Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK SMASHES THE PUNY PARADIGMS OF FILM CRITICISM WITH HULK-SIZED SEMIOTICAL ESSAYS ON STORYTELLING, CINEMATIC PRINCIPLES, AND MEDIA THEORY! HULK EVEN MAKE PRACTICAL HOW-TO GUIDES! See More...

Film Crit Hulk Smash: WHAT MAKES A MOVIE GOOD?

The answer is: you tell Hulk.

Film Crit Hulk Smash: WHAT MAKES A MOVIE GOOD?

1. X, Y AND Z

HULK'S HEARD THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT REPEATEDLY FOR A LONG TIME NOW, BUT FOR SOME REASON HULK'S SEEN IT CROP UP MORE AND MORE RECENTLY. HERE'S THE BASIC VERSION:

"The movie is not good because it doesn't do X, Y and Z and those are the things necessary for a movie to be good." AS A MORE SPECIFIC EXTENSION OF THAT ARGUMENT, SINCE IT IS OFTEN A TECHNICAL OBSERVATION, IT'S MORE LIKE: "A movie needs to be good in all phases of execution to be considered a masterpiece (or even a good film): cinematography, acting, writing, direction etc."

OKAY, LET'S JUST GET THIS OUT OF THE WAY RIGHT NOW: A FILM IS NOT A CHECKLIST.

MOVIES ARE NOT A SERIES OF QUADRANTS THAT NEED TO BE MARKED OFF IN ORDER TO GET A PASSING GRADE. TO BE HONEST, MOVIES SHOULDN'T EVEN GET LETTER GRADES, SCORES AND RANKINGS, BUT THEY DO BECAUSE... WELL... THEY JUST DO.

AND THE REASON THEY SHOULDN'T IS THAT MOVIES ARE SO MUCH BIGGER THAN ANY OF THAT.

THE HONEST TRUTH IS THAT THERE ARE NO WAYS TO OBJECTIVELY CALCULATE THE RELATIVE "GOODNESS" OF SOMETHING LIKE A MOVIE OR CINEMATOGRAPHY ANYWAY. SURE, FILMMAKING CAN BE AN INSANELY TECHNICAL MEDIUM AND THE PEOPLE WHO WORK IN IT APPLY A TRUE SENSE OF CRAFT TO WHAT THEY DO. IN FACT, THE TECHNICAL CONVERSATIONS CAN BE FASCINATING AND EXACTING, REVEALING WHOLE WORLDS OF EXPERTISE UNTO THEMSELVES. ANY FILMMAKER OR CRITIC WORTH THEIR SALT HAS A GOOD GRASP OF THEM. BUT THE SPECIFICITY OF TECHNICAL ACUMEN DOES NOT IN AND OF ITSELF ADD UP TO SOME GREATER QUANTIFIABLE CAPACITY FOR GOOD FILMMAKING. THE TRANSFORMERS MOVIES WIN TECHNICAL AWARDS (AND ON PURE TECHNICAL MERIT THEY MAY DESERVE THEM), BUT THEY CERTAINLY DO NOT ADD UP TO SOME GREATER SUM RESULT OF BEING "GOOD MOVIES."

THE TRUTH IS THAT FILMMAKING IS REALLY MUCH MORE A MATTER OF ALCHEMY. A PROCESS WHERE YOU COMBINE INTRINSICALLY FLAWED ELEMENTS AND INHERENT LIMITATIONS INTO SOMETHING THAT COMES TOGETHER IN A WAY THAT FEELS SOMEHOW ALIVE AND VITAL. GOOD FILMS REALLY HAVE TO SPEAK TO PEOPLE IN A WAY THAT GRABS THEM. THAT COMMUNICATES SOMETHING NOT JUST TO THEM, BUT WITH THEM. THAT GIVES THEM SOME INDESCRIBABLE THING THEY WANTED OR PERHAPS NEVER REALIZED THEY NEEDED. AND THERE'S A MILLION VARIANT, STRANGE WAYS A FILM CAN ACHIEVE THIS.

BUT THE ONE THING OF WHICH HULK IS CERTAIN IS THAT YOU CAN'T GET THERE MERELY BY FULFILLING X, Y AND Z.

A FILM IS NOT A CHECKLIST.

AND THAT'S BECAUSE MOVIES HAVE SOULS.

HULK KNOWS THAT SOUNDS CHEESY AS ALL HELL, BUT HULK VERY SERIOUS ABOUT THAT STATEMENT. YOU CAN ALMOST TAKE ALL THE GREAT FILMS AND PERSONIFY THEM. NOT JUST TERMS OF STYLE OR BEHAVIOR, A GREAT FILM THAT HAS BEEN IN YOUR LIFE FOR YEARS CAN FEEL LIKE AN OLD FRIEND OR LOVED ONE.

SURE, WE CAN LOOK AT MOVIES WITH OUR TRAINED EYES AND SEMI-OBJECTIVE LENSES TO IDENTIFY THOSE THAT CONVEY A SENSE OF CONTROL, OF CRAFT, OR LIGHTING, OR WHATEVER OTHER IMPORTANT FACET WE FIND CEREBRALLY INTERESTING, BUT FROM THERE? THE FILMS THAT TRULY RESONATE WITH US OFTEN SPEAK TO US IN THESE CHEMICAL, SOMETIMES DOWNRIGHT NEBULOUS LEVELS. THEY SPEAK TO OUR PERSONAL HISTORIES AND EXPERIENCES. THEY STAY WITH US FOR DAYS ON END. THEY DO NOT FEEL LIKE THESE CAREFULLY CONSTRUCTED BITS OF CELLULOID. THEY FEEL AS LIMITLESS AS OUR OWN MINDS AND AS BIG AS OUR OWN HEARTS.

AND SO, EVERY TIME HULK HEARS SOMEONE LAUNCH INTO THE "A FILM NEEDS X, Y AND Z" ARGUMENT, HULK CAN'T HELP BUT THINK OF THE FOLLOWING SCENE WITH THE INFAMOUS "J. EVANS PRITCHARD" INTRODUCTION...

