Category Archives: Film Critics

05052017 Red Carpet at Cannes 04 IMAGE C 1500

On The Red Carpet At Cannes
Part Six

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood film critic thinks he’s found the Cannes Film Festival killer. 2,626 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Part Five. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Ingrid Bjorge stretched across the hotel bed, then opened her eyes. “Good morning. I did not know you were here,” she said as she propped herself up.

“You were asleep when I came in last night. I didn’t want to wake you.” Ryan claimed.

Just as the Norwegian actress opened the room door, Ryan’s girlfriend Delisha nearly collided with her as the fashion model leaned forward to knock. She carried a bottle of Cristal and an envelope addressed to Ryan that was left for him at the front desk.

Ryan gestured toward Ingrid. “Does she look familiar to you?”

Delisha stared at Ingrid for a long second, then gazed at her from a side angle. She pointed to the window. “Look out in that direction with your chin tilted up. Look real serious.” Ingrid followed her direction, angling her head and gazing off with a blank expression.

Delisha clasped her hands. “It’s crazy. Is it true? Is it true?”

“Yes,” Ryan answered.

Delisha embraced Ingrid. “Oh, my God, the star of The Ice Princess. What is going on?”

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Ryan said. “Delisha, you can’t tell anyone in the meantime about Ingrid’s being alive. Not a word.”

Continue reading

Red Carpet at Cannes 02

On The Red Carpet At Cannes
Part Four

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood film critic is a suspect in a second murder at the Cannes Film Festival. 2,903 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Five tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


There were enough security guards to stock an island dictatorship. Instead of colorful uniforms with feathered hats, gaudy medals and polished swords, they wore Armani tuxedos. The crack unit stood at attention in front of the mansion gate for the Cannes Film Festival’s elegant party. Despite their disciplined pose, their eyes were riveted on Ryan’s model girlfriend Delisha.

Within seconds, an attendant pulled up with a gleaming Aston Martin V12 bestowed on Ryan for the long drive back to town and belonging to one of the movie producer-distributors. At least half the valet parkers rushed to help Delisha into the passenger side. She slid into the classic vehicle. “Allons y,” Delisha called out, bestowing a celebratory wave.

Ryan idled the car as the iron gates snapped open with crisp precision, spreading their steel in a deferential backward swoop, like an old-fashioned servant. Only then did Ryan punch the pedal and sail through the estate’s stone entrance.

Delisha clasped his hand. “Home, James.”

“Bond, James Bond,” Ryan called out in his best 007 accent.

Delisha giggled and planted a quick kiss on his neck. For the moment, Ryan felt like the glamorous super-agent. The trouble was: he didn’t really know how to work a shift. Maybe, if it was all downhill, they could continue in this gear.

“You’re grinding. You’ve got to let it out,” Delisha said.

Continue reading

Red-Carpet-at-Cannes-Part Three 01

On The Red Carpet In Cannes
Part Three

by Duane Byrge

The Hollywood movie critic, no longer a murder suspect, tries to cover the Cannes Film Festival. 2,640 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four tomorrow. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


When the Hollywood New Times chief film reporter swooped out of the elevator, he nearly ran down the trade’s top film critic, Ryan Hackbert.  “You haven’t returned any of my messages,” Stan Peck said as he came through the entrance to the Hotel Savoy. ”I’d like to get your side of the story.” Peck pulled out a digital recorder and flicked the switch.

“My side of the story is nothing,” Ryan answered. “The police asked me in for questioning and were satisfied with my answers. I know nothing about the murder.”

Ryan quickened his step. Peck clicked off the tape and said unhappily, “You know it’s ironic that you, a member of the press, aren’t talking to me, another member of the press.”

“I’m a very ironic guy. You can quote me on that.”

“Seriously, you were hauled in. You said in your review that she should be strangled.”

“I criticized the dialogue. A new editor mangled it with the scarf thing. The police understood,” Ryan answered.

"This murder of yours is screwing up my Cannes coverage," Peck continued. "I’ve got to go to this stupid press conference about it when I should be having breakfast with the TriCoast people. They’re going to announce a new slate." Peck paused to twist the knife a little deeper. "But a lot of people out there still think you’re guilty. That you killed that blond actress from The Ice Princess at the Carlton."

