Saturday, June 1, 2013

Dear Roger Ebert: Please Come Back. Matt Zoller Seitz sucks.

Dear Roger,

First let me say how much I miss reading your reviews.   We are a month into the summer movie season, and it seems odd not to be able to read your film criticisms on Thursday evening or Friday morning.  Of course, you wouldn’t have liked all of the summer movies so far, but I’m sure you might have discovered at least one or two of them to be worthwhile.  I’d just like to know which ones.  I’ve seen the main blockbusters, and one of the joys I had of movie watching is to find out if we were on the same page in our criticism, or if we inhabited opposite ends of the planet.

Your web pages are still there of course, but it’s hardly the same without your presence.  Instead, we now get film criticism by committee.  I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, but  it seems as if the members of this committee care more about outdoing one another in the hopes that they can become the next Roger Ebert household name than any valid film criticism.  We both know that you’re irreplaceable, Roger.  I wish they would realize that as well.

Roger, if there was one thing I liked about you it was the way you could connect with the average film goer.  It didn’t matter whether you liked a film or not.  One always felt like you lived by a cardinal rule of film review:   Never try to browbeat your readers into submission with an air of superiority by implying you are somehow smarter than those you write for.

Now when I go to the Roger Ebert Review site, it’s as if some critics there are vying to outdo the others.  It’s like attending a film university where a group of bad college professors who stand in front of you telling you why they are great, why they always will be great, and why you the student are nothing but pond scum.  Frankly, if I wanted to be lectured on or about films, I would take a film class at the university.  But not if any of these guys were the instructor.
I mainly want to talk to you about this critic by the name of Matt Zoller Seitz.  I guess he hails from New York Magazine where he’s a TV critic for the most part, and once was a “finalist” for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism.   I guess he thinks being a finalist is the same thing as winning.  But since you actually won the award, you would know more about that than I.

The only other thing I can tell after reading Seitz’s recent film reviews featured on Roger is that it’s obvious that Mr. Seitz thinks very highly of himself.  Either that or he believes the path to criticism fame and fortune is to use your web site to make himself a household name by continually going against the grain. 

Every movie that most critics love, Matt Zoller Seitz hates.  And the first movie universally panned by the critics this summer, he adored.  What are the odds?

At least  he’s consistent.  But he is quickly becoming the Armond White of Roger  I said as much earlier today when I made a comment on his review of the new Will Smith scientology advertisement, After Earth.  It’s a horrendously written review, one in which Seitz fills many paragraphs with an endless stream of flowery adjectives and prose not worthy of a lovesick fourth grade school girl writing a fan letter to Justin Bieber.

Here’s an example in which he explains to the rest of the world why M. Night Shyamalan’s career is not really in the shitter because only Seitz can smell the Roses while every other critic only smells the stench of manure. 

Seitz, says this is the right film at the right time for M. Night and is a career saver.  He seems to be serious about this although every other critic trashes the film (12 per cent at Rotten Tomatoes as I prepare to publish this), and as the film appears to be headed into box office disaster territory.  Sorry Seitz, but your  outlier review is not going to save this film, these actors, or M. Night Shamalamadingdong.

"So he's a gun-for-hire on "After Earth" — but clearly not a disinterested one. The M. Night vibe is subdued here, but you can still feel it — particularly in the wide shots of Kitai scrambling along forest floors and up mountain peaks, and in the scenes of Cypher talking his son across treacherous land, their tightly-framed faces answering each other through editing, and sometimes seeming to meld into one organism with shared consciousness. 

Meld into one organism with shared consiousness?  Are you kidding with that?  The last time I read a phrase like that it came out of a bookstore where you had to be 21 to enter if you get my drift.  Maybe the volcano is a metaphor for Mr. Seitz as well.  It certainly reminds me of a piece the late and great John Belushi wrote in Continental Divide where he came home love sick and well, probably kind of horny.  And before I forget, if he’s anywhere around, tell John I said hey. 

You have to wonder if Seitz is watching the same movies everybody else is, especially when he offers up a comparison such as this:

The movie's world is nearly as CGI-enhanced as the title world of "Avatar," but it feels more real.

Really?  Feels more real than Avatar?  So the CGI in this film somehow eclipses the groundbreaking work of Cameron’s Avatar, a film you yourself praised mightily and rightfully so.  Other critics have made note that there is nothing fresh at all about the CGI of After Earth calling them stale and unimaginative and Leonard Maltin referring to them as “obvious”.  But yet, only Seitz somehow sees Shammalammadingdong as breaking new CGI ground.

The younger Smith is a great male ingenue character, unaffected and kindhearted and free of vanity. 

I guess this is Seitz not so subtle sly way of absolving the Smith’s of their own special brand of turning their cold hard cash into one attempt after another to buy stardom and a career for their spawn while getting a dig in at everybody else who sees it for what it is.  It’s not really just another Smith Four Star Scientology Vanity Project after all.  We were all wrong.

