Ebert inspires me: no infantile celeb news over film appreciation!

by Eric Melin on December 4, 2008

in Blogs

roger ebert prays for better filmsChicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, in his increasingly angry and fun-to-read Roger Ebert’s Journal has once again hit the nail on the head. His subject? The fact that movie critics everywhere are getting fired and thoughtful reviews are being replaced by celebrity news briefs about Britney’s clubgoing or cute bits about how Suri “won’t wear pants.”

I quote: “The celebrity culture is infantilizing us. We are being trained not to think. It is not about the disappearance of film critics. We are the canaries. It is about the death of an intelligent and curious readership, interested in significant things and able to think critically.”

I have been thinking about printing some kind of critic’s creed for this site, something that attacks “critics” who spend half of their review summarizing plot and/or making snide remarks about the actors in the film they are reviewing, rather than getting involved on any sort of deeper level with the movie itself. Ebert wrote his own personal Little Rule Book just last month. (Examples: Provide a sense of the experience, Advise the readers well, Keep track of your praise.)

Don’t get me wrong. Celebrity culture has its place. It’s not for me, but I get why it exists. It’s just that when I go see a movie, I like to get lost in it. I don’t want to be thinking about Suri’s dressing habits or Tom jumping on the couch when I watch “Mission: Impossible III.” I want to believe, for two hours, that superspy Ethan Hunt fears for the life of the girl he loves. Or that sexist evangelist Frank Mackie from “Magnolia” has a secret buried in his past that makes him say vile things in public and make a tremendous amount of money from them.

suri cruise, poor childThat’s because I love the mystery and magic of filmmaking. That’s why I do this site. I love to see films, write about films, discuss films, and examine how they reflect my life and how they open my eyes to others’ lives. Film is culture, that’s all there is to it. Anyone who doesn’t see that isn’t thinking about what they see.

Ebert mentions several great film critics whose prose is as good as their content. I’m always working on both and I’m never quite content with what I write, but I always strive to get bettermore focused, more insightful, honest. There are/were also plenty of of lazy-ass critics out there who love to be the first ones to see and pass judgment on a film and really think nothing of it. I’ve seen plenty. In print and in person. They like nothing better than wielding what little power they have, and think very little about the consequences of words and comments tossed off so nonchalantly.

One reason people are becoming so pissed off at critics is because most of them are so formulaic and boring to read. Reviewing film is not a checklist activity. You don’t go right on down the line and talk about every little technical issue without discussing overall content and culture. The cinematography may be beautiful to look at in “Australia,” but how does that relate to the story? What is the filmmaker telling us? Is it different from what he thinks he’s telling us? Are there mixed messages being sent? The neo-realistic puke-cam look of “The Blair Witch Project” advanced that film’s purpose a thousand times better than the big-budget excess of “Australia” because the horror movie’s design was absolutely tied into its lack of budget.

i want you to speak up about movies you love and hateIf reviewing movies is different, then, from simply commenting on whether the acting was ”astounding” or the set design was “marvelous,” what is it that bugs you about movie reviews? (I’ll tell you what bugs me: Quote-whore critics who throw one-word value-judgment adjectives in movie ads.) What would you like to see writers avoid? What are you tired of? Or, what would you like to read more of? Now is your chance to sound off.

I hope you will start thinking soon, because it won’t be long before you will be a scene-stealer. Big changes are on the way here at Scene-Stealers.com, and soon this site will be allow YOU to be the critic. Ever wonder how that line gets drawn in the sand between a “credible” critic and everyone else? We are going to kick it right back in the faces of anyone who doesn’t think our opinions about movies matter. We’re the ones they make them for, after all.

Now it’s their turn to listen to us.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers and regular critic for KCTV5. He’s a member of the BFCA, VP of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also the current 2013 Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Katie December 4, 2008 at 2:17 pm

Right on, Eric!

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2 Katie December 4, 2008 at 2:17 pm

Right on, Eric!

Reply

3 Jonathan December 4, 2008 at 5:50 pm

I absolutely agree with you Eric….I wrote a rant on my own blog about TV episode reviews, and how incomplete they are because an entire season hasn’t yet been seen by the reviewer.

I enjoy solid movie reviews that hint at the greater significance (if any) movies have, and absolutely loathe reviews that pop up on MSN or Yahoo! that are shallow at best.

Don’t just tell me what about the movie you enjoyed; tell me WHY you enjoyed it. WHY should I spend more than $10 to see this movie in the theaters? WHAT about it needs to be seen immediately? I’ve always appreciated the way these questions are answered, even in you Top 10 Lists, which on other sites can be entirely devoid of worthwhile prose.

