Thursday, May 24, 2007

Arrrrrgh, Mateys!

New Reviews at Since Last Week:
Away From Her

The screening slump continued this week, causing me to scramble to dig up older, unused, backup reviews to help me fill in my schedule. Thank goodness for new DVDs, which I’ll be covering over the weekend, for publication next week. If it weren’t for old reviews and DVDs, I’d be royally screwed.

This week began with more questions about whether or not we’d be seeing Pirates 3 at a daytime screening. The rep had secured a Wednesday night screening, but she was still hoping for word on a Monday or Tuesday daytime screening. I checked my email obsessively, hoping for news, but it never came.

Typically, we don’t have screenings on Monday nights. I have no idea why, but I like it that way. I have my kids’ knitting group in the afternoon, and it just gets too crazy if I have to run right out to a screening when I’m done. During December—and other busy times—it happens, and I deal. But you’d think that, since we have next to no screenings scheduled right now, we wouldn’t have to worry about Monday nights. But this week, we did. Mr. Brooks was screening.

Fortunately, the kiddies left early this week, so—even with a traffic disaster on my way home—I managed to make it in time to grab a quick bite to eat before running out again. Once at the theater, we met up with the rest of the gang and headed for our usual spot in the balcony.

Sure, we say that we prefer to avoid “other people” as much as possible when we attend screenings—because, well, people who aren’t there for work tend to talk a lot more and use their phones a lot more and bring a lot more small children to grown-up movies than people who are. Before the movie starts, though, the critics compete for Most Obnoxious People in the Theater. We tend to occupy a big, long row, and we tend to lean around each other to yell at people on the other end of the row. Kevin, who was at least five seats down, had to tell me about a podcast. Neil, four seats down, had to add in details. I discussed painkillers with Rico, three seats the other way, who’s just getting back again after two knee surgeries. It’s just the way it is. But, rest assured, once the movie starts, we’re the people you want to be seated near.

Unless, of course, the movie sucks. Then anything goes.

This week’s big movie gossip revolved around Pirates 3. As we’d been discussing for weeks, rumor had it that they were still halfway through shooting, and they still didn’t have a final script. The latest from the rumor mill was that the studio had still been working on the final cut just a week or so before. Talk about cutting it close! But someone Neil knows had been to the national press day that day, and he claimed that it’s spectacular—and since this guy hated Pirates 2 as much as I did, that gave me hope.

Though I wasn’t really expecting too much from Mr. Brooks, it was pleasantly creepy. There were a few things about it that bugged me, but I’ll admit that when I came home to a dark, empty house, I was just a little bit creeped out. So the movie did its job—and that’s what matters.

On Wednesday night, we all gathered to see Pirates 3. Since no one’s supposed to see the movie before it comes out, this was just a press and partners screening—a cozy night, in a tiny theater. As one of the guys explained to his guest, it was like a big family reunion. There weren’t any big crowds of members of the general public. There weren’t lots of screaming kids (in fact, not many of the critics even brought their kids—though I’m sure they wouldn’t have been screaming had they been there). It was just a lot of people we knew.

It was pretty clear, though, that none of the critics were especially excited to see it. For one thing, it’s almost three hours long (so I forced myself to run to the bathroom before they let us in—even though I didn’t actually have to go). Not only that, well, Pirates 2 was a disaster. I remember last year all too well. I walked in feeling like I had the best job ever, and I walked out feeling violently angry. I went up to my parents’ cottage for the Fourth of July, and I grumbled about it for days. And while I’m not necessarily blaming that movie for the accident that, days later, ended me up in the emergency room with a broken rib, you just never know. Anger and disappointment do some crazy things to a person.

Thanks to Neil’s friend, however, I decided to keep a relatively open mind. Yeah, I realized that I might hate it. But at least I didn’t go into it determined to hate it.

And you know what? I didn’t.

