The reputation of the shameless Ben Lyons, the 27 year-old co-host of At The Movies who’s become infamous over the last four months as probably the least knowledgable and perceptive high-profile movie critic of the 21st Century, as well as a passionate practitioner of kneepad love in the service of the Hollywood entertainment machine, has finally stirred the interest of the L.A. Times entertainment section.
Chris Lee‘s 12.28 piece, called “Critic Ben Lyons Gets Many Thumbs Down” (with a subhead stating that “the new At the Movies reviewer’s detractors find him a celeb-loving shill for film marketers“), is well and wisely written — but what took the Times so long to run it? Much of Lee’s article cherry-picks from what various online voices have been saying for a long while.
Voices like efilmcritic’s Erik Childress (Lyons’ “integrity is out the window… everyone thinks he’s a joke”), Defamer‘s Stu VanAirsdale, myself, Variety‘s Anne Thompson, Chicago Sun Times critic Roger Ebert and blogger Scott Johnson and his stopbenlyons.com.
Lyons’ fame, reach and success are emblematic, Lee states, “of the drastic transformation of film criticism. Long gone are the times when a vaunted single critic such as the New Yorker‘s Pauline Kael could inject a film into the national consciousness with a single positive review. These days, moviegoers are just as apt to check a movie’s rating at Rotten Tomatoes, the popular movie-review aggregating website, as to read an actual review from a major news organization.
“Worse, with readership plummeting, newspapers and magazines have had to drastically thin their ranks of critics. [And] movie marketing has never been more pervasive, and many studio summer blockbusters are now described as ‘critic proof,’ meaning that negative reviews do nothing to affect the box office.
“In this light, Lyons’ ascension to the ‘throne’ of televised film criticism has come to represent something more than just the changing of the guard — many view it as yet another example of the dumbing-down of media and of celebrity triumphing over substance.”
But let’s be candid — Lyons wouldn’t have been hired if Disney suits hadn’t decided that America’s moviegoing culture has massively dumbed itself down over the past 25 or 30 years — that your average movie patron has become much ditzier, shallower, stupider and less interested in intelligent (or semi-intelligent) adult-level movies than they were in the ’70s and ’80s, when the original Siskel and Ebert movie-reviewing show debuted, found its footing and became something of a mass-market hit.
My favorite Ben Lyons dissings, in no particular order:
(1) “Sarah Palin is the Ben Lyons of the Republican Party and Ben Lyons is the Sarah Palin of film criticism.” — attributed either to HE reader “Dobbsy” or efilmcritic’s Erik Childress.
(2) “Lyons is to film criticism what Chris Paolini is for literature, what Sanjaya is to music, and what Tiffany is to Hulk Hogan‘s Celebrity Championship Wrestling.” — HE reader “JERMS guy.”
(3) “I don’t like Lyons because you can tell right off the bat that he’s too much of a glider and a gladhander. Plus he went to school with Ivanka Trump. Plus he once called Nikki Blonsky his good buddy. Plus he’s going out with Whitney Port. Plus there’s something inauthentic about a supposed film maven who plays golf.
“Golf has its own spiritual kwan and undercurrent, of course, but 90% of the people who play it do so because they want to schmooze their way into power. Golf courses and clubhouses are havens for conservative-minded ex-fraternity guys who love wearing those awful pink and salmon-colored Tommy Hilfiger polo shirts and trading insider info with their pallies over mixed drinks after the game. You can’t serve golf and movies any more than you can serve God and Rome. They represent entirely different theologies.” — myself in a July 2008 piece called “The Two Bens.”
(4) “Since a capacity to utilize language is usually linked to capacity to think, sentences in which Lyons called Body of Lies ‘overtly complex'”, when the context of its use clearly shows that he meant ‘overly complex’ and calling Miracle at St. Anna a ‘classic of epic and scope’ clearly indicate that he is barely mentally qualified to watch, at most, a summer action film, much less critique one. What the hell is a ‘classic of epic and scope’ anyways? What the hell does that fragment even mean?” — HE reader JustThisGuy.
(5) “Ben Lyons sat down next to me at [a] Towelhead screening. And I lost any respect I had for him as a televised film critic right then and there. Because he obviously hadn’t studied his predecessor’s guide to filmgoing etiquette. Lyons remained on his cell phone for the entire duration of Towelhead. While he wasn’t talking on the phone, he did spend most of the two hour running time click-typing out texts. His head was continuously pulled down, face away from the screen. His zombie-like eyes bathed in that annoying bright blue light. He then later went on to give the film a ‘Don’t See It’ review on his show.” — anonymous movieweb guy.
(6) “If Jeffrey Lyons was nails on a blackboard, then his douchebag son Ben is the sound of rabbits being slaughtered, or whatever it is they use on all of the detainees at Gitmo. He is everything I hate about everything: smug, talentless, boring and the beneficiary of garden variety nepotism. And he probably does get mad squack, which is why I want him dead. Dead. I hope he reads this (right) and becomes upset, if only for a moment, at the idea that there is someone out there who wants to see his lights snuffed out, because I’m pretty sure that he gets his balls licked all day long. If I saw him crossing the street I would accelerate.” — HE reader “Milkman.”