Creator Spotlight: Sean Patrick
"Who I am is part of what I write. I can’t divorce my feelings and my humanity from my criticism. I won’t do that. Much of modern criticism amounts to consumer recommendations and there is a place for that but it is not a place for me." -Sean Patrick
Sean Patrick Kernan is a journalistic film critic with over two decades of industry experience. While he's most known for his involvement with the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the largest film critics organization in the United States and Canada, he also contributes to the "Everyone is a Critic Movie Review Podcast." "Everyone's a Critic" is a weekly series hosted by Sean, music critic Bob Zerull, and film fanatic Josh Adams, and offers three unique perspectives on movies, new and old.
Sean's expert perspective adds layers of cinematic and historical context to recent blockbusters and timeless classics alike. No matter his opinion on the film, Sean's readers are guaranteed to leave with something new. His respect for veteran and contemporary film critics is refreshing and makes him the furthest thing from a gatekeeper. From those who defined film criticism as we know it, to those who continue to develop the practice, Sean is the first to tip his cap.
We're proud to feature a film critic of Sean's caliber in this #VocalSpotlight. Enjoy!
On His Background, Profession, and Discovering His Love for Film:
I am a professional film critic and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. I’ve been a film critic on the radio for 12 years and online for going on 20 years.
I’m from a small town called Princeton, Iowa, right on the banks of the Mississippi River. My mom was a big movie fan and I get my love of movies from her but, like any film critic of the last 50 years, I am an acolyte of Roger Ebert. My sister gave me a Roger Ebert book when I was 19 years old and I read that book cover to cover many times, absorbing Roger’s love of movies. He inspired me to look at movies as more than just mindless entertainment.
On Becoming a Writer and Film Critic:
I didn’t love writing when I was in school or college. It was a chore. Then, in the very early days of the internet, I fell in with a group of people on a chat and began writing lengthy responses in conversations about movies and someone told me I should be a critic and write reviews. I met a couple of guys who had started a website called Bikkit.com and began writing for them in 2002—I’ve not stopped writing since then.
Sean Keeley and Roy Opochinki started Bikkit in the early days of the internet. I can’t remember how we met, but they were recruiting critics to write for Bikkit.com which became GuesstheGross.com and it became this wonderful community of writers and fans.
I began writing reviews almost every day after work at my regular job on the radio and I have rarely stopped writing about movies ever since. The encouragement that Sean and Roy gave me changed my life and, while I kind of cringe at some of my old reviews, with errors and spelling mistakes and some bad takes on movies, I wouldn’t be who I am without that experience.
On What Inspires Him to Create:
I had an experience in 1999 when I saw the movie, "The Talented Mr Ripley." That movie changed the way I saw the world. I found myself rooting for a character who was a murderer to get away with what he did. I was amazed that a movie could manipulate me so well. It made me want to examine movies closer, take them apart and look at the pieces, the intention behind choices.
Over time I became fascinated by the visual components of filmmaking so I sent myself to my own personal film school. I watched every great movie I could get my hands on. I watched Fellini, Scorsese, explored the French New Wave of the 50s and 60s, and began to track how movies changed and were influenced by these incredible works of art. I’m still inspired today by classic movies and the search for movies today that will inspire the next great artists.
On Who Inspires Him the Most:
Roger Ebert is the greatest critic of all time. I have read Roger Ebert since the late 80s and I have read all of his books. I was part of the group that joined his email club in the early 2000s to launch RogerEbert.com and I have visited that site endlessly over the years reading Roger’s back catalog of reviews. I also read the crop of writers who are carrying on his legacy on the site, Matt Zoller Seitz, Odie Henderrson, Brian Tallerico. They are still writing incredible criticism in a time when criticism is struggling for voices.
I’m also inspired by new creators, YouTubers, Twitter critics, there are some really talented voices out there like Thomas Flight on YouTube, Jenny Nicholson, Lindsay Ellis, these are young people who put in the work, creating lengthy video essays on modern media and movies. I believe Jenny Nicholson’s video review on Escape from Tomorrow made me a better movie critic. She is so smart and effortlessly funny and sharp in that review, I honestly felt like I needed to do better at what I do after watching it and I’ve watched it several times.
