(The following blog entry may be controversial since it MAY be construed by a few people as a grown man bullying a small child so I'll try to be as constructive and fair as I can, trying to avoid cheap shots and cruel words)
I first heard of Jackson Murphy through Roger Ebert's Twitter feed where he recommended him as a fine young budding movie critic more than a year ago. He's been maintaining his site and contributing on-air movie reviews for his local news program for a while now and thanks to Roger's endorsement, he's gained some fame, guesting on U.S. morning talk shows and even Jay Leno. He is undeniably a cute, appealing kid who is articulate, camera-friendly, precocious, poised and generally knows his stuff. He even won a local Emmy award for his work. You can definitely see why people love him.
But if you look past his on-air personality and actually read and examine his written reviews, his age and lack of film knowledge definitely shows. To his credit, he's very open and honest on areas of film where he lacks first-hand knowledge. For instance, he writes in his review that True Grit is his very first exposure to the work of the Coen Brothers and Midnight In Paris is his first Woody Allen film. These two are somewhat excusable since the Coens and the Woodman's works are fairly adult and most of them would be either inappropriate or boring for someone who hasn't reached puberty yet. But in his review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (which he gave a very generous B+), he says he has never seen an Indiana Jones movie before. I was like, "What?" Personally, if I was his dad, I would've sat him down for an Indiana Jones marathon before going to the fourth one because frankly, that's what a parent of a budding film geek would definitely do. As a film viewer, each movie you see, you take with you when you see your next film so since he has very little firsthand experience with Indiana Jones, OF COURSE he was going to like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. He had no idea how inferior it is in the context of the first three vastly superior films.
Another review that gets my craw is his review of Super 8 (one of my personal favorite films of the year so far) which he gave a C. It's not that he didn't like it much that pissed me off (Hey, he's entitled to his opinion so whatevs) but reasoning behind it. He criticized it for being "unoriginal" and "stealing from Spielberg". I was like, "Really?" It's been known for a while now that Super 8 is writer-director JJ Abrams' tribute to Spielberg films of the late '70s, early '80s. Of course there will be scenes that will remind you of ET and Close Encounters. In fairness, some of the adult critics who panned the film or gave the film a mixed/lukewarm reviews said the same thing. (Personally, I think it's a wonderful tribute akin to Todd Haynes' cinematic tribute to Douglas Sirk in Far From Heaven.) However, most of them did not give good reviews to Unknown and Battle: Los Angeles. Lights, Camera, Jackson did. Unknown contains many elements lifted from the films of Alfred Hitchcock and various other thriller films of its kind. Battle: Los Angeles is a cliched war-film that just happens to have aliens in it, plagued with equally cliched dialogue lifted from many war films and imagery that combines elements from Black Hawk Down and Independence Day. Both films, unlike Super 8, are mediocre at best for various other reasons. In my opinion, I think a critic should be consistent and if you're not, you better back it up with a damn good reason. If you watched enough films, you will definitely know that films often lift stuff from other films. There's nothing wrong with that as long as the filmmakers do it creatively. For him to criticize Super 8 for being unoriginal while giving these two other unoriginal films a pass is just another example of his young age and inexperience showing.
Another bone of contention of mine is his review of The Social Network. Now he liked it, gave it a B. But he criticized the film for not having a "rootable" character. I'm like, what? There is no rule book that a film must have a "rootable" character. Hell, there is no rule in literature that a story or a play must have "rootable" character. Characters only need to be interesting and compelling. Lots of great films have unlikable, downright contemptable characters as their leads but we watch them, we love them because they're interesting and compelling. In fact, I would even argue that it's even more difficult to have a film with no "rootable" or likeable characters so the filmmakers would have to work double-time to get the audience interested in them. It's another symptom of his limited worldview of film. His habit of giving good reviews to "inspiring" true stories that were met with lukewarm reception in the critic/film geek community (films like Extraordinary Measures, Secretariat, The Blind Side) is also likewise symptomatic of it. It's a good thing he didn't review The Tree of Life, he probably doesn't also know that there's no rule that film should be beholden to a three-act narrative structure and that surrealistic, lyrical, philosophical, non-narrative films exist. He wouldn't have gotten it.
I know what you're thinking: Oh, Film Geek Bastard, he's only 12. Give him a break! I say, no. In this day and age when nearly limitless information is just few keystrokes away and all sorts of films are as accessible as ever through Netflix and online downloads, there is very little excuse for ignorance. His reviews show a lack of curiosity and passion for film beyond a certain genre. One of the reasons I can't give him a pass is the fact that there's another kid critic who is leagues better than him. His name is Ryan Michaels from Ann Arbor, Michigan. You can find his website here: http://ryanthemoviecritic.com/ He has written for local newspapers. He doesn't have the hype surrounding Lights, Camera, Jackson. Yes, I don't agree with him on all reviews. Yes, he hasn't seen everything. But at only 14, he does show a passion and curiosity for film I don't see with many so-called film buffs more than double his age. TWO YEARS seperate these two precocious teens but only one can be already called a critic.
This is where I sort of agree with Armond White. The word "film critic" is being used so liberally these days and there is definitely a difference between a CRITIC and a REVIEWER. Anyone can be a film reviewer since any Tom, Dick or Harry can write and say their opinion on a film they've seen. A critic is one that just not watches films but studies them seriously and is passionate about them. Not all reviewers can be called critics but all critics can be reviewers. Lights, Camera, Jackson, as charming and as nice and articulate as he is (frankly, I can't do what he does, public speaking is my Kryptonite), is a mere reviewer/entertainment reporter. There's nothing wrong with that but he's getting praise and attention for being a film critic. He's no film critic. He's an entertainment reporter who reviews movies very well on camera. He's barely different from an Entertainment Tonight correspondent (if that's his goal, more power to him) But substance-wise, he really falls terribly short of being a film critic. He still lacks that passion, curiosity, knowledge of the art of film. He's a great personality, no more, no less. Not really impressive as a critic. Hey, he may prove me wrong in a few years. He could be writing for Cahiers du Cinema by the time he's 18. But if not, worst case scenario, he can always have Ben Lyons' job whatever that is.