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|Criticwatch's Ben Lyons Quote of the Week (2009) (FINAL UPDATE: 8/31/09)
|by Erik Childress
2008 saw Ben Lyons not notice film editing, bemoan story and character being associated with action movies and dropping more names than Elia Kazan playing Ben Stein's role in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. What does he have in store for us in 2009? Read on.
Read what Ben Lyons had to say in 2008
"And until next week, as always, we’ll be At The Movies.”
It’s a quote worth repeating. And it was. For the past two weeks after the firing of Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz, ABC ran reruns of their last two show from Aug. 8 and Aug. 15. The words above turned out to be the final ones uttered by either of the two Bens on the show, and to add insult to injury, they reminded us in the final rerun. Hopefully no one takes Ben Lyons words seriously because they will be in a rude awakening next week when they find the Bens gone and the more cinematically astute Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott in their seats.
So here we are. The end of the Ben Lyons Quote of the Week in spinoff form. Criticwatch will always have an eye out when he crosses our field of vision, but no longer will he have a major network venue to inch film criticism closer to the world of Idiocracy. It’s a glorious time. Proof that the written word can make a difference after all the talk from the powers that be and Mankiewicz who said, “this is a TV show and the notion that only people who qualify to talk about film criticism are people who have written for a newspaper seems silly." Disney never wanted to cop to sagging ratings on the show, so maybe the constant criticism by this column and Scott Johnson over at StopBenLyons.com really did have a hand in the change.
Frankly, I’m glad it’s over. While fans of the column jokingly keep asking – “what are you going to do now?” as if I’ve just run off with Katharine Ross or slain the six-fingered man, it’s nice to know that I will have more time to devote to the movies. Or just finally take my Sundays off again. As promised though, I am also in rerun mode and wanted to count down the ten most asinine things said by Ben Lyons in the past year. While the Quote of the Week tried to stay exclusively with what was said in the parameters of the show, some things were just way too stupid to avoid. So without further adieu, let’s run down the Top Ten Ben Lyons Quotes.
10. "And it seems like this is going to be the one film we’re gonna see of this franchise. It wasn’t like Zack Snyder was trying to setup the sequel. I really appreciate that.”
From the guy who said he was on his second reading of Alan Moore’s Watchmen and thus should have known that it was a self-contained entity with no sequel or spinoff.
9. “I like Splinter too, I just don’t have the stomach for horror movies. Life is too short. I have to say rent it.”
The quote that kicked off Ben Lyons’ notable bias towards the horror genre. Even though he “liked” Splinter he still had to say “rent it.” Let the Right One In and the PG-13 rated Drag Me To Hell would be the only positive recommendations he could give the genre. In his defense, not a whole lot of solid horror films in the past year. But how could any film like the Last House On The Left remake or Orphan get a fair shake from a guy with no stomach?
8. “If someone said to you and told you this was the same directing team that did No Country for Old Men, I wouldn’t believe you unless you said it was the Coen Bros.”
HUH? I had to go back to my initial piece about their debut episode where I wrote: "Follow that, did you? Or does Lyons not believe you? Let’s timeline that, shall we? If party “A” (someone) said to party “B” (you) that Burn After Reading was done by the same guys who did No Country For Old Men, then outside party “C” (Ben Lyons) wouldn’t believe party “B” (you) for information just received from party “A” (someone) unless party “B” (you) said it was the Coen Bros.; information that “B” (you) would have had to tell party “A”, “no shit, Sherlock” and then have trouble convincing party “C” (Ben Lyons) unless party “B” gave him the answer."
7. “It helps me improve my movie knowledge, and it's a lot of fun to play either alone or with some of the homies when they come over.”
This was part of Lyons’ hyping of the xBox Scene It!: Box Office Smash game. Having played the game many times, I’ve never come across a section that defined “buddy film” for Ben ("I just love seeing a buddy film between two guys who you would never pair together.”) nor a question that asked:
“Would you believe that the same guy who directed Jurassic Park also did Schindler’s List in the same year?”
(X) - Yes
(Y) – No
(B) - My homies believe it
(A) – I am a dumbass
So maybe the game can’t be blamed for Lyons’ lack of knowledge as one of the “film experts” on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’s movie week. He was on two shows. Didn’t know the first answer and quickly eliminated the right answer from the second contestant and helped cause him to lose. Lyons was mysteriously absent from the third show.
6. “It’s really important to tell people to go out and see W. so they can talk about it and have an opinion about it and this freedom of speech of course that allows us to go and talk about a film about a current sitting president.”
The quote that earned Ben Lyons the title of “the Sarah Palin of film criticism.” Is he talking about W. or trying to sound like him?
5. “You know what hurts a movie like Max Payne is the success of the Batman franchise. That obviously is about story and character so they think for all films of the genre it’s gotta be about story and character and this whole backstory of him losing his wife. I don’t care about that. I wanna see Max Payne shoot people. That’s all I want from a movie like this.”
On a side quote about Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies:
“I found the film to be overtly complicated. Just because it’s really dense and layered doesn’t necessarily mean its good.”
Story. Character. Complication. Layered denseness. There are not the things a Lyons craves.
4. “You know what’s frustrating in the film though, Mank? You don’t get to hear the little boy’s side of the story at all and I felt like he was kinda pushed to the side and was almost an afterthought even though he’s the subject of the film.”
The title of the film in question – DOUBT!
3. "Leading the pack with 13 noms and its probably going to win Best Picture because its made so much money. Over $100 millon dollars at the box office and I think that’s what it takes to win Best Picture. You think Titanic, Lord of the Rings, Shakespeare in Love, you gotta make some coin.”
How did that coin work out The Curious Case of Benjamin Button?
2. “You almost never notice editing in a movie unless it’s poor.”
A classic that I can never let go of. If Thelma Schoonmaker or Michael Kahn don’t collectively smack Lyons while he’s still alive, hopefully Sergei Eisenstein will force him in the afterlife to repeatedly fall down a flight of stairs.
1. "In the past, it might have hurt the show a bit that (reviewers) were isolated in Chicago. I enjoy the fact that I’m out here in L.A. and I know writers and directors and actors. I’m young and I’m going to be out and social and to meet people and develop genuine friendships with them and understand the (artistic) choices they’ve made.”
Between all the box office and awards talk, it was the casual relationships with celebrities that remained a standout of criticism towards Ben Lyons. While insulting the city he’s now pimping to get the Olympics to, he only reinforced his own stereotype. The guy who once recommended we do whatever we needed to see the TRAILER of Twilight (only to later put the film on his Worst of ’08 list, and subsequently fawn over the cast of the sequel at Comicon) provided no evidence that his birthday party friendships with Idris Elba or Jamie-Lynn Sigler made him understand anything about artistic choice.
So after 95 “see it”s, 72 “skip it”s and 33 “rent it”s, Ben Lyons parts ways with At the Movies, free to rejoin E! full time and concentrate on those DJ parties that only allow him time to see five movies at film festivals. Free to go on believing that awards and box office equal quality. Free to hobknob with any celebrity you want and get familiar as often as necessary on the Twitter. Free to fill up that photo blog with as many visual star autographs as you can.
More importantly though, WE are free. We can now go back to watching some genuine film criticism on television instead of hearing insipid snippets from the Lyons family. The Ben Lyons Quote of the Week is over. If nothing else, it will remain as a permanent record of the year where At the Movies was nearly destroyed for good. We’ll still be on the lookout for Lyons’ quotes here at Criticwatch and his “expert” commentary on the red carpet and on Oscar nomination morning at E!, but I can’t imagine we’ll ever be sharing that cup of coffee I offered to discuss things over when we met on that fateful Tuesday night after the screening of Orphan. I honestly would have bought.
Good luck Michael and Tony, we’re all counting on you!
"If you guys are a studio and you want young people to go out and see your movie, what other young critic out there has a prominent platform are you gonna take a quote from? And that’s why I think I get picked a lot for these quotes.”
At the Movies was a rerun this week. And it is indeed scheduled to be a rerun next week just before Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott take over – increasing the odds that Ben Lyons’ last words on the show will be “And until next week, as always, we’ll be At The Movies.” No word yet on whether or not the Bens will be given an opportunity to say goodbye at the end of next week’s rerun of last week’s show. But Ben Lyons will live on within the E! Network and God knows how many other jobs and this week’s quote comes from an interview with Intern Jessica and Radio Dan. The interview came courtesy of a poster at StopBenLyons.com and normally I may have just ignored it, but the promise of what was revealed was too good to pass up.
Apparently Ben was asked about his infamous quote for I Am Legend which he called “one of the greatest movies ever made.” I didn’t think we would hear much more than some broken fanboy English on the subject, but thought this would be a nice way to bring the Quote of the Week full circle. With just one more column to go before moments like this are folded back into the regular Criticwatch blog, it’s time to venture back into the signature moment that put Ben Lyons on our radar forever. So go on, Ben, answer Radio Dan when he asks point blank in the otherwise pretty lackluster interview – “Do you legitimately believe that?”
“Yes, I do. OK, listen I’m going to explain it to you. This is a film that I saw and it blew my head to bits and I grew up in New York and it looked unlike anything I had seen before and I grew up on Will Smith. I think it’s an emotional movie, it’s funny, it made 700 million dollars around the world and inspired a prequel so there’s obviously a connection that people have made to the story. There are certain movies that just speak to you and that’s a film that I connected with and I won’t (inaudible) hide my opinion when that’s what I’m being paid to do. I love that film. That film is awesome. Every time I watch that film I notice new stuff in it.”
Is there anything sadder than a so-called professional film critic who grew up on Will Smith? Actually yes. It’s one that needs to justify their own feelings about a film by inciting the rule of the almighty public dollar. See, look at all the money the movie made so clearly I’m in the right. There is no quicker moment that you can call bullshit on any critic or moviegoer who jumps to that well to defend their opinion. Even Ben Lyons himself, I suspect, would scrunch his face at someone who said Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is good because it’s the highest grossing film of the year. But there he is whipping out figures to back up his opinion. It didn’t inspire a prequel (still in the planning stages) because of some fantastical, emotional connection to the story. It’s BECAUSE it made 700 MILLION DOLLARS worldwide. Chicken and the egg maybe since it can only make money if people go see it and recommend it. But how many crappy movies have made a dime at the box office? Even Wild Wild West made over $110 million. The best of Lyons’ defense though was yet to come.
“If you go back to look at all the critics, not just me, but if you look at anybody whoever publicly reviewed a movie, movies consistently, there are plenty of films that their names are on the boards for. Ya know I always joke with my dad. He’s on the billboard for like Juwanna Mann. He says it’s hilarious. (inaudible) Ya know Roger Ebert is on the movies for like Confessions of a Shopaholic, says it’s hilarious. Everybody has a film that they kinda like LIKE for whatever reason and that’s their taste. And also, that’s one of the greatest? If that. 250 films? That’s one of the greatest movies of the decade, I’ll tell you that much. I don’t know. That’s a movie that I saw and it wowed me as I walked out of the theater. Cried during that movie the first time I saw it. There it is, so.”
As if we needed any further proof that Ben Lyons just will never get it or never know how to construct an argument, it’s right there in black and white. After his monetary backup of his quote, he brings up the well-known fact that sometimes critics will recommend a movie that goes against the grain of popular opinion. And by placing themselves in that lone camp, they are more likely to find what they say as fodder for studio marketers. So he calls out his dad for recommending Juwanna Mann and takes a parting shot at Roger Ebert for liking Confessions of a Shopaholic, both for calling each film “hilarious.” (Actually Ebert’s ad quote was “It’s funny…Isla Fisher is a joy.”) OK then, they both liked movies that have a collective 32% approval at Rotten Tomatoes. That’s not even half of Lyons’ precious I Am Legend which scored 69% all but its lonesome. You know what Jeffrey and Roger didn’t say about these movies though?
THAT THEY WEREN’T ONE OF THE FUNNIEST MOVIES EVER MADE!!!!!
Yes, they liked these movies. Yes, they got quoted on the ads for them. The argument you are making though, Ben, is that we should lay off your quote because other critics get quoted for bad movies too. Except you LOVED I Am Legend. You are not embarrassed by your love of that movie. It made you cry and you’re happy to admit it. Or are you? You are not defending your recommendation of The Happening (“Sick. Twisted. Disturbing.”) or Eagle Eye (“It’s a definite must-see.”) This is not a guilty pleasure situation. You called it ONE OF THE GREATEST MOVIES EVER MADE. You can’t rub off your guilt on others who may have had a momentary lapse of reason in their enthusiasm of something. Instead you could have found a way to try to convince us of why the film is great as opposed to why you loved it so much. There IS a difference. I love that Schwarzenegger takes out over 80 guys by himself in the climax of Commando. I would never say that its one of the greatest films ever made. Marley & Me made me shed a few tears, presumably for one of the same reasons that I Am Legend made Ben cry. It was not even one of the best films of that year. I grew up with John Carpenter films. Ghosts of Mars sucks.
It’s worth reminding that I Am Legend didn’t even rank #1 on Ben’s Top 10 list that year. It was second to Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, so by default that’s at least two films from 2007 that he would have to say are amongst the greatest films ever made. Neither film, mind you, appeared on the list attributed to Ben Lyons on Movie City News’ round-up of year-end lists. Whatever Ben is trying to say in the interview when he references “one of the greatest” is a bit garbled, so what is he grasping for when he talks about “250 films?” That’s about the average of wide releases in theaters every year. But he immediately jumps into telling us this much – that I Am Legend is “one of the greatest movies of the decade.” Already backtracking from “ever made” to “of the decade.”
RADIO DAN: “I like that he backed that up.”
INTERN JESSICA: “OH, OF COURSE!”
Man, do we need to weep for the next generation. If Ben Lyons is indeed the leading voice for “young people” in this country, then we’re doomed. 250 films a year? A deacde? Maybe that’s Lyons math – the arithmetic that justifies him seeing 5 movies out of over 100 at Sundance this year. I once called Ben Lyons “the Sarah Palin of film criticism.” Maybe he’s actually more like The Office’s Dwight Schrute who once said, "I know everything about film. I've seen over 240 of them."
"And until next week, as always, we’ll be At The Movies.”
There is something perfectly poetic if those are the final words we ever hear from Ben Lyons on this show. Hyping something that cannot possibly be, said before all the facts are in. As of the Aug. 15 airing we are now officially in the two-week period before the new season of At The Movies begins with Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott. Traditionally a period where Siskel & Ebert took a couple of weeks off and either ran reruns or taped a special recap show to air, could the same be true of the now defunct coupling of Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz? My Tivo, too dumb to recognize reruns of The Daily Show but smart enough to notice an At The Movies repeat when it sees it, is showing just that. The Aug. 22/23 airing is slated to be a rerun of their Aug. 7 show. You know – the one where they had twice promised a G.I. Joe review only to be shunned from the screenings like the rest of us. If this stands that only leaves Aug. 29. Will it be a repeat, a special show, or have we indeed seen the last of Ben Lyons under the title first made famous by Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel? If it is, Junior gave us quite a sendoff, delivering his own brand of a greatest hits package reminding us why no one has anything positive to say about his tenure.
During their “exclusive early review” of Inglourious Basterds this week – never mind that the film already had 17 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes pre-August – Lyons jumped in with an emphatic prediction.
“The real scene-stealer here is Christoph Waltz, GUARANTEED TO BE NOMINATED FOR AN ACADEMY AWARD for his portrayal of Nazi Colonel Hans Landa.”
I’m not going to argue the sentiment. This is a performance that deserves the nomination and, if I put on my prognostication hat, probably will be garnering his share of year-end attention from critics. This is a show that is not supposed to be about guarantees though. Instead of wasting the few seconds you have inserting your red carpet hype into the proceedings, how about telling us WHY Waltz is so terrific in the role?
“While this isn’t his best work, it’s right up there in terms of originality and storytelling.”
This quote is in reference to Quentin Tarantino’s body of work. Now, the guy has made seven films (eight if you count his contribution to Four Rooms.) You don’t have a lot of films to choose from in order to quantify Inglourious Basterds the way Lyons does. Why reference it as not being his best work at all? Why preface a statement that the film is “right up there” with that? Why damn a film that you obviously think is in the top half of his resume by saying it’s not his best if you’re qualifying it with two high standards such as “originality” and “storytelling?” Responding to Mank’s statement about the Basterds’ scalping war crimes against the Nazis, Lyons says:
“And those are very violent scenes, of course, and while this is a bloody, gory film, not as much as I expected it to be especially coming from Tarantino.”
Well, Jesus Christ, what is your definition of a bloody, gory film then? You say Inglourious Basterds is just that but then say “not as much” as your expect from Tarantino. Here is a director that got singled out early in his career as some kind of bloody auteur thanks to an initial “NC-17” rating for Reservoir Dogs. In his original review of Pulp Fiction, Gene Siskel commented on certain scenes of violence and masochism that were going to “put people off.” But Gene & Roger did a follow-up show where they showed clips to show that Tarantino’s violence wasn’t nearly as graphic as had been built up in our minds and it was a great point. How much violence do you remember from Jackie Brown? Kill Bill Vol. 1 clearly ranks as his most violent film to date, although cartoonishly so. Aside from a little eye-play in Vol. 2 though, that may have been one of the least bloody films he’s made. Death Proof had a nasty car wreck and a final beating (played for laughs) but that was it. So I ask again, O Ye With The Queasy Horror Stomach, what the hell are you saying about Inglourious Basterds? It’s bloody and gory but not as much as Tim Roth’s bleeding stomach or Uma Thurman dispatching the Crazy 88’s? Maybe we’re just spitballing opinions here but I’d say drop for graphic drop this may be the second most violent film he’s done after Kill Bill Vol. 1. Unlike Jackie Brown, of course.
“And like that film, this one has a great cast.”
Really Junior? THAT’S your segue? Mankiewicz tells you his favorite Tarantino film is Jackie Brown and you transition by saying Inglourious Basterds also has a great cast. As if Tarantino’s other films didn’t have at least six names you could put above the title? Pulp Fiction put 12 on it’s poster. In fact, for most audiences, outside of Brad Pitt and tiny roles from Mike Myers and guys they might recognize from The Office and Freaks and Geeks, Inglourious Basterds may contain the least amount of recognizable names. That’s neither here nor there on how great they are in the movie, but Lyons could have made the point of the talent Tarantino may be freshly introducing to us. I certainly wasn’t familiar with Christoph Waltz until now. Lyons does mention the film’s women, Melanie Laurent and Diane Kruger in his initial review, but when giving the “great cast” another mention, stoops to Pitt, Myers and B.J. Novak from The Office, arguably the three most mainstream faces in the cast. Yes, Christoph Waltz gets one more shout-out from Lyons, but only to say “what a performance.”
Lyons is nothing if not Captain of the obvious, as in pointing out that Neal Brennan director of this week’s The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard “worked on Chappelle’s Show with Dave Chappelle.” As opposed to Lenny Chappelle from Brooklyn Heights. He couldn’t help but point out that Bandslam had "no references to drinking, to smoking," and that "the language is appropriate." He told us that District 9 is “how science-fiction should be done,” saying it’s “grounded in reality yet fueled by a filmmaker’s desire to tell a visually compelling story driven by strong, complex characters.” Care to revisit that I Am Legend review, Ben?
Unclear whether or not we will have a show to cover on Aug. 29, the Ben Lyons Quote of the Week will indeed be having at least one more column – to count down the 10 most classic, inconsistent, moronic quotes we’ve heard from the last year of At the Movies. I’ll have my final thoughts on the show as film criticism in general generates a natural upswing with the changing of these guards. As the gift that keeps on giving, quotes on the show indirectly have tied-in to the viewers’ general thoughts on the Ben Lyons era. I leave you with our own 3-To-See quotes heard on this week’s show.
#3 – “The interpretation seems forced and, at times, inconsistent.”
#2 – “It had a strong first 20 minutes, but the concept ultimately runs out of steam. I definitely laughed. Just not enough to fully recommend it.”
#1 – “These are characters that make mistakes, they redeem themselves, they grow throughout the course of the film.”
If only Ben Lyons would have applied that same logic to his time on At the Movies. He might indeed have still been around next week.
"This is a true story so if she is a little whiny – that is the character she’s embodying.”
Basically what you’re saying then, Ben, in your review of Julie & Julia is that because the film portrays the real-life Julie Powell as she is we should just accept that person, flaws and all, since it remains true to them - no matter how self-centered, dim, or flaccid they come off when trying to relay their thoughts on a subject. Awwww, has someone been hard on Ben lately?
Not precisely sure when the big news came to Ben Lyons, but the public became aware on August 5 that he and co-host Ben Mankiewicz were being replaced on At the Movies. After just under a year on the air, Lyons and Mank officially aligned themselves with the Jean Doumanian season of Saturday Night Live. One and done. Cut short. After the PR tour during Oscar season to counteract all the bad publicity the show had got, the Associated Press article they finally opened to, the spin that the ratings were not on the downswing, attempts to localize them as Chicago celebrities and rumors that it would be cheaper to keep them on for another year to fulfill syndication contracts than to dump them, the Bens will be no more on the show come September. Replacing them will be hometown boy, Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, and New York’s A.O. Scott who will be flown in every couple of weeks to tape a pair of shows. Funny that the reason Scott was initially taken off the guest host roster is because producers didn’t want to have to fly him every week. No, they chose instead to fly in Ben Lyons every week. Well now they can fly him out.
“I find you’re being a little too harsh on a film that is light and warm and charming at times. And she goes through some difficult moments.”
It’s too much of a coincidence to suggest that Lyons is putting himself into the shoes of Julie Powell and having to defend her/himself against Mankiewicz’s attacks on it. Maybe this is what “LyonsDen” bitches about at StopBenLyons.com when he accuses this column of quoting him “out of context.” Maybe Ben himself really is “light and warm and charming at times.” You certainly can’t get to where he’s at in his young age without showing off a pleasant demeanor. Unless, of course, your dad is a well-known film critic too. But so what? No one ever accused Earl Dittman of being a bastard. Hell, my dentist is an extremely nice guy. Doesn’t mean I’m going to call on him to fix my car though.
There’s no sense in reiterating all of Lyons’ on-air sins at this point. Like Julie Powell herself, the Ben Lyons Quote of the Week will be a nearly complete record of the 2008-09 season of At the Movies. Hopefully it’s a little funnier and a lot more interesting. Unlike her though, this column was never about me. I wasn’t lobbying to get a job nor finding myself with too much time on my hands. Which is what makes Lyons’ parting quote all the more enraging.
In the ensuing articles written up about the changing of the guard – not one of them saying anything positive about Lyons (except this from 411Mania.com – which head-scratchingly referred to Lyons’ “intelligence” and being “respected”) – most commented how Lyons had no comment. Mankiewicz received some praise for departing with a touch of class saying
"I loved working on this show, every moment of it. It was an honor to continue a broadcast legacy not merely started by Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, but created by them. No doubt the show is in good hands, with a great production staff, and two really knowledgeable and perceptive film critics in A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips."
He also stated that the attacks on his younger colleague were “unfair and mean-spirited.” Perhaps the latter, Mank, but never the former. It’s completely understandable that Mankiewicz would offer a little defense for his partner of the past year. But wouldn’t you want to get him alone in a room with a little space between the firing? Maybe five years or so down the road when he can look back with a little unforced perspective and dish on what he really thought of Ben Lyons. Again, pure speculation that he would break bad. After all, through all the backhanded compliments Mankiewicz has received for basically not being as bad as Lyons, let’s not feel too sorry for his departure. After all, Lyons was signed to do the show already when Mank bought his ticket. He knew what he was getting into and the show crashed because of it.
Lyons though did eventually offer his own perspective on the passing, saying he was “extremely proud of the work Mank and I did on the show.” Though according to the article by television AP writer, Frazier Moore, and contributing reporter Lynn Elber, Lyons took exception to “malicious” attacks leveled by those who “hide behind a computer screen.” Wonder if “LyonsDen” will have anything to say about those quotes being taken out of context, because if they are not it is just completely indicative of just how clueless and out of context he really is.
“Those who hide behind a computer screen.”
The words just linger. Some might claim the suggestion that Lyons was reaching out to me with that quote as egotistical. So many articles, blogs and message boards have been slamming Ben Lyons for a year, so why should anyone be so smug to suggest that this was all about me? Maybe because The Ben Lyons Quote of the Week and StopBenLyons.com have been the most prominent and consistent criticism of Junior during his singular year tenure. Maybe because I have first-hand knowledge that Lyons reads the column – or, at least, has read it. Maybe because it wouldn’t be the first time that Benny has given the suggestion of a Burnett-esque tug towards myself in the media. A story for another time.
Let’s clarify something here. Nobody is hiding. I am not a sportswriter spewing venom because A-Rod didn’t come through in the clutch. I am not even a political commentator taking swipes at every little decision in the White House, whether it be made by Barack Obama or George W. Bush. These are jobs and opinions, valid or not, by people who, as LaTroy Hawkins once told booing Cubs fans, “can’t do what I do.” If Stephen Sommers wants to say the same things towards film critics over the bashing of G.I. Joe: The Legend of Chun Li, that’s one thing. Even though I suspect most could do his job and do it better. I am a film critic, Ben. I may not have the leg up you did to get on television or make my way through the traditional route of the print media, but I’ve been doing this for over a decade online and on radio where I can be read and heard every week. Criticwatch has been around longer than you have been on E! I’ve been the Vice President of the Chicago Film Critics Association longer than you were on At The Movies. OK, now it’s starting to sound egotistical. Never to the point that I'd consider myself the best though, but I'm working at it in a way you never seemed to do in close to 50 shows that thrust you into America's movie-loving homes every week and actually made the viewers hide. The computer screen is simply where I write and read. You should try it sometime at more than 140 words at a time. Maybe you would have had something a bit more substantial to say instead of becoming a jovial footnote in the history of At the Movies.
Unlike last week when Lyons and Mankiewicz assured us – TWICE! - they would be reviewing G.I. Joe on this week’s show only for it to be M.I.A. (no one told them Paramount wasn’t screening this for the majority of press?) – I can promise you what to look forward to in the coming weeks. On September 5, Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott will officially be taking over hosting duties. Welcome aboard, gentlemen. As of that date, The Ben Lyons Quote of the Week will suspend duties and be folded back into the regular Criticwatch blog. If/when he is quoted in a film ad or makes a fawning fool of himself at a film festival or awards show, I’ll be there. Until that day though we still have a few more weeks of Ben & Ben At The Movies and the column will continue through August. It’s unclear whether or not they will get the two weeks off between the seasons to run reruns or recap shows. At that time we may indeed take a look back at some of Lyons’ more memorable gaffes on the show. A Top 10 list seems inevitable and too good to pass up. After that though, the Phillips/Scott era begins. I can go back to enjoying my weekends as a casual regular viewer of the show and devote my commentary to more film coverage and dividing up the time devoted to Ben Lyons each week to all the other whores, junketeers and entertainment reporters who have no business brandishing the moniker of film critic. Leave that to the professionals – like the new hosts of At The Movies.
BEN LYONS HAS BEEN FIRED!
