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November 12, 2007

The Reeler's 2007 Holiday Movie Preview Review

The annual glimpse at the guides worth your time

We used to publish a Fall Preview Review here at The Reeler, in which careful analyses of seasonal publications commonly resulted in the discovery of filler upon filler and dramatic hypotheses about films that virtually nobody outside the editing room itself had yet seen. The 2007 crop of fall previews yielded so little imagination that it hardly compelled discussion, but the more recent burst of "Holiday Movie Previews" is, at times, a more inspired, libidinous orgy of hype, supposition and bullshit that could have your eyes rolling until they cramp.

Sort of, anyway. It's not all bad, of course (we can't all be as point-blank as Lou Lumenick), but you may need a guide to help parse the volumes and volumes of advertiser-friendly "service journalism" coasting down the pipes. With this in mind, a quick overview from your friendly helpers at Reeler HQ:

New York Daily News

FOCUS: A synopsizing run through the release calendar, with critical "commentary" and a few features thrown in for good measure.

HIGH POINT: Veteran critic Jack Mathews channels his inner fortune-cookie scribe with his tiny summaries of films like August Rush ("Many a tear has to fall"), There Will Be Blood ("Could be black gold") and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly ("Filled with inspiration").

LOW POINT: TIE: Mathews notes the trailers for Beowulf and The Golden Compass are good; apparently they're shaped from scenes in actual movies that the NYDN staff will presumably watch somewhere down the road. Not to be outdone, Joe Neumaier contributes this dispiriting profile of Nicole Kidman, backing away from her professed aversion to complacency in exchange for all those warm memories of mime class. Don't inhale the fluff.

BEST LINE: "Did Jason Lee take the lead in this partially animated tale about the famous musical rodents because his son, Pilot Inspektor, is still too young for My Name Is Earl?" -- Elizabeth Weitzman on Alvin and the Chipmunks. Some place, somewhere, Jami Bernard is staring out a window grinding her teeth.

EGREGIOUS HYPE: Surprisingly, apart from the boilerplate Oscar notations for Charlie Wilson's War and Atonement, not a lot.

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VALUE BEYOND FILLER: Low. Kidman looks good on the front page of any tabloid, and the release calendar is ineffectual and incomplete; the bone-throw that Weitzman lobs at a token slate of indies appears to be culled from the last week or so of press-release mailings. In short: about what you'd expect.

The New York Times

FOCUS: Mostly high-end studio fare, with classy glints of Oscar institutionalization, garden-variety trendspotting and Dave Kehr's comprehensive, enjoyable-against-all-odds release calendar.

HIGH POINT: "Enjoyable against all odds"? Kind of, yes; I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Kehr's work, but for the second year running he has crafted a compulsively readable, engaging feature out of something that, at face value, should be as appealing as a phone book. I still don't agree with him (Noted Sundance-hater Kehr cheaply dismisses Teeth out of hand for being a Park City alum -- "as if you couldn't tell" from the synopsis, he writes), yet his achievement is rare and, at least from my editorial-wonk perspective, periodically awe-inspiring.

LOW POINT: Regular readers will know I long ago gave up on Caryn James because of high-school-newspaper grade think pieces like "Rivers of Blood in a Winter Wonderland," with its survey of gory new mainstream movies and actual passages like, "Last year’s Oscar-winning Departed, with its gruesome killings among cops and criminals, wasn’t a holiday movie (it opened in October), but it put to rest the canard that Academy voters are scared off by too much violence." Not counting Silence of the Lambs, of course. Or The Deer Hunter. Or The Godfather. Or any number of films (Pulp Fiction, Goodfellas, The Exorcist) nominated over the last 40 years. Please, please, someone reassign her to the classifieds.

Not again: Caryn James goes for blood in The NY Times (Photo: Brown University)

BEST LINE: "Just to see Divine, above, for a couple of minutes makes even me like Christmas." -- Persepolis co-director Marjane Satrapi on Pink Flamingos, somehow her favorite holiday film.

EGREGIOUS HYPE: “A lot of us in the Academy take our membership as a kind of fiduciary responsibility. We are being asked what we want the world to see of our industry, and that inspires respect and even some awe from those who accept the responsibility." -- New Line boss Bob Shaye on the body that awarded Crash the 2005 Oscar for Best Picture.

