Friday, April 27, 2007

A Light at the End of the Tunnel…?

New Reviews at Since Last Week:
The Condemned
In the Land of Women

After months of mediocre movies, we finally had something to look forward to this week—and I’m not talking about The Condemned. For us film critics, our screening of Spider-Man 3 marked the end of Spring Leftover Duds Season and the beginning of Summer Blockbuster Season. Woohoo! But before I get to that, let’s talk about Tuesday and Wednesday….

Tuesday night was the screening of The Condemned. Technically, I didn’t need to go. Thanks to a busy April, my publication schedule was pretty crammed. I was seriously considering skipping it. But David told me I had to go. He promised it would be absolutely craptastic. He called it Battle Royale with Cheese. And he talked me into it, darnit. What can I say? I’m a sucker for craptastic. So I met up with the guys before the screening. Bill promised that The Condemned, along with Next, would make this the most craptacular week of the whole movie-going year, and I was totally prepared to laugh my ass off and enjoy every minute of it.

As I briefly explained in my review, when it comes to bad movies, there are levels of bad. Some are Excruciatingly Bad—so bad that there’s no entertainment value whatsoever. Others, however, are so ridiculously bad that they move straight beyond Bad and right back into Good. You can call them Awesomely Bad, or you can call them Craptastic. Whatever you prefer. And then there are some movies that take it one step further. They’re ridiculously bad, but they move right past Bad, consider staying at Awesomely Bad, but decide to fly right through to Worthless. And that’s where The Condemned weighs in. It was so bad that the audience didn’t just laugh—they heckled. They didn’t enjoy the badness—they mocked it. It wasn’t the laughter of pure entertainment—it was the laughter of ridicule and scorn. You with me here? It was that bad. And then they put a Crown of Badness on it by ending it with a Nickelback song. Priceless, yet absolutely painful.

After The Condemned, I probably should have just learned my lesson. But I will never, ever learn. And besides, Nicolas Cage is in Next, and I can’t help but love him. (To quote a line from Next, he’s “odd. Charming…but odd.”) So, hoping for another craptastic Nic Cage movie, I once again headed for the theater.

Once the lights dimmed and the movie started, one of the guys pulled out a Subway sub. I have no idea where the heck he’d been hiding it, but it smelled really good, and he didn’t even share. When I was a kid, my teachers taught me that I couldn’t eat in class unless I’d brought enough for everyone. But I guess that’s just me.

Anyway…the movie. It was odd—but not all that charming. Afterwards, we stood around in a circle, arguing about which was worse: The Condemned or Next. My vote was for The Condemned—but it didn’t win by much.

So finally Thursday arrived. The big day. I was bringing my friend Chandra, who was so excited that she could hardly contain herself. When I picked her up at 1, she explained to me that Spider-Man had always been her favorite super hero. She also told me how her dad had revealed over the weekend that he was going to go to the Browns home opener this season—but once Chandra told her family that she was going to see Spider-Man 3 a week early, no one cared about her dad’s news anymore.

For us critics, it was a big day, too. For starters, it meant that things were starting to look up. The summer is just around the corner—which means that we could actually start having fun watching movies (as opposed to having fun mocking movies). It also meant perks. Contrary to what bitter directors of bad movies (the ones who are petty enough to blame critics for the fact that their movies aren’t actually any good) might tell you, we critics don’t actually get a ton of perks. Yes, we usually get to see movies for free. Sometimes, we even get a free cup of coffee. But we don’t get a lot of special treatment. We don’t get wined and dined. We don’t go to fancy parties with celebrities and open bars. We don’t get expensive gift bags with Rolex watches and free spa weekends. We just go to the movies (into which some of us occasionally smuggle Subway subs and leftover chocolate Easter eggs and homemade cookies). But this time was special. The studio was actually springing for free popcorn and things. This does not happen. Ever. And it was cause for celebration. Of course, that made us just a little bit skeptical. One of the guys (who, incidentally, was probably just jealous because he was going to be out of town that day) suggested that the whole free-popcorn thing might just be the studio’s way of trying to distract us from the fact that the movie isn’t all that deserving of the hype. Some of us, however, just figured we’d enjoy it while it lasted. Whether the movie was any good or not was yet to be seen—but we just saw it as our beginning-of-summer celebration.

