Category Archives: Media

Kaelin1 NEW2

The Incalculable Hours
Part One

by James Kaelan

A rebel filmmaker struggles to deter professional and personal disaster. 2,334 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Hollywood – 1969

“You’re a fucking kamikaze pilot, Tall,” said Jack Benton from behind his teak desk. “And you just crashed into your own fucking ship!” He wore a chambray blouse and a necklace of mahogany beads, but on his wrist dangled a gold Rolex. And only two days earlier, Jay Sebring had flown back from Las Vegas just to give him a haircut.

“And you didn’t just kill yourself,” Benton continued, pounding the heel of his palm onto a year-old issue of a Black Panther newspaper he’d never read. “You killed me, you killed your wife, and you killed that little band of outlaws you have marooned out there in the desert with you. I’m sure they’ll pretend like it’s a blessing — since they think they’ve transcended the fucking material world like an order of fucking Tibetan monks. But let me tell you a little secret. If anyone had gotten famous from this stillborn movie of yours, they’d be buying Jaguars and houses in fucking Malibu.”

“I just earned you lines around the block!” yelled Tall, standing in the middle of the office, rocking from his toes to his heels with the violent energy of a wrestler on his starting line. He was short, but broad across the shoulders, so that with his arms crossed, his buckskin jacket stretched taut across his upper back. His old tan boots chirred as he pitched onto his toes, and his wavy blonde hair curled down his neck.

“How the hell do you figure that, Tall? From my experience, people go to movies to be entertained — not to feel like they’ve fallen off a roof.”

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Keep Santa Monica Clean 2

Keep Santa Monica Clean
Part Two

by Pasha Adam

Dante flexes his power as both a screenwriter and a blogger. 2,950 words. Part One. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


Creeping over the Century City skyscrapers, the sun’s harsh rays bathe my 1966 Ford Mustang as I take the 10 from Santa Monica towards Robertson. Ray-Bans I’ve owned since my first week in L..A shield my eyes from the glare and the breeze rushes over the windshield, tousling my already unkempt hair. If this cinematic moment was captured on 35 mm film, it would appear liberating, a sun-drenched endorsement of SoCal living. Nothing could be further from the truth. Under the crushing weight of the CO2 hovering above the L.A. Basin, this drive couldn’t be more claustrophobic and suffocating. As I light up a cigarette, combining the air pollution with tobacco and nicotine may seem like overkill, but I am nothing if not the author of my own story.

I turn west on Wilshire and, in the space of ten minutes, I reach the STA offices. I ride the elevator to the eighth floor and take a seat across the desk from my agent, Dave Chaikin.

“I love this fucking script, Dante!” he yells, slamming a closed fist on the desk between each word, a poor man’s Ari Gold in a rich man’s Armani Collezioni suit. Once upon a time, Dave was a fledgling literary agent in search of the screenplay that would make him a major player. Dave would have me believe the moment he read Galaxy Hoppers, my 120-page tome, it was love at first sight. He created enough buzz that there was a bidding war and then sold it to Global Studio Media.

Now, I stare at my latest screenplay on his desk, the one I’ve affectionately named Skylar And The Ninja Ghosts, as Dave asks, “I have to know, after all this fucking time, what compelled you to finally put pen to paper again?”

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Keep Santa Monica Clean 1

Keep Santa Monica Clean
Part One

by Pasha Adam

A mid-career screenwriter has more fun at his secret avocation. 2,169 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Orson Welles said that, depending where you choose to conclude it, any story can have a happy ending.

My story began the night I met Grace Chase in Cabana in Santa Monica, California.

The sun was living out its final moments, painting the sky gold, and a Pacific breeze flowed through the open-air bar. Hours removed from my first screenplay sale, I spied a beautiful blonde through a haze of tobacco. The strings of “At Last” by Etta James swelled into a crescendo of anticipation as our eyes met and she flirtatiously exhaled a stream of cigarette smoke, compelling me to navigate the swarm of guys that divided us.

“Grace,” she opened.

“Dante.”

