Friday, February 23, 2007

It’s a Theater—Not Your Living Room

New Reviews at
The Astronaut Farmer
Ghost Rider

This week started out on a maddening note. We had our choice of three screenings on Tuesday night (not exactly brilliant planning, if you ask me, since it means that the majority of us will only cover one of the three), and most of us chose the Joel Schumacher/Jim Carrey thriller, The Number 23. Several of us got there at the same time, so we chose to sit in the balcony.

All I can say is that I should have known. I should have known that the two girls seated behind us were going to be trouble—because before the movie started, one of their friends reprimanded them for being so loud that he could hear every word of their conversation at the other end of the row. I should have gotten up and left then—because it would have saved me an hour and a half of rage.

It didn’t help that I was already pretty beat. We’d had a busy weekend, followed by a holiday on Monday, which we’d used to give the house a thorough cleaning. That meant that I had twice as much work to do on Tuesday—and about a quarter of the motivation. It didn’t help that last week’s blizzard had turned into this week’s flood. It was gray and rainy, and I would have liked to be home taking a nap. But I was there, ready to do my job—and I was actually looking forward to the movie.

Once it started, however—you know, the time when most moviegoers settle in and pay attention to the movie—the girls behind us refused to shut up. It didn’t help that they were a couple of seats apart, so they had to yell around their friends (and over the top of the movie) to be heard. At one point, the one at our left made some obnoxious comment about the movie, to which the one on the right replied with a laugh, “Shut up!” One of the guys muttered, “Exactly.”

Instead of paying close attention to the movie, we were forced to spend much of our time turning around and glancing up at the one on the left, who was by far the louder and more persistent of the two. We all did it, hoping she would take the hint and shut up already. Because here we were, trying to do our jobs, with some idiot behind us, making it difficult to think, much less pay attention to the movie. I don’t go with her to her job and stand behind her and yell all day, and I’d appreciate if she didn’t do it to me.

Finally, she announced just as loudly, “Now people are turning around and looking at me.” Even her friends took the hint then and tried to get her to shut up, which she did for approximately two minutes—during which time the man in front of us, who had spent much of the movie having a muttered conversation, got a little louder. By the time it was over, I felt a little bit insane. And homicidal. And it had nothing to do with the movie.

We’ve often wondered how, exactly, we can handle idiots like the girl behind us—people who don’t seem to care that other people are trying to pay attention. People who just go on having conversations with their friends—whether they’re three seats down or they’re at home, text-messaging back, causing the person in the seat ahead of you to open her cell phone every 30 seconds, blinding you by the frequent flashes of light. They ruin the evening for everyone else around them—yet if you politely ask them to stop, you’re the one who’s rude. It would be nice if, instead, people just considered those around them. If you don’t feel like seeing a movie, stay home. If you want to talk to your friend, take her out for coffee. And if you don’t like the movie, just leave. Do not test the patience of the film critics who may be seated around you—for their patience is wearing thin, and it’s only a matter of time until one of them snaps. (For a brilliant visual depiction of our experience on Tuesday night, see this little movie.)

I’m strong enough to admit that Tuesday night’s fiasco burnt me out a bit. So fortunately, Wednesday night’s screenings weren’t critical. There were three scheduled for Wednesday night: one that I’d already seen and two that have later screenings. Pride, for instance, is screening five more times before it’s released—so I figure I’ve got plenty of time to see it. Instead, I went to my husband’s hockey game. Unlike the Blue Jackets, my husband’s Wednesday night league team is having a winning season. So much so, in fact, that it’s not really all that exciting to watch (Wednesday night, the final score was 10-3), but even if there happened to be someone sitting behind me, yammering through the whole game (which there wasn’t—in fact, I was the only spectator), it would have been okay.

Then came Thursday night. Reno 911!: Miami. Did I want to see it? No. Did I think I probably should see it? Yes. Was it likely to make my head explode? Definitely. So I skipped it. Perhaps that means I’m not all that devoted to my job after all. But how many bad movies have I seen lately? I mean, really. I drove through a snowstorm to see Norbit. I deserve a night off. So I took one. So sue me. I plan on having a few strong drinks this weekend—so I should be back to normal next week.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Cabin Fever

New Reviews This Week:
Music and Lyrics
Sweet Land
Hannibal Rising

This week was a painfully quiet week. It started with the threat of snow. Lots of it. And after last week’s hour-long trip in an attempt to see Norbit, I’ve gotta tell ya, I wasn’t all that excited about getting more snow—or about having to share the road with a bunch of people who drive like they’ve never seen snow before.

