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Politics, celebs and movie critics

"You should learn to keep your opinions OUT of your reviews!" Every critic I know has received at least one letter like that from an indignant reader. Of course, it's an absurd proposition; critics are paid to express their opinions, and the good ones (who exercise what is known across all disciplines as "critical thinking") are also able to cite examples and employ sound reasoning to build an argument, showing you how and why they reached their verdict.

Well, since we launched RogerEbert.com at the beginning of October, I (as editor of the site) have been sifting through a lot of e-mail from readers offering what I consider to be similarly unreasonable admonitions: "Keep your political opinions out of your movie reviews!" These have primarily been directed at Roger Ebert's reviews of the documentaries "Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry," "Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, the Selling of Fear and the American Empire," and the political puppet satire-musical-action-comedy, "Team America: World Police" -- nearly always with outraged references back to his positive review of Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11."

The assumption seems to be that a film critic can and should evaluate anything and everything in the movie -- the acting, the script, the production values, the mise-en-scene, the music, the makeup -- but don't you dare respond to what the movie's about, especially if it involves politics! Talk about the cinematography all you like, these folks imply, but don't discuss the content if it's going to upset me! Illogical assertions like these, and the vehemence with which they are thrown into flaming e-mails, got me to thinking there might be some issues here worthy of further exploration:

Q. Ebert didn't like "Team America: World Police" because it makes fun of all sides and he's obviously a liberal.

A.That's assigning motives that aren't supported by the review itself. Ebert wrote: "If I were asked to extract a political position from the movie, I'd be baffled. It is neither for nor against the war on terrorism, just dedicated to ridiculing those who wage it and those who oppose it. The White House gets a free pass, since the movie seems to think Team America makes its own policies without political direction.

"I wasn't offended by the movie's content so much as by its nihilism. At a time when the world is in crisis and the country faces an important election, the response of Parker, Stone and company is to sneer at both sides -- indeed, at anyone who takes the current world situation seriously. They may be right that some of us are puppets, but they're wrong that all of us are fools, and dead wrong that it doesn't matter."

Now go back and look at Ebert's review of "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut," where he makes similar criticisms. Perhaps a more likely explanation for his opinion is that he finds fault with these particular filmmakers' scattershot approach to comedy. (And one's sense of humor is even more personal than one's politics.) This paragraph from Ebert's "South Park" review in 1999 is remarkably consistent with his criticism of "Team America": "All it lacks is a point to its message. What is it saying? That movies have gone too far, or that protests against movies have gone too far? It is a sign of our times that I cannot tell. Perhaps it's simply anarchistic, and feels that if it throws enough shocking material at the wall, some of it will stick. A lot of the movie offended me. Some of it amazed me. It is too long and runs out of steam, but it serves as a signpost for our troubled times."

Q. Do political opinions belong in movie reviews?

A. You probably already know my answer -- and Roger's: Absolutely yes. And here's why: Movies -- especially, ahem, political documentaries -- aren't made or shown in a vacuum, and when they raise political issues, it's not only the critic's right to discuss them, it's his professional duty. Any critic is a human being first, bringing his or her own experiences and predilections to the theater just like any other moviegoer. As Ebert wrote in an Answer Man column, responding to criticism of his review of "Fahrenheit 9/11":

"Moore's film comes labeled as partisan and subjective. Were you equally inspired to ask 'how much is reality and how much is exaggerated or fabricated' when the Bush administration presented Saddam's WMDs as a fact? I declared my own political opinion in the review and made it clear I was writing from that viewpoint. It's opinion. I have mine, you have yours, and the theory is that we toss them both into the open marketplace of ideas."

The more you read a critic, the more you come to know his or her individual tastes and leanings. Ebert has always been quite up-front about his politics, so you know about his convictions in that area going in. It's not that much different than knowing that a critic has a particular fondness for, or aversion to, a certain genre or actor or director. (For example, I find it almost impossible to watch Tom Cruise without my skin crawling and my teeth hurting, but I still like some of the movies he's been in. On the other hand, I love Laura Linney and Ned Beatty and the Coen Brothers and Robert Altman, so I know I approach their work predisposed to favor whatever they do -- even though I don't, always.) But remember, just because a critic is of one stripe or another, doesn't automatically invalidate their views or arguments. To quote philosopher Jamie Whyte, in his excellent book Crimes Against Logic: "You don't show someone's opinion is false just by showing that he has a motive for holding it."

