A New Legacy. Critics say 27%; audiences say 79%. This probably means these aren’t great movies, but audiences choose them because they know what they are getting into; it’s not a surprise to them. Another one that’s close, but not quite in this category is Jungle Cruise (63% from critics, which is still positive or “fresh” vs. 92% from audiences, which is really high). When I see this kind of split, I read the reviews before I decide. In this case, I determined that most of the critics sound like they have never been on the Jungle Cruise attraction in their lives. If you are choosing this movie and don’t expect corny jokes and a convoluted plot, you lack the spirit of discernment.
- Critics love, audiences hate. Honestly, these are generally just as bad as the prior category in my book. According to critics, we are supposed to like this type of movie, but for whatever reason, we just don’t. It’s not entertaining. This feels like a recommendation for more gruel in our diet (or early morning seminary or a really boring “classic” piece of literature that just feels like a punishment). Current example: The Green Knight. Critics are 88% positive; audiences are only 50% positive which is pretty lukewarm on average. Having read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by assignment in far too many classes, I can see why this might be a slog.
This got me thinking about the role of critics (which is a category that includes bloggers such as myself as well as many commenters) vs. the role of audiences (which in Church terms we call either the membership or the congregation). Just because critics think something’s bad doesn’t mean people who choose to participate don’t like that thing. I enjoy discussions with those friends I think are smart but who disagree with me on this or that point about church experience. I remember one such discussion about the requirements for my sons to dress a specific way to do the sacrament. Our bishop at the time objected to their sleeves being rolled up to pass, which really bugged me because they were growing so fast that their sleeves were too short, and I wasn’t going to be able to get back to the US to buy them new shirts for a few months. (It was really difficult to buy for them in Singapore unless I wanted to shell out big bucks at Marks & Spencer, just trust me, it was a pain–no Amazon Prime there either). To me, this requirement lessened my enjoyment. I considered it needlessly Pharisaical or rule-focused for the sake of rules, not for the sake of my boys or us as members.
When I complained about it to a work colleague who happened to be Mormon, he said it’s the “uniform of the priesthood,” and if you don’t wear your kit, you can’t play on a sports team, and this was the same. To him, having this uniform brought a sense of purpose to what they were doing, taking focus away from them as individuals, and putting the focus on the ordinance. They could disappear into the uniform and let the sacrament take center stage. They were part of a team, something bigger than themselves. It’s not a bad idea. Restaurants also have the wait staff dress uniformly, and the sacrament is more important than a burger and chips, right? So, it’s not my jam, but I see how it could enhance someone’s experience.
You could say that this isn’t a critic / audience split, and you’d be right–we are both the audience in this case. But if I write a blog post about it, suddenly I am not just the audience; I’m a critic. I’m now the arbiter of taste! I’m an intermediate between your experience and what is “good” or “critically acclaimed.” If I tell you what’s bad about it, now you might see it. Once your eyes are open to other perspectives on what is good or bad, you can’t unsee it. You doubtless have some critics whose opinions you find more valuable than others, usually because you generally agree with them, or your experience closely matches theirs. We pick and choose whose criticism we read, ultimately as an extension of our own views. If a movie critic tells you that the first half of a movie is great, but it gets bogged down in the second half, you are looking for that to happen, and it does! If you hadn’t read that review, you might also think it’s slow in the second half, or you might take a welcome bathroom break while ponderous music plays and the main characters shuffle around, waiting for the action to pick up again.
Lee Hale once mentioned in his old podcast Preach that if you want to stay in the Church, don’t look too closely at it (that’s a paraphrase). He specifically meant don’t become a journalist writing about it. Why is that? Journalists (and even lowly bloggers) have to have something to write about, even if it’s just reporting “news” and giving an opinion about it that others might find engaging. The more you do that, the more you see, including the unsavory, and finding a perspective that is unique but not bonkers is the sweet spot to finding an audience that thinks you are relevant and have ideas worth reading. Eventually, you can’t stop seeing the flaws that a closer inspection will reveal. Do movie critics enjoy a popcorn film or are they too busy noticing that the dialogue is wooden or the action sequences contain too much CGI?
Another thing that occurred to me is that the ratings on Rotten Tomatoes are determined based on something that is deeply misleading. Critics’ reviews are seen as binary, either positive or negative overall, but if you read the review, you may find that a “positive” review uses lukewarm words and identifies a lot of flaws, some of which may be more important to you than others as an audience member. Likewise, a so-called negative review could be fairly positive if you read it but the things that caused it to be negative might not apply for you. For example, it could consider the movie difficult to follow if you don’t already know the backstory, but maybe you do know the backstory, so that critique doesn’t reduce your enjoyment at all; it enhances it.
- Do you look at movie reviews before going to the movies? If not, how do you decide whether to see it or not?
- Does your experience at Church (or the movies) differ if you think of yourself as audience vs. critic?
- Do you think (movie or church) critics often miss the enjoyment in an effort to have something unique or insightful to say?
- Do you agree that journalists and others who write about or investigate something are less likely to be able to enjoy it for seeing its flaws?
- Do you think we tend to reduce blog posts to either being positive or negative when the majority contain both? How does this affect our willingness to engage?
 I hated this explanation even more on the basis that it felt like membership dues, but he felt differently which is valid.
 I’m not saying this as a defense of Oaks’ stance that all criticism is wicked, which I don’t buy.
Let me be clear: modern Hollywood deserves the strongest possible condemnation for its open and stated agenda of promoting violence and wanton sexuality. Indeed, modern entertainment executives seem determined to destroy the traditional morality upon which this Country was founded. As such, the vast majority of modern movies should be avoided.
As for the very few that do not deserve to be boycotted, no reasonable person would base a decision on the audience rating. The vast hordes who sit around in sweatpants and crocs simply do not have the education or sophistication to determine whether a movie has any quality or not.
As for Church, the same principle applies. No reasonable person would accept the judgement of the masses. The hordes who spend sacrament meeting on their phones watching cat videos on YouTube are hardly the people whose opinion on behavior should serve as the model.
Excellent post, with an analogy that runs deep.
I research a movie in depth before going to see it, but rarely in the form of reviews (I’ve actually gotten in a habit of looking at the Parental Advisory section of IMDB, which gets so graphic in its description at times, you wonder if you were any worse off seeing the movie). I read about the production process in real time and also rely on word of mouth. I do read many reviews afterward.
There are times when the reviewer will point something out I hadn’t noticed before, or make a point about the movie I hadn’t considered. I usually find it interesting, but it rarely changes my outlook on the movie.
There are times in which the reviewer so consistently disagrees with me that I start to question their grasp on reality, or whether at all they’ve made any effort to understand those of us who enjoy the movie. I have no doubt they’d probably do the same with me.
There are reviews in which you get the distinct feeling the reviewer probably sees distinct value in the movie—maybe even joy—but simply is seeking to generate buzz or bring up his or her notoriety by his or her harsh criticism.
I can recall reading one review that berated the movie for not resolving a certain plot point. That plot point had been resolved by a mid-credits scene (staying to the end of the credits might be considered the 11th commandment in my family). That showed me the reviewer was impatient, lazy, and lacked a certain trust in the film makers that things would work out.
Somewhat related, I find I’m not usually bothered by what a lot of reviewers call plot holes. Often I fail to see how it’s an actual plot hole. But more often, nearly half the fun of a movie is “filling in” that plot hole with my own imagination. I’m also amazed by how many deleted scenes fill in those plot holes (often coming close to where my imagination was), but for some reason or another, ended up on the cutting room floor. Did they not think audiences could handle it or sit through it? Or were there outside influences and circumstances affecting the way those closest to the film could proceed? Generally, with a little more research, we find out why. At that point, I usually still find both versions enjoyable.
It’s too bad the word “critic” is generally seen in such negative terms, especially in the Church (where “contention is of the devil” is so often trotted out to kill an interesting conversation). I wish there were a better term. Reformer. Careful observer. Faithful members with a few suggestions for improvement. Alas, in the Church “critic” is seen as a synonym for apostate or dissenter of modern-day Korihor. But onto the really important stuff.
I rarely read movie reviews. But I know that “Green Lantern” with Ryan Reynolds that came out a few years ago got panned. So I finally dialed it up on Amazon Prime to see just how bad it was and yes, it was a terrible movie. That was evident in the first 60 seconds. I know a movie is terrible when I start rooting for the bad guys. A movie has to be pretty bad when you are wishing the thugs would just kill the hero and the movie end.
I think you’re right about getting stuck in critic mode at church. Fortunately I’m not one of those Sunday blurters who need to share every negative observation in class or with a speaker after they butcher a gospel topic. So I still have friends. But I’m not sure I’d be much happier if I were 100% audience and 0% critic. Just not a lot to keep one’s interest these days in church. They really ought to split Gospel Doctrine into three classes: Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial. Me and three other people would have fine discussions in the Telestial class.
As for blogging, I would note that at least once a month I force myself to write something positive about Church or gospel. It is too easy to slip into the “gripe of the week” habit when blogging on LDS themes. That’s not really where I want to end up.
