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Criticwire Survey: After the Thrill is Gone

Criticwire Survey: After the Thrill is Gone

Every week, the Criticwire Survey asks film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday morning. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?” can be found at the end of this post.) Send suggestions for future questions to sam at indiewire dot com.

Q: Not only do (most) critics hate
Cameron Crowe’s “Aloha
,” its stale evocation of Crowe’s past films has
some rethinking their love of his earlier movies. Has a film/TV maker —
let’s include actors, too — you loved every gotten so bad it makes you
wonder whether you were right to love them in the first place?

Peter Howell, The Toronto Star

There are any number of filmmakers who would fit this description, but M.Night Shyamalan comes most readily to mind. “The Sixth Sense” was a very fine film with a genuine surprise twist , but then each subsequent film fell into the “trying too hard” category. By the time of “The Last Airbender,” it was like Shyamalan wasn’t trying at all.

Monica Castillo, International Business Times

I’m sure I’m not alone in my buyer’s remorse over M. Night Shyamalan. I was thrilled with “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs,” less so with “Lady in the Water” and “The Village.” By the time I got to “The Last Airbender,” the thrill was gone. Although, I will confess to quoting the “take a knee” line from “After Earth” fairly frequently. 

Josh Spiegel, Movie Mezzanine

The answer for me is M. Night Shyamalan. His first three major films — “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable” and “Signs” — were among my favorite films of their respective years. But by 2004, something had shifted in me — although I found “The Village” to be laughable, I approached it far more hesitantly than I did with any of those films. And then came “Lady in the Water” and “The Happening” and “The Last Airbender,” all of which called into question my interest in his films at a young age. I’ve since revisited his two efforts with Bruce Willis and still like them a great deal. However, all of the signs (sorry) of his troubles as a writer and director are present there; he just handles the quiet, almost austere tone better and is better served by actors like Willis and the young Haley Joel Osment. Also, it’s easier to tolerate Shyamalan’s self-seriousness when he’s more like Alfred Hitchcock in terms of how he appears in his own films — playing a doctor and a drug dealer, respectively, is a lot less obnoxious than casting himself as a writer whose work will literally change the world. Part of me hopes he’ll turn things around, but the rest of me presumes the trio of films he made from 1999 to 2002 was just a string of luck.

Alissa Wilkinson , Christianity Today

M. Night Shyamalan, obviously. “The Happening.” I mean. I don’t even have words.

Greg Cwik, Vulture, Indiewire

I’d like to take this opportunity to actually say something sort of positive [everyone dies from shock]. I know M Night Shyamalan is now unequivocally, universally considered a hack whose career entirely hinged on one great film with an iconic twist ending, but “The Sixth Sense,” and Shyamalan, are so much more than that. “Unbreakable” and “The Village,” and even to an extent “Lady in the Water,” display genuine vision; “Unbreakable” specifically possesses such austere yet clever, careful visual beauty. The camerawork is so smart, with some excellent long takes that draw you in instead of distracting you. If not for a supremely lazy and abrupt ending, which almost feels like it was rushed to meet some sort of deadline, it would be a nearly perfect film. To answer the actual question, though: Tim Burton. “Batman Returns” is one of my all-time favorite movies, but I’ve grown to loathe Tim Burton in the last decade. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Alice in Wonderland” fucking suck.

Mike D’Angelo, The Dissolve

After enduring a decade’s worth of godawful Mike Figgis movies — “One Night Stand,” “The Loss of Sexual Innocence,” “Timecode,” “Hotel,” “Cold Creek Manor” — I revisited “Leaving Las Vegas,” which I’d loved at the time of its release, and discovered that it’s the same formally and emotionally bombastic crapfest Figgis always makes. He just had two actors who were able to inject some unruly truth into the formula on that particular occasion. I’ve been Figgis-free since 2003… though so has the rest of the world, pretty much, as far as I can tell. Everybody caught on.