On The Elements That Make A Great Movie:
It varies from movie to movie. Intent is big—what did they intend? It’s not reasonable to look at some random comedy like Tag or Game Night and examine it the way you would examine Citizen Kane. The intentions are very different.
What did the filmmaker intend and how well did they communicate that intention. There is a wonderful movie from 2021 called "I Blame Society," it’s one of the sharpest pieces of satire I have ever seen. The movie covers a broad expanse of modern horror and feminism, it’s about the way we see women in modern society and the micro-aggressions of misogyny in work culture. The director had a lot of intent in every scene on top of making a very funny and even scary movie. I love discovering what the creators of a movie intend, what they are trying to say, how they planned on affecting the audience and how effective they are in making the audience feel something.
On Selecting the Movies He Reviews:
I try to review anything that’s available. I set out every year to watch and write about as many movies as I can get in front of. I’m always looking for another movie to watch and write about because that next movie might be the one that makes me feel that excitement of a true classic.
I’m about to write about a movie called "The Killing of Two Lovers," and if I had limited myself in what I watch, I might not have seen it. I feel so lucky to have seen it, it’s an incredible film and I might have missed it if I had just gone looking for a specific type of movie.
I see SO MANY MOVIES. As part of my podcast, "Everyone’s a Critic Movie Review Podcast," I watch as many new movies every week as I can and I watch a classic every week. We also have a feature where we look at movies released 30 years ago that weekend. We are in 1991 on that feature and I find 30 years gives you a very unique perspective on how quickly society, our culture and our movies have changed.
I don’t often write about the 30 year old movies, there doesn’t appear to be much of an audience for reviews of 30 year old movies that very few people remember, but I do write about movies that have lasted 30 years on occasion. I wrote about "La Bamba," "Dirty Dancing" and "Back to the Future 3" when they turned 30 and that was fun. Then I wrote about movies like "The Big Easy" and "Stakeout" and those reviews floundered, very few clicks. It became hard to justify the amount of effort to write about those and find an audience for them.
I do find I have less to say about documentaries. Those are a little harder to write about. Documentaries are rarely bad. It’s hard to screw up a documentary. I end up just saying nice things and adding little to the conversation. But, I’ve still written about plenty of documentaries and I try hard to write well about them.
I try to write about everything. If I don’t write a review of the movie, I will still probably talk about it on the radio or on the podcast, every movie is an opportunity to have a good conversation, no matter what the movie is. It’s more or less whatever movie I have time to watch is what I will review. Time is really the only limit on what I do.
On Watching Movies for the Fun of It:
I only watch movies for fun when my friends force me to. My mind rarely rests when I am watching a movie. I am always thinking of what I could say about a movie and so it’s rare when I just passively watch a movie. I recently was made to watch "Willow." My beloved friend, Faith, loves "Willow" and she made me watch it during our weekly dinner gatherings. She’s also the reason I sometimes watch television, most cooking shows or true crime shows, otherwise I would watch a movie that I plan to write about.
On Changing Opinions After Writing a Critique:
I actually wrote about the experience of changing my opinion on a movie here on Vocal. When "Dirty Dancing" hit it’s 30th Anniversary, I looked back at what I wrote about Dirty Dancing in 2002 and the review I wrote in 2017 and how my opinion was so different. The piece was called “Movies Don’t Change, You Do.”
As a better, more thoughtful and mature critic, I watched "Dirty Dancing" again and it came to life to me in a whole new way. There was so much there that I didn’t understand before. That movie captured a moment of transition in American culture in a way that few other movies ever have. The shift from the values of the 1950s to the values of the 1960s and then, if you really examine it, the movie is also about how the values of the 60s changed into the 1980s and how the idealism of the 60s seemed to fail into the cynicism and divisiveness of the 80s. "Dirty Dancing" went from being a movie that I hated to a movie I admire more every time I think about it.