NOW, DEAD POETS SOCIETY IS A FILM THAT OFTEN MAKES ITS POINT SO BLUNTLY AND WITH SUCH EXAGGERATION THAT SOME OF YOU MIGHT ROLL YOUR EYES (HULK INCLUDED), BUT THE IDEAS THE FILM GETS AT ARE CONSIDERED TIRED CLICHÉS FOR GOOD REASON. THAT'S BECAUSE THEY MAKE UP THE MOST FUNDAMENTAL AND BASIC TRUTHS OF LIFE AND ART. THESE ARCHAIC CONCEPTS REGARDING PERSONAL FREEDOM, CREATIVITY AND THE HUMAN SPIRIT ARE CRITICAL TO OUR FUNCTION. THEY INFORM THE SIMPLICITY OF BEING OUR BEST POSSIBLE SELVES. AND WHILE DEAD POETS SOCIETY IS A MOVIE THAT MAY ONLY SEEM REVELATORY FOR A MIDDLE-SCHOOL AGE PERSON AND SOMEWHAT OBVIOUS TO OUR ADULT SELVES, THE TRUTH IS EVERYONE NEEDS THAT INHERENT REMINDER THAT BOTH ART AND HUMANITY ARE SO MUCH MORE THAN SOMETHING QUANTIFIABLE.

AND BY TURNING A FILM INTO A CHECKLIST, OR BY COMPARING IT TO SOME OTHER FILM THAT FITS YOUR CHECKLIST BETTER, YOU ARE ESSENTIALLY DOING BOTH YOURSELF AND SOCIETY A GRAVE DISSERVICE. HULK KNOWS THAT SOUNDS PRETTY EXTREME, BUT YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY EMBARKING ON A LINE OF THINKING THAT HAS FAR MORE TO DO WITH (THE FICTIONAL?) J. EVANS PRITCHARD THEN CONTRIBUTING SOMETHING TO EXPLORATION OF THE HUMAN CONDITION.

YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY FORGETTING WHY YOU WATCH MOVIES IN THE FIRST PLACE.

WE WATCH MOVIES IN ORDER TO HAVE A LARGER EXPERIENCE. WE DO NOT WATCH THEM SIMPLY TO APPRECIATE ARTISTRY, OR NOTE EXECUTION. WE GO FOR SOMETHING DEEPER. WHETHER IT IS BEING MOVED, ENGAGING A THEMATIC COMPLEXITY OR EVEN FOR THE SIMPLE JOY OF BEING TRULY PRESENT.

WE WATCH MOVIES FOR SOMETHING SO MUCH MORE THAN X, Y AND Z.

SO WHY WOULD THAT BE WHAT WE USE TO JUDGE THEM?

2. THE LONELIEST MASTERPIECES

ONE COMMON REBUTTAL HULK HEARS FROM THE "X, Y, Z" CROWD IS THAT IT JUST MAKES IT ALL THE MORE SPECIAL FOR WHEN A FILM HAMMERS HOME ALL THE CHECKLIST ELEMENTS AND MAKES IT A TRUE JOY; THE PROVERBIAL MARK OF PERFECTION. YEAH, THAT SOUNDS NICE AND STUFF, BUT GUESS WHAT? HULK GETS TO ENJOY THE FUCK OUT OF THOSE PERFECT MOVIES TOO. MORE TO THE POINT, HULK ENJOYS IT ON THE SAME EXACT LEVEL YOU DO. THERE IS NO CONCEIVABLE, LOGISTICAL REASON WHY HULK COULDN'T. SERIOUSLY, HULK GETS TO WATCH SOME OF THE ABSOLUTELY PERFECT FILMS: CITIZEN KANE, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, PSYCHO, JAWS, SOME LIKE IT HOT, ETERNAL SUNSHINE, ETC. AND HAVE THE SAME EXACT REACTION YOU WOULD.

IF THE LONE MASTERPIECES MERELY HAD SOME SOLIPSISTIC PLACE IN HULK'S HEART, WHY WOULD THAT MAKE IT ALL THE MORE SPECIAL?

ON THE WHOLE IT WOULD JUST MAKE THE MOVIE-GOING EXPERIENCE ALL THE MORE PAINFUL AND LONESOME. WHY WOULD WE ONLY GO TO THE MOVIES LOOKING FOR THAT RARE MOMENT OF PERFECTION? AND THEN BE DISAPPOINTED WHEN WE (PROBABLY) WON'T GET IT? WHY RIG THE DECK LIKE THAT? WOULDN'T IT MAKE SO MUCH MORE SENSE TO TRULY ENJOY MOVIES IN A LITANY OF DIFFERENT WAYS?

BECAUSE HULK DOESN'T GO TO A FILM IN SEARCH OF "PERFECTION," HULK GETS TO FULLY ENJOY ALL THE WONDERFULLY MESSY GREAT FILMS THAT DO SOMETHING GREAT WITHIN THE CONFINES OF THEIR AIMS. SURE, MARGARET IS NOT A "VISUAL MASTERPIECE" (LIKE THAT CAN EVEN BE DEFINED), BUT STILL HAS A COMPLETELY FUNCTIONAL LOOK AND STILL MANAGES TO REACH A LEVEL OF PSYCHOLOGICAL NUANCE AND ARTICULATION THAT HULK HASN'T EVER REALLY SEEN BEFORE. DOES NOT SUCH A BRILLIANT ARTICULATION OF ONE PARTICULAR "QUADRANT" MERIT SOME KIND OF DISTINCTION? CAN A FILM THAT SO PERFECTLY ARTICULATES A SINGULAR IDEA/PSYCHE ALSO BE CONSIDERED A MASTERPIECE? HULK THINKS IT CAN.

AND WHY NOT?

WHAT IS IT ABOUT THAT WORD "MASTERPIECE" THAT MAKES US SO READILY ADOPT THE X, Y AND Z THINKING?

AS THE PERFECT CAVEAT TO ALL OF THIS, THERE IS THE SIMPLE FACT THAT YOU MAY HAVE A TOTALLY COMPELLING REASON TO DISAGREE WITH HULK'S ESTIMATION OF WHICH FILMS QUALIFY AS "PERFECT" AND "IMPERFECT" ANYWAY, WHICH RENDERS THE WHOLE CHECKLIST LINE OF THINKING ALL THE MORE FRUITLESS. HOW CAN EITHER OF US EVER BE TRULY RIGHT IN A CONVERSATION SO BASED ON WORTH AND COMPARISON? WE CAN'T. SO AGAIN, WHY BE EXCLUSIVE IN OUR EXPECTATION OF WHAT A FILM HAS TO DO FOR US?

