Hello, my name is Mike Sargent. I am (among many other things) a film critic, an entertainment journalist, and a huge science fiction fan. I am going to be a film and TV critic for Tor.com for the foreseeable future. I will endeavor to give scintillating coverage on what’s out there, what’s coming out, and as often as I can offer the lucky among you (who live in NYC) free passes to see some of these movies. I have a number of other thoughts on film criticism. I will let them serve as an introduction to me, and what I intend to do (with my posts on film, television and DVDs) here on Tor.com.
Recently I interviewed Francis Ford Coppola for his last film Tetro (an independent film that he made with his wine money). I asked Francis what his thoughts were about film criticism. Cope said (I love calling him Cope when I talk about him as if we were actually friends) “a good film critic provides a filmmaker with the opportunity to learn. Without being malicious or generalizing too greatly, criticism has the obligation to teach the filmmaker the error of his ways, and how he could improve the next time out.” He went on to say that he believes “the attitude of the critic should be to enlighten and to teach.” Wow! I thought, what a lofty ambition. To think that Harry Knowles could teach Coppola how to be a better filmmaker!
One can only hope that the filmmakers actually read and acknowledge what their viewing audience (including critics) has to say. But I do think the critic also has a greater obligation to his or hers readers, viewers, or listeners to inform them and give considered opinion. As an avid reader sci-fi and fantasy, I am perhaps less forgiving of what I consider to be lazy or extremely derivative writing or ideas cribbed from lesser-known books or short stories. But I will always try to be fair.
I can tell you what I don’t think a critic’s job is. I don’t think it is a critic’s job to give away the major plot points of a film (trailers do too much of that already). This is a trend that particularly irks me. It leads me to the conclusion that most film critics are just frustrated storytellers that delight in telling you the reader a story, any story. Because I am a writer I have too much respect for the narrative to give it away in a review. Beyond the premise, or the set up, or overall plot I don’t believe in doing reviews that contain major “spoilers.” I almost never read reviews of a film until after I have seen them, for this very reason. I can’t tell you how many films I have seen, where if I had known going in what it was about, it would have taken a way much of the joy of watching the story unfold. In contrast, I can’t tell you how many films I have sat through, waiting for the stuff I know is going to happen happen. Then I can finally enjoy the not knowing what’s going to happen, which for me is a big part of the joy of being caught up in any story.
I also do not think it is the critic’s job simply to bash a particular actor, writer or director they don’t like either. Though a review is merely an opinion, it should be an informed one and contain some kind of context for the review. Not, as is so often in the case of science-fiction and fantasy films the arbitrary trashing of a movie and or its elements. I invite comments on anything I mention or observe or leave out in my reviews of anything. I am extremely happy to be here and look forward to connecting to and with Tor.com readers.
Mike Sargent is a nationally quoted film critic for WBAI-FM in NYC. His late-nite radio shows website is: Lifeislikesciencefiction.com—that just about says it all.