The Oscar nominations prove that the endless prognostications and odds-making (including my own) are, piece by piece, line by line, worthless, a waste of time and bandwidth, and that the voters of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences are collectively unworthy of having the final say. Two of the year’s best pictures, Beginners and Margin Call, were hardly mentioned save for a token screenplay nomination and, of course, career recognition of for the marvelous Christopher Plummer. Mike Mills’s superb and original Beginners screenplay had no support, nor did the glorious ensemble work in Margin Call of Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Stanley Tucci, Zachary Quinto, and Jeremy Irons.
It happens in the screenings I generally go to, which are mostly for critics and media types. It happens in theaters I go to that you also go to, arthouses and multiplexes: fireflies to the left of you, fireflies to the right--and front and side. Once, with my kids at the New Victory Theater on 42nd Street in Manhattan, I was entranced by a brilliant, wordless piece that began in absolute darkness with intermittent flashes of light on stage, with briefly illuminated rectangles and circles and the vague outlines of performers in motion--and then, one seat beside me, there came the competing glow of a woman busily texting. "PUT THE FUCKING PHONE AWAY," quoth I. She did, but the spell was broken. (Yes, it was broken as much by my potty mouth as her selfishness, but she provoked me.) On one level, I feel sad for people who can't be absorbed anymore in a movie or play or concert, who anxiously wonder if anyone in the outside world (from which they're allegedly trying to escape) is writing to them or thinking of them. But not that sad. Mostly, I think they should be tossed out on their disrespectful hineys. Which is why I encourage you to watch this delicious video by the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, send the people behind it a fan letter, and adopt their splendid intolerance. The Constitution of the Magnited or United States of America gives no one the right to interfere with the enjoyment of others in a movie house. Remember the Alamo!
Critics will be falling all over themselves to evoke the thrilling kineticism of Justin Lin's Fast Five, but amid the high-decibel crashes and brain-swooshing whip pans, there is another, flabbier element, which it shares with many sequels: hugs. See, Vin Diesel has been separated for a spell from his ex-FBI-adversary-turned-outlaw-brother Paul Walker and Walker's lady (also Vin's sister), Jordana Brewster. So the movie stops--by my count three times, but it might be four--for Vin to wrap his muscular arms around each of them and pull them into his swollen pecs. Many of the other characters, reunited after long absences, hug one another, too (although the Rock hugs no one, perhaps because his biceps are wider than his head and he'd crush the average human to death). OK, maybe it warms the cockles of our hearts to see Harry and Hermione and Ron embrace at the start of each new book/movie. But the terrible Little Fockers was regularly interrupted for the same reason, which meant that valuable screen time once used for amusing conflict was wasted on huggie-wuggies between actors who could barely stand one another and reunited for one reason only: sequel money. Movies are full of phony things and I'm not sure why hugs stand out as egregiously bogus, but sequels ought to limit themselves to one hug per character and capped at four overall, and I'm being generous. Gropes and French kisses are a separate issue...
Last year, I could think of nothing more vile, nothing more nihilistic, nothing more soul-draining, than The Human Centipede, which I could barely bring myself to write about. And now, in the last 24 hours, comes: a) Donald Trump on the tarmac in Portsmouth, N.H., congratulating himself on the release of the president's birth certificate, looking as if his mouth had been sewn onto Karl Rove's asshole; and b) the new season of South Park, which sews Steve Jobs's overweening ambition onto the asshole of The Human Centipede and comes up with The Human CentiPad. The episode was, like much of the work of Messrs Parker and Stone, unbridled genius. But I am afeard, my friends, of how quickly We Have Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Human Centipede.
This weekend I hope to catch up with Atlas Shrugged Part 1, but I'm a little dismayed to read this from its businessman producer John Aglialoro, who says that after the mediocre box-office showing he's having "deep second thoughts" on why he should do Part 2: "Why should I put up all of that money if the critics are coming in like lemmings?" I can't speak for the other lemmings, but I never got invited to a screening or even received word of an imminent New York opening. Being unable to see the movie in time to review it in print in a timely manner, I chose to write about other films instead--in effect, "going Galt" on Atlas Shrugs. I can't say what impact the absence of my wise and judicious opinion had on the box office, but if other critics were similarly treated I'd say the market worked very efficiently to keep the movie out of the public consciousness.