AND FORGET THE FACT THAT SO MANY FILMS WORK WITH COUNTER-INTUITIVE CONSTRUCTION. THERE IS NO REAL AESTHETIC RATIONALE TO THE FIRST TEASER OF THE MASTER BUT SURE AS FUCK IF THAT ISN'T THE MOST COMPELLING, HYPNOTIC THINGS HULK HAS EVER LAID EYES ON. THE STRANGE ENERGY IS JUST OFF THE CHARTS. SO THE ONLY WAY TO DESCRIBE IT IS WITH WAYS THAT DON'T MAKE LOGICAL SENSE. THE TEASER ACTUALLY HAS POETIC QUALITY TO IT. A LIFE AND VIBRATION. SEEMINGLY ESOTERIC CONNECTIONS.

HULK LOVES THIS KIND OF MOVIE PRECISELY BECAUSE IT BREEDS A LINE OF CRITICISM THAT GETS AWAY FROM X, Y AND Z THINKING.

3. SOUFUL DUMBNESS?

SO YOU CAN ASK, "Hulk, that all sounds nice and pretty, but how do we practically apply this? How can we talk about the glut of bad movies we've had this summer in any way that makes sense with that thinking?"

GREAT QUESTION PROVERBIAL READER! LET'S GET INTO THE NITTY GRITTY.

THERE IS THE DUMB KIND OF DEBATE WE CAN HAVE THESE DAYS ABOUT WHICH MOVIE IS "WORSE." TAKE THE RECENT CASES OF MIB3 VS. BATTLESHIP. HONESTLY? HULK THINKS THAT BATTLESHIP IS A TERRIBLY MADE MOVIE WITH WHAT HULK CONSIDERS TO BE THE CLUNKIEST, MOST ROTE SCRIPT OF THE YEAR. BUT AS DEVIN CHARACTERIZED WONDERFULLY, IT SWINGS FOR THE FENCES WITH ITS BIG DUMB HEART SO THAT SOMETIMES THE MOVIE CREATES CERTAIN MOMENTS THAT ARE SO GLORIOUSLY AND KNOWINGLY CHEESY THAT THE MOVIE ACTUALLY TAKES ON NEW LIFE. AND IN THOSE MOMENTS, DESPITE THERE BEING NO LOGISTICAL REASON TO FEEL THAT WAY, IT WAS THE ONLY TIME THE FILM TRULY ENGAGED HULK ON ANY LEVEL. SADLY, THESE ARE THE EXACT SAME MOMENTS THAT A LARGE NUMBER OF MOVIE-GOERS WOULD LOOK AND SAY  "GOSH, THAT WAS DUMB." WHICH BRINGS US TO THE CATCH 22. YEAH, THESE MOMENTS ARE DUMB. BUT REVELING IN DUMB IS SOMETIMES THE VERY POINT IF THAT MAKES SENSE?  HULK ISN'T TRYING TO IMPLY THAT GOING FOR THE EXCEPTION IS WHAT MAKES SOMETHING GOOD OR ANYTHING, BUT SOMETIMES IT IS A FUNDAMENTAL PART OF EXCEPTIONALISM. WALKING OUT YOU SOMETIMES HAVE TO ASK," WHAT ABOUT THAT MOVIE MADE YOU REACT?"

AND ON THE OTHER HAND, MIB3 IS A COMPLETELY INOFFENSIVE MOVIE. THERE ISN'T A SINGLE STORY BEAT THAT FEELS ILLOGICAL. RICK BAKER'S CREATURE DESIGNS ARE GREAT. SONNENFELD WILL ALWAYS KNOW HOW TO FRAME A SHOT. THERE ISN'T EVEN A SINGLE OUT OF CHARACTER DECISION. AND IT ALL ROUNDS EVERYTHING IN A COMPLETELY ADEQUATE (IF PRETTY CHEAP) WAY. YOU COULD ACTUALLY CALL MIB3 A FLAWLESS MOVIE (AS IN WITHOUT FLAW)... EXCEPT FOR THE FACT HULK DIDN'T LAUGH OUT LOUD ONCE. AND YEAH, IT'S NOT THAT HARD TO GET HULK TO LAUGH. THAT'S BECAUSE IN ADDITION TO MIB3 BEING A FLAWLESS FILM, IT IS ALSO A JOYLESS, AIRLESS AND COMPLETELY SAFE MOVIE. IT IS SO DAMN CALCULATED THAT IT NEVER FEELS ORGANIC OR HUMAN. IT'S MERELY CONSTRUCTED FOR OUR MAXIMUM PERCEIVED ENJOYMENT: JAY SAYS SOMETHING FUNNY. KAY ACTS GRUFF. JOKE GOES HERE. GAG GOES HERE. AND IT JUST ASSUMES THEY WILL WORK WITHOUT AN OUNCE OF ENERGY. YOU CAN JUST FEEL IT. IT'S LIKE A ROBOT PATTING YOU ON THE HEAD AND SAYING "EN-JOY YOUR MOO-VIE HUE-MAN!" AND ULTIMATELY, HULK FINDS THIS CYNICAL FILMMAKING TO BE ITS OWN KIND OF OFFENSE.

WHICH MEANS HULK ACTUALLY PREFERS THE MESS OF A MOVIE LIKE BATTLESHIP COMPARED TO THE UTTERLY PRISTINE, BUT TOTALLY CYNICAL EXERCISE LIKE MIB3. THE PROBLEM WITH THE PUBLIC DISCUSSION IS THAT PEOPLE CAN POINT TO THE FIRST FILM AND SAY IT SUCKED BECAUSE OF ALL THE "DUMB THINGS" THAT HAPPENED. BUT WHEN THEY LOOK AT THE LATTER THEY JUST SHRUG IT OFF BECAUSE THEY CAN'T POINT TO ANYTHING SPECIFIC THAT IS BOTHERSOME. IN THE MOMENT, WE ERR ON THE SIDE OF THE FLAWLESS. BUT IN TIME? IT'S THE THINGS THAT RESONATE THAT STICK AROUND CULTURALLY. WHICH MEANS IT'S NOT A BIG SURPRISE TO HULK THAT A FEW WEEKS LATER PEOPLE FORGOT MIB3 EVEN EXISTED, WHEREAS BATTLESHIP KINDA SORTA STUCK IN OUR CONSCIOUSNESS A BIT.