Figures that this would happen while I'm on vacation. Now I know what Jon Stewart and Bill Maher must have felt like being off the week Sarah Palin announced her resignation. Rest assured I will be writing about this more extensively in next week's posting. The column will continue through the final days of Lyons' tenure on At the Movies until Sept. 5 when A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips happily take over hosting duties.
"Funny at times, perhaps not purposefully so, it’s never truly scary or really even thrilling.”
This week’s show was a happy affair. 9 out of 10 “see it”’s and certainly some great movies to boot (Funny People, In The Loop, World’s Greatest Dad). Lyons turned out to be the party pooper this week, delivering the one “skip it” on the final film they reviewed, Park Chan-Wook’s Thirst. In fairness, I would have pooped on the perfect show too. According to the show’s review aesthetic, I would have gone with “rent it”, but I am certain that I could back it up better and maybe bring something to the discussion about why I thought it ultimately failed as a film rather than an experience. After all, we know how Lyons feels about horror fare.
Looking over his Quote of the Week you might think he’s still reviewing Orphan from last week. Thirst is an entirely different beast though. Anyone familiar with Park’s previous work, particularly his Vengeance trilogy (Old Boy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Lady Vengeance), knows he possesses a rather dark sense of humor amidst the violence. Some critics have even gone so far as to call it a black comedy. Suggesting Thirst is unintentionally funny is so off the mark it boggles the mind, although Lyons tries to cover himself by wondering if some of the jokes were lost in translation. Yeah, that Korean vampire humor always goes right over my head too. It might be hard to label it in the video stores as anything but horror, but any student of even a decade’s worth of film is aware that there are various subsets of the genre and not all of them require giant scares. Never during Thirst was I thinking “hey, I’m not scared at all here.” Park was chasing something more than just making us jump in our seats and if that’s all Lyons was focusing on, maybe that’s why he was so bored.
- “Delivers a slow and brooding story.”
- "Fans of vampire lore might enjoy it but I found myself bored and uninterested.”
- “I feel like it takes sooo long to get going.”
Again, in the spirit of fairness, in my forthcoming review of Thirst (held until the film opens in Chicago on Aug. 14), you will find the words “overlong” and “slowing itself to a crawl.” So I understand the mentality of someone believing its 133 minutes either need to be trimmed or filled out with something a bit more substantial. It’s the latter part here that the show failed to discuss though and it was disappointing that even Mankiewicz’s defense consisted of the anti-hero’s “inner turmoil” from being the nice vampire that doesn’t want to kill anybody. Not a single mention of the film’s screenplay being a twist on Emile Zola’s Therese Raquin, the flawless use of subtle pecial effects or where the film either succeeds or fails as a statement on religious hypocrisy and the vices that make us human.
“It only begins to come together when a beautiful woman starts to fall for the priest-turned-vampire.”
OK Lyons, but that’s no more than 40 minutes into the movie.
“I didn’t really become invested in these characters until almost two hours into the movie and by then I think it’s too little too late.”
Wait a second now. If it begins to come together by the 40-minute mark how do you not come invested in the characters until nearly two hours into the movie? At what point is “nearly two hours” 100 minutes? That would be after the murder plot and the lovers begin to drift apart. Is that when you woke up? What about Mank’s “nice vampire”defense, a term coined by you?
“But we don’t see that ‘til much later in the movie.”
OK, what movie did you see? Once the priest discovers what his appetite now consists of, his turmoil about not wanting to kill is evident from the get go. This is true before he even meets the woman. Just how soon did you check out of this movie? Perhaps it was when the priest vomits blood into and all over his flute for a good chunk of time. That’s only about 15 minutes in. We all know how your stomach is, Ben. And if you really do read the column, then you know that we know you are not exactly down with the bloodshed. I don’t know if the strategy of reminding us that you still don’t like Twilight (despite gushing over every aspect of New Moon at Comicon this year) or replacing your upfront divulgence about your horror nausea with a thrice confession of boredom is the best way to convince us that you’re really trying to do some good instead of sucking the very life out of film criticism.
"People don’t go on dates with earpieces and getting advice. It’s just not believable and that’s where it lost me.”
You mean deaf people never date? I’m just kidding with ya, Ben. We all know you weren’t demeaning the entire hearing impaired community. You were referring to the scene in The Ugly Truth where Katherine Heigl has her Cyrano moment on a date while Gerard Butler whispers advice into her ear. And that was where the film lost you. Not the contrived premise, the unlikable characters or the shameful hypocrisy of it all. It was the believability of someone wearing an earpiece on a date. That’s not a criticism nor a one-for-the-books observation. It’s another in Lyons’ line of rom-com commentary weighing the obvious inplausibility vs. real life dating situations. Just a few weeks ago, Lyons said the following in his review of I Hate Valentine’s Day.
“Real people don’t exist in life like this and don’t have these peculiar dating rules that they’re beholden to. And I just don’t find that people communicate and date like this. This is not authentic modern courtship.”
I’m sure you can all imagine your local bookstore proudly displaying copies of “Authentic Modern Courtship: The Ben Lyons Way” in their window. Chapter One – Don’t wear an earpiece on a date (unless you’re deaf.) There are so many things wrong with The Ugly Truth that to end your review on a note like the Quote of the Week is one of the many reasons this column has flourished for nearly a year now and has readers and viewers agreeing with the commentary when they aren’t arguing that I picked the wrong dumb quote as the lead. We’ve never just picked something out of context – and what context would there be anyway? It’s all about contradiction, credibility and offending the general principles of those who take film criticism seriously. Just go back a minute into Lyons’ Ugly Truth review and you hear the following:
“I found their chemistry to be strong when they were going opposite each other and then they develop a friendship and I thought that worked nicely. But then, as you said, the movie just sort of dives into every other romantic comedy we’ve ever seen before and THAT’S where it really lost me.”
A shot-by-shot analysis of Robert Luketic’s carefully-plotted lensing – sorry, I can’t finish that sentence without laughing. That’s twice Lyons said where the film lost him. The earpiece sequence is on Heigl’s first date with the hunky doctor – right up front on the friendship tip that her and Butler have started to form. Why am I even explaining this? The whole movie is one big romantic comedy cliché. Maybe Lyons going to the “lost” well twice is just bad in-the-moment television. Maybe the show’s editors are doing no favors in cutting out the subtle nuances of his critical breakdown. Or maybe, as another colleague reminded me this week, he really has nothing of substance to say. Consider his positive review of Shrink this week, another Sundance entry that would be the worst film on the show if it weren’t for fellow Sundance entry, The Answer Man (aka Arlen Faber) and The Ugly Truth.
“Here you have an ensemble of talented performers in an interesting, sort of quirky movie about Hollywood. What’s not to like?”
That was his argument after Mr. Mankiewicz commented how “forced” it felt “from the first moment to the last moment”. “It never works,” Mank says despite liking a couple of the actors in the film. Mank’s direct response to Lyons’ query was a pitch-perfect “EVERYTHING!”
Seriously though, is this really all the criteria one needs to give a film a positive review? Is that the sole reason why Robert Altman’s The Player is such a brilliant film? Is that enough to recommend a film like 1966’s The Oscar, another quirky ensemble film about Hollywood that is considered by many to be one of the worst films ever made? I was recently on the jury for the Gen Art Film Festival here in Chicago. Amongst the films for consideration were two that I liked (Patriotville, Mercy), one that I loved (500 Days of Summer) and one that kinda stunk (Shrink). As a jury member I had to be prepared to discuss with my fellow jurors why I disliked the film so much or be ready to defend the ones that I liked in a manner that rose above such superficial and meaningless judgmental attributes as “I really liked the cast.” Shift over to Lyons’ review of Orphan:
LYONS: “For me I don’t know what’s really fun about seeing a nine year-old girl take a hammer to somebody’s head over and over again. That’s not enjoyable for me at the movies.”
MANKIEWICZ: “IT’S A HORROR MOVIE, BEN!”
Thank you Mank for shouting out what so many of us have wanted to spit back in his face through all his stomach-churning logic and overly biased attitude towards horror films during this last year on the air. Oh boy, so you liked Drag Me To Hell. That PG-13 rating suits you, does it? You gave a positive review to Let the Right One In? Only three people on Rotten Tomatoes (out of 144) gave it a negative. (For the record those three morons are Amy Nicholson from Box Office Magazine, Prairie Miller and Owen Gleiberman who should have his “top critic” moniker erased on the basis of this one review.) You want to knock Orphan – have at it, sir. There’s a lot to pan it for. I recommended it on the basis of pure comedy and not as a horror film. But within my review I knocked how poorly directed it was if it really had aspirations to be a true-red horror flick. All you can say is how uncomfortable you get when little Esther bashes in a skull with a hammer. And yet your favorite film of the year according to last week’s show is Sin Nombre which amongst other things involves a young boy who is initiated into a world of gang violence and winds up pulling the trigger on a key moment. Is Sin Nombre any less of a horror film than Orphan? Probably moreso wouldn’t it since it’s supposed to be realistic? No one is taking Orphan seriously, nor should they? It’s camp. Some could argue in the same mold as Drag Me To Hell, knowingly trying to make the audience squirm through bad taste and excess. But Lyons doesn’t really know the difference does he? This column has continually tried, through its snarky tirades, to at the bare minimum offer some occasional nuggets of wisdom that Ben could take into the serious side of criticism away from the banality of E! hype. But it just always seems to fall on deaf ears.
Lyons & Mankiewicz recapped their best & worst films of the year. So far. What a perfect week for a little vacation. The column will return on schedule next week.
"I love how this film establishes that it takes place in the real world. It opens in London but then, of course, goes to the world of Hogwarts and Wizards.”
This week on the Ben Lyons Quote of the Week we’re going to play a little game. It’s named after a phrase coined by one Mr. Mike Ditka from this little isolated town we call Chicago and is a mainstay on the Boers and Bernstein radio show heard here on 670 AM The Score, an all-sports station. Aptly titled – “Who Ya’ Crappin?” And this week’s crap, as every week, appropriately goes out to Ben Lyons starting with his review on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
After Mr. Mankiewicz rammed down our throats twice that this was an EXCLUSIVE early review, a crap of another kind considering that Rotten Tomatoes already had 26 reviews posted before the show ever aired this week (7 of which posted before the show even filmed on Wednesday.) Thanks Warner Bros. for holding out on Chicago until the Sunday freakin’ night before. Mank, at least, gave a very thoughtful and thorough review of the film before tossing it over to Benny who opened with the above quote. Excuse me there, Junior, but hasn’t every Harry Potter film – and we’re talking five previous ones – all opened with events taking place in London? They all depict Harry’s difficulties in the Muggle world with the Dursleys before being whisked away for another semester at Hogwarts. Goblet of Fire opened with some nasty Voldemort business and an attack at the Quidditch World Cup before shifting to school grounds but for the most part every story has begun with events in and around 4 Privet Drive. So Ben Lyons, Who Ya’ Crappin?
“It’s one of the best romantic comedies I’ve seen in recent years thanks in large part to its completely original method of storytelling.”
The great romantic comedy Lyons is referring to there is Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer. And it is indeed one of the best of its kind in many years and certainly one of the best films to be released this year. Oh wait, it hasn’t been released yet. This is another early review. Perhaps a little less exclusive considering its been generating reviews from nearly every major film festival since premiering at Sundance in January (was it one of the five films Lyons saw there?), but an early review nevertheless. Completely original method of storytelling, though? In Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber’s script, the action shifts back and forth between the 500 days of the relationship between Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tom and Zooey Deschanel’s Summer. We see them broken up, then how they first met and where playful in-jokes between the couple were once funny in the beginning are no longer so towards the end. Back and forth we go to discover how a later behavior was influenced or foreshadowed by an earlier one and vice versa. Now, no offense intended to Neustadter and Weber’s screenplay because it is one of the very best of the year. But COMPLETELY original? It was hardly the most original when Quentin Tarantino did it in his way for Pulp Fiction. He already did Reservoir Dogs. How many films come out each year that use such a method? Christopher Nolan’s masterful use of flashback and flashforward in The Prestige comes to mind. What about Steven Soderbergh’s handling of it in The Girlfriend Experience which they reviewed on the show just a couple months ago. The Usual Suspects, Rashomon, Citizen Kane, Christ – ANNIE HALL - a film from the director whom you claimed to be a fan of just a few weeks ago with Whatever Works. A film about that takes us back and forth through the beginning and end of a relationship! A film that won Best Picture in 1977, Mr. Oscar Expert. Completely original, Junior? Who Ya’ Crappin?
“I think you and I are looking at it differently. While you are maybe sympathizing with some of the people that you say he exploits on camera, I am holding those people accountable for their actions and what they say and how they conduct themselves.”
Welcome to my world, pal. In the most voracious argument on the show, Lyons was making his “rent it” case against Mank’s “one of the worst films of the year” case on Bruno. Junior is right in that the two are looking at the film differently. Mank is looking at it as a professional film critic who is judging the film’s failure as a satire while Lyons is judging it like one of the many fanboys on Rotten Tomatoes quick to use the words “mindless fun” as a counterargument. Granted, comedy is a subjective medium. You either laugh or you don’t. I personally did several times during Bruno, but certainly not enough to overlook where the film and the character fail so dramatically. Other than the deep south redneck homophobes and a bunch of parents willing to exploit their babies to horrific danger to make them a famous poster child, who else is Ben Lyons holding accountable here for their actions? Paula Abdul, whom we’re supposed to believe has no idea who Sacha Baron Cohen is at this point Drill sergeants doing their job and trying to get this jerk to follow orders? Middle East leaders who are supposed to take his ideas for peace seriously when he doesn’t know the difference between “Hamas” and “hummus?” Ron Paul lured into an interview for the sole purpose of being the other man on a celebrity sex tape?
“I don’t care if it’s real. I don’t care if it’s fake. I just wanna find out if it’s funny.”
Yeah, funny enough to just rent. Benny, Who Ya’ Crappin?
“Every girl here is promiscuous. It condones drinking and driving. Can we please just stop talking about this terrible movie?”
Yeah as soon as you stop being such a hypocrite and come up with any of the hundreds other reasons as to why I Love You, Beth Cooper is one of the very worst films of the year and not because it offends your wittle moral code. Let’s use this completely original flashback method he speaks of to hear what else he said about the film.
“This is dreadful. This is a pathetic excuse for a movie. Oh my God! How this is even greenlit and made I will never understand. There is nothing funny. Nothing creative. Every high school stereotype you’ve seen in a million better movies is embodied in this film She (Hayden Panettiere) does not have a moviestar presence. At least here she doesn’t. There is just nothing of note here.”
Wonder if Ms. Panettiere snubbed Junior at some DJ party or for some E! interview. No matter cause there was really nothing of note in that pan either. If you’re going to take in vain the name of the Lord, Our Savior against promiscuous girls, on national TV to vent your disgust with a movie, how about really getting down to the nitty gritty. How about how creepily irritating Paul Rust’s performance was as the nerd we’re supposed to root for? How about the poor use of the flashbacks here that are sloppily inserted to mine a couple extra chuckles? We won’t hold you accountable for not reading Larry Doyle’s book of the same name but if you really wanted to play up your moral fortitude, Junior, how about how needlessly violent the film is towards its protagonist? The promiscuous of the girls in the film actually carries a point. The film fails miserably at delivering it, but nevertheless there’s a reason for it. But it’s the next point that’s the standout.
“It condones drinking and driving.”
Really, Benny? Are you really going to go there? The guy who praised The Hangover to the hilt? The guy who put it second on his list of 3-To-See on the June 20 show? The film where three completely messed up guys in Vegas steal a police car, drive it to Mike Tyson’s house, steal his tiger, put said tiger IN THE CAR and then drive back down the strip to Caesar’s Palace. You mean drinking and driving like that? Beth Cooper has maybe a beer or two by comparison and is shown to be primarily the worst teen driver since Kelly Jo Minter in Summer School. Anyone? Whomever was driving the police car in The Hangover had not only been drinking all night, but jacked up on rufies. But I guess you don’t care if it’s real or if it’s fake. You just wanna find out if it’s funny. Ben Lyons, who in the hell do you think you’re crappin’?
"Depp is so good that in the moment he holds your attention and I’m along for the ride and it’s a good adult summer movie. However, I wanted an awards show contender and its just not that.”
Lyons was brutal this week. On the movies. Without the immediate benefit of a show-by-show breakdown, this may have been the first time during his tenure on At the Movies that Junior failed to recommend a single title; a prospect that even surprised Mankiewicz during their recap. The closest he came was on Michael Mann’s Public Enemies which got the dreaded “rent it” despite Lyons calling it a “good adult summer movie.” Having spent a part of this weekend on the other side of Criticwatch determining the correct use of the word “masterpiece”, here we have another lesson in choosing your words carefully.
The whores who want to play the game of hyperbole have their prerogative. More and more though it’s been trickling down to critics who actually do write out their thoughts in the form of a review rather than just say the first magically delicious thing that come into their head to please the studios. Words like “masterpiece” or “ever” have been creeping into the critical lexicon far too often and it has to stop – unless you can truly back it up in great detail. Lyons didn’t go so far this week. He only used the word “good.” When you hear the word “good” to describe a movie or album or TV show, does it sound like a criticism? Maybe it’s used in such a nonchalant way to suggest that you don’t NEED to rush right out to experience it – hence the “rent it.” It’s still not a word that should be used to describe an entire movie though if you had enough reservations about it to tell people to hold off. As written about before, part of the problem with the see it/rent it distinction (which did begin on the show in the Roeper/guest hosts days to replace the copyrighted thumbs) is that it reduces film criticism into consumer advocacy. This movie isn’t worth your $10, but maybe it’s worth $4 at Blockbuster. Depending on how far you can stretch your $17 monthly subscription to Netflix (I can usually get through 6 discs a week), does that make any of the titles any less valuable on such a scale? The “rent it” is more of a red herring in Lyons Quote of the Week though and I think any regular reader of this column knows where this is headed.
Lyons wanted “an awards show contender” out of Public Enemies and because he didn’t get that, because he may miss out on talking to Johnny Depp on next year’s red carpet, he was disappointed with it. Now, I also had many problems with Public Enemies and gave it a negative review. Lyons even shared a few of my criticisms with the film. In no way though during my viewing of the film or my immediate discussion with colleagues during the end credits or while writing 90% of my review the next day and the final 10% after the weekend I saw it was I thinking, “damn I was hoping that was going to be a major player at next year’s Oscars.”
The Oscar angle appears to be the one element of this pony we’re never going to break. It’s just instinctual. Anything that looks or smells like an Oscar movie instantly turns on that switch and he’s thinking of the game. And that’s really what it is for all of us without an actual stake in the playing field. Sure it’s fun to open up the discussion and outguess our colleagues, but the majority of us know how to separate the two. We love The Hurt Locker first and then HOPE Kathryn Bigelow will be in the awards discussion. A film, incidentally, that Lyons picked #1 in his 3-To-See, calling it “one of the best war movies of the year.” Um, what other war movies is he comparing it to? All I could come up with is a documentary (Brothers At War) and Memorial Day, a film (that premiered at CineVegas last year and got a small release in February) which I doubt he’s ever heard of let alone seen. Surely he’s not including Monsters vs. Aliens or Underworld: Rise of the Lycans on that list. Or maybe he is. Maybe in Lyons’ world a war movie in the same category as The Hurt Locker include the likes of Terminator Salvation, Battle For Terra and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Did you one of the best war movies EVER, Junior? Or just one of the best movies of the year? No genre label? Again, choose your words carefully. Where was I? Oh yeah, the difference between the job of a critic and one of an Oscar prognosticator. We don’t lessen our appreciation of Pixar’s Up because all hope seems to have been lost with WALL-E in the possibility of any animated film ever getting a Best Picture nomination again. Ah, but there’s the rub.
With the recent announcement that the AMPAS is going to be nominating TEN films for Best Picture rather than the usual five – the field has been expanded. Now a film like Public Enemies is almost instantly put into the race no matter what haters like Lyons or myself think. For someone with the label of “expert” whenever awards season begins, he should be well aware that personal taste – or even a wide birth of praise amongst critics – has nothing to do with what is going to get nominated.
“I wanted an awards show contender and it’s just not that.”
Sorry it’s just worth repeating because it sounds like a six year-old who wanted a blue bike and got a red one instead. Just getting inside Lyons’ brain for a moment though, he should know about the rules switch by now. And, if you’ll allow me to put on my own Oscar game hat for a moment, his comment is even stupid on the most superficial of statuette-chasing levels. Johnny Depp and Marion Cotillard have both received praise for their performances. On a technical level, just at the bare minimum, you can easily see Public Enemies competing for Art Direction, Costumes, Sound and even the questionable cinematography. And at this point, halfway through the year, what is currently standing in its way other than six months of film that none of us have seen yet? On a list of five, Public Enemies’ odds are a little more stacked. But with ten nominees, IT’S A MADHOUSE!!! Even at the most conservative bit of list-making, I couldn’t come up with ten films in the FIRST six months of 2009 that would even an outside shot of making a list of ten. And I’m using every potential Oscar formula I can think of including critical acclaim, box office success, voter memory, etc… I’ll even dump great films like Sugar, Moon, The Girlfriend Experience and Goodbye Solo from the list. And this is all I could come up with.
Away We Go
The Hurt Locker
You’re telling me that Public Enemies isn’t an awards show contender in that list? And I don’t think it’s as good as any of the films I mentioned. Well, maybe Star Trek. We’ve strayed from the point though. Let me take my Oscar hat off again and put on my critical thinker one. Stick to your thoughts about the underdeveloped characters, Benny. Tell us more about where you felt the second half failed. No one wants to hear you call the Oscar race over for a movie in the beginning of July. No one wants to hear you use the word Oscar until Feb. 2, 2010 when the nominations are announced on E! On At the Movies you are a film critic. Nothing more. Maybe a little less. So act like one and maybe someone out there will listen to what you have to say for a change.
"I found that the filmmakers were really irresponsible in ignoring the younger fanbase of this franchise. You mention the 14 year old boys love the action and Megan Fox but the language and drug references completely unnecessary.”
Hearing statements like that from Ben Lyons is enough to make you want to watch a reality show of his exploits at the Hard Rock in Vegas. The movie in question is not Land of the Lost, but Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, a film that only accentuates everything that passed as action and humor the first time around. Why didn’t those PG-13 elements violate his delicate sensibilities back in 2007? Maybe because he was just on the E! Network then and not playing to a more adult audience on ABC that has found ways to work his age into the criticism of him? What did you think of the first film, Junior?
“I was a big fan of the first film and I think part of the reason why it worked is there was so much anticipation to see these robots for the first time. And Michael Bay and the team at ILM, the graphics studio that does the special effects, really delivered in that first movie.”
Well, thank you for clearing up what ILM was. I’ve been hearing that acronym for years and its just driven me nuts. Thank you, Ben Lyons, for letting us know what the most recognizable visual effects company name for the last three decades actually does. You are now ready to portray a scientist in a 1950’s science fiction film. “Any ant would react to a small dose in the same way. You’re just seeing it in a magnified, or larger, form.” And if Lyons knows what that movie is from, I’ll give him a point.
Nothing I could say this week though could be as enjoyable as Mankiewicz throwing the hammer down to his wee co-host. It was during their review of My Sister’s Keeper, a film Lyons prefaced as “a movie that brought me to tears.” And he’s not the only Lyons jumping aboard the film my colleague Peter Sobczynski called “two straight hours of emotional torture porn that is so brutally assaultive in its determination to jerk tears from viewers that it practically leaps off the screen and into their laps in order to plunge its fingers into their eye sockets and get to them quicker.” As opposed to Jeffrey Lyons who called it “enormously touching and genuinely poignant.” My Sister’s Keeper is precisely the type of film that colleague Collin Souter and myself would immediately put in the running as a natural for Jeffrey’s Top 10 list. And precisely how is he getting quoted when he no longer has the Reel Talk venue and he writes about as much as the Transformers Mudflap and Skidz read? No matter because the Lyons family vagina is well intact on television, complete with worrying about the poor children. But in steps Ben Mankiewicz right on time.
LYONS: “The film grabs at your heart even though it is heavy-handed at times and be sure to bring the tissues. You’re going to need them by the caseload.”
MANK: “Obviously heavy-handed at times? When is there a moment in this movie where it’s not heavy-handed? I mean look I cried too because it’s a movie about young children with cancer. It’s incredibly sad. But manipulative from the get-go until we are finished.”
Way to put it all in perspective, Mank! Yes, I’m man enough to admit that I cried through about three-quarters of Benji: Off The Leash. Was it because it was a well-made, worthy tearjerker? Not at all. It was because I was watching it two weeks after my dog of 14 years died. Lyons shields himself from the attack by defending the film through the performance of 16 year-old Sofia Vassilieva as the cancer-stricken child. Just moments earlier he attacked the film’s lead saying that “the film does stumble at times due to the unimpressive performance by Cameron Diaz.” When was the last time you were able to recommend a film that contained a bad lead performance? I suppose any time you liked a Will Smith flick.
In Sobczynski’s review he said, “if you ever wanted to get your fill of endless montages set to the sounds of wispy-voiced covers of such subtly selected tunes as “Heaven” and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” or endless close-ups of a dying girl smiling bravely through her tears, this is the movie for you.” Can you tell us more about the songs, Mank?
MANK: “The music, the songs are literally so literal they actually have lyrics like ‘I am 12 years old and I am so sick and when I’m gone you’ll be very sad.’ I mean, C’MON!”
LYONS: “I found myself really connecting with this character and really pulling for her and rooting for her and and really just being deeply moved by her.”
Jesus, just buy the movie a pony already. For a guy so concerned with bad language and drug references, you would think that Lyons might have some interest in discussing the moral implications of creating an Abigail Breslin for the sole purpose of saving a Sofia Vassilieva. Or any of the “tough and challenging” queries the film supposedly raises. Instead, like the film itself, Lyons just hits his one point into your head over and over again and when he sees the nail he’s driving hasn’t destroyed the thought part of your brain he goes for the coup de grace.
LYONS: “Oh, have a heart, Mank.”
MANK: “Oh I have a heart. I just don’t want shlock.”
You also have a brain and maybe even a little courage, Mank. Even if you did tell people to rent Imagine That.
"This is vintage classic Woody Allen. Like you said, not his best work obviously but a return to form in a lot of ways.”
Then how about we don’t use the words “vintage” and “classic” to call it then? This is becoming an increasing problem in the Twitter culture that we live in. What is Twitter precisely if not an opportunity to provide your own ready-made 140-character blurb for a movie? Forget writing a whole review or 140 words. You can just walk out of a movie and post your reaction for all your followers to see. Oh, but you must get their attention, right? You can’t just say that Whatever Works is one of Woody’s better efforts over the last decade. You need to get everyone’s attention. So you say it’s classic Woody Allen, more or less suggesting that it ranks with the likes of Annie Hall, Manhattan and The Purple Rose of Cairo. Yes, there’s a bit of assumption on our part. But there’s a difference when you call something classic and tap into our own memories of what constitutes the meaning of “classic” (whether it be for a genre or filmmaker) and my friends and I saying that Megaforce is the greatest movie ever made.
