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MEDIA The Odd Couple

Dad? Yuck. Pretty Woman? Sexist. Meet the guys who pick and pan ’em.
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ENTER THE PEACEFUL CRITICAL

Kingdom.

As much as we hate to say it: heck, there isn’t even any kind of exploitable, tabloidy, chicken-doody little rivalry between Philip Wuntch of The Dallas Morning News and David Kronke of the Dallas Times, Herald. They’re great good friends with large respect for each other. Wuntch went to Kronke’s recent wedding. Kronke hangs out après-pitchershow with Wuntch.

“He’s a great guy,” said Wuntch of Kronke. “I wish we had him over here.”

Said Kronke, “He’s great. I really respect Philip. We get along great. We’re good friends.”

Gag us with a long-stemmed rose.

Not that they’re clones by any remote stretch of the imagination. Both agree on two things: each other’s talent, integrity, and commitment to the job; and how great it is to have a job where you get to screw off all day going to the movies and then tell the whole town what you thought about ’em. Beyond that, these guys are as different as Turner and Hooch, both personally and professionally.

Wuntch resembles a pleasant garden gnome. It’s hard to imagine what else, if not the News movie critic, he would have been in life; it is almost as though one of the cigar-chompers up on the fourth floor put his Guccis up on the desk and called Central Casting to say, “Hey, Maaaarty-we need a movie critic for our little show over heah. Send us somebody zany and eccentric and weird.”

But the Wuntchster hardly lucked into this job: he’s been planning it, in fact, almost all of his life. It is a measure of his weirdness that, since the age of twelve, he has been subscribing to Variety. Find any other twelve-year-old and ask him if he even knows what it is.

Wuntch, forty-five, graduated from SMU in 1967 and almost immediately went to work for the Times Herald. For about two years he handled general entertainment duties, suffering through covering clubs and concerts because he occasionally got to court his true love as the third-string movie critic.

He went over to the Morning News in 1969 to move up to second-string after then-Amusements Editor Bill Payne. To say Payne had some really clear ideas about what was uplifting and morally right for Newspaperland is an understatement.

“He thought anybody who liked Midnight Cowboy was a sexual pervert. He would not allow it or Rosemary’s Baby to be reviewed in the News on grounds that they were immoral.”

But Wuntch held on until Payne retired in 1974.

Not many people realize it, but News columnist John Anders was once allowed to play with something sharper than a Crayola: for about a year and a half in the mid-Seventies he was entertainment editor, and made Wuntch “the” reviewer (Wuntch is now back-stopped by Russell Smith).

Kronke, on the other hand, will be the first to admit he’s been just real fortunate.

After college in Indiana, Kronke, twenty-eight, knocked around his home state doing occasional pieces for what he called “mini-Observers” before a musician friend who emigrated to Dallas told him that “even I could get a job here,” and he landed a desk job at Channel 4. It wasn’t very satisfying, so he continued freelance work, mostly selling to the Herald. An editor there liked him and his work and hired him full time in September of 1985 to do what Wuntch had first done. But the track was considerably faster in his case: when Tom Sabulis left in 1988. Kronke moved into one of the more coveted jobs in journalism. “I got damn lucky. ’Course,” he adds, grinning, “the Herald got damn lucky, too.”

As far as Wuntch is concerned, there are no complaints from him, either. He says he’ll never want to do anything else.

Wuntch says that within the industry, he’s well thought of as being a fair critic.

“Not necessarily an easy one,” Wuntch says, “but fair. Even within the context of a favorable review, I do point out what I don’t like about a film. I guess my central idea as a critic is that there are things that I may not like about a good film, and good things that I may like about a bad one.”

Kronke may also try to find something good to say about a film. But if he can’t think of something nice, he won’t hold back.

Try this: “If any hint of holiday spirit is stirring within you, then National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation should handily kill it right off, along with your love of movies and maybe even your will to live.”

He also made short work of Dad:

“Dad is the feel-rotten movie of the year, a wildly sentimental meditation on senility and slow, painful death,” Kronke wrote. “The pathos is laid on mighty thick-it might make people cry, but then, so Mould a sledgehammer to the back of the head.”

Kronke acknowledges that the community perception of Wuntch vs. Kronke is that of “good reviewer/bad reviewer,” but adds, “that’s sort of an unfair rap. It comes out of the fact that if I don’t like something, I’m not shy about saving so. I read a lot of other critics, and most of the time I’m with the majority. But I just can’t imagine anybody liking Ghost Dad. When a movie insults my intelligence, I don’t give it any breaks. There’s just no reason I should be defending a $25 million bad picture. I don’t have to write about them like I financed them personally, do I?”

Kronke’s only nagging flaw is that he sometimes falls into the rather insulting trap of assuming that the people who read him might be a little bit stupid, sharing with other young Herald columnists a tendency toward self-appointed guardianship of the poor, impressionable public.

For instance, he warned us that “Pretty Woman is pretty insidious, It uses some pretty talented folks to make sexist and racist statements, albeit in some subtle ways… Pygmalion, on which this is based, may have been a fine fantasy in its time, but today, it serves as little more than sexist cant.”

Pretty Woman probably revealed the widest divergence in the two critics’ styles and sensibilities, and, to be fair, Wuntch went as far off into happy sappy praise of it as Kronke went with his hand-wringing:

“The witty, warm-hearted screenplay subscribes to the theory that a lonely little boy lurks inside each millionaire while a lost little girl can be discovered within every prostitute. Initially, you may sneer at such a populist conceit, but by the end of the movie, you’ll believe it, too.”

In the main, both critics are better than merely competent, but if there’s any rule of thumb when deciding where to drop your six bucks plus popcorn, it’s probably this: Kronke is aimed slightly more toward film-lovers, and Wuntch at people who love to go to the movies. Go to Kronke if you want the harder and more concise review of the latest big-studio, over hyped blockbuster. VVuntch is a bit more in love with the lore and legend and protocols of Hollywood.

Bottom line is that the two approaches and their complementary strengths and shortcomings add to the sum total of what’s good about having two newspapers: balance.

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