Alan Zilberman, Brightest Young Things, RogerEbert.com

The most immediate and obvious answer is Aaron Sorkin. When I was younger and more idealistic, I loved “The West Wing.” That show is partially responsible for why I went to graduate school for public policy. Then “Studio 60” happened, and I realized Aaron Sorkin cannot write comedy (not well, anyway). “30 Rock” put “Studio 60” out of its misery, thankfully, but Sorkin’s next return to television was a disaster. “The Newsroom” is the most smarmy, shrill, self-aggrandizing show I’ve ever had the misfortune of watching. The bigger problem, however, is that “The Newsroom” inadvertently pointed out the laziness of Sorkin’s writing (and I’m not talking Sorkinisms). Most everything Sorkin has written, whether it’s on stage or screen, has a deposition scene in it. I’m talking about a scene at a conference table where two main characters trade barbs, while lawyers offer insight and observations about them. It’s a lazy god damn writer’s trick — as if Sorkin cannot think of another context for character development — and he milks it for all it’s worth from “Malice” onward to “The Newsroom.” I feel like a fool for having been inspired by Sorkin’s previous work, and while I may like some of it, he won’t fool me again.

Charles Bramesco, Random Nerds, The Dissolve

To me, Aaron Sorkin feels like a toxic girlfriend who I can break up with, but never truly leave behind. He’s hurt me before — I don’t know why I allowed myself to be subjected to “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” for so long, and agreeing to give things another shot with “The Newsroom” back in 2012 went about as well as my friends warned me. “He’s no good for you,” they told me, but I didn’t listen. “There’s so much good in him!” I insisted. “Remember ‘Moneyball’? And my god, watching ‘The Social Network,’ it felt like I was falling in love for the first time all over again. And the sex is so good. By sex, of course, I mean wordplay.”

But yeah, watching Sorkin suck up all the oxygen with turgid speechifying about how bad young people suck, and how the internet is stupid, and how adult white men are the cat’s pajamas can be very disappointing. The dank depths to which “The Newsroom” sunk inspired me to revisit “The West Wing” (and, implicitly, my childhood), and to my horror, it was not nearly as good as I had remembered. Sorkin recycles so many of his own hackneyed plot devices and character beats that he might as well be on Al Gore’s Christmas card list. With the long-delayed release of “Steve Jobs” finally approaching, there’s a big fat chance for Sorkin to fall back on his nasty habits of long-winded diatribes about annoying little people who get in the way of genius men. Fincher has the discipline to get Sorkin’s weapons-grade talents in line for “The Social Network” in 2010. Fingers crossed that Danny Boyle will be able to pull the same trick.

Dan Fienberg, HitFix

The worst thing about “The Newsroom” was how you could hear Aaron Sorkin’s not-even-vaguely-veiled contempt in nearly every line, saturating even the most precise and ostensibly crackling lines of dialogue. You could hear the words and every smart or funny thing would make you go, “I see how this is clever on an empirical level, but…” But the worst thing wasn’t the superiority and the condescension, but rather how that made you suspect, “Uh-oh. What if every word he’s ever written has been the exact same way and for some reason either because of the subject matter or the time in my life, I just wasn’t able to perceive it.” Love for any alleged auteur is already like a benign disease. We know better. We know that Aaron Sorkin shows are Aaron Sorkin to a large degree, but that he’s still a pawn to whatever network, studio, production company or financing arm he happens to be working under, just as Cameron Crowe doesn’t go off on vacation with 15 friends and come back with a movie that he shows in theaters the next week. [It’s not like he’s Joss Whedon or something!] Our dedication to a favorite showrunner or writer-director is a disease that we’re willing to let occupy our bodies and our minds and we PRAY that we won’t somehow get an immunity. And something like a “Newsroom” is, or we fear it might be, the influx of white blood cells that produce antibodies that leave us unable to irrationally enjoy things that we enjoyed before. So far, “Newsroom” hasn’t caused my body to reject “West Wing” or “Sports Night,” but will I be so lucky next time?

