The Hot Blog Archive for June, 2012

DP/30: Brave, director Mark Andrews

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On Film Criticism… On Sarris’ Passing

I will let others more qualified than I reflect on the work and life of Andrew Sarris. Suffice it to say, he was my favorite working critic, while he was working, in my post-college life. His work drove me crazy while I was at NYU in the 80s, but he seemed to be less concerned with defining film in his later work and more of a normal film lover, albeit loaded to the gills with historic perspective.

But the passing of Sarris – like Sarris being let go by the NY Observer a few years back – causes me to wonder about where we are in film criticism. Arguably the only name power in film criticism left is Roger Ebert, a thoughtful, earnest writer who loves movies and got his Pulitzer for film criticism before they started handing them out by rote, but also of a certain age, physically vulnerable, and while louder and brasher than ever in some ways, literally silent.

I applaud both Dargis & Scott, but it’s been over 30 years since any critic employed by the NY Times has risen beyond the shadow of the paper’s majesty. And I don’t know that either of those two want to do so. I think they have the great luxury, in this time of cutbacks, to just do their jobs… to be pure critics… to stay above the fray (playing verbal ping pong with David Carr in an exercise that plays to both of their weaknesses not their extreme strengths aside).

The trades are only relevant these days when Todd McCarthy brings his personal weight to something. This is not a rip of (all) the trade critics, but they work for outlets that define status and neither trade has any serious status anymore. The only power they have left is being “first” when they can con some studio into letting them print first. And indeed, the inability to build a relationship with a single, central critic at the trades makes them unreliable to readers. Eric Kohn may be ass backwards most of the time, but at least indiewire is trying with the right idea.

The LA Times is worthless, critically. One critic’s ship has sailed and the other’s hasn’t landed. The Tribune Company has raped the rest of their line-up and while I like Michael Phillips (in Chicago) and think he is a smart guy… non-entity in the big picture. Roeper is the airline magazine of criticism.

Time and Newsweek are the heads on the spikes in front of the media castle, warning others what could happen to them. Slate was never much critically and is now worse. And Salon, which used to be fun, is not fun anymore.

Love Joe Morgenstern, but does anyone outside of core readership really care about criticism at the Wall Street Journal (or The Boston Globe, btw)? USA Today remains USA Today and EW remains a marketing outlet… which they do with style and aplomb.

Am I missing anyone? Do they do criticism on any of the morning shows anymore? Do I have to pretend that the Kevin Smith show has anything at all to do with film criticism? (I LOVE watching Kevin Smith talk… but watching him nod and make faces and say, “Yeah, man, I agree!” is just f-ing pathetic. He is smarter than the mob and always has been… about everything but himself.)

So my point… yes, I have one… is…

How many critics are there left on the planet whose argument over a movie you think would be interesting to hear or read? Can there ever be a Kael vs Sarris again… not because there aren’t plenty of people who love to argue, but because few are as able to focus their beliefs in a way that is really worth fighting about?

Sarris and Kael… just two people who seem to have sincere, passionate believes and the ability to have the fight in public without it becoming too self-reflexive.

Why can’t anyone recreate Siskel & Ebert? 1. Because they were never meant for TV, so no new program wants two modestly attractive, smart white guys, 2. They weren’t defining themselves by their television personas (at least not in the early years), and 3. They had genuine, defined beliefs about movies from the start and were neither pandering to other critics or the studios or filmmakers or trying to make a name for themselves by crushing easy targets.

They were a “eureka” moment… whatever you think of the role the show had in the history of criticism. Honest yin and yang.

These days, every f-ing tweet seems like an exercise in posturing for most of the critics on the web. Jockeying for position… trying to get a job… trying to keep a job. And yes, some do come by their passion and/or rage honestly. Absolutely. Some even come by batshit crazy honestly.

But the discourse always seems to come down to likes and dislikes and not a lot more than that. Or there is something more serious going on, but it gets overwhelmed by the posturing.

And of course, Kael & Sarris & Ebert & Siskel were full of quirks and personal kinks. We all are. But the idea they were arguing became clear. Their Ideal.

I don’t know that I have said this publicly, but the failure of the combination on the last Ebert show was that – however true or untrue in fact – Ignaty never said to Christy, “You sound like a provincial burnt out housewife whose critical thinking is as limited as the outlet you work for” and Christy never said, “You sound like an overpraised child who has watched too many damned Criterion Collection movies and has lost, at your tender age, the ability to appreciate what normal adult Americans love about the movies.”

Or something like that.

Again, not saying that either comment would be fair or accurate. But those are, kinda, the two sides those two people are playing for. And they were never very well defined by one another. And that is the difference between good television and boring television. (AO Scott and Michael Phillips suffered the later… two smart guys who had slightly different perspectives and… who gives a fuck?)

