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August 10, 2009


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Great discussion, but my days of being outraged by the opinions of strangers is long behind me. And when critics whine about the taste of the public, they often do so because they lament their own diminished importance, which was likely a figment of their imagination in the first place. For once, I would like for a critic to stop opining about who likes what movies for what reasons, and to actually go out there and ask people why they like certain movies--study the problem from the consumer's point of view, for a change. Purely speculative rambling about our collective anti-intellectualism is lame. Median cinematic taste in this country may be horrid, but only cinephiles assume that this translates into across-the-board stupidity. People are still smart about plenty of things. Am I too hopeful?


Glenn, I have to assume that the "brooding auteur" comment was delivered with at least a little bit of self-conscious irony. But I don't think you should judge a whole school of thought because of something a rock writer published in the New York Times, of all outlets. I think the anti-rockist discourse has already permeated rockcrit in a more subtle way... it is harder to out and out dismiss hip hop or R&B, especially then non-college-radio-oriented artists, or electronic music, or anything that isn't basically AOR, thanks to the anti-rockistas. And that's a good thing.

Tom Carson

@Joel: I don't think you're being too hopeful at all. The same audience whose dim taste at the multiplex is being lamented by Ebert and others has made broadcast-TV hits out of shows as complicated as Lost and cable successes out of critiques of America as innovative as Big Love and Deadwood. And let's not even get into graphic novels, OK? Lots of people are as smart and curious as ever, they've just turned these days to other forms than movies for the buzz.


Slow clap.

Please. For the love of God. Snicker silently at the savages who thrill to the expansion of small domestic cars into mighty intergalactic warriors. But spare me the outrage that is only intellectual elitism wearing a clever Halloween costume.

Study history, Jeffrey. Ebert, you get a pass because you are you, and you've earned it a million times over.

Popular culture gets that way because it is freaking popular. Rage against it if you like, but it will do you no good. Love the things you love, and allow others the same luxury, and don't ever, EVER, think that it makes you better. Just different.


Bob Westal

To build on Yann's apt quote, and much of what has already been said here, let me propose what I call "the 20 year rule."

Whatever year it is, twenty years before, people were smarter, streets were safer, the air was cleaner, children could walk the streets safely alone, and politicians were more statesmanlike. I heard this about the fifties in the seventies, and about the seventies in the nineties. I'm sure I'll hear it about the '00s in the twenties.

Ryan Kelly

Every generation regurgitates that, that "Kids these days" sentiment that was old-hat 50 years ago. But in Ebert's case, it's kind of amusing considering the source; Ebert is certainly capable of pedestrian taste himself, and therefore encouraging that pedestrian taste in his readers (how many times does he give a pass to the latest piece of fluffy marketing?). He talks about how "marketing and CGI" win out every time, as though he didn't champion "The Dark Knight" as some kind of cinematic masterpiece a little over a year ago. I don't mind to come off as vitriolic to the guy, as he's also done much to improve the tastes of moviegoers. But, at the same time, it's disappointing hearing him throw out an argument so riddled with cliche.

And, you could classify TMBG as "nerd-twee", but they're also filled with heart, personality, and in terms of compositional inventiveness they're as idiosyncratic as they come. John Linell is one of the best lyricists around, just listen to the way he plays with alterations, pins, and double meanings. You get major brownie points for championing them, Sr. Kenny. Have you listened to their newer stuff at all? Their latest non-kiddie album, "The Else", is just about the best thing they've ever done I think.


@Ryan Kelly

Yeah, again, evoking "The Dark Knight" is really not going to help your case when there are plenty of other targets.

Just saying, yeah, you didn't like it, you're in the minority critically speaking. Let it go.

Ryan Kelly

"Let it go."

But... but...

Aww, fine.


Roger Ebert is a goddamned national treasure, but he also just gave _Orphan_ three-and-a-half stars.

I respectfully demand an explanation from him about how in the hell that rating comports with his latest post.

Peter Rinaldi

What really shocks me about all this is the simple fact that "The Hurt Locker" is the film that is being used to make this point. This film is as conventional, formulaic and (according to a vast number of actual Iraqi War Veterans and those still deployed) frustratingly unrealistic (to the point of "disrespect", according to one viewer) as anything that is actually "spoon fed" (to use A.O. Scotts'words)to "the kids", from Hollywood.

I actually think that if we had to bob and weave our way through kamikaze web ads for this film for the past month, and if it actually did open on 4K screens, it would really be received in the matter it deserves, as nothing special, and certainly not, embarrassingly, as a "great war film". I think the phenomenon here is a result of a sort of Indie-hype snowball effect, originating from, quite simply, a false perception of it containing some actual realism. In the very least, it's time critics stop calling it "realistic" when the FACT is that it is not. It's getting kind of embarrassing.

