Jonathan Poritsky

The Shyamalan Groan

Last night, at a mid­night screen­ing of Inception in NYC, the new trailer for Devil came up. The audi­ence, obvi­ously the tar­get demo­graphic, was wrapped up in it, very excited at the prospect of an enclosed hor­ror film (strangers stuck in an ele­va­tor with some sort of super­nat­ural ele­ment). That is, until the fol­low­ing title card came up: From the mind of M. Night Shyamalan. The house erupted into a load moan, very close to a boo. Then they all laughed off their unan­i­mous dis­dain. Then they applauded once the trailer wrapped.

Had they paid bet­ter atten­tion, they would see that M. Night penned the story, not even the script, while direct­ing cred­its go to Quarantine broth­ers John Erick and Drew Dowdle. It is clear that peo­ple are fed up with Shyamalan, espe­cially after the unfor­giv­able The Last Airbender, how­ever I think we can learn a lot about this reaction.

First off, the whole celebrity attach­ment thing is get­ting to be a bit much, espe­cially when even the press isn’t always tak­ing the time to look at who directed a film. I saw a great deal of mis­re­portage — no, not on blogs — about Robert Rodriguez direct­ing Predators, which is entirely untrue. Nimród Antal worked closely with Rodriguez to be sure, but the buck ulti­mately stops with the director.

Of course, Rodriguez is a name you want attached to a film like that. Viewers are clearly over M. Night’s trick­ery, but peo­ple should remem­ber his begin­nings. Shyamalan is a man of many tal­ents who, most would argue, has been cor­rupted by his fame. He started as a writer and is an extremely gifted sto­ry­teller, so I think the move to bring­ing his story to another direc­tor is per­fect. Perhaps we will even see him move away from the cam­era on more projects so he can slowly win back the hearts and minds of the hor­ror and thriller fans he has (not really) betrayed.

That being said, an entire film that takes place in an ele­va­tor is very easy to screw up. So we’ll just have to wait and see. The trailer itself looks pretty wonderful.

How Not to Ask an iPad User About the iPad

Perhaps I’m a cur­mud­geon — okay I def­i­nitely am — on the sub­ject of tech­no­log­i­cal social eti­quette, but hon­estly, the nag­ging iPad ques­tions have to stop. The thing has been out for three months now, and there are Apple Stores aplenty to go and did­dle with the thing for the overly curi­ous. Still, I get odd looks and uncom­fort­able ques­tions from strangers all the time. In week one, it was cool; now, not so much.

Let’s be clear here: I’m not talk­ing about a mutual friend, a coworker, a fam­ily mem­ber or a mem­ber of your social graph com­ing over to stroke your alu­minum and glass baby. Those folks can play all they like. I’m talk­ing about com­plete strangers who want you to sell them on the iPad just because they noticed you had one. On the sub­way, in a cafe, stand­ing on the street; strangers have shown no mercy in their quest to learn more about this “mag­i­cal” non-computer computer.

Enough. I’ve had it. Here is a guide to avoid mak­ing iPad users uncom­fort­able, surly and want to go home and write a blog post about how much you suck.

1. Don’t Ask if I Love My iPad

I do love my iPad, for a num­ber of rea­sons, but they are prob­a­bly dif­fer­ent from yours. I don’t love your wife, but I’m sure you think she’s the tops.

2. Don’t Ask Me What I Use it For

That’s none of your beeswax.

3. Don’t Mention “I’ll Get the Next One”

If you’re jazzed about the iPad 2, which doesn’t exist, then don’t ask me about my iPad. You’re mak­ing two social blun­ders when you bring this up: 1) You’re wast­ing my time because you don’t actu­ally give a crap about the iPad and 2) you’re pass­ing a judge­ment on my early adoption.

4. Don’t Tell Me About Your Kindle

I had a Kindle and I returned it, but that’s not the point. I don’t care about your Kindle, and you don’t care about my iPad. Haven’t we cov­ered this?

5. Don’t Say “Sorry to Interrupt You”

Just don’t inter­rupt me.

Sex, Sight Unseen

I don’t make much secret about being an avid reader of the New York Times movie reviews. Though my blog­ging brethren (and sistren) offer prime insight, I came of age as a critic read­ing A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis, oscil­lat­ing between lov­ing and hat­ing them as my alle­giances and beliefs have grown over the years. This week, Manohla added to the con­ver­sa­tion sur­round­ing Sex and the City 2, which was reviewed for the Times by Mr. Scott. We rarely get to see the opin­ion of both crit­ics save for year-end roundups, so this is an extra treat so close to release.

