Sunday, October 26, 2008

Roger Ebert reviews a movie after watching only 8 minutes of it

There was a movie released in 1975 called AT LONG LAST LOVE. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich (who was allowed to make movies back then) it was a musical with Cole Porter songs inexplicably sung by the astonishingly tone-deaf Cybil Shepherd. My partner David and I were in a full theatre watching this jaw-dropping spectacle. After about an hour and fifteen minutes of this David shouted out, “Wait! It gets better!” The entire audience exploded in laughter.

We walked out of the theatre (okay – ran) and commiserated over the poor movie critics who had to sit through this and every film all the way through. I couldn’t do it. I even once walked out of a movie I had worked on. But reviewers need to stick it out.

You would think.

Roger Ebert (a critic I admire) recently admitted to writing his review on the indie feature TRU LOVED after watching only eight minutes of it. Thumbs down, Roger! If that had been AT LONG LAST LOVE you wouldn’t have even seen the first duet between Cybil and her virtuoso singing co-star, Burt Reynolds.

It seems to me Roger has now committed both cardinal sins of film criticism – hosting an Oscar red carpet show and reviewing a movie without seeing it (granted the first sin is worse). What does this do for his credibility and the credibility of his judgement-passing brethren? People often mistrust reviewers anyway. Does Jeffrey Lyons love every single movie he’s ever seen just so he can get his name and blurb in every ad?

For a night of Levine & Isaacs one-act plays a number of years ago, the critic for Variety knitted during the entire performance. But at least he was there. And he stayed till the end. And he finished his muffler.

Gone are the days of Pauline Kael and film criticism as art itself. You may have disagreed with her but you had to admire the thought and effort she poured into each review, even MOONRAKER.

By the way, Ms. Kael had this to say about AT LONG LAST LOVE:

“Peter Bogdanovich's stillborn musical comedy-a relentlessly vapid pastiche of 30s Art Deco romantic-mixup movies.”

So unlike David and I, she liked it.

I wonder, are the standards of reviewing so much lower these days because the movies are too? THE LOVE GURU got a few raves. I’m not saying that all critics are bad. There are a few still like to read. Elvis Mitchell in the NY Times, Carina Chocano in the LA Times, and the guy from Screw magazine (he doesn’t list his name).

But for me there is only one standout. Thank goodness for Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. Incisive, detailed, sometimes scholarly, and devastatingly funny, Anthony Lane is my only must-read critic. And from what I understand, he not only sits through every movie he reviews, he sits through it twice.

Two thumbs up.

36 comments:

rob! said...

i guess if you asked the average person, does Movie Critic sound like a good job? they'd answer a resounding YES--after all, you get paid to see movies!

but seeing how many terrible movies are made every year, the thought of actually having to sit through every one of them--and then having to write down what you thought--sounds like some sort of grueling, Saw-esque torture chamber.

maybe since Ebert's been so sick, he just doesn't have the tolerance he once had to sit through lame movies.

Tim W. said...

I'm often bothered by people's complete dismissal of critics as a whole as if they are an autonomous group completely separate from the rest of us. People will proudly say that they never agree with the critics. To which I answer, which ones? I mean, if you never agree with the critics, that means you like a lot of horrible movies and dislike all the classics.

D. McEwan said...

Don't kid yourself; there are critics out there who review the film synopses they are sent, and never see the films at all.

And Roger not only fessed up, but he went back and watched the whole film and then re-reviewed it. Turned out it didn't help much.

Since I just recounted the tale of Pauline Kael's extreme generosity and kindness to me in a posting here a couple weeks back, I shan't recount it again. I'll just say that she did me a huge favor without any need or obligation on her part.

Interesting that the critic you've sited as worth reading now, Anthony Lane, has her old post at The New Yorker.

Since Pauline died I have been fishing about for a critic to read for his/herself, as I did Ms Kael. (I've read all her books, which basically means I've read pretty much every review she ever wrote.) I really like reading GOOD film analysis. Sometimes I'll pick up one of her books and flip to pages at random and read whatever review I stumble onto.

For the past few years it's been Ebert who has taken her place on my reading shelves. I'll take your reccie and sample Anthony Lane. With a good critic, it isn't necessary to agree with them (There was nothing unusual about my loving a film Pauline Kael hated. More rarely I hated something she loved.), as long as their writing and insights are intesting.

You can read Roger Ebert's mea culpa and explanation here:

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2008/10/definitely_read_me_second.html

D. McEwan said...

I don't nkow why the posteing didn't contain the entire url I included, here it is broken down Reassemble it without gaps.

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/
2008/10/
definitely_read_me_second.
html

Rory L. Aronsky said...

I'll take your reccie and sample Anthony Lane.

