Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Entertainment Weekly is junk as bad for your brain as peanut M&Ms are for your waistline. But it has the same appeal. It’s there, you pick it up, have a taste, just one more, just one more, just one more. There are types of magazines colloquially referred to as single-shit magazines, because that’s about the length of time it’ll take you to read each article. Men’s magazines excel at this style, as do glossy celeb weeklies like People or US.

EW has honed this skill, refining it even further down to a single-piss article. If tacked to the wall (or if you’re a girl and sitting down), many bits in this rag take about as long as a good squirt. Their stock in trade seems to be three articles each as long as a Hendrik Hertzberg “Talk of the Town” in The New Yorker then a compendium of half-paragraph thumbnail sketches of who said what, who ate what on the set, and miniaturized reviews of 70’s TV series DVD box sets. The only time I come across the magazine is when I’m using my sister’s bathroom or when someone leaves their copy in the break room at work.

The real beef I have with their magazine isn’t their attention-deficit-disorder enabling snippets of prose or their rather breezy way of liking almost everything but the truly wretched, it’s the style of their critics. Someone, perhaps Roger Ebert, once said, in defense of critics, that we were the last line of defense audience members had against the multi-million dollar advertising blitz studios attacked you with to sucker you into plunking down seven fifty to see their overheated claptrap. Too often, the critics for weekly alternative papers and the daily biggies seem to have made a deal with the devil. It’s more obvious in the weeklies, as they are typically free to the public and rely on advertisers to pay the bills. The deal is simple: don’t malign the product too much. You can say you didn’t like a movie, but really savage it and we’ll pull our ads and you’ll face the wrath of the managing editor.

What has happened is the assault on the audience is now aided and abetted by critics who too often are toothless or the papers hire an omnivorous lover of everything out there. In either scenario, pap, trash, offal, dung, and pure grade-A shit gets heaved onto the local multiplex screens and the local paper says, “Hey, it’s great fun, go and see it, yeah yeah yeah!!”

Entertainment Weekly has taken this lesson to heart. Even movies that you can straightaway spot as turds, they laud every waste of celluloid like it was a lost reel from Citizen Kane.

Gushiness is the style of one reviewer in particular, Lisa Schwarzbaum. As if this were school, the critics tack on a grade at the end of each review and while the grade may show the reviewers’ real thoughts, the articles are too short for any real analysis and too fervid and in-love with their own jokey style to be of much use. What then passes for their reviews is nothing more than what you might read on the back of the DVD package with a soupcon of a passing reference to the idea of the possibility of maybe getting around to thinking about suggesting something or other regarding the quality of said film. Oops, we’re out of space.

As exhibit one, I present a nugget from Lisa Schwarzbaum’s review of Walking Tall, starring The Rock (or in his more weenie incarnation Dwayne Johnson—doesn’t sound so tough anymore, does he?). “There's not a person I know, me included, who doesn't love The Rock for the amused commentary his arched eyebrow supplies on his muscle-y shenanigans both in the wrestling ring and on the screen. There's not a guy I know, at any rate, who hasn't been looking forward to seeing The Rock pick up the big wooden stick first swung by Joe Don Baker more than 30 years ago.” Um, yeah, that’s just what’s been missing from my cinematic experience.

This is what passes for insightful. Not that Walking Tall is an existentialist meditation on the inevitability of death and the almost futile nature of doing good in a world so filled with corruption or anything. But this brain dead sort of excitement at the possibility that a mediocre muscleneck turned actor might remake a schlocky B-movie is projected as some sort of dream scenario for men in general. Granted, Schwarzbaum does qualify her statement by limiting her scope of view to the men she knows, but it beggars the question of how someone with such an idiotic appreciation for overly loud cartoon violence, ridiculously testosteroned dialogue, and ham-fisted acting can get a job writing for a living, let alone reviewing movies for a nationally distributed magazine. If this is a woman’s perspective, what are the men she knows like?

I’ll go on record right now to say that I couldn’t give a shit less if Dwayne Johnson fell off a cliff while filming this movie and was paralyzed all the way up to his archy eyebrows. I couldn’t be bothered to express interest in seeing this film if there was a candy bar and a ten spot in it for me. What bothers me is the yawning chasm of Schwarzbaum’s ignorance, laziness, and taste. How do people like this get jobs? Schwarzbaum tacks a grade of C+ on the end of her review, but she never once expresses any opinion in her review that makes the movie sound like it’s anything more than a solid A+++++. She ends her paean to this picture by saying: “But by now we want it to be The Rock's fight, and we accept, matter-of-factly, the mowing down of enemies -- not because of the thrill of watching an Everyman shake up the system (how '70s), but because it's The Rock, baby, and that's what he does best.”

Essentially, Schwarzbaum believes that once you start watching this movie, you’ll get sucked into the idea of people’s heads being beaten with a two by four because the guy doing it is just so charismatic. He’s just so good at busting skulls. I can appreciate the skills of masters in a specific craft I have little interest in, like the sheer mechanical beauty of a hotrod, but this is just too much. We accept, Schwarzbaum holds, a regular string of beatings because someone’s good at it. This is what the movie offers to us, this is what we have to look forward to if we go see it. Stylized, effective fake violence. How exciting! F-

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