Maybe if Fox ever gets around to putting that Hal Needham “classic” out on DVD I’ll find an ironic blurb plastered across its label. “Classic” is just one of those words or phrases like “masterpiece” or “of all time” that critics should stuff deep down in their pocket and use sparingly. It’s not often that we get a film that is going to stand the test of time or even measure up to the best that’s come before them. This was the biggest problem I had with both the fanboys and especially my colleagues when it came to films like Star Trek and Drag Me To Hell this summer. They were treated with such reverence you would have thought J.J. Abrams truly had topped The Wrath of Khan or that Raimi had made something in the same league as Evil Dead II or Spider-Man 2. Quicker and quicker we have been losing perspective with our praise. Instead of taking a day to put the film in context, how many SXSW attendees from the press corps were instantly on the Twitter, tweeting away about Drag Me To Hell and trying to come up with an acronym for Shot My Load.
The younger generation of critics could actually have learned something from Ben Lyons this weekend. (Stay with me.) He didn’t even take a day to backtrack on his hyperbolic ejaculation. He took about a second. Vintage. Classic. But not his best work…”obviously.” In an instant, Whatever Works went from “classic” to “not his best work.” Lyons shifted between the definitions quicker than a contestant on Super Password. Yes, I understand he doubled back to make the point that this film was more in line with the neurotic New York based tales of romance that he had abandoned for a while (i.e. Match Point, Scoop, Cassandra’s Dream, Vicky Cristina Barcelona). But then couldn’t Lyons find a word to match his own point, something like “fundamental” or “traditional.” The judges would have accepted “old school” if he so chose instead of words that made it sound like a fine wine that waited decades to uncork. Honestly, Ben, I’m trying to help you here. You don’t want to sound like these guys do you?
An instant classic. (He’s Just Not That Into You) – Mike Sargent
It’s an instant classic. (Adventureland) - Shawn Edwards
The Hangover is sure to be an instant classic. (The Hangover) - Glamour
An instant classic! (Be Kind Rewind) – Ben Lyons
An instant classic. (Into the Wild) – Ben Lyons
A new American classic. (American Gangster) – Ben Lyons
Zohan is a classic comedy character that audiences will love for years to come. (You Don’t Mess with the Zohan) – Ben Lyons
A classic of epic and scope. (Miracle at St. Anna) – Ben Lyons
One of the greatest movies ever made. (I Am Legend) – Ben Lyons
Too late, I guess. Just as it’s too late for filmmakers to hope you can look past your own squeamishness to like a film with a little blood in it. And I’m not even in complete disagreement with him on Surveillance this week which he borrowed Mank’s adjectives to describe as “dumb, cruel and sadistic.” He had me at “dumb.” But not when he says he’s “all for a good serial killer movie or interesting thriller.” I’ll believe it when I see it. He couldn’t even muster up more than a “rent it” for Taken, arguably the best action thriller of the year. Remember, Lyons is the guy who said he doesn’t have the stomach for horror movies. So why should we take his word on the Norwegian Nazi Zombie flick, Dead Snow?
“Lot better zombie movies in recent years. 28 Days Later. 28 Weeks Later. I thought those were really effective because they established the rules of zombies.”
Perhaps if Lyons were paying better attention he would have realized that the first rule of those films was that they WERE NOT ZOMBIES!!! Don’t be whipping out any semantics on me about them being one-note automatons. Ain’t gonna fly. They were infected with a rage virus. Not brought back to life. As Simon Pegg once said, “death is not an energy drink.” And wait a minute, that was the best Lyons could come up with in terms of making a zombie comparison? He couldn’t even just say the 28 Days/Weeks SERIES? He just listed both of them and ended it? No room for Romero’s Land of the Dead or Diary of the Dead? Something zombie-esque like James Gunn’s Slither? He probably never heard of the fun little Dance of the Dead from last year because it was part of a film festival. What about Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse entry, Planet Terror? Maybe I’ve given Ben Lyons a little too much credit again. Maybe in his world, the term “classic” is directly proportioned to his own limited memory. And using the word will always be “classic Ben Lyons.” Whatever works, I guess.
"Todd Phillips shoots Vegas with all the buildings under construction and it’s bleak. It’s not all just bells and whistles and lights. It does a really good job of capturing the current state of the city.”
It’s only appropriate a few days away from my annual trip to the CineVegas Film Festival that I would have to hear Ben Lyons’ thoughts on my second favorite city in the world. For several years now I’ve been going to Vegas at least three times a year; once for the film festival, once with the family and once with friends. Sometimes twice with the latter. Ben Lyons is there, most every weekend out of the year, co-hosting gigs at the Hard Rock Hotel and getting fringe celebrities to attend his birthday party. Who better than to discuss the bleak, current state of the city, right?
Last week I was unable to counter the Bens’ early positive review of The Hangover due to constrictions of an embargo. And the fact that its seriously one of the worst films of the year. Laughter can vary from person-to-person, but I’m rather shocked that more professional students of film have been unable to call Todd Phillips out on his utter inability to setup or payoff a gag, punchline or comic situation. Continue reading on to last week’s column where you can see some of the “intelligent” and “sophisticated” humor to be found in The Hangover. This week we had the painful reminder that they believe this “strong script” to be “one of the funniest comedies this year so far.” It got more painful as Lyons tried to sell the idea that this was somehow a darker and edgier piece about Vegas.
Lyons would like you to believe that this is the feeling of The Hangover; the day after burn of being down-and-out in a city that gobbles you up and spits you out. The kind of city where you go to drink yourself to death or lament over the failed counterculture of a decade while ingesting two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers. Also, a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyls. This isn’t Rain Man, man, where all your problems can be solved with one sitting at a blackjack table. Oh wait.
“A great slice of authentic Vegas. This is not Oceans’ 11 with slick suits and gorgeous casinos or even a movie like 21 which tried to glorify Vegas.”
Oh, it’s not Junior? You know, I’ve stayed at no less than ten hotels on the main Vegas strip so it’s fair to say that while I may not spend as many weekends there as Ben Lyons, I certainly know my way around. And it’s fun taking newbies around in Vegas, showing them the sights and the best places to eat, see shows and gamble. I’d like to do the same now for people who have yet to see The Hangover.
This is the hotel that the four guys in the film check into. They are at Caesar’s Palace and its one of the most expensive suites available to them. So expensive that Ed Helms’ mild-mannered dentist character is reluctant to have the thing charged to his credit card; a joke that’s never paid off as we never discover what the extent of financial damage they do to the room after they leave. A city without consequences. Real grimy, ain’t it?
This is the rooftop of Caesar’s Palace where Bradley Cooper takes the foursome for a kickoff toast. Such a rule flaunter that guy. Going to a restricted area and taking his boys to a dirty, smelly rooftop where gamblers normally jump to their death. This is Vegas at its worst. If you look closely over by the Eiffel Tower you may even be able to make out the zombies that have taken over and feeding on human flesh. Save us, Milla!
Oh Erik, you’re thinking, this is precisely the side of Vegas that Phillips wanted to show – the glorious side in the early scenes before they are dumped in the middle of the desert by Joe Pesci and the cast of Very Bad Things.
LYONS: “This is modern Vegas. It shows you the good, the bad, the ugly. It really captures the feeling of sin city being tucked away in the desert.”
MANK: “Little bit of the despair.”
LYONS: “A LOT of the despair.”
Fair enough. Having lost the groom, here’s The Hangover trio the next morning, thrust into the utter despair of modern Vegas, the last bastion of Darwin’s waiting room – poolside at Caesar’s Palace.
So dark and depressing, wouldn’t you say? So edgy and beyond the norms of an atypical fratboy comedy. Hell the NBC show Las Vegas had more grit to it. Who is Lyons kidding with equating the construction of the city with some kind of hallowed out third world hellhole? There’s ALWAYS something under construction in Vegas. Yes, with construction comes dirt and rocks and emptiness you can see through like the souls at the dive bars glued to the video poker machines. (The still is not from The Hangover, but Losing Ground, a film that played CineVegas back in 2005.) That construction Lyons speaks of from the opening montage he loves so much is smack dab in the middle of Las Vegas Blvd. – right on the strip. You look left there’s New York New York and Monte Carlo. You look right you can see Caesar’s and Paris. For God’s sake even the construction sites are lit up at night.
Through the course of The Hangover the guys do end up looking like Vegas beat the hell out of them. A lost tooth, a few bruises and encounters on sandy terrain with a naked, gay Asian gangster. Hard to take the despair of a hospital scene seriously when its biggest gag (in multiple meanings) comes courtesy of an elderly naked man and his wrinkly old body. Don’t let the off-the-path wedding chapel fool you. You’re not that far off the path when you can walk to the Stratosphere Hotel. Selling this idea that Phillips succeeded in making The Hangover worthy of the title of a “dark comedy” is profoundly absurd. How many down-and-out losers end up at MIKE TYSON’S MANSION??? How dark can a movie be when it channels Rain Man - and I say “channel” instead of “satirize” since Phillips doesn’t understand how the scene doesn’t come as funny but rather as something straight out of 21, which Lyons scoffed for glorifying Vegas - and has our characters go off on a blackjack streak that even William H. Macy in The Cooler couldn’t ice with the most golden hearted stripper/escort who looks like Heather Graham on one of their arms? Todd Phillips’ Vegas – the place where dreams go to die.
I don’t know if Ben Lyons will have any time for the CineVegas Film Festival this week. If he was in town and able to see a half-dozen films without twittering I’d be somewhat impressed since it at least beat his Sundance record of five from this year. One of the film’s I’ll be attendance for is Amir Naderi’s Vegas: Based On A True Story (yes, full title), about a couple struggling with gambling and alcoholism who come to realize their house may be sitting on stolen money. Won’t know if its any good until I see it but it certainly sounds a lot more like a metaphor for the “real” Vegas than The Hangover, doesn’t it? As a guest of some of the biggest and best hotels in town on business and vacation, I wouldn’t stoop to equating what I know about Vegas with the locals who struggle financially with their vices. Who the hell is Ben Lyons to be telling anyone what the real feeling of Las Vegas is? Has he really experienced the “ugly” and the bleakness other than his own personal hangovers? Less than two weeks ago, I was sent a pair of photos from one of Lyons’ Las Vegas events. At first I thought it was a joke; a little help from someone who was a fan of the column or who had a personal grudge against Junior. Turns out that a number of film critics and journalists across the country received the same package. I think all of them forwarded the pics to me that day. And now that Lyons has brought Vegas to the forefront, I have a better reason to post them. Ask yourself, honestly, why any of us would have been interested in these photos.
Ben Lyons, Clinton Sparks & Sal Masekala pictured at SMASHTIME! Body English the nightclub inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas on Saturday May 23rd.
Tyrese Gibson, Ben Lyons/E!, Clinton Sparks, Sal Masekela/E! and DJ Green Lantern pictured at SMASHTIME! Body English the nightclub inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas on Saturday May 23rd.
That’s all the e-mail had. Two photos of Ben Lyons and his crew at the Hard Rock and their descriptions. No context. No reason why we should be posting them. Just the hope that we would somewhere. Well, here are the pictures, or as I like to call them – the real despair of Las Vegas.
THE QUOTE OF THE WEEK WILL RETURN ON JUNE 21 WHILE I ATTEND THE CINEVEGAS FILM FESTIVAL
"The absurdity of the situation is grounded by intelligent although somewhat raunchy writing that could have spiraled out of control – but just doesn’t.”
This week’s column is reflective of everything that’s wrong with the established laws of film criticism. Actually, the word “guidelines” would be more apropos than “laws” since the enforcement of such things is a rather arbitrary exercise. But I’m getting ahead of myself. A greater examination of these “rules” will be published at the end of this summer once the required research has come to fruition, sso stay tuned for a very special report in August. Call this week’s entry a little preview though into everything that’s wrong with the stipulations we’re asked to follow. You see there’s one review that the Bens did on the show this week and to comment in full I would be forced to break the understanding I have with our local publicists not to publish my thoughts before the release date. Oh, but At the Movies can review it six days early. Peter Travers can tell you to “see this gut-buster before your friends” twelve days before even THEY can see it. This Bonnie Laufer broad can say its “the funniest movie you’ll see all year!” But I, like so many of my colleagues are handcuffed into revealing our thoughts. Lest you think this is a full-on disagreement with the Bens, consider the fact that I saw a film several weeks ago that I believe to be one of the best films of the year. Maybe even THE best film to date. My review is written. The studio reps have seen it. The film opens next week in NY & LA. But since it doesn’t open until a week later in Chicago, I’ve been asked to withhold my review from public consumption until then. And, again, this is a film I believe may be the best film of 2009 so far. Makes perfect sense, don't it?
So onto The Hangover. Ben Lyons starts off by saying he thinks “this is going to be a big comedy hit this summer.” We could probably do a whole column bringing up Lyons’ insistence on equating box office success with quality filmmaking. I’m sure the studio loves when he makes bold predictions like that. I’m even more sure that Siskel & Ebert never used the term “hit” in this manner – never, ever – unless referring to something in the past tense or in a manner rife with sarcasm and disdain. But good for Lyons for playing right into the studio’s hands by doing an “early review” and predicting its financial success.
“I think Todd Phillips if you look at his movies does a great job of casting the right actors for roles, maybe not the biggest stars, not household names.”
Really, Junior? Let’s look at his movies. Old School had Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn. Starsky & Hutch had Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. AND Vince Vaughn. School for Scoundrels had Billy Bob Thornton and Jon Heder. AND Ben Stiller. In fairness, the insanely overrated Old School was one of the big stepping stones in Ferrell’s career. Before that his biggest film appearances were in Zoolander and a number of SNL character spinoffs. After that immediately came Elf and Anchorman. The same could be said of Vaughn who in-between Swingers and Made was making his way more as a dramatic actor. Yes, you may not remember but Vaughn was in no less than ten non-comedic roles between 1997-2001. Since Old School and Starsky & Hutch, Vaughn went on to Dodgeball and Wedding Crashers. So thank you, Todd Phillips. Old School still sucks.
Lyons doesn’t seem to have that filter that’s able to edit down the point he’s trying to make. Take away the “if you look at his movies” and his commentary does fit his praising of putting guys like Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis in lead roles. And I’m all for it. Helms and Galifianakis are funny guys who have been funny before and will be again. Lyons just can’t help himself though.
“And back to casting with Todd Phillips. Not just the leads but having Heather Graham pop up and add some energy to the film and Ken Jeong and Mike Tyson cameo is just brilliant here.”
If you see the film for yourself, please report back to me just how much energy you thought Heather Graham brought to the film. I’m sorry, I meant the future Mrs. Lyons. Oh yeah, didn’t you hear? Just kidding. Wishful thinking like all of us guys since License To Drive. But there’s another shout-out to a celebrity photo op. While I won’t comment further about her contributions to The Hangover, seeing that Lyons believed that Miss Conception (a film that was on DVD less than two months after its brief theatrical run) belonged in the same category as Knocked Up, Juno, Baby Mama and Baby On Board, tells you more than anything I could say. Wait a minute. Baby On Board? Never heard of that one, did ya? It also stars Heather Graham. And according to one poster at IMDB, “there is a reason you never saw this movie in a theater near you.” It arrives on DVD June 9. As part of that “baby box set” that Lyons referred to, he clearly forgot about the terrific Waitress with Keri Russell as an expectant; a film that did get more than an 8-week theater-to-DVD window. And why wouldn’t he? It played at Sundance in 2007 and he barely has time for movies there. Otherwise he may have referenced how this week’s DVD recommendation of Spring Breakdown wasn’t just a direct-to-video release but actually played this year’s Sundance Festival where he saw a grand total of five movies.
Mankiewicz took issue with another of Lyons’ casting praises though.
MANK: “You mention Ken Jeong. He plays a stereotypically gay character and that seemed to be the source of the only reason to laugh at him and not so much just for The Hangover but all of Hollywood – enough with the characters where the whole, sole purpose is to sort of point at them and go – ha, ha, he’s gay.”
Lyons did an immediate 180 on Jeong, who was very funny in both Knocked Up as the annoyed doctor and Role Models, in a more subtle fay performance. Nothing subtle about him in The Hangover that’s for sure. Right, Lyons?
“I agree. It doesn’t need that. They have so many other funny things going for it, that element to it, I agree with you made me kinda wince a little bit.”
And here you can see Lyons’ wince countered with his happy face when thinking of Jeong the first time. Draw your own conclusions about the fake sword fight Lyons had with Jeong during this year’s Oscar pre-show.
Some of the adjectives used in this week’s early review of The Hangover included the words “intelligent” (by Lyons) and “sophisticated” (by Mankiewicz). The elder Ben used his words to counter the film’s ads which he thought were being geared towards the fratboy crowd. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, Mank said, since he seems to understand “why every movie appears to be marketed for 17 year-old boys now,” (while looking square at his co-host.) Again, I cannot go into my thoughts about the joke stylings of The Hangover, nor would I ever dare to spoil anything for anyone who missed out seeing a film with their buddies that hasn’t even been released yet. But that doesn’t mean I can’t list specifically some of the jokes we’ve seen in the trailers and on At the Movies this week. That’s fair game.
- A tiger in the bathroom while Galifianakis is trying to pee.
- Bradley Cooper calling to Ed Helms in front of his girlfriend, “paging Dr. Douchebag.”
- A half-naked Asian man jumping from the trunk of a car and introducing his crotch to Bradley Cooper’s face.
- Zach Galifianakis posing in his tighty whities.
- A frighteningly wrinkled old man has HIS tightie whities pulled down in front of the guys.
- Mike Tyson punching one of the guys in the face.
- A baby being hit by a car door and being on the losing end of a spit take.
- Zach Galifianakis kicking a cell phone out of a little boy’s hand.
- Zach Galifianakis eating pizza he found in the sofa.
- Zach Galifianakis being hit by a stun gun in the face. “IN THE FACE!”
To use another Seinfeld quote, “well this is all very sophisticated.”
LYONS: “I think Zach Galifianakis in this is incredible. There’s not a wasted line or a moment here.”
Whatever you say, Ben. At least you got to say it. Everyone can read my full review of The Hangover this Friday. When it opens.
"And you really do lose yourself in these characters and yes it jumps around and the narrative can be a little difficult to follow. But when it does come together, there’s a sense of ahhhh, this is interesting. I see why now how it connects and I’m ready to move forward with the story.”
After finally running his positive/negative batting average to .500 on the year, it was a five “see it” show for Ben Lyons this week. Four of those “see it”s I’ve seen for myself and three of them are definite “skip it”s. I don’t play the “rent it” game. The only one worth anyone’s adult time is Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience, which I’m actually shocked Lyons recommended after his fervent panning of last year’s Synecdoche, New York. Maybe he just likes films with porn stars. Oh c’mon relax. Maybe I’d give him a few more props if he something more substantial to say than this week’s potent quotable. He spends half his allotted time going through Soderbergh’s IMDB page and the other half-heartedly responding to Mank’s assertion that the fractured timeline hurt the film for him. Nothing to say about Sasha Grey’s performance. Nothing about it being set during the last Presidential election. Nothing to say about it’s a thinly-veiled guise for the world of art and film criticism. Those elements probably flew right over his head. He left it to Mank to get in talk about the film’s economical ironies. When people ask why we continue to give Lyons such a hard time, it’s for reasons like this. He doesn’t have the critical faculties necessary to discuss film. Even on the films that should be right up his little hypeboy alley – like Terminator Salvation.
To one of the two other people I know who still watch the show with car wreck enthusiasm, their opening review was the fun part this week. For one of the few times we’ve seen Mank, with some authority, challenge Lyons on his positive review for the fourth Terminator film. But before we get to some of his comments, I’d like to take his seat for a moment.
“Can Christian Bale reboot the franchise?”
Lyons asked that in the opening preview. “Reboot” being the new “reimagining” and all that critics are falling in love with to describe any franchise that’s been dormant a few years. Enough with the criticism though, tell us about the film, Junior.
“While the Terminator timeline is pretty complicated, this movie set in 2018 maintains the basic premise of the franchise.”
So, John Connor is still slated to be head of the resistance. (The film makes it very clear early on he’s not A-#1 head cheese yet.) There’s a single Terminator trying to knock him off before he rises to that position and destroys Skynet for good. That’s the basic premise of the Terminator franchise, is it not?
“OK, enough with the plot breakdown which thankfully becomes less and less confusing as the movie goes on. This is the fourth Terminator movie, after all, so let’s see some robots.”
Well, wait a second there, Ben. I get you not delving into the thematic know-hows of Soderbergh’s film, but a geekboy like you should know a little something about what’s going on here. First off, how does Skynet know in 2018 that John Connor is going to lead the resistance to victory – or at least cause a great big headache for them? There’s no mention of the time travel equipment to eventually be found. No indication they’ve found it yet. So how do they know this, let alone how a young Kyle Reese is actually John’s father?
“The explosions and several key action sequences are cutting-edge and that’s what you want from a Terminator movie.”
Yes, OK. The Terminator films have been built around some of the best action set pieces we’ve ever seen. Surrounding that though were the elements that made us care about the outcomes of those sequences though. Characters we came to know. The tapped-in fear of nuclear war caused by faceless automatons. This is one of the preeminent sci-fi/action franchises of our time, but all you want to see is some robots?
“These movies were a big deal. A lot of people did see these. And this is a sequel that’s not trying to be a relaunch of the franchise but rather a continuation of the complicated story.”
Back up there, Junior. Didn’t you start off the show calling the film a “reboot?” Now it’s NOT trying to relaunch the franchise? And if you acknowledge the series has a complicated story why are you so quick to dismiss it?
“Sam Worthington and Anton Yelchin really steal the movie from Christian Bale who didn’t fully become John Connor in my eyes until the third act. By then I was already on board for a summer movie that delivers on promises of big action and some eye-opening special effects.”
So it didn’t bother you that John Connor winds up becoming the second banana to his own story? It didn’t bother you that Sam Worthington’s half-man/half-machine doesn’t fit anywhere into the timeline of the T-model evolution. Let’s go backwards since its your favorite motion. Kristanna Loken was the TX who could control machines and look fabulous naked. Robert Patrick was the liquid metal T-1000 who could morph into nearly anything. The Schwarzenegger was the T-800, living human tissue over a metal exoskeleton. Blood, sweat, etc… “built for the cyborgs.” The T-600 had the rubber skin that the humans spotted easy. (Which brings one to another question about Salvation – where are the dogs?) Now you have this Marcus Wright joker donating his body to science to Cyberdyne (“concerned with the survival of the human race”) four years before Judgment Day. Connor discovers Skynet’s plans for a skin-based Terminator. Is it the T-600 or the T-800 though? Maybe there was a label on the blueprint I missed, but it all seems a surprise to Connor or at least a strong realization that the machines are moving on to the next phase from all the skinless Terminators running around the film. The question at hand is why Skynet would develop a Marcus Wright model but then launch the inferior T-800 line (which we see happen late in the film.) Seems to me that a machine that thinks its human is a better design than a machine who simply acts like one thanks to words it picks up from other people.
“But to the film’s credit it’s these different types of machines that makes this Terminator film standout from the previous three films. For fans of the genre they’re gonna love seeing these spaceships and these new motorcycles and these snake-like things in the water.”
Oooh boy, let’s look at the cool spaceships and the pretty motorcycles. Sorry, but cool snaky thingys aren’t enough to make Salvation standout. The main thing separating this film from the other three is that this one sucks. HARD!
“The film isn’t as good as T2 but its leaps and bounds better than T3: Rise of the Machines.”
Whoa, whoa, whoa, WHOA! Let’s bring Mank back into this discussion.
MANK: “Everyone acknowledges that the third one was an unsuccessful effort.”
What am I hearing here? Precisely when did the third film become Halloween III: Season of the Witch? When did the hip factor turn against this film? Sure, it’s not the Cameron films. Yes, I was as skeptical as anyone that it was a desperate cash grab at a time where Arnold’s name didn’t carry the cache it did a decade earlier. But I’ll be damned if the film wasn’t more than successful for what it was – adding new layers to the complicated story but still keeping the slam-bang nature intact. I challenge anyone to tell me that any action scene in Terminator Salvation is better than the uber-destructive truck chase in broad daylight a half-hour into T3. That and the dark ending alone are enough to combat anyone who thinks Salvation is worthy of the Terminator moniker. And seriously, who is this “everyone” Mank and people are referring to. A current check on Rotten Tomatoes places Rise of the Machines with a 70% positive – which is a higher rating than 19 of the 35 films Lyons has recommended this year and 14 of Mank’s 30. Just because McG, John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris think they can rewrite Terminator history, doesn’t mean you guys can.
Mank really did come out with a fire in his eyes though after Lyons’ recommendation. As if Junior knew what was coming he said “I know what you’re gonna say, Mank. Not for you.” I really wish Mank would have started in a different direction than comparing it to the way the new Star Trek found a way to include new audiences. It’s not the “BIG DEAL” he makes it out to be and Lyons was actually right in reminding him that this is a continuation and not a relaunch – even if he contradicted himself AND McG who told him point blank last year at Comic-Con that he was attempting to reinvigorate the franchise by doing "our thing." Mank still spent most of his time on this point before attacking the film’s lack of story which he correctly found to be “complicated and undeveloped and silly” compared to the excellence of Cameron’s scripts.
“It’s Terminator. The story is there. You’re saying the story is too complicated though, so the story IS there.”
Hey Lyons, YOU said the story was complicated too. Stop trying to rewrite history. Two weeks ago you were calling Easy Virtue a remake of the Hitchcock film on the Twitter. This week you correctly start off your review that the film is based on a play by Noel Coward. For weeks dating back to the show’s “early review” of Star Trek, you’ve been raving about it. It’s been #1 on the 3 To See on both of your lists since it opened. And now its been replaced by Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian? Do we need Kyle Reese to come back from the future to save film criticism? Or would that be the T-800? In Lyons’ case it would probably be the twerpy Anton Yelchin as Reese instead of a hard-ass like Michael Biehn who, at least, knows something about the job he came to do.
"It’s a great little sports movie and what’s really cool about it is often times in sports films the actors can take you out of the moment because they aren’t accomplished athletes. Here they do a nice job of not even really showing the soccer. You don’t even really see it that much. But it’s, it’s really well done.”
The film in question in this week’s quote from Junior Lyons is Rudo y Cursi, a reunion of sorts for Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal who this time play brothers instead of the horny, don’t ask/don’t tell best friends of Y Tu Mama Tambien. The sport in question is soccer and as you can see, according to Benny Boy, you don’t really need to show the sport in order to call it a sports movie. Did Will Ferrell’s lack of skills behind a race car deter in your viewing of Talladega Nights? How about Billy Blanks thumbing his nose at the rules of football by using a loaded pistol on the field of play in The Last Boy Scout? Or would you just simply not call them sports movies? My remembrance of the film, Rudo y Cursi, does include some vague references to the brothers playing soccer, bebut mostly that the storytelling was so poorly handled I didn’t know how to label it.
