Monday, December 29, 2008

Nothing But Two Idiots

By Lars Trodson

There was a time, of course, when you could gleefully disagree with a critic on their assessment of a movie yet still respect their point of view.

I used to read Pauline Kael in 'The New Yorker' all the while howling at her narrowmindedness over some issues. But I also realized that she was teaching me quite a bit. She knew not only how to construct a review, but she also knew how to deconstruct a movie.

How times have changed.

I was home on vacation the other day when I watched a program called "At the Movies" with the reviewers Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz -- the latter whom I remember as a host of American Movie Classics. One of the movies they reviewed was something called "Nothing But The Truth", a movie that is loosely based on the Judith Miller case. Miller was a reporter for the New York Times who went to jail when she did not reveal her sources on some stories she wrote about the former CIA agent Valerie Plame. She later left the paper.

Anyway, as you can see from the clip linked below, both Bens recommend "Nothing But the Truth." Now, of course, when you say, as a critic, go see a movie, you're telling the public to pony up their ten bucks for the ticket and another 20 for snacks because you believe the thing is worth seeing. You are saying this is a satisfying thing, and that is generally works. You're asking for a commitment from the theater-goer, and you, as the critic, are saying they will not have wasted their money or their time.

And yet -- here's the kicker -- both of these critics say the final act of "Nothing But the Truth" is, and this is a quote, "cringe-inducing." That is to say it is a disaster. An absolute mess. So what Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz are saying to you is: Go spend your money, your time -- hell, even get a baby-sitter -- and what you'll get in return is a movie will utterly fall apart. Oh, you'll enjoy it for the first 100 minutes or so but the closing -- those final moments that should be among the most memorable of any movie you'll ever see, and the culmination of just why you have been in the theater for the past hour and a half -- well, it's terrible! It's awful!

This is of course beyond stupid. If a movie can't get itself together to give the audience a decent ending then it doesn't even deserve to get made. And if a movie critic is too flaccid to realize that an ending of a movie ought to be at least moderately satisfying in order to recommend it to the average movie-goer, then he doesn't deserve to be on the TV, or in the paper, or whatever. But of course these guys don't have to pay for anything, so why should they really care anyway?

Movie criticism is dying, and it's perishing for one reason. Critics, whether on the web or on the paper, have no idea how to dissect a movie. The general content of a movie review is this: It's great! Go see it! Or, it's terrible! But they can't tell you why any more either way. No wonder members of the movie review profession are panicking. We are getting to the point where we can say that critics are irrelevant not because we disagree with them, but rather because a good many of them no longer not only don't understand movies, they have no idea why we go to the movies.

To be clear, if any critic says go see a movie, even though the last 10 minutes are beyond stupid, then by any critical assessment they DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT.

Here's an analogy: If I offered you an exotic dish that I prepared but warned that, while delicious, it'd give you horrible stomach cramps just as you finished eating it, you'd not only decline the offer but you'd think I was an idiot.

Movies - even the movies of today - deserve better than these two dolts:

Here's the clip: