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Tag: Commentary (1-10 of 27)

'Contagion' ticket sales strong, despite 9/11 anniversary

It might seem strange that Warner Bros. decided to release Contagion, a film that chronicles the outbreak of a worldwide pandemic, on the same weekend as the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Understandably, as Americans have reflected on that awful day, a reverent, melancholy atmosphere has fallen upon the country this week. Typically, that wouldn’t bode well for a film like Contagion.

As we’ve seen over the last decade, war dramas have seriously struggled at the box office. READ FULL STORY

Black Women Historians come out against 'The Help'

The Association of Black Women Historians released a statement today, urging fans of both the best-selling novel and the new movie The Help to reconsider the popular tale of African American maids in 1960s Jackson, Miss., who risk sharing their experiences with a young white journalist. “Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers,” the statement read.

READ FULL STORY

'Inception,' that ending, and where critics go wrong

inceptionImage Credit: Melissa MoseleyHere’s something cool coming off the first weekend of Inception: Excited moviegoers are spending a lot of time talking about Huh? and Wow! and What’s up with that ending? Here’s something less cool:  Critics and bloggers and blogger-critics and readers who like to post on Internet comment boards about those same critics and bloggers are spending a lot of time trashing one another.  The argument is about the early raves, and the critical backlash citing those early raves with disdain, and the reader backlash to the critical backlash, and the tyranny of aggregate scores on Rotten Tomatoes, and on and on and zzzzzz….

I wish I were dreaming this. Instead, the bickering is a waking nightmare at a time when professional movie criticism is being viewed more and more as a rude, elitist intrusion on the popular preferences of a public with greater opportunities than ever before to be your Own Best Critic and let the world in on your thoughts.

Discuss! Right now, below, discuss! In the meantime, I want to discuss three words that signal when a movie critic (professional or amateur, dead-tree publication or cyber-format) has lost his or her authority.

1. Overrated. READ FULL STORY

'Avatar' special edition: I hate special editions. Director's cuts, too.

avatar-lang-samThis item has nothing to do with Mel Gibson. It has something to do with Avatar, but only tangentially, since I’ve had a confession to make ever since I read, a few days ago, that James Cameron and Fox are preparing a theatrical re-release of the Blue People Chronicles next month in a “special edition” that will contain eight minutes of extra footage. The philosophical observations that the original 162-minute version evidently felt a tad skimpy to Cameron have been duly appreciated.

Here’s what I want to declare: I hate special editions. Even when they’re good. I also hate extended editions, collector’s versions…whatever it is they call it when a movie that was once released as finished (and for which a movie-lover has paid good money to buy a ticket) is subsequently considered not-quite-as-finished as the new version now on $ale. I especially hate “director’s cuts,” with the implication that until their triumphant appearance, artistic liberty has been trampled upon by terrible forces of commerce. Never mind that this is often true; it’s still got the ring of pretension. I read a lot of books, and aside from Lady Chatterley’s Lover, I have rarely found one called the “author’s edition.” I go to the theater a lot, and I haven’t seen any production billed as the “playwright’s edition.”

Limited liability statement: The above opinion does not apply to the superiority of Apocalypse Now Redux; the 1998 re-release of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil brilliantly edited by Walter Murch; the final, final, final, final cut of Blade Runner; and whatever you count as your favorite director’s cut.

Hey, what is your favorite director’s cut, and how is it different from what you saw the first time? Really? Alternatively, if you were allowed to add eight minutes to Avatar, where would you stick them? I think I’d like more scenes of Sigourney Weaver smoking, just to show, you know, how crummy Earth is compared with Pandora.

Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston: DVD gift suggestions on the occasion of their engagement

romeo-and-julietImage Credit: Everett CollectionYou know how colleagues or teammates or the whole office chip in to celebrate a friend’s big news? Here’s an opportunity to provide young parents and on-again sweethearts Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston with a relevant video library — well, with a list of titles, anyway — that suits their lifestyle. What should they watch on their big flat-screen TV on the many nights when they’re home together with baby Tripp, just the two of them, no babysitting relief, and they’re tired of playing Boggle?

Here’s what I’m contributing:

Riding In Cars With Boys (2001). Based on a tough memoir by Beverly Donofrio. Drew Barrymore is really great as Beverly, a girl in 1960s Connecticut whose life is upended by one fateful night. She gets pregnant at 15, she has the baby, she’s forced by her family READ FULL STORY

Mel Gibson: Despicable he, but will his behavior keep you from buying a ticket to his movies in the future?

mel-gibsonImage Credit: Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage.comA second purported audiotape has emerged in which Mel Gibson heaps disgusting verbal abuse and threats on the ex-girlfriend who is the mother of his baby daughter. You’re on your own if you want to find the tape and eavesdrop; I’ll skip it, thanks. Instead, I’m here to wrestle with how what we know about an artist’s character and personal life influences our appreciation for that artist’s work. And whether it should. (I’m leaving the private lives of politicians and others who work in the public trust out of this conversation.)

The truth is, I wish I didn’t know anything at all about Mel Gibson. Nothing. Lucky for me, the man has no effect on my daily existence, and I make no dent in his. I’m curious about Gibson only insofar as he is an interesting actor and filmmaker (“interesting” — how’s that for a deliberately neutral term?) whose projects suggest a complicated, angry interior that, in turn, makes his projects so…interesting. (I assume you enjoy dabbling in cheap, dime-store psychoanalysis as part of your moviegoing enjoyment as much as I do.) The public Mel Gibson’s movies tell me plenty.

In a piece on her website The Daily Beast, Tina Brown declares that ours is a “culture of destructive transparency.” Then she applauds the release of those tapes, arguing that listening in provides a kind of vindication on behalf of “every frightened woman…living in fear of a man who has all the financial cards.” My question: How? Do you really benefit from knowing that, if this leaked evidence is to be believed, the private Mel Gibson is a racist, a bigot, a misogynist, a person unraveling in hate? His sins (to put his actions in terms that he, a religious man, would understand) certainly matter to his unfortunate ex-girlfriend, to anyone he has insulted in person, and to his God.

But to put the matter in terms the godless marketplace understands, will what you know affect whether you buy a ticket to Mel Gibson’s next movie? Will you boycott his work? (I won’t.) Or will you be even more curious to see what he does next? His talent agency just announced that he has been dropped as a client. But he is a very rich man, with money enough to finance his own productions. What should our public response be to Mel Gibson’s private bad behavior?

Kathryn Bigelow: If she wins the Oscar for directing, does that mean it's been a great year for women?

nineImage Credit: David JamesA TV producer interviewed me on camera today for a pre-Oscar story he’s whipping up to run over the weekend. He was very excited. “I mean, Kathryn Bigelow!” he explained. “Meryl Streep! Sandra Bullock! A good year for women or what?!” I wasn’t sure what he was asking me. “You know” he elaborated, “like, on the one hand, I’ve read figures that say women make up only make a small percentage of Hollywood. But then, on the other hand, you know, like Nancy Meyers? Nora Ephron? Good, right? Is this a good sign for the future of women? Or something? Your thoughts?”

Um. I guess every media outlet is trying to fill the hours leading up to the Oscars on Sunday night, aren’t we? So I told the TV producer this: As a movie-lover, I hope Bigelow wins, because of, well, her great directing of The Hurt Locker.  As a woman (and thus, apparently, an oracle for the purposes of his little pre-Oscar feature) I’m aware of and excited about the significance of such a win, since she’d be, oh, the first woman ever to take the trophy in that category (and only the fourth ever nominated). But as a movie-lover, I’d like to think that if a man had directed The Hurt Locker as well as Bigelow did, then he would win the Oscar. I’d like to think that if Bigelow wins, the biggest benefit for women who want to make movies in Hollywood — a Hollywood run, as most of the world is run, by men — would be greater industry-wide recognition that talent comes in all sexes, colors, and sizes. A woman can make an action flick or a war movie; a man can make a feminine romance. All we want is to see stories that move us, excite us, entertain us, challenge us. Sometimes those movies are about alien blue people. More often, those movies are about people with whom we can identify, characters who look as young or old as we are. And as male or female, too.

See that divine bundle of Penelope Cruz, from Nine?  She’s delicious, she’s sexy,  she represents fantasy womanhood on what used to be called the silver screen. Long may she sparkle! But the success of Kathryn Bigelow represents real workplace progress, accomplishment, and the equal opportunity of talent rewarded. Women — and for that matter, humans of every gender — are invited to cheer. I’ll be on my couch on Sunday night, waving a hankie of hope.

