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Interview

Leonard Maltin On His New Movie Guide, the Art of Criticism, and Big Bombs

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Leonard Maltin On His New Movie Guide, the Art of Criticism, and Big Bombs

Leonard Maltin has been publishing his eponymous movie guide for so many years, he’s literally lost count of how many editions there have been. “We didn’t start being an annual book until the mid-80s, but the first edition came out, believe it or not, in 1969,” says Maltin. This month marks the release of “Leonard Maltin's 2013 Movie Guide,” featuring over 16,000 reviews rating films from as high as four stars to simply “BOMB.” The longtime critic is also a classic cartoon and jazz aficionado—he will host the 29th Annual Jazz Tribute for the Los Angeles Jazz Society on Oct. 21.

What do you think is the reason for the enduring success of this particular film book?
Leonard Maltin: Well, the reason that it's still being published I think pretty clearly is that just enough people, bless them all, are in the habit of buying it. You know, they're used to having it on their coffee table or their night table, and it's been there a long time, and in spite of the internet, they still like the idea of having that book there to consult. And I'm grateful that they're there.

Have you ever gone back re-watched a movie you wrote a review for, and later had second thoughts about?
Maltin: Yes. The most dramatic example is “Alien,” because when I first saw it, I was a wimp. When I saw it by myself in 1979, it scared the hell out of me, and I didn't find that fun. So when it got reissued 25 years later, I went back to see it and I said, “This is a great movie!” In those 25 years, my threshold had risen and I had also absorbed 25 years of rip-offs, sequels, and homages. And here was the original, which put them all to shame, so I completely rewrote [that review] and rerated that movie.

What's the harshest review you've ever written?
Maltin: I saw a movie last year with Richard Gere and Topher Grace called “The Double.” Just a terrible movie. And you know, I don't blame the actors. They didn't write it, they didn't direct it, but it's a terrible, irredeemably bad movie. And I came at it like, “There's no sense beating around the bush. This is a bomb.”

Also, I'm not a fan of raunchy comedies in general. There was a movie last summer called “Thirty Minutes or Less” that I thought was an irredeemable piece of crap and said so. I don't think I used the word “crap,” because I try not to use crude words when I'm discussing crude movies. Let's say “an irredeemable piece of junk.”

Are there some raunchy comedies you do enjoy, like “The Hangover?”
Maltin: Yes, I liked the first “Hangover.” I mean, I don't go to see a movie with a list of rules. Just entertain me, or stimulate me, or provoke me, or amuse me.

What movies are you most looking forward to this year?
Maltin: I am curious about "Hyde Park on Hudson" because I'm a history buff and I'm interested in FDR. I'm curious to see how they portray him and how Bill Murray takes on this very particular role.

David Chases' film "Not Fade Away" really piques my curiosity. And of course, [Paul Thomas Anderson’s] “The Master.”

Do you ever run into people to whom you've given a harsh review or said that you didn't like their film? What’s that conversation like?
Maltin: Well, there's not much conversation to be made. I try not to be nasty, you know. I don't want to just be glib for the sake of getting a laugh at a movie's expense. But I've found most filmmakers don't care. If you didn't like it, you didn't like it. Look, I've been criticized too. It's not fun being criticized. I've written books. I've gotten reviews. And of course, in the internet age, everybody criticizes people. Criticizes you, and criticizes everybody.

How do you feel about the internet age, in which anyone with a blog can call themselves a critic?
Maltin: We're supposed to applaud the democratization of the arts, but it has its limits I think. Everybody's a musician, everybody's a filmmaker, everybody's an artist, everybody's a critic. Except everybody isn't. There are undoubtedly talented people who have been able to showcase themselves online in ways that the traditional gatekeepers might not have allowed them to. But in any democratic process, you take the bad with the good. Or you're forced to take the bad with the good, I should say.

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