Philip Martin – Movie Critic Interview

Friday, June 4, 2010 at 6:23 am

Each week, our Critical Juncture segment picks the brain of a select movie critic or blogger. In the past, we’ve interviewed some real luminaries in the field of film criticism, and this week is no exception. That’s because we’re joined by Philip Martin, the man who gives everyone in Arkansas the lowdown on what to see and what to skip.

Philip Martin is a columnist and chief film critic at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock, and the author of the essay collections The Artificial Southerner (2001, University of Arkansas Press) and The Shortstop’s Son (1997, University of Arkansas Press).

He co-authored, with Rex Nelson, the Hillary Clinton biography The Hillary Factor (1993) and, with Bill Jones and Stephen Buel, edited A Spectrum Reader (1991, August House), a collection of the best pieces from the Little Rock-based alternative weekly.

Born in Savannah, Georgia in 1958, Martin has traveled extensively in this country and Europe. He spent most of 1977 playing pro baseball in Rio de Janeiro and worked his way through Louisiana State University by playing in various rock ’n’ roll bands. A law school drop-out, he took his first journalism job in Jennings, La. in 1982. He has covered police investigations, sports, politics and popular music. Since 1993 he has primarily worked as a cultural critic for the Democrat-Gazette.

If you’d like to read some Philip Martin reviews (and why wouldn’t you?), you can check out either Rotten Tomatoes or the online version of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for plenty of free content. And be sure to keep an eye out for his upcoming website entitled Blood, Dirt, and Angels.

Only Good Movies: What’s the first movie that you remember seeing?
Philip Martin: Safe at Home, starring Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. This would have been 1962. I would have been three or four years old. But I actually remember some of it, I confused it with my actual life. For a while I thought Roger Maris was my uncle.

OGM: What’s the most recent movie you’ve seen?
PM: I watched Marshall Curry’s documentary Racing Dreams last evening. It’s a lot of fun.

OGM: Is there a particular film that you feel is criminally underrated?
PM: That’s a tough question; Danny Boyle’s Millions was a terrific film that the studio buried. Then there are a lot of films I think most critics didn’t really get. I’d cite Ray McKinnon’s Randy and the Mob, which isn’t a classic, but most of the criticism I read of it was wrong-headed. I think Jay Russell’s My Dog Skip and The Waterhorse were great family films. Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life is a lost classic. I love a lot of Jean Pierre Melville’s work, but I think it’s beginning to get the respect it deserves.

OGM: Which director do you feel has turned out the best overall body of work?
PM: On a bad day, I might say Mike Leigh. But Billy Wilder was pretty consistent, and John Ford had his misses, but his hits more than made up for them. But my favorite filmmaker is probably Krzysztof Kieślowski. Unless it’s Miyazaki.

OGM: From an artistic standpoint, which film do you think is most important?
PM: Lots of ways to approach this question. From a purely influential standpoint, probably Birth of a Nation or The Great Train Robbery. Citizen Kane may be the most “artistically” influential. Or maybe City Lights is. It Happened One Night, M and Jaws were all terrifically influential in their way, as well.

OGM: All artsy considerations aside, which movie is your personal favorite?
PM: The Searchers; Hiroshima, Mon Amour; Spirited Away; Some Like It Hot. My mind is reeling. I honestly don’t think I can light on one answer.

OGM: In your opinion, which film is entirely overrated?
PM: Geez, almost every movie is over-hyped. I didn’t hate Avatar, but it’s really not much more than a technical demonstration reel. Slumdog Millionaire wasn’t a great movie, either.

OGM: Have you ever walked out of the theatre during a film? If so, what movie was playing?
PM: Not out of a film I was reviewing. I did walk out of Top Gun five or ten minutes before the end because I just thought it got ridiculous. And often at film festivals I catch only parts of films–not because the films bore me, but because I have something else to catch.

OGM: In your mind, what’s the ultimate goal of a movie critic?
PM: To make critics of his readers. To keep the conversation going, to get people to think about what they consume.

OGM: Time to look into the future. Do you predict any major changes for the movie industry over the next 25 years?
PM: We’re seeing movies for grown-ups crowded out of the cineplexes, onto home video and streaming video platforms. DVDs are simply a temporary, intermediate stage–in the future we’ll be beaming things through space to all manner of screens–big, small and humongous. The bigger the screen, the bigger the spectacle. And I think 3-D will recede after a couple of years. It will keep having little resurgencies, but I expect it will remain mostly a novelty.

OGM: Here’s another chance to predict the future. Name a relatively unknown actor or actress who’ll be a huge star within five years.
PM: Whoa, is Joseph Gordon Leavitt already too big a deal to count? There are a lot of great actors…there’s a guy named Dan McCabe who’ll probably have a long career as a character guy. Had you asked me this a couple of years ago, I would have said Kristen Stewart.

OGM: Who’s your favorite movie critic to read?
PM: Honestly, I love reading Manny Farber. And Pauline Kael. But that’s probably not what you mean. I like Anthony Lane and A.O. Scott’s style; but I really enjoy a lot of critics. Roger Ebert’s work ethic and generosity qualify him for sainthood. I like J. Hoberman AND Armond White as stylists–and Jon Rosenbaum because he teaches me things. Mick LaSalle is a good read. So is Manola Dargis. The Onion has some very good critics working for their A/V Club. Noel Murray is more a TV guy, but I like how he writes and thinks. I don’t like thumbs up/thumbs down verdict-deliverers or writers who are all snark. A little snark, OK. Occasionally. Maybe.

I’d like to give a big thanks to Philip Martin for taking part, and you can show your appreciation by either buying one of his books or heading over to check out his movie reviews. If you’re in the mood for more interviews on cinema, please see the following:

This entry was posted on Friday, June 4th, 2010 at 6:23 am and is filed under Movie Critic Interviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “Philip Martin – Movie Critic Interview”

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June 4, 2010

Bald Guy

Good read. PM’s a good egg.

June 5, 2010


I couldn’t agree more.

October 11, 2010

Philip Martin

Finally we’re here:



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