Film Archive for March, 2010

The End of At the Movies

So Disney is finally closing the door on the long-running At the Movies. I feel sad for my friend Michael Phillips and for AO Scott, two very smart guys who just couldn’t draw the audience, I guess, to justify keeping the show afloat. It’s a business thing, from Disney’s standpoint.
And I agree with the many who have said that the show died with Gene Siskel, and that Richard Roeper never quite filled his shoes, whether because he’s never been embraced as a “real” critic within the critic community or because there weren’t the fights and fireworks between him and Roger that so defined the dynamic between Roger and Gene. Richard is a very nice, smart guy, but the chemistry between him and Roger never had that “snap” to it, and I think that’s largely because Siskel and Ebert were equals and Ebert and Roeper were not.
But I also have to wonder if it’s just that the time for television show where two guys talk about movies is just past. The advent of the internet, the ready availability of opinions and debates and reviews and online videos of people talking about film … maybe people are just oversaturated and the attitude of most folks was just, who cares about this show?
Here’s what would maybe work: A Survivor-type show where critics are pitted against each other on teams. Todd McCarthy and Harry Knowles can lead the competing tribes — old guard print critics versus new guard onliners.
Last critic standing gets to keep his or her job.

Hot Tubbing

Going to a screening of Hot Tub Time Machine tonight. When I watched the trailer for this before She’s Out of My League a couple weeks ago, I said to myself, “This will either be totally brilliant or absolutely wretched.” Tonight, we’ll find out which way it swings. The presence of John Cusack in it gives me hope that it won’t completely suck, though, and several scenes in the trailer made me laugh. Let’s hope they weren’t the only funny scenes in the entire movie.

Orangey-Tealy

I read this really excellent piece on the prevalence of teal-and-orange color grading of films in recent years the other day (thanks, Ray, for the weird and interesting links you gather for us) and since then, I’ve been paying attention to the colors on tv shows.
I’m over at my dad’s tonight because he hurt his neck, so I’ve been watching more TV than usual. And whaddayouknow? Sure enough, now that I was looking for it, I could see exactly what Todd Miro was talking about in the piece. I noticed it on 24 and House andnow on Craig Ferguson, the orangey-tealy thing is obvious on the set (orange arches over popping sapphire skyline and on Ferguson himself, who looks like he had a tanning booth accident and looks even more orange by the teal stripe in his tie complementing it so nicely (and unnaturally).
A creative person could totally make a drinking game out of this.
Be sure to read Todd Miro’s piece, it’s good reading with your morning coffee and bagel.

The Death of Film Criticism Redux

EDITOR’S NOTE: When I wrote this piece, I misread Kenny’s piece and quoted him as saying things that were actually quotes from an email sent to him by a friend. Corrections have been made below to attribute those quotes to the anonymous party from whence they came, with sincerest apologies to Kenny for misrepresenting him.
There’s been a bit of an interesting kerfuffle over a piece Eric Kohn wrote about state of film criticism and Glenn Kenny’s acerbic response to Kohn’s thoughts on the matter. I read Kohn’s piece, and while I get how it stirred the ire of Kenny and his pals, I think their (or your) reaction to what he wrote is largely a matter of perspective. Change is never an easy thing to embrace, and while Kenny seems to have more or less made his peace with the reality that he will likely never again be paid a full-time salary and benefits to write film criticism, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy peace.
On the Hot Blog, David Poland weighed in as well, bemoaning the way SXSW is being “tweeted” to death rather than critiqued by a lot of folks there. And he’s right … it seems I’ve seen a lot more tweeting and a lot less critiquing from folks attending that fest, most of whom I like and respect as writers. This whole cutthroat, bloodletting orgy of “FIRSTS!” and 140-character commentaries about the fest, which seem to be more about waits in line and parties and the “feel” of the fest than about the films, I’ve just found irritating. I never was a personality well-suited to the constant need to feed the ever-hungry blog or Twitter feed.

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Review: She’s Out of My League

Directed by Jim Field Smith

In the surprisingly likable rom-com She’s Out of My League, solid “#5” Kirk (Jay Baruchel) meets hot-to-trot “#10” Molly (Alice Eve), and spends most of the film struggling with both the self-esteem issues that keep getting in the way of their budding relationship and the advice he’s being given by his pack of doltish but well-meaning friends, who keep trying to convince him there’s no way a girl like Molly would be interested in a guy like him.

Director Jim Field Smith is obviously paying homage here to Judd Apatow‘s films; She’s Out of My League resembles both Knocked Up and 40 Year Old Virgin, but it also reminded me of another film: Delbert Mann‘s 1955 Marty; where Marty’s friends berated him for dating a “dog,” in She’s Out of My League Kirk’s friends spent an inordinate amount of time trying to convince him Molly is not for him because she’s too hot, presumably because they don’t want to see him hurt, but also, perhaps, because they’re a bit jealous that Kirk might actually land a girl like her.

