DID YOU READ

Thumbing Our Noses At Roger Ebert Haters

Thumbing Our Noses At Roger Ebert Haters (photo)

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Yesterday on the online culture magazine The Rumpus — a site I’ve contributed to in the past — a writer by the name of Larry Fahey wrote a piece entitled “All Thumbs: Roger Ebert and the Decline of Film Criticism”. The article begins with the sentence “I hate Roger Ebert,” and goes on to outline how Ebert has destroyed not only film criticism, but also filmmaking, and life as we know it. Fahey begins by delineating two different kinds of critics, those who approach movies as art and those who approach them as products. Into the former category, Fahey places writers like Anthony Lane and Stanley Kauffmann. Into the latter, he places Rex Reed, Leonard Maltin, Gene Shalit, and worst of all Ebert, who is, in Fahey’s estimation:

“…the kind [of critic] that sees movies as products, like cell phones or refrigerators or spatulas. These critics consider it their responsibility not to inspire debate or thought, not to use their cinematic expertise to give the reader insight. Rather, they want to judge a film’s fitness for purchase, recommend that a moviegoer either should or should not spend his or her money on the product. These critics are easy to spot. Every newspaper has at least one. They use a lot of puns when they dislike a film. They usually employ a grading system — a letter grade if they want to seem really nuanced, a ten-star scale if they want to make only a passing nod to intelligence, four stars if they’re especially simple-minded.”

Fahey particularly dislikes the “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” rating system on Ebert’s longtime movie review show with colleague Gene Siskel. Fahey claims he’s interested in criticism that judges films “subjectively, with meanings and values unique to each individual viewer.” “If you’re really interested in film analysis,” says Fahey, “the ‘Siskel and Ebert’ approach, adopted by most mainstream critics, is about as interesting as a Consumer Reports dot chart.”

Reading Fahey’s piece, I get the sense that the author doesn’t really know much about the guy he supposedly hates. Certainly “Two Thumbs Up!” became the ultimate movie poster pull-quote during the show’s heyday. But Fahey ignores the fact that Siskel and Ebert put that name recognition to good use championing the small films they loved. Before it had even premiered at Sundance, the pair devoted an entire segment of their show to the film “Hoop Dreams.” This was a three hour documentary with no stars, the complete antithesis of the cookie cutter blockbusters Fahey wants to link the show to, and Siskel and Ebert were talking about it at a time when absolutely no one in their audience could watch it. This movie was not a spatula.

Beneath what marketers ascribed to them, “the thumbs” represented two men’s subjective opinions, opinions that diverged just as often as they aligned. If Fahey really wanted to critique the show’s slow evolution into a consumer guide, he should have knocked the ratings system that replaced the thumbs in recent years: “See It,” “Skip It,” or “Rent It.” Except that came about after Ebert was forced off the show by his repeated battles with cancer so it would be tough to blame him for it.

Fahey also devotes a good portion of his article to bashing Ebert and other critics like him for dismissing B-movies because they are “just B-movies.” Fahey writes:

“The term B-movie relates more to a film’s budget and cast than anything else, and by criticizing a film because it’s a B-movie there’s a nonsensical implication that big budgets and all-star casts somehow guarantee quality.”

On this point, Fahey is correct. But in order to decry the critical practice of using the term “B-movie” to describe a film’s quality rather than its budget, he cites “Ebert and Roeper”‘s review of “Hollow Man,” a decision that is problematic for two reasons. First, Roeper, not Ebert, described “Hollow Man” as a B-movie. Plus, Roeper didn’t “condescendingly call” “Hollow Man” a B-movie, as Fahey puts it, he observed that the film had “a corny plot right out of a 1950s B-movie” which it absolutely does. Worse, the counter-examples that Fahey lists as great B-movies to argue against the label’s stigma include “Johnny Guitar,” “Psycho,” and “Touch of Evil”, all titles featured in Ebert’s ongoing series of critical essays and books called “The Great Movies,” a project that seems like a serious waste of time for a critic who supposedly hates B-movies and is only interested in considering slick, big budget movies as consumer products. Fahey is correct that many critics reject B-movies outright without considering their many pleasures. But the people who are far more guilty of this than Ebert are the very critics Fahey claims to love: the academics and “film as art” crowd who take the medium so seriously that they have trouble finding the value in so-called “garbage.” When was the last time Stanley Kauffmann wrote about a low budget zombie film?

The world of film criticism has a lot of problems these days. Many of the best older writers are out of work, and many of the best young writers are expected to work for free. Online movie writing tends toward cultish obsession and name-calling rather than reasoned argument, and the pieces that tend to garner the most traffic are the ones like Fahey’s that throw the biggest bombs, rather than ones that are the most intelligent or well-written. Fahey’s entitled to his opinion, just as I am to mine about his. I just wish his seemed a bit more informed.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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