Cowboys, Aliens, Chicken Salads, and Trolls

You know what's wrong with this damn country? Chicken Caesar salad. (Stand aside, Rush Limbaugh. I'm talkin' here.) I could just as well bring up flavored coffee. I mean, what was so doggone wrong with the flavor of coffee that people felt like it would be better off tasting like hazelnut candy and imitation vanilla extract? But it's the ubiquitous, and nearly always awful, chicken Caesar that really fries my butt. Caesar salad wasn't something you ate all the time, and not everybody liked it. It was garlicky and spicy and salty, and in the old days often had anchovies ground up in the dressing and served whole on top of the lettuce. (Oh, I know they still make it that way, for $17.95, in some ever so precious restaurant you frequent. Spare me.)


Then somebody had the brilliant idea that more people might like Caesar salad if it was less scary -- if it was less like itself, in effect -- so they took out the fishies and turned the dressing into a flavorless, oily, Parmesan-cheesey glop you could buy at the grocery store. Fewer people hated that, I imagine, but it was an inherently boring salad no one would ever make or buy on purpose. Romaine, with a salty, grainy, viscous fluid somewhat like dirty motor oil drizzled across it. Then came the stroke of genius, in the form of chopped-up strips of grilled chicken breast, the most innocuous and non-carnivorous form of meat. The result is a hybrid mishmash of incompatible elements, which seems as if it ought to be appealing and which nobody actively dislikes, but which is, in fact, unsatisfying on every level. And that's how we get, dear reader, to "Cowboys & Aliens," which is not merely the chicken Caesar of movies but the chicken Caesar with raspberry vinaigrette, bleu cheese and some of those godawful walnuts crumbled on top. [. . .] (Andrew O’Hehir, "Cowboys & Aliens": Daniel Craig does Eastwood in a steampunk mashup,” Salon, 27 July 2011)

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What's wrong with a classic Caesar with grilled chicken added?

Dude, I am completely with you regarding classic Caesar salads. They must have anchovies to be TRUE Caesar salads. Not anchovy-flavored dressing, but actual fishies. So far, so good.


But what if you're at a restaurant and you're ordering a Caesar, but you're also really hungry? And what if they offer grilled chicken with the salad "for a few dollars more" (see how I worked in a Western reference there?)?


Seriously, then you'd have a classic, true Caesar but with some lean, perfectly-grilled, lightly seasoned chicken on the side for protein. And then you've got a meal. A Caesar alone is a decent lunch, but not much of a dinner. Add chicken and boom -- it's a dinner.


So what's your problem? And where are the chickens in "Cowboys & Aliens"?

Also, please tell me the name of the restaurants that serve Caesar salads with sliced almonds, raspberry vinaigrette dressing, and bleu cheese crumblies. I think you're making that shit up, or they aren't actually selling those salads under the name Caesar Salad. (rattigan glumphobo)

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But what was wrong with the film?

Forgive me, Mr. O'Hehir -- and I like your writing so much that I put a paraphrased quote* from one of your reviews on my Facebook profile, I thought it was so beautiful and true -- but in this review, you spent so much time making with the ha-ha that you didn't spend nearly enough time detailing what you thought was wrong with the film -- why it didn't work; why it was "mediocre"; etc. Just sayin', I wanted to know what you didn't like about the film, and after reading what you wrote, I still do.

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The quote:


*"We all live and die amid confusion and injustice; life seems too short no matter how long it lasts; and the days we have are miraculous, and then they are gone." - Andrew O'Hehir (Clavis)

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Not a good review, by the way

The Salon front-page headline proclaims this "The summer's lamest hack-job." Then, when you click the story, it says "Daniel Craig does Eastwood in a steampunk mashup." Why is the headline different in two places, and why does one headline proclaim the movie utter garbage while the other is non-judgmental? That's very odd and hints at editorial indecision or second-guessing.


The subhead does say the movie is cliche-ridden and irritating, but the article gives the reader very little work with in terms of analysis. Instead we get an extended metaphor about salad. Comparing a movie to food is itself a cliche, but I haven't seen Caesar salads used before (credit to O'Hehir for knowing his way around a Caesar salad). Nonetheless, extended metaphors have to be backed up: HOW is the movie like a salad done wrong? And WHY did you miss the opportunity to compare the alien monsters to giant anchovies? I mean, you had it all lined up and then....nothing.