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4 Jonathan December 4, 2008 at 5:50 pm

I absolutely agree with you Eric….I wrote a rant on my own blog about TV episode reviews, and how incomplete they are because an entire season hasn’t yet been seen by the reviewer.

I enjoy solid movie reviews that hint at the greater significance (if any) movies have, and absolutely loathe reviews that pop up on MSN or Yahoo! that are shallow at best.

Don’t just tell me what about the movie you enjoyed; tell me WHY you enjoyed it. WHY should I spend more than $10 to see this movie in the theaters? WHAT about it needs to be seen immediately? I’ve always appreciated the way these questions are answered, even in you Top 10 Lists, which on other sites can be entirely devoid of worthwhile prose.

Reply

5 blackpage December 4, 2008 at 7:12 pm

I can’t help feeling these new trends in criticism are merely a reaction to the kind of films Hollywood has been making. Summary reviews for derivative works, the ultimate in banality.

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6 blackpage December 4, 2008 at 7:12 pm

I can’t help feeling these new trends in criticism are merely a reaction to the kind of films Hollywood has been making. Summary reviews for derivative works, the ultimate in banality.

Reply

7 Matt Brown December 4, 2008 at 7:43 pm

OOOOooo a place to rant! I love it. I hope plenty of people participate in this, I’m curious as to what bugs the average Scene-Stealer. While I could name minor annoyances all day, the first thing that comes to mind does so as I sit in front of a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly. This magazine has been putting out the sh*#test lists on random film topics that I’ve ever seen. I absolutely hate a publication that is supposed to be credible that limits its attention to include basically only the blockbuster films that have come out in the last five years. Film has been around a while and there are a lot of them worth looking in to. I understand they need to connect with as many readers as possible, which means references that appeal to the masses, but good God. I don’t mind reading a film review or ‘best’ list that addresses films I haven’t heard of. In fact, I wish they could limit themselves to attempting just that. Are they just afraid to add their own opinions? Are they just printing what they think we want to see? All I’m trying to say is, my Netflix queue is getting pretty sparse, and I need help! Isn’t that what this stuff is for?
Having said that, keep up the lists on Scene-Stealers!

Reply

8 Matt Brown December 4, 2008 at 7:43 pm

OOOOooo a place to rant! I love it. I hope plenty of people participate in this, I’m curious as to what bugs the average Scene-Stealer. While I could name minor annoyances all day, the first thing that comes to mind does so as I sit in front of a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly. This magazine has been putting out the sh*#test lists on random film topics that I’ve ever seen. I absolutely hate a publication that is supposed to be credible that limits its attention to include basically only the blockbuster films that have come out in the last five years. Film has been around a while and there are a lot of them worth looking in to. I understand they need to connect with as many readers as possible, which means references that appeal to the masses, but good God. I don’t mind reading a film review or ‘best’ list that addresses films I haven’t heard of. In fact, I wish they could limit themselves to attempting just that. Are they just afraid to add their own opinions? Are they just printing what they think we want to see? All I’m trying to say is, my Netflix queue is getting pretty sparse, and I need help! Isn’t that what this stuff is for?
Having said that, keep up the lists on Scene-Stealers!

Reply

9 RCM December 4, 2008 at 10:38 pm

Roger Ebert’s blog has gotten really personal over the last few months and he’s written some really interesting things about himself and his philosophy of film criticism. A few entries have shown a more simplistic political perspective he felt he needed to express in our heated political climate (not that I’m against his views so much as think he lacks the political savvy to write about politics) but for the most part I’ve really enjoyed his little essays lately. It’s nice that Ebert has maintained his integrity as a critic and journalist.
Maybe in the new site we can debate both film and the point of the film critic with one another.

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10 RCM December 4, 2008 at 10:38 pm

Roger Ebert’s blog has gotten really personal over the last few months and he’s written some really interesting things about himself and his philosophy of film criticism. A few entries have shown a more simplistic political perspective he felt he needed to express in our heated political climate (not that I’m against his views so much as think he lacks the political savvy to write about politics) but for the most part I’ve really enjoyed his little essays lately. It’s nice that Ebert has maintained his integrity as a critic and journalist.
Maybe in the new site we can debate both film and the point of the film critic with one another.

