Saturday, June 19, 2010

A rant about reviewers...

I usually skim movie reviews, sometimes listening to them, other time shaking my head in disgust. I have never before read as many reviews about a single film as I have about Jonah Hex. I have learned a few things about movie reviewers in my perusing of the Jonah Hex reviews and I thought I would share them with all of you. Here they are, in no particular order (all emphasis mine):

1) Movie critics quite often do not pay attention to the movie.
  • Michael at states "The eponymous Hex was a soldier in the Confederate army until his regiment was captured and Hex made an unspecified decision that resulted in the death of all his men" It was fairly clear that Hex went against the wishes of Turnbull, his commander, when Turnbull orders the destruction of a Union hospital. The disagreement led to Jonah shooting Jeb Turnbull.
  •  Aaron Mesh of Willamette Week (Portland Oregon) confesses: "The closing credits of Jonah Hex will tell you that Michael Shannon, the terrific sneerer from Revolutionary Road and The Runaways, is the fifth-billed actor in the movie. Having sat through the 80 minutes that precede these credits, I will tell you that Shannon manifests for exactly one three-second shot, barks a line as a circus ringmaster, then disappears. At least I don’t think he shows up again." The film was 80 minutes long and you can't keep the actors straight? Especially ones who are so uniquely attired?
  •  Michael Rechtshaffen of the The Hollywood Reporter was easily confused, stating: "The legend, at least according to the screenplay by Neveldine & Taylor (the "Crank" movies), has Hex left physically and emotionally mutilated at the hands of the crazed Quentin Turnbull (efficiently if predictably played by John Malkovich), who killed Hex's wife and child in retaliation for the death of his brother."  The fact that Jeb was Quentin Turnbull's SON was stated several times in the film.
  •  Steve Persall of pens: "Fox plays the prostitute Lilah, who loves Jonah, uber-acne and all. He's more than just an ugly face, while Fox is nothing more than a pretty one. Somehow she's kidnapped by Turnbull for the climactic showdown, but we don't see it happen, or how she reacts. The excised scenes probably required Fox to emote more than she's capable of doing." Uhhhhhh. I managed to see an entire scene where Burke comes into Lilah's room, slaps her, drags her by the hair and carries her out of the room.
  •   Mal Vincent of sees what wasn't in the film with "In one wonderful scene, the likes of which we haven't seen in a movie for a while, someone is gunned down in a saloon and the body is merely dragged outside while the piano player keeps playing. That's the West we know." The guy Jonah shot in the bar was blown out the window and piano player stopped. While Mr. Vincent gave it a positive review, what film was HE watching?

2) Movie critics can't keep their politics out of their reviews.
  • Roger Moore at the Orlando Sentiel writes "One very good scene — Hex chatting with the corpse of Turnbull’s son (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) about where the crazy old mass murdering gummit-hating Tea Partier dad (an allegory made crystal clear in the film) is hiding out." Really? The Confederacy can be equated to the current Tea Party movement? 
  • Scott Mendelson of the Huffington Post exposes us to his greatest fear: " Whether or not Neveldine and Taylor intended Malkovich's homegrown terrorist as a parable to Timothy McVeigh or our worst fears about the most fringe members of the Tea Party movement (a first-act attack involves domestic suicide bombers), the film's surprising 'what-if?' topicality gives it more weight than it probably deserves." Suicide bombers? Mr. Mendelson is more worried about Tea Party suicide bombers than, oh, let's say, Al-Queda members who have murdered 3,000 innocents in a single day? 

3) Movie critics are incapable of doing accurate research, proving that they turned to reviewing movies because they can't be real reporters. (Yes, I am angry)
  • Kevin Williamson of the Toronto Sun toss out this gem "After all, there's the issue of whether or not Hex, the long-running, oft-cancelled DC Comics western outlaw, should have even received the big-screen treatment. Is Hollywood so starved for ideas it has to turn to failed comics for source material? And yes, I'm asking rhetorically." OFT-CANCELED? FAILED COMICS? Here is the email I sent Mr. Williamson: "Mr. Williamson,

     I read your review of the Jonah Hex film. I respect your opinion (everyone is entitled to one) but I wanted to set the record straight on a few facts you got wrong. You stated:

    "After all, there's the issue of whether or not Hex, the long-running, oft-cancelled DC Comics western outlaw, should have even received the big-screen treatment. Is Hollywood so starved for ideas it has to turn to failed comics for source material?"

    Jonah Hex first appeared in All Star Western 10 which was renamed to Weird Western Tales two issues later. He starred in that book until issue 38. Following month he appeared in his own book, Jonah Hex, and that book ran for 92 issues that covered 8 years. That book was canceled and Jonah was 're-booted' in a book called HEX where Jonah was sent to the year 2050. That book lasted 18 issue.

