Movies are either going to be magnificent pieces of cinema that may change your lives or suck horribly until the credits roll and end the visual pain. That's fact. Whether you paid $5 to see it at The Tower by yourself or $48 to see it in 3D IMAX at The Gateway as a family. Which is why prior to any viewing we as a public hit up every trailer on the web, every article of info on its making, and every trusted review we can before plunking down our cash on the latest experience or disaster. But in seeking out reviews for the public, a duo of local writers decided to take their heated debates and put them to good use by filming them.
--- Jeff Vice, the now former leading film critic for the Deseret News, and Jimmy Martin, SLUG Magazine's residing film critic, have been recording their beer-fueled acclamations and arguments over at Brewvies Cinema Pub for a Comcast review show called "The Big Movie Mouth-Off". Short discussions along with the trailers about the latest Hollywood and independent films hitting local theaters, all with their own brand of smiling flattery or pissy hatred, to hopefully help you decide what to watch that weekend. I got a chance to chat with both men about their respective careers as professional critics, the show itself, thoughts on localized filmmaking and a few other topics.
Jeff Vice & Jimmy Martin
The Big Movie Mouth-Off on Facebook
Gavin: Hey guys! First off, tell us a bit about yourselves.
Jeff: Jeff Michael vice, former film critic/movie writer for the Deseret News. Currently reviewing films for X96's “Radio From Hell” morning program, “The Mediocre Show” podcast, “Geek Show Podcast” and, of course, co-host of “The Big Movie Mouth-Off program. Native Californian, longtime Utahn.
Jimmy: My name is Jimmy Martin and I am SLUG Magazine’s film critic, co-host of “The Big Movie Mouth-Off”, a panelist on “Geek Show Podcast” and an independent filmmaker when time allows. I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, but primarily grew up just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I moved out West to Utah on August 21st, 2000. Just celebrated my 10-year anniversary here, and completed two Bachelor’s degrees at the University of Utah and my Masters at Westminster College.
Gavin: How did you first take an interest in movies and what were some of your favorite films growing up?
Jimmy: Every since I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with films. My older brother, Larry (who’s a film editor), and I would make ridiculous movies around our neighborhood with other kids, including my friend and fellow writer/director, Cory Cataldo. There were no scripts or pre-production meetings at the time. We just made up the stories as they came to us. It was high-quality filmmaking, let me tell you! Along with making our own movies, Cory and I would spend entire days (almost once a week) inside the local movie theater, so we could watch absolutely everything that was available. It was a fascination with me that would never die. Even as a young kid, I would critique the films I watched and attempt to put my own spin on how to make them better. I remember thinking to myself, “I’ll never be able to watch movies like a normal person ever again.” The range of films I loved as a kid reaches all sides of the spectrum in both quality and popularity, and certainly proves the rating system wasn’t something I adhered to or respected: “Leon: The Professional”, “They Live”, anything with Buster Keaton, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, “Once Upon A Time In America”, “Back To The Future II”, “Full Metal Jacket” and “Terminator II” to name a few.
Jeff: My parents were both big movie fans, and took me and my siblings to many of them growing up. One of my first memories involves seeing “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “The Jungle Book” theatrically (at separate times, obviously). I've been a cinemaphile ever since. Everything from Disney animated classics to documentaries to foreign fare.
Gavin: Jeff, how did you first break into journalism and eventually come to work for SLUG Magazine?
Jeff: I've written for publications (both non-professionally and professionally), dating back to junior high. I was infamous for getting a review of the R-rated sci-fi/horror film “Alien” into my junior high paper. Little did I know that controversial experience would serve me well in later years. I also was the features editor and movie reviewer for the Utah Statesman, the college newspaper at Utah State University. But when I was done at USU, the first job I landed was writing news, sports and features at the Deseret News' “Utah County Bureau”. When I began, I was being paid per piece! Wanting to continue writing movie and music articles and reviews, I looked for other outlets. I had freelanced one article for the Salt Lake Private Eye, the precursor to the City Weekly. But I was Introduced by mutual friends to SLUG editor J.R. Ruppel, who was interested in having me write for that monthly magazine. I wrote dozens of pieces under various names, including Jeffty Reptile and the Rev. Chris Robin. I even had a spirited "rivalry" going with fellow SLUG writer Helen Wolf, aka Bill Frost. And ironically, my first "professional" movie review, under my real name, was for SLUG. I reviewed the Spike Lee film “Jungle Fever”.
