Oscar History

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Reporting From The Edge of Oblivion

Team Experience still reporting from the just-wrapped Tribeca Film Festival. Here's Jason on 'Special Correspondents' and the doc 'Obit.'

Do you ever watch a scene and just feel terrible for the actor being forced to deliver the dialogue they're being forced to deliver? There's a scene in Special Correspondents - a triviality that played Tribeca just before debuting on Netflix later this week, starring Ricky Gervais (who wrote and directed) and Eric Bana as a pair of journalists faking their war reports from the comfort of a Queens attic - that had me feeling just awful for one of its actors. 

Poor Kevin Pollak is a serially underrated character actor that's been around forever, and in Correspondents he plays the duo's editor. Early on it comes, this awful scene - the script actually tasks Pollak with a straight up "You're too wild and crazy!" speech. You know the one - if this was a buddy-cop movie (which it basically is, just with mic packs instead of machine guns) he'd be demanding their badges. 

No offense to Pollak, who does a perfectly serviceable job with the worn-to-dust cliche (anyone who's acted for longer than a month probably could) but just for its laziness alone it's a cringe-worthy moment, in a movie full of one (or ten) too many cringes. I mean it's a probably a crime in some countries what's done with Vera Farmiga here. Gervais' most maudlin instincts are stamped all over this thing, with little of the bite that rankles his detractors while pleasing his fans. It's applesauce of the weakest sort.

The one highlight (besides being afforded the opportunity to look at Eric Bana whatever the circumstances): America Ferrera & Raúl Castillo make for a totaly adorable and funny pair -- this movie from their point of view might have actually been interesting.

If reporters get a goof rap in Special Correspondents it just takes a small dosage of the real deal (plus some death... so very much death) to right the respectable Good Ship Journalism again. The documentary Obit dives deep into the Obituary department of the New York Times, and weaves well sourced magic out of the making of their post-mortems.

And they don't need much embellishment at all - these writers are so witty and fascinating and fascinated by literally everything that it's as easy as falling down dead to fall down through history with them. And such history! We only get a few glimpses into their shuffling and reshuffling of the mortal coils, but it's the most ebullient mortuary around. Death has hardly ever seemed so joyous. What a place to work.

Reading today that the Times is axing a hundred jobs before the end of the year my very first thought was to hope that none of the folks we see here stand in the cross-fire - what they do, the poetry they make from the four horsemen, is as crucial as conception.

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Reader Comments (3)

Did Obit bring up the fairly recent controversy that they cover men more than women by a fairly large margin and then had sort of a bone-headed response to the criticisms?

April 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

I missed that in the news, but they did cover the fact that their subjects will become more diverse as time passes and the folks who're dying age us further into the 20th Century where more diverse people were allowed to lead more noted / publicly accomplished lives, aka the type of stories they cover. Made sense to me. The numbers of women and people of color that they can cover will only keep getting larger, so they say.

April 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJason

Yeah, it kinda seems reasonable and it kinda seems like they're just shrugging it off, like "well, the problem will correct itself eventually so we're not really responsible for our actions now." When really, they were just being asked to consider who's lives and contributions they value (something that ties into the #Oscarssowhite and BLM movement).

April 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

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