Q: I have read scathing, over-the-top reviews of really good movies such as "Les Miz" and was really puzzled. Is any movie with Hugh Jackman less than very good? And that brought me to wonder, did "West Side Story" get bad reviews at the time, too?

A: The 1961 version of "West Side Story" had mostly positive reactions at the time of its release — but one notable exception was the formidable critic Pauline Kael. She called it "frenzied hokum" and a "hyped-up, slam-bang production" with dialogue that could be "painfully old-fashioned and mawkish." She didn't much care for the music or the dancing, either.

I have long argued that just about any production can expect to get at least one good review and one bad one. The Jackman "Les Miserables," for example, is at 69% on Rotten Tomatoes, not the worst score and one that indicates some critics liked it. (Some other Jackman movies score far worse.) Students in my film appreciation classes often disagree about the quality of various movies, including some acknowledged classics. But the real test is in how they back up their opinions; it is never enough to say something is good or bad if you cannot explain why you feel that way.

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