April 29, 2008

Cloverfield

Full review upcoming, but after watching it again late last night, I peeked at Roger Ebert's review and was brought up short, as I am about 30% of the time with the Rog's reviews the last ten years or so, with one paragraph that contains two factual errors.

The leaning high-rise contains Beth (Odette Yustman), who Rob feels duty-bound to rescue from her 49th-floor apartment near Central Park. The others all come along on this foolhardy mission (not explained: how after walking all the way to Columbus Circle they have the energy to climb 49 flights of stairs, Lily in her high heels). Part of their uptown journey is by subway, without the benefit of trains. They're informed by a helpful soldier that the last rescue helicopter leaving Central Park will have "wheels up at oh-six-hundred," begging the question of how many helicopters it would take to rescue the population of Manhattan.

She's on the 39th floor, see, and Lily's walking with her high heels in her hand. Also, this is a pretty major league spoiler. More on that later. The tone of the review is generally snarky which, obviously, I endorse whole-heartedly - yet when you're writing this kind of review, I feel pretty safe in saying, you'd better be pretty nailed down on your facts.

And I'm not talking about casual errors; I'm talking about Ebert making mistakes about what he remembers of the film and then making a wisecrack about it. Two of them. But he's misremembered, see? And mocking something for something that it hasn't done is really a problem - it's a bad thing for the film because the film's only rebuttal is itself and, presumably, if you read Ebert, you might not give it the chance (Ebert's review of The Rules of Attraction was so factually inaccurate, in fact - at least before it was revised without asterisk in the archive - that I'm medium-convinced that it single-handedly doomed the picture upon release). And it's a bad thing for Ebert because it obliterates his credibility. By extension, right, if Ebert is the voice of film criticism in the modern era it obliterates the credibility of this whole mess as a profession engaged in by serious professionals. Listen - again - it's not a tiny factual error, it's a serious, big-ass, dumb-ass error. And he does it twice.

Let me revise, too, my stance on spoilers not mattering the least - spoilers matter when they're just tossed out there to fill up column inches. Ebert's review gives the specs on the monster, on one particularly nasty surprise of its biology that I liked quite a lot, on what happens to the "narrator", on what happens to all the characters, on and on - and he does so not to set-up his analysis but to just, you know, tell you what happens. That's irritating. I get it, now. Let's say that spoilers are bad when they're just used to spoil for lack of anything better to talk about.

I'm pissed. And I'm disappointed. What kind of moron must I be for it still to be possible for me to be disappointed with this dude? I got a few emails after Ansen revealed his buy-out blaming "me" (I'm presuming the collective me of Internet-based crix) for his demise. Well, man, I blame Ebert. Then again, if "we're" responsible for this kind of garbage going the way of the dodo then: guilty, and thank you.

43 comments:

Patrick/Berandor said...

Also: Begging the question does not mean "raising the question", so there's another mistake in the paragraph you posted.

Walter_Chaw said...

Uh huh.

By the way:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24299703/page/2/

Who knew about Newsday?

Goodness.

Anonymous said...

"it's not a tiny factual error, it's a serious, big-ass, dumb-ass error."

I don't really agree, as long as we're talking about Cloverfield here. 39 floors instead of 49, heels or not, it's still a long-ass walk.

Anonymous said...

Cloverfield is really less worth it than a lot of films you missed, it was more of a viral marketing curio than a movie.

Mike A. said...

Ebert's been doing this stuff for years. I remember him bashing the effects in Reign of Fire, because he mistook a partially destroyed CG building as being semitransparent(?).

The attitude's definitely a symptom of some larger disease: check rottentomatoes at any time, and most of the reviews will have a similar petty literal-mindedness, even when positive. It's Family Guy: Blue Harvest in the place of actual analysis.

There are people who loathe 28 Weeks Later just because they misunderstand the military tactics and then whine about that misunderstanding. "Why did they lock the entire population of the island in one room?", followed by a lengthy description of what they should have done instead of this event that never happened in the first place.

Nitpicking is useful when glaring flaws in the plot are a total dealbreaker, but Cloverfield is solid enough - in terms of tone, craftsmanship and thematic density - that focusing on the minutiae is a sure sign of either laziness or ignorance. That this is what passes for film criticism in general speaks volumes about the state of the thing.

Anonymous said...

Well you're both wrong. Watch it again. The chick lives on the 39th, but they actually climb to the 59th floor of the building next door.

-B.