If my Hollywood story had faded to black at that moment, as the smoke cleared and I gazed into Grace’s eyes, it would have had a happy ending.

Alas, shit happens, as it is wont to do, and four years, three weeks, and two days later, a naked brunette is lying in my bed, screaming, “Choke me! Choke the fucking life out of me!”

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The Paparazzo

The Paparazzo

by Strawberry Saroyan

A meditation on what it means to be the lens watching U.S. culture created – even if you’re foreign. 1,757 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


A movie star had died. It used to be these things were good money, plus a relatively easy “get.” You had to have connections, sure, have been around for a while to make your way into the location, but Mick was an old hand and had been around since, what, 2007? The business was getting tougher.

Mick was from Slovenia. He had the body of a broken pen – slim, slightly twisted and with something coursing through it but it wasn’t always blood. He was a good paparazzo. The language barrier had hurt and helped him. It made him determined to listen, hear even the syllables, keep them straight: aah, eeh, eek, ooh. Also, to keep his receptors out at all times. He hadn’t always liked celebrities but he’d grown to do so, and even when he didn’t like someone — did anyone really enjoy working with Jonah Hill, Robert Downey? — at least he knew all their names. The shooting was a way to be independent at the same time that it paid the rent. If Mick had heard of legend Ron Galella, which he hadn’t, he might have felt a sense of tradition, even artistry. But he didn’t. Still, it wasn’t a bad gig. America was working for him.

The funeral was to take place at Westwood Memorial. He’d heard on E! that it was Hollywood Forever but no, Memorial was the place; his friend Rupert had confirmed it.

Rupert was another pap, and an ally most of the time. Mick himself got the name of the valet there — hey, you had to do leg work — and Mick told Jecky, I will help you if you help me. The words had been wrong, cracked in places of course, but Jecky didn’t care. Jecky would give him the go-ahead for a cool $250. Mick knew it might be a slice of profit but he would just have to up his game.

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Sinister bubble gum2

Sinister Bubble Gum

by Aimee DeLong

A TV showrunner trying to learn more about women characters does research in a strip joint. 2,930 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Zack was glad in this moment to be in Brooklyn, at this bare bones den of bare flesh. Also, he needed material for Season Three.

He had been given carte blanche as showrunner for Season One and Two. Season Two was “not a dud, by any means,” wrote a critic for The Carrier trade, “yet it paled in comparison to Season One. It was young Faulkner, in over his head. It was strained with forced mystery. One had to wonder if Zack Randke was being pedantic on purpose, in the hopes of disguising an unfleshed-out narrative and betting on the possibility that his work would be seen as too genius to be understood.”

“Eh, take it as a compliment,” his agent had said after an hour-long verbal lashing over poolside mint juleps in Los Angeles. Zack kicked his boots off the end of the lounge chair, pulling his ball cap down lower on his forehead. He was still Zack Randke. That had to count for something. After a year of meetings with his agent Alan, the word poolside now felt like a threat.

“You told me the episodes were good,” Zack had whined.

“Listen, kid, you’re the writer. If you’re going to demand sole writing credit, and you know you need three-dimensional women, then you better know what a 3D woman is like. You researched it, right?”

“A woman was the goddamn lead character of the whole Season Two,” Zack said, throwing up his hands.

“Yeah, but they didn’t like it that she got knocked up at the end, and she didn’t die like the men.”

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JULES  AZENBERG 04

Tyrannis Rex
Part Three

by Richard Natale

The screenwriter’s challenge for Act Two is seamlessly threading the studio mogul’s public and private lives. 2,260 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Hollywood – 1969

The second act of his screenplay, the Untitled Jules Azenberg Biopic – First Draft, gave Dave problems as second acts generally do. Determined to push ahead, he rose every morning at seven and, hangover or not, sat down at the typewriter with a pot of coffee and waited for his fingers to magically click into action. On a day when his hands just sat there stiffly poised on the keys and not a single coherent scene emerged, Dave took a break. He and his pal Joel Rodgers went out on the town for a movie, dinner and drinks at Trader Vic’s where Joel regaled him with the details of the latest showbiz scandal. Dave listened, but without much enthusiasm. Like most current gossip, it was graphic and tawdry and destroyed what little illusion was left about movie stars’ private lives. What was Hollywood without glamour? Without fantasy?