People have wanted me and Jeff Wells to get into it on some form of media. And I have always refused the notion, primarily because I know his weak spots and would crush Jeff in an intense argument, not necessarily rhetorically, but personally. I would find it hard not to stick in the knife. No matter how severe his opinions, I would look like a mean, cruel person. And I would be, for a moment, a mean, cruel person. I don’t want to be that… even if it paid well for a season before everyone moved on to some show featuring some critic who was in a sex tape.

But i digress…

It seems like there are a lot of people out there with a lot of smart things to say… and as we all do, sometimes think dumb things. But aside from “I hate 3D” or “I hate digital” or whatever, is there philosophy left? Are there great arguments left?

Actually that’s wrong. I know there are arguments to be made. But do we have the right people to make the most of the arguments?

It’s not just the movies. Can you imagine an argument as real and demanding as Mailer vs Vidal or Mailer vs Women right now? There are more people fighting than ever… and less real impact. Fox News lies. Jon Stewart counters with comedy. But there is so little really good, juicy, smart, head-turning fighting. I want 30 minutes with Stewart and O’Reilly across from one another every single week, so they can stop being cordial and get down to it. Or Rachel Maddow and Hannity. No hiding behind one host in control and pre-programmed arguments. Let’s call bullshit in real time.

I love Tony Scott, but I want to see David Carr do a weekly videocast with Mark Cuban, who will push back with authority and will be wrong too, which we would know because Carr could fight that fight. Likewise, I’d be interested in Tony vs Manohla (not that she’d ever engage on camera) or Tony vs Armond or Tony vs Glenn Kenny or Glen Kenny vs Dan Kois. If they are going to tussle, I want to see a good, fairly even heavyweight match with one power fighter and one finesse fighter who are all about the fight, not about the endorsement deals.

And though I mention all well-known figures, I am sick to death of The Pulpit Of Big Media. Richard Brody is an interesting, intelligent guy… but being at The New Yorker as a critic does NOT make you right. Not close. Almost insistently the opposite much of the time. (Denby being the “regular” guy on the team.) And being a feature reporter at the NYT makes you about as much as an critical authority to me as it does to your significant other. Etc, etc, etc.

I know I am opening myself to a cascade of the same old whine about me… that I am all about me. But I am as guilty as anyone of arguing about the char, not the meat. And though people seem to misunderstand this, arguing a side of an argument with passion and vigor does not mean that you have, necessarily, lost perspective on the fact that there may well not be a “right” position. People must be allowed to disagree at a level higher than “fuck you” or polite nodding… but still understand that there is rarely a Truth. For me, engaging someone in an argument is a show of respect. I would be so much easier just to ignore those I disagree with. But then, I would be a Tea Partier.

Film deserves better fighting.

Fighting deserves better film.

The first rule of Fight Club isn’t that you don’t talk about Fight Club because it’s a secret. It’s because Fight Club is about acting, not intellectualizing action.

The second rule… that’s probably about the secrecy.

You tell me.


The Tease Parade Continues: Monster University

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Premature Eteaselator: Twilight Offers A :13 Nip Slip

I just kept thinking of Elton John… “Red eyes… baby’s got red eyes… like a Pom smoothie… on a red, red day…”


How To Do A Dark Knight Trailer Exclusive

Here is the link to Nokia’s new exclusive trailer event for The Dark Knight Rises. It takes you to a YouTube page and starts playing automatically.

Let it play.

I was just musing this morning about how trailer exclusives are a waste of time and create more discontent amongst media than they are worth. And then I got the TWC launch of The Master trailer on their YouTube channel – easy embed, sizing, HD (though TWC only posted it in 720, which is dumb) – and that was followed by a note from Nokia about this premiere.

It got me. And the trailer is pretty great too.

Once you’ve clicked through that, you can size this one up…


BYOB – Happy Birthday, Paul McCartney


Weekend Estimates by Soft Openers Klady

It was evolution weekend at the box office. The talking animals had the top weekend again, the creation of human life on earth stayed in 2nd place with an estimated 60% drop, a journey in reverse to the 80s, and Adam Sandler spawning. (Couldn’t come up with one for Snow White.)

I got the call last week about how That’s My Boy would do this weekend and I was dead wrong. This is his worst Sandleresque opener since the very early years of the mid-90s. Combined with Jack & Jill, this will make his next opening nerve racking. Still, Sandler is very much in control of his next five years, as he can control the costs of his films if he so chooses.

Aside from Lions For Lambs, Rock of Ages is Tom Cruise’s worst wide release opening since 1999. “But it’s not really a Tom Cruise movie,” you say? Fair enough. So what the hell is it? Who is this movie for… forget about it being brutally bad… to whom did WB think they could sell this? So now they pray for the rest of the world not caring that it sucks. And the world is often generous in this way.

