Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Great films, terrible reviews

Following on from my posting on worst literary reviews I've been turning my attention to what the critics have said over the years about the best movies to come to the screen. Here's a sample of some where the critics got it wrong:

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Poster for 'Bringing up Baby'

A Howard Hawks comedy starring Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. It was a box office failure and led to some in the industry labelling Hepburn 'box office poison', but it's now regarded as a comic classic, with both film and star performances appearing regularly on '100 greatest of all time' lists.

"Mechanical, forced and full of overly obvious and off-key jokes."  (Film Weekly)

Casablanca (1942)

Romantic drama directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Did pretty well though not spectacularly at the box office, but won three Oscars at the 16th Academy Awards (best picture, best director, best screenplay) and was nominated in five more. Appears more than any other film on 'best of all time' lists.

"A very mediocre film." (Umberto Eco)

"Pretty tolerable." (The New Yorker)

Psycho (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock horror starring Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins. The public loved it and it is now generally regarded as one of Hitchcock's best. The shower scene is arguably the most famous movie moment ever - most famous murder, anyway.

"Merely one of those schlocky horror television shows padded out to two hours." (Esquire)

"The experienced Hitchcock fan might reasonably expect the unreasonable... What is offered instead is merely gruesome. Little should be said of the plot... Director Hitchcock bears down too heavily on this one, and the delicate illusion of reality... becomes, instead, a spectacle of stomach-churning horror." (Time Magazine)

"There is not an abundance of subtlety... in this obviously low-budget job." (New York Times)

The film critic of The Observer, C A Lejeune, was so offended by 'Psycho' that she not only walked out but permanently resigned her job as film critic for the paper.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Peter O' Toole as T E Lawrence

Epic British film directed by David Lean and starring Peter O' Toole in the title role. Widely considered a masterpiece, it won seven of the ten Oscars it was nominated for, as well as five Golden Globes and four BAFTAs.

"Just a huge, thundering camel-opera that tends to run down rather badly as it rolls on into its third hour." (New York Times)

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966 Italian version; 1967 in English)

Spaghetti western directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood (the Good), Lee Van Cleef (the Bad) and Eli Wallach (the Ugly). Consistently popular since its release, now generally regarded as a classic. Quentin Tarintino has called it "the best-directed film every made".

"Director Leone doesn't seem to care very much, and after 161 minutes of mayhem, audiences aren't likely to either." (Time Magazine)

"Must be the most expensive, pious and repellent movie in the history of its peculiar genre."  (New York Times)

"The temptation is hereby proved irresistible to call 'The Good, The Bad and the Ugly'... 'The Bad, The Dull and the Interminable' only because it is."  (Los Angeles Times)

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Crime film directed by Arthur Penn, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. A double Oscar winner, it is regarded as a taboo-breaking landmark film and one of the first of the 'New Hollywood' era.

"Squalid shoot-'em-up for the moron trade." (Newsweek) 

New York Times critic Bosley Crowther slated the film and started a campaign against its 'brutality'. He was subsequently fired by the paper for being 'out of touch' with the public.

The Godfather Part II (1974)

American gangster film directed by Francis Ford Coppola from a script co-written with Mario Puzo. Stars include Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall and Robert De Niro. Nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won six. It's generally regarded as an artistic masterpiece, with many critics placing it equal with or superior to its acclaimed predecessor 'The Godfather'... but not this one.

"The only remarkable thing about Francis Ford Coppola's 'The Godfather, Part II' is the insistent manner in which it recalls how much better the original was. Even if 'Part II' were a lot more cohesive, revealing and exciting than it is, it probably would have run the risk of appearing to be the self-parody it now seems." (New York Times)

Taxi Driver (1976)

Poster for 'Taxi Driver'
Martin Scorsese drama starring Robert De Niro. A huge financial and critical success, it was chosen by Time as one of its 100 greatest movies of all time, which is ironic given what its film critic said on release.

"Too heavy with easy sociologizing to be truly moving. Yawningly predictable." (Time Magazine)

Apocalypse Now (1979)

American war film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Stars include Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall. It did well at the box office and is now seen as a classic of its type, regarded as the quintessential Vietnam movie.

"While much of the footage is breathtaking, it is emotionally obtuse and intellectually empty. An especially upsetting letdown, which is not so much an epic account of a gruelling war as an incongruous, extravagant monument to artistic self-defeat." (Time Magazine)

The Shining (1980)

Psychological horror film from the Stephen King novel, directed by Stanley Kubric, starring Jack Nicholson. Martin Scorsese regarded it one of the eleven scariest horror films of all time. Despite its status now as a horror masterpiece, it was nominated for no major award at the time but nominated for two 'Razzies' as Worst Director and Worst Actress (Shelley Duvall) in the first year that anti-award was given.

