My Top Ten Films of 2013

1. 12 Years a Slave


2. Nebraska


3. Gravity


4. Short Term 12


5. The Act of Killing


6. Inside Llewyn Davis


7. We Are What We Are


8. Computer Chess


9. American Hustle


10. Frozen


Birdseed, Greased or Ungreased? I Miss Bill Schulman (1926-2013)


The Ritz closed in 1990, and for three years the neglected marquee of the one-screen theater in Crockett, TX was perpetually showing Gremlins 2 and Fire Birds (a rare Nic Cage action film that actually precedes The Rock). I think every one in town assumed the place was closed up for good, though there were always rumors that it was going to suddenly throw open its doors and start playing movies again. It took until May of 1993, with a double-bill of Aladdin and Groundhog Day, before it started its current run, under the management of Bill and Christine Schulman. has a history of the Schulman Theatres, and it’s mostly stuff I’ve heard first-hand from Mr. Schulman himself. Right when I got out of high school, I went to work for the Schulmans for that grand re-opening, and continued to work for them right up until I moved to Austin, Texas in 1998. Mr. Schulman trusted me with a key to the place, and even after I quit, I held on to that key for posterity, not letting it go until my wedding in 2002 – a wedding that took place in the Schulman’s Ritz auditorium.

That key allowed me to go in and make up and break down the films that would arrive, but also (with Mr. Schulman’s permission, of course) allow me and a guest or two to sit up in the formerly “coloreds’ only” balcony of the old place on weekends and watch trash cinema (biker flick The Devil Riders, faux-documentary Forbidden Sexuality and Texas-made stag cheapie Common-Law Wife) and Woody Woodpecker reels that he’d collected over his many years of theater operation. I can draw a direct line backward from my current job as a movie critic and blogger to the days when I was a teenager with my own access to a movie theater any time I wanted.

I worked for the Schulmans at the Ritz, and for a short stint at the Palestine Twin (to help out with overwhelming crowds for The Lion King) which set the stage for my job as assistant manager at the Dogwood 6. I met my best friend and current “boss” at the Ritz. I met my ex-wife at the Dogwood 6. I made friendships that have lasted forever and life choices that continue to influence me, all because of the ripple effect caused by Bill Schulman.

Bill Schulman liked me, and I liked him. He was quick with a laugh and a smile and a strong squeeze of the shoulder; he was short, but compact and muscular, even into old age. He had his own made-up slang for concession items, like “birdseed” for popcorn, “carbonated lemonade” for Mountain Dew, and “expectant’s delight” for pickles. The one that always got the laugh from customers was whether they wanted their M&Ms “male or female.” The difference? Males have nuts.

I would gladly listen to his stories dozens of times over – about his victory in an exhibitor bidding war for Dune, or the box office employee who was shot in College Station, or the rescuing of old 35mm prints from being destroyed. I’m tempted to call the recording at the Ritz right now, just to see if his voice is still there, loudly announcing showtimes and mangling the names of fly-by-night fad celebrities. I know it’s not though, and any other voice would disappoint me.

I loved Mr. Schulman, though I never told him as much. When I would come into town for any extended period of time, I would stop by and say hello. The last time I saw him was in 2008. Looking for comfort in my old digs, I took in a double-feature of Leatherheads and The Ruins. Mr. Schulman was still going strong, running the entire operation by tooth and nail. He was happy to see me, and we hugged and chatted like we always did – as if no time had passed at all and I was still my eager 17-year old self.

We all get old and pass on, and I knew this day would eventually come, but I was really kinda hoping he would outlive me so that I wouldn’t have to think about a world without him. Bill Schulman was important to me.

My Top Ten Movies of 2012

Just a list, so I can have something for future reference…

10. Lincoln

9. Cloud Atlas

8. Paul Williams, Still Alive

7. The Master

6. Zero Dark Thirty

5. Looper

4. Silver Linings Playbook

3. Take This Waltz

2. Django Unchained

1. The Imposter


>> Marvel At the Movies: Examining DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN and INFINITY GAUNTLET

My beat at has me covering all the Marvel movies. Joe Carnahan is circling the DAREDEVIL reboot, which will probably be based on Frank Miller’s “Born Again” storyline. I think I’ve come up with the perfect cast for it. Meanwhile, Joss Whedon has signed on to AVENGERS 2, which fans speculate will be a loose adaptation of 1991’s THE INFINITY GAUNTLET mini-series. A lot will have to change to make that storyline work on the big screen.