Sports movie? Not a sports movie? Is Field of Dreams? Searching for Bobby Fischer? To each his own. But like this month’s Star Trek, you can’t have it both ways. If Rudo y Cursi is a “great sports movie” then it better damn well either be about the sport in more than just a passing capacity or have some solid footage of the sport being played. Lyons is saying the film does a nice job of not showing the soccer. OK, so they’re covering up the fact that Bernal and Luna can’t play? Why is it “really cool” for a sports movie to not really show the actual sport that much? Sure, films like Sugar and Jerry Maguire are about more than just the sports world in which they exist, so you wouldn’t call such attention to the actor’s sporting moves. But how can you sell Rudo y Cursi as a sports film to the viewers and then tell them one of the film’s attributes is in the way it DOESN’T show the sport? There's not even a soccer ball on the damn poster! At least Ben, I guess, finally got the movie with positive minority characters he was looking for.
That’s what you have to love about Ben Lyons. His attention to detail. On a recent Tweet from the guy, he referred to the upcoming film, Easy Virtue, as a remake of a Hitchcock film. Which is the equivalent of saying that Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet was a remake of a Laurence Olivier flick. Seriously, is this how he’s going to introduce it when they review it on next week’s show? “Jessica Biel takes on Hitchcock?” Both Hitch’s 1928 film and the 2009 film by Stephan Elliott are adaptations of the Noel Coward play. Hitchcock played it as a thriller. Elliott in the manner it was originally intended – comedy. I’d like to thank the gentleman who follows Mr. Lyons on the Twitter and sent along that little gem, but as amazing as it seems that e-mail was to be topped by another I received this week.
According to a source on a recent flight into Chicago, they had the fortunate fate to be seated within the vicinity of one Ben Lyons. Aside from his constant gadget-mongering, Lyons also had his handy DVD player on board with him. While some of us may have brought a comedy or an MST3K episode (like I do) to kill the time, Lyons was on the job checking out an apparent screener of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, a film he would pan in the coming weeks on the Apr. 11 show by saying...
"The setup is there for some interesting character relationships...Ultimately Mank, the movie is all over the place and it loses its focus and lost me in the process."
While the source didn’t get to see much of the film for their self, well, neither did Lyons.
Because HE WAS FAST-FORWARDING THROUGH IT!
Now it’s very easy to make a headline out of this without investigating it further. While I have no reason not to believe our source, I’ve made sure to wrap my head around the possible explanations for this so as not to condemn Junior on a trumped-up charge. Perhaps Lyons had already viewed the film in its entirety and was just brushing up on some of the reasons he disliked it. Maybe he was just looking for the Sienna Miller nude scenes. Could he have got settled into Chicago and watched the film at a later time? All these are possibilities. I certainly don’t want to establish an alibi for him, but even if he chose door number three – that is completely unacceptable when your primary job is to provide a thorough and honest critique of someone’s work. Isn’t this the guy who went to bat for special effects artists because he knows how many of them it takes to screw in a fake light bulb? How would Rawson Marshall Thurber feel knowing that Ben Lyons not only watched his film on an airplane, but hit the FF button several times during the 95 minute running time? He probably wouldn’t care if Lyons could dodge a ball and just throw a wrench at him. And who could blame him? Jamie Kennedy can go on and on hating critics who ripped him for Son of the Mask, but in their defense, they actually had to sit through the whole thing.
Wait a minute, Erik, you may say? Didn’t Roger Ebert recently review a film that he shut off after eight minutes? Why yes he did, Mr. Anonymous Hypothetical. But the difference was that Roger’s review began with such knowledge and was the whole basis for why he wrote it in the first place. Was it wrong or unprofessional? The jury was certainly out on it. The point being that you certainly didn’t hear Ben admit as much when he panned the film. Again, in his defense, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh has been getting slammed since its debut at Sundance in 2008 and has as low an approval rating as you’ll find this year on Rotten Tomatoes. But I certainly wouldn’t review a film that I hadn’t seen from beginning to end. And if I was reviewing the film on a nationally syndicated television show and following in the footsteps of two of the most respected film critics in history, you can be DAMN SURE that I wouldn’t be fast forwarding through a screener I had been generously given by the film studio representatives. It makes his comments about Angels & Demons this week a little more interesting.
“It’s a film that, like The Da Vinci Code, requires a lot of the audience. It asks you to be familiar with the books from Dan Brown. It asks you to be familiar with Catholic lore. And if you’re not, you’re gonna feel like you’re not involved in the story. And every time that Tom Hanks tries to check in with you and explain to you what’s going on, it distracts you from the flow of the movie. The movie has nice pacing and moves forward but it stops at these almost checkpoints where it has to describe the action instead of allowing you to be absorbed by it.”
As a professional film critic, the job asks you to be familiar with film history. It asks you to be familiar with film aesthetics. But the first thing that any movie requires of its audience is their attention. And it ain’t going to get that if you’re texting or twittering or, allegedly, fast forwarding through it on an airplane.
"Say what you want about the movies of Tyler Perry or even the recently released, Obsessed, but those films, for the most part, at least project positive images of intelligent, powerful and sophisticated minority characters.”
Ben Lyons’ entire review of Next Day Air this week was in the running for the Quote of the Week. Such a veritable cornucopia of “what-did-he-say?” moments that it would have been easy to print one long run-on sentence in quotations. I refrained since doctors recommend smacking yourself in the head over a period of time rather than one after another. At least that’s what mine told me after I checked myself into Alexian Brothers directly after this week’s show.
The other quotes which we shall get to shortly are more reflective of personal taste (from myself and most right-thinking film lovers), but that doozy above just needs to be called out. I didn’t speak much of last week’s review of Obsessed other than to point out the egregious editing flaw in their review. How about one more time?
Lyons giving a half-hearted compliment to his DJ buddy and future household name (his words), Idris Elba, while panning the film wasn’t that big of a deal. Basically saying Elba can do much better really isn’t saying much, although that’s really only held true of his TV work on The Wire and The Office. When I saw Obsessed a couple weeks back with my colleague, Peter Sobczynski, we agreed that at least Tyler Perry’s films, as abhorrent as they are, at least had a streak of trying to create a positive message. He fails miserably each time out, but at least he tries. Obsessed, on the other hand, has no redeeming positive values. Sure, Idris Elba’s character doesn’t go full Michael Douglas and sleep with the crazy white chick but no one would accuse ANY of the characters in the film of being “intelligent.” Certainly it’s the white women of the film (Ali Larter’s temp, Scout Taylor-Compton’s babysitter and Christine Lahti’s detective) who lead the pack in batshit stupid but I doubt anyone is looking towards Beyonce’s character (Elba’s original secretary who later became his housewife) who goes all "oh no you didn't" on Larter as a positive image.
But taking Lyons’ lead, I WILL say what I want about Tyler Perry if I haven’t said it already. Let’s take a look at some of the positive role models for the African-American community that he has given audiences.
- Cosby kid Keisha Knight Pulliam as a junkie prostitute
- Madea’s brother is a layabout who smokes marijuana (and not for medicinal purposes.)
- Blair Underwood plays an investment banker who slaps his fiance regularly; the grandniece of Madea whose mother tells her to just be a good wife and not risk the potential payload that comes with this marriage.
- Lyons’ guy Idris Elba plays a mechanic, who spent time in jail for rape (of a rich, Caucasian gal who may have exaggerated things) and has an ex-wife who is a crack whore now dating a drug kingpin.
Do you even want to get started on the hypocrisy of the Madea character her/himself? I understand Lyons said “for the most part”, suggesting that these characters are actually the “minority” if you will of Perry’s mixed-message sermons. As Mankiewicz ably reminds us, Next Day Air may not be “particularly positive images of Blacks or Latinos, but the fact of the matter is, it’s a movie about Black criminals and Latino criminals.” Speaking of dim-witted white women though, I give you Ben Lyons.
“We’ve seen this movie so many times. The dim-witted criminals who are smoking and drinking and cursing. This time it’s excessively violent. Somebody gets their tongue cut out. All the gunshot wounds are graphic…and it’s not that funny.”
He wears his dad’s vagina well doesn’t he? What 27 year-old male, critic or not, who spends his spare time DJ’ing in Vegas nightclubs and brags about his love of the Notorious B.I.G., gives a rat’s shit ass about cursing in movies? Lyons’ churned stomach when it comes to violence has been well-documented here in this column although it certainly didn’t affect his love of either Sin Nombre or Gomorrah and I didn’t hear him then taking up the cause for positive reflections of Mexican or Italian. Why not though? They (particularly Gomorrah) were about low-life criminals. Don’t try and sell this crap about positive images as a crutch to why you didn’t like the film. It doesn’t work that way. Oh wait, I’m sorry Junior, you weren’t finished?
“I’ve seen much funnier films from Mike Epps.”
Remember now, smack your head just once. (That's Mike Epps with Lyons' DJ partner, Clinton Sparks, on the right.) But really, Junior? Mike Epps? Much funnier? You’re going to force us to go through this resume? Soul Men and Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins. Two of the worst films from last year. Anyone want to go to bat for The Fighting Temptations or All About the Benjamins? Why must I remind everyone that he played Ed Norton in the big screen version of The Honeymooners? You want to talk about positive minority images, Junior? Epps has three uncredited roles in Malibu’s Most Wanted, Guess Who and Hancock. His characters listed, respectively, as the Rap-battle host, The Cab Driver and Criminal. How about his work in the pot comedies, Next Friday, Friday After Next and How High? Or the appearance early in his career in the film, 3 Strikes, as the “Crackhead.” Forget about morality. I’m still looking for something I can call even remotely funny. OK, Zak Penn’s very funny poker mockumentary, The Grand (which if you haven’t seen has been on cable for the last month), but Epps is in that film for about four minutes tops. Does Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Extinction count? I know I was certainly chuckling in the latter when nobody seemed to notice Epps was turning blue after being bitten by one of the infected. Mankiewicz reminds us how much he loved Guy Ritchie’s Rocknrolla (something he shouldn’t be speaking of publicly.) Lyons is about to chime in so get your head ready.
“Why Guy Ritchie is great is cause he finds the humor in the underworld and his movies are gangster movies but they are stylized.”
Ah, so style and humor will trump positive imagery. I’ll remember that as preparations are made to shoot the new music video, Crackbaby Mama, about the world’s first ass birth. But who can we get to shoot it? Lyons said he was expecting some of that Guy Ritchie style from video director, Benny Boom, who helmed Next Day Air. Got any other suggestions?
“You think Francis Lawrence, Spike Jonze, F. Gary Gray, so many directors… Brett Ratner…come out of the world of music videos, take that next step to filmmaking.”
It was Mankiewicz who injected Ratner’s name into the discussion, in a move that had no detection of praise nor irony. But Lyons ran with it hook, line and sinker. How dare Spike Jonze’s name even be included in such a group. Of course if I thought Francis Lawrence’s I Am Legend was “one of the greatest films ever made” I may have included him too. But Ratner? Not even a little snicker or “well, maybe not Brett Ratner.”
I have to end it here because my head has opened up again and I don’t want to bleed out discussing how Lyons would have given a “rent it” to the best action film of the year so far in Taken (but DID give a “see it” to Crossing Over which featured minority Arab-Americans enacting a culture killing on their own sister and espousing the positives of 9/11) or breakdown how a performance by Twilight’s Robert Pattinson (as Salvador Dali) can be “daring yet uninspired.” Actually, Ben Lyons dares to be uninspired every week, so I guess anything is possible.
"The way in which they constructed Pitt’s facial expressions to match them to the bodies of smaller actors working with essentially giant blue socks on their heads worked seamlessly, brilliantly in fact and will be what the movie is most remembered for.”
That wasn’t just in reference to Lyons’ DVD pick of the week, but also his choice for the best film of 2008 – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. And, according to him, it will be remembered for the midgets who wore giant blue socks on their heads. Not for being an epic romance or a meditation on life and death. No. For the short people behind the scenes who couldn’t become one of the Blue Man Group. There’s no denying that Lyons is referring to the special effects involved in the film; effects that are, no doubt, impressive. But I have always believed the movie to be a massive failure and could make the same statement to deride how the film will ultimately be remembered. I could also say its just a bloated copy of Forrest Gump minus the heart, humor, sentiment and, well, curiosity. How could someone who loves the film so much to announce its better than any other film they saw in a calendar year not think of anything better than to say its special effects will be the reason people come back to it time and time again? Should we now fully expect Lyons to name Transformers 2 as the best film of 2009?
Even when Lyons’ most ardent detractors have a hard time justifying the suspicion that his Top 10 list is nothing more than a laundry list of “important” Oscar movies that make him look like a more important critic and not the one who called I Am Legend “one of the greatest movies ever made.” (Not to mention a film with some of the worst special effects amongst modern blockbusters.) All five of the Best Picture nominees ended up in his Top 10 with Benjamin Button, Slumdog Millionaire and Milk his Top 3. The film that was assumed a lock, The Dark Knight, was his #5 and the underdog in the race, The Wrestler was his #4. This is precisely where I criticize the Broadcast Whore Film Critics Association who nominate TEN FILMS for Best Picture to cover their bases and up their guesstimations on predicting the Oscars; thus making them more relevant to the studios chasing gold statuettes. Seven of Lyons' Top 8 choices in 2008 all could have been nominated for Best Picture. His #7, Let the Right One In, we all know was an apology for hyping Twilight before he saw it (and eventually tossed it on his worst list.) His #9, Miracle at St. Anna was “a classic of epic and scope” that showed he was down with the struggle of his hip-hop brethren. Finally of his #10, In Bruges, Lyons said it was “the film’s wonderfully suspenseful and intense third act that makes the movie stand out.” Not the witty script by Martin McDonagh. Not the unexpected turns of a plot that could have gone on autopilot. Not even Colin Farrell “playing hilarious” for the first time in Lyons’ vision. Nope. Those first two acts were a give or take but once it got to the final half hour, Lyons stood up and took notice.
Kinda makes you wonder how much of the anti-Lyons camp is influenced subconsciously by their desire to not be like Ben Lyons. I know a number of people who were also drunk enough to put The Curious Case of Benjamin Button atop their 2008 list and hate the fact that they share that choice with Lyons. (Hell, I had five of Lyons’ choices on my list, so what does that say about me?) I also know that the winos in question, even in their most inebriated state, can justify at length why they felt Benjamin Button was, indeed, the stand-out choice of last year and I guarantee you it had nothing to do with blue dwarf socks. We see the worst in Lyons and everything he represents about modern film criticism. We’re not meant to be consumer reporters and introduce box office tallies and Oscar talk into our justification for recommending or dissing a film. We’re here to promote thought and engage audiences in a discussion over why we feel a film does or doesn’t work. Just last week at Ebertfest I saw crowds of people in Urbana, IL all gather to listen intently to filmmakers discuss their craft. I listened to them ask intelligent questions that went beyond the festival Q&A standards about budgets. I watched as a room filled to listen to ten film critics talk about a dwindling industry and why it remains a viable and necessary medium. Could you imagine if someone in the crowd ask any of us to justify why we loved The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and the only thing we could say is that the visual effects are what will be remembered? And even they someday will feel aged.
Ben Lyons isn’t just a symbol for bad film criticism these days. Ben Lyons IS Benjamin Button. While we’re all trying to move forward, he’s moving backwards and taking the entire profession in a reverse tailspin along with him. How can you look to someone like him for any sort of educated critical thought when he keeps referring to the “first X-Men franchise” as if X-Men Origins: Wolverine is somehow a separate entity even though it maintains the same lead actor and is directly (albeit sloppily) linked to Bryan Singer’s 2000 original. That’s like calling Rocky 1-5 the “first franchise” and Rocky Balboa a separate entity. You could call the first six Star Trek films one franchise and then the four Next Generation titles the next. Yet Lyons simply refers to J.J. Abrams’ new reboot as the 11th Star Trek film.You want a test to Lyons’ theory that “you hardly ever notice editing unless it’s bad?” All you had to do was watch their review of the abhorrent Obsessed this week and notice how during Lyons’ review, the show then cuts to a shot of Mankiewicz sitting there smiling and nodding while in front of a picture of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.
Going back to Star Trek, I don’t know exactly how “exclusive” their early review of it was when there have been at least a dozen online for weeks. The only thing that made it exclusive was that they appeared to be the only critics in Chicago able to say they saw it last Wednesday during their taping. What’s up with that, Paramount? You have a lot of explaining to do. Not as much as Lyons, but you’ll be hearing from us.
BEN LYONS’ POP QUIZ
Which film did Lyons say is “a movie that surely will be studied and appreciated by film enthusiasts for years to come.”
(A) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
(B) I Am Legend
(C) Let the Right One In
(D) Star Trek
The answer is (B) I Am Legend aka “what an ‘event’ film should be.” You think he would be able to muscle up a little more enthusiasm for the Best Film of 2008. Maybe somewhere down the road, some decades in the future when the twentieth next great evolution in visual effects takes place we’ll be able to look back at the magic of The Curious Case of Benjamin Lyons Button, identical in title to those who sat in the At the Movies chairs before him but lacking in the heart, performance, style and desire of audiences to return to it again and again. Ah, but what special effects though. The way in which they constructed Lyons’ facial expressions to match them to the hype of mediocre movies working with essentially giant gold statues on their minds worked seamlessly, obviously in fact and will be what this new franchise of At the Movies is most remembered for.
"See for me a great documentary really exposes something you hadn’t seen before, you didn’t know existed.”
So it’s that simple, is it, Ben? You can like a documentary if you’ve seen the subject matter before. But if you haven’t it automatically achieves greatness. I see. Appropriate that last week’s juxtaposition of the old school vs. the new school (Lyons framed with Ben Affleck and Mank with Russell Crowe during their State of Play review) has given way to this week’s photo with Mank sitting in front of Robert Downey as a down-on-his-luck journalist and Lyons in front of the mentally disturbed character he’s desperately trying to assist.
Back to this week's Lyons Lesson though. So where would something like A League of Ordinary Gentlemen fall? I suspect you’ve seen people bowl before. Or, at the very least, have seen someone try to stick three fingers into your head and club you Daniel Plainview-style. You criticized the latest Iraq War doc, Brothers At War, last month for the filmmakers’ inability to leave most of their compelling footage on the cutting floor. Just last week you gave a “see it” to Disney’s Earth documentary which, while containing some new footage, has been culled from the great BBC series, Planet Earth. Maybe you didn’t see that, so lucky for the “new” feature. Not so lucky for the new Chorus Line documentary, Every Little Step.
“There’s so many talking heads spread throughout the film that I never really bonded on any level with the dancers or producers that are profiled. It takes place in dimly-lit dance studios and dark and empty theaters.”
As opposed to those theater auditions we’ve all seen in front of a packed house, Junior? This guy prides himself on his knowledge of growing up in New York but doesn’t realize this wasn’t just some style choice on the part of the filmmakers?
LYONS: “I mention the dimly-lit theaters. It could have been shot a lot better…”
MANK: “BUT THAT’S WHERE YOU AUDITION! IN THESE SPARSE, BARREN ROOMS!”
LYONS: “But that’s not where you perform. You perform on stage in Broadway and I didn’t feel the sort of grand importance of what this was all about. Maybe it’s the fact that American Idol…we see people audition every night. The idea of auditioning is not really interesting in a documentary.”
And yet this week’s show was filled with Ben Lyons letting casting directors know about all these stars on the rise.
“Channing Tatum does have a star quality to him. This isn’t his best work by any means…He’s gonna be a big star cause he’s got G.I. Joe coming out in the summer.”
How about we see the movie first, Junior, before we declare the AUGUST RELEASE of a Stephen “Van Helsing” Sommers film the calling card for Channing Tatum’s rise to stardom? And I know you wisely said to skip the adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ The Informers, but anything positive to come out of that screening?
“I wanted to watch more of (Jon) Foster and (Amber) Heard. They are young stars on the rise.”
Is this where we insert the joke of Amber Heard’s frequent nakedness in the film leading to other guys being “on the rise?” Or where we remind everyone what Lyons said about rising star Jon Foster just a few weeks ago about his performance in The Mysteries of Pittsburgh?
“You didn’t buy Jon Foster with these different people in his life and I think that’s why the movie struggles. It’s because Jon Foster as the lead just doesn’t bring it to hold his own with Sienna Miller and Peter Sarsgaard who I think are two talented actors.”
Ouch. Not only does he knock Foster’s work but Lyons goes so far to identify his co-stars as “talented.” Hardly the makings of a rising star, wouldn’t you say?
“Well he plays the whole movie on one note. He plays the whole movie flat. And that instantly bothered me. I need to see some more emotion.”
And the poor bastard doesn’t even have a G.I. Joe to look forward to. But a star on the rise nevertheless. I want to switch gears this week though and focus on a real star; a star whose existence is the reason that Lyons even has a major network gig. Boy you hate to hear that. Of course, I’m talking about Roger Ebert.
I just returned from the 11th Annual Ebertfest in Urbana, IL. My first attendance, in fact, due to the generous invitation from Mr. Ebert himself. To say I was in awe doesn’t do the experience justice. Of the three days I was there I saw a community of film lovers embracing Ebert’s selections and packing the glorious Virginia Theater to see movies many of them have never seen before, let alone heard of, and to listen to Q & A’s with the filmmakers and the number of film critics invited to moderate and add to the discussion. I was fortunate enough to be on two panels. The first on “Film Criticism and the Web” was like a Who’s Who of Chicago Film Critics including Richard Roeper, Michael Phillips, WGN’s Dean Richards, Time Out’s Hank Sartin, Ain’t-It-Cool’s Steve Prokopy (aka Capone) and my eFilmCritic colleague and fellow CFCA board member, Peter Sobczynski. You can read more about it from Kim Voynar who also participated in the panel. I was also ecstatic to be on the Q&A with Phillips and Sobczynski for Let the Right One In featuring producer Carl Molinder. That’s me on the right looking like Molinder is showing me what a microphone is and Phillips making fun of me. :) Actually, there were three mikes and four people on stage and Mr. Molinder and I were happily sharing (as was Mr. Phillips at times.)
The entire atmosphere was just so refreshing from the usual festival atmosphere which has its fair share of locals looking to grab a photo with a celebrity Lyons-style. Here you can tell it was all about the movies and discussing movies and a wanting to know more about the process. Sure, Matt Dillon was there to talk about Nothing But The Truth and some gals in the audience wanted to know where he was staying, but it was writer/director Rod Lurie who got the lion’s share of questions (and occasional criticism) from the audience. Lurie, very gracious and humble to accept the thoughts of people who had an issue here and there with the film, was once a film critic himself and I wish I had a chance to talk with him about what’s been happening to the world of film criticism with all the quote whores and the Ben Lyons phenomenon, which apparently is going to go on at least one more year thanks to a renewal of the show from the powers that be.
It’s sad to think about. But Ebertfest is precisely the kind of glorious cocktail that makes you forget all about it, precisely when you see guests actually hanging on the words of film critics and wondering where they can go to read our reviews. I want to thank Roger and his lovely wife, Chaz, for taking hosting duties to another level as well as Nate Kohn and Mary Susan Britt for their hospitality. I want to shout-out to Karen Gehres and Nina Paley for their films, Begging Naked and Sita Sings the Blues, two films I may never had a chance to see had it not been for their time and creativity, not to mention Roger’s championing of them. To the Alloy Orchestra for their incredible accompaniment of von Sternberg’s The Last Command. Where else are you going to see something like that? Well worth the two-plus drive from the suburbs. But even on the road to Urbana, the reminder of where film criticism and serious discussion is headed is seen even on the billboards of the country roads. A superficial comparison, perhaps, but a reminder nevertheless. Hopefully, Roger’s new film show with Roeper & Phillips will be finding its way to a TV schedule soon. Hopefully the rumors are true and Disney is just using Lyons and Mank to put up a show on the cheap to satisfy the contracts already in place with the advertisers. And hopefully the twain shall someday meet and Lyons can pick up a new job once At the Movies ends somewhere isolated off in the distance where Urbana can never be tainted by his likeness ever again.
"It’s the old school vs. the new school here which is really interesting. As much as it is a political movie, it’s a movie about journalism and how technology has affected journalism and the world of blogs and the internet and being credible in that world. And its really interesting to look at it from that angle.”
Yes, technology has expedited the world of journalism. Stories are released faster than ever. Or, at least, rumors travel faster. It’s certainly given credence to the old adage that everyone is a critic. All you need is a message board, blog or a website of your own creation. And if its fancy enough you could even wind up on Rotten Tomatoes. Before you throw the first stone though, at least most of those people (young and old) express their thoughts through a keyboard. Some, like our buddy Ben Lyons, have the benefit of just saying something on television and having a quote pulled for the website, likely by one of the show’s handlers. Who needs the Quote of the Week when you can take your pick from Rotten Tomatoes? If you really want the Ben Lyons Written Experience though, you can always follow him on Twitter. My personal favorite Tweet of his in the last few hours:
“After a long weekend in Vegas, I'm back on my TWITTER grind people. Off to NYC to interview Beyonce & Idris Elba. Send questions?”
I guess he’s looking for some objective queries to ask his household name on a film that’s not even being screened for critics. When are journalists going to get it through their thick heads not to provide free press for films they won’t even bother to show us? Sorry, did I just call Ben Lyons a journalist?
This week’s quote comes from the duo’s review of the U.S. remake of State of Play which updates the BBC miniseries by trying to insert the current newspaper crisis as a sidebar. It’s a great topic for a film. Unfortunately State of Play mishandles this particular plot thread as it tries to feel topical without ever getting to the heart of the issue. I would have loved to hear Helen Mirren’s editor in the film turn to veteran newspaper man Russell Crowe and say the following about his new “partner”, the tri-daily blogger played by Rachel McAdams:
“Did she spend 20 years as critic for a major newspaper? No. She's very much of the TV generation who don't spend time reading newspapers. I think we have a gal who is giving the information that audiences want to hear about film to make decisions about what to see.”
That’s not in the movie, of course. But change the sex of the pronouns and we have precisely what ABC’s Brian Frons said in defense of his little Benny Boy. I couldn’t make this stuff up. Just as I couldn’t simply organically (to use a Lyonsism) create the show’s theme for this week’s Quote of the Week. Discussing HBO’s telefilm, Grey Gardens, based on the acclaimed Maysles Brothers documentary, Lyons said:
“We always talk about ‘should I read the graphic novel before I watch the movie?,’ ‘should I read the book before the film?’ Here I was saying to myself “should I watch the original documentary right before seeing this interpretation of the story”
Lyons also wondered in private if he should see the first film before the sequel and whether to learn to crawl before he walks. Maybe if Frons spent a little more of his own time reading newspapers, he would recognize proper English as opposed to what he’s putting on television.
“We seem to be watching a lot of films these days that are either horror movies and kids movies make a lot of money at the box office so these adult thrillers seem to be less and less of them as we go on through the year.”
That was Lyons following Mank’s lead on State of Play. Note to Frons: Maybe if Ben spent a little more time crafting the written word into a medium that allows more than 140 characters at a time, he wouldn’t sound like the offspring of Fat Albert’s Mushmouth and Jodie Foster’s Nell. Colleagues in Chicago have continued to believe that Lyons may actually see more of the press notes provided to him than the actual films. Now, with Twitter texting thrown into the mix, this is a very real possibility. Compare his intro of the new Michael Caine film, Is Anybody There?, an obviously pre-written bit to his off-the-cuff commentary.