Reply

11 Kenny December 5, 2008 at 12:54 am

Yes, you summed up what I’ve been thinking about film and film critics lately very well. Though I don’t really read too many reviews, I’ve seen to found the ones that I find perfectly necessary for me. I do visit Ebert’s site quite regulary and read his blog also. I do believe that the tabloid culture has infiltrated and turned people off to things they used to enjoy, and it certainly is frustrating. This process is inevitable and will continue, but there are things that we can do and places to go to have our voices heard.

I’m glad you and critics like Ebert emphasize that film is art as well as entertainment and that it should not be dominated by other cultures or interests. I found this article ironic because I just watched Magnolia last night and it is certainly one of my favorite films. I totally agree with you that films should transport an audience, whether it be a franchise blockbuster or a smaller film. Keep on truckin’ film fans!

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12 Kenny December 5, 2008 at 12:54 am

Yes, you summed up what I’ve been thinking about film and film critics lately very well. Though I don’t really read too many reviews, I’ve seen to found the ones that I find perfectly necessary for me. I do visit Ebert’s site quite regulary and read his blog also. I do believe that the tabloid culture has infiltrated and turned people off to things they used to enjoy, and it certainly is frustrating. This process is inevitable and will continue, but there are things that we can do and places to go to have our voices heard.

I’m glad you and critics like Ebert emphasize that film is art as well as entertainment and that it should not be dominated by other cultures or interests. I found this article ironic because I just watched Magnolia last night and it is certainly one of my favorite films. I totally agree with you that films should transport an audience, whether it be a franchise blockbuster or a smaller film. Keep on truckin’ film fans!

Reply

13 Overseer December 5, 2008 at 5:14 am

I agree with all that is said, but on the other hand I found it quite er, strange, that all this is written on the site that praised that last Indiana Jones turd movie so much. That movie didn’t fail on couple of fronts, it faild on all of them, yet it get high, uniform, marks without any kind of desire to be really insightfull and objective about it.
Sorry for my english.

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14 Overseer December 5, 2008 at 5:14 am

I agree with all that is said, but on the other hand I found it quite er, strange, that all this is written on the site that praised that last Indiana Jones turd movie so much. That movie didn’t fail on couple of fronts, it faild on all of them, yet it get high, uniform, marks without any kind of desire to be really insightfull and objective about it.
Sorry for my english.

Reply

15 Eric Melin December 5, 2008 at 7:35 am

I knew this line of questioning would open up a debate on a particular movie review on which somebody disagreed with me. I’m also the first to admit that in a 4-minute on-camera review with clips, it’s tough to cover all the bases. I liked the “nuke the fridge” scene. I thought it was a funny and clever way to begin the film and introduce the Cold War setting. Most of the criticism I heard of “Crystal Skull” was directed at how over the top or unlikely scenes like this were (that and the aliens especially). None of that bugged me. I mean, this series is based on old adventure serials– not the most realistic of things. Also, have you watched any of the old Jones movies recently? As fun as they are, they are all completely over the top, especially in the action scenes. I think most people had a problem with their age. That is, realizing that they are not a kid anymore like they were back then when they saw the 80s Jones flicks. Funny how tastes change. That said, what disappointed me was the lack of chemistry and forced banter with Marion (even though I loved the idea of tying up their romance and was glad to see Karen Allen back) and the fact that the crystal skull mystery, although in theory an interesting concept, didn’t unfold with any, uh, mystery. All I can promise to do is be honest. If you disagree with me, that’s great. You’ll have all the tools you need to do that on the new site. I hope you’ll stick around until then.

Reply

16 Eric Melin December 5, 2008 at 7:35 am

I knew this line of questioning would open up a debate on a particular movie review on which somebody disagreed with me. I’m also the first to admit that in a 4-minute on-camera review with clips, it’s tough to cover all the bases. I liked the “nuke the fridge” scene. I thought it was a funny and clever way to begin the film and introduce the Cold War setting. Most of the criticism I heard of “Crystal Skull” was directed at how over the top or unlikely scenes like this were (that and the aliens especially). None of that bugged me. I mean, this series is based on old adventure serials– not the most realistic of things. Also, have you watched any of the old Jones movies recently? As fun as they are, they are all completely over the top, especially in the action scenes. I think most people had a problem with their age. That is, realizing that they are not a kid anymore like they were back then when they saw the 80s Jones flicks. Funny how tastes change. That said, what disappointed me was the lack of chemistry and forced banter with Marion (even though I loved the idea of tying up their romance and was glad to see Karen Allen back) and the fact that the crystal skull mystery, although in theory an interesting concept, didn’t unfold with any, uh, mystery. All I can promise to do is be honest. If you disagree with me, that’s great. You’ll have all the tools you need to do that on the new site. I hope you’ll stick around until then.

