Top Film Reviewer Pans Hollywood

By Robert Marich

 Oct. 30, 2009 – Hollywood movies are so bad that Wall Street Journal film reviewer Joe Morgenstern decided to review a live circus performance today. Morgenstern—one of three journalists to win a Pulitzer Prize for movie reviewing—dumped on Universal Pictures movie Cirque du Freaks: The Vampire’s Assistant – and instead devoted most of a review to an enthusiastic write-up of live circus performance of Cirque du Soleil.
  On film, he writes that Hollywood “hasn’t had much to offer movie lovers all year, unless they were up for feeble comedies like Land of the Lost, hollow sequels like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, impenetrable thrillers like State of Play or thunderous spectacles based on toys. A singular exception is Where the Wild Things Are, the happy result of a visionary filmmaker prevailing over a studio that fought his vision tooth and nail.” 
  Let’s see. Morgenstern cites flop films like Land of the Lost as representative of Hollywood. And then he heaps praise on Where the Wild Things – which is doing okay box office although is hardly a hit. 
   Morgenstern also writes, “When was the last time you were stunned by something happening on screen? In my case, it was four months ago, just a few minutes into The Hurt Locker.”
   Golly, I go to the movies to be entertained. If I want to be “stunned,” I can just look at the spiraling federal budget deficit…by the way, The Hurt Locker was an unmitigated flop at the box office. 
  It looks like Morgenstern will be reviewing more circus performances in the future. “To set the scene in broader perspective, Hollywood’s dreary spring and summer have led to a dismal fall—a time when, according to traditional release patterns, prestigious films should be starting to bring discriminating audiences back under the movie tent,” writes the reviewer. “Fine independent films can still be found, but only in a small and steadily dwindling number of specialty theaters. Looking forward to the rest of the year, after which major studio releases generally vanish for several months, dismayingly few titles, apart from Avatar, promise the excitement that was once a cherished part of the holiday season.”
  I beg to differ. Box office – totally as a result of Hollywood films like Transformers that Morgenstern loathes – is running up a healthy 7% year-to-date. Cinema is one of the few industries growing in these hard economic times. Morgenstern notes that there are a “dwindling number of specialty theaters.” Yes, those are theaters playing films that haven’t connected with sizeable audiences—which are the kind of films that high-brow reviewers like.
  Hollywood’s penchant for glossy films – often based on books, toys, video games and other pre-existing pop culture properties – is being reviled by critics and pundits. Using “art” as the yardstick, that’s a fair judgment. But movies are show business (my emphasis) -- a craft in a profit-driven enterprise. They shouldn’t be confused with Rembrandt but often are.
   A surprising number of film critics have been writing reviews that sneer at films that their audience embrace. And, not surprisingly, these critics were the first to go in media staff downsizing since management knew that consumers wouldn’t particularly miss them. Here’s a pearl of wisdom: Like the films they praise, the critics disconnected from interests of their audience.
   Some of the most poorly-reviewed films – the latest Transformers, Ice Age and X Men Origins: Wolverine – are among the top 10 grossing films of the year. I rest my case.
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