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David Poland

By David Poland

Let's Play… FIND THE REVIEW!!!

David Denby is the calmer, better movie educated, veteran half of the New Yorker critics team. Unlike Anthony Lane, he is not so much in love with the sound of his own typing as he is with movies. So I expect well considered, clean stuff from him when I read his work, whether I agree with it or not.
But this week has had some really surprising moments in criticism and I consider them instructive about criticism, more than about the movies involved. I will apologize if any of you feel it is piling on in any way.
Babel has brought out absolute abusiveness in some of the most classical critics, including the previously blogged Andy Klein…
(EDIT, 3:10p Sunday - STOP THE INTERNET PRESSES!!!! I screwed up royally. After years of assuming Joe Morgenstern is the review I am reading when I open the Wall Street Journal to a big movie review, I didn’t look at the review byline when reading the paper on Friday. The WSJ’s Babel review is from JOANNE KAUFMAN, not Joe Morgenstern… my apologies to all involved. As I wrote, “Coming from a gentleman and a gentle man as Joe M, that review is a closed fist to the jaw than a slap across the face. I still hardly believe I read it.” It was neither.)
Denby is more moderate on Babel and expresses similar concerns to my own

16 Responses to “Let's Play… FIND THE REVIEW!!!”

  1. Nicol D says:

    I was more explicit in my views on Flags of Our Fathers in another thread, but I agree it is a strange film. Eastwood has given many interviews over the past few weeks where he talks of how these men were heroes and critiqing our cheap notions of heroism in the modern world with people like Paris Hilton etc. He even said he admired Pat Tillman as a hero in Iraq.
    And yet his film explicitly says the WW II soldiers were not heroes. Does he really believe this?
    This film would be so much better, consistant and poetic if the opening and closing narration was taken out. The film itself is earnest with the soldiers portrayed as thoughtful, complex and serious. Then the VO says that they were definitively NOT heroes, and heroes only exist as constucts.
    I suspect that is Haggis’ cynical contribution and it sours the whole film. Eastwood is known for his somewhat lackadaisical approach to film-making; Flags is a good film that perhaps he should have vetted in content a little harder to make great.
    He seems to have tried to ride the middle of the road and fully pleased no one. I like Flags of Our Fathers…but I agree with many of the critiques.

  2. jeffmcm says:

    Denby’s review sounds like he perfectly describes his experience of viewing it; solemn and sincere but uninvolving. He doesn’t rave about it or pan it because his nuanced/middling experience didn’t fit into either of those boxes.

  3. David Poland says:

    That’s not unreasonable, J-Mc, but it’s not on the page either. Forgive me for expecting a critic to offer a critical perspective, even if it’s ambivalence.

  4. jeffmcm says:

    The ultimate point is that Denby didn’t feel strongly enough about the film, in any way, to want to write much about it, which is a statement in and of itself.
    Anyway, it’s still better than what Lane wrote recently about Marie Antoinette and Infamous.

  5. David Poland says:

    Actually, no, J Mc. He wrote almost 850 words, which is pretty much the New Yorker standard. So it is nothing like a NYT one-paragraph write off. He wrote a full length review with very little critical content.
    Obviously, you can read into that what you like. But it is an oddity. All we are left to is assumption.

  6. jeffmcm says:

    We’re saying the same thing, DP, but with different conclusions. His full-length review with a lack of a strong stance seems pretty clear to me. I don’t see that there’s much need for assumption – his words read pretty clearly as ambivalence.

  7. MP says:

    It could be about laziness – how much of the review is just a rehash of the presskit?
    Read Stephen Holden’s recent review of the Jonestown documentary by Stanley Nelson – one sentence of criticism surrounded by 8 paragraphs of plot summary – really lame.

  8. Joe Leydon says:

    Some years ago, I attended a panel discussion by film critics at the SXSW Festival. And one of the speakers insisted that, sometimes, the best critiques were those in which the writer refrained from giving his/her own opinion. I know: Sounds loony. But he pointed to a then-recent architecture review in the LA Times as a prime example of what he was talking about as an ideal: A long, insightful, analytical review in which the writer did not give his opinion, merely made observations. I couldn

  9. David Poland says:

    I think that criticism has been reduced to that, aka reviewing.
    I guess it is some kind of service, though as you know from reading me, I am a believer in offering more the sense of the film and the story than a whole lot of specific story points. For me, a movie without discovery is a waste of 2 hours. And detailed discussion of the story in a review steals that experience from the reader.
    As Malcolm Gladwell’s Click/Blonk story about Blues Clues explains, children like to know ahead of time so they can have their insight confirmed instead of challenged. And I think that has become something adults respond to as well. We are the in the age of the multiple view of everything. It’s not just for Lucy anymore. And I guess what we can get excited about a third, fourth, and fifth time must give a value beyond those things that we can’t.
    But it’s not what Denby normally does. Including in the second review in the same column.

  10. The Carpetmuncher says:

    To these eyes, it’s as simple as critics being too timid to say Clint Eastwood made a lame “war” movie.

  11. palmtree says:

    ^^^Nail on the head. I think Denby wanted to proclaim this film worthy of Crash and Mystic River, but can’t…so he sidesteps.
    For the record, I didn’t like either of those, but for Denby they are two recent American classics.

  12. Joe Leydon says:

    I think it was George Orwell

  13. Richard Nash says:

    Why can’t he just come out and say he didn’t like the movie? Aren’t you supposed to have strong opinions being a major film critic??
    Why is he even being paid to write if he’s going to be PC?

  14. jeffmcm says:

    Where in that review is he being PC? And I strongly disagree that a critic always needs to have ‘strong opinions’. Sometimes the best critical writing comes from pondering what a mediocre movie is saying rather than giving a thumbs up or down.

  15. Blackcloud says:

    I think he means PC as in not saying anything critical or that might hurt feelings.

  16. jeffmcm says:

    Yeah, I was assuming he was meaning PC in the derogatory sense.

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