Allen Belz

Agreed about the good Ebert's done, and during my semi-regular pokearounds on his site I've still found plenty of good writing. But that blog post (and other recent related ones) aren't the only evidence of a dismaying trend in his thought processes:


If someone praised my character in such a fashion I would be absolutely cringing.


@Peter Rinaldi, can you provide some links to those Iraq war veterans who feel the film is unrealistic to the point of disrespect? I'd be very interested to hear the details.

I enjoyed the hell out of the movie myself, though I don't think my appreciation of it necessarily turns on its purported realism. Realistic or not, Renner and Mackie gave terrific performances and a number of sequences, including the opening with Guy Pearce, were simply amazing, as setpieces of remarkable technique if nothing else.

Dan Coyle

All I have to say is: I concur.

Peter Rinaldi

Here's a link to the Metacritic user comments page. You'll find a number of soldiers chiming in. Scroll down.


"I'm in total agreement that we're no dumber than any other culture on earth, and in some cases are quite a bit more savvy and sensitive and open (eg. this recent election thingy, with the black guy - say what you will about the French, that would not have happened over there at this point in history; by any reasonable measure we're a less racist culture than most of Europe)."

As an european, this sentence left me puzzled, because while I've lived here for decades, I must have missed all the lynch mobs and hooded horsemen that must have been circulating around here, not to mention (to go for something more recent) all the email jokes about Obama eating watermelon. But I'll be sure to look harder for them in the future.

In any event, let me point out that americans have been importing slaves for more than 200 years, while mass inmigration to Europe only started in the last 50. So if we manage to elect a moroccan-born president in the next 150 years, we'll still be ahead of you guys...

(As for the topic of the post itself, I don't have any clear answers. I have the same feeling of "kids these days" quite often, and yet, when I read this post, the first thing that came to my mind was that Socrates quote. I suppose that the most definitive answer was the one given by Orson Welles in "F for fake": in 1000 years, nobody will remember anything of what we appreciate today, but in the meantime, that's no reason to stop enjoying what we have).

Jim VB

Bill, When Fox begins to act as something other than a joke and a mouthpiece for all kinds of vile propagation, my characterization of it will then change. (Are you a shareholder, by chance?) Listen, while you're bending over backwards to show everyone how fair you are, just be sure you don't damage that weak spine of yours, ok?


@Jim - I don't care if you stick to your guns about Fox. Your opinions are your opinions, and you're welcome to them. But your way of expressing those opinions is very stale and tired. I guess if you still think "Faux News" is biting, that's your lookout.

And no, I'm not a shareholder. Really funny joke, though.

Ryan Kelly

Anyone who only talks about how Fox is "vile propation" without mentioning that every other news station is exactly the same (though in the other direction) is seriously misguided. I guess when that 'vile propagation' happens to be in line with one's agenda, it's not quite so vile.


@Peter Rinaldi, far be it from me to dismiss the movie-evaluation skills of our nation's brave fighting men, but people really felt "disrespected" because the movie was unrealistic enough to make it seem like "a British merc is unable to use a .50 cal sniper rifle to kill an insurgent sniper who is 350 meters away"? or because some members of the infantry didn't like being portrayed as waiting for a bomb disposal expert? Ooooohhkkkaaaay.

I agree the movie is being a bit over-hyped -- as does Glenn, I suspect, since he does refer to it as basically a B-movie -- but I can't say that the unrealistic elements alter my evaluation in any significant way. After all, the movie is partly an examination of the glamor and attractions of war, so making it seem movie-like (or video game-like) is perfectly in keeping with the theme. I suspect that the over-hyping has more to do with the fact that it's a smart, fun action movie in stark contrast to the idiot behemoths Transformers and GI Joe.

Glenn Kenny

@ DUH: When I put "Locker" in a position relative to a "B" picture I'm not commenting on its quality—I happen to love a lot of "B" pictures myself, and consider many to be no-excuses masterpieces.In fact, the picture the "Hurt Locker often brought to mind for me was Anthony Mann's 1957 "Men In War"—a low budget, independently produced nember distributed by the smaller studio United Artists. In other words, a "B" picture. And I do believe that's kind of how "Locker" would have been disseminated, and regarded, in the '70s, only to be revived around this time for a Film Forum run as a rediscovered masterpiece! What's happening now is that the picture's being distributed in a kind of quasi-indie fashion and hailed as a neglected masterpiece!