Gavin: When did the opportunity come about to work for the Deseret News, And how was that change for you doing it on a broader scale?
Jeff: It was right around that time that the Deseret News also asked me to write music interviews and reviews for them. I covered mostly club shows, including a few at the now-defunct Speedway Cafe and Bar & Grill. That was how I got to know the features staff and editors there. After a couple of years of doing that, I got the opportunity to join the features staff, as an entertainment writer. I wrote music, television, art and movie related articles. I also wrote some movie reviews to spell my predecessor, Chris Hicks, whose time was being taken up with editorial duties. That led to me becoming the full-time movie reviewer for the paper. Obviously, writing for the paper and its audience offered some unique challenges. One of my proudest contributions to the Deseret News was my "content descriptors," detailed recaps of movie content. Intended as an advisory. I got a lot of positive feedback about that.
Gavin: Recently you were part of the massive layoffs. I know you can't talk much on it, but how has it been for you since the fallout and what do you take from your years there?
Jeff: Obviously I got a lot of opportunities to rub elbows with the rich and famous. I have memories of run-ins with filmmakers and more-positive experiences with such stars as Tom Hanks, Zooey Deschanel, Michelle Yeoh, John Goodman and others that I will never forget. And obviously, through working there I have been able to get other media opportunities, such as reviewing for X96, co-hosting a short-lived but curiously fondly remembered television series with Kerry Jackson (Sci-Fi Sunday) and “Geek Show Podcast”. I also got to see hundreds of movies for free, which doesn't hurt. I am grateful for my time with the Deseret News, but am looking forward to future media endeavors involving film and reviewing that I hope will allow me to do what I love. Namely seeing films.
Gavin: Jimmy, what brought you out to Utah to do Film Studies at the U, and what was that program like for you?
Jimmy: Before participating in the film school program at the University of Utah, I was lucky to have attended a high school that offered an extensive filmmaking curriculum, something that wasn’t as common as it is nowadays. A fellow classmate, Travis Rolle, graduated a year before me and came to Utah and raved not only about the U’s film program but about the community as well. I flew out to check out the scene myself and absolutely fell in love with it. There were definitely positives and negatives regarding the film program. Without naming names, there were a handful of professors who seemed they were only in it for the paycheck and had clearly lost their enthusiasm for the art. Those classes felt more like I was teaching myself, which isn’t always a bad thing. On the other hand, I received fantastic and unforgettable mentoring from Chris Lippard, Sam Dunn, Paul Larsen, Elizabeth Conley, Steve Pecchia-Bekkum and Lynne Van Dam. All of these individuals helped me fine-tune my craft in one way or another. Another great aspect of the film program was meeting and forming friendships with other aspiring filmmakers and artists. The majority of the cast and crew I use for my productions are comprised of friends I met almost ten years ago.
Jeff: I know this question is for at Jimmy, but I was also in the Burgeoning film program at Utah State. There's an incredibly pretentious, black-and-white short movie -- written, directed, shot by and starring yours truly -- that has hopefully been lost to the sands of time. How does that old adage go? Those who can, do. Those who can't, review.
Gavin: You also work with the Utah Symphony as a video producer. How did that opportunity come about and how is it working with them?
Jimmy: I’ve been with Utah Symphony | Utah Opera for almost four years and I absolutely love working for them. I was originally hired as their Grant Writer (a position I still hold today) since I also have a background in professional/technical writing, but the video component didn’t come until after my team and I had won the 1st annual 48 Hour Film Festival with our film, “Klaus”. Sean Means, film critic for The Salt Lake Tribune, wrote a piece about our success and it mentioned my employment with USUO. It wasn’t long until my colleagues discovered the article and offered me a second position in the company.
