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On Criticism…

This week, three  articles came out on the internets that put the role of the critic into question. It got us thinking about what exactly should a review do and what are the best ways that a review can relate its ideas (aka judgment) while still privileging audiences’ individual experiences of a work of art.

The first is Alec Baldwin’s Huffington Post article on the closing of his Broadway show Orphans (which we reviewed earlier this month). In it, he compares the work of former New York Times theater critic honcho, Frank Rich, and the newspaper’s reigning critic, Ben Brantley. Now, for the most part, it seems like Baldwin’s gripe with Brantley comes from the fact that Orphans’s early closing comes partly as a result of Brantley’s less than happy review, which particularly took issue with Baldwin’s performance (we felt similarly *womp womp*).  HOWEVER, Baldwin’s discussion of what a critic SHOULD and SHOULD NOT do in a review is pretty relevant to our interests as cultural consumers. Many readers and audiences read reviews to know whether they should invest their time and money into a given work of art. If it’s bad, why bother? Well, ‘bothering’ is precisely the issue that Baldwin rallies for. Should a critic’s review give its subject the luxury of figuring out what the production’s goals were and how well they attained them? Or can a review just be a stamp of approval/rejection? Should a critic give the same thoughtful care and analysis to all works of arts, no matter their ‘goodness’ or ‘badness?’  I (Sara) would like to think so. As an evolving critic, I try to swap judgments for analysis. But with so much to read and/or watch, isn’t it a little refreshing (as an audience member of course and not as a production member) to be TOLD what to do? What’s worth my allotted spending money?

 

The second is from FilmCritHulk’s article linking Iron Man 3 reviews and the nature of spoilers. If you haven’t read FilmCritHulk’s work before, get started. He’s way more than just a film reviewer. He’s a critic and a teacher of all things film and narrative-related. His stuff is almost always on point (I have my disagreements here and there) but more valuable than his opinions are his thorough, authentic, thoughtful, and educational explanations. This article discusses the power relationship between critic and reader– namely, the fact that the viewer typically has not seen the work in question. Hulk states that reviews should always put a viewer in the best position to enjoy a film. Hulk often reflects on the “You should never hate a movie” doctrine, and this is just another manifestation of that. Is this more than a “If you have nothing nice to say…” maxim? I think so. But does that mean that there should be no such thing as a bad review? I try to stay away from writing bad reviews myself. But then again, I don’t have quite the same audience, and therefore responsibility, as someone like Hulk or Ben Brantley (ONE DAY, BRANTLEY…)

 

The last article has been making its way around the internet (or maybe just that nerdy literary stuff I follow). It’s called “Don’t Make Fun of Renowned Dan Brown,” from Telegraph writer, Michael Deacon. It’s pretty frickin’ brilliant. Basically, it’s a critique of Dan Brown’s writing style… in the writing style of Dan Brown. Pretty meta, huh? I frickin’ love meta stuff. But more than that, it’s a review that doesn’t put its reader at a disadvantage. Because, in fact, it’s confronting you with pretty much the exact thing it’s examining. But y’know, with satire. It’s a bit like an episode of The Colbert Report. However, the reliability of a review like this is based entirely on the accuracy of the reviewer’s depiction. You can judge for yourself if you’ve read Dan Brown before. Colbert’s success works mostly on the fact that his shtick on political pundits is pretty spot-on. But again, this type of review works because it places the reviewer and the reader on a much more equal level than someone who just spews judgment.

 

Good times, you guys.

 

 

 

Five Things You Should Know About ORPHANS

Alec Baldwin’s duckface, Tom Sturridge’s worst impression of a famous actor, and Ben Foster’s impression of Alec Baldwin welcome you to this post.

1) It’s like a Harold Pinter play. Minus the confusion.

Ben Foster and Tom Sturridge play Treat and Philip, two orphaned brothers fending for themselves. Treat does some petty thieving– a couple of diamond bangles, some cash here and there– while his mentally retarded brother, Philip, stays in the house all day under the false impression that he is ‘allergic’ to the outdoors (a ploy created by Treat to keep his brother safe). One day, Treat brings home Jack Donnaghy Harold, a mysterious stranger, also an orphan, whose briefcase has some shady stocks and bonds stuff (idunnowhatthestockmarketis). Treat drugs and kidnaps him.

The next morning, Harold offers them a chance to change their lives around under his employ.  It’s a bit like if Harold Pinter met Charles Dickens and they had some kind of strange, multi-genre, sentimental, and super funny baby.

2) Give the man his Tony!

You might hesitate to give an award (or any praise whatsoever) to a man who makes this face and manages to go home to Sienna Miller at the end of the day. But believe it or not, I am of the opinion that if Tom Sturridge doesn’t get a Tony for this role, it would be a GIGANTIC Broadway crime.

3) Ben Foster is particularly amazing while shrieking.

A high-pitched Ben Foster is a good Ben Foster. Carry on.

4) Alec Baldwin, on the other hand…

Now, I usually like Baldwin. But his portrayal of Harold feels a bit like a rehashed SNL character. It works in the funny bits. But when you’ve got Tom and Ben giving it all that they got, and Alec formulaically saying his lines like he had Adam Sandler in his arms, well, it just ain’t right. I should say, however, that Harold is nowhere near as fleshed out a character as the brothers. His mystery and lack of background enables him to ease his way into the family. But characters can still be mysterious while making their lines actually sound slightly different than every other one they’ve just said. AMIRIGHT?

5) Cool Set is Cool

The brothers’ living room is more like a jungle gym, a crazy womblike jungle gym.

A question though- If you go to the expense of building a second floor and the actors never use it, does it really exist?

 

All in all, Orphans is a fun time to be had. I totally recommend it.

 

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