It’s well known that aside from some misinformed old-cootedness about video games, we hold Roger Ebert in pretty high esteem around these parts. His cancer-surgery-turned-surgical-complications has taken him out of the reviewing game since mid-summer, and though no announcements have been made, I’m guessing he won’t be back until “Oscar season” starts in mid-November. Regardless, I’ve taken issue with very few of his reviews, though his “thing” for Angelina Jolie’s lips awarded both of the Tomb Raider movies three undeserved stars, even looking at those movies in the “brainless action” genre. That tick of his aside (a soft spot for threatening-looking women), the only other time I’ve not taken his side was when he decided the original Jackass wasn’t worth reviewing. Unfortunately, I can’t find the actual article that includes the quote that I think I remember, but it went something like this (notice the single-quotes – journalistic integrity is listed as a category for this review) ‘I am a movie critic. I review movies. As funny as Jackass is, it’s not a movie.’ In short(er), just being a collection of skits, none of which tells any sort of traditional story, it’s more accurately a “video” as opposed to a movie. I couldn’t find that quote, but I could find him answering a reader’s question about why he didn’t review it. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Ebert said, “If I laugh, I have to tell you it’s funny. I went to see ‘Jackass,’ a shameful movie. I laughed all the way through it. I mean, I have to tell you that.” At the end of day, instead of giving Jackass a positive review (what with it being a successful movie, one where the audience is entertained) and being on the record as having condoned something like that, he chose to not review it at all.
Now, speaking as a principled person myself, I perfectly recognize the need to occasionally throw all principles out the window if there are extenuating circumstances. Ebert simply didn’t want to be someone associated with a movie like Jackass. Luckily, his on-screen partner in reviewing all things cinematical, Richard Roeper gave probably the best critical quote about it: “Jackass: The Movie is a disgusting, repulsive, grotesque spectacle, but it’s also hilarious and provocative. God help me, thumbs up.” Hallelujah. That’s even more positive than my review would’ve been. (for the record, having seen both of the movies, I’d say that I could do without the poop and the pain for the sake of pain stunts)
I’m not one to find profundity for the sake of profundity, but my stance on the movies is this: they’re not profound, but there’s something to be said about the sociological aspects of what a bunch of suburban-ish white guys found to entertain themselves and the business acumen it took to make what they were doing marketable outside of the skater community.
The issue I do take with Ebert’s (lack of a) stance is that his book of “The Great Movies” (quotes because that’s the actual title of the book) includes the 1929 short film, Un Chien Andalou, notable for its lack of coherent structure and (more so) co-creation by one Salvador Dalí. I won’t compare work by Salvador Dalí to the content of Jackass, nor will I insinuate that Jackass somehow deserves to among “the great movies,” but I will say that for someone who is very quick to condemn the supposedly increasing closed-mindedness of the American movie going public, not giving a movie you liked the critical time of day because it was “different” isn’t the strongest philosophical ground to be standing upon. (I know, it’s sort of lazy of me to not include links to examples of “very quick to condemn…” but, in short, look up any of his Adam Sandler reviews other than Punch Drunk Love.)
The loose thread between the “Once Again Being One Up on the Mass Media…” and the movie itself is the fact that in the AP review, the writer actually invokes a comparison between Jackass: Number 2 a scene from Un Chien Andalou. There’s not much more to it than the fact that I said the same thing in 2002. And, I was reasonable enough to give the comparison with a bunch of qualifiers instead of trying for some sort of faux-intellectual comment.
Once Again Being One Up on the Mass Media Or The Critical Reception to Jackass: Number Two receives four-and-a-half stars due to my thinkin’ brain and its whooping of the critics by four good years. In actuality, the whole mess with Ebert’s take on the first movie is sort of unrelated to this, but it does serve as backstory as to why I had done any thinking on the subject. If you’re thinking about seeing the movie, it’s as simple as this: if you think you’ll like it, you will. If you think you won’t like it, you won’t. If you’re not sure if you’ll like it, you’ll like it.
Late-breaking, sort of related reviewing: Jim Emerson, the sort of backup on rogerebert.com has his own blog (aside from the corner he gets on the Ebert webpage). On his blog, he has a cute little entry entitled, “Aint-It-Cool-Times” (his emphasis) bemoaning the Los Angeles Times for including a script review section on their website. He’s so put off by it that he says the newspaper has “jumped the shark” (and I thought Emerson was a movie critic! buh-ZING!), becoming yet another head of the hydra that is the modern movie industry (my metaphor, thank you very much). There’s a bunch of resentment of the “traditional” journalists (print, TV, radio) towards the “new” “journalists” on the internet. Sure, any schmuck can run a website and spout off whatever nonsense he wants and claim to be a journalist (note: Nate and I don’t claim to be journalists. Adam? Maybe.) What with journalism degrees being real degrees, the “old guard” doesn’t like the instant credibility that the internet offers. Aintitcoolnews, the target of his sort-of pun of a title is one of the more successful “home made” websites, and in fact, in the years it’s existed, it’s sort of a “real” site, though it does seemingly serve as a mouthpiece for the studios marketing departments sometimes.
He goes on: “No. It’s not. Fernandez [the writer of the script review section of the Los Angeles Times] isn’t a journalist and he isn’t a critic [and this just became a run-on sentence]; he’s a leech, on the level of those self-aggrandizing amateur web trolls who think their premature, uninformed opinions about an unfinished work are ‘news.'” Amateur web trolls? eh. Premature, uninformed opinions? meh. Self-aggrandizing? MR. EMERSON, YOU HAD ME AT ‘HELLO!’ We here at the Bookshelf® … wait, hold on, I like seeing that with the registered mark after it…. wait….yeah. We think you’re wrong and are probably just bitter that you had zero web recognizability until you became Roger Ebert’s second-in-command. Consider yourself called out by the Bookshelf® (you join such luminaries as the New York Times, Humanity, that horse, and Pitchfork Media).