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The Master of the Capsule Review
April 19, 2011 4:52 PM   Subscribe

Long before he wrote DVD reviews for The New York Times, Dave Kehr spent 11 years at the Chicago Reader perfecting the 100-word capsule review into a vehicle for his succinct, astute writing on a wide variety of films. All of them can be read for free at the Chicago Reader's website. Additionally, his long-overlooked long reviews have just been collected and published.

While you're at it, you should check out Kehr's blog,, where the comments section boasts by a wide variety of notable critics, film programmers and filmmakers amongst its regulars.
posted by alexoscar (26 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
He hated Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein, Alien, and even Jaws?
posted by Brainy at 5:00 PM on April 19, 2011


He was the original Cecil Adams, too.
posted by DU at 5:06 PM on April 19, 2011


I wish there was some way to automatically replace all the Netflix summaries with these.
posted by theodolite at 5:08 PM on April 19, 2011


He was the original Cecil Adams, too.

I believe Kehr was the second Cecil Adams. The first was Mike Lenehan.
posted by alexoscar at 5:11 PM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


If we're now praising famous capsule film reviews, can I take a moment to light a candle for James Agee's work? If for no other reason than to reprint his four word review of You Were Meant For Me (1948): "That's what you think."
posted by .kobayashi. at 5:26 PM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sonny Chiba is not happy.
posted by clavdivs at 5:39 PM on April 19, 2011


Aw! I must read these; I developed hack capsules into a hackish art form when I found them to be a part of my hourly-paid gig when typesetting arthouse series calendar ads in my early 20s. There's nothing more timeconsuming than having to write copy if you are setting type, because you expect the client to at least give you something, no matter how terribly fucked up.

My (dear, beloved, admired) client would dump the entire presskits for the upcoming films in my lap and sort of do a handwavy thing at me.

I've explained before how it is that I learned that every movie can be described as a 'touching coming of age story' (for example, 'Saw III,' or 'Wavelength'). This is that story, retold. I would say I find it to be a touching coming of age story. I may have to make it into a movie.
posted by mwhybark at 5:40 PM on April 19, 2011


If we're now praising famous capsule film reviews,

I see what you did there.
posted by alexoscar at 6:01 PM on April 19, 2011


kobayashi's onto something. The LOA's collection of Agee's film writing is GREAT.
posted by sciurus at 6:15 PM on April 19, 2011


He did some pretty good work for the Chicago Tribune for a few years, too. And Chicago Magazine. Boy do i miss him. The Trib let him go when he moved to New York, demanding that their prinicpal film critic be completely local. The guy who took his place, Michael Wilmington, was pretty much a disappointment.
posted by hwestiii at 6:15 PM on April 19, 2011


A touching coming of age story set against the racial tensions of Middle Earth and the inherent violence in the jewelry trade about one hobbit's struggle to let go.
posted by stavrogin at 6:24 PM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reviews In Nine Lines

A modern-day Fénéon!
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:35 PM on April 19, 2011


stavrogin: "A touching coming of age story set against the racial tensions of Middle Earth and the inherent violence in the jewelry trade about one hobbit's struggle to let go"

PRECISELY

it haunts me I tell you
posted by mwhybark at 6:51 PM on April 19, 2011


I am weirdly disappointed that Cecil Adams is a pen name.
posted by jenlovesponies at 7:20 PM on April 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Halloween review is tight
posted by nathancaswell at 7:32 PM on April 19, 2011


Is this like Robert Christgau?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:44 PM on April 19, 2011


Kehr is really the only reviewer worth reading in the Times (now that Stephen Holden has apparently been relegated to the gray deep). He has terrific insight without the pomposity and self-aggrandizing prose of Scott and Dargis. I learn something new almost every time I read him. All I learn from Scott and Dargis is how in love with their own writing they are.
posted by blucevalo at 8:17 PM on April 19, 2011


Kehr's capsule reviews had a nice punchiness to them, but that doesn't mean that he was right, and he seemed to have a particular problem with science fiction. Consider the punchline for his review of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan:
If only director Nicholas Meyer had grasped the implications of his tale more fully and enthusiastically, this might have become a classic piece of cornball SF poetry, but as it stands the tepid acting and one-set claustrophobia take a heavy toll.
If TWOK isn't "a classic piece of cornball SF poetry", then what is? And Montalban by himself should have saved it from anyone calling the acting "tepid." He (and their other reviewers) also seemed to have avoided seeing Bladerunner completely.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:48 PM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


He (and their other reviewers) also seemed to have avoided seeing Bladerunner completely.

I'm envious of them all.
posted by .kobayashi. at 8:53 PM on April 19, 2011


He (and their other reviewers) also seemed to have avoided seeing Bladerunner completely.

Blade Runner.
posted by alexoscar at 8:59 PM on April 19, 2011


Kehr's capsule reviews had a nice punchiness to them, but that doesn't mean that he was right, and he seemed to have a particular problem with science fiction.

Very true. I don't always agree with him, but he's erudite, his prose is crisp and evocative and, as blucevalo mentioned, he always writes for a reader and not himself.

By the way, Rosenbaum, who followed him at The Reader, was much more receptive to science fiction.
posted by alexoscar at 9:02 PM on April 19, 2011


I liked his review of Inception:

You’re daydreaming about being Leonardo DiCaprio's wife, and suddenly you think: "Wow, Leonardo DiCaprio has been in a lot of movies involving fantasy worlds, hasn't he? But movies ARE a fantasy world, so ironically he isn't living in a fantasy world at all, which means I am his wife, since I've just proved that every fantasy involving Leonardo DiCaprio is actually true". But, Mrs DiCaprio, he's going to die when the Titanic drowns, so you may as well kill yourself to dull the pain. Go ahead – but you didn't get the idea from me. Also stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard and Michael Caine.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 3:41 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Weird--I know I was tired last night, but I'm not sure how I missed that. Well, anyway.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:24 AM on April 20, 2011


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: Steven Spielberg's 1984 sequel is quite a bit better than Raiders of the Lost Ark
posted by straight at 7:20 AM on April 20, 2011


> By the way, Rosenbaum, who followed him at The Reader, was much more receptive to science fiction.

...except that he just about blames Star Wars for the downfall of Western Civilization.
posted by goethean at 7:43 AM on April 20, 2011


...except that he just about blames Star Wars for the downfall of Western Civilization.


But he does it as a science fiction fan first and foremost. Also, it doesn't help that at the time the movie was released, George Lucas was saying some really dumb stuff in interviews. Here's Rosenbaum's original 1977 piece.

Maybe I should do a post that consists of all of Rosenbaum's articles about the things he has a reputation for hating (all his writings on Bergman come to mind, considering the debacle of that New York Times piece).
posted by alexoscar at 11:02 AM on April 20, 2011


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