Click Bait: Alec Baldwin, Oscars and Fraternities

Alec Baldwin’s departure essay grew a lot of ire this week, along with articles on a Duke Freshman and fraternities.

I read a lot of stuff, and not all of it makes it to my social media feed. “Click Bait” is my weekly roundup of links pertaining to movies, politics, culture and anything else I found generally interesting this week.

Alec Baldwin: “Good Bye, Public Life”

I’m quickly coming to realize that siding with Alec Baldwin is an unpopular opinion, but I found a lot of his essay smart and insightful about the way our media and our culture operate today. A few poor choices of words about him being a homophobe fail to paint the full picture of the man. The verbs thrown at him are the same once used against Michael Richards and Mel Gibson, to name a few, he seems to be fighting a losing battle with the press, and everything that’s being said reflects of this choice line from his piece: “In the New Media culture, anything good you do is tossed in a pit, and you are measured by who you are on your worst day.” 

So no, I don’t think Alec Baldwin is a douche.

Apathy and the Oscars

The common fear this Oscar season is that people increasingly don’t care about awards shows, about the Oscars or about movies. I’ve written as much in suggesting that TV is the new medium of choice, while film is only passionately admired by those in an ever shrinking niche. This fear is explored interestingly in this NY Times piece, and it may be corroborated by a recent poll suggesting that two thirds of Americans have not seen any of the Best Picture nominees.

That puzzling stat though doesn’t seem to ask who all did pay for those tickets to see “Gravity,” i.e. the fifth highest grossing movie of the year. Continue reading “Click Bait: Alec Baldwin, Oscars and Fraternities”

Click Bait: Woody Allen, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Bill Nye

This week Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Allen and Bill Nye were all in the news along with Green Day, The Beatles and George Zimmerman.

I read a lot of stuff, and not all of it makes it to my social media feed. “Click Bait” is my weekly roundup of links pertaining to movies, politics, culture and anything else I found generally interesting this week.

RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman

The outpouring of love and sadness that followed Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death last Sunday is not rare for an actor, but it is rare for an actor such as he, an actor better known for villainous, repugnant character actor parts, for the mourning period to be so fervent for so long and for him to have gone in such a horrible way, not unlike another great actor’s career cut criminally too short in much the same way, Heath Ledger.

I likely first noticed Hoffman in “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” in which he could not look less like his supposed brother Ethan Hawke, but was in control and was simply scary good. It wasn’t long before I started seeing his face in half of the great American movies of the last two decades, most memorably for me in “The Master” and in his fiery scene stealing moment in “Punch Drunk Love.”

There have been a lot of eulogies written, perhaps why I didn’t write one myself. Here are clips from some of the better tributes I read:

A.O. Scott:

“Pathetic, repellent, undeserving of sympathy. Mr. Hoffman rescued them from contempt precisely by refusing any easy route to redemption. He did not care if we liked any of these sad specimens. The point was to make us believe them and to recognize in them — in him.”

Scott Tobias and the rest of The Dissolve:

“He set off small detonations whenever he appeared, and instantly amplified the stakes. He was the most electric actor of his generation.”

Derek Thompson in The Atlantic:

“He could puff himself up and play larger than life, but his specialty was to find the quiet dignity in life-sized characters—losers, outcasts, and human marginalia.”

Aaron Sorkin writing in TIME:

“So it’s in that spirit that I’d like to say this: Phil Hoffman, this kind, decent, magnificent, thunderous actor, who was never outwardly “right” for any role but who completely dominated the real estate upon which every one of his characters walked, did not die from an overdose of heroin — he died from heroin. We should stop implying that if he’d just taken the proper amount then everything would have been fine.”

And this troubling report about Hoffman and his appearance in the remaining “Hunger Games” movies Continue reading “Click Bait: Woody Allen, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Bill Nye”

No one really cares about the Superman/Batman movie

The ensuing hype for the Superman and Batman movie will be far greater than the quality or lasting legacy of the movie itself, and it’s ruining cinema.

The announcement of a Superman/Batman movie yesterday morning and confirmed at Comic-Con is exactly the reason why cinema is hemorrhaging viewers, quality and general interest to television: no one honestly cares.

No, please do tell me how excited you are for the follow-up to “Man of Steel,” how long you’ve waited to see this mash-up finally happen, how Zack Snyder is by far the greatest choice to helm this sure to be new franchise and how whomever they eventually pick to play both Superman (will it still be Henry Cavill?) or Batman (will it be Christian Bale? Probably not. Maybe Joseph Gordon Levitt? Who knows?!) will somehow eventually be wrong.

