Mustache face.

Today’s question: How the hell did Michael Medved get his job, and how the hell does he keep it?

Really. His Wikipedia entry, for whatever it’s worth, paints the outlines of a real hustler, a guy who’s made artful leaps from one rock to another in the course of making his living, ranging from political speechwriting to novelty publishing to this to that. He hosted “Sneak Previews” after Siskel and Ebert left, a little like being the guy who followed Greg Kinnear on “Talk Soup,” but never mind. At some point, he seems to have crossed that invisible line in today’s media world, the one after which you cannot fail.

We’ve all known people like this, ambitious souls who never seem to do great work, or even good work, but always fail upward. Medved’s like that. He had the advantage of basing his career in film criticism, which doesn’t take a lot of specialized knowledge to do a halfway-OK job. As long as you’re reasonably telegenic and good with a catch phrase, it doesn’t really matter if you know what you’re talking about. You’re just another guy with an opinion. I mean, Richard Roeper is a film critic. How hard can it be?

(To my film-criticizing friends, I don’t mean for a second that the work isn’t serious. It’s just easy to be good-OK or good-enough. Greatness is as rare as it is anywhere.)

Medved brings something extra to the table: His “values.” I welcome someone who can talk about art and culture from a religious perspective, if only more of them did. I always find Amy’s thoughts on TV and movies interesting; she writes from an intellectual Catholic POV, puts some sweat into the effort, and never takes the easy way out. In the end, you have to have something to say other than, “God told me this is wrong, and so it is.” More important, you have to respect the art, to understand that it’s art, not propaganda, and judge it accordingly. But Medved plays dirty. Remember his crusade against “Million Dollar Baby”? He felt moved to mount his soapbox not because the story took a turn he disapproved of, but because (or so he said) he felt it was advertised dishonestly. He thought the trailers promised something uplifting, and it turned out to be a big downer about quadriplegia. He was only thinking of those clueless moviegoers who might be fooled into spending $10 on something that wasn’t “Rocky” with girls.

But even knowing what a duplicitous fellow he is, even I was shocked by this column in USA Today. Perhaps shocked by its honesty; he seems to be dropping all pretense of being a critic, and promoting himself straight to Minister of Cinema in the Republic of Gilead:

Why would Hollywood release a controversial feature film about alleged Mormon terrorists of 150 years ago while all but ignoring the dangerous Muslim terrorists of today?

For the same reason “Hollywood” made a movie about the sinking of the Titanic and not a fatal wreck at the Indy 500, about the 1980 Olympic hockey team and not the 2003 Detroit Tigers, about a rat that cooks and not an elephant elected to Congress, I suppose — because that’s what the movie’s about.

But to answer the question honestly would mean a one-paragraph column, and Medved has space to fill. And so on he goes, accusing “Tinseltown” of having too much “respect for Muslim sensibilities” and that “Hollywood’s reluctance to portray Islamo-Nazi killers remains difficult, if not impossible, to explain.” (Islamo-Nazis? Is that what we’re calling them these days?)

I guess Medved left “Syriana” before George Clooney got his thumbnails pulled out by a member of Hezbollah. Maybe “Black Hawk Down” passed him by. “Three Kings” was probably too easy on ’em. I understand.

He makes the case that Americans shouldn’t be making movies about American religious terrorists as long as there are still movies to be made about Islamic religious terrorists, and they shouldn’t be making movies that make Mormons look bad as long as there’s a Mormon running for president. OK. Medved has a background in screenwriting, connections to vastly wealthy people who share his feelings and a nationwide soapbox to publicize his efforts. What’s he waiting for?

Seriously. Wouldn’t you think a person who’s made his living writing about the movie business would have a clue or two about how it works, starting with the fact there is no “Hollywood” monolith that decides which movies will be made? (Or is there some committee I’m unaware of? It’s possible.) If Medved and his buds want to see movies about bloodthirsty Ay-rabs, the Screen Actors Guild has quite a few swarthy types in their files, and I’m sure they could find plenty for the cast.

You know this rant. I’m bored already.

Here’s something, though: We’ll see movies about Islamic terrorists, eventually. And I predict the best ones will be made by Muslims. They’ll certainly have the deepest understanding of the culture, societies and institutions that breed Islamic extremism, just as an American might feel they’d bring something to a story about American religious extremism. Just sayin’.

Do I have bloggage? Only this:

I’m so old, I used one of these. Filed stories on it, although I preferred the next generation, with the tilt-up screen, so you could see more than four lines at a time. I think it had a 128-baud modem; you stuck the phone into two giant cups on top.

Posted at 1:25 pm in Movies |

23 responses to “Mustache face.”

  1. Ralph Hitchens said on August 14, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    Thanks, first I’d heard of this movie. As to “why now?”, the answer is timing, I guess — in the last few years there have been a couple of fairly well-received books on the Mountain Meadow Massacre in addition to a TV special (I borrowed the DVD but haven’t watched it yet). At least one of the books made a strong case for the complicity of Brigham Young, although if guilty he did a pretty good job of covering his tracks.

