Friday, July 30, 2010

Glum and glam

Like its star, Salt is a spare and lean piece of work; it’s everything a modern action movie should be, a picture made with confidence but not arrogance, one that believes so wholeheartedly in its outlandish plot twists that they come to make perfect alt-universe sense. The story — the script is by Kurt Wimmer — draws numerous outrageous loops, but Noyce neither dwells on them ponderously nor speeds through them in a misguided attempt to energize his audience. And he makes fine use of his star, an actress whose lanky gait is as delicious to watch as her spring-loaded leaps are. Noyce frames the movie around Jolie’s finely tuned sense of movement, and yet it’s her expressiveness that anchors the story emotionally: In an old-fashioned, old-Hollywood way, Noyce and his cinematographer, Robert Elswit, are wholly alive to her face and all its possibilities.

[. . .]

Noyce has made his share of action thrillers (he’s the director behind the Tom Clancy adaptations Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger), but he’s pulled off more serious, emotionally complex material too (like his meticulous and thoughtful version of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American). Salt is, of course, closer in style to the former than the latter; still, Noyce approaches the material with a healthy sense of humor. The subject matter alone is likely to give moviegoers of a certain age a pleasant shiver of Cold War nostalgia, and Noyce runs with that. (The Cold War wasn’t so much fun while it was going on, but as much as we feared that the Soviets might someday come over and liquefy our buildings, they never actually did so.) Touches like Orlov’s dumpling-thick Russian accent, or the way Salt wraps herself in a swishy fur-trimmed cape, topped off with a Dr. Zhivago toque, are served up with a sly wink. (Stephanie Zacharek, Salt, Angelina Jolie Deliver the Action-Packed Summer Blockbuster Goods, Movieline, 21 July 2010)

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It's a mark of the stupidity (and hypocrisy) of Stephanie's lazy fanboys that they actually admire her for her critical double standards, her inane protocols, and her lack of intellectual rigor. For her review (gee what a surprise that an Angelina Jolie starrer gets an unqualified rave from Stephanie - gosh darn it, never saw that one coming!!) praises Salt for all the same qualities she derided Inception for having: an unbelievable plot set in an "alt universe," "outlandish plot twists," over-the-top images which equate "awesomeness" with "greatness," paper-thin characterization, etc., etc. No use trying to find consistency and fairness in a Stephanie Zacharek evaluation. Read between the lines and she's basically excusing Salt for containing the exact same elements she found objectionable and tiresome in Inception. To describe a movie as taking place in an "alt universe" where "outlandish plot twists" occur is to admit the movie is junk after all.

The only difference is that Salt doesn't take itself too seriously: being self-consciously "hip" rather than attempting to be "deep," and also having a glam heroine rather than a gloomy hero, Steph can ignore the fact that in all other respects, it's just as undistinguished as the other film she panned.

Essentially she loved Salt for one main reason: because it has Angelina Jolie as a kick-ass heroine. Since Stephanie, like so many of her smug admirers, has always been a delusional, self-congratulatory narcissist, of course that combo would go down well. It always does.

Secret to making a movie that SZ is guaranteed to love: make the plot knowingly "hip" in its outrageousness. Make sure you include plenty of preposterous plot twists, but make sure you show, every step of the way, you're in on the joke. That way no one can accuse you of taking yourself too seriously. That also is guaranteed to make SZ and like-minded hipsters feel super-cool and "with it" when they watch.

Next, add in a glam-girl heroine who, despite looking like a waif, can by some miracle kick ass effortlessly, even when up against men twice her size. Stephanie, being a narcissist, will always praise any movie that allows her to "identify" (the way a little kid "identifies" with her barbie dolls) with a sexy, witty, butt-kicking, devil-may-care babe. (Never mind that in real life, a woman with Jolie's physique would last about 30 seconds against any of these heavies: in today's market, movies are about flattering the female ago just as much as the teen male ego. At least James Cameron, whatever his other faults, cast the brawny Linda Hamilton as his female ass-kicker.) Most people outgrow this kind of dumb fantasy long before they're Steph's age.

