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Fighting Over Philomena

Friday 13 December 2013, 15:11

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

A public row has broken out about a review of Philomena in a New York newspaper. But is this all part of craziness in the run-up to the awards season?

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    "No matter what they say it doesn't affect the box office". In which case what do they do? Are you not rather talking yourself out of existence?

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    Comment number 2.

    Kyle Smith’s response to (the real) Philomena’s letter wasn’t exactly gracious.
    “Well, Philomena, since we’re on a first-name basis, I forgive you, too, for being so dazzled by Judi Dench’s star power that you didn’t notice that in the movie your character, while indeed a defender of your faith, is also made out to be a blithering moron.

    While I have no doubt that you, Philomena, have a sharp and lively mind as you prove in your letter, the movie makes you out to be a dimwit and butt of most of its jokes.”

    Critics offer opinions and opinions can vary.

    How many would agree with this list of ‘worst movies’ of 2013 including Gravity?
    “Worst movies (those with the greatest disproportion between the emblazoned ambition and the mediocrity of the result): “Before Midnight,” “The Great Beauty,” and “All Is Lost,” with “Gravity” close behind (or ahead).”

    There will always be an audience that will go and see a movie most weekends – they tend to be mainly 14 – 25 which is why most multiplex blockbusters are targeted at that demographic. I doubt they’ll pay much attention to critics.

    For people that visit less frequently or like particular genres then critics can influence what they do and don’t see, to an extent.

    Critics must exert some influence for else the studio PR wouldn’t be so keen to plaster 5 stars all over the posters when a film gets solidly good reviews.

    But film critics have competition nowadays. Blogs, recommends from friends etc. probably play as important a part.

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    Comment number 3.

    When I see posters of films on bus shelters and bill boards and it is covered in 4 and 5 stars with Awesome and Hilarious and action packed on them I look to see who is giving the review and if it says The Sun, The Star, Zoo and Loaded you can guarantee the film is absolute rubbish. Now if it has Empire or Total Film, movie magazines you know they are going to be somewhere near so I use it as a guide line to do a little bit more research on it. Also respected and passionate critics like Mr Kermode. I think most critics are snobby or they try to be controversial by slamming a movie that everyone loves and deep down they probably love. I am sure some critics are given back handers by the movie companies to praise their movies I am sure this goes on.

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    Comment number 4.

    I think the main reason 'Philomena' is having such a polarizing impact in the US is because it has opened American eyes to the Irish adoption system during the last century. Watching a video reviewer talking about the movies' depiction of institutional evil made me think that she hadn't seen The Magdalene sisters and so all many of the revelations in the story were more shocking than for UK audiences who remember that film from 10 years back.
    I suspect Kyle Smith's attack is just manufactured outrage to give his review a new angle, to make it stand out from the crowd.
    For evidence that film critics can influence box office, look at 'Diana' which died quietly because the critical consensus was that the film wasn't terrible but a bit crap. Whereas movies that get branded THE WORST FILM EVER MADE there is a morbid fascination with audiences to see just how bad it can really be.

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    Comment number 5.

    William Goldman always said the success or downfall of a movie at the box office is word-of-mouth, word-of-mouth, word-of-mouth and little else. I say, critics may act as expert witnesses in the trial of a movie, but we the public will always be judge, jury & executioner... and that's how it will always be.

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    Comment number 6.

    It all depends who reviews the film. A slating from Mark Kermode on Sex and the City or Transformers will make me avoid said films like the plague (lets face it, you get what you deserve if you entertain such curiosity in spite of the good doctor's warnings).

    On the other hand, if Germaine Greer (the woman who dismissed The Lord of the Rings as "Nazi tosh" before then being forced to admit she hadn't read it) slates a film I make a deliberate point of seeing it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Sounds like the film world, at this time of year, turns Topsy-Turvy:


    (if only...)

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I'm a big fan of films like The Happening or The Room that are just so bad you really do have to see them. Really the worst films you can watch are the ones that aren't even bad enough to be worth viewing. Films like The Last Airbender, Snakes on a Plane or the Star Wars prequels.

    The one I want to see is the Martin Short film 'Clifford', which Roger Ebert gave a half a star but described as, "so odd, it's almost worth seeing just because we'll never see anything like it again."

    As I recall I heard you, Mark tell the story of how after releasing Batman & Robin, Joel Schumacher told Woody Allen he couldn't believe he had made the worst film of all time, to which Woody Allen replied, "No, you haven't even done that, that would be an achievement."

    I'm sorry to quote Pirates of the Caribbean but I really do think that Jack Sparrow said it best when he was told "you're the worst pirate I've ever heard of" and he said "but you have heard of me".

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Unsurprising that a 'film critic' working for Murdoch trashes a film staring tabloid critic Steve Coogan

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    Comment number 10.

