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It Shouldn’t Happen to a Film Critic….

Sigh. By way of a confession from an active crime scene, here’s a brief timeline of the international furore I somehow caused by posting a review of Paddington 2 just after lunchtime last Friday. I’d previously reviewed this film negatively in 2017 for the BBC, but as a radio show, that review didn’t show up on the Rotten Tomatoes aggregator. I recognised that a revised critique would knock Paddington off a perfect RT score, and adjusted my copy to emphasise the reasons for the late review being published. I figured these steps would be enough to defuse any potential backlash. I was wrong.

Nope. By 11pm that night, I felt I had reason enough to shut down a comments section filling up with death threats from rabid Paddington fans, a hate-tsunami stoked by the online press, much of the language obscene, some messaging just the word “DIE’, along the lines of “I hope you ******* get AIDS and ********die’ sometimes with ‘OLD MAN’ added for additional zing. Under the Communications Act 2003, a person is guilty of an offence if he or she sends ‘by means of a public electronic communication network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character’; prima facie is there in plentiful quantities. Even more gravely, anyone who sent these kinds of messages to a complete stranger seems to me to have not truly taken the friendly teachings and genial mind-set of the lovely Paddington Bear to heart.

Over Memorial Day Weekend, this ‘story’ was picked up by thousands of news outlets, most lifting their text from early copy in Deadline and The Hollywood Reporter, then feeding the results through some kind of garbled mis-translation machine. Now I was being reported as an ‘assassin’, and ‘the murderer of Paddington’ who, readers were tremulously warned, had the bear in a ‘vicious stranglehold’. It was reported that I was a ‘contrarian’ who loved films like ‘the Dumb and Dumber sequel’, a film I can’t honestly claim to have even seen, never mind written about or liked.

By Monday, the story was mutating, growing arms and legs and had been linked to over 200 news outlets. No recent article by Donald J Trump on his new website had raised over 15,000 interactions, whereas Paddington 2 had easily eclipsed that score in a matter of hours (Trump has since packed his writing gig in). I also saw that most of the complainers came from the North America, where few know the earlier, gentler incarnation of the bear’s character, and I’m guessing that this is the reason why many found my review so hard to take.

Jon Ronson’s valuable book So You’ve Been Shamed explored the way that social media operates without editorial restraint or common sense; there’s an automatic pile-on effect when an opinion or life-style choice is deemed to be against the groundswell of public opinion. I’m not going to withhold or suppress an opinion out of fear of cyber-bullies, and wouldn’t see any point in being an independent critic if I did. The critic Dilys Powell noted that film criticism ‘is not an exact science’, and it would be a bore if everyone felt the same way about everything they saw. It’s just an opinion, man, so if you’re here from the self-appointed cancel-culture police to harass, intimidate and deride those who speak their mind, then that’s on you! As a philosopher said ‘…If you’ve got a blacklist, I want to be on it…’

As both the iceberg and the Titanic in this drama, I badly needed an Oprah, and was delighted to find one in Tom Power at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Tom was just the man to handle a matter of such gravity, and a link to my fireside chat  on the topic of Paddington is included below. I’m sure that network malfunctioning while we were live on the air is just a co-incidence…

https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-50-q/clip/15847326-i-always-swear-fealty-older-paddington-eddie-harrison

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  1. I had no clue you were the one who took Paddington 2 down. I can’t imagine how terrible the media attention has been, but you have my respect.

    I don’t get the people that take RT as gospel. It’s an aggregate site, and its positive/negative system is extremely limiting and not really useful for anything, and it can be incredibly easy to blow out of proportion, especially with films that ride the line close to that positive/negative line — all of which is, at the end of the day, subjective and arbitrary.

    • I thank you for your kind words, but there’s nothing so bad about attracting obloquy; If you write in a public forum, you have to accept that every so often, you are the story.

      I see flak for RT, but it’s a great tool for getting a variety of reviews to an audience. If people choose only to read the numbers, that’s on them, but there’s also good writing if you take a moment. All star rating systems seem to me to be suspect, including my own; there’s so many things which can influence our opinions, not least our own programming, but that finer point got lost in a storm of unresearched vitriol.

