Monthly Archives: May 2012

On Criticism

Critic/profilie writer par excellence Ken Tynan in 1966. Item No. 11 on my list should’ve been “Don’t smoke.”

So on Sunday evening I had the pleasure of talking with a dozen or so very smart high schoolers enrolled in the Shakespeare Theatre Company‘s Young Critics Program. They’ve seen and written about every show in the STC’s season this year, and heard from several other guest speakers. The invitation suggested a few topics and said I should be ready with material enough to speak for 30 minutes, with some additional time after that for questions and discussion. They wanted some basic biographical stuff and some inside-baseball stuff about writing for newspapers, but the part I was most interested in talking about is the basic set of principles I try to use when I write criticism.

I made notes. Since I already went to the trouble of typing them, I’d like to share them here.

I should acknowledge I’ve lifted at least a few of these from a talk my pal the great film critic Michael Phillips, currently of the Chicago Tribune, gave during an NEA fellowship I took part in in Los Angeles in 2009. Hail and thank you, Michael Phillips.

Also, please bear in mind I was trying to make my comments appropriate for an audience of precocious ninth-through-12th-graders. So people much smarter than I am, in other words.

Here’s what I said to them. Continue reading

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Unnecessary Tributes: Die Hard with a Vengeance Is the Ultimate Summer Movie

“Shhhh, he’s saying we’re totally underrated.”

I’m a big admirer of Matt Singer‘s writing on film. Besides co-hosting the brilliantly titled Filmspotting SVU podcast — a streaming video-focused spinoff of Filmspotting, the long-running Chicago-based movies show I had the honor of appearing on a few times last year — he recently started Criticwire, a great blog about film criticism for Indiewire.

Each weekend, Matt sends a list of film critics a survey question and posts their responses the following Monday. I was thrilled to contribute for the first time to yesterday’s poll, on The Perfect Summer Movie. Almost every film I considered choosing for this honor did show up among the responses, suggesting strong generational (?) consensus on this issue. But I’m glad I went with a dark horse candidate. As always, I did a poor job of constraining my enthusiasm; Matt was kind to post an only slightly abridged version of my encomium — reproduced below in its breathless entirety — to Die Hard with a Vengeance. Continue reading

We Happy Few: Drive-By Truckers and Lucinda Williams at a mostly empty Merriweather Post Pavilion, reviewed

Lucinda Williams, badass

I am experienced. I’ve reviewed the great Louisiana songwriter Lucinda Williams for the Washington Post before, in 2007 and 2009.

I’ve also reviewed Drive-By Truckers, one of my favorite bands, for the Post in 2009, and I’ve interviewed Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, the band’s two frontmen, separately for DCist, The Examiner, the Washington City Paper and Washingtonian. I was at DBT’s year-ending shows at the 9:30 Club last December, which were amazing.

Saturday night I covered the bill Williams and DBT shared at Merriweather Post Pavilion for the Post. It was a beautiful night and a good show. Too bad almost nobody saw it.

How the Pest Was Won: On Posner’s The Taming of the Shrew

WEST PRACTICES: Danny Scheie, Cody Nickell, and Kate Eastwood Norris (Jeff Malet)

In Deadwood’s poetically vulgar patois, Aaron Posner’s Deadwood-inspired new The Taming of the Shrew at the Folger Theatre is “beholden to no human cocksucker.” I review it in today’s Washington City Paper, available wherever finer alt-weeklies are given away gratis. Continue reading

Studio Notes: The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012)

Jack Kirby’s cover for THE AVENGERS No. 1, 1963.

Last Tuesday night I saw The Avengers, which Hulk-smashed box office records IN THE FABULOUS MARVEL MANNER over the weekend. It wasn’t the summer tent pole movie I’m most anticipating this year; Ridley Scott‘s Prometheus and Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight Rises both have it beat by some distance on that score. But I’ve enjoyed most of the prior Marvel Studios movies (except for the dreary Thor, and The Incredible Hulk, which I haven’t seen), and while I’m no scholar of the oeuvre of Joss Whedon, the television auteur who is now The Avengers‘s writer and director, I liked Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and his run as writer of The Astonishing X-Men comic book.

I have no particular affection for the source comics, the way I do with the various Batman and X-Men films, but I found the movie to be a very affable, funny, well-made early summer blockbuster.

Emphasis early. To my mind, the natural sequence in which summer action films should be consumed is salad in May, the slightly more substantial next course in June and the red meat in July. It’s been this way at least since 1991, when Hudson Hawk and The Rocketeer (both underrated) came out in May, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves followed in June, and the never-to-be-surpassed greatest summer blockbuster of them all, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, came out July 3. Please do not make fun of the way I experience the world.

Sorry, what were we talking about? Oh, right: Here in no particular order are a few of the specific things about The Avengers that really worked for me, along with a few that didn’t. Continue reading

Repast is Prologue: Studio’s The Big Meal, reviewed, plus a Commedia Hamlet and a pair of Shavian sex comedies

Chris Genebach and Hyla Matthews in Studio Theatre’s THE BIG MEAL. (Carol Pratt)

With three reviews in today’s City Paper, you’d think all I did last weekend was go to plays*. Besides Studio’s wonderful production of Dan LeFranc‘s The Big Meal, I saw Faction of Fools‘s Commedia take on Hamlet, repurposed as Hamlecchino, Clown Prince of Denmark. Plus a Shavian two-fer from Washington Stage Guild. Continue reading