Friday, April 16, 2010


As a way to celebrate our 100th blog on Critics at Large, we've assembled samples of some of our favourite pieces over the last few months:

I grew up in Parry Sound in the 1960s. I was part of a big pack of kids who would play outside until after dark throughout the summer, completely unconcerned about our safety, not oblivious to it, just unconcerned. However, we also all knew to 'stay away from Johnnie.' Johnnie was probably a pedophile. He was a man in his forties who lived alone in a big house up the street from our home. We would always see him walking quickly through our neighbourhood, a hand always in his pocket, watching the kids as we played. We nicknamed him Johnnie Walker (no offense to the fine scotch producers). We just all knew to stay away from him. Creepy and weird, he certainly was, yet our parents were seemingly oblivious to him and what he might be, but we weren't. Yet we sure as hell never told our parents about him. We wanted to be able to play unfettered. Granted, he didn't, that we know of, ever actually act on his obvious compulsions, so the light of adult suspicion was never cast upon him. These reflections came to mind as I watched Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones, because there is a major character in the film that reminded me of Johnnie.

-- David Churchill – A Consideration of The Lovely Bones – January 19, 2010

Besides its richness of subject matter, which showcases a country where life does not revolve around the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, which is often the impression one gets from biased media coverage of Israel, Israeli cinema is unique in one other, sadder, way. It’s the only cinema that is targeted by protesters who would rather its output wasn’t available for viewing at all. Seizing on some impolitic comments made by Amir Gissin, Israel’s consul general in Toronto, who was recklessly boasting about the country’s Brand Israel program, which aims to improve Israel’s image around the world, an anti – Israel contingent of writers, academics, filmmakers and actors, falsely tried to link TIFF [Toronto International Film Festival] to that campaign and assailed the festival for creating the Tel Aviv spotlight. Led by author Naomi Klein (The Shock Doctrine) and director John Greyson (Zero Patience), who pulled a short film of his out of TIFF in protest, they stated that the Toronto film festival had been manipulated by the state of Israel into spotlighting Tel Aviv in its special program, playing into, as they put it, ‘the Israeli propaganda machine.’

Of course, as Michael Posner pointed out in The Globe and Mail, most of these protesters were members of the BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions organization, which seeks, as its name indicates, to boycott the Jewish state and all its products, cultural and otherwise. Thus, despite their disingenuous protests that they weren’t censors and were only against the Israeli films that made up the Tel Aviv spotlight, their end goal, were they to succeed in their aims, would prevent any Israeli films from reaching our shores. The protesters, who also lied when they said that Tel Aviv was built on Arab land, never quite explained how the Tel Aviv spotlight films were somehow different from the other Israeli films at TIFF; propaganda is propaganda after all and either all Israeli films fit that definition or none of them do. Fortunately, TIFF, like other film festivals in Edinburgh and Melbourne, stood fast against the anti – Israel mob and refused to pull any of the Israeli films showing in Toronto.

-- Shlomo Schwartzberg -- Israeli Cinema: Anything But Propaganda -- February 9, 2010

Reading a play is a different experience than reading a novel or an essay or a blog. If the playwright is any good, the words are very important. Words are the weapons characters use to express how they feel about one another. They are written like poetry: nothing is wasted. In the works of Arthur Miller, the characters are deep, emotional and lively. An actor’s job is to bring a play to life; to put blood in the veins of the characters and breath into the story. It is our job to engage one another on stage and therefore engage the audience into the emotions expressed in the play.

-- John Corcelli - Arthur Miller's The Price: Reflections From a First-Time Director – March 27, 2010

As the original wolf man, Lon Chaney Jr uncovers the horrors he is responsible for and begs for his father to strap him into a chair and see him for the monster he truly is. A similar scene appears in the remake, but Del Toro's Talbot is secured to a chair in the operating room of an asylum surrounded by men of science hoping to debunk his claims of transformation. Embracing the violence he is about to unleash upon the room full of white jackets, he declares "I will kill ALL OF YOU." Such a bold statement might ignite glee in some viewers, but it fails to give us what we sorely need in horror films nowadays: restraint.

-- Andrew Dupuis - Bad Moon Rising: Universal Studio's The Wolf Man - Then and Now -- February 23, 2010

Over the past few decades, theory began to dominate campuses where many liberal arts scholars and writers have studied. Instead of the more expansive criticism once extolled by cultural critics like Leslie Fiedler, Pauline Kael, Norman O. Brown or Herbert Marcuse, they were replaced by the chilly, detached and cerebral musings of post-structuralists like Derrida, Foucault and Lecan. Theory began sounding the death knoll of criticism. Where criticism teaches you how to think, theory tells you what to think. To be critical means to be in flux, where you’re often forced to struggle with intuition and knowledge, in order to seek some understanding of the truth. “A man watches a movie, and the critic must acknowledge that he’s that man,” as [Robert] Warshow [once] wrote. Criticism leaves you open to experience – wherever it comes from – to expand your base of knowledge, so that you’re always questioning assumptions. Theory offers you a secure, ready-made solution where you merely gather data to support it (and ignore inconvenient little realities that might refute it).

-- Kevin Courrier - The Church of the Cultured Mind: Cinematheque's The Best of the Decade List -- January 23, 2010

The role of a contemporary film critic remains cloudy... [O]ne of the greats, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist James Agee, about the nature of the beast: “It’s a form of journalism and a form of literature, and a way of talking about the world.” May the talking continue. To borrow some “Grapes of Wrath” rabble-rousing dialogue from Ma Joad: “We keep a ‘comin’. We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out; they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever...”

-- Susan Green - Toiling in the Trenches: For the Love of Movies – March 22, 2010

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