I once heard a GA or Q15 member say that he had never attended a boring sacrament meeting (anyone remember that?). His point was that it’s all about attitude. If you have the right attitude, you’re going to have a positive experience no matter what,
I don’t happen to agree with this philosophy, but then again I believe the GA who said this was probably sincere. It’s all part of the confirmation bias process in the Church. If you want something to be true, you’ll talk yourself into that. If you want something to be good, same. And I guess for this GA, if you want sacrament meeting to be non-boring, you can will that to happen.
Another version of this mentality is the thought (thanks BKP) that even if you don’t have a testimony, you should testify that you do and that act will actually strengthen your testimony. See what I mean by talking yourself into something? If we did that in any other area of life we’d be considered phony.
I’ll add this: those of us who are “progressive” or “x” or whatever can also be guilty of these tendencies. If you’re out to get the Church, you’ll find enough negatives to be able to do so quite easily. I try not to go so far down that road that I forget the goodness the Church has provided in my life. It’s definitely something I try to monitor. It’s all about self-awareness.
Movie critics see a ton of movies, so what tickles their brains is novelty. If there is something new or different about the style, story, acting, cinematography, or whatever, they pick up on that and tend to give higher ratings where regular folk just see weirdness. critics and audiences tend to agree when movies strike that balance between enough novelty to be interesting, bur traditional enough to be comfortable.
Likewise, church critics are looking for change (i.e novelty) in the church. Updated doctrine, inclusive policies, cultural evolution, more democratization, etc. Most of the church”s audience wants comfort and familiarity. Changes in the church are most successful when the change is enough to satisfy critics while being a small enough step to keep the audience happy. Think 2 hour church, no more BSA, moving mission age down a smidge, etc. No novelty turns critics into competitors . Too much novelty scares off the main audience.
Leading change is hard. I think more senior leaders want to implement systemic changes in the church than we give credit for, but leadership is only effective if people are willing to follow.
I’ve noticed that my taste in movies has changed over the years, and the older I get, the more my tastes tend to align with mainstream film critics than they did before. For example, I used to love Star Wars movies growing up (this franchise is perhaps the pinnacle of the “audiences love/critics hate” category) but now I don’t care for them, and I often find myself in agreement with the opinions of the critics who consistently slam those movies.
Professional critics are also very jaded people because they make their living by watching movies all day long, most of which are probably mediocre or terrible, then have to form intelligent opinions about those movies and express them in writing. Time and experience have made me more jaded as well, and many of the contemporary action/superhero films that I would have enjoyed as a young man now seem contrived, overwrought and predictable. Since I’m in the thick of raising kids, I don’t have as much free time for movies as I used to, so I’m a lot more selective about the movies I watch. Historical dramas, biopics and offbeat comedies (“boring grownup movies” my kids call them) tend to be my preference these days.
My relationship with the Church is similar. It used to be enriching and exciting, but sometimes I feel like I’ve outgrown it. This past Sunday (5th Sunday, in which the bishop can address the ward on any important topic he chooses) my bishop’s message was all about “getting back to basics” and “remember the primary answers” with our worship, as if to say “you’re still not ready for meat, so open wide so we can insert a tube that will force-feed you nothing but milk”. Every new Church program or curriculum is just another bad sequel/reboot. And just like with the movies, the critics who point out the flaws in the Church are resonating with me more and more.
Very interesting analogy. It could be applicable to mention the difference between Cinema as an art form and Movies as a commercial product.
Some people enjoy cinema the way people enjoy modern art—they go to the theater looking for something new, to have their worldview challenged, to be both moved and unsettled, to have heir horizons expanded. People like this probably got something special from their experience at The Green Knight. Other people enjoy movies the way people enjoy baseball. The drama inherent in baseball isn’t changing with new expressions of the medium—it’s just baseball. People know exactly what they want out of a baseball game and they get it. These people probably hated The Green Knight. And they’re within their rights to do so—The Green Knight was not made for them.
Martin Scorcese got some flak from nerd fandom for suggesting that Marvel superhero movies aren’t cinema. It pains me to say it but he has a point. Marvel movies are a product made by a gigantic corporation to please a huge amount of people and make vast swaths of cash.
Obviously this isn’t a hard and fast binary. Even A24 has a bottom line and often popcorn films do something viscerally powerful that rises to the level of “art.”
Similarly, some people go to church looking for the comfort of the familiar. It can be entertaining and moving and affirming, but in a baseball sort of way. Not looking to reinvent the wheel. Other people are hungry for more. They come to church with deeper questions; the simplicity of the old platitudes doesn’t satisfy them. Maybe these people are more likely to be critics of the church.