Douglas:

http://www.amazon.com/Nobodys-Perfect-Writings-New-Yorker/dp/0375714340/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1225085418&sr=1-3

This one is worth every minute spent reading it.

Allen L. said...

As a longtime devotee of Ms. Kael and a great lamenter of the dead form (case in point the HORRIBLE new At The Movies with Ben 'Fantastic! Superb! Incredible!" Lyons I would direct you to the blog, http://cinevistaramascope.blogspot.com
while Bemis occasionally indulges in memes and the like, his reviews (particularly of The Dark Knight and There Will Be Blood are nothing short of Kaelian.
Please take a few minutes and read some of his reviews. If you aren't an immediate subscriber I would be shocked.

Duke said...

Only thing to add is that Carina Chocano is the bomb. Her reviews are sizzling with energy. She can be sympathetic to a movie that exceeds low aspirations, or brutal about a film with the best pedigree but doesn't ever come together. Real enthusiasm and always a pleasure to read. While still being insightful and fair, she's one of those rare critics whose body of reviews beats her subject matter on the enjoyment scale.

John Pearley Huffman said...

Great, now everyone is going to know about Anthony Lane... long my favorite thing in The New Yorker. This will ruin him.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

I can't imagine a reviewer doing justice to a film without watching it at least twice: once passively, to give it a fair chance to entertain, and once actively, to deconstruct all the elements reviewers rely on to fill their word quotas and sound pretentious. That many good reviewers do indeed watch the films they review only once (if that -- I too am an Ebert fan) could imply the shortcoming is mine, not theirs, so I'll blame Canada.

Vermonter17032 said...

Ken,

I agree with your concern about overall standards, but I think you're being a little unfair to Roger Ebert. The guy has been reviewing movies for nearly five decades... He admitted within the review of the movie -- albeit at the end of the review -- that he had only watched 8 minutes of it, so he wasn't faking it with his readers. The fact that he could only watch 8 minutes of it is in itself a valid criticism. I mean, this is a guy who has sat through literally thousands of movies. If he couldn only stand 8 minutes of Tru Loved, when he was able to sit through National Treasure and, well, At Long Last Love, then that's enough of a review for me.

pat reeder said...

I have a friend who combines hosting a premiere celebrity nudity website with writing some of the most informed and entertaining movie reviews being created today. This guy knows everything about movies and about...well, everything. He worked a corporate job for years that had him living all over the world. He can review a film from, say, Iceland and tell you as an aside whether they got the costumes right for the season in which it was set. The copious archives are here: http://www.fakes.net/archive.htm
And if you'd like to learn more about "At Long Last Love" and see a rather hilarious example of Cybill and Burt's choreography, go here and scroll down: http://www.hollywoodhifi.net/top5albums_5-4.html

Mary Stella said...

Maybe I'm lowbrow. I like reading reviews at www.joblo.com.

Anonymous said...

I read Anthony Lane and I agree that he's sharp, but I like David Denby (also of the New Yorker) just as well. Haven't read the LA Times Chocano (I'll check her out) but Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post is a can't miss for me. (although they're not utilizing him as much these days.)

Judith

Grant said...

He mentioned on his blog that this was the first movie he walked out on since "Caligula."

YZF said...

Spot on. Anthony Lane is the last critic whose reviews are more entertaining than the films he's forced to pan.

olucy said...

Didn't Elvis Mitchell leave the NYT about 4 years ago? Are you reading back copies?

Cage Free Brown said...

shoot, I worked in movie theatres for over ten years. it seems to me that a reviewer who stays to the end is more notable than one who doesn't.

we would often bring up the lights during early A.M. press screenings while the movie was still running and everybody had gone. then we could get the jump on picking up all the discarded racing forms and the empty Johnnie Walker bottles before the theatre opened for business.

many local critics would come to regular showings. of those I saw regularly, only David Sheehan stayed for MOST of the movie, he ran around taking notes and would "GAR!" as he left. only Bill Harris would come early, buy snacks, watch the whole movie and LOVE the damned thing.

I often read positive reviews and wondered how the writer knew the ending.

mrbackroom said...

I don't stay to the end of most reviews. And that includes Mr. Lane.

Anonymous said...

Re Anthony Lane--No,no. There's an insufferable archness to his work that's truly annoying. The new Yorker's reviews are much better when David Denby does the column

Dave said...

My experience with At Long Last Love was decidedly different. It was on a double-bill with Scenes From a Marriage at a mall in Cerritos.

Whatever programming genius thought that combination up deserves some kind of medal.

Tom Quigley said...

"I'm often bothered by people's complete dismissal of critics as a whole as if they are an autonomous group completely separate from the rest of us."

I tried to confront a critic once about a movie he had reviewed -- but I wasn't able to get past his moat...

jbryant said...

Chocano just got canned, which puts her in good company these days.

ed said...

