Reviews Comments: Interesting ideas, poor technique

Interesting ideas, poor technique
Confused Matthew is infamous for dividing opinion on movies. Sometimes you'll agree with his analysis, and sometimes you won't. Sometimes you'll disagree savagely, to the point where you want to write down lengthy explanations as to why he must be wrong. This review is not going to be one of those. This review is purely about his technique and presentation.

Confused Matthew reviews use the technique of going through a movie scene by scene, examining each one in great detail. This causes two big problems.

The first is that it makes his reviews really long. His review of The Golden Compass is 50 minutes long. I feel this is on the excessive side, especially when it comes to reviewing films like 2001:A Space Odyssey, in which he makes the same basic criticism (that it goes on for too long, ironically) over and over again, scene after scene. We get the picture, and we did not need to see this particular observation reiterated so often - his review could have easily been condensed to five minutes.

The Second problem is that Matthew's scrutiny of individual scenes can seem fragmented. He'll complain about a supposed flaw in one scene, like the unlikeable degree of arrogance Simba exudes in The Lion King, but fails to see how this alleged flaw serves a purpose in the over all progression of the film. For example, Simba's character is supposed to appear arrogant and irresponsible as a child, so his character can transition towards becoming ultimately selfless and responsible in the end. That is obvious to the casual viewer. Matthew however appears to ignore long term elements like plot progression, preferring each individual scenario to carry its own weight when removed from the rest of the film and scrutinised to excess.

This second problem is what gives Matthew his unusual perspective on films. He has a knack for finding plot holes, but only because he regards a film, not as a whole, but as individual fragments (I'll provide an example of this in the comments section). Much of his confusion about character/plot elements stems from him ignoring story/character progression. This really damages the credibility of his arguments, as it feels he often cannot see the forest for the trees.

Despite all this, he is funny and insightful, especially when he is not being shrill and whiney.


I was going to provide an example of his over-analysis of some scenes leading to him missing the bigger picture. Here is one such instance in his Golden Compass review:

'Early on in the Golden Compass, the protagonist Lyra is goes off to live with the charming, attractive Mrs Coulter, who works for the mysterious "Magesterium". Before she goes, Lyra is given a valuable artifact called an aliethiometer, which she is supposed to kept from Mrs Coulter, as she is warned the woman is not to be trusted. Lyra lives with Mrs Coulter, they have a whale of a time, and according to Mrs Coulter, her employer (the Magesterium) isn't so much sinister, as a benevolent organisation which "tells people to do things". Things are going well, until Mrs Coulter asks Lyra to remove a shoulder bag she's been conspicuously carrying everywhere. When she refuses, the two argue, and finally Mrs Coulter resorts to force. This instantly sours their relationship and Lyra runs away from Mrs Coulter's home.

Here is a summary of Confused Matthew's analysis of this previous section in his classic, scene by scene technique:

Mrs Coulter says the Magesterium only "tell people to do things"? I thought they were supposed to be an evil authority. Things are going well between these two, so I suspect there will be something sinister that will undercut all of this. No, wait, they have an argument about a handbag, in which Lyra acts like a disobedient brat and Mrs Coulter, the responsible adult. Lyra then runs away? In conclusion, Lyra is irrational bad person, Coulter is a reasonable good person.

Here is my observations of the same few scenes:

Mrs Coulter claims the Magesterium only "tell people to do things", however this in retrospect is clearly bullshit. In the next scene, she reveals how the Magesterium really like to do things by resorting to strangling Lyra's daemon to make Lyra comply to her demands. In the confrontation scene, Lyra does not want to part with her bag because the Aliethiometer is clearly inside and she doesn't want Mrs Coulter to get at it. Mrs Coulter wants her to take it off because it is the one place she hasn't looked for the Aliethiometer. Lyra realises this. Conclusion? Lyra is being perceptive and wary, taking heed to the advice given to her earlier. Coulter is being a liar and a bully, and establishes herself as a villain.