SO WHICH OF THE TWO FILMS IS TRULY BETTER?

DOES IT EVEN MATTER? CAN WE EVEN TRULY TELL? SCORES. LETTER GRADES. BETTER. WORSE. THE CONVERSATION DOESN'T ACTUALLY MATTER WHEN IT COMES TO THE FILMS' RELEVANCE OR HOW THEY CONNECT WITH US. THEY ARE TWO FILMS WHERE WE CAN TALK ABOUT THE WAY IN WHICH THEY ARE MADE, THE WAY IN WHICH THEY WORK, BUT AS SOON AS WE START GOING DOWN THE PATH OF THE GOOD/BAD PARALLEL WE LOSE WHATEVER IS INTERESTING ABOUT BOTH OF THEM.

4. THE AMERICAN MOVIE-GOER!

A LONG TIME AGO (WHEN HULK WAS A YOUNGER HULK), HULK USED TO GET PRETTY ANGRY WITH THE AMERICAN MOVIE-GOER.

HULK WOULD RAGE AGAINST THEIR STUPIDITY. "HOW COULD THEY LOVE TITANIC SO MUCH!?!?!?! L.A. CONFIDENTIAL IS ONE OF THE BEST MOVIES HULK HAS EVER SEEN! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THEM?!?!? HULK SMAAAAAASH!!!!!" AND SO ON. HULK JUST WANTED TO IMPOSE THE WILL OF WHAT WAS LIKED AND NOT LIKED. HULK WANTED PEOPLE TO SEE THE PROVERBIAL LIGHT. HULK WANTED EVERYONE TO LIKE THE SAME KIND OF MOVIES AND SUPPORT THEM SO THAT THE INDUSTRY WOULD COME AROUND AND KEEP MAKING MORE OF THOSE GREAT MOVIES. AND WHEN HULK GOT TIRED OF SMASHING LIKE THIS? WHEN HULK GOT BEAT DOWN BY WHAT HULK PERCEIVED TO BE POOR TASTE? A FUNNY THING HAPPENED... HULK ACTUALLY LEARNED MORE ABOUT FILMMAKING MORE THAN HULK EVER THOUGH POSSIBLE.

AND THAT'S BECAUSE HULK STOPPED JUDGING AND HULK STARTING LISTENING. WHEN PEOPLE LIKED A MOVIE HULK'S FIRST QUESTION BECAME: "WHY? WHAT DID YOU CONNECT WITH?" THIS IS NOT SOME CYNICAL APPROPRIATION OF BEING LIKE "HEY, WHAT ARE DEM KIDS INTO? LET'S MAKE MORE OF THOSE!" THIS WAS ABOUT CURIOSITY. AND IT WAS A CURIOSITY THAT HAD LITTLE TO DO WITH BUSINESS OR MARKETING OR ANY OF THE THINGS WE IDENTIFY WITH GENERAL AUDIENCE MOVIE INTEREST (ALTHOUGH BUSINESS/MARKETING OBVIOUSLY A FACTOR IN OUR OPENING WEEKEND-OBSESSED CULTURE). HULK SIMPLY TALKING ABOUT THE KIND OF MOVIES THAT RESONATE AND PEOPLE THINK ARE ACTUALLY GOOD. THE MOVIES THAT TEND TO DO WELL THROUGH THE WEEKS AND HAVE WORD OF MOUTH. THE MOVIES THAT INFECT THE CULTURE AND PEOPLE THINK ARE GOOD. YES, THAT DOES INCLUDE MOVIES LIKE TITANIC.

AND INVESTIGATING HOW PEOPLE (OTHER THAN HULK) ACTUALLY WATCHED MOVIES, IT SUDDENLY SET HULK DOWN THE PATH OF ACTUAL UNDERSTANDING. ALL THOSE CONCEPTS HULK KNEW ABOUT SUDDENLY MADE MORE SENSE THAN EVER: CONFLICT. DRAMA. EMPATHY. THE BASICS AND HEART OF CONVENTIONAL STORYTELLING. AGAIN, THIS ISN'T SOME CYNICAL APPROPRIATION OF THESE DEVICES. IF ANYTHING, IT SEEMED THE KINDS OF MOVIES THAT SUCCEEDED ONLY CONFIRMED THAT THIS HUMANE UNDERSTANDING OF STORY AND THE PURPOSE OF ART HAD TO BE GENUINE. SINCERE MOVIES PLAYED BETTER THAN ANYTHING.

SINCERITY AND EMOTIONAL CONNECTION MATTERS MORE THAN ANYTHING. THE SUCCESS OF THE ENTIRE TRANSFORMERS TRILOGY (SHUDDER) WAS BOUGHT OFF THE ENTIRE FACT THAT FOR LIKE TWO SCENES IN THE FIRST ONE THEY GOT YOU TO CARE ABOUT BUMBLEBEE. SERIOUSLY, THAT'S IT. THE X, Y, Z THINKING IS TOTALLY MEANINGLESS TO THE TRADITIONAL AMERICAN MOVIE-GOER. ABOVE ALL ELSE, THEY WANT TO CONNECT WITH AN EMOTIONAL JOURNEY. AND WHEN HULK DIDN'T THINK OF THAT CYNICALLY, THAT'S WHEN HULK SUDDENLY STARTED TO UNDERSTAND AND GOT SO MUCH BETTER AT UNDERSTANDING THE FUNCTION OF MOVIES. IT'S WHY WHEN HULK FIRST READ THE SCRIPT FOR RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, HULK KNEW IT WAS GOING TO BE A WORD-OF-MOUTH HIT DESPITE MANY PEOPLE'S ASSUMPTIONS IT WOULDN'T. IT KNEW HOW TO ESTABLISH AN EMOTIONAL CORE.

SO WHEN HULK THINKS BACK TO YOUNGER HULK, THE ONE THAT WAS SO ANGRY AND WANTED TO SHOUT WHAT EVERYONE SHOULD BE SEEING AND THINKING... HULK CAN'T HELP BUT THINK OF THE FAMOUS QUOTE BY OSCAR WILDE: "I'm not young enough to know everything." (AND OF COURSE IT FAIR TO SAY THERE ARE CERTAINLY SOME OLDER, PROMINENT CRITICS IN THIS INDUSTRY WHO ARE A BIT "TOO YOUNG" FOR HULK'S TASTE). BUT THE POINT IS HULK JUST WASN'T LISTENING.