As long as a critic is up-front about what he or she is bringing to the blank screen in front of him before the movie begins, no topic should be off-limits in a review. That's what's great about movies -- they come from countries and cultures all over the world, capture a wide variety of experiences, and can explore any subject imaginable. I love movies in general, but I also love that writing about them leaves every subject and question anybody can think of (and include in a movie) open to discussion at one time or another, whether it's quantum physics or abortion or human sexuality or English literature or the existence of god.

Q. Why does Ebert review so many anti-Bush movies?

A. Mainly because so many are making it to theaters. Some readers have objected that Ebert has not been reviewing certain pro-Bush (or anti-Michael Moore or anti-Kerry) films, like "Fahrenhype 9/11" or the reportedly still unfinished anti-Kerry television program, "Stolen Honor." The reality is that no critic can single-handedly review everything that comes out (and Roger comes as close as anybody). Some may see his very choices of what to review as, in part, a reflection of his politics. But in the case of the two movies I just mentioned, they also have not received significant theatrical releases, and that also helps to dictate a critic's choices. "Going Upriver" (which was begun before Kerry ran for office and only covers his experience in Vietnam and anti-war activities shortly thereafter) was showcased at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival before its theatrical release; "Hijacking Catastrophe" (while also available on DVD -- like Robert Greenwald's "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism" and "Uncovered: The War in Iraq) opened at the Music Box theater in Chicago (and Ebert covers movies as they open in Chicago); and, of course, "Fahrenheit 9/11" not only won the big prize at the Cannes Film Festival this year, but has become the top-grossing documentary in movie history.

Q. Yeah, well, what does a movie critic know about politics, anyway?

A. That depends entirely on the critic. As it happens, Roger Ebert (to name one critic with whom you are perhaps familiar) is an American citizen who's been active in, and informed about, politics longer than he's been a movie critic. I can almost better understand the question the other way around: "What does a politician, or any 'layman,' know about movies?" For some reason (maybe because so many people like to watch movies) it's generally accepted that, when it comes to cinema, everybody's a critic. Even if they don't know a thing about movies and don't know enough about movie history to have any meaningful perspective. But everybody knows what they like ... and what they don't.

Politics, on the other hand, is something it is actually the duty of every American to know something about, since democracy itself can't function without an informed populace. In interviews promoting "Team America," Trey Parker and Matt Stone express the opinion that if you're ignorant about politics you should just not vote. This kind of weak-willed passivity and acceptance of helplessness is pathetic. If you're as clueless about politics (and, consequently, about expressing any convictions) as Parker and Stone are, then don't stay home -- get off your butt and wise up. Go learn something about the issues that affect your life and where the candidates stand on them.

Q. Why should I listen to what a movie critic has to say about politics?

A. It's true that expertise in one field doesn't automatically imply expertise in another. But critics -- good critics, the ones who actually have a firm grasp of critical thinking skills -- can apply sound principles of reasoning to just about any subject. As a movie critic I learned never to just state an opinion without citing corresponding examples directly from the film, and to build my observations on specifics. Likewise, as anybody who reads the reviews on this site knows, there's a lot more to Roger Ebert than his thumb. He writes a full essay on every movie he reviews.

Film critics can also be pretty savvy about the way images and personalities are presented, molded, and manipulated in order to affect the audience. Today, politicians go through the rigorous image-building regimens that aren't that different from the ones the big studios used to prepare their contract players for stardom. Movie critic David Thomson (author of A Biographical Dictionary of Film) wrote a New York Times op-ed piece recently, exploring how the TV networks' use of split-screen and two-shots (something they weren't supposed to do) revealed more about the candidates than they may have intended:

"A true split screen was employed only by some networks, like ABC and C-Span, whereas others, like PBS, honored what might be called a spatial relationship between the two contestants.... In film studies, and once upon a time in filmmaking, the two-shot was a staple. Indeed, the shot of two or more people, not quite full length, but conversing and interacting, was often called 'the American shot' in French film commentary. That is because it used to be a staple of good American movie-making.... [It] is worth stressing that the effort before the debate to restrict the way of showing the speakers [in medium one-shots] was a gross intrusion on a kind of free speech integral to film and the society that uses it. I congratulate the networks for ignoring it and for sometimes using two shots in which the spatial bond trembled with animosity and the two men involved behaved naturally -- i.e., they let us see how much they dislike each other, and they gave us the opportunity to look into their inner nature."

