Many thanks to Paul Kilduff of the Berkeley Monthly for a terrific interview. (But for the record, my talk at the World Bank was about international corporate governance. That was a joke.)
Here are a couple of excerpts:
PK: What about Hotel for Dogs? You gave that a lukewarm review, but it sounds outstanding.
NM: Lukewarm? It was better than I thought. This is the problem with Hotel for Dogs. The kids in the movie really get away with a lot and the movie seems to think it’s charming and even heroic that they lie and they cheat and they steal. In the very beginning of the movie, they are perpetuating a scam where they take stuff to a pawn shop that is not the real stuff, and get money for it. Because it’s to buy dog food, this is supposed to be all right. But that’s really not good and so I’m a little hesitant. The dogs are adorable. The kids are adorable. But there is never any reckoning. And I’ll tell you, that in a movie–and this goes for Shopaholics, too–we do insist in our hearts, in the lizard brain, we really have this commitment to some kind of justice in a movie. And when somebody just continues to be enabled through the movie and doesn’t have any kind of recognition of the damage that they inflict, then I think that leaves the audience unsatisfied as a matter of narrative. It leaves me unsatisfied as the Movie Mom because I don’t really like saying that to kids, that there are no consequences for bad behavior.
PK: So you do want some sort of morality message in films then?
NM: Yeah, I do. I think it makes it a better story for one thing. For example there was a movie “Catch That Kid” about a child bank robber. And I was just horrified by the whole thing. I don’t care that it was nice that she was trying to help out the family when her father got sick, but she was robbing a bank and bringing her brother along. And I’m as big a fan of heist movies as anyone, but they are careful to instill some sort of sense of justice. If you watch heist movies, you’ll find that at the end of all of them one of three things happens. Either they’re unsuccessful, in which case you have all the fun of the heist but you don’t have to feel bad about the outcome. Or they somehow are stealing from someone who’s even worse than they are, like in The Sting. Or they’re stealing for a really good cause and no one’s going to get hurt. To make the story work you have to have some sense of justice. A movie that I really came down hard on was called Sleepover in which the girl lied, cheated, stole, drove a car (even though she’s underage), made a date with a stranger on the Internet and met him in a bar, and isn’t it funny that it turned out to be their principal? And then worst of all, and this was really appalling to me, at the end of this sleepover/scavenger hunt when they, of course, won, their prize, they got to sit at the cool table in high school. And so in the last scene, they’re sitting at the cool table and you’re expecting the payoff, which is that they’re going to be all inclusionary and open it up to everybody, and they turn out to be mean girls really. And this is supposed to be happy news? I don’t think that’s a good thing for kids.
PK: What about the ratings system for movies?
NM: It’s wack. It’s just awful. And this is my problem with the PGs right now. For example, you can use the F-word once in a PG-13 as long as it doesn’t refer to sex.
PK: Is that chiseled in stone?
NM: They don’t have it written, but that is the rule and they’ve been on record as saying that’s the rule. But think about it–you would need a Ph.D. in symbiotics to parse that rule. So, it’s okay to use that word in a violent way, in an angry way, in an insulting way, but not in a sexual way? If the word is that bad, why is it okay to have it there once? And so every PG-13 has got that word in once now. It’s just completely gratuitous. That shows you how idiotic the ratings system is and [how it] has been documented many times, is a lot fussier about sex than it is about violence, which is an issue for me.
PK: But ain’t that America?
NM: That is America, because I wrote this review of Coraline and I mentioned that there is a very heavyset woman wearing pasties and it’s a little over the top for a PG movie and the child is in peril throughout the movie. There’s a scary monster and there are children whose eyes have been taken away from them. And yet overwhelmingly, the emails that I got were about the two seconds of the almost naked breasts.
PK: We prefer violence over sex.
NM: But on the other hand, I talk to parents’ groups sometimes and it’s about even between the parents who come to me and say, “I don’t care about sex, I only care about violence,” and “I don’t care about violence, I only care about sex.”
PK: But, it does seem irresponsible to me to take kids to violent movies. What’s up with adults who do that?
NM: It drives me crazy. To me it’s child abuse. I never go to an R-rated movie without some children in the audience and I’m talking about vampire movies, tremendously scary movies. I was at one very, very violent movie once and there was an 8-year-old sitting next to me and I finally said to her mother, I just couldn’t stand it anymore, and I said, “You understand that this movie that’s starting in 10 minutes is one of the most violent movies ever made?” And the mother said, “Oh, she’s not going to like that.”
