Don't Mince Words
Re: "The Real American Pie," by Cliff Doerksen, December 17
Very interesting article. But I shouldn't need a thesaurus to enjoy reading it. "Hegemony, assiduously, folderol, japery, provender, vestigial?!?" WHAT !?!
Please add, "archaic", "pretentious" and "stilted" to your "lexicon." Oh. And maybe, "fey," too. THANKS.
Delightful and disturbing article! It put me in mind of a BBC documentary from a couple years back, "Edwardian Supersize Me," in which two presenters attempt to put down such horrors as "beef tea." It's hilarious and totally worth trolling the seamy underbelly of the Internet for.
Up in Arms About Up in the Air
Re: "What's Wrong With Up in the Air," by J.R. Jones, December 10
After reading thousands of words, I still have no idea "what's wrong with Up in the Air." You spent the first half of the column writing about every other 2000s movie. Then you give a smarmy and condescending plot synopsis. At no point in the article was there anything close to film criticism. So in 5000 words or less, please tell me what you didn't like about the movie. The plot, the tone, the pacing, the cinematography, the acting, the directing? You know the stuff a movie critic usually writes about. Just tell me what you don't like about the movie for the love of god.
I agree with GrouchoM10. Mr. Jones, you spent less than a third of the review discussing the movie itself, and it is mostly a "smarmy and condescending plot synopsis." I read it a couple of times, and your actual objections are not, I think, "amply explained." The one objection I can really pin down is that you dislike the movie's "skewed moral universe" that makes bad people seem good. I think a lot of interesting movies include morally ambivalent characters, so I don't agree with this. . . . Less clearly stated but I'm thinking accurate is that you object to the formulaic nature of the film (the phrase "dutifully pivots into the third act" suggests this is your point of view, in the most arrogant and understated possible way). The last objection—again, gleaned from your phrasing—is my favorite. You think the movie is condescending toward middle class people. This is my favorite because I think your defense of the middle class against "the movie brat" is obsequious in the extreme, probably an even greater condescension than the director's. It's especially entertaining because you throw your lot in with the $11 crowd just a thousand words after heaping criticism on mainstream movies middle class folks probably really enjoyed (a lot of folks saw "Gladiator," even if it's not one of your "important movies").
But, more to the point, Mr. Jones, I spent the last 5 minutes trying to assemble your argument against the film, and I did not find it easy. I think Groucho is right to call you out for a lack of clearly stated, substantive criticism (although the commenter's tone wasn't very nice).
I too am a little confused; you make it sound like there's something ethically wrong with making a movie about a termination specialist be a modern Cary Grant movie. Basically all I get is that you don't like the film's politics. Really, you could write the same exact review of North by Northwest ("life is easy when you have Eva Marie Saint cooing at you," "the film condescends to the middle class when Cary steals the cab from that poor plebeian fellow in the opening scenes," etc).
J.R. Jones replies:
Thanks for your comments. I'll try to respond to them at length, if possible without boring everyone to tears.
Groucho, the Reader labels these things "reviews," but in fact they've always been constructed as "think pieces," in which the writer uses the movie to make an interesting argument. Evaluating the acting/directing/set design/whatever is not really the objective; in fact we've published excellent pieces that barely touched on the movie. Of course, sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic aggregate them with standard reviews from daily newspapers and the like, and new visitors to the Reader site are constantly complaining because what they find here doesn't fit the template they're accustomed to.
I see now that the headline, and my remark in the first paragraph, create an expectation that I'm going to locate some fatal flaw in Up in the Air that discredits it entirely. But as I state in the piece, I found it to be a perfectly entertaining movie. I just don't think it's that important, or that it says anything so profound about America or human nature that people should be hyperventilating about it being the movie of the year. Perhaps a more appropriate headline would have been "What's So Great About Up in the Air?" Anyone want to take a crack at that one? Anyone think that, 40 years from now, when the recession is over, people are going to think Up in the Air is as important as Midnight Cowboy?
Nashville, you make a good point that my closer about the $11 crowd is a little condescending—my editor actually pointed that out to me, and it's a legitimate criticism I suppose. But again, there are movies like Gladiator or Up in the Air that make for an entertaining night out, which is perfectly OK, and there are movies that startle you into a new way of looking at life and those around you. If you keep rewarding the former, you get fewer of the latter; I don't know anyone who thinks movies are better now than they were in the 70s.
Asher, you're wrong that I don't like the movie's politics. I don't think Up in the Air has any politics, aside from thinking it's sad when people lose their jobs, a sentiment you can find at any point in the political spectrum. The fact that the movie milks that sentiment is not as impressive to me, or to friends of mine who've seen it, as it is to some of my fellow critics.
Re: "Dear Life," by Will Fletcher, published in our Pure Fiction issue, December 24
Hard-boiled awesome. Give us more Fletcher.