      • No doubt. My problem has more to do with the Tomatometer itself. With a binary, positive/negative system like that, there’s no nuance between strongly positive and slightly positive reviews, and the same goes for the negative reviews. It’s just not a great way to measure film scores; i.e. if there’s a consensus of slightly positive reviews, you can see a film elevated to the same heights of the greatest films of all time and a consensus of slightly negative reviews can put a film in the company of the worst films of all time. It’s not that the Tomatometer is broken, it’s just that I don’t think what it measures is really all that relevant, because positive/negative is so broad.

        But I think a lot of people (wrongfully) assume it curates an average of the reviews it has, which is why a lot of people get so upset about it, especially when they see a film that was only slightly mediocre get something like a 12% or a film that was good but not great getting a 90%. Like you said, it’s on them for losing their minds about this, but if they took a minute to understand what those numbers actually mean, they probably wouldn’t care as much.

        • Totally agree; I’ll name you as my legal rep when the mob come calling. It’s also worth noting that many of the main newspapers critics delegate children’s films like, say Paddington 2, to staffers, which means that it’s much easier for the film to score positive reviews. We’re just not comparing like for like reviews from the same sources via RT. So these much quoted numbers, IMHO, are really just a tease to get you looking at the site. Since newspaper and magazine readerships are in free-fall, online seems to be the way to go. It’s flexible, doesn’t require three week leads, and can be adjusted after publication. And RT seems to have sewn up the aggregator business. I’m not sure that anyone actually believes that Paddington 2 is the best film ever made, it’s just an excuse for sillyness.And it also makes a difference that some publications are more careful about posting reviews on RT than others. It’s not an ‘exact science’ at all, it’s a system that doesn’t bear close examination; if you want to know if a film is good, read a review.

  2. Wow I had no idea I followed the person who caused such furor. hahahahahaha While I loved it and thought it adorable, is a movie really worth putting a death threat to someone over??!! I think not.

    • Thanks for the solidarity! I take the moral high ground when it comes to threatening violence, but accept that many people will enjoy this version of the bear.

          • I think it talks about how different film criticism is now more so than anything. Like how Siskel & Ebert once were all there really was and there was no social media. With the advent of blogging..everyone and their mother can be and will be a ‘critic’ with a blog and how RT changed what they did, into what they do. It’s rather interesting take on all of it. I honestly was a talent manager for 12 yrs who got ill and turned into doing this because of that experience so my background is different from most. But I always tell people, see the film for yourself and decide. 🙂

        • Dear Peggy,

          I’ve not heard of this guy and can’t say I’m in thrall to the examples he gives. He seems to yearn for corporate control, and is keen to wind back the internet to the 70’s when a handful of long-winded critics ruled the roost. I’ve noted elsewhere that if all you read on RT is the numbers, then that’s on you, not them. There’s tonnes of good writers and writing today.

          I can’t imagine trying to write 2000 words about how my review of Paddinton 2 indicated the decline of western civilisation, but at least that guy gave it a pop. He had to miss out most of the content of the article, that Paddington’s character and world are both essentially bound with tackling racial discrimination, and the films are superficial and off-message in comparison, surprising in an era when Paddington’s potential for woke messaging is timely.

          But all it really comes down to is that this guy thinks he can tell people how they should and shouldn’t write and review, and good luck to him with that.

          Thanks for bringing it to my attention, though, it certainly made me laugh. It is poignant that people want to go back to the past, and I hope it works out for them.

          Eddie

          • I always like reading different takes on things. it keeps my ‘horizons broadened’ hahahahaha I was a Siskel & Ebert child to the point where my mom would ask me why i am watching two old men discuss movies on a Sunday at 6:30 – she thought it was strange. I also had a high school friend who’s dad took us to see every film nominated for an Oscar and told us it was ‘important’ I didn’t understand why at the time.. it’s always stuck with me. so I say keep your mind open to many different things. yours and his included. 🙂

            • I’m flattered that someone thinks I’m a menace to society with my dangerous punk rock stylings, but the irony is writing an article about rushing to publication, and basing the entire thing on wildly mis-reading one out of two thousand articles on the site. He completely embodies the behaviour he criticises, and fortunately for me, doesn’t land a punch.