"With everything to work with, they've destroyed all that was so terrifying about the Stephen King bestseller it's based on." (Variety)

"If you go to see this adaptation of Stephen King's novel expecting to see a horror movie, you will be disappointed... The setting is promising enough - an empty, isolated hotel in dead-of-winter Colorado - but Kubrick makes it warm, well-lit and devoid of threat." (Time Out)

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Poster for 'The Empire Strikes Back'
Adventure space drama, directed by Irvin Kershner. Stars include Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. One of the biggest box-office successes of all time, this episode of the 'Star Wars' series is highly regarded as perhaps the best of the franchise.

"Confession: When I went to see 'The Empire Strikes Back' I found myself glancing at my watch. The Force is with us, indeed, and a lot of it is hot air. It's a measure of my mixed feelings about 'The Empire Strikes Back' that I'm not at all sure that I undersand the plot. 'The Empire Strikes Back' is about as personal as a Christmas card from a bank."  (New York Times)

Ghostbusters (1984)

Science fiction comedy directed by Ivan Reitman and written by two of the 'ghostbuster' stars, Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis. The lead ghostbuster was Bill Murray, and the film also starred Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis. Another tremendous box office success, the film has been much acclaimed for its wit, originality and special effects. The American Film Institute placed it at 28th in its '100 Laughs' list of  film comedies. The theme song from the film was a huge worldwide hit.

"Murray's lines fall on dead air."  (New Yorker)

"Its jokes, characters and story line are as wispy as the ghosts themselves, and a good deal less substantial... Mr Murray would be even more welcome if his talents were used in the service of something genuinely witty and coherent, rather than as an end in themselves."  (New York Times)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Prison drama directed by Frank Darabont, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. It was nominated for seven Oscars, but lost out in the year of big winner 'Forrest Gump'. Regulary seen on Top 100 lists, the film was voted by BBC Radio 1 listeners in March 2011 as their favourite film of all time.

"The movie seems to last about half a life sentence... becomes incarcerated in its own labyrinthine sentimentality... And leave it to pandering, first-time director Frank Darabont to ensure no audience member leaves this film unsure of the ending. Heaven forbid a movie should end with a smidgen of mystery."  (Washington Post)

The Matrix (1999)

Poster for 'The Matrix'
Science fiction action film directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski, starring Keanu Reeves. This was the first instalment in a series of lucrative movies, video games, comic books and animation.  The film won four Oscars and two BAFTAs for its brilliant effects in both sound and vision, and has been lauded by critics for its excellence within its genre.

"It's astonishing that so much money, talent, technical expertise and visual imagination can be put in the service of something so stupid." (San Francisco Chronicle)

Fight Club (1999)

Drama directed by David Fincher, starring Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter. The film's apparent glorification of violence made it controversial in the way that 'Clockwork Orange' was in its time, but if became a cult classic and is now very favourably regarded. Total Film named it their 'Greatest Film of our Lifetime' in 2007.

"An outrageous mixture of brilliant technique, puerile philosophising, trenchant satire and sensory overload... Pretentious." (Newsweek)

"Conventionally gimmicky" (Time Magazine)

"By the end it has unravelled catastrophically into a strident, shallow, pretentious bore with a 'twist' ending that doesn't work. It never has the balls really to take responsibility for the nihilism, rage and despair it appears to be gesturing towards." (Guardian)

If you have any bad reviews of great films to share, or a comment about these ones, I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Worst literary reviews

Following up from my post on literary insults I have been checking bad reviews of some of our most famous writers throughout history, and offer them here for your enjoyment.

Samuel Pepys on William Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream':

"To the King's Theatre, where we saw 'Midsummer Night's Dream', which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life."

Queen Victoria on William Shakespeare's 'King Lear':

"A strange, horrible business, but I suppose good enough for Shakespeare's day."

Samuel Johnson on John Milton's 'Paradise Lost':

"'Paradise Lost' is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it was."

Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson on Laurence Sterne's 'Tristram Shandy':

"Nothing odd will do long. 'Tristram Shandy' did not last.'

(Of a novel that is still read nearly 250 years later, and inspirer of other books, an opera and films.)

Mark Twain on Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice':

"Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin bone."

J Lorimer on Emily Bronte's 'Wuthering Heights':

"All the faults of 'Jane Eyre' are magnified thousandfold and the only consolation which we have in reflecting upon it is that it will never be generally read."

Emily Bronte
The Examiner on Emily Bronte's 'Wuthering Heights':

"...wild, confused; disjointed, and improbable."