    I would worry about anyone who goes to see a film based on a bad review just to see how bad it is. They're the kind of generous masochists who taste milk that's gone off, then offer it to you to double check. Not that I'm immune to the so-bad-its-good movie, but I'd count on any critic I respected to be able to file things in that category. Mark's review of SiTC part deux leaves no doubt that it is a hateful film. Unless you need some Sarah Jessica Parker based schadenfreude, best avoided.

    Just read Kyle Smith's original review, yikes! What a self important blow hard. A really vile take on a well done bittersweet film. While I do find the marketing aimed reaction to this isolated idiocy a tad suspicious, Smith's grand standing trolling of the first water cattle prods a response.

    Here's the level headed Coogan / Pope response to his response which spins the tale further:

    I'd add that Philomena is portrayed as unsophisticated, but never stupid. That Smith misunderstands this shows him up as an arrogant elitist who patronizingly cannot make that distinction. He probably needs to see The Magdalen Sisters and Oranges and Sunshine to gain historical perspective.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Many films have been a success whilst critics hate them and vice versa. People like what they like and studio nor critic can influence that. Using a advert to attack a critic is however a bad idea, a studio trying to bully a critic can backfire. People like the underdog and if a critic becomes the underdog, it may play against what is a good film. I agree that people often go and watch a film because of curiosity in finding out how bad the film really is. But in general people like what they like.

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    Comment number 12.

    I think Mark is absolutely right. If a critic really wanted to ruin a film then they would just ignore it. Reviewing a film is simply opening up a discussion about it; and that is publicity gold.

    However, what makes or breaks the box office for me is the trailer. We've all sat through them passing instant judgement, and we see these way before any critic gets the chance to vent their spleen.

    For instance, I've always found Ben Stiller to be about as funny as walking dog poo through the hallway carpet, but the clips of Walter Mitty (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xab5GLFZCKQ&feature=youtu.be) have already convinced me to make the effort and give it a try - and I have no idea what Mark thinks of it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    You are trusted by me but I don't always agree with you. Philip French is my most trusted critic, I'm glad you have succeeded him.
    I suspect Kyle Smith, in taking such a contrary view of Philomena, may be trying to boost his own profile. It would seem he is succeeding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Does this mean that 97% of people think you secretly loathe 'The Exorcist' while spending your backhanders from 2-D Inc on boxsets of 'The Hobbit' extra extended versions?

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    "I started singing The Internationale. I don't know why."
    Oh, I think you do Mark :D.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Ah yes. Awards season. Where Kathryn Bigelow gets compared to Leni Riefenstahl.

    People have made the point that as The Hutton Inquiry plays in the background of all this, Coogan is actualy having a shot at journalism rather than religion.

    But is anyone gonna seriously fault a film that does go after the Catholic Church? Sounds like a force for good to me. And as for no films about Judaism or Islam well, more shame you Hollywood, for that. Chris Morris puts us in the clear in this respect with his very funny and well judged terrorism black comedy Four Lions.

    Just don't expect such an explicitly pro-Israel media machine in the US to produce any kind of work criticising Zionism properly. I encourage everyone to watch a discussion on YouTube with Christopher Hitchens debating the lack of this type of content from Spike Lee's film Malcolm X - a movie that has been oddly removed from history both in the critical and public discourse.

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I recently stayed up late until my partner and child had gone to bed so I could see Killer Joe. This was purely because I'd found the snippets of the film (and Matthew McConaghy's performance) so engrossing, plus the need to decide for myself if its gender politics were 'all over the place', For me, it was very close to flawless. I didn't think the portrayal of women was problematic and found it hilarious. My film of the year.

    At some point, I will have to watch Movie 43. Because sometimes, it's worth a bit of punishment in order to have an opinion.

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    Comment number 19.

    My very first gauge of what was appearing on our cinema screens and a template for deciding to see it or not,was the childrens TV show "Clapperboard"hosted by Chris Kelly,it ran from the early 70's to the early 80's.
    Naturally the majority of it's content reviewed Disney films and other studios works certificate "U"
    So i hold a degree of gratitude to this programme,as many of my magical memories come courtesy of this after school production.
    In later years it became quite naturally for me to ease into the critical eye of Barry Norman,someone who's opinions i trusted and acted upon.
    But my number 1 advisor of movies,especially in my infant years was my dad,listen anyone who gets his son into a healthy diet of Cagney,Bogart,Edward G. Robinson for testosterone filled afternoons,then counterbalances that with the comic genius of W.C Fields,The Marx Brothers and Abbot and Costello,well that's a decent platform.
    As for media critics these days,well i do tip my toe into the water and take in what they say,but at the going down of the sun,i will remember them..as my barometer at what is worth bothering with and what should be banished to some far off apocalyptic stratosphere essentially boils down to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Maybe others have said this already or thought it at least, but the ONLY reason that Weinstein was able to use that 1 negative review to their advantage was because it was in a sea of overly positive reviews! It seems in the film review world, opinions tend to spread amongst critics and they definitely didn't want that 1 negative review to spread.
    Also, I quite liked PHILOMENA as well!


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Outspoken, opinionated and never lost for words, Mark is the UK's leading film critic.

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