The difference between our two views is that I took note of what happened earlier in this section of film and contrasted it with what occurs later. For this reason, the subsequent character behaviour and actions seem to follow naturally. Matthew on the other hand seemed to watch this section out of order. He seemed to forget what was in Lyra's hand bag, he seemed to forget what Coulter had said about the Magesterium, despite having examining that scene closely at one point. Thus, when the confrontation scene occurs, he struggles to see what is actually going on. If one where to take that confrontation out of the film entirely and watch it by itself, then Matthew's argument makes perfect sense. Look at it in regards to the rest of the film however, and his argument comes across as inconsistent. '
comment #1714 maninahat 21st Jan 10 (edited by: maninahat)
I agree with this! He simply doesn't put as much thought or effort into it as, say, SF Debris does. There are individual moments of excellence but the overall package underwhelms.
comment #2073 Silurian King 16th Mar 10
Confused Matthew does do a good job on picking apart a movie's weaknesses scene by scene and for the most part he pretty dead on. He does cross a line with firing off obsenities at critics and directors and writers and actors however he did have a short disclaimer on that which I didn't feel was very effective. In short I see no reason for it. It just prove the man is a bit hot headed when he watched movies. There are times I also agree I think he just missed the point of the movie and expected something else. 2001 is a perfect example. His Golden Compass review is "spot on". That movie was HORRIBLE! His Matrix and Star Wars reviews are also perfect and I have to agree with The Lion King review and his Minority Report review, although I do not think it is the worst movie I have seen. It's entertaining, it's just heavily flawed especially with its concept.

In the end the best approach to CM is to ignore his hot headedness. That can be hard at times but I think he does have valid points to make and I do like revisiting his reviews in order to see how another person might critize a screenplay. I don't think he's a fair and balanced critic and I think he does give Ebert a hard time, however Ebert did like Revenge of the Sith which to this day I will never understand.
comment #2420 2nd May 10
I don't have a problem with Confused Matthew not liking the films I like. I specifically avoided talking about that kind of thing. People shouldn't be judging a critic on that sort of criteria. Granted, it is preferable to find a critic whose tastes matches yours, as his opinions will be more relevant to you when you want to make a decision.

I don't think badly of reviews because his opinion often differs from mine. I criticise him over why his opinion is different. I happen to think his approach is a bad one.
comment #2429 maninahat 3rd May 10
@maninahat I couldn't agree more, that is exactly my problem with reviewers that don't explain their process, he's one of the few Internet Review Show people that I really can't stand, mainly because I detect a strong sense of arrogance in his work, like we don't need to know why he thinks this way, we should just accept it. Plus he's shrill and not very funny, anger might make for funny jokes, but anger doesn't mean that jokes will be funny.

Check out The Spoony Experiment, the Desu Des Brigade, The Cinema Snob, Todd In The Shadows instead if you want humor and pleasant people, if you don't care much for pleasantness, check out Zero Punctuation.
comment #2439 Phrederic 4th May 10
With regards to the Lion King. Confused Matthew does not ignore the set up for character development with Simba, he specifically complains in that review about how (he feels) that growth is never shown. We're shown the bratty arrogant Simba, then we're shown an older Simba with a different personality and Matthew's complaint is that none of the growth is shown. It simply happens (same as with his girlfriend.)
comment #2501 gibberingtroper 13th May 10
@gibberingtroper I can tell you right now that even that perspective is flawed. We see developments in Simba's character through his experiences. He loses his arrogance after the elephant graveyard incident, and even more so after he believes he is responsible for his father's death. He then experiences another development after Timon and Pumbaa alter his perspective, and from there until growing into an adult he basically just held onto the Hakuna Matata mentality. THEN Nala comes along and alters his perspective again, which is yet another development, which leads to the movies climax and finale. This movie shows EVERY change in Simba's personality. It skips the parts in his development that don't highlight a change for him.
comment #2895 18th Jun 10
See! Now that's a defensible position. Saying that Confused Matthew doesn't realize that Simba being a brat sets up later character growth just shows that you weren't paying attention to his review.

But saying that Matthew misses the character growth IS something you could actually argue. That said, there sure are a lot of one shot incidents here that strongly alter his personality to the point where there are few threads to connect kid simba and adult simba.