Graham's Lady Magazine on Emily Bronte's 'Wuthering Heights':

"How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors."

Saturday Review on publication of Charles Dickens' 'Little Dorrit':

"We do not believe in the permanence of his reputation... our children will wonder what their ancestors could have meant by putting Dickens at the head of the novelists of today."

Damon Runyon on Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland':

"Nothing but a pack of lies."

Odessa Courier on Leo Tolstoy's 'Anna Karenina':

"Sentimental rubbish... Show me one page that contains an idea."

Katherine Mansfield on E M Forster's 'Howard's End':

"Putting my weakest books to the wall last night I came across a copy of 'Howard's End' and had a look into it. Not good enough. E M Forster never gets any further than warming the teapot. He's a rare fine hand at that. Feel this teapot. Is it not beautifully warm? Yes, but there ain't going to be no tea. And I can never be perfectly certain whether Helen was got with child by Leonard Bast or by his fatal forgotten umbrella. All things considered, I think it must have been the umbrella."

George Bernard Shaw on James Joyce's 'Ulysses':

"It is a revolting record of a disgusting phase of civilisation; but it is a truthful one; and I should like to put a cordon around Dublin; round up every male person in it between the ages of 15 and 30; force them to read it; and ask them whether on reflection they could see anything amusing in all that foul mouthed, foul minded derision and obscenity."

James Joyce

Virginia Woolf on James Joyce's 'Ulysses':

"Never have I read such tosh. As for the first two chapters, we will let them pass, but the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth - merely the scratchings of pimples on the body of the boot boy at Claridges."

New York Herald on F Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby':

"This is a book of the season only."

H L Menken on F Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby':

"a glorified anecdote"

Dorothy Parker on Benito Mussolini's 'The Cardinal's Mistress':

"This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force."

Mary McCarthy on J D Salinger's 'The Catcher in the Rye':

"I don't like Salinger, not at all. That last thing isn't a novel anyway, whatever it is. I don't like it. Not at all. It suffers from this terrible sort of metropolitan sentimentality and it's so narcissistic. And to me, also, it seemed so false, so calculated. Combining the plain man with an absolutely megalomaniac egotism. I simply can't stand it."

J D Salinger

The New Yorker on James A Michener's 'Chesapeake':

"I have two recommendations. First, don't buy this book. Second, if you buy this book, don't drop it on your foot."

('Chesapeake' is over 2,000 pages long.)

Harold Bloom on J K Rowling's 'Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone':

"How to read 'Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone'? Why, very quickly, to begin with, and perhaps also to make an end. Why read it? Presumably, if you can't be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do."

Susan Cohen on Stieg Larsson's 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo':

"This is easily one of the worst books I've ever read."

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Best literary insults

Following my recent blog posting on political insults I'm turning my attention this time to literary slanging matches. No-one seems to be immune from opprobrium; even the top man.

William Shakespeare

You can feel the pure, raging jealousy of dramatist Robert Greene in these lines, one of the few contemporary references to Shakespeare as playwright:

"For there is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you; and being an absolute Johannes fac totum is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country."

Greene may have been a minnow by comparison, but there are some greats in their own fields who have also taken a swipe at Shakespeare over the years, including...


"This enormous dunghill."

"Shakespeare is a drunken savage with some imagination whose plays please only in London and Canada."

Charles Darwin:

"I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me."

Leo Tolstoy:

"Crude immoral, vulgar and senseless."

and, most colourfully, George Bernard Shaw:

"With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his... it would positively be a relief to me to dig him up and throw stones at him."

Read carefully, though, Shaw's quote might be seen as a bitter acknowledgement that Shakespeare's mind is the greater.

Another classic and immensely popular English writer who seems to have stirred enmity in others is Jane Austen:

Jane Austen

"Miss Austen's novels... seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisioned in the wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched and narrow. The one problem in the mind of the writer... is marriageableness." (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

"Jane Austen's books too are absent from this library. Just that one omission alone would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn't a book in it." (Mark Twain)

"I have discovered that our great favourite, Miss Austen, is my countrywoman... with whom mamma before her marriage was acquainted. Mamma says that she was then the prettiest, silliest, most affected husband-hunting butterfly she ever remembers." (Mary Russell Mitford)

As we saw with Robert Greene, some of the most spiteful insults come from the contemporaries of the writer. So we have Lord Byron dismissing John Keats as "a tadpole of the lakes"; George Orwell describing W H Auden as "a sort of gutless Kipling" and Evelyn Waugh damning Beverly Nichols as "a mercenary, hypochondriacal flibbertigibbet who doesn't take in one of the six words addressed to him."