Alex Jackson said...

Well you're both wrong. Watch it again. The chick lives on the 39th, but they actually climb to the 59th floor of the building next door.

I'll come to Walt's defense. He didn't say anything that can be proven as wrong. He said that she lives on the 39th floor and not the 49th floor and said nothing of her having to climb down 39 flights of stairs. If she lives on the 39th floor, then Walt was not mistaken for saying that she lives on the 39th floor and not the 49th.

Whoah, nitpicking nitpicks on a comment about nitpicking. How's that for meta?

Agree with the "49 floors, 39 floors, what's the difference" comment, but not as much about the high heels. If she wasn't wearing high heels then the film shouldn't be blamed for showing her wearing high heels.

And of course the irony of it all, Ebert gave the film a positive review didn't he?

Dave Gibson said...

The Ebert Empire is certainly responsible for the initial pervasiveness and eventual implosion of pop film journalism, which is in turn just another example of how all popular journalism has generally eroded over the past twenty years into hierarchies of brand-name “stars” and an endless deluge of inane punditry. I haven’t seen Cloverfield so, I can’t directly engage that particular bit of minutiae, but from purely a journalism standpoint (Pulitzer winner Ebert has always prided himself on being a newsman at heart) cheap points scored through lazy mistakes are symptomatic of the bigger problem: Why should film criticism be taken seriously if the most revered (and well paid) critic in the world doesn’t? Suppose Ebert was a sportswriter and lambasted a hockey player on the basis of incorrect statistics? (Twenty assists, five assists---whatever: He done helped scored them goals doncha know) I don’t think WC is talking about a minor brain-fart of which every writer is occasionally guilty; I think he’s questioning the legitimacy of basing one of your key arguments on an inherent falsehood. Question: I’m sorry a lot of decent folks are losing their gigs, especially because no one is replacing them—but, has the mainstream press (a subjective term, I know) ever generally been a reliable source of genuine and high-quality film criticism that is not of the “Grab a popcorn and relax!” variety? I mean, I’d read Ansen et. al at the Dentist’s office—but, I haven’t wasted many keystrokes on seeking those sorts of folks (those writing for the big news magazines etc) out over the last ten years, long before their golden (well: “pewter”) parachutes unfurled.

James Pogue said...

Ebert's review of The Fountain exemplifies his incompetence. He isn't analyzing the film, but bragging about how he understood the plot (which I'm not sure he did). Why would you want to be a film critic if you approach films the way he does?

Jefferson said...

Funny, but the media outlets that are buying out/laying off critics seem loath to give up on the appearance of providing film criticism. Walter mentions Newsday, which laid off Seymour and Stuart but then brought in a stringer, Frank Lovece, to review Iron Man.

It's a serviceable review, if all you're looking for is go/don't go. And no doubt it cost Newsday a lot less in salary and benefits to produce. So the cake is both being had and, from the point of view of the casual reader, eaten, but that doesn't mean it has the nutritional value of a real conversation.

Love Gorilla said...

Hooray, you're all going to love Iron Man if you've never seen a movie before in your life!!

Piece of shit!!

Stu said...

This is pretty silly of all of you. "Whoops Ebert forgot his mind. And he fucked up some reviews." Jesus the guy has cancer of the head. He has earned the right to talk shit about movies. This is like bashing Kirk Douglas for continuing to act after his stroke. Yes the cancer hasn't touched his intellect but it certainly has changed his worldview.

Chris said...

Saying that having cancer "earns" Ebert the right to write like this reminds me of that old Mr. Show sketch about Imminent Death Syndrome. Addle-minded as he may be, it's nothing new, it's not the cancer's fault, and he and his yes men should know better.

Jefferson said...

I too have an impulse to go easy on Ebert, now that he's a very ill man, but his is the work of a lifetime, and it must be judged thereas.

Adding to the film-critical implosion ...

Rick said...

Saying that having cancer "earns" Ebert the right to write like this reminds me of that old Mr. Show sketch about Imminent Death Syndrome.

"Quentin Tarantino. The actor, not the director."

Ryland Walker Knight said...

_Cloverfield_ surprised me. I think it a worthwhile 80 minutes. It's not the wave of the future (thankfully?) but it's definitely better than a lot of other things. More interesting than it's given credit for in general. I mean, sure, some of it is plain annoying, but until it starts to derail (on that 39th floor, I'd argue) a lot of it works -- especially that auto-focus in the grass. That knocked me back a lot more than anything else in the picture. Like my buddy Claire said (way back when, if we're dropping links), the worst thing in it, I'd wager, is its whiny 'tude. Look forward to what you've got to say, WC.