It began early on Tuesday morning. By the time we got up, a few inches already covered the driveway. My husband got up to shovel—and not long after he got back inside, it was covered again. So Tuesday was officially declared a snow day. He called his boss (who had been trying, for two hours, to get to the airport on the other side of town) and got permission to work from home—so he set up shop in the next room. It was like working in a real office with real coworkers—only I didn’t have to get dressed up or put on makeup or anything.

The only problem with the whole snow day thing was that we had a screening scheduled for that night. My first thought was to skip it—because I really didn’t want a replay of the Norbit fiasco. But then, as the day wore on, and as the cabin fever started to set in, we began to reconsider. It would be nice, we thought, to get out of the house. We’d just leave really early and prepare for an hour or two of clutching the steering wheel and dealing with all the other idiots on the road. When the snow turned to ice, though, I changed my mind again. So instead of braving the slippery roads to see Breach, we stayed home and pulled a DVD off the Watch Me pile instead.

Wednesday was another snow day. Every school in the area was closed. Businesses were closed. And about eight inches of snow covered the street in front of our house. Since we’d heard on the news the night before that the city had hired pretty much anyone with a plow on their truck to help clear the major roads, we knew there was no way we’d be seeing a plow anytime soon. That, of course, meant that the afternoon screening that I’d planned to attend was out of the question. I’m dedicated to my job and all, but I’m not stupid enough to spend most of the day trying to push my car out of the neighborhood just to catch a movie. Instead, I spent most of the day staring out the window, quietly praying for a plow to come by. Or a neighbor with a snow blower. Or a bored neighbor kid with a shovel. Anything to get us out of the house.

On Thursday, things had cleared up enough for the kids to go back to school—and for the big kids to go back to work. That’s not to say, of course, that the roads in our neighborhood were cleared—and when a friend stopped by to get me out of the house for a cup of coffee, I ended up pushing her truck down the street.

By Thursday night, though, I was more than ready to get out of the house and get back to a screening. Sure, I was looking forward to seeing the gang again. But the fact that the screening was for something as potentially funny-bad as Ghost Rider made it all the more exciting. A month or so ago, one of the guys forwarded us this clip from YouTube—all of the funniest clips of Nicolas Cage in The Wicker Man. And after watching that a couple of times (because, really, you can’t watch Nicolas Cage in a bear suit punching out some unsuspecting woman just once), how could we not be excited to see the guy play a flaming skeleton on a motorcycle? According to Bill, it was sure to be absolutely craptastic. And you know what? It was. And nothing cures a bad case of cabin fever better than an evening of craptacular comic-book-movie awesomely-badness.

I feel much better now, thanks to Nicolas Cage and his flaming skull.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Dedication to the Point of Insanity

New Movie Reviews This Week:
The Good German
Breaking and Entering

This week, it was probably best that my husband had to leave town for a few days on business. I wouldn’t have seen him much, anyway.

The insanity began on Tuesday, with the screening of Norbit. The new Eddie Murphy movie was the #2 draft pick in this season’s Fantasy Moguls draft, so we were all interested to see it. Looking forward to it, however, not exactly. After all, we’re talking Eddie Murphy playing a morbidly obese woman. I can actually think of a few things I’d rather do than watch that. So when the snowstorm started on Tuesday afternoon, I started to consider the snowy Midwestern roads (and the Midwestern drivers who always act like they’ve never seen white stuff falling from the sky before) as my out. I could just stay home, have a glass of wine, and watch some TV instead. But David told me that I had to go. And Mark went one step farther, telling me he’d pick me up so we could ride together. So I gave in.

“I’m going to try to leave a little before 5:30,” he told me. “So we should be there on time.”

I’ll say! Considering it usually takes 15 minutes to get to the theater from my place—and the screening wasn’t until 7:30—I figured we’d be there early enough to have some coffee beforehand. So I packed my knitting and turned on the TV, expecting Mark to show up any minute.

