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On reviewers

“I probably shouldn’t say this, since I have some good friends who are film critics, but I don’t think movie reviewing is a very high calling.”

Roger Simon, screenwriter and novelist. He’s writing about the Oscars, and the whole jamboree around films that seems to take place around this time of year. The focus of his article is about the film Lone Survivor, which he believes is likely to be overlooked on account of its celebration of US military bravery, which is unlikely to connect with the sort of folk that run Hollywood.

For what it’s worth, the films I have seen and enjoyed over the last 12 months or so in an actual cinema are Skyfall, Rush, Margin Call, Gravity and Les Miserables. Daniel Bruhl’s portrayal of Formula 1 racing driver in Rush is the best acting I have seen in years.

I wonder what Roger Simon makes of restaurant reviewing?

53 comments to On reviewers

  • Paul Marks

    I have yet to see “Lone Survivor” so I can not comment on the artistic merits of the film.

    However, if it shows the United States Army in a positive light it is indeed not likely to go down well with the Hollywood people.

    The only thing the Hollywood elite hate more than the U.S. Army is private citizens with firearms – hence Harvey Weinstein’s recent announcement that he is to make yet another leftist propaganda film (this one to ridicule supporters of the Second Amendment).

    “But enemies of the state should be friends of liberty”.

    It is not as simple as that.

    The old fashioned “nationalistic” principles of institutions such as the United States Army (and the CIA and the NSA) are hated by those who want a Progressive WORLD government (or “international governance” if “international government” is thought “paranoid”).

    Friends of the New York Times and the Guardian (such as Harvey Weinstein – and certain other people) are not really friends of liberty – no matter how much they use the words “freedom”, and “rights”.

    Also the relationship of Mr Obama with the United States Army is complicated.

    He is Commander in Chief (this is a structural flaw in the United States Constitution – which first showed itself to be a flaw in the case of the unconstitutional [unconstitutional as neither the State Legislature or the Governor of Penn requested assistance] suppression of the so called Whiskey “rebellion” in 1794) and he has appointed lots of top officers (driving out those people he regards as politically unreliable in the event of civil unrest or whatever) – but he still hates and despises the basic “nationalist values” of the United States Army (and the intelligence community)and enjoys seeing them humiliated and undermined.

    After all the New York Times lives by so called (I say “so called” as they are actually ordered by the Obama Administration) “leaks” from the government – it would never publish things that the Obama Administration really did not want published, otherwise the drip feed of confidential information from the Administration (on which the New York Times depends) would dry up.

    So when sees “anti government” stuff in the New York Times (or in Hollywood films) one must always ask the question “which government are they attacking?”

    For their are two Federal governments.

    There is the Federal government of soldiers such as those who are shown in “Sole Survivor” and members of the intelligence community (such as those who end up on “the wall” at the CIA H.Q. in Langley Virginia – the people Mr Obama sneered at in “Dreams From My Father” as “the smart boys of the CIA”) and there is the Federal government of Mr Obama and co.

    And, supporters of democracy please note, it is the democratically elected and appointed parts of the Federal government that are the real totalitarians (what Talmon called “totalitarian democracy”) – not the military and intelligence officers that Hollywood (and the education system) tries to teach people to hate.

    This is NOT to say that many military and intelligence professionals are not AUTHORITARIANS (many are), but they do not tend to be TOTALITARINS – and there is a vital difference.

    General Blood-and-Guts and Intelligence Officer Spook do not care how you run your business, or what you eat, or how you heat your home – they are just not interested.

    But people such as Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi (and those people they directly appoint – such as Cass Sunstein of “Nudge”) DO care, there are totalitarians – in the literal sense of believing there is no aspect of human life that should not be under the government. Indeed they make no distinction between the government and “the people” – in their minds these things are THE SAME. They are “the community”.

    For example, General Blood and Guts and Intelligence Officer Spook do not care if you water your garden twice a week or three times a week.

    But the “totalitarian democrats” DO care – and (like Rousseau) they do not make a distinction between the “Sword of State” (which is how General Blood and Guts and Intelligence Officer Spook think of government) and civil society – to someone like Barack Obama (or the New York Times or Hollywood) the community and the government are (or should be) THE SAME THING.

