SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - The new film series Reel Talk, featuring independent works, will make its debut at South Orange Performing Arts Center on Sunday, March 15 at 11 a.m.
In anticipation of the eight-week series, TAPinto SOMA conducted a multi-part interview series with veteran Star-Ledger film critic Stephen Whitty to discuss the event at SOPAC.
Here is Part 3 of TAP's interview with Whitty:
Q: Do you think that the independent films you mentioned balance out with the reboots, remakes, and franchises or do they get crushed by the big budgets and high grosses that they can’t compare with?
A: Well I think they provide an alternative which is wonderful, but they don’t get as much notice as other films do. They can’t afford to advertise on television, they can’t afford the print or even the online ads that big movies take, and of course, and again, one of the advantages of sequels and comic book movies and superhero movies is that there’s a lot of name recognition built into that name. For example, a movie like The Avengers is coming out, you know what that’s about automatically, but then there’s a movie that just opened this weekend called The Last Five Years, and it’s a really lovely movie, it’s a musical, it’s told in an interesting way, it’s about a young couple’s relationship from his point of view and from hers, switching back and forth between the two, but if you just see that in a newspaper ad or in a post review you see The Last Five Years, or you’re just going to a theater and you see that on the marquee, you probably don’t know anything about what that movie is about. So a lot of times they will get lost in all the noise and the advertising of the other pictures can monopolize, but again, that’s why I’m happy to say studios are eager to see small series like ours because it does get some word of mouth out there, and you get people talking about a picture before it’s even in the theater, and then you have a better chance of actually getting other people to see it.
Q: Do you think events like the Reel Talk festival help to combat the increasing laziness of Hollywood filmmaking?
A: I don’t know that they make Hollywood any less lazy. I don’t think they’re going to cut down on the number of big dumb movies that Hollywood makes, but I think they do help the smarter, smaller movies that filmmakers are making find their audience and be able to stand out a little bit and get some attention that they deserve but they may not always get.
Q: This was a big year for biopics with Selma, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything and American Sniper all vying for Best Picture. Plus there’s Unbroken, Mr. Turner and Foxcatcher going up for other awards. A lot of people label these biographical films as unoriginal Oscar bait; do you tend to group them in the same category as the uninventive Hollywood films we discussed before?
A: Well I think there’s a difference between the two. Something like Transformers 4, for example, the only thing that’s looking for is to make money, but a picture like The Imitation Game or The Theory of Everything, that’s less interested in money than in respect, than in winning awards. So there are different motives, and that’s not to say one is necessarily more pure than the other, if all you want to do is to make an entertaining successful movie, you can make an entertaining successful movie. There’s no shame in that. Or you can really do something that’s kind of pandering and patronizing and silly and cheap and if you want to make a movie that people are going to honor and respect and enjoy you can do that, and do it well, or you can make a movie that is just calculated to appeal to a very narrow kind of awards-voting audience. So, I can see good and bad on both sides. Some of the biopics that you mentioned were very artistically done, were really not just the usual obvious Oscar bait choices. Mr. Turner, for example, a very unusual performance given by Timothy Spall, an unusual person to make a movie about, didn’t follow the cliche biopic pattern that a lot of these movies do. Foxcatcher, I thought, was an interesting movie, very dark, very deliberately paced. It wasn’t the typical sort of “here’s a feel good story about an underdog who defeats the odds and came out on top.” That’s not what that movie is about at all. I don’t necessarily look down on biopics as a genre and I don’t necessarily criticize them for maybe wanting to win a prize or two. It all depends on how the filmmaker approaches the material and what he or she does with the material.
Q: You’ve said you review about 250 movies a year. Was this a good year for film, comparatively to other years?
A: I think it was a good year. I think last year might have been even better. But with these things, it’s hard to put your finger on any one thing and it also depends on personal preference, like who your favorite filmmakers are. I’m a huge Martin Scorsese fan. I was sad that we didn’t have a Martin Scorsese film this year, but he’s hard at work on something else. I’m a huge fan of the Coen brothers. We didn’t have a Coen brothers movie this year. On the other hand, there were two Clint Eastwood pictures. A lot of it, whether you personally think it’s a good year, depends on your particular taste, and which directors you’re following and what kind of stories you want to see, but I thought it was a pretty good year, certainly.
(Watch this space for Part 4 of TAP's interview with Stephen Whitty, coming soon.)