Once we got settled in, our faithful rep, Matt with the Hat, made the usual reminders—you know, like turn off your cell phones. Then he announced that the movie is almost three hours long (“Two hours and forty-eight minutes!” Frank called out from the front of the theater), and he told us to all get up and go to the bathroom. Lots of people listened. I, however, am all grown up now, and I thought to go before I walked into the theater.

Before the screening, we were all laughing about the letter we’d all gotten with our passes, asking us not to reveal any of the critical plot resolutions. First of all, that’s not what we do. I’m not going to write a review of, say, The Sixth Sense, and tell you what happens in the end. I’m not even the kind of person who will, for instance, yell at my girlfriend’s roommate as she’s walking out the door to see Se7en and tell her what happens in the end (his name was Mark, and I still hate him). But here’s the thing about Pirates 3: even if I wanted to, I don’t think I could give anything away. ‘Cuz I’m not totally sure what happened. There was so much going on that I really wanted to pull out my planner and start taking notes, just so I could go back later and figure it all out. In fact, my husband and I were still trying to talk through parts of it this morning. So the movie is, by no means, a simple film. While I was watching, I couldn’t help but think that the rumors must be true—because it feels like a movie that was written on the fly. At one point, one of the characters says something like, “Do you think he plans it, or does he make it all up as he goes?” That pretty much summed up the film’s script.

But it is, on the other hand, a heck of a lot of fun.

After it was all over, I walked away from my fellow critics, who tended to harp on the fact that the story made their heads hurt (which is totally true), and once again thought about our greatest job hazard: getting too caught up in the details. I will freely admit that I do it a lot. When you go into a movie knowing that you’ll have to write something somewhat intelligent about it the next morning, you tend to nit-pick the details. If I were Joe Moviegoer, I wouldn’t worry as much about the mind-boggling complexities of the story, and I’d just sit back and enjoy the effects and the sword fights and the other stuff. That might explain why, the last time I checked on Rotten Tomatoes, 40-some percent of critics gave it a positive rating, while 80-some percent of readers did. Because the readers probably didn’t get up the morning after and have an in-depth discussion about Davy Jones’s heart. I, on the other hand, did.

But I’m still going to give Pirates 3 a positive review. I definitely enjoyed it more than both of the summer’s other Big Threes.

And now I will end with my top reasons for appreciating Pirates 3:

1) Keith Richards playing Keith Richards in a pirate costume. Sure, he was drunk the whole time, but when, exactly, do you think Keith Richards is actually sober?
2) There are no appearances by the headhunters from Gilligan’s Island, and Johnny Depp goes back to acting like Keith Richards, instead of like Curly from The Three Stooges.
3) Some of Depp’s early scenes may remind you a bit of his role in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
4) Elizabeth Swann could wipe the floor with whiny old Mary Jane Watson any day of the week. Finally—a female character who does more than scream and faint…
5) (Courtesy of my husband, who is brilliant) While the movie does end up taking a slight turn into an arctic setting, there are, fortunately, no penguins.

This Week’s Film Critic Discussion Topics:

- Comments: Allowing people to comment at will on a web site is never a good idea. Usually, they’re too lazy to email you—but if there’s a comment field, watch out. While we all get a good laugh out of people who get so emotional about our opinions that they send us hate mail, why encourage it? Bill told us this week how someone on Rotten Tomatoes had called him a “whiny little b--ch who never shuts up” after reading his review of Spider-Man 3. Apparently, the reader hadn’t actually seen the movie—but once he did, he commented again and apologized.

- And, of course, Pirates (see above).

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Where Have All the Movies Gone?

New Reviews at Since Last Week:
Shrek the Third
The Valet (La Doublure)
28 Weeks Later

This week was an eerily quiet week on the film front. Theoretically, that should have given me the opportunity to get caught up on other things—like the pile of submissions that I’ve been pretending don’t exist, or the CDs, DVDs, books, and games that have been piling up on my desk, begging to be reviewed before they become unbalanced, causing a deadly avalanche. But, in reality, the quiet week has given me the opportunity to sleep off my worst allergy outbreak in years (which has also led me to the perfect name for a band: Phlegm Bucket).