It's not my bailiwick, but I want to say I'm on board with Andrew Sullivan and others who want to see Trig Palin's birth certificate, especially now that President Obama has put his own "birther" controversy to rest. No, I'm not suggesting that Trig is not Sarah Palin's kid; I really don't know. It's just that, given his ties to Alaska's First Family, Trig could well turn out to be our first U.S. president with Down Syndrome, and showing that birth certificate now would guarantee that he doesn't have to endure all this trauma down the road. It's for his own protection!
Critic Elvis Mitchell’s departure from Movieline has spawned the usual flood of “What use are critics, anyway?” comments on various websites. Nikki Finke, for whose work I feel enormous affection, suggested the brouhaha had something to do with a wrong fact in his negative review of Source Code, which prompted an incredulous tweet from the director, Duncan Jones. Mitchell did a riff on Jeffrey Wright’s character smoking a pipe, a detail in an early script draft but not, apparently, in the film. I say “apparently” because, as I think back on Source Code, which I liked very much, I have a vision of Wright sucking on a pipe, and I definitely saw the movie. I also have a vision of Mitchell at the same screening, but I see a lot of movies with a lot of the same people, which is why it’s nice to have fact-checkers, who save my ass more often than I’d like to admit. One thing I can tell you with 100 percent certainty is that Mitchell would never, never, never write about something he didn't see. Never. Got it? Never. If there's someone who doesn't traffic in received wisdom, it's him. His writing is all fresh, all idiosyncratic, often brilliant, sometimes mystifying, never easy, and his radio show is first-rate. Whatever happened (I have zero inside knowledge) couldn’t have been on the grounds he wrote about something he didn’t see. In any case, another original voice is gone, first from the New York Times (where he was the perfect complement to A.O. Scott), now from Movieline. More important, it's gone from a field increasingly marked by hackish posturing and attended by fanboys and their idiotic ilk who campaign against critics whose writing isn’t in step with the majority or the Rotten Tomatoes rating.
To hell with them. May they grow and change. Fuck 'em. May God grant them wisdom. They vex me.
It's where the person says, "Rotten Tomatoes critics averaged..." It's where you should stop reading, too--or break off your live conversation and cut your losses. You know you're dealing with people who can't think for themselves. (They do tend to well on Family Feud, though: Survey says....!")
As kind a corollary to the samizdat in Infinite Jest, there are jokes so terrible they have the capacity to haunt our dreams, grateful only that we weren’t the ones to spring them on an unforgiving world. “Uma Oprah” belongs in that class, of course. So, perhaps, does the joke of the comedian who opened for Charlie Sheen in the now-legendary Detroit performance and was booed off the stage: “Why is it called a defibrillator? Shouldn’t it be a defibri-now?” (That isn’t the worst line I’ve ever heard, but it’s one that should have been toyed with for a few moments and then discarded on the grounds that it would could never play, except maybe, and only if you're a sick bastard, in a convalescent home.) The reason these apocalyptically bad jokes (apoca-quips? DISCARD) spring to mind is that virtually every gag of the new Arthur belongs in their company, beginning with the grisly opening sequence in which chauffeur Luis Guzman shows up in Burt Ward short-shorts so that he and Russell Brand can drive the Batmobile into the Wall Street bull statue. I'd only buy the DVD if there were a bonus supplement in which all the co-conspirators are hanged. More to come elsewhere (I'm warming up for the actual review) when I can bring myself to re-read my notes. R.I.P. Dudley Moore.
The Lincoln Lawyer has been out for a couple of weeks, and even though it’s low-key and got so-so reviews that compared it to TV law shows, it’s hanging on and building an audience. I know why. Law shows largely stink, whereas The Lincoln Lawyer is as good a translation of the work of Michael Connelly as we’re likely to see.
- David Edelstein