THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"I LOVE HATE MAIL"

Hate mail. All critics get it at some point. It’s just part of the gig. I’m a little different than most critics, though. I love hate mail. I always figure that if my reviews move readers so strongly in one direction or the other, then that’s a good thing. Actually, mail comes in three varieties. There are those who agree with what I’ve written and send some complimentary words. Then there are those who disagree with me, but write respectfully to share their perspectives. I’ve had some wonderful, enlightening e-mail exchanges with readers who have opposing views…which if you ask me is what movies are all about anyway.

Then there are the “haters.” They are a breed unto themselves. There are some things you need to know about the haters. First, they are small in number but also the most vocal readers. Second, the anonymity of the internet has empowered them to send hateful missives to compete strangers. Third, they can’t type; their messages are almost always in either all caps or all lower case letters. Fourth – and most important – they take it personally when someone disagrees with them.

The haters live under the incorrect impression that film critics are elitist snobs who look down on the general audience. That’s where their anger comes from. While a small handful of critics undoubtedly fall into this category, they tend to write for upscale magazines specifically aimed at hoity-toity readers. The majority of critics have no illusions of superiority; we just want to toss out an informed opinion to facilitate thought and discussion of cinema. We like the audience because, really, we’re a part of it. It’s also a fallacy that a critic looks for something to criticize. On the contrary, I do not walk into a film with a checklist of things to analyze. I sit down in a comfy theater seat and am either entertained or not. The review reflects my experience. It’s that simple. You can’t explain that to the haters, though.

My all-time favorite piece of hate mail came from a reader who attempted to paint a complete psychological portrait of me based on my opinion of one single movie. Among other things, he was certain that I was a pipe-smoking academic in a tweed jacket who listened to classical music all day and played Dungeons & Dragons all night. He was wrong on every single count.

I’ve decided to share with my readers some of the hate mail I’ve received in the past few years. Why, you may ask? Well, there’s another reason I love hate mail. If you look beyond the bad spelling, the name-calling, and the vitriol, the haters often raise points that are worth discussing. The messages contained below have some relevancy. Following each hate mail message, I offer a response to the points the writer was most likely trying to make. I have tried to overlook the anger (and the insults) and to take each writer seriously. For the sake of maintaining the writers’ flavor, I present each letter exactly as it was received, with no corrections to spelling, grammar, or punctuation. The only alterations made were for reader clarity, and they are bracketed. Let the haters speak!


THE CAT IN THE HAT YOU GAVE IT 1.5 STARS. WELL I TOOK MY LITTLE GIRLS AND THEY LOVED IT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AND FOR THAT MATTER I ENJOYED IT TOO!

Debra H.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: if you like a movie that I hated, then I’m glad you didn’t feel your time and money were wasted. No one wants to blow eight bucks on a movie that sucks. (Just ask anyone who saw Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.) All that matters is that you had a good time. Also, I completely understand that every movie – no matter how critically reviled – will have its supporters. Sometimes I’m one of those people trying to defend a flick that everyone else seems to have hated. After all, I’m the dude who gave three stars to Bewitched!


[Mike] mc granaghan is one of the shittiest reviewers ive ever read. just watched “ash Wednesday” after his review, it is quite possibly the worst movie ive seen in a decade. as for [Edward] burns, he cant write, act, or direct. if mcgranaghan thinks this is how people talk, tell him to stop watching “[The] brothers mcmullen,” ( another piece of blinding pretentious shit) and get out on the street. as an irish american part of the IRISH ARTS CENTER, we all laugh at burns, as a squeaky voiced wannabe street boy, form the suburbs of long island. he is so horrendous that we actually had a recent writer stage his mock edwardian burns festival. wake up idiot, this guy is a piece of cliched trash. and, you, get a life.

sincerely, Ian M.

The writer of this message is referring to an obscure Edward Burns film called Ash Wednesday, which I reviewed favorably. He is also assuming that his ethnic experience is the only “true” one. In films like The Brothers McMullen (which is also referenced) and She’s the One, Edward Burns has dealt with his Irish Catholic upbringing. I’ve liked his films because, as an Irish Catholic myself, the ideas and themes ring true to me. Clearly, they do not ring true to the writer. Does that make Burns a bad filmmaker? Of course not. It only means that some people respond strongly to his work, while others do not. Perhaps the folks at the IRISH ARTS CENTER (which the writer has obviously capitalized to inform me that I am to be intimidated) don’t like Ed Burns, but I do…and I’ve received dozens of messages from others who have similarly identified with his films. Like the saying goes: different strokes for different folks. What feels authentic to one person may feel completely artificial to somebody else.

Also, I am proud to report that I like the films of Edward Burns and I still have a life!