The only screening this week was Shrek the Third on Tuesday night. Had it been any lesser film, I would have skipped the screening and spent the night curled up on the couch in my jammies. But it was Shrek. I couldn’t miss it. So I rushed off to the theater to make sure I’d get a seat before they let in the masses.

It was pretty clear that the Shrek screening was a big one. For most screenings, one rep will show up and make sure everything goes smoothly. For Shrek, there were at least four reps present. One met us at the door. One whisked us past the mammoth line to the theater. (This, my friends, is the closest we get to feeling like superstars—though we didn’t even get to walk the special Green Carpet.) And two others were handling crowd control.

Inside the theater, there were sponsors galore. Usually, there’s a radio station and maybe a newspaper and/or TV station. But I can’t say that I’ve ever been to a McDonald’s-sponsored screening. Unfortunately, they were not handing out complimentary Happy Meals. There was, however, a ton of swag. From what one of the other critics told me, someone had been out in the hall, handing Puss in Boots masks to the kids, who were doing their best imitations of Antonio Banderas’s accent. In addition to the masks, there were posters and huge prize packages, complete with Shrek PJs (which, Bill noted, would make a fortune on eBay).

Since it was the only screening of the week—and since Bill had just returned from vacation—we all had plenty of movie chatter and critic gossip to get caught up on. But we had to talk fast—because once they started letting the masses into the theater, the place turned into a circus.

After every seat in the theater was packed, we still had another 15 minutes of mass hysteria until the beginning of the movie. And by the time the movie started, there were already a couple of crying children. At that point, the only thing Shrek had going for it was its mercifully short runtime.

Not far into the movie, we all started having horrible flashbacks. The chatter heated up in the critics’ row, until, after one of Prince Charming’s key lines, three of us huddled together with exclamations of “No way!” and “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Because the plot was shaping into that of January’s animated flop, Happily N’Ever After. I mean, frighteningly close. So close that it later led David to exclaim, “I’m telling you, there’s a spy at DreamWorks.” And, really, how could it be that a bunch of people, at the exact same time, decided to make movies about all the fairy tale villains getting together to overthrow the fairly tale world and have their own Happily Ever After? It’s an awful lot like the recent explosion of movies about pampered zoo animals returning to the wild.

So Shrek the Third turned out, not surprisingly, to be the same old thing—only even less funny because it’s the third time we’ve had to sit through it. As my husband wisely noted, it would have been good if it had been the first Shrek movie. But because it’s the third one, it’s really nothing special.

As we made our way out of the theater, trying to talk about something other than Shrek, Jason grumbled, “I hate those movies. All of them.”

So now, we’ve got two of the summer’s Big Threes down. Next week, Pirates 3 comes out, and, personally, I’m getting a little more worried with every passing week. It could be a colossal hit—or it could be even more of a colossal disaster than Pirates 2. (Might I say, for a moment, in response to last summer’s articles about how film critics are obviously stupid because critics hated Pirates 2, but it made gobs of money anyway: just because lots of people saw it doesn’t mean that lots of people liked it.)

Next week’s screening schedule is still pretty light, though. One on Monday night, and a couple of options on Wednesday night. The whole Pirates 3 thing still hasn’t been worked out, so who knows when we’ll be seeing that one. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a last-minute daytime press-only screening.

On next Friday, we’re taking off early for the holiday weekend—packing the portable DVD player for six-hour drive to my parents’ cottage in Michigan. So I’m hoping to get next week’s update up on Thursday. It may be overly optimistic of me, but I’m going to run with that for now.

This Week’s Film Critic Topics for Discussion:

- Pirates 3—though not really “Will it be any good?” as much as “Will they even screen it?” and “Will they trim it, or will they keep the final cut at a whopping three hours?”

- Summer movies in general—specifically, how long we’ll have to sit through the bad before we get to the good. Or, perhaps more appropriately, will there actually be any good?

