It was around the age of 15 when I discovered the movies, when I realized the theater had more to offer than just a place
It was around the age of 15 when I discovered the movies, when I realized the theater had more to offer than just a place to make out with your girlfriend in the dark. I first started suspecting there might be something to this movie thing when I sneaked into The Doors, for the same reasons any self-respecting 15-year-old American boy would sneak into a movie: I'd heard it had a lot of naked people in it.
There were indeed plenty of ample bosoms on display, but I vaguely sensed I might be onto something bigger here. I started going to the movies every weekend, and by the time my small-town multiplex booked JFK, I was hooked (there are certain observations about a boy whose ideas about life were shaped largely by Oliver Stone movies, but they will not be made here).
Anyway, my life's quest changed radically from spending Friday nights making futile efforts to pick up girls to racing to the movies to catch the newest release and then rushing home to watch three others I'd rented. And though I was beginning to figure out the difference between a good movie and a bad one, I still felt like I needed some perspective. I was, after all, a Central Illinois hick whose father considered movies a waste of time and whose friends were still freeze-framing crotch shots from Revenge of the Nerds.
So I searched elsewhere, but in Middle-America, resources are limited. The local paper didn't run reviews, and we were too far away from Chicago and St. Louis to consistently grab their dailies. So I turned to magazines. Rushing to the local bookstore, I eagerly swiped up Entertainment Weekly, hoping it held the key to solving my movie mysteries. Unfortunately, all I learned from Owen Gleiberman and company was how to construct an elaborate letter-grade system that simultaneously told me everything and nothing.
Then a friend suggested Rolling Stone. Ah-ha. The counterculture manifesto of the preceding generation, the underground voice of truth, an extended middle finger to the status quo. If there was anywhere I would get the straight dish, it would be from the magazine that had wrought Hunter S. Thompson and other crazed medicine men. Whoever was the film critic for Rolling Stone had to be a man or woman of principle, a wise, fair old sage who had seen it all and certainly knew his/her shit from shinola.
The first "review" by Peter Travers I ever read was a scathing indictment of the Oscars, trashing the institution as "homophobic, racist, sexist and classist," not to mention woefully out of touch. He'd exploded against the Academy for ignoring fringe filmmakers and staying safely within the mainstream.
Now this was more like it. I immediately began extolling the virtues of Travers, and I subscribed to Rolling Stone strictly for his reviews.
My subscription lasted four weeks. Couldn't take anymore. It was either give up Travers or give up the movies; the two were most definitely mutually exclusive.
Problem is, Peter Travers is a sanctimonious blowhard, a buffoon with nothing to say and painfully limited ways to say it. You can almost sense him scanning other reviews, looking for what he perceives as the popular view, then flipping a coin as to whether or not to play along. He likes to consider himself the consummate outsider, but he's about as daring as creamed corn.
I didn't realize it at the time, but Travers has a nasty habit of recycling that same Oscar story every year. It's his own bit of revisionist history. Rest assured, every February, a Travers article - complete with some warped RS illustration - will come out, trashing the Oscar nominations, category by category. Now don't get me wrong, any organization that can give Robin Williams an award with a straight face will never sit well with me. But Travers seems to be writing these for the sake of writing them, scraping the bottom of his already empty barrel of ideas.
Take 1993 for example. When Schindler's List came out, Travers praised it with his usual overwrought prose ("achingly beautiful," "blazingly poetic"). He spent a good 45 inches of Rolling Stone's space and my time fawning over the film in the same way countless other critics had done before him, adding nothing.
Cut to: Three months later, Oscar time. What does Travers do? Sensing Spielberg will sweep up, he trashes the film, saying it's the safe Hollywood choice and that "the establishment" (boy, does Travers hate that establishment) is too afraid to reward anything daring. He even seemed appalled that it was nominated for Best Picture, even though it in fact made his top five films of the year.
Disagree with a Travers review? Just wait a couple months. This is a man who actually once rattled off 10-15 names not nominated for Best Actor and then proclaimed "that not every single one of these performers were nominated is an absolute travesty." Yeah, he's bad at math too.
And no positive Travers review would be complete without the requisite "in a film industry that is far more concerned about the bottom line than pushing the envelope, Movie X is a blistering reminder of the power of. . . " Thank God we have Peter Travers to tell us that Hollywood is more concerned about money than art. In every single review.
And what is this establishment that Travers seems to despise so much anyway? It certainly wouldn't be the same establishment that puts Travers and fellow moron Lisa Schwarzbaum from EW on that insipid "He Said, She Said" segment on CNN, would it? Couldn't be. You can always predict which film will top Travers' end of the year list; it's the film that isn't really outside The Establishment - Travers is not a critic who bites the hand that feeds him - but is just different enough to make it easier for him to sleep at night (Pulp Fiction, The People Vs. Larry Flynt). Remember, this guy used to write for People.
Thankfully, I caught on early enough to Travers' tricks (I think it was when I read the phrase "probing intelligence" and "scathing heart" for the sixth time in seven weeks) and was able to escape relatively unscathed. Not everyone is so lucky. Realize, Peter Travers is probably one of the 10 most widely read film critics in this country, maybe even one of the top five. It's little wonder everyone hates film critics. All things considered, I'd rather struggle through a 5,000-word essay from Hunter S. Thompson about how his typewriter and Bill Clinton are trying to kill him than sit through another Travers review that, as Travers himself might put it, fails to "capture the heart and soul with a thrilling and brazenly original style that puts most Hollywood critics to shame." Please, someone get this twerp off my magazine racks.
Will Leitch's Projection Booth, a weekly column on film, can be found at www.impressionmag.com.