Tag Archives: criticism

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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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

Best. Concert. Ever. (Wherein, Upon Seeing Bruce Springsteen Perform for the 14th Time, I Surrender to Hyperbole)

By Thursday morning last week, I had made up my mind to give the show Bruce Springsteen played in Baltimore on Friday night a pass. My attempts to procure a ticket through honorable means had failed. The aftermarket bidding for general admission tickets to the arena floor, where my friends would be, had inflated beyond my rationally justifiable price range. I’d already seen the great man perform with the E Street Band twice in 2009; five times in the last 24 months. That’s enough Boss, surely.

Even before I was a semi-pro critic, I was skeptical of superlatives. To me, they always reduced criticism to mere marketing. I don’t even like the year-end lists nearly every professional critic is compelled to compile. So that’s why, after returning home in the small hours of Saturday morning having experienced a concert that left me elated like no rock show has in years, I hedged. “One of the three or five best gigs I’ve ever seen,” I wrote in a excited Facebook post before going to bed.

But after chewing the matter over in the cold, clear light of a couple of days, I’m prepared to go all in: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s first show in Baltimore since 1973 was the best concert I have ever attended, by The Boss or anyone else. Continue reading