When the muse finally revisited Dave, she came equipped with a metaphor. Act Two opens with Jules at a gaming table tossing dice in a visual motif establishing the studio mogul as an inveterate gambler and a smart one at that. For Jules proves himself an expert crapshooter, knowing exactly how long to play, how high to raise the stakes, and when to walk away from the table.

By the early 1930s, his Argot Pictures is on a roll. Most of its B-movie competitors fall by the wayside, victims of the Depression. Argot slowly buys up all the rivals and establishes itself as a viable rival to the A-list studios like MGM and Warner Bros. Here, the script hones close to the real story by assigning Jules due credit. Given his brother Mort’s cautious nature, Argot might have survived the transition to sound but not the economic reversal of the times. It took more than business savvy to keep Argot afloat: it took Jules’ ingenuity and daring.

His risky gamble is to jump head-first into larger budget movies at a time when everyone else, including the established major studios, is cutting corners. And for that he needs an ally because Jules feels inferior to the task of convincing talent to sign with Argot rather than a more deep-pocketed institution like MGM. He needs someone with the polish and finesse to talk to theater types. So he enlists a celebrated and ceaselessly charming German-born director and appoints him vice president of production. It’s a curious choice and, at first, the board expresses concern that a creative type will run financially amuck.

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Deep Space Detroit

Deep Space Detroit

by Diane Haithman

Here’s a diversity question some Detroit lunchgoers try to answer in 1983: Is E.T. black? 2,312 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Detroit 1983

When General Motors announced its plan to save the auto industry with its first space mission to the moon Titan of the planet Saturn, the mission called for something special: burgers at Archibald’s Lunch. Despite its location just down Monroe Street in Greektown, Archibald’s Lunch was not at all Greek but was owned by a small wiry black man who never smiled. Archibald served burgers and tuna melts only. The tuna melts weren’t any good, and Archibald gave anyone who ordered a tuna melt such a fearsome look that the guilty party quickly called for a burger instead.

The foursome meeting up for lunch were dentist Mary, her hygienist Ramona, Detroit Free Press reporter Hollis, and the newspaper’s pop music critic Joe. Mary and Joe didn’t know each other. “Holy Moley, aren’t you the wife of our former movie critic, Carl Corbin?” he said to Mary when he met her.

Ex-wife,” Mary said quickly. “Very ex. Since last month.”

“His desk used to be right next to mine.” Joe paused. “Unusual kind of a fellow. That whole E.T. thing. What a fracas.”

“Fracas is a newspaper word, Joe,” Hollis exclaimed. “It’s like brouhaha. We write it, but nobody actually says it.” Even as Hollis spoke, he knew he couldn’t stop the conversation from veering toward the biggest fracas in recent Free Press history.

Carl had served a brief term as movie critic after completing his master’s in Film Studies at the University of Michigan. At the time he was abruptly let go, Free Press editors mumbled something about taking the Entertainment Now section in a new direction. But it was generally understood that the new guy from L.A. had been fired for not liking E.T.

Now, Mary was no critic — but if Carl had only asked her, she might have suggested that, in a town with an unemployment rate of 17 percent, where a young Chinese-American named Vincent Chin got beaten to death outside a topless bar just because two white auto workers thought he was Japanese, where thousands of desperate former auto workers were flowing like an oil leak to Texas or California seeking jobs, if he was even thinking of calling E.T. The Extraterrestrial, the biggest feel-good movie of 1982 and maybe of all time, “a maudlin self-indulgent wallow in Steven Spielberg’s affluent childhood angst with a tired sci-fi twist,” maybe he ought not to.