Q. So many of these recent documentaries -- "The Corporation," "Control Room," "Fahrenheit 9/11," "Going Upriver," "The Yes Men," "Hijacking Catastrophe," to name a few -- are totally biased. Why can't they be objective and present a balanced view of both sides?

A. First of all, it's because these documentaries express the filmmaker's point of view, and they are quite open about that fact. The filmmakers are building a case -- and raising questions they feel need to be asked, even if the answers are still unknown. (Like: How does the long-established relationship between the Bush family and the Saudi royal family affect American foreign policy, or the perception of it in the world? That's a legitimate question, and the fact is we don't know.) As Ebert wrote of Jehane Noujaim, the Arab-American director of "Control Room" (about Al-Jazeera television): "She doesn't take sides, but in insisting that there is something to be said for both sides, she offends those who only want to hear one side."

There's a misconception that "objectivity" means reporting "both sides" of an issue (and perhaps the worst misconception is that there can be only two sides -- black or white). "Objectivity" does not mean he said/she said reporting without good, old-fashioned fact-checking -- which is where the major news organizations have failed us so badly in recent years. If somebody says, "It's 72 degrees Fahrenheit in this room," and his opponent says, "No, it's 43 degrees Fahrenheit in this room," you don't just report each statement and leave it at that. You check a thermometer.

Whenever I see phrases like "equal-opportunity offender" or "skewers all sides" or "something to offend everyone" in a movie review, I fear what it really means is that the filmmakers are spineless flip-floppers, pandering to the audience with desperate attempts to please everybody by insulting everybody. As long as everybody gets pricked the barbs don't really draw blood and nobody really gets hurt.

So, let's look at the facts: Roger Ebert reported many of the factual errors in Michael Moore's previous film, "Bowling for Columbine," in his subsequent Answer Man columns, and has written about allegations of misrepresentation in "Fahrenheit 9/11" as well. A single review, written before the movie is released, is not necessarily a critic's final word on the subject -- if he's really engaged with the movie and the public's responses to it.

It's worth remembering that all of the docs mentioned above have been offered as commentary on, and counter-arguments to, prevailing biases (and myths) in contemporary American journalism and culture -- the "conventional wisdom," you might say, whether it's the pervasive advertising and public relations efforts of multi-million-dollar corporations or official statements from the White House. They are meant to be seen in that context -- as counter-arguments. They encourage debate; they don't seek to stifle it.

What infuriates me -- as a critic and as a citizen -- is when people (especially friends who are film critics) abandon the standards of critical thinking they apply to movies when it comes to politics. The cardinal rule of critical thinking is just this: Base your opinions on looking at the evidence (whether it's by paying close attention to a movie or reading declassified government documents on the Internet or refreshing your memory by double-checking exactly who said what and when), not on just what somebody says the evidence says. In this sense, nobody is simply "entitled to their opinion."

As Whyte writes in Crimes Against Logic: "You are entitled to an opinion, in [the] epistemic sense, only when you have good reasons for holding it: evidence, sound arguments, and so on. Far from being universal, this epistemic entitlement is the kind you earn.... If someone is interested in believing the truth, then she will not take the presentation of contrary evidence and argument as some kind of injury."

Q. What about Hollywood actors, the real threats to Homeland Security as portrayed on Fox News and in "Team America: World Police"? Who are these celebrities to express their political opinions like that?

A. You mean Ronald Reagan? Sonny Bono? Arnold Schwarzenegger? Would any of these political performers have been elected if they hadn't exploited the fame, influence, and money they earned in the entertainment business? Their outspokenness and effectiveness as speakers helped them get noticed by the political parties, who recruited them to run for office. Reagan began his political career as the president of the Screen Actors Guild, model for "Team America's" Film Actors Guild, or F.A.G., but politicians began paying attention to him when he was a spokesman for the General Electric corporation. Since when does your job disqualify you from expressing your political opinions?