Finally, cast Angelina Jolie in the lead. This isn't always necessary, but it's a marked bonus.

What's especially funny is that I guessed more or less what SZ was going to write the moment I saw the poster for Salt. She has become that crushingly predictable. There wasn't a single paragraph of this review that took me by surprise. Stephanie, you truly are a paint-by-numbers hack.

This part of SZ's review made me laugh:

The movie opens with a flashback, jolting us back to early-2000’s North Korea. A semi-naked Salt is being tortured by soldiers in a dank-looking dungeon. They keep insisting she’s a spy; she keeps repeating, with unwavering authority, “I’m not a spy, I’m a businesswoman”

God, I've never seen that one before! Didn't Madonna parody this one in her "Die Another Day" video? Isn't it the opening scene of every episode of Alias ever? Thank God Salt's there to keep the hoariest of cliches alive. (Chris, response to post)

Chris: I think you do a good service in getting us to compare her reviews. Having read her review of "Prince of Persia," for example, with its key praise for it being that though it isn't perfect it does at least aim for "grandeur" ([i]n a moviegoing climate where so many people — out of necessity or preference — end up watching movies at home on DVD"), I think you really should ask for some explanation as to why "Inception" was so panned SPECIFICALLY FOR its aiming at the OMG! awesome. I don't think it's quite a contradiction because I think she really appreciates ambitious reach, lavish and scale, and wants us to extend ourselves to films that generously offer as much, but doesn't want to sense that a film's grandeur / awesomeness depends on your willingness as a filmgoer to experience it as an acolyte oh-so-ready to lose yourself to rapture, or just on your having sat before a film that will willy-nilly juice you until you're brain-fried, but it's worthy of a clarification, and my guess is that few who read both reviews thought one was required.

Reading this review, I myself would want to know how exactly a reviewer would square praising a film for it "believ[ing] so wholeheartedly in its outlandish plot twists that they come to make perfect alt-universe sense," with its also deserving kudos for its "healthy sense of humor." It seems, at least, that the same film is credited for its level of seriousness and immersion but also for its laid-backness and modesty, its evidencing of a knowing and awry distance / detachment. Maybe the two can go together, but not obviously so; and it's worth a check to see if with this film they're congruent and / or that if for some reason to a certain reviewer taking oneself seriously is always a precarious lurch, even when its clearly established as a subject of praise. I don't want to be prepared to be generous with a film simply because a film maker shows s/he's prepared to shift tones / weight if what s/he's up to "now" is making me uncomfortable -- not simply because it gives me room to think / feel for myself -- or because it extends some reach but beyond what remain MOSTLY ACCEPTED perimeters (i.e., standard summer blockbuster fair): I'd be concerned, I think, that what I foremost want / expect movies to show me is that they are first of all MY subject -- i.e., just a movie -- with from there being the starting place, the only place, from which something worthwhile might develop. I'd be afraid that previous shocks were delimiting, were limiting, current explorations, who I might still become. Or is it sheerly childish to ask that a movie be allowed still to alter you, morph beyond being just a movie to actually become a life-changing event -- to a certain extent even without your permission -- with adulthood being about attenuation, modest reconsideration / recalibration to a largely settled core? Do we actually APPRECIATE the bossyness in the Nolans -- the bossy Nolans -- if "they" help us color all of what might be good for us but what we can't bear to brave, so we can engage them optionally, perhaps LARGELY laughing, mocking, deriding and closed?

Re: “I think you really should ask for some explanation as to why "Inception" was so panned SPECIFICALLY FOR its aiming at the OMG! awesome. I don't think it's quite a contradiction, because I think she really appreciates ambitious reach, lavish and scale, and wants us to extend ourselves to films that generously offer as much, but doesn't want to sense that a film's grandeur / awesomeness depends on your willingness as a filmgoer to experience it as an acolyte oh-so-ready to lose yourself to rapture”

Patrick, I understand that everyone has their personal quirks and biases, and that what turns one person's crank won't turn another's. Every single critic and moviegoer on the planet brings her or his own personal prejudices to the table. And I know there's no objectively "right" or "wrong" opinion about any movie under the sun. (And I must repeat: I'm fairly lukewarm on Christopher Nolan myself.)