I know you’re foaming at the mouth. I know you’re stoked. It’s great that you have something you’re passionate about. It’ll probably be good. It could even be great!

But the fact is, this movie is a hype and dollar machine. As has been true of nearly every Hollywood tent pole comic book franchise, the hype and speculation is greater than the movie is actually interesting, and it will evaporate as soon as the next one is announced, which will be post-credits.

I haven’t counted to be sure, but I have probably seen fewer major Hollywood releases this summer than in any year since I started seriously writing as a movie critic. Chalk that up to me being an adult and not a college student with all the free time, but at the end of the day, I simply no longer care.

I do not care about “Man of Steel.” I do not care about “Pacific Rim.” I do not care about “The Lone Ranger” or “White House Down” or “The Hangover Part 3” or “Fast & Furious 6,” and I will not care about “The Wolverine,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “Kick-Ass 2” or “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” even if I end up seeing them.

Why? These have talented directors and stars attached. They could be above average. They could be fun enough to be worth my 10 bucks or yours.

But like a chocolate bar you quickly scarf down, they are immediately thrown away and forgotten such that you’ll grab for another. They have no sustaining value or reason to exist other than because they fill a void and enough people will buy them. Continue reading “No one really cares about the Superman/Batman movie”

Don't take aim at Jim Carrey

People shouldn’t be attacking Jim Carrey based on his political stance on “Kick-Ass 2.” We should be asking questions we can reasonably influence.


It’s amazing how much ire just two tweets can cause. Jim Carrey yesterday created a “controversy” by posting on Twitter that after the events of the Sandy Hook massacre, he could no longer help promote the upcoming film he stars in, “Kick-Ass 2.”

Carrey, who has recently been a vocal gun control advocate, effectively caused a political fervor over his public comments. Some fans, critics and anti-gun supporters have come to his side in taking this bold stance against a potential summer blockbuster and a hot topic, but most have called out his supposed hypocrisy, claiming that the timing of Sandy Hook and the impending release of “Kick-Ass 2” seem off, and that Carrey has appeared in numerous films in which he has wielded guns but has never expressed disdain over this or similarly over other massacres in recent memory.



This is a faulty argument, firstly because it’s unfair to criticize Carrey for trying to change his opinion and have a “change of heart,” secondly because several of the aforementioned films in which he holds guns are from the ‘90s and are referenced without context. What’s more, if you can find me a modern, major male actor who has not held at least one gun in a film, then you win bragging rights for the day.

Although Carrey’s comments have turned into a political pissing match in which conflicting statements and ad-hominem attacks about Carrey’s choices as a comedian are being thrown around willfully, this debate does raise interesting questions about the state of violence in the movies.

Carrey has put critics and movie supporters in a difficult place; defense of his statement arguably implies by association that “Kick-Ass 2” is too violent, and that he has all the reason to abstain based on his political beliefs. And although I can’t speak for all critics, the general opinion is that works of art, movies or otherwise, do not cause real world violence. That would be ridiculous. But Carrey’s minimal comment (which really shouldn’t be overanalyzed) sways closer to Fox News’ assertion (despite what Fox has said about Carrey in this aftermath) that it is popular culture, not guns, that cause violence.

What cannot be argued is that there is a lot of violence in mainstream Hollywood films, regardless of the context in which they are presented. How much is too much, what crosses the line, and what massacre has to make major studios rethink the images that are fit for frivolous, summer release? Continue reading “Don't take aim at Jim Carrey”

Cinema Isn't Dying; The Business Is

Big Data could be poised to help the movie industry stay afloat, and it can do so without damaging the integrity of the art.

“Ack! You can’t make movies out of statistics! That’s not art! AARRGGHHH!”

That’s my impression of a filmmaker or critic reading an article about Big Data, a currently buzzy, business-y tech term that every industry is currently figuring out what to do with, including Hollywood.

Now, I understand that most of the people who got into making movies or writing about them did so because they never wanted to have to learn about something like Big Data. But as a struggling movie blogger, I’ve had no such luck, and Big Data makes up a big chunk of the articles I’ve been reading for the past few months.