LIKE EVERYTHING ABOUT FILMS, EVEN UNDERSTANDING IS ABOUT THE ABILITY TO CONNECT.

AND TO SPEAK, YOU ALSO HAVE TO BE LISTENING.

5. THE CRITICAL MISSION

SO IN THIS REFLEXIVE STATE OF UNDERSTANDING THE AMERICAN MOVIE-GOER, HOW SHOULD A CRITIC FUNCTION? HOW CAN THEY ACTUALLY GO ABOUT ANSWERING OUR CENTRAL QUESTION "WHAT MAKES A MOVIE GOOD?"

THE OBVIOUS ANSWER IS HOWEVER YOU WANT THEM TO. BUT WE CAN DO WAY BETTER THAN THAT, RIGHT? HULK THINK SOMETIMES CRITICISM IS MERELY ABOUT ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS. WHAT RESONATED ABOUT THIS FILM? WHAT DIDN'T RESONATE? WHAT CAN SOMEONE GET OUT OF THIS? WHAT IS AN OBSTACLE THAT PREVENTS CONNECTION? WHAT WAS THE INTENTION? WHAT WASN'T INTENDED? HOW DOES ONE ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS IN THE SHAPE OF ONES PERSONAL, CRITICAL DISPOSITION?

THE ANSWER INHERENTLY REVEALS ITSELF: THE BEST WAY TO APPROACH THIS, OR REALLY ANY DISCIPLINE, IS TO COME AT IT WITH A GOAL OF PERPETUAL STATE OF LEARNING.

BEFORE HULK STARTS AN ESSAY HULK MAY NOT ENTIRELY KNOW WHERE HULK GOING, BUT HULK AT LEAST HAS AN INSTINCT. THROUGH WRITING HULK FINDS MEANING AND ARTICULATION. HULK FINALLY TURNS ALL THOSE INSTINCTS INTO A CONCRETE, (HOPEFULLY) COHERENT THOUGHT. AND AFTER READING ALL THE COMMENTS (IN WHICH YOU ALL BRING YOUR A+ GAME AND TOTALLY KICK ASS) HULK ALWAYS WISH HULK COULD SUDDENLY GO BACK AND WRITE THE ESSAY ALL OVER AGAIN. NOT JUST TO CALLOUSLY AND SELFISHLY RE-DEFEND CERTAIN POINTS IN A BETTER WAY, BUT TO INCORPORATE ALL YOUR BRILLIANT THOUGHTS INTO A MORE COMPLETE PHILOSOPHY. WHAT THE COMMENTS SECTIONS PROVE TO HULK, IS THAT THE DIALOGUE GOES EVER ON.

AND BELIEVE IT OR NOT, HULK HAS NEVER SOUGHT TO PROVE ANYTHING IN THESE COLUMNS. HULK HAS ENOUGH OF A MATHEMATICS BACKGROUND TO UNDERSTAND IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO DO IN THIS DISCIPLINE ANYWAY, SO HULK LIKES TO THINK THAT WITH THIS CRITICISM HULK IS SIMPLY EXPLORING. HULK WANTS TO SHARE AN IDEA AND SEE WHERE IT GOES. TO DISCOVER MORE ABOUT THE IDEA AND SEE HOW IT BOUNCES OFF PEOPLE AND THEN LEARN EVEN MORE AFTER THAT.

THAT MAY SOUND ALL TOUCHY-FEELY, BUT THINK ABOUT IT. IF CRITICISM IS APPROACHED IN THIS WAY THEN THE PURPOSE ISN'T TO DEFINE THINGS, OR BE THE BAROMETER OF TASTE, OR TO DECLARE YOUR OPINION, BUT TO BE HELPFUL. TO GIVE THE READER A TANGIBLE SENSE OF HOW TO THINK ABOUT THE LARGER MACRO CONCEPT GOING ON AROUND THE EVALUATION ITSELF.

YES, SOMETIMES CRITICISM IS ABOUT HELPING PEOPLE DECIDE HOW TO SPEND THEIR MONEY ON MOVIES, BUT IT CAN BE ABOUT SO MUCH MORE. IT SHOULD HOPEFULLY ENCOURAGE OTHERS TO EXPLORE. AND NOT IN THE INTEREST OF FOSTERING MERE AGREEMENT, BUT HOPEFULLY TO INSPIRE THE SAME KIND OF CAREFUL THOUGHT, PROCESS AND SENSE OF EVOLUTION IN CINEMATIC UNDERSTANDING. HULK TRULY MEANS IT, THE GREATEST THING ANY MOVIE-GOER CAN EMBRACE IS A PERPETUAL STATE OF LEARNING.

WHICH IS EXACTLY WHY HULK CHANGES OPINIONS ABOUT MOVIES ALL THE FUCKING TIME.

IN POLITICS THIS EARNS YOU THE TITLE OF A FLIP-FLOPPER (WHICH IS OFTEN UNDESERVED ANYWAY), BUT HONESTLY HULK DOESN'T KNOW WHAT THAT TERM WOULD EVEN MEAN IN CINEMA. NEVER ALTERING AN OPINION? IT DOESN'T JUST SEEM DOGMATIC AND NOT FUNCTIONAL, BUT SEEMS LIKE A SOMEWHAT SOUR REALITY TO LIVE IN. YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW MANY TIMES HULK MAY HAVE LIKED OR NOT LIKED A MOVIE AND THEN READ THE WORDS OF OTHER CRITICS LIKE OUR OWN DEVIN, MEREDITH, BRIAN OR MR. STRANGE, WHO CAN PUT A FILM'S SUCCESSES AND FAILURES IN AN ENTIRELY NEW LIGHT. AND IT'S NOT JUST OUR OWN BADASS CREW. THERE'S HUNDREDS.(1) THE LIST OF GREAT WRITERS, CRITICS AND THINKERS AT YOUR FINGERTIPS IS ASTOUNDING.

AND HULK DOESN'T CARE IF THEY AGREE WITH HULK. THIS ISN'T SOME LAME TEST TO SEE IF OTHER PEOPLE "GET IT."