Reply

17 Overseer December 5, 2008 at 12:57 pm

Hey, don’t get me wrong, if you like it you like it, I just find that (positive) review quite out of place compared to the other ones and the way you criticize them (and, frankly, compared to the fact that last IJ movie was plain and simple bad).
Previous films simply feels better, somehow. When I watch them (especially now), I really enjoy every scene, beside the fact that I grow up along side them. The acting, the dialogues, the characters, Harrison Ford’s expressions, the overall chemistry between the cast, the way the scenes are composed and directed… And don’t get me started on the action scenes. Beside the silly airplane rescue from the second movie (btw look at the Mythbuster take of that, not that silly after all, I guess), everything else is pure action adventure fun: truck chase, fistfights, airplane chase, traps and contraptions, you name it (even the mine cart chase is pretty much good most of the time). Frequently, it really look like something a real person can do (truck chase from the first movie, and particularly the tank scene from The Crusade), and after all that Indy looks beaten and dirty like the real person would. Compare that to fake action trash-fest from the Crystall Skull, infested with mediocre (at best) CGI crap, and totally bland feeling of (non existing) danger our heroes are suppose to be in. Action scenes in Skull are stupid, boring and only interesting thing about them is to see what other Road Runner gimmick they are going to pull out of their hat (fridge scene aside, what the hell was with that cliff-drop followed with the unharmfull-diving-into-three-deep-waterfalls-of-death (or not) scene?!). There are no danger, no tension, nor will you care what happen to charecters at all. All I can think of during the movie is that Shai la Buttfuck (thank Spoony for that expression) has become the part of the Indiana Jones mythology, and that is just plain wrong (the way that delinquent barks out “split, split” and “that’s a matter of opinion” makes my guts twist in pain just think about it).
And then, there are the vilains. Every nazi is either calculated, creepy or downright scary (not to mention that Mola Ram….character from the Temple of Doom). Compare that to soviet fencing psi-uberwoman who is looking like a bad joke throughout the entire film (the way that she is discarted like a roadkill accident at the end, suit her flawlessly)
Oh, and shoul we mention the “story”? I mean, I don’t have any objections on the whole alien aspect (IJ movies was always with the little fantasy-SF feel to it), it’s just doned wrong, very wrong. I mean, can anyone keep track of how many damn skulls are there in this movie, actually?
The following sentence pretty much sums it all: “Mummy and the Tomb of….whatever, was worst than previous Mummy movies (which doesn’t says much), but it was better than new Indiana Jones movie (which says a lot!)”. Even if you pretend it’s not a IJ movie, it’s unbeareably bad. Really, I mean, imagine .. .. Tom Selleck in it, shift the timeline to seventies, drop the Indiana Jones logo, music and other (tinny) references and keep everything else just the way it is, and it would be the laughing stock of the decade, I’m sure.

Sorry for my english again, and keep out the good work, I actually otherwise really enjoy your reviews and other stuff. Greetz.

