Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rex Reed: Bad For Everyone

Rex Reed of the New York Observer has been an outspoken advocate of the decline of quality criticism and the rise of the uninformed "my opinion is equally valid" Internet culture that has arrived on the scene to review film in the past 15 years. In a way, he's right: I already addressed the problems of film criticism here, in a different rant. But unfortunately Reed's own criticism is typically a poorly written caricature of a snooty film snob, to the point that it's hard to tell whether any given snooty pseudo-intellectual nonsense quote is actually from him or made up. So I made a game of it! Try to guess which of the following quotes actually come from Rex Reed or me, making things up while holding my pinky in mid-air so I can emulate Reed's style.

"Any director who wastes valuable time watching female boxing instead of learning how to make better movies has lost me already."

"Writer-director Nolan is an elegant Hollywood hack from London whose movies are a colossal waste of time, money and I.Q. points."

"The Artist is an elaborate and belated apology from France for causing WWII and serving frog legs."
-The Artist

"Writer-director Nolan’s Batman Begins, with its surreal and mystical mumbo jumbo about playboy Bruce Wayne’s beginnings, remains the worst Batman movie I’ve ever seen, although the comic-book addicts disagree. The Dark Knight takes up where it left off, but if it’s a follow-up that introduces a comprehensive sociopath called the Joker, then how do you explain the fact that the Joker made his debut years ago as Jack Nicholson? It’s just one of the things that makes no sense, but hey-ho, since when did Batman and logic morph?"
-The Dark Knight

"In the pantheon of tastelessness designed to make you laugh at diarrhea, menstruation, masturbation, yeast infections, fellatio and worse, you can now add a stupid horror called 50/50."

"War Horse is a helping of saccharine-sweet tripe that aims to transform women (and possibly men) into fawning children."
-War Horse

"In the numbing hands of pretentious filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, history does not repeat itself in any way whatsoever."
-True Grit

"It is not my cup of bitter tea laced with arsenic... "
-Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Fincher version)

How'd you do? Only the War Horse and The Artist quotes are fake. Here's what he actually wrote about War Horse:

"Turning a beloved play into a movie is a job for either a fool or a daredevil. Mr. Spielberg is neither, but he is a visionary with unflinching faith in his own instincts."

How shocking that Reed swallows Spielberg's tripe so wholeheartedly, since his entire movie-reviewing philosophy appears to be "they don't make 'em like they used to!" Shockingly, he also loved The Artist, a movie that is, again, a straight-up nostalgia trip. Reed defends his "good old days" nostalgia by shitting on anyone with a new voice, no matter how well regarded they are: the hacks he insults are currently at the top of the film industry, and he doesn't even bother to review movies he's guaranteed to dislike like Mission Impossible or some cartoon (although why he reviewed Haywire is a mystery).

When Reed's not being catty, his descriptions of plot and story are virtually impenetrable fortresses of abysmal prose. Great, now he's got me over-writing things. From his Haywire review:

"Cut to Washington, D.C., where the overexposed Ewan McGregor is instructed by boss Michael Douglas to eliminate the two-fisted Mallory."

Look at the adjectives in this sentence; while they're certainly unexpected, they make no sense at all: how is McGregor overexposed? Is his character literally "overexposed" in the frame? Is Ewan the actor just in too many movies? Did Reed just watch The Ghost Writer on DVD the day before? Calling a character "two-fisted" is about as productive as calling them "ten fingered." Check out the adjectives from War Horse's plot:

"Joey is stubborn and willful with a mind of his own, and when the crops fail, the only way to pay the rent is to sell Joey to the military."

Joey is stubborn, willful, AND has a mind of his own? Reminds me of the parade I visited that was loud, noisy, and deafening.

He also likes to take pot-shots when they're completely unnecessary, whether it's deriding Chris Nolan for (probably) enjoying video games, or calling the (dead) writer of the Dragon Tattoo series "overrated." Or, as he did in 2005, Reed can dismiss a film because its country of origin eats something gross the way Rex did when he dismissed Oldboy by saying "What else can you expect from a nation weaned on kimchi?" But honestly, what can you expect from a film critic who's eaten so much diiiiii-ll pickles?

Sometimes his mean, negative shit is factually incorrect, as when he said "I wanted to like this one, but Mr. Malick–who hates the press, never gives interviews, and has made only five films in 30 years (all flops)–makes it impossible," for some reason during his Tree of Life review. While this is mean and unnecessary, it's also factually incorrect: even looking past the fact that it's asinine to dismiss a director's work because it's "all flops" even when it's being nominated for Oscars or winning critics awards, the fact is not all of Malick's movies were objectively flops, unless you count 30 million dollar profits as a "flop." Days of Heaven wasn't a bomb either.

My problem is that I like movies--lots of movies, not just those that were released fifty years ago (although I like those too!). Someone, somewhere, seems to think Reed is being a hilarious queen when he writes jokes about how he almost leaves a theater (the height of humor) or insults people's work, or, more often, insults them personally. But his reviews are incoherent--he's very good at saying something is infinitely worse than it is with colorful nonsense words, but he can't actually explain why something is bad. So he's just calling things bad indiscriminately with nothing but a thesaurus and apparent authority to defend himself.

Still, in a way, I feel bad for him. It's clear from reading his reviews that the only theater experience he values is the kind where you walk out feeling nostalgic, but it's also kind of sad that he can't experience film except in this extremely limited way. He's too dumb to understand Nolan, too square to get the Coens or DA, and too heartless to get Malick. He gets paid to do a job that I literally do for free, and he can't find the same joy I have when watching Deep Red or Barberella, let alone something amazing.

For more entries in the Bad For Everyone series, see our rants on The Nostalgia Critic and James Berardinelli.

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