Mike Lippert – Critical Juncture Interview

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Our guest on Critical Juncture this week is Mike Lippert, the creative mind behind You Talking to Me?, a blog dedicated to movies in all their glory. Each week, Mike brings his readers a wide array of cinematic musings, offering such segments as the One Minute Review (which can be read in under a minute), The Celebrity Connection (where movie characters and listed side by side with their lookalikes), and Mike’s DVD Haul (a discussion of Mike’s latest DVD purchases). There’s plenty more to be had at the site, including in-depth reviews of many of the hottest films to hit your local theatre.

Before we get to the questions and answers, though, here’s a little bit about the Toronto resident in his own words:

“All of my life has always revolved around movies. I graduated with an BA Honours Degree in Film Studies and Communications Studies from Wilfred Laurier University. I have written film criticism for Suite101 for over a year, and am now bringing my thoughts and love of film to the blog universe.”

Only Good Movies: What’s the first movie that you remember seeing?
Mike Lippert: I actually wrote a full post about this. As far as my memory serves me, Return to Oz was the first I have any knowledge of, but, to spare myself from telling the long story again, I’ll just let people read my post on it.

OGM: What’s the most recent movie you’ve seen?
ML: I just finished watching Big Night with Stanley Tucci and Tony Schalhoub, co-written by Tucci and co-directed by Tucci and Campbell Scott. It’s a wonderful film about a pair of Italian brothers who come to America to start their own restaurant, but they are being undercut by the less authentic but very popular Italian restaurant just a few blocks away, and, if they can’t turn it around, they will lose everything. It was a very funny, touching, and natural story that more people should probably see.

OGM: Is there a particular film that you feel is criminally underrated?
ML: Well, it depends on your definition of underrated. In terms of a movie that no one saw, I think 13 Conversations About One Thing should have been on just about every best of list of both 2001 and the decade, but it wasn’t, despite a lot of star power. It’s a very moving, intelligent, philosophical film that is also highly watchable and entertaining.

In terms of a movie that everyone saw but no one liked despite its goodness, I’d say August Rush is a very underrated movie. Of course, ask me next week and I’d give you a different answer, but this is such a moving film that works because it genuinely believes that music has the power to heal or connect lives or any other magical thing it causes in people. Sure, the plot is just a retread of Oliver Twist and, sure, Robin Williams plays the villain too big, but the movie makes a great argument that maybe music does have the power to change our lives.

OGM: Which director do you feel has turned out the best overall body of work?
ML: I’ve had this conversation in my head many times and I’m not sure I’ve ever come up with a director who has turned in no bad films. I would have said Scorsese had it not been for The Color of Money. I think Eric Rohmer’s career has been fairly consistent. Of course, some of his films were better than others but they were all specifically Rohmer and all delivered in so much as that they gave the audience what it expected from an Eric Rohmer film. I don’t think Mike Leigh made many, if any, bad theatrical films either. I know a lot of people would disagree with me here but I’ve never seen a bad Spike Lee movie either. Even the ones that people hate on like Girl 6 or She Hate Me have a certain artistic worth that makes them constantly interesting.

OGM: From an artistic standpoint, which film do you think is most important?
ML: This is a tricky question because, artistically speaking, there will never be a more important movie than Birth of a Nation. Of course, despite the fact that it more or less created film language as we know it, no one talks about that one much any more outside of its inherent racism. I’d say Citizen Kane was the next most important because it showed that film style was something that was special to film and could be explored in order to create certain meanings as opposed to the classic style of “invisible editing” in which a film’s technique didn’t draw attention to itself. Lastly, Godard’s Breathless showed people that film style could be broken down even farther; that all the conventions could be thrown out and that the rules were simply made to be broken. All three movies changed the way their generation related to and thought about film.

OGM: All artsy considerations aside, which movie is your personal favorite?
ML: Fellini’s La Dolce Vita is my favorite film because it is a culmination of everything I think a film should be. It is beautiful, it’s is well acted, it is engaging and entertaining, it is intelligent while still being enjoyable and it’s symbolism is at once both simple and yet profound. To top it all off, the movie deals with meaningful subjects like life, love, redemption, etc. Few people realize how many modern films owe a huge debt to La Dolce Vita like Lost in Translation or most recently Up in the Air.

OGM: In your opinion, which film is entirely overrated?
ML: I’ll name four, all of which are going to turn a lot of people off but so be it:
1) A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick at his most self indulgent, taking a powerful story and turning it into cartoon violence)
2) Reservoir Dogs (Tarantino just spinning his wheels)
3) Fight Club (nihilistic garbage parading as satire)
4) The Boondock Saints (low-grade, over-stylized Tarantino knock-off)

OGM: Have you ever walked out of the theatre during a film? If so, what movie was playing?
ML: I have never done this. Once I start a movie, I must finish it. I may not finish it for years, but I will finish it. There is one film that required a desperate amount of strength on my part for me to keep watching and that film was Cannibal Holocaust, arguably the worst film I have ever seen. What a vile, ugly, uselessly violent, unpleasant movie that then thinks it can justify everything it has put its audience through with one throwaway line at the end. I hate that movie more than words can describe.

OGM: In your mind, what’s the ultimate goal of a movie critic?
ML: I think the problem with movie criticism is that it has been overcome by tabloid gossip. People are judging movies based on who their star is sleeping with or whose couch they jumped on and forgetting the movie itself. Whenever I think of criticism I think of Jean Renoir’s quote when he said that the songwriter is often greater than the song. To me, that means that the movie is simply the starting point for the critic to explore themselves. Great criticism therefore happens when a critic looks inside themselves and conveys the experience they had with a film. Checklists of what was good and what wasn’t are boring. People used to read Pauline Kael and Manner Farber not to know if the movie is good or not but to know what Pauline Kael and Manny Farber thought of it. Criticism doesn’t have many great songwriters these days.

OGM: Time to look into the future. Do you predict any major changes for the movie industry over the next 25 years?
ML: Of course there will be changes. The movie industry tends to turn around roughly every ten years. The big budget disaster movies like The Towering Inferno gave way to Easy Rider and Bonnie and Clyde, which sparked that whole 70’s movement, which ended by going big again with Jaws and Star Wars leading into the excess and fluffiness of the 80s, which led to the rise of independent film again in the 90s with Jim Jarmusch, John Sayles and Spike Lee, until Pulp Fiction turned it around again and so on. I think with Avatar we are going to start to see a change. More original, character-based films will start coming out. I don’t know if we are quite ready for another rise of the indies yet, but it seems that an improvement in quality is hopefully coming sooner than later.

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.
ML: It’s hard to say. Joseph-Gordon Levitt certainly seems to be on the rise

OGM: Who’s your favorite movie critic to read?
ML: I have three. One is a regular critic, one is a theoretical critic and one is a bit of both: Roger Ebert, Andre Bazin and Pauline Kael. All are engaging, entertaining, intelligent, open our eyes to things in movies we may have missed and all were/are great writers. What else could you ask for?

Many thanks to Mike Lippert for taking part in Critical Juncture, and be sure to visit his site and show your appreciation. We’ll be back next week with another film critic or movie blogger, but here are a few more interviews to tide you over in the meantime:

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 10th, 2010 at 3:26 pm and is filed under Movie Critic Interviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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