Scott Renshaw, Salt Lake City Weekly 

I’m sure I could come up with man examples given enough time, but the most precipitous fall from my good graces likely goes to Rob Reiner. Others may sniff at “Stand By Me” or “A Few Good Men,” but Reiner’s first seven features were all great examples of pop entertainment, with bona fide gems like “This is Spinal Tap” and “The Princess Bride.” And then came “North.” While there were watchable efforts like “The American President” mixed in there since then, he generally appeared to forget how to make anything resembling an entertaining movie. The idea that the guy who made “When Harry Met Sally…” subsequently thought “And So It Goes” was a satisfying romantic comedy makes me deeply sad.

Alonso Duralde, TheWrap, Linoleum Knife

I’ve never questioned my love for his greatest films, but the gap between Stanley Donen’s best and his worst is staggering indeed. That the man who could give the world “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Charade” and “Two for the Road” could also perpetrate “Staircase,” “Saturn 3” and “Blame It on Rio” fairly boggles the mind.

Carrie Rickey, Yahoo! Movies, TruthDig

Every so often in the career of a filmmaker I like (and this includes Woody Allen, Cameron Crowe, Brian DePalma, Nora Ephron, Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese), I have a what-did-I-ever-see-in-him/her moment. But after the disappointing “Curse of the Jade Scorpion” and “Hollywood Endings,” Allen came back with “Match Point” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” And after “Snake Eyes” and “Mission to Mars,” DePalma rebounded with “Femme Fatale.” After “Bewitched” and “Lucky Numbers,” Ephron returned with “Julie & Julia.” After “Bamboozled,” Lee came back with “The 25th Hour.” And after “Bringing Out the Dead” and “Gangs of New York,” Scorsese made “The Aviator.” I’m figuring that after a string of less-than-stellar films, Crowe will surprise me again.

To paraphrase a line of Katharine Hepburn’s in “The Philadelphia Story,” the time to make up your mind about someone is never.

Joanna Langfield, The Movie Minute

It was Woody Allen’s “Anything Else” that almost killed me. Like so many of my critical colleagues, I adored the Woody oeuvre so much I was willing to hang in there, forgiving the light meltdowns of “Celebrity,” “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” and “Hollywood Ending.” But there was no escaping the rote predictable older man fascinated by nubile young thing rehash that Allen issued once again with that lackluster 2003 release. Sadly, I thought it was over. The filmmaker whose work I had revered had had it. Maybe I didn’t quite give up on all of his earlier, classic pieces, but I did find myself personally crushed, having my not so professional emotional investment in his career being so loftily taken for granted. In other words, I thought, “How could he do this to me?”

But then, one cold and rainy December morning, I reluctantly sloshed my way to a For Your Consideration screening of “Match Point.” And suddenly, the world, or at least Woody’s world and my place in it, made sense again. I have still questioned a few of Allen’s later releases (let’s not discuss “Magic in the Moonlight,” please), but as he’s still hanging in there, so am I.