>> From the Web: BURKE & HARE and THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR Blu-Ray Reviews

Do you like scary movies? Well, neither one of these is scary! I know. Bummer. But just because they’re scary doesn’t mean they’re not worth watching!

Check out my reviews for both films at

>> From the Web: Bad Movies I Love

I “guested” over on Bob Freelander’s blog with a list of ten bad movies I love (part of a guest series; I strongly recommend you check them all out — lots of treats in there).

It took me a really long time to come up with some, but I’m more or less proud of my list. I was the only person with Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas. The photo Bob chose has some irony — it’s from Corruption.Gov, a bad movie I’m in!

Check out the complete list here.

>> Wrath of the Titans (5/10)


There’s a moment in Wrath of the Titans when Zeus tells Perseus that he hopes that one day he’ll realize the strength that humans have. Only, Perseus already learned this lesson in the first film, and Zeus should know that. Heck, not even a couple of minutes before, they were discussing Perseus’s willing choice to stay human instead of embracing the god-side of his demi-god status. It’s an early sign of the overall laziness on display in Wrath of the Titans— a ninety-minute headache of exploding dirt that feels more like an obligation than an actual movie.

Sam Worthington can’t even be bothered to disguise his Australian accent this time out, because, really, who cares? Ralph Fiennes certainly doesn’t, shedding his balding, creepy, whispery Hades performance from the first film so that he can say his lines and get back to his trailer. Even Liam Neeson’s Zeus is made kindler and gentler by the toothless screenplay, a story which takes some of the malevolence that makes Greek gods so interesting and replaces those character strokes with exploding dirt.

The plot is explained through hurried expositional dialogue at the start of the film. The old gods are dying because nobody prays to them anymore. Imprisoned titan Cronus offers any god who will free him from Tartarus the opportunity to live forever under his lava-soaked rule. Also, because the gods are dying, monsters are coming out of the ground (just cuz). Perseus grabs his (god-given) things, and we’re off. Don’t stop to think about any of it; let’s get this over with.

All of this is just sort of said out loud, never explained by showing us anything (the near-total lack of gods is just one sign of the film’s overall cheapness).  As such, we start the movie off on such a clumsy foot that there will be no recovery, only stumbling. We tumble in the dirt from scene to scene – gods grow weaker, Perseus draws nearer, until the finale which manages to rip off the finale of its predecessor by having Perseus on the back of Pegasus fly around and around a giant, slow-moving, roaring monster.

The effects work is quite solid, even if director Jonathan Liebesman tends to shoot them as obscurely as possible. The camera is constantly up close and moving, reducing the monsters (and most of the action) to a series of noisy blurs. It looks like a cheap way to construct an action scene — explode some dirt, shake the camera around, cut and print. Those action sequences, the completely vacuous storyline, the oddly limited cast, and the repetitive locales all add up to something that feels startlingly cheap.

Sure, Clash of the Titans may have been a cash-in on an established name, but they worked harder to make it feel like an actual movie, perhaps knowing fans of the original would be eyeing the remake with fanboy scrutiny. Wrath is the cash-in on the cash-in. I think that’s what makes me so angry with the film. It’s a film more beholden to a limited budget and a tight schedule than a desire to entertain. It’s more concerned with getting your money one time than getting your attention a second time later. That’s a huge problem.

5 on a 1 to 10 scale

Listen Up, Ebert! The Movie-Talkers and How to Avoid Them

Roger Ebert made a list explaining the reasons why he thinks movie theater revenue is down. One of the things Ebert said:

“Moviegoers above 30 are weary of noisy fanboys and girls.”

That bit stood out to me. “Fanboys,” in this context, usually means genre movie fanatics. I don’t think those are the people disrupting the movie with talking (“fanboys and girls” tend to be the most annoyed by talkers), so I tweeted:

“Ebert weirdly thinks movie “fanboys and girls” are the ones talking in theatres. He is so, so wrong. IT IS PEOPLE YOUR AGE, SIR.”

The tweet was quickly re-tweeted, by some of my more high-profile peers and friends, gaining me a bunch of new followers (hi!) and a dozen responses that pretty much said this:

“Everyone talks, not just old people.”