Chandra, my little Spider-Man fan, brought Spider-Man temporary tattoos for the occasion. So we all got into the Spider-Man spirit by sticking on our tattoos as we stood in line for our popcorn and drinks. One of the other critics shunned the practice as unethical, which made me laugh, since he, too, was standing in line to accept free popcorn that had been supplied by the studio. Apparently, taking free food from the studio is okay, but having a little fun with a Spider-Man tattoo is not. Apparently, the little red and blue spider on the inside of my wrist (or, as Chandra called it, my Web Slinger) was going to seep into my bloodstream and brainwash me into giving the movie a better review than I otherwise would have.


As it turned out, the fact that I’d been handed a gigantic soda on the way into the theater only emphasized how very long the movie was.

Just a quick overview before my review is published next week: Spider-Man 3 is…okay. When I walked out, I wasn’t thrilled, but I wasn’t angry, either. To be honest, it was a hard review to write because I didn’t feel very strongly about it either way. In the grand scheme of things, though, it was better than anything else I’d seen all week, so that’s a start.

This Week’s Film Critic Discussion Topics:

1) Hot Fuzz. We still love it. You should, too. Jason also does a fabulous swan call.

2) Summer movies. We’re all making our predictions. So far, general consensus says that Pirates 3 could go either way (though it’ll be really, really long), and Shrek 3 will make us want to kill ourselves.

3) Fantasy baseball. Hey…critics don’t just talk about movies…. That's not to say that I talk about fantasy baseball. Usually, I just smile and nod.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Film Fests, Part 2

No, it’s not Friday yet—but I just thought I’d write up a little something about last weekend’s Deep Focus Film Festival before I forget.

Since the local film festival isn’t quite as big and crazy and hectic as last month’s Cleveland International Film Festival (Cleveland’s last 10 days and includes more than 120 movies in hundreds of time slots, whereas Deep Focus is a four-day festival, with 21 screenings throughout the weekend)—and since it’s my home festival—the whole experience was different. For one thing, I was home. When I was at Cleveland, I was doing Cleveland. And that meant that, for the four days I was there, it was pretty much all movies, all the time. But since I was at home for this one, I had to balance a few things—and I was free to take it a little easier. The festival’s more forgiving schedule helped that, too.

As I mentioned in my last update, Thursday was opening night. Waitress was the only screening that night—followed by martinis and schmoozing down the street. For some reason, I’m starting to equate film festivals with martinis. Go figure.

On Friday, the screenings didn’t start until 7. Since it was a gorgeous day, I called up a friend, and we met for drinks down the street from the theater before I rushed off to see Air Guitar Nation. The crowd wasn’t quite as large as it had been for Waitress—but it should have been, because Air Guitar Nation is one of the funniest documentaries I’ve ever seen. Afterwards, I could have stuck around for one more movie—a choice between another doc, Maxed Out, and a special presentation of one of my favorites, Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, but I’d left my husband at home, painting things, so I figured I’d head home instead.

Saturday’s programming started at 3:30, with a special presentation of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but I chose to wait until Broken English at 7:30. I had to be sure to make it to that one, since, on Thursday night, I’d met Chip and John, the guys who made The Fixer (which, incidentally, is fun in a very strange way), the short that was playing before Broken English began. It was another pretty full showing—including a handful of my fellow critics, who, following the movie, all headed back down the street to TBD for a quick beer and some snacks. Then we made our way back to the theater for the 10:15 showing of the new zom com, Fido, where we all sat in the same row and made ridiculous references to our current fave, Hot Fuzz, as we waited for the screening to start.

If I weren’t one of them, I’d probably think that film critics are obnoxious. I’d like to note, however, that I did a very good job of keeping my mouth shut when people seated around me at the festival were discussing movies they’d seen or would like to see. Sure, I was eavesdropping, but I can’t help that. If I hear you talking about movies, I’m going to listen. There’s no stopping it. But at least I didn’t butt in and go off on some long monologue about Fracture. And, for that, I’m very proud of myself.

