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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‘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 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‘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 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 (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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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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