This week, I take over for my old movie pal Steven Rea, who's retired and writing books. We worked together for 30 years -- he covered the beat for the Inquirer while I worked for the Daily News.
Though we worked for competing papers, we never really developed a Siskel-and-Ebert rivalry. Instead, we formed the kind of bond that exists only between people who have chronic whiplash from years of having children kick the backs of their chairs during animated movies.
Of course, there have been differences.
Steven, like many critics, has a mad love for Wes Anderson that I do not always share. Once, Steven fell asleep during a Star Wars sequel and I saw a dream bubble form above his head, and inside that bubble I saw him riding vintage Raleigh bikes with Anderson through Amsterdam, drinking craft beer and listening to carefully curated 1960s Europop.
This last story isn't true in the sense that it actually happened, but in the Oliver Stone sense that it's patently false but suggestive of a larger truth, which is that I'm already halfway through this "getting to know me" piece.
It may be worth noting that I've been a newspaper movie critic for three decades and nobody has ever asked me to join a critics group other than the Golden Raspberry foundation. Perhaps because I once gave three stars to The Waterboy or because someone has hacked into my cable account and knows I've seen Road House 33 times.
My list of favorite movies is long, and it includes Exit Through the Gift Shop, by Banksy. I bring it up to shed light on what I believe to be the value of criticism, which another colleague once expressed as the craft of "entertaining people who care about movies."
Banksy compared film to painting.
"What I've learnt," he said, "is that a painting isn't finished when you put down your brush -- that's when it starts. The public reaction is what supplies meaning and value. Art comes alive in the arguments you have about it."
Put another way, a good review starts an interesting conversation.