Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Criticwatch - The lesser critic on the left

How does a guy get his head microwaved? That is an issue raised (although left unanswered) by Erik Childress in his roundup of the last two weeks of At the Movies. He starts by quoting Ben Lyons on The Last House on the Left:

"Now it’s no secret I have difficulty stomaching disgusting, horrific scenes of torture and mutilation in movies."

Erik then slams Ben (among others) for not distinguishing between well executed gore and lame gore (although I don't mind some decent gore myself, I will leave out the more . . . er . . . scatological references from the quote):

Jeffrey Lyons, who spent more time than any one person should endure with conservative Michael Medved, has been known over the years to dismiss films of this type. Maybe not the hypocrite that Medved is preaching how Hollywood is destroying America but openly advocating the last administration’s foray into ACTUAL torture, but there is subjectivity and there is objectivity. The only reason it’s no secret that Ben Lyons has “difficulty stomaching” these types of movies is because this column called him out for saying that life is too short to stomach horror movies . . .

But where does the difference lie? Is Lyons ready to dismiss films like Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs or even Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill on merely moral grounds or because the violence is a little too graphic for his taste? How would he react to Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring (the inspiration for the film) which features distraught father Max Von Sydow picking up a little kid and throwing him into a wall? Would his first question be "who is this Bergman?" or "isn't that Ming the Merciless?"


For the record, I have seen The Virgin Spring, but I had to Google "Ming the Merciless".

Read Erik's entire article here.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I too have seen The Virgin Spring and I too had to take a beat to figure out that Erik was probably referring to Flash Gordon (that's what it is, right? I didn't Google it and I've never seen 4 minutes of anything Flash Gordon).

Here's a hilarious fact. Max Von Sydow was in Rush Hour 3 and Flash Gordon. This is actually true. It sounds like a joke- but it's actually true.

And Ben Affleck has an Oscar. This is actually true. It sounds like a joke- but it's actually true.

Anonymous said...

Well, doesn't Ben have a valid criticism? I know that by now, it's impossible to take anything that moron says the least bit seriously but there is nothing wrong with the argument that Last House on the Left is a shitty movie you should best avoid.

A lot of real critics have complained about the microwave scene and the general gore and torture of the movie, as they did with the Wes Craven version. There is a point where violence in movies crosses the line, as Roger Ebert suggested in his review.

Erik Childress said...

The problem with Ben's comments is that he's already gone on record saying he can't stomach horror movies. So how can his criticism have any validity when the film probably never had a chance from the get-go. Many critics have their biases and prejudices, but most have enough integrity and recognize when something is working to look past them. I've been as critical of the horror genre as they come - but because most of the filmmakers are making really shitty movies. I am also critical of the microwave scene. But not because I couldn't stomach its outcome - but because of the way it was used as an afterthought to the carnage rather than a natural part of it. The film is literally over. It has an ending. Then it goes back with a microwave. Plus, it was ruined in the trailer.

Scott said...

Damn, the more I hear about it, the more I have to see what this microwave scene is all about.

Anonymous said...

You know, Roger Ebert said the same thing as Ben Lyons did, except much less idiotically. Maybe there is an argument to be made that a movie is bad just cause it's too ugly and too violent.

Erik Childress said...

Of course there's that argument - if a film is just ugly and violent for its own sake. Good filmmaking can usually trump that though and elevate violence to an art form or use it to tap into a deeper consciousness. Films like Hostel, I Spit On Your Grave and Inside are examples of films whose ugliness stands out because they are such poorly made films. If that's Lyons' argument that's one thing. But he's incapable of articulating such points. Look up the clip of Siskel & Ebert defending Halloween compared to other slasher movies of its type.

Eeney said...

I saw the movie today and maybe I'm desensitized to violence but I actually didn't find it all that violent. Not the unbearable to look at violence of The Passion of the Christ, not the ugly nihilism that makes your soul sick of torture porn flicks, not even the exploitation shocks and gross out scares of the orginal Last House on the Left.

It's a surprisingly decent movie. Good job by all the actors. Good casting, too. Well done. No masterpiece but a thumbs up.

Eeney said...

PS I can't decide whether it's humanism or a cop out by the director and writers that the parents spare the life of the relatively innocent kid and the daughter survives.

The point of Max Von Sydow killing an innocent boy in the original was to show that vigilantism is wrong and a crime against God. Even if the targets did something as unforgivable as raping and killing an only child.

Agatha said...

It's actually the exact reverse. When a cheap piece of trash is well made, it makes it way WORSE. At least crappily made grindhouse movies have the decency to be shitty.

Anonymous said...

What I find kind of amusing is that he criticizes the violence in Last House on the Left, but he didn't say anything about it in his positive review of Watchmen, where yet another person's face is cooked by a kitchen item (this time fry grease).

And by the way, Ben Affleck gets way too much shit and deserved his Oscar.