"that every other news station is exactly the same (though in the other direction) is seriously misguided."

Nice try. Maybe MSNBC is getting there. AFTER they sold us the Bush War (GE gotta eat!). But FOX exists in a world of media crazy all its own. Beck, Hannity, O'Reilly, Wallace, Rove...no, FOX owns their crazy. No other networks come close. Yet.

Peter Rinaldi

Comment from Carl C. @ Metacritic. - "I think that the reason so many of the servicepeople are upset at the lack of realism in this film is not because of the technical inaccuracies (we don't care much about that stuff), it is because it completely fails to capture what it is like in Iraq (or in any war). Lack of attention to detail is one thing, completely constructing reality is another. This director did the latter, and seems to have fooled a lot of people with it. Really people...this film DOESN'T show what war is like, nor what soldiers are like. Don't be fooled...please."


This is certainly off topic, but I opened the can of peas, so I'd better make an attempt to close it...

Without delving too deeply into "which culture is more racist," I stand behind my assertion - and it is not an assertion based in hard science, but a well-understood and generally accurate cultural assessment. It is certainly a tricky matter, and there's no easy equivalence. Snarky comments about the KKK could easily be countered with snarky comments about the Nazis. Not to mention a snarky comment about the 2005 riots in Paris - or the obvious flaw in equating immigration with slavery.

The simple fact is that Obama's election, besides the hype and "image politics" and massive dissatisfaction with Bush II, did show a level of racial progressiveness that is hard to find in the rest of the so-called first world (several "developing nations" are way ahead of us on that count, but that's another matter.)

This is not to say we are "colorblind" or free of racism. Just more so than many other wealthy western countries.

Say what you will about the kids - the next successive generations here are almost assuredly going to be more open/progressive when it comes to race, gender, and sexuality. And therefore more likely to despise Fox news (sorry, couldn't resist.)


Well, there's a lot of cross-cutting debates going on in the thread, but at the risk of contributing to the cacophony:

@Peter Rinaldi, I gotta say, that comment doesn't exactly stand on its own. So, it's not the lack of versimiltude, it's the lack of realism? or what now? As I think the opening quote makes inelegantly clear, _The Hurt Locker_ is much more about a certain mentality than it is about Iraq or about the everyday experiences of most soldiers in any war. So I continue to think the reactions you're citing are off-base.

Tom Carson

I haven't been sure veterans are necessarily the best critics ever since Bob Dole endorsed the design of the WW2 Memorial, but here's a WashPost report on a Hurt Locker screening for Iraq vets and war correspondents:


They seem to have liked the movie fine, which doesn't make their reaction any more definitive than the negative ones mentioned earlier in this thread. I just don't want anyone getting the impression that veterans have been scoffing at HL's authenticity en masse. Me, I think it's got some obvious Hollywoodisms -- the subplot with the winsome Iraqi kid, Ralph Fiennes pretending to be Lawrence of Fallujah -- but I don't mind those a bit. I've never thought it made much sense to evaluate a fiction film by how closely it approximates a documentary anyway.


Whenever I see people complaining about media bias, I always ask them if they've heard of confirmation bias.

Generally, they say no.

I explain this to them, and then I ask them what they think is more likely, that a bunch of competing corporations traded on the open market struggling for every advantage they can get are secretly coordinated with each other, or if each viewer is just taking away from what's broadcast what they want to hear.

I used to do this in person, but that got me punched in the face a lot.

Jim VB

Ryan, grab a clue, please. The "other side" is attempting to expose the lies propagated by Fox and others. Lies, Ryan, lies. I'm sorry to break this to you, but no, Sarah Palin's lie about "death panels" is not a point worth debating. It's vile propagation. Why legitimize such insanity? By entertaining the crap that is oozing from the mouths of these fiends, do you think this will take us to some point in the middle where we will locate the truth? Is that what you believe? This tells me all I need to know about your agenda. Shameful.


"that a bunch of competing corporations traded on the open market struggling for every advantage they can get are secretly coordinated with each other"

Sure seemed that way in March of 2003...



That's a separate issue. I'm cheerfully willing to admit that news can be pushed in certain directions. But my main problem I have with the whole "corporate"/"mainstream" media argument is the same one I have with conspiracy theories: I'm handed a choice between believing a bunch of companies trying to kick each other's asses are secretly colluding or a person standing right in front of me is at best a crybaby who can't accept that alternate points of view might be valid and at worst completely UNABLE to accept alternate points of view, i.e. a blithering delusional.

Column B, on both the left and right, come up scarily often.


One Word: OPEC.

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