Old MCN Blogs
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Critic sans portfolio

Welcome to my blog, hosted most graciously by David Poland and Movie City News. I’ve named it after my forthcoming book, The Incredible Shrinking Critic … 75 Pounds and Counting: My Excellent Adventure in Weight Loss. A blog on weight loss and movies? Worse things have happened.
After 13 years as a film critic with the New York Daily News, we’ve parted ways. As Dianne Wiest would advise in Bullets Over Broadway, I’ll say no more.
Except that you can watch my little movie, Behold the Future of Film Criticism, for a quick look at what movie critics do when they’re sans portfolio.
The first movie I saw as a civilian is The Break-Up, as depressing a movie-going experience as I’ve had. The half-hour of ads and trailers that preceded it, the poor sound quality and projection, Jennifer Aniston’s uncomfortably real misery (the Brangelina thing, you know), distasteful characters, too much Vince Vaughn … I’m not necessarily blaming the filmmakers for the searing stomach pain I experienced during the second act, since the pre-movie pita joint mght have been a contributing factor. But still. In the days of screwball comedy — the comedies of remarriage, as they say — watching a bickering couple wear down their own defenses against true love was as comforting as being rocked in a warm bath. Here, the Aniston-Vaughn union is too toxic even for extreme couples counseling (although the opening-credit photo montage of the progression of the budding relationship is quite well done, the most genuine part of the movie). Tell me, what kind of romantic comedy has you rooting for the protagonists to see other people and move on with their lives?
But really, there’s hope in the world as long as there’s a Brangelina baby, or something like her, being birthed in Namibia every so often. This just in from Britney Spears:

I’m freaking out, y’all, about this Namibia thing! When the press said I was going to Africa to have Kev’s spawn, I was, like, whoa!

Fortunately, the Associated Press corrected their initial report that Spears was going the Jolie route. Namibia’s deputy environment and tourism minister, Leon Jooste, regretted leaking the news based only on an anonymous phone tip. What’s interesting here is not just the tantalizing thought that celebrities are having their babies in places where they can better control the auctioning of the rights to the baby photos. It’s also the matter of this tidbit about Brangelina, from the ABC News website:

The Namibian government shielded the Hollywood couple from the paparazzi, insisting that visiting journalists obtain permission in writing to cover them.

Let me see if I understand. Security is so tight in Namibia, suspicions so high, you have to perform the 12 labors of Hercules if you want to interview the country’s honored guests. But anyone can just pick up the phone and tell Leon Jooste that the Martians have landed, and he calls a press conference.
Click here to send me an e-mail, and click on Buzz, below, to see that little movie about unemployed film critics again.

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5 Responses to “Critic sans portfolio”

  1. Sam Adams says:

    Whee! First comment (at least if I type fast). Lovely to see you back in print so quickly. Re: Break-Up, I’m amazed how many people I know like the movie precisely for *not* being what they expected. The mis-marketing almost worked in its favor. I’m glad, I suppose, that it’s not a cookier-cutter rom-com, but that doesn’t really make it more palatable. To his credit, Vaughn literally makes himself the heavy (looks like the Expanding Movie Star packed on a few pounds to play his lethargic couch potato), but that just makes you root for the relationship to end even sooner, since you know this guy isn’t going to grow up until he gets his ass kicked but good. The mystery, reshoots notwithstanding, is how they ever ended up together — what couple has been living together for two years and hasn’t figured out who does the dishes?
    Better click quickly before someone beats me to it. Nice cat.

  2. Linda Spear says:

    I couldn’t see the video! I tapped Buzz’s hiney several times, got the screen up but it didn’t play! I have the right software for it, but it didn’t play! DAMN!
    I didn’t see the Breakup for just the reasons you described. I didn’t want to feel worse than I already did…

  3. Carl Caputo says:

    Jami, you may want to change your pro.imdb links to regular links to IMDb, since the Pro links break for people who don’t have such an account.

  4. Jami: Welcome to the blogosphere! I look forward to reading your stuff, and I’ve already pre-ordered the book– my 50-lb. spare tire has got to go. I’ve linked to you on my own site and given you a plug in my weekend reading list post. I hope you’ll stop by and say hello sometime– I know I’ll be back here. As for The Break-up, I just haven’t made it that far down the list yet… 🙂

  5. Nick says:

    Hello Jami…
    I actually called you once, on a radio show, YEARS ago, back in the 90s. I’ve had followed your reviews for many years during your tenure at the Daily News.
    I am really struggling to reconcile something here, so please, do not consider this to be a spam or a flame… I understand you were flamed quite a bit two years ago when “The Passion” came out. And yes, my question has to do with “The Passion… of Joan of Arc.”
    I read your comments about Gibson’s Passion, and I find that they work very easily with Carl Dreyer’s Passion. And I respect your opinion on Gibson’s film, you were obviously very bothered by it. So my question is: is Carl Dreyer’s film, to you, not a classic?

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon