Whenever I come upon a particular bad example of a film review, there is a good chance that it is by Owen Gleiberman — currently film “critic” at Variety but once the film critic at Entertainment. He suffers from the biggest ailment of film critics: he doesn’t like film.
Glieiberman on Night of the Living Dead (1990)
Back in 1990, he gave the remake of Night of the Living Dead a “grade” of D+.
Before I get into it, note how arrogant it is for film critics — people who usually know next to nothing about the mechanics of making a film — treating filmmakers as though they were school children. “Well, I’ll give you a B+, Cindy. But Johnny, you clearly didn’t do your homework so I’m giving you a C-!” Pathetic.
Gleiberman’s entire review is two paragraphs — not even 250 words. And it doesn’t criticize the film! It criticizes Romero’s decision to make it. And as such, it is a perfect example of what I see all the time: the “I wasn’t gonna like this film going in!” review. And that’s fine by me. I’ve never learned a thing from these pretend film critics. But they poison whole oceans of film-goers.
I’m not sure what it is people like Gleiberman think they are doing. Justifying a paycheck? What’s clear is that they don’t love film. And their reviews say everything about them and nothing about the films.
Gleiberman Doesn’t Need to Get His Facts Straight
What really struck me was the end of his review: “By the time one of the characters turns to the camera [Uh, no. -FM] and says of the ghouls, ‘They’re us — we’re them and they’re us’ (Isn’t it about time Romero stopped milking that line?), you want to return to the land of the living.”
Really? I’m no Romero expert. I’ve never held the original Night of the Living Dead in such high respect because I had been so terrified by The Last Man on Earth years before I saw it. But I do know his films as well as anyone who likes the genre. (Something Gleiberman probably doesn’t share with me.)
In Dawn of the Dead, Peter says, “They’re us, that’s all; there’s no more room in hell.” Here it is:
And in the remake of Night of the Living Dead, the line obviously alludes to Dawn of the Dead. But it’s quite different, “They’re us! We’re them and they’re us!” As you can see it is said in a totally different context:
Gleiberman Want’s Meaning — But Can’t See It
Keep this in mind when you read what Owen Gleiberman had to say about the original and remake: “The original Night was taken by some to be a statement about the Vietnam War; this one isn’t about anything larger than Romero’s desire to make a buck.”
I’ve always found the ending of the original as too facile. Thematically, the remake is much stronger. And that scene was not the one that made it so powerful. The chilling, horrifying line is, “That’s another one for the fire.” If it doesn’t give you chills, you’re dead.
Gleiberman Was Wrong — But Who Cares?
But note: Gleiberman is wrong: Romero didn’t over-use that line. Gleiberman was just so determined to dump all over the remake that he had to make up something to criticize. And in doing so, he completely missed the deep thematic elements of the film.
It’s too bad that film critics can’t be sued for malpractice.
Glieiberman on Underwater (2020)
I went to see Underwater yesterday. It had a couple of good scares but otherwise wasn’t much worth the effort. But then I read Owen Gleiberman’s review of the film in Variety and I realized I liked it more than I had thought.
But let me deflect a possible criticism, “Are you really going to write another article blasting Owen Gleiberman?!” Yes, I am! The man needs to do the right thing and stop writing about film given that he clearly hates the artform. No one should complain about an attack on him.
What’s more, I didn’t set out to write about Owen Gleiberman. After seeing Underwater, I looked at the reviews and I found a particularly odious one. It just so happened that it was by Owen Gleiberman, because of course it was.
Everything Is Bad
Keep in mind: I didn’t like Underwater that much. It was an okay way to spend an hour and a half. But any Brett Kelly outing would have been more inspiring. So it isn’t as though I disagree with Gleiberman on the merits.
But as usual with these professional critics, it isn’t enough to report that a film isn’t inspiring or even that you think it is bad. Everything must be bad. The film must be a sin against God — the result of years of careful work designed especially to offend the excellent taste of the critic.
Gleiberman starts off his review, “Before technology took over the movies, a cruddy sci-fi action thriller often looked just as bad as it played. No longer.” So rather than compliment the film for looking good, the very fact that it does look good is somehow bad.
This is followed by over a hundred words to put across the idea that Gleiberman — a man of Style and Taste — does not approve. He even falls into the use of the royal plural, “Well, guess what? It doesn’t excite us.” Owen Gleiberman is not amused!
When in Doubt: Randomly Complain About Everything
Film critics would not earn their pay if they didn’t drill down into their targets, finding what’s good or bad in them — usually all of one or the other. Our hero does this by commenting for a half a paragraph about Kristen Stewart’s haircut that is “beyond anything that pretends to look fetching.” I thought it was cute, myself; but then, I am not a man of Style and Taste.
Then he makes a turn and talks about how “water starts crashing through the walls” and “we experience every jolt and surge.” Sound’s impressive! But wait: “yet the film already feels waterlogged.”
Why?! We’re never told. He simply moves on to more text about what happens next in the film. But don’t worry, he knows what he’s at Variety to do. He mentions Vincent Cassel’s character and adds “who like everyone else in the film has a barely written role.”
Very true! But does that matter? He’s already called Underwater a “deep-sea knockoff of Alien.” Are the characters in it anything but central-casting stereotypes? Do we really expect a film like this to have characters as well developed as in Dean Spanley?
And then, of course, he complains that the plot “holds very little water.” (Get it?! Why isn’t this guy writing comedy?!) He says it is just there to kill time until the monsters show up. He’s right, but so what? Part of Underwater is a disaster film. People try to survive. If I were at the bottom of the ocean in a structure that was being destroyed, I’d try to get to the escape pods too. What is the problem here?
And Now for Some Career Advice
Kristen Stewart doesn’t just have her film dumped on, she also gets some helpful advice from the movie critic. She’s such a “classy” actor, you see, she needs to be careful what roles she takes.
Also: remember that this film is just a “deep-sea knockoff of Alien.” So he needs to point out, “It’s clear that someone convinced her that Underwater would give her the chance to be ‘just like’ Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley.” How could he possibly know? Regardless, he then goes back to commenting on her hair.
Finally: Complain Some More About It Being a Knock-Off
The last paragraph is more about how this film is just Alien. Except for the parts that are not just Alien. Those parts sucked — just like the parts that did.
But is Underwater really an Alien knockoff? It’s not like Alien was some singularity. It shares much with The Thing from Another World. And there are other influences such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
There are other, closer, matches to Underwater. Of particular note is DeepStar Six. But it also shared much with other films of that year: The Abyss and Leviathan. Later came Event Horizon and the very close The Rig. It’s hard not to conclude that this man of Style and Taste, God’s Chosen Vessel His Majesty Owen Gleiberman, just doesn’t know much about this genre of film.
To conclude this review, he returns to his theme by noting that this was a bad career move for Stewart.
Too bad no level of pointlessness and stupidity is ever a bad career move for a movie critic.
 To be fair, however, I might have enjoyed it more had I not forgotten my glasses. The fact that I liked it as much as I did may speak very well for the film. The problem was mostly with the monsters who were really blurry to me.
Image of Owen Gleiberman cropped from his Twitter account. Used under Fair Use.