Monday Morning Critic – 1.31.2011- Red State, Chris Nolan and The League

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

This was a hell of a week for film news. Enough that my usual pop culture chicanery is being shunted this week in favor of covering two massive stories about film: Kevin Smith’s release of Red State and Christopher Nolan’s Oscar Snub.

Random Thoughts of the Week

Outside of Oscar nominations being released, a couple of other big stories popped up from Sundance and other sources. The one I thought was the most interesting was Kevin Smith’s announcement of tow things. The first is that he was going to retire after his next film, Hit Somebody, making Red State his penultimate film. The other is that Red State is going to be released by Smith himself after a bit of a “road show” to promote the film seven months before its official release in October 2011. His speech announcing it has become rather infamous as of late, which you can listen to below.

A handful of my friends, as well as Inside Pulse staffers, discussed this with me in the aftermath trying to figure it all out. Smith, for those who haven’t followed the story, is going to debut the film in select theatres with a Q&A for people who want to shell out between $70 and $100 a ticket. And that’s not a misprint, either. You can go to Ticketmaster and see if it’s near you and how much a ticket will cost. And it’s either going to be a brilliant move or a disaster. There’s no middle ground. Here’s why:

1. His hardcore fans have to come out en masse and be willing to pay a huge ticket price

He’s got about 2 million followers on Twitter and a couple hundred thousand regular listeners to his podcast, so he has the ability to bring out an audience. But here’s the thing: you’re not charging $25 for a Q&A session with a great speaker. You’re charging three times that in a down economy. It’s one thing to spend ten dollars for a movie ticket, it’s another to spend significantly more than that, but he doesn’t need them all coming out. If he can get 50,000 people to spend that kind of cash he can net the $2 million he’s going to need to make 1,000 prints for his. If he gets over the 100,000 mark he’s in the black before he releases it into theatres. And that’s going to be the riddle: Are there that many people so desperate to see Red State that they’re willing to pay that kind of cash. This leads into the next point:

2. The buzz coming out the film is guaranteed to be excellent

Let’s be honest. You’re shelling out nearly a hundred dollars to see a film and a Q&A, all in. Even if it’s awful you’re not going to admit it because that’s an insane amount of money to see a film. So anything heard about Red State is going to be great because he’s bringing in his hardcore fans and they’re probably going to be in there with a mental erection raging like a 16 year old about to lose his virginity in the back seat of a Volkswagen Jetta. They’ll have spent their cash and gotten past second base early, thus the excitement will kick in that this time it’s going all the way home. And we all know what’ll happen next.

All it’ll take is a quick puff on it by the Cop Out guy to get them off.

It doesn’t matter if it’s going to sweet, sweet loving from Red State or hate sex meant to get back at someone that really isn’t all that enjoyable, this is going to be raved about no matter what because no one’s going to admit they wasted $100. No one is going to say aloud that they regretted spending that kind of cash for fear of ridicule.

3. He picked a tough month to open a horror flick

Three other high profile horror films open in October 2011: Paranormal Activity 3, Dibbuk Box and The Thing prequel. One of those three is going to be a hit, probably Paranormal Activity 3, but here’s the thing. Getting screens will be tougher than normal because horror films going wide take up a lot of them. Plus you have saturation of the market working against him; when in doubt people will pick the horror film they know as opposed to the one they don’t. That’s kind of a perk of advertising. He might complain about spending money to buy an opening weekend but when they buy a lot of it, and he’s relying on pure word of mouth and his hardcore audience, it’s not exactly the most fair of fights: Three films are going to get 2,500 to 3,500 screens or so apiece next to Smith’s 1,000. Tough odds.

Whether Red State kills it with Smith’s strategy is something I don’t know and can’t really predict. But it’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Random Thoughts of the Week II

When the Oscars were announced there are always two things that people look for. The first is to see who got nominated. That’s a natural because it’s always fascinating to see who gets tabbed with an Academy Award nomination for a particular year. Who is chosen to be the best of the best is an endless debate that rages on for years and years; this is just the opening salvo in that conversational topic. The other thing that’s looked for is actually much more interesting to me: who got snubbed.

Every year or so there’s always one person who is felt to be snubbed more than any other. And this year it’s Christopher Nolan, director of Inception, who got nominated for his screenplay and saw the film get a Best Picture nomination but walked away without a Best Director nomination in a year where many (myself included) thought it was a near mortal lock. I mean they couldn’t snub him AGAIN, not after The Dark Knight necessitated a change in how many films could be nominated for Best Picture, right?

Yeah, totally hosed

They did, obviously, but it’s not the end of the world. In fact, I think it might be a great thing for Christopher Nolan to not be nominated after what amounted to a passion project. Why? Because he doesn’t need it at this point in the game and probably never will. He’s a better director and makes better films than nearly anyone alive. As such, the Oscar is kind of meaningless for him.

