‘Gaycation’ Streams Their Orlando Special to Remember Pulse

On a day marked by the unspeakable tragedy of the Pulse nightclub shooting, it’s understandable to be lost in thought. Whether we’re lying in bed in front of three fans trying to beat the heatwave, sitting on the subway, or just going for our second iced coffee, our hearts are in Orlando.

Before you head to tonight’s Gays Against Guns rally at Stonewall to pay tribute to the 49 victims, head over to YouTube and take some time to reflect. In honor of the anniversary and in celebration of Pride month, VICELAND’s Gaycation series starring Ellen Page and Ian Daniel has released last August’s Orlando episode in full.

In the 44-minute special, Page and Daniel talk to a diverse array of people who were affected by the tragedy at Pulse. From one survivor’s story of the scene inside to the story of a man who buried two of his friends in one day, it’s a harrowing look at the lives of those most affected by that day and the love that overcame.

You can watch VICELAND’s “GAYCATION: Presents Orlando” below or on Youtube through July 2nd.

A Conversation With Director Zal Batmanglij on His New Film ‘The East’

Ever since the end credits rolled on Zal Batmanglij’s debut feature Sound of My Voice, I have been anticipating just what his next cinematic endeavor would offer. Upon seeing his first, I was immediately drawn to he and co-writer/actress Brit Marling’s brilliant simpatico and their shared affinity for storytelling that’s both beautifully poetic yet intelligently thought-provoking. And as two of the most interesting and wholly inspiring voices in independent cinema, the two have once again struck audiences with their new film, eco-thriller The East, which opened to rave reviews last week. 

Their seductive and haunting Sound of My Voice, captivated us with a style that amalgamated science fiction, psychological drama, high-concept thrill, and ethnographic study. "So much of what Brit and I have to do as writers is to go live,” says Batmanglij, understanding the importance of “living something authentic” in order to come back and tell an original story. And although the two have their own unique sensibilities as writers—Batmanglij with a zeal or creating stories that stem from the anxieties of the modern age as shown through a lens that exposes the mysticism lurking just beneath the surface, and Marling holding an ineffable quality existing somewhere between serene grace and fierce intelligence that allows us to be mesmerized by just about anything she does.
 
Now more than ever, in a time where our personal sense of security is constantly in question and our beliefs are always on the line, we need films that not only speak to where we’re headed as a society but how it feels to exist in the world today. As we’re forced to assimilate to ever-changing and frightening state of things, the culture that we’re consuming should not only be a means of escapism to dull our anxiety but a reflection and a call to action, an inspiration for ideas that will fuel us. 
 
And with The East, Batmanglij has created a film that’s as intriguing as it is topical, as emotionally stirring as it cinematically thrilling. The film follows Sarah (played by Marling), a young ex-FBI agent now working for an elite private intelligence firm who is hired to infiltrate an anarchist collective that is rumored to be attacking big corporate CEOs and forcing them to come in contact with the harm they’ve inflicted on the masses. But in her time spent with the collective known as The East, her beliefs begin to waver as she starts to sympathize with the group’s leaders (Alexander Skarsgard and Ellen Page) and opens her eyes to the wrong doings that so easily go unnoticed.
 
A few weeks ago, I sat down with Batmanglij, who has become one of not only my favorite new filmmakers but one of the most interesting interview subjects, to discuss the insightful reactions to The East, he and Marling’s creative process, and what a film like this means in today’s culture.
 
What’s been interesting to see with the film is how people have been reacting across the board. It’s not only young, more politically active people that have been responding well. 
Definitely. And older women love the movie—I think they connected to that idea of careerism versus being more human or softer and that balance. But young people really love it, like 13 to 19 year olds really connect with it, which I didn’t expect.
 
Well it’s a film about young people rebelling and doing something important in a way that’s actually intellectual or for a greater purpose than simply having fun.
There’s this idea now that rebellion is like play, but rebellion has always been rebellion, not play. Going on spring break isn’t rebellion, having a part at your parents house when they’re out of town is about the thrill of being antiauthoritarian, it isn’t just about the thrill of getting drunk for the first time. It’s funny how consumerism has sort of co-opted that of sex and drunkeness and debauchery as the things that everyone should want and stride for. That’s such a capitalist trick.
 
