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Elvis Mitchell Ankles Movieline: Why?

by Anne Thompson
April 24, 2011 7:13 AM
28 Comments
  • |

PARKER_LORENZO

Elvis Mitchell is such a fascinating, complicated character that he deserves a mini-series. I am not kidding. I could have predicted--would have placed bets--that he wouldn't last as film critic at Movieline, that it was a bad match--mainly because Mitchell is not internet savvy. To succeed online, you have to be able to interact with your readers on Twitter and Facebook, market yourself, have an instinct for building traffic for your stories. Mention Twitter to Mitchell and his eyes go blank. Why did he go there as co-chief film critic with ex-Salon scribe Stephanie Zacharek? For the money. Well, the trouble with making a hefty salary is that when you do not deliver, you make a convenient line-item deletion. And Movieline is in cost-cutting mode of late: they pared back the masthead and cut off all freelancers a few weeks ago, including Alonso Duralde.

Nikki Finke, who works for Jay Penske, who publishes Deadline and Movieline and hired Mitchell, posted one explanation for why he was fired. For cause, apparently, for an error in his Source Code review, in which he describes Jeffrey Wright smoking a pipe. She implies that Mitchell must not have seen the movie, and slipped a reference to something from its screenplay into the review. Several people report seeing Mitchell at a New York Source Code screening. Sloppy is more Mitchell's style. More than one of his editors complain about what a pain it was to edit him, especially at The New York Times. He was a much better fit at the LA Weekly.

UPDATE: It looks like insubordination contributed to Mitchell's departure. Penske is sensitive to Movieline's relationships with the studios--Summit and director Duncan Jones protested the error--and Mitchell never bothered to respond to anyone to explain his review. Mitchell does what he wants to do: he was supposed to be on the narrative feature jury at the Florida Film Festival last week, emails indieWIRE's Eric Kohn, "but never showed up. I found out later he was at a festival in Krakow the whole time. He even did a TV appearance there."

As I have reported before, Mitchell is not good with money. Or meeting deadlines. Filing expenses. Or doing what he says he's going to do. He has left or lost one job after another, from NPR to the New York Times. Famously, he never turned up for a job he had accepted at the L.A. Times, nor for a job as a development exec for Sony. He has expensive tastes. He likes Versace suits and staying at the Four Seasons in L.A. Here's Mitchell in a nutshell. At Sundance, I was standing in line at a snack bar when juror Jason Reitman accosted Mitchell, asking him why he hadn't returned any of his emails or phone calls. Mitchell demurred. He likes palling around with the rich and famous, globetrotting and tomcatting with the likes of Quentin Tarantino in Reykjavik and other places.

Mitchell is nothing if not flamboyant. He was once stopped by customs officials when he tried to cross the Canadian border en route to the Toronto Film Fest with $12,000 in cash and 15 Cuban cigars, and has reportedly wrangled with the IRS over as much as $500,000. He shows up for dinner invitations some of the time--when he feels like it. He will take the best offer, when it comes. He two-timed his fiance--who loved him and was committed to marry him-- with another woman. He'll tell an editor (me, at Premiere Magazine) that a major feature is finished, and then wonder why you're mad when he never hands it in. He's Elvis Mitchell! He's special.

The one job Mitchell has hung onto isn't one that will pay him enough to live on: KCRW's The Treatment. I love the show. He's great at interviewing people. His Q & A with Harry Belafonte at Sundance was so good that I wrote him to congratulate him. I would have liked to see him as co-host on Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies. Ebert will not reveal why Mitchell wound up not doing the show except to say that the reason was "mundane." I hear the show's salary was too modest for Mitchell. UPDATE: Chaz Ebert responds: "The reason we let Elvis go had nothing to do with salary, but we really don't want to go over it. We like Elvis and wish him well."

At this point I almost feel sorry for the guy. Needless to say, he did not respond to my email.

28 Comments

  • Lawrence Anderson | December 23, 2011 2:25 AMReply

    Anne Thompson is an Elvis Mitchell stalker and she's mad she didn't get to fuck him.