Entertainers have always endorsed or criticized American politicians; both are public figures engaged in image-making of one sort or another. Where's the outrage about Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. endorsing John F. Kennedy and appearing at fundraisers with him? (And then, years later, Sinatra endorsed Reagan and Sammy hugged Nixon, but that's another story...)

What really mystifies me is why anybody gets all worked up about what Hollywood celebrities think, especially if all they do is speak in ten-second sound bites on awards shows or lightweight info-tainment broadcasts. Would anyone even know about half of the things these entertainers say if it weren't for the ranting and raving of their detractors? Do their publicists actually put Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh and Trey Parker and Matt Stone on the payroll to raise their visibility? If you really object to the "self-importance" of these celebrities (and, let's face it, actors are renowned for their self-importance -- ever watch "Inside the Actor's Studio"?), then the worst thing you could do to them is to stop giving them all this attention. "Team America" makes them out to be world-movers -- and then bestows martyrdom upon them by treating them to the most spectacular, ego-gratifying deaths imaginable.

With the exception of stand-up comics, few of these celebs put politics into their actual screen work, unless they write the plays or the movies or TV shows themselves. So how do their furious critics find out about their political beliefs? "Entertainment Tonight"? "Access Hollywood"? Celebrity talk shows? Anti-war rallies? (No, wait, those don't get much coverage in mainstream news media...)

It's ironic that "Team America: World Police," which uses a self-absorbed actor (puppet) as its hero, reserves its most graphic and gruesome fates for what it sees as self-important, sanctimonious politically active Hollywood celebrities like Alec Baldwin, Danny Glover, Helen Hunt, Janeane Garofalo, Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Robbins and Martin Sheen. (Baldwin's overkill comeuppance is taken straight from the treatment accorded the supervillain played by John Cassavettes in Brian DePalma's "The Fury.") Terrorists get shot and fall over, spilling a few drops of blood; these actors are grotesquely mutilated, disemboweled, chopped in half, ripped apart by animals, and decapitated in an explosion of gore. Even the character the movie sets up as being the Most Dangerous Man in the World, crazed pygmy dictator Kim Jong Il of North Korea, gets off lightly by comparison.

Which is not to say these scenes are not funny in a queasy way (and I admit I'm a sucker for meat puppet humor); but they fall far short of satire. Satire requires a coherent,underlying point of view beyond hacky stand-up cliches: "Don't you just hate self-important Hollywood actors?!?! And airline food?!?! I mean, really..." These celebrity Grand Guignol deaths are actually just a more explicit, less imaginative retread of the same dumb (but funny!) recurring celeb-bashing joke on SCTV's "Farm Film Report" ("She blowed up real good!"); or the exceedingly silly (and hilarious) Black Knight scene from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" -- except, there, what made the fountains of blood extra-funny was the dismemberee's stubborn insistence that his hideous wounds were "only a scratch."

By making such a big bloody deal about the opinions of Hollywood celebs, and consigning the sanctimonious offenders to the most gruesome fates, "Team America" makes them appear WAY more important and prominent than they really are -- and it takes them dead seriously as a Threat to the Republic, which is not only equally self-righteous but delusional. Can it really be that, in the insular showbiz world of Parker and Stone, the opinions of movie and TV actors are more upsetting and carry more weight than those of presidents and potentates? From the rage directed at them in "Team America," you'd think that Alec Baldwin and Janeane Garofalo are responsible for making life-or-death decisions about US foreign policy. Trey, Matt: Lighten up, guys! Get some perspective!

The movie's hilarious when it's spoofing jingoistic, gung-homoerotic Jerry Bruckheimer/Scott Rudin/Michael Bay-style action movies (from "Top Gun" to "Pearl Harbor"), and the songs (as in "South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut") are sheer genius, particularly the one in which the hero incongruously compares missing his girlfriend to the way Michael Bay missed the mark in directing "Pearl Harbor." But, especially in the second half, the so-called political comedy of "Team America" (when it's not laboriously dragging itself, straight-faced, through long boring patches of rote action-movie genre requirements that' are as tedious as the real thing by Michael Bay) is as Lite as Dennis Miller -- except that Miller is an airhead who likes to appear smarter than he really is and Parker and Stone are wily entertainers (deep down, like their showbiz mentors Don Rickles and Jerry Lewis, they just want desperately to be loved!) who like to appear disingenuously dumber (and therefore less responsible for whatever they say or do) than -- I hope -- they really are.