Despite the momentary high of jerking Peck around, Ryan was pissed at himself for giving Peck between-the-lines hints about the police interrogation. As much as Ryan hated to admitt, Peck reflected a fair amount of what would be movie industry opinion, as berserk as that could be. By doing nothing, Ryan was screwing up everyone’s Cannes Film Festival including his own. This was his eleventh time here. He needed to get back into his normal festival mode.

Continue reading

Sundance 02

Sundown At Sundance
Part Two

by Duane Byrge

A film critic at the Sundance Film Festival finds himself the target of a payoff plot. 2,231 words. Part One. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


“De-lish-a,” the sound came tripping off his tongue, à la Lo-li-ta.

L.A. film critic Ryan Cromwell wound his way around the fireplace at the Eating Establishment for Saturday breakfast. He was meeting his friend Delisha at one of his favorite restaurants on Park City’s Main Street. Delisha wrapped her two-iPhone-holding arms around Ryan. She looked him up-and-down. “Is that your Viking film-critic look?” she asked about his Norwegian ski sweater.

“I left my helmet with the horns back at the hotel,” he said. Then Ryan noticed he had buttoned his sweater wrong. When he undid the top connections, his hands shook. He gulped water and noticed his right fingers trembled on the glass. He put it down and placed his hands in his lap. He shifted in his seat.

“You seem edgy,” Delisha said. “Is everything okay?”

“This festival is going haywire for me already,” he said, looking around and lowering his voice. “My second suitcase with mainly my underwear, socks and shaving stuff is all gone.”

“Someone stole your underwear?”

“No, but they’re missing. When I opened the suitcase this morning, it was filled with stacks of $20 bills,” he said. “I was going to call the police, but I thought I’d better do it in person.”

Continue reading

Sundance 01

Sundown At Sundance
Part One

by Duane Byrge

A noted film critic arrives for what he expects to be just another Sundance Film Festival. 2,544 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


“Are you going to Shoot Mom?”

Ryan pulled off his headset and glanced up from his airline seat. A guy in a blue Cubs cap hovered over him.

A stewardess came forward, looking alarmed.

Shoot Mom — are you going to the screening?” the Chicago baseball fan repeated.

“Sir, you’ll have to sit down,” the stewardess commanded. “The warning light is on.”

The guy retreated back down the aisle. Ryan Cromwell settled back into his seat. He turned to the woman next to him who’d been watching the incident unfold.

“Sorry about that. Occupational hazard,” he said.

“You must be in a dangerous profession,” she said. “Homeland Security?”

Ryan smiled: “No, more dangerous. I’m a film critic.”

He was one of Hollywood’s chief film critics, headed to Salt Lake City from L.A. for the Sundance Film Festival. His reviews of independent film could make or break the pictures as well as launch or end careers. They were especially important at an indie film festival like Sundance where the discovery of new talent was the paramount focus. Ryan’s film reviews at previous fests had helped catapult first-time filmmakers such as Gina Prince Bythewood (Love & Basketball), Kevin Smith (Clerks), Justin Lowe (Better Luck Tomorrow), Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs) and many other rookies. January was his favorite time of year because he was reviewing films that were not just vampire, zombie, special-effects and franchise movies that were critic-proof and, in Ryan’s view, brain resistant.

Continue reading

Deep Space Detroit

Deep Space Detroit

by Diane Haithman

Here’s a diversity question some Detroit lunchgoers try to answer in 1983: Is E.T. black? 2,312 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Detroit 1983

When General Motors announced its plan to save the auto industry with its first space mission to the moon Titan of the planet Saturn, the mission called for something special: burgers at Archibald’s Lunch. Despite its location just down Monroe Street in Greektown, Archibald’s Lunch was not at all Greek but was owned by a small wiry black man who never smiled. Archibald served burgers and tuna melts only. The tuna melts weren’t any good, and Archibald gave anyone who ordered a tuna melt such a fearsome look that the guilty party quickly called for a burger instead.

The foursome meeting up for lunch were dentist Mary, her hygienist Ramona, Detroit Free Press reporter Hollis, and the newspaper’s pop music critic Joe. Mary and Joe didn’t know each other. “Holy Moley, aren’t you the wife of our former movie critic, Carl Corbin?” he said to Mary when he met her.

Ex-wife,” Mary said quickly. “Very ex. Since last month.”

“His desk used to be right next to mine.” Joe paused. “Unusual kind of a fellow. That whole E.T. thing. What a fracas.”