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Leap of Faith FINAL

Leap Of Faith

by Ken Pisani

A sportswriter futilely pitching Hollywood finds the one story they want but can’t have. 2,522 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Jack Williams was a New York sportswriter for thirty years before Hollywood beckoned. Actually, it didn’t so much "beckon" as merely exist on the other side of the country and, upon his arrival, disappear like Brigadoon. Several of Jack’s articles had been optioned by Hollywood producers for significant sums of money — sums that went to his employer, Sports: The Magazine. Jack had been content with the small bonuses he received on each option. But it stood to reason that if so much money was being recklessly parceled out for projects that never reached fruition beyond the issuing of the check, as if the option itself were the endgame, then why not cut out the middleman?

So Jack fled both the magazine and the Brooklyn neighborhood that had been slowly and covertly gentrified out from under him and headed west. To mine the gold that leaked from the pockets of the well-tailored men and women who, when they deigned to receive an audience, desired only one thing:

"Tell me a story," as the young executive asked with the yearning of a child at bedtime but none of the joy or wonder.

"Excuse me?" Jack replied, not that there had been any mistaking the nature of the request, only momentary confusion that the question had no preamble — no introduction or greeting of "hello" or even eye contact as the man poked at the phone smarter than he was.

"You know, a story," he expanded with five additional syllables. "With a beginning, a middle and an end."

And so Jack did. All over town. Jack told them all stories. Of "Wild" Harry Greb, a boxer who embodied The Roaring Twenties more than Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, and Al Capone combined. Greb was a nightclub-hopping rough-and-tumble brawler with educated thumbs that filled his opponents’ eyes in a clinch, a middleweight forced to battle much bigger men because fighters in his own weight class wouldn’t get in the ring with him. That Greb fought the latter part of his career while blind in one eye, and died at the age of twenty-six during an operation to correct the damage, struck those who heard it as "unbelievable." Not in the best sense of a great story ("Incredible!") but in the worst sense of Hollywood filmmaking because ("Nobody’s going to believe that!").

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Killer Review Art 02

A Killer Review

by Howard Rosenberg

A prominent TV producer’s death is both mourned and celebrated simultaneously. 3,192 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


Melody Grant observed life through a writer’s eyes, composing on a laptop in her head. That way she could imagine her husband’s recent death — ninety-five per cent factual, with dabs of embellishment for color and drama — as a passage in one of her novels:

On the eve of his greatest glory, Arnold Chafis was not merely upset, he was thunderbolt-shaken and enraged, Vesuvius about to blow. He had tried to remain calm while continuing to read, grinding his teeth as his volcanic anger built, until pain erupted in the middle of his chest. Then his arms, then his jaw. Suddenly, eyes clouding and brain swimming, he felt faint — then fear. Arnold, a prominent TV producer, was 63 when he died in Hancock Park. His wife, the mystery novelist Melody Grant, found him in the evening, slumped over his banquet table-sized desk in front of an open laptop. He’d been reading reviews for Remorse, his highly anticipated weekly TV drama about a young doctor accused of malpractice. It was to premiere the next night on ABC.

Notices for the series had been blurb-ready and glowing:

Congenitally glum Val Steinway of The New York Times cheered: “Hats off to a brilliant and vibrant new feather in TV’s cap!” Roger Kale of the Wall Street Journal, famously unkind to anything attached to a broadcast network, toasted “this HBO-worthy Chafisian work of genius.” Politico’s resident skeptic Carrie Rice-Wentworth rated the new series “many times smarter than ABC’s Shondaland and — no exaggeration — nearly equal to The Sopranos and Breaking Bad.” And in Variety, difficult-to-please Vince Nichols forecast “a ton of Emmys for this stunningly boffo TV.”

Only one major critic panned. It was this scathing review — by usually-measured, never-shrill, bordering-on-dull Dean Formento of the Los Angeles Times — that Arnold had been reading when his heart stopped.