“Caine and Milner strike up an odd and unexpected friendship, each with an honest take on their immediate lives, unabashed by the conventions of society around them.”
It sounds almost exactly like something out of a press notes package. Certainly more than anything from the actual film, which aside from the friendship part and getting the names of the actors right, doesn’t sound like the film that I saw. “The conventions of society around them?” Caine plays a retired magician now living in an old folk’s home. Milner is the boy forced to grow up in the family-owned business. The closest these two get to society is traffic. Society has no opinion on this pair. There are no conventions to overcome. The only time the kid ever goes into town is to watch Back to the Future with his dad, which is where I wanted to be during this film. Back to State of Play though where Lyons continues on about the lack of adult thrillers.
“It’s a tragedy because this is a really good one and I wanna see more films like this. Seeing Russell Crowe every time out whether it’s Body of Lies or here change his physical appearance with the long hair, putting on weight, I really appreciate that about him as an actor and I think it helps him get into character. He’s really the driving force of the movie here. Is he believable as Affleck’s college roommate? No they don’t look around the same age. But I do believe their friendship which is important.”
Awwww. Ben believes in friendship. So did Dr. Zarkov as he blasted off to Mongo. And at the end of the day, that’s what is important, right? Not that Lyons is believable as a film critic or that he looks the same age as Mankiewicz, but that they have struck up an odd and unexpected friendship unabashed by the conventions of society around them. Oh wait, we’re getting a TWEET!
“Tweet heads! There is an imposter! @Benlyonsforeal is not me! Don't get gassed!”
Finally, a little truth from Lyons. Yes its true. The handle “BenLyonsForReal” is not the real Ben Lyons. Like any piece of technological interfacing, whether it be MySpace or Facebook, the imposters are destined to come out of the shadows. Only, like a scene straight out of a Sam Raimi film we have two Ben Lyons tweeters running through a revolving door saying “it’s me!” or “shoot him!” I’m personally going to be following the imposter on Twitter. Although to be perfectly honest, I’m not exactly sure which one that is.
"Here’s a guy who writes and produces so many of his films over the years and he’s always likable in those movies. Here he’s not involved in the production or writing of the movie and it kinda shows because he’s this despicable character that being in every single scene of the movie makes the entire film difficult to watch.”
Expectations can be one helluva cross to bear for film critics. Admitting that we don’t have them (good, bad, or otherwise) would be to suggest that we’re not human; an assumption we fight the public on every week. On the other hand, try convincing John Q. that we’re not at all influenced by those expectations and that its absolutely true that the best critics wipe their memories once the lights go down and the studio logo comes up. Ben Lyons has already shown his cards as a guy seduced by the hype a two-minute preview can deliver. Yes, we all know that he eventually panned Twilight and even put it on his 2008 worst list for atonement. But for the second week in a row he may as well fold his cards for good because we know precisely what he’s holding.
During his introduction of the plot for this week’s Observe and Report, Lyons threw in a little aside saying…
”Wait a minute, Mank. Didn’t we already review Paul Blart back in January?”
I sure hope writer/director Jody Hill heard that and has continued to brush up on his martial arts skills. Sure, this is another movie about a Mall Cop but it’s not like this film was rushed into production to capitalize on its success. And in case you were wondering, Junior gave a “see it” to Paul Blart. What did he have to say about Observe and Report though?
“You know, an amusing moment here and there but ultimately it’s overshadowed by the film’s scattered and confusing tone. The comedy is suffocated by too many seriously sad and intense moments, slow-motion montages and random sideplots that end up going nowhere. Despite a talented cast it’s not their best work by any means, so skip Observe and Report. Really disappointed by this, Mank.”
Lyons singled out Michael Pena and Anna Faris for their work in the film. Gee, I wonder why. Having seen the film a second time over the weekend (after its premiere at the South by Southwest Festival last month), two things struck me in retrospect. First off, I want to know which “slow-motion montages” Lyons refers to. Aside from the opening credits the only moments I can remember being shot on slo-mo were a pseudo hero shot of Rogen and his security crew coming down an escalator and a climactic chase through the mall. You know something? Neither of those are montages any more than the slo-mo fight scenes Lyons found so intoxicating in Watchmen (which also opened with a slo-mo montage over the opening credits.) The two big fight scenes in the film are done in regular speed (and solidly choreographed might I add.) Someone play Lyons the montage song from South Park and Team America so he knows what the hell he’s talking about.
The other thing that struck me happened well after my friends were on the verge of lynching me for having given the film a very positive review. (Seriously, my proximity to a load of crack was questioned multiple times.) What was interesting about their derision though was that many of them had very little insight into what the film was about. They had somehow avoided the plethora of television ads playing over the last three weeks. There were no expectations as to what type of film it was. They just saw the film as it was and instantly either wanted their money back or volunteered to take me to rehab. Unlike Mankiewicz who took point to set Lyons up for his quote of the week.
MANK: “I saw an interview with Seth Rogen where he described this as a dark comedy. I couldn’t disagree with him more. I don’t think its much of a comedy. The darkness overpowers everything and is unrelated to the comedy. And the darkness is, at times, is disturbing. At one point there’s a clerk, somebody who works at one of the restaurants in the mall, played by Patton Oswalt, and he takes his head and he bashes it again and again and again into the oven for what is a very minor discretion. If this were someone else’s movie, if this movie was about Anna Faris’ character, then Seth Rogen’s character, Ronnie Barnhardt, would be the object of derision through the whole film. He’s dangerous, he’s a psychopath. At some point he’s going to take somebody’s gun and kill an innocent person.
No shit, Mank. That’s what the film is about and I don’t see a problem with that. Lyons, on the other hand, disagrees.
LYONS: “See, that’s the problem with the film is that you don’t relate or enjoy watching Seth Rogen’s character on screen.”
This bleeds into the quote of the week as Lyons somehow draws a direct connection to Rogen writing himself likable characters in the films that he has written and produced. And the fact that it was Jody Hill that wrote this “despicable” Ronnie Barnhardt, Rogen must obviously have been tricked into playing someone other than the shlubby stoner he’s been playing since The 40 Year-Old Virgin. God forbid Rogen stretch at all and play a character not just out of his comfort zone, but ours as well – giving a performance that several others and myself have stated is the best of his career. Set the way back machine to 1968, Sherman, and along comes this transcendent, almost satiric western by Sergio Leone called Once Upon a Time in the West. Now imagine the Lyons/Mankiewicz machine existed back then on television. Can’t you just see Junior criticizing the All-American blue-eyed Henry Fonda for shocking everybody by playing one of the most despicable human beings ever committed to screen? What did Lyons think of Jim Carrey in The Cable Guy? The point has nothing to do with who is supposed to be the villain or how much pleasure one can derive from psychotic behavior, but rather how Lyons’ obvious expectations continue to get in the way of giving films a fair and balanced critique. For the second straight week Lyons gives us a reassessment of his early Adventureland review from March 28.
“Now going into this movie I expected it to be a lot funnier because it comes from the director of Superbad, Greg Mottola. But its intent was to be more heartfelt than hilarious.”
My pal, Nick Digilio on WGN Radio Chicago, has been talking the past couple weeks about how both Adventureland AND Observe and Report have been misadvertised for the paying consumers. Observe and Report has the aura of just another goofy Seth Rogen comedy and Adventureland was promoted as more R-rated wackiness from the director of Superbad. This is not a particularly bad play for John Q.’s dollar since most making the simple association with Superbad could easily expect more of the same. No film critic in the position that Lyons has should be making this mistake. Superbad was written by Rogen and Evan Goldberg (who went on to co-write Pineapple Express). At the time of its release in 2007 it was right in the middle of Judd Apatow’s success train and it seemed everybody BUT Mottola was given credit for the film’s success (creatively and financially.) Now, all of a sudden, Lyons (who was on set of that film as a party extra) was just expecting nuttiness from the guy whose one previous film, The Daytrippers (which Mottola directed AND wrote), is anything but a raunchy teen sex comedy. Superbad, on the other hand, co-starred Rogen as the kind of cop you don’t want beating the street. Drinking on the job, having target practice, speeding through traffic. How far removed is Rogen’s Officer Michaels from Ronnie Barnhardt? A few pounds, a little bi-polar disorder and a darkness that is more subtle than overtly explored? And Patton Oswalt’s character got precisely what he deserved for constantly berating his new wheelchair-bound employee. Yeah, some minor discretion. Ronnie actually showed restraint as far as I’m concerned not shoving his head into that oven. Would it have taken Oswalt going all Richard Widmark on the poor girl down an escalator, Mank, before he earned the beating he gets from Ronnie; a scene designed as the beginning of Ronnie's decline into madness.
Three weeks ago Lyons is criticizing Adventureland for not being that funny aside from the supporting turns offered by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig; giving it a marginal see it. Today, it’s #3 on his 3-to-see despite recent raves of Monsters vs. Aliens, The Escapist and his favorite film of the year, Sin Nombre. The inherent flaw of the 3-to-see segment is that it never seems to give films a chance to find their audience through their recommendations. Until a film leaves theaters for good it should continue to rank with everything else in release unless something better comes along. Even if they wanted to limit such recommendations to a one-month period, this would still allow any of the above films to qualify and why shouldn’t they considering they were met with far greater praise on the Lyons smile-o’meter than Adventureland was. And we’re still not done.
“Often times, Mank, on the festival scene as you know, movies like this sorta get overhyped at Sundance or Toronto, these American stories of dysfunctional families, but here I think all this excitement surrounding Lymelife is deserved because this is a film that really builds to these awkward, uncomfortable places naturally, organically. It takes its time to establish the character dynamic and then you sorta take a breath as the audience, we say, this is really twisted and morbid these situations that they’re in.”
There Lyons goes again – paying attention to the hype from film festivals he couldn’t be bothered to see more than five movies at. And what’s his obsession with organics? Just two weeks ago the quote of the week focused on that very thing when he said that the script for Spinning Into Butter "kinda feels contrived and setup for certain power struggles instead of organically coming to that moment.” Then on The Cake Eaters he said, “the film establishes the intricate character dynamic with a guiding hand, not a forceful one, which I appreciate.” Nothing like recycling your indie review checklist, Lyons. But let’s take a breath for a moment and look at his Lymelife review a little more closely. It seems, according to him, that once that film established who its characters are he was able to take a moment and recognize that he was dealing with a film that he never expected would be so “twisted and morbid.” Imagine that! Lyons was able to organically come to that moment despite us having setup his less-than-intricate character dynamic (or entire lack of character.) And yet Observe and Report is stuck with a skip it. Way to look past your expectations, Junior. I’ll leave you, appropriately with a verse from the film’s closing anthem – Queen, reminding us “It’s Late.”
You're staring at me
With suspicion in your eye
You say what game are you playing?
What's this that you're saying?
I know that I can`t reply
If I take you tonight
Is it making my life a lie?
Oh you make me wonder
Did I live my life right?
"I think overall if you have strong performances and a well-written script then there’s something to like here and I found that.”
Can you believe Ben Lyons found that? Movies are always screwing with my sense of time and place; disorienting me with all those plots and characters to keep track of. Just think how astute an observer Lyons must be to discover a well-written script and strong performances. And he’s doing it through a barrage of texting and doesn’t even notice the editing (unless it’s bad, of course.) Tell us more, Mr. Holmes.
“I’m someone who never takes special effects work for granted. I know how many talented people it takes to pull off those sequences.”
You tell ‘em, Junior. People don’t know just how many folks it takes to make a crappy movie like Fast & Furious. Must be hundreds. So how dare I just blame the director (Justin Lin), screenwriter (Chris Morgan) and cipher-dolt stars (Vin Diesel & Paul Walker). I should be more a man of the people and blame the entire production crew. After all, these people got paid to do a good job just like the people behind Race To Witch Mountain, right?
“And then you mention the special effects, and this is a movie where you anticipate these being what would save the movie and it seems like maybe their budget got cut by 90% right before filming.”
Ah-ha, so there can be a difference between good special effects and bad special effects. The Witch Mountain people with the magical powers of Walt Disney behind them though couldn’t overcome their limited budget while Fast & Furious’ $85 million sticker price bought them a backhanded compliment for the working man. Seriously though, why would you even bring up the special effects associated with Fast & Furious? You have maybe 90 seconds to get in your thoughts on a bad movie. Why not go after the acting? Have a little more fun with the lunkheaded dialogue the way Mank did. Tell us about the misleading advertising about this being a “reunion” when one of the foursome doesn’t make it out of the first fifth of the film to ever share a scene with anyone but Diesel. Why take your time bringing up the special effects?
“…it’s the same sequences from eight years ago, and they’ve kinda become the trademark of the franchise obviously. But there’s nothing new here. There’s nothing to get me excited as a FAN EVEN of the franchise.”
Wouldn’t you be better off calling them “stunts’ as opposed to “special effects”? These aren’t flying DeLoreans we’re talking about. Fast cars are the trademark, not CGI.
“Yeah you can really pick up on the authenticity of the underworld of racing but here it’s really just a glorification of this world with the women who are scantily clad and the bad hip-hop music. It’s just endless.”
Show that street cred, Benny. You KNOW good hip-hop music when you hear it. I just want to know how this is any different than the first three films. This isn’t news to people like me who think the first three variations on the words Furious and Fast are as bad as the first three movies in any franchise have ever been. What about the fans of them though who showed up to the tune of $72 million plus this weekend?
(Sidetrack) Do you realize that Fast & Furious’ 3-day haul is just under $9 million than the combined total of Vin Diesel’s last six headlined films and is more than the total gross of five of his last six movies (The Pacifier grossed $113 million) dating back to 2002’s xXx? C’mon people. We were almost rid of Vin Diesel and now we’ll have to sit through at least three more of his monosyllabic lead performances. Wise up, idiots!
Where was I? Oh right, the fans. You report to be one of them, Junior. Of all people you have a duty to tell us why this fourth entry doesn’t work compared to the first three? Even if they were just dumb fun for you, why wasn’t this one? Instead you’re peppering your “skip it” with “talented people” and “authenticity.” Where’s all your outrage against the portrayal of the Latino community, homes?
This week’s quote of the week actually has nothing to do with Fast & Furious. It’s referring to the film, Gigantic, a quirky independent film that I’m sure Lyons missed at last year’s Toronto Film Festival while he was hanging with LeBron James’ crew. (Only Gene Siskel was allowed to hang with basketball players, Ben, and don’t you forget it.) In fairness, I missed it too, but not for a lack of trying. (I was unable to get a ticket for the public screening after the press showing conflicted with another.) But I was able to catch up with the film recently and I quite enjoyed it. Mankiewicz responded just as I expected detractors to feel (“I felt, Ben, like I was being hit over the head with a quirky club in this movie.”) and that’s understandable. Lyons was on my side of the fence though and you’ll notice that he wasn’t quick to label it as one of those Sundance-type movies. Probably because it never played at Sundance and Lyons wouldn’t know how to label it any other way, despite this week reviewing (or re-reviewing) three films on the show that played at the Park City festival. Just a few weeks ago he said Sunshine Cleaning was “a Sundance movie in every sense of the word…that quirky, American indie that’s looking to find moments of humor set against the backdrop of some dark, tragic moments.”What does he have to say to Mank in defense of Gigantic?
“Zooey Deschanel and Paul Dano, sure, they play quirky indie characters and nobody does it better than them. And I think pairing them together really works. It’s the first time I’ve seen them on screen together and I really enjoy their chemistry and that’s the heart of this movie.”
Nobody does it better than them? From the female side, Deschanel has certainly done her share of independent quirk and few would argue that she hasn’t earned the right to be in the argument. With all due respect to Paul Dano though, Lyons has probably got Little Miss Sunshine (and ONLY Little Miss Sunshine on the brain) where referring to Dano’s indie resume. I somehow doubt he saw Weapons from Sundance a few years back or Explicit Ills which they couldn’t find time to review on the show just last month so they could do early reviews on I Love You, Man and Adventureland; Jesse Eisenberg being one of many who might have a beef (along with Sam Rockwell, Peter Sarsgaard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt) over Lyons’ “nobody does it better” designation. Kinda makes me feel sad for the rest.
This week’s Gigantic quote though does bring us to what will likely become a new sidetrack from the column time-to-time. It’s a new game for you, the reader, called “Spot the Lyons Blurb!” After all, Junior lamented earlier this year in that Associated Press piece that he’s not quoted as much as the other critics. Despite getting his wish in spades the weekend of March 20 when he was blurbed in no less than four movie ads, we want to help the poor chap get his positive quotes out there along with all his poorly-worded, thought-challenged negative ones. You can take this to work with you and underline the choice adjectives for the marketing departments while you’re in the john. Ready to play?
Gigantic: “For me I was along for the indie ride and I enjoyed it.”
Adventureland: “I had a lot of fun with Adventureland. I said last week Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader they are tremendous and the best on-screen couple to possibly run an amusement park, it just works.”
Bart Got A Room: “Oh, I had fun with this.”
The Escapist: “This is down and dirty and raw. This feels like a prison movie. We’ve seen prison movies before about inmates trying to escape but never like this…A very good prison movie. I don’t think it’s Shawshank Redemption. I don’t think it’s The Great Escape, but it’s right up there. Good movie, I think you should see it.”
Sugar: “Sugar is one of the best baseball and sports movies I’ve seen…It’s amazing to think that this is Soto’s first time out. His performance as Sugar, the driving force of the movie here, is nearly flawless…It’s so much more than just a baseball movie.”
Funny. Remember last week when Lyons only gave a “rent it” to a film (rocking a 92% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes) featuring a first-time actor that was the driving force of the story; a performance he couldn’t praise enough? This week the stripped down Sugar that is so much more than just a baseball movie (it’s also an intimate character study) is one of the best he’s seen. Not to mention that every small film on the docket this week got a "see it" from Lyons. To paraphrase Tony Bennett, “what a difference a week makes.” Keeping with this week’s aesthetic though I suppose we should be paraphrasing Carly Simon when pointing out Lyons’ inconsistencies and stand-out, ready-made blurbs – “I wasn’t lookin’ but somehow it found me.”
"The script kinda feels contrived and setup for certain power struggles instead of organically coming to that moment.”
So says Professor Lyons in the latest of many statements that we could easily apply to the chemistry between him and Mankiewicz just as well as the movie in question (in this case, The Education of Charlie Banks.) So goes a big part of the criticism of Junior & Mank At the Movies; maybe the second most discussed topic I’ve seen in message boards next to the usual “Ben Lyons is a smiling no-nothing idiot” stamps. It may not be as noticeable when they are in agreement, but when they are miles apart there is a scripted quality to their argument. At least on one side of it. How many times have I read that the viewers’ faith in Lyons’ opinion is lower than their willingness to trust Jim Cramer with their investments because they get the impression that he’s either cowtowing to the types of movies professional critics are SUPPOSED to like or that he’s too frickin’ stupid to understand or appreciate others. Take this week’s discussion of the vastly praised Goodbye Solo by acclaimed director Ramin Bahrani.
MANK: "They [Souleymane Sy Savane & Red West] share a small but powerful story that never really felt undertold. It’s hopeful and tragic but without any false Hollywood melodrama. I think definitely you should see Goodbye Solo."
LYONS: "I can’t praise enough the performance of Souleymane Sy Savane in this film. He is incredible to watch on screen. Really a beautiful performance but for me that was sort of the only thing to watch. I thought the film was incredibly stripped down, which is fine, but there’s nothing else to sort of help build it back up again. It’s simply watching him, his positive nature, he’s great to watch on film, but the film itself kind of left me uninterested."
MANK: "YOU WEREN’T INTERESTED TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS TO WILLIAM, WHAT HAPPENS TO RED WEST?"
Watching this exchange live on tape has all the feeling of a staged disagreement. While Lyons is going on, Mank sits there almost catatonic (perhaps imagining ways to strangle his partner). It’s not that far of a leap to imagine the director off screen going Holly Hunter on Mank and telling him “you’re outraged, you disagree, go after him NOW!” At which point Mank raises the volume level only to have Lyons explain that he was more interested in the “incredibly engaging” Solo than the “isolated and grumpy” William who didn’t really draw him into the story. Solo was the one he “wanted to watch.” It’s a good thing that Souleymane Sy Savane (you know, playing the main titular character) is on screen at least 95% of the time in the film.
“For me, beyond Savane’s performance there really wasn’t enough for me to give it a see it, so I’m gonna say rent it.”
Really, Junior? Let’s take the Tivo back to the review of Adventureland you did just before talking down Goodbye Solo.
“Despite the antics of Hader and Wiig, the film really isn’t as funny as it’s trying to be. It’s more heartfelt. The pairing of Eisenberg and Stewart could have been awkward but the movie seems to work through it. The theme park setting seems obvious for over-the-top comedy but Mottola’s tightly-written script plays it more believable than ridiculous. I was on the edge of saying rent it, but because of the strong performances by Hader and Wiig, I’m going to say see it.”
So a lead performance encompassing nearly every scene in a film that Lyons “can’t praise enough” can’t compare to the fourth and fifth billed supporting performances that are in (maybe) 40% of a film. One gets a rent it. The other gets a see it. I assume because its one of the five movies at Sundance this year that he actually saw. In that puffy At the Movies chat he had with “viewers” Lyons said he liked Adventureland “but would have been more interested in it had the leads been a little funnier.” He doesn’t go into why the casting of Stewart and Eisenberg “could have been awkward.” I assume he means because he was 24 and she was 17 at the time of filming, although he didn’t seem to have any bones about her age opposite the 21 year-old Robert Pattinson in Twilight. I’m also not sure how Mottola’s script can be “tightly-written” if it “isn’t as funny as it’s trying to be.” Maybe if Mr. Bahrani had actually been granted a set visit and was included as a party scene extra in Goodbye Solo as he was in Greg Mottola’s last film, Superbad, he could have got over the cautious, yellow rent-it hump to a lime green see-it, too.
You also have to feel a bit sorry for Jesse Eisenberg this week as well. Here he is being brushed aside compared to his SNL co-stars and forced to listen to Ben Lyons introduce him in the following fashion:
“Jesse Eisenberg…stars as the sheepish and insecure James who reads renaissance literature while seeming to channel Michael Cera.”
First off, it’s one or the other. Are you talking about Jesse Eisenberg or his character, James Brennan? One is insecure, sheepish and reads renaissance literature. The other seems to be channeling Michael Cera. James would have no idea who Michael Cera is. Not because the film is set in a time before Arrested Development has even aired, but because the freakin’ guy hasn’t even been born yet. Michael Cera’s mom had no idea who Michael Cera was during the time of Adventureland. Back to the Cera/Eisenberg debate though.
MANK: It’s impossible to watch Jesse Eisenberg and not think of Michael Cera. But I feel like I’d be shortchanging Jesse Eisenberg by saying that he’s like doing Michael Cera.
LYONS: No he’s not doing Michael Cera
MANK: It works. Whatever he’s doing it works.
LYONS: And he’s not as funny as Michael Cera.
Thanks for putting the stamp on that debate, Junior. Mank would also be shortchanging Jesse Eisenberg by putting up side-by-side photos of him and Michael Cera during the discussion. Oh yeah, you did that too. Mank is right though. Actually Lyons is too about the funny part. But it may have been nice during the Eisenberg pile-up to maybe give him some props for being Michael Cera first. Go back and watch the great Roger Dodger from 2002 to see that (which hit the festival circuit more than a year before Arrested Development hit the airwaves.) Eisenberg is not trying to channel Cera. There's just an unfortunate compare-and-contrast with Mottola's two movies. Even more unfortunate is that "whatever he's doing" neither Lyons nor Mank can put into words what's interesting or not interesting about Eisenberg's performance.
I sometimes question myself (as do readers of this column) as to why I pick on the little inconsistencies in Lyonspeak as much as I do. Besides the fact that it can be endlessly amusing, I also view it as a challenge to myself and all the up-and-coming critics down the road to be accountable for their criticism. Give all the Who’s and What’s all you want, but don’t forget to bring the Why’s and understand why they are important. Do you really want to sound like a guy desperately trying to get in as many pull quotes into their 45 second review as Lyons did this week with Monsters vs. Aliens?
“Monsters vs. Aliens gives audiences that blockbuster event-movie feel in a way that’s appropriate and mind-blowing for kids and it’s enjoyable for adults who just want to laugh. It’s got a really cool B-movie spirit with grainy old stock footage but it also has a Transformers or Star Wars size series of action sequences that in 3-D are really first rate. Monsters vs. Aliens made me feel like a big kid again. I’m gonna say see it.”
Mind-blowing. Really cool. Putting Transformers in the same sentence with Star Wars? Another lesson for the young’uns out there. Don’t be stupid. And don’t just try to sound smart. BE smart.
On Spinning Into Butter: “And their [Sarah Jessica Parker & Mykelti Williamson’s] scenes together feel like a drama class in a lot of ways where they’re working on an exercise at how do you get from one point to another. They don’t switch gears very gracefully.”
On The Education of Charlie Banks: “But it doesn’t really ever come together and it almost feels like an exercise in storytelling or writing really. The script kinda feels contrived and setup for certain power struggles instead of organically coming to that moment.”
What do they say about exercise? No pain, no gain? Whether it’s what Lyons “appreciates” or believes are the nuts and bolts of filmmaking, it’s all just words without any meaning from him. As I’m on the eve of April where I’ll be participating in a bi-annual symposium discussing film at Columbia College as well as being invited to Roger Ebert’s Film Festival (which, incidentally, is playing Ramin Bahrani's last film, Chop Shop) to speak on a panel about the current state of film criticism, I’m always self-conscious of sinking to Lyons’ level. And by that I’m referring to repetition, incomplete sentences and not having the ammo to back up my opinion. I hope I never come off that way either in print or in person. Maybe in that way we need the Ben Lyons’ of the world on the “not to” side of the equation; our own personal Ozymandias showing us everything that’s wrong with film criticism in order to save it for good. And in that time, this column will be the Dr. Manhattan watching over them all from the isolated island town of Chicago hoping to, as Lyons would say, come organically to the point so that film lovers will reduce their exposure to such synthetic fertilizers as him.
"Honestly, Mank - just talking about this film right now makes me want to take a shower. It’s that dirty and disgusting. Who enjoys going to see movies like this? I will never understand the appeal of seeing someone’s brains out on the screen for no reason.”
Maybe it’s the envy of seeing something you wished you possessed, Junior. Honestly though, and I’m talking to the readers here, if you had your choice for the weekend, what would you rather do? See the remake of The Last House On The Left or watch a full hour of the new At the Movies. I had already done the former and I was forced to do the latter this Sunday having been off the column a week while I attended the South by Southwest Film Festival. Rape, torture and murder may be a lateral move at best to having Ben Lyons taking point as the moral police chief.
“Now it’s no secret I have difficulty stomaching disgusting, horrific scenes of torture and mutilation in movies.”
Do the few viewers you have really know you that well, Ben? Considering you’ve barely reviewed any horror films on the show aside from the recent Friday the 13th (unless you’re counting stuff like Punisher: War Zone and Body of Lies), why preface your review with such a disclaimer? Either you are setting us up to show why Last House is better than your average Saw flick or preparing fans who may ridicule him again for his limited objective range that this review isn’t going to agree with them.
