June 14, 2007

Ten Years, Ten-Lists #5 (Bill Chambers)

You may resent me for not giving you ten more rental ideas, but since I realized that FILM FREAK CENTRAL's tenth anniversary obliged me to recap the site's "origin story," anyway, I just decided to dedicate my list to landmarks in our turbulent history. (Like I warned, "self-indulgent.") Th..Th..That's all, folks!-Bill Chambers

10. 10th Anniversary (Present)
Woah... Meta.

9. Press release from New Line (November, 1998)
I've said many times before, only half-jokingly, that I started FILM FREAK CENTRAL to get free LaserDiscs. Well, that never panned out--and the format was on its last legs by 1997, anyway. Cut to the fall of 1998: out of left field, I receive a press release from New Line Home Video; nothing ventured, nothing gained, I e-mail the address at the bottom asking them to send me review copies of both DVD titles they were promoting therein. The following day, a FedEx truck rolled into my driveway, accompanied--in my head, at least--by the Hallelujah chorus hymn. It was FFC's first fix, the first time the industry acknowledged our existence in any way, shape, or form...and I've probably been chasing that high ever since.

8. Sued...Sorta (2001-2003)
They say you haven't made it until somebody wants to sue you. In the interest of self-preservation, I'm truncating the details, but back when FFC was starting to gain some traction on the Internet, a certain web personality I had, contrary to his belief, not heard of before sent me a j'accuse! e-mail vis-à-vis my alleged trademark-infringing use of the term "film freak." I ignored him at first, but he was persistent, and so I sent him a list of about 30 sites with some variation of "film freak" in their brand (if I was ever going to change the site's name, that would be the reason). Well, I guess that pissed him off, because his rent-a-lawyer then couriered me a small forest's worth of paperwork, none of it amounting to anything but evidence that they had toner and they were gonna use it! Suffice it to say, I continued to do nothing, though I took advantage of a free hour of legal counsel from an entertainment attorney, whose advice boiled down to "do nothing." Eventually I got worn down by his passive-aggressive threats of litigation and e-mailed him ("Dear [name withheld], I'm not taking the bait. Bill, xo"), at which point I was notified by an Intellectual Property arbitrator that I had something like a weekend to counter his multi-point entitlement claim. This time I did something, but not much; and the committee unanimously decided in our favour. Justice! I still receive the occasional message from his cronies asking why I can't be a "gentleman" and, y'know, undo a decade of hard work by changing FFC's name to appease an ego obviously bruised by every disappointed visitor who goes to his site thinking they're going to ours. Should the day come, I'm partial to Cinema Jolie-Pitt.

7. Fight with Ebert (August, 2004)
The most e-mail I ever got in one day (not counting the odd spam flood) attended Roger Ebert's review of The Brown Bunny, wherein he rebutted my Ebert-baiting capsule on the same film. Perhaps more of a private milestone than one for the site, it nevertheless sticks out in my mind as a moment of validation from the establishment--when my own friends and family began to look at FILM FREAK CENTRAL as a legitimate pastime; Ebert did nothing less than make it easier for me to run this operation unabated, at least temporarily. You might be interested to know that I've crossed paths with him many times since (we even powwowed but a few weeks later at a screening of Saw), and if there were any hard feelings, I couldn't tell. I missed him greatly at last year's TIFF and wish him nothing but the best as he recovers from his gruelling medical ordeal.

6. "Attack of the Drones" (May, 2002)
If you ask me, Walter's written far better reviews than the one he wrote for Attack of the Clones, but I doubt he'll ever write another review with the half-life it's had. From being the root cause of our first bandwidth fine to begetting our first special edition of "Reader Mail" to, most notoriously, landing us on Lucasfilm's shitlist so that we were explicitly denied screeners of the Star Wars trilogy when it finally hit DVD, it holds a special place in FFC lore. It even, in a roundabout way, led to us interviewing Mark Hamill! For all that, what I like best about it is that it set us apart, at a critical juncture, from the fanboy contingent.