Sure we all change as we grow up but ask your parents or anyone who knew you as a kid, there are aspects of your personality and habits that run far back into your youth. Just to offer myself as an example, I was the last of my siblings to walk without having something nearby to catch myself. I was the only one of the four to wait till I was a solid walker to step away from the supports. I'm cautious and deliberate, and that personality trait is still there. Now my life has changed me, as yours has you, but the me that exists today if the result of me adapting my tendencies to life's demands. I may have learned that sometimes I have to take risks, but you'll never see me on You Tube trying to pull off some stupid stunt.

Simba's changes seem more extreme than that even if the reasons for the changes are shown.
comment #3339 gibberingtroper 11th Jul 10
Yeah, but it's not like it's impossible for people to completely change personality from when they were kids.
comment #3677 2nd Aug 10
As extreme as the events shown were, none of the stuff that happened to Simba would just cause his personality to do a 180. Sure, after a traumatic event like that, he would be different for a while, but the personality doesn't just go away. I guarantee you that, while the elephant graveyard may have humbled him a bit and he might have felt shameful for a little while, his arrogance would have returned and quickly.

You don't get a personality trait like arrogance in the first place because you have any kind of realistic self appraisal. Somewhere in his mind, Simba would have worked out how it wasn't at all his fault and he was totally going to kick those hyena's asses if his dad didn't show up. Likewise, he may have bought Scars reasoning in a panic and ran away but if Simba was at all in character, he would have eventually found a way to make the situation not be his fault (it helps that the latter situation wasn't his fault but that wouldn't have been strictly necessary.)

Yes theres such a thing as survivors guilt. Yes, grief and trauma can strongly impact people, but people like Simba do not continue to feel guilt if there's any chance it wasn't their fault, grief or no grief. It would have made a lot more sense for Simba to spend that time brooding and angry plotting his revenge against Scar. A LOT more sense. It would have been far more consistent with the character we were introduced too.
comment #7846 gibberingtroper 31st May 11
Its a compelling argument if it where about how a real person behaves. But this is a movie character: radically simplified so as to make them easy to comprehend and contrived enough to keep them within the plot. Most movie characters are like this. They are often defined by a single attribute, which must be changed for the sake of character progression.
comment #7850 maninahat 1st Jun 11
And thats a good response. Its true most movies aren't in-depth character studies, especially kids movies where the nuances would be lost on half the audience.

But at the same time, there has to have been a way they could have crafted a scenario to properly humble Simba. They should have combined the elephant's graveyard with the stampede. The elephant's graveyard was clearly Simba's fault, but nobody got hurt. The stampede killed his father but Scar's argument for why it's Simba's fault is flimsy at best (you got endangered and needed your father to save you.) He might have felt some guilt over that (until he remembered that Scar put him on that rock and told him to practice his roar) but it wouldn't have invoked humility.

What probably should have happened is Simba disobeys Mufasa, gets into trouble, needs Mufasa to save him and Mufasa gets killed in the process. Scar could still do what he did with the Elephant's graveyard which was much less direct and more sinister. For a Hollywood movie, that would have been enough.
comment #7963 gibberingtroper 6th Jun 11 you've never seen anyone, ever, blame themselves for something that wasn't really their fault? Specially the death of a loved, even more prominent the death of a parent or parent figure? I mean I could name a few examples of the top of my head, I always knew even as a kid that that was a normal reaction to grief, in fact for a rather scary coincidence I am watching right now such a case on TV (court room, real people) the woman send her father to buy coffee and he got killed when a car crashed into him (he was on foot) and she blames herself even though the only thing she did was ask him to go buy coffee, and it's been 6 months, though she's still depress and suicidal like he died yesterday or something which is a tat much, but you get my drift.
comment #8019 marcellX 8th Jun 11
Yes. That happens (and I addressed this in earlier comments.) But its out of character for someone as arrogant as Simba.
comment #8036 gibberingtroper 9th Jun 11
"But its out of character for someone as arrogant as Simba"