    That is why the L.A. Times protested against the end of the edict that forbad people watering their gardens more than twice a week.

    But note the LANGUAGE.

    The L.A. Times did not say the government imposed an edict – no not at all.

    It said that the thing was the residents of LA engaging in “collective action”.

    The government IS the people you see – or should be.

    This is something that Rousseau or Harvey Weinstein would applaud.

    And would baffle General Blood and Guts or Intelligence Officer Spook.

    Which is the real reason that Hollywood hates the latter.

  • Mr Ed

    Skyfall was utter drivel, it was almost as if the BBC had directed and produced it. The plot was absurd, the villain a psycho-babbling buffoon, the bureaucrats on the good side had no justification for their rampage in Turkey, the whole theme was a self-obsessed bureaucracy fighting to save its budget, not the UK or western civilisation, and then the flight to Scotland with an unlikely Priest Hole, surely more common in England.

    It was so bad it was interesting to see how bad it could get. It surely missed an opportunity to make the trafficked woman turn out to be a ladyboy. I was glad that I did not have to pay to watch it.

    Surely being a film critic is hard to make economic? At least a restaurant reviewer gets a meal out of it.

  • Paul Marks

    The totalitarian mindset (whether democratic or nondemocratic) rests on the assumption that government and the people are (or should be) the same thing.

    This is an unnatural mindset for a combat soldier or serving intelligence officer to have – to them the government is “The Sword of State” it is NOT the same thing as the community of people (of civil, peaceful, society).

    This does not mean that combat soldiers or serving intelligence officers are automatically good people – they can be bad people, very bad people indeed.

    But the central totalitarian assumption (that there is no distinction between people and government) is an unnatural one for them.

    This is why Rousseau style “educators” and media people will tend to hate them.

    The world of “Nudge” is NOT the world of “Sole Survivor”.

    The state of mind (of personal character) is fundamentally different.

  • Paul Marks

    The totalitarian believes that the state is, or should be, the same thing as the community.

    Someone who has been at the “sharp end” will tend to know (at a gut level – if not intellectually) that this idea is insanity.

  • PeterT

    Mr Ed got there before me. Worst Bond EVER (well, maybe not, but that’s how I felt after seeing it). Both the first two Craig bond movies were good however(if we overlook the pastiche eco-villainy of the bad guy in the second movie)

  • Edward MJ

    Apologies for going off topic slightly, but related to Paul’s “totalitarian democrats” theme is this article which I was flabbergasted to overlook on the train:

    http://metro.co.uk/2014/01/14/couple-face-jail-for-taking-children-on-term-time-trip-4263243/

    Pretty much makes the case for home schooling! Having had a child recently and not being native to these shores, what are the Samizdatans thoughts on schooling options in the UK for the libertarian minded?

  • For many years now I have not paid to see a film before checking with the NYT film review section, and in the vast majority of cases they got things right. (Almost needless to add, this is the only section of that paper – or rather its online edition – that I even touch). Sure, the regular reviewers there (3 of them, I think) have their political biases, although it is not nearly as leftist as one would imagine going by the rest of that publication. But they do seem to make a noticeable effort to put it aside when discussing the movies in their articles. Speaking of “Lone Survivor”, I just looked it up there, and the review is mostly positive, albeit certainly not ecstatic. I am definitely going to see it.

    After the first two Craig Bonds, “Skyfall” was a great disappointment.

  • GoneWithTheWind

    I saw Lone Survivor two days ago. Good/great film. Certainly not what the left wants for an Oscar. Then I heard the criticisms. Conitive disonance. Did they see the same movie I saw. It put Afghans in a very positive light hardly “racist” as one critic said. It certainly didn’t “glorify” war it was tough and scary what these guys went through. It seemed very honest not Hollywood, not gloryification. This movie may not win an Oscar just as no real peace maker will ever win the Nobel Peace Prize. But it will win in the box office. It is well worth seeing, it is a great movie.

  • veryretired

    A few years ago, I went to see “No Country For Old Men” in a theater. When it ended, I was laughing to myself because I enjoyed the anti-cliché nature of the film, especially the ending, when another guy stood up angrily complaining that the bad guy walking away was just terrible.