Disappointingly, the political humor in "Team America" aims as low as possible and actually relies on the audience not knowing very much about world affairs -- or Hollywood celebrities, for that matter. (Unlike the "South Park" feature, which was aimed at adults, this R-rated film will be funniest to kids who've persuaded their parents or guardians to take them.) It's plain bone-headed to depict the Hollywood celebrities rallying around Kim, because in fact they're the ones who have been saying again and again for years now that the nuclear capabilities of North Korea and Iran posed a greater threat to world peace than Saddam Hussein had since 1991. To filmmakers and politicians I have this sage advice: If you're going to attack somebody (not that there's anything wrong with that!), whether it's a Hollywood celebrity or a totalitarian despot, attack them for what they've actually said and done, not for something you've just made up.

So, as Slate critic David Edelstein observed, "Michael Moore wouldn't be a suicide bomber because he thinks too highly of his indispensability. Sorry, boys: This just isn't very incisive left-bashing."

Ebert was right on the mark when he wrote: "No real point is made about the actors' activism; they exist in the movie essentially to be ridiculed for existing at all, I guess." It's funny to ridicule the sanctimonious, but to target Baldwin because (for example) he says we should all be driving hybrid cars (not only for environmental reasons but because revenues from Middle East oil directly support terrorist activities)? These sorts of ad hominem attacks (spuriously attacking the person as a person, to avoid having to engage with the substance of their arguments) are a trademark of the modern American right (see the self-righteously named "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," whose TV ads cited no evidence for their condemnation of John Kerry beyond vague allegations that Kerry wasn't "telling the truth" about "what happened in Vietnam" -- which could mean almost anything, and so means nothing in particular.) Perhaps this sort of thing is what liberal-turned-neo-con Time Magazine political columnist and indie blogger Andrew Sullivan is getting at when he writes of that new phenomenon in American politics, the "'South Park' Republicans."

"Team America" delivers the foul-mouthed message that the world is divided into three kinds of people: the "p---ies" (another name for kitties), who are too naive and peace-loving and lack the backbone to fight terrorism, exemplified by liberal celebrities; the "d---s" (another word for detectives), who sometimes get a little too carried away with their reckless aggression and use it inappropriately, exemplified by Team America, whose "collateral damage" is worse than anything the terrorists inflict with their WMDs; and the real villains, the "a--holes" (another term for donkey rectums) who "just want to s--t all over everything," exemplified by various terrorists and Kim Jong Il. With this movie, Trey and Parker firmly identify themselves as a--holes. I don't know if they realize it.

So, there you go: More politics in film criticism. With movies like these -- where the success of the movie depends on exploiting politics for humor or thrills or whatever -- how do you propose to avoid discussing it?

Q. But this is an election year. Doesn't all this political arguing really belong on the editorial pages?

A. Yes, this is an election year. And that means, like it or not, politics is everywhere -- including the movie theaters and DVD stores and book stores and all over the Internet. Politics is especially pervasive in 2004 because the country is so deeply divided over the presidency of George W. Bush and because there's an audience hungry for basic information that isn't or wasn't being reported by the so-called "mainstream" news media -- whether it's the New York Times (where more pertinent factual information about the impending invasion of Iraq came from opinion columnists Paul Krugman and Nicholas Kristof than from the paper's beefy, well-funded reporting staff) to Fox News (which is so deeply embedded in the Bush administration it lets its anchors editorialize on the air as they read).

If you really want to blame somebody for driving political coverage and op-ed pieces into the movie theaters and onto the entertainment pages, I suggest you start with those major newspapers and news networks -- for doing such a terrible job of basic reporting in the last five years or so that a majority of Americans who had depended on them for news wound up seriously misinformed about our government's stated reasons for invading Iraq and what has happened since. (The best informed Americans turned out to be those who listened to National Public Radio -- and, probably, watched "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.")

Let's look at this explosion of politics into movies in context:

A poll by the Washington Post (a newspaper that openly supported the Iraq invasion, and later, like the New York Times, published a scathing self-assessment admitting it had uncritically accepted the administration's claims about Iraq without seriously attempting to find independent verification) last fall found that 69 percent of Americans thought there was evidence that Saddam Hussein has involved in the 9/11 attacks, something even President Bush has admitted is not true in the last few months. And another poll, conducted in May of 2003 by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, found that a third of Americans still believed that weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. Is it any wonder that filmmakers (and Internet bloggers and TV "fake news" shows and political satirists) have rushed to fill such an appalling "fact gap"?