It might be more rebellious now to just stay in at the library.
Or be antiauthoritarian or against the status quo. One of Michael Haneke’s movies that I love is The Seventh Continent. Supposedly when it premiered at Cannes, the audience freaked out when they flushed the money down the toilet at the end. That idea was so anathema to people. That fascinates me, the idea of flushing money down a toilet bothers people more than murder bothers people.
 
Well, it’s also a more tangible concept, it’s harder to conceive of actually murdering someone.
I think people imagine murdering people more than they would imagine flushing their money down the toilet. It so breaks the illusion of everybody wanting to win the lottery. But back to your question, across the board, the movie played strong at Sundance and the Q&A had 95% retention and I thought: is this because of the actors? And then we showed the movie in Ann Arbor where it was just me and Brit. People started talking about the movie and afterwards came up to me and were like, "You know, the guy who poisoned the water in our town, he was in the audience and we kept looking over at him." And then this older woman was like, "So I came with my sister who always drags me to these movies, I don’t really like these kind of movies, I like comedies, and I don’t even watch movies in theaters." So I said, thank you and then she’s like, "But I saw your movie and I can’t get it out of my head, it’s one of my favorite movies I’ve seen in the last couple years because it’s asking questions, I just feel guilty about what I’ve been doing." And I was like, well, don’t feel too guilty—but that reaction was just so heartwarming. Then we went to SXSW  and had a similar reaction, and then from place to place—whether it was Dallas or Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco—people wanted to talk. It’s not so much about the movie but people want to talk about these issues—the corruption of pharmaceutical companies and how they’re being run by marketing rather than the bettering of people’s lives, corporate accountability, private intelligence, and is private intelligence really happening? And that’s a cool reaction.
 
With Sound of My Voice, because it was a smaller film, that operated on two levels—the grand concept and the intimate story. With something like Sound of My Voice or even Another Earth, you guys say, okay this woman might be a time traveler or you put an Earth 2 in the sky and you believe it because it’s rooted in something deeper and you’ve built the base for this story. You don’t need to necessarily show those things in detail to understand them as truth. But with this, because it was a bigger film you have the grand concept, the intimate story, but also the middle, more explainatory section of the film. Is that something you were aware of?
Thats interesting. As a writer, I always thought of Sound of My Voice as a single gear bike, like it had one rotation and you just had to pull off that rotation and you could do that rotation scene after scene if it was doable and that translated into the filmmaking—and the scenes were about claustrophobia or about faith. And then The East I always thought of it as three gears and you can create venn diagrams and do interesting things with it. So yeah, just trying to pull off all the math of the thriller and trying to make it thrilling and then in the shooting of it too, I was really lucky that I had amazing collaborators. 
 
Did you have an idea of who you wanted to cast in the film beforehand?
The script was its own litmus test—who wants to come and have an adventure with us. And right away people closed the script and were either like, not for me, or I have to do this. And we were excited to meet those people and we got lucky that they’re such good actors, the acting is really strong in this movie—like Julia Ormond had two days of work and she just shines. 
 
Were you all really close off set?
There wasn’t much off-set time, we were working six days a week. But on our one day off, we would actually spend a lot of time together. Alexander would cook for the crew and the cast. We liked each other but we were also learning from each other, I felt like it was a time of great discovery for people.There were these freegans I’d invited to come play with three other members of The East—I didn’t want extras or background, I get so offended by the idea of "background" actors. So there were three freegans and I remember they had each their own hotel room but instead wanted to all be in a room together, and I thought that was so cool. I think the actors were fascinated by that world, as were the freegans by the actor’s world and they merged together.
 
I know you’re very inspired by the political thrillers of the 1970s and that definitely comes across in this and knowing that going into it, felt like you were able to merge your cinematic affinities so well with something that was so modern. Were than any specific films you were looking to while making this?
I love Pakula, as you know, so I love The Parallax View and All The Presidents Men and Klute. But the funny thing is, I storyboard these movies as we’re writing the final draft but I never bring that notebook to set. We sort of throw it all out and let the soup come.Someone said that they thought parts of The East were really familiar and I thought to myself: really? I’ve been thinking about that and what it is, is that the thrill is familiar. 
 