But Stephanie takes subjectivity of response to a nearly psychotic extreme. Skim through her reviews and it becomes glaringly obvious she just plain likes certain qualities that aren't inherently "better" or "worse" than others she detests: she just likes movies that contain certain ingredients and that's that. It doesn't matter if the ingredients are sloppily flung together, it doesn't matter if the recipe is poorly prepared in the kitchen, all that matters is that it contains Stephanie's favorite ingredients. She's like a restaurant who loves pasta more than anything in the world, so therefore gives every single Italian restaurant she visits a four-star review. Whereas she hates Chinese food, so every Chinese place gets the thumbs down regardless of how good or bad the food is. Just the fact that it serves Chinese food is enough for her to give a restaurant a thrashing. Have critical standards sunk so low that we now revere individual reviewers simply for not saying the same thing as everyone else? One can be a moron as long as one isn't a sheep? Just because Zacharek departs from the general consensus on Chris Nolan movies, she's to be revered as some sort of hero?

Having read (like a masochist) enough of Stephanie's reviews over the years, I'm prepared to say again that the main reason she loved Salt and hated Inception is this (to quote from myself): Salt is a movie having a glam heroine rather than a gloomy hero.

Again and again SZ says nice things about movies with heroines who play into SZ's wish-fulfillment fantasies. It's quite revealing what she does and doesn't like about the movies she reviews. What really irritates her about Inception and The Dark Knight is that the kind of wish-fulfillment they tap into is more of a guy thing, whereas SZ likes chick flicks of a certain sort, not gushily sentimental ones like Titanic, but Angelina's movies, or the TV show Sex and the City, chick shows and chicklit and chick flicks of a certain hip, cool register. Chris Nolan's universe is too much of a geeky boy's club, but it isn't actually "worse" artistically so much as it appeals to a different niche.

. . . . .

Oops, this....

She's like a restaurant who loves pasta more than anything in the world

should read She's like a restaurant REVIEWER who loves pasta.... etc. (Chris, response to post)

She really liked "Letters to Juliet," and it wasn't so much cool and hip (in fact it wasn't at all that) as it was bright, warm, relaxed and --- conditionally -- AVAILABLE: I think, the opposite of hipster. I think you can provide a lot of examples of the cool and hip she goes for, but it would as you know need targeting to convince, because with just hearing that she goes for the hip and cool it's too easy to think of movies that are a kind of cool, that are in fact so LAMENTABLY cooled down that you recall most vividly her attending to the few instances of vibrant "aliveness" the films did allow, the refreshing bit of color -- glam? -- in landscapes otherwise so everywhere neutered and grey. Your claim that she is attracted to glam is interesting, though. As I've suggested / implied, it could be made to be about her preference for color over drabness, part of her war against freezing mannerisms -- which would be a sign of her own aliveness, her expectancy for soulfulness, much more than it would her girlish adolescence -- but you mostly want to make it equivalent to the stunted guy's going for glum and grime it would seem.

You made the point earlier that the legacy of Pauline Kael (I remember now I actually did try to get into her work -- a couple of times in fact -- but so wasn't drawn in that I could barely recall having tried her on: I was always way, way more for Nathaniel Branden than I was the kinda alien creature-seeming Ayn Rand as well) has been the omnipresence of critics who cannot allow that their ostensibly more evolved, more involved engagement with films has mostly been a kind of cunning skating on the surface, an ongoing disinclination to throughly analyze, deeply involve oneself with film, in preference to sporting with them. You focus on Stephanie because you think she's so beholden to her, because she represents THE PROBLEM -- the log jam -- it would mostly seem, and not because you're a masochist (though you say this, and I accept it, and hope you know it's worth your exploring too). And it seems -- from one of the things you said on the "Inception" thread -- also because you have seen what she can do, and sense her potential. If I were you, I would continue to finesse out where she goes wrong, and -- very much please -- at some point also where she goes so wonderfully right, for all our sakes. Maybe you could best do so by responding after you've just seen a film she's "taken on."