Also, to JCS’ point: he’s touched on something worth mentioning about Mormons and movies. Mormons are so afraid of seeing boobs and hearing F words that they’re missing out on a lot of very good cinema. And I do mean good in a holistic sense. We, as a people, are so bad at moral reasoning we’ve created boogeymen out of depictions of any kind of sexuality in movies while at the same time subjecting children to sexually explicit bishop’s interviews. We’d do well to rethink that.
And some people like movies that challenge them to think about changing their mind, AND they like a good “baseball” thriller-adventure with a tub of popcorn and a Diet Coke. Some people will watch anything with motion and a soundtrack and be entertained. That’s my kind of people, but I’ve been alienated from entertainment screens since pre-covid because of life turbulence and too much crap to process. Last night on a plane I started watching Apollo 11 and it was ponderously slow, plus zero plot, plus I already knew the ending. Since Black Panther wasn’t on the menu anymore, I started watching Limbo, based on a vague remembrance of A Flixster check on the outbound flight. It was ponderously slow, but we’ll done by professionals who made you forget it was pretend. It’s about refugees waiting for asylum in backwater Scotland, and I thought it dragged, until I got introduced to the characters, then it was just quietly interesting with occasional tedium. On the drive from the airport, I mulled it over, and saw that the tedium was deliberate because, well— LIMBO. And it was a privilege to end my travel with a peek into (faux) lives whose opportunities are completely on hold until they get a lottery of some sort, that might just be zero. I give it 4 stars but try to apply yourself. Great cinematography.
I don’t know what to say to others about the church. There are so many approaches and they’re all personal, and spiritually driven. I can only speak of myself and the best thing I have done lately is to accept that I am both audience and critic, and much more. And to understand that there’s none more qualified as my critic and guide than myself, and I must overcome the infantilization in my soul about these matters and do the work of figuring it out.
To survive in the church, much less thrive, means that I must develop my ability to recognize and judge nuance, and to accept that we are all in something of a lottery situation. Pre-destination/ordination is such a lovely hopeful thing, but it’s not gonna get me through the whitewater upright. I need a clear eye and clear thinking, and experienced skills. Same with blogging, and with all of life, but some people stubbornly hang onto their lovely hopeful comforting crutches, that they murkily understand, that only get in the way when entering the rapids.
Even that statement (above) is too binary. Where there’s human beings involved, there will be endless nuance. Better to study up on that than cling to something that won’t survive the field test.
I always look at the reviews before I watch a movie. So many bad movies out there, I don’t want to waste my time watching them. If it has high critic ratings but lower audience ratings, I figure it is an artistic movie that is unique, but a little boring, and one in which you have to have an acquired taste to appreciate. If it has high audience ratings and low critic ratings, I figure it is a movie that appeals to bad masses tastes (like the Transformers movies) but is plotless and insipid. I always look for the ones that have high critics and audience ratings. I strongly avoid a movie if it has high audience ratings and low critics ratings, though.
On the church, church critics are different than movie critics. Movie critics are a more select group who have a following, or command some sort of respect as a movie critic. Church critics can be just anyone. Overall, I will say that the best church critics tend to be the ones who are still in the church trying to right the course. Many of the ones outside it tend towards hyperbole and exaggeration.
Critics of movies are evaluating a finished product. They can’t affect change in the product. With the Internet, there is usually plenty of info about any given movie. So making a decision to see or not to see is fairly straightforward. Movie rating are of little assistance.
Critics of the Church are commenting on an active, evolving organization. For some of us, we would like to see change in Church priorities. Others have different goals.
So for movies, it is a static product. For the Church, it is a dynamic one.
Now thanks to streaming platforms Disney plus releasing theater movies 90 days after cinema release onto their servers, I don’t have to go to the movies anymore. Which is a huge relief as it can cost me upwards of $120 to take the whole family to the local cinema house. And if I start watching movies at home and the movie’s a dud, I can turn it off. No sunk costs. So I no longer have to care what critics or audiences think. My tastes must be unusual because every year without fail when the Academy Awards nominations list comes out, I’m lucky if I’ve seen even one of these fliks.
I do think being a critic or a journalist for a living will eventually suck the fun out of everything. Which is probably one of many reasons why I rarely enjoy my church meetings anymore (though to be fair, correlation has to own their part in this). I’m guilty of spending most of my time on my phone now during meetings but, to be fair, I’m not watching cat videos on YouTube.
I know this isn’t the point of your message, but I really don’t care that servers at a restaurant wears a uniform. I guess it’s helpful in identifying your server if you need more water or want your check. On that same token, I really do not care what the young men wear when they pass the sacrament. What I care about is them. Not their clothes. And the distinct uniform isn’t helpful because I know where to find them if I need them (hint, they are the ones standing up with a tray in their hand). So for me, the uniform analogy falls apart fast.
