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Via Media

Critic of the Year…not

Questions continue to crop up about Harry Forbes, one of the film reviewers employed by the USCCB. First came the Brokeback Mountain affair, the final act of which – a heavily redacted review – is summarized by Jimmy Akin, here. (And just a reminder…Victor Morton, Rod Dreher, and Steven Greydanus have all written at length about this film.)


Next up is Woody Allen’s new film, Match Point, of which Christian critic Jeffry Overstreet writes:

I don’t expect much from Woody Allen anymore except amoral depictions of infidelity. He seems to have resolved to laugh off the idea of sin and consequences. In fact, Match Point is the darkest, most amoral film of his career, basically laughing at anyone who values their conscience.

Overstreet goes on to take apart Forbes’ review of Match Point, finishing up by asking the question:

So, is it now the perspective of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops that a movie’s perspective — whether moral or nihilistic — is something worth noting, but really not all that important? If a film that tells us there is no God, that if we should take a gamble and seize all the pleasure we can grab… should we go around recommending this title to our friends and neighbors?

Again, bishops: Greydanus and Morton. Tag Team. You could not do better. Trust us.

Comments read comments(18)
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Mark Shea

posted January 2, 2006 at 10:54 pm

Hear, hear. More intelligence in their little fingers than in the whole body of their current critic.

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Matt C. Abbott

posted January 2, 2006 at 10:57 pm

As I just posted on Jimmy’s blog, in my view, the USCCB can be “morally problematic.”

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Kevin Jones

posted January 3, 2006 at 7:31 am

The review reeks of East Coast pseudosophistication.
How long has the USCCB been in Washington, DC? And why was DC chosen for its headquarters? Nearby Baltimore at least has historical ties, but the DC base only makes the council look and indeed become more politically-oriented than it should.

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Marion (Mael Muire)

posted January 3, 2006 at 8:13 am

The Brookland neighborhood of Washington, where the USCCB is located, is nick-named “Little Vatican”, home to the Catholic University, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the John Paul II Cultural Center, as well as the Jeanne Jugan Home of the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Franciscan Monastery, the Dominican House of Studies, and many more.

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Tim Drake

posted January 3, 2006 at 10:27 am

Greydanus, in fact, interviewed for the USCCB post now filled by Mr. Forbes.

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posted January 3, 2006 at 11:09 am

Tim: I guess that tells us volumes about their judgment, huh?
I second the Greydanus-Morton tag-team idea.

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posted January 3, 2006 at 12:50 pm

I guess I don’t understand what would be gained from Morton and Greydanus over Forbes. Take Brokeback, for instance. Morton wrote about it with glowing anticipation before he saw it in Toronto, and then wrote a fairly enthusiatic review of it, ranking it in his 10 best of the year (what? no Hustle and Flow? KIDDING). Would Morton have given it an O, even though he clearly appreciated the movie? Do we really want a reviewer for the USCCB that likes movies?

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Victor Morton

posted January 3, 2006 at 1:52 pm

Thanks for all the compliments, and I appreciate and understand the spirit in which they’re offered, but I don’t think I’d be a good fit for the USCCB.
Assuming it would have been my decision to make, I would have rated BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN an “L” for reasons I’ve already stated at length at Amy’s link above (and BTW, I said nothing at all about it, much less anything “[written] … with glowing anticipation” before having seen it).
My complaints were (1) the superficiality of Forbes’ review on a film that needed to be examined closely, especially given … (2) the predictable and wrong-headed “hosannah in excelsis” reaction from the pro-gay MSM, and (3) the predictable and wrong-headed garment-rending from some religious conservatives that (1) and (2) inevitably produced.
And kudos to Mr. Overstreet. I saw the MATCH POINT trailer for the first time last weekend and (all the caveats about misleading trailers duly noted) all I could say to myself is “is this a remake of CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS?” Literally every single element in the trailer produced a spark of remembrance from Allen’s 1989 film. If it is a virtual remake … (I’m trying to be spoiler-vague about two movies; one seen, one not) … especial kudos for the calling Forbes on the line “the story [is] told with a strong moral perspective.” I’m curious about what Mr. Overstreet thinks of CRIMES (for the record, I like it a lot, but “a strong moral perspective” isn’t a phrase I would use to describe it.