You know the challenge involved in showing the kind of reviewer who seems attendant and responsive to every film molecule to be actually mostly closed off / shut down, so I wish you a universe of good luck, as well as an unbeknownst deity or two to have your back. But my rooting for your cause is genuine: Wouldn't it be wonderful if one day Stephanie looked back and recalled "Avatar" in such a way that you wouldn't be drawn, as one commenter on the Salon thread did, to ask if she in fact had a limbic system? As I thought the alien flower she so appreciated and attended to in the film notable but still so easily and immediately trumped preamble, I had to wonder too, and would certainly cheer at this!

Link: Angelina Jolie Deliver the Action-Packed Summer Blockbuster Good (Movieline)

Monday, July 26, 2010

King Bash

Phil Perspective

but did you know that Roberts and Phillips were engaged as of three months ago?

A big part of me wishes I had remained free of this information - just like I lament knowing about the CNN nuptials of John King and Dana Bash. (Glenn Grenwald, “CNN anchors attack the scourge of anonymity,” Salon, 24 July 2010)

Great stuff, Glenn. Roberts and Philips are a good fit, but completely vile. I'd just wish them better things if it wasn't for all the damage they'll be up to. King and Bash are a good fit too. I like them -- I think they're mostly good, and maybe even possible future allies of yours. In any case, if I was Obama, I wouldn't want them around -- they could balk.

Cheers.

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Patrick McEvoy-Halston

Re: “King and Bash are a good fit too. I like them -- I think they're mostly good, and maybe even possible future allies of yours.”

—Patrick McEvoy-Halston

Do you have any examples of especially King's reporting (sic) that would lead you to believe that he might be a future ally of Greenwald's?

Please read what I've linked and then see what you think.

(Also at signature)

http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2008/01/16/king

(Kitt, response to post)

@Kitt

Thanks for the link. Greenwald's response to King was apt. However, I still do think that it is possible that in time King would regret how he replied to Greenwald, and show some appreciation for what he does. It's based on intuition, informed by everything I've seen of him. Some considerable part of him will will him to do good, EVEN if it means finding himself amongst the unwashed, out of his comfort zone of the comported, tidy and polished. Alternatively, as he becomes increasingly unable to convince himself that he hasn't after all largely been a dupe, it is possible that his self-confliction will just make him passed that much easier by the professional sadists about him (yes, I'm thinking "Talladega Nights"), and he'll find himself in a state of early senility, looking for "there, there, now ..." soothing solace. Let's avoid this. He says some dumb things, but he IS a good man.

Please note, Greenwald does at time have a tendency to alienate people who COULD be his allies. I sometimes wonder if he too just wants a war.

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Patrick McEvoy-Halston

Re: “Thanks for the link. Greenwald's response to King was apt. However, I still do think that it is possible that in time King would regret how he replied to Greenwald, and show some appreciation for what he does. It's based on intuition, informed by everything I've seen of him.”

I can't imagine what it is that you've seen of him that would allow for your "intuition" to conclude what you attribute to your "intuition".

King is paid millions for being a "Professional Journalist" yet, as he so clearly exposed in that email, he doesn't even know how to write. Why would he give up a gig like that?

Re: “He says some dumb things, but he IS a good man.”

If I were your "intuition" I would protest you attributing to me what you have attributed to me. I would inform you that your Blind Faith is what is responsible for your opinions/conclusions.

Re: “I sometimes wonder if he too [Greenwald] just wants a war.”