Reading this review, dividing it into paragraphs, you get a really long metaphor, a description of the movie's Western setting and characters, a 2nd description of the movie's Science-Fiction hybrid plot, some background information about the graphic novel (even though the movie is barely like it), and an off-the-cuff concluding paragraph that mentions Somalia, John Boehner and how it's okay for summer moviegoing fare to lack social/political relevance.


What I am saying is: There's no REVIEW in this REVIEW!


Why did the movie bother you? What about the alien twists was lame? Which parts were hackneyed? The headline says it's a lame hackjob, but the article says Jon Favreau's directing is "reasonably accomplished," or something.


Andrew, how about getting it together and reviewing more of the content of the films your write about? Try reading 10 old reviews by Roger Ebert and another 10 reviews by Pauline Kael before you start writing your next review. Those two writers actually write about life, and the reasons people care about going to the movies, and investing themselves in the stories and characters, or escaping, or reflecting, or whatever reason people go to movies. They're into moviegoing, and it shows. They don't reduce movies to a laundry list of elements to be summarized, and they usually don't compare movies to Waldorf salads or whatever. (rattigan glumphobo)

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Heh

While I have no intention of seeing this film, I found your review to be cliche piled upon cliche of hackish, uppity movie criticism, which--as you might guess where I'm heading--just ends up being irritating. Very irritating, before the end of the first paragraph even. You might want to rethink your approach. (ban-ghaidheal)

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Where's the review in this review?

I was hoping for a review of the movie. Instead, I got a...well, I'm not sure what I got. It definitely wasn't a review. Seemed more like an exercise in being contrarian and obtuse. Are you sure you actually watched the movie, and didn't cheat by watching the trailers and then going out for salad? (Jon Henshaw)

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I finally figgered out the trick to salads

you have to make them YOURSELF.

Personally, I like less lettuce, more other veggies and meat, a greater variety of toppings, and more dressing.


Moreso, since I almost exclusively eat organic food, which almost always tastes better, it makes the salad taste better.


With the dressing, I often mix one or more HIGH QUALITY organic commercial dressings together, then throw in more vinegar, since I love vinegar, olive oil, since we do not get enough Omega 3s in our diets, and a bunch of herbs and spices, since I like things hotter and spicier.


As a topping, I sometimes crunch up some Thai spice Kettle brand potato chips (my personal trick, since these are my favorite chips of all time).

Can't fail. This is the BEST salad you will EVER have. I actually started to like salad after I began to make them myself. (Liberty2Day)

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I couldn't care less about this stupid movie

but a real Caesar salad (if one assumes that Cardini actually invented it) has no anchovies in it.

romaine lettuce

olive oil

crushed garlic

a good wine vinegar

freshly squeezed tart citrus juice

Worcestershire sauce

coddled egg yolks

freshly ground black pepper

freshly grated Parmesan cheese

freshly prepared croutons

a dash of salt (EdipisReks)

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Blah blah it's only a movie, dude, blah

Relax and lighten up, dude, it's only a movie, dude.

Just thought I'd throw that out there, since it's the standard response to reviews like this and SOMEBODY HAS TO SAY IT.

It's THE LAW. (Matt Zoller Seitz)


Matt Seitz

re: Blah blah it's only a movie, dude, blah

Relax and lighten up, dude, it's only a movie, dude.

Just thought I'd throw that out there, since it's the standard response to reviews like this and SOMEBODY HAS TO SAY IT.

It's THE LAW.

Reminds me of David Edelstein's charming post on Stephanie's "Inception" review:

Kill the beast! Spill her blood! Smash her face!

You must be punished for your dumbness and illitarecy. Christopher Nolan RULEZ you drool! Whoo---ahhhhhhhhhhhh.

All good. Surely takes some balls. Except some of us are wondering if even a couple years from now, when most of America is pretty well showing how maybe the last thing they need is to be made more sport of, if you guys are going to keep this good stuff up. Hope so; but my bet is you'll actually be TARGETING people still talking like you're talking now. May this feedback make it less likely you'll end up so.