Was it, though. He was an entitled braggart, but are you saying entitled braggarts can't feel regret? Plus, and I say this in no muted tone, he was a freakin' kid! I don't care how arrogant you are, the death of your parent at a young age can change your character.
comment #8037 tublecane 9th Jun 11
"But its out of character for someone as arrogant as Simba", "but people like Simba do not continue to feel guilt if there's any chance it wasn't their fault, grief or no grief" no it's not, it's not out of character for anyone to feel guilt and or regret and or blame themselves for something, hell even people that know it wasn't really their fault can't help but feel guilty, Dr.Cox from Scrubs or Dr.House from House M.D. would greatly disagree with you...along with every child psychologists, criminal psychologists, or each and every psychologist of any kind or form in history for that matter. Specially since he was a kid, you can tell a kid that his/her dad died in that plane crash because they never tried to stop them and even when they didn't had any reasons to stop him they would believe it. Besides when Scar told him he killed Mufasa what Simba did was realize that Scar planned the death and that he wasn't really trying to save him.
comment #8087 marcellX 14th Jun 11 (edited by: marcellX)
Simba doesn't even 180!!! He's an arrogant kid who gets chucked into a situation way out of his depth and crumbles (as had been established before with the hyenas) and is a recongnisable psychological phenomenon. Because he can't handle that he runs away from his problems rather than dealing with them. He then meets people with a less arrogant way of life who raise him over the course of decades to come to their way of thinking and then the film chronicles how there is still arrogance and problems their because he never dealt with it, he just ran away, that the part of arrogance that leads to responsibility isn't something you can ignore but something you seize upon. It takes him a frickin' lifetime to u-turn and we're shown multiple stages of the u-turn with specific events leading to each. At the very least his u-turn has a three act plot (which lasts roughly the span of the movie
comment #10859 Tomwithnonumbers 16th Oct 11
I love it when people argue over psychology and how people should act despite having no knowledge of the subject.
comment #10889 eveil 18th Oct 11
@Tomwithnonumbers It makes sense for Simba to run away either way. No one is arguing that. As someone above pointed out, Simba would have run away whether he was fleeing in guilt of his own actions or out of fear of Scar. There still isn't anything in this story that would have turned him into the nice guy he is after the musical sequence (note, I say nice guy, not good guy.) An arrogant kid separated from his parents spends the rest of his childhood hanging out with bad influences who preach irresponsibility. There's not enough in the story to link kid Simba to adult Simba. Now, could kid Simba become the adult character we see? Sure anything is possible, but a lot of what they spend their time establishing is pointless if the story doesn't properly link it up. We might as well have started with adult Simba and rolled out the important details in brief flashback sequences. Which I think is what Matthew's point was.

@eveil The discussion is about Character Development, not psychology. The two are only loosely related.

comment #10921 gibberingtroper 19th Oct 11
Arguing about how psuedo-psychology should be done. Have fun with that.
comment #11017 eveil 24th Oct 11
Again. Character Development. Its different.
comment #11169 gibberingtroper 31st Oct 11
You made it about psychology when you said that a group of people are all the same because they share one trait

"But its out of character for someone as arrogant as Simba"

"but people like Simba do not continue to feel guilt if there's any chance it wasn't their fault, grief or no grief"

Again, a statement that made psychologist everywhere (or anyone who knows that's not true or see the huge flaw in that) weep.
comment #11170 marcellX 1st Nov 11 (edited by: marcellX)
Talking about how people should act in a movie based on psychological reasons related to real life = Attempt at psychology.
comment #11177 eveil 1st Nov 11
Ignore him, eveil is just being smug. Hence why he keeps making the snide, dismissive remarks, but then he keeps coming back to see the effects.

Why don't you offer some creative advice instead of sarcastic put downs?
comment #11183 maninahat 2nd Nov 11
Creative advice?

Lets see... learn about psychology before you start talking about it?

Hence why he keeps making the snide, dismissive remarks, but then he keeps coming back to see the effects.

This, for example.
comment #11184 eveil 2nd Nov 11
"'...learn about psychology before you start talking about it?

'Hence why he keeps making the snide, dismissive remarks, but then he keeps coming back to see the effects.'

'This, for example.'"