I know this is basically true, but I worked in movie theaters for roughly 13 years, and as an assistant manager for more than half those years (assistant managing a movie theater is unlike most assistant manager jobs — you run the floor every night but the weekends, and sometimes even then). Maybe what I should’ve said is that older crowds are harder to shut up.

There’s a noise level expectation if you’re playing something to kids. A movie like CHIPWRECKED is going to have some chatter. They’re kids; many of them haven’t learned any better. The problem is a movie like WAR HORSE is probably going to have the same low buzz of chatter throughout. Only, these are adults, and they should know better.

So, drawing on my personal experience, I decided to break down exactly who’s hardest to shut up at the theater and how to avoid them if attending a movie (in order of age).

1. Children

Parents are usually embarrassed enough to reprimand their chatty kid if they draw attention from other patrons or theater management. There’s the rare case of a parent who feels like you’ve singled out their kid or that, since it’s a kids’ movie, that means kids have carte blanche to run around the auditorium like it’s a playground. I’ve found those cases are rare. Typically, the worse a kids’ movie is, the more chatty the children are.

Avoid them by seeing family films and animated comedies at night. Never, ever go on a Saturday or Sunday during the day.

2. Pre-Teens/Young Teens

These kids will buy a ticket to whatever time is most convenient to them getting dropped off at the movies. What this means is that sometimes a dozen teens will be laughing and going in and out of the auditorium during a movie they aren’t interested in at all, pissing off the people that are there to watch that movie. The good news? They’re typically terrified of theater management and don’t want to get into any real trouble. So, while disruptive, are the least likely to talk back, and usually the easiest ones to kick out of an auditorium.

Avoid them by never seeing brand-new wide release PG or PG-13 rated films after 7pm on a Friday or Saturday.

3. Older Teens

Older teens can be a real pain in the ass, especially if their parents have raised them to be little entitled jerks. You might be able to kick them out, but they might also return with an angry mom or dad who wants your head on a platter for ruining their baby’s night. Older teens also sneak in to more movies than probably any other group, and they tend to like bad comedies and blockbusters. I’ve found that most older teens are respectful — I think they feel like grown-ups when they’re out at the movies; I know I did when I was 16. Cell phones can be an issue, but I can honestly say no one has ever fought with me when I’ve caught them red-handed and asked them to turn it off.

Avoid them by skipping comedies and blockbusters on opening weekend.

4. 20-50

This is a pretty wide age group, and their ability to shut up seems more directly tied to economic status more than a specific age. Trashy people act trashy, black, white, whatever. Generally, you don’t find a lot of troublemakers in this age bracket, and, if you do, they’re serious serial troublemakers, the kind of people you have to call the police to have escorted out of the theatre (which I’ve done a half-dozen times).

Avoid by going to the earliest show of the day or after 9pm on a weeknight. This is when theaters have the least attendance.

5. 50 and up

And we’re back to the kind of chatter one expects from a kids’ movie, with the same problem little kids have — a complete lack of understanding that their “whispering” could possibly be bothering anyone. If someone can’t comprehend how their constant comments or questions could be seen as intrusive to others, they’re incredibly difficult to deal with. You have no choice but to become a villain then, picking on someone for doing “nothing.” A lot of older people also believe that if they’re talking about the movie, then they’re doing no wrong. This might be fine in your living room, but living room rules do not apply at the theater.

Avoid by only going to movies geared toward adults Monday through Thursday and only after 7pm.

To re-iterate, this is only based on my work experience, and I realize I’m making broad generalizations and that there are exceptions, but there’s truth here (most especially in the “how to avoid” parts). And, remember, if you ever see a movie “fanboy or girl” talking through a movie, chances are they aren’t actually a movie fanboy.

Some Thoughts on SHAME


(This piece contains “spoilers.”)

The critical response to SHAME has been slightly baffling to me. The movie has a brave performance by Michael Fassbender and a couple of scenes that feel remarkably true (Brandon’s attempt at a real date is the movie’s most insightful moment), but the film also displays a clumsy misunderstanding of its subject that can’t be ignored.  That particular discussion seems to have been disregarded in exchange for an embarrassingly wide pre-occupation with Fassbender’s sexiness — a weird thing to walk away from SHAME talking about, to be sure. It’s the equivalent of fixating on Jennifer Connelly’s degrading dildo scene in REQUIEM FOR A DREAM over its harrowing themes of addiction. Yeah, it’s sexual, but it’s not supposed to be sexy, guys.