Listen to me now and believe me later.

In less than a decade Nolan has gone from being an up and coming director to a man that can get $100 million from Warner Bros. for a passion project about a heist occurring in someone’s mind without anyone blinking an eye. Think about that for a moment. Any director coming off a monster hit like The Dark Knight, one that outdrew every film but Titanic (at the time) and landed it on nearly every single Top 10 of the year, could get any project they wanted to. So that he chose Inception is intriguing if only because of what’s happened in the past. It’s one of the three paths a director will take after winning an Oscar: the passion project, the massive paycheck project and the “keep on trucking” project.

Michael Cimino famously blew his post Deer Hunter career on Heaven’s Gate a passion project, a flop so miserable it took down a studio. Peter Jackson got $20 million to make King Kong. It was also a bit of a passion project for him but the massive paycheck probably didn’t hurt. Danny Boyle kept doing his own thing and went with 127 Hours, an art house favorite and a fellow nominee for Best Picture. He’s an art house kind of guy so staying put in that realm is his thing.

So this leaves Nolan in an interesting position. Imagine what he could’ve taken. He could’ve done a biopic to establish his prestige credentials in a vain attempt at getting Oscar. There’s nothing wrong with him doing something artsy to get an Oscar. Hell, Jim Carrey has been making films that practically scream “give me an Oscar” for what seems like a decade now. Or he could’ve directed some other film for a huge paycheck and give him the freedom to take riskier films. So it’s not that big a deal if he’d have pulled either of those cards out of his pocket.

He could’ve adapted another novel like he did with The Prestige, allowing him to work with Christian Bale some more in a different setting. There are a handful of great novels waiting for the right director and one imagines he could option any novel he really wanted to after The Dark Knight.

He could’ve said “screw it” and began working on The Dark Knight Rises for a lengthy amount of time because that’s his bread and butter. Again, can’t blame a guy for doing that because let’s be honest: the third film in the Batman franchise comes with lots of expectations and Nolan hasn’t let people down yet.

The other option on the table is to step into a production in turmoil. One imagines that before David O. Russell came on board The Fighter that Nolan could’ve used his clout to get on board that. When you make a film that pays for a couple years of blockbusters for a studio you have a certain amount of clout. Mark Wahlberg’s passion project could’ve been his to direct, I imagine, if he’d really wanted to.

Hell, if Nolan had wanted to make a $50 million snuff film he would’ve had a check for it within 48 hours.

“Hmmm … I wonder what a dead hooker looks like on this.”

There are tons of possibilities he didn’t pursue. Which makes the one he did pursue all that more interesting to ponder. He pushed all his chips to the middle for a gambit that paid off. He had one of the highest grossing films of the year (again) and found his film on nearly every Top 10 of the year (again). Based on the description alone it was going to be either insanely brilliant or ridiculously stupid. There was no middle ground. Inception was a risk for everyone involved, including Nolan. If this failed some of the luster from the Batman franchise rubs off a little bit. But it didn’t and now The Dark Knight Rises has a lot to live up to. Nolan’s raised his game and now it’s demanded that the new trilogy of the Batman comes with high expectations of quality.

The fact that Nolan didn’t take an easy project guaranteed to be successful says a lot about his confidence in himself and in his vision. He could’ve taken any number of routes that would be easier, including another Batman sequel, but instead he took his time and crafted a brilliant film that’s been gestating inside him for a long time with the budget and cast he wanted. Inception had everything going for it but plenty of films have had great casts, great ideas and the right timing and ending up being massive letdowns. Righteous Kill comes to mind. But he took all these great parts and crafted an excellent flick. I think that’s all that really matters to Nolan, as he’s making films he wants to as opposed to pursuing box office dollars or critical acclaim.

An Oscar means a lot for anything, especially as a director, but plenty of great directors spent years without nominations or wins despite making plenty of great films. At this point, Nolan doesn’t need an Oscar nomination or a win for the matter. He’s the best director working in Hollywood, on the roll of a lifetime. He’s in that rare zone a director can be in, like Scorsese before he fell into the “prestige” trap after Casino. While it would lead to Scorsese going “screw this, I’m making a violent gangster flick” and unleash the majesty of The Departed, I don’t want to see a decade of Christopher Nolan chasing an award. He doesn’t have to.

More, please

I’d rather he continue to make the films he wants to and damn the rest. Plenty of directors and actors get caught up in the trap of needing validation instead of needing to make great films. When you’re not nominated and it’s universal that you should’ve been, it’s just as good as being nominated. Other people and films might be able to have a fancy title like “Academy Award winner,” but we’ll be talking about Inception 40 years from now. Will anyone remember The Fighter that isn’t Mark Wahlberg or related to him? Probably not, I suspect, unless Christian Bale wins an Oscar for it. And even then it’ll probably be a footnote as opposed to a staple.