So it came as a shock to me to hear about this panel called “Big Data and the Movies” at the Tribeca Film Festival and see my worlds colliding. It happened to coincide with Netflix’s release of “House of Cards,” this New York Times article about a man using analytics to give notes on screenplays, and then of course two wonderfully insider and apocalyptic discussions about the state of cinema, one by A.O. Scott and David Denby at Tribeca, the other by allegedly retiring filmmaker Steven Soderbergh at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

With all those things together, I began to wonder: How does the movie industry innovate? Continue reading “Cinema Isn't Dying; The Business Is”

'Blue is the Warmest Colour' wins Palme D'Or – Cannes 2013 Recap

“Blue is the Warmest Color” wins the Palme D’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Full list of winners and recap.


The Steven Spielberg led jury at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival selected Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue is the Warmest Colour” for the Palme D’Or Sunday, the festival’s top prize.

The Palme D’Or was awarded to not only the Tunisian director but also actresses Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux, an unprecedented move for the festival, as the festival has a rule that the Palme D’Or winner cannot also have a winning actor or actress. This enabled the jury to recognize the performers as equal authors in the work.

The film upset other favorites including Ashgar Farhadi’s “The Past,” which won the Best Actress award for “The Artist’s” Berenice Bejo, Alexander Payne’s road-trip comedy “Nebraska,” which won the Best Actor award for Bruce Dern, Kore-Eda Hirokazu’s “Like Father, Like Son,” which won the Jury Prize, and the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” which won the runner up Grand Prix prize.

Although Cannes is often criticized for featuring too many films from “auteurs” and only a few rare chances for discovery, a fact likely pointed out in James Toback’s Cannes centered documentary “Seduced and Abandoned,” this year was touted as important thanks to the stature of its jury, the quality of the films and the legacy of the filmmakers.

Whereas 2012’s Palme D’Or winner “Amour” may have been seen as a fluke for picking up as many Oscar nominations as it did, a seal of approval from this jury could very likely spell Oscar gold down the line.

Here’s a round-up of just some of the more notable titles coming out of this year’s festival.

Continue reading “'Blue is the Warmest Colour' wins Palme D'Or – Cannes 2013 Recap”

RIP Roger Ebert (1942 – 2013): Another Critic in the Room

RIP Roger Ebert. As a critic and a personal mentor, he tapped into the universal idea that the movies are for everyone.

I met Roger Ebert just once. I was invited beyond all good reason to Ebertfest in 2009 by his Chicago Sun Times print editor Laura Emerick. In between films, she asked, “Would you like to meet Roger?” Somehow I didn’t think it was an option. He had been battling cancer for several years at that point, but his appearance at the festival, to sit through 10 films in less than five days, was an enormous act of strength for someone who had just so recently attained stability with his health.

Those who have attended Ebertfest know where he sits. It’s the furthest back seat in Champaign’s Virginia Theater, right on the aisle and by the door on a slightly elevated platform. Chaz sits directly to his left.

Ms. Emerick walked me into the aisle as a flock of people gathered by the exit and by Ebert to say hello. He wore a bright white sweater that only seemed to amplify his then dangling chin, a newly defining feature that was impossible to forget, but somehow most everyone managed to ignore. Even for being a television star, Ebert was about his words, not his mug shot.

I was introduced and muttered something about how much I admired him and enjoyed reading his work, but because I was not about to have a stimulating conversation with him given his condition, the part I remember more vividly and painfully is walking away.

I said my piece, he smiled, or seemed to, and that was all. The more fulfilling memories of that weekend were talking with Michael Phillips, Richard Roeper and a handful of other critics and filmmakers. Ebert was just another critic in the room.

Some years later, I got the chance to attend a press screening of the movie “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” with RedEye film critic Matt Pais. Those who have been in that room, albeit a much smaller number, know where Ebert sits: the furthest back seat, right by the aisle and the door. Chaz was there that day too.

I didn’t make a scene or even try to say hello, because I definitely had no right being there this time. I don’t recall seeing him at the end either. He gave it three and a half stars. I gave it two, and I wondered which movie he had seen. I had more fun hashing out my thoughts with Pais. But regardless, I was content in knowing that I got to share this movie moment with Ebert, even if again he was just another critic in the darkened room. Continue reading “RIP Roger Ebert (1942 – 2013): Another Critic in the Room”

Off the Red Carpet: 1 Week to the Oscars

We are now less than two weeks away from the Oscars. The guilds are still chiming in, but the last of the major awards has spoken, and as conflicted as I am to say it, I’m finally jumping on the “Argo” train.

