Talking about the new movie State of Play, Mank says it is "a political thriller chronicling the uphill battle newspapers are facing to stay relevant in a Twittering world." Yes, there is much to be said about the decline of the newspaper, especially in the world of film criticism, where the center of gravity has shifted from the newspaper film critic to the Internet and, well, the TV critic. Of course, what is not mentioned is that these two critics we are watching are hosting a show which abandoned three newspaper writers in favor of TV personalities, especially for the not-ready-for-newspapers Ben Lyons in particular. Don't forget that his boss Brian Frons pumped him up by saying:
Did he spend 20 years as critic for a major newspaper? No. He's very much of the TV generation who don't spend time reading newspapers. I think we have a guy who is giving the information that audiences want to hear about film to make decisions about what to see.
Unsurprisingly, none of this is mentioned in their review, although it is hard to miss the image of Lyons and Mankiewicz juxtaposed against the poster of Ben Affleck and Russel Crowe (above), suggesting that these two are really talking about themselves. Then there is this exchange at the end:
Lyons: As much as it is a political movie, it's a movie about journalism and how technology has affected journalism and the world of blogs and the Internet, and being credible in that world. And it's really interesting to look at it from that angle.
Mank: Crowe and McAdams are working the story together, and he comes from the world where you hold the story and hold it for days and days and days until you get it right and put it in the paper. Meanwhile, she's blogging three or four times a day on the papers Web site, there's nice contrast there . . .
Lyons: Yeah, good movie, absolutely, you should "See it".
It is hard not to think about Ben Lyons' role--small though it may be compared to larger economic forces, but it is a role nonetheless--in the decline of the newspaper critic and the effect that has on film criticism after hearing this. It is especially hard not to think about him when he refers to "journalism and the world of blogs and the Internet, and being credible in that world," since it is this sort of credibility that Lyons has been able to sidestep completely. But in case you missed that, immediately after Ben's "See it" recommendation which occurs seconds after his mention of journalistic credibility, without missing a single beat we get this:
Ben puts on his signature big, cheesy, gushy smile and we get:
Lyons: "Current pop culture phenom and High School Musical alum Zac Efron stars alongside Mathew Perry in 17 Again . . . While movies like Big and the sometimes forgotten Vice Versa from the late 80s tackled this theme more effectively, 17 Again is sweet and young Efron maniacs will enjoy seeing him take the next step in his career. But for the adults you can 'Rent it'."
Vice Versa? How about Like Father Like Son, while we are scraping the bottom of the barrel. But once again, we find Ben stuck 'tween adult moviegoers--like the long-time fans of Siskel & Ebert--and his own teeny-bopper fan base. HSM fans will want to see Efron's career evolve--although there is no sign from Ben that his acting skills are evolving--and adults, well, won't. So split the difference and say 'Rent it'.
As problematic as the "Rent it" rating is, it has been horribly abused by Lyons. By saying "Rent it," he can have things both ways--he doesn't have to tell serious film buffs to "See it," but he can give a wink-and-a-nod to his E! fans by not dissing their "pop culture phenom". But again, it is hard to see from Ben's review why anybody should want to see it unless, of course, they already want to.
Finally, last week Lyons gave his 3-to-See, which were Adventureland, Lymelife, and Sugar. At the time I said, "Missing is the movie that both Ben's called the best movie of the year so far, Sin Nombre. In its place is Adventureland, a movie that Ben previously said was on the verge of a 'Rent it' but was just pushed over the edge by two very funny side characters."
Mank basically made this point with his own 3-to-See picks this week, which included: State of Play, The Escapist, Sin Nombre.