I was surprisingly impressed recently by an LA Times article. Not because it trashes Ben Lyons, or because it gives great detail about the overall negative opinion of Ben Lyons… anyone who pays attention to the movie world knows full well that movie critics are rather annoyed by his existence… no, I was impressed because the article seems to be pushing some 1500 words (without having 40 pictures… and not once does it say Oooo or Aaaahhh).
Chris Lee, author of the article, didn’t just throw out a quick Lyons bashing and snort in the general direction of average-movie-goer-U.S.A. Of course, it’s hard not to mention that Lyons called I Am Legend “one of the greatest movies ever made,” but at this point that’s practically Lyons’ middle name. Instead, Lee puts together an interesting look at what has happened to film criticism, and though it of course focuses on Lyons and his inclusion in the new version of At The Movies, it is obviously written by someone who, slightly in the background of the actual words written, just wants to scream, “What the hell is going on here?” And, it got published.
Though Lee is addressing something rather specific when he uses the quote “dismayingly shallow,” he needn’t be, and he knows it.
Josh Tyler at CinemaBlend.com recently threw up his hands at the situation as well. His article, You Don’t Care About Movie Reviews, might have flowed from my own pen, and among other things relates the general idea that if you want to become a movie critic (or movie website), you probably better follow Lyons’ path of soundbite-friendly meaninglessness and shiny celebrity gossip pandering.
Tyler and Lee seem to be on the same page re: this quote which Lee uses in his article – Brian Frons, who heads the creation, production, and delivery of shows for ABC Media Productions supports Lyons thusly –
“Did he spend 20 years as critic for a major newspaper? No. He’s very much of the TV generation who don’t spend time reading newspapers. I think we have a guy who is giving the information that audiences want to hear about film to make decisions about what to see.”
20 years as a critic? I think it’s rather a straw man to defend yourself from the “20 years as a critic” rule, nevermind working as one at “a major newspaper.” His relevant resume consists of a couple of semesters at the University of Michigan and “being Jeffrey Lyons’ son,” but I don’t think it was ever anyone’s point. This is the TV/Internet generation (or at least Era, or something), and there are quite a few very popular and respected movie critics with a relevant resume consisting of absolutely nothing.
The problem is not that we ridicule his background, or even that we disagree with his ludicrous views of movies… the problem is that we’re afraid the last sentence of that quote is true. We’re afraid this (sorry) moronic Cojo-of-film is actually giving the information audiences want to hear about film. Perhaps worse, we’re afraid that the big studios are right when they describe their big push movies as “critic proof.” It doesn’t matter what any particular joker says, because it doesn’t matter what anyone says, so why not spew out something that might make it to the movie poster or DVD cover? It doesn’t matter who said, “This movie is AWESOME!” It only matters that someone said it, and I can put it on the DVD case in great big letters. I’m putting their name in really, really small letters anyway, because dumbass America is going to pick it up and buy it without caring the tiniest bit who said it. What matters is, “Look, it says right there in big letters… and the cover is glossy… and something blows up in the picture.”
Clearly, we’re in a different age as far as movie reviews go, and perhaps in some ways that’s not a bad thing. But, are we really in the age where the actual writing of words following your star rating is pure annoyance? Is Josh Tyler right when he says your movie website is doomed to failure if you stick with long-winded (probably plus 600 words by today’s standards) reviews that actually try to analyze a film and don’t chuck out 50 news items a day? We’ll see, my friend. Is there no audience for what movie snobs might believe can be legitimately termed “film criticism?” Is Neil Miller of filmschoolrejects.com on the right path when recently tweeting the question, “Does anyone really read my 900 word reviews?”
Here’s my other problem…
The Lyons storm is fun to play around with, but a couple other critics have been getting under my skin recently (more as prime examples than as absolutely specific cases), and while I’ve heard the occasional murmur about each of them, they aren’t getting the attention they deserve. Why? It’s slightly hard to say really. Contrary to Lyons, they say things for a long time (well, one of them does), thus apparently giving the illusion that they are saying something interesting. Possibility 2, they put forward their views via less than absolutely interesting publications (in some sense), and aren’t on TV getting all sorts of attention. Possibility 3, as feared, no one really cares at all, and Lyons only got his bashing because it irritates critics that he’s on TV and they aren’t.