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Cinema Purgatorio

Cinema Purgatorio

by Daniel M. Kimmel

Is this a film critic’s or a summer moviegoer’s worst nightmare come true? 1,844 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


I was not looking forward to this screening. Even though, after all my years as a film critic for a major metropolitan daily, I still made the effort to keep an open mind before going into a movie. I wasn’t surprised very often by something I had been dreading turning out to be something that was good. More often than not, though, it was the other way around. Still, I was determined to start off with a clean slate.

But this was going to be a tough one. It was a modern dress version of Hamlet starring Adam Sandler trying to reboot his career by tackling the Bard. My money was on Shakespeare going down hard. Sandler had a lot of recent films to atone for: Pixels, That’s My Boy, Jack And Jill. In fact, his films were no longer drawing the audience of his heyday and most of them were now going out directly through Netflix. It wasn’t clear if this new movie was beling released or had simply escaped.

I nodded to a few of my colleagues as I entered the screening room, ignoring the young punks who were making it harder and harder for people like me to earn a living. Why should anyone pay a professional film critic – in spite of our depth of knowledge and finely honed writing skills – when a bunch of children were giving it away for free on their blogs? Worse yet, they wanted to be considered peers.

It was almost enough to make me wish I was dead. And then I was.

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Red Carpet 03a

On The Red Carpet In Cannes
Part Two

by Duane Byrge

The lead actress of the opening night picture at the Cannes Film Festival is murdered – and a Hollywood film critic is the prime suspect. Part One. 3,744 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


The French National Police gendarmes hurried Ryan Cromwell through reception, which resembled a cheap hotel lobby, and down a narrow brown hallway. They propelled him into an interrogation room only slightly larger than a bread box and painted gas chamber green. A man in his mid-fifties, wearing a dull black suit befitting a homicide detective, studied a copy of the day’s Hollywood Times. The page was opened to Ryan Cromwell’s review of The Ice Princess. The cop looked directly at Ryan. Then looked down at the paper. Then back up at Ryan.

”We have some questions for you, Monsieur Cromwell,” the detective said in a monotone and perfect English.

”Please, tell me what’s going on?” Ryan’s voice cracked, and his mouth was dry. “Why was I dragged down here?”

“My name is Inspector Thiereaux. I wish to talk about your film critique. In your criticism of The Ice Princess film, you wrote, ‘The script is so bad that one hopes that the film’s signature blue scarf would be stuffed down Kristen Bjorge’s throat so we wouldn’t have to hear her utter another word of dialogue.’”

”What do you mean, ‘stuffed down her throat’? I never wrote that.”

“It is right here.” The policeman shoved the review across the table. Ryan grabbed it and scanned the opening paragraph. He had begun with a discussion about lead actress Kristen’s screen presence. None of that was there.

“These are not my words,” Ryan said.

“I do not understand.”

“Sometimes the editors cut or rewrite my reviews. This is appalling. Because it blatantly misrepresents my thoughts. I would never take such a vulgar and aggressive tone. It’s so Internet.”

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Red Carpet 02

On The Red Carpet In Cannes
Part One

by Duane Byrge

A Hollywood film critic pans the opening night picture at the Cannes Film Festival – and suddenly he’s in police custody. Part Two. 2,430 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.


The half moon was smudgy white but ripening nicely for its full appearance at the Cannes Film Festival. Like a diva, it would not make its entrance until the final Saturday which the organizers already were proclaiming an evening of perfect alignment when “La Lunar Festival” would ascend to its spot of high honor in the dark blue Mediterranean sky. At the moment, the moon was glowing so exquisitely above the sea that it could have been a special effects rendition.

For a brief second, Ryan Cromwell savored the spectacle. Because the moon, the sea, the breeze, and The Ice Princess party were all his. It was the hottest Cannes invite in years. A sexy publicist from DeSimio & Associates had offered Ryan $250 for his ticket and, when he declined, she had upped the ante with an X-rated proposition. Ryan said no because he had a bad case of “Cannes Disease,” a contagious desperation that you had to be doing something every minute, and if not, you were missing something somewhere. Because the one event you decided not to attend would be the highlight of the festival.