Gavin: When did the offer to write for SLUG come about, and how has it been for you being their main film critic?
Jimmy: I was driving north on 700 East to Trolley Square to purchase tickets for the 2008 Sundance Film Festival when I received a call from my friend and fellow SLUG writer, Ryan Powers. Apparently, one of SLUG’s writers was covering the festival, but had to leave unexpectedly. Our editor, Angela Brown, was in dire need of someone who knew how to write and knew about films and could be in Park City, ASAFP! Powers suggested me and I was in Park City with a press badge around my neck two hours later. There’s nothing like being thrown head first into the deep end, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. After the festival, Angela asked if I’d like to stay on-board, and I couldn’t have said “Yes!” faster. At the time, SLUG was only covering a small selection of DVD titles, so I asked Angela if we could expand our coverage to include theatrical films. I figured our readers loved movies as much as anyone else and would appreciate reviews on where they should spend their money and what films to avoid. She enthusiastically agreed and mentioned a former SLUG writer who wrote for the Deseret News who could help us with contacting the appropriate PR reps. It was the first time I had heard the name Jeff Vice. Thanks to Vice, the position has grown incredibly fast! SLUG now covers the majority of theatrical releases and the majority of DVD and Blu-ray releases both in the publication and on the website.
Gavin: How did the two of you meet each other and eventually become friends?
Jeff: As one of the veteran film reviewers in the valley, I've sort of become the go-to guy for information about screenings and the advertising agencies. I believe it was our mutual friend, Angela Brown, who had Jimmy contact me. And I agreed to take him "under my wing," so to speak. We got to know each other at screenings and actually hung out at comic-con 2009, and he's become a regular at “Geek Show” related events. We can't get rid of the guy now!
Jimmy: The film critic community in Salt Lake City is like a small family. There are about eight of us who show up to every screening, whether it’s for M. Night Shyamalan’s latest disaster or an unknown gem from Israel, so it’s easy to start forming friendships with the people you spend hours sitting next to in a theater. However, I think it was Kerry Jackson’s invite to me at this year’s Sundance Film Festival to come check out a recording of “Geek Show Podcast”, which Jeff has been apart of since its inception, that lead to us becoming really good friends. While recording episode after episode of “Geek Show”, it quickly became apparent that while we had similar taste in many films, we had several contrasting feelings as well. Yet, either way the debate went, we always had fun with the discussions and it seemed others enjoyed the spectacle as well.
Gavin: What sparked up the idea to do a film review show with the two for you?
Jimmy: At the March Geek Show Movie Night at Brewvies, Jeff and I were in a friendly albeit heated debate about the latest films to hit theaters. As we squabbled back and forth, a small crowd had gathered around us listening to our incessant tirades. It was then, Bryan Young of Big Shiny Robot (and producer of “Big Movie Mouth-Off”) suggested we develop a television show spotlighting our disputes.
Jeff: As our “Geek Show” discussions have shown, we both have big personalities and opinions and aren't afraid to "mix it up." So some discussions began about having us do a television show. When the opportunity presented itself, we both jumped at the chance. Speaking for myself, I'm a shameless self-promoter who will do anything to get my face and/or voice other there.
Gavin: What made you choose Brewvies as your main spot to record, and what's a usual day like for you both in putting a review together?
Jeff: We originally had another theater chosen, but when that chain waffled, Brewvies stepped forward. I think it's a great fit, a relaxed atmosphere where we can be ourselves and be as frank as we want and need to be. And so far, it's easier than people might think. I usually have an idea of what I want to or can say. And I've been doing television long enough that, for me at least, it goes pretty quickly and easily. I also take extensive notes during movies and make all sorts of snide comments for later use. The guys who really do most of the work are our producers and crew, Bryan Young and Elias Pate, who make us look good and semi-competent.
