So begins a new blog that will attempt something never before done in the world of entertainment: Reviewing movie reviews. Any bozo with a screen and keyboard can review the movies themselves, but it's now time for someone to critique the critics, to scrutinize their scrutiny, to shine the light on their work and judge it harshly but fairly. We'll start, for some reason, with the following:
MOVIE IN QUESTION: The Shipping News, 2004
AUTHOR OF REVIEW BEING REVIEWED: William Arnold, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Arnold’s headline for his review of The Shipping News, a 2004 film starring Kevin Spacey, Judi Dench, and Cave Girl look-alike Julianne Moore, reads “Magical ‘Shipping’ delivers the goods.” In his review, Arnold gives the 111-minute long movie a rating of A-, which equates to a 91 out of 100. This generous rating of a very average and overly melancholic picture make me wish I had encountered more professors in college who were as easygoing with their grades.
Come on, William. You’re a critic. You are supposed to be critical. If you can’t tear into this film at least a little you’re too soft for the job. Maybe the similarity of the cold, rainy climate of the movie’s setting in Newfoundland to that of your native Seattle has caused a soft spot to form, leaving you impervious to the film’s obvious flaws. Perhaps you have a subconscious sexual fascination with Judi Dench, leading to the same result. If you really liked this movie so much, you probably also thought very highly of The Life of David Gale, which of course was just awful.
Reactions to various parts of the review follow:
Paragraph 2 reads: “And [director Lasse Hallstrom]’s done it again with ‘The Shipping News,’ a less-than-perfect but mostly very inspired adaptation of Annie Proulx's 1992 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about an unlikely hero who finds his roots and heals his psychic wounds in a frozen corner of the Canadian North.”
Really? The book this is based on won a Pulitzer, and this is the best Hollywood could come up with? If I were trying to sell how well-made this movie is, I would not be advertising that, William.
Paragraphs 7 and 8: “The screenplay has weaknesses. Quoyle's wife is written not as a human being but as some monster from hell; the story works to one of those sexually shocking revelations so beloved by the Oprah Book Club they've become a groaning cliche of victimized-women's fiction.
Still, the movie soars. Hallström weaves his wand, and Proulx's characters and end-of-the-world setting come magically alive with just the right touch of authenticity, enigmatic mystery and eccentric flair.”
First of all, William only mentions one weakness. I counted at least forty, roughly one every three minutes. If you’re going to write reviews, you have to dig a little deeper. In addition, I’m not crazy about the transition between paragraphs 7 and 8. Another “groaning cliche” perpetuated in this movie, one worth mentioning but untouched by Arnold is that of the annoying, omnipotent child, in this case Kevin Spacey’s daughter. I have really had enough of these creepy, inexplicably all-seeing little kids. While I don’t entirely blame William Arnold for this, I think his failure to mention it really calls into question his ability to write effective reviews, and brings up serious questions regarding his general sanity.
Final paragraph: “In a time when even the best of big Hollywood movies all seem to be mired in a certain nagging, unimaginative visual sameness, this one dares to take us to a place we haven't been before.”
I agree that the unique ocean-framed landscape added a nice visual element to the movie. But how does William know that none of us has been to Newfoundland before? Seems presumptuous.
Finally, I was disturbed by the lack of clever puns in Arnold’s analysis. Being new to movie reviewing myself, I glanced at a few excerpts from other critics to see what they were saying.
Check out this one from Jack Matthews at the New York Daily News: “The choice made by Kevin Spacey in taking on the role of Quoyle in the film adaptation of E. Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Shipping News nearly sinks it.” Nice.
Steven Rae of the Philadelphia Inquirer begins with: “Despite its haunting artistry and its winning eccentricities, The Shipping News is a vehicle that's still very much at sea.” I like that.
See what they’re doing there, William? Those are solid puns based on the title and setting of the movie. A few of those from you might have added a little spice to your overly-congratulating review. Instead, the result of your efforts is a two-and-a-half page shipwreck of an article. Hell, even I can do it.
FINAL GRADE OF WILLIAM ARNOLD’S REVIEW:
1.5 / 4 stars
Coming next: Expect a review of a review of an old classic... perhaps Risky Business? or Weekend at Bernie’s 2? Stay tuned!