By 6:30, I was getting a little worried. In fact, I was just about to call to make sure he wasn’t dead when he showed up.

“The highway wasn’t bad,” he explained as we hopped into my SUV for the rest of the journey, “but it took me a half hour to get from my place to the highway.”

I can’t tell you how many times during the next 45 minutes I called myself an idiot. I could have been curled up on the couch, enjoying a glass of wine. But no. Instead, I was clutching the wheel, trying to stay in control—so I could see NORBIT!

It was almost showtime by the time we arrived at the theater. As soon as we arrived, we were allowed to head inside, to our usual seats. Just a few minutes later, we watched the rest of the audience start to trickle in.

“Anyone who doesn’t have to be here should be slapped,” Jason announced. “We have to be here because it’s our job,” he said, looking out over the rest of the theater. “What’s your excuse?”

Surprisingly, though, the theater filled up. What was wrong with those people, that they drove out in horrible weather, on slippery roads, and fought their way through traffic jams to get to their free screening of Norbit, I’ll never know. Shame on them. And, well, shame on me.

Norbit was, in a word, horrible. I looked at my watch for the first time after 20 minutes. Around us, for some reason, people laughed—and I couldn’t help but wonder if these people were watching a different movie than I was. My fellow critics, however, were silent. Not a single laugh. The only sound that came from our row was the occasional groan. I tried (unsuccessfully) to make a noose out of my scarf. It was just that bad.

When it was over, I felt like I’d been hit by a bus. Actually, I kinda wish I had been. That would probably have been less painful. To make matters worse, with the roads being what they were, we postponed the post-screening drinks and headed home. What a disappointment.

On Wednesday, we were back at the same theater, to see Music and Lyrics. I brought a friend, who found the regular gang to be thoroughly amusing. She sat back and listened as we debated the ultimate success/failure of one another’s draft picks. She watched as my fellow critics described the look on my face after seeing Norbit. And she listened to our stories about our fellow critics—our own version of office gossip.

Fortunately, she came along on a good night. Music and Lyrics was actually good. And afterwards, I ended up getting that drink that I’d needed (and deserved) since the night before.

There was another screening scheduled for Thursday morning—but I ended up skipping, for various reasons (the greatest one being that neither of the other MOD Squad members would be in attendance). Since the movie isn’t opening for another month—and since the rep assured Mark that there would be another screening before then—I figured it would be okay to skip.

It’s a good thing I did, too—because when I headed out on Thursday afternoon to meet a couple of the guys for dinner, I still hadn’t finished my Music and Lyrics review (truth be told, it’s still not totally finished). It had just been one of those days.

And it didn’t exactly help, either, when one of the reps made a couple of very statements, apparently suggesting that I was with Mark and thereby didn’t count as one of the critics. Mark got a good laugh out of that, and, to be totally honest, so did I (as I made a mental note to introduce the rep to my husband next time he comes with me).

“Well, you’re a woman,” Mark pointed out. “Obviously, you don’t count.”

It’s funny, really, since most of the reps don’t seem to know who I am. Two of the reps are fabulous, but the rest tend to assume that I’m the spouse of someone else—that I’m not there because I’m supposed to be. Just a few weeks ago, one of the reps—the first one I met back in May, in fact—asked if I was David’s wife (who, incidentally, was about six months pregnant at the time, and I—clearly, I hope—am not). And now this. The guys think it’s hilarious, since there are only a small percentage of female film critics in town—and only a few of us show up regularly at screenings.

“You’re the only female critic under 40,” one of the guys laughed. “You’d think they’d be able to remember you.”

Apparently not.

Note to self: be more obnoxious, so they’ll remember you.

So anyway…now we come to today. From time to time, there are movies that, for some reason or another, the studios will choose not to screen for the press. Often, (as in the case of Snakes on a Plane), they figure they’ve already got enough publicity to bring in the crowds. Other times, they figure the critics’ views will only hurt them. Whatever the case, we didn’t get to see Hannibal Rising. And since it was my second-round draft pick, I figured I’d probably better see it. So Mark and I met at the theater at noon for an afternoon screening.

