SXSW 2011: Girl Walks Into a Bar

Sebastian Gutierrez’s new comedy, “Girl Walks Into a Bar,” may not be the third installment in the director’s much-talked about “Women” trilogy, but it very well could be considering the talent involved. Instead, it’s an entirely separate movie with a twist of its own – the first major motion picture produced exclusively for the web. It’s an interesting experiment that could revolutionize the way that independent cinema is distributed in the future, especially for those not fortunate enough to live in a major city. But while the movie makes good on its promise of delivering big stars and high-level production values, “Girl Walks Into a Bar” is Gutierrez’s weakest film to date – a movie that most people will probably only watch because it’s free.

The film begins, fittingly enough, with a girl walking into a bar. The woman in question is undercover private detective Francine (Carla Gugino), who’s there to meet with a nervous dentist named Nick (Zachary Quinto) under the pretense that she’s an assassin hired to kill his cheating wife, completely unaware that Francine is recording the entire conversation. But when she loses the evidence after a modish pickpocket (Aaron Tveit) makes off with her purse, Francine sets off a chain of events that connects a seemingly unrelated group of people, including an exotic dancer (Emmanuelle Chriqui), a retired criminal (Robert Forster), and a sex-starved student (Rosario Dawson) working part-time at a nudist ping pong club.

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It’s essentially just a series of vignettes that take place in different bars and clubs throughout Los Angeles, with Gutierrez relying on the relationships between his characters to form the connective tissue of the story. He’s used a similar structure before in films like “Women in Trouble” and “Elektra Luxx,” but with “Girl Walks Into a Bar,” the breaks in between each section feel less like a transition than an opportunity for advertisers to plug their product. Granted, the movie wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for these advertisers, but if the viewing experience is marred as a result of forced commercial breaks, then what’s the point of changing the system?

Gutierrez’s obsession with exploring the psyches of his characters via theatrical fantasy sequences also messes with the flow of the film. They look great in comparison to the static two shots that populate most of the movie (especially one featuring Chriqui as a stripper with a unique insight into the minds of men), but they’re a distraction at best. “Girl Walks Into a Bar” is much better off when it just lets its characters talk, because as Gutierrez’s sharp-witted script proves once again, he’s a far superior writer than a director. It’s no wonder he’s able to assemble such talented ensemble casts, because his dialogue is outstanding, and it makes the performances feel really natural. Unfortunately, it takes more than just great dialogue to make a good movie, and though “Girl Walks Into a Bar” isn’t bad for a film being offered for free, filmmakers will need to adopt a much better attitude than that if online distribution is going to succeed.

  

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Greetings to the New Pilots: 20 Series We Hope to See in Fall 2011

Yes, once again, it’s pilot season: the time when the broadcast networks put all of the potential projects for the 2011 – 2012 season on the table, take a cold, hard look at what’s available to them, and decide which ones have the most potential for success come the fall…or spring, depending on how much or how little confidence they end up having in the final product.

Critics everywhere should be throwing parades in honor of TV Guide’s Natalie Abrams, who has done the heavy lifting for the rest of us and offered up The Complete Pilot Report, listing off all of the pilots currently in the running for ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox, and NBC, along with their creators, their premises, and the actors currently attached to them as of this writing.

Having taken a gander at Abrams’ decidedly comprehensive list, here’s our list of the 20 shows we’d most like to see turn up come the kickoff of the Fall 2011 season:

1. Alcatraz (Fox): A cop (Sarah Jones) and a team of FBI agents track down a group of missing Alcatraz prisoners and guards who reappear in the present day after disappearing 30 years earlier. J.J. Abrams will executive-produce and Liz Sarnoff (“Lost”) will be the showrunner. Jorge Garcia, Sam Neill, Jonny Coyne, Jason Butler Harner, Parminder Nagra, Santiago Cabrera and Robert Forster also star.

2. Awakening (The CW): Two sisters (Lucy Griffiths and Meredith Hagner) face off during a zombie uprising. William Laurin, Glenn Davis, Howard T. Owens, Carolyn Bernstein and Todd Cohen will executive-produce.