Though I could have caught another screening or two on Sunday, there were things to be done at home, so I called it a weekend, having caught four of the films. I would have liked to have caught a few more, but I had some scheduling issues—for instance, Paprika and Family Law both played at about the same time as Broken English, so I’ll have to try to catch both of those later.

While Deep Focus is still a small festival (this was only its third year), what it lacks in size, it makes up for in programming. Of the ten New Independents featured this year, I caught four—and I found all of them to be worthy of the time and energy. I’m already looking forward to seeing what next year’s festival will bring.

Columbus is blessed with a great indie film scene. We’re fortunate enough to be able to see a lot of films that theaters in smaller cities won’t run—and Deep Focus just adds to it. It’s a great opportunity to catch those little gems that you wouldn’t normally get to see. So if you’re in the Columbus area, I highly recommend keeping an eye out for next year’s festival. If you’re not, check into local festivals. You don’t have to be a hard-core film geek to appreciate it. You don’t have to take the week off and catch every single film (though, if you really want to, go for it—and there were plenty of people in Cleveland who did). You can just pick and choose and check out a film or two that interests you—and I promise you’ll be glad you did.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Fuzz and Film Festivals

New Reviews at Since Last Week:
Hot Fuzz
Everything’s Gone Green
Perfect Stranger

This week started with more of the confusion that’s become a pretty predictable part of our everyday lives. On Thursday, some (but not all) of us got an email about a Hot Fuzz screening on Monday morning. I hate Monday morning screenings, since Monday’s probably the busiest day of my week, but for Hot Fuzz, I was more than happy to drop everything and head over. The problem, however, was that I didn’t know where to head. Over the weekend, some (but not all) of us got another email, informing some (but not all) of us that the screening was at a different theater than the one indicated in the email that some (but not all) of us had gotten on Thursday. So no one really knew where we were supposed to be. Mark had to call the rep first thing on Monday morning to get the story straight—but even then, we weren’t quite sure. And John missed the usual pre-screening banter because he ended up at the wrong theater and had to rush to get to the right one.

There’s just nothing like a little mass confusion to get your week off and running, don’t you think?

Fortunately, though, Hot Fuzz was worth every minute of confusion. Edgar Wright may not have made it big with your average Joe Moviegoer yet, but many of my fellow COFCA critics (myself included) have been crazy with anticipation for months. Every time the trailer played before one of our screenings, we all giggled like schoolgirls trying on dresses for the prom. And we weren’t disappointed. It’s hilarious. After the screening, not a single one of us complained about having to drive out to a screening on Monday morning. We were all too busy basking in the afterglow.

On Tuesday, we gathered at our favorite theater for the screening of Anthony Hopkins’s latest, Fracture. Since we get there early to ensure that we all have good seats before the theater lets in the rest of the pass-holders, we usually have plenty of time to chat. Actually, many of us will admit that it’s often the best part of the whole evening. Sure, it’s cool that we get to see movies before they’re actually released. But sometimes the movies flat-out suck. Sometimes we would have much rather spent the evening at home, crashed out on the couch in front of the TV. But at least we have that time before the movie, when we can hang out with our fellow film geeks and discuss the movies we’ve seen, the movies we’re excited to see, and our box-office predictions. Sometimes, we even talk about non-movie stuff. Since our jobs often require us to sit in a dark theater just about every night of the week, those moments before and after screenings are the closest we often come to having a life.

So anyway, Tuesday was one of those days when the before-movie time was way better than the movie itself. Fracture was just one more in the long line of bland un-thrilling thrillers we’ve been subjected to of late. While watching it, I decided that I would definitely be skipping Wednesday night’s screening of Year of the Dog, the new Molly Shannon movie. If I’d liked Fracture maybe I would have been in a decent enough mood to deal with Molly Shannon’s same old crap. But Fracture drained me of my will to watch movies—and thus, a night with Molly Shannon probably would have made me violently angry. I know my limits.