Madagascar 3 is slightly ahead of the previous two films in the series.

Prometheus is hard to figure. Obviously, it is not a love fest, but as R-rated films go, it will be in the high range for non-comedies. The domestic gross is right in range with The Departed, American Gangster, Shutter Island, and Safe House, but not a phenom like 300. As with so many films, we’ll be looking to the international numbers to define success or failure here.


Fox’s Father’s Day Greeting


DP/30 @ SIFF ’12: The Savoy King: Chick Webb & the Music That Changed America, documentarian Jeffrey Kaufman

FYI: The history of Mr. Kaufman goes through Pauline Kael’s house, if you’re interested.


Friday Estimates by Klady Jaxx

Well, that was a shitty Friday.

Madgascar 3 held okay, though as an animate film, really for kids, Fri-to-Fri numbers are not as much of an issue and this 50% drop is not likely to fall much.

A 73% drop for Prometheus hurts, though the suspicion last weekend was that there was a big Friday must-see and that it equalized over the weekend. So the drop could come down to the low 60s for the weekend. Still not a thrill for Fox.

Rock of Ages and That’s My Boy are the big openers this weekend, though calling them “big” would surely inspire a crass penis joke from Adam Sandler’s writers. This weekend’s two openings represent – even though it seems like summer’s been going on for eons already – wide studio openings #11 and #12 of the summer of 2012 so far. Toby Emmerich’s Rock of Ages will take the #9 slot, besting WB’s other bomb, Chernobyl Diaries, and SummitsGate’s What To Expect When You Are Expecting.

And Sandler’s That’s My Boy will also outdo the Paranormal Activities Goes to Russia/Love American Style With Babies combo of flops… but it is just as much a horror show, as it will under-open Jack & Jill AND Little Nicky, surely revving up the field for a ton of “Is Adaam Sandler Over?” not-think-too-much pieces.

So is Adam Sandler over? Well, his two movies before these two flops (2010/2011) were both over $100m domestic and $200m worldwide, and one of them was his biggest worldwide hit ever. And both were more gentle, mainstream comedies with family elements. So Adam Sandler may have been Eddie Murphy-ied, more than killed. Grown Ups and Just Go With It are both still Sandler movies, in terms of broad, stupid comedy… but both involve wives and kids and love. So it’s not exactly Murphy getting into Daddy Day Care/Shrek mode.

Little Nicky was the last really bad landmark in Sandler’s box office career… and like TMB, it is tonally different from the more commercial work he’s done. Having seen about 2/3 of the movie now, I think it’s some of the most interesting work he has done in his career. This is much more his Cable Guy than his Pluto Nash. It feels like he tried here to throw his hat in the ring with the rougher comedians working today… Ferrell’s Funny or Die side… Ted, which is not so dissimilar, but in plush, and will be a big hit… last summer’s Horrible Bosses.

Having seen most of the movie, I am a little embarrassed for the critics who were so angry in attacking the film. It is certainly raunchy and stupid. Masturbation jokes almost always are. But there is a kinky intelligence behind this film that is more Ulrich Seidel than a fart joke. I’d be hard pressed to call it a “good movie,” but I laughed out loud repeatedly. The fat woman on the stripper pole was not only funny, but calling her obese is close to misogyny. Adam Sandler being legitimately turned on by an 70+-year-old is a daring and subversive act showing fearlessness on a level that you won’t see in any other studio movie anytime soon. And while not always skillfully presented, there are a ton of very interesting, subtextually challenging ideas presenting in this film. all too easily dismissed as “fucking Sandler.” It’s a classic example of critics seeing what they expect and not what’s in the movie.

I don’t know what this all means for Sandler. Budgets will have to come down. But he also has the Grown Ups sequel coming next year. There has been a restlessness in his work in the last few years, after his attempts at higher quality films also flopped. A lot of what happens will be in his control. I don’t see Sony jettisoning him. But I think he’ll have to go back down to the $50m range to have the freedom he’s had. And will he choose to pander for dollars or push himself even harder to find new turf? Or will he end up on a sitcom? Or doing small roles in other people’s movies?

I see these last two films as very different kinds of commercial misses. I don’t think there is an overall Adam Sandler Problem. This is a hard-R movie with him doing a harsh accent and an unwillingness to market the parade of cameos. J&J was sold as slapstick for children, but the Sandler edge means parents don’t want to send their kids. So where will he go from here?

In other box office news…

Nothing much worth noting. Marigold is now over the hump and will play out, though it may be a long play out. And the slower spreading Moonrise Kingdom is likely on too slow a track to catch up with Marigold, though it could beat out Fox and Aquatic to be Wes Anderson’s #2 domestic career grosser domestically.


BYOB Weekend


World Cinema: A Short by The Brothers Coen

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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