- Cell phones in movies: Just turn them off already—or Kevin might have to turn it off for you.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

The Calm Before the Storm

New Reviews on Since Last Week:
The Ex
Black Book (Zwartboek)
Lucky You

I know that the Summer Blockbuster Storm is coming. I can feel it. It’s like a shadow, hanging over my shoulder. I remember last summer. It was insane. And it’s looming in the not-so-distant future. But for the next couple of weeks…nothing. This week, there were four scheduled—though I only went to three. Next week, one. The week after that, we’ll have two (though only one has been scheduled so far). I figure I’ll try to take that opportunity to get nearly caught up on things. Wouldn’t that be fun?

This week started with a Monday noon screening. In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I hate Monday screenings. I’m busy on Monday. I always have a humdinger of a to-do list on Monday. And Monday screenings don’t help my stress levels. This week, we actually had two Monday screenings scheduled—one at noon, and another at 7. And I knew that there was no way I’d pull them both off. At least the noon screening gave me an extra hour in the morning, but screenings from 12-2 and 7-9? I don’t think so. That pretty much would have meant loading up my car at 11, going from the screening to a coffee shop for a while until I headed over to my afternoon kids’ knitting group from 4-6, and then eating a SlimFast bar for dinner in the car on the way to the other screening. So I just went to see The Ex at noon and called it a day.

For some reason, there were members of the public invited to our noon screening. Only about six actually came, two of whom sat right behind me. Halfway through the movie, the girl behind me couldn’t stay quiet any longer. I don’t know if she was having a one-sided conversation with her companion or if she decided to make a mid-movie emergency call to a friend, but at one point in her conversation, I heard her say—in the loudest whisper possible—“I can’t hear you!”

Um, but the whole theater can hear you, sweetheart. Take it outside.

Other than Chatty Cathy behind us, though, the movie was generally amusing. And it ended with a fabulous Kevin Carr Ending (meaning that someone—usually an irritating character—is blown up, hit by a bus, or subjected to something equally nasty), so we all walked out feeling cheery.

Speaking of Kevin Carr Endings, 28 Weeks Later couldn’t be more jam-packed with them. In fact, pretty much everyone in that movie comes to some kind of a Kevin Carr Ending—usually in the bloodiest, most gruesome of ways, involving eyeball poking and/or blood vomiting. And that’s what we saw on Tuesday night. After it was over, a group of us stood in the theater, discussing our reactions.

One of the guys said, “I’m not quite sure how I feel about that.”

My reaction: “I think I need to go home and throw up now.”

These are the difficult times for a film critic. 28 Weeks Later isn’t necessarily my kind of movie. I can handle a little gore—but a whole movie full of it can get to be a little much for me. There were times when I had to close my eyes for a couple of seconds, just to settle my stomach. So the Going-To-Movies-For-Fun me probably wouldn’t have been all that thrilled walking out of that movie. But the Film-Critic me had to take a step back and forget about my own personal tastes (and my own personal weak stomach) for a while—to appreciate that 28 Weeks Later, despite the unpleasant feeling it caused in my stomach, is actually pretty good. For the gory zombie flick that it is, it’s actually quite good. So while my stomach may not have liked it, my head thought it wasn’t all that bad.

But enough about zombies. Let’s talk about feisty old guys. On Thursday, I once again got to meet up with two of my favorite feisty old guys, John and Clay, and play guest critic on their radio show, It’s Movie Time. This week, though, I had to be there early—because they were taking promo photos for IMT and their upcoming show, Movie Time Classics, and they had graciously asked me to be a part of the picture, as an occasional part of their team.