  • ChrisJ | May 4, 2011 1:22 AMReply

    Were you the fiance by chance?

  • DavidC | April 28, 2011 6:14 AMReply

    His editors may have grounds for feeling he's let them down. His readers, and listeners, however, don't seem to have the same beef. Line for line, whether on the page or on the radio, he's consistently inventive, smart and above all entertaining.

  • Mickey | April 27, 2011 5:32 AMReply

    Wait, Morley...are you trying to tell me that a "cerebral, complex talent" is also kind of a sociopath who has trouble acting like a normal human being? Like Anne Thompson just spent all those words pointing out that a quirky, highly intelligent, eccentric writer doesn't function well in structured jobs or handle money well? What a shocking expose!

    The bottom line is, people like me who are fans of Elvis Mitchell don't care about any of this. I like reading him and I like listening to The Treatment. And, people like you, Morley (and Anne) are clearly bubbling over with glee that he's getting some sort of (what you feel is a well deserved) comeuppance. It's obviously personal for you and a number of other people, but again...most of us just...don't...care.

  • Morley | April 26, 2011 7:55 AMReply

    The people here sticking up for Elvis don't know him very well, if at all. So many of us, who actually know him VERY well, have been burned time and time again by him. But there is sooo much more. The only thing that surprises me when I read a story about him, is that people continue to hire him. He's unethical in his work and social life. But you'll won't realize you've been had, as long as he thinks he can use you. Then poof, he's gone and you're one more on a long list of people who have supported and helped him, who cannot get him on the phone. You won't see people who've know him for any real length of time commenting on what a great guy he is. Try reading up his past before going off on a someone who knows more than you about this subject.
    Elvis is a passive aggressive, cerebral, complex talent. But he's not so talented that he can escape the true and valid criticisms he's earned. I think it's high time the whole truth about him emerges. Why shouldn't it be mentioned that he cheated on his fiancee — this article began by noting that he should be a mini series.

  • Mickey | April 26, 2011 2:22 AMReply

    God, I can't believe I just precious minutes of my life reading this crock. How can you call him on the carpet for supposedly ignoring Jason Reitman's advances and then accuse him two sentences later of sucking up to and hanging out with celebrities? Wouldn't his alleged desire to suck up to celebrities have compelled him to not only answer Reitman's calls and emails but to want to hang out with him, too?

    On the plus side, you have to go to bed at night knowing you've written drivel like this and that you'll never be at his level. Find a new gig, dumbass.

  • Anna | April 26, 2011 1:11 AMReply

    Really, Ann? Versace suits? Cubans? A scorned fiancée? (which has two Es when it refers to a woman, by the way) A four-paragraph update with one paragraph's worth of news, and the rest petty ranting? Where is the journalistic integrity?

    I, too, wish I could afford to carry a lot of cash, globetrot in Reykjavik, and not turn in my expenses right away, but I at least TRY not to announce it on a T-shirt or in my columns. I've been told I don't look good in green, and you don't either.

  • Adam Bhala Lough | April 25, 2011 10:39 AMReply

    He showed up randomly at the premier of my Lee Scratch Perry documentary The Upsetter @ SXSW, he wasnt there to review it, he was just there as a Scratch fan. After reading your article there seem to be more than a few similarities between Elvis and Scratch. Fascinating characters. Elvis deserves his own doc too.

  • Anon | April 25, 2011 10:24 AMReply

    @Edward J. Perabo:

    ankle -- A classic (and enduring) Variety term meaning to quit or be dismissed from a job, without necessarily specifying which; instead, it suggests walking; "Alan Smithee has ankled his post as production prexy at U."

    http://www.variety.com/index.asp?layout=slang_results_l&query=A

  • James St. Clair | April 25, 2011 7:38 AMReply

    Elvis needs to learn about the craft and study film before running around trying to act cool with that terrible hair. He thinks the voters at AMPAS are all old farts, when it is he who is quite the turd. You should have seen him at the TV Academy spouting for days (we think he's still talking), rather than asking the guests to expound at a seminar devoted to them. Bad enough to hear him kissing ass on NPR radio interviews. The one with Jerry Weintraub recently was classic Elvis-head-up-both-of-their-asses. It was another measure of how unprepared Elvis is, thinking he can compensate with his peculiar brand of cute and oblique. The name doesn't do it, dude. Except to say how happy we are to hear Elvis has left the building

  • Roxanne Gioia | April 25, 2011 7:12 AMReply

    Glad to hear Elvis is straight, like who cares. He is truly boring and imagines himself to be hip rather than sycophantic. Adios to him.

