Eric’s Sack of Mail: Harry Potter; ‘The Ark’

Though you wouldn’t know it from reading my blog, not all the e-mails I get are stupid and/or angry. Many of them come from calm people who have interesting things to say or ask. So from time to time, I’d like to open Eric’s Sack of Mail to share some of them with you.

First, Cameron writes in regards to the A- grade I gave “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”:

I was just curious what, in your opinion, stops this movie from being an “A?” I have not seen the movie, nor am I a huge fan (haven’t read the books, but have enjoyed the movies), so I’m in no position to judge yet, but your review was pretty positive. Was it the lack of meaning in the spat with Ron, or did it just lack an “A” caliber?

Good question. My personal philosophy on “A” grades (and this has evolved over the last few years) is that an “A” should be for instant classics — movies that will be just as good or almost as good on repeat viewings. Of course, having watched a movie only once, it’s hard to know whether it will stand up to a second viewing, so I have to guess. I try to err on the side of caution: If I’m not quite sure it’s an instant classic, I’ll go with A-. In this particular case, there are a few details (the spat with Ron being one) that aren’t quite successful in the way they’re conveyed. Not a lot, but just enough to make me think that the movie is juuuuuust shy of being A-worthy. Still a great movie, though!

If you browse the archives, you might find I was not always so conservative with my A’s. I used to hand them out like Halloween candy, to films that really deserved A-minuses or B-pluses. Now I am older and wiser, however.

Our next e-mail comes from Sarah. She writes:

ust an amusing (or sad, if you prefer) anecdote I saw on Meridian Magazine today. Apparently Michael McLean and Co. have opened a musical on Broadway (The Ark) which is getting negative reviews by the New York theater critics. McLean has actually had the audacity to write an article to Meridian begging people to come see his show. He accuses the critics (with a slightly doctored quote from the New York Times) that they don’t like the show because it promotes family values and has a religious context. Having read the original review, I think he’s upset because the Times critic wrote that his show was kitschy, overacted and that the lyrics were “banal.” Granted, I haven’t actually seen the production, but given McLean’s output in the past, I’m inclined to agree with the critic. Sound familar?

Links to the articles:
McLean’s response

New York Times review

I always enjoy your site, even when I don’t agree with you. Glad to see you are still working after all these years.

Thanks, Sarah! Me too! (See, everybody? I told you I was working.)

I’ll add another review to yours, from Variety.

Also, let me clarify that “The Ark” is NOT playing on Broadway, but rather Off-Broadway. Off-Broadway doesn’t just mean it’s playing somewhere but not Broadway; there’s an official league of theaters specifically known as Off-Broadway. It’s sort of like playing in the minor leagues in baseball: pretty high up, but not quite the top.

When you say “Sound familiar?,” I assume you’re referring to your subject line: “The ‘It’s Popular, So It Must Be Good!’ People Strike Again.” And yes, I heard that line of reasoning (“If it’s such a bad show, then how come it’s selling out every night? Huh?!”) a lot when I was a theater critic, and occasionally as a movie critic, too. McLean does seem to be employing it in his article in Meridian (an online and print magazine about Mormon culture).

It’s a little surprising. I would think that after 25 years in the business, he would be better at taking criticism. But I know he’s been working on this project for most of those 25 years, and I’m sure it’s very personal to him. I might be defensive if something I’d worked on for that long got slammed by critics, too.

But still. His response is a little irrational. The Times review, while not positive, was not negative for the reasons McLean has dreamed up (i.e., because the Times is liberal and hates families). He writes:

“Though the producers of the show never anticipated this show being a favorite of the cynical New York press, they were not prepared for the intensity of the attacks on the show, its writers, their religion and their ‘particular set of family values.'”

This is ridiculous. The Times review is NOT an attack on the writers, their religion, or their values. All it says about such things is that for some audience members, those elements may be more important than the show’s actual theatricality quality, which is mediocre. It doesn’t say the writers, their religion or their values are bad; merely that the show they have created is not very good.

Also, if audiences love it so much, and they’re still coming to see it, then what’s the problem? Why the Call to Action? Have the reviews caused sales to drop off? Or is he just afraid they will?

Also, I think it’s funny how he mentioned directing Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Krueger’s Christmas” even though that fact had NOTHING TO DO with what he was saying, i.e., that he likes “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Also, this line — “The only way for evil to flourish is for good men and women to do nothing” — is obnoxious to the extreme. Is he saying that if “The Ark” were to fail, that would be “evil”? Is he saying that critics who don’t think the show is worth seeing are “evil”? And if the show’s failure would be an “evil” thing, then the show itself must be a “righteous” thing, right? So anyone who loves goodness and righteousness needs to come see “The Ark,” is that it? And anyone who doesn’t buy a ticket must be wicked? Am I following you correctly, Michael? Wow.

(I reviewed “The Ark” twice, once in 1999, once in 2002. Luckily, I liked it both times, so Michael McLean didn’t have to write an article decrying my liberalism.)