“Fracas is a newspaper word, Joe,” Hollis exclaimed. “It’s like brouhaha. We write it, but nobody actually says it.” Even as Hollis spoke, he knew he couldn’t stop the conversation from veering toward the biggest fracas in recent Free Press history.

Carl had served a brief term as movie critic after completing his master’s in Film Studies at the University of Michigan. At the time he was abruptly let go, Free Press editors mumbled something about taking the Entertainment Now section in a new direction. But it was generally understood that the new guy from L.A. had been fired for not liking E.T.

Now, Mary was no critic — but if Carl had only asked her, she might have suggested that, in a town with an unemployment rate of 17 percent, where a young Chinese-American named Vincent Chin got beaten to death outside a topless bar just because two white auto workers thought he was Japanese, where thousands of desperate former auto workers were flowing like an oil leak to Texas or California seeking jobs, if he was even thinking of calling E.T. The Extraterrestrial, the biggest feel-good movie of 1982 and maybe of all time, “a maudlin self-indulgent wallow in Steven Spielberg’s affluent childhood angst with a tired sci-fi twist,” maybe he ought not to.

Continue reading

Cinema Purgatorio

Cinema Purgatorio

by Daniel M. Kimmel

Is this a film critic’s or a summer moviegoer’s worst nightmare come true? 1,844 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


I was not looking forward to this screening. Even though, after all my years as a film critic for a major metropolitan daily, I still made the effort to keep an open mind before going into a movie. I wasn’t surprised very often by something I had been dreading turning out to be something that was good. More often than not, though, it was the other way around. Still, I was determined to start off with a clean slate.

But this was going to be a tough one. It was a modern dress version of Hamlet starring Adam Sandler trying to reboot his career by tackling the Bard. My money was on Shakespeare going down hard. Sandler had a lot of recent films to atone for: Pixels, That’s My Boy, Jack And Jill. In fact, his films were no longer drawing the audience of his heyday and most of them were now going out directly through Netflix. It wasn’t clear if this new movie was beling released or had simply escaped.

I nodded to a few of my colleagues as I entered the screening room, ignoring the young punks who were making it harder and harder for people like me to earn a living. Why should anyone pay a professional film critic – in spite of our depth of knowledge and finely honed writing skills – when a bunch of children were giving it away for free on their blogs? Worse yet, they wanted to be considered peers.

It was almost enough to make me wish I was dead. And then I was.

Continue reading

Red Carpet 03a

On The Red Carpet In Cannes
Part Two

by Duane Byrge

The lead actress of the opening night picture at the Cannes Film Festival is murdered – and a Hollywood film critic is the prime suspect. Part One. 3,744 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


The French National Police gendarmes hurried Ryan Cromwell through reception, which resembled a cheap hotel lobby, and down a narrow brown hallway. They propelled him into an interrogation room only slightly larger than a bread box and painted gas chamber green. A man in his mid-fifties, wearing a dull black suit befitting a homicide detective, studied a copy of the day’s Hollywood Times. The page was opened to Ryan Cromwell’s review of The Ice Princess. The cop looked directly at Ryan. Then looked down at the paper. Then back up at Ryan.

”We have some questions for you, Monsieur Cromwell,” the detective said in a monotone and perfect English.

”Please, tell me what’s going on?” Ryan’s voice cracked, and his mouth was dry. “Why was I dragged down here?”

“My name is Inspector Thiereaux. I wish to talk about your film critique. In your criticism of The Ice Princess film, you wrote, ‘The script is so bad that one hopes that the film’s signature blue scarf would be stuffed down Kristen Bjorge’s throat so we wouldn’t have to hear her utter another word of dialogue.’”

”What do you mean, ‘stuffed down her throat’? I never wrote that.”

“It is right here.” The policeman shoved the review across the table. Ryan grabbed it and scanned the opening paragraph. He had begun with a discussion about lead actress Kristen’s screen presence. None of that was there.

“These are not my words,” Ryan said.

“I do not understand.”

“Sometimes the editors cut or rewrite my reviews. This is appalling. Because it blatantly misrepresents my thoughts. I would never take such a vulgar and aggressive tone. It’s so Internet.”