Ryan was the senior film critic for the Hollywood Times, the top trade paper for the movie industry. He stood just over 6 feet with wavy dark hair and a physique toned by daily afternoon runs at the UCLA track and regular Tae Kwon Do workouts at a dojo on Sunset. He dressed well, but erratically, and when he won special praise for his “costume design,” as he called it, he took it as an indication that he lacked style at other times. He had just turned 38, and this was his eleventh trip to Cannes. It still always overwhelmed him that he was at the celebrated film festival, where the likes of his movie idols had graced the Red Carpet. Despite his modesty, Ryan knew that he belonged; his reviews set the tone and held the future for many of the films that would debut here in competition. The world would be reading him.

Standing in line to get into the party, Ryan was tapped on the back. He turned to see Stan Peck, his least favorite journalist. Peck wore a Hawaiian shirt, large sun visor and blue metallic sunglasses.

“Where’s your cigarette holder, Hunter?” Ryan asked.

“Slightly funny,” Peck responded. “I hoped to talk with you about your scathing review of The Ice Princess. It’s already the talk of the festival. I loved your lead: ‘Big guns, big gadgets, big hair, big dud.’”

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Scheft Election

The Raw Vote Is In

by Bill Scheft

TV FICTION PACKAGE: Politically incorrect comedian Tommy Dash horrifies the panelists on a cable news show about the Presidential primary race. 2,759 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.


Okay, enough chit-chat. Here are the jokes I never got to on the air:

  • I’m now taking orders for my new t-shirt: “TRUMP: He’s David Duke, But With A Higher Thread Count.”
  • Ted Cruz may win Indiana. It all depends on whether he can get the heavy Gestapo turnout.
  • If you don’t count Ohio, the only time John Kasich has finished first is when he was jerking off
  • Bernie Sanders spent $46 million in the month of March. And half of that was on fiber.
  • Remember, the Hillary Clinton email scandal started because she didn’t want to carry around an extra device. It’s the same thing that happened with Bruce Jenner.

Before we continue, I have several philosophical questions:

If someone is on cable television news and is under the impression that it’s okay to curse because it is cable television, is that person wrong for cursing? Strictly speaking, is the phrase “cock yahtzee” cursing? Okay, what about “turd parade”? Okay, what about “muff” or “snatch”?

Okay, I know you’re going to say “snatch” is a bit vulgar. And perhaps that’s what got me hustled back onto Sixth Avenue. I was vulgar. And you can’t be vulgar on television. You can be dirty. You can be suggestive. You can be naughty, and we hope you are. But you can’t be vulgar on TV. It’s a public trust, or whatever other hypocritical oxymoronic term you can come up with, like “rectal itching” at the end of a pharmaceutical commercial.

Gee, I hope I’m not giving away what happened last Friday when I got booked to appear on the cable news political roundtable, Right Cross.

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Crimes against TV

Crimes Against Television

by J.M. Rosenfield

TV FICTION PACKAGE: An Emmy publicity stunt goes terribly and hilariously wrong. 2,665 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


It materializes out of the smog at daybreak, low on the horizon over the San Gabriel Mountains when most of Los Angeles is still asleep. From the early news reports patched into his headset, Garrett discovers that people just waking up to their morning coffee are already calling in about it. Some claim to be witnessing a UFO. Or even a falling angel.

“It’s like trying to shoot Jesus,” he hears his cameraman say as if he, too, is rising from a dream.

The figure is attached to thick wire ropes that dangle from a harness beneath the open cargo bay of the big chopper, a heavy-lift Sikorsky Skycrane. The first rays of sun glint from gilded wings as the figure glides serenely with outstretched arms over the industrial outskirts of Van Nuys. It turns and banks in a long sweeping curve over the palm-lined tracts of Studio City, flying up and over the hillside estates of Mulholland, dropping in low at treetop level through Beachwood Canyon until it hovers motionless, a pinpoint of flashing gold over the Hollywood sign.

