In respect to full disclosure, I am not without bias when it comes to filmmaker Kevin Smith. I was, and still am, an active member of his messageboard and I am the captain of one of his street hockey teams, the Monroeville Zombies. I think of Kevin as a friend. Some of you will stop reading now, or discount what is to come as simply one friend sticking up for another (believe me, Kevin does not need me sticking up for him; he’s more than capable of taking care of himself), and while I can never say that I am unbiased when it comes to Kevin, that does not mean that the arguments I’ve made are illogical or sentimental. I also have many friends who are film writers, critics or other staff at various film sites, so, really, this could never be an unbiased entry either way. It’s not us-vs.-them, black-or-white… the truth of the matter is in the middle, and the conversation needs to be in the open.

I haven’t written about this before, mainly because I considered it a non-issue for the majority of people who read Film Threat. It felt too inside baseball. Unfortunately, I think it is time to address it because, well, if you’re a filmmaker or part of the film media, the thoughts and considerations going on here can affect you, and how you deal with your career as a filmmaker or film writer.

After the release of Kevin Smith’s last film, “Cop Out,” static ensued between the film writer community and the filmmaker. Most recently, as his latest film, “Red State,” wrapped filming, Kevin has expressed a continuation, and clarification, on his thoughts concerning film press and the media in general. While his mindset is perfectly explained in this audio from a press scrum regarding his “Too Fat for Forty” special on EpixHD, he further clarified his ideas on the Dean Blundell Show this morning (about 41 minutes in), the main sentiments being that all should be treated equally (if the audience has to pay to see the movie, then the film critic, regardless of whether they have good things to say or bad things to say, should have to pay too) and that, honestly, Kevin Smith doesn’t need the film press or media anymore.

You know what, Kevin Smith is right.

Right now, because a critic or film writer can see most things for free, they/we see anything. It’s part of the gig, you see as much as you can. But when I have to pay for a movie? Much more discerning, and I tend to see movies that I actually have an interest in seeing. I’m not going to sleep through a screening (never have anyway), not going to walk out and I’ve got more, personally and financially, invested. It’s more than just my job and privilege, it’s my money on the line too. I think this could lend itself to more rapturous praise, but also more damning criticism (folks love it when their money goes far, hate it when they feel short-changed; this emotion would creep into the reviews but, at the same time, real professional critics who know what they’re doing would find a way to measure their response appropriately).

For the filmmakers out there, that fills the audience with critics and regular folks who actually want to see the film. It eliminates the “I don’t want to see it but I might as well” mentality. It doesn’t really hurt me as a film writer because I’m just not going to pay money for movies I’m not interested in seeing (big deal, before I wrote for Film Threat I had to make those decisions anyway. Still do, actually; most mainstream releases I review I pay to see). Sure, some outlets would wind up sending their critics to every film anyway but, to be honest, in this economic climate, no one will make the extra financial effort to see everything. An outlet would have to really think about its audience and cover accordingly; it’s not the machine-gun approach to reviewing anything anymore, it’s a more measured “what is actually good for my readers” take. It requires more thought and, I’d argue, more care.

Now, how would I feel if every filmmaker who wanted a review from Film Threat wanted me to pay to see the film? Simple, I’d understand it as long as that filmmaker understands that I’m not rich and, therefore, I’m not going to see everything. Going to say “No” a lot more than I do now. Nothing personal, but if the money isn’t there, it isn’t there. Fewer reviews, that’s all. It’s a film ecology, and it’ll all balance out somehow. People seem to forget that it’s all a matter of choices. If a filmmaker says “you have to pay to see my film,” you can decide not to see it, and no money lost. It’s an argument of entitlement to think that you should never have to deal with the choice in the first place. I mean, Kevin’s idea either works or it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t, a solution will work itself out somehow. Why not try something new? Why is it such a bad idea that Kevin should be criticized for even considering it?

Regarding whether Kevin needs the film press, I don’t think he does, and I don’t think that means he hates the press. Just because I don’t need my mother to wipe my a*s anymore, doesn’t mean I don’t still love her. While press helped and had stronger value in the past, when fewer outlets existed and fewer voices were heard, the market is too saturated and democratized to assume the same value it had, say, when Kevin started out or even 10 years prior to that. The internet means everyone can run a newspaper, everyone can be a critic. The folks willing and able to do the service far outnumber the demand for the service right now (don’t believe me, ask all the print critics that have been let go from their papers over the last few years).