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posted January 3, 2006 at 3:02 pm

Victor–I stand corrected. You did indeed write “When the lights went down, my expectations were higher than a Grateful Dead audience” after you saw the movie (but you knew that). I don’t think people would be happy with you at the USCCB, and I say that as someone who actually LIKES your Right Wing Film Geek reviews

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Rod Dreher

posted January 3, 2006 at 3:07 pm

I’ve not seen “Match Point,” but “Crimes and Misdemeanors” is one of my favorite films, because it shows the moral consequences of nihilism. If there is no God, and therefore no ultimate justice, then life becomes simply a matter of doing whatever you can get away with and/or rationalize. That’s true. If you walked into the theater a nihilist, then you walked out a depressed nihilist. If you walked in as a religious believer, you walked out probably grateful for the gift of faith.

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hieronymus has a blog now

posted January 3, 2006 at 3:19 pm

Can anyone tell me why the USCCB considers film reviews part of its responsibilities? What a stupid waste of time an effort.
But I guess that if the USCCB has a charism, “stupid waste of time and effort” is probably it.

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Victor Morton

posted January 3, 2006 at 3:34 pm

I suspect that what most got Mr. Overstreet in a fightin’ mood (and rightly so, I should add, tentatively for now) was the Forbes phrase “a strong moral perspective.” Which seems to be — idiotic.
I’m still looking forward to MATCH POINT because of the “best in years” buzz and because it’s apparent from the trailer that for the first time in a Woody-film-not-starring-Woody, the male lead isn’t acting like a Borscht-Belt Allen-impersonator. For the nadir, see Kenneth Branagh in CELEBRITY. Or don’t. Just trust me.
But my expectations have been quite dampened.

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Samuel J. Howard

posted January 3, 2006 at 5:44 pm

*** Possibly the most minor of spoilers ****
That statement of Mr. Dreher is probably accurately applied to Match Point, which I saw this weekend.
I’d add that there is a character strongly opposed to having an abortion when it is pressed on her. That adultery is shown as NOT leading to happiness. Etc.

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Jonathan Carpenter

posted January 3, 2006 at 7:57 pm

Mr. Morton said:
“but I don’t think I’d be a good fit for the USCCB.”
This is because it is easier for some to always sit in the bleachers, than it is for them to actually be in the field making plays good or bad. We should have better.

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posted January 3, 2006 at 10:33 pm

The USCCB is useless at reviewing movies. They can’t even get their own crap in line, let alone tell me what movies to see. Somehow, we’ve got to shut that mess down. It’d reduce confusion and save a ton of money.

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posted January 3, 2006 at 10:38 pm

“Can anyone tell me why the USCCB considers film reviews part of its responsibilities? What a stupid waste of time an effort.”
The OFB classification system is not really a review system, any more than the G-PG-R-X system is. The categorization is moral, not aesthetic.
If done intelligently, it seems to me that that could be very helpful. I don’t go to the movies myself, but if I did, I’d be glad of guidance from someone whose principles I share. And if I were taking kids to a movie, I’d be glad to have advance warning of potentially damaging content. I see nothing wasteful in the bishops supplying pastoral assistance to their flocks trying to live the Christian life in the secular world.

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posted January 3, 2006 at 11:42 pm

The bishops have a long history of censoriousness when it comes to movies and literature. They often seek to treat adults as children. In the ’60s the big bugaboo for the church was “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” The picture received a virtual condemnation–I think it got a rating of A-4, one step short of hell, as I recall. All that that rating served to do was drive up the box office receipts.
Use your aesthetic judgment when it comes to movies and books. If you enjoy, as I do, reading what a top-flight critic has to say, then read a variety of them. Don’t let the reviewer for Our Sunday Visitor or Newsweek or your local paper be your first and last stop. Get a conversation going with your brain.

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posted January 4, 2006 at 5:22 pm

“Use your aesthetic judgment when it comes to movies and books.”
Not only your aesthetic judgement, though–also your moral one. I’d read reviews by movie critics for their view of the aesthetics of a movie, and look at classifications such as the OFB’s for some sense of what the moral content was, and then try to decide whether shortcomings in one area are compensated for by compelling quality in the other.

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