    I love movies for any number of reasons, in any language, but taking someone else’s opinion about a movie is chancy at best. I prefer to make my own evaluations, and, if that means I watch a few turkeys along the way, then so be it.

    Btw, “Skyfall” may have been mediocre, but the worst I’ve seen lately were the Atlas movies. I expected them to be problematic, but, man, what snoozefests.

  • Skyfall made so much money and received so many good notices that I thought I was alone in thinking it awful. Apparently not.

  • RRS

    “Reviews” currently have not included the qualities of criticism.

    This probably has something to do with the qualities of what is being “reviewed,” rather than critiqued.

    That is not to say that there has not always been a lot of ephemeral diversion seeking cultural status; but much emphasis today in the “creative arts” is on diversion, entertainment, visual or auditory impacts – such that there is little that can not be adequately covered by reviews or that merits efforts of criticism.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I thought Skyfall started relatively well. The image of an out of shape, drug addled and washed-up Bond trying to get back in the saddle could have been the making of a great movie.

    But the whole “Julian Assange meets Stavro Blofeld” baddie was just too ridiculous.

  • Laird

    I also thought “Skyfall” was lousy.* As far as I can see its only point was to kill off Judi Dench as M, and to introduce Moneypenny. (The new Q is horribly miscast.)

    But I suppose some of my problem with it is that I just don’t like Daniel Craig. And not only as Bond, but in anything else I’ve seen him in, too. The man shows absolutely no emotion, just an unchanging stone face. That is acting?

    * And I thought the Skyfall theme song was one of the worst Bond songs, too. The lyrics make absolutely no sense, which I suppose does make it a good fit for an incomprehensible movie.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Oh I dunno Laird. I thought he was pretty good in Casino Royale. One reviewer (boo hiss!!) described him as a “Squaddie in a tux”, which is supposedly a lot closer to how Flemming wrote Bond than how almost all actors have portrayed him. The very early Connery was in that vein. Bond is supposed to be a thug.

    Although that said, my favourite Bond is and remains George Lazenby. He gets a lot of stick, but his was the only Bond that even came close to being human. Probably not very faithful to the books, and I know I’ve said elsewhere that I’m a stickler for that sort of thing, but seeing as I haven’t read the books I’ll say it doesn’t count ;-)

  • The lyrics of James Bond theme songs never make any sense. Somebody famous is told to write a bombastic song containing the title of the movie, which does not itself make any sense.

  • Laird

    Michael, that’s undoubtedly true, but the lyrics to Skyfall are even more execrable than most. It’s a collection of random words, not even internally consistent. But I will concede that it was very professionally orchestrated and performed.

    JV, I’ve heard that before, and can’t dispute it having not read any of the books. (Although I will say that the movie Bond was never a thug until Craig came along, and I consider it a change for the worse.) But that wasn’t my complaint. I simply have never seen Craig actually act, as in put emotion into any part. Not even in Casino Royale. (I liked Lazenby, too, BTW.)

  • dfwmtx

    Fuck Hollywood! In so many ways.

    All the big evil armies with the scene-chewing lead villain have been defeated in this world. Russian Communism fell, Chinese Communism morphed into Chinese capitalist-communism. Even the medium-sized baddies have been neutralized; Saddam’s dead, and states like Iran and N.Korea are kept in check. We briefly tried turning to terrorism as a Big Bad, but that’s harder to do. Can’t have your terrorists be whiter and homegrown, as it’ll turn off a significant portion of your paying audience, and you can’t make the terrorists foreign and Muslim, since it’s raycist to hate on the downtrodden brown folks, after they’ve suffered all that colonialism and exploitation by the more technologically-savy West. So gotta move on to a new Big Bad: evil capitalism. THey have your Big Bad leaders -the rich CEOs- and the faceless army who heros have no moral qualms about destroying -the CEO’s company employees (mostly managers and middle-level workers, as you can’t beat on the lower-level workers since they’re being exploited and all by now receiving paychecks the same size as the CEO).

  • Mr Ed

    The lyrics of James Bond theme songs never make any sense.

    I beg to differ Michael, The Living Daylights by A-ha is an exception “set your hopes up way to high, the living’s in the way we die‘, all good doom-laden stuff.

