Andrew James – Movie Critic Interviews

Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Welcome to another action-packed installment of Critical Juncture, where movie critics and bloggers are placed on the hot seat and grilled about cinema. It’s not as dangerous as The Steam Room over at The Onion website, but it’s pretty darn close.

This week’s guest is Andrew James, a Minnesota native and one of the talented writers over at the Row Three movie website. From film reviews to podcasts, Andrew has been churning out cinematic goodness for quite some time. In his recent entries, you can thrill to the “Chief Imagination Officer’s” thoughts on the Tom Selleck Waterfall Sandwich phenomenon, recently announced Oscar and Razzie nominations, and a nostalgic segment called “One Year Ago Today.”

And in addition to all the great movie content at Row Three, you can also follow Andrew via his Twitter account and his YouTube channel. Oh, and don’t forget about the Row Three Facebook page.

Now let’s get things started…

Only Good Movies: What’s the first movie that you remember seeing?
Andrew James: In the theater, it was the re-release of “Star Wars” in 1979. I was four years old and don’t actually remember it all that well. My mom, however, loves to tell the tale of the time she brought her fairly severe A.D.D. and naturally hyper 4 year-old to the movies. She hardly noticed there was an action movie on screen as she spent the entire running time watching in amazement as her son sat more still than he ever had with his mouth open for a full two hours. I’ve never kicked the movie habit since (and wouldn’t want to). Up next was “E.T.” and the first movie I remember watching at home was Disney’s “Robin Hood.” Still my favorite Disney movie to date (as “Star Wars” is my all-time favorite).

OGM: What’s the most recent movie you’ve seen?
AJ: Re-watched “Brotherhood of the Wolf” last night purely for its aesthetics; and man does it ever excel in that area! It’s glorious to look at and it is essentially a glossed up B-picture or genre film. It’s a gorgeous period piece with great performances (Vincent Cassel). It’s also a fierce, creature feature with a monster we see very little of, but quite a bit of his devastation. It’s also mystery laden with what this creature could possibly be. There is fantastic character design and loads of martial arts expertise. On top of that there is art hanging all over the place and at times indulges in some demonic imagery very reminiscent of Tarsem Singh’s “The Cell.” It’s quite underrated in my opinion. At the theater I recently caught Denzel Washington in “The Book of Eli.” We have a full spoiler episode of our podcast in which we discuss “Eli” over at

OGM: Is there a particular film which you feel is criminally underrated?
AJ: Ha! The one movie that pops into my head as underrated every time is “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” Great characters with a fabulous premise for a story makes for one of the more indulgent of teen dweeb fantasies. Mixing time travel with hard rock, babes, a school history report and believing in yourself all makes for one most triumphant romp. It’s funny as hell, is almost as quotable as “The Big Lebowski” and still has one of my favorite endings of all time with the final report. I still try to live my life as close as possible to the mantra of Bill and Ted: Be excellent to each other and… PARTY ON DUDES! As for misunderstood cinema, look no further than the great “Miami Vice” from Michael Mann and also Joe Dante’s “The ‘burbs.”

OGM: Which director do you feel has turned out the best overall body of work?
AJ: That’s a good question with loads of equally good answers. I would want to answer Hitchcock but I’ve not seen a lot of his gigantic body of work and I’ve actually been led to believe that some of it isn’t quite as great as his more classic pieces (which are stunning). For me personally,  it would probably be Steven Soderbergh because I love everything he has ever done (with the exception of “Ocean’s 12”). I dig the experimental arthouse stuff (“Full Frontal,” “Bubble”) but I like the glossy blockbusters (“Ocean’s 11,” “Traffic,” “Out of Sight,” “ErinBrockovich”) too; and everything in between (“Solaris,” “The Good German,” “Limey”). But I understand why some of that stuff, on either side of the fulcrum, might rub people the wrong way. So in terms of sheer quality storytelling that delivers each and every time, how can you look at The Coen Brothers body of work and not believe them to be the quintessential storytelling movie makers of our lifetime?

OGM: From an artistic standpoint, which film do you think is most important?
AJ: “United 93.” The ways in which this film could’ve gone completely wrong are incalculable. The delicacy of how it had to be handled is unfathomable and the risks involved with casting non-actors and other gambles with the production of this film is staggering. Yet it paid off in ways any film maker can only dream of – both on a technical and emotional level. It’s one of those movies a film maker can look at and think to himself, “you can do that?” And yeah, not only can you do it, but it turns out to be excellence defined. Anyone who doesn’t have this on their top ten of the decade list either hasn’t seen it or is an idiot.