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  2. brian stouder said on August 14, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    I agree with your frustration at stick-figure thinking such as Medved’s, wherein “Hollywood” = “bad”, and somehow only HE can see it plainly.

    Of course, it is too facile to say “More important, you have to respect the art, to understand that it’s art, not propaganda”

    Hmmmmmm. I seem to recall extra heaps of derision from the left over movies like Red Dawn or The Green Berets or Top Gun; not to mention teevee shows like “24”.

    And really, what about Fahrenheit 9/11 or An Inconvenient Truth? They are artfully done, but aren’t they also propaganda?
    Or put another way, it takes something to impel the artists to create and complete a work; a movie (or book, or tv show) with a point of view has the best chance of being coherent, or compelling, or memorable – or even truthful.

    And indeed, while there are lots of movies that are really about nothing more than 100 minutes of escapism, the movies that DO advocate a specific point of view still are not the product of some monolith

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  3. Jeff said on August 14, 2007 at 2:17 pm


    Was it Compaq that made the giant metal briefcase computer with the lid on the handle end that folded out to be a keyboard, and the bottom folded out with the two giant cups for the phone cradle modem? Those were fun to carry around at the county fair . . .

    But this obsv’n: “We’ll see movies about Islamic terrorists, eventually. And I predict the best ones will be made by Muslims.” I’ll surely steal that line; the dilemma is whether to give you credit or not. Either way, know that i’ll be grateful when i use it. 😉

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  4. nancy said on August 14, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    Brian, the movies you mentioned are propaganda. My objection is in judging all movies first as propaganda, and only later as art. So, then, “The Cider House Rules” becomes a pro-abortion cudgel, rather than a movie that deals with abortion. “September Dawn,” because it’s about Christian religious violence, is, in Medved’s view, a blunt instrument to beat up on Mitt Romney instead of just a story about a bad thing that really happened in 1857. A love story about two people who have sex out of wedlock and don’t burst into flames is judged as a story that fails to drive home the message about the evils of premarital sex.

    Like that.

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  5. brian stouder said on August 14, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    I see your point more clearly now. Still, the digital quality of your argument – ‘respecting the art’ versus a flat declaration that some movies are propaganda (period) is arguable.

    And if we agree that some movies are indeed simply ‘propaganda’, then we implicitly accept that others might apply that label to movies that we DON’T think are propaganda.

    And if you’re in the backwash of the (intellectually vacant) Rovian version of the right side of the so-called ‘culture wars’, you will naturally bark (like a junkyard dog) at any and every possible example of the left side of the ‘culture wars’.

    By way of saying I think Medved will fade away after the next election cycle, to be replaced by leftist guardians of the faith

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  6. alex said on August 14, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    Imagine my surprise when I found out that lilting sissy was playing for the wrong team. This was a few years back. His delivery was so namby-pamby I’d never actually paid any attention to the content of his speech.

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  7. LA mary said on August 14, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    I’m wondering why he’s writing about movies about mormon terrorists instead of muslim terrorists when there is a striped bass overfishing crisis no one is writing about.

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  8. ashley said on August 14, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    Jeff: you’re thinking of a Kaypro.

    FWIW, Medved is the Czech (and probably most other Slavic languages) term for “bear”.

    Subtext: Nancy, talking about “two giant cups” on top again…

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  9. nancy said on August 14, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    I got your two giant cups right here, perv. And you’re right, Ash, it’s the same word in Russian: медведь.

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  10. brian stouder said on August 14, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    A non-sequitur: if I buy a minivan, and there is a recall on that minivan, it will be quite easy for the manufacturer to find me (through the registration) and then for me to find the minivan on the driveway, and take it in to get it fixed.

    But if I have several children, each of whom have dozens and dozens (and dozens) of toys,and friends who have like amounts of toys; and grandparents and other extended family members with many more dozens of toys; and if some unknown number of these toys are buried in the sandbox or under the seats in the minivan(!) or deeply embedded in the sofa….

    and if there is a massive (multi-millions) toy recall – how safe should any parent feel? What percent of these toys will actually come back? If 95% of them are returned, how widely dispersed would the remaining 5% be?

    Is there a subtext at work here? Are we, in our role as ‘good parents’, supposed to reject all toys that say “made in China” on sight? Is that where we’re headed?

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  11. ellen said on August 14, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    What isn’t Jon Voight in this year? He was in the Bratz movie. He was in Transformers. Now this.

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  12. LA mary said on August 14, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    He was in Zoolander, a fave of this site’s participants. And he’s Angelina Jolie’s dad.

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  13. nancy said on August 14, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    In the interest of absolute fairness, I should add that “September Dawn” looks like a fairly crummy movie. The trailer makes it look like they think this is some huge secret, but please — it was in Jon Krakauer’s Mormon book.

    Jon Voigt in “Bratz”? The mind, she reels.

