It’s Hate Mail Time!

On the subject of no respect, let’s open the hate mail bag, shall we?

All film critics receive hate mail. It’s a hazard of the occupation. People take movies personally, and often get very, very upset when a critic doesn’t like a movie they liked. Or, conversely, when a critic does like a movie they didn’t. It happens both ways. I suspect that most critics secretly enjoy hate mail, the more irrational the better. I know I do.

Recently, as some of you may have noticed, I reviewed a little movie about blue Indians who ride dragons in a magical rainforest. Personally, I thought it was kind of dumb, and said as much in the review. I think I did a pretty thorough job in the article explaining why I came to that opinion. Nevertheless, this stirred up some strong responses in our forum thread, which you are free to peruse when you have the better part of a day to waste. Words like “terrible,” “insulting,” and (my favorite) “unprofessional” are bandied about a lot, as they always are when any even-remotely controversial review is published.

For some people, having a discussion in a forum doesn’t quite satisfy the urge to lash out. They need to go straight to the source, and email the critic their contempt directly. Below are some of my recent favorites.

I plan to write more in this blog about the point and purpose of film criticism at a later date. For now, I’m going to post these messages without further comment. (However, I must note that I gave the disc a perfect 5-star score for video quality in my review, and described it as, “the best-looking demo material yet released on Blu-ray.”)

All names have been removed to protect the guilty.

Your review is terrible.

This is hands down the best blu ray movie ever produced, are you blind? Name one that is better. Picture quality, sound and story is fantastic in the blu ray format is the best I ever seen. I look forward the review on your sight, but this is way off base and I am many agree with me.

Movie Buff not a critic

In your review of the Avatar Blu-ray disc for the movie Avatar, you ask yourself, “How the hell did he pull this off? I can’t figure it out.” regarding James Cameron. Perhaps, this tip may help you find your answer:

He pulled if off by creating a fantastic and beautiful story. If you would just get your head out of your ass and stop putting down brilliant work, you may just see the light. Why is it that most movie critics will only love and admire crappy, niche movies? If a movie is loved by “the people”, then it must be dumb and trivial, right?

Thanks for helping me avoid yet another reviewer on the site. Now, all the movies you hate, I’m sure I will love (and vice versa).


Why do you have an inferiority complex when it comes to understanding that white people are the backbone of this country, and were here from its beginnings. What place did you drop out of that makes you think that what you “believe” about movie plots has any relevance or importance All you actually convey is personal character liabilities when it comes to being a relevant human. You need to “shut up” when it comes to spewing your racial (white) ignorance as being “philosophical” or critiquing, because all you actually do is just make yourself dirty in the process.

That is a pretty immature comment for a professional reviewer to make on any movie much less the highest grossing movie ever @ nearly 3 billion dollars. Anyhow I don’t have a problem with what he meant , however I am sure he could have worded it a little more professionally. I read your reviews here often but too many more like that one and I may have to take this place off my bookmarks.

For the record, I have also received literally dozens of supportive emails from people expressing agreement with my review, and thanking me for voicing the same feelings they had while watching the movie. I’ve also received a few notes from people who were civil and respectful in their disagreement. But those aren’t nearly as entertaining, are they?

I’ll write more on this topic later.


  1. c

    This is, hands down, the worst review of the feedback for a movie review that I have ever read. You should be ashamed at yourself for having such level headed response. This is the internet, where flame wars are started and never finished. Have some backbone and publish a real response with some teeth.

  2. JoeRo

    Love. It. If you have any hate-mail re: your Dune review, and your unabashed love for that film, I would love to hear it. Also, for the record, threatening to “take this place off my bookmarks” is brilliant while simultaneously being profoundly stupid. I mean damn. Just damn.

  3. Matt

    I was just talking with my wife about your review of the Avatar Blu-Ray, actually. It’s great that you posted something about the fallout.

    By the way, about the review itself, your comparison between Jake Sully and the main character of District 9 was very intelligent and entertaining; I didn’t like District 9 very much, but after reading that, I’m in agreement about the main character.

    I think what really went down with the bad story of Avatar is that we live in an information-overloaded world. Assuming there was a smart storyline there at one point, Mr. Cameron just had to dumb himself down to have a chance at reaching out to his audience and maybe, just maybe getting them to listen. It’s a shame.


  4. Matt

    Revising revision to recover the point…

    I believe what really happened with regards to the bad story of Avatar is the world we live in, a world of information overload, a world where average citizens tune out the words of experts in favor of That Guy On Youtube. In this world, intelligence, experience, and credentials are meaningless, having a loud mouth (or loud blog) is meaningful, and thus trusted by the public. If Mr. Cameron wanted to make us think about our earth, it wasn’t going to be with an intelligent story.

    Assuming there was a smart storyline there at one point, Mr. Cameron just had to dumb himself down to have a chance at reaching out to his audience and maybe, just maybe getting them to listen. So, the characters became one-dimensional, the humans became black-and-white, evil, and greedy capitalists, instead of on Pandora on a quest for their own survival, and lines we’ve been conditioned by the press to recognize made it into the screenplay.

    To reach out to his dumb audience, he had to resort to a dumb story. It’s a shame.