As for Ebert... yeah... I just don't read him anymore.

Anonymous said...

If Ansen blamed anyone or anything other than a publishing industry that demands a profit return that fucking Bill Gates would laugh at, he's an ass.

Buyouts are everywhere now. Everything is going to the stringers or kids right out of college. Publishers want cheap, short and boring - TV in words. That's all, they figure, the fuckheads going to high school and college these days can understand.

They're probably right. Could you see a typical 10th-grader tackling one of Walt's reviews? Sheeeeeeet.

As for mainstreamers...fuck, I'll say it: I think Dargis gives it the old college try at the NY Times. She stand up for something if she believes in it.

On a good day - and Walter knows this - Ebert can still play some ball.

Bill C said...

I wish it were that simple. There's not bothering and then there's not having the luxury to not bother. Sometimes, y'know, life catches up with us and makes it impossible to cater to every whim of pop-culture.

Love Gorilla said...

Who cares? The film is dead-average bollocks, being praised solely on the merit of Rob D J's performance (which, while good, is pretty far from Tony Stark in the Marvel Comic Universe). More importantly, Walter's a Hannibal fan! Excellent. Can you tell us why this is?

Clint said...

THANK YOU, love gorilla. It's average. Take out Downey, Jr. and it's below average. They even managed to waste Jeff Bridges.

Ian Pugh said...

Despite that our dear Anonymous has exposed FFC's obvious elitist anti-superhero bias, having finally gotten around to seeing it this morning, I have to say that I really dug Iron Man. Basically the story of a man who realizes how much destruction he's caused and tries to do right. Only problem is that he's such a slave to technology (notice how helpless he is at the sight of a progress bar; notice that the only real physical interaction he has with Pepper Potts is when she reaches into his chest cavity) that the only way he can atone is by turning himself into a bomb and blowing the fuck out of everything in sight--which, in the process, only serves to offer more fuel for the enemy. And the enemy is ourselves, of course; the final, collateral-damage battle with Iron Monger seems to be a chickens-coming-home-to-roost situation. (Besides, for as awesome as the song is, I don't know if you can invoke Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" without acknowledging that it's about a tragic villain.) Better than Charlie Wilson's War in that regard, yes?

The film really only falters when it becomes too self-conscious about jump-starting a franchise; it's far too anti-climactic, and I all but expected Terrence Howard to just stare at the camera and say "lol, war machine." That said, I anxiously await The Invincible Iron Man.

Anonymous said...

Your "dear Anonymous" cared less about Iron Man itself and more about the real lack of content at the mothersite. FFC seems to have shifted from reviewing new films to covering DVD, which to an extent irks me.

Of course, since I pretty well just download films off torrents anymore, I don't know that I should really be all that upset.

Anonymous said...

So this isn't about FFC so much as it's about Gen-Y entitlement.

B.

Alex Jackson said...

So this isn't about FFC so much as it's about Gen-Y entitlement.

Zing.

Love Gorilla said...

Hey Alex, I seem to remember you liking Across the Universe - can you explain why?

Alex Jackson said...

Hey Alex, I seem to remember you liking Across the Universe - can you explain why?

Mind if I just copy and paste my explanation from my message board?
...................................

Well, yeah I loved the "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" sequence. Also the editing of "With A Little Help From My Friends". I also responded to the vulgarity of "I Want You" (with the "Les Guignols de l'info" soldiers) and the insanity of "Let it Be" (sung by a black boy during a race riot!) Have to say also that the allusions to heroin in "Happiness is a Warm Gun" particularly came alive to me in music video form.

Only time in particular I really felt that "3-D installation" thing was "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" (with Eddie Izzard, admittedly terrible) and the following "Because" number (OK, but yes certainly 3-D installation as opposed to cinematic). I don't mean to deflect the challenge but it's funny. Watching it I couldn't imagine why anybody would prefer Once instead.

Most important though is the question of whether it engages with the 60s in a meaningful way. I thought it did in the sense that it was told from a very priviledged/narcissistic perspective. The military and the police are regarded merely as institutions, there is no sense of other human beings actually occupying those roles.

