10 Items or Fewer

Monday, November 20th, 2006 | All Things, Classes, Film

I started my Feature Film Series at Town Hall. Tonight’s class was the first of two “bonus screenings” before we settle into the bi-weekly schedule in 2007. The class is hosted by Scott Siegel, renowned film critic and author of dozens of books, who introduces the films and then leads invited guests through a Q&A session following the screening.

Tonight: 10 Items or Less — no relation to the TBS show of the same name — directed by Brad Silberling (Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events), who was also that night’s guest interviewee.

Siberling and Siegel

10 Items or Less stars Morgan Freeman as a literally nameless commitment-phobic actor, venturing out to the ethnic fringes of Los Angeles to research a potential role in an indie project, after a four year hiatus from Hollywood. His co-star is fetching Spanish actress Paz Vega, whom the Sean Hayes character on Will and Grace once described to Bobby Cannavale (who coincidentally has a bit part in this film) as “Spanish for Ashley Judd.” One of the recurring jokes in the film involves Freeman’s character, billed only as “Him,” constantly finding dusty VHS copies of his last blockbuster with Judd in discount bins around town. Would that be High Crimes ? Kiss the Girls ? It’s all so meta.

In reality, Vega made her fame on the Iberian peninsula on television and in movies (Sex and Lucia, Pedro Almodovar’s Talk to Her) before making her American debut in Spanglish. Her subtle performance, as the express checkout line cashier aspiring to be something more, was the thing I enjoyed most about the film.

Not much to say about the slight 82 minute film, which was modest in feel and ambition: a cast of two, plus a couple of other actors and a dozen or so colorful non-acting locals. Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman make a drive-by cameo appearance, which director Siberling told us was filmed in less than half an hour at a traffic stop on their way to their real life Brentwood home. That anecdote was indicative of the film’s minimalist production. Siberling informed the audience that night that 10 Items or Less was shot over 15 days for a budget of $2 million; compare that to his Lemony Snicket, which cost $125 million and filmed for 132 days. To keep costs down, Freeman (who was also an executive producer), Vega and some key crew members agreed to be paid on S.A.G. scale in exchange for gross points, or shares, in the finished film.

The financing model is one Siberling believes could be viable for independent film; in addition, 10 Items or Less will debut an experimental bifurcated distribution plan through digital entertainment venture Clickstar, Inc. Clickstar, which was founded by Freeman’s production company, Revelations Entertainment with an investment from Intel Corporation, will launch this film as the first through its broadband entertainment service, two weeks after the national theatrical release on December 1. The company seeks to become an online resource for first-run, pre-DVD-release films and artist-created entertainment channels, designed to give film makers a vehicle to reach broader geographical markets in an affordable and flexible way.

About that grammatically problematic movie title…

According to The American Heritage Book of English Usage, “[t]he traditional rule says that you should use fewer for things that can be counted (fewer than four players) but less with mass terms for things of measurable extent (less paper, less than a gallon of paint),” but makes allowances for using less with plural nouns in the expressions “no less than” and “or less.” The Columbia Guide to Standard American English makes the same distinction: “less with mass nouns and fewer with plural count nouns,” also acknowledging the exceptions of “a few idiomatic locutions,” noting that “[e]dited English prefers fewer, and for many conservatives, the use of less where fewer is expected remains a strong shibboleth.”

Count me among those grammar “conservatives.” And kudos to places like Whole Foods Market — the only chain I know to use the technically proper “…or fewer” in their express checkout signage.

Passing through Times Square on the way home:

Times Square Tourists

Times Square

There's 1 comment so far ... 10 Items or Fewer

December 3, 2006

So prescriptive you are.

Go for it ...