Name: Chris Kessinger (aka: “The Film Freak”)
Occupation: Independent Film Critic
Hometown: Born and raised in the Rubber City
What was the first movie you can remember seeing in the theater as a child? What impact, if any, did it have on you?
My first theatrical film ever was actually Prancer (1989). Not the greatest film on ice (Ha!) but it was more the atmosphere behind the amazing afternoon spent with my father at the old Lyn Theater, right here in Akron. I actually wrote an article detailing the whole experience. There’s something about seeing that screen for the first time that makes you think the world beyond it is possible to venture into. It sounds corny, but I fell in love that day. The smell of fresh popcorn and the shadows of moviegoers making their way to their seats still hits me every time I sit down at a theater today.
As you grew older, what are some movies that you were both attracted to AND helped shape your current taste in film?
I was a pure horror nut from the second I saw an unshakable force behind a hockey mask. To me, there’s something therapeutic about horror films that you don’t get from other genres. It’s that ability to see death and actually be able to laugh at it that makes it important. My love of classic horror why I’m so hard on horror flicks today. People tell me all the time that I’m too hard on movies that aren’t supposed to be taken seriously, but once I’ve had a taste of (Dario) Argento, (George) Romero, (Lucio) Fulci, and (John) Carpenter, why shouldn’t my palate be rich?
Why did you decide to become a movie reviewer?
It was when I found out that I could make a living by being in my favorite place AND doing my favorite thing at the same time. Psychologically, it was in 2011 when I started breaking down what I loved and hated about particular films. If you read it now, my early stuff is atrocious, but I think being a writer is about growing, and in turn, I feel like I’ve gotten to the point I’m at by branding my kind of personality that doesn’t sugarcoat anything for anyone. I may not be a student of film, but I’ve watched countless documentaries on the making of perfect camera shots, editing, and sound incorporation. I don’t know everything and never pretend to, but the beauty of this life is that you’re never too old to learn something new.
Who are some established reviewers that you respect or model yourself after?
I’ve always had two influences in this game, and I have been fortunate enough to meet both of them. The first is “The Cinema Snob,” A.K.A. Brad Jones, who has a massive following through his work with Channel Awesome. The second is local critic-turned-YouTube-phenom, Chris Stuckmann. I am definitely influenced by both of these talented men. But the point in being a critic is finding your own personality, so, in a sense, I do what they do but I do it in a way that sounds and speaks like “The Film Freak.” I always said that if a review doesn’t sound like something that I would say, I trash it. It never reaches the light of day on my site if it doesn’t have my emphasis all over it.
Talk a little about the launch of your site?
As I previously mentioned, I’ve been doing reviews since 2011, but at that time it was just on a WordPress site. Well, one frequent complaint that kept getting brought up was in the inability to find a particular review. Thus, TheFilmFreak.com went live on April 30, 2015. Since the very beginning, I have posted 1,139 reviews (as of the time of this interview). As with any site, there were learning experiences that came at the cost of trial and error. For one, the name “Film Freak” is already taken by a guy in California, but after consulting with a legal team, I was told that I could proceed as long as it was always under THE Film Freak. It’s funny how one word can be the difference between life and jail (Hahaha), but it’s true. Beyond that, it’s just the typical website updates on my host site that can sometimes drive me nuts. It really does force you to learn about all kinds of settings and texts that you otherwise wouldn’t. While I’m at it, I have to give credit also to Amy Stewart for being such a continued presence on the page. Her work in getting the site running was nothing short of phenomenal, and I wouldn’t be where I am without her help.
Run through your process of critiquing a film from beginning to end?
Few people know that reviews are actually a week-long (endeavor) for me. I start out a week in advance by reading up on production notes that I find about a film. I then study the people involved (director, cast, production and sound crews, etc…) so I can later mention how this compares with their respective past work. Occasionally, there are films for which I will take notes. Once in a while, I bring out the legendary “green notebook” if I’m seeing a film with a long runtime, or one that is particularly artistic, so as to jot down my theories about what the director was trying to say. Most of the time, my mind is actually still polished enough to remember everything that sticks out at me. I guess I should be thankful for that at my age. Once I’m ready to write about it, I type up my basic structure (director, cast, plot, rating), and then I go to town. My reviews are popular because of their simplistic approach, so they only take me about 45 minutes to type up and edit now. During my 1000-plus word days, it took around two hours for each review. Now I’m saying just as much without any of the mumblings in between.
As someone who attends multiple movies a week, what experience are you looking for in the modern theater setting?
I’ve always searched for that world that makes me forget about any troubles that I’m going through at the time and just allows me to soak in mental “medicine” for two hours. Films are all about the possibilities that are limited in our own world, so I want to travel. I want my body to be in the seat while my mind explores the depths of my imagination. I think that’s why Blade Runner 2049 was my favorite film of 2017. Beyond that, I just want a one-on-one relationship without cell phones, talking, or anything else infringing upon that. I could write a book about movie annoyances, but for now, I’ll stick with exposing how thoughtless people can be when they can’t put technology or the outside world away to have their minds blown.