The Max character who gets drafted to Vietnam dropped out from Princeton because he finds the values of the straight world depressingly empty. The film doesn't have much empathy for anybody who was drafted because they couldn't get into college to avoid it. This is very dated thinking, but characteristic of the decade. The film reminded me of how social norms in 60s cinema are really almost as dated as those in the 40s or 50s.

But at the same time, the film isn't completely non-critical about these attitudes. It includes an angry rendition of the sardonic "Revolution" from Jude and then there's that bit with "Across the Universe" being drowned out by "Helter Skelter"-- that beautiful fantasy of love and peace being marginalized by the more attractive politics of destroying institutions.

Anonymous said...

You know, I really did try to understand and be empathetic about whatever life concerns you guys have, but honestly? Don't care. I just want you guys to write, write, write. If it were up to me, you'd get in your cages and dance, monkeys.

--Kim (not Anonymous)

Anonymous said...

Bill, you wrote:

the screenplay was transformed at his behest and sans Jarre into something much more middle-of-the-road, albeit without adequately addressing what a guy with Ford's charisma and obvious intellect is doing patrolling the streets in middle-age.

I've always thought that Ford's character was favorable to patrolling because he wasn't too emotionally-equipped to handle day-to-day dealings with homicide and dead bodies -- he was a family man who didn't wish to bring home the horrifics of human nature. personally, I think this film contained some career-best moments from both Ford and Pitt.

Love Gorilla said...

I just want you guys to write, write, write.

Agreed, but more importantly, I wonder, is there any thing us dedicated readers can do to keep FFC thriving? As a young filmmaker I can honestly say I've learnt more about filmmaking and narrative and the medium in general reading the words of the talented people here than I did across my entire film degree.

And tying that back to the original topic, the sad thing is that despite his popularity you're not learning a great deal from reading an Ebert review, because usually it's just one man's uninformed garbled opinion rather than something intellectually stimulating and worth engaging with. And funnily enough, whenever Ebert references another critic (with the exception of the one time he talked about Bill in regards to the Brown Bunny incident) they're pretty much the same, whereas all the critics and sites recommended here are in the same smart vein as FFC - Slant Magazine, Outlaw Vern, Alex's sensational Viddied site, all must-read.

Ryan said...

Okay, so all politics aside, should we expect an Iron Man review this week or not?

Bill C said...

Not sure I buy that rationale for Ford's character, anon. I think the one thing most cops have in common--and I say this from having worked alongside them--is that, for those who are well-adjusted family men, a desk job is the endgame. Remember that Ford is shot at in the film by a runaway suspect and must daily contend with his hothead partner; contrary to what you're saying, that sounds like it would take an incredible emotional constitution and is something you wouldn't put yourself through if you could help it.

The weird thing is, all aspects of O'Meara--his never-fired gun, his detective skills, his friends in high places--are largely incongruous in the context of his job title, which to me speaks to Ford's vanity more than anything else. Logic be damned, he liked the action scenes that playing a beat cop afforded but wasn't about to be anyone's subordinate.

Ford and Pitt do some nice work, you're right.

LG, you did your part for FFC in buying our books. Our readership's actually been incredibly generous, but if FFC could subsidize our lives instead of the other way around, it would be so much easier to be the review monkeys you so want us to be.

And Ryan, there may or may not be an IRON MAN review this week.

Alex Jackson said...

My nemesis Domino Harvey is now haunting, where else, the Criterion forums and recently dropped this lovely bon mot:

Walter Chaw employs Alex Jackson, his credibility has been irreparably shot a long time ago

Wow. Talk about your credibility being irreparably shot. Still I'm thrilled I can annoy somebody that much.

Anyway, yeah, a little asshole-y to complain about the consistency of a site that you pay nothing to read. If I ever win the lottery though, I promise you that writing movie reviews will become my full time job.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Domino Harvey. I still think about him from some time to time--his ridiculous illogic drove me batshit at the time, but in retrospect he's more funny than anything. He was just such an obvious pseudo-intellectual, not just transparently but ridiculously so. It's like he was auditioning for the bad guy role in an '80s comedy.

--Kim

Stu said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6RzJFwDE_8

Dont know if you guys have seen this but its a nice little diversion.

Bill C said...

So, just FYI: an IRON MAN review will be up later today.

Anonymous said...

Sell-outs.

Anonymous said...

just kidding

Jefferson said...

