This is the multi-media edition of Warning: No Spoilers. This week I look at a video movie review and a movie-review podcast. Let’s start with the critic who is a contender for the prestigious Award for Most Pretentious Reviews: A.O. Scott of the NY Times.
The New York Times
Review by A.O. Scott (video below contains sample NY Times video reviews)
Plot: About a group of black students navigating the racial, social, political minefield of an elite, predominantly white ivy league. (Think Dartmouth.)
Format: COOL! It’s very creative and well done. A narrator summarizes A.O.’s review as a movie preview plays. You can see the preview clearly, but you can’t hear it that well: the volume is so low that the narration drowns it out. Three or four times, however, the narrator stops talking, the volume is raised and you take in a full snippet of a scene from the movie. The snippets are tiny. After each one, the preview’s volume goes back down and the narration returns to drown it out. The whole thing is seamless.
Spoilers: Having seen the movie, I can confidently say that there are very few. You can’t really tell what’s going on.
Bottom Line: He loves it: It is one of the smartest and most fearless debut by an American director in quite some time. (Justin Simien directed and wrote it.) Furthermore, the film is knowing but not snarky, self-aware but not solipsistic.
True Confession: I am such a simpleton: I had to look up solipsistic. By God, I revel in the pretension! Great Scott, you are true to form (that’s A.O. Scott)!
Here’s the definition c/o dictionary.com:
of or characterized by solipsism, or the theory that only the self exists, or can be proved to exist:
Her treatment philosophy dealt with madness as a complete, self-contained, solipsistic world that sane people are not able to enter.
Review by David Edelstein
Plot: Michael Keaton plays an actor whose career has tanked. He rose to stardom when he played a super hero called “Birdman,” but he hasn’t been appreciated for much else. He tries to revitalize his career by producing a play on Broadway that is a dramatization of Raymond Carver’s book of short stories, What We Talk About when we Talk About Love. (This is a true book, which I read–the stories are pretty stark.)
Spoilers: WARNING WILL ROBINSON! Unbearably numerous. Un-listenable. He plays a full scene from the movie that is over one minute 2:27-3:37. In a five-minute podcast, that’s long. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg!
Bottom Line: He doesn’t like it. It’s an “empty masterpiece”: the techniques–camera work and choreography for example–are fantastic, but the substance of the movie “grinds you down.”
His first sentence is so painful and the epitome of pretension that I quote it to you in its entirety. (You have to see it to believe it.):
You’ll probably be wowed by Birdman, by how the camera hurdles after characters in what’s made to look like a single, fluid movie-long take transcending space and oftentimes even soaring off into fantasy while viscerally evoking the desperation of a washed-up film actor to bring off his Broadway debut.
David Edelstein, I declare you the front-runner for the Most Pretentious Reviews Award.
Note: on Rotten Tomatoes it received 92% critics, 91% audiences. Bam! Take that, Edelstein!
Advice: If you listen to Fresh Air and the movie review comes on, Listener Beware, turn it off. Switch the channel. Jump out of the car.
Of interest: Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel, 21 Grams)
Sample Video Reviews from the NY Times