It’s not like the film press is really all that powerful anyway. My words may influence on a person-by-person basis, but my opinion does not influence every person every time. This goes for all film sites, film writers and critics. If our influence truly was as all-powerful as some of us seem to think it is, movies like “Norbit” wouldn’t make a dime while something like “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” would be setting box office records left and right. And even that is just my opinion; maybe you love “Norbit.”

Positive press on a film had value back in the day when buzz could help qualify an audience number for a distributor or sales agent to then quantify in order to make a decision about whether a film would be profitable. Even then, it was a guessing game, but the folks involved were savvy and experienced enough to lessen the risk as much as it possibly could be lessened. Nowadays, the value of press is depreciated because there is no end to the number of voices out there, nor a cap on the number of conflicting opinions. If you look hard enough, find the right critic or film site, you can get a positive blurb about ANYTHING. The audience knows this, and they don’t really care. While I don’t have any quantifiable proof to back up this thought, I don’t think that people read film sites and reviews in order to form opinions so much as they do to affirm the opinions they’ve already formed. And just like a movie looking for a quote, there’s a writer or site out there that will perfectly mirror your own opinion. What disturbs me most is that, thanks to script reviews, set visits, trailer dissections and casting “news,” most people are able to form their full opinions long before they’ve even seen the film (but that’s another entry). Sure, that’s been happening for as long as I’ve been alive, thanks to trailers and marketing, but the timeframe was shorter. A couple months of hard marketing and trailers up to release as opposed to now, where the marketing can begin before the script has even been finished.

Since press has little value in actually dictating what an audience does, what about its value of being the conduit between film and the audience? That too is lessened because the tools to go direct to the audience, become the marketing department yourself and craft your own press, are readily available for today’s filmmaker to utilize. And not just filmmakers. The Alamo Drafthouse, their distribution arm and Fantastic Fest now have their own movie website, and it makes perfect sense: why diddle around with playing the press game with so many other web entities when you can do it yourself? In the case of Kevin Smith, he has over 1.7 million Twitter followers; every one of his tweets hits a Twitter audience larger than the majority of film websites’ Twitter followers combined (and they could argue day-to-day site traffic, but I’d argue that Kevin’s 1.7 million follower per tweet ratio, if he’s on a roll one day, alone has more reach, again, than the majority of film websites combined). Why dance the press dance if he can reach a consistent audience on his own? Doesn’t it make sense to instead adapt the audience you have and then do whatever the f**k you want? Why play the game when you don’t like it and, ultimately, don’t have to anyway?

Folks could throw back arguments like “He’ll never grow his audience,” “He’ll never grow as a filmmaker”… are those HIS goals? Has anyone asked him what he wants for his career, before they went and told him how he’s going about things all wrong? Besides that, his audience is nothing to sneeze at. His movies, regardless of critical reception, have made money. Who am I to tell Kevin Smith that that’s not good enough for HIM? I have no stake in his films; if his audience grows, it doesn’t line my pockets. How does it affect me, really?

I don’t get the kneejerk reactions to Kevin’s opinions about press and/or critics nowadays either. Kevin has been making movies for longer than a good chunk of the people who criticize him have been finding work writing about them, why should their words be more influential or powerful than the knowledge he’s gained over the experience of making, marketing and releasing films? If I’m a filmmaker (and I am and have been), I find more value in what another filmmaker has experienced. Why can’t he do something new without people feeling so threatened they have to lash out at him?

The simple truth: Nothing you or I say about Kevin Smith’s filmmaking will stop Kevin Smith from making films. Likewise, his opinion on your or my job does not stop us from doing ours.

So where’s the threat? What’s the problem? What is anyone really upset about?

After all of that you may be thinking, “What an a*****e! Does Mark really think he’s above his own value judgments on the role of press? Isn’t he aware that all his arguments hurt him too?” Yes, yes I am very aware. If every filmmaker suddenly wanted to charge us to review their films, the money wouldn’t be there and we wouldn’t review many films. At that point, Film Threat’s value to the filmmakers and the film ecology would be up for discussion and we’d know, right quick, how people really feel. And we either survive it, or we don’t. But I’d much rather Film Threat stick around because we do provide a value and service than survive because we’re just another case of status quo industry inertia.