INSTEAD, WHEN HULK READ HULK ALWAYS ASKS "WHAT DID THEY SEE THAT HULK PERHAPS DIDN'T?"

WHICH OF COURSE IS JUST FURTHER PROOF THAT CONCEPT OF "AGREEMENT" WITH A CRITIC IS IMPORTANT WHEN IT COMES TO A CRITIC SERVING AS A BUYING GUIDE, BUT IN THE STATE OF FURTHERING YOUR CINEMATIC UNDERSTANDING IT CAN BE SURPRISINGLY WORTHLESS. BY SEEING ANOTHER CRITIC'S LINE OF THINKING AND APPROACH, HULK CAN APPLY THAT LOGIC AND UNDERSTANDING THE NEXT TIME. OR BETTER YET, HULK CAN INCORPORATE THAT LINE OF THINKING DIRECTLY INTO THE SENSE OF LARGER CINEMATIC UNDERSTANDING.

THIS ALL REVEALS A MOST BASIC TRUTH: ALL LEARNING IS BUILT OFF OF MUTUAL RESPECT.

6. SO... UM, WHAT MAKES SOMEONE AN AUTHORITY?

YOU MAY SAY: "But Hulk? What's to separate a critic I read online from, like, my friend who won't stop blabbing?"

TO BE HONEST, NOTHING REALLY. IN EITHER CASE HULK IS ALWAYS MORE READY TO LISTEN TO THE SOMEONE WHO HAS SEEN A LOT OF MOVIES VS. THE SOMEONE WHO HAS SEEN FEWER MOVIES.

IT IS AN INESCAPABLE FACT. THOSE WHO HAVE SEEN THOUSANDS OF MOVIES JUST HAVE A BETTER APTITUDE OF KNOWING WHAT MAKES THEM WORK. THEY CAN OFTEN SEE THE SEAMS. AND THAT'S A HUGE PART OF A CRITIC'S JOB. MOST CRITICS ARE SMART. THEY'RE LITERATE. AND YOU SHOULD READ AS MANY AS POSSIBLE BECAUSE IT'S ALWAYS A REVEALING PROCESS. HULK'S TALKED ABOUT "TANGIBLE DETAILS" BEFORE, BUT THE TRUTH IS THAT A CRITIC'S ACUMEN/SKILLS ARE SOMETHING THAT REQUIRE TIME AND EFFORT TO ACQUIRE. WHICH, TO RESTATE, MEANS SEEING A FUCK TON OF MOVIES. IT'S NO ACCIDENT THE BEST CRITICS SEEM TO KNOW THEIR HISTORY, JUST AS THE BEST FILMMAKERS KNOW THEIR TECHNICAL FILMMAKING.

FOR INSTANCE, THERE ARE ABOUT 100 FAMOUS STORIES OF STANLEY KUBRICK KNOWING HOW TO DO SOME AMAZING TECHNICAL FILMMAKING THING AT A DROP OF HAT. HE COULD READJUST A SHOT TO MAKE IT PERFECT. HE COULD LIGHT IMPOSSIBLE-TO-LIGHT VENUES. HE COULD RIG HIS OWN CAMERA CONTRAPTIONS. BUT THAT'S NOT WHAT MADE HIM GREAT. THOSE ARE JUST THE TANGIBLE DETAILS PEOPLE LIKE TO GIVE AS EVIDENCE. WHAT MADE KUBRICK GREAT WAS THE MORE ABSTRACT THINGS. HE WOULD PLAY WITH ACTORS FOR HUGE PERIODS ON END. MANY PEOPLE BELIEVE HE DID THIS BECAUSE HE WAS A PERFECTIONIST. HE WASN'T. HE WASN'T IN THE SLIGHTEST ACTUALLY. HE OFTEN HAD NO IDEA WHAT HE WANTED. HE JUST WANTED TO TAKE THE TIME TO FIND OUT. YES DEAR READER, HE WAS EXPLORING. KUBRICK WAS ALWAYS TRYING TO GET THE MOST INTERESTING AND WEIRDLY COMPELLING VERSION OF THE MOVIE POSSIBLE. HE DIDN'T MAKE THEM DISTANCING. MOST OF HIS MOVIES WERE HUGE HITS. HE WAS A MASTER AT DRAWING YOU IN AT THE MOST PRIMAL AND STRANGE WAYS. HE WANTED TO MAKE BIG, BOLD, COMPLICATED YET ULTIMATELY HUMAN STATEMENTS. AND ALL THAT TECHNICAL X, Y, Z UNDERSTANDING? THAT WAS JUST A TINY PART OF SOMETHING SO MUCH MORE RESONANT.

SO HERE'S WHERE HULK WILL TIE THESE TWO POINTS BACK IN ON EACH OTHER.

BOTH A CRITIC AND A FILMMAKER CAN HAVE DEEP TECHNICAL KNOWLEDGE AND YET STILL COMPLETELY FAIL. HULK HAS SAID BEFORE THAT FINCHER IS A MASTER AESTHETICIAN WHO HAS MADE ONE OF HULK'S FAVORITE MOVIES EVER (ZODIAC), BUT HE HAS ALSO SO TONALLY MISSED THE MARK ON A FEW MOVIES THAT HULK WORRY HE MISAPPLIES HIS TECHNICAL ACUMEN. TO WIT: A GREAT CRITIC CAN SEE EVERY MOVIE UNDER THE SUN AND STILL MISAPPLY THE LOGIC TO MISS WHATEVER MIGHT HAVE MADE A MOVIE UNIQUE, INTERESTING OR COMPELLING AND ULTIMATELY BE THE THING THAT ALLOWS IT TO CONNECT WITH AUDIENCES IN A MEANINGFUL WAY. HECK, LOOK AT THE MOST OBVIOUS EXAMPLE EVER IN ARMOND WHITE. THE MAN IS ACTUALLY RATHER INTELLIGENT AND HAS SEEN JUST ABOUT EVERY MOVIE EVER. BUT IT'S LIKE HIS WIRES GOT CROSSED AND EVERY DAY IS OPPOSITE DAY OR SOMETHING BECAUSE HE DOESN'T MAKE A LICK OF SENSE WHEN IT COMES TO IDENTIFYING THINGS THAT WILL ACTUALLY RESONATE WITH AN AUDIENCE.