Josh h, if I remember right that was Eyring writing his dad who had the habit of zoning out of bad/boring talks and giving himself a sermon on the speaker’s topic in his own head.
After that her says he never attended a bad sacrament meeting.
John W: “Movie critics are a more select group who have a following, or command some sort of respect as a movie critic.” I agree if you mean those from larger markets, but you do often see less professional reviews from some tiny little local news source. Audience reviews are usually much less professional, but there is quite a lot of variation among the so-called pros.
” the best church critics tend to be the ones who are still in the church trying to right the course. Many of the ones outside it tend towards hyperbole and exaggeration.” I wonder whether that’s a chicken or egg situation. Does being out drive the hyperbole to justify one’s decision to leave? Does being in force someone to temper things so they don’t get kicked out or to justify their decision to stay in?
I think the best church critics are those on the boundaries: just inside or outside or right on the edge wondering which way to lean. The true believers and ex-members often have a default position of “defender of the faith” or “passionate crusader with an axe to grind.” A lot of serious thinking and pondering can take place there on the edge.
I see the church saying, essentially, that “audiences love” the church as it is. Be part of the audience, even if it it offers you little personally. But increasingly, people are examining their experience as an audience of one. For better or worse, being part of this tribe isn’t paramount. It’s not so much that they slide over and become a critic, but they aren’t afraid to leave the theater. (As is often the case, writing this with my kids in mind.)
Ruth, your comment made me think of the commercially available movies the Church put out, then told all Mormons to attend and review favorably, and those were basically the only people who saw them. Those movies weren’t good, but boy howdy did some of my fellow churchgoers fall all over themselves singing their praises at Church. Yikes.
I was sooo excited to see The Green Knight, not just because it stars Dev Patel who I find very attractive, but also because I enjoy the Arthurian tales… but mainly because of Dev Patel. It was also fun to see a movie in theaters again. (I waited until it wasn’t opening weekend so the audience was smaller and I wore a mask the whole time.) Because I tend to trust critics more than audience scores, the Tomatometer couldn’t scare me away. In then end, I thought it was a gorgeous movie (not just Dev) that was half an hour too long. (Did you really need to spend a minute panning the barren forest in near silence?)
This is kind of how I am with church things now: I mostly agree with critics, but recognize that even the faithful “audience” sometimes knows better than the critics.
A related principle: even generally decent actors sometimes make a lousy film. Ryan Reynolds movies don’t generally stink, but as Dave B. mentioned he made Green Lantern. (And Dev Patel was in The Last Airbender.) Maybe I shouldn’t blacklist J.R.Holland just because his most recent BYU speech was a star turn worse than The Emoji Movie. Holland just needs to redeem himself with an Academy Award winning performance at next General Conference (or better yet, an apology to Matt Easton).
MTodd: “This is kind of how I am with church things now: I mostly agree with critics, but recognize that even the faithful “audience” sometimes knows better than the critics.” A beautiful recap of a point I tried to get across in the post. You said it much better!
1. ” Do you look at movie reviews before going to the movies? If not, how do you decide whether to see it or not?”
Yes, absolutely. There was a time when I would take a chance on a movie but some kinds of surprises I really don’t like.
2. “Does your experience at Church (or the movies) differ if you think of yourself as audience vs. critic?”
I am audience. There should be exactly one critic of a church: God. My liberty is to leave the theater (as I did with “Borat”).
Still, it comes to my mind that Joseph Smith was a critic of the churches of his day, but instead of blogging about it and whining to them, he started his own church (or so it seems to me).
3. “Do you think (movie or church) critics often miss the enjoyment in an effort to have something unique or insightful to say?”
Critics miss a lot more than mere enjoyment. Sometimes it is obvious they didn’t even watch the video (or whatever).
4. “Do you agree that journalists and others who write about or investigate something are less likely to be able to enjoy it for seeing its flaws?”
The decision to find flaws will be there from the beginning as is one’s definition of what exactly is a “flaw”. But you might also, or instead, be looking for diamonds in the rough. Where are diamonds found? In rocks and dirt. Seems to me many here will ignore or even show contempt for dirty rocks that are jewels waiting to be polished.
5. “Do you think we tend to reduce blog posts to either being positive or negative”
I believe most people are binary for the sake of simplicity. A thing is good or a thing is bad. However it makes it difficult to impossible to judge the lesser of two evils (or the greater of two goods) if you see things as entirely one or the other.