Jimmy: Jeff and I wanted a show that was edgier than the other film review shows we had seen being produced. For me, Brewvies has that same type of quality amongst the theater venues around town, which made it a perfect fit. They had already been gracious with Geek Show Movie Nights and hosting live recordings of the podcast itself, so it only felt natural do have them as our set. Plus, a delicious glass of beer is always nice to have while discussing Julia Robert’s latest tragedy. In most cases, we’ve already written our reviews for our respective publications by the time we’re ready to record an episode of “Big Movie Mouth-Off”, so the opinions have already been established. We try (as hard as it is) to refrain from discussing the films before we start recording, so we can capture an authentic response to each other’s initial statements. Other than that, we just let the words come to us.
Gavin: Considering the time lapse between recording and release of the films, how do you end up deciding which ones you'll cover for the show?
Jimmy: Once “Big Movie Mouth-Off” and Comcast (Xfinity) are in unison, we should be able to record an episode on a Wednesday or Thursday and have it posted on their On Demand section before the weekend, providing our audience with current and useful coverage. We try to cover every major theatrical release (provided the press was invited to a screening) as well as the majority of the smaller releases distributed by the Salt Lake Film Society.
Jeff: So far, we're just doing major studio releases and a handful of specialty films. If the need arises for us to shoot more content, We'll record more often and include more films. I really hope that happens.
Gavin: The episodes have yet to air on Comcast but have been up on YouTube for a few weeks now. What's the public reaction been like from viewers who have checked them out?
Jeff: To say it's been overwhelming is putting it mildly. The reaction has been completely positive, and we've actually been blown away by the input and the "like"-ing of fans on our Facebook page.
Jimmy: The response has been overwhelming! I never thought we would have reached the number of followers that we have as quickly as we did, but I am sincerely indebted to each and every one of them for their support. Even if someone totally disagrees with our opinions, which we’ve already experienced, at least they’re getting in on the fun! Being able to talk about a subject you love with a great friend is amazing, but knowing that a number of people support your cause one way or another is the icing on the cake.
Gavin: Are there any plans down the road for the show to expand beyond what you're doing now, or are you both content with how things are going?
Jimmy: To be honest, I’m usually never content with any project I’m involved with. I always want to make my endeavors as efficient as possible while reaching as many individuals as I can. Why remain stagnant? There’s always something you can change for the better or new ideas you can try, even if they fail. Keep it fresh!
Jeff: It really hasn't been discussed yet, but obviously we'd love for that to happen. Go big, or go home!
Gavin: Going local for a bit, what’s your opinion of the Utah film scene, both good and bad?
Jeff: There's a lot of potential for greatness. There are so many incredibly, passionate people who are working to establish a Utah film community. That not only includes college and high school programs, but also SpyHop and East Hollywood High, the Sundance Film Institute, The Salt Lake Film Society, the Salt Lake Film Center and the Utah Film Commission. Unfortunately, the promise of the early efforts from the so-called "LDS film genre" has not materialized. Others have failed to push Their filmmaking and storytelling in the same ways as pioneering writer/director Richard Dutcher. Instead, they've relied on lazy writing and filmmaking that makes Utah film look provincial. That being said, I've seen some Utah documentaries and nonfiction filmmaking that leads me to believe this is turning around. From “Cleanflix” to “Sons Of Perdition” to “This Divided State”, there is some clear talented. Also... I recently judged a short film contest showcasing works by some Burgeoning talents. And things like the 48 Hour Film Project (on the local level) and the Salt Lake Film Festival have definite potential.
Jimmy: Again, one of the reasons I moved 2,000 miles from my home in Georgia was due to the community and film scene in Utah. This town is filled with talented artists making fantastic films and I love being a part of it. Outsiders think Sundance is the only thing we have going on here film-wise, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Everything from the SLFS’s Open Screen Nights to the record-breaking attendance levels of the 48 Hour Film Festival, this community knows how to put on a great show for film lovers everywhere!
Gavin: Is there anything you think could be done to make it more prominent?
