Memo to Rex Reed, The New York Observer


Dear Rex,

Do you like movies?

I ask because your latest reviews suggest that you think most movies are anything but enjoyable. That except for a select few, today’s films exist solely to disgust, annoy and aggravate you personally. And that if you, Mr. Rex Reed, don’t like a film, it doesn’t deserve an ounce of your respect, or anybody else’s.

Most importantly, you don’t seem to understand one of the most important foundations of criticism: Judge each film for what it is and what it attempts to be, not what you wish it would be.

Your review a few weeks ago of Oz: The Great and Powerful contained all of the above offenses and then some. First, you carelessly say, “Nothing in it comes close to the magic, the originality or the everlasting entertainment value of the original, which only cost $2.777 million and didn’t use a single computer-generated graphic.” Now, I don’t need to remind you that there is such a thing as inflation, and computer-generated graphics weren’t used in mainstream films in 1939, right? While I agree completely that this film lacks the magic and originality of The Wizard of Oz, such a statement only makes you seem out of touch and, quite frankly, a little stupid. Don’t compare apples to oranges, and certainly don’t compare budgets and special effects of 2013 to 1939’s.

Not to mention, if you’re going to follow that up with an incredibly grand and shocking statement like “This says more about how much better movies were in 1939 than they are today,” you’d better be able to back it up. Unless you can provide a side-by-side comparison of every film made in 1939 and every film made this year and prove unequivocally that every single one from ’39 is better, you have no business making such a proclamation. You cannot expect readers to take you seriously if you have such a prejudice against modern films. Those are the films they want to go see, after all.

As for my point that you must judge a film by what it is, not what it isn’t, you waste too many words in this review moaning about what you “miss” from The Wizard of Oz, like its score, Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West, and the Yellow Brick Road. Who cares? This is a different movie. If you want to watch The Wizard of Oz, go watch The Wizard of Oz. And then get back to telling me what you liked and didn’t like about this film.

Your review of Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects committed similar sins. I enjoyed your line, “[Soderbergh’s] movies are like first drafts for better movies one hopes another director will someday make,” but you make the mistake of saying it at the beginning of your review instead of the end. Already the reader knows you have a prejudice against this director and he or she cannot trust that your opinion of his latest film will overcome it. This statement would be much more effective at the end of the review, once you’ve proven it, and perhaps edited it to only refer to this particular film. Then it becomes a valid criticism, and a good one.

For your complete spoiling of the entire movie by thoughtlessly revealing that Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character ends up being Rooney Mara’s character’s lesbian lover this review should never have run in The Observer. Even though you looked down your nose on this film, you don’t have the right to spoil it for your readers. You must pay every film the basic respect of keeping its plot twists secret and allowing viewers to experience it as the filmmakers intended, no matter how bad of a movie you thought it was.

Finally, you just can’t help yourself from again posturing about what you wish this film had been: “Side Effects would have been a better movie if Mr. Soderbergh had taken the issue of the side effects of prescription drugs and placed it in a context that makes sense.” True, a movie’s plot should always be placed in a context that makes sense, but the way you say it makes you sound pompous and arrogant. Never assume that you know better than the filmmakers. You cannot change this film, and deciding what would have fixed it is a waste of time. Your energy, and words, are better spent describing the experience of watching the film and whether it achieved what it set out to achieve.

At your best, Rex, your reviews can be witty and insightful, but I’m afraid you’ve lost your passion for movies. If you don’t find it, or at least learn to tone down your obvious disdain, then The Observer may be better off without you.


Robin Migdol

P.S. For the love of God, break up your paragraphs. I never saw a 22-line paragraph I wanted to read.

One comment

  1. Migdol, Gary · · Reply

    You go, Robin. Rex Reed, watch out!!

    Sent from my iPad

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