I want Film Threat to be a resource for those interested in filmmaking. I want Film Threat to be a place where those folks who have outside-the-norm ideas about filmmaking and film festivals can congregate and discuss. I don’t want business as usual, I want a place where folks can look at business as usual and really scrutinize it and see if we can come up with something else. Film in 140 is about utilizing online means to continue the discussion about filmmaking year-round. Certified Film Threat in Progress is about helping filmmakers and film-related projects find like-minded people to help them finish their endeavors. Hammad Zaidi and John Wildman write for Film Threat because I wanted real, practical information from people in the film industry that you, the reader, could use. “The Bootleg Files” caters to the film fan looking for something more, the interviews and festival coverage try to shed some light on what’s really going on out there in the film community. To me, there IS practical value here, beyond the traditional role of “press” or “critic.”

And that’s why I’m writing about Kevin Smith today; not to pick a side in a silly us-vs.-them argument (which it isn’t anyway), or to defend a friend (he doesn’t need it) but because the choices he has made, and are making, are relevant to the film community today. You can learn something here, one way or another, and forge your own path.

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  1. Larry Longstreth says:

    I wish every article brought this kind of “fire” out of those who read it.

  2. Mike M says:

    Fair enough. Thanks for the clarification, Mark.

  3. Mark Bell says:

    It doesn’t work that way; there isn’t a site-wide policy where we like some filmmakers but dislike others. If you had commented on the earlier negative stories regarding Smith, you could just as appropriately say, “Didn’t this magazine use to love Kevin Smith?” Simply, FT has been around a long time (next month we’ll hit 26 years) and, over that time, there have been many different writers, editors and varied (often contradicting or evolving) opinions on any number of films/filmmakers. Nature of having that much time for that many people to share their honest thoughts about things.

  4. Mike M says:

    Wait a minute… Didn’t this website use to hate Kevin Smith?

  5. Mark Bell says:

    Larry, I wrote the post because it was something I felt and was thinking about, and I have a medium in which to express my thoughts. I wasn’t trying to convert anyone one way or the other, and I’m certainly not saying your or anyone’s opinion is worthless, but instead, because this is something I like to do personally, I wanted to really question and look at what it was people were or weren’t getting upset about.

    Much of the initial negative reaction to Kevin’s thoughts on these matters weren’t ones of actual consideration of what he was proposing, but more of the “how dare he!?!” variety or attacks on him personally. I think it is healthy to question the film industry and the system in all ways: filmmaking, distribution, press, etc. I feel that Kevin is doing that here, and the answers he came up with shouldn’t be dismissed solely because he was the one who came up with them, or how he expressed them.

    I’m not threatened by the idea that someone may question my, Film Threat’s or the press’s role and find us wanting; rather, I’d like to address that and adapt, if need be. I also think, in the instances where I have read people reacting elsewhere to what I’ve written here, that they are actually considering the ideas more than the knee jerk entitlement reaction so… some folks have really thought about what I wrote, and regardless of what their final conclusions were, at least they put some real thought in.

  6. Man, this got pretty mean-spirited. Especially in the comment section.

    First, Smith was pretty out of line not in principle, but in delivery. It was mean spirited and like Don wrote, pretty childish. That’s a completely unbiased reaction. I have no stakes in liking or disliking the guy. He’s not my friend. He’s not my enemy. I respect where he’s gotten himself, even if I don’t always respect how he handles himself.

    The whole issue of whether or not critics should pay is a fine issue to address but it could have been done in a better manner and by a better person. If every critique of Smith’s work was positive, he wouldn’t have ever said a damn thing. It was critics who championed him in the 90’s. I’m sure he wasn’t going around asking to see their receipts. All in all, it seems pretty convenient and a little disappointing.

