Thursday, July 3, 2014

On wine criticism, "The Purge" and situational quality

On Tuesday night I was in a bleak mood after the U.S. defeat in the World Cup. A few days earlier I had nightmares, literally, of Portugal's tying goal. I decided to give myself some other nightmare options so I cracked open a bottle of Eberle Côtes-du-Rôbles Blanc and turned on the 2013 horror movie "The Purge."

Both seemed right for the situation. The wine I chose because my wife had steamed some kohlrabi to accompany miso-grilled salmon. I wanted something with some heft that could handle the vegetal flavors. I also wanted something comforting (not a nightmare source) that I could drink without analyzing, which is ironic because here I am writing this blog post.

"The Purge" was exactly what I needed: fast-paced (a crisp 85 minutes), brutal, fairly abrupt unhappy ending. Just like the game, except with more killing.

I enjoy reading movie reviews after I see a film, because I hate spoilers. "The Purge" was very divisive. Amazon users gave it a mediocre 5.5 composite, but the standard deviation was high. View Auckland's Matthew Turner gave it 4 stars of 5, calling it an "engaging, nail-bitingly tense thriller with an intriguing premise." TV Guide's Perry Seibert gave it 1 star, blaming its "ridiculous premise, ugly cinematography, one-dimensional characters and indecipherable editing."

Some of the disagreement was purely in what kind of movie you like. I like horror films and am willing to suspend reality as long as the film has internal consistency: for me, zombies can come back from the dead and crave the flesh of the living, but shouldn't run faster than they did while alive. Seibert clearly doesn't like this kind of movie; for him, the idea that America of the near future might sanction crimes of any kind for one night each year is "ridiculous" and hurts his enjoyment of the film. Sure, it's ridiculous, but I'm more with Turner that it's intriguing.

It's just like how some people like big, rich wines, and others do not. We don't often see this analogy made to film criticism, but it's there. I don't care how great a buddy-cop comedy is, I'm probably not going to like it. I admit that on the scale of all film "The Purge" is mediocre, but it happens to be a genre I like. It's just like how you might react to an OK austere white wine if you like that style.

What we rarely see in film criticism is the idea that movies can be situational. Children's films are reviewed for adults' potential pleasure. Romantic comedies don't get separate ratings for "third date" and "watching alone while spouse is on suspicious overnight business trip."

But everything we criticize is both genre-specific and situational, even though many critics act like it isn't. We get this about food. I love dining at Coi, but sometimes I'd rather have a burger. But we don't often acknowledge it about wine.

There is no bottle variation in movies, nor is there any food pairing involved. Yet our opinions still vary, not only between people but even from day to day. In a better mood, I might not like "The Purge" as much as I did.

Good sommeliers understand this. There's no such thing as the "best wine," but there is "the right wine." Have a nice holiday weekend.

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Cheers, Happy 4th!