Jimmy: I think the direction we’re heading in is great. With more opportunities like the Fear No Film Festival and the Salt Lake City Film Festival, it gives local filmmakers the chance to premiere their projects in front of large audiences and provides a building block to take their creations to the next level.
Jeff: Start taking chances and be unafraid to express a real opinion and voice. The best filmmaking is fearless.
Gavin: What's your take on the work that organizations like the Salt Lake Film Center and the Film Society do for the community?
Jeff: We are so lucky to have them both. Otherwise, we would be fed nothing but the large-studio filmmaking. And very little in the way of international voices. I despair for communities that are not as fortunate as we, with two organizations determined to make Utah film exhibition diverse.
Jimmy: Without these organizations, a large number of independent films would never make it to our community, which would be devastating given the vast amount of residents who respect and benefit from these lesser known achievements. Their presence is absolutely vital to the world of cinema that’s been established in this region.
Gavin: What do you think of the changes local theaters are doing, mainly with things like arranged seating, pushing 3D, restaurant additions, etc...
Jimmy: The world of filmmaking has changed in regards to where the profit comes from. The dip in theater audience levels can be directly correlated with the quick turn-around of films from theater to DVD/Blu-ray. It’s only about three or four months now. Why pay $29 in August for a family of four for one screening when you can buy the Blu-ray in December for $20 and enjoy it forever. So, movie theaters, if they want to remain in business, must create an experience unavailable in the confines of our homes. I hate this newfound obsession with 3D. I remember it twenty years ago as a kid and it still hasn’t improved the quality of filmmaking one bit, but I completely understand why the technology is being pushed mercilessly onto the public. I cringe at the thought of a world without cinemas. Some films were meant to be seen on the big screen and not only at home. No matter who sharp the image is on your iPhone, I don’t want to watch “Ben-Hur” on it. So, if the theater companies want to add restaurants, water slides and ferris-wheels to their establishment to keep the droves of customers coming, I say, “go for it.” As long as I can watch a non-3D version of any film along the way, you’ve got my vote.
Jeff: I think some of them (cough! Carmike! Cough! Century/Cinemark!) need to do more in the way of cleaning and refurbishing their theaters and less on gimmicks. And as much as I like the idea of reserved seating, it leads a lot of people to arrive late. They no longer need to be early to have a seat. I can't tell you how much it irritates me when someone comes into a movie around the 15-minute mark. Buy a watch! Also... I'm well-known as being a harsh 3D critic. I honestly can't say that there's been a film I've seen that's been made better and more enriching because it was in 3D. All it does is boost ticket prices. What's next? Smell-O-Vision, the second coming?
Gavin: What can we expect from the both of you and the show over the rest of the year?
Jeff: Hopefully, even more reviews and more fights. I still think Jimmy is up in the night about “Pirahna 3D”!
Jimmy: This is just the beginning! We plan to take “Big Movie Mouth-Off” as far as possible! Along with the theatrical reviews, we hope to provide coverage for DVD/Blu-ray titles, reviews for oldies but goodies and incorporate initial reactions to trailers for upcoming films.
Gavin: Aside the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Jimmy: I know Jeff will say the same thing, but we both love plugging this show! To everyone reading this, find “Big Movie Mouth-Off” on Facebook and “like” us! We’re always giving away free passes to upcoming films along with fantastic swag and prizes! Read my film reviews in SLUG Magazine and on their website. Listen to “Geek Show Podcast” with new episodes being delivered every Monday evening! Support Utah Symphony | Utah Opera by attending a symphony concert or opera production! Finally, aside from my collaborative ventures, I will always publicize my own filmmaking operations. If you are ever in need of a video production of any kind, I would love to offer my services!
Jeff: Yes, "like" our Facebook pages, and come find our respective personal pages there. Listen to “The Mediocre Show”. Listen to “The Geek Show Podcast”. Listen to Radio From Hell to hear me, Thursday mornings at 9AM. And, please, won't you think of the children?
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