    I’ve followed Smith. What filmmaker doesn’t? You want to see how this guy made it without any extremely valuable tools or talents. Not a knock on him. Maybe it’s a compliment. I get rejected from Sundance but I don’t take it that seriously because I know that Sundance is the long shot of long shots. I’m proud of our feature. I’ve screened it and seen strangers’ reactions. They seem to dig it. They laugh and are touched. I don’t need Robert Redford (or more appropriately, Paris Hilton) to tell me it’s good. But I follow Smith and his career because I have to know something. I ask myself “How in the hell did CLERKS get in when so-and-so didn’t?! It’s madness. What does KS know that we don’t?” No knock on his work. Clerks is fun and relevant for the time and probably for every other as well, but it’s no masterpiece. You tell a lie long enough, it becomes the truth. Now everybody on the planet thinks of it as greatness. People who don’t worship it are accused of “just not getting it.” I LIKE “Clerks”, but real masterpieces get rejected from festivals every year. So how did he do it? Right place, right time? He’s exactly who we up and coming filmmakers should be studying, so we do. Most of us eventually realize that sometimes, we don’t like what we see.

    I’ve seen the videos where somebody says something negative about his films and he responds by telling the person he just finished f*cking the person’s mother. I’ve read about the whole “Smith is mad at an airline!” deal. Now, I’m reading that the guy’s pissed at critics. The guy who bashed the Superman movie bc nobody got punched is mad at critics who thought Cop Out was a waste of time. He attaches himself too much to public opinion. He cares about it too much. Pretends to be above it but he can’t help himself. To be honest, and to his credit, how could he not? He was originally the rebel leader. The voice of the people. The anti-Hollywood rebel. To see his fans slowly deciding that Luke Skywalker is now slowly becoming the new Emperor Palpatine must smart a little bit. He’s not the face of unrelenting, unforgiving truth anymore. He might have become the person who hates truth now. Who tries to silence it. To negotiate with it. To tell it that it’s not all that important and that it needs to buy a ticket before being heard. I don’t know how I feel about critics paying to see movies. I don’t know. What I do know is this: Kevin Smith was supposed to be the guy who raged against the BS. He wasn’t supposed to be a part of it.

    Mark, you write that what we believe won’t stop anybody from doing their jobs either way. I agree with that. Sometimes it’s a good thing and sometimes it’s a frustratingly depressing thing. But I ask… if opinions don’t really matter that much, if Kevin Smith doesn’t need to be stuck up for and if the angry masses are allowed to be angry… why write this article? And please don’t read that in a way that sounds like I’m being smug or trying to corner anybody. I’m seriously asking. If all the internet hate for KS is redundant, then isn’t internet love for him just as pointless?

    I don’t know the guy personally, so I could be wrong… but from what I gather, he might read the comments on this article, turn bright red, and blog about how big of an a*****e somebody is for writing on them. Or, if they were all positive and talking about how great Jersey Girl was, he’d read them, smile, and sleep just fine that night. I think he needs to be stronger than that. No more tantrums. No more accusations or bitch fests. If you want our respect, earn it. Through films AND through character. That, I think we’d all “pay to see”.

  7. Bob Westal says:

    I actually was one of the negative reviewers of “Cop Out.” I certainly didn’t go in with a negative attitudes, however. Moreover, I didn’t hate it, however, and actually found a lot of pretty diverting but also found it almost offensively sloppy and slapdash in the way it maltreated its characters and its own story. The fact of the matter is that this was the first Smith movie I’d personally seen (I’ve skipped about a third of them) that I actually thought was bad. All in all, I though he was a good writer, a very funny and personable guy, but no one’s cinematic stylist. I think Kevin himself might agree with that assessment.

    Also, I agree that there are “haters” out there. Way too many of us film writers seem addicted to a schadenfreude, which is sad. I avoid those writers. However, that’s neither here nor there.

    However, the fact of the matter is that most of us aren’t paid very much and most publications are fiscally troubled, Kevin is certainly free to not offer his film to critics and we are definitely free to ignore his films and, yes, he probably doesn’t “need” us. However, since he’s actively going out of his way to try and do his small part to devalue and possibly help even destroy a profession I consider to be — despite many less than brilliant practitioners — valuable to everyone who actually cares about movies, his stance really does anger me not because there is any kind of God-given right to free movies but because it shows that, as an opinionated guy himself, Kevin can dish out criticism, but he obviously can’t take it. At best, it seems like whining passed off as some kind of brave stance.

    Honestly, if his reviews were still as strong as they once were, would he be doing this? I haven’t seen him or anyone argue that he would. If someone can honestly persuade he’d be doing that, then maybe we can begin to have a discussion. In the meantime, however, I remain convinced that this is simply the tantrum of an overgrown child. If bad reviews bother him — and I understand why they would; making movies is hard, hard work — he should do what directors of all types have done since the dawn of the movies: not read them.