              I’ve got one of the books of Ebert’s criticism, and it’s good. But I thought he was at his best with Gene, the two of them had the right chemistry and took film criticsm to the masses and made it accessible. Most 70’s newspaper stuff isn’t that great, we just tend to remember the best of it. And there may not be the same kind of powerful critics ever again, and that can be argued either way. But even if we didn’t make the system we inherit, the mantle is on us to do the best we can with it. I dig your enthusiasm, and fully agree; the more open our minds, the greater the potential for improvement.

              • Were they already around in the 70’s? they were 90’s I believe I was DEFINITELY more Gene. I remember them getting in a big fight because Gene was LIVID that Roger gave away the ending to The Crying Game. And he was right.. never spoil a film like that. He tried to have a bit of success and did with Richard Roeper.. but it was never the same. Those 2 had something special that sort of like how everyone used to say when opening a club.. “oh it’s going to be the new Studio 54” – there are some things that can just never be repeated ..they were that. Studio 54 was that. And stop trying to! hahahahaha I again, try to be open to more things. When I first started doing all this, I thought I was the shit because I had been a talent manager for 12 yrs and knew ‘everyone’ well surprise. I didn’t..and even if I did..it didn’t matter because I wrote pretty badly if I go back and look. So I learned one day when a studio exec I did know quite well, actually pointed it out to me and said, take a writing course, which I had done in college, but not since. He told me to stop and read, learn from others, open my mind more to not just what I thought, but to understand why I thought it or why someone else thought what they did. It was actually eye opening and truly enlightening. I’ve learned loads just from convos like this and reading say your stuff vs. their stuff. personally, yes, I like your writing, we might not always agree..but that’s isn’t a bad thing,it’s actually good. And I’ve also learned that if I dislike something a lot that other people really like, and I read a few reasons why, I’ve actually gone back to re-watch because what if I’ve really just not interpreted it right.. or one time. i won’t lie, I started watching something and I had been out drinking and when I watched when not drinking..TOTALLY different experience.. and I wasn’t even that buzzed. hahahahaha I honestly saw people talking about this on twitter, but things like this are kinda so if I say ridiculous will it sound bad..maybe that’s not the right word, but I just feel like it’s a movie, it’s not real life, so why are people acting like it’s worse than the pandemic.. so I basically more or less..read it, and then kept scrolling. and so it goes. 🙂

                • I like how some people have their Netflix choices, and then their Netflix drunk choices. Many things can influence out opinion of a film, and it can easily change over the years. I’m enjoying revisiting some films that I loved or hated back in the day and finding them different now. Good writing is good writing, it was Lord Attenborough who set me on this journalistic sideline over 20 years ago, and I’ve no regrets about it. But I’ve written third person prose for most of that time, so the moment has come to write a little more personally. Ebert’s writings in the 70’s onwards were quite personal too, and I think it’s no bad thing for a critic to show character. Your writing says a lot about you.

                  Ok, I’ve a question for you. I read a comment from you on your blog that you were offended by someone ‘liking’ all your posts. You complained that this person clearly hadn’t read them. But when I visit a new website, I’ll read as many reviews as I want, then like them as I exit. I wasn’t your mystery poster, but to assume that these likes don’t count would be to assume that everyone reads in the same way, which they don’t. Right?