Continue reading

Red Carpet 02

On The Red Carpet In Cannes
Part One

by Duane Byrge

A Hollywood film critic pans the opening night picture at the Cannes Film Festival – and suddenly he’s in police custody. Part Two. 2,430 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


The half moon was smudgy white but ripening nicely for its full appearance at the Cannes Film Festival. Like a diva, it would not make its entrance until the final Saturday which the organizers already were proclaiming an evening of perfect alignment when “La Lunar Festival” would ascend to its spot of high honor in the dark blue Mediterranean sky. At the moment, the moon was glowing so exquisitely above the sea that it could have been a special effects rendition.

For a brief second, Ryan Cromwell savored the spectacle. Because the moon, the sea, the breeze, and The Ice Princess party were all his. It was the hottest Cannes invite in years. A sexy publicist from DeSimio & Associates had offered Ryan $250 for his ticket and, when he declined, she had upped the ante with an X-rated proposition. Ryan said no because he had a bad case of “Cannes Disease,” a contagious desperation that you had to be doing something every minute, and if not, you were missing something somewhere. Because the one event you decided not to attend would be the highlight of the festival.

Ryan was the senior film critic for the Hollywood Times, the top trade paper for the movie industry. He stood just over 6 feet with wavy dark hair and a physique toned by daily afternoon runs at the UCLA track and regular Tae Kwon Do workouts at a dojo on Sunset. He dressed well, but erratically, and when he won special praise for his “costume design,” as he called it, he took it as an indication that he lacked style at other times. He had just turned 38, and this was his eleventh trip to Cannes. It still always overwhelmed him that he was at the celebrated film festival, where the likes of his movie idols had graced the Red Carpet. Despite his modesty, Ryan knew that he belonged; his reviews set the tone and held the future for many of the films that would debut here in competition. The world would be reading him.

Standing in line to get into the party, Ryan was tapped on the back. He turned to see Stan Peck, his least favorite journalist. Peck wore a Hawaiian shirt, large sun visor and blue metallic sunglasses.

“Where’s your cigarette holder, Hunter?” Ryan asked.

“Slightly funny,” Peck responded. “I hoped to talk with you about your scathing review of The Ice Princess. It’s already the talk of the festival. I loved your lead: ‘Big guns, big gadgets, big hair, big dud.’”

Continue reading

Memo from Corner Office2

Memo From The Corner Office

by Nat Segaloff

OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: After a movie studio’s big night, the new boss plans changes. 1,442 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


TO:       All Employees of Persistent Pictures
FROM: Bradford “Buddy” Newborn, President
RE:       Studio Philosophy and Production Slate

We’re all proud of the eight Oscars that Persistent Pictures won last night under Bob Cutner’s management. We hope he gets to use his taste and leadership at another company now that he’s suddenly moved on to make way for me.

Since arriving to head the studio, I’ve seen many of you in the hallways, in the valet parking lot, and as I walk through the commissary on the way to my private dining room. But this is the first chance I’ve had to introduce myself since my father, Bradford Newborn Sr., bought the studio.

To quell some of the rumors and wisecracks I’ve been hearing through our advanced monitoring system, I am well aware that moviemaking isn’t anything like the strappy sandal business. It just so happens that shoes are only one of the many manufacturing interests of Newborn International. We also make small home appliances (“Nothing larger than a toaster oven” is our motto), breath mints and lacrosse equipment. We also had a major investment in the Miami Majors, an ice hockey franchise that I was in charge of running until it folded last year. Let me speak frankly: the Majors died because of poor public support, not because of that lawsuit from 12-year-old Jimmy Brewin after a puck got sucked up into the Zamboni and shot out into the stands, taking with it half his face.

I can report that Little Jimmy is doing well, all things considered, and loves his new nose, mouth and mansion.

Now, for studio business.

Continue reading

Critical Thinking - FINAL - Warming

Critical Mass

by Nat Segaloff

A film critic picks a fight with his city’s biggest theatre chain. Will his editor support him? 2,596 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Jensen Hirsch had the second most dangerous job on the newspaper. He was the film critic. If he’d held the most dangerous job, war correspondent, he might have at least received some respect. But movie criticism, as The New Yorker editor Harold Ross once told filmmaker Nunnally Johnson, “was for old ladies and fairies.” And Jensen Hirsch was neither.

“Look at it this way,” Hirsch liked to say whenever anyone dismissed his job as cushy. “A film critic is the only person at a newspaper, magazine, television, radio station, or website whose job is to criticize an advertiser. Sports writers, political columnists, and beat reporters can say what they want and nobody ever complains. But God help the journalist who takes on supermarkets, car dealerships, furniture stores, or real estate.”