Here are some more writer-on-writer barbs:

"Chaucer, notwithstanding the praises bestowed on him, I think obscene and contemptible; he owes his celebrity merely to his antiquity." (Lord Byron on Geoffrey Chaucer)

"This obscure, eccentric and disgusting poem." (Voltaire on Milton's 'Paradise Lost')

"I wish her characters would talk a little less like the heroes and heroines of police reports." (George Eliot on Charlotte Bronte)

Charles Dickens

"Of Dickens' style it is impossible to speak in praise. It is jerky, ungrammatical and created by himself in defiance of rules... No young novelist should ever dare to imitate the style of Dickens." (Anthony Trollope on Charles Dickens)

"A flabby lemon and pink giant, who hung his mouth open as though he were an animal at the zoo inviting buns - especially when the ladies were present." (Wyndham Lewis on Ford Madox Ford)

"What a tiresome, affected sod." (Noel Coward on Oscar Wilde)

"Owen's tiny corpus is perhaps the most overrated poetry in the twentieth century." (Craig Raine on Wilfred Owen)

"Stewed-up fragments of quotation in the sauce of a would-be dirty mind." (D H Lawrence on James Joyce)

"The work of a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples." (Virginia Woolf on James Joyce's 'Ulysses')

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a man to a dictionary." (William Faulkner on Ernest Hemingway)

"That's not writing, it's typing." (Truman Capote on Jack Kerouac)

And finally, my two favourite literary insults. The first is from Christopher Smart about his fellow-poet Thomas Gray:

"He walked as if he had fouled his small clothes, and looks as if he's smelt it."

And the inestimable Groucho Marx, after Sidney J Perelman sent him his new novel 'Dawn Ginsbergh's Revenge':

"From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it."

Friday, 7 October 2011

Steve Jobs quotes

Steve Jobs 1955-2011

When I worked as a presenter/trainer I would often quote the line that Apple’s Steve Jobs used to persuade John Sculley to leave Pepsi Cola and join Steve at Apple:

“Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?"

I liked the quote so much that I included it in my book 1,000 GREAT QUOTATIONS for Business, Management &Training.

There were another couple of quotes from Steve in there too, but the truth is I could have used many more, for he was consistently inspirational and memorable in the things he had to say. As a tribute to Steve Jobs, in the week of his death, I have reproduced some of the best ones below.

"I want to put a ding in the universe."

"So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.”

"It's more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.” 

"Out of curiosity comes everything." 

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Think Different.

“I think part of what made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians, poets, artists, zoologists and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world." 

“We're gambling on our vision, and we would rather do that than make ‘me too’ products. Let some other companies do that. For us, it's always the next dream.”

“When I hire somebody really senior, competence is the ante. They have to be really smart. But the real issue for me is, Are they going to fall in love with Apple? Because if they fall in love with Apple, everything else will take care of itself. They’ll want to do what’s best for Apple, not what’s best for them, what’s best for Steve, or anybody else.”

"The Mac people want to do something insanely great."

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

"You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future."

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.” 

“When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can often times arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. Most people just don’t put in the time or energy to get there.” 

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains." 

"It gave a tremendous sense of self-confidence, that through exploration and learning one could understand seemingly very complex things in one's environment." 

“You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new.” 

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

“Real artists ship.”

“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected.” 

“When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”

“We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them.”

“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.” 

“But innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem. It’s ad hoc meetings of six people called by someone who thinks he has figured out the coolest new thing ever and who wants to know what other people think of his idea."

“My best contribution is not settling for anything but really good stuff, in all the details. That's my job -- to make sure everything is great." 

“The people who are doing the work are the moving force behind the Macintosh. My job is to create a space for them, to clear out the rest of the organization and keep it at bay.”

“My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other's kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That's how I see business: great things in business are never done by one person, they're done by a team of people."

“I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.” 

“I am saddened, not by Microsoft’s success — I have no problem with their success. They’ve earned their success, for the most part. I have a problem with the fact that they just make really third-rate products.” 

"I wish developing great products was as easy as writing a check. If that was the case, Microsoft would have great products."

“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

“I’m the only person I know that’s lost a quarter of a billion dollars in one year…. It’s very character-building.” 

“I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.” 

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” 

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

“We don’t get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. Because this is our life. Life is brief, and then you die, you know? And we’ve all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it.” 

"No one wants to die, even people who want to go to Heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new.”

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful … that's what matters to me."

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."  

“Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

One of the most inspiring speeches Steve Jobs ever made was his Commencement Address to the new graduates at Stanford University in 2005. Some of the quotes immediately above are taken from that speech. You can see it now on below, courtesy of the University and You Tube.