    Hundred thousand changes, every thing’s the same‘ I claim as an illustration for how central planning cannot work, today looks much like yesterday, but there are subtle differences awaiting exploitation by an entrepreneur.

  • Paul Marks

    I should have said U.S. NAVY (as we are dealing with SEALS) – my apologies.

  • Paul Marks

    Whenever I think of Judi Dench I think of her saying “Necromongers” in the second Riddick film.

    If ever there was a script that should have been turned down……

  • but taking someone else’s opinion about a movie is chancy at best

    I never do. I read reviews (the good ones) to get an idea of what the movie is like, not to get an opinion, and at least in theory, I may want to go see a particular film precisely because of something in it the reviewer took as a negative. Of course the critics, being human just like everyone else, insert opinion into their reviews even when they try not to and make a real effort to remain purely informative. But the good ones know that it’s information that the intelligent reader wants, not opinion, and so they try to stick to the facts. Which pretty much applies to journalism in general.

  • Old RPM Daddy

    @Mr. Ed (et al): “Skyfall was utter drivel …”

    It was pretty silly, and I’m hardly the first to notice the near-endless supply of henchmen getting shot, blown up, and so forth. Don’t you think they’d eventually get the idea that working for the Head Villain might not be a great career move? But I don’t think it was the worst Bond movie ever. For that, I’d have to suggest Man With the Golden Gun, which was redeemed only by being utterly preposterious. I cite two examples: First, the Bangkok police department wrecking their entire fleet of AMC Matadors chasing 007’s AMC Hornet, and second, two little girls beating up an entire dojo-full of henchmen, undoubtedly supplied by the same henchman agency that supplied the villain in Skyfall.

  • Eric Tavenner

    I differ from Alissa very much. If reviewers like a film I will not see it, if they hate it I take it as a sign that I will emjoy it.

  • I swear I had no intention of trying to confuse anyone with facts or logic, Eric:-P

  • To be fair, Skyfall was in no way worse than any of the recent Bonds that came before Casino Royale – maybe even slightly better (or less bad). It’s just that CR was so much better than the few that preceded it, and the following one with Craig was also fairly good. Skyfall was a disappointment compared to those, not to the entire franchise in general.

  • mike

    Film reviewing not a very high calling? At least they’re not cops.

  • Roue le Jour

    I agree, Alisa. Skyfall was a pretty typical Bond, but it was hyped so much it seemed poor by comparison. I got the impression at the end that it was a scene setter for a return to a more ‘classic’ Bond, but we’ll have to wait and see. (And boo! Hiss! for shooting up the Aston. Sacrilege!)

    If were talking underrated Bonds, my vote goes to Tim Dalton.

  • I very much agree about Dalton.

  • James Strong

    There is very little continuity of the James Bond character. Only the name remains the same.
    Each actor has played him differently and the part has been written in different ways.
    I like Daniel Craig’s performance as a somewhat unpleasant thug who has a few simple and noble loyalties.
    Skyfall had terrific action sequences, not much else.

  • John K

    I think James Bond is meant to be a killer, not necessarily a thug. I agree about George Lazenby, he was not bad at all, I understand that he only did one Bond due to a dispute over money with the producers. As for Sam Mendes, I have never been that impressed with his work. Maybe he’s just not that good?

  • Mendes is in fact quite overrated.

  • pete

    Modern films are aimed at blue collar young men and their girlfriends.

    I never go to the cinema.

  • As a young man with no girlfriend, I resent such sweeping statements.

  • I’m not sure why there’s an assumption that Hollywood doesn’t like army films. The Hurt Locker won an Oscar, and Zero Dark Thirty won a technical Oscar.

    I disliked Skyfall because it was more a vehicle for Brits to get all soppy over “national treasure” Judi Dench than a Bond film. In doing so they completely imasculated Bond. Weeping over the death of M? FFS! But I like Craig, and his thug in a tux portrayal of Bond is at least believable.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird, re “The new Q is horribly miscast”: Some actors are irreplaceable in certain parts. It should be a hanging offense to so much as propose having somebody other than Desmond Llewelyn play Q. The character should have been dropped (oh dear, unfortunate wording!) and a new feller (or dame) brought on-board to provide that touch of loony humor. Did Gunsmoke produce an ersatz Chester when Dennis Weaver left? I think NOT! No, they brought on Ken Curtis as a new character, Festus. (I liked Chester better.)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alisa, the last time I went to an actual movie theater it was to see Dr. T and the Women. With Richard Gere. Dreadful experience. Wouldn’t risk repeating it.

