Sara Benincasa’s List of Great Reviews

Posted on July 14, 2018 at 4:51 pm

Copyright 2016 Paramount
Sara Benincasa wrote on Longreads about great reviews of movies she hasn’t seen. I was delighted to see that she included my recommendation of the hilarious, NSFW, and stunningly accurate review of Fences by Dustin Rowles. It’s a great review, as are all the others on her list.

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John Hanlon Rounds Up The Best Bad Reviews of “Fantastic Four”

Posted on August 11, 2015 at 8:29 am

Many thanks to John Hanlon for including me in his new “Must-Read Reviews” feature, rounding up the sharpest, funniest, and angriest critic responses to “Fantastic Four.” Plus one from a guy who liked it! Be sure to check out his redesigned website! He has great reviews, updates, and interviews.

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Critics Media Appearances

Movie Review from the Twitterverse:

Posted on November 4, 2009 at 8:00 am

Can you review a movie in 140 characters? TwitCritics thinks you can. This site assembles tweets about current releases and distills them into a rating. You can follow them by RSS feed, on Facebook, or, of course, on Twitter. The reviews so far seem to skew more positive than other aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes, probably because tweeters are more motivated to post when they are feeling enthusiastic. Civilian reviews in general tend to be more positive because people only buy tickets to movies they want to see so there is a selection bias. It is fun to see how the fans react, just another way Twitter is becoming the go-to real-time temperature-taker for the hive mind.
Thanks to my beloved nephew Dante for this suggestion!

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Internet, Gaming, Podcasts, and Apps

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

Posted on October 14, 2008 at 8:00 am

There may be a good argument to make on behalf of teaching Intelligent Design in science class, but this documentary from Ben Stein does not make it. The movie itself is an example of design by faith and emotion rather than intelligence, defined as rationality grounded in proof. Instead of making a straightforward case for Intelligent Design as a scientific theory, Stein employs misdirection and guilt by very tangential association to try to make his case.

Intelligent Design advocates believe that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected or random or mechanical process such as Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Stein begins by interviewing scientists who lost their jobs for even mentioning the theory, baits some Darwinian scientists in selective clips from interviews, and then visits Dachau and the Hadamar euthanasia center, where the Nazis murdered thousands of disabled people. Stein tells us he is not saying that Darwinism leads to mass murder, but the connection he draws is unmistakable.

Like the tobacco companies once they could no longer question the legitimacy of the scientific evidence connecting cigarettes and disease, Stein quickly shifts the debate from a head-to-head assessment of analysis of data to frame the issue as one of freedom of speech. The movie opens with archival footage not of science labs or the animal life on Galapagos Island, where Darwin first began to develop his theory, but of the construction of the Berlin Wall. Stein tries to draw a parallel between the wall that divided Germany and the impenetrable wall that keeps Intelligent Design out of the science establishment. But he is also associating Darwinian science with Godlessness, communism, and totalitarianism, with detours into Nazi atrocities and atheism so over-the-top that it becomes shrill and irrational.

And irrationality is the opposite of scientific inquiry. Stein says that freedom of speech requires that both Intelligent Design and Darwin’s natural selection should be taught in America’s classrooms. But he never subjects Intelligent Design to the kind of scrutiny required by scientific analysis, which is based on observation and experimentation. Intelligent Design is based the fact that (1) there are questions that natural selection does not answer — which Darwinian scientists admit, and (2) therefore, some intelligent force must be behind creation — which cannot be proven by scientific means and therefore is more appropriately considered within the fields of philosophy or religion.

Science is all about challenging, refining, and refuting established theories, as the movie concedes, with Albert Einstein’s improvement of the theories of Isaac Newton as an example. But both Newton and Einstein agreed on what science was and how to evaluate scientific theories. As presented by Stein, Intelligent Design and Darwinian theory make the same observations, but come to different conclusions. Darwin says that life forms evolved through random mutation and natural selection, the survival of the fittest. Intelligent Design says that life is so complex that it is all the evidence we need to show that some intelligent (conscious, intentional) force must have created it. Stein never shows that Intelligent Design can go from theory to explanation as it must to be considered science. As a lawyer, he should understand that freedom of speech also guarantees the freedom not to have to listen to mangled, manipulative, and disingenuous rhetoric like this.

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Quotes of the Week: Dark Knight and Mamma Mia

Posted on July 23, 2008 at 8:00 am

The Dark Knight has inspired some very thoughtful reviews. Anonymous DC critic “J.J.” wrote that the film moved him to tears:
Perhaps it’s because the film has characters I grew to care about, scenes that soaked my heart in adrenaline and sociological themes that range from the unsettling to the horrifying. This movie moves beyond good and evil and enters into our world, which is much more complicated than comic books. This is the first film-with-terrorism-metaphor that our age of terrorism deserves. And it will stop your heart.
His description of Heath Ledger’s performance is one of the most astute I’ve seen:

Everything you hear about Heath Ledger is true. And we should’ve expected it. He was the best actor of his generation, and his ability to mash depravity and hilarity into something compulsively watchable…The Joker has never made more sense than he does here…As played by Ledger and as written by the Nolans, the Joker is walking anarchy, cackling sadism, crime for the sake of crime. He is a terrorist without a god to kill for. His actions are beyond random; they are perpetrated not in the name of something but solely for the consequences. And he is capable of understanding (and exploiting) our suppressed desires for this type of anarchy. Ledger makes you root for him, then, inexplicably, makes you feel utterly depraved for doing so.

The moment I saw Mamma Mia! I knew critics would not be able to resist one of my least favorite contemporary terms: “cougar,” used to describe a sexually active woman over 40, usually portrayed as desperate, predatory, and interested in much younger men.
Tanya in the movie, as portrayed by Christine Baranski, is a sexually active woman over 40, but she is far from desperate or predatory and has an entire musical number about resisting the advances of younger men. And yet, she was called a “cougar” by a number of critics including Bill Gibron of Pop Matters and Mike Russell of the Oregonian (who did not like the movie), James Ward of the Visalia Times-Delta (who did), and Chris Hewitt of the Twin Cities’ Pioneer Press (who liked it a lot, and who includes a nice assessment of ABBA’s tunes and lyrics).
If you must, use ABBA lyrics in your headlines. “Take a chance on this movie.” “This winner doesn’t take it all.” But let’s retire the word “cougar,” all right?

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Commentary Quote of the Week
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