Since I’m a girl, I spent the whole week fretting about what I’d wear. John is a tux kind of guy (though Clay told him he wasn’t allowed to pull out the tux this time), and Clay is not. I asked John what to wear, and he suggested, in great detail, an outfit involving a black pantsuit and a flowing white blouse. The thing is, I’m a film critic, and I work from home. Thus, my wardrobe does not include a pantsuit. Or even anything that could be referred to as a blouse. I went on a shopping trip on Wednesday and came back empty-handed and panicky, knowing that the black dress that John had approved would end up with Clay spending the next year harping about “Kristin and her fancy dress” right along with “John and his tux.” So, in the end, I brought my entire closet. I wore whatever I had on that morning, which ended up being white capris and the white tank I’d thrown on while doing my hair (a phrase that I use in the lightest sense, though it did involve pulling out the hairspray from the very back of my bathroom cupboard). And I packed a bag that included a blue T-shirt, for use during recording (since I know better than to expose any cleavage—again, a term I use in the loosest sense—for too long around Clay), the black dress, and a black button-down shirt, as I thought we were doing a black theme. I was wrong. We were doing no theme. As is often the case, I totally over-thought this one, and, in the end, was told, “Just wear what you’ve got on.” So I did, for better or for worse.

After the photo shoot (which produced a couple of great shots), we headed into the studio—so Clay could sit back and laugh his deep Santa-Claus laugh while John and I messed with each other on air. And good times were had by all. You can head over and give it a listen at

While I wasn’t necessarily planning on going to this morning’s screening of Away From Her, John and Clay kept telling me how wonderful it was going to be. And I fell for it—despite the fact that watching a movie about someone progressing through the stages of Alzheimer’s isn’t exactly an easy thing for someone who watched a loved-one struggle with it for years. Not exactly a cheery way to spend a warm, sunny Friday morning—especially a warm, sunny Friday morning on which one has awoken with some nasty allergies. So when I got to the theater and saw that the tiny parking lot was full, I came close to seeing it as a sign. I almost turned around and drove back home. But I didn’t. I went. And it was a rough couple of hours—mostly because the movie is so real—but I made through. And I got to see an incredible performance by Julie Christie, so that was good, too.

And now, I get to take a little break from theaters. Next week is just Shrek. But, since we’ve all been dreading it for months, I’m sure it’ll be worth a few good stories on Friday…

This Week’s Film Critic Discussion Topics:

- Spider-Man, and how it totally didn’t deserve to make $150 million in one weekend. We’re all wondering how much those numbers will drop off this weekend, after people realize that it isn’t really that great. Jason, however, isn’t complaining, since it was his draft pick.

- Kevin was also quite proud to point out that the $2 million that Lucky You pulled in put him in second place in this season’s competition.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Cruel, Cruel Summer

New at Since Last Week:
Spider-Man 3
The Venture Bros.: Season Two

This week, the COFCA Death Squad began its summer movie draft. Since Fantasy Moguls decided to change the rules, making them no longer any fun, we decided to go out on our own this time around. So on Monday afternoon, David, our fearless leader, sent out The Official Draft Cheet Sheet. One tab of the spreadsheet was the list of movies that are scheduled for release between May 4 and September 2, while the other tab was for keeping track of everyone’s picks. And on Tuesday morning, The Big Summer Draft—the one we’d been eagerly anticipating since winter—began.

Since I took second place in the spring round, I was picking seventh this time. In other words, I’m totally screwed for the summer round. The biggies went instantly—Spider-Man 3, then Pirates 3, then Shrek 3. I ended up with Fantastic Four—and I picked up Live Free or Die Hard in round two.

Somewhere around the end of the second round, though, we all started getting that horrible, sinking feeling. It was Jason, who was trying to pick the last pick of round two, who pointed out that there were are only fifteen decent movies coming out this summer—in a span of four months. After that, we were left to dig through the dreck—the crappy horror movies and stupid comedies and the movies with Lindsay Lohan in them. The deeper we got into the draft, the more horrified we became. All these cold months, we’d been wading through the sludge, looking forward to Summer Blockbuster Season, when things would get better—when it would be fun to watch movies again. And now we realize we’d been wading through the sludge only to find…more sludge. And Lindsay Lohan.

It’s going to be a long summer, my friends.

Since I’ve already given up on the Big Threes (Spider-Man, Pirates, Shrek, Rush Hour, Ocean’s, and anything else I may have missed), I’m just going to have to put all my hopes on Harry Potter, Transformers, Ratatouille, and Evan Almighty. Something in there has got to be good.