I kind of wondered for a while there if writers Sean Anders and John Morris were being deliberate in referencing Marty, but as they also penned the upcoming Hot Tub Time Machine, I’m guessing if anything, they were more deliberately referencing Apatow. Guys bantering about sex, women, and the perils of pre-ejaculation? Check. Lovable, nice hero for whom we can root to get the girl? Check. Girl way hotter than the guy is, or at least perceives himself to be? Check.

And yet, in spite of the obviousness of the references and a couple of questionable moments, I quite likedShe’s Out of My League; certainly I liked it way more than I expected based on the trailer, which makes it appear to be yet another must-miss banal rom-com. This film is aiming to be more than that, even in the moments when it doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Part of what helps She’s Out of My League rise above the watermark most rom-coms hit is the charming and very likable lead performance by Jay Baruchel as Kirk, who somewhat reminds me of Jon Cryer‘s memorable Ducky from Pretty in Pink; Baruchel has been in quite a few films, but up until now he’s always been “that guy,” as in, “oh yeah, that guy, I’ve seen him in other movies, but I can never remember his name …” Here, his goofy, self-deprecating demeanor and struggle to accept himself as “good enough” for Molly have to carry the film; we have to believe, even if Kirk doesn’t, that he is good enough for Molly — and for the most part, the film succeeds in making that sale.

The film is also buoyed enormously by the presence of Alice Eve as Molly. Eve has been in a few films, but this is a big break-out role for her, and she positively sparkles on screen. She’s gorgeous, yes, but unlike some other physically attractive actresses out there who don’t bring much more than T&A to their part, Eve radiates intelligence, humor, and even humility. She has great chemistry with Baruchel that helps significantly in helping us buy that a girl like Molly would go out with a guy like Kirk (it helps also that Kirk, unlike most of the guys in Apatow’s films, is not a pot-smoking, lazy slob with a beer gut, but just an average guy who feels insecure about his physically studliness factor).

More than that, though, Eve brings out the vulnerability and self-esteem issues that even a girl who’s a solid “#10” has, and makes her stunningly beautiful, smart character likable even to the women in the audience. Molly, for all that she seems to have it all, is insecure, lonely, and looking for love, just like a lot of us, and just like a lot of the women who will see this movie, she’s been burned by relationships with “hot guys” and is seeking a guy who’s more real, more honest and, yes, more safe.

This is part of what makes this film work so well as a date movie, or even a movie for a chick to go see with a group of girlfriends; we women can be insecure and bitchy, and one sure-fire way to make us dislike a character is to make her an attractive woman with no perceivable defects or vulnerabilities. Molly, though, is a nice girl who happens to be gorgeous, and we can get behind and root for her.

Sex and the City, by the bye, worked for much the same reason — the female leads of that show, for all that they endlessly obsessed on fashion and men, all had flaws and foibles and relationship troubles that made them feel real and human. Is it coincidence that Eve’s next film is Sex and the City 2? I rather think not, and having seen her in this, I’m actually motivated more to see that film, just to see what the do with her in it.

As for She’s Out of My League, overall the film is much, much better than you might expect from the trailer, which does a spectacularly crappy job of selling the heart of the story. Kirk’s family — lazy, bullying brother Dylan (Kyle Bornheimer) and his trashy pregnant girlfriend Debbie (Jessica St. Clair) and Kirk’s parents (Debra Jo Rupp and Adam LeFevre), who have more or less adopted Kirk’s ex, the repugnant (but also vulnerable) Marnie (Lindsay Sloane) and her new boyfriend, the more studly Ron (Hayes MacArthur) into the family, supplanting their own son, are all, as a group, one of the most repugnant on-screen families you’ve ever seen.

The scenes with Kirk’s family are universally a bit over-the-top and hard sell; they treat him so badly, are just such a nasty bunch, that it’s a bit hard to believe that Kirk would bring Molly into this nest of vipers early on in their relationship. Kirk’s friends, Stainer (T.J. Miller), Jack (Mike Vogel) and Devon (Nate Torrance), the one married guy in the group, pretty much follow the buddy formula so well-established by any number of rom-coms, including Apatow’s: they banter, they make dick jokes, and they give their friend frequently bad advice on his relationship which he, to his detriment, takes to heart.

She’s Out of My League isn’t a “#10,” but I’d give it at least a “6” or “7” for a generally smart script and for playing around with how both Kirk and Molly, different though they may be on the surface, are, like a lot of us, scared and vulnerable and insecure as they flounder about and find their way in the rocky world of relationships. It also gets points from me for daring to venture a bit beyond rom-com cliche, and for making the effort to be a little smarter, sharper and more insightful than films of this genre tend to be.

If it had an all-star cast, it might have gotten more attention, but I don’t think it would have been a better movie. I laughed, a lot, and didn’t leave feeling I’d wasted the money spent on my ticket. At the multiplex these days, that alone is enough to recommend it.