    Even though I’ve actually been pretty positive — maybe even a bit of a fan — of Smith’s work in the past, I’m delighted to never review or mention a single movie of his again, ever in any kind of public or professional capacity. Since he thinks so little of our work, I’m not sure why I should pay any attention, professionally anyhow, to his.

  8. DonLewis says:

    How can you retort to something you admit you didn’t even bother to read? Knee jerk reactions and lame groupthink are what Kevin Smith is talking about and you just proved his point. If you really had respect for Mark, you’d read what he wrote before smarting off.

  9. Mark Bell says:

    You have to read the article before you can have a real discussion or debate about it, Felix.

  10. Felix Vasquez Jr. says:

    Wow, I don’t know why you just go so upset, I did honestly mean I had respect for you, I thought you’d provide a retort of some kind and you were opening this up to debate. I never honestly meant it as a personal jab toward you. I thought these articles were meant as a form of provoking conversation and thought, but I guess I was wrong.

  11. Mark Bell says:

    If you had nothing but respect for me, Felix, you wouldn’t have “stopped right at the introduction” and also called the post “laughable” or a “puff piece.” You would’ve, I don’t know, read the full post so you knew what it is that I’m talking about and the points I’m making before commenting. But you didn’t, so, yeah, I don’t think you respect me much at all. After this… right back at you, Felix. The lack of respect is mutual.

  12. @Don: Take a look at “Cop Out” sometime. It’s just abysmal beyond belief. It’ll make you think this puff piece, trust me. Smith’s backlash at critics showed many how the emperor had no clothes but obviously had people still kissing his naked tuckus. And seriously you want to see Red State? What can he do for horror that we haven’t already seen?

    In either case, yeah you were right, I stopped right at the end of the introduction, Mark. I honestly don’t mean to sound like a certain Scotsman, but this article just doesn’t sit right.

    But I guess Kevin will thank you for the free publicity. Hey… if critics have to pay for screenings, don’t you think directors should pay for publicity?

    Whoa, whoa, whoa! Sorry, sorry, wouldn’t want to damage Kevin’s bank account and free press. Wacky thoughts in my head, yow.

    Take care, boss. Much respect.

  13. Mark I have nothing but respect for you but this article just was beyond laughable. You just embraced Smith who is now nothing but a caricature of himself while his fans are also caricatures, and he expressed the critics should pay too only because nearly every critic openly bashed his film Cop Out, which was an embarrassment of epic proportions. I doubt even you, who calls himself Smith’s friend can competently defend “Cop Out.” The man self-destructed in a cloud of hubris, arrogance, and juvenile behavior, and the very notion of you defending anything he’s had to say is just shameful. I guarantee if critics praised “Cop Out” this whole idea wouldn’t have been even the slightest bit necessary.

    And of course his friends agree with him. I’m sure he screens all of his films for them for free. Smith stopped being anti-establishment a long time ago, the man showed he couldn’t even keep a big budget comedy afloat with Cop Out, and now he’s lashing out like a child.

    You should be taking him to task and not coddling him. “Red State” is going to be a bomb as well because he’s just continuing to shove his views down our throats, and it’s shameful. I couldn’t even finish this article, honestly. But I guess thick as thieves is not just corny catchphrase.

    All the best, Mark.

  14. DonLewis says:

    First off, just as you shouldn’t be tucking in your hocker jersey, you should NOT name your kid Nimrod.

    Second- I agree in principle with what you wrote, Mark. Tyler- I also see your point BUT, I don’t believe everyone thinks like you. You seem much more magnanimous than most film blogger types. Back when it came out, I saw at least 2 twitter/facebook comments from film journos saying they were DREADING going to the COP OUT screening because they think the filmmakers sucks or has lost it. Then, surprise, they were the most vocal writers leading the charge against COP OUT. That’s just unprofessional and clearly they should have just let another writer, one with a more open mind, go see the film. But I also think alot of these guys are jealous haters and enjoy writing reviews that will rile up vocal fan bases (same writers hated AVATAR and all things TWILIGHT) to get site hits.