I’m not going to say too much about the movie itself. You’ll just have to wait for my review. But I’ll just say that there were 12 other people at the show—and if they all paid, say $5 for the afternoon matinee, that means I’ll at least earn $60 this weekend. And I’m just going to have to be happy with that.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Good-bye, January! Hello…More January.

Movie Reviews at This Week:
Because I Said So
Blood and Chocolate
Smokin’ Aces

This last week of January was mercifully quiet on the screening front. In fact, we only had two—and they were both on the same day. Tuesday. In the morning, I drove out to the other side of the city to see George Clooney’s latest, The Good German. Despite the fact that I’m not a big fan of the theater where we were screening the movie, it was nice to have a morning screening again—because (a) it sucks to go to screenings every single night during the week, and (b) morning screenings are press-only, and it’s fun to hang with the crew. We usually get there a bit early so we can hang out and drink our coffee and chat for a while (it’s our equivalent to the ol’ water cooler, I guess). Mark even brought chocolate chip muffins, so that made the morning even better.

I’ll say this much: The Good German looks really cool. And it was interesting to watch, since my husband was in Berlin for business meetings a few weeks ago—so the pictures of the city were still fresh in my mind. Other than that, though, the story was a bit complex—and not all that exciting. And, despite the coffee I’d been drinking, I had to fight to stay awake.

Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one having a problem keeping up. As I was packing up, Mark asked, “So…did you follow all that?”

“Nope,” I replied. “You?”


Behind us, when the credits rolled, John let out a telling, “Huh.” And in the lobby afterwards, no one even claimed to have been able to follow it.

I was hoping for better things on Tuesday night for Diane Keaton’s Because I Said So. And, well, I liked it—especially because Keaton’s over-the-top character is exactly like my mom (a fact that my fellow critics found hard to believe—but it’s true). Well, except for the skirts. She doesn’t wear skirts like that. Or the belts. But everything else is Mom: her well-meaning meddling, her frantic phone calls, her constant furniture moving, her love of frosting. All Mom. So that made the movie fun for me—because I got it. The guys, however…not so much. They walked out moaning and groaning.

On the non-critic front, however, the guy down the row from us loved it—and even my husband thought it was a fun movie. So, just for the record, I wasn’t the only person in the theater who didn’t hate it.

It did, however, lead to a discussion on the way home about the difference between seeing a movie for fun and seeing a movie as a film critic. My husband pointed out that he can just go and enjoy a movie for what it is—a night out, good company, and a few laughs—but when you see as many movies as we do, and when you have to write about them later, you might become just a little bit jaded. And he’s right. It’s only natural. We all have our jaded moments. There have been times when people have called me bitter and cynical, and those people were probably right.

Along the way, you run into some critics who clearly don’t like their jobs at all. And while there were days in December when I hated my job, too, I really do tend to love what I do. I love being able to go out to the theater and hang out with my friends/colleagues. I love being entertained. I love to laugh. You also run into critics who seem completely disconnected from reality—the ones who won’t give positive reviews to anything that’s not a work of cinematic brilliance. But, as a wise man once told me years ago, when I was working in advertising, “Sometimes you’ve just got to embrace the cheese.” And that applies even more now than it did then. Sometimes, when I’ve seen lots of powerfully dramatic movies about death, I really look forward to seeing, say, Unaccompanied Minors. Hooray for the cheesy comedy! Hooray for Talladega Nights and Beerfest and Accepted! Embrace the cheese! Because, when you’re a film critic, sometimes it’s the cheesy comedies that keep you from killing yourself.

So the big news in the COFCA circles this week was the big Fantasy Moguls draft. Eight of us are once again competing to see who can make the most box office dollars between now and the end of April. Since I came in last during the holiday season (come on—how was I supposed to know that no one would see Flushed Away, Blood Diamond, Unaccompanied Minors, or We Are Marshall—or that A Good Year would suck?). My first pick was the Disney movie, Meet the Robinsons (everyone see it, please). Other than that, there’s pretty much nothing coming out for the next three months. It’s like four months of January.

As the draft continued, we all realized how ashamed we were to pick the movies we picked, but there just wasn’t anything else. If you like horror movies, you’re all set for the next three months. If you like anything else, well, there’s always summer.

I did, however, make a point of embracing the cheese with this season’s picks. So if you could all go out and see Wild Hogs when it comes out, I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.