But it’s not a cheap thrill, there’s a purpose and you’re connected. It’s thrilling because you care about these people and want to know what’s happening.
They’re poisoning a pharmaceutical board’s champagne with its own pharmaceutical, that’s not familiar.
 
When was the last time you saw that?
And when was the last time you saw a movie about a female spy who had a female boss? We never see that.
 
How do you and Brit go about working together, what is that creative process like for the two of you? I know that you had visited an anarchist collective while traveling and that sparked your desire to write this.
We couldn’t shake that experience and we also wanted to do a spy movie, so those two vines grew together. We’re like gardeners, we come to the garden and dig the soil, plant the seeds, and water it. Then we tend together. But it’s also about being kind to each other, you know, when  ideas are first starting they’re so weak, they’re like these little single cell organisms, they’re like amoebas and they’re gelatinous and you have to hold them really delicately like this little jelly fish creature and it goes from my hand to Brit’s hand. You just have to hold it and and it’s a very soft enterprise—it’s something that if you do with someone you don’t really trust it feels silly. And also, if you feel a lot of push back that little character or idea will die, so you have to create a space where you can do that back and forth with each other. It’s funny how it just starts growing and pretty soon it’s not in your control anymore. A character like Izzy did things all the time that I didn’t think she would do.
 
And what’s so great about The East is that the message is so strong and yet it’s not polemic, it’s there to spark thought.
In Philadelphia when we were showing the movie, for some reason a lot of parents brought their 13 or 14 year olds—or was it the teens that brought their parents. I don’t know how they found out about the movie but they started asking questions in tandem. And I thought wow, how amazing to start the trans-generational dialogue, I felt like the parents were really grateful that this dialogue had started. So I don’t think it’s as much about the film as much as its about the conversation that comes afterwards. I made the joke that you should see this movie with someone you’re sleeping with so you can wake up and talk about it. But it’s also a nice movie for parents and children to see together—older children and their boomer parents or younger children and their younger parents—because it’s a nice film to talk about and it’s about what it stirs up in us about accountability.
 
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Check out more brilliant posters for the film by Caspar Newbolt.

See a New Set of Photos From Zal Batmanglij’s ‘The East’

Last year, when speaking to writer and actor Brit Marling about Sound of My Voice, we got to talking about the films that have informed us creatively and the longing to expose everyday life in an abstract way. "Like that moment in Three Colors: Blue when she’s dragging her knuckles across that stone wall or in Red when the bubble gum ad becomes like the metaphysical portal into how she nearly dies and meets the love of her life. A fucking bubble gum ad! I love that pairing," she said. "I think our generation has that desire. You see it in music now, too; there’s a kind of earnestness and deep desire for something romantic and honest, but also the possibility for something magical in the mundane. We’re all hoping there’s more to all of this that meets the eye, and I hope that’s true." And with her latest film, The East—which she stars in and co-wrote with the film’s director, the wonderfully talented Zal Batmanglij, they’ve once again have collaborated to create something both thrilling and emotional, relevant to our current generation and questions that plague our society.

Starring Marling, Ellen Page, Alexander Skarsgard, and Patricia Clarkson, The East goes as follows:

Someone is attacking big corporate CEOs and forcing them to consume harmful products they manufacture. An elite private intelligence firm is called into action and contracts ex-FBI agent Sarah Moss to infiltrate a mysterious anarchist collective, The East, suspected to be responsible. Skilled, focused, and bent on success, Sarah goes undercover and dedicates herself to taking down the organization. She soon finds, however, that the closer she gets to the action, the more she sympathizes with the group’s charismatic leaders.

And with the film’s release later this month, we’ve already seen a trailer for the feature, as well as stills and posters. But now we get an even closer look at the film with a new set of photos—both on set and from the film—as well as a new featurette. The East is a fantastic second feature for Batmanglij and shows how truly talented he and Marling are at creating an enlightening and engaging narrative.

