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2010’s Most Memorable Critical Dust-Ups

2010’s Most Memorable Critical Dust-Ups (photo)

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Unlike 2009, there were no punches thrown between critics, at least that we know of, though it didn’t make it any less strange a year for film writers. While there was no assault, that didn’t rule out blackmail – as when FirstShowing.net‘s Alex Billington was accused by rival movie website writers of threatening to ruin Universal’s secret screening of “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World” at Comic-Con by revealing the time and location in advance – or the far more serious allegations of sexual abuse against IESB.net founder Robert Sanchez, who fled the country only to turn up at the first press screening of “Tron: Legacy” in November.

In substantially better developments, “At the Movies” sadly came to an end with Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott at the helm, but will be born anew under original co-host Roger Ebert’s watchful eye with Associated Press critic Christy Lemire in one of the new balcony chairs that will be unveiled on public television shortly after the new year. Salt Lake Tribune‘s Sean Means put an end to his Departed Critic list in May, concluding that “movie criticism isn’t dead,” but as a profession, it needs to adapt – months later, veterans Glenn Kenny and Todd McCarthy got new gigs as the chief film critics at MSN Movies and The Hollywood Reporter, respectively. Then, at the end of the year, something truly unheard of happened: Sunset Gun writer Kim Morgan wed filmmaker Guy Maddin.

Although filmmakers and film writers aren’t always that cozy (see Kevin Smith below), 2010 was a year in which many film writers were compelled to reevaluate their relationships to their peers, to their readers and to the changing digital landscape. Some dealt with it better than others, as this year’s five best critical dust-ups attest.

12292010_RichardSchickel.jpgRichard Schickel Vs. Film Criticism

In March, I went to a screening of Gerald Peary’s “For the Love of Movies” with limited expectations. I had seen the Boston Phoenix critic’s history of film criticism nearly a year earlier at SXSW, but I was lured in by the collection of critics assembled for a post-screening discussion moderated by IndieWire‘s Anne Thompson that included Peary, Vogue‘s John Powers, L.A. Weekly’s Ella Taylor, David Sterritt, the Christian Science Monitor‘s Peter Rainer and yes, Richard Schickel, the recently retired critic from Time. And that was only onstage. In the crowd, there was an equally impressive array of writers that included the L.A. Times’ Mark Olsen, David Ehrenstein and Sergio Leone and the Fly Rule Double‘s Dennis Cozzalio. If this all seems a little inside baseball, you might understand why I thought about not even writing about the event. But I did. And the fallout was quick after Schickel’s grousing about the state of film criticism reached outside the walls of UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theatre.

“Watching all these kind of earnest people discussing the art or whatever the hell it is of criticism, all that, it just made me so sad. You mean they have nothing else to do?” Schickel said after the screening before dropping the bomb, “I don’t know honestly the function of reviewing anything.” It was quite a statement coming from someone who has written film criticism since 1965 and undoubtedly has and will continue to have a role in shaping film history with his many books and documentaries on filmmakers such as Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen. And while no one on the panel agreed with his comments about much of anything that night, as Peary wrote in the comments of my article about the event, “I’m surprised how many people are taking literally his declaration of hating film criticism. What has the gentleman been doing for forty years except writing it? He might hate doing it now, but is he really saying he wasted four decades of his life?”

To which I would agree to a point – Schickel is notoriously curmudgeonly and looked very much the image of a burnt out writer. Also, the convened panel had a general air of depression around it after the film’s celebration of the importance of film criticism gave way to the sobering reality that more than a few participants in the film are now out of the profession. But at the risk of sounding as cruel as Schickel did towards online critics during the panel, I felt he looked lost and far more frustrated by a future for film criticism he knows little about than the past on which he had a firm hold.

In a piece for Cinematical, Todd Gilchrist did well to explain “What it means to be a film critic in 2010,” which follows all the same tenets that Schickel worked under for years with the major exception that Gilchrist has to defend what he does whereas Schickel never did. If anything good came of Schickel’s often ugly comments, other than the Twitter account of @FakeSchickel, it was the passionate response that emerged that made criticism feel more relevant than ever, whether it Cozzalio’s account of the evening, New York Times critic A.O. Scott’s summation that “The future of criticism is the same as it ever was. Miserable, and full of possibility” or Salon.com‘s Andrew O’Hehir’s admonition for film critics to “shut up” and do their job. As for Schickel, I saw him a few weeks ago at a press screening for Peter Weir’s “The Way Back,” and although I couldn’t tell if he liked the film or not, the fact that he had no professional obligation to be there was reason enough to believe his remarks about never loving movies should be taken with a grain of salt.

12292010_TomPerkins.jpgDavid Eng, Tom Perkins and Paul Fischer Vs. Writing Their Own Material

While the battle over piracy rages on for all of film, film critics have experienced their own share of theft in the past year. In July, Cinematical’s William Goss went through 44 “reviews” by David Eng, a PR guy in New York who started his own amateur blog David’s Movie Notebook, and discovered that they had been lifted nearly wholesale from the trades, Roger Ebert, Cinematical and the New York Times, among other outlets. Working in the publicity department of Lower East Side Tenement Museum apparently didn’t prepare Eng for the barrage of phone calls left by Goss and he promptly took his Twitter account private and took down the blog.

Although troubling, it was actually just a drop in the bucket compared to the actions of Tom Perkins, a British blogger who was employed to do video reviews by Hey U Guys! in the UK up until it was discovered in May by JoBlo.com that he had been passing off reviews from that site and countless others as his own after Perkins posted an early review of “Iron Man 2.” Like Eng, Perkins was subsequently badgered on comments sections and his Twitter account and took a long weekend to respond, ultimately coming clean but with an apology that was akin to the “Twinkie defense.” Not surprisingly, he started out with the usual “there’s no excuse for what I have done” before claiming that his plagiarism was due in large part because “YouTube has become so easily corruptible these days I kind of wanted to see how corruptible it can be.” If anything, Perkins proved that video reviews are only slightly less discoverable than text-based ones on a Google search, yet after swearing off taking other people’s work, he continues to review films on a personal blog.

However, the charges of plagiarism weren’t limited to those young impressionable youths. Paul Fischer had been a senior member of the junket circuit for sites like Dark Horizons and Moviehole for years before he was caught this year pilfering descriptions of films from the Sundance Film Festival in his reviews. Fischer’s frequent presence on TV movie ads in teeny-weeny font for movies not typically given to critical praise had made him a target of those who take the profession seriously, and ultimately his undoing came at the hands of Chris Parry, a Vancouver Sun writer who had been penning negative pieces about him for years on eFilmCritic.com. (Movie City News’ Ray Pride did a roundup at the time of the bad blood between Fischer and Parry, which is considerably more interesting than the plagiarism case.)

Fischer retired rather than endure further scrutiny and has posted the occasional review on a personal blog. Some came to Fischer’s defense, including, rather surprisingly, Vadim Rizov, who wasn’t sad to see Fischer go, but argued it was endemic of a larger problem with giving audiences of low expectations exactly what they wanted, concluding “That he prospered for so long (and he’s far from the only one of his kind) is the real scandal.”

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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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