SHAME hit its first truly sour note with me during a lingering shot of Brandon viewing his distorted reflection on the side of a bus. The shot is a cliched visual shorthand that says “On the inside, this person is not who they appear to be.” It’s the kind of weak somebody-already-thought-of-that trick that most filmmakers leave behind at film school. But, it’s in here, and it sucks — not enough to ruin the movie, but enough to act as a warning for what’s to come.

After an extended orgy (shot with the inappropriately titillating gusto of an episode of HBO’s REAL SEX), Brandon ends up trolling for sex at a gay club (shot like a horror film). The implications are ambiguous; we don’t know if this is something Brandon has done before or not. It shouldn’t really matter, since all of Brandon’s sex is an empty experience, sexual orientation is irrelevant, but in director Steve McQueen’s eyes this homosexual act is the end-all-be-all of sexual lows. It’s the scariest thing a (homophobic) straight male can think of — finding themselves so horny that they might let another dude touch them. Just conceptually, it’s an offensive way to portray a sex addict’s low point.

McQueen, who also wrote SHAME, flounders with this. It’s not dramatic enough to get Brandon to rock bottom, and he knows it’s not enough, but McQueen doesn’t understand why. So, he has Brandon come home after some anonymous gay sex to discover that his sister has attempted suicide in his own apartment. Besides the hilariously puritanical message (“While you were out getting your rocks off, your sister almost DIED!”), Brandon’s rock bottom is now his sister’s rock bottom. Brandon hits no rock bottom of his own, but the film would have you believe that this is it.

The attempted suicide has some shock value, but it’s also something that student filmmakers have a preoccupation with, because it’s an easy cinematic go-to to show that a personal situation is in dire shape. McQueen makes the mistake of tying Brandon to this moment as if it somehow would make him less compulsive and horny, and suddenly ready to love and commit. Though his sister is alive, he has a wailing catharsis on a pier, spurred on partly because he’d been incredibly crappy to her and partly because he was having empty sex while she bled out.

I’m still not sure how her personal rock bottom translates into being his rock bottom. Her suicide is something that could’ve happened if Brandon were attending church or out grocery shopping; it has nothing to do with his addiction to sex. Her lowest point can’t be his lowest point, because it’s happening only to her, and it’s happening to her in a way that he doesn’t have any empathy for. Do I believe that Brandon would be sad that his sister almost died? Yes. Do I believe this event is a turning point in his life? Not one bit.

A more satisfying ending would’ve taken more work from McQueen, getting to Brandon’s emotionally darkest place and exposing him in such a wholly naked, vulnerable way that he has no choice but to change. Instead SHAME goes easy, with a finale that makes the whole film inauthentic and immature. It’s a damned SHAME.

>> Review Round-Up

Here are all of the links to my reviews from the past week, from PEARL JAM TWENTY through my Fantastic Fest coverage…

Pearl Jam Twenty – “The bottom line is that Pearl Jam Twenty is a product.  Not just as a commercial film, but as one-third of an overall push that includes a two-disc soundtrack and a coffee table book.  It’s okay to recognize this, however, and still enjoy the film as an incredibly polished, loving product.”

The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) – “Someone should let Tom Six know that exploitation cinema is just about the worst possible place for finger-wagging.”

Livid – “Bustillo and Maury seem to be channelling the wicked energy of Guillermo Del Toro, without any of that director’s substance.”

Melancholia – “Melancholia is certainly worthwhile, but disappoints by never digging any deeper into the subject matter than a thin performance and an on-the-nose metaphor.”

A Lonely Place to Die – “It’s simply too good to label it a misfire, but the film starts from the gate with such a confident, breathless level of suspense that it’s a shame that it can’t be maintained.”

The Innkeepers – “It’s really a perfect chiller for the scaredy-cat in your life.”

The Day – “The Day’s cannibalization of other, better films is its downfall; there’s just not enough unique material here to nourish.  If you can overlook that, you’ll find a standard bleak post-apoc action film with some thought-provoking character beats.”