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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 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 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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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 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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There is, I believe, a commonly held view that the quality of the original Star Trek movies can be determined from their numbers, odd numbered bad, even good. It seems to me that Dr Kermode in his popular books is following a similar pattern. I found myself rather disappointed by, "It's only a movie", I thoroughly enjoyed "The good, the bad and the multiplex" and now have to conclude that while there are some good sections in his latest book, overall it isn't really up to much.

In Hatchet Job, Kermode seeks to make the case for professional film critics in a world where he perceives them to be under threat from a tidal wave of on line amateurs. Being Kermode however, this is not a cool, rationally presented case. The book meanders from anecdote to splenetic rant (although possibly fewer than in his previous works), to serious comment, almost at random.

It is very much in the Kermode style, and therein lie two of the big problems with it. As a radio presenter, when partnered with Simon Mayo's smooth balm to his spiky irritation, he is supremely entertaining. As a single voice, on the written page, he sounds much more like a crazy old man shouting at the moon. Or worse he falls into the lazy disaffection epitomised in Grumpy Old Men. Secondly, this book has a real "bang one out to earn some zloty's" feel to it. It is not well structured, there are some shockingly badly written sentences (not what one would expect from a self confessed grammar pedant), and it is all terribly predictable. Expecting references to the Exorcist, and Silent Running? Yup, they're inevitably there. Also in there, and more intrusive than in his previous works, are frequent references to the radio show, the blog, the DodgeBrothers, but what really grates is the frequent quoting of himself, which comes over, I'm afraid, as self aggrandising.

That is not to say this is all bad. There is some really interesting stuff. When Kermode talks about his fellow critics, the impact they have had, and their differing styles, it is definitely worth reading. Had he set out to write a history of film criticism, or a critique thereof, this could have been a fascinating work.

However that, ultimately, is not what this book is. The basic premise is that professional critics, by being transparent and accountable, produce more valid views that anonymous amateurs on the web. In one section where he discusses voting on Amazon, he (I assume) unwittingly illustrates his own argument. By pontificating on the voting system in a way which suggests minimal research, he does, in practical terms, demonstrate that the uninformed shouldn't really comment in public.

While one can sympathise with his views, and see a great deal of validity in them, his arguments are flawed. Firstly he doesn't seem to give the average reader credit for being able to identify good reviews from amongst the dross. Secondly he doesn't recognise that there is such a thing as a poor but critically acclaimed film. If a film is critically acclaimed, it is, in his world, by definition, good. This argument is clearly negated by the execrable,but critically popular 2011 adaptation of Wuthering Heights.

To be fair to the author, the picture which ultimately comes across is of someone who feels threatened by change, but is doing his best to see the positives in that change.

So overall I find myself in a similar position to how I felt after reading It's Only a Film. I think Dr Kermode's broadcast work is excellent. The 5live podcast is absolutely the first download I listen to each week. The book is however rather disappointing, and I find myself wishing the author would come up with something less superficial, better researched, and ultimately more satisfying.
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on 22 April 2015
If you like Mark you'll like the book, not as good as his first one or second but still a good read. Probably could have followed his own rule of chopping it down some but if you enjoy the podcast you will certainly enjoy this.
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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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