Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Criticwatch: "Rachel" getting misspelled

"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."

That is Erik Childress at Criticwatch quoting Ben Lyons, who is describing what he believes is the third worst movie of the year. Which would be Synecdoche, New York. You may have been a bit confused by one of the best films of the year--it was not supposed to be straight-forward. But you are probably much more confused listening to Ben:

"While [Writer/Director Charlie Kaufman's] 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."

These are the babbling words of somebody who has no idea what he has just seen, much less the critical capacities to judge it. I highly doubt that Ben knows anything about "symbolism"--his favorite movie of the year, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, has a number of trite and phony "symbols" that do nothing to enrich the story but sure make a numskull like Lyons feel like he is watching something brilliant.

Anyway, Erik continues:

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.

Finally, Erik gives us the sorry tale of a pretty good movie so poorly regarded by this program that one of the hosts--the better one!--put it on his top ten worst films of the year list and the show's staff could not even be bothered to spell its name correctly (see the photo above). Oh man, what a screw up! That has to be, like, the most embarrassing mistake they have ever made on that show! Wait a second . . . I forgot about the guy sitting in front of the display . . .

I would like to think that this is a subversive act of sabotage by a long-standing crew member showing her distaste with the "new direction" that the show was taking post-Ebert. Unfortunately, I have a feeling this is just a reflection of the overall decline in standards of the show.

Read the entire Criticwatch Ben Lyons Quote of the Week here


Anonymous said...

"Know idea," eh?

Scott said...

Ok, fair enough. I did try a little harder to get rid of spelling errors in this post, for obvious reasons. But in my defense, I have no budget and no staff, unlike At the Movies.

Anonymous said...

True, true. That bit of irony aside, thanks for being a good sport about it and keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

What I find hilarious because no ones taken issue with it is his statement that,

"While [Writer/Director Charlie Kaufman's] other films are a little bit more commercial in their approach and easier to understand"



1. Being John Malkovich - a film that had to sell itself with the not exactly glitzy (however great) actor John Malkovich not only in the title but playing himself (how many people didn't even know he was an actual actor?). Then the plot involves a tiny doorway into his head, marionettes, 1/2 floors in office buildings, and a bizarre conspiracy to take over his body by a collective group of aging seniors.

Commercial and easy to understand right?

2. Adaptation - So Charlie Kaufman is a character in his own movie writing an adaptation of a book he really was trying to adapt whose author also is a character in the film, and outside the film really exists, as does the book, of which the film is still kind of an adaptation, and the film doubles back on itself as its own example of a script based on its own advice given to its author in the films midway point.

Oh, and he has a fictitious (but how many people knew this when watching the film?) twin brother who dies and the film is dedicated to in the credits.

More straightforward commercial material from good ole formulaic Kaufman.

3. Human Nature + Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Do I even need to go into how non-commercial these are with the possible more up love angle of Sunshine?

I just don't get Lyons opening gambit, since most people will take it at face value and it's the biggest 'wha? lets go back' claim.

If you realize Kaufman is hardly conventional, it's no longer strange that he comes up with his new film.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with the previous post. Kauffman's films are some kind of wonderful, bizarre, trips into his mind and are no way commercial except for the casting of people. Guy Maddin's movies are a bit similar but he uses mostly unknowns.