Saturday, June 1, 2013

Dear Roger Ebert: Please Come Back. Matt Zoller Seitz sucks.

Dear Roger,

First let me say how much I miss reading your reviews.   We are a month into the summer movie season, and it seems odd not to be able to read your film criticisms on Thursday evening or Friday morning.  Of course, you wouldn’t have liked all of the summer movies so far, but I’m sure you might have discovered at least one or two of them to be worthwhile.  I’d just like to know which ones.  I’ve seen the main blockbusters, and one of the joys I had of movie watching is to find out if we were on the same page in our criticism, or if we inhabited opposite ends of the planet.

Your web pages are still there of course, but it’s hardly the same without your presence.  Instead, we now get film criticism by committee.  I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, but  it seems as if the members of this committee care more about outdoing one another in the hopes that they can become the next Roger Ebert household name than any valid film criticism.  We both know that you’re irreplaceable, Roger.  I wish they would realize that as well.

Roger, if there was one thing I liked about you it was the way you could connect with the average film goer.  It didn’t matter whether you liked a film or not.  One always felt like you lived by a cardinal rule of film review:   Never try to browbeat your readers into submission with an air of superiority by implying you are somehow smarter than those you write for.

Now when I go to the Roger Ebert Review site, it’s as if some critics there are vying to outdo the others.  It’s like attending a film university where a group of bad college professors who stand in front of you telling you why they are great, why they always will be great, and why you the student are nothing but pond scum.  Frankly, if I wanted to be lectured on or about films, I would take a film class at the university.  But not if any of these guys were the instructor.
 
I mainly want to talk to you about this critic by the name of Matt Zoller Seitz.  I guess he hails from New York Magazine where he’s a TV critic for the most part, and once was a “finalist” for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism.   I guess he thinks being a finalist is the same thing as winning.  But since you actually won the award, you would know more about that than I.

The only other thing I can tell after reading Seitz’s recent film reviews featured on Roger Ebert.com is that it’s obvious that Mr. Seitz thinks very highly of himself.  Either that or he believes the path to criticism fame and fortune is to use your web site to make himself a household name by continually going against the grain. 

Every movie that most critics love, Matt Zoller Seitz hates.  And the first movie universally panned by the critics this summer, he adored.  What are the odds?

At least  he’s consistent.  But he is quickly becoming the Armond White of Roger Ebert.com.  I said as much earlier today when I made a comment on his review of the new Will Smith scientology advertisement, After Earth.  It’s a horrendously written review, one in which Seitz fills many paragraphs with an endless stream of flowery adjectives and prose not worthy of a lovesick fourth grade school girl writing a fan letter to Justin Bieber.

Here’s an example in which he explains to the rest of the world why M. Night Shyamalan’s career is not really in the shitter because only Seitz can smell the Roses while every other critic only smells the stench of manure. 

Seitz, says this is the right film at the right time for M. Night and is a career saver.  He seems to be serious about this although every other critic trashes the film (12 per cent at Rotten Tomatoes as I prepare to publish this), and as the film appears to be headed into box office disaster territory.  Sorry Seitz, but your  outlier review is not going to save this film, these actors, or M. Night Shamalamadingdong.

"So he's a gun-for-hire on "After Earth" — but clearly not a disinterested one. The M. Night vibe is subdued here, but you can still feel it — particularly in the wide shots of Kitai scrambling along forest floors and up mountain peaks, and in the scenes of Cypher talking his son across treacherous land, their tightly-framed faces answering each other through editing, and sometimes seeming to meld into one organism with shared consciousness. 

Meld into one organism with shared consiousness?  Are you kidding with that?  The last time I read a phrase like that it came out of a bookstore where you had to be 21 to enter if you get my drift.  Maybe the volcano is a metaphor for Mr. Seitz as well.  It certainly reminds me of a piece the late and great John Belushi wrote in Continental Divide where he came home love sick and well, probably kind of horny.  And before I forget, if he’s anywhere around, tell John I said hey. 

You have to wonder if Seitz is watching the same movies everybody else is, especially when he offers up a comparison such as this:

The movie's world is nearly as CGI-enhanced as the title world of "Avatar," but it feels more real.