    In the 1990's Jonah received three miniseries and in 2006 he received his own title once again and it continues today. Calling Jonah Hex "oft-canceled" (canceled twice) is a little over the top and calling the book "failed source material" when it is currently in print with a faithful fan base is erroneous.

    Again, I did enjoy your review but I did want to correct what I viewed as a few mistakes in your reporting.

    Dwayne Hendrikson
    Matching Dragoons"

4) Movie critics like to hear themselves write. Too often they are enamoured with developing a snarky comment or the next catch phrase to use for a film.
  • Peter Rainer of the Christian Science Monitor uses the almost the entire review to prove exactly how witty he is: "Brolin manages to come through with a star turn even though he resembles walking beefsteak tartare(sic). Megan Fox, inevitably, turns up as a whore with a heart of fool’s gold, and Aidan Quinn, in a prime piece of miscasting, is President Ulysses S. Grant. (No cigar-chomping here. Is he wearing a nicotine patch?)" Mr. Rainer will be here all week, be sure to try the veal and remember, if you can't knock your waiter completely over, at least tip him well. Thank you, thank you, you've all been wonderful.

On the other hand, some critics do a fine job, such as NPR, but too often it is clowns, yes, clowns, like those above, who have no damn business whatsoever of delivering a review of any film. Am I pissed because they gave negative reviews to the film? Hell, no! A lot of their complaints are legitimate (bad editing, bad acting, film too short, supernatural powers where none was needed) and they are welcome to their opinions. But if their job is to review a film I expect them to pay attention to film, keep their politics to themselves, get their facts straight, and keep their comedic styling to open-mike night.


Neil Sarver said...

I haven't seen the movie, so can't speak to whether any political allegory is reasonable to take, however wouldn't Turnbull or any post-war Confederacy lack what it takes to be a be a reference to al-Qaida, in modern terms, because they are an internal rather than an external threat.

I suspect you are right that they are letting their personal politics leak through, but none of the examples you provide do more than offer that as their interpretation of the movie's subtext. Perhaps I need to read them in greater details to see where they actually offer direct political discussion outside that interpretation.

As it happens, I don't tend to think standard newspaper review - rather than in-depth criticism - are a valuable place for political discussion, but I think it would be irresponsible not to make note of text and subtext one interprets as intended by the makers of the movie.

On the other hand, I think your agreement that "Jonah Hex" has been canceled twice is generous. As you note, he was upgraded to his own book. His book was transitioned to another concept, but not canceled until "Hex" was canceled in 1987. The one and only time Jonah Hex was canceled.

After that, Lansdale and Truman did three mini-series for Vertigo. I'm guessing here is where another "cancellation" could be argued, but since there was no regular series there isn't properly a cancellation to be had.

Dwayne "the canoe guy" said...

Thanks for stopping by.

I know a lot of times that a movie can have a good political subtext and that can be discussed in a good article or review of the film (The Dark Knight comes to mind as a comic book film that has several political layers to it). However, I think trying to tie such a political wagon to a movie like Jonah Hex is quite a bit of a stretch.

About the history of the Jonah Hex books, yeah, I was being generous with regard to the cancelations of Jonah Hex and Hex. For all intents and purposes, Jonah Hex's book was canceled when Hex was launched. I don't count his move from Weird Western Tales as a cancelation and neither do I count the three Vertigo mini-series as such as well. (a Mini-series, by it's own definition, is a short run. The fact that they had three proves the success of the character and the concept).

But for the reviewer to take such a swipe at the current series I find rather insulting. While not selling on a blockbuster level, the current Jonah Hex book has survived over 50+ issues is a struggling comic market that still has it's mainstay the capes and their kind.

My wife pointed out that I may have been too harsh on the critics who mis-spoke about aspects of the film, since some of them could have possibly seen a prior version of the film that had been re-edited prior to general release. Curmudgeon that I am, I lean towards doubting that explanation.

Daza said...

Every time I see a reviewer refer to Jonah Hex as "Based on the graphic Novel" I make the same face as when I suck a lemon. It highlights how little research the entertainment press actually do, and how little they know about other media. It's based on a series of comics you idiots.

And can anyone tell me on what logical basis Roger Ebert can justify this comment: "It's based on some DC Comics characters, which may explain the way the plot jumps around." What evidence is there that a basic characteristic of DC comics is that they have plots that jump around? Wouldn't a better explanation have been that the film-makers decided to have a plot that jumps around?

SallyP said...

Gosh Dwayne, you mean you want reviewers to actually do their homework, and REPORT accurately?

But...but they're CRITICS! It's their JOB to befuddle.

Sea-of-Green said...

Here's hoping the DVD provide an "uncut" Jonah Hex -- and, as often happens with movies these days, it will be a far superior film to the theatrical release.