Why Can’t an American Critic Write a Great Review Without Getting Beat Up?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

I’ve been reading a lot of snarky blog posts and articles lately about my favorite film critic. I’ve heard these comments before: he’s just a knee-jerk contrarian who gets off on having the opposite opinion as everyone else; he can’t possibly believe what he writes; he’s just looking for attention, etc. One writer went to the trouble of going through nearly every paragraph in one of his reviews, searching for some nitpicky way to trick him up. Talk about snarky.

What threatens these haters is the possibility that he just might be right. If there’s anything we have learned from history, it’s that the conventional wisdom of today isn’t necessarily the way things will be perceived in the future. Who’s to say? Maybe recent buzzeroonie movies of the moment like “Toy Story 3,” “The Kids Are All Right,” and “Inception” will end up in the trash can of cinematic history, whereas “Marmaduke” will fascinate film scholars for eons to come. I’d be willing to wager that a lot of the people who are making these snap judgments haven’t even seen “Marmaduke.”

Why can’t an American critic write a great review without getting beat up?

His review of “Marmaduke” came out on the 4th of June, 2010, a day that I will never forget. The outraged response from the serious film academy—including nearly every member of “Rotten Tomatoes” who hadn’t had computer privileges taken away by their moms—was so virulently negative that it reminded me of an event that had happened six days and 97 years prior: the premiere of Stravinsky’s “Le sacre du printemps” at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées  on May 29th, 1913.

His first paragraph stirred my soul with its erudition, rigor and authority:

Unlike over-hyped time-wasting piffle like “L’avventura,” “Tokyo Story,” “Yi Yi,” “The Godfather,” “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” “The Hurt Locker,” “The Son,” “The Bicycle Thief,” “Grand Illusion,” “Citizen Kane” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Psycho,” “Raging Bull,” “Metropolis,” “Shoah,” “2001,” “The Searchers,” “Children of Paradise,” “Pather Panchali,” “The Seven Samurai,” “The Thin Blue Line,” “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” “The Rules of the Game,” “Breathless,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Caché,” “Talk to Her,” “Spirited Away,” “There Will be Blood,” “In the Mood for Love,” “Mulholland Drive,” “Taste of Cherry,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Blade Runner,” and “Stranger Than Paradise,” “Marmaduke” is a real film, a film for the ages. Tom Dey has reinvented the lovable Great Dane comedy. I must admit I didn’t think that Dey could ever surpass his work on the unjustly maligned “Failure to Launch,” but he has done it! (Matthew McConaughey gave the performance of his life in that film.)

I would like to reprint more and even offer a link, but his review has been taken down, and I only memorized the first paragraph.

Go ahead and scoff. I bet a lot of you haven’t even seen “Marmaduke.”