December 17th, 2005


No Screening Room

Crazy busy the past couple of days (saw 'The Producers' at 4 p.m. Thursday, 'Wolf Creek' at 10 a.m. Friday and 'Fun with Dick and Jane' at 4 p.m. Friday, along with work meetings, deadlines and a Christmas party last night). Might actually start getting some SHOPPING done soon.

Noon tomorrow is my deadline for my Southeastern Film Critics Association 2005 ballot. Probably my absolute favorite perq of my job is getting movie screeners from studios as a SEFCA member from before Thanksgiving roughly through New Year's. (Of course, moroccomole, as a Los Angeles Film Critics Association member, gets goodies the likes of which I can only dream of. Probably he'll have George Clooney and the cast of 'Good Night, and Good Luck' come over and act out the film for djmrswhite and him.)

Since I've been a SEFCA member, though, the quantity/quality of screeners has sort of waxed and waned. In 2002 I got about 38 DVDs and 15 tapes, a few of which were comically unlikely to be on any critic or Academy member's Best-of list. My favorite of these was the 5-DVD set (with plain grey packaging) of the following examples of excellence: Panic Room, Spider-Man, Stuart Little 2, Men in Black 2 and xXx.

But 2003 was the year there was a temporary ban on screeners in a misguided effort for the MPAA to be seen as doing something about movie piracy, and I got 4 DVDs from non MPAA members as well as about 10 tapes. (This doesn't count ancillary bribes like the 'House of Sand and Fog' book on tape or the 'In America' screenplay book.)

But the ban was abandoned before the end of the year in 2003, so last year was back to biz as usual, with about 37 DVDs and one tape. The twist was, many of the DVDs had special watermarks and formatting to prevent duplication -- which were so effective that I couldn't actually WATCH 'Hotel Rwanda' or 'Kinsey' or 'The Sea Inside' on our DVD player. Which we bought 5 years ago, but apparently is about as cutting edge as an 8-track.

This year the screener flow started out promisingly, but mysteriously dried up; I've received about 21 so far, and expect some stragglers to come in over the next few weeks. We don't really know why it's been so light -- perhaps it's a cost-saving measure. (I don't think ANY glossy 'For Your Consideration' booklets or screenplay packages have gone out. No great loss.) The unfortunate thing (apart from simply wanting to Get Stuff) is that we haven't gotten screeners of lots of "little" films that I didn't get a chance to see the first time, like 'Yes' or 'Mysterious Skin' or 'Murderball' or 'The Ballad of Jack and Rose.' Most of those are out on tape, but I just haven't had the time or opportunity to rent any of them. And the whole point of screeners, as was argued two years ago, is to give films like that more chance to be seen and to get recognition at year's end.

If I hadn't gotten the screener for 'Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,' I probably wouldn't have gone out of my way to see it -- and now it's on my Top 10 list. BTW, one of the anti-screener arguments is that critics should watch/review movies in theaters and not at home, but I don't buy it. In an adequately-maintained theater with an attentive, enthusiastic audience is certainly the preferred way to enjoy a film, but the basics of the film are always the same. Every year I have at least one screener-viewed film on my Top 10 list ('Enron's' probably the only one this year). Let's take a quick look at the archive: 3-4 in 2002 (Adaptation, The Pianist, Bowling for Columbine and maybe a doc called My Father The Genius), I think 1 in 2003 (Capturing the Friedmans), 3 in 2004 (Hotel Rwanda, Bright Young Things and a Chinese noir-ish film called Blind Shaft).

If all this is of interest to no one but me, sorry about that.

Last year goudabonbon made an eloquent comment after watching the screener of 'Spanglish.' I went out somewhere in the evening (probably a play in early January like 'The Late Henry Moss') and got back late. goudabonbon had already gone to bed, but she left me a message: the 'Spanglish' screener box sitting in a diaper in front of the TV. (She said later, "At least it wasn't a USED diaper.")

More holiday updates to come later.

Obit page: John Spencer? -- and Burrito Art?

Shocked to see the news of the death of character actor John Spencer from 'The West Wing,' 'L.A. Law' and others, since he's a major part of the ongoing presidential campaign plot (as Jimmy Smits veep candidate). Not that I was that attached to him as a performer, although he always delivered the goods. But it's one of those things that you know has totally thrown the whole plotting of the show and the season out of whack. How will they kill him off? How many episodes do they have in the can? Who will *replace* Leo McGarry on the Matt Santos ticket? He was kind of an odd choice, having been Barlett's Chief of Staff -- who stepped down from that job because of a heart attack, and was a recovering alcoholic to boot. I wouldn't have thought his character a credibly veep pick at all -- except in the real world, the vice president is a gnarled insider with heart trouble, on the ticket with a recovering alcoholic, so I guess it's all credible.

goudabonbon, Sweetness and I drove over to Burrito Art near Emory earlier this evening -- goudabonbon had a jones for their salad -- and we were dumbstruck to see that it had closed. Some "pasta joint" was in its place. I have a hunch that all the Burrito Arts are closed (anyone know for sure) which saddens me, because I very much loved their burritos (usually I ordered the BBQ pulled pork, but in the 1990s I tried most of the meat-based varieties on their menu -- it was the kind of place where you'd purposefully order anything on the menu at least once). And their SALADS were great. *I* once or twice ate their salads as an ENTREE, and believe me, that is not a usual thing. Damn.
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