Garrett is seated comfortably next to his pilot in the little chopper, a Bell Jet Ranger, the chase craft orbiting the spectacle at a distance. He’s relieved to discover a sense of stillness above the traffic just beginning to spill onto the freeways. But this tranquility is short lived. He can see prop-wash kicking up squirts of sand on the fire road that snakes its way above Hollyridge. And he knows the deep penetrating thwack of the chopper blades is rattling the flimsy stucco homes packed into the sides of the canyons. He can see people beginning to crane their heads out of doorways and sliding windows.

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Critic - For Whom The Bell Trolls2

For Whom The Bell Trolls

by Daniel M. Kimmel

A commenter thinks he can do better than the newspaper’s lead film critic. 2,681 word. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.


Griswold had promised himself never to look at the online comments to his reviews, but he heard the snickering all over the newsroom so he finally had to see for himself. It was his review of a supposedly feminist comedy that featured such empowering scenes as projectile vomiting in the middle of a wedding, and then went downhill from there. He had condemned the flick as the witless and moronic trash that it was. It made $100 million on opening weekend.

“Shouldn’t comedies be assigned to reviewers who actually have a sense of humor? Or a life?” was one of the kinder remarks.

Many were personal attacks on the person they imagined Griswold to be: “He’s apparently too cool for the room. Go back to your decaf almond milk lattes and leave hilarious comedies like Sisters Of The Bride to a critic who doesn’t have his head up his ass.” Some attempted to be clever: “My idea of the date from hell: going to see this movie with Griswold. While all of us are laughing our heads off, he’s choking on his own bile.” A few were so profane or threatening that they were “removed by moderator for violation of rules.”

And then this comment caught his eye: “Reviews like yours are the problem with modern film criticism. You’re so obsessed with the bodily function gags that you can’t appreciate how the editing cleverly juxtaposes the protagonist’s conflicted feelings about her wedding with her incestuous interest in her maid of honor. This was patently obvious to anyone actually watching the film. Perhaps you should focus on what’s on screen instead of that tub of popcorn…”

Griswold was startled. He rarely ate popcorn at the movies. When seeing four or five films a week, such indulgence would have quickly made it impossible for him to fit into the seat to do his job. However, knowing what he was in from the hack who had directed this one, Griswold had decided to order a box. But how could this commenter have known that unless he or she was at the private press screening?

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Critical Thinking - FINAL - Warming

Critical Mass

by Nat Segaloff

A film critic picks a fight with his city’s biggest theatre chain. Will his editor support him? 2,596 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


Jensen Hirsch had the second most dangerous job on the newspaper. He was the film critic. If he’d held the most dangerous job, war correspondent, he might have at least received some respect. But movie criticism, as The New Yorker editor Harold Ross once told filmmaker Nunnally Johnson, “was for old ladies and fairies.” And Jensen Hirsch was neither.

“Look at it this way,” Hirsch liked to say whenever anyone dismissed his job as cushy. “A film critic is the only person at a newspaper, magazine, television, radio station, or website whose job is to criticize an advertiser. Sports writers, political columnists, and beat reporters can say what they want and nobody ever complains. But God help the journalist who takes on supermarkets, car dealerships, furniture stores, or real estate.”

Hirsch knew that film criticism was almost an S&M relationship between the movie studios who buy advertising and those who draw a salary for saying if the films are worth seeing. Sure, Hirsch would be on the other end of the occasional call or letter from a director or actor objecting to something he’d written about them. But they were always polite, assuming that Hirsch would be reviewing what they did next. The only people who routinely griped were theatre owners whose box office was dented by a negative Hirsch review. But, even then, they were making so much on advertising kickbacks and inflated house costs that they usually held their tongues. Nevertheless, every now and then some angry exhibitors would call the newspaper publisher to complain and threaten to pull their advertising unless Hirsch was fired. Sometimes they did cancel their ad buys, but they would always skulk back a few days later after the studio raised holy hell. In such cases, Hirsch’s editor, Russell Pelota, would summon the critic and warn that the next negative review could be the one that got him fired.

“Do you want me to like everything?” Hirsch always responded. “A critic who likes everything likes nothing.”

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