How did that quote exhibit ignorance of psychology? maninahat was saying you're being smug, and that's pretty much the dictionary definition of smugness: "Exhibiting or feeling great or offensive satisfaction with oneself."

comment #11185 tublecane 2nd Nov 11
Uhh, pretending to know my actions, reasons for my actions, what I'm thinking, etc.
comment #11192 eveil 2nd Nov 11
"Uhh, pretending to know my actions, reasons for my actions, what I'm thinking, etc"

"Pretending," making an educated guess based on your history, whatever. Neither mean they're somehow ignorant of psychology.
comment #11194 tublecane 2nd Nov 11
When the "educated guess" is based on a false understanding of how people act, then yes, it does show ignorance of psychology.
comment #11196 eveil 2nd Nov 11
It wasn't a false understanding of anything: your comments were smug, sarcastic, dismissive and you still kept coming back despite being so apparently uninterested by the conversation. Maybe you didn't want your posts to be construed that way. Tough. They have.
comment #11197 maninahat 2nd Nov 11
Sarcastic and dismissive? Sure. But your explanation for why you think I'm just being smug involves pretending to read my mind and the reasons behind my actions.
comment #11201 eveil 2nd Nov 11
I didn't read your mind, just your comments. It was your tone and choice of words that lead me to my conclusions. When you say things like "have fun with that", you are clearly indicating that you feel are above these sorts of discussions. That superior tone comes across as smug. Especially when you continue to hang around, apparently only to make more of the same remarks.
comment #11203 maninahat 2nd Nov 11
You said "Ignore him, eveil is just being smug. Hence why he keeps making the snide, dismissive remarks, but then he keeps coming back to see the effects. "

Which implies that I'm here just for the sake of being smug.

And we're not currently discussing how psuedo-psychology/character development should be done.
comment #11204 eveil 2nd Nov 11
Yes, I do get the strong impression that you were only here to offer smug, snide remarks. Seeing as how they were the only kind of comments you were making, up until I called you out on it, I don't see how I could be blamed for seeing it that way.

And you're right; we aren't discussing character development. I won't natter at you any more.
comment #11205 maninahat 2nd Nov 11 (edited by: maninahat)
I say we're not really discussing psychology mainly because the standards for characters and real life people are different.

A person can do anything in real life. A saint who works in soup kitchens and builds houses for the poor with their bare hands could turn and become a mass murderer without warning and we have to accept that because its real life and it actually happened. We can't critique a real life person the way we do a fictional character.

A lot of things that actually do occasionally happen in real life are not believable in fiction. When a fictional character is a saint who works in soup kitchens and builds houses for the poor with their bare hands turns into a mass murderer, we generally have to be shown some sort of character development giving us a transition from one state of mind to the other (unless its a mystery in which case we need to see clues of the character's true motivations or clues that could possibly implicate him in the mystery, even if they're well hidden, but this isn't a mystery. I just mention that for completeness.)

A writer trying to justify the above character transition may turn to psychology for explanations as the situation would warrant that research (unless the setting allows for other plot devices like Mind Control). But mostly when writers are writing characters (at least their core personalities) they're working from their own understanding and observations of people. Plot devices and psychological exposition are reserved for situations where further justification may be needed (or when the work is about exploring that subject matter).

But in Lion King, we're talking about characters and Character Development. Psychology is not mentioned. The characters are built on common understanding of how people work that the audience is supposed to accept without much thought because the story doesn't loads of time to explore the situation.

The story leaves blanks to be filled. I will grant that there's enough room in those blanks if you fill them in right to justify Simba's transition. I just don't think there's quite enough on screen shown to justify it all itself. And given how annoying Simba is in the childhood scenes, I'd have enjoyed the movie more (even back then when I was in my early teens)if they'd started with the older character and only given us the relevant plot points in flashbacks about Simba's childhood. We wouldn't have had to learn what Simba was like back then because its largely unimportant (he's a kid, he got into trouble, his dad died, he blames himself). We could see Simba struggling with his guilt slowly learning about what he did and then eventually discovering that Scar set him up.