So if you haven’t been keeping up with the film, see HERE, HERE, and HERE for more on The East and catch it when it hits theaters May 31st.

 

 

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Go Deeper Inside ‘The East’ With More Stills From Zal Batmanglij’s New Dramatic Thriller

Now more than ever, we need films that speak to where we’re at and where we’re going, exposing now only how it is, but how it feels. As culture assimilates to what’s happening in our society, the art and entertainment we consume shouldn’t be purely escapism to dull our anxiety, but a reflection of what it’s like to exist in a time when no one quite knows where to hang their beliefs. "I feel tremendously lucky to be a filmmaker in this decade but it’s also daunting because nobody knows what the fuck is going on. We live in a strange, strange time," said director Zal Batmanglij, whose new film The East speaks the discontent of our generation and how we’re dealing with the issues that permeate our society. But rather than haranguing you, The East invites you in with its intriguing thrill yet feels and feels as immediate as it does emotionally stirring.

In Batmanglij’s sophomore effort, we follow Sarah (played by Brit Marling who also co-wrote the film), a young ex-FBI agent now working for an elite private intelligence firm who is hired to infiltrate an anarchist collective that is rumored to be attacking big corporate CEOs and forcing them to come in contact with the harm they’ve inflicted on the masses. But in her time spent with the collective known as The East, her beliefs begin to waver as she starts to sympathize with the group’s leaders and opens her eyes to the wrong doings that so easily go unnoticed.

And thanks to HitFix, we now have a new batch of stills from the film that give us a deeper look at the cast, which features Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page, and Shiloh Fernandez. Take a look below and get excited for The East when it hits theater May 31st.

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BlackBook Exclusive: See the New Poster & Official Website for Zal Batmanglij’s ‘The East’

“Your beliefs are always coming into question; it’s a hallmark of our time; it’s very hard to believe fully in something,” said director Zal Batmanglij, who in the last year has emerged as one of the most exciting and innovative voices in a new wave of American film. With a style that blends both intimate drama with high-concept thrill, his evocative debut Sound of My Voicea film that mixed science fiction, psychological drama, and ethnographic study—left us eagerly awaiting just what he would have in store for us next. And to our delight, we didn’t have to wait long. His sophomore feature The East premiered this January at Sundance to a warm reception and, thanks to Fox Searchlight, his wholly important eco-thriller will be hitting theaters this May.

Penned by Batmangij and Brit Marling, his collaborator and star, the film explores similar themes as Sound of My Voice, with investigation of identity, the allure of charismatic leaders, and questions of personal belief. Batmangij and Marling seem to share a cinematic language; while Batmanglij has a knack for exploring the anxieties that plague our modern age, harkening back to a bygone era of political and social thrillers, Marling possesses an ineffable grace and intelligence that’s as fierce in her writing as it is in performance, both capturing the metaphysical nature inherent in human connection.

And with The East, we follow Marling as Sarah, a young ex-FBI agent now working for an elite private intelligence firm who is hired to infiltrate an anarchist collective that is rumored to be attacking big corporate CEOs and forcing them to come in contact with the harm they’ve inflicted on the masses. But in her time spent with the collective known as The East, her beliefs begin to waver as she starts to sympathize with the group’s leaders and opens her eyes to the wrong doings that so easily go unnoticed.

But what makes the film so exciting is that Batmanglij has made something totally important to our generation that speaks to where we’re at and where we’re going in a way that hasn’t been touched on in modern cinema. The East feels like the first film to breathe a young voice into an issue so embedded in our current society, but in a way that’s more personal than polemic. There’s an emotional authenticity behind the thrill, making it something you can feel as well as enjoy.

“We’re not trying to hit anyone over the head with these ideas,” Batmanglij told me. “We’re trying to plant these seeds so they will grow, because I think it’s much more important that these ideas grow inside of people than it is that they come out changed. A film shouldn’t be too intellectual in the making of or the watching of, but much later they can be—little seeds that just pop up and make you question things.” 