VALUE BEYOND FILLER: Fairly high, as you would expect from any package comprising pieces that could (and maybe even should) have stood alone in subsequent weeks. You hate to see Sarah Lyall's terrific Heath Ledger profile, for example, tossed under the lurching, smoke-belching bus that is Caryn James' prose nearly a month before I'm Not There, but such is life. The paper could stand a little more diversity, though; among all the indies and foreign films in Kehr's calendar, where are the spotlights for those? Alas, if you have to ask, you'll probably never know. Ahem.

Entertainment Weekly

FOCUS: The usual studio suspects, from Oscar hopefuls to Johnny Depp singing to the cutting-edge latest on spring '08's best shelved titles (Leathernecks, anyone?). Oh, the horrors of premature congratulation.

"Kick-ass comic-book movie" Persepolis (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)

HIGH POINT: When there's less of author Chris Willman ("At or near the top of most cinephiles' list of the most exciting filmmakers working today is Paul Thomas Anderson," he gushes. "Fill in 'music fans' and 'bands' in the above construction, and Radiohead is the no-brainer choice to end that sentence."), the conversation between Anderson and Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood about the score for There Will be Blood results in a fitfully fascinating five minutes.

LOW POINT: Tom Cruise: 25 Memorable Roles, a slideshow painstakingly culled from Cruise's 31-film career. Two of which are sequels.

BEST LINE: "Persepolis has the makings of any kick-ass comic-book movie. Its superhero: a justice-seeking, wisecracking young girl. Her disguise: a mysterious sable veil. The nemesis: a dude who goes by the moniker of ... the Ayatollah!" -- Nisha Gopalan on an unlikely bit of EW art-film fodder.

EGREGIOUS HYPE: This is where EW is at its mouthbreathing best, particularly with regard to the all-but-unseen, flak-drawing Charlie Wilson's War -- from Best Picture chances ("At this point it's the season's biggest mystery. But a promising trailer and all those past Oscar winners catapult it to the top of the list.") to Best Director "hopeful" Mike Nichols ("It's been nearly two decades since his last nod in this category. But Nichols' War could be this year's political-film breakthrough."

VALUE BEYOND FILLER: As we've noted here before, EW is synonymous with "filler," but this is a special kind of condescending -- like the kind of product a therapist with at-risk patients would remove from his waiting room. But hey, as long as the corporate cousin gets its cover, all is well that ends well.

The L Magazine

FOCUS: Scattershot, with generous dashes of indie loyalism. Like The Times, the calendar is the thing; it inverts Kehr's modesty in exchange for a little more hyperactivity ("[The Sasquatch Gang director Tim] Skousen was the first assistant director on Napoleon Dynamite. Ignore or anticipate accordingly") and class ("Charlie Murphy wears a Santa hat. Some other stuff happens. Is this preview over yet? Fuck").

HIGH POINT: Fantasy Projections, without a doubt. I can't say it any better than the introduction: "[H]ere’s a look back at what slipped unfairly through the cracks during the year that was; a look forward at what earned itself a 'coming attraction' designation; and a reminder that, for every touted release making a coveted holiday season bow, there’s something else out there worth discovering." A-fucking-men. Take notice, New York.

LOW POINT: It's not really that bad, but in drawing parallels between the festival darlings Son of Rambow and This is England, a wordy Mark Asch pulls a hamstring warming up for this site's annual Top 10 of Top 10's: "Naturally, the beatification of suburban kitsch suggests a more comfortingly materialist take on the period than England’s subcultural volatility -- Chicken Soup for the I Love the 80s Devotee’s Soul." Jesus, son, pace yourself!

BEST LINE: "Six middle-aged dudes attempt to produce a porno in a movie originally made in 2005 and released in the U.K. under a different title, two sure-fire signs of quality." -- From the calendar description of The Amateurs, opening Dec. 7 in New York.

EGREGIOUS HYPE: "He expresses the same poetic sensibility of his producer, yet distinguishes himself with an almost Viscontian sense of epic tragedy." -- Cullen Gallagher on Jeff Nichols' Shotgun Stories, produced by David Gordon Green and evidently owing something to Visconti. I guess I was in the bathroom during those scenes.

VALUE BEYOND FILLER: High. The issue is significant for the calendar and its cover illustration alone -- simultaneously mocking and embracing the Holiday Preview concept as a whole. Even when the criticism hits snags, there is no question the reviewers have actually seen the films, a standard at which other previews seem to scoff. Consider the L's work to symbolize my lofty hopes for the others in '08. Except you, Caryn James -- could you please answer the phone?

Comments (1)

Stu, this is the most Christian thing you've ever done. Thank you for suffering, so we didn't have to...

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