    Then again, maybe COP OUT was *that* bad. I have yet to see it because it just doesn’t look all that interesting to me. I also think Kevin Smith is NOTORIOUSLY protective of his work in a very old skool way. By old skool, I mean primal or base (or, childish) and he comes off like a petulant child in many cases. It’s how he is and I don’t take it personally. Why would anyone? If you attack his stuff he has every right to yell back especially if it’s untrue, unprofessional or done poorly.

    Yet, I’m still a big fan and admirer of his work and cannot WAIT to see RED STATE as soon as possible! Also, as Mark points out, he absolutely does not need the film blogger groupthink to support him. It means nothing. If you don’t believe me, look at those box office numbers for blogger loved films SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD and KICK-A*S.

  15. Mark Bell says:

    “Nimrod” didn’t gain its negative connotation until Looney Tunes. It means “hunter,” so when Bugs Bunny called Elmer Fudd a “nimrod,” he was actually calling him a “hunter.” It was interpreted differently, and now it’s considered an insult. I researched this because I was trying to convince my wife to let me name our firstborn Nimrod. Anyway… if that helps you feel better…

  16. Jim Savage says:

    Excellent article! I believe it’s very balance and to the point. Change happens in all sectors of life but people who get scared of change of any kind usually lash out against such change. They are mostly the ones left behind. Kevin Smith has been doing this for over 15 years and he knows his audience. So by making Film Critics pay to see and then review his latest film “Red State”. Whatever you believe that it is right or wrong, it’s definitely his right to do. With or without the media’s coverage about same amount of people will go to see it anyway. Again, he KNOWS his audience.

  17. Tyler Foster says:

    Well, I am the guy he called a “nimrod” without actually reading the Tweet I made, which was not negative towards him. So that might be part of it. There’s some possibility he’s right that the playing field should be leveled; there’s no possibility that name-calling, however slight, is necessary to get the point across, especially when I’m one of his fans.

    “it eliminates those scenarios where the critic who hates horror movies or comedies finds themselves having to review a bunch of horror movies or comedies…” I guess that’s exactly what I meant by taking risks. I always have DVDs at home that I need to review, ones I picked myself. When a film is free, it takes a pretty powerful consensus (probably paired with a pre-existing personal notion) that a film is crap to keep me from attending, but if I were paying, it’d be much easier to sway me into doing something that doesn’t cost me my time, cash, or gas.

  18. Mark Bell says:

    If you don’t see why paying or not paying makes a difference, then why be bothered at all? That’s what the article is predicated on (it’s in the title).

    I don’t discover films because they’re free; I discover them because I’m actively looking for them. My position allows me to see many for free but, if I didn’t have this job, it’d be just like what it was before I started working with FT, which is, I’d still find the movies (or they’d find me; been happening all my life). It’d be easier now, since I’d just have to follow filmmakers and festivals on Twitter, for example, and learn about way more movies than most websites or press outlets are able to keep up with covering in-depth.

    And I didn’t mean it so much as a “take less risks” as a viewer as I meant it eliminates those scenarios where the critic who hates horror movies or comedies finds themselves having to review a bunch of horror movies or comedies, for example, only to write a review about how awful the genres are. Good critics, I feel, would still see all types of films. Good critics would adapt to the scenario. Good critics would challenge themselves. I don’t think all critics are good critics, though. Just having the title doesn’t make them good at what they do, right?

    But why is this an issue at all? Let Kevin do what he wants to do, how he wants to do it and… maybe it changes things, maybe it doesn’t, but why get upset about it?

  19. Tyler Foster says:

    It’s not that the idea of paying to see everything bothers me. If I wasn’t a critic, I would basically do that. I just don’t see why it makes a difference. So many critics use the “and I saw this for free!” mentality; they’re accounting for that difference.

    The article is also predicated on the idea that the odds are against people being surprised, which may be true, but is a bad attitude to operate under. I would like to think I go to at least 80% of the movies I see with the willingness to believe it could be much better than I expect. If I went around banking on the fact that, if I don’t personally want to see it, I shouldn’t even bother (which is basically what you’re doing when you have to pick and choose, at least, going by the article’s theory that you’d be weeding out people who don’t want to see the movie), I wouldn’t take risks, and it’s bad to take less risks as a viewer. Free movies allows the critic to do that, discover new things.

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