5. The Publication of Our Annuals (2005, 2006)
Now's as good a time as any to formally announce that we will not be publishing a 2007 Annual--the first two simply didn't sell enough copies to make it worth our while. But we're not ruling out the possibility of another book of some sort; it's a genuine, selfish thrill for us to see all those bits and bytes quantified like that. And how many film sites can lay claim to two thick volumes of their work? With forewords and blurbs by some of their favourite directors, to boot? The whole experience was intensely gratifying, and it surely revitalized our writing, that intimate awareness of a destination beyond the ether.

4. Birth of a Blog (August 23, 2005)
Let me take this opportunity to set the record straight: this blog was Walter Chaw's idea. A lot of the stuff he was itching to write was difficult to contextualize within the traditional parameters of FFC. I was game but leery, seeing as how each of us has a backlog that could stop a river and this would just provide one more distraction. But I'm proud of the community that has sprouted up here and I feel, as I wrote in the introduction to "The Film Freak Central 2006 Annual", that it makes great scaffolding for the mothersite. Truthfully, I can't get over how civil the conversation around these parts is on average--the cynic in me is still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

3. E-Mail from Walter Murch (January 16, 2000)
I was DVD-shopping in Toronto when I spotted a childhood favourite, Return to Oz, sitting on the shelf. "Don't buy it," my friend advised, "it doesn't hold up." But for some reason, even if it wasn't as good as I'd remembered, I knew I would regret not buying it more. A few months after I wrote up the disc, I received an e-mail from Return to Oz helmer Walter Murch. He was quite complimentary towards my review, though I suspect he had an ulterior motive to correct a misnomer I perpetrated regarding the film's soundmix. Be that as it may, it took me a day or two to process that the freakin' editor of Apocalypse Now had casually struck first contact with me; I replied, paraphrasing Mario Puzo, that if I'd known he was going to read the review I would've written it better (I'm sure he groaned), then begged him for an interview. I credit the resulting Q&A with forcing me to get serious, truly serious, about FILM FREAK CENTRAL, if only to honour Mr. Murch's generosity and good faith.

2. The Hiring of Walter Chaw (April, 2001)
The name Walter has been good to me. You know how they say that some talk shows are host-driven and some are guest-driven? My utopian fantasy for this site was one that was review-driven rather than critic-driven, and when I first started recruiting writers, I wanted to create a cinephiliac supergroup of budding talent. But there's no denying that one voice has risen above the chorus. I can honestly say that while I created this site, with all due credit to esteemed colleagues Travis Mackenzie Hoover, Alex Jackson, and Ian Pugh, Walter made it. Dude's a rock star. For what it's worth, when he came aboard, a lot of folks informed me that he sounded the death knell for the site--and I usually responded that it's better to hate someone for the right reasons (Letterman?) than to love them for the wrong ones (Leno?). Unfortunately for Walter, he rarely equivocates in a world that petulantly equates anything but utmost equivocation with "meanness." Politesse has somehow become a greater virtue than honesty, conjuring the image of Rome fiddling while Nero burns. It's an honour to provide Walter sanctuary in these cowardly times, to be affiliated in any way with his genius, and to call him a friend. If anything gives me hope for not only the future of not only film criticism, but the battle against anti-intellectualism as well, it's that I detect Walter's influence in a lot of up-and-coming young critics. I'm sure that drives him batshit, though.

1. The Purchase of the Domain Name FilmFreakCentral.Net (November 19, 1998)
Christ, why didn't I pick .COM?!

See also:


permazorch said...

Oh, holy fuck. I love this site. Funny that I came here through Alex Jackson's writing (I think I'm the lamest commenter on/in his forums). He's magic, and someone I want to hang out with, but Walter? After his plug for Tom Frank's book, I want to date him, have a night out on the town & paint it blue. Reading your top 10, Bill, reminds me that I must be the oldest idiot who loves movies without actually making something creative within, or, for them. I get more of a high off of your site, Alex's site & Vern's, than I do from actually seeing movies, anymore. I did see Black Book yesterday, and that got me high. It can still happen.