In other words, this is not psychology because Reality Is Unrealistic.
comment #11494 gibberingtroper 23rd Nov 11
No, I'm actually siding with Eveil here (I hope that surprised you eveil :D) If we were arguing about stories and character development, then 1) The argument would have taken a very different shape and 2), to be blunt, i would have won hands down. Flawed character becomes good over 90 minutes is almost one of the most tried and true storytypes in existence and is such that you have to be a very very arty or shocking film to break that one. Even films like About Schmidt and Sideways which take a very snarky storytype breaking pattern doesn't break this one. They break the "good things happen at the end" and "things get better" stories and even "things change" But at the end of those films the main ends up slightly less flawed and slightly more likeable than at the start. We did talk a bit about character development I agree, but if we were talking specifically about it, to the exclusion of psychology we'd be talking purely about what's narratively satisfying whereas we've both been trying to justify answers in terms of real world responses to some extent

However, to get back to normal, I disagree with eveil in that this means we can be dismissive of the non-professional view, because I hope you will agree with me, Gibberingtroper and I have just been doing the thing which is done by you and pretty much every other human every day. When humans don't do it they have a serious psychological disorder and when they aren't very good at it at all, they're socially inept. Empathy is putting yourself in someones shoes and that literally means, how do I think they would be feeling in this situation? Would it make them upset? Would it make them angry?

I hope you won't disagree with me, but I actually feel more in your line of things until pretty recently, I was reading a book (it was either Freakonomics or Science of the Discworld 3) and they challenged the reader, if someone does something that you don't expect and you can't understand the motivation, isn't it normally to be surprised and inquire further into the motivation? If a housemate went out at 11pm on a Tuesday we'd ask him, why, where he went and expected an answer that we can understand. Equally if I were to strip naked and run through the streets people would remark on it because it's not something they think people normally do. They'd then try to justify it, maybe it was a bet or I'm drunk or...

You're right, there comes a line where it crosses over to a place where the scientists need to sort it out and understand it and I can't say that I'm able to predict things reliably or in every situation, you were right to call me out on that. But I think that the whole idea of social ability is that humans have become good at at least making a rough guess as to whats making someone tick and, although you have a better view and if you still keep that view after thinking about this for a bit, that's fine and I'll submit to it, I don't think we've crossed that line.

Finally, @gibberintroper again. If it's okay for you, I'd like to point out that when he's hanging out with Timone and Pumba Simba is still a jerk, he's mellowed out in some ways but the film specifically agrees with you, that whilst it's helped him a little, the influence is negative and having a negative affect on his personality.

He's still a jerk at that point that it actually takes the effort of every single important friend and role model (including his frickin' dead father whose death gave him the avoidance issues in the first place) in his life smacking him around the head and then driving him to his home to see his whole homeland being destroyed to make him turn around. Even then, whilst the film shows him improving, that's not the point where he makes the cross. After all that he still needs to get the hang of taking action with a huge amount of support and behind the scenes manipulation from Nala (who was established as always having a much more successful character) and then he confronts his nemesis who was the person who drove him away and manipulated him in the first place and he's still not quite strong enough to be a good person. It takes a fight between him and his nemesis to get him in a place where the news about the actual death of his father gives him the short term anger needed to overcome his fears of responsibility and take control.

Some time later, when he's had a kid, he's shown as being a well rounded individual.

Now the climax with Scar is pure story and that's where it really becomes a matter of character development and story flow, but I feel it works and comparatively, we see far more gradual and reasoned process of Simbas change than in a lot of respected works. Romeo has much more rapid and less established character changes for example. The works that beat the Lion King in terms of character foucs are things like Pride and Prejudice, Emma and To Kill a Mockingbird (and even then, P&P and Emma take place over a shorter time scale with more abrupt character changes and less reason behind them. Austen pulls them off because she's the most geniusly talented writer in all history)

I think I've said my piece and if you still disagree then I'll respect that and we can go our seperate ways, I don't think I can be convinced otherwise and if you're aren't convinced either than I can't supply anything else that would sway your conviction
comment #11496 Tomwithnonumbers 23rd Nov 11

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