Two things convinced me.

The first was the win at the BAFTAs, the British Oscars so to speak. In a place where it arguably doesn’t have the same cultural, zeitgeist leg to stand on, “Argo” held strong against “Les Miserables” and Michael Haneke in the Best Director race.

But more importantly, it took this long for me to realize that “Argo” was always the front-runner. Way back in September at the Telluride Film Festival, “Argo” thrilled audiences in a way that finally declared Oscar season open. It was the first in a long line of contenders in a year that over eight months hadn’t yet proved why it was so great for movies.

And now it’s still here. “Argo” survived where “Lincoln,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Les Miserables” all peaked and faded and “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Django Unchained” buckled under their own controversy.

“Argo” is here to stay, and we were stupid to think that it wasn’t always.

Next week in place of this roundup, I’ll have my final Oscar predictions in all 24 categories. It’s been a fun ride writing this column this season. Thanks for sticking with me. Continue reading “Off the Red Carpet: 1 Week to the Oscars”

Off the Red Carpet: 2 Weeks till Oscars

Hopefully this is the last week that the Oscar race sees a real lull, because ballots are sent to voters this week, so maybe there will be something to talk about then.

“Argo” wins DGA

I wrote in a column just yesterday how ridiculous the discussion over “Argo” is getting, but there’s no denying that the movie looks mighty strong. On Saturday it won the coveted Directors Guild prize, an award that usually predicts the Best Director Oscar winner and consequently Best Picture. Obviously though, Ben Affleck is without a nomination on Oscar night, so I think the uncertainty factor for what will finally happen is more uncertain than most Oscar pundits care to admit. One theory is that the super amount of praise for “Argo” will now turn into backlash as the ballots go out.

But if you’re looking for an even more likely frontrunner, check out “Searching for Sugar Man,” which won the DGA prize for director Malik Bendjelloul. Continue reading “Off the Red Carpet: 2 Weeks till Oscars”

Off the Red Carpet: 3 Weeks till Oscars

Sorry this is a bit late, but consider it an opportunity for yet another Oscar blogger to wonder whether “Argo” is actually “Apollo 13” or “Driving Miss Daisy.”

Seriously, there’s been a lot of news lately, but people have run out of things to discuss. The entire season has gone so long without an actual frontrunner that now Oscar bloggers are practically inventing reasons to call one. More on that right now.

Ben Affleck SAG
Ben Affleck accepting his SAG award Sunday night. Image courtesy

“Argo” wins SAG and PGA

Over the past weekend, “Argo” made a surprise sweep by first winning Best Film from the Producers Guild and then Best Ensemble from the Screen Actors Guild. Keep in mind, this is a movie that only a few weeks ago looked weak by losing a nomination for Ben Affleck for Best Director. Now it’s beaten “Lincoln” in two places where it should’ve had the edge, the PGA because it’s the bigger box office success and the SAG because if “Lincoln” is anything, it’s an actors’ movie, and if “Argo” is anything, it’s not that.

So the narrative that has grown out of this is that “Argo” is modeling the trajectory of “Apollo 13,” the last movie to sweep the PGA, SAG and DGA without having a Best Director nominee in tow. Except I don’t think the comparison makes a whole lot of sense. “Apollo 13” didn’t win the Golden Globe (not that that matters), there were only five Best Picture nominees, not nine, “Lincoln” is hardly “Braveheart,” “Braveheart” won in part because it was one of the first movie to send out screeners to Academy members, and “Argo” hasn’t won the DGA yet anyway. That happens this weekend, so we’ll see.

“Argo” isn’t quite “Driving Miss Daisy” either, the last (and one of three films) to win Best Picture without a Best Director nomination. “Argo” is a studio genre thriller that celebrates the movies, not a stuffy period drama crowd pleaser that plays on white guilt and stars Dan Ackroyd.

Frankly, I think anyone calling this race for anyone is grossly exaggerating. With such a solid crop of movies, each of them with their own powerful narrative that could drive a victory, and many of them being brought up again in conversation by critics and the public, almost any movie has SOME conceivable chance of winning. For my money, this is still a four horse race, maybe five. “Argo” and “Lincoln” are certainly safer horses to bet on, but none of the others have packed up and gone home. Continue reading “Off the Red Carpet: 3 Weeks till Oscars”