  • Andrew | April 25, 2011 6:31 AMReply

    Say what you will but his review of Battlefield Earth while at The NYT still ranks as one of my faces of all-time.

    http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9C05EEDF173BF931A25756C0A9669C8B63

  • Brian | April 25, 2011 2:50 AMReply

    I read Mitchell when he was at the Times. And I've seen him on TV a few times and heard him on the radio once or twice. I've never been impressed by him at all--ever. He's always struck me as pretty shallow. Given the extremely irresponsible behavior that Anne describes, I can only wonder why anyone with any kind of professional standards ever hired him at all--for anything! Would any of the rest of us have gotten away with that?

  • Jack Mathews | April 25, 2011 2:09 AMReply

    I can shed some light on the Elvis/LA Times story. I was the movie editor at The Times when Calendar Editor Bob Epstein told me he'd hired Elvis to write cultural opinion pieces. Epstein even gave me Elvis' start date. At precisely the same time, my former editor at the Detroit Free Press told me they'd hired Elvis as their chief film critic, with the same start date. I passed this along to Epstein, but he laughed it off, saying he was certain Elvis was joining us. On the day Elvis was supposed to appear -- and didn't -- I put a $1 bill on Epstein desk and said "I'll make you a bet; let's double this every day that Elvis isn't here." A few days later, Epstein handed me a $20 bill and said "Forget it." There had been an Elvis sighting in Motown, though I'm not sure he ever showed up there, either.

  • Graig | April 25, 2011 2:09 AMReply

    Do you really need to tell us all about Elvis Mitchell's infidelity? I understand you don't like him, and I understand he's acted unprofessional in the past, but telling us how he liked to screw around on his fiancee? Really?

  • Glass Houses | April 25, 2011 2:01 AMReply

    Totally agree with Mr. GlassM. This is an unnecessarily bitter use of Indiewire's cyberspace with a gleeful account of someone leaving a job. Anne, the reader can almost see you cackle as you write "he deserves a mini-series. I am not kidding," among other phrases. As someone who was let go by Variety in cost-cutting moves, you should sympathize or simply avoid taking very personal shots at someone who'd just lost their job, rather than kick someone when they're down. Remember, if not for Eugene & the great people at IW, you'd still be looking for work...

  • Mr. GlassM | April 25, 2011 1:31 AMReply

    The moralizing in this posting really rubbed me the wrong way.

    Anne, would you like it if someone was reporting on your failed past relationships or your private life?

    Maybe Mitchell screwed you (and everyone else) over at some point, but this comes off as a complex, cloying, too-public shaming of a man seemingly for no other reason than he doesn't return your emails. You seem a bit jealous of him...

  • Shane Danielsen | April 25, 2011 1:05 AMReply

    The information about his fiancé is unnecessary, frankly - since when was the personal life of a critic relevant to an estimation of their professional career?

  • Jeff Dowd | April 24, 2011 11:15 AMReply

    I can't dispute any of the criticisms Anne Thompson makes about Elvis Mitchell and his professional dependablity or lackof at times.
    I can say that every time read something by Elvis or hear him I learn something. Usually a whole lot. He has a very knowledgeable and unique point of view.
    I remember when I was with Neil Young premiering the film he directed Greendale at the Toronto Film Festival and Elvis did an interviw with Neil that not only expoled the film but also Neil's career and the music of several decades. Elvis knew as much about music as anyone who has written at Cream or Rolling Stone. Kind of like A.O. "Tony" Scott coming from the New York Times Book Review Section to being a film critic. Renaissance men.
    But alas, Elvis, like myself, are still are own worse enemies.

