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Esteemed critic merely shrugs

From David Darger, Toronto, Ontario:

Just let me get this straight. On the same day, you release reviews of "Kick-Ass" and of "Death at a Funeral," and although you acknowledge both films contain objectionable content, you give one film a positive review (three and a half stars) and another a very negative review (one star).

To go further: You have no complaint, apparently, about "Kick Ass"’s acting, directing, etc – in other words, the film is capably made. So your criticism relates solely to the story itself. As you must allow a movie its premise, then, your objection can’t be that the concept of the film is the problem. The problem, then, is only the film’s inability to deal with its own moral implications. Given the fact that hundreds of Hollywood films depict casual murder without implications, it’s hard for me to understand your objections here: Is it only because the murder is dealt by pre-teens? Why is that, exactly? Casual murder is casual murder, no?

Now, on the other hand, you concede that "Death at a Funeral" is a nearly word-for-word remake of a British film (to which you gave only three stars) – in fact, from the wording of your review, it seems the only differences between this film and its British predecessor are the vulgar set pieces such as the one in which a man gets his hand covered in diarrhea. You allow for your improved opinion of the story by saying “Reader, I laughed. I'm not saying I'm proud of myself. That's not the way I was raised. But I laughed.”

So a film in which the only original ideas are crass poop-jokes gets your approval, and an original film with a routine indifference toward violence gets none?

I have not seen either film, so I can’t say which is better. (In fact, I came to your site for more information about which film to see this weekend -- and now that I've done some digging elsewhere, I can say that neither film seems up my alley.) But it’s singularly difficult to get an understanding of a film when your opinion of each seems to boil down to how you felt about that film’s objectionable content. On the one hand, you loved it, and on the other, you hated it.

You begin your "Kick-Ass" review with the following statement:

“Let's say you're a big fan of the original comic book, and you think the movie does it justice. You know what? You inhabit a world I am so very not interested in. A movie camera makes a record of whatever is placed in front of it, and in this case, it shows deadly carnage dished out by an 11-year-old girl, after which an adult man brutally hammers her to within an inch of her life. Blood everywhere. Now tell me all about the context.”

Let’s apply this to another movie you approved of:

Cronenberg’s "Crash": “Let's say you're a big fan of the original [science-fiction novel], and you think the movie does it justice. You know what? You inhabit a world I am so very not interested in. A movie camera makes a record of whatever is placed in front of it, and in this case, it shows [a man having sex with a woman's wound]. Now tell me all about the context.”

Or even "Death at a Funeral": “Let's say you're a big fan of the original [British film], and you think the movie does it justice. You know what? You inhabit a world I am so very not interested in. A movie camera makes a record of whatever is placed in front of it, and in this case, it shows [a man shitting on another man]. Now tell me all about the context.”

I’m told "Kick-Ass" is based on a comic book that criticized comic-book fans -- by presenting real-life people as heroes who produce real-life carnage, the story indicted comics fans who identify with costumed freaks and who blithely ignore the real-world implications of sensationalized violence. If "Kick-Ass," the movie, fails this premise, I’m told, it does so by actually appreciating that sensationalized violence. It wants to have it both ways. (I don’t know. I haven’t read the book or seen the movie. But I got that info from another reviewer – one whose review actually had something to tell me.)

I’ve read your stuff for a long time, Roger. But let me be specific. I’m disappointed that such an esteemed critic should produce reviews that seem to boil down to “shrug, I just didn’t like it” or “shrug, I shouldn’t have liked it but I did.” In a world in which film criticism seems to be a dying art form, shouldn’t reviews be more thought-out, more meaningful than this?

Ebert: Get back to me after you see the films, and tell me if you spot any differences.

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