But it appears daughter Willow is smarter than all of them, Seitz included, and wants no part of Daddy’s attempts at buying her stardom.  Maybe she saw the rushes for After Earth.

Then Seitz comes up with stuff that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever as if conjuring up some kind of ridiculous comparison that has nothing to do with film making somehow makes a valid point.

All this sounds corny by current standards. But by current standards, Aesop's fables and Bible stories are corny, too.

Yes, Roger.  He really did write that.  Bible stories by today’s standards?  Well, at least we know he’s not talking about tea party members or the Republican Base.  If they knew this was actually a the equivalent of a Bible Story in disguise, they’d head to the theater faster than you can say Narnia.  That generalization by Seitz is simply idiotic.

But Seitz did make me laugh with this gem:

The elder Smith stows the Bel Air badass shtick that makes many of his star performances tedious and gives a restrained, very physical performance.

Oh for Pete’s sake.  He’s sitting in a chair with two broken legs for the entire film so Smith, by the very nature of the role, is forced to be restrained.  And then Seitz turns around and calls it a physical performance.  No wonder this guy is the TV critic for New York Magazine and not the film critic.

Okay, so everybody has a film they praise that everybody else craps on.  I’ve had a few myself and have talked or written badly about films others have praised and vice versa.  You certainly had your share.  But so far this summer Seitz has trashed Star Trek Into Darkness (87 percent at RT), Iron Man 3 (78 percent at RT), and Epic (62 per cent at RT).  Fast and Furious 6 was saved simply because he didn’t offer up a review.  Thanks for small favors.

Seitz says his reviews of those films were “mixed”.  Maybe, maybe not.  But they were not mixed enough for him to bestow just half a star more.  You, Roger, did not particularly care for the star system but used it out of necessity.  Seitz, for whatever reason, can’t bring himself to give any of  these films .5 more stars as if it would somehow impugn his intellectual integrity.  Anyway you slice it, and you can call them mixed if you want, but two and a half stars will indicate to most people that they should stay home.

 I’m more than a bit irritated.  When I posted an answer to his response, it was first approved and then removed.  Whether it was the fact that I pointed out a couple of egregious errors on his part, I have no way of knowing.  He claimed that like After Earth, The Great Gatsby was universally panned.  It was not.  It sits at 52 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes compared to After Earth’s very lowly 12 per cent.  As I stated, this tells me that critics were conflicted when it came to Gatsby and it was hardly the stinkeroo that Seitz claims it was.  I guess Matt Zoller Seitz didn’t like me showing him up to be factually inept in an attempt to justify himself as well as everything else. 

I didn’t  confront him with  the fact that his 2.5 review of Iron Man is listed as “fresh” while his 2.5 reviews of Gatsby and Star Trek are listed as “rotten.”  One can’t even be sure if he knows what his own grading criteria means.  It makes no sense to me at all. 

All that aside, the reviews also make for some dreary reading.  Wading through Seitz over the top humorless reviews whether he’s praising or being critical  is an object lesson in overcoming tedium.  Don’t tell a joke around this guy.  He’ll never get the punch line.  And that’s what I miss most about your reviews.

But it’s not just Seitz.  The whole mis-matched confab of critics just doesn’t work well.  Other than Roeper, I find the rest of the gang lackluster.  It’s just that Seitz is the worst of a bad bunch.

And maybe that’s the real point here.  There was only one Roger Ebert and he can’t really be replaced.  And I think these replacement critics somehow think that you can be and they are just the ones to do it.  They wouldn’t ever say anything like that, perhaps not even intentionally believe it.  But you just know that somewhere buried in the endless prattle of film reviews that run amok in his brain, the thought is there.  I can almost see Soltz salivating over thought of turning his “almost Pulitzer Prize” into the real deal.  Fat chance.

Besides, if people want reviews by committee, isn’t that why one goes to Rotten Tomatoes?  Perhaps they should just give the review site over to Roeper.  He seems like a nice enough every day sort of guy, kind of connects with his audience, which is probably why you chose him to co-host at the movies. 

Anyway, sorry to bother you wherever you may or may not be.  For the most part I think I’m going to spend most of my time on Roger going through the archives or reading some of your books on my Kindle. 

Better to drink an old fine wine than try and replace it with a few bottles of Thunderbird and Ripple.

One last word. I really want a copy of your book, I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie.  But it’s not available for the Kindle and it is at least temporarily  out of print which means collectors are price gouging customers as they have a tendency to do.  And I won’t feed that frenzy, especially since your estate gets no part of that.  So if you could kind of drop a thought into the publishers brain and get this done, I’d appreciate it.

Thanks for letting me check in.  Will write again soon and let you know how it’s going.

