Former New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell has had his share abrupt exits and non-departures since the paper named him Janet Maslin's replacement in 1999. This past December he was dropped as co-host for the planned reboot of Roger Ebert at the Movies. In 2004, he spent a semester lecturing at Harvard. In 2005, he accepted a job running Sony's New York production office but never reported to work. He was also a no-show for a gig he accepted at the Los Angeles Times. But even by Mitchell's own standards, the circumstances surrounding his termination as co-chief film critic at Movieline this past weekend were odd and abrupt.
Deadline's Nikki Finke first reported Saturday that Mitchell was out after three months on the job following a "company investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mitchell's recent review of Summit Entertainment's Source Code." Finke's article infers the "circumstance" is whether or not Mitchell actually attended a February 24 critic's screening of the film, after his review referenced Jeffrey Wright's character smoking a pipe, a detail that was included in early drafts but left out of the final cut. Source Code director Duncan Jones criticized Mitchell and Movieline for the error on his Twitter account. According to Finke, Mitchell "told editors that he was at the screening and that it was all a misunderstanding and that he would provide a written explanation" but was fired anyway.
Mitchell's peers and former colleagues haven't exactly been rushing to his defense, with most of the testimonials centering on the critic's careerism. Jack Mathews, formerly movie editor at the Los Angeles Times, recalled talking to a friend at the Detroit Free Press soon after hiring Mitchell and being shocked to hear that "they’d hired Elvis as their chief film critic, with the same start date." At The Wrap, Daniel Frankel could barely contain his distaste for Mitchell. "If the phrase, 'You’ll land on your feet' ever applied to anyone, it's Elvis Mitchell," he sniffed.
Mitchell's jet-setting ways and urbane persona also may help explain the glee his colleagues are showing after his ouster. As Carl Swanson noted in a New York magazine profile of Mitchell after he left the Times, the dread-locked critic "will never be your average be-khaki’d Timesman." Anne Thompson, Mitchell's editor at Premiere magazine, recalls that 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." Factor in his "sloppy" approach to meeting deadlines and filing expenses, and it's easy to see how Mitchell's less-than-stellar reputation in the industry took hold. That being said, Thompson says Mitchell was not fired for being willingly dishonest. Rather, it was "insubordination," that cost him his job after he never "bothered to respond" to management's queries about the pipe error. Combine that with Movieline's recent cost-cutting measures (according to Thompson, they've just laid off all freelancers) and the decision was a matter of money, not ethics.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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