Gary Kramer, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News

I recall being wowed by Pedro Almodovar’s early comedies back in the mid-1980s, but I’m less enamored with the Spanish enfant terrible these days, and not because he’s matured. It was exciting to see his talent break out with “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” and I was extremely passionate about “Law of Desire” and “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” I even found things to admire in his earlier films “Labyrinth of Passion” and “Pepi, Luci, Bom.” But then, with (or after) the success of “Women on the Verge,..” Almodovar went over the edge for me. I was disenchanted by “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down” and disappointed by “High Heels,” “Kika,” and “Flower of My Secret.” He treated rape as a joke in many of his films, (including “Matador” and his Oscar-wining “Talk to Her” which I found excruciating and as overrated as his prior hit, “All About My Mother.”) I will concede I did love “Bad Education” and “I’m So Excited” even though these films lifted whole scenes from his other films, and/or again treated rape as a joke. But I think my admiration of “Bad Education” (the Gael Garcia pool scene not withstanding) and “I’m So Excited” may be because they mirrored “Law of Desire” and “Women on the Verge” in terms of content and tone. While I did hope the very fine “Volver” was the start of a comeback, his other recent efforts, “Broken Embraces,” and “The Skin I Live In” were misfires to me. So the thrill is gone. That said, I am especially pleased by his efforts to produce Argentine films such as “Wild Tales” and Lucrecia Martel’s “Headless Woman” and “Holy Girl,” so I won’t stop seeing his work, but as that line from Woody Allen goes, “I prefer his early funny stuff.”

Danny Bowes, A.V. Club

His status as a director of anonymous blockbusters led me to wonder whether my fond memories of Guy Ritchie’s first two films were due to my having been in college, in both the chronological and pharmacological senses. His Sherlock Holmes movies were so bad, and so divorced from any sense of the character as anything other than branding, that the question was necessary. I revisited “Snatch” recently, which depreciated rather badly over the years, although it still has its moments (“Do you know what ‘nemesis’ means? A righteous infliction of retribution manifested by an appropriate agent. Personified in this case by an ‘orrible cunt… me.”) For the purposes of definitively answering this question I also watched “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels,” which I was greatly relieved to still find delightful, if a little not-great in purely cinematic terms. So, this story of my erstwhile Guy Ritchie fandom has a far happier end than his career. The advent of his “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” movie is making me quite grateful to no longer be a reviewer of new releases.

Adam Batty, Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second

The dire “Kingsman: The Secret Service” finished the job that “Kick-Ass 2” started in me re-evaltuating my feelings on the work of Matthew Vaughn. Though “Kick-Ass 2” was only produced by Vaughn, it did cause me to question my love for the first film, while Kingsman went one step further and had me question my feelings for Vaughn in general. His problematic remarks regarding criticisms leveled at some of the decisions he made on that film didn’t help either, (remarks which saw him attempt to frame said comments as the graceless ramblings of a bunch of “bloody feminists”), nor did his decision to publicly back the right-wing candidate in the recent UK parliamentary election.

Ben Travers, Indiewire

This is probably as good a time as any to mention my wholehearted devotion to “Armageddon.” Michael Bay’s third feature film is arguably his last good one, and — just as contentiously — his only great one. Combining a fast-paced visual flare with bombastic ideas too big (and dumb) for anything but a summer blockbuster, “Armageddon” is the epitome of what the genre should be — no superheroes in tights; no sequels of sequels; no remakes. Just good ol’ fashioned Americana action with an all-star cast of entertainers.

That being said, I’m anything but devoted to Michael Bay. Having seen the “Transformers” films, I’m equally quick to use them as a punchline as I am to correct others who try to mock Bay’s one, true masterpiece. No great director has gone their entire career without a few screw-ups. When bold visions falter, they fail spectacularly. What makes a great filmmaker is the courage to fall face flat in pursuit of something magnificent. Bay — who is certainly not one of the greats — may have been striving for that high bar back in 1998, or he may have just been lucky enough to capture lightning in a bottle. The point is, it doesn’t matter. No matter how bad his films get, I’ll never stop loving him for giving me one perfect movie.

John Keefer, 51 Deep

Nothing, I repeat, nothing Cameron Crowe does now or in the future would take away my love for “Almost Famous” or “…say anything” and that includes “Jerry Maguire.” I can’t think of an artist who put out something so egregious that I rethink my position on work they’ve done that has moved me. Look at Michael Bay. I love “The Rock.” Even after all the crimes against humanity he calls movies I will always love “The Rock.” It’s just that I know now more fully who he is as a filmmaker so I don’t seek out his work. I also heard he yells at his actors and his crew. What kind of a baby does something like that? Grow up you stupid baby. And the same goes to you David O. Russell, who has the distinction in my own personal taste of a triangle of good, wasn’t so thrilled with “Flirting With Disaster” but then “Three Kings” and “I Heart Huckabees” were great and then he slides back down the other side of the triangle. Again what kind of a baby yells at actors? You’re getting paid quite well to tell people how to play make believe as your job and you let all the pressures associated with that get to you and then you take it out on the people who you’re there to support? Stupid babies need the most attention except when it comes to their movies.

