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Peter Mehlman Headshot

LA Elba... Banishment

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Life after losing all my credibility has been hellish. Actually, you know what? Drop the "-ish".

If you live in L.A., credibility is all you have. Not your personal or professional credibility where the truth is just a devious form of lying -- but your movie recommendation credibility. A sterling reputation for great taste in movies is the L.A. equivalent of an spick-and-span credit rating. It takes years of finesse-soaked opinions to establish, then turns viciously precarious to maintain.

As the U2 lyric goes: "Leaves you baby, if you don't care for it." (Although U2 was referring to something else. Love, I think.)

Well, all it took was one movie about two kidnapped kids, and my credibility left me, baby. Twenty-four years of building a reputation for exquisite taste... gone in one boffo opening weekend.

My downfall began after an advanced screening of Prisoners, a title that, in my eyes, seemed to refer to the audience. Yes, that's how much I hated Prisoners. Or this much: I posted how much I hated it on social media. Or this much: The next day, I told baristas, waitresses and panhandlers how much I hated Prisoners.

I might have even mentioned it to God.
Then Prisoners opened to... UNANIMOUS RAVES:
"Grips you from the start!"
"Plot twists you'll never coming!"
"An impossible-to-predict villain!"

The film gripped me like typhoid, and I didn't see the plot twists even after they came... except for easily picking out the villain in advance because, really, why would a killer actress like Melissa Leo take the part of a non-descript mom unless she'd wind up a sadistic freak?

(Can you give a retroactive spoiler alert?)

(Oddly, another highly-gifted actress, Maria Bello, apparently took a part in the film based exclusively on her ability to lie in bed on her side.)

By the end of the first weekend of Prisoners, I was in big trouble. Dear friends, even some whose opinions I respect, chastised me for disliking Prisoners so harshly you'd think I'd embezzled from Save The Children.

"How can you hate Prisoners? It was great filmmaking!"
"Your taste in movies has gone totally putrid."
"Hey, I saw Prisoners and loved it! Did you say Venti half-caf?"

At first I fought for my point of view: "What about the little girl escaping? She was in the hospital because the Melissa Leo drugged her, but in the clunky flashback showing how she escaped, she was running like Lolo Jones and wide awake. Sure, some drugs have a bounce effect but..."

(Oh, sorry. Ex post facto spoiler alert number two.)

Nobody wanted to hear it. Everyone loved the movie and no one could be talked out of it. Desperate, I made some futile stabs at quick fixes. For example: There was the waitress to whom
I'd previously said, "Prisoners opens with a deer being shot in Pennsylvania. They should've called the movie, 'Deer Hunter Part 2: Amber Alert!'" Five days later, when the waitress should have asked, "Wheat or spinach tortilla?" she instead said, "I loved Prisoners... and I almost didn't see it because of you." I apologized, chose spinach and said, "Hey, you know what's really good? Citizen Kane."

She shot me a yeah-like-I'm-going-to-hit-up-Netflix-based-on-your-taste look. It reminded me of 1977 when the Washington Post movie critic panned Annie Hall. Even in Washington where movies are prioritized below trivia like running the country, readers went nuts. Later, as a cub reporter there, I met the critic and said, "So, regretting that Annie Hall review?" He blanched like someone who'd named names before Congress.

(Oh: that waitress might like On The Waterfront.)

Funny, speaking of Woody Allen, I'd attended opening night of Blue Jasmine and recommended it with gusto. Sure enough, when friends saw this film that was an hour shorter and approximately 33,000 times more cogent than Prisoners, they thanked me profusely.

But all that goodwill is way in the past now. With a reputation one month into my-name-is-Mudville, I've spoken out on movies only as far as suggesting that, for the price of an Arclight ticket, RayBan should supply the 3-D glasses. Otherwise, I've been forced to lie low with my opinions on movies.

It's sad, I know. But then, movie-going in L.A. is a cruel game. There are few other cities where people see a film hoping to hate it. And there are no other cities where you leave a theater and hear comments like:

"I counted at least 12 lines that were looped in post."
"What garbage. How many boom shadows did you notice?"
"The production designer once sued me for sexual harassment, so I couldn't enjoy the movie."

Rebuilding my reputation in such spite-infested air feels impossible. Even if I weigh in on the artsy late fall releases, January will roll around, Prisoners will win the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Vile Role, and my reputation will gurgle down and down and down until I'm sharing a cell with whoever green-lit The Lone Ranger.

Boy, that sounds really bad. But there aren't any sweeter options so, you know what? As long as I'm an untouchable in the movie capital of the world, I'm considering the Hollywood version of dropping out of society altogether.

You know, keeping my opinions to myself.