    • EM

      While there is a long history of crappy or workmanlike science fiction in film and television, the genre, because of its niche status, used to be an excellent platform for exploring challenging ideas, disguised or otherwise. Now that the genre has much broader public acceptance, I think it’s harder to find new worthwhile sci-fi, since much of what is produced is subject to the pressures of maximizing appeal to the viewing public at large, instead of being content to satisfy a modest niche.

      Unfortunately, there is a large or at least vocal segment of the public that strongly believes that common opinions and practices are, by virtue of being common, superior opinions and practices. (I suppose they would believe such a belief is best *because* it is itself common!) Financial success tends to get tied into the arguments of such persons, as demonstrated by the comment castigating a review for daring to criticize “the highest grossing movie ever @ nearly 3 billion dollars”. Advertising often takes advantage of these attitudes. I am often put off by ads declaring some film or other as “the #1 movie in America”: it might be #1 in box-office revenue at present, but that doesn’t make it #1 in entertainment value or #1 on my list to see.

      • “it’s harder to find new worthwhile sci-fi.” Sad but true!

        I can’t stand the current crop of science fiction style shows on television. ‘Flash Forward,’ ‘V,’ ‘Lost’ and all the others just don’t do it for me. For now, I survive on ‘Dr. Who’ and ‘Star Trek: TNG’ reruns. And books, of course.

        • EM

          I actually do watch “Lost” and “V”, and so maybe I should write you some hate mail. 😉 I actually have mixed feelings about “Lost”; but as there’s only one episode left, I’m not going to drop it just yet. 🙂 I don’t think I’d be watching “V” if it weren’t for “Lost”’s lead-in effect. Like the original weekly “V” of 1984–1985, it fails to deliver on the promise of the first miniseries, which I continue to greatly enjoy. At least the ‘80s weekly had great camp value. While I wouldn’t say the current series is completely without merit, I doubt I’ll be on board when it returns in 2011.

          The only other current science-fiction series I watch is “Phineas and Ferb”, if it counts as science fiction (some episodes are more science-fictiony than others).

          • It’s not that I hate ‘Lost.’I just don’t like it. I watched the first two seasons on Netflix over the summer on a friend’s insistance. I found most of the island stuff pretty unexciting, but I loved the way they told everyone’s backstories. Eventually, I just stopped watching and never caught back up.

            The “What’s in the hatch?” stuff that people get excited about never really grabbed me. I wanted more of the Sun and Jin story 🙂

      • Matt

        You’re absolutely right. If popularity was always correct, then McDonald’s would serve the tastiest food in the world, and Wal-Mart would carry the highest-quality products in the world.

        Those numbers are all marketing, appealing to our innate urges to follow the crowd. They don’t even adjust for inflation, meaning that the dollar values don’t even reflect the size of the crowd, just the size of the ticket prices!

        BTW, interestingly enough, inflation-adjusted, Titanic beats out Avatar. (source:


    • Matt, an artist should never pander or talk down to his audience. If James Cameron has such a low opinion of his audience’s intelligence that he feels the need to dumb his movie down to such a simplistic level, all that demonstrates is a decline in his abilities as a filmmaker.

      While his older movies like Terminator 2 or even Titanic may not have been the most intellectually complex masterpieces ever written for film, they never talked down to their audience.

      • Matt

        True enough. The question of “Has Mr. Cameron’s writing abilities declined, or has his audience gotten dumber, or both?” won’t be answered here.

        There’s also an additional possibility: Mr. Cameron may have had a smart screenplay, but The Money exercised their control and dumbed it down. A too-intelligent script probably would not have turned the film into its success.

        Anyways, glad to have spurred at least some discussion about that.

        Anyanyways, your review was really good, Josh. I really liked the Dances With Wolves bit, and the bit about the main character of District 9 was a thought-provoking read.


          • EM

            I feel that the challenges forced by various constraints (low budget, primitive technology, censorship, etc.) sometimes force talented people to be even more creative.

  5. Jane Morgan

    Like Spielberg with A.I. These god-like directors have two problems. They censor for the PG-13. And they have no real feedback until after the film’s release.

    Are there any movie directors who have continued to get better with age? It feels like they all have a 10 year rise, and then a 40 year fall.

    I’m starting to worry that Quentin Tarantino has peaked, and he’ll be the next to make a “Robin Hood.”

  6. Michael Palmer

    Josh. These are fantastic. Keep them coming.

    “I look forward the review on your sight, but this is way off base and I am many agree with me.”

    I am not many agree with him or his sight.

    For the record, though UP was clearly the best film of 2009, AVATAR is a great film. As important as Jurassic Park or Star Wars for both technical advancement and the amount of cinematic entertainment it provides. But Josh’s review was excellent despite our differences in opinion.

    Also, if anyone wants to read Cameron’s script it’s available here:

    FYI, Cameron censored himself to PG-13 because he made the most expensive movie in history, and wanted to ensure maximum return on the investment (this being from a personal source who worked on the film, and who kept begging Cameron to go hard-R on the action). There’s a clear financial gain between *most* R-rated films and those rated PG-13, and at the time, no one knew it would make $3 Billion theatrically.