-by Kim Voynar

Ramin Bahrani's Plastic Bag


You already know of Ramin Bahrani’s work from his feature films Man Push Cart, Chop Shop and Goodbye Solo (and if you don’t, shame on you and go hunt them up and watch them, pronto). Bahrani has a new short out, Plastic Bag, narrated by Werner Herzog, with cinematography by Bahrani’s talented longtime collaborator, Michael Simmonds.
Somewhat reminiscent of The Red Balloon, Plastic Bag is the tale of a plastic bag who falls in love with the woman who takes him from the grocery store, is used by her, and ultimately discarded, after which he goes on a lonely search buoyed by wind and water to find his beloved lost “maker.”
If you are going to be at SXSW, try to catch Plastic Bag there, where you can see it on a big screen, the better to appreciate Simmonds’ gorgeous cinematography. One of these days, if there’s any justice in the world of film, both Simmonds and Bahrani will win Oscars for their work. If you’re not already a fan of their work, for Pete’s sake, get on the bandwagon now; when they get rich and famous, you, like a snooty hipster music fan, can say that you loved their work long before the hoi polloi caught on.
If you can’t make it to SXSW, you can watch the film online. It’s embedded above, it’s lovely, it’s well worth the time it will take you, trust me. Enjoy.

Today's WTF Moment: Variety Axes McCarthy and Rooney

I am stunned by the news that Variety has let go full-time film critic Todd McCarthy and theater critic David Rooney. It’s no secret that Variety has used — and I mean that in the fullest sense of the term — freelancers for a long time in filling its review space. But when Variety can afford the fancy digs out of which it operates while it’s letting go of full-time writers with seniority and benefits — the very people who, one might think, the paper that purports to be the most important in Hollywood ought to want to have writing for them — as a “cost-cutting measure,” that is a sad statement about Variety’s priorities.
Variety would be better served trimming down management or getting rid of the fancy office space and transitioning to mostly virtual offices, having people work from home and saving on infrastructure, than saving money by getting rid of its lifeblood, the writers who write the words without which, there would be no Variety. Or better still, cut in half what they’re paying president Neil Stiles, who had the audacity to say, “… the critics were cut as a cost-saving measure.”
Well, thanks for clarifying, Mr. Stiles. That speaks volumes about Variety’s priorities. Someone needs to axe Stiles as a “cost-saving measure” and pay the writers. What a sad, sad day. It would be great if freelance critics would unite in boycotting writing for these assholes at all, but sadly, that’s not going to happen. Even though Variety has repeatedly shown it won’t think twice about screwing writers over right and left, there will always be someone who will think the perceived value of writing for them is somehow worth it.
There are some things you cannot put a price on, and integrity is one of them.

Quote Unquotesee all »

“I always thought that once I had lived in Chicago for a while, it would be interesting to do a portrait of the city – but to do it at a significant time. Figuring out when would be the ideal time to do that was the trick. So when this election came around, coupled with the Laquan McDonald trial, it seemed like the ideal time to do the story. Having lived in Chicagoland for thirty-five-plus years and done a number of films here, I’ve always been struck by the vibrancy of the city and its toughness. Its tenderness too. I’ve always been interested in the people at the center of all the stories. This is a different film in that regard, because we’re not following a couple of individuals over the course of the project in the way that a lot of the films I’ve done have, but I still feel like people’s voices and aspirations and hopes are at the center of this series.

It wasn’t easy. We started back in July 2018, it was actually on the Fourth of July – that was our first shoot. It’s like most documentaries in that the further you go along the more involved and obsessed you get, and you just start shooting more and more and more. We threw ourselves into this crazy year in Chicago. We got up every day and tried to figure out if we should be out shooting or not, and what it is we should shoot. We were trying to balance following this massive political story of the mayor’s race and these significant moments like the Laquan McDonald trial with taking the pulse of people in the city that we encounter along the way and getting a sense of their lives and what it means to live here. By election day, Zak Piper, our producer, had something like six cameras out in the field. You could double-check that, it might have been seven. We had this organized team effort to hit all the candidates as they were voting, if they hadn’t already voted. We hit tons of polling places, were at the Board of Elections and then were at the parties for the candidates that we had been able to follow closely. Then of course, we were trying to make sure we were at the parties of the candidates who made it to the runoff. So, yeah, it was kind of a monster.”
~ Steve James On City So Real

“I really want to see The Irishman. I’ve heard it’s big brother Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. But I really can’t find the time. The promotion schedule is so tight, there’s no opportunity to see a three and a half-hour movie. But I really want to see it. In 2017, right before Okja’s New York premiere, I had the chance to go to Scorsese’s office, which is in the DGA building. There’s a lovely screening room there, too, with film prints that he’s collected. I talked to him for about an hour. There’s no movie he hasn’t seen, even Korean films. We talked about what he’s seen and his past work. It was a glorious day. I’ve loved his work since I was in college. Who doesn’t? Anyone involved with movies must feel the same way.”
~ Bong Joon-ho