Richard Brody, New Yorker

The first name that came to mind doesn’t exactly fit the bill: Wim Wenders. His mid-seventies trio of films (“Alice in the City,” “The Wrong Move,” “Kings of the Road”) has a uniquely alienated warmth that matches his blend of analytical and ecstatic images, anguished historical archeology and uninhibited pop-culture delight. His style and tone seemed inseparable from his distinctive choice of subjects, those particular to a West German obsessed with Hollywood and rock but ambivalent enough about America itself. Then he decided to imitate Hollywood filmmakers with a pulp-fiction adaptation and became both worse than they are and worse than himself; he devolved from alienated warmth to cold sentimentality even as Peter Handke, directing his own novella “The Left-Handed Woman,” out-Wendersed Wenders for good. Most of Wenders’s hero-worshipping, myth-mongering later work — most of what he has done since the age of thirty — sinks under the weight of his ponderous sense of cultural value; he seems (with a few exceptions) to have stopped looking around him and decided in advance what’s important enough to film. But he doesn’t quite fit the bill because even “Wings of Desire,” with its forced pathos and leaden whimsy, doesn’t shake my enthusiasm for those inspired early films (but does incite me to speculate on what went wrong, ranging from the willful desire for self-transformation to the misunderstanding of his own great gifts).

Ray Pride, Newcity 

Wim Wenders. A new hope: I saw his presentation of the episodic edition of “Until the End of the World” at his 2006 Thessaloniki retrospective, but it’s been long enough that I hope the current digital restoration is a transporting artifact from another era of his career. “The American Friend,” “Kings of the Road,” even “The State of Things” were so compelling to this young moviegoer. Laconic but cosmopolitan, dreamy yet tactile. Melancholy. Broody, but with open eyes. I don’t discount the good ones, but the lesser, later titles are often confounding.

Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit

Believe it or not, I’ve never given up hope on anyone, even when they take a nosedive in quality. With certain actors, it’s often just a matter of not getting the right material, so for example when John Cusack keeps showing up in mediocre action movies, I don’t blame him and rethink my love, I just cross my fingers that the next role is the one to put him back on top. With filmmakers, I’ve still enjoyed the work of folks like Cameron Crowe, David Gordon Green, and Kevin Smith while others have backed away from them. Yes, I actually love “Elizabethtown,” while “Joe,” “Red State,” and “Tusk” are films that I really dig as well. That’s just me though.

Jason Shawhan, The Nashville Scene, Interface 2037

After Mean Girls, I found myself in a spiral of dejection with Lindsay Lohan’s performances. It kept on getting more and more awkward and depressing with each subsequent film, until all was forgiven with The Canyons. Finally, with it was a performance that equalled that moment of glory that made me keep giving the benefit of the doubt for all those years (and uneven performances).

Edwin Arnaudin, Asheville Citizen-Times

I had a very similar quandary with Will Smith in “Men in Black 3.” Practically everything about “Men in Black II” was awful, but in its wake Smith was fun in “Hitch,” fine in “I Am Legend” and “Hancock,” and pretty damn good in “The Pursuit of Happyness,” right? Right? Yet there I was throughout the sluggish first act wondering if his fame was all a grand illusion of the late ’90s, a strange meshing of alien flicks and “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” that transfixed a blockbuster-starved nation. As Smith’s J sleepwalks through the cool guy routine that made the original “Men in Black” so fresh, I likewise wondered if the first film was truly as wonderful as I remembered.