After my Wednesday night off, though, I was back in full force on Thursday. This week, John and Clay asked me to make another guest appearance on their award-winning radio show “It’s Movie Time”—to add my two cents to this week’s review of In the Land of Women. Despite a few technical difficulties this week, it was yet another wild and crazy afternoon in the studio. I still remember how terrified I was the first time I went into the studio with the guys last summer—but now I love every minute of it. You wouldn’t believe how much work goes into that five-minute show (not the least of which is cutting a 550-word review down to 130 words or less), but I always look forward to my next chance to fight it out with the guys.

This week, the wonderful (and wonderfully patient) studio manager, Dan, pointed out how quickly I’ve managed to fit right in with John and Clay. I don’t think he necessarily meant that as a compliment, but I’m just going to take it as one anyway.

After we finished recording and producing the show, I had to rush back to the office to get a few things done before heading out again for opening night of the Deep Focus Film Festival. They have a reputation for getting some good stuff to screen on opening night (last year, they screened Brick)—and this year was no exception. The opener was Waitress, a light and tasty rom-com that satisfied even the tough guys in the crowd. After that, we headed down the street to the TBD Tavern, where the Grey Goose was flowing. John kept tracking down the waitresses, who brought by tray after tray of little tiny martini glasses (which, we soon discovered, spilled very, very easily), filled with various mixed beverages. It all brought back memories from Cleveland, when Mark, John, Clay, and I hit Hyde Park for the four-dollar-martini happy hour. John almost got himself into a film festival brawl after three martinis that night—so it’s a good thing that last night’s martini glasses were much tinier. Fortunately, there weren’t any brawls this time around.

But a good time was had by all. There was much drinking and much laughing and much spilled food. Film critics may be a messy crowd, but we definitely know how to have a good time.

The festival continues through the weekend, and I’ll be heading downtown to catch as much of it as possible. So if you happen to be in the Columbus area this weekend, be sure to head to the Arena Grand and check it out.

This Week’s Film Critic Discussion Topics:

1) The Grindhouse Split: Will it do any good to split the two parts and show them separately, or should the Weinsteins just accept the loss and move on?

2) Hot Fuzz: Will anyone actually see it in the theaters, or are we critics the only ones who know just how cool Edgar Wright is? And how long will it take before this one hits the discount theaters, so we can all see it over and over again?

3) The Fantasy Moguls Travesty: Will any of us still want to play next season if they change all the rules and take away all the fun?

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Playing Catch-Up

New Movies at Since Last Time:
Are We Done Yet?
The Hoax
Blades of Glory
The Lookout
Meet the Robinsons
Reign Over Me
The Host (Gwoemul)

Time flies when you’re insanely busy. First, there was the film festival. Then my husband left town on business and my parents showed up to keep me company—and they ended up staying for a whole week. This Friday is the first one in weeks that I’ve spent at my desk, relatively uninterrupted.

First, let’s talk about the film festival. I would have written about it while I was there, but my computer decided against it. I was lucky if I could keep it running long enough to check my email.

Anyway…in the four days I spent in Cleveland, I managed to fit in 14 movies. I’d set myself up with a tentative schedule before I left, and I’d been planning on more than 14, actually. But then I realized that I wasn’t as much of a glutton for punishment as I’d previously thought.

When you’ve got something like 120 films to consider, preparing for a film festival is a daunting experience. So I quickly worked out a system. I began by flipping through the program and figuring out which films were screening during my four days. Then I read the descriptions. If a movie was supposed to be “important” or “moving” or “political” in any way, I eliminated them. Because, really, who can sit through four whole days of watching nothing but serious, important dramas? Not me. I left the documentaries about Checnia for my colleagues, and I was a lot happier for it.

On Thursday morning, John picked me up at 8, and we headed north. We compared lists and made plans for happy hour breaks. Then, once we arrived and unloaded our bags at our respective hotels, we headed for the theater, where we almost immediately met up with Mark—and, later, Clay. My experience at the festival got off to an excellent start, with Brook Silva-Braga’s A Map for Saturday. After Movie #1, Mark and I made a run for the bathrooms and headed back for Movie #2, after which we hit the food court. We were still munching on our fries when we realized that Movie #3 was starting in just 15 minutes—but we were already exhausted (not to mention suffering from some bizarre tunnel vision), so we decided to skip it. And it was best that way. By the time I checked into my hotel, after midnight (after Movie #3 and Movie #4, which was the longest, most painful movie I’ve ever forced myself to sit through), I was beat. And I had to take some notes before collapsing into bed and getting up to start the whole thing again.

