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Everyone's a Critic



It must be the second-most visible group this time of year. First, of course, is the Barnum-esque sales forces now emblazoned on ads in ultra-butch locations such as the newspaper's sports pages or Terry Bradshaw's Sunday tea parties. But next after them has just gotta be the movie reviewers. Yeah, baby. This is the very special time, that end-of-year period which is the season for turducken and holiday movies.

(Time for some Special Autobiographical Points -- S.A.P. I have long been a movie fan and have long dragged my haunches to theaters around town, ranging from the Escorial to the latest over-stuffed metroplex, to watch movies from Battleship Potemkin to James and the Giant Peach. Yet in recent months, my devotion to the magic spun in movie houses has dimmed badly. Part of this is doubtlessly caused by the fact that the Relentless Calendar dims everything eventually, but only part. A far bigger slice must be the never-ending parade of over-animated, over-sensitive, over-computerized, over-frightening motion pictures with too many car chases and too few stories. Thanks for your attention to all the S.A.P.)

So where should you seat your buttered popcorn this holiday season? Some say the Bridget Jones sequel movie. 'Hugh Grant gives what must be the funniest and most sexy performance ever.' (Carino Chocona, L.A. Times.) Others lean toward Finding Neverland. 'It shimmers with enchantment … sparks with comic life.' (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone.) There are even those who will vouch for some faces only a mother could appreciate: 'Seed of Chucky couldn't be more entertaining.' (Wesley Morris, Boston Globe.)

Amen, brother. 'Entertainment' would seem to be a minimalist type of praise for a movie, but there are many who wear it proudly. 'An unalloyed delight that's pure entertainment' is what Kevin Thomas writes in the L.A. Times about After the Sunset. In The Times-Picayune, Michael Kleinschrodt says pretty much the same thing about National Treasure: 'Pure entertainment.' We have no hard information on what constitutes as 'pure entertainment' these days, but it probably includes selections from Ed Wood's later works.

'Classic' is an honorific once reserved for things like the Belmont Stakes and the Colt .45 Peacemaker, but now it seems to be applied without much heed to every Christmas movie aimed at someone under 37 years of age. 'An instant family classic!' is how Gorman Woodfin of CBN describes Christmas With the Kranks. Funny, but that's exactly the phrase used by ABC's Joel Siegel to describe The Polar Express.

So why do these gals and guys stand ready and willing to deliver critical praise to every movie ever made? Well, first of all, let's concede that many of these people are often quoted out of context. Sample: 'This movie's potential edginess is never realized, and compared to it, a prostate exam is an entertainment spectacle.' This gets distilled down to an ad sized 'This movie's … an entertainment spectacle.'

But such advertising ledgerdomain does not explain Alexander. It was one of the most-touted productions of the year and elicited the following appraisal by a local critic: '… the characters are so sketchily rendered that the most moving death scene is that of Alexander's horse, Bucephales.' The great battle scenes? 'One plays out amid such clouds of dust that the audience literally cannot see what's happening.' And Colin Farrell in the light-in-the-buskin title role?' 'Part of the problem is that Farrell, who last played a bisexual in a bad wig in A Home at the End of the World, has been horribly miscast as Alexander.'

Oh yeah? Well, how do you explain some critical commentary that shows up in the Oliver Stone flick's ads? Stuff like 'The best film of the year' (Mike Szymanski, Tribune Media). Or, in Gripping Hyperbole, this paean that goes, 'A gigantic epic story told with the movie mastery of director Oliver Stone with the sheer screen magnetism of Colin Farrell in the title role.'

Can this be the same movie?

Happens all the time, Gullibility Breath. Just take a moment and reflect on the critic. Who is he and from whence does he come? And bring the expertise and authority to be able to inform the rest of us what we should see, watch, read, eat and listen to?

In other words, who died and left a critic in charge?

Nietzsche, a guy hard to impress, had some thoughts on the mindset of those who would be 'experts':

'This man knows human nature; why does he really study people? He wants to seize little advantages over them -- or big ones, for that matter -- he is a politician. That one over there also knows human nature and you may say that he seeks no profit for himself, that he is thoroughly Œimpersonal.' Look more closely! Perhaps he even wants a worse advantage: to feel superior to other human beings, to be able to look down on them, and no longer mistake himself for one of them.'

Nietzsche may be right. He may be wrong, too. I'm afraid to look at him too critically.


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