From a September 2009 HE piece: “I wouldn’t call myself a critic in the Eric Kohn/David Edelstein/Matt Zoller Seitz/Justin Chang/Stephen J. Whitty sense of the term. Which can be otherwise defined as seeing every last film that comes along and sitting down like a rank-and-file machinist in Detroit and reviewing every last one (including and especially the awful-awfuls) and always with a five-or-six-paragraph plot synopsis. Which can otherwise be defined as being a good soldier who does the hard and once-necessary task of grappling with all of it, good or bad, rain or shine, sick or healthy. Critics do the job like those pilots in Howard Hawks‘ Only Angels Have Wings flew mail over the Andes.
“But critics aren’t truly and finally critics unless they’re stone Catholics about movies, and I have always been that. I’ve been swimming in these waters for 30 years now and I don’t just skim across the surface of the pond when I see and write about a film. True Catholics put on the wetsuit and dive in each and every time. They swim to the bottom and search around and can identify and quantify the various fish and algae down there, not to mention the geological assessments of silt and sand and bedrock.
“I do all that and then some. All my life I have felt and communed and wrestled with films as seriously and arduously as Martin Luther did with Catholicism before striking out with the Protestant Reformation. Okay, not every last flick made and distributed on the planet earth but most of the ones worth seeing. Yes, I’ve deliberately chosen not to suffer through each and every film that opens because 60% to 70% of them are soul-sucking torture to sit through. Some of the worst suffering I’ve endured in my life (which has included getting punched and spat upon, being in car and motorcycle accidents, getting arrested and put behind bars, being fired just before Christmas a few times, getting divorced and seeing friends and family members die) has been due to bad films.
“So I’m selective, yes, and my judgment is far from perfect. But even in the murkiest waters I can spot and smell trouble from hundred of yards off, like a shark can pick up distress signals.
“Some seem to feel that blogger-columnists like myself just kind of bop-bop-bop along like red robins and throw out little zingers — i.e., less than fully considered reactions — after seeing this or that film. Sometimes I do toss out facile-seeming reactions but that’s because I’ve decided that a zinger is quite appropriate and sufficient. We all know what proper film criticism is and no, I don’t follow the form. But a fully considered response to a film doesn’t always have to be expressed in ten to twelve graphs with five or six devoted to some droning boilerplate synopsis.
“What matters is whether or not you’re a life-long hairshirt Catholic and whether or not movies get to you in the same way that spiritual satori or lung cancer does. In this respect very few critics out there have anything on yours truly.