3. Brave New World (NBC): The project centers on a group of characters at Pilgrim Village, a theme park that recreates 1637 New England. Peter Tolan (“Rescue Me”) wrote the pilot and will executive-produce with Michael Wimer (“2012”). Ed Begley Jr., Nick Braun, Will Greenberg, Jazz Raycole, Robbie Benson and Anna Popplewell will star.

4. The Council of Dads (Fox): Based on the non-fiction book by Bruce Feiler, a man who learns he’s dying enlists five men to help his wife raise their two children. The project comes from “Rescue Me” creator Peter Tolan. Kyle Bornheimer, Diane Farr, Patrick Breen and Ken Howard will star.

5. Hail Mary (CBS): An Atlanta-set P.I. drama tells the story of a suburban single mom (Minnie Driver) who teams up with a street hustler (Brandon T. Jackson) to solve crimes. Jeff Wadlow will write and executive-produce with Joel Silver and “The L Word” creator Ilene Chaiken. Enrique Murciano and Stephen Tobolowsky will also star.

6. How to Be a Gentleman (CBS): An uptight guy (David Hornsby) learns to live his life with the help of an old high school friend. The project comes from Hornsby (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”). Dave Foley, Nancy Lenehan and Rhys Darby will also star.

7. Little in Common (Fox): This project revolves around families whose children play Little League together. “Veronica Mars”‘ Rob Thomas will write and executive-produce. Rob Corddry, Paula Marshall, Kevin Hart and Gabrielle Union star.

8. Pan Am (ABC) – The stewardesses and pilots of the titular airline are the stars of this soap set in the Jet Age of the 1960s. Jack Orman (“ER”) wrote the pilot and will executive-produce with Nancy Hult Ganis and Tommy Schlamme (“The West Wing”). Christina Ricci, Margot Robbie, Karine Vanasse and Michael Mosley will star.

9. Person of Interest (CBS): A presumed-dead CIA agent (Jim Caviezel) is recruited by a billionaire (Michael Emerson) to catch violent criminals in New York City. “Memento”‘s Jonathan Nolan and J.J. Abrams will executive-produce. Taraji P. Henson will also star.

10. Playboy (NBC) – At the Playboy Club in Chicago in 1963, “bunnies” (incuding Amber Heard and Naturi Naughton) flirt with danger. Chad Hodge and “Apollo 13″‘s Brian Grazer will executive-produce. Jeff Hephner, Laura Benanti, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Leah Renee, David Krumholtz and Wes Ramsey also star.

11. Reconstruction (NBC) – In the aftermath of the Civil War, a soldier (Martin Henderson) crosses the country and settles in a complicated town where he is welcomed as its savior — whether he likes it or not. “St. Elsewhere” co-creator Josh Brand wrote the pilot. Bill Sage, Claire Wellin, Emma Bell and Rachelle Lefevre will also star.

12. REM (NBC): A police detective (Jason Isaacs) who’s involved in a traumatic car accident wakes up in two fractured realities. The project comes from Kyle Killen, creator of Fox’s short-lived “Lone Star,” and “24”‘s Howard Gordon will also executive-produce.

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A Chat With Producer and E-Commerce Pioneer Christopher Mallick of “Middle Men”

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He’s definitely not a household name, but if you’ve ever bought anything over the Internet, Christopher Mallick has had an impact on your household. If your purchases include an occasional picture of illicit sex or gratuitously naked people, that goes double.

Mallick is the producer and inspiration for the highly fictionalized new film, “Middle Men,” which covers the early days of Internet porn as seen through the eyes of businessman Jack Harris (Luke Wilson). Harris makes millions and gets in way over his head after meeting up with a couple of drug addled fools and geniuses (Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht), who, in the process of selling dirty pictures, have developed a way to safely and securely collect credit card numbers over the Internet so they can sell dirty pictures.

In real life, the one-time chief executive of Paycom pioneered the technology that makes buying anything from a DVD to a raincoat to a monthly membership in ButtBusters.com easy, safe, and more or less confidential. He is said to have many outrageous and hilarious behind-the-scenes tales that provided background for the fictional film.

“Middle Men” is actually just the start as Mallick appears to be very serious about the film industry. He’s got more projects coming along the way including films with writer/director George Gallo and a documentary about former porn people, “Exxxit: Life After Porn,” directed by Bryce Wagoner and written and produced by “Middle Men” co-writer Andy Weiss.