Really?  Feels more real than Avatar?  So the CGI in this film somehow eclipses the groundbreaking work of Cameron’s Avatar, a film you yourself praised mightily and rightfully so.  Other critics have made note that there is nothing fresh at all about the CGI of After Earth calling them stale and unimaginative and Leonard Maltin referring to them as “obvious”.  But yet, only Seitz somehow sees Shammalammadingdong as breaking new CGI ground.

The younger Smith is a great male ingenue character, unaffected and kindhearted and free of vanity. 

I guess this is Seitz not so subtle sly way of absolving the Smith’s of their own special brand of turning their cold hard cash into one attempt after another to buy stardom and a career for their spawn while getting a dig in at everybody else who sees it for what it is.  It’s not really just another Smith Four Star Scientology Vanity Project after all.  We were all wrong.

But it appears daughter Willow is smarter than all of them, Seitz included, and wants no part of Daddy’s attempts at buying her stardom.  Maybe she saw the rushes for After Earth.

Then Seitz comes up with stuff that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever as if conjuring up some kind of ridiculous comparison that has nothing to do with film making somehow makes a valid point.

All this sounds corny by current standards. But by current standards, Aesop's fables and Bible stories are corny, too.

Yes, Roger.  He really did write that.  Bible stories by today’s standards?  Well, at least we know he’s not talking about tea party members or the Republican Base.  If they knew this was actually a the equivalent of a Bible Story in disguise, they’d head to the theater faster than you can say Narnia.  That generalization by Seitz is simply idiotic.

But Seitz did make me laugh with this gem:

The elder Smith stows the Bel Air badass shtick that makes many of his star performances tedious and gives a restrained, very physical performance.

Oh for Pete’s sake.  He’s sitting in a chair with two broken legs for the entire film so Smith, by the very nature of the role, is forced to be restrained.  And then Seitz turns around and calls it a physical performance.  No wonder this guy is the TV critic for New York Magazine and not the film critic.

Okay, so everybody has a film they praise that everybody else craps on.  I’ve had a few myself and have talked or written badly about films others have praised and vice versa.  You certainly had your share.  But so far this summer Seitz has trashed Star Trek Into Darkness (87 percent at RT), Iron Man 3 (78 percent at RT), and Epic (62 per cent at RT).  Fast and Furious 6 was saved simply because he didn’t offer up a review.  Thanks for small favors.

Seitz says his reviews of those films were “mixed”.  Maybe, maybe not.  But they were not mixed enough for him to bestow just half a star more.  You, Roger, did not particularly care for the star system but used it out of necessity.  Seitz, for whatever reason, can’t bring himself to give any of  these films .5 more stars as if it would somehow impugn his intellectual integrity.  Anyway you slice it, and you can call them mixed if you want, but two and a half stars will indicate to most people that they should stay home.

 I’m more than a bit irritated.  When I posted an answer to his response, it was first approved and then removed.  Whether it was the fact that I pointed out a couple of egregious errors on his part, I have no way of knowing.  He claimed that like After Earth, The Great Gatsby was universally panned.  It was not.  It sits at 52 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes compared to After Earth’s very lowly 12 per cent.  As I stated, this tells me that critics were conflicted when it came to Gatsby and it was hardly the stinkeroo that Seitz claims it was.  I guess Matt Zoller Seitz didn’t like me showing him up to be factually inept in an attempt to justify himself as well as everything else. 

I didn’t  confront him with  the fact that his 2.5 review of Iron Man is listed as “fresh” while his 2.5 reviews of Gatsby and Star Trek are listed as “rotten.”  One can’t even be sure if he knows what his own grading criteria means.  It makes no sense to me at all. 

All that aside, the reviews also make for some dreary reading.  Wading through Seitz over the top humorless reviews whether he’s praising or being critical  is an object lesson in overcoming tedium.  Don’t tell a joke around this guy.  He’ll never get the punch line.  And that’s what I miss most about your reviews.

But it’s not just Seitz.  The whole mis-matched confab of critics just doesn’t work well.  Other than Roeper, I find the rest of the gang lackluster.  It’s just that Seitz is the worst of a bad bunch.