WHICH MEANS THAT BOTH CRITICISM AND FILMMAKING ARE REALLY THE PROCESSES OF WELL-ARTICULATED SUBJECTIVITY.

YES, THEY ARE OPINIONS AND CREATED EMOTIONS, BUT THEY ARE INFORMED OPINIONS AND CREATED EMOTIONS THAT TRY TO GET AT THE HEART OF A MOVIE-GOING EXPERIENCE. THAT'S WHY HULK HATES DOING TRADITIONAL REVIEWS AND NEVER WANTS TO BOIL IT DOWN TO SOME APPRAISAL OF WORTH. IN THAT KIND OF WORLD, THE QUESTION SHOULDN'T BE "IS THE MOVIE GOOD?" BUT MORE SOMETHING ALONG THE LINES "DOES THE MOVIE WORK?" YOU MAY EQUATE THE TWO, BUT HULK BELIEVES THAT BASIC CHANGE OF LANGUAGE CAN REALLY CHANGE THE WAY WE THINK AND TALK ABOUT MOVIES.

DEVIN'S RECENTLY NAILED THE DYNAMIC IN HIS ARTICLE ABOUT WHY YOU SHOULD SEE PROMETHEUS ANYWAY AND SHOWED THAT FOR ALL ITS PROBLEMS, ITS PROBLEMS ACTUALLY MADE IT COMPELLING AND THAT MAKES IT WORTH SEEING. HECK, WEEKS LATER WE'RE ALL STILL TALKING ABOUT THE FILM AND ISN'T THAT THE SIGN OF SOMETHING THAT, FOR GOOD OR BAD, AT LEAST MADE A MARK ON US? THINK ABOUT HOW MANY DISPOSABLE MOVIES GO IN ONE EAR AND OUT THE OTHER AND ARE NEVER THOUGHT OF AGAIN. BETTER YET, HULK BELIEVES WE CAN LEARN SO MUCH FROM PROMETHEUS IN A WAY THAT SOOOOOO MANY DISPOSABLE, CYNICAL MOVIES COULD NEVER TEACH US. EVEN RIGHT NOW, HULK HOPES THERE'S SOME HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS OUT THERE READING ABOUT PROMETHEUS AND HAVING THEIR FIRST REAL EXPERIENCES WITH THE NOTIONS OF SEMIOTIC THOUGHT OR CHARACTER INCONSISTENCY, AND REALLY DISCOVERING THE DEPTH OF WHAT THESE TERMS MEAN.

THIS IS THAT MYTHICAL "CONNECTION" WE TALK ABOUT.

THE CONNECTION OF ART. THE CONNECTION OF PURPOSE. THE CONNECTION OF EDUCATION. IT'S ALL A PART OF IT AND YES, EVEN CRITICISM SHOULD BE BASED ON THE FUNDAMENTAL PILLARS OF EDUCATION. FACTS. HISTORY. PURPOSE. CONVERSATION. NUANCE. INSPIRATION. TRUTH. BEAUTY.

AND YET, HULK SEES SO MANY REVIEWS THAT ESSENTIALLY SHUT DOWN THE CONNECTION. REVIEWS THAT DECLARE, THAT SHOUT, THAT GLOAT OR SNIPE AT OTHER THINKING, THAT PROCLAIM IT NEANDERTHAL-ESQUE, OR ELITIST THINKING. REVIEWS THAT ARE THERE ONLY TO BE STATED. TO HULK, THIS KIND OF CRITICISM IS JUST AS BAD AS A MOVIE THAT INDULGES THE VERY LIMITS OF DIDACTISM OR CYNICAL COMMERCE. BOTH ARE FORGETTING THE VERY PURPOSE OF ART.

AND THAT IS TO MAKE US FEEL ALIVE. TO LIVE IN THE SUBJECTIVE CONNECTION. IF A REVIEWER WANTS TO DO THE SAME, THEY MUST GO BEYOND MERE QUESTIONS OF ARCHIVAL WORTH. THE VERY BEST CRITICISM SHOULD STRIVE TO CONNECT TO PEOPLE IN THE SAME WAY THE BEST MOVIES DO. WHY CAN'T CRITICISM CHANGE A PERSON'S MIND? OFTEN THEY MAY PROVIDE SOME KIND OF NEW THINKING THAT HELPS EXPAND YOUR SENSE OF UNDERSTANDING, BUT WHY CAN'T IT MAKE SOMEONE LAUGH? OR CRY? OR THINK ABOUT THEIR LIVES IN A WAY THAT MAKES THEM TRULY PRESENT AND ALIVE?

WHY CAN'T CRITICISM BE JUST AS IMPORTANT?

7.  A LITTLE STORY

HULK THINKS THE BEST (READ: PROBABLY JUST FAVORITE) FILM OF ALL TIME IS TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

NOW, THE THING THAT STANDS OUT TO HULK ABOUT THIS MOVIE IS HOW LITTLE-HULK FIRST WATCHED IT WITH GRANDPA-HULK. AND HULK THINKS SO MUCH ABOUT HOW GRANDPA-HULK TAUGHT LITTLE-HULK ABOUT THE KINDS OF HEROISM THAT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH SMASHING OR WEB-SLINGING OR DEFEATING BAD GUYS. HULK THINKS ABOUT HOW GRANDPA-HULK HAS A LITANY OF STORIES THAT COULD BE SHARED THAT PROVE GRANDPA-HULK WAS PROBABLY MORE LIKE ATTICUS FINCH THAN ANYONE ON THE PLANET. BUT TO SOMEONE READING NOW ALL THIS INFORMATION MAY COLOR HULK'S DECLARATION ABOVE. YOU MAY SAY THAT THIS EXPERIENCE IS JUST CAUSING HULK TO BE RATHER SUBJECTIVE ABOUT WHY HULK CONSIDERS TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD TO BE "THE BEST MOVIE EVER."

YOU'RE DAMN RIGHT IT'S SUBJECTIVE. BUT THAT'S THE POINT: THAT'S THE FILM THAT CONNECTED US.

AND THAT'S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING A MOVIE CAN DO.