Reply

18 Overseer December 5, 2008 at 12:57 pm

Hey, don’t get me wrong, if you like it you like it, I just find that (positive) review quite out of place compared to the other ones and the way you criticize them (and, frankly, compared to the fact that last IJ movie was plain and simple bad).
Previous films simply feels better, somehow. When I watch them (especially now), I really enjoy every scene, beside the fact that I grow up along side them. The acting, the dialogues, the characters, Harrison Ford’s expressions, the overall chemistry between the cast, the way the scenes are composed and directed… And don’t get me started on the action scenes. Beside the silly airplane rescue from the second movie (btw look at the Mythbuster take of that, not that silly after all, I guess), everything else is pure action adventure fun: truck chase, fistfights, airplane chase, traps and contraptions, you name it (even the mine cart chase is pretty much good most of the time). Frequently, it really look like something a real person can do (truck chase from the first movie, and particularly the tank scene from The Crusade), and after all that Indy looks beaten and dirty like the real person would. Compare that to fake action trash-fest from the Crystall Skull, infested with mediocre (at best) CGI crap, and totally bland feeling of (non existing) danger our heroes are suppose to be in. Action scenes in Skull are stupid, boring and only interesting thing about them is to see what other Road Runner gimmick they are going to pull out of their hat (fridge scene aside, what the hell was with that cliff-drop followed with the unharmfull-diving-into-three-deep-waterfalls-of-death (or not) scene?!). There are no danger, no tension, nor will you care what happen to charecters at all. All I can think of during the movie is that Shai la Buttfuck (thank Spoony for that expression) has become the part of the Indiana Jones mythology, and that is just plain wrong (the way that delinquent barks out “split, split” and “that’s a matter of opinion” makes my guts twist in pain just think about it).
And then, there are the vilains. Every nazi is either calculated, creepy or downright scary (not to mention that Mola Ram….character from the Temple of Doom). Compare that to soviet fencing psi-uberwoman who is looking like a bad joke throughout the entire film (the way that she is discarted like a roadkill accident at the end, suit her flawlessly)
Oh, and shoul we mention the “story”? I mean, I don’t have any objections on the whole alien aspect (IJ movies was always with the little fantasy-SF feel to it), it’s just doned wrong, very wrong. I mean, can anyone keep track of how many damn skulls are there in this movie, actually?
The following sentence pretty much sums it all: “Mummy and the Tomb of….whatever, was worst than previous Mummy movies (which doesn’t says much), but it was better than new Indiana Jones movie (which says a lot!)”. Even if you pretend it’s not a IJ movie, it’s unbeareably bad. Really, I mean, imagine .. .. Tom Selleck in it, shift the timeline to seventies, drop the Indiana Jones logo, music and other (tinny) references and keep everything else just the way it is, and it would be the laughing stock of the decade, I’m sure.

Sorry for my english again, and keep out the good work, I actually otherwise really enjoy your reviews and other stuff. Greetz.

Reply

19 RCM December 5, 2008 at 2:46 pm

See, this exactly why we need film critics. Not because the critic is always “right”, but because they open a door for the rest of us cinephiles to engage in logical debate and think critically about the what we are watching.

Reply

20 RCM December 5, 2008 at 2:46 pm

See, this exactly why we need film critics. Not because the critic is always “right”, but because they open a door for the rest of us cinephiles to engage in logical debate and think critically about the what we are watching.

Reply

21 Eric Melin December 5, 2008 at 4:12 pm

Tru dat. We’ll have a page for each movie and a spot for each members’comments, all linkable back to your own page. Anyone who wants to help build the movie database (kinda boring, but all about movies!), let me know at eric@scene-stealers.com! This is all DIY-style. Great comments!

Reply

22 Eric Melin December 5, 2008 at 4:12 pm

Tru dat. We’ll have a page for each movie and a spot for each members’comments, all linkable back to your own page. Anyone who wants to help build the movie database (kinda boring, but all about movies!), let me know at eric@scene-stealers.com! This is all DIY-style. Great comments!

Reply

23 Alan Rapp December 6, 2008 at 1:04 pm

It’s gonna be a lot of work, but the new Scene-Stealers will rock.

As to Indy 4, although I wouldn’t go so far as to call it worse than the latest Mummy movie (is that even possible?) I agree whole-heartedly it is a far drop off in terms of the quality of the previous films (much more so than the Star Wars prequels compared to their original trilogy).

It will be fun to discuss the great films everyone loves, and the truly awful we all lament, but one of the things I’m most looking forward to with Scene-Stealers relaunch is having fun debating and discussing the countless films which fall somewhere in the middle.

Reply

24 Alan Rapp December 6, 2008 at 1:04 pm

It’s gonna be a lot of work, but the new Scene-Stealers will rock.

As to Indy 4, although I wouldn’t go so far as to call it worse than the latest Mummy movie (is that even possible?) I agree whole-heartedly it is a far drop off in terms of the quality of the previous films (much more so than the Star Wars prequels compared to their original trilogy).

It will be fun to discuss the great films everyone loves, and the truly awful we all lament, but one of the things I’m most looking forward to with Scene-Stealers relaunch is having fun debating and discussing the countless films which fall somewhere in the middle.

Reply

25 Kenny December 7, 2008 at 9:35 pm

The last Indiana Jones movie was a good film in its own right, but it’s certainly hard to compare it to the other Indy films. At least Eric’s review was a reasonable one that brought a perspective to the review. Most critics do not bring the film to a certain light, they just analyze it the same predictable way every one else does.

Reply

26 Kenny December 7, 2008 at 9:35 pm

The last Indiana Jones movie was a good film in its own right, but it’s certainly hard to compare it to the other Indy films. At least Eric’s review was a reasonable one that brought a perspective to the review. Most critics do not bring the film to a certain light, they just analyze it the same predictable way every one else does.

Reply

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