Christopher MallickI met Mallick during a recent press day at the L.A. Four Seasons. There was a last minute change in the planned location of the room, from the second floor to the first floor, where we were to talk. When I arrived, I found Mallick — who is apparently slightly camera shy (that little picture to the right is it as far as available online photos are concerned) — in a wheel chair, wearing a leg brace, and, I am told, the company of a bodyguard, who apparently was so good at his job I didn’t even notice he was there.

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SXSW 2010: American Grindhouse

With grindhouse cinema making a bit of a comeback in recent years with movies like “Black Dynamite,” “Hell Ride,” and of course, “Grindhouse,” Elijah Drenner’s documentary about the history of exploitation film couldn’t have come at a better time. Narrated by Robert Forster (who’s appeared in his share of B-movies), “American Grindhouse” tracks this shameless and shocking breed of moviemaking from its birth in the early 1900s to its illusory transition into mainstream cinema today. Featuring interviews with directors like John Landis, Joe Dante and Jack Hill, and film historians like Eric Schaeffer and Eddie Muller, “American Grindhouse” may be a little vanilla in its presentation, but it’s a pretty fascinating story nonetheless.

In fact, while exploitation movies have been around almost as long as the movie camera itself, what’s most interesting about the genre is how much it’s evolved throughout the years. Drenner’s film studies this evolution, beginning with the implementation of the Hays Code by the MPAA, which forced filmmakers to brand their movies as “educational” in order to feature nudity or any other type of suggestive nature. This led to the “birth of baby” films of the 1930s, and eventually, branched out into the post-war burlesque movies of the 40s. For my money, though, exploitation cinema didn’t really take off until the arrival of nudie-cuties like Russ Meyer’s “The Immoral Mr. Tease” (which many consider to be the very first porno) and “women in danger” films like Herschell Gordon Lewis’s “Scum of the Earth.”

Along the way, Drenner also covers the gore films of the 60s and 70s (including a lengthy discussion about Wes Craven’s controversial “The Last House on the Left”), as well Blaxploitation cinema, “women in prison” films, Nazi exploitation movies, and the mainstream success of “Deep Throat.” The film’s most interesting segment, however, isn’t really about grindhouse cinema at all, but rather studio-funded movies like “Jaws” that offered the thrills of a B-movie with the production values of a Hollywood blockbuster. It’s exactly this change in the Hollywood system that essentially put an end to grindhouse, but as director John Landis is keen to point out, the very term “exploitation” is subjective, because as long as there’s an element you can exploit, it falls under the category of an exploitation film.

Landis may be the most recognizable name in “American Grindhouse,” but without his insightful and often humorous commentary, the movie wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining. He brings some really great ideas to the table that the other interview subjects fail to even consider – namely the concept that mainstream hits like “Passion of the Christ” and “American Gangster” are actually exploitation films in disguise. It certainly makes sense, and if there’s one thing you should take away from “American Grindhouse,” it’s that exploitation cinema isn’t dead. In fact, if Landis is to be believed, it never will be. That may not be what Drenner was trying to accomplish with this film, but it’s a message I’m sure he could get behind.

  

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Heroes 3.14: It’s a strange new world we live in…

Welcome back, kids, to one of the most bashed series currently on television…and that’s by people who used to consider themselves fans of the show. Now, clearly, if you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, you know that, although I’ve been here from the very beginning of the “Heroes” saga and plan to hang on ’til the bitter end, I’ve had my problems with the show. Clearly, Tim Kring and the gang can’t please all of the people all of the time, but even I can admit that Season 3 started off looking like it was going to blow the disappointment of Season 2 out of the water and only ended up having its own share of problems. Worst of all, the first half of the third season, “Villains,” came to an end with the death of one of the series’ one interesting new characters: Papa Petrelli, played by the ever-awesome Robert Forster. (The only consolation is that, well, we thought the character of Papa was dead throughout the first two seasons, so there’s every reason to believe that they’ll find a way to bring him back to life yet again.)

Tonight, we were presented with the beginning of the second half of Season 3, which has been given the subtitle of “Fugitives.” How was it, you ask…?

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