And today we’re pleased to share the new poster for The East highlighting Marling as well as her striking co-stars Ellen Page and Alexander Skarsgård. In addition, you can now explore the film’s awesome official website here at WeAreTheEast.com.

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The East will premiere in Austin this weekend as the closing night film of this year’s SXSW Film Festival. Batmanglij, Marling, Page, and Skarsgard will all be in attendence when the the film screens at 8pm at the Paramount Theater on Sunday, March 16th.

Watch the Striking First Trailer for Zal Batmanglij’s ‘The East’

Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling’s latest collaboration, eco-thriller The East premiered at Sundance last night to a warm reception. Produced by Fox Searchlight with Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, and Ellen Page leading the cast, the film explores similar themes as the previous Sound of My Voice, with questions of identity,  the allure of charismatic leaders, and a sense of well-nuanced thrill. Batmanglij has a knack for exploring the questions of our age with a mystical sense that at once heightens reality and reminds us of our basic human desires. And in The East:

Sarah Moss (Marling) is a brilliant operative for an elite private intelligence firm whose top objective is to ruthlessly protect the interests of their A-list corporate clientele. She is assigned to go undercover to infiltrate an anarchist collective known for executing covert attacks upon major corporations. Living amongst them in an effort to get closer to their members, Sarah finds herself unexpectedly torn between two worlds as she starts to fall in love with the group’s charismatic leader, finding her life and her priorities irrevocably changed.

Check out the trailer below, which looks pretty damn haunting and incredible.

 

Here’s the cast and Batmanglij at Sundance this past weekend.

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The Movies We Hated In 2012

My colleague Hillary Weston and I see a lot of movies. Sure, we both loved a bunch of movies this year, such as the delightful Moonrise Kingdom, the biting Bachelorette, the lovely Beasts of the Southern Wild. But there were a few that we downright hated. While we don’t always agree on which movies were, in fact, the worst, here’s a brief list of the films from this year that drove us into fits of fury.

Prometheus

Ridley Scott’s sort-of-prequel to Alien left me with more questions than answers. For example, why did they hire Guy Pearce to play an old man instead of, I dunno, an actual old person? Would that automated surgery machine take my health insurance? What’s Michael Fassbender’s daily caloric intake? (It must not be too high.) What I did take away was this: there is no way that this has anything to do with Scott’s original masterpiece other than casually tossing around “Alien prequel” will gain a lot of buzz. I couldn’t have explained the plot of this movie five minutes after leaving the theater, and I had thankfully forgotten Prometheus until I decided to come up with the worst movies I’d seen this year. So there you have it, folks: Prometheus is completely forgettable until you try your best to think of things that are horrifically bad.—TC

To Rome With Love

Oh Woody, how I love thee. But just because you have spent your entire career putting out film after film—back to back every year for what seems like an entire century now—doesn’t mean you should allow yourself to be so sloppy. Honestly, I doubt he even liked it, as even Allen’s character felt like someone doing a bad impression of himself. (Larry David, Owen Wilson, and Will Ferrell have all played better Woody Allens.) And don’t even both trying to find anything intelligent or redeeming about the women that populate the picture. Ellen Page’s boyish waif seductress was, to borrow a term in just about every one of his movies, "a pseudo intellectual" who was both manipulative and hollow; Greta Gerwig was an oblivious and passive goof who was supposed to be an intellectual but looked like an witless idiot; Alison Pill’s character was about as bland and lifeless as the canvas pants they wrongly put her in; and even the brilliant and beautiful Judy Davis had absolutely nothing to work with. The whole Penelope Cruz hooker storyline was absurd and a narrative bore, the Roberto Benigni "comedic" meditation on celebrity and the ego was unbearable to watch, and the father-turned-opera-singer sideline was no better than this Flintstones episode. By far the best part of the film was when I left to get a jumbo box of M&Ms and had to spend five minutes searching for the candy attendant. —HW