On His Method of Preparing for a Critique:
I research the title, creators, and stars and then take good notes during the movie—mostly just mental notes. Rarely do I take physical notes, I don’t like to pause movies unless I am struck by something, a lightning bolt thought, and then I will pause and and write about the moment and that has even become its own piece.
I wrote about a movie called "Unhinged" starring Russell Crowe. The movie isn’t very good overall but the opening 5 minutes is a great example of visual filmmaking. It tells such an incredible story without any dialogue, just Russell Crowe’s acting, the dread atmosphere of the setting and music and the visuals, rain, a gun on the car seat, a dark house seen through a rain drenched car window. It’s so simple and yet so effective in telling us who Russell Crowe’s character is and what is about to happen which is a vicious and shocking double murder. I stopped the movie as the credits were starting and started writing. Sadly, that piece tanked and I’ve rarely done that type of work since, but I really loved doing it.
More On His Creative Process:
I start with an outline, and then I completely ignore the outline and write free style from my brain to the page. I generally start with an introductory paragraph followed by a plot description and then an analysis of what I liked and didn’t like about the movie. That however, changes depending on the movie. If I start with a plot description, that’s usually me trying to break writer's block by writing something, anything, to get the ball rolling. That’s a great way for me to find the movie is through plot description. I also like to use the history of the stars or the director to find interesting trivia and points of view from their previous work.
My reviews can take many forms. I wrote about the movie "Wonder Boys" for a failed project I started about the movies of the 2000. That review was me entertaining myself using the ramshackle style of the movie to experiment with my way of writing. It looks like a normal review but I was experimenting with phrasing and letting paragraphs and sentences and thoughts run on a little more, similar to the way the movie just rambles around in the life of Michael Douglas’s character. I don’t do that often but it’s fun when the mood and the movie is right.
I'll usually wait a day after watching a film to review it. I like to sleep after a movie and then write about it. If I am still excited about a movie or mad about a movie 12 to 15 hours later, that tells me something important about the movie.
On How He Sources the Films He Reviews:
Public relations teams at the movie studios contact me via the Broadcast Film Critics Association. I’m incredibly lucky and grateful to be part of a professional group like the BFCA. They’ve created every opportunity for me to do what I love.
On His Short Term and Long Term Goals as a Film Critic:
My short term goal is to keep writing as much and as often as I can. I love doing it.
Long term, if I could find a way to draw more eyes to what I do, I would love for writing for Vocal to be my only job, well, that and the "Everyone’s a Critic Movie Review" podcast. I love being on the radio but I would like to have my own place in the world and not work for someone else. Vocal is a community that allows space for creators to cultivate a career if you can market what you do. I need to get better at marketing what I do if I want it to be the only thing I do.
On Advice to Aspiring Film Critics:
Write as much as possible. Figure out who you are and put yourself into your writing. Your point of view as a human matters. Who I am is part of what I write. I can’t divorce my feelings and my humanity from my criticism. I won’t do that. Much of modern criticism amounts to consumer recommendations and there is a place for that but it is not a place for me.
You need to know who you are and be able to capture how a work of art made you feel and how it made you feel that way. What did the movie do to inspire you. What did it fail at? These may be subjective but they speak to the effectiveness of the movie.
On What It Take to be a Great Critic:
I will let you know if I ever become a great critic. :) I think just finding a voice that is yours. The best critics are those who speak with their own voice.
Ebert was the best at being Ebert, a brilliant, erudite, flawed and incredibly empathetic human being.
Thomas Flight is a young academic, he never talks like he’s better than his audience but he also expects his audience to be smart and interested in the same topics as he is. He makes you think about the bones of movie making, editing, cinematography, scripting and he expects that you can keep up with him.
Jenny Nicholson is entirely herself as a critic. She’s not snarky, she’s given to flights of fantasy and whimsy but when she doesn’t like something she’s as sharp as any critic working today.
