Anthony Lane: reviewer funny, reviewer remarkably insightful


I had no idea Anthony Lane existed before Bobby recommended a collection of reviews and other writings to me. That book is named “Nobody’s Perfect” and it’s very good.

Here’s what Rachel Cooke wrote for The Guardian in this review of the book:

If you have never read a Lane review before, then you are in for a treat. If you have, well, lucky you: they sure survive re-reading. I would rather dine on woodlice than see Pearl Harbor again, but I have ingested Lane’s verdict on it no less than three times, and his opening paragraph always results in hot tea shooting uncomfortably, deliriously, down my nose: ‘The last Michael Bay film, Armageddon, was a handy guide to what you should do when an asteroid bumps into your planet,’ he writes. ‘His new picture, Pearl Harbor, maintains the mood, pulsing with fervour as it tells a tale familiar to every child in America: how a great nation was attacked and humbled by the imperious pride of Ben Affleck.’ I’d love to see that line looming over Sunset Boulevard.

There’s more than puns and cheap shots where Lane comes from. Even though some may cast his style as dry, once the paint’s settled, you’ll see that it sticks for years to come.

For example, here’s a paragraph from one of his more recent reviews, for “50 Shades Of Grey“:

Christian, it transpires, has a private passion, the cause of what James calls “his odd I’ve-got-a-whopping-big-secret smile.” Down a corridor of his apartment, behind a locked door, lurks his Red Room. Lavishly stuffed with the tools of domestic torture, it is supposed to radiate a breathless lust, although the result looks more like a spread from House Beautiful. Here, within these crimson walls, our hero is free to express himself as a “dominant,” meaning not that he is the fifth tone of the diatonic scale, which really would be hot, but, rather, that he constrains and chastises women who wish to be treated thus. At least, that’s what he tells himself. Mostly, he sounds like your basic stalker: “I’m incapable of leaving you alone,” he informs Ana—a notion that appears to stimulate her, although it would easily warrant a call to 911. She succumbs, up to a point, but her recurring doubts lead Christian to dish up one of those crusty old no-means-yes propositions which feminism has battled for decades: “You want to leave? Your body tells me something different.” Pass the butt plug.

Actually, I’ve read a lot of reviews of that film and his is, bar none, excellent and the best.

Here‘s a list at Metacritic, that simply collects a lot of Lane’s reviews according to his likes and dislikes – although I must say I cannot fathom how they’ve managed to say what grade – between 0-100 – a film is given by Lane, as his review pages at The New Yorker are without numerals.

What follows are just a few examples of how good Lane can be. It’s almost methodical and fun to read his reviews as they’re often scathing – when you agree with him – and almost hurt when you feel he doesn’t know what he’s talking about (as, yes, you do fucking know better than he does). Also, it’s important to note that he’s not all about zingers and angry, but also the sweet art of subtly, lovingly describe something good. As an example of this, here’s the intro to his review of Lukas Moodysson‘s “Together“:



Now, that’s a kind review. Here’s one that is a little different, which is of John Singleton‘s “Poetic Justice“:


I love how Quentin Tarantino‘s “Pulp Fiction” is detailed:


Also, there’s the dry funny bits, as with Guy Richie‘s “Snatch“; Lane should win an award for the first paragraph and the two sentences that follow it:


Also, George Lucas‘ horrid “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” gets thrown into tax territory, where it should belong1:


Bryan Singer‘s “The Usual Suspects“, considered a modern classic film as far as riffing with noir is considered, along with some shining examples of very good writing, direction, modern-day acting tough and…Benicio del Toro’s acting is considered:


Personally, I love George Miller‘s epic and wondrous “Mad Max: Fury Road“. It’s one of the very few films I’ve given a 10/10 grade in the last years, and Lane seems to dig it, too:

I have been looking forward to this movie for months, trying not to watch the trailers more than twice a day, but, fool that I am, I hadn’t foreseen its feminist ambitions—crystallized in the sight of one Wife, heavily pregnant, flinging wide the door of the War Rig and flaunting her belly, like a bronze shield, at her enraged pursuers. (The Wives were coached in preparation for the film by Eve Ensler, the author of “The Vagina Monologues.” This must be a first. Gloria Steinem was never hired as a consultant on “The Dirty Dozen.”) Later comes a droll sequence with a sniper’s rifle, as our hero aims at a searchlight, in the distant gloom, but misses. Only one bullet remains. Furiosa takes the gun and hits the target, using Max’s shoulder as a rest. The tough guy is nothing but a cushion.

Yep. Unbridled feminism and action – in one film. Who wouldda thunk it? to paraphrase Bill Hicks. It’s doable. And that film fucking rocked. By the way, here‘s my review of that film2.

If you want to see more of Lane’s analytical side, I recommend his review of Dan Gilroy‘s “Nightcrawler“, which may be Jake Gyllenhaal’s best acting:

The crux of the movie comes from a single question. “You’re going to show this?” Nina’s colleague asks, when he watches what Lou has to offer. Needless to say, the station goes ahead and airs it, adding a tagline—“Viewer discretion is advised”—that works as both caution and catnip. Later, when Lou misses a story, and tries to compensate with a feeble shocker from the second tier (“I have the stabbing in Corona”), Nina explains, in her steeliest tones, what is required: “I want something people can’t turn away from.” Gilroy may be overstating his case here, but such heated excess allows him to join a debate that was set in motion two and a half thousand years ago. To the Greek mind, the purgative effect of horrific events was deepened, not curbed, when they occurred offstage; even now, a production of “Medea” that showed her slaughtering her children, rather than running in red-handed once the deed was done, would be disrespectful to Euripides, and to the dead. In the world according to “Nightcrawler,” though, where network news is a serial offender against taste, the idea of respect is about as relevant as a sword fight, and there is no such place as offstage. There is only appetite, and the ratings spike to be had from sating it. Viewer discretion is a joke. Nina, who would have fired Medea for being a soft touch, has a point: if you let people’s attention drift, or block their view, or refuse to show the worst and then claim to be operating in their best interests, they will turn away, or switch off. Hence Nina’s shiver of expectation, one evening, when Lou arrives at her office, and declares, “I have something.”

My other fave critic is Roger Ebert, who sadly died a few years ago. I’ve reviewed his “The Great Movieshere.

  1. Although David Foster Wallace’s vision of the IRS is a far more interesting thang, as detailed in “The Pale King“.[back]
  2. Enjoy, Anthony. Enjoy.[back]
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