Valentine's Day: Does big box office equal love?

Hey, how was your Valentine’s Day? Did it make you feel like $52.4 million bucks? That’s this morning’s estimated box-office tally for the movie Valentine’s Day, and that’s before adding in the romantics who plan to buy tickets on Presidents’ Day. Before the weekend, I asked you if you, too, were planning a date with Ashton, Topher, and the Jessicas Alba and Biel.T wrote, “It’s the movies, it’s Valentine’s Day, and sap is practically mandatory.” Kim said, “When it comes to rom-coms, I just assume every reviewer will pan them.” Angie reported, “I loved the movie and so did my husband! What I like the most is the scenes show things that could happen in real life.” Carlisle predicted, “I expect it to be light, breezy, cheesy, and schmaltzy.” And bedc01 announced, “The girlfriend and I will avoid this trite, dumb, Hollywood ‘romantic’ movie and will rather stay home and watch the greatest modern-day romantic comedy ever: Shaun of the Dead!

Wow, bedc01, I like your style. Me, I channel-surfed my way onto Casablanca on TCM, watched it for the 43rd time, wept and swooned for the 43rd time, and felt love for the whole wide world, even for Major Strasser and Peter Lorre’s Signor (“just because you despise me, you are the only one I trust”) Ugarte.

But I’m still thinking about Valentine’s Day because I’m guessing that, given its commercial success, Hollywood is about to develop a big 2010 crush on this reliable, recyclable format, the celebrity-ensemble-novelty-act movie. That’s entertainment! Already, plans have been announced for a similar whoop-di-doo pegged to New Year’s Eve. I’d recommend Independence Day, Mother’s Day, Income Tax Day, and the autumnal Jewish harvest festival of Succoth (during which observant Jews eat meals outdoors in little, roofless huts) as equally strong marketing opportunities.

What I don’t recommend, though, is relying on our collective audience goodwill for too long. We the people are able to recognize the difference between pleasurable familiarity of format and lazy cliche. And we demand more from our entertainment dollars than Taylor Swift making out with Taylor Lautner. The best romantic comedies give us what we expect and give it to us fresh — you know, like really good chocolate. Or Taylor Swift on SNL. And we can tell the difference, right? Right?

So here’s your chance: Pick a holiday and a dream ensemble cast, and let’s talk about what you want to see when Garry Marshall directs College Acceptance-Letter Day, Driver’s License Renewal Day, or Thanksgiving 90210.

Image credit: Ron Batzdorff

Movies starring real people vs. movies starring pixel people: the eyes have it

I haven’t written anything on this site about Avatar, for good reasons For one thing, I second everything Owen said in his fine review. And for another, I think that between Entertainment Weekly and ew.com, EW forces have pretty well covered every mile from Earth to Pandora, don’t you? But looking at this week’s pretty blue cover, I realize now that the main reason I haven’t jumped in to add to the discussion is because, as visually beautiful as Avatar is, and as snazzy, and as technologically innovative, the movie just doesn’t engage me emotionally as much as a movie about humans does.

You might say, well, what about hobbits and Wild Things and Wall-E and blockheaded Carl in Up? They’re not real people, either, and you’ve written about how much you love them. And I answer yes, I do. But I invest my heart differently when a character is human. I don’t care who’s fictional, who’s actual, and who’s just vaguely based-on-real-life. I do care that we share common traits of heart and soul. I know myself well enough to know that I particularly crave knowledge of how others of my species maneuver their ways in the world. And with all props to Neytiri, her ways are from another planet.

For me, the absence of human identification keeps me at a distance. As I say, for me. How about for you?

Eric Rohmer, French New Wave master of adult conversation

The great French filmmaker Eric Rohmer, who died today in Paris at the age of 89, made more than 50 movies, most of them about people for whom talk was life, as natural and necessary an activity as breathing. A member of that remarkable mid-20th-century group of influential critics and filmmakers known as the French New Wave (with Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, and Jacques Rivette among its legendary members), Rohmer was the one whose movies stood still-est, while characters debated whether to act on their desires; as often as not, Rohmer’s citizens ended up not doing but examining what they might have done. To some, such restraint was  READ FULL STORY

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