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on 23 May 2014
I really rate Mark Kermode as a professional film critic: I read his reviews in the "Observer" newspaper, I watch his reviews on BBC television, I follow him on Twitter, and I attended an event at his beloved Phoenix cinema in East Finchley where he spoke about this book. The work is not about films or even film criticism as such but essentially about the role of film critic and one in particular. He is absurdly self deprecating about his persona ("I have a stupid name and a stupid haircut") and overly defensive about his profession ("these days professional film critics are viewed as being on a par with child-molesters and pension-fund embezzlers in the popularity stakes").

Kermode writes like he speaks - a tendency to long, breathless but perfectly-formed sentences full of wit and eudition, so this is an immensely readable work. The book lacks structure - the chapters could have been in any order - and the text has a habit of meandering (several times, he has to resort to a phrase like "anyway, back to ...") , but eventially we always come back to one central message: even in the age of the online, amateur film critic (like me), there is a role for the professional but all critics should identify themselves, the reviews that readers tend to remember are the bad ones, but in the end reviews make little difference to the box office.

"Hatchet Job" tells us something about the odd life of professional film critics. Twice a week, every week, they sit in a darkened room and watch movies that have not yet been released. Kermode reckons that he has averaged 10-12 films a week for the past 25 years, but laments "if you happen to see a couple of good films in any given week, you're doing pretty well". Nevertheless he believes that "watching movies for a living is an insanely privileged existence".

In the course of the book, we learn some things about Kermode: "As a child, my only real friends were movies", as an adolescent his most memorable films were 'Silent Running' and something called simply 'Jememy', and he is "a former student Trot turned wishy-washy bleeding-heart liberal".

Above all, we learn about the movies he loves and loathes respectively. On the affection side, he declares that "I (still) think 'The Exocist' is the greatest movie ever made", he shares the view that 'Casablanca' is "one of the greatest movies ever made", much more controversially he has declared "'The Devils' to be "one of the greatest films ever made", and he admits to being "an unabashed 'Twilight' movie fan". He insists that the assessments of critics and public are not so far apart and I have seen and admired five of his all-time top ten films including such wonderful work as 'Don't Look Now' and 'Pan's Labryinth'.

On the hate side, he says that 'Heaven's Gate' was "catastrophic" and 'Eyes Wide Shut' "piss poor", he shares the view that 'The Straight Story' was "'Forrest Gump' on a tractor", he was savage about 'Transformers', 'Pirates Of The Caribbean' and 'Sex And The City', and he calls 'Zardoz' "the worst science-fiction movie ever made" and 'The Heretic' "the worst movie ever made" - both directed by John Boorman which leads him to the view that the auteur theory is "utter hooey".

One of the most interesting chapters - which underlines how difficult it is to be right about a movie at first viewing - is the role of focus groups in viewing and commenting upon movies not yet released and possibly not yet finalised. He takes the reader through the evolution of 'Fatal Attraction' which has a very different ending from that intended by the writer or director as a result of audience research. He rightly argues that this kind of approach to film-making would have changed the ending of 'Casablanca' making it an utterly different and inferior film.

In a sense, "Hatchet Job" is a cry of existential angst: "Isn't all criticism - good or bad - just white noise; waffle; static hiss; a distraction from the real business of making films?". He admits: "Whereas once I was stupidly certain about my opinions, age has withered that sense of single-mindednes to the point that I no longer trust myself when it comes to judging movies". At one point, he even pleads "What, in brief, is the blood point?"

Yet, in the end, Kermode is optimistic about the future of professional film criticism: "Despite the culls sweeping through the profession in the twenty-first century, film criticism simply refuses to lie down and die" and "the web has proved a boon rather than a bugbear - despite my frequent moans to the contrary".
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on 10 September 2015
I like listening to Mark Kermode on the various radio and podcasts shows he appears in; but I also find him rather draining to listen to... he clearly has a lot to say, and often very little time in which to say it.... yet that lack of time doesn't stop him trying. Thus, he tends to speak in very long sentences, without pausing for breath, to prevent Simon Mayo coming in and taking up that valuable time.

With a book, time is not an issue... yet Kermode's writing style is very much like his speaking style. You get the feeling there's a ticking clock in the background, and it's rather tiring to read at times. I would have expected a judicious editor to have scaled back the rambling somewhat. Maybe they did, and this is still what remains.

Nevertheless, it is an entertaining read... who doesn't like to read about bad movies, elegantly trashed? Who doesn't like to read about snooty directors getting their comeuppance? And above all, Kermode is 100% right about everything he says... well, that's my view. ;-)
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on 17 November 2013
A funny sharp and insightful look at the world Film Criticism from a man who has been there and done it and isn't afraid to admit he has sometimes got it wrong but stands by his right to say what he honestly believes.