Thanks for the thoughtful Iron Man review, however browbeaten its genesis. But I wonder if it doesn't misidentify some of the picture's loyalties by neglecting Bridges' role of Stane. Here's the industrial side of the military-industrial complex, playing the U.S. against other nations (or nationless guerrillas) for maximized profit. Stark Industries is therefore both the Americans and the Chinese in Walter's Iraq War construction, and so the film's indictment extends to both stateless terrorism and (perhaps? stretching it?) to the balance-of-power gamesmanship that left Afghani jihadists clutching antiaircraft missiles in the first place. Tony Stark finds his heart, literally and figuratively, in a trap molded by the marriage of fundamentalism and capitalist profiteering.

Plus, things went boom and made me happy. Also: hotties.

rachel said...

Will you guys be updating the Burmese casualty number at the end of the review?

Also, I don't understand Walter's definition of "victory in the Middle East." At least, it seems kind of an irrelevant way to put it.

Bill C said...

Burmese body count? Rambo already fixed everything there with pep and ammo, Rachel.

So I've been reading a lot of Rosenbaum's new online archive and it's a treat to revisit the work he produced before he sank into self-parody. But, man, he can be more inexplicable than Armond: Robin Givens is described as a "galvanic star"; UNIVERSAL SOLDIER gets a "worth seeing"; and UNLAWFUL ENTRY is a "necessary corrective" to LETHAL WEAPON 3. (As you can see, I was revisiting July of 1992, which was probably the last time in my life that I saw more films theatrically than I did at home.)

Walter_Chaw said...

Goddamn. Burma. What is it, 22,000 now? Can't really get my head around that number. I wonder if they'll allow U.S. intervention? We can promise that it's not FEMA running the show internationally.

Fer me, at least, "victory" in whatever form in the Middle East has to be tied to their education. G'bye mullahs and 8th century religious schools - hello colleges and opportunities to compete in a globalized marketplace. (Understanding that it's our subsidizing of their governments that subsidizes the schools, that allows them to have no industrial base save what's beneath their deserts.) 9/11 happened when their guys came to our schools to learn how to fly our planes into our skyscrapers.

What's the unemployment rate in Saudi Arabia? Bad, right? What is it for women? It's fucking catastrophic. Education, idealism, we're labeled as the great muslim killers, but here we are in Bosnia, here we were in Kuwait - alterior motives? What does it matter - Saddam killed a million muslims under his rule. But y'know, we don't do the PR thing all that well over there - especially under this administration - and Iron Man for me represents that doubling in our perceptual conunudrum.

It's who we think we are when we extend our technological power overseas - and it's who they think we are when we come.

Thanks for the dancing monkey comment - actually heartened by it. We'll do our best to step up production through the summer months. Knock on wood; big hurdles already shrinking in the rearview. Ditto Alex's promise that should I win the powerball, I'll be writing so much Bill'll put out a hit on me.

Anonymous said...

Who cares that Iron Man gels into a cohesive reflection of the status quo of the American global/imperial mentality?

It's a superhero movie that's unwilling to psychologically or physically endanger its protagonists (having to walk downstairs to grab the backup heart doesn't count, nor does chasing Potts down a corridor). For me, this was a far more damaging failure of the film than it seems to have been for Mr. Chaw.

I wonder why films are so upheld for simply adhering to a perspective. In the best circumstances it demonstrates auteurism, I suppose. But can't cinema also be exciting and valuable for failing to communicate what was intended? Or communicating something else entirely by accident? I'd rather watch a movie in which I completely disagreed with what the filmmaker thought the movie was about, than a movie like Iron Man, that probably didn't change a frame from what the producers envisioned before a screenplay was even drafted.

Should a movie like Iron Man, that fails in the task most essential to its vitality, be forgiven because it's one of those rare instance in which the Hollywood mega-money-movie machine didn't dismember all sense of congruity, subtext-wise? Honestly, I find the failure of the Golden Compass, in purposefully abandoning and trying to contradict its source material, to be more exhilarating and dynamic than this static exercise in production.

-FFC reader

Anonymous said...

let it go Walter man
Ebert's fallen to the darkside
lets just remeber the good times now

i have a memory to share:
Reading his rave for 'Sante Sangre'

man i still have that one in a binder somewhere
along with about a million other reviews i read periodically, alot of Alex Jackson's writings too, browning with every passing year (man, anybody who can muster up such a defense on F13 films is one ballsy writer in my books :P but thats another topic)

.....it just inspired me so much to track down such a weird sounding flick, his enthusiasm was infectious

can't explain it really
other than it made me feel ....excited to see it