I don't see telling the truth as one sees it as "wanting a war". If calling to account liars and exposing general dipshittery is seen by you as provoking or wanting a war then you and I are in stark disagreement. (Kitt, response to post)

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@Kitt

Antagonizing people to the point that, out of betrayal, for revenge, they turn beyond return, (current) Tucker Carlson-ugly, isn't the way to AVOID a war, but to get one right geared up (Some may have thought that Salon would prosper owing to its new foodie section and "Salon store," but it's becoming clear it'll mostly owe to it becoming a warship -- it's engaging and will SOON START DOWNING some of the crazies of the week it has before its sights: Watch for it to start notching kills on its new feature, "Salon's club!"). 5 years from now, I have real doubts as to whether King will be anywhere in view; I have no doubt that Greenwald will be -- and increasingly visibly. I think some of his opponents sense and appreciate that he's for a fight the Kings of the world will quickly lose all taste for.

Yes also, Greenwald brings to view a lot of things that just have to be engaged with. Over and over again, he does this.

Link: CNN anchors attack the scourge of online anonymity (Salon)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

@Pacificwhim

@cabdriver

Then read more before you opine, please. King never wrote such an opening to a novel, ever:

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

Man, that's good. Shirley Jackson was a master, occult kookiness or not, vagina or not. (Pacificwhim, response to post, “Is Shirley Jackson a great American writer?,” Laura Miller, Salon, 14 July 2010)

Pacificwhim has it right

Pacificwhim has it right. Chocolate cookieness or not, Shirley Jackson WAS a master.

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Pacificwhim has it right

Pacificwhim has it right. Vagina or not, Shirley Jackson WAS a master. If she doesn't make Rushmore, please somebody spray-paint this tribute on her gravestone.

Link: Is Shirley Jackson a great American writer? (Salon)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

On tech, anti-tech, and James Cameron

However, there may be no director whose themes are more schizophrenic than James Cameron, who constantly flips between worshiping grand technology and stigmatizing the kind of personality who employs it. In Avatar, as in Lucas’s Ewok battle, the high-tech invading troops are laid low by organic fighters who have no need for electricity at all. In Titanic, just the idea of the incredibly expensive boat is held up as the height of hubris, despite the fact that Cameron himself was making the most expensive film ever at the time, and he’s not exactly the first person you’d expect to scoff at hubris. The Terminator films vividly portray the apocalyptic future that results when technology is left unchecked, but Cameron is a constant innovator in those fields, consistently surfing a high-tech cutting edge and even inventing new technology himself in pre-production for his movies. (Tellingly, his undersea documentary Aliens of the Deep purported to show how natural ocean dwellers could be more amazing than any alien Hollywood could dream up, then climaxed with a superfluous ending that used computer graphics to depict those potential aliens on the moons of Jupiter.) (Kyle Buchanan, “Why Do Our Most Technology-Obsessed Filmmakers Make Movies That are Anti-Technology?,” 21 July 2010)

What organic is exactly becomes a little more confusing when you take "Aliens" into consideration. At the end, organic probably more fits Ripley returning to her familiar mech suit than it does the mother alien revenging her children. In a sense, I guess you could argue that the mech suit to some extent becomes the equivalent of "Avatar's" Na'vi avatar -- made originally for corporation purposes, but through the force of the user's own good intent and comfort with it becomes a righteous, maybe "natural" weapon: perhaps also like the attack-"helicopter" that turns about to shoot at the main invading ship, which thereby becomes akin to the clearly organic Toruk. The corporation understands the aliens (in regards to "Aliens") as a technology, as an (albeit organic) weapon, and the film for a good part shows them as such, but in the end makes clear that the aliens are a species -- show things like maternal "care," and hive responsibility -- yet still doesn't argue that they should be anything other than nuked out of existence: the android is wrong to find them mostly interesting, just as the scientist (in "T2") is wrong to see the terminator's technology as mostly fascinating. There is a sense in this film, that is, that nature could still be nature, still be in some sense organic, and still warrant worse than the bulldozer: a nuke, no less, that could destroy a world for all mankind's sake.