    I think it was aimed at medical students.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Moderators — are you aware that the title of the posting is “On Reviewers,” whereas the URL shows it as SQOTD # 396?

    Especially in view of the uselessness of this version of WP’s search routine, I thought I’d mention it, just in case (however unlikely) it had escaped your notice.

  • Laird Minor

    Julie, re your comments on Q: I agree completely that some actors are irreplaceable. But at one point it seemed that they were grooming John Cleese to become Llewellyn’s replacement (perhaps with a new letter?), but nothing has come from that. I thought it showed promise. Perhaps it was a money dispute?

    * Of course, that’s not always true: there were three separate “Darrens” in “Bewitched”, and I’m sure that no one noticed the difference!

  • I liked “Skyfall” not least because the previous Daniel Craig outing involved an eco-hotel which was like whatever. For me the nadir of the Bond has to be Moonraker. Absolute bollocks in 9″ heels. Oh, and no, I don’t like George Lazenby at all. Poncing about at a Swiss finishing school in a kilt!

  • Snag

    Complaining about Bond film lyrics goes back decades.

    My favourite theme is Thunderball, but what the hell he’s singing about is anyone’s guess.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Heh–Laird, YrsTrly noticed, for sure! (Or, well, the two Dicks anyway — I didn’t even there was a 2003 movie. Gosh, everybody was DEAD by then!) Not crazy about either of them, but to me, at least, Dick Sargent was smoother and over-acted less than Dick York. [One site (it was 2 minutes ago, so I already forgot which) says that actually Dick S. was Miss Montgomery's first choice originally, but he was busy elsewhere.]

    John Cleese. If he’d had the part for the prior 17 movies, it might have been his part in the same way. And I’d’ve welcomed him in a new part (“new letter”) all his own.

    But seriously, can you imagine anybody but Charles Laughton as Henry VIII, or Clark Gable as Rhett? Or Lauren Bacall in any part she ever played? Hah!

    Meanwhile, why not meet me in Paducah. We can rent a room that has a DVD player; visit the Quilt Museum — I know that will be your favorite part; possibly (should our luck hold) get a ham-on-biscuits sandwich made with real ham and not the stuff made out of ersatz pig injected with seasoned water; and kick back with Mr. & Mrs. Laughton and Miss Dietrich in Witness for the Prosecution. One of my favorites. :>))

  • dfwmtx

    Two reasons I didn’t like Skyfall:

    1- I’m getting sick of this “villain let’s himself get captured by the good guys as part of his master plan”. It happened in the latest Star Trek movie, happened in the next-to-latest Call of Duty game, and a few other times.
    2- the villain’s own backstory had him seemingly just take up computer hacking and attain a masters level in it like it was nothing. “Oh, the usual spy thing wasn’t working out, so I just decided to start hacking computers. And now I’m doing so at a level only guys in Annonymous could envy. Hey, look at what I can do, how cute!”

    Other than that, seems like a reboot of a reboot, like how “Man of Steel” rebooted Superman after “Superman Returns”. Cuz apparently reboot = money! in Hollywood.

  • Laird

    Julie, I’ll give your invitation due consideration, but I fear that my wife might draw the wrong inferences! Although she would certainly enjoy the Quilt Museum (she might actually have been there already). I’ll get back to you on that one . . . .

  • Julie near Chicago

    Heck, Laird, invite her along — I’d like to meet her. Besides, my interest is in Mr. & Mrs. Laughton (and Marlene), and I wasn’t planning to spend enough time in the room to fool around with anybody but them. And even then one must keep hold of oneself, as I understand Mr. Laughton used to run around some, and Miss Lanchester didn’t like it much.

    Tell you what. You provide the expense $, I’ll provide the movie, your Missus can provide the freshly popped hot buttered lightly salted popcorn, and the Laughtons (and Miss Dietrich) can provide the entertainment. ;)

    Seriously: Have you seen that movie? I’ve been a huge fan since I first saw it, maybe 35 years ago, and it was a longtime classic then.