Since then, Smith has sat on his injured boring ass throughout “After Earth,” been part of the problem in “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” and regressed to pre-“Fresh Prince of Bel Air” skills in his “Winter’s Tale” cameo. Now after “Focus,” where he looked miserable being onscreen, I have doubts that he ever enjoyed acting – and that I ever enjoyed watching him act. Since then, I’ve revisited what I thought was my favorite Smith movie, “Enemy of the State,” only to shut it down after 10 minutes. I’ve yet to give “Men in Black,” “Independence Day” or “Ali” another shot for fear of complete childhood annihilation.

Jeff Berg, Las Cruces Bulletin, Reel New Mexico

Val Kilmer for one… yeah, I know, but he was good and fun in “Tombstone,” “Heat,” and “The Doors, “but then slipped away. His attitude at a film festival where I saw him didn’t help. In a different way, Sam Peckinpah as well, although we are all aware of his demons. 

Ethan Alter, Film Journal International, Yahoo! Movies

I had already fallen off “The X-Files” bandwagon long before the series wheezed to a close. But the belated, watch-from-the-hall bad feature film sequel/reboot, “I Want to Believe,” cured me of any lingering nostalgia for the franchise’s early years, and that extends to its planned small-screen relaunch next year. After that disaster, I simply don’t believe that Chris Carter — or, for that matter, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson — have any idea that’s worth dragging Mulder and Scully out of black oil-soaked mothballs for. 

Nell Minow, Beliefnet

Every Sofia Coppola movie I have seen makes me dislike all of the previous ones retroactively and increasingly. Some filmmakers (actors as well as directors) have only one bag of tricks and as you see them deployed over and over again you realize that what you saw the first time was not a piece of something interesting but all there really was.

Sean Chavel, FlickMinute

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch “Amores Perros” again now that “Birdman” has won Best Picture. Damn Alejandro González Iñárritu to hell.

Kristy Puchko, Pajiba, Spinoff

Kevin Smith. I fell so hard for “Chasing Amy” that is made me ravenous for indie cinema. It was my gateway drug, and I’m grateful of that. Because of this, I embraced everything else Smith did for years. Or tried to. It became harder and harder to stay a fan as I grew up and his writing stayed immature. I went from looking forward to his movies to ignoring them, just so I didn’t have to think about what these meant for the early ones I adored. Not long after seeing “Tusk,” I gave away my “Chasing Amy” Criterion edition, fearful that revisiting it may damage the movie I remember so fondly. The fact that “Tusk” includes one of the hammiest performances of Johnny Depp — an actor I once adored and now dread — just adds insult to injury. 

Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat, Film Racket

There are certainly actors/filmmakers whose work has become so weak, repetitive, or dull that I’ve lost my general sense of interest in them. Johnny Depp and his tiresome weirdo shtick is a perfect current example. But no, I’ve never written anyone off completely, nor would I. If they did good work in the past, that work still stands. And I always hope that those who have come to disappoint me can turn it around and make some magic again. Sometimes they do. Two words: Matthew McConaughey.

Mark Young, Sound on Sight

Like a lot of film dorks of my generation, I discovered John Woo when I turned 18 and was finally able to rent the videotapes that were shelved alongside “Faces of Death” at the local Blockbuster, with stickers proclaiming that they were not to be rented to minors due to violence. Of course his films blew my mind then, but after enduring the dialogue of “Mission: Impossible 2” and snoozing through “Paycheck” I called into question everything I had ever liked before: suddenly “The Killer” seemed melodramatic and overblown; “Hard Target” became a cheap B-movie that had been heavily re-edited by Jean-Claude van Damme; “Bullet in the Head” was overlong and full of too many homages/rip-offs of other Vietnam films. Even “Hard-Boiled,” which I long considered the greatest action film ever made, now seems stale compared to “Mad Max: Fury Road.” I haven’t seen Woo’s most recent output since he returned to Hong Kong, and honestly, I’m a bit scared to do so. There’s only so much shine that we want to have taken off of the things we loved when we were 18.