“The movie spirals out of control into a series of brutal episodes of revenge, one more grotesque than the next. By the time someone’s head is microwaved, I realized that I had just lost two hours of my life. With a premise that could have inspired an intelligent, exciting thriller, it just becomes a pointless excuse for senseless violence and an early candidate for my worst of 2009 list. Boy, words cannot express how much I just loathe and detest this film.”
This is precisely the sort of page ripped straight from the family vagina. Jeffrey Lyons, who spent more time than any one person should endure with conservative Michael Medved, has been known over the years to dismiss films of this type. Maybe not the hypocrite that Medved is preaching how Hollywood is destroying America but openly advocating the last administration’s foray into ACTUAL torture, but there is subjectivity and there is objectivity. The only reason it’s no secret that Ben Lyons has “difficulty stomaching” these types of movies is because this column called him out for saying that life is too short to stomach horror movies.
Now I’ve certainly been critical of the horror community over the years, for sometimes reacting a bit too strongly to any blood-and-guts film that comes down the pike in an effort to prop up the beloved genre that is, admittedly it seems, often targeted or dismissed by movie critics. But my criticism is for that and that alone (and never based on horror films I haven’t seen yet.) I’m not questioning their moral fortitude because they enjoy something like Inside or Martyrs. I’m just questioning their subjectivity in looking at the details of the filmmaking. Are they really scared or just happy the film isn’t PG-13? Maybe they really do just enjoy the gore and would care to explain to Junior what the appeal is. Not that he would ever understand.
But where his understanding would be based on why gorehounds enjoy seeing the occasional dismemberment, mine as a film critic is the ability to occasionally look past the nastier moments to recognize if the film itself has any value as either a piece of art, entertainment or whatever. And that comes from how well a film is put together. I am not without my criticisms of the Last House remake (outlined here in my review), but just as Roger Ebert was able to defend Wes Craven’s original in a sea of scorn I have been on the positive side of Dennis Iliadis' version. Is it simply because I just enjoy a good revenge story? Absolutely not, because I tend to differentiate between good ones like this year’s Taken and bad ones like Jaws: The Revenge. Just kidding. But where does the difference lie? Is Lyons ready to dismiss films like Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs or even Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill on merely moral grounds or because the violence is a little too graphic for his taste? How would he react to Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring (the inspiration for the film) which features distraught father Max Von Sydow picking up a little kid and throwing him into a wall? Would his first question be "who is this Bergman?" or "isn't that Ming the Merciless?"
The Last House On The Left (either version) is not a title to be placed on the same shelf as Eli Roth’s Hostel entries, which are inferior movies from a filmmaking standpoint first and morally questionable second. It may not even be worth the same roof as the films mentioned above. Yes, there are harsh sequences involving beatings and rape but they are in the service of a “what would you do” scenario. Are we lesser people for enjoying the guilty getting their just desserts? Who cares? That’s not for the film critics to decide. That’s not saying that it can’t be discussed. Film critics by nature exist to promote thought and open up the debate. What are the merits of Straw Dogs or Oldboy compared to Last House or the Australian festival entry, The Horseman? Seems clear that Lyons will never know or even willing to discuss. No opinion is ever supposed to be definitive any more than it is to be outright dismissive. Unless you say that the only thing definitive about movies is that you can dismiss anything that Ben Lyons says about them.
Take a few more gems from the last two weeks of shows.
On Sunshine Cleaning
“Mank this is a Sundance movie in every sense of the word. It’s that quirky, American indie that’s looking to find moments of humor set against the backdrop of some dark, tragic moments.”
You dismissive little twat. How dare YOU be the one to define precisely what a “Sundance movie” is? Mr.-I-Saw-FIVE-Movies-At-Sundance-In-2009. I’m sure the press office (and especially the hundred-plus filmmakers) appreciated your attendance and how you couldn’t be bothered to use your network platform to talk them up even for one segment on your show.
Also on Sunshine Cleaning
“Ultimately I didn’t find it funny enough. I didn’t find it emotional enough to give it a see it, but check it out on DVD.”
So let’s see. Not very funny? Check. Not enough emotion? Check. Good rental? Check.
On Brothers At War
“It seems hard for filmmakers who shot so many hours of compelling footage to leave most of it on the cutting room floor, but ultimately its these choices that determine how effective a narrative can be.”
Wouldn’t you love to have Ben Lyons as your film professor? Just so you could throw apples at him? I learned more about film from just watching trailers at SXSW (introduced by Joe Dante and featuring running commentary from TrailersFromHell.com) than I ever would if I were forced to watch Ben Lyons deliver such observations. You mean directors cut stuff out of their movies to make the narratives tighter? Wow, you don’t say. In related news, water is wet, the sky’s blue and women have secrets. Who gives a fuck?
Remember this is the guy who hones his film knowledge from trivia. Trivia, mind you that couldn’t help contestants on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire two weeks ago, when Lyons had no clue on his first appearance and told the second player who used the Bens as their lifeline “expert” to dismiss the one answer that turned out to be the correct one. In a follow-up to this un-historic week of Millionaire, the Wednesday episode turned out to be Lyons-free leaving Mankiewicz alone to ponder a question about West Side Story, a film he was “vaguely familiar” with, despite being a host for Turner Classic Movies. (His first response was to ask the contestant - who asked him help – what HE thought.) The show went from two days of Lyons & Mank to one day of just Mank to two days of Ted Sarandos and Erin Ruane (respectively, Chief Content Officer & VP Content Acquisition for Netflix). As if we needed another reason to absolutely adore Netflix, kudos to Ted and Erin for nailing (within 5 seconds) the answers to their questions (on 50 First Dates and The Departed) and putting a wonderful epilogue on the disasterous and disingenuous At the Movies publicity push. It was so appreciated. What do you appreciate, Ben Lyons?
On Mank’s Duplicity review
“I appreciate the fact that you mention the trailer at the top of your review because whether they look like a CIA thriller or a romantic comedy doesn’t really capture the spirit of this movie.”
On The Cake Eaters
“The film establishes the intricate character dynamic with a guiding hand, not a forceful one, which I appreciate.”
Also on The Cake Eaters
“Standout performances, interesting character dynamics but overall kind of a flat film that really doesn’t have you too emotionally invested. I do watch the performances and you do appreciate what Kristen Stewart is doing here.”
I asked what you appreciated, Junior. Don’t tell me what I’m going to appreciate. In fact, stop using the word “appreciate” altogether. It doesn’t suit a show that no one holds in any high regard or that certainly isn’t going to increase in value as long as you’re on it.
"I just love seeing a buddy film between two guys who you would never pair together.”
The longer I stare at that quote the more I am baffled that someone actually got paid to say it. According to The Complete Film Dictionary, a buddy film is “a film that features the friendship of two males as the major relationship.” Lyons’ quote comes not as part of their review of I Love You, Man; a true mismatched buddy picture getting a TWO-WEEK EARLY REVIEW on the show this week while 12, a limited release of a Russian Twelve Angry Men remake, gets ranked #1 on Mank’s 3-To-See. No time to review that but a film that isn’t opening for another TWO WEEKS (and that Paramount/Dreamworks has been incredibly stingy with screening-wise in Chicago) gets reviewed. Did we really need to hear you review Watchmen again specifically so Junior could talk about its box office potential? Honestly, did Lyons not bother to attend a screening of 12? Did he not understand it? Couldn’t read the subtitles?
Back to the first point though, Lyons was talking about The Great Buck Howard, a film I’ve seen twice. Once at Sundance, a second time at CineVegas ’08 and even part of a third at the Chicago fest last October. It is no more a buddy film than Swimming with Sharks or The Devil Wears Prada were. John Malkovich and Colin Hanks are not solving crimes or having adventures or trying to get laid together. Malkovich is the famous boss and Hanks is the new assistant. Lyons makes that statement as if there’s some rare trend in Hollywood to mismatch a pair of males with conflicting personalities or races and force them to work together. Wow! When did that ever start? You could probably close your eyes right now and name twenty including those that worked (Lethal Weapon, Midnight Run) and those that didn’t (At the Movies 2008/09).
If Captain Ben Obvious digs these kinds of movies though, just think of all the reviews we have to look forward to.
(500 Days of Summer) "I just love seeing a romantic comedy with two people who fall in love."
(Inglourious Basterds) “I just love seeing a war movie that actually has some history to it.”
(X-Men Origins: Wolverine) "I just love seeing a superhero movie with good guys and bad guys."
(Star Trek) “I just love a science fiction film that’s set in the future.”
(Tyson) "I just love seeing a documentary that features real people."
(H2: Halloween 2) "I just love seeing a slasher pic where one person gets killed by another person."
(Up) "I just love seeing a movie shot on film."
(12 Rounds) “I just love seeing a…oh excuse me, text.”
(Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) “I just love seeing a porn film where you can tell that the people are actually having sex--it just makes it seem more real.”
(Terminator: Salvation) “I just love seeing a sequel that follows the first movie.”
The show itself this week was hardly a hotbed of potent quotables. The distant runner-up to the buddy film quote was hearing of Lyons’ appreciation of Phoebe in Wonderland, particularly “this sort of inventive approach to storytelling and breaking convention,” said the guy who put Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York on his worst of ’08 list. Sometimes, however, a little delay in writing can be a blessing. Although I did not plan it this way, I was busy putting the finishing touches on an article for this week’s South by Southwest Festival ; an article featuring four times as many movies as Lyons saw at Sundance and I don’t step foot in Austin until Friday. Regardless, I put the Lyons column on hold for a day as I was leaving for a screening of Last House on the Left Monday night, I caught the first of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’s Netflix Movie Week shows; which features nothing but movie-themed questions. In 2006 & 2007 the auditions for the show actually came through the Chicago suburbs, for which I tried out and passed their test both years. I guess I wasn’t game show wacky enough in my interviews to be chosen. But oh what sweet irony if I had made it for 2009 where along with the phone-a-friend, 50/50 and audience poll, they have added a fourth lifeline for the contestants. An “Ask the Experts” lifeline featuring Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz. Can you picture me on the show getting to a six-figure question and having to ask these guys for help? I imagine they would write their answer on a bathroom mirror for added irony.
Millionaire’s first contestant this week was Carla Stitt from (figures) Chicago. My pattern watching this week normally consists of a lot of swearing and evil laughter when more obnoxious contestants blow a question. Yes, the ‘06/’07 bitterness still exists. And while I couldn’t believe Miss Stitt had to ask the audience’s help for a $500 Roger Rabbit question (“I’m not bad, I’m just (what).”) that 26% of the audience got wrong, she really seemed to know her stuff otherwise. Then came the $100,000 question.
“Made famous by TV’s Lost, the fictional airline name Oceanic is also featured in which of these movies?”
A: Passenger 57
C: Snakes on a Plane
D: Executive Decision
As fans of Lost, a friend and I by sheer coincidence had just brought up this very fact less than a week ago. I knew the answer then and I knew it now. Lyons and Mank though sat there in stunned silence. Nervous laughter washed over the crowd as they realize their big experts were completely stumped. A full eight seconds went by before Junior offered his first thought:
“Boy you picked some good movies there, Snakes on a Plane and Passenger 57, boy those are some classics, huh?”
At which point if I were on the show would have said, “Hey dickhead, we’re on the clock here, how ‘bout a guess?" Mankiewicz thinks either those very two choices but “would be very hesitant to give up money based on my sense.” Lyons says he agrees with that sentiment and offers his next deduction:
“I know Snakes On A Plane, they did cross the ocean. It’s Oceanic. So maybe that’s something for you there.”
Mankiewicz adds that the Snakes flight “was from Hawaii to L.A.”
“Like Lost,” says Lyons, proving that he’s not only bad with movies but also TV shows since Lost’s Oceanic flight began in Australia. They only film in Hawaii. Great insight, Ben. Poor Carla Stitt even tries to lead them to the right answer saying, “You guys don’t remember Oceanic from Executive Decision? Kurt Russell? Halle Berry? You don’t remember that?” Nope, they sure don’t.
LYONS: “I do remember that, unfortunately, my seat faced the screen that day.”
Ah, yes, the oh-so ahead of his time Ben Lyons, so sophisticated at barely 14½ years old to dispel Executive Decision, not only one of the better Die Hard clones over the years but I believe The Complete Film Dictionary provides one of the definitions of a four-star flick as being “any film where Steven Seagal is killed a half-hour into it.” Luckily for Carla, who after unsuccessfully getting her phone-a-friend Bianca to “check Passenger 57 and Executive Decision” (you know, on the internet), walked away with $50,000 with the two Bens doing little damage except to their own credibility as “film experts.”
Now Erik, you’re probably saying, I know a lot about film and I couldn’t remember anything about Executive Decision. Fair enough. And I probably wouldn’t have used you as my phone-a-friend either. Ben and Ben are on their Magical Mystery To Discover Someone Who Likes Them Tour though. They’re on shows giving Oscar picks and addressing their criticism in Associated Press articles. They are part of a show sponsored by Netflix and Skype getting praise from Meredith Viera who says they are “wonderful” at what they do, are “great reviewers”, "fantastic" and “have a great show.” Entire fortunes are resting on at least half a duo that sharpens his movie knowledge with an xBox game. This is TRIVIA, Lyons. It’s multiple choice. This is the stuff that’s supposed to be right up your alley’s ass!
“We didn’t do so poorly,” said Lyons during Tuesday’s Millionaire.
Actually, YES YOU DID! You had one question. You couldn’t even fathom a guess for the contestant. OK, so I guess you technically didn’t get it wrong. So you didn’t do so poorly in the same way that a boxer who steps up to the ropes only to never get in the ring doesn’t do so poorly. Wrap your head around this $100,000 question, Scene It Boy.
“What would be the title of the 1991 movie Thelma & Louise if the characters’ last names replaced their first names?”
A: Dickinson & Sawyer
B: Anderson & McBride
C: Slocumb & Lennox
D: Harlan & Biddle
This time it was just under seven seconds before one of them spoke up and the conversation went like this:
MANK: I feel like, uh, that, uh, the, uh, wha, what, what rings a very strong, uh, tone to me is Harlan. Um, and uh, uh, but uh, like I said it’s a strong feeling but it is not an overwhelming feeling.
LYONS: I know we can get rid of “A”. I feel confident in that. We can get that out of there.
MANK: It wasn’t Angie Dickinson and Diane Sawyer? No I suppose not. Um, uh, I, uh, man…(turns to Lyons) Uh, you have any, you’re not, uh…?
LYONS: I, I, I, I Harlan rings a bell as well. I’m not sure, but if I were to have to say one I would say “D”.
MANK: Um, yeah…(more garbling)…I hate to tell you to risk that kind of money but I know you have some other, some other lifeline options but I do feel good about “D”. I feel like, uh, B-minus good about “D”.
LYONS: Which is passing. Your mother will be OK with you if you finish...
So while we ponder the grade that probably eluded Lyons over the years and whether or not Mankiewicz has a relative somewhere over at AIG, there sits Anthony Dickey deciding to “trust them” and go with “D”. “It sounds familiar, and if not I’ve got no one to blame but me and them,” says Dickey pointing a finger at the Ben’s video monitor. Meredith’s face turns to that familiar “oh no” scrunch as the answer is revealed to be:
A: DICKINSON & SAWYER
You know, like Lost. And like the Ben of that show, Lyons mislead this poor guy and LOST him twenty-five grand (or seventy-five if you use my Vegas math.) Mank and Lyons are now ZERO-FOR-TWO with only three shows to go. They have to go on a three-day run just to hit 60%, which in Honors classes is a big fat “F” No benefit of the doubt here boys, you are being trotted out as “experts” so its only fair you get the “experts” grading system. Perhaps on Wednesday they should rename the lifeline “Ask a Novice.” At least then the contestants will know they are better off asking their help in the pre-$1,000 questions. I just love seeing a game show where the losers are the experts.
"And it seems like this is going to be the one film we’re gonna see of this franchise. It wasn’t like Zack Snyder was trying to setup the sequel. I really appreciate that.”
That noise you hear is the sound of 2.3 million fanboys calling Ben Lyons a twat. Hey, that’s according to Disney. Those are the numbers they released to the AP writers in an attempt to boost confidence in their product. Actually I like to think even fanboys have something better to do with their weekend then watch At the Movies. (And I Tivo it, so save your jokes.) Certainly not everyone of the 2.3 million Disney claims are watching it in that so-called "recent uptick" in the ratings are fanboys. But any Watchmen fanatic reading the Quote of the Week will tell you that Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel is completely and totally a self-contained story. It’s not a comic book series. It’s NOT a franchise like Batman, Superman or Spider-Man. The 12 issues released between 1986 and 1987 are now purchased as a complete novel and that is the basis for Snyder’s 162-minute epic.
MANKIEWICZ: “We’ll there’s not the source material for a sequel.”
Well then why did you even bring up the possibility of a sequel, you dipshit! You even prefaced your review by saying you were on your “second time now reading the graphic novel.” Jesus. And you’re one of the guys Warner Bros. chose to show this film early to while the majority of press in the city where you film the show won’t get to see the thing until Tuesday night. (Thanks, WB!) Go on, Junior, just tell us what was good about this film.
“The Watchmen works for the same reasons that Batman and Iron Man did last year. The movie makes you think while simultaneously entertaining you. Sounds simple, but it’s always the sign of a good film.”
Does anyone get the impression that Ben Lyons carries a checklist with him into every screening? Something less complicated (but no less ridiculous) than the intersecting chart used to numerically rate poetry from Dead Poet’s Society that gives him a final decision on whether to tell people to see it, rent it or skip it?
BEN LYONS’ RATING CHART
_____ 1. I didn’t fall asleep, so it entertained me.
_____ 2. It looks like an Oscar movie.
_____ 3. Made me shut off my texting machine.
_____ 4. Hey, that dude took a picture with me.
_____ 5. It’s just like the cool trailer
_____ 6. My birthday party friend spoke in it.
_____ 7. Shiny
_____ 8. It’s released by the Weinstein Co.
_____ 9. I didn’t notice any editing.
_____ 10. I had to use my brain thingy.
Lyons also tries to show his fanboy cred by correcting Mankiewicz on the correct terminology on what to call a Star Trek fan.
“I think the appropriate word is Trekker, not Trekkie, so I don’t want you to have any problems out there on the street.”
Potato, paTAto. Trekker, Trekkie. Ben, Jeffrey Lyons. All not far removed from each other no matter what you call them. For example, Jeffrey “deeply absorbing” Lyons is on the ads recommending Wayne Kramer’s Crossing Over to everyone, a film that even in limited release has 33 of its 39 reviews at Rotten Tomatoes on the negative side (as of today.) Confessions of a Shopaholic, Fired Up and Tyler Perry’s latest have had more success with critics. And of those positive six critics, four of them are Owen “I liked Fired Up” Gleiberman, Prairie Miller, Peter Travers and Pete “Ignore the other critics” Hammond. You think they are the enlightened ones? Well, you can add two more to that list.
LYONS: "Some of the storylines may seem a little forced. But overall it’s a film that raises important issues, it’s well-acted, and not as preachy as I might have expected. It’s similar in its approach to films like Crash and Traffic and despite being a significant notch below those films it is relevant and it’s a modern movie that I think you should see. I enjoyed it, pleasantly surprised."
MANKIEWICZ: "It’s obvious that this movie is gonna get compared to Crash. It’s remarkably similar, intersecting storylines, set in Los Angeles about sort of emotional issues that people are afraid to confront. I disagree with you FULLY in that it being a notch below Crash. I think it’s three, four, five notches above Crash, one of the most overrated movies of the past decade. I think this is really an exceptional film. I didn’t find really a false note in the behavior of any of these characters. There were a couple of scenes that were forced that maybe kept it from maybe being a four-star movie. But I really thought that this hit it out of the park, by and large. "
LYONS: "It’s a film about the issues. But it’s a film about people. Its focus is the issues down to the individual and the choices they have to make."
Actually, after buying your ticket you should get your own checklist of potential false notes that Crossing Over hits.
CROSSING OVER – TRUE OR FALSE NOTES
_____ 1. A character stops mid-shootout to give a speech about the pride of immigration
_____ 2. A character going back several hours later to actually find a piece of paper he threw away on the ground.
_____ 3. A random rabbi in the lobby willing to give a faking Jew a pass on his test.
_____ 4. An adoption that goes through despite the recipient’s husband having just been arrested.
_____ 5. A hot Aussie chick crashing into the one person who can get her green card adjudicated.
_____ 6. Jim Sturgess. Period.
_____ 7. A tearful goodbye with more visible snot than a brachiosaurus sneezing on the girl from The Blair Witch Project.
_____ 8. A character confesses with almost no prodding as the National Anthem plays in the background.
_____ 9. Jim Sturgess. Seriously.
_____ 10. The entire nationalization ceremony.
It’s certainly become commonplace for people to deride the importance of Paul Haggis’ Crash to American cinema. This is not the first time Mankiewicz has reminded us how overrated he thinks it is. But he has officially lost his privileges to bring it up after hyping up Crossing Over like this. However, I was struck more with the film they reviewed after the next commercial break than the fireplace poker I was hitting myself in the head with in disbelief over the hefty praised bestowed onto one of the contenders for unintentional comedy of the year.
Continuing with the fanboy arc of this week’s column, Lyons and Mankiewicz took to reviewing the film – Fanboys. And the question I kept asking myself was “WHY?” I had to ask since here it was February 28 and they were reviewing a film that opened on February 6. It’s kind of unprecedented. Can you ever remember the hosts that came before them reviewing a film already in its fourth weekend of release that they hadn’t reviewed already? I understand that last week’s show was a rerun, but that still would have been its THIRD weekend in release. They could have caught up with it on their Feb. 14 show, but they didn’t. And I honestly want to know why they chose THIS week to review it.
Mankiewicz said on the show that the film is continuing to roll out in venues across the country and that is true. According to reports, the film expanded on Feb. 20 into a few theaters in Boston, Washington D.C., Detroit, Atlanta, Denver, Orlando, Phoenix, Columbus, New Haven and Raleigh. It would join theaters in Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Houston and Austin; the latter three down to a single theater in those cities. (Chicago has been down to only three showings a day for the last two weeks.) And if that weren’t enough, here are the lucky cities to receive the film this past weekend (Miami, FL; Greensboro, NC; Pittsburgh, PA; Minneapolis, MN; Baltimore, MD; Indianapolis, IN; Providence, RI; Kansas City, MO; Cincinnati, OH and Memphis, TN) So Lyons and Mankiewicz are doing a service for these markets on where they can see this overlooked gem of a film. Except for one little thing. They both trashed the film.
MANKIEWICZ: “But it quickly devolves into nothing more than a silly road trip movie. A series of fairly juvenile slapstick gags, totally reliant on cameos from celebrities.”
LYONS: “Then I realized about an hour into it, I hadn’t really laughed at all. And this is supposed to be a comedy.”
MANKIEWICZ: “A lot of promise here. No execution. It opened in very limited release a few weeks ago, but its been slowly expanding into more cities. Regardless, no matter where you are, you can skip Fanboys.”
Lyons also “didn’t appreciate” that the film didn’t run with the idea of people who have to hide their geekdom in their everyday lives and instead dealt with comic book store geeks who wear their fanboy cards squarely on their shoulder. Seems that would be right up your alley there, Twilight boy. Back to the point at hand though, did Fanboys really need this kind of push four weeks into its release? Is there really no such thing as bad publicity even if people aren’t seeing the film in question anyway? (Fanboys has barely made a half million dollars in four weekends.) At the Movies has had three reruns this year already – and they have been reruns of shows that already aired in 2009. Only three of their nine shows this year (including this weekend’s) have been dedicated to new movies. Just think of all the movies they could have caught up on this weekend. The Pink Panther 2, Push, Fired Up, or even the non-screened box office sensation that is Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes To Jail. Or how about something potentially more positive like Taken or Coraline? Any one of them are in at least 1,500 more theaters than Fanboys. Oh, but maybe they are trying to give you the heads up on a little film that may have escaped your radar; a public service antidote “if you’re tired of slick studio manufactured movies about romance and want something real”, the way Lyons thinks “you’ll appreciate Two Lovers.” Yeah, except they both DIDN’T LIKE FANBOYS and I can’t imagine the Weinsteins necessarily appreciate their pan. Or do they?
Is it a coincidence that Fanboys would be the next film they would review after singing the high praises of Crossing Over, another in the long line of long-delayed releases from the Weinstein Co.? Could Fanboys, a film that received much public scrutiny when Harvey Weinstein took the film away from its director and cut out a Cancer subplot that more or less formed the impetus for the silly road trip to begin with, now finds itself a sacrificial lamb? Merely a theory mind you, but considering the reviews of Crossing Over, there is speculation (some jokingly, some not) that Lyons & Mank didn’t even see Crossing Over. How could they to heap such praise on a film receiving such nearly unanimous scorn? One colleague surmised an At the Movies producer creating the following equation:
Important subject matter + Harrison Ford = Let’s have Douche Jr. like it a little and Douche Sr. like it a lot.
“Get to writing for them. I bet it’s really lacking in false notes.” Of course that would be far-fetched bordering on the scandalous and the mere suggestion of it creates a Conspiracy of Echelon-like magnitude. But if one were to question the ethics of the show (and who would do that these days?) and suggest that Lyons & Mank were doing a little favor fave for the Weinsteins, wouldn’t the best antidote to that far-fetched conceit be to have them immediately trash a film from the same company? It would be less out there if Fanboys were having its first opening this weekend. After all, they didn’t wait until Crossing Over’s larger rollout in a few weeks to spread the word (although don’t be surprised if they re-review the film on a later show.) Finally, something on At the Movies worth thinking about, and that’s a fact I think we can all appreciate.
"In the past, it might have hurt the show a bit that (reviewers) were isolated in Chicago. I enjoy the fact that I’m out here in L.A. and I know writers and directors and actors. I’m young and I’m going to be out and social and to meet people and develop genuine friendships with them and understand the (artistic) choices they’ve made.”
That's a bit from this week's Associated Press article on the criticism of Lyons and Mankiewicz. Read their mind-boggling defense in At the Movies: Ben There, Done With That
"This year I saw 5 movies, a few were pretty decent.”
This isn’t an ironic counter to Ben’s insistence that he sees over 300 movies and brushes up on them thanks to xBox Live updates to Scene It: Box Office Smash. Nor is it an opportunity to comment on what Lyons has actually seen in full through all the texting he’s been reported doing time and time again during screenings. No, this week’s quote comes from the online chat that the At the Movies duo conducted with inquiring minds last Monday. (Their show this weekend was the third rerun of 2009.) And it’s in reference to what Junior did at the Sundance Film Festival this year. FIVE MOVIES!!!???