What is your opinion of the “MoviePass” subscription service?
First of all, let me get it out of the way that I am a supporter of getting people more culture. We should be figuring out ways to put more butts in the seats, even at the risk of losing a few dollars. With that said, I only support about 50% of the structure, because it’s doomed to fail at some point. I remember paying $30, $50, and even $100 a month for the coveted red card. None of them offended me as long as there were no restrictions. The problem now with the $10 a month package is that it not only limits how many times you can see a film, but it also makes you take a perfectly captured shot of the ticket to avoid scamming. On top of it all, they have the single worse customer service that I have ever dealt with, thriving on a no-talk idea that never solves anything. My solution? Tiers. Offer multiple tiers where the customers who pay more get more. It’s the only way realistically that they are going to survive, and I know the dedicated movie buffs like myself will stick around as long as it works. So in short, it’s a genius idea, but it needs to be refined to be fair to all parties involved.
Do you still have an appetite for superhero films?
It’s definitely been a lengthy (era of popularity for the) subgenre of film, that’s for sure. I think as long as you can offer something new or re-create the concepts behind them, you can prolong the lifespan. Examples are films like Deadpool, an R-rated meta-comedy that constantly breaks the fourth wall about superhero tropes, or Avengers: Infinity War, a grown-up narrative that isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty. I think the era of “typical” superhero films is gone. Something like the original Iron Man would never succeed by 2018 standards, and I think Marvel knows it. Their release schedule has been rapid, but it seems like they’ve saved enough firepower to take us into the second decade of the cinematic universe. I would be lying if I said I didn’t get pumped every time a new one gets green-lit. I just wish Marvel knew how to cut a trailer without giving everything away, but that’s a whole other story.
Who do you see as Hollywood’s next big bankable star?
Ooooo, that’s a tough question. I think Jason Mamoa has the ability to be an action juggernaut, but he needs a script that caters to his best features. It’s really hard to predict a question like this because we don’t really even know where Hollywood will be at the end of 2018, let alone in the future. The bigger story is how women are banding together and standing against vicious traditions that have traditionally been ignored. In that regards, I think women as a whole might be the next big bankable stars. Think about it, how many films about female empowerment are just now getting made almost a quarter of the way through the 21st century? Now more than ever, females finally have a place at the theater, and I think time will reflect such an impact.
Taking into consideration changes in technology, economics and competition, is the current business model of the “Hollywood Blockbuster” sustainable?
People love big dumb popcorn flicks and the fact that we’re still getting films like Geostorm and Into the Storm in past years, signals that it’s never going to completely wipe itself from our screens. With more advancement in computer-generated effects, we’ve only tipped the iceberg of what we can truly do in diminishing the lack of believability in the land of make-believe. That impact will be felt for many decades to come.
What do you foresee the Hollywood landscape to look like in the next five to ten years?
More innovation when it comes to creativity, I’m hoping. We’re at a point when sequels and remakes are dominating the marquee, so now more than ever we need originality to make its presence felt. Films like It Follows and The Babadook were so refreshing to me because they took age-old traditions in horror and paid homage to them with a modern twist. One can consider it a form of remaking, but to me, it’s in the “it” factor missing from a lot of films. The key is remembering what worked and re-working what didn’t, to make this hybrid product that can please fans young and old. I realize I didn’t answer your question, but it’s difficult to really put a lid on where this business will take us all. To quote Twin Peaks, “It will be a place both wonderful and strange.”
To date, how do you grade the film class of 2018?
With the exception of five films, it hasn’t really been the strongest start to a year. This is the longest stretch during a year that I have gone without giving a coveted 10/10 rating. That could mean my standards are at an all-time high, or it could mean that the best is yet to come. I feel like we’ve had a lot of good films, but very few great ones so far, so the door is wide open for the summer season. The good news is that I’ve given a passing grade to 36/71 films, so the ratio is actually a success at this very moment.
So, what is next for the “Film Freak?”
Readers, readers, and, oh yeah, more readers! My original goal was always a thousand readers on the site, and I hit that last year. So now the push for two thousand is even stronger. What I’m thankful for are my freaks who constantly keep the page growing by sharing my work. Without them, I would’ve been dead in the water years ago, so in turn, I owe it to them to make each review better than the last. I consistently review over two hundred films a year. It’s not easy, but dreams never are. Many have told me to try the YouTube format, but there’s something permanent about print that I’ve always loved. Plus, I screw up a lot, so the backspace button is always appreciated.
Click HERE to read one of Chris’ most popular columns. (Hint: it involves Kirk Cameron, Christmas and one very pissed-off movie reviewer.)
(Chris Kessinger posts reviews 3-5 times a week at www.TheFilmFreak.com. His work is fun and approachable to the everyday moviegoer. But make no mistake, he isn’t afraid to call things exactly as he sees them. Many times, his reviews are more fun than the movies he is covering. The Film Freak can be found HERE on Facebook. Check him out.)
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