I meant to say, thank you very much for what you folks do in this world. So, thanks.

permazorch said...

Oh, and for gods' sake, why isn't there a Criterion or Anchor Bay deluxe DVD release of The Navigator, by Vincent Ward?!

The Captain said...

Re: 2.

"To my mind, the perfect Fantastic Four movie already has been made, and it's called The Incredibles."

"Unfortunately, Richard Roeper has made this one of his favourite films, but if you can get past that.."

"If you've never seen a film before in your life, you're going to love this movie."

"So incoherent, it qualifies as surrealism."

The MAN.

Happy Anniversary, FFC, the best damn movie site ever and best bunch of film critics ever assembled.

Seattle Jeff said...


I was hoping Travis's flame war with Walter in the blog would have made the list.

It's been what, 2 years? And it still makes me giddy.

Vikram said...


Belated as it is...happy anniversary! 10 years is something to be extremely proud off considering the quality of the work presented here.

I remember first checking out the site through Rotten Tomatoes looking up reviews for one of my all time favourites, Miller's Crossing and saw Bill's review. I started reading more of the site and I remember thinking how different it was, how interesting, how thoughtful and in general how much better the quality of the reviews were...and when Walter's Attack of the Clones review came up I became a true believer (to this day I still laugh thinking how accurately and hilariously Walter skewered that film at a time when most all of the established critics were praising it).

Bill is right about Walter's ability and influence (I daresay that the approach that all of the writers on this site take to film criticism is having an influence) and you definitely can see here and there, in bits and pieces in other critics reviews these days. I think this is likely because film critics read their own and other people's stuff and when you go to a site like RottenTomatoes.com and your review is "The feelgood film of the summer that will be a surefire hit and a can't miss Oscar contender..." and your review is sitting next to Walter's ...well I can't imagine that it doesn't push you to step up your game.

Anyway, enough gushing - Bill, Walter, Travis, Alex, Ian (and anyone that I am missing) - Thank You for all of your efforts and hopefully there are years more to come.

Joe said...

Self-indulgent, schmelf-indulgent—illuminating reading as always. From the first sentence I read on your site ("In peeking under the satin-slick bedclothes of the latest crop of high-falutin' liberal diatribes tarted-up with matinee idols and compromised ideals, one finds that whatever the trappings of sophistication, we're still making Stanley Kramer movies, all of grand speeches and peachy endings.”) I was hooked. Finding this site helped shape my own standards for what makes a film good, bad, or ugly at an impressionable age. Thanks, and happy tenth anniversary.

James Allen said...

Happy 10th. I forget exactly how I found the site. It was probably through Rotten Tomatoes, but I'm not 100% sure. Ah, who cares.

And since everyone seems to be coming up with their favorite quotes, he are a few of mine:

"...there is no audience for this film, because retarded monkeys don't have money." - Dumb and Dumberer

"...being forced to watch this film three times has engendered in me a strong urge to have a vasectomy." - Cheaper by the Dozen DVD review

And who can forget...

"To me, it's but another example of The Weather Man shouting "cunt" in polite company and then handing out ten-dollar bills."

Keep 'em comin'.

Rick said...

"...They are the kind of ill-bred, ignorant, belligerent assholes prone to narrating the action to one another (because they genuinely can't follow it)..." - Walking Tall review

"It's possible to see the entire exercise as a postmodern smirk, but being aware that you're stupid doesn't always make you meta--sometimes it just means you're tragically self-aware and no less stupid." - xXx: State of the Union review

And my all-time favorite quote from Alex Jackson's Top 10 of 2006 writeup...

"When I read Andrew Tracy declare Miami Vice his “guilty pleasure” of the year while apparently approving of the canonization of pieces of shit like The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and The Proposition, I have to wonder if he was abused as a child. Yeah, Miami Vice is a guilty pleasure. It’s a Hollywood cop movie so he has to feel guilty about it, but it’s utterly joyless so he can take some pleasure out of it"

Anonymous said...