"Avatar" turns this around, and I think it was produced by a more repentant-feeling, an even more mother-bonding Cameron, but there is still a sense in the end that as great as Nature is when she's been woken up to school down the presumptive arrogant, that the man who yet believes he can teach her a thing of two may in fact come to have the edge -- and may even still be worth our rooting for. Eywa / Nature mostly takes down the military/ corporate technologists in an awesome but quite blunt -- dumb -- fashion. Her space is poisonous and navigation / targeting-system neutralizing, and she mows down ground troops with a dumb but invincible charge of "triceratops." (The "triceratops," we note, mow through the forest kinda like the corporation tractors did, but their purposes are always organic.) Perhaps the most striking bit of quick thinking you see in the whole battle is from the colonel, when he quickly steers the ship to avoid being incinerated by a grenade, straps into the battle suit, and avoids dumbly going down with the ship. He then effectively takes down the great giant panther, and plots on until his defeat: no Na'vi' all-hope-is-lost despair from him. He was adaptable, sure of himself in desperate situations, and still learning -- not Nature's champion, but perhaps still ideally man's, who could prove by his wee-lonesome a still problem to all that is bulking, huge, inevitable, and in the way. This needs more of an argument I know, and I know that Cameron was mostly with the Na'vi and Eywa with this, but I do think that even here there is still a sense that hubris invites disaster, but maybe also helpful and conclusive innovation -- what then to do, next time: his tales aren't just "the-Titanic-went-down," but "the-Titanic-went-down-so-next-time-they-were-sure-to-build-one-with-a-better-rudder-and-things-actually-worked-out-pretty-smoothly-after-that:-thanks-dumb-looming-Iceberg!" And so you get "Titanic" and a great tale of the human heart, but also oceanic equipment at work whose efficiency and easy brazenness, along with its smack-talking operatives, isn't / aren't quite quitted at the end by the clamp-down of an old lady with her lesson to tell. The Titanic couldn't make its way through icebergs, but the great ship itself, at its great depth -- and now itself more a great natural phenomenon OF the sea than a technological marvel WITHIN it-- was no problem for Cameron's tech: maybe not the Titanic, but the more savy and informed Cameron was concerned to show you that HE could make the ocean his bitch.

Link: Why Do Our Most Technology-Obsessed Filmmakers Make Movies That are Anti-Technology? (Movieline)

The meaning of "absolutely brilliant"

Kicking around in the comments, I see that some think there’s an anti-Inception bias here at Movieline HQ. Let me dispel that scurrilous rumor by saying I think Inception was absolutely brilliant and probably one of the best movies of the year. (Dixon Gaines, “Weekend Receipts: Inception Wakes Up At Number One,” July 18 2010)

I don't mean this as a snark, but when you say, "Let me dispel that scurrilous rumor by saying I think Inception was absolutely brilliant and probably one of the best movies of the year," as a believing listener you're kinda forced into thinking that for Inception to be absolutely brilliant and still only PROBABLY also one of the year's best, to you this has been a year chock-full of epic-brilliant movie-making. If I walked up to you in a crowded room and said to you you were absolutely brilliant, probably one of the smartest people in the room, the room had better be filled with obvious "Einsteins" for this not -- en totale -- to seem much better than, "THE COMPANY OF THIS ROOM makes you seem beyond outstanding," which may or may not make you feel objectively superior, and probably has you thanking at first and then pausing -- "hey, wait a minute..." If the room was actually full of the retarded-leaning average -- which is how many critics judge this (ostensibly) dumbest movie summer / year ever (!) (one they were hoping to be rescued by Inception) -- then you'd have to think I sashayed over to you PRETENDING a compliment but INTENDING a mock-down of an insult.

This is play, I know, and your enthusiasm (for the film) is obvious, of course: but "absolutely brilliant" you'd think would have put it CLEARLY the year's best, probably ONE OF THE DECADE'S. If you genuinely think the year was so full of really great films that a clearly absolutely brilliant may still not count amongst its very best, it's a contrarian take, and I'd like to hear more about that. Myself, I saw three films that will stay with me a good long while (Please Give, Greenberg, Cyrus, [four?: Drunk History Tesla?] -- I also kinda liked Jonah Hex some [Stephanie is right, it was very pleasantly leisurely, if not very -- or much at all -- inventive), and I count it as a decent but necessary appetizer: I've liked the year more than others seem to have.

