Shrinking Film Critic Archive for June, 2006

Fitness and Costco, together again

I’ve decided to train for a half-marathon. Yesterday I put in 3 hours at the gym — yeah, it’s great to be unemployed! — and today I set out for a 45-minute training run. But you need a goal when you run, and my goal was Costco.
Fitness doesn’t mean you can’t multitask. I jogged in leisurely fashion to Costco, where what I really wanted was Post-it flags. They make my heart sing. This Costco didn’t have Post-it flags, but they did have other extremely necessary items, like 10 pounds of herring. And everything there is sold in Family Pack size, which is so handy when you’re jogging without a backpack or anything suitable in which to carry home a party tray of international cheeses.
I put my Costco card, key, and money in a plastic zip-lock baggie — snack size — which makes a good impression on everyone behind you on line when you drag it out from your sweat-drenched running shorts pocket. But I forgot my debit card — Costco doesn’t take Visa — and I didn’t have enough cash on me for anything so fabulous as herring.
There’s nothing like being unemployed, fishing dollar bills out of a Baggie, and having to put back one item at a time: A tub of hummos with pine nuts. An already defrosting bag of frozen berries for smoothies. Whole-wheat pita pockets for, like, 100. I ended up with the cheese party pack and a bathmat tucked under one arm as I jogged home.
They say fitness is good for self-esteem, but I’ll bet when they say that they’re not taking into account the bathmat.


What do Superman Returns & The Da Vinci Code have in common?

BIG-TIME spoiler alert ahead … not that you wouldn’t guess it within the first reel.
Both Superman Returns and The Da Vinci Code play off the notion that Christ is mortal — or mortal enough to spawn heirs.
There’s been no outcry, no protests, no picketing over Superman Returns (unless you count complaints that Kate Bosworth is no Margot Kidder and Brandon Routh is no Christopher Reeve). And certainly there’s no good reason to protest the movie on religious grounds, but then, why protest Da Vinci Code either? What they have in common is the subtext of divinity versus humanity. Where they differ is in the seriousness with which they appear to raise the issue — although I would argue that Da Vinci Code is no more serious, in its genre way (and certainly no more high-minded or realistic) than Superman Returns.
In the case of SR, perhaps the kind of people who protest this sort of thing are mollified that Superman is just a comic character, not a JC stand-in — despite the fusillade of JC references that are hurled onto the screen like meteors aimed at Metropolis. Jor-El (the holographic Marlon Brando, referenced in a pane of Fortress of Solitude flat-screen-TV ice) gave his “only son” that humankind could learn to be just a little bit nobler. Director Bryan Singer’s Superman hovers, Christ-like, in space, where he spends his nights filtering out the babble of the world’s prayers like a messianic antenna. He decides which prayer to answer, and in what order. The central dilemma of Superman, and of Superman Returns, is how to prioritize.
And yet, Superman Returns is about social ineptitude. Superman returns from a five-year walkabout in space, and Lois is so furious at his lack of social grace — he never said goodbye — that she’s channeled her rage into a good-riddance essay that has won her a Pulitzer. The essay probably doesn’t mention what she hasn’t really discussed with her new boyfriend, either — that she spent a night with the Man of Steel. She slept with her source!
Full disclosure: I’ve written a Lois Lane comic, (a 5-page story within Superman: Secret Files & Origins) and did a rewrite on a Superman script. Should that make me more inclined to like or dislike Superman Returns? Dunno. I doubt the success of the movie will influence sales of my little comic one way or the other.
But if I were a religious protester, one inclined not to see the forest for the trees, I’d protest this movie’s depiction of Clark Kent, not of the savior Superman who answers the most desperate prayers. The human in him knocks up a girl, leaves without saying goodbye, and doesn’t pay child support. What would Jesus do?

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First Einstein's brain, now this …

The android head of Philip K. Dick went missing recently after its creator, roboticist David Hanson, mistakenly left it behind while changing planes. These things happen.
The lifelike Dick head, which was able via computer chip to conduct semi-coherent conversations in the voice of the late, great author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which morphed into the movie Blade Runner, was being used to help promo the new Richard Linklater film, A Scanner Darkly, opening July 7. The android’s body was found, but the head has gone to a place even America West cannot fathom.
Warner Independent’s Laura Kim told the New York Times that it was a shame to lose the talking head, since she’d been thinking of sending it out on junkets or pitching it to Letterman. Even Philip K. Dick’s headless body would be an improvement on the usual brainless zombies you find on the interview circuit; I doubt, somehow, that it would spout such wisdom as “I was attracted to this project because of the script” and “Film is a collaborative effort.”

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Bruce Springsteen loves America

Tonight’s Springsteen concert at Madison Square Garden was a radical political protest accomplished through the agency of America’s musical heritage. And while Springsteen was using his ferocious interest in musicology to entertain, educate, and raise up the crowd, it occurred to me: Bruce Springsteen loves America.
OK, he didn’t do his E Street Band stuff, and I can’t say I wasn’t hoping for I Came for You. (Like that would happen.) But he repurposed the folk songs of Pete Seeger and resurrected the musical glory of New Orleans with a backup band so potent you could smell the beer on Bourbon Street. He panned for the gold of America’s frontier days, retrieving haunting, fervent nuggets of social protest.
Springsteen expresses his patriotism through musicology. And if that sounds fusty, there was nothing fusty about the roaring crowd that ate up Seeger’s Bring ‘Em Home, written in 1965 during the Vietnam War, and just as chillingly apt today.
And it didn’t hurt that I had a skybox ticket courtesy of Seth Rosenthal, a senior account executive at the New York Post.

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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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