And maybe that’s the real point here.  There was only one Roger Ebert and he can’t really be replaced.  And I think these replacement critics somehow think that you can be and they are just the ones to do it.  They wouldn’t ever say anything like that, perhaps not even intentionally believe it.  But you just know that somewhere buried in the endless prattle of film reviews that run amok in his brain, the thought is there.  I can almost see Soltz salivating over thought of turning his “almost Pulitzer Prize” into the real deal.  Fat chance.

Besides, if people want reviews by committee, isn’t that why one goes to Rotten Tomatoes?  Perhaps they should just give the review site over to Roeper.  He seems like a nice enough every day sort of guy, kind of connects with his audience, which is probably why you chose him to co-host at the movies. 

Anyway, sorry to bother you wherever you may or may not be.  For the most part I think I’m going to spend most of my time on Roger Ebert.com going through the archives or reading some of your books on my Kindle. 

Better to drink an old fine wine than try and replace it with a few bottles of Thunderbird and Ripple.

One last word. I really want a copy of your book, I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie.  But it’s not available for the Kindle and it is at least temporarily  out of print which means collectors are price gouging customers as they have a tendency to do.  And I won’t feed that frenzy, especially since your estate gets no part of that.  So if you could kind of drop a thought into the publishers brain and get this done, I’d appreciate it.

Thanks for letting me check in.  Will write again soon and let you know how it’s going.

Sincerely yours,
Clyde

P.S.  Seitz has returned my comments to his review after I made a fuss about it on your web site and on twitter and practically accused him of removing them to cover up his mistake. 

7 comments:

  1. Never heard of this guy but it sounds like he has a lot in common with the lady who did the Las Vegas Review Journal movie reviews for years. Her name was Heidi something or other. She gave grades instead of stars and actually gave an A+ to the last Indiana Jones movie.

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  2. Just wondering if you read the review. It's really over the top. I don't think it would have mattered him giving the film a good review, but when you read the prose, one would think it's the best picture released so far this year. And some of the comparisons like the ones I pointed out are ludicrous.

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  3. Clyde, I found this post by searching "Matt Zoller Seitz sucks". True story. Seriously some of the worst reviews I've ever read. I was fed up before After Earth and that one was the icing on the long,tedious and pompous cake. Makes one further realize just how special Roger Ebert truly was.

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    1. Yeah, I miss Roger. There were many times I disagreed with him, but he was always an entertaining read one way or the other. Seitz is not entertaining. My problem with his positive review of After Earth wasn't that he gave it a thumbs up so to speak, but that it was full of the most ridiculous hyperbole I've ever come across, especially for a movie such as After Earth. Even the very few other positive reviews of it only gave it a mildly passing grade.

      And yet, he gave Iron Man, Epic, and Star Trek all 2 1/2 Stars. And I found out something else later. His Epic and Star Trek reviews are counted as rotten on Rotten Tomatoes, but his Iron Man review with the same rating garnered a positive fresh rating. Go figure.

      Look, even Roger may not have liked Iron Man, Star Trek, or Fast 6. But my feeling is he would have given at least one of those probably two a thumbs up. And if he didn't he wouldn't write about it as if his word was the final say and we should all be grateful to be able to shower ourselves with his opinion. That's how I felt reading Seitz.

      Thanks Lis, for stopping by. I really appreciate it.

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  4. Anonymous8:00 PM

    Interesting write up and I completely agree. Roger would be rolling over in his grave if he knew Seitz took over his site. "Armond White of Rogerebert.com" is the perfect description for this mediocre hack. Here is another one from the wisdom of Seitz: He believes Tony Soprano survived the final scene of The Sopranos.

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  5. This is just ridiculous. I read Matt zoller seitz religiously and he most certainly does not take a position just to go against the tide of other critics. His observations always enhance my understanding of the material. Matt zoller seitz has an amazing following because of the consistent quality of his thoughts and contributions

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  6. Sorry JS, but his review of After Earth was one of the worse film reviews I've ever read by a professional writer. It's not just that he liked the movie, to each their own. But his rationales made no sense whatsoever.

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