Link: Weekend receipts (Movieline)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Discussing Inception's reception with S.T. Vanairsdale

So you might have heard Movieline’s chief film critic Stephanie Zacharek had some problems with Inception. Along with a few other pans heard round the world (literally), the review has provoked more than a little discussion among fans of Christopher Nolan — and that discussion will only advance this weekend as the film opens in theaters. With that in mind, let’s talk! And: Let’s keep it civil! It’s just a movie, people. (S.T. Vanairsdale, “Now Playing: Stephanie Zacharek’s Video Review of Inception,” Movieline, 16 July 2010)

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Welcome to Movieline, where a movie ... really is just a movie, people.


You know what I mean. No movie is grounds to write the kind of vicious, hateful, personal attacks we've seen here this week. (S.T. Vanairsdale)

I agree with that. I also commend the encouragment for civility. This said, this is a site for people who feel passionately about movies -- it's a (albeat intelligent) fan site, FOR MOVIES -- and the essential "what's with you guys!? leave the passion for politics" angle was ill-placed, and a bit insulting. You guys are kinda taking the hit here you surely expected when you hired Stephanie, who you know is going to be unmoved by or loathe a good number of the films people who come here are probably going to love. Point the finger both ways?

No one ever said leave the passion for politics. We cherish all our writers -- including Stephanie -- for their passion. What I said was don't reduce a conversation about this movie to an assaultive free-for-all. That is not passion. That is abuse. So I'm passionate enough (or maybe naive enough, you tell me) to demand a little better quality dissent from readers -- especially those who insist on being empirically right, which makes no sense in film criticism anyway. That's fair, isn't it? (S.T. Vanairsdale)

Re: "No one ever said leave the passion for politics. We cherish all our writers -- including Stephanie -- for their passion. What I said was don't reduce a conversation about this movie to an assaultive free-for-all. That is not passion. That is abuse. So I'm passionate enough (or maybe naive enough, you tell me) to demand a little better quality dissent from readers -- especially those who insist on being empirically right, which makes no sense in film criticism anyway. That's fair, isn't it?"

In hiring Stephanie you got yourself one hell of a film critic, but also one you knew would really antagonize fans of (the likes of and including) Nolan -- I'm assuming, a decent portion of your fan base. You (effectively) baited them: YOU "crossed the line" (if you forgive the Movieline pun and Dark Knight reference), and so then, did they. Did you really think that fans of Nolan's works, people whose self-esteem to some extent rests in their appreciation of his genius, who maybe were prone to look to the film for transcendence -- a tomorrow-changing, elevating "mind fuck" to be shared with their equally expectant and elected friends -- to push them further in-sync with his accumulating genius, and maybe also of the type to cooperate in this outcome if the film alone couldn't get them "there," are the type to be expected to be adults, resist all baiting and keep the debate civil while still passionate, just after witnessing their great occasion having been preemptorily savaged and rendered miniscule and already-done by a home-base website? It's difficult to believe you are / were that naive. Perhaps instead -- and to quote You've Got Mail: "Whatever [they] said last night was provoked, even deserved. [They] were expecting to see someone they trusted, and met the enemy instead."