In general, my selection process worked out well. Of those 14, there were only a handful that I didn’t really like. And though I went home with blood-shot eyes, feeling like I’d been hit by a bus, I can’t wait for next year.

For a little more on my experience, see “Confessions from a Film Festival.”

The week after Cleveland was notable only for being a week on High Baby Alert. David’s wife, Deb, was due any second. In fact, I checked my phone between screenings at Cleveland, just in case. Deb made us all a little nervous by showing up for the screenings of both Meet the Robinsons and Blades of Glory. We were all prepared to hop in our cars and rush to the hospital, if need be. But, fortunately, Garrett James Medsker waited until Friday night to make is entrance.

The next week was pretty quiet, screening-wise, since Mom and Dad were in town. I’m pretty sure every last critic in town headed over to the Grindhouse screening. But I figured I’d take Dad to see Are We Done Yet? instead, since Mom would probably disown me if I let Dad see Grindhouse. But we had fun at AWDY? instead. And apparently I’m supposed to feel ashamed of myself for not hating it.

On Friday afternoon, I left Mom and Dad at home and met up with Mark for Grindhouse. Since we went to an on-campus theater, we expected the Friday afternoon showing to be pretty full—but we were wrong. As we unpacked the homemade cookies and Cheese Nips that we’d brought along for the [very long] show, we couldn’t help but notice that I was the only woman there. A friend tells me that Rosario Dawson and Robert Rodriguez appeared on The View to let women know that Grindhouse may be a bit of a guy movie, but it’s also a girl movie, too—since the chicks all kick ass. And that made me laugh. Nice try, guys.

Though it was wonderful to have Mom and Dad in town for the week, I was pretty exhausted by Monday morning—which is why I chose to skip the screening of David Lynch’s latest long and inevitably perplexing Inland Empire. I was planning on heading to First Snow at night, but I had my kids’ knitting group on Monday afternoon, and two hours of pre-teen girls telling blonde jokes was enough for me. So I went home and mixed myself a gin and tonic instead.

Tuesday evening’s screening of Disturbia was, according to our screening grid, to be followed by Wednesday morning’s screening of In the Land of Women. As is always the case, I rushed around on Wednesday morning, got myself ready, and rushed out the door by about 10:20. When I showed up at the theater, I got bad news: the print hadn’t arrived. Nine of us had driven in from various parts of the city—most of us from far away—and why no one had thought to let us know that there wouldn’t be a screening, I’ll never know. In fact, one of the guys called the theater before leaving, just to check, and they told him to come on down.

Since Mark had baked muffins, we all hung around and ate for a while before heading going our separate ways. By the time I got back, I’d wasted an hour and a half of my precious work time.

So on Thursday morning, we tried again. The reps assured us that the print was there—and we’d actually get to see the movie—and, fortunately, they were right. But those of us who decided to try again were, understandably, all a little cranky when we showed up.

When I got there, I announced that I was skipping Thursday night’s screening of Perfect Stranger—because not only was I tired and overloaded, but every single critic who had already seen it had, for some reason, hated it. But Mark talked me into going anyway—since, due to the ongoing baby boom, his co-host’s wife is pregnant, and she’s been placed on bed rest for the remainder, so Mark wasn’t sure if he’d need a substitute. So after consuming more caffeine than can possibly be healthy yesterday afternoon, I made my way out to the movies once again. And now I know why everyone else hated it. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard at the end of a movie.

Next week is already looking like another busy one, but it’s starting on a positive note—with Hot Fuzz on Monday. I’ve been looking forward to it for a while now, so I shouldn’t have too much of a problem dragging myself across town for the screening. We’ve got more screenings Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday night (one or two of which I might skip), and then the Deep Focus Film Festival starts on Thursday night. If you happen to be in the area, be sure to stop in at the Grand and check it out.

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