I haven’t seen SATC2 yet, so one really ought to take my thoughts with a grain of salt. I’ve enjoyed the smat­ter­ing of episodes of the series that I’ve seen and I found the first film funny, if grat­ing. New York on film holds a place dear to my heart. It seems even its most gifted cel­lu­loid sculp­tors have had trou­ble repro­duc­ing it in the last decade (I’m talk­ing to you, Woody Allen). The dia­logue around this lat­est fan­ta­sia, as Ms. Dargis points out, is largely related to ques­tions of eth­no­cen­tric­ity and racial sensitivities:

To bor­row a tac­tic from the TV show, which invari­ably fea­tured Carrie pos­ing the week’s Big Question to her read­ers: Was “Sex” actu­ally 50 per­cent worse the sec­ond time around? Not from where I was seated, though I hap­pily con­cede that the sequel is about as bad as the orig­i­nal. They’re just lousy in dif­fer­ent ways. The new sex puns (“Lawrence of my labia”) are as wince induc­ing as the old, and Mr. King’s direc­tion remains strictly small screen. What has changed are the loca­tions: in the first film, the friends visit Mexico (funny!), but this time, they yuk it up in the Middle East (not funny!). But what has really changed? The char­ac­ters, the crit­ics, the con­text: how quickly yesterday’s plea­sure can pop, just like an eco­nomic bubble.

I have to agree with her. Like Michael Bay’s Transformers 2 before it, this film makes the per­fect tar­get for any num­ber of deri­sions. Mexico is funny because we don’t mind get­ting a lit­tle racist when it comes to our neigh­bors to the south. When it comes to the Middle East, we tread softly because of national ten­sions and, hon­estly, per­sonal fears. So I’ll give Manohla, and this film, that much.

Where I get annoyed, how­ever, is in her closing:

This and other scenes of the women with Muslims are often awk­ward, though that’s partly a func­tion of Mr. King’s direc­tion. Yet there’s also some­thing touch­ing about a few of these encoun­ters, as when the women won­der how you eat fries when you’re wear­ing a veil, a ques­tion that strikes me as an unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cally hon­est admis­sion of dif­fer­ence in a main­stream American movie. Too bad the women weren’t guys and went to Las Vegas, where they could have indulged in the kind of crit­i­cally sanc­tioned mas­cu­line polit­i­cal incor­rect­ness that made “The Hangover” such a darling.

I did not like The Hangover all that much, and I com­pletely agree with her sen­ti­ment that mas­cu­line stu­pid­ity often goes unques­tioned onscreen. However, that doesn’t exactly make for much of an excuse. The first Sex and the City film was lauded for its abil­ity to rake in mil­lions while boast­ing a cast of female leads, a rar­ity in this busi­ness. The same goes for the show, though it should be noted that today (not in 1998 when the show first aired) women are in con­trol of tele­vi­sion pro­gram­ming in a big way. Phenomena like Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives are a tes­ta­ment to this shift.

Regardless, does the sta­tus of Carrie and pals offer lee­way on their level of polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness? For my part, no. Nor should it let The Hangover guys off the hook, but the dif­fer­ence there seems to be that that film knew exactly what it wanted to be. If SATC2 actu­ally is a bad film, then hope­fully it is a bad film on merit alone. We should not for­get that we now live in a world where a woman has won an Oscar for Best Director, and for a film with no female leads. I think it is short sighted to chalk neg­a­tive reac­tions up to crit­i­cal sexism.

But I haven’t seen the film and I’m a dude, so what do I know?

Todd McCarthy, Welcome to the Ether

Just wanted to jot down a few quick thoughts on Todd McCarthy’s recent announce­ment that he is join­ing the indieWIRE blog net­work. As you may recall, Todd lost his job as Variety’s chief film critic the day after the Oscars this year. As a result, the press exploded with opin­ions on the death of film crit­i­cism, with the usual cul­prit being the online blogger/critic. Now, Todd has found a home online, the very land that sup­pos­edly caused his undoing.

Bet you idiots feel pretty stu­pid now.

There really is no bet­ter fit for Mr. McCarthy than indieWIRE, a net­work that has defined and rede­fined the online cin­ema magazine/trade pub­li­ca­tion time and time again. The real loser here is Variety, who has taken nearly every mis­step pos­si­ble in the age of inter­net jour­nal­ism. Their pay wall will even­tu­ally be their undo­ing, but by lit­er­ally hand­ing their golden boy to the free com­pe­ti­tion, Variety seems to have put the nail in their own coffin.

Mainly, I would like to say wel­come, Todd; the ‘net is happy to have you. I have no doubt that you will enjoy an online career as excit­ing as Roger Ebert or David Bordwell. Film jour­nal­ism, and espe­cially crit­i­cism, is not dead but alive and well online. If ever we see a weak­en­ing in the art of film writ­ing, we can only blame our­selves. The inter­net has noth­ing to do with it.

(If you’ve been won­der­ing where I am, all my film writ­ing is at the can­dler blog, but you can also see my work pep­pered on Greencine Guru, Heeb Magazine, and NachosNY.)

Made a Movie, Go Watch It

Hip cul­tural aggrea­gate site Flavorpill is run­ning a short film con­test. So I said, hey, some­times I’m a film­maker too. So check out what I entered.

Process from Jonathan Poritsky on Vimeo.