You claim that in saying that "it's only a movie, people," you weren't in any way scolding or showing yourself opposed to PASSIONATE replies, only out-of-bound vitriolic ones -- that you should still be imagined as being (apparently evidently) actually very much FOR the passion I misread you to be implicitly arguing belonged only with ostensibly much more substantive life-or-death stuff, like politics. But reminding people it's only a movie isn't evidently something you'd say just to shut down ABUSIVE comments, but rather ANY KIND OF substantial emotional involvement: if someone writes that they lost it at the movies, you don't assume they've lost themselves to angry expletives, but to what-they-know-would-be-deemed indecorous, intense, unbounded and passionate involvement with the sort of subject-matter everyone civilized know as (essentially) but a pastime lark. The context of your reply, you might remind me, was OBVIOUSLY informed by the abuse, the intention to not just mock but to destroy that we all witnessed here last night. But my reply to that is that it is at least as much informed by the current rabid eagerness that's been developing in some quarters to judge all commenters on websites -- everyone who lives there -- and maybe the whole net itself, as being damnable for their constant evidencing of their enthrallment, level of obsession, absolute lack of control -- for not being anywhere sufficiently DISpassionate, appropriately UNinvolved as much or more than fairly INvolved -- more than it just is their bile.

Referring to what happened here yesterday, the Guardian today talked about the "torrent of bile" but mostly objected to the excess, the degree of involvement displayed -- the "zeal," the "hysteria," the lack of form -- and its lack of distinction -- the "gooie[ness]": they wanted to ground proper passion (which Stephanie evidences in her "typical meticulous weighing of evidence"), and delineate the acceptable response, which is NOT "enthusiastic," NOT "excessive," and NOT (for example) "aggrieved" ("I simply can't get that aggrieved about ... ") -- being largely unmoved, it would seem: i.e., what we normally think of when we think of being passionately involved with something. The Stephanie defenders on the thread, you noticed, took care to finish their defenses by lambasting those of such lamentable lack of self-restraint that they had trouble even ATTENDING to a differing point-of-view, let alone accepting one. It wasn't the venom, but that they -- unlike themselves -- had proven themselves guilty of a lack of self-control, of suffering the consequences arising from their being too long enthralled and lost in their obsessions -- and in their own self-pride (and even good luck, it seemed), you weren't sure just how unhappy they actually were with this "discovery."

What I'm getting at is that this whole thing has the feel (at least) of a set-up, part of a regrettable societal movement to push and prompt people to act in ways that make them look unrescueably "lost," punishment / abandonment-worthy -- what we've decided we want them to be -- and commend those who shrink their level of personal availability -- their soul -- to the point that what they now put on the table isn't so much to make them likely to be aggrieved, or moved, by anything -- not "just" movies.

Re: The context of your reply, you might remind me, was OBVIOUSLY informed by the abuse, the intention to not just mock but to destroy that we all witnessed here last night. But my reply to that is that it is at least as much informed by the current rabid eagerness that's been developing in some quarters to judge all commenters on websites -- everyone who lives there -- and maybe the whole net itself, as being damnable for their constant evidencing of their enthrallment, level of obsession, absolute lack of control -- for not being anywhere sufficiently DISpassionate, appropriately UNinvolved as much or more than fairly INvolved -- more than it just is their bile."

Again, you're reading way too much into it (though I sincerely appreciate your extended consideration). There was a movie review. There was a slew of hate, much of which had nothing to do with the movie. There was another movie review. There was the instinct to encourage civility -- based on prior experience. And here we are again.

So... I tried. Should I have presumed it's a fool's errand? Maybe, but I have more faith in people -- particularly people who love movies -- than that. The alternative is way too depressing.

Thanks very much for your respectful and considered reply, S.T. VANAIRSDALE. I like your faith -- a lot. It's not a fool's errand, but informed by this reaction, you'll know maybe in future to have two reviews, perhaps, of certain key films -- saying something to the effect of, hey, we LOVE Stephanie, but we know she can absolutely hate films that other independent, strong-minded people like Roger Ebert can just love, so we'd like to offer you a couple of perspectives here -- and maybe the reaction (from some at least) would be tempered a bit, and maybe you'd just get the full backing and support from people like me, and not just our involved, passionate challenge, who know there was something pretty substantial about you to go after and get someone so interesting and challenging as Stephanie in the first place. I used to read your magazine a long while back, and really liked it, and was pleased to hear it was still around. Much appreciated.

Link: Now Playing: Stephanie Zacharek’s Video Review of Inception (Movieline)