A Look Into the Life of a Film Critic, or, "Did Anyone Really Ask for This?"

Last night I was having a talk with someone I had just met, and when it came out that I was a film reviewer I got this response: "Wow, you must get to see some really great movies!" Because I am polite I didn't laugh out loud. The truth of the matter is that quite the opposite is true. Rarely do I get to sit in on a well crafted cinematic effort, but this is not a complaint as most of the time I actively seek out the detritus of Hollywood and elsewhere.

While the occasional first-run movie falls into my lap and I get the chance to review it on Film Threat, the wide majority of the movies I critique come from other sources. Independant features and film festival features are some of the most fertile territories that I tread, but this can be a hit or miss proposition. While I desire the indie segment and savor the talent and guts that often is behind a film like this getting made, just as often you can sit through a completely misguided attempt.

Take my recent trip to Sundance where I experienced the broadest spectrum of quality in a concentrated time frame. One film from Italy, "Three Step Dancing", had me wondering why it was selected, as well as why it was even made. The worst of the lot was "Harry and Max", which if you dare to read the review will reveal that it centered upon incestuous homosexual pedophilia.

This movie made me hate.

Another area I've been known to frequent is the often aberrant sector of direct-to-rental releases. These are the films that for any number of reasons never got released into theaters and find their debut to the public taking place on the Blockbuster Video shelf. These can either be festival hopefuls that never found distribution, or lavishly produced pictures that turned out so wrong the studio decided to cut its losses and dump it into home theater, or even those films produced on the cheap with the express purpose of turning a quick dollar in the rental market. In most of these cases the quality is nonexistent; this is not a place to enter into lightly.

My last stream of product comes via the web site itself, a source that I simply will call The Box. Every two months or so I will put the word out to my editor and soon in the mail I will receive a parcel from them containing up to 2 dozen tapes and DVDs. Film Threat, and our publisher Chris Gore, has a high degree of admiration in the indie film community. This was evident when walking Main Street in Park City behind Chris as he was perpetually confronted by those who recognized him.

Even at our festival last year I experienced this effect. I was sitting with a cameraman/producer friend of mine who came in from upstate and we met a woman doing PR for one of the films entered. I explained how I wouldn't have the chance to see the film and asked if a screener copy was available. She scoffed at me, using a patronizing tone to lecture me on the risk of piracy. I shrugged at her and simply told her I had hoped to post a review of it on Film Threat. The woman's eyes snapped wide and in the next 5 minutes she returned to our table three times to explain that she had spoken with the director, then to deliver a press kit, and finally to hand me a copy of the film. My friend marveled at this display and remarked that if I tried I could be a real asshole with this power. (I thanked him for suggesting I wasn't currently an asshole.)

So back to The Box. Because of this clout the offices of the web site get besieged with unsolicited copies of movies from hopeful film makers looking for a break. I once saw a picture of their room where mail bins and five feet tall piles of tapes and discs were stored. This was only what they average on a monthly basis. When I put in for my next delivery they take a snow shovel and scoop up part of the pile and ship it my way. The best way to describe the overall quality of these attempts is that my dog will not go near The Box when it comes in. Daunting is but one word to use when delving into the contents.

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