Hirsch knew that film criticism was almost an S&M relationship between the movie studios who buy advertising and those who draw a salary for saying if the films are worth seeing. Sure, Hirsch would be on the other end of the occasional call or letter from a director or actor objecting to something he’d written about them. But they were always polite, assuming that Hirsch would be reviewing what they did next. The only people who routinely griped were theatre owners whose box office was dented by a negative Hirsch review. But, even then, they were making so much on advertising kickbacks and inflated house costs that they usually held their tongues. Nevertheless, every now and then some angry exhibitors would call the newspaper publisher to complain and threaten to pull their advertising unless Hirsch was fired. Sometimes they did cancel their ad buys, but they would always skulk back a few days later after the studio raised holy hell. In such cases, Hirsch’s editor, Russell Pelota, would summon the critic and warn that the next negative review could be the one that got him fired.

“Do you want me to like everything?” Hirsch always responded. “A critic who likes everything likes nothing.”

Continue reading

The Club FINAL2

The Club

by Thelma Adams

A veteran movie reviewer recalls her first vote as a member of the Gotham Film Critics. 2,540 words. Illustration by Thomas Warning.


"Nose punched," Rhoda said.

"Eye blackened," said her 20-year-old son.

"Technically, the black eye happened before the narrative’s frame," she pointed out.

"Technically, scalded with chicken stew," he countered.

"Shot in the toe. The gut. Bathed in bloody barf. Brain matter splattered. Never have I so wanted to wash the chunks out of a woman’s hair," Rhoda said. "That level of misogyny, well, it’s really straight-out misanthropy. So does that make Tarantino’s treatment of women less revolting? He needs therapy, not another big budget. "

After seeing Quentin Tarantino’s master-jerk The Hateful Eight, mother and son were driving home and listing the horrors heaped on the movie’s primary female character.

"I love Jennifer Jason Leigh,” she continued, “but perhaps her performance would have been better in 70mm Panavision."

Right then, in the middle of a right turn, Rhoda flashed back to 1995, the year she first voted with the Gotham Film Critics. That awards season, she influenced her peers to award Jennifer the Best Actress for her portrayal of the twisted little sister in Georgia.

Continue reading

Critic color version2

Critic

by Bernard Weinraub

Can a beloved film critic survive panning the latest Tarantino and Coen Brothers oeuvres? 3,435 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Even though he was executive editor of the Los Angeles Times, Wilson did not care much for movies. He would never admit it, of course, but his experience and interests centered on national politics, foreign policy and sports. Hard news consumed him — local news as well as news from Washington and Baghdad and Moscow and Beijing. The arts pages were left to deputy editors. Of course, he realized the newspaper’s need to cover Hollywood. The Detroit News covered the auto industry. The L.A. Times covered the film industry. That was that.

So Wilson was obliged to deal with Hollywood. Every few months, he dutifully met the studio moguls who said it was a shame that so many movies were filmed in Canada or Louisiana because of the availability of more lucrative tax credits than in California. Couldn’t the newspaper run more articles about that? In turn, Wilson urged the moguls to buy more advertising which had declined severely with the growth of Internet movie sites. Wilson knew it was a losing battle.

He found them all just a little too smug, and he preferred to spend time with the newspaper’s numerous other constituencies. The auto and real estate people who complained that the paper was anti-business, black and Latino leaders who complained that they weren’t covered enough in the paper, the police chief and his deputies who complained they were misunderstood by reporters, the Jewish leaders who complained the paper was unfair to Israel, the Asians who complained that the articles ignored them. It went on and on. But the problems of these people — as different as they were — seemed real.

The movie guys, and they were all guys, walked into his office with the noxious aroma of entitlement. “Spare me,” he told his secretary whenever the moguls wanted a meeting with him.

But Wilson was a smart editor and, whatever his personal tastes, he knew that there were readers out there who consumed the comic pages and horoscopes every day. Just like they read about the movies every day. Don’t mess around with the comic strips and horoscopes. Don’t mess around with the movies. Besides, the edict from the publisher was to boost online readership. And movies, with their appeal to younger demos, were central to that strategy along with television and music. Circulation was falling at every newspaper in the country, including the L.A. Times. More and more readers saw the newspaper only online, the key to survival.

Continue reading