    Sigh…I am much too altruistic for my own good. :( If either you hasn’t seen it, you should do so even without me. And that way at least you wouldn’t have to go to Paducah. :)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alisa, are you in Tel Aviv or Haifa or Jerusalem or what? Maybe I could dump Laird (don’t worry dear, it’s just for a couple of hours at the movies) and we could meet in between. HAH!! I know! I’ll bet Kettering is only a little closer to you than to me. And if Paul doesn’t want to come himself, maybe he’d be glad to get out the Invisible Cat, sweet though creature may be. You bring your mutt and I’ll bring Miss Lucy, and we’ll all have a high old time. ;)

  • Laird Minor

    Haven’t seen it. Will have to look it up.

  • Laird, it’s on Youtube – I posted a link here, but it’s in smite limbo.

    Julie, Laird and the Missus owe me a visit as it is – so ya all talk it over amongst yourselves and your significant other pets, and let me know:-O

  • Brian Micklethwait (London)

    The last movie I saw in the cinema was Margin Call, which I liked a lot. Now people (as opposed to reviewers – I don’t know what they are saying) are telling me that The Wolf of Wall Street is good.

  • Brian Micklethwait (London)

    As for Bond movies, I think they are all silly, and people who expect them not to be are even sillier. Sometimes I find them enjoyably silly, and sometimes just silly.

  • Mr Ed

    Skyfart managed to be silly whilst trying to be serious, that was its crime. If it were completely daft, I would agree that silliness can be forgiven, but it had a serious undertone, a bureaucracy fighting for influence and budget, as if the bureaucrats mattered more than the realm.

  • Midwesterner

    The Bond movies depend on capturing and then rendering an over-the-top caricature of the zeitgeist of their times. The best Bond movies did this the best. Movies like Thunderball, Live and Let Die, and (the Craig) Casino Royale all achieved it. To the extent they are silly, epitomized by Moonraker, they reflect silly times. Yes, to the extent a Bond film can achieve a degree of seriousness without abandoning the genre, Casino Royale lacked slapstick and witty repartee. Times then, and still now, are not conducive to humor.

    Even Skyfall, while utterly disappointing to anyone whose politics are ascendant (libertarians in particular) none the less captures the formulaic, ritualized shibboleths and genuflections of the present day. It was a movie of Potemkin plot elements, melodramatic hyperbole, and posers, but that is the essence of the world zeitgeist today.

  • Midwesterner

    At least one James Bond theme is brilliant and captures the essential nature of Bond better both musically and lyrically in a few phrases than the movies do.

    When you were young and your heart was an open book,
    you used to say live and let live.

    But if this ever-changing world in which we live in
    Makes you give in and cry, say live and let die.

    What does it matter to you?
    When you’ve got a job to do, you gotta do it well
    You gotta give the other fellow hell!

    You used to say live and let live.
    But if this ever-changing world in which we live in
    Makes you give in and cry, say live and let die.

    The lyrics transcend that point in time and are themselves an almost over the top caricature of “if you’re not a socialist saving the world when you are young, you have no heart. If you are still a socialist trying to save the world as an adult, you have no brain.” “Live and let live” is naïve isolationism. “Live and let die” is applied isolationism.

    This movie and these lyrics came out at a time when the societal willingness in the West to be the world’s policeman was faltering for the first time since the end of WWII. These lyrics are even timely to the discussion on the thread about Syria. These lyrics capture the values of ‘hard target pacifism’ common among many or most libertarians, which is to say: stay out of problems unless there is an attack on your own sovereignty and liberty, if attacked don’t pull punches – get it over and done with, return to living your own life and don’t try to save the world.

    My understanding of the story of that song is that it was McCartney who approached the movie producers and asked to do the theme. They weren’t particularly keen on the idea but were persuaded to consider his offer by their staff. Then he brought back the now legendary song, and they said “Okay, I guess. Who should we get to sing it?” At which point once again their staff persuaded them to let Paul and Wings perform it. While arguably there may be some better songs that were Bond themes (and certainly many worse), Live and Let Die stands alone as the quintessential Bond theme. Where most of the songs (IIRC) are about the villains, threats and plots, Live and Let Die is about Bond himself and about us seeing the world through Bond’s eyes.