    This "Dude" is one of the characters selected by Ridley and his brother--the other Tony Scott to have some fun with in a short film about interesting characters. The episode about me is directed by Jeff Feuerzeig who directed Sundance Fest winner The Devil and Daniel Johnston.
    Coincidently I received this invite the same day Evis had left the Movie Line building:
    USA NETWORK, RSA FILMS, VANITY FAIR
    PRESENT A SPECIAL SCREENING OF CHARACTER PROJECT 8 DIRECTORS. 8 SHORT FILMS. EVERY CHARACTER HAS A STORY. MONDAY, MAY 9
    SCREENING 7:00 PM
    ARCLIGHT CINEMAS
    6360 W. SUNSET BLVD. Q&A MODERATED BY ELVIS MITCHELL

    I hope Elvis shows.

    And more than that I sure hope his unique voice continues to be heard in print, on radio, TV and the internet in these crucial times as we cinematically expolre the realm of ideas.

    Jeff Dowd
    The Dude Abides!

  • Devin Faraci | April 24, 2011 10:51 AMReply

    OOps. My bad. You mentioned Alonso! My eyes slid right over that. Blame my stupidity!

  • Daniella Isaacs | April 24, 2011 10:44 AMReply

    Obviously there would have been a more diplomatic way to recount all of this, and surely Thompson knows that and made a conscious choice. Still, diatribes like this don't leave anyone better off, except those of us who enjoy a bit of schadenfreude with our Easter candy. I guess it does give one insight into EM getting dropped by Ebert for the tv show.

  • Devin Faraci | April 24, 2011 10:41 AMReply

    Anne, I think you should have mentioned that Elvis is not the only person let go from Movieline in the last week or two. In fact, Alonso Duralde, who came on AT THE EXACT SAME TIME as Elvis, was also let go. It seems way more likely to me that Elvis was cut because of costs, the same reason the reliable, excellent Alonso was let go.

  • DavidC | April 24, 2011 10:32 AMReply

    Too thick to see that by using "ankles" she's giving him the benefit of the doubt?

    Elvis has earned every break he's gotten: he a terrific critic and writer and possibly an even better interviewer. If he was just another talentless hack this wouldn't be such a tragedy -- using the word correctly, for a change.

  • Edward Copeland | April 24, 2011 9:40 AMReply

    I've never met the man and I've never heard him say anything or read anything he's written that caused me to have any ill will toward him, but everytime I've seen him on TV, he always has struck me as someone more interested in looking cool and hip than just doing his job professionally. Obviously, someone is lying re: the Source Code bit, but it always bugs me when writers put things in their reviews or stories that indicate they either didn't see the work or weren't paying attention. Just the other day, the Wall Street Journal had a preview of the second season of Treme and said that Elizabeth Ashley and David Morse were appearing as new characters when both appeared in the first season. Did the writer not watch season one? Had it been so long they'd forgotten? Factual inaccuracy just bugs me more than anything. When I rail about this sometimes, people think it's no big deal because it's just related to "entertainment" copy, but this is just the stuff I catch because I know the subject. What could be wrong in say an international foreign policy story that I'm not well-versed in that I wouldn't catch?

  • BelingaGomez | April 24, 2011 9:25 AMReply

    He's the incarnation of "phoning it in".

  • Edward J. Perabo | April 24, 2011 9:11 AMReply

    Yeah, really. What an utterly bizarre story. I read it twice to try to get a handle on it. First of all, I haven't read Variety in a while, but I'm pretty sure "ankled" means "left willingly," not "terminated for cause." Secondly, "Oh, that Elvis -- stopped at the border with twelve grand in cash concealed in a box -- what a rascal!" Are you for real? I think I'll stop there. This piece takes the cake.

  • Pemberton | April 24, 2011 8:59 AMReply

    Who are you, his mom?

  • jo | April 24, 2011 8:46 AMReply

    Ouch.

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