For those uninitiated to the film festival experience, the average journalist probably sees at least 3-4 movies a day. And that’s a conservative estimate. Everyone has different assignments. Some are doing interviews. Some find time to slack off in the evening to take in an industry party. Many are finding time in-between screenings to crank out a blog entry or even an actual review of something. My personal etiquette prevents me from doing much writing at the actual festival as I’m not bound to plunk down every thought I’m having at every moment. I like to let movies sink in as I formulate what I might want to say in a review and then write it at a later date so I can give the filmmaker as best a write-up as I can possibly deliver. I’m also doing live reports from the fest for back home with WGN Radio, so my goal is to manage my schedule to see as many movies as humanly possible. This usually means 5-6 movies a day for me – anywhere from 8:30 AM through sometimes after midnight. Then repeat the next day. This year I saw 26 movies in 6 days – and that includes the opening Thursday when they only show a single film. So that’s 25 movies from Friday-Tuesday. Ben Lyons saw 5.
Oh, but Erik, you say, maybe he wasn’t there as long as you were. Fair enough. That might be an argument you could use if he saw 15-20 films. But even if he was only there for two days, five would be an unacceptable tally for someone who is supposed to be a film journalist. I know he wasn’t there for At the Movies. He was there for E!, but precisely how many two-minute interviews could he have done to only see five movies? Did he need a whole day to get into DJ mode to co-host the Hard Rock Vegas party he was involved with one evening? We know he saw Antoine Fuqua’s latest, Brooklyn’s Finest. I was there for that public screening too on Saturday, January 17 at 9:00 am. He also said that he saw Adventureland. And we know from the Twilight-centric interview he did with Kristen Stewart that he was headed to the public screening (which I also attended) on Monday, January 19 at 6:15 pm. That means we know that Lyons was there for AT LEAST three days. And he saw FIVE MOVIES!!!
On that Saturday alone, I attended six screenings. I bring this up not to brag, but I’m 110% confident that any of my colleagues would agree that seeing anything less than four movies a day is a disgrace and is reason enough for Ben Lyons to never be invited back. Maybe if he did his job he could have seen some wonderful movies like 500 Days of Summer, Humpday, World's Greatest Dad, Mary and Max, Moon and In the Loop. Maybe even better than "pretty decent" films like An Education, Cold Souls, Peter and Vandy and Black Dynamite. If you were part of the powers that be at E!, wouldn’t you be livid that your chief film “expert” probably spent more time perusing Main St., hanging with celebrities off-camera and maybe even doing a little skiing on your dime? I’ve already seen 15 movies at South by Southwest and the festival doesn’t even begin until March 13. And you know what I’m going to do in the five days that I’m there? I’m going to see 20+ movies and report on them. I’ll also have time to take in a panel featuring a discussion on the declining state of film criticism. You should come, Ben. You’ll get to hear your name. Maybe you can even answer some of the questions that weren’t allowed through during last week’s chat, part of your little Oscar week PR tour to boost your declining ratings. Questions like:
- Can you justify your Benjamin Button Best Film Oscar pick “because the Academy loves big box office” when last year that honor would have gone to Juno by your logic and not No Country for Old Men?
- Do you know the difference between box office results and quality films?
- How did your credentials which included interviewing celebrities at junkets and red carpet events qualify you to co-host a movie review show?
- FIVE MOVIES AT SUNDANCE? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME???
"But I learned some things in this movie. Apparently bullets don’t hit people.”
As I set out to document the ethically-challenged trainwreck that was Ben Lyons on the reboot of At the Movies, I promised myself that I would never just go fishing for something to write about. We already have 24-hour news channels who can barely fill content without subverting to celebrity gossip or unfounded, unresearched story angles. So surely times would come along where Lyons wouldn’t slip up, wouldn’t say something completely stupid or pimp one of his celebrity friends for having three lines in a film. It hasn’t happened in five months to be sure, but this past weekend he came pretty damn close.
Readers of this column may feel let down that I’m not going to rip into him for not knowing women’s fashion or turning bad romantic comedies on their ears by referring to the men as mere props instead of the usual eye candy frequently used to draw us dudes in. Lyons even panned Friday the 13th without ever mentioning the horrifying presence of Aaron Yoo, who was seen in an even more terrifying role as Guest #3 at Ben Lyons’ Birthday Party. (Although I did wonder with all the lobbying Junior has done on the shows against the stereotyping of Latinos, why he doesn’t go to bat for Token Black and Token Asian in Marcus Nispel’s waste of a reboot. You realize if the studio puts “Part 12” on that title, it only makes about a third of what it did from this robot culture?) Nope, Lyons actually didn’t sound too bad this weekend. Maybe my own robot gears kicked in as I was agreeing with his opinions up and down, but I was listening intently and nothing stood out to write about. Until they talked about The International.
Sometimes you can have people agree with you, but speak on behalf of all the wrong reasons and force you to want to expel them from your team. Call it the Elisabeth Hasselbeck Effect. On Tom Tykwer’s latest thriller, there is simply one thing both supporters and detractors have found common ground on and that’s the exhilarating shootout that takes place in the Guggenheim about 75 minutes into the film. It’s a sequence so good that it actually brings up the discussion whether the film is worth its dragging two hours just to see this one brilliant set piece. The discussion doesn’t last long, but it usually ends with an admition that this is among the best action sequences in years. Sony’s marketers are actually twisting Mankiewicz’s words around on their ads which states:
“…A sleek conspiracy thriller…One of the best I’ve seen in some time.”
He’s not saying it’s one of the best thrillers he’s seen in some time. Otherwise he might have a little explaining to do on why The International was #3 to He’s Just Not That Into You’s #2 on his “3 To See” this week. No, the full quote goes “An elaborate and really well-shot gunfight at New York’s Guggenheim museum is really one of the best I’ve seen in some time.” Hell, it's even part of the poster. Man, I’m coming to defense of everyone this week.
Yet with all the problems the film has: wooden characters, lethargic pacing, clichéd confessionals and a finale that even God would be offended if referred to as one of his acts, Lyons goes after the Guggenheim massacre by saying he learned that bullets don’t hit people. As a so-called student of film and even going under the guise of “expert” from time-to-time, we all know that bullets don’t just NOT hit people. They don’t hit our heroes. If they did, films would tend to be a lot shorter. Bullets tend not to hit James Bond, which he’s had no problem in recommending. He was interested in seeing Max Payne shoot people but probably wasn’t quite as interested in Max Payne getting shot. At least a half-dozen people get shot in the Guggenheim. Some graphically so. True the relative shots connected to shots fired might give the assassins an embarrassing percentage on Galaga, but what does Lyons want here? More civilian casualties? Unnamed cops to show up and take a few rounds in the face? Did he already forget about the other stand-alone sequence in the film that dealt with a damn assassination? Where we see the target get shot, then one of the shooters and then we watch as our heroes determine HOW someone got shot. With bullets. You just picked the one argument you’re not going to win.
Speaking of Elisabeth Hasselbeck, if you felt let down by the column this week there may be plenty of fodder next time as the two Bens are featured guests on this Wednesday’s episode of The View. They will be offering their Oscar picks, just in case you miss the rerun of their If We Picked the Winners next weekend. Will any of the gals have the gall to query Lyons on his constant criticism? Will he, in turn, answer that his detractors are just “jealous?” Will we finally learn the answer to who smiles more when they think they have just said something funny – Lyons or Joy Behar? Don’t tune in as I’ll tell you all about it next week. If you can’t wait until then and would like to ask the Bens a question yourself, then you’re in luck. Today at 4:00 Eastern / 1:00 Pacific (how about 3:00 Central time out of respect for the city in which you film?) you can participate in a live chat with the pair.
By using the WDIG Sites, you agree that you will not Distribute any Submission that: 1. (a) is defamatory, abusive, harassing, threatening, or an invasion of a right of privacy of another person; (b) is bigoted, hateful, or racially or otherwise offensive; (c) is violent, vulgar, obscene, pornographic or otherwise sexually explicit; or (d) otherwise harms or can reasonably be expected to harm any person or entity.
But hey give it a shot. Maybe one or two hard-hitting journalistic questions will get through other than the ones from teenage girls who think Junior is cute. Then again, maybe it will be just edited enough to take out the moron-speak. Maybe it will reaffirm that this weekend’s show was just a momentary fluke in time when the stars all but aligned and provided some hope that Lyons was turning a corner in his attitude and finally understanding what an honor has been bestowed upon him. Maybe he actually HAS learned something and that bullets DON’T hit people. At least not when you fail to provide the ammunition for your own firing squad; which in Lyons' case usually features two blanks.
"And I think the Academy will agree with me.”
Remember when Siskel & Ebert used to do their annual If We Picked the Winners show? At first it was just them in the balcony having some fun with opening each other’s envelopes, then they decided to really class it up by getting dressed up in tuxedos and having a full audience outdoors at Disney World. I’ll never forget them extending it to an hour, even managing to add in their choices for Visual Effects leading to the priceless moment in 1995 when after choosing Forrest Gump in that category, Siskel opened Ebert’s envelope with the priceless reaction – “True LIES?” We truly miss you guys together. Here it is 2009 and we’re presented with the first (and hopefully last) rendition of the special show by Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz. This week’s quote from Lyons doesn’t have the usual flash or obvious blend of shameless incompetence and moronspeak, but continue to look at it and maybe you’ll understand it’s deeper than it looks.
We’ll give Lyons a little breathing room for a moment as I’m sure the seven people watching were a little more taken with what Mankiewicz was spewing. It’s hard to fathom that he actually makes Lyons earn that “Oscar expert” moniker in comparison, and while someone is sure to criticize us for criticizing just an opinion, these are the kind of head scratchers that do a disservice to fellow critics and an insult to those we regularly criticize.
“I’m so happy to see Marisa Tomei nominated for a dramatic performance. Really validates her as an actress. I think she’s been really unfairly maligned, Ben, for winning that Oscar for My Cousin Vinny. Many people thinking she didn’t deserve it….This here sort of solidifies her standing as a serious actress.”
I’m sorry, but did Mank hibernate through 2001 and miss the moment where Marisa Tomei got her second Supporting Actress nomination for In the Bedroom, playing the grieving older lover of a young man who is murdered by her ex? Anyone with any eye towards the cinema instead of paying attention to rumors and giving in to what dissenters are making a stink about would have recognized that Tomei had a film in theaters during her 1992/93 march towards Oscar called Untamed Heart. Think all you might about Christian Slater, sappy endings and baboon hearts but no one can walk away from that film and say that Tomei was not an actress of high caliber that didn’t need awards to solidify anything. She has mixed dramatic and comedic performances throughout her career from The Perez Family and Slums of Beverly Hills to Happy Accidents and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Just because you haven’t been paying attention doesn’t mean Tomei needs validation by the Academy from her third Oscar nomination. On the other hand, maybe she does if Lyons is to go on record by calling Penelope Cruz “one of the best working actresses in the business.” What else you got, Mank?
“I don’t wanna take anything away from Heath Ledger who was clearly among the best actors of his generation. But I actually don’t think that this is the performance he oughta be remembered for. I look at Brokeback Mountain or Monster’s Ball as sort of vintage Heath Ledger performances.”
OK, pump the brakes there, Mank. Marisa Tomei needs validation as a serious actress but you don’t even blink in calling Heath Ledger among the best actors of his generation? And that’s even with a full-on dismissal of his “one note” performance of The Joker in The Dark Knight? Now I don’t want to appear like I’m speaking ill of the departed, but during the interim between Ledger’s death in January ’08 and the July release of The Dark Knight I continued to say that one of the greatest shames is that Ledger was finally starting to become an interesting actor. He was shaking off that pretty boy Josh Hartnett status and doing work in the I’m Not There, Candy and the otherwise unwatchable Lords of Dogtown that was validating (for lack of a better term) Ledger’s turn in Brokeback Mountain as not just the right role at the right time. Not a whole lot of pre-Brokeback lovin’ for The Patriot, A Knight’s Tale or The Order, is there? But to call his 10 minutes from Monster’s Ball in 2001 as “vintage” Ledger is an even greater insult to his legacy than the off-base suggestions that he never would have received such praise for The Dark Knight, let alone be nominated for it, had he not been found dead in that apartment last January. Ludicrous. But the Mank dance continues.
“Frost/Nixon is the year’s real achievement in filmmaking.”
WHAT??? While most people think it has no business even being nominated for Best Picture, it was actually #10 on my Best List and I think the second best of the nominated films (after Slumdog) – and I STILL think that’s a crazy statement. Sure, of the two big stage-to-screen transitions, Frost/Nixon looks like Lawrence of Arabia in terms of scope compared to Doubt. Even if you take The Dark Knight completely off the table, is Mankiewicz going to seriously argue with someone face-to-face that a film like WALL-E is not as significant an achievement to cinema than Frost/Nixon? Well, Okie slash dokie you have as great a memory as the voting members of the Academy. Lyons obviously didn’t agree saying:
“For me it wasn’t a Best Picture because it felt a little introverted and a little small for my liking.”
Of course, when they reviewed the film back in December Lyons said:
“I think everybody can relate to it in sort of that gearing up for a big moment in your career and the preparation that goes into it and the night before and they really captured the humanity in that.”
It’s kind of hard to be introverted if everyone can relate to it. I guess it’s like they say though, there are no small movies only small critics. Maybe my memory is now fuzzy. Like Mank’s, who when talking about the snubbing of The Wrestler for Best Picture (which was actually #1 on his best-of list over that “real achievement in filmmaking” that was Frost/Nixon at #2) also derided the exclusion of Darren Aronofsky in the Best Director category.
“To steal from Billy Crystal – ‘the movie did not direct itself.’”
My first instinct was to correct Mank since I distinctly remember Whoopi Goldberg saying "I guess Moulin Rouge! just directed itself." referring to Baz Luhrmann snubbing in 2001. But Crystal did make the same point ten years earlier about Barbara Streisand not getting nominated for The Prince of Tides. Kind of a moot point anyway since both Goldberg and Crystal reference Best Picture candidates while the The Wrestler didn’t get nominated for anything but Actor and Supporting Actress. So it's kind of a moot point. The Dark Knight, WALL-E, Doubt, Revolutionary Road and Changeling all received more Oscar nominations than The Wrestler. They also didn’t direct themselves. They also weren’t considered good enough to be considered one of the Best Pictures of the year. But while one brief segment at the end was spent criticizing the Academy, leaving no room to include Best Director or either of the Screenplay categories amongst the “major categories” they were going through, much of their version of If We Picked the Winners was spent validating the Academy’s eventual choices. Mostly by Junior Lyons.
On his choice of Penelope Cruz: “And I believe the Academy will select her as well.”
On his choice of Heath Ledger: “And I think the Academy will agree with me.”
On his choice for Best Actress: “My pick this year is Kate Winslet and she will go home with the Oscar on Feb. 22”
Chicken and the Egg alert. Is he giving the Academy validation for choosing what he believes are the best or is he using the Academy to validate his own choices much the same way the Broadcast Film Critics Association insist upon their forecast accuracy of the Oscars, the shameless group of whores to which both Bens belong. Yes, they went rogue in their Best Picture picks and choosing Mickey Rourke over Sean Penn, the latter of whom they both agree will win the Oscar because, as Lyons reminds us:
“When actors win SAG awards for playing real-life people, think Charlize Theron, Jamie Foxx and Reese Witherspoon in recent years, they usually go on to win at the Oscars. So this year expect the pattern to continue.”
Funny how he chose those three, especially Charlize Theron’s Aileen Wuornos over Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker), Queen Elizabeth (Helen Mirren) and Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) which were even MORE recent. Just for the sake of fun statistics though, let’s break it down. In the 15 years that the Screen Actors Guild has been handing out awards, both the winners of Best Actor and Best Actress have gone on to win the Oscar 10 times. 10 out of 15 times or 66.6%. No wonder Lyons gravitates towards those numbers. Let’s dig further though. Of those 15 years, only six of the Actors won for playing real-life people (of whom four went on to win the Oscar.) Only five times has the SAG winner for Actress been for a real-life person (Mirren, Witherspoon, Theron, Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon), all of whom went on to win the Oscar. But wait, there’s more.
- 27 out of the 75 Best Actor SAG nominees have been for portrayals of real people
- 6 of those 27 have won SAG. Only four won the Oscar. (22% & 14%)
- 9 of the 48 fictional characters won SAG and six of them went on to Oscar gold. (18% & 12%)
We’re talking less than a 5% swing just amongst the nominees. There’s a trend to be noted, but not one to be treated as definitive fact instead of just an interesting statistic. Four out of six actors going SAG-to-Oscar for playing real people is only marginally better than 50/50 and the 5-for-5 stat in the Actress category isn’t “usually” it’s EVERY TIME IT’S HAPPENED! That won’t be tested this year with either Meryl Streep or Kate Winslet, but to hinge a prediction of Sean Penn on a niche stat at best without acknowledging the full historical context of the awards is amateurish. Like the following context he puts Mickey Rourke’s performance from The Wrestler in:
“I know there was rumors of Nicolas Cage playing this part and studios wanted that.”
Yes, there is truth to that. And when its truth, its no longer a rumor. Darren Aronofsky could only get the money to make the film with Cage in the role. Then after an investor came along to back Rourke, Cage stepped aside like a gentleman as both a solid to an old friend and knowing in his heart that Rourke was the right man for the job. You can read more about it here. I understand Lyons works for E!, a network designed around reporting rumors, but like the bane that all journalism has become these days there is no time for confirmation or follow-ups once the story becomes fact. So in Lyons’ mind it’s still just a rumor. And when the rumor becomes fact, Ben Lyons is still a legendary idiot. I think Mankiewicz misquoted that to me. You want more proof? How about Lyons’ recommendation on The Daily Beast for xBox’s Scene It?: Box Office Smash:
“It helps me improve my movie knowledge, and it's a lot of fun to play either alone or with some of the homies when they come over.”
The homies? No props to the peeps or the brosephs? Let me tell you something about Scene It?: Box Office Smash. I own the game. I really enjoy the game. In no way do I use it to “improve my movie knowledge” any more than I use Monopoly to plan my portfolio. Scene It is a fun, party game with an edge to people who already know a little something about movies. To balance it out, it uses visual puzzles, scrambled letters and five questions after movie clips that invariably features one asking what color the character’s tie was. That’s not movie knowledge. That’s the power of observation. Doesn’t make me a detective any more then it makes Ben Lyons a student of film history.
“The material is sometimes really challenging, even for someone like me who watches about 300 films a year.”
300 NEW films, Ben, or does that count rewatching I Am Legend with your homies every weekend? Do you count films you’ve been seen texting through at screenings? There were over 550 films just by our count released into theaters last year, of which I saw close to 250. Add into that an average of 30 films a piece I see at Sundance, SXSW, CineVegas, Toronto and Chicago plus the occasional jury I preside upon (another 10-15 films), straight-to-video goofs and independent screeners that come in and I’m well over 400 films a year. That is neither here nor there meant as a braggart’s boast. But some people go to the school of cinema and others go to the school of video trivia games.
“I challenge anybody who dares to step into The Lyons Den to a game of Scene It? on Xbox... Let's get it on!”
Anyone at South by Southwest or CineVegas care to set up a “Challenge Ben Lyons” party? I imagine it would be quite the hot ticket. The festival could even do their own version of If We Picked The Winners, which would basically be anyone who wasn’t Ben Lyons. Or any voting member of the Academy who continues to use film's highest trophy honor as a reflection of themselves instead of recognizing more deserving candidates.
"I love special effects movies that don’t take place in modern times or in the future. I like a special effects movie that really is groundbreaking for a story that takes place in the past.”
As I was all prepared to have another week off from commenting on Ben Lyons (thanks to a rerun this weekend of the Worst of ’08 show), I was forwarded his appearance on the Spike Feresten show. How sad is it that Ben Lyons is probably more well known than a guy who has written for David Letterman and on Seinfeld? Spike’s comic chops have been seen recently all over online thanks to his brilliant trailer cut-up showing the shameless similiarities between Forrest Gump and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The latter was named as the best film of 2008 by Junior, partly because it allowed him to take a look at his own life. I don’t think a trailer could accurately reflect precisely how lifeless and vapid both the film and Lyons are but this week’s quote, directly from Spike’s show, is another example of how (fill-in-the-blank with your own appropriate synonym for moronic) Lyons is.
Read it to yourself aloud and try to decipher it. Lyons is breaking down his preference for special effects movies and seemingly prefers them to take place in the past. Why? Because in those times special effects didn’t exist yet and its cool to see them interact with a time and place that now only exists thanks to the special effect of the motion picture? No, it’s just another attempt for Lyons to sound all smart and critical because he probably heard someone talk about the banality of FX pictures - and by applying an antiquated timeline to the argument he can then attempt to drone on about the way FX are “used” for the better service of the story. No? OK, then you tell me.
Because Benjamin Button used special effects in a historical context that somehow makes it better than Iron Man, The Dark Knight or WALL-E? These are his words people. As Spike pointed out during the interview Lyons said “that films like this don't come along too often.” Clearly that’s in reference to the overall epic nature of the story and maybe its themes that Lyons believed succeeded and not specifically the special effects. But that’s all Lyons is saying. He loves groundbreaking special effects utilized in films that took place prior to the year in which they were released. Films like Titanic, Apollo 13, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake; groundbreaking works that also had the distinction of being vastly superior films to the likes of Twilight, Babylon A.D. or Scott Derrickson’s The Day the Earth Stood Still remake. Does it really matter when a film was set to profess your appreciation for the use of special effects? Can we ever put a year on the events of The Lord of the Rings? In precisely what time period did Sin City take place? No matter when you see Star Wars it’s still going to take place “a long time ago.”
“And I thought the effects in Benjamin Button are unlike anything in Forrest Gump.”
Well no shit, Junior. As you pointed out, Forrest Gump was almost 15 years ago. We’re not dealing with a low budget film that came out in the same year as Ben Button. Gump was one of those groundbreaking special effects films set in the past that you claim to love so much. The effects in Peter Jackson’s King Kong are unlike anything in the original as well. Because we’ve advanced. Effects have evolved. Transformers has incredible effects. Doesn’t make it better than Blade Runner. Oh, but why not? On the timeline the Autobots come before the Replicants. And while we’re on the topic of robots, isn’t it time that At the Movies recognize they have an R2 unit with a bad motivator and upgrade it presently so movie criticism can have some hope for the future?
"Leading the pack with 13 noms and its probably going to win Best Picture because its made so much money. Over $100 millon dollars at the box office and I think that’s what it takes to win Best Picture. You think Titanic, Lord of the Rings, Shakespeare in Love, you gotta make some coin.”
After a week in Sundance last week, it was nice to come home and discover that I would spared having to report on two episodes of At the Movies. The Jan. 24 show was a repeat of their Best-of-2008 show, presumably because Benny Boy was also at Sundance talking to Christie Brinkley about milk (not the movie) and continuing to hype Twilight by talking to Kristen Stewart about it. Notice how the entire 90-second interview is all about Twilight and not about Adventureland, the film that Stewart and poor Martin Starr there are promoting; a film that Lyons hadn't even seen yet. Seriously, did Lyons see ANY movies at the festival? I understand that he works for the shallow void of entertainment journalism that is E! and that he has a priority to file celebrity interviews, but that’s not an all-day affair. Neither is the party he DJ’d sponsored by the Hard Rock Vegas. Just by accident people see other colleagues they know at two or three screenings. At least. I was at 28 different screenings during my six days there (27 from Friday-Tuesday.) Both press and public ones. Not once did I see Ben Lyons. Even a screening he was slated to attend for his main man Spike Lee’s new music documentary proved to be a no-show. If you can’t get Lyons to show up at a PRIVATE screening for one of his icons (Christ, even Miracle at St. Anna made his Top 10 list. Check the repeat if you doubt it), then what hope do the indie filmmakers of the world have? Ebert & Roeper used to do reports from Sundance talking about these great new movies called The Blair Witch Project and Memento among others. What is Ben Lyons bringing back with him from Sundance other than swag and a few new photos for his celebrity blog? Seriously, anyone who can place Moby Dick at an actual screening at this year's Sundance, please get in touch.
Actually he brought back with him the above quote of the week. A bit of a cheat for us this week considering it didn’t come from last week’s At the Movies, but from his live reporting at Thursday’s Oscar nominations. Yes, he got his Brangelina Oscar night thanks to performances ranging from maximum emotion (Jolie) to the bare minimum (Pitt), but I do not come to decry the eleven predictions I missed in the Top 8 categories (10 if you consider I had Kate Winslet, just not in the category anyone could have predicted the voters would have placed her in – even if it’s the right choice.) With all the anger I had flowing over the snubbing of The Dark Knight and WALL-E, I now had to listen to the most moronic commentary imaginable from this “expert.”
“Taken from the stage to the screen. That’s why it’s really well-acted.” – Ben Lyons on Doubt.
“…partly for use of the great archival footage in that.” – Ben Lyons on “part” of the reason why Gus Van Sant was nominated for Best Director for Milk.
I’m sure Cherry Jones and Brian F. O'Byrne are happy to hear that about Doubt considering they originated the roles now populated by Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman on stage. The superior acting on display apparently has nothing to do with the unsparing talent of these four terrific performers, but simply through the magical powers of the roles being originated on the stage. “That’s why,” according to Junior. And considering how much archival footage Ed Wood used in his films, I’m now thinking it’s a crime he was never nominated for an Oscar while that hack Gus Van Sant was for pulling the same trick. But it’s the quote of the week that truly takes the cake.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Lyons’ #1 film of 2008, the film that he “cried the last 40 minutes of” is the one that’s going to win Best Picture (according to him) “because it’s made so much money.” Just when you think the prospect of awards season couldn’t be more shallow, ladies and gentlemen, I bring you Ben Lyons. “You gotta make some coin,” says the hipster who “grew up in New York in the ‘90s” when Biggie Smalls was “really coming to prominence.” That’s what it takes to win Best Picture? Nine figures? You don’t need statistics to call Lyons out on one of the biggest bullshit statements ever uttered as Oscar fact, but we have them ever the same. Titanic, of course, is the highest grossing film of all time. Lyons refers to The Lord of the Rings, meaning naturally The Return of the King. The $300 million-plus collected by The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers didn’t seem to overpower A Beautiful Mind and Chicago in their respective years. And what’s with Shakespeare In Love? Yes it made $100 million ($100.3 million to be precise), but did it escape Lyons’ attention that the top-grossing film of that entire year was Saving Private Ryan? Maybe his argument would be that Spielberg’s film is the one that should have won (as many of us believe), but close only counts in horseshoes and I wish I had one to knock some sense into that twit.
Go back just one year and his reasoning falls apart. At the time the Oscar nominations were announced this time in 2008, Juno had made $87 million while the eventual winner No Country for Old Men had only taken in $48 million. Since 1988, the film that has made the most bank going into Oscar nomination weekend has won Best Picture just 8-out-of-20 times. And two of those winners were eventually overtaken at the box office. That’s why today we don’t refer to Ghost or The Fugitive or Apollo 13 or Jerry Maguire as Best Picture winners. And we won’t be calling The Curious Case of Benjamin Button that either. “Take it to Vegas,” says Lyons about his predictions which consisted that morning of Mickey Rourke, Kate Winslet and Heath Ledger. He also chose Penelope Cruz in the now wide-open Best Supporting Actress race (thanks to Winslet’s departure from the category.) I still think it’s a Cruz-vs.-Marisa Tomei battle with a watch-out surprise possible from Viola Davis. So why does Lyons go with Cruz?