                  I note that Moviebabble dodn’t even give star ratings, which is admirable, but also pulls them out of popular aggregators. And the mechanism of these aggregators is not what people think. I’d rather not give star ratings, but that’s the system we generally have

                  • So I agree.. writing says a lot about the person and I try to inflict a bit of who I am in what I write. Now to that comment. When someone clicks a like – it sends me an email to a file box I have set up for it. Now let me preface this by saying, I don’t consider ‘likes’ a endall beall of a what I write, nor do I consider it even a ‘like’ to the extend of begging for them type deal. I read as noted, all sorts of different writings, some I don’t click like on, some I just comment on, some I don’t do either. None of these is a necessity. What irked me on this singular occasion was someone who clearly hadn’t written what I wrote in probably 18mos. and because I clicked like on one of their postings, because I actually read it and liked it, went to mine and clicked like on something like 37 postings all within one minute. Which means they didn’t even take the time to read one single word, just clicked the ‘like’ button because..well why? actually. Don’t ever feel obligated to do that. I actually found it quite rude as I’m sure you know, we put work into this. I put time, energy, and most of all, thought and yes, love into what I write. As I noted before, I have spent a lot of time learning how to do it right. It irked me to no extent. Did I forget it about it until you just brought it up..yes, but at that moment, I wanted them to know I knew. I didn’t think it was very nice. And I know you weren’t the mystery poster.. I do know who they were as again, the emails. 🙂 Sometimes we all have to get a little something out of our system. that’s how I did it. I’m usually someone who doesn’t care that much about things like that, but it was just soooooo blatant. ha! Sorta like when people talk about their twitter followers and all, I’m like I just follow who I like, and unfollow who I don’t. I can’t tell you the last time I looked at how many followers I have. or had. I know you’re supposed to pay attention to all that, but I have life things I have to deal with that sometimes just take precedence. So that’s my story on that part. I’ve been loving this convo by the way! If I can ask, you say moviebabble doesn’t give star ratings – neither do I- I give grades – is that bad? I’ve always preferred a grade rating to a star rating tho some sites I write for do stars and I do adjust for that. just wondering if I should re-work things as well. or stay different. 🙂 Advice always welcome.

                    • Cool, thanks for this answer. So if I visit your site from the UNESCO Literature Prize, read all your postings, and tip you off to your upcoming award by liking one of your posts, then go back and like them all, I’m toast?

                      I’m not big on star ratings or grades, but they are useful when dealing with PR people, and they can be a useful way of luring in unwary readers. I was amused to be characterised as being ‘all about the clicks’, as if I’m the only one on the internet who wants people to read what I’m writing and Moviebabble are motivated by far more lofty ideals. Spare us the virtue-signalling! I reach a wider and more diverse audience by putting reviews on RT and other platforms, and ratings are required to be part of that process. It’s not like I sold my soul. Your review of Cruella is a pleasure to read, so I wouldn’t worry about star ratings or grades unless you really want to be part of the ongoing bunfight.

                    • ahhh hit the reply.. sorry.. oh how I WOULD WELCOME WITH OPEN ARMS the UNESCO Literature Prize giving me even the time of day! hahahaahhahaa but yes, YOU on the other hand, would be toast! 🙂 And thank you for your kind words on Cruella. again, I put effort, love and time into what I want to say, plus a little bit of ooompha of myself so it means a lot. I have already sold my soul a looooong time ago when I was a talent manager so I’ve got nothing left to sell..hahahahahaa

  3. I’m glad you survived that. I didn’t realise a mere slight against an affable brown bear could cause such strong feelings. As the philosopher also said, ‘the revolution is just a Paddington 2 T-shirt away.’

  4. I do not get how we live in a seemingly “free speach” world but one has to guard one’s tongue/ pen hand… What happened to you and the blog sucks and I feel for you, your review had justified objective (and most of all your opinion on the matter) yet still key board nazi’s cannot deal with that. I feel sorry for you man.

    • That’s kind, but I don’t feel sorry for myself. I’m fine, I got my message out, no-one got hurt. It’s very 2021 to mix up facts and opinions, but it doesn’t intimidate me having people scream in my face. Especially about animated bears. It’s pretty silly, really.

  5. While I think you’re absolutely wrong for giving a perfect movie a bad score and breaking a beautiful streak, I’m not someone who’s gonna hope on a hate train. No one deserves that.