Eight minutes into a movie is just about the time I think to myself. "Oh, now I understand... I've been had!"
A critic must feel that way eight days a week. Why can't he express that opinion once in a while?

Matt Ellis said...

Can I suggest Mark Kermode as a good movie reviewer? He's usually fighting an uphill battle with regards to the films he likes and the populist view, but he's the only critic who actually, you know, *critiques* a film. Which is nice.

The only downside I guess is that he's over here in the UK, so will probably be a bit out of date with regards to release dates...

Anyway, you can subscribe to the weekly podcast here, and catch up on previous version, or even watch him on YouTube. Thoroughly entertaining, and a genuine critic.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/fivelive/entertainment/kermode.shtml

Cheers!
Matt

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

A reviewer for, I think, the NY Times was criticized for panning a play he'd walked out on before it was over. He said something like, "You don't need to eat an entire egg to know it's rotten."

Tim W. said...

I think more critics should just tell me what happens in the movie and whether they liked it or not.

Oh, wait...

D. McEwan said...

"Tom Quigley said...
I tried to confront a critic once about a movie he had reviewed -- but I wasn't able to get past his moat..."

Really? Because I've found many critics to be acccessible. I've had face-to-face discussions with both the late Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert. Like all good film critics, they love (In Kael's case "loved") talking movies with folks, and welcome a healthy debate.

Tim W. said...

"I've had face-to-face discussions with both the late Pauline Kael..."

There are about a dozen jokes in there, and I couldn't decide which one to use.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Another vote for Anthony Lane, despite the occasional horrendous pun. He's not just a fine critic, he's an all-around fine writer -- check out his recent two-part on the Beijing Olympics.

At the other end of the scale, the guy at Rolling Stone has never seen a comedy that wasn't the funniest movie of the year, or a drama that wasn't a triumph.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

At the other end of the scale, the guy at Rolling Stone has never seen a comedy that wasn't the funniest movie of the year, or a drama that wasn't a triumph.

Peter Travers: Quote Whore.

At this time, I must happily shill for one of my fellow members of the Online Film Critics Society (www.ofcs.org), Erik Childress, and a feature headed by him on efilmcritic.com, titled "Criticwatch 2008" which keeps tabs on who's been a relentless quote whore this year:

http://efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2382

The feature's been going on for a number of years, and you'll find that Travers has been the biggest whore of the year thus far.

D. McEwan said...

"Peter Travers is the Best Quote Whore of the Century. If you read only one quote whore this year, it MUST be Peter Travers. I laughed. I cried. I plotzed. I quoted."
- Douglas McEwan

elaine said...

Carina was laid off this week in the LATimes layoffs
e

Matt Bird said...

Wow. We agree on a lot of stuff, Ken, but on this one, I couldn't disagree more. Anthony Lane is the worst critic in the country. Every review is just a limp series of borscht-belt one liners. I call him "the Henny Youngman of film reviewers." Worse still, even though he always takes a snide attitude towards the movie, he frequently will recycle jokes from the movie itself and then try pass them off has HIS jokes MAKING FUN of the movie. He's atrocious.

Ebert is much better, even if he did screw up big time. To Ebert's credit, he apologized, admitted he deserved every criticism and then actually sat through the whole movie. He still hated it.

Paul Duca said...

Actually, Ken--I'd like to know more about the full theater for "At Long Last Love" that you experienced. In the book EASY RIDERS RAGING BULLS there is a story about Bogdanovich's former wife/creative partner Polly Platt taking their two daughters to see it. They arrive at the theater just as a showing was over....and there was no one watching. The three of them were the audience for their show.

TE said...

The Variety critic (I used to work with Bill, who was a terrific guy) knitted at every show. Be thankful a ball of yarn didn't roll down the aisle as he nodded of -- it's happened.

As for Ebert, at least he admitted leaving the show early; in truth he never claimed to review more than the first few minutes.

I don't really see any problem with this. You think it'd get a more positive review from him if he'd sat through the whole thing?

I used to think more highly of Anthony Lane, until he blew a major surprise plot point just so he could make a pun.

David Frazier said...

I am a film reviewer and I have been since I was in high school. My reviews are here on Blogger as Frazier's Flickz. I don't agree with seeing 8 minutes of a movie, I will agree with that. However, there are films I have been subjected to that are as painfully to see one minute of let alone the entire running time. A friend of mine and I were reminiscing about watching the God-awful "Caligula", which is 170 minutes of torture.

I have never walked out on a film no matter how tough the going got. You never know these days about finding that "diamond in the rough". Yes, there are a lot of bad movies, but finding the good ones is amiable adventure I don't mind taking.

You quoted Kael in your blog; remember that she is also the critic that said we must appreciate great trash as well as great art. That is a fitting survival tip in today's cinema...