So many classic quotes (I remember Sprite coming out of my nose when I got to "You know Spike's grasping at crusades when he starts whining about getting too much pussy" from Bill's review of *She Hate Me*), but what's great about Film Freak Central is that they're not all about "the clever". Maybe it's me but it seems reductive to sample punchlines. Even though I guess I just did that.

rachel said...

Another treasure from the XXX: State of the Union review (a quote I try to reference in conversation whenever I can):

"The chief benefit of the perceptively-titled xXx: State of the Union is that it gathers, for two hours at a time, all the people in your community from whom you'd like a two-hour break."

Anonymous said...

You all rock. *thumbs up*

Nate said...

Happy 10th, Bill. Glad you stuck with it.

Yiyer said...

Thanks guys, its a delightful site.

jer fairall said...

Great zingers referenced here, but I think the line that most caused me to stop dead as I was reading and gape at my computer screen with awe in the way that usually only the writing of Jonathan Lethem does, or that glenn mcdonald used to, is this one, from Walter's review of the second season of Arrested Development:

"The show, then, is a commentary on terrible television and how we were all raised by it like it was a cathode-tube nanny; it's about popular culture in a larger sense [...], thus at its best, it's about the universal embarrassment we have with our family dynamics and the difficulties of raising a child."

I forwarded that one to I dunno how many people at the time.

Thanks for doing this site, Bill, and for employing such amazing writers, yourself included. Happy ten years.

Seattle Jeff said...

Comic for Walter (or anyone else)

Alex Jackson said...

Hey, speaking of comics did you see this one?

Anonymous said...

Your search engine doesn't work.

Bill C said...

Yeah, it's something on their end, not ours. I imagine it'll be restored the next time FreeFind sends their robot to troll the site for new links.

By the way, I had no intention of nipping this conversation in the bud with my previous comment, which I have taken the liberty of deleting. (Though my gratitude still stands.) Game on!

Walter_Chaw said...

So I saunter over to Rotten Tomatoes after my 1408 review went live to find, to my horror, that it's getting a 98% approval rating with a few big names weighing in. Seems that the consensus is that it's good because it's not "torture porn".

Wow. I mean, I'm not a fan of torture porn, but the backlash is pretty surprising to me, to be honest. Worst film this weekend, besides, is Evan Almighty.

Anonymous said...

Think the ban(s) on Manhunt 2 might have something to do with the torture porn backlash? I'm really depressed that this thing might never come out, I was a big fan of the original.

James Allen said...

Looking at the Rotten Tomatoes page for 1408 I see the score is 22-2. Just you and Rex Reed, Walt (still going strong at 68! Good thing he wasn't a year older, or there would've been a very bad unintended joke.)

James Allen said...

By the way, there's are links to the Evan Almighty and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer reviews in the 1408 review, but they go nowhere. I'm guessing the actual page will be up later today/tomorrow, but I'm pointing it out just in case there's a mistake of some kind there.

rachel said...

Great Evan Almighty review, Walter. (It should probably be "Sideshow Cecil'ing a dam," but it's still a brilliant ref.) Trying to watch The Office marathon tonight I was assaulted with endless clips for that shit. (Whoever's in charge of that sort of thing: fucking stop it.) It was only a little interesting, that juxtaposition between sharp television and idiotic film, and to which medium the conversation seems to have migrated. Also, with Knocked Up and Shrek 3 and now Evan, how it's starting to feel like the Summer of the Entitled Honky Schlub. (But again, that's every summer.)

Really though, once I see the talking rat movie, I'm tempted to shun the theater for the the next two months. I love the movies but it's too depressing.

Walter_Chaw said...

Rachel, good instincts. The talking rat movie is brilliant. Brad Bird's really an artist worth talking about - he's made three of my favorite movies now.

Seattle Jeff said...


As a former fundy, I must give kudos for the Evan review.Great, great insight.

Saw Knocked Up this week and couldn't get your comment that the movie was about the worng people. Spot on...

I do like APatow, but is there such a drought of comedy that his films get wildly overrated? DOn't answer that.

Can't help but be excited about the Rat movie and Superbad.

Currently reading "No Country for Old Men" in preparation for the Coen film.

Seattle Jeff said...

errr couldn't get the comment out of my head...

damn, stupid typing fingers.

Alex Jackson said...

Bad news about Manhunt 2. Manhunt is the first game since the original Doom, I think, that I actually played to completion.

Erin said...

Awesome list. Congrats on 10 years!

Rick said...

Rachael or Jer, have you seen Once? Just wanted to know what you think, mainly because you two seem to be quite the music aficionados

jer fairall said...

Really want to see Once but it'll be a while before it opens here, if it does at all (we *just* got The Host, mind you). Might try to catch it on one of my annual summer trips to Toronto, though.

Really, really glad to hear that Brad Bird's latest rocks. Saw Patton Oswalt and Janeane Garofalo in Detroit this past week as part of their "Ratatour." Twas a great night. Oswalt, who still seems geeked as hell to be voicing the main character in a Brad Bird film, is definitely my favorite standup currently going.

Is No Country For Old Men a good first read by Cormac McCarthy? I'm waaay behind there.

Rick said...

Speaking of current stand ups, Michael Ian Black is doing a show tonight in my hometown (Albany, NY)

Bill, I'm sorry I didn't tell you in advance. Maybe you could have convinced me to go there and punch him in the face.

Seattle Jeff said...

I've not read McCarthy before though I had intended too.

I'm a third of the way in and loving it. Seems like it's going to be a quick 300 pages.

rachel said...

Rachael or Jer, have you seen Once?

Eh. I liked the music a lot but thought the film itself was sort of shit. The quality of the image was terrible and the camerawork was really slack and uninspired. What was worse, all this coasting felt like a conscious decision. I couldn't tell if the filmmakers decided that the music was so rousing, and the characters so adorable, that there wasn't any need to make a real movie, or rather, that they were harboring a Danny Boyle-level of contempt for the genre, and really were setting out to make a musical "for people who hate musicals." (Seriously, have the blurbs for any other movie this summer been so obnoxious?) I guess I just expect a film that responds to and is inspired by its music, that exhibits a certain kineticism. Rather, with Once, the camera just sat there gawking whenever the music started up. I've rarely felt so frustrated and exhausted.

Bill C said...

Just wanted to chime in that "No Country..." is an ideal gateway to Cormac McCarthy: brisk, taut, and the spare prose is surprisingly cinematic. And lots of plasma to make the medicine go down. I can't wait to see what the Coens do with it--at the risk of hyperbole, it already kind of reads like one of their screenplays.

Vikram said...

Travis, Bill,

Any thoughts on this possible Alliance Atlantis sale?


Rick said...

Man, that three-hour USA Network tribute to Chris Benoit was the best glorification of a pathetic coward since Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession!

Anonymous said...

I used to read this site much more a few years back and yet now I just stumble across it from time to time. Today was such a day and now with the blog, I thought I would leave a comment.

It was actually the writing of Walter Chaw that made me quit coming to this site more frequently. I find his writing, far from intellectual, rooted in the politically correct diatribes of the worst of Marxist-feminist film criticism from my film school days of the early nineties. I actually say the future of film criticism will be with the Armond Whites who see the culture for what it is now, not in the 60's.

Walter's PC rants remind me of everything that is wrong with the modern film industry, where having the 'correct' values trumps craft and what matters most is satiating the correct left-wing demographics.

If it's workin' for y'all here...great. But this might be why this site, which has a great lay-out, purpose and format, has not gotten as much traction as perhaps it could.

Just a reaction from a former regular reader who drops by from time to time. Perhaps if you hired some critics to augment Chaw, who took the art of film more seriously over the PC politics of Walter, I might become a regular reader again.