Silver Linings Playbook

There’s at least one movie released every Oscar season that everyone but me seems to like. This year, David O. Russell’s choppy mess of a movie fills the Little Miss Sunshine slot. Furthermore, this is the first movie that has ever forced me to leave the theater early. What did I hate most? The over-the-top quirkiness of the script? The propensity for each character to explain his or her madness rather than convey them with their actions? The fact the last thirty minutes are better than the first hour-and-a-half, at least according to every person I know who claims I cannot judge it solely on the first two-thirds of the film? (Go watch The Godfather and try to tell me the same thing, folks.) I’ve never been so grateful for Jessica Chastain, who will surely quash Jennifer Lawrence’s shot at an Oscar next spring. —TC

Lola Versus

After seeing Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones’s sophomore effort, I recall writing down a few initial thoughts: "This movie has little to no genuine feeling. The dialogue was trite. The characters were like posed mannequins in an Anthropologie window attempting to tell a joke." And the worst part: even the wonderful and talented Greta Gerwig as Lola and a score by Fall On Your Sword could not save this shallow attempt at an anti-typical romantic comedy. The filmmakers are both young, intelligent people who have lived in New York for years, but I have to wonder: have they ever spoken to other humans? Every moment was contrived and two-dimensional, and it was filled with pathetic portrayals of wallowing that weren’t even accurate save for the lovelorn title character’s affinity for binge drinking and sleeping with people she would later regret. Lola chastises herself, saying "I know I’m slutty, but I’m a good person," even though it’s made clear that her ex was the only person she had slept with until they broke up, and then she sleeps with two other guys. Even the sparse scenes with her ex have absolutely no chemistry, and neither character exhibit qualities that would make you root for them not to wind up alone. All in all, it’s a film that apparently takes place in New York, but not a New York you’ve ever seen. —HW

The Dark Knight Rises

Here’s the thing: I knew I would hate this. But I had to see it, because to completely avoid the movie blockbuster of the summer would prove my own ineptitude at being a blogger. (And, as a blogger, it is my duty to share my opinions.) Christopher Nolan finally wrapped up his dour Batman trilogy with an overwrought political epic complete with as many of The Christopher Nolan Players as possible. Christian Bale brooding? Check. Tom Hardy being gay-question-mark? Yup. Marion Cotilliard for no particular reason? Uh huh. And leave it to Nolan to even strip away all the fun from Catwoman, who, as played by Anne Hathaway, is more like an old, unenthused tabby who only occasionally gets to ride some stupidly overdesigned motorcycle. Don’t get me started on the fact that it took a good forty-five minutes for Batman to actually show up; it was less of a superhero movie and more of a chance for Christopher Nolan and co-writer/brother Jonathan to an Oscar-clip monologue to every single character. —TC

The Paperboy

I don’t know why I expected more from the guy who interpolated shots of incestuous rape with images of bacon sizzling on a griddle in Precious, but I can say without wavering that The Paperboy was not just my least favorite film of the year—it’s also the worst movie I’ve ever seen. I’m all for a piece of well-made trash, but no amount of scrubbing would reveal a diamond under those layers and layers of shit. It’s misogynistic, homophobic, exploitative all around, and relies on the popular opinion that the South is a cesspool of murder, rape, racism, alligators—things that can only take place down there. And something must be said when Macy Gray delivers the best performance in a cast made up of Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, John Cusack, and Scott Glenn. —TC

The Slow-Burn Talkie: ‘To Rome With Love’ Can’t Fulfill Our Modern Cinematic Desires

Woody Allen’s newest picture, To Rome With Love, contains plenty of the bread and butter ticks: witty complaining (courtesy of Allen’s own character, Jerry), Freudian line-dropping (see Jerry’s psychiatrist wife, played by Judy Davis), and any other kind of bullshit line-dropping (Ellen Page’s character takes care of those cringe-worthy nuggets). But it also seemed to offer what’s marked most of his Continental films as of late—a pleasantly low-stakes plot.

Less at play are the Crimes and Misdemeanors/Match Point moral meditations or the tight farcical narratives of Sleeper and Small Time Crooks. These recent films—Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Midnight in Paris—exist as much as vehicles for delightfully self-indulgent dialogue and gawking at European cities (Gaudí! Mansard roofs! The Coliseum is still standing!) as they do for traditionally enticing three-act stories. Which is all to say, I’m ready to eat this shit up, especially when every other movie this summer appears to have an explosion (or implosion) or a chase scene at every ten-minute beat.