Look how quickly Crash has been forgotten from the cinematic conscious. Inception is going to be a film imitated and duplicated for years to come and people won’t care that its director got snubbed for an Oscar. That Goodfellas and Raging Bull lost Oscars is more of a footnote than the story behind them. Why? Because they’re on the short lists of films considered to be the best film of all time. While Inception may not rise to those heights, far from it I think, it doesn’t need a handful of awards to validate its quality. Neither does Christopher Nolan.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – The League (Season 1)

“ I was just having sex with some girl in a Prius. I love having sex in Priuses, ’cause you’re not only having sex, you’re saving the environment too.”
– Taco (Jon Lajoie)

Fantasy football has gone from something geeks do to a billion dollar industry. Part of the rise of the NFL, I’ve thought, is that a large chunk of football fans have a fantasy team in a league with their friends. You can’t play fantasy football without watching a lot of actual football or, at a minimum, being able to follow what happens in the NFL via the web and all 800 ESPN channels. With up to the minute scoring, etc, it’s one of the few remaining things you can do with your friends to establish dominance over them without having to truly become skilled at anything. You just have to have a bit of luck and work your ass off.

It’s like becoming a world class physicist in a way; outside of some basic levels of intelligence, you get good at fantasy football by studying your ass off. It’s not like actually being a great football player, which requires years of practice and dedication on top of certain physical prerequisites. It allows all of us to feel like a great of the gridiron, even if it’s all based on other people being excellent for us to succeed.

And that kind of works for the guys of The League, a group of high school friends have been playing fantasy football against one another for quite some time. Pete (Mark Duplass), Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi), Ruxin (Nick Kroll) and Andre (Pete Scherr) have been good friends for as long as they can remember. Now working professionals presumably in their 30s, they compete against one another in fantasy football as a way of continuing their friendship. But they are not exactly passive about it. This is about a group of guys who are obsessive about the “game” and it sort of defines about them in an odd sort of way. But this isn’t a show about Fantasy Football. The League is about the oddities of male friendship through competition (of sorts).

Joined by Kevin’s stoner brother Taco (Jon Lajoie) and Kevin’s wife (Katie Aselton), as well as an assortment of oddball characters that pop up sporadically, The League quickly became one of my favorite shows when it debuted on FX. I was introduced to it via the power of Hulu and a weekend afternoon with some old college friends on the South Side of Chicago. I had ignored it because the advertising I saw was absolutely horrible. The show was insanely much better than I had thought. I was expecting a show that was stupid comedy that was 99% about vapid stupidity involving the game as opposed to good characters, et al. I was wrong. Why?

Because it’s an easily accessible show that doesn’t require an understanding of fantasy football on any sort of meaningful level, mainly because it only uses it as a backdrop for wacky shenanigans. I thought it was going to be 30 minutes of jokes about trades and obscure stats.

This is a funny show because it uses their obsession with fake football as a backdrop to other, funnier antics. There’s something unique about a show that can weave fantasy football into a story about a group of guys getting older and experiencing life as it happens. It’s ridiculously funny and has managed to get several NFL players into the mix, as well as Fox talking head (and Hall of Fame QB) Terry Bradshaw into storylines that manage to get more ridiculous as the season goes. Culminating in the championship game, named the “Shiva Bowl” after their high school valedictorian, the show is ridiculously funny and my first thought watching the first and second seasons is that this show has brilliant writers and a great cast.

What makes the show much more entertaining to me is that most of the show is almost all improvisational comedy. Given a general direction on where to go and plot points to hit, the cast then fleshes out the dialogue from there over multiple takes. Given that most of the cast comes from either standup comedy or the mumblecore movement it’s not all that shocking, because both require the ability to deviate and improvise heavily, it elevates the show a bit more for me because it’s not talented people following a script. Its talented people working together as a unit and bringing out the best in one another, working collectively, and I respect that much more. It makes for a great viewing because these guys all work well together and there’s a chemistry that’s infectious.

Strongest recommendation possible.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

The Roommate – The college version of Single White Female.

Skip It – I like Leighton Meester but … this is like a staple of DTV thrillers.

Sanctum (3D) – A bunch of people get stuck spelunking and have to swim their way out.

See It – James Cameron’s name all over this, so at a minimum this is going to look good. Cameron has a track record as a producer of high quality, so this should be fairly watchable.

Do you have questions about movies, life, love, or Branigan’s Law? Shoot me an e-mail at and you could be featured in the next “Monday Morning Critic.” Include your name and hometown to improve your odds.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @MMCritic_Kubryk.

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