PK: Well, babysitters are expensive.
NM: You know what else is expensive? Therapy.
A boy whose parents turn their house into a nursing home can be expected to develop an interest in death. Ten year old Edward (“Son of Rambow’s” Bill Milner) is more than interested. He is fascinated. And that is in part because he is terrified. He hides his tape recorder under the bed of a dying resident to see if he can actually hear the sound of the spirit escaping the body and he avidly watches a television show about ghosts to see how he can communicate with the souls of the departed. He is more interested in the dead than he is in the living.
The same can be said for the home’s newest resident, Clarence (Michael Caine), a former magician, who moves into the room previously occupied by the most recent departed, and previously before that by Edward himself. Clarence is reluctant to stay but Edward’s mother (Anne-Marie Duff), out of her kind nature and her desperation to get the 50 quid a week, persuades him to give them a try. Clarence is bitter and bereft and has no interest in making new friends.
These two lonely guys are clearly move-made for each other, but to its credit, this film allows them to be more complicated and less cuddly than the usual feel-good comfort movie. Milner continues to be one of the movie’s most appealing young actors and Caine delivers capably. Their scenes together are nicely acerbic. Director John Crowley allows the story to take its time for most of the film and then seems to speed everything up for the last few scenes, which seem hurried and cluttered and for the first time falls into formulaic patterns. But like Clarence, the movie still has a few tricks up its sleeve.
Douglas Howe has a great list of rain scenes in movies over on Idol Chatter, including two of my favorites, “Singin’ in the Rain” with Gene Kelly and “Say Anything” with John Cusack.
Cusack for some reason is always getting drenched in movies. You could fill a whole list of great rain scenes just with Cusack performances.
A guilty pleasure of mine is the last dance number — in the rain — in “Step Up 2 the Streets.”
I love the rain scene in “Garden State.” And one of the best dance numbers ever is “Isn’t it a Lovely Day to be Caught in the Rain” with Astaire and Rogers in “Top Hat.” Oh, it is a very lovely day indeed.
It took me nearly 48 hours to get home due to weather and other delays, but I am back with some more from the Ebert festival.
I was on a panel called “Film Criticism and the Web,” with 10 critics including Richard Roeper, the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips, radio and television stations WGN’s Dean Richards, Time Out Chicago’s Hank Sartin, Ain’t-It-Cool’s Steve Prokopy (aka Capone), Kim Voynar of Film Essent and Movie City News, Lisa Rosman of US Weekly and Flavorpill, and eFilmCritic’s Eric Childress and Peter Sobczynski. We spoke about our concerns that print film criticism was shrinking, but the very make-up of the panel demonstrated the reach and variety of voices available through other media.
Following his treatment for cancer, Ebert cannot speak. But he is marvelously expressive, his enthusiasm for these marvelous movies communicated with his every gesture. He has a laptop that synthesizes text into speech and he thought as long as he could not speak with his own voice, why not have a very classy British accent? You can hear him introduce the young Romanian star of “The Fall,” Catinca Untaru, standing with her mother and step-father, in this clip. Prokopy and I interviewed her before the audience following the screening. She appeared in the film almost half her life ago — she is now 12 — and it was a lot of fun to see that while she is very grown up, she is still as unaffectedly charming as she was in the film. I thought it was very funny that she said she wanted to see the Swedish vampire film on the schedule, “Let the Right One In,” because in Romania they know a lot about vampires!
Standing next to him is Chaz Ebert, Roger’s wife, who served as the very gracious mistress of ceremonies throughout the festival. I was very touched by all she and Roger did to make me feel especially welcome.
The theme of the festival is a quote from Roger: As film exhibition in North America crowds itself ever more narrowly into predictable commercial fodder for an undemanding audience, we applaud those brave, free spirits who still hold faith with the unlimited potential of the cinema. There was no more touching moment in the festival than in the discussion following the stunning documentary about the damage caused by Katrina and by the failure of government and humanity that followed. The young woman whose own footage was in every sense the heart of the film, Kimberly Rivers Roberts, spoke about how the movie helped her to pursue her dream of being a recording artist. “I didn’t know what I could do until I saw myself on screen,” she said. At their best, movies reflect back to us a self we hardly dreamed we were capable of becoming. The 14 films at this festival left the audience filled with new ideas of what we can be.
The first person who sends me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with Ebert in the subject line will get a baseball hat and t-shirt from the festival.