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  14. LA mary said on August 14, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    I’m so old I used a typewriter with a cloth ribbon.

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  15. Laura said on August 14, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    I used charred wood on the back of an old slate.

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  16. Bartleby said on August 14, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    A couple of minor quibbles:

    (1) Greg Kinnear was good on “Talk Soup,” but I think his replacement was better. Trouble is (and to reinforce your point), I can’t remember his name. I do recall that he had a localized white patch in his otherwise dark hair, and as a result was sometimes subtitled “Skunk Boy.”

    (2) Based on his bandaging later in the film, I think George Clooney lost more nails than just his thumbnails in “Syriana.” Of course, maybe you meant that Medved left before the thumbnails were finished.

    (3) My son just reminded me that the successor in quibble #1 is John Henson. Still, I couldn’t remember his name, for what that’s worth.

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  17. Jeff said on August 14, 2007 at 9:34 pm

    Kaypro — yes. Merci, ashley.

    ASCII; good times, good times.

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  18. Andrea said on August 15, 2007 at 2:26 pm


    My thoughts exactly. I’ve been waivering about how much to worry, from considering going to the hardware store to buy lead paint test kits and swabbing all of my kids’ toys like some CSI tech to embarrassing myself at the pediatrician’s office next month during check-ups to ask about blood tests for lead paint exposure. We have many of the same models of the toys on the F-P recall list, but they were all purchased prior to May 2007, some years before when our first daughter was born in 2002. Part of me wants to be reasonable, but the other part feels like maybe they just happened to catch this batch and what if other batches are just as full of lead paint and slipped through the system? My 8-month-old is at the age where every single toy goes into her mouth.

    And even more off topic: At some point, he seems to have crossed that invisible line in today’s media world, the one after which you cannot fail. We’ve all known people like this, ambitious souls who never seem to do great work, or even good work, but always fail upward. I thought of Byron Allen when I read these statements. Whenever I catch him doing an interview on some random channel on some random entertainment show, I think, “This guy is still in the business?” (and I didn’t know he’s from Detroit)

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  19. brian stouder said on August 15, 2007 at 9:30 pm

    This whole toy thing troubles me greatly, but – no matter how easy it would be – I don’t blame “the Chinese”. I blame Mattel, or more specifically, the pointy-headed pin-striped suited ‘Masters of the Universe’ who run that corporation and who decided to make another 5% profit on every Dora the Explorer and Thomas the Train by utilizing third world labor and third world environmental and workplace rules.

    If this toy issue isn’t siezed by the presidential candidates as an example of what lays at the bottom of the cliff once we go too far with “out-sourcing”, then I shall become much more cynical in my outlook.

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  20. Jim in FL said on August 15, 2007 at 11:44 pm

    NPR reported that Mattel shipped the Chinese sub-contractor the paint to use on it’s product, but the sub-contractor substituted the lead based paint. I’d be willing to bet the kid-safe Mattel paint was lost (or stolen) in transit, eventually sold to some other company building product to be sold in the US.

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  21. nancy said on August 16, 2007 at 12:08 am

    Another NPR show — “Marketplace,” I think — did a story on the business culture in China, using a situation in their own Beijing bureau as an example. They needed a room converted into a recording studio, a fairly simple job, and noted all the little glitches along the way that were simply S.O.P. in China. One involved the paint. The Americans specified lead-free paint, bought the paint separately and provided it, and the Chinese contractor promptly swapped it for leaded. They said this is practiced so widely no one even takes note of it anymore; it’s common for Chinese families moving into new lodging to let the house or apartment sit for two weeks with all the windows open to clear the paint fumes.

    A strange place.

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  22. brian stouder said on August 16, 2007 at 7:45 am

    And indeed – the ‘masters of the universe’ who have invested many millions of dollars into their Asian supplier network certainly must also have learned of these sorts of practices, yes?

    If an American supplier to a large corporation simply abandoned the specifications and subsituted materials, they’d get cut off at the knees (I supply RoHS documentation for hose and valve assemblies….God only knows what you need for children’s toys or for food!)

    So I still blame Mattel!

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  23. julia said on August 22, 2007 at 8:58 pm

    Basically, Medved was in high school with David Wallechensky (the Peoples’ Almanac, the Book of Lists, son of Irving Wallace), and the two of them made a cameo appearance in a piece about high school students in, I believe, Time. They got together to write a book called Whatever Happened to the Class of ’65 (you’ll be amazed to hear that the ones whose personal unhappiness did not lead them down the road of hippy perdition had less complicated lives). Big hit book, really bad short-lived TV series. Medved then hooked up with a circle of Republican cultural conservatives (prominently including Jack Abramoff and the guy he tried to force the Mariannas to give a no-show job to) and presumably discovered that media (and book contract, and think tank) opportunities for minor celebrities who blame the world’s woes on sluts and fags and brown people are much more lucrative than those available to one hit wonders a few decades past their prime.

    He was, of course, right about that.

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