Nathan Rabin is, perhaps, the best critic working today. He’s the most authentic and unique voice in the field. He is fully Nathan, he doesn’t emulate anyone. He’s smart, self-referential, and writes about a very niche brand of movies and he does it with humor and authenticity.
On What Long-form Storytelling on Vocal Offers Him as a Creator:
I have been able to use this form to promote my podcast. When we made the decision to change the name of the "Everyone’s a Critic Movie Review Podcast," Vocal gave me the space to explain the change and how to find the show. It helped so much.
Having the ability to choose my topics has helped me become a better writer. I can challenge myself to write things I don’t normally write about. I wrote about the history of Play-Doh on this site because I was struck with a wild inspiration. That was outside of my comfort zone and I really loved doing it. It’s helped me become a more well rounded writer and personality.
Publishing on Vocal has also made me really think about the way I speak to an audience. It’s made me go places I am not comfortable with in promoting myself but that’s a good thing. I need to be proud of what I am doing and marketing myself and my work is about demonstrating pride in what I do. I am proud of almost everything I have written in nearly four years on this site and marketing myself online, while it is hard and I can count many failures and failings in that time, I always remind myself that I do care about what I do and I care about reaching as many readers as possible. I have a long way to go to cultivate an audience and learn how to reach people but I am working hard at it.
On His Favorite Review He's Published on Vocal:
My review of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." No movie has changed the way I see criticism more than "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." As a young critic, I dismissed the movie as just another slasher movie franchise. Then, after director Tobe Hooper died, I watched it again and found something in it that I never expected.
"Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is the definitive movie of the death of the 1960s. Vietnam, Watergate, Kent State, the Women’s Liberation movement, they are all present in the subtext of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." If you look hard enough, you can sense Hooper presenting how 60’s idealism was being slaughtered by growing cynicism and the plague of Vietnam. The dinner scene with a group of men menacing a woman has echoes of the fear that men had of women leaving the home and entering the workplace.
The final scene of a blood soaked protagonist narrowly escaping death captures the catharsis people felt with Vietnam finally beginning to end. America was covered in the blood of heroes, leaders, soldiers and students, and was changed forever, but it survived. It’s subtext but it’s there. I love that piece.
Don’t think about it—first thing that comes to mind:
What is one thing you couldn’t live without?
Favorite Musical Artist at the moment?
Favorite Album of all time?
Favorite Movie of all time?
Favorite Director of all time?
Favorite Actor of all time?
Favorite Documentary of all time?
Movies at the Theatre or at Movies at Home?
Movies at the Theater
Cats or dogs?
Favorite travel destination?
Wherever my friends are
Day or Night?
Favorite local restaurant?
Duey’s Corner in Port Byron, IL (My brother owns it)
What’s your go-to late night snack?
Cake, but I rarely keep it at home. I am on a health kick.
What are you currently binge watching?
Movies, but if I am with my friend, Faith, "Chopped"
What are you currently reading?
If you could speak a new language, what would it be and why?
French, I want to go to the movies in Paris one day.
Favorite story you read on Vocal by another creator?
Rebecca Sharrock's "What Does Being Unable To Forget Feel Like?" goes into her experience of living with Hyperthemysia. It’s rather short, but she communicates so much of her experience in that short article. It stuck with me. I am fascinated about that subject.
Thanks for talking with us, Sean! It's been a pleasure reading along as you've continued to hone your craft over the past four years. Aside from the obvious insight you provide with each review, we respect how consistent you are as a creator. We couldn't be happier that you found a home on Vocal.
If you're as big a fan of Sean's work as we are, be sure to keep up with him here on Vocal, as well as on Twitter and Instagram. Plus, stay up to date with the "Everyone Is A Critic" podcast on their website, Spotify, YouTube, and Facebook.
Thanks again, Sean!
About the author
Vocal Spotlight aims to highlight standout creators who are changing the world one story at a time. We're getting to know the storytellers who inspire us the most, and we can't wait for you to meet them.