It seems somewhat ironic to be writing a review of this book considering he points up the drawbacks and potential misuse of
such information but I did truly love the book and nobody paid me to say so!
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on 11 June 2016
As a writer, Mark is pithy and eloquent and self-deprecating with an easy captivating style. Most well known for his critical slatings of films he shows in his book but there is more to him and his trade than just that. The book is always thoughtful and highly entertaining. Although, I will never agree with his opinion on the 'Twilight' films. He talks about his experiences with filmmakers, fellow critics and people who just generally disagree with his reviews, while stating the respect he has for the people who make the films. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in films or film criticism, or indeed just anyone.
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on 5 April 2015
This is the second of Mark Kermode's books I've read (though I am a regular listener to his podcast), which is unusual for me as I usually try to read them in order (but my copy of 'The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex' is off in a box somewhere so I skipped ahead). The first book was autobiographical, and I understand the second is about the current state of cinema - this time Kermode writes about film criticism itself.

While the book gave ample opportunity for some of the author's frequent anecdotage, I found it had to pick out a real theme for the book and to understand what the journey was that it was trying to take me on. There didn't seem to be an overriding message to the manuscript and I found myself several times getting lost and having to back up a few pages to understand what point was trying to be made.

Going in, I had expected something a bit more ranty - much of the focus of the comment I heard/read after the book was published was about sockpuppettery (posting of fake reviews - positive for one's own product or negative for a competitor's), however this was only a small fraction of the book.

The book didn't really generate enough of an emotion in me to commit to a final statement - perhaps just that it was a bit bland?
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on 13 November 2014
Mark Kermode has often been accused of dismissing films in a shrill, arrogant manner. His radio show with Simon Mayo on BBC Radio 5 Live has drawn an international audience, partly because of the chance to hear a truly 'Kermodian' rant. In his third book, 'Hatchet Job', the good doctor explains why negative reviews are popular and asks a more pertinent question: are the days of the professional film critics numbered?

When Kermode started his career as a professional film critic, there were few ways in which one could publish reviews of the latest releases. Beginning at 'Time Out' magazine, Dr. Kermode would find himself writing reviews for 'Sight & Sound' and 'The Guardian'. However, this traditional path might well be closed. Social media and blogging sites might well overtake conventional print media. In many ways, they have already.

Most impressive is that Mark Kermode, a self-confessed digital immigrant, is not keen to dismiss emerging technologies or social media themselves. Rather, he calls for tighter regulation of social media sites for fear of exploitation by the unscrupulous. He cites examples from outside film criticism, using a recent Amazon scandal about authors reviewing their novels to illustrate the potential abuses of free, unsupervised assessment.

In summary, 'Hatchet Job' is a satisfying, scintillant, and substantiated view on the future of film criticism. It comes highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 29 June 2014
The latest Mark Kermode book covers lots of ground but is at its heart, a justification for the ongoing role of professional film critics in an age where film companies are happy to publish publicity posters of their products covered with dubious one word "recommendations" from anonymous Twitter users.

The book covers a variety of topics from the joys of blunt but witty reviews ("I Am Camera" reviewed simply as "Me no Lika"), the growing role of amateur internet review sites but most focus is on the implications of the gradual death of the print medium and move to online writing. There's little negative "better in my day" attitude in the text and the discussion and conclusions are balanced so good amateur review sites like Den of Geek are praised while at the same time, the problems with ill informed and potentially faked reviews are flagged.

There's an irony in this review: its an anonymous amateur critic's online review of a printed work by professional critic discussing the validity of reviews by anonymous amateur critics online.

Overall: an interesting book probably more appealing to existing "Kermode fans" than the casual reader - but if you read review magazines like Empire or Total Film, this could be considered an essential companion piece.
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on 10 January 2015
I really enjoyed Mark Kermode's knowledgeable and frank assessment of what his job is! He examines subjects such as why film criticism is sneered at so much, and where traditional criticism stands in the blogging age where anyone can be a critic. The fact that I am writing this and you are reading this is also discussed by Kermode as the nature of Amazon reviews are examined.

I like Kermode because he is a man who is so evidently enthusiastic about film and film criticism. I could have done without one or two of the slightly meandering anecdotes in return for some more perceptive analysis but can't fault him for his knowledge and ability to write entertainingly!
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on 13 April 2016
One of the few critics I can listen to and not punch the wall when I do not agree with his review.
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on 17 November 2013
I must admit to being biased as I am a long term fan of the good doctor and would buy anything that he wrote.

However Hatchet Job is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the movies. It's intelligent, well researched, balanced, full of fascinating anecdotes and laugh out loud funny.

Although I don't agree with everything he says it is very honest and I respect his opinions.

I would recommend it to fans of movies everywhere
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