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@Alix Dobkowski

You know, Alix, my complaint about the headlines not matching is a perfectly valid comment. It's so valid, in fact, that I notice Salon's editors have now completely excised the "hackiest, lamest" headline from the article -- both on the home page and on the article. So what's your problem with me pointing out that the headline doesn't make sense? When Salon's writers and editors do work that is not only sloppy, but completely inaccurate and inconsistent to a fault, are we, the lowly, pathetic readers of Salon, supposed to just suck it up and roll over and say, "Yes sir, I'd like some more?" As far as I am concerned, I pay Salon's fucking bills by reading their articles every day -- I am regularly exposed to the advertisements that pay Salon's electric bills, as well as paying for the postage stamps so Salon's editors can mail their freelance writers a special certificate that says, "Congratulation! For your efforts, you have been awarded a Gold Star (not included, only metaphorical)! Maybe some day, you too can earn monetary compensation for your writing efforts! Until then, thank you for your complimentary submission, and keep 'em coming! Who knows? One day we might even hire you to work on our esteemed staff, at least long enough so that you can enjoy a delightful unpaid U-Haul trip across the country, and then another delightful U-Haul trip when we lay off your sorry ass."


And yeah, I complained about the metaphor, but only because it made me hungry. After reading Andrew's column, I totally wanted to toss a salad, especially one that smelled of fish. It could be named Caesar, or hell, Cecilia. Who by the way is breaking my heart and shaking my confidence daily.


No, I do not read the comments of oda7103sf or Liberty2day for one simple reason: I prefer to choose when and where I enjoy slapstick comedy merged with tragedy. Whether that choice is a Jerry Lewis movie or something featuring Adam Sandler getting kicked in the balls by Sarah Silverman, it makes no difference. I want to be able to savor it. Liberty2day and oda are far too random, and especially with oda, I think he works that whole "chronic masturbator" persona a little too much to be funny.


Regarding Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael, I am not saying O'Hehir should emulate them. I am saying he should read some good reviewers from the olden days to get in the mood. O'Hehir is a good writer, but even good writers go off-track or lose their mojo once in a while. O'Hehir is capable of cranking out about a dozen well-written and intelligent Cannes articles in a few days, so I know he's capable of kickass movie criticism. But what he's done here shows he's not in the mood or something. Frankly, after O'Hehir finished writing that whole long paragraph about Caesar salads, he should have done one of two things: (1) Kept going, writing a whole big article on Salads for Salon's food section, which recently lost Francis Lam; or (2) Deleted the entire paragraph, starting over with an extended metaphor about Matzoh Ball Soup, or Dietemaceous Earth, or possibly something to do with Squid Jism.


Some of the best reviews I've ever read weren't by Kael or Ebert or Sarris or Glieberman or Zacharek or Seitz or O'Hehir or Rainer or Rafferty or Lane or Sragow or Kauffmann or Denby or Siskel or Canby or what's-her-face at NY Times or what's-her-face at EW or what's-their-faces at Variety or Hollywood Reporter or Libby Gelman Waxner or even Joe Bob Briggs or that guy with the mustache or that other guy with the scrub-brush mustache and Ch-ch-ch-chia! 'fro.


No, the best reviews I've ever read were by nameless reviewers at the LA Weekly, or the Phoenix New Times, or the Willamette Weekly, or RE/Search books, or in regional daily newspapers whose writers haven't become jaded yet and aren't just rung-climbing to an editorial position, or in small 'zines, or blogs written by people who really, really love movies to the point where they're really, really paying attention to things and they have an almost Zen sense of the details and textures and story references and thematics and visual motifs and characters. And they also are completely tuned in, with laser precision, to the things that are wrong with the stories, the way the assumptions are subtly insulting to the audience's intelligence, or the way the movie rewards viewers who are opening their awareness to the film. Yes, these writers use snark and wisecracks, but they use them for a reason, which is to illuminate something important about their evaluation of the film, and not just to fill space with acceptable copy so they can hit "save" and call it a day. I'm not saying O'Hehir doesn't do the former, or that he does the latter -- actually I think he does a little of both the good and the bad, and I'd love to see the ratio improve much. (I have few illusions that I'm helping matters much by being the buzzing mosquito of annoyingness around here, but then again, I'm fucking partially paying Salon's bills, so I can do whatever the hell I want.)


Regarding the movie: I don't intend to see "Cowboys & Aliens" either, not after some of the other reviews I've read. Last I checked it had 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, which means the tomato is half-rotten. I usually throw half-rotten tomatoes away, unless I'm making a salad for somebody I can't stand. Not a Caesar salad, though. They don't have tomatoes. (rattigan glumphobo)

Link: "Cowboys & Aliens": Daniel Craig does Eastwood in a steampunk mashup (Salon)

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