      • At the same time, I have to question if your review reflects the movie or just your personal expectations. I’m probably the only person in the world who doesn’t think Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the greatest thing ever made. That’s just my expectations as a Spider-Man fan talking. That doesn’t mean I think it’s a bad movie. I hate The Last Airbender for how poorly it adapts Avatar: The Airbender, but at the same time, the awful filmmaking makes it bad regardless of personal opinion. So I challenge you to at least consider the possibility.

        • Ok, so I’d say that a film supposedly about a bear should not feature a prison musical finale as a climax, in which the bear does not even appear. Even if you’ve never heard of Paddington, that’s way off topic.

          But our opinions are based on our own experience and a developed taste. People have their favourite James Bond or Dr Who. Films use existing characters of which we have expectations. How well it fits these expectations is key to whether we enjoy the end product.

          I was graphically impressed by the look of Spider-verse, but nothing else made any impression on me. Then again, my opinions are questionable…

  6. I’d like to say the bookish community is better, but I can’t. A chinese immigrant here in America wrote a book with chinese mythology interwoven. She got canceled because she was an american appropriating chinese mythology.

    Aren’t these just great times to be alive? Glad the furor seems to have died down a bit.

    • Thanks for your patience. If if seemed hard to reach, I was keen that no-one got caught in the crossfire. None of us signed up for online rancor. So much irrationality, too much cancellation, not enough tolerance. Sigh.

  7. I would have said being labelled as “contrarian” was a badge you should wear with pride and possibly you are the first Scot since Sean Connery to dominate social media. Also, was wondering, in passing, what you did make of Dumb Too. There’s not really any way to pass intelligent comment on numbskulls and not sure it is worth your while bothering and it’s a sad day when mild comment attracts heinous abuse.

    • It’s a world gone mad. A reminder that we usually communicate in a rarified and refined environment, and don’t have to dumb things down. If contrarian means speaking your mind, then that’s fine. Crazy to think that a mob can intimidate an opinion out of me or you.

      Should I watch Dumb and Dumber To? Or would I just be playing into a stereotyped view of me? Who knows, let’s just focus on what’s good and leave the looney tunes to others…

  8. I thank you heartily for your pluck in carrying on while all those vile, childish verbal assaults were happening! I note with sadness that the worst abusers were in USA. Is it foolish to think it’s always darkest before the dawn(I got of a new, improved day)? Never surrender to bullies. Cheers and a round of virtual bubbly, pluck, or single malt malt scotch to you!

    • I’ll drink to you too, and remember that I love America, and Americans, and hope that any issues regarding talking bears can be overcome in a brighter future for us all! Let’s make a better world!

  9. When they come with the pitchforks, I’m on the first flight over to have your back. Viva la P2 resistance!

    Before your review P2 had a higher score than Citizen Kane (as the interviewer notes) and Casablanca. As far as I’m concerned you’re an international hero.

    • Finally, we have a correct answer! I’ve come to the same conclusion. Love or hate P2, it’s High RT score was mainly due to many newspaper critics not reviewing family films or delegating them, so it was a false positive. So I’m doing society a favour, bringing balance to the force, and restoring reality to a troubled world. No pitchfork Paddington’s invited!

    • You paid for it in ways that you are yet to discover.

      Have you seen the scurrilous slurs made about you in these comments? It’s been suggested that you are responsible for this entire furore. And to think of all the special arrangements you made to help your accuser’s quiz score gain respectability….

  10. Can’t wait for you to see Paddington 3 and review it 🤣 Excellent interview with the Tom chap, and as you know I’m right there with you, our Paddington is so much better. What is even worse to me is that Paul King who directed the movies and wrote them is British and should know better. You could understand it if he was American.

    • I’ve met with Simon Farnaby, who co-wrote Paddington 2 and he’s a funny man. But my guess is that the Hollywoodisation of the beloved bear comes from somewhere else; early press information about the film lists Harvey Weinstein as the proposed distributor. Anyway, they can have their Paddington, we’ll have ours. Thanks for understanding and supporting free speech in this most serious of issues. I only wish the circumstances were less grave.

