Roger Ebert received a great honor recently, and I’m of two minds of the matter. As a guy who appreciates film, I bet he’d be great to pal around with and talk about which X-Men movie was better and why, and what movies he hated, etc. At the same time, he’s not as great a reviewer as he used to be, so it’s like giving Scorcese an Oscar for his drivelly picture now just because he didn’t get one for his past masterpiece.
Ebert’s knowledge as a film historian and skills as an analyst are impeccable. His commentary tracks on films like “Dark City” and “Citizen Kane” are always worth listening to all the way through, whereas most DVD commentaries feature stars chatting idly about nonsense that’s unrelated to what is happening onscreen.
It’s only when Ebert starts giving his opinion on any film that’s remotely political…or indeed, any non-political film that gives him a good setup for a lame slap at Bush… that you have to watch out.
His “tell” is that when he’s reviewing a political film he starts preaching instead of analyzing. For instance, even I can look at a Michael Moore movie such as “Roger & Me” and spot weak arguments, unfair use of stock footage and music, emotional moments intended to depress the viewer but irrelevant to the point of the movie, etc. As a man who has viewed countless documentaries and many propaganda films, Ebert’s appraisal of it as a film, a vehicle for viewpoints, and as very obvious propaganda could be insightful…but had the Ebert of today reviewed it, the entire article would probably consist of his retelling Moore’s complaints about GM leaving Flint and how awful it was for Flint. Certainly that’s what he does with all of Moore’s other films, even giving the lame book-tour-captured-on-video “The Big One” three stars!
His “review” of the film “Super Size Me” consists of his listing facts about how bad fast food is instead of actually analyzing the film, how it’s made, etc. Chalk that up to his being a conscientous dieter at the time; fine. “Going Upriver“, a documentary about John Kerry’s Viet Nam tour came out in 2004 during the campaign in response to the Swift Boat Vets, and Roger Ebert sets himself up as the arbiter of who has the truth and who is lying. He never questions anything about the pro-Kerry doc or looks at it as a, you know, film, but he does find ample space to cast Republicans as Nazis. By the way, I will bet $100 that Ebert had never read any of the Swift Boat Vet’s allegations beyond what he read in a John Kerry e-mail blasting them.
“Bowling For Columbine” gave him the opportunity to tell what he thought was a cute anecdote about him and a fellow liberal arrogantly insulting a gun owner in a bar. In later columns he would admit to being disheartened as many, many claims about Moore’s fabrications and dishonesty in that movie came to light… but clearly he wasn’t disheartened enough to bring even a scrap of additional scrutiny to Moore’s subsequent efforts.
I understand that “The Life of David Gail” was not a good movie, but Ebert goes so overboard, giving it ZERO STARS and fuming about George Bush’s use of the death penalty, that it hardly seems fair to the people who made the film. Roger Ebert disagrees with the political message of a serious drama, so he rates it worse than Young Einstein or Jury Duty. Heck, even in “Big Trouble“, that Tim Allen movie based on a Dave Barry book, there’s a quick throwaway line about Pat Buchanan and Ebert goes off about how conservatives are so unfeeling as to not care about people accidentally voting for him.
As Zell would say, I could go own and own and own. It isn’t hard to come up with examples; they’re available on a weekly basis due to Ebert’s Bush Derangement Syndrome. These days, Ebert takes every remote opportunity to slip some Bush hate into his reviews, most of his remarks being unfunny, unnecessary and a waste of text.
Roger Ebert should give up film reviewing if he isn’t willing to bring any class or talent to it anymore.