Sunday, April 10, 2005


As a kid, I thought critics knew something average people didn't. I wasn't aware there weren't any special qualifications for the job.

Let's do a quick survey of some statements by film critics this weekend.

Over at Jeffrey Wells' website, he's his usual silly self. He's just seen Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven and seems miffed this film about the Crusades isn't more about our war in Iraq. Even stranger, he pulls out a quote from a piece he wrote last year: "Can anyone think of another occupying Anglo force that went into a Middle Eastern country for bogus reasons and is probably fated to leave with its tail between its legs?" When you write something that stupid and ugly, you think you'd try to bury it. (You can't blame him though--his life has been about film, and he seems to have picked up his reflexive politics along the way.)

Weirder though is Wells' obsessions with certain actors. Last year, he simply couldn't get over Gwen Stefani having about two minutes screen time in The Aviator as Jean Harlow. He thought she looked wrong for the part and mentioned it over and over, as if he were Howard Hughes. Even if she were wrong (seemed fine to me) who could possibly care.

Now he's back to his "thing" about Amanda Peet. He calls her "intensely dislikable," with the vibe of a "born conniver" and eyes that are "shrewd and predatory." Huh? I've always found Amanda Peet a breath of fresh air, even if she's been saddled with plenty of weak parts in so-so films. I consider her fairly talented, and a classic beauty, but even if I didn't like her, I can't imagine raining down insults like Wells does. He says "for all I know I'm the only one who feels this way about Peet. But I doubt it." Doubt it, Jeffrey, doubt it.

Over at the Chicago Reader, their second-stringer, J.R. Jones, gives a thumbs down to the Farrelly Brothers' change of pace, Fever Pitch. Fair enough, but then I read the Brothers "raised the raunch level of Hollywood comedies in the late 90s, but like Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker of Airplane! fame in the 80s, they also honored the gag-a-minute ethic of 30s comedy teams like the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges." This won't do. (I'll ignore that he put the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges in the same sentence.) Clowns base their work on their characters, whom they insert into plots that allow them to get laughs. The Farrelly's start with a story and hire actors to fulfill the plot demands (except perhaps when they build something around Jim Carrey). The ZAZ boys in Airplane!, meanwhile, did the exact opposite of comedy teams--they hired actors not known for comedy and had them play absurd gags absolutely straight. It may seem I'm making too much of an inapt comparison, but there's something fundamentally wrong about it that bothers me. (By the way, Jones claims "Randy Quaid mistakenly hooks a bull to a milking machine"--one of the more memorable gags in the Farrelly's Kingpin--when it's Woody Harrelson.)

Then there's Roger Ebert, the most famous and perhaps richest film critic around. I like Roger. I may often disagree with him, but his love of movies, after four decades of writing about them, always shines through. Still, lately he seems tired. He makes easy mistakes.

For instance, when he reviewed Kill Bill Vol. 2, he claimed that Uma Thurman reads notes on how dangerous the snake that kills Michael Madsen is, when it's Daryl Hannah (I know they're both tall blondes, but one had an eye-patch). When he reviewed Be Cool he stated The Rock is Cedric The Entertainer's bodyguard, when it couldn't be clearer The Rock is Vince Vaughn's bodyguard.

Now this in his review of Fever Pitch:
"Think how [Jimmy Fallon] feels. The Sox are down 0-3 to the Yankees in the AL playoffs and behind 7-0 in the fourth and apparently final game. He's at a party she wanted him to attend. He has a great time at the party, until he finds out the Red Sox won 8-7 with eight runs in the bottom of the ninth! That will be a moment that he will always, always, regret missing."(Italics his.)
Roger, alas, is confusing two very different games here. The Red Sox do make a comeback that Fallon misses due to a party, but it is definitely not the fourth game of the AL playoffs, which leads to a distinctly different comic climax.

Perhaps the editors at his paper, the Chicago Sun-Times, can assign him a special helper to avoid these embarrassing errors.


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