You speak of Team America World Police as though it is the first movie starring puppets to cross the line into “graphic”. Let me suggest renting Peter Jackson’s Meet the Feebles.

Jim

This gentleman is absolutely right! Peter Jackson did do it first. It would have been more accurate for me to say that Team America was the first wide-release R-rated puppet movie. Since, like most people, I never saw the hard-to-find Meet the Feebles, it wasn’t on my radar when I wrote the review, hence the error. As a fan of Peter Jackson, I am pleased to officially correct my oversight.


how do they let you review movies, i just read your review of the film "crash" and you said "he [writer/director Paul Haggis] doesn't beat you over the head", are you kidding me? that film was a two hour lesson about being battered over the head about racism.

Jimmy Z

They “let” me review movies because of my vast intelligence, masterful writing ability, and sparkling tongue-in-cheek sense of humor (of which this entire sentence is an example). In all seriousness, there is a major difference between a movie that thoughtfully encourages you to confront an issue and one that endlessly browbeats you with a pre-programmed “message.” Crash is an example of the former; Patch Adams and John Q are examples of the latter.


Hi, I used to have your site saved to my favorites- but after reading your positive review on "Be Cool" you have lost all credibility with me. That was by far the worst movie I have had to sit through. You gave it 3 out of four stars? Did you actually watch this piece of CRAP!!!

S. Beallie

The whole star rating can be something of an annoyance, because it provides no detail or context. Hopefully, the body of every review will explain why I awarded a particular rating to a film. Three stars means that I thought a movie was “good” – not great, but satisfying on some level. What I said in my review of Be Cool was that I had liked the book by Elmore Leonard and thought the film adaptation was pretty faithful in capturing its charms. To be fair, I also cited some areas where I thought the movie could have been improved. If my text has failed to justify the star rating, I probably have not done as good a job as I would have liked on that review. Hopefully, though, readers will read the body of the review rather than just looking at the star rating. If I’ve done my job, they will understand where I’m coming from, even if they disagree with my star rating.


You don't have anything against Nick Gage [Nicolas Cage] or [producer] Jerry Bruckheimer do you? I read your review of National Treasure and have only one piece of advice - to be credible, loose the personal attack banter and blatantly biased attitude. Further, you may want to check the box office results for National Treasure. To date it's brought in $133 Million, second only to The Incredibles. I hate reviewers like you that use movie reviews more to flout their own oppinions than anything else. I never right to people like you, but your review annoyed me more than usual. By the way, I wrote this from my junk email account, so don't bother replying - It'll never get read.

Joshua

There’s a lot to respond to here:

1. Do I have something against Nicolas Cage or Jerry Bruckheimer? Not at all. I’m a big fan of Cage, as you will see in my reviews of Adaptation, Leaving Las Vegas, and most recently Lord of War. Bruckheimer has produced fine films such as Black Hawk Down, Remember the Titans, and Beverly Hills Cop. Both men have also had their share of misfires, but who in Hollywood hasn’t?

2. Did he say he hates critics who give opinions? Isn’t that what a critic does? How exactly do you review a movie without giving your opinion? If you don’t like hearing what someone else thinks, then don’t read reviews. It’s that simple.

3. The writer is correct that National Treasure was a huge box office hit. However, that has no bearing on the review. I see movies when they first open – before anyone knows how much money they are ultimately going to make. And I certainly won’t go back and change my review just because a movie became popular; that would be dishonest. In the case of National Treasure, I genuinely didn’t like the film. I thought it was hokey and absurd, so I panned it. A lot of people loved the film, which is why it was a hit. (Believe me, I got a lot of grief from family and friends who thought I was off my rocker for disliking National Treasure.)

On a side note, it should be added that a movie’s box office take does not necessarily constitute a “good” movie. With today’s hype machine cranked up to ten, pictures often have record-breaking opening weekends, only to plummet precipitously once word of mouth gets out. This has led to the phenomenon of “the blockbuster that nobody likes” – films that crossed the magic $100 million mark yet seemed to satisfy few viewers. (Some examples: Van Helsing, The Hulk, Pearl Harbor, Tomb Raider). Conversely, there are movies that got near-unanimous raves from critics and audience members alike, but never lit up the box office. (See: North Country, Spirited Away, Good Night and Good Luck.)

I’d like to take a moment to thank anyone who has ever written me a message, regardless of whether it was nice mail or hate mail. The great thing about the internet is that it allows much more interactivity among movie lovers. We can now discuss our mutual passion with people from around the world – people we would otherwise never get to meet. I really enjoy hearing the perspectives of my readers. So, if you agree with something I’ve said, by all means write and let me know. On the other hand, if you think I’m a complete idiot who wouldn’t recognize a good movie if it bit me on the backside, let me know that too. Just don’t expect me to get riled up by your taunts and insults. Remember: I love hate mail.

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