The Top 5 Mayor Ebert Movie Moments

Andrew looks at the Top 5 Mayor Ebert Movie Moments!

In 1998's American Godzilla reboot by Roland Emmerich, there's a curious subplot involving the New York Mayor Ebert and his adviser Gene.  The characters are clearly a slam on renowned Chicago based film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel for the mutual dislike of Emmerich's Stargate and Independence Day.  While not the first and certainly not the last riposte of the critical establishment moviegoers have seen hurled by irate filmmakers who are less than receptive to criticism, it's become sort of a poster child emblematic of all the times Hollywood figures have sparred with the news divisions and journalists rating them.  Film directors are always going to have less than stellar reviews from the film criticism collective, but it's rare an artist will vocalize his disdain for the system publicly, let alone in his own work.  Yes it is known Stanley Kubrick did respond to negative reviews of his movies and read every one that was published, but you never saw him generating characters or situations that address critics directly.  That said, the Movie Sleuth presents a list consisting of five films which went the extra mile to air director grievances regarding film criticism of their work, aptly named the Top 5 Mayor Ebert Movie Moments!

A key plot point (and opening paragraph of my initial review) of technically proficient Mexican auteur Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu's Best Picture winner Birdman centers on washed up has-been action movie star Riggan Thomson's tiff with the witchy and beady eyed descendant of Pauline Kael over his forthcoming play.  Full of animosity, contempt and just enough aloof superiority, the embittered critic who has neither read nor researched the topic of Thomson's play in question proceeds to inform Thomson she will close his play with her review no questions asked.  Some have read the scene as depicting the gulf between art and criticism of such while others have read it as Innaritu lashing out against his years and years of detractors.  What's great about the scene is that it's constructed in such a manner that it can be read both ways and a valid argument for both interpretations can be made.  Critics themselves, no doubt, took offense to the scene for their overgeneralized portrait as irate and angry individuals in general while touting the power to make or break someone over the slightest words written with their drying up ballpoint pen.  It's no secret critics can and often have wielded enough influence to make or break a film, album, book or play whether there's any truth to their assertions or not, but rarely is it given face with a cantankerous, scratchy voice.  In a way, Thomson's adversary depicts the ongoing battle between the artiste and critical establishment while illustrating the fine line between fair and balanced analysis over yellow journalism.

Cloud Atlas
The Wachowskis, save for Bound and The Matrix, haven't exactly been in bed with the critics.  Between V for Vendetta, Speed Racer and the recently released Jupiter Ascending, to suggest critics were singing the praises about them would be facetious.  But that didn't stop the dynamic duo from taking the piss out of their detractors in the last film to garner mixed to positive reviews for them, the overblown yet sincere labor of love Cloud Atlas.  In the first half of The Wachowskis' (co-directed by Tom Tykwer) adaptation of David Mitchell's sprawling science fiction novel of the same name, we happen upon Tom Hanks (in one of multiple roles) as embittered author Dermot Hoggins at a party consisting of authors, critics and editors.  Celebrating the debut of his new novel Knuckle Sandwich, Hoggins is incensed that esteemed critic, Mr. Felix Finch, gave his book a negative review.  Sizing up his adversary, Hoggins (Hanks gloriously chewing up the scenery with a hilarious looking fake nose and sideburns) grabs ahold of Finch and hurls him off the balcony several stories below to his blood soaked death.  Obviously in real life the most that one can get away with involved Ken Russell whacking Alexander Hamilton over the head on live television over a negative review of The Devils, but in the Wachowskis' universe, they get to kill off those mean old cynics for not liking their movie.

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Todd Solondz, that misanthropic yet charmingly funny provocateur, has been and always will be a lightning rod for controversy.  After the adults only ensemble shocker Happiness disturbed audiences to the core with it's infamous subplot involving a pedophile father (Dylan Baker) who preys on his young son's best friend, Solondz found himself at the epicenter of a firestorm of critical rage eager to tear down this seemingly hate filled transgressor.  In response with the first half of his loose auto-critique Storytelling (aptly named Fiction), we're presented with a classroom of college literature students.  Each story shared with the class is promptly subjugated to cold, unfeeling, aloof and superior college elitists followed by a brutal gavel dropped by the professor himself.  After a brutal sexual encounter with the professor outside of class, Vi (Selma Blair) writes about it and presents her account to the class.  As expected, the unforgiving and acerbic classmates systematically tear it down until she tearfully barks 'but it happened!'.  This is as direct of a rebuke of Solondz's critics as you will ever see from the reclusive and mercurial auteur.  While Solondz eventually does turn the camera on himself in the film's second half (Nonfiction), the man clearly has a bone to pick with his reviewers.  Like all of Solondz's films, Storytelling is dripping with contempt for his detractors to the point of demonizing.

They Live
Although this article is entitled The Top 5 Mayor Ebert Movie Moments, someone actually beat Roland Emmerich to the finish line in lampooning Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert for passing judgment on his prior work.  That someone is none other than horror maestro John Carpenter with his film They Live.  A dystopian and paranoid science fiction thriller about an oppressive alien race disguised as humans whose silent invasion is revealed with a pair of otherworldly sunglasses, the film features the late wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper in arguably the role of his career as a drifter who happens upon the invasion by accident.  The glasses reveal a bizarre exoskeletal creature with glazed over red eyes.  A cult classic in the truest sense of the word and Orwellian satire about subliminal advertising, the film is best known for a very real physical altercation between Piper and co-star Keith David as well as some of the most iconic dialogue in Carpenter's filmography.  Near the end of the film as more and more people become aware of the extraterrestrial ruse, a television surfing channels can be seen with news anchors and reporters turning up as aliens, among them none other than Siskel and Ebert.  What's notable about this little parody is the exchange between the two, decrying violence and gore in film not unlike the one the two laid upon Carpenter's 1982 remake of The Thing, a film Ebert called 'a great barf bag movie'.  While not as acerbic as Mayor Ebert, Carpenter's inclusion of the famous critics among the band of invading extraterrestrials seems to suggest the director feels such a distinguished establishment judging cinematic art is not to be trusted.

The Devil's Rejects
Roger Ebert has already been attacked twice in this list, but few have had the gall to take on the ever cartoonish looking and often sensationalist and superficial critic Gene Shalit.  That changed in 2005 however with Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects, the grislier, gutsier and surprisingly funnier sequel to his 2003 psychedelic Texas Chainsaw homage, House of 1,000 Corpses.  While the family of serial killers from the first film pick up where they left off with law enforcement hot on their tail, police try to gather information by any means necessary, leading to a botched attempt to decode the mystery behind the killers' loose connection to the Marx Brothers by enlisting the advice of self-proclaimed expert Marty Walker.  From the get go, his moustache, oversized hair, mannerisms, puns and cadences may as well be wearing a nametag which reads 'Gene Shalit'.  True to the source, Zombie's Shalit leaps from topic to topic with little connective tissue other than formulating a biting pun and just enough egomania to take a dump on revered cultural icons like Elvis Presley.  More of a fun parody than a genuine rebuke, the Shalit caricature is pompous, arrogant and eager to prove how much smarter he is than the rest in the room.  Although only his second feature at the time, Zombie's been in the business long enough to recognize Shalit for the flamboyant and egotistical showman that he is.

-Andrew Kotwicki