THINK ABOUT IT. HULK SAW HUNDREDS OF MOVIES WITH GRANDPA-HULK, BUT THAT'S THE ONE THAT SPOKE TO US. IT'S THE FILM THAT SPOKE TO MILLIONS OF PUNY HUMANS TOO. TRUE, THIS THINKING ISN'T SOME LICENSE TO ADORE ANY OLD CRAP WE LIKED AS KIDS, BUT INSTEAD AN INVITATION TO RECOGNIZE THE KINDS OF THINGS THAT REALLY CAN SPEAK TO US AT ALL AGES IN OUR LIVES. AND TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD HAD SUCH MAGNETIC, ARTISTIC AND HUMANE POWER THAT IT REACHED OUT OF THE SCREEN, TRANSCENDED ALL NOTIONS OF "GOODNESS" AND GRABBED AHOLD OF LITTLE HULK'S SOUL AND NEVER, EVER DARED TO LET GO.

SUBJECTIVE? THIS IS THE VERY PURPOSE OF MOVIES. TO FEEL THAT ABSURDLY CONNECTED WITH DANCING IMAGES ON THE SCREEN, THE PEOPLE SITTING NEXT TO US AND THE PEOPLE WITH WHOM WILL WILL GO OUT AND MEET IN LIFE. THAT'S WHY WE GO TO THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE. THAT'S WHERE WE WILL BUILD MEANING AND PURPOSE. THAT IS WHERE WE WILL BUILD HAPPINESS.

SO IF SOMEONE JUST SITS AROUND APPRAISING THE ARTISTRY AND CRAFTSMANSHIP ABOUT X, Y AND Z OF FILM, MAKING SCALE JUDGMENTS AND SCRUTINIZING GRADING CURVES OF A REVIEWER... WELL... HULK CAN'T STOP YOU, BUT YOU'RE TOTALLY MISSING OUT ON THE VERY PURPOSE OF ALL THIS STUFF.

TO RESTATE, IT'S NOT ABOUT ADOPTING ONLY SUBJECTIVITY AND ABANDONING ALL SENSE OF RATIONALE AND EXPERTISE, IT'S MERELY ABOUT REMEMBERING THERE IS A VERY ON-PURPOSE SUBJECTIVITY TO ART AND CRITICISM THAT TOTALLY MATTERS. IT IS ABOUT REMEMBERING THAT MOVIES HAVE SOULS.

DEAD POETS SOCIETY IS A FILM THAT WEARS ITS CONNECTION TO PEOPLE ON ITS SLEEVE. IT DIVES HEAD FIRST FOR YOUR MOST ADOLESCENT SOULS. IT IS AT TIMES CONTRIVED. AT TIMES OBTUSE. AND YET, TO THIS DAY, IT LIGHTS THE SOULS OF THE YOUNG ON FIRE. TRY IT. PUT IT ON IN A CLASSROOM WITH A BUNCH OF KIDS WHO HAVE NEVER SEEN IT BEFORE. WATCH WHAT HAPPENS. AS CLUMSY AT IT IS, THERE ARE FEW FILMS OUT THERE THAT SO WONDERFULLY UPHOLD THE VERY PURPOSE OF ART.

SORRY, BUT HULK WILL TAKE THAT OVER FLAWLESS X, Y, Z AESTHETIC EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

8. AND SO

AS HULK COMES TO A CLOSE, HULK WANTS TO HEAR FROM YOU ABOUT ALL THE MOVIES YOU HAVE MOST CONNECTED TO IN YOUR LIFE. HULK WANTS TO HEAR THE PERSONAL STORIES. THE CONTEXTS. THE MOVIES THAT ARE NOT ONLY GOOD, BUT HAD THE POWER TO CHANGE YOU. BECAUSE IN THE END, WE COULD ALL SIT HERE AND SAY "THAT WAS SO WELL MADE!" BUT HULK WANTS TO HEAR THE STORIES YOU HAVE THAT MAKE THE FILM COME ALIVE. THE STORIES THAT MAKE IT FEEL REAL IN A WAY HULK HAS NEVER THOUGHT OF BEFORE. TRY TO EXPLAIN IT TO HULK IN A WAY THAT MAKES IT COME ALIVE THE SAME WAY IT CAME ALIVE TO YOU.

WHAT MAKES A MOVIE GOOD?

WHATEVER YOU SAY MAKES A MOVIE GOOD.

AND JUST LIKE THE MOVIES THEMSELVES, IT DEPENDS ON YOUR SKILL TO COMMUNICATE THE CONNECTION.

HAPPY SMASHINGS,

<3 HULK

HULK ART BY THE WONDERFUL DANIEL WILKES! FIND HIS STUFF HERE!

ENDNOTES!

(1) NEED A LIST OF OTHER CRITICS? OF COURSE: MR. BEAKS, QUINT, KARINA LONGWORTH, WESLEY MORRIS, JEN YAMATO, A.O. SCOTT, EMILY NUSSBAUM, DAVID DENBY, DAMON HOUX, AMY NICHOLSON, TODD GILCHRIST, JEN YAMATO, JAMES ROCCHI, SCOTT TOBIAS, NOEL MURRAY, TODD VANDERERWERFF AND OF COURSE THE UNDENIABLE ROGER EBERT (PLUS A MILLION PEOPLE HULK READ THAT HULK TOTALLY FORGETTING OH GOD, PLEASE NO FEEL LEFT OUT HULK BAD AT THIS STUFF). HECK, THERE'S EVEN THE ARCHIVES OF PAULINE KAEL, ANDREW SARRIS, DILYS POWELL, JAY CARR, JAMES AGEE, AND THOSE PESKY CAHIERS DU CINEMA FELLAS. ALL THESE PEOPLE ARE RIGHT HERE FOR YOU. IT'S NOT AGREEMENT, BUT THE MOST AMAZING LEARNING OPPORTUNITY EVER. THE LIST OF GREAT CRITICISM TO READ IS REALLY ENDLESS.

RANDOM FUN NOTE - TRANSFORMERS 2 WILL ALWAYS MEAN SOMETHING SPECIAL TO HULK BECAUSE IT WHY HULK STARTED THE OL' BLOG. IF MOVIES HAVE SOULS THEN THIS ONE WAS A PROVOKING INSTIGATOR!

Film Crit Hulk's photo About the Author: FILM CRIT HULK WAS CREATED IN A CHAOTIC LAB EXPERIMENT INVOLVING GAMMA RADIATION, TELEPODS, AND THE GHOST OF PAULINE KAEL. NOW HULK HAVE DEEP AND ABIDING LOVE CINEMA.
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