April 23, 2013
Over the years, I’ve developed what I refer to as the 20-minute rule. It basically says that a movie that hasn’t hooked me in the first 20 minutes probably isn’t going to.
I tend to apply it most forcefully when I’m watching films at festivals or when I’m sorting through DVD (or online) screeners at home. If nothing’s happening after 20 minutes, sorry, I’m out. As I’ve noted, at this particular point in our cinematic history, there simply isn’t sufficient time to watch all the movies that come my way – so I’ll take an afternoon, say, and sit down with a stack of the screeners that have piled up. (More…)
April 12, 2013
I recall a while back that a fellow critic took offense when I referred to Noah Baumbach’s “Greenberg” as “not an audience-friendly film.”
He felt that I was using the term pejoratively – as though I was saying there was something wrong with any film that didn’t make a specific point of trying to connect with its audience. Though I explained that it was not meant as a slur but as a simple descriptive, he still wasn’t satisfied.
I continue to believe, however, that the term has validity, particularly as a way for critics to describe a film in a way that is helpful to the reader. (More…)
April 10, 2013
It’s that rare evening of theater where something that was already familiar becomes new, yielding unexpected meaning and feelings.
It’s not as if I’ve made a study of “Hamlet.” But I’ve seen probably a dozen different versions, on stage and film. That’s something you do on purpose, because not many people do it voluntarily (and I consider that a failure of the American education system).
Still, when I saw Paul Giamatti play “Hamlet” recently at the Yale Repertory Theater in New Haven (a sold-out run that ends this weekend), I felt like I was hearing Shakespeare’s language for the first time. (More…)
March 27, 2013
A couple of weeks ago, someone I know, after scanning the movie listings of a Friday newspaper (and really, I’m dating that person just by identifying them as an actual newspaper reader), asked me, “When will we get some good movies?”
Without missing a beat, I said, “Maybe October.”
And when it happens, inevitably it will have little to do with Hollywood.
Because, really, Hollywood has abandoned the first three-quarters of the year, in terms of releasing films of quality on more than a deeply sporadic basis.
But let’s be real: In truth, Hollywood no longer cares about making good movies. Period. Quality is no longer a consideration. Full stop. (More…)
March 18, 2013
There are just too damn many movies. And not nearly enough good ones.
By my count, the New York Times ran reviews of 19 different movies on Friday, March 8. On March 15, they ran reviews of 18 more. This Friday, there are more than a dozen more scheduled to open in New York.
Every day, it seems, I get a half-dozen invitations to screenings – or, as is more often the case lately, an offer to send me a DVD screener or a link to stream the movie online.
But until I learn to DVR my life – to be able to put live-action on pause while I do something else, until I can come back to it, without actually losing the time it takes to do it – it’s both a physical and a temporal impossibility to see them all, or to even see the majority of them.
And here’s the most important thing: The majority of them aren’t worth seeing or reviewing. (More…)
March 12, 2013
Why would a movie studio try to stop critics from reviewing movies?
It’s called a review embargo – and it seems a little self-explanatory. But still, I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss a little movie-critic inside-baseball stuff. Perhaps we can get a larger discussion going. (More…)
February 19, 2013
Classics are classics for a reason. Which puts me into kind of a contextual quandary.
I believe that the cream rises and the best of literature, film, music and the like are what last in our culture.
Yet so much mediocre art – music, films, television shows – also seems to become part of the cultural conversation and stay there, with popularity conferring respectability. (More…)
February 14, 2013
There’s been a lot of Oscar chatter about the fact that “Argo” seems on track to win the best-picture trophy this year – despite the fact that its director, Ben Affleck, was left off the list of best-director nominees.
What seems to have gone undiscussed is the elephant in the room – why Affleck’s nomination went instead to Benh Zeitlin, who directed the wildly overpraised “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” (More…)
February 6, 2013
I have, on occasion, posted rants about filmmakers and actors who I consider overrated, a list that includes John Hughes, Terrence Malick, Zooey Deschanel and Ridley Scott, among others.
And, at some point, a reader sent in a comment that said, “Why not write about someone who’s underrated?”
To which I had no good answer. It was an absolutely reasonable request. It just took me a while to figure out who to write about.
And then I saw a film called “The Way, Way Back” at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and found my subject: Sam Rockwell, one of the funniest, most original and compelling actors working in films today. And one of the most underrated, in terms of awards or the kind of big-budget roles that turn someone into a star. (More…)
February 1, 2013
When I was in college, I once interviewed the late Rupert Crosse, an African-American actor who got an Oscar nomination for a 1969 film called “The Reivers,” whose star was Steve McQueen. If I’d known then that I would, 40 years later, write a book about John Cassavetes (in whose seminal film, “Shadows,” Crosse had appeared), well, it obviously would have been a different discussion. But who knew?
Instead, we talked about “The Reivers,” adapted from a William Faulkner novel, which, among other things, dealt with race. Which brought up another film of that same period, “The Learning Tree,” directed and written by Gordon Parks, adapted from his novel. I mentioned that that film made me feel uncomfortable at a couple of points, as had “The Reivers,” when Crosse’s character was mistreated by white characters (since it was set in the American South in the 1920s). When he asked why, I said, well, it made me feel guilty for the way whites mistreated blacks.
I thought of that again recently when the arguments began about Quentin Tarantino’s film, “Django Unchained,” with its copious use of the word “nigger.” “Django” unleashed a tornado of discussion points that found their way into reviews, into public discourse and beyond. (More…)
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