Sincerely yours,

P.S.  Seitz has returned my comments to his review after I made a fuss about it on your web site and on twitter and practically accused him of removing them to cover up his mistake. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

What Happened to Jump the Shark? It’s Now Boning The Fish

Do you remember the web site, “Jumping the Shark.”  It was a place where fans of TV shows could go and state why or when a particular television show had worn out its welcome.  The name itself was derived from an old Happy Days episode which featured Fonzie played by Henry Winkler, water skiing over a tank of sharks.  Some people felt that even for a show like Happy Days, it was a pretty ridiculous and embarrassing story line and an indication that the show was captured in a downward spiraling wormhole from which it never would recover. 

Eventually, the phrase itself wore out it’s welcome.  At least it did for me.  Some people were coming up with the most ridiculous reasons for a series having “jumped the shark” that it never held the meaning it once did.  In other words, the phrase “Jumping the Shark” jumped the shark. 

That doesn’t mean that particular web site held no purpose.  It was still a place where one could go and debate classic television shows and read the viewpoints of others who hold many of these older shows near and dear to their hearts as I do.  But eventually I quit visiting the site on a regular basis and pretty much forgot about it.  But it may not entirely have been my fault.

In 2006 “Jump The Shark” was bought out by Gemstar/TV Guide.  And as corporations sometimes do, they think they have a better idea when the truth is, they are pretty much clueless and brainless as to why some web sites succeeds and others often don’t.  That’s the long version of saying that the powers that be pretty much turned the whole shebang into just another glitzy generic celebrity gossip mess.  In other words, not only had the phrase worn out it’s welcome, we now can honestly say that the web site jumped the shark as well on June 21, 2006 when a press release trumpeted TV Guide’s new acquisition

There is another reason others believe that Gemstar bought the site.  That they did it to silence public discussion and criticism of TV shows.  I’m not sure about that reasoning.  You’d have to buy an awful lot of web sites to accomplish that impossible feat and it doesn’t even really make sense. 

Then again, this is Corporate America we’re talking about, and who in their right minds believe that they always think things through before actually implementing the plan.  New improved Coke, anyone?  And how many hundreds of millions has the RIAA wasted from the record companies by suing everybody in the whole wide world?

I went to TV Guide’s redirect and the page isn’t even an after thought anymore.  There has been no new content since June of 2011, and the last article before that one was in November 2010 and had to do with Bristol Palin’s appearance on Dancing With The Stars.  Although the previous owner claimed he only received a million dollars for the site, others claim it was much much more. 

However, some things never die.  They just get a new catch phrase and a new logo.  Exit Jump the Shark, enter Bone the Fish

After TV Guide turned JTS into a wasteland of its own aimless and brainless content, those who still loved the ideas behind the original Jump The Shark conjured up Bone The Fish which is for the most part, the original old site with a new name.  It launched on March 16th, 2009, and in most ways (at least as far as I can remember) resembles the old set up with some additions that may or may not be for the better.

Bone the Fish  has an official patron saint.  That would be Dawn Lyn.  That would be the Dawn Lyn that I had some not so great things to say about in my Walking Tall review.  The reason Ms. Lyn is the patron saint is because, “A Patron Saint is someone who exemplifies the meaning of Bone the Fish. Someone who whenever they do anything it sucks, or bones.”  So I guess what I had to say regarding Ms. Lyn would fit right in.

If you’re a big fan of TV series, you may or may not want to return to the oldie goldy days of JTS when you BTF.  I don’t know if I’ll be spending much time there myself.  Between real work, real life, trying to stay healthy, and this blog, I just don’t do much in the way of forums these days. 

I’ll make an occasional  few comments on political sites as long as I don’t have to get in a long debate, a rare one on IMDB, but I try to answer every comment on my blog and Facebook page although sometimes I may not notice them right away.  After an article is about two weeks old, then I have to approve comments to cut down on the spam.  On the other hand, I guess you can register and vote on BTF without having to take part in the forums, so at least there’s that.

Another added addition is that now you can comment and vote on political figures and how they have boned the fish, which more or less takes away from the original intent turning it into the usual political fodder.  Still, reading the comments, there will always be those who will interject political commentary into everything, including coming up with such nonsense that even a TV Christmas Special “Frosty Returns” boned the fish because of its “preachy eco-propoganda.”   Huh?  See what I mean.  But you run into that whereever you go these days, and I have made a point or two on this blog at times.  But comments like that are just silly.  So having said that, there’s the following.

Be forewarned:   The users who participate in the forums definitely swing to the right for the most part although some claim it fluctuates in both directions.  So let me correct myself.  It fluctuates to the right for the most part.

They’ll totally rip Nancy Pelosi by character assasination while doing their best to defend a misogynistic pile of useless pig droppings like Rush Limbaugh.  When you have 54 votes that says he still rocks, you know any discussions are hardly going to be an intellectual exercise in enlightenment or informative judgment.  Just another reason for me to avoid their forums.  But it may  be your thing and if so, have at it and enjoy yourself.