OGM: All artsy considerations aside, which movie is your personal favorite?
AJ: I already mentioned “Star Wars,” so beyond that, I guess it would have to be a toss-up between “Boogie Nights” and “Pulp Fiction.” Tarantino redefined film making in the mid-nineties with “Pulp Fiction.” It resurrected previously big, but now forgotten actors and jump started several careers into super stardom. The narrative structure was unlike anything I’d seen at the time and spawned plenty of imitators that are still going strong today. It’s humorous, intense, innovative, has great dialogue, interesting, cool as ice, has wonderful performances and just a perfect 145 minutes in the theater. As for “Boogie Nights,” damn is that a fantastic, fantastic film. Watch the DVD with the PT Anderson commentary and prepare to be even more wowed.

OGM: In your opinion, which film is entirely overrated?
AJ: In recent memory, three films spring to mind. “WALL-E” was simply baffling to me why people liked it so much. Granted, it is gorgeous and the way the first half builds into magnificence promises something that just can’t be delivered in the second half. All of the action sequences in the final 45 minutes or so are so mundane and boring that I don’t understand why so many people thought it was the best picture of the year. “The Dark Knight” was another from last year people were wetting themselves over. Sure, it’s a good movie and possibly the best comic book, superhero movie ever made, but that’s not really setting the bar all that high, as it is still just another actiony romp of a movie; nothing we haven’t really seen before. Take Ledger out of that movie and you’re left with sheer mediocrity. And then there’s fucking “Avatar.” Don’t even get me started. Best picture? REALLY!!?

OGM: Have you ever walked out of the theatre during a film? If so, what movie was playing?
AJ: I can only recall one time. Winter of ’08 I think it was. I got free tickets for “A Christmas Tale” starring Catherine Deneuve and Mathieu Amalric. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is fine; but we were seeing a 10:30pm screening on a Sunday night after already having been to 2 movies that day plus a weekend of Christmas shopping. Because of the pacing of the movie and our current moods, we just couldn’t hack it. So we left. Had we paid, I might’ve stayed. I do plan on revisiting the movie sometime in the future (maybe this Christmas?) when I have some more energy.

OGM: In your mind, what’s the ultimate goal of a movie critic?
AJ: Fortune and glory kid… fortune and glory. Seriously, I think for everyone it is different. For me, it is reviewing the film mostly out of love for doing so. I like to talk and discuss movies with others and a review is the way to do it. I also think films are personal experiences and those personal feelings should be recognizable in a review. I don’t care for reviews that only discuss and critique a film based solely on its craftwork.

OGM: Time to look into the future. Do you predict any major changes for the movie industry over the next 25 years?
AJ: Most of what I see is rather unfortunate. I see a lot more unnecessary, gimmicky and annoying 3D pictures rolling out that detract from the film making, distract from the story and simply cost more for me to “enjoy.” I also see the home entertainment side of things beginning to take more of a foothold. How long will it be until physical DVDs are actually a thing of the past? Digital streaming and downloading is cheaper, quicker and more convenient. Last thing is that I think we’ll start seeing a lot more period pieces. And period pieces can mean any movie that takes place in the previous decade or before. Movies like “Adventureland,” “The Squid and the Whale” and “House of the Devil” will become more commonplace so that film makers and story tellers can avoid the annoyance of technology in their movies that can make for huge plot holes (internet, cell phones, etc).

OGM: Here’s another chance to predict the future. Name a relatively unknown actor or actress who’ll be a huge star within five years.
AJ: Carrie Mulligan instantly comes to mind. That’s not exactly going out on a limb though, now is it? I think Michael Stuhlbarg (“A Serious Man”) has a shot at landing some major roles and I’m still hoping Rosamund Pike will get her shot at a major leading lady role and bust out big time.

OGM: Who’s your favorite movie critic to read?
AJ: I don’t read as much anymore as I used to. I’m a podcast guy now, mostly out of convenience. These include Filmspotting, Film Junk and Mark Kermode of the BBC). I do still read James Berardinelli quite a bit; as well as Glen Kenney and Scott Tobias. Mostly I just engage with readers and contributors at my on site, and these are the people I get most of my critical analysis from these days.

And that concludes another Critical Juncture…at least until next week! While you’re killing time waiting for the next installment, how’s about clicking on one of the following:

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