Elvis Mitchell is such a fascinating, complicated character that he deserves a mini-series. I am not kidding. I could have predicted–would have placed bets–that he wouldn’t last as film critic at Movieline, that it was a bad match–mainly because Mitchell is not internet savvy. To succeed online, you have to be able to interact with your readers on Twitter and Facebook, market yourself, have an instinct for building traffic for your stories. Mention Twitter to Mitchell and his eyes go blank. Why did he go there as co-chief film critic with ex-Salon scribe Stephanie Zacharek? For the money. Well, the trouble with making a hefty salary is that when you do not deliver, you make a convenient line-item deletion. And Movieline is in cost-cutting mode of late: they pared back the masthead and cut off all freelancers a few weeks ago, including Alonso Duralde.
Nikki Finke, who works for Jay Penske, who publishes Deadline and Movieline and hired Mitchell, posted one explanation for why he was fired. For cause, apparently, for an error in his Source Code review, in which he describes Jeffrey Wright smoking a pipe. She implies that Mitchell must not have seen the movie, and slipped a reference to something from its screenplay into the review. Several people report seeing Mitchell at a New York Source Code screening. Sloppy is more Mitchell’s style. More than one of his editors complain about what a pain it was to edit him, especially at The New York Times. He was a much better fit at the LA Weekly.
UPDATE: It looks like insubordination contributed to Mitchell’s departure. Penske is sensitive to Movieline’s relationships with the studios–Summit and director Duncan Jones protested the error–and Mitchell never bothered to respond to anyone to explain his review. Mitchell does what he wants to do: he was supposed to be on the narrative feature jury at the Florida Film Festival last week, emails indieWIRE’s Eric Kohn, “but never showed up. I found out later he was at a festival in Krakow the whole time. He even did a TV appearance there.”
As I have reported before, Mitchell is not good with money. Or meeting deadlines. Filing expenses. Or doing what he says he’s going to do. He has left or lost one job after another, from NPR to the New York Times. Famously, he never turned up for a job he had accepted at the L.A. Times, nor for a job as a development exec for Sony. He has expensive tastes. He likes Versace suits and staying at the Four Seasons in L.A. Here’s Mitchell in a nutshell. At Sundance, I was standing in line at a snack bar when juror Jason Reitman accosted Mitchell, asking him why he hadn’t returned any of his emails or phone calls. Mitchell demurred. He likes palling around with the rich and famous, globetrotting and tomcatting with the likes of Quentin Tarantino in Reykjavik and other places.
Mitchell is nothing if not flamboyant. He was once stopped by customs officials when he tried to cross the Canadian border en route to the Toronto Film Fest with $12,000 in cash and 15 Cuban cigars, and has reportedly wrangled with the IRS over as much as $500,000. He shows up for dinner invitations some of the time–when he feels like it. He will take the best offer, when it comes. He two-timed his fiance–who loved him and was committed to marry him– with another woman. He’ll tell an editor (me, at Premiere Magazine) that a major feature is finished, and then wonder why you’re mad when he never hands it in. He’s Elvis Mitchell! He’s special.
The one job Mitchell has hung onto isn’t one that will pay him enough to live on: KCRW’s The Treatment. I love the show. He’s great at interviewing people. His Q & A with Harry Belafonte at Sundance was so good that I wrote him to congratulate him. I would have liked to see him as co-host on Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies. Ebert will not reveal why Mitchell wound up not doing the show except to say that the reason was “mundane.” I hear the show’s salary was too modest for Mitchell. UPDATE: Chaz Ebert responds: “The reason we let Elvis go had nothing to do with salary, but we really don’t want to go over it. We like Elvis and wish him well.”
At this point I almost feel sorry for the guy. Needless to say, he did not respond to my email.