  11. I reckon it was Alex. Yep, ever since you banned him from the site, he created thousands of fake accounts, and piled you with ferocious abuse. Only Alex would call you ‘old man’.

    • Would you be able to provide a deposition statement? Your theory sounds like it has some merit.

                • I don’t want to name names, but high profile, big name contributions are in the offing. I think you’ll be seeing tremendous things happening in the future.

                    • In my opinion, most things are. I think Alex has reduced your quiz score to zero after your very public accusation. Alex is also claiming to have bribed the CBC to interview me. Serious stuff; make sure you get lawyered up because I bet this goes right to the top.

                    • I looked around, and Alex has never mentioned reducing my score to zero. In fact, he suggested doubling my points for Aquaman. I don’t want to argue with the nice man, so I guess I’ll just have to take the win this round. I will get lawyer. It’s definitely hotting up. If this was a film, we’d just be starting the third act. The problem is, I have no idea who the antagonist is yet.

                    • I thought it was you. Or Alex. Apparently his bribe of the CBC fell short of expectations; apparently Monopoly money stuck together with saliva and play-doh is not legit currency….

                    • No no no, I’m the flawed yet heroic protagonist. Perhaps Alex is Bill Sykes, and you could probably pull off Fagin. His Monopoly bribe fell through, but you still got the interview? That sounds dodgy.

                    • How are you the protagonist?

                      No, I’m Oliver, Fraggle is Nancy, Alex is Fagin and you are the little boy at home watching Oliver! on tv.

                      I think CBC will be wanting Alex’s cash up front from now on…

                    • Boo! Who does Mr Stooge play? Bill? Are you suggesting Capt’n Booky is going to kill Fraggle? Yikes.

                      CBC probably love Monopoly money. Makes them feel like big businessmen.

                    • Booky can play anyone he wants, who would tell him who he should or shouldn’t play?

                      Not the sticky mess that Alex sent them. Quite embarrassing really.

                    • Sounds like the sort of thing you would do.

                      Especially on your behalf. You should hand out your own bribes! Not get Canadian 8 year olds to do it for you!

                    • Well, I don’t want a trail to connect me to the corruption that Alex just pops in to brazenly declare. He certainly seems to have to fear of retribution! That’s Canada for you, wild things indeed! The DNA does suggest it was Alex’s own play-do, but I don’t want to be drawn on specifics.

                    • A simple five words tell a very detailed story of his life.
                      “I” – narcissistic qualities? Perhaps
                      “paid” – clearly shows that he values money over anything else; money addict? Never rule it out
                      “for” – unclear what this word tells us about him; perhaps his mental age?
                      “that” – carelessness? Not ‘the’, but *that*
                      “interview” – fantasies of fame and recognition? Also links to fortune, which further backs our money addict theory…

                      Who needs a therapist when you can just write a five word sentence?

                    • Obviously we wouldn’t be using that ending. Have you a preferred text for us to perform?

                    • Looks like Dix has already cast it, and I think he’s pretty stubborn about these sort of things. You’ll be glad to know he hasn’t cast a Bill yet though, and in some versions of the play, Nancy isn’t killed! I don’t that will happen this time, but you never know. And Dix would sing a song to you, right? That would be nice.

                    • No comment on any of this. Fraggle could come up with her own text. I won’t be singing.

  12. Well expressed sir. May I just say, here in America there is this right to Bear Arms – it probably has something to do with the vacuous nature of the ass-alt.

    • Oh, man, I should have employed you to write my rebuttal! Thank you kindly, ass-alt is exacty the word I should have invented for this event. And armed protection might well be required….

      • The one positive out of it is the fact that you get to write a proper indignant response! And when your topic is this ludicrous it really is a kind of pleasure to read. 🙂

        • Indignant, funnily enough, is something the old Paddington was, so it all makes sense now. It’s a silly situation, so glad it’s over!

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