Even amid the hype surrounding Pixar’s new feminist princess film Brave are murmurs that the studio overdid it on the frenetic tension in order to draw in otherwise uninterested ten-year-old boys. At least for the two-minute trailer, there’s really no break between climbing things, racing somewhere on horseback, or someone getting smacked with an axe. But I think it’s less a marketing ploy and more just the exercise of your standard Robert McKee screenwriting dogma—conflict, conflict, conflict!

Judd Apatow, from time to time, seems to get labeled a successful maker of “dudes hanging out” movies. But the recent media storm around Girls has seen plenty of mention of Apatow’s mastery at emotional tension when it comes to screenwriting. Lena Dunham, who certainly has Woody Allen at the tip of her pencil the whole way, might have had a less impactful show had she kept it as a clever chat session instead of heeding Apatow’s advice. But it’s an understandable temptation: I don’t like watching bad things happen to people. I think, how much nicer would it be to just observe the Algonquin table roam around Rome for an hour and a half?

And then I sit through a movie like To Rome with Love and am humbly reminded why it’s just so boring to watch characters you don’t care about recite over-written conversations.

One of the film’s four unrelated storylines, featuring a lost-cell-phone-induced separation of two innocent young Italian lovers and the hilarity that ensues, is fun and amusing, but the joy is lost in the long 102-minute waiting time for the end credits. The vignette for Allen’s own character, essentially a witty gabfest about why Allen is afraid of retirement, is perhaps justification for said fear, or at least evidence for why making a movie once a year is a rough goal. But the parts with Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page are ground zero for what was both aggravating and tiring about the movie. Greta Gerwig, who plays Eisenberg’s sweet but aloof girlfriend, essentially invites Page, a self-involved actress, to stay with them and seduce her boyfriend.Aside from the over-done dialogue, what kills it is the sense that all these characters are so narcissistic that even if their relationships fall apart it still won’t really bother them. Why root for them? Why not? Two hours later, it is what it is.

The final storyline with Italian actor Roberto Benigni, who plays a briefly and arbitrarily celebrated media darling, has drawn a kind of “like Celebrity but worse” reaction. But the images of paparazzi swarms in Rome also harken flashbacks to 8 ½, Fellini’s film about, among other things, what happens when an in-demand artist lacks inspiration. You can’t then but sense that Allen, between his wonderfully inventive, intelligent films like Sweet and Lowdown or Midnight in Paris, has powered through the less inspired periods with sit-down-start-writing-and-see-what-I-come-up-with films like Whatever Works or You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.

The thematic end-note, if you want to call it that, comes from Benigni’s storyline: after he’s been dumped by the paparazzi, he launches into a fit looking for attention, and his old chauffer reminds him that it’s better to have a little fame than none at all. I wouldn’t question Allen’s sincerity, and for that matter, far be it from me to knock the career of one of the greatest auteurs of all time. And you sense at this point that he’s making these films to keep his hands busy just as much as anything, with no pretense for each one to be deemed a masterpiece. But if there is any strain in Woody Allen that’s producing a fear of cultural irrelevance, he’s going about it wrong. Just shed some dialogue and put in a couple explosions. Or Snooki and JWoww. Same thing.

‘To Rome With Love’: Explore Italy With Woody Allen & the Beautiful People

After scoring a surprise summer hit with last year’s Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen is hoping to repeat the seasonal success with To Rome With Love, his newest romantic comedy. Described as "a story about a number of people in Italy" — plots are for dorks! — it stars actors and actresses like Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Alec Baldwin, Greta Gerwig, Roberto Benigni, Allen himself and more, ambling their way through a series of vignettes set in the Eternal City. There’s a trailer courtesy of Yahoo, showcasing the snappy characterization that’s practically perfunctory at this point in Allen’s writing and directing career.

Allen’s movies are just fantasy camp for the aspiring bourgeois, aren’t they? Regardless, we’ll all be first in line. To Rome With Love is out on June 22.