“I’m a Knicks fan. Woody Allen movie.”
Not since Dwayne on What’s Happening predicted the weekly football pool by choosing which team’s helmet he liked the most has there been a more arbitrary reasoning for picking a winner. I may as well just say that hometown boy Michael Shannon is going to beat Heath Ledger because I love the Chicago Cubs. Do us all a favor, Ben. Take yourself to Vegas and stay there. And be sure to wear a pretty helmet so you don’t hurt yourself.
“…if ten people were to see it, eight would absolutely hate it, one would be indifferent and one, for God knows why, would think it’s brilliant. I am one of those eight. I just hated it.”
Once again, we have an instance from Ben & Ben At the Movies that momentarily allows us to project Lyons’ words far away from the films he is covering and apply them to the very show itself. It was a breath of relief that allowed my soul to whisk away from the spiritual crushing it was receiving watching Ben Freakin’ Lyons diss “the brilliant mind of Charlie Kaufman.” I knew it was coming. Something seemed inevitable that the Junior member of the Lyons cult would find space on his worst list for Synecdoche, New York, who when he reviewed it October (on the same show he said “rent it” to Happy-Go-Lucky because he didn’t find anything “belly-aching” funny about it) said:
“While his other films are a little bit more commercial in their approach and easier to understand, this is difficult because it really makes itself up as it goes along introducing characters out of context. You don’t know if it’s a dream or if it’s in his head. The symbolism behind things, it is a difficult movie to wrap your head around.”
Not easy to understand. Difficult to wrap your head around. Nothing symbolic about that when it comes to Lyons going to the Spies Like Us school of criticism (“We mock what we don’t understand.") Those of us who do fall into the category of believing Synecdoche is brilliant (it was #4 on my Top 10) are well aware of the passionate love-it-or-hate-it demographic that some of the best works of cinematic art are prone to inspire. And those are both sides could fill hours debating all the intricacies and whether or not Kaufman succeeded or failed to articulate his puzzle beyond your atypical David Lynch mindsuck. Therein lies why such placement on Lyons’ worst list is so troubling. Wouldn’t you love to see Benny vs. Ebert go smug mouth to computerized voice on stage discussing this film? Of course you would, not the least because it would be the equivalent of one of Tyson’s early fights and you would still have time for dinner and a movie. Lyons wouldn’t know how to begin deconstructing what he “hated” so much about Synecdoche, New York even if he had more than 40 seconds to expand on this “confusing, contrived and downright crazy” film. Contrived defined as “obviously planned or forced; artificial; strained” or “to plan with ingenuity; devise; invent” as opposed to his original review that it “really makes itself up as it goes along.” The verdict is out on Ben Lyons. It has been since he called I Am Legend “one of the greatest films ever made.” But after the last four months on something other than the polluted air of E!, the jury has more than convened and ready to pass sentence. Come on, who really is going to step up to defend this guy.
Shawn Edwards defends Ben Lyons
We should have known. It’s like Jose Canseco claiming we’re being too hard on Barry Bonds. It’s like Jessica Simpson telling us not to pick on the acting of Paris Hilton. It’s like Paul W.S. Anderson jumping to the defense of Uwe Boll. (Thanks to Brian Tallerico for those.) How about one more? It’s like Richard Nixon endorsing Rod Blagojevich. Can Lyons really be thrilled that the most vocal defense he can find aside from his current partner’s ex-partner is that of, arguably, the biggest quote whore of modern times? Peter Travers, Pete Hammond and Jeffrey Lyons (who, incidentally, recommended The Unborn this weekend) are more of the slut variety, opening their mouths most often with the benefit of larger inlets (I mean, outlets) than most. But Shawn Edwards is the brand of undisciplined, lecherous, biased gladhander that gives critics a black eye, six broken ribs and a fractured testicle. Criticwatch has been in existence for seven years. The last six, Edwards has ranked in the top five of the biggest whores of the year, finishing second in 2005 and was proudly named 2007’s Whore of the Year. This is the guy playing Peter Fonda to John Savoca as he calls Chris Lee’s recent L.A. Times massacre on Lyons “tremendously unfair.”
"My man, he knows a lot about movies," Edwards says in Justin Kendall’s piece. "He's knowledgeable but it may not come through in his delivery.”
Good thing Lyons isn’t on TV, huh? As I circulated this nonsense to colleagues looking for answers to cool the fire in my brain, I instead received the opposite from the previous owner of Lyons’ current seat, Richard Roeper.
“Here's my question for Shawn Edwards. If Lyons' knowledge doesn't come through in his delivery, are we supposed to glean it telepathically?”
Hopefully not, as that would mean we would have to get inside Lyons’ head and that might be a little too Kaufmanesque for him to comprehend. Let’s see what came out of his mouth though on this show.
On Twilight: “The special effects were downright awful.”
On Speed Racer: “Matthew Fox was downright laughable.”
On Synecdoche, New York: “Confusing, contrived and downright crazy at times.”
Now, let us try to grasp precisely what Edwards is attempting to say about his “man”, Ben Lyons.
“For goodness sake, he works for E!. You can't come with the hard-core cinematic knowledge on E!. That's not what that audience is looking for on that network."
You can’t? Would Lyons actually be let go from his comfy E! duties if he dared to sound smart? isn’t he constantly referred to as their “film expert?” Not “film novice” or even “film intermediate.”
Expert: a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field; specialist; authority.
Compared to the rest of E!’s staff, maybe the definition does actually apply – particularly the “special” part. Here’s the thing though. Ben Lyons isn’t just on E! anymore. “My man” is network now. Big three. The E! crowd may not have followed him over to ABC, but he’s now inherited thirty years of history and an audience expecting some modicum of “hard-core cinematic knowledge.”
“Lyons could do the hard-core, serious, film criticism delivery if he wanted to,” said Edwards.
He’s had four months, Shawn. If he could do it, why hasn’t he? By your admition, it’s because he doesn’t want to. He doesn’t want to improve. He doesn’t want to show off how much he knows outside a game of Scene It. And, ego be damned, the only reason anyone chooses NOT to show off how much they know about a particular field of expertise, is because they really don’t know that much.
"You can't slam him right out the gate," Edwards says. "There's no one that Disney could hire to fill the shoes of Siskel and Ebert. There's nobody that could sit in that balcony and make that show happen immediately. It's going to take time.”
How much time, Shawn? We’re a third of the way through the race of the first season and Lyons is dead last by twenty lengths because he’s way out of his class. Put him back in the $8,000 claiming race of E! and he’ll win by a brown nose. But while so many Triple Crown participants are being put to sleep left and right by their respected outlets, how many of our critic brothers and sisters would have been better suited for the job currently held by the guy who already holds jobs at E! and Nickelodeon?
"I wouldn't want that job," Edwards says. "I wouldn't want to follow Roger Ebert. Hell no. ... Sure I would love to have that job, but it would be tough for any working critic today. It would be impossible."
So the guy who once said he was as important a critic as Roger Ebert (because he was quoted just as much) wouldn’t want the job. Basically because he couldn’t take the criticism. Richard Roeper managed to fill Gene Siskel’s chair for eight years. Sure there was some reluctance for acceptance at first, accusations of him not being a qualified critic (or even a critic at all) but people did still tune in as he developed a rapport with Ebert. Then after Roger had to step back, we saw A.O. Scott and Michael Philips acquit themselves honorably in his chair. You would think just for honor’s sake Lyons would be making more of an effort. Maybe, like a high-priced athlete, he feels he’s past the audition phase and already has the job; confident enough to take a few plays off. Expectations were already in the toilet so Lyons had nowhere to go but up in convincing viewers that he was the right man in the balcony. Yet here we are four months later. Shawn Edwards is the one guy who, God knows why, thinks Lyons is brilliant about film. It’s quite clear that Ben Lyons has ignored the heat and it’s about time he got out of the kitchen.
As a sidebar to this week’s thrashing of Ben Lyons, we’re going to get back to the pair’s Worst Films of 2008. On one side you had the infamously misunderstood Synecdoche, New York and on the other you had Mankiewicz putting the critically acclaimed and award-winning Rachel Getting Married at #8 on his list. First the show disgraced Jonathan Demme’s best film since Something Wild by not even being able to get the spelling right. Now it’s on Mank’s worst list because he hated every single character (and yet managed to find someone in Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla to like – enough to put it on his best list.) But hey, that’s his opinion and we all have ours. There’s still one element though that needs to be addressed from both of their rundowns though and this is going out to all of my colleagues, young and old, print and online and especially Ben & Ben.
A “disappointing” film is not the same as a “bad” one. There are many critics out there who subscribe to the level of expectation that comes from the pedigree involved in any particular project. But why should those films be punished with the ultimate slap in the face from a critic because it didn’t meet their lofty prospects? No one will say that just because the New York Giants and Tennessee Titans disappointed in their shot in the playoffs this weekend that either are overall worse than the Detroit Lions or Kansas City Chiefs. That would be moronic. Our best lists are not made up of the films that came into our lives with the lowest of expectations and then subsequently rewarded for shocking us with its level of quality. Sorry, Mr. Scorsese but Valkyrie wasn’t the disaster we were told it would be. As Huey Lewis once sang, “Bad is Bad” and just because you expected greatness from both of Clint Eastwood’s films, doesn’t mean that either Meet the Spartans or Disaster Movie shouldn’t be on your list – unless of course you didn’t see either. Ben Lyons opened the show by re-opening the whole Twilight wound once again, desperately trying to separate himself from the constant error of his hyping ways and putting it at #10 on his worst list. He admitted to buying into the hype, but then also admitted it’s not exactly defined by the list’s title.
“It’s definitely not the worst film of the year, but its hands down the most disappointing one and that’s why it makes my list.”
I suppose there are points for honesty, but it only makes it more infuriating when you realize films like Postal, What Happens In Vegas and 10,000 B.C. are left off in favor of films that aren’t quite as bad or used as a mea culpa for setting up their viewership for the grand disappointment of Twilight. And it continues…
LYONS: “At #9 I have Speed Racer, another disappointing film.”
MANKIEWICZ: At #5, a movie that makes this list because of what it could have been. (21)
Both fine choices for any worst list. But we know that these guys are now mixing it up by selecting films that didn’t live up to whatever promise was built up in their own minds. How does that bode for the studio reps who know they can get Ben Lyons excited at the prospect of a photograph with the ninth-billed star of their movie? If they wanted to shake things up they should ban Lyons from all interview opportunities, knock him down to the peg of some anonymous, hooded texter at a promo screening and then he would be so upset that every movie would have nowhere to go but up in his mind. Imagine the quotes of “epic and scope” you can get from the guy. He’ll be supporting every unscreened horror film that begins with “UN” even past the month of January. And while you’re at, arrange a private screening of every un-screen-able film for Mankiewicz. That way he’ll know what truly wretched crap is. He had nearly 30 films from 2008 to choose from that even the studio didn’t feel comfortable showing to critics before they opened and yet here is the introduction to Mank’s Worst Film of 2008.
“We’ve been scraping the bottom of the barrel to find the worst movies of the year and at the bottom of my list, a movie that earns the #1 spot because it ranks as the most disappointing movie in years.”
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL!!! OK, I understand there were a lot of people upset with the latest installment. Trey Parker and Matt Stone chalked it up to nothing short of the raping of a beloved character. But can anyone look us in the eye and tell us it was worse than the likes of The Eye, Deception, Untraceable, My Best Friend’s Girl, One Missed Call, Mirrors, Transporter 3, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Over Her Dead Body or 88 Minutes? And those are films that didn’t even make MY list. THAT is how big the crop of crap was to choose from in 2008. Even the most disappointed fanboy could go so far to announce Indiana Jones was the worst of the year without backtracking. Here are their full lists. Discuss amongst yourselves.
BEN LYONS’ “WORST” OF 2008
(10) Twilight (9) Speed Racer (8) Mad Money (7) Beverly Hills Chihuahua (6) Meet Dave (5) The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (4) War, Inc. (3) Synecdoche, New York (2) The Women (1) Repo! The Genetic Opera
BEN MANKIEWICZ’S “WORST” OF 2008
(10) Mamma Mia (9) The Love Guru (8) Rachel Getting Married (7) Babylon A.D. (6) Max Payne (5) 21 (4) College (3) Filth and Wisdom (2) Vantage Point (1) Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Words fail me. Just not nearly as often as they do Ben Lyons.
“Isn’t it nice to see Colin Farrell being funny? It’s like the first time I’ve seen him playing hilarious.”
Do you remember the classic Parker Bros. game “Hilarious”? Or is that something new on xBox? I didn’t know that Colin Farrell ever played it.
Leave it to Ben Lyons to close out 2008 and open 2009 with another of his moronic English-challenged comments. Yes, this week the At the Movies hosts presented their lists for the best films of last year. I had already seen a preview of Lyons list on E!’s site earlier this week but still had to see it presented for myself since there’s little material inherent when my own list shared 5 of the same titles Lyons has on his. Which brings us to this week’s lesson, boys and girls. At least a lesson still not learned by the few Lyons defenders out there (like Cenk Uygar from the Huffington Post) This column and all the ones out there offended by Lyons’ modus operandi are not exclusively focusing on his film taste as the motivation for our attacks. It’s his insipid comments, clear lack of knowledge about film, insistence on introducing awards talk into every conversation, celebrity photos and singling out his buddies for self-promotion and the hope that they’ll attend his 28th birthday party. I don’t care how young he is and use that against him the way some elders of the profession may. Truth is I know a lot of critics around his age and even younger who not only know more about the details of filmmaking and storytelling but also represent a willingness to want to learn more. Taste in film though is nevertheless at the forefront of how film lovers identify with certain critics. We choose who represent us and dismiss the rest. But when we disagree with that particular percentage, most of the time we have enough faith in them to be able to engage an argument and to back up their points in the debate to where we may almost agree but certainly respect their opinion. There’s nothing respectable about Ben Lyons. So just because I share six of my Top 11 films of 2008 with his ten choices doesn’t mean I necessarily want him on my team defending them at my side.
The quote of the week comes from his #10 choice, In Bruges (#7 on mine), where he qualified its placement by saying it was “the film’s wonderfully suspenseful and intense third act that makes the movie stand out.” Not the first two acts, the camaraderie between Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson or Martin McDonagh’s sly plotting and wit-packed dialogue. Couldn’t the same simplistic reasoning be applied to The Dark Knight, Valkyrie, Frost/Nixon, Snow Angels or even Eagle Eye? It’s a meaningless statement that talks down In Bruges instead of qualifying it. Just like his #7 choice (and my #5), Let the Right One In, part of “the year that saw vampire culture rise to the top of popular culture thanks to the huge success of everything Twilight and the popularity of True Blood on HBO.” We need not be reminded of Lyon’s 1-2 punch on Twilight, first recommending that we see anything associated with the film specifically the trailer, when it first premiered, only to break bad on it when they finally reviewed it. After his semi-mea culpa on that show, there’s been speculation that the superior Swedish film found a spot amongst his best as a simple make-up for “Twilight-gate” No one in their right mind could say that Let the Right One In wasn’t vastly better than Twilight, but the damage is already done on Lyons’ side. Especially when he already told us what the coolest thing about Tomas Alfredson’s film was:
““Something that’s really cool about the movie is that the director of Cloverfield, Matt Reeves, is now adapting this for American audiences. So we’re going to have this story come to theaters in the upcoming years in English.”
On that same show Lyons said that “A Swedish arthouse film is a tough sell when Twilight is at the Cineplex as well.” And the best way he could find to sell the film (which according to his list would have been, at the time, the second best film he saw all year) was to tell people to wait at least two years until they could see it in English. Of course, according to Lyons, Cloverfield “is what going to the movies is all about” so you may as well save your money and avoid those pesky subtitles. How many kinds of ironic is it that his #8 film would be The Reader?
Petty joke I know, but this is a humor column so lighten up. I liked the film too. I’d even go so far to say Kate Winslet is the one to beat for Best Supporting Actress. I’d go further to remind you (as my colleague Collin Souter did to me) of Winslet’s brilliant self-depricating comic turn on Ricky Gervais’ Extras.
“I don’t think we really need another film about the Holocaust, do we? It’s like how many have there been, you know. We get it, it was grim, move on. No, I’m doing it because I’ve noticed that if you do a film about the Holocaust, you’re guaranteed an Oscar. I’ve been nominated four times. Never won. The whole world is going why hasn’t Winslet won one?”
Now who doesn’t want to see her win the Oscar after that? Lyons seems to agree but puts his own depreciative spin on the discussion:
“Winslet, after being nominated some five times over the years for an Oscar, finally deserves to win one for this movie.”
FINALLY deserves? So you didn’t agree with any of the other five nominations? She wasn’t a deserving nominee for Sense and Sensibility, Iris, Titanic, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Little Children? Was she any less deserving for any of the films she WASN’T nominated for like Heavenly Creatures, Quills or Finding Neverland? What about Revolutionary Road, which could be a part of an Oscar year where she ups her nomination total to seven, a feat that Meryl Streep didn’t even achieve until six years later in career? Winslet IS the Meryl Streep of our generation and is just about deserving of an Oscar every time she steps in front of a camera. (We’ll forgive her for The Life of David Gale.) Your precious Angelina Jolie already has one and to quote her director this year, unfortunately when it comes to the Oscars “deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”
Sort of like Mankiewicz’s list, which is a whole big heaping pile of undeserving. But that’s just one guy’s opinion over another. Sad that the one guy is more approving of Lyons’ list than his, but what do you expect when you put one of the worst films of the year, Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla at #7, part of his “hipster London gangster exacta” with the overrated The Bank Job coming in at #6. His fifth choice was the massively overrated Man On Wire, “the best documentary of 2008.” (Did he see Dear Zachary?) The difference is I’m sure we all believe Mank could engage us in a spirited debate about the merits of his choices while we counter with a million reasons why he couldn’t be more drunk. As always its fun to see Mank shoot Lyons down about his overenthusiasm. Lord only knows what he would say to me about calling The Dark Knight the best film of 2008. It was fifth on Lyons’ list to which Mank admitted to liking it (although not nearly as much as Iron Man, “the best superhero film since Superman” – that even Ben Lyons’ mother liked - and tenth on Mank’s list), but…
“I really think people, and you included, are overreacting massively to this movie.”
This from the guy who put Towelhead and all its “textured subtlety” at number eight – sitting next to the guy who put Miracle at St. Anna at number nine. You all remember what Lyons called Spike Lee’s film, right? It was “a classic of epic and scope.” Yeah, I remember needing some mouthwash myself after seeing it at Toronto. “I can’t fault anyone else’s taste,” said Mank after his Towelhead inclusion, which is part of the point of this week’s column. But you can fault the aftertaste that comes with how they verbalize it.
LYONS: “Frank Langella…despite not looking or sounding like the former President in real life is uncanny on the role on screen.”
Wow, Junior. You mean Langella actually had to ACT like Richard Nixon? How groundbreaking. In that respect you could say that he actually looked AND sounded more like Tricky Dick than Anthony Hopkins in Oliver Stone’s biopic. Frankly its more uncanny how despite you not looking like a hammer on television you come across as a massive tool. Or maybe it’s a hoe I’m thinking of.
“This is what going to the movies is all about.”
That was Lyons on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, his choice for the best film of 2008 (and mine for the most overrated.) Seems like I heard him say that about something else recently. Guess I’ve forgotten already. Almost as quickly as he did about The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, “a movie that will remain with you for the rest of your life.” Yeah, us maybe. But not YOU as it didn’t even make your Top 10 list. You did have my #8 pick though, Slumdog Millionaire, at #2.
“Director Danny Boyle, that rare filmmaker who can direct across genres has given us the feel-good movie of the year. Now I usually don’t like that phrase. It’s too often casually thrown around. But it’s never felt so appropriate as when describing Slumdog.”
Rare like Spike Lee or Steven Spielberg or David Gordon Green or Clint Eastwood or The Coen Bros. or Howard Hawks? Certainly not as rare as the term “feel-good movie” which is used by countless quote whores and even brought up 10 minutes earlier by your partner on his #9 choice, Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky. “It’s not a feel-good comedy but rather a comedy that literally makes us feel good.” So in other words, a feel-good comedy. Thanks for that, Mank, but your pal Lyons doesn’t like that phrase no matter how you say it. He would rather casually throw around some other phrases. And often.
Kung Fu Panda - The coolest kids comedy of the year.
Rocknrolla - One of the coolest films of the year! It explodes off the screen.
10 Items or Less - Nobody is hotter than Paz Vega.
Resurrecting the Champ - A special summer surprise.
King of California - King of California is the surprise of the fall season!
10 Items or Less - One of the great surprises of the fall!
The Rocker - The surprise comedy of the summer!
Into the Wild - The first must-see of the Oscar season. An instant classic.
Be Kind Rewind - An instant classic!
American Gangster - A new American classic.
Miracle at St. Anna - A classic of epic and scope.
The Secret Life of Bees - A special film with a big heart.
Year of the Dog - Heartwarming, intelligent, and hilarious.
Resurrecting the Champ - Heart warming and inspiring.
The Express - It's an emotionally charged, inspiring story of a forgotten American hero.
Stop-Loss - Intense and inspirational.
The Kingdom - Powerful and intense,
Gone Baby Gone - A powerful and intense thriller.
Miracle at St. Anna - Honest, powerful and inspiring, it’s one of Spike Lee’s best, and most important films.
An Inconvenient Truth - An Inconvenient Truth is the most relevant, important, thought-provoking and powerful film I have seen in years. Seeing this movie will change your life for the better, and hopefully it will change the world.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas - This is a movie that will remain with you for the rest of your life!
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan - Zohan is a classic comedy character that audiences will love for years to come.
Beowulf - The future of filmmaking is now. Beowulf in 3D is a night at the movies you will never forget!
The Golden Compass - The Golden Compass takes its place amongst the great fantasy films of all time. In the tradition of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia
I Am Legend - One of the greatest movies ever made.
300 - Awesome! 300 is the most unique movie-going experience of a generation. One of the best films of 2007, and of the last 25 years.
American Gangster - Goodfellas for the next generation.
Stop-Loss - Stop-Loss has the next generation of great actors.
Of course, this rant comes courtesy of the guy who put Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull #12 on his best list. But at least I’m confident to know I can back it up. Those who put their confidence in Ben Lyons or find ways to defend him by taking shots at his detractors, well, caveat emptor imbecillus.
The See It/Rent It/Skip It Tally
See It – Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Notorious, Last Chance Harvey, Two Lovers, Watchmen, Jonas Brothers: The 3-D Concert Experience, Crossing Over, I Love You Man, Phoebe in Wonderland, The Great Buck Howard, Gomorrah, The Edge of Love, Duplicity, Sin Nombre, Monsters vs. Aliens, Adventureland, Gigantic, The Escapist, Bart Got A Room, Sugar, Lymelife, Anvil: The Story of Anvil, State of Play, Grey Gardens, Is Anybody There?, Earth, Tyson, Star Trek, The Merry Gentleman, Rudo y Cursi, Terminator Salvation, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Easy Virtue, The Girlfriend Experience, Summer Hours, Up, The Hangover, Drag Me To Hell, Departures, Away We Go, Moon, Food Inc., Whatever Works, The Hurt Locker, My Sister’s Keeper, Afghan Star, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, (500) Days of Summer, Shrink, Funny People, Adam, In The Loop, World's Greatest Dad, Julie & Julia, Paper Heart, Fragments, Inglourious Basterds, Bandslam, District 9, Ponyo
Rent It – Che, Hotel for Dogs, Sunshine Cleaning, Brothers At War, The Cake Eaters, Goodbye Solo, 17 Again, Taken, The Brothers Bloom, Land of the Lost, Tetro, Public Enemies, Bruno, Soul Power, Humpday, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard
Skip It - Defiance, Confessions of a Shopaholic, He’s Just Not That Into You, The International, Friday the 13th, Fanboys, An American Affair, Race To Witch Mountain, The Last House on the Left, Knowing, Spinning Into Butter, The Education of Charlie Banks, Fast & Furious, Observe and Report, Hannah Montana: The Movie, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, The Soloist, Fighting, The Informers, Every Little Step, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Obsessed, Battle for Terra, Next Day Air, Little Ashes, Love N’ Dancing, Angels & Demons, Management, Not Forgotten, What Goes Up, My Life In Ruins, Tennessee, The Taking of Pelham 123, Imagine That, The Proposal, Year One, Surveillance, Dead Snow, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Cheri, I Hate Valentine’s Day, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Local Color, The Girl From Monaco, I Love You Beth Cooper, The Ugly Truth, G-Force, Orphan, The Answer Man, Thirst, A Perfect Getaway, Cold Souls, The Time Traveler’s Wife
See It – Notorious, Last Chance Harvey, He’s Just Not That Into You, The International, Watchmen, Crossing Over, I Love You Man, The Great Buck Howard, Gomorrah, Sunshine Cleaning, Duplicity, Sin Nombre, Monsters vs. Aliens, Adventureland, Goodbye Solo, The Escapist, Sugar, Lymelife, State of Play, Is Anybody There?, Earth, Tyson, Every Little Step, Star Trek, The Merry Gentleman, Next Day Air, The Brothers Bloom, Rudo y Cursi, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Summer Hours, Up, The Hangover, Drag Me To Hell, Departures, Away We Go, The Taking of Pelham 123, Moon, Food Inc., Whatever Works, Surveillance, The Hurt Locker, Afghan Star, Public Enemies, I Hate Valentine’s Day, The Girl From Monaco, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, (500) Days of Summer, Orphan, Humpday, (500) Days of Summer, Shrink, Funny People, Adam, In The Loop, World's Greatest Dad, Thirst, Cold Souls, Inglourious Basterds, Bandslam, District 9
Rent It – Defiance, Brothers At War, The Cake Eaters, Bart Got A Room, Anvil: The Story of Anvil, Grey Gardens, Fighting, Little Ashes, Taken, Easy Virtue, The Girlfriend Experience, Imagine That, The Answer Man, Julie & Julia, Ponyo
Skip It – Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Che, Hotel for Dogs, Confessions of a Shopaholic, Friday the 13th, Two Lovers, Jonas Brothers: The 3-D Concert Experience, Fanboys, An American Affair, Phoebe in Wonderland, Race To Witch Mountain, The Last House on the Left, The Edge of Love, Knowing, Spinning Into Butter, The Education of Charlie Banks, Fast & Furious, Gigantic, Observe and Report, Hannah Montana: The Movie, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, 17 Again, The Soloist, The Informers, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Obsessed, Battle for Terra, Love N’ Dancing, Angels & Demons, Management, Not Forgotten, Terminator Salvation, What Goes Up, Land of the Lost, My Life In Ruins, Tennessee, Tetro, The Proposal, Year One, Dead Snow, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Cheri, My Sister’s Keeper, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Local Color, Bruno, I Love You Beth Cooper, Soul Power, The Ugly Truth, Shrink, G-Force, Paper Heart, A Perfect Getaway, Fragments, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2644
originally posted: 01/05/09 06:43:03
last updated: 09/01/09 02:22:26