Originally, we planned on doing eight rounds of picks instead of the regular six—because we were picking for four months instead of three. But at the beginning of the seventh round, we realized that there was nothing left but that movie with J-Lo and her zombie husband—and a few others of similar ilk—so we decided to give up and stop at six rounds (though I will admit I’d just been flipping through my Entertainment Weekly, totally prepared to pick my next two rounds of dreck).

So my picks, as they currently stand, are:
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Live Free or Die Hard
Georgia Rules
A Mighty Heart

As for any other movie news, it was a pretty slow week—as is the case for most of May. April’s calendar was scribbled with screenings—at least three a week, every week. May’s calendar, on the other hand, is empty. You’d think, with all the big summer movies coming out this month, that we’d have tons of screenings. But right now, it looks like it’s going to be a quiet month. I’m not complaining or anything—because I could use the time to catch up on the stack of books and CDs that have been slowly accumulating on my desk. It’s just strange.

This week, we only had two screenings—one on Tuesday morning and another on Wednesday night. Tuesday was Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book—a stunning WWII thriller that I highly recommend. It’s really long, but I didn’t even notice. It was that good.

While we were waiting for the screening to begin, one of the guys mentioned that there was a screening for 28 Weeks Later the next morning. No one else had heard about it, so we were a little surprised—but not too surprised. After all, the emails are a little hit-or-miss. In fact, I had to hear about Tuesday’s screening by word of mouth. But the fact that only one of us knew about this Wednesday screening was a little unusual. So, being the suspicious person I am, I decided to email someone about the Wednesday screening before just showing up. And, as it turns out, there was a screening—but it was only for critics who were doing interviews with the cast/filmmakers of the film. So I chose to stay at the office and get caught up instead. In the end, it’s a good thing I did—because the one guy who knew about the screening got the location wrong, and everyone who decided to show up ended up showing up at the wrong theater.

On Wednesday morning, my husband left for a business conference in Vegas. On Wednesday night, I had to head out to see a movie about a poker player in Vegas. And I definitely drew the short end of the stick. I had hoped that Lucky You would be at least a little bit fun. I mean, Drew Barrymore’s in it. How can it not be a little bit fun? And cute. Drew Barrymore movies are always cute. But, as it turns out, Lucky You is not cute. Lucky You is like watching two hours of the World Series of Poker on TV—only without the commercial/bathroom/snack breaks. And without the announcer to explain what’s going on. And without the entertaining banter. And without the element of surprise. The best part of the night was when Jason made some ridiculous comment about the movie, sending all of us into an uncontrollable fit of giggles.

Oh, and the Pepperpots. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, the Pepperpots are a Monty Python thing. To quote Wikipedia: “Pepperpots are middle-aged housewives, usually British, portrayed by a male member of the group dressed as a woman and speaking in a screeching falsetto.” My favorite Pepperpot sketch was the Pepperpots at the movies, where they loudly commented on everything that happened, often expressing their shock and awe with a shrieking “Ooooh! Aaaah! Well, I nevah!”

A pair of Pepperpots chose seats next to us for the Lucky You screening. Since there wasn’t much at all to the movie, their loud conversation was more amusing than anything else. I didn’t need to concentrate too much on the story, since there was very little to it besides endless hands of poker (though, who knows…I may have missed something important by not analyzing each bet Eric Bana’s character, sadly named Huckleberry, made), so I was quite entertained by the women and their opinions about how that old dog Huck should have been handling his relationship with Drew Barrymore’s character (once again, sadly named), Billie.

But even the Pepperpots didn’t add enough to make the movie interesting. In the end, it was just one of those movies that made me go home and drink.

Next week is another quiet week—but I’ll be making another trip to the studio on Thursday for another guest appearance on “It’s Movie Time,” so I’m sure I’ll have a story or two to share.

This Week’s Film Critic Discussion Topics:

Summer movies. We pretty much spent the whole week studying the summer’s releases, in preparation for our next round of draft picks. So this week’s conversations were all about the draft—and about last season, and the season before. I’m sure we’ll find something more interesting to talk about next week.

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