The following is a blog (of sorts) where I discuss movie-related and site-related thoughts that I can't express within the confines of a normal review.  Some of them may be responses to e-mail I've received, trailers I've seen, or just an overall theme not specific to a movie.  Most of these writings are meant strictly for me, but I do consider them of potential interest to those of you that love movies or are just interested in the running of the site in general.  I welcome any feedback you might have on any of the subjects listed in this (or any other) section of my site.

1/14/2006 -- Reviewing films for kids

One of the things that I sometimes wrangle with when it comes to reviewing movies meant strictly for kids is whether or not it is worthwhile for me to do so.  Clearly, these movies aren't meant for me, or probably any adult for that matter, and the target audience that regularly views them, primarily youths that have only seen 100 or so movies in their lifetime, aren't nearly as discriminating as an adult that has seen thousands.  The following e-mail is one that I've just received regarding my review of Sandlot 2, a kids movie, and one which I panned, in the writer of the letters opinion, far too harshly.

"hi i am mallory a 11 who lives in toowoomba queensland and i may just be a kid but if u ask me sandlot2 was a very cool movie and all my friends a gree it was exciting and although i havent seen the first one i reckon u r being a bit harsh on this movie it seems like u said u loved the first one and if the second one is just like the first then how could u hate so take in consideration that they r kids acting and have u ever acted it looks so easy but i bet it isnt and i am not just saying this cause i think the guy that plays david (Max Lloyd-Jones) is hot or the girl that plays hailey (Samantha Burton) is a pretty girl they r a bit older then me and i would be upset if the first movie i acted in was put down"

I guess the first thing I should mention is that any opinion is worthwhile to me, especially of someone young that is viewing a movie meant for their target audience.  One might even make a case that Mallory's opinion is more legitimate than mine because she represents the movie's most likely viewer.  I know that there are other sites that have kids reviewing movies for kids, which I think is a great idea, as I think kids can figure out for themselves just what they find entertaining.  When I was a kid, I certainly listened to my peers far more on what TV shows, cartoons and music to like more than my parents or their friends.  I see the letter above and feel a little guilty, not because I feel my assessment of The Sandlot 2 is off by any means, but because it might just be superfluous. 

When I was a kid myself, I viewed a lot of "adult" movies (I don't mean pornography here) to be boring as hell.  A movie like Magnolia would have put me right to sleep, whereas it fascinates me today.  Much of this has to do with the more mature subject matter, and the life experiences that I had been mostly sheltered from now making sense to me as an adult.  If I had never seen it, and a young child told me they thought Magnolia was "stupid", would I take their word as gospel?  Not a chance, and I guess a child reading my site (I'm astonished by how many kids and teenagers actually do read it regularly) should take any review of a children's movie from my adult perspective with just as much grain of salt.

As irrelevant as it may be, I still feel that I must review kids' movies, despite my qualms about the legitimacy of my opinions.  The way I see it, one of the strengths that I feel I have as a reviewer is the ability to make recommendations for a variety of audiences that might be interested, and many of those audiences are ones that I am not a part of in a demographic sense.  If I were choosing a film for a child, I certainly would be more likely to choose Sandlot 2 over Magnolia, but does that make it a better movie?  Not in my opinion, but every movie has its audience out there, and the best I can do is review from my perspective, for people that think like me.

Now, I would like to address Mallory's opinion, as I feel the need to elaborate just a little on my "adult" perspective, so that she might see how I could be so harsh.  Maybe we can come to an understanding after all:

Mallory -- while you and your friends might agree that it was a cool movie, and I am happy that you found enjoyment in it, it's clear that we disagree on this.  There are many things that you and your friends will find enjoyment in that I just don't "get"; for instance, while you, being a young girl, might think that child actor Max Lloyd-Jones is "hot", it is something that never entered my mind for even a nanosecond.  I used to have a poll on that review where people could post comments as well, but the only thing people (probably kids as well) would want to talk about is Max and his "hotness".  Basically, I've come to the conclusion that young girls will see things in films, and of boy actors in general, that I cannot, and should not, ever see.  Our enjoyment of it will be divided for that very reason.

The second thing that I'd like to point out is that I didn't like the first Sandlot film, unlike many of my contemporaries.   You're right in thinking that, if the two films are nearly identical, that my grade for them should also be.  They both get two stars out of five, on my scale.  One might argue that the second film should be inferior to the first, because the second is the carbon copy and took far less effort to conceive than the first film.  I think it's a valid point; I basically said as much in my review of the new Bad News Bears.  I guess I took the second film, as you suggested, as its own separate entity, and graded them the same.  Film critique is not an exact science, I'm afraid.

I also don't think acting is easy.  I often praise actors for turning mediocre films into good ones just based on their performances, so I do appreciate the quality of the work involved.  I think actors learn (or at least should learn) to take bad reviews of their movies in stride, provided that critics aren't panning their performances.  The best thing actors can do is to do the best they can in making their characters convincing -- if the direction, special effects, editing, etc. are bad, it is not their fault the movie ends up a mess.  It is even more difficult for child actors, because it is hard for kids to act like kids when adults are writing their dialogue.  They usually come off as too cute, too obnoxious, too precocious, or just too adult to buy as children.  Sadly, because they are seen as "just kids", they probably have no real say in how their characters should behave, and consequently, they come off as unconvincing.  In addition, kids are usually hired primarily because they are cute, or just fit a certain physical mold, and not because of the quality of their acting.  This is usually why many kids films don't exactly excel in quality performances from the child actors.

I guess in conclusion of this already long-winded musing, I should just mention that film criticism is merely a matter of personal opinion, usually by one individual that feels he or she is educated enough in film to be able to articulate just what worked and what didn't in any particular film.  Like any essay based on opinion, people will disagree, and those people either just learn to respectfully dissent, or just stop listening outright to people that don't really hold their views.  While I certainly would love it if everyone agreed with my reviews 100% all the time, I am realistic in knowing that no one ever agrees 100% on any one movie, so expecting a consensus on 2,000 films seems outrageously silly to expect. 

The Sandlot 2 is a movie that one can watch and enjoy in ones youth, and perhaps there are a few adults that might even enjoy it, but I am not grading a film strictly on likeability.  In the end, I can only see it as a derivative regurgitation meant to capitalize on a popular kids film, and can't, despite my rationalization that kids might like it, proclaim it a good film for that reason.  Perhaps when you're my age, you'll understand my perspective, and also know why I didn't mention that "Max Lloyd-Jones is hot" anywhere in my review.

2006 Vince Leo