Stephanie Zacharek of Salon.com
Frequently noted as being the supporter of the “odd end” of the Tomatometer, it has been wondered aloud (at me) on many occasions if she does not review films with the specific intent of falling on said odd end, just because it is perhaps likely to drive traffic. For example, the wonderings following EW‘s review crush of the form, “Who the hell gave Dark Knight a D-? Better go see.” If a movie is 89% fresh or 14% fresh, you know where Zacharek’s review will fall.
For example —
Who gave a really shiny review to – Transporter 3, Hellboy II, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Drillbit Taylor?
Now, I’m not one to shy away from going against the grain when it comes to rating movies. Hell, I really like The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, and I reside in a camp of one there. Moreover, I’ve read a few reviews of Dark Knight that were definitely less than positive, and some of those I had to agree made good points. Movie criticism is not the sort of world wherein one becomes obligated to a certain view or perspective regarding any particular film. Feel like Dark Knight is only worth 3 stars? Maybe 2 even? Fair enough. Give me a good story to go along with it, and at least you’re “doing film appreciation” at me.
But, give seriously low ratings/reviews to two films that are largely being put forward as the best of the year, and at the same time go all bubbly and shiny at You Don’t Mess with the Zohan AND Drillbit Taylor? Well, pull the other one, it’s got bells on.
Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly
In a variety of ways one of the worst things to happen to movie criticism, largely because she is anything but Lyonsianly obvious. Often reviewing films as though they were the first film she ever encountered, she is frequently impressed with the overused and oblivious to film’s skillful nuances. She also frequently puts forward opinions which do not actually necessitate (and they clearly do not stem from) actually viewing the movie at all. Combine this with overly dumbed-down (ala EW in general) sensibilities, which you also have to combine with things like an obviously “pandering to movie critics to appear respectful” top ten list, and you’ve got a very dangerous creature. To top this all off, fairly frequent logical stumbles throw her opinions completely out of whack.
Here is film criticism at perhaps its most unnerving, especially because there is little to point at directly. It’s nice when you have someone calling a fairly goofy zombie flick the best thing ever, because what more do you need? But, when a film critic goes right along with the consensus in the majority of cases, and puts together best of the year lists that are independent/documentary heavy (because that’s what the big, snooty critics do), it puts a little spin on describing your loathing. This is not helped by a theory of review which scoffs at the very idea of a soundbite by having a 100-word cap on reviews (well… apparently).
Recent irritants —
Her bottom list for 2008 declares that she has no idea what the title of Seven Pounds refers to, but she nevertheless moves immediately to describe what it refers to.
Twice in print she gives The Boy in the Striped Pajamas a major bashing (reviewing it at D- and listing it in her bottom of the year) which is quite obviously irrespective of any merits of the film, but is rather based on the general idea of the film. It’s a movie, and it’s based on a book aiming at children which talks about the Holocaust – opinion of film thus established.
Having a sucker to point at once in a while is great for trying to get the word out, but it’s a word that apparently no one cares about. The really ugly problem is that pointing at the sucker somehow gives the impression that there’s one sucker to point at, and for the most part everyone else is okay.
Is there an answer? No. Not really, though lots of people will want to tell you that maybe there is, and probably have great suggestions. Newspapers are hurting, and the first thing to go are the critics. Filling the shoes for those critics are TV, Magazine, and Internet critics who wouldn’t read 1,000 words on “I’ll give you $1,000 if you read this whole thing,” much less write 1,000 words about anything. And with good reason. No one wants to read 1,000 words about a movie, because the idea that there might be more to say about a film than, “I Loved It! It was much better than Cats!” boggles their mind.
I don’t know.
Prove me wrong.
Are You Screening?
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