Consider the solid, professional-level reporting now being done in what we formerly thought of in the context of "entertainment":

++ It took a best-selling book of political satire (Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right) by Al Franken, a comedian and screenwriter ("When a Man Loves a Woman," "Stuart Saves His Family"), to investigate and thoroughly report how the media during the 2000 election bought all sorts of untrue, politically motivated myths about Al Gore's supposed "lies" without ever bothering to check them out. It was widely reported (and endlessly repeated, mostly in jokes) that Gore had said he'd "invented the Internet"; that he'd claimed the novel and movie "Love Story" was based on him; that he'd discovered the toxic waste problem at Love Canal. He didn't, in fact, say any of these things, but they took on a life of their own and the press and the public accepted them as true.

++ It took a television political comedy show -- the fake newscast "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" -- to start holding politicians accountable for what they say and do by actually showing news clips of them saying and doing it. You would have thought that major news organizations had scrapped their clip libraries; they would report "both sides" of what was said in any given news cycle, but never bothered to check on the veracity of either side. "The Daily Show" began tackling he most basic form of journalism in 2003, showing what politicians said they'd said, and then showing exactly what they'd really said (something the networks didn't bother to do until the most recent presidential debates). "The Daily Show" consistently offers a more sophisticated and open discussion and exemplary display of journalistic ethics than any regular TV news broadcast.

++ Whereas sex scandal stories during the Clinton administration were usually broken by supermarket tabloids (or their Internet equivalent, The Drudge Report), much of the important real-world journalism was done by bloggers on the web who were smart enough to simply use Google to find declassified CIA, FBI, and Department of Defense documents, actual speech and press conference transcript s (they're right there at www.whitehouse.gov) -- as well as reports from less constrained journalists in Great Britain (our ally!), the rest of Europe, Israel, and the Arab world -- that flatly (and in many cases irrefutably) contradicted what the administration was saying and the American press was reporting as if it were fact.

Q. OK, political documentaries are one thing. But what about discussing political issues in the context of mainstream Hollywood movies, which are just entertainment?

A. Don't fool yourself into thinking anything is necessarily so divorced from the real world as to be "just entertainment." Filmmakers make countless decisions all the time about what to put into their movies, from product placement to plot points, for reasons having nothing to do with their entertainment value.

Let me cite one example from personal experience: When I was the film critic for the Orange County Register, the Libertarian paper in conservative Orange County, California, in the early 1990s, I made an political observation in a review of "Lethal Weapon III" which, I thought, violated the integrity of the characters. Danny Glover's wife wears a sweatshirt protesting the killing of dolphins in tuna nets, and tells her husband about her position. Then they sit down to watch their daughter's appearance in a TV commercial for condoms. But in the next scene, Mel Gibson's character goes into their kitchen and takes a can of Coors Light out of the refrigerator.

I wrote that no liberal-minded African-American family who was so sensitive to the political implications of their consumer food choices would buy Coors; surely this was an example of product placement that was not true to the characters in the film. The Coors family business, after all, has a notorious history of affiliations with radical right and even white supremacist groups. The organized boycott of Coors, which was much more prominent in the 1970s, is still going on today. When a Coors representative wrote in to The Register saying that today's Coors was supportive of black businesses, the paper's Ombudsman wrote a column saying that political comments did not belong in movie reviews.

Only later did I find out that the Ombudsman was actually a friend of the Coors rep, and that the documentation I gave him about Coors' history and contemporary reputation never stood a chance of changing his pre-existing opinion; another landmark of disillusionment in my experience with big-paper journalism. But, a few weeks later, I received a fax from Richard Donner, the director of the "Lethal Weapon" series, who wrote to say he thought I was quite right and that he never should have allowed Coors into that scene.

So, was it inappropriate to make that observation? Obviously, I don't think so. But maybe I'm biased. Still, when it comes to film criticism, all we critics can do is report what we see, and explain our reactions to it. If it's there on the screen, and it inspires a reaction, then it's worth mentioning in a review.

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