Farran Nehme, The New York Post, Self-Styled Siren

I certainly had a ready answer for this, one that wouldn’t surprise anybody who saw the scars I got from holding my tongue about a certain piously nationalistic mega-hit. But the fact is, when critics have turned en masse against a director because of a late-career misfire, or a hit that is retrospectively deemed unworthy, it has almost always been a big mistake. Certainly Michael Powell didn’t deserve to spend the rest of his career in the wilderness after “Peeping Tom” appalled all the critics who had adored “The Red Shoes.” After “Ben-Hur,” William Wyler remarked, with some justifiable bitterness, “Cahiers du Cinéma never forgave me for that picture.” Oliver Stone’s “Alexander” doesn’t make “Born on the Fourth of July” a bad movie. I could go on (and on) but my point is simple: What’s good stays good. I prefer the Wile E. Coyote School of Critical Optimism: “Even a genius can have an off-day.” Or an off-year, or an off-decade…

Jordan Hoffman, NY Daily News, The Guardian

If I did, I wouldn’t admit it. It’s totally unfair, even to someone who had gotten clueless, lazy, delusional or, perhaps, overwhelmed by debt and needs to crank out some quick trash. The good stuff is in amber.

Scott Mendelson, Forbes

Honestly, no. Sure I had to rewatch “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable” now and then to remind me why I still defend Shyamalan, and but at the end of the day a million “Aloha”s doesn’t negate the original triumph of “Almost Famous.” Now the one thing that does happen is when would-be inspired originals churn out awful sequels which in-turn make me question my love of the originals. This happens with comedy sequels, where many of the same people are involved. But the result is always the same. “Austin Powers,” “The Hangover,” and “Harold and Kumar” may have spawned lousy comedy franchises, but the original installments are still brilliant and wonderful comedies in their own right. 

Q.V. Hough, Vague Visages

My favorite Robert De Niro experience is directly connected to my worst Robert De Niro experience (and the craziest week of my life).

In the summer of 2009, I quit my TV promo job in Los Angeles but decided to stay after reaching a new deal. As part of the package, I was afforded extended vacation time, which I used to backpack across Europe. Given my background in history, cinema and my family’s Italian heritage, I spent my last days visiting the land of my ancestors outside Naples, Italy in Solofra and Avellino (Tony Soprano apparently had relatives form Avellino as well, according to “The Sopranos” pilot).

Well, let’s say that I encountered a few problems. Wild dogs. Local pranksters. Confused elders. By the next afternoon (Saturday), I was in Paris for a connecting flight, and by the end of the day, I was celebrating Halloween in Times Square. Fourteen hours later, I reached my Hollywood apartment just in time to watch my Minnesota Vikings take on the Green Bay Packers. It was a long weekend, and everything was fine.

I was a physical mess the next day at work and retreated to my Sycamore Avenue apartment for rest. To my surprise, AFI Fest had just begun two blocks away, and the next evening I was inside Graumann’s Chinese Theatre for a screening of “Everybody’s Fine” — a remake of Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1990 film “Stanno Tutto Bene.” Both Kate Becksinale and Drew Barrymore introduced the film, along with a special guest: Robert De Niro.

Obviously, I was ecstatic (and was still speaking Italian). Incidentally, my Italian phrases of praise led to a few Italian f-bombs after the dreadful 99 minutes of “Everybody’s Fine.” It was undoubtedly my worst cinematic experience at Graumann’s Chinese Theatre, but it was certainly one of the most memorable events of my life thanks to my Italian paisan Bobby De Niro. Madone.

Q: What is the best movie in theaters?

A: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Other movies receiving multiple votes: “Ex Machina”

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