Showing posts with label Roger Ebert. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Roger Ebert. Show all posts

Thursday, April 11, 2013

"WHY CITIZEN KANE, ROGER EBERT, MAD MEN, AND STEVEN SPIELBERG CAN SUCK MY DICK"

Contrarianism: it's always this stupid

Citizen Kane sucks. Roger Ebert was a gibbering middlebrow hack. People who claim to like Mad Men are only doing so to sound sophisticated. There's nothing to Steven Spielberg except the corniness, except when he's insidiously propping up American imperialism. A critic not liking your favorite movie means that critic's entire body of work is worthless. Everyone has a right to their opinion, and there's nothing to criticism except stating undefended opinions which have no more merit than any other.

It's a shame we can't use bullshit as an alternate energy source, because one week on the Internet could light New York for a year. Some times we see spikes in bullshit levels, such as (among many others) the death of famous people and the beginning of new seasons of popular TV shows. So it is that the passing of Roger Ebert (aka the most influential film critic to ever live) and the season premiere of Mad Men falling on the same weekend were likely to produce at least one, if not several, pieces of truly ripe, stinking, prime cut contrarian bullshit, almost designed to rebuke reasonable people for caring. And the Internet did not disappoint.

Rather than dwell on specific pieces, much less link to them and play into the authors' hands, I want to talk about the blight that is reflexive, willfully ignorant shit-talking for the sole purpose of causing rage-induced pageview explosions. That's what the title of this post is about; I'm sure a lot of people are going to find it thinking I'm doing that same stupid “look at me, I'm special because I'm saying the opposite of popular consensus, whoop de fuck.” To you, may I apologize for the shade of purple you turned when you read this post's title. We're on the same side.

While it's absolutely true that the majority is not always right—take the recently passed ten-year anniversary of Bush's invasion of Iraq; some obscene majority of American media supported it in '03 in spite of it being such a stupid idea even Bush's dad, no intellectual heavyweight he, knew it was a dumb idea the first time around which is why he didn't do it—this does not mean that there is any inherent value in opposing the majority opinion. In the case of opposing an unprovoked military invasion of a foreign country, you look at the reams of intelligence (even if you restrict yourself solely to what's on the public record, you got lots) screaming “this is a bad fucking idea and there's no justifiable reason to do this” and you come to the conclusion that it's a bad fucking idea and there's no justifiable reason to do it. Easy enough, right?

Arts criticism is a little more difficult than that, because there isn't a (declassified, anyway) report proving that Citizen Kane actually a great movie because it blended technical innovation and skill with narrative to create a truly, holistically American work of art, or that Roger Ebert's ability to balance passionate enthusiasm with critical assessment made him one of the most popular arts critics because he was actually good and good on terms that civilians could understand, or that Mad Men is a meticulously detailed, literarily and cinematically ambitious narrative that requires attention and intelligence because it was made with attention and intelligence, or that Steven Spielberg is a preternaturally gifted technical filmmaker more concerned with emotions than the intellect (and that that concern is valid). These are arguments that need to be made. None of them, though, can be refuted unilaterally by saying “It's boring/it sucks/it's dated.” But those refutations can be refuted with three simple words: “go fuck yourself.”

Go fuck yourself if you think people should be “interesting” and pick something other than Citizen Kane as the greatest American movie ever made. Want to advocate for Vertigo, or The Searchers, or Singin' in the Rain, or Modern Times, or something? Go ahead. Make a case for it. And I mean an actual case, not “eh, everyone says Citizen Kane is the best ever, it's boring,” because that's not an argument, that's you being a fucking pud.

Go fuck yourself if you selectively pull reviews out of Roger Ebert's vast archive of published criticism and declare him square because he didn't like this, or clueless because he didn't like that, or stupid because he didn't like your favorite movie. There's a refutation to your point somewhere else within his body of work. Further go fuck yourself if you get on him for not being politically conscious, because that's not just a matter of opinion, you're a goddamn idiot. The man was as strong a public progressive voice as there was. Just because you don't like Steven Spielberg (more on whom in a bit) doesn't make Roger Ebert a toady, and by the way, stew on how little connection there is between those two things a bit more.

Go fuck yourself if keeping up with Mad Men is a chore. Is it a touch insufferable when political bloggers can't mention anything that happened between 1960 and 1967 without mentioning Mad Men eight thousand times? Sure. But the reason everyone gets so worked up about Mad Men is because it's really skillfully done. And no one is forcing anyone to watch it. If all your friends are talking about Mad Men all the time (as nearly all of mine are), and you want to watch it to see what they're all so gaga about (as I have, but I'm way the hell behind), watch it. If you don't own a TV and you're pissed off because everyone's talking about Mad Men, either buy a TV and watch it or go do something else with your Sunday evening. Don't start ranting about how “no one really likes it” because “it's boring.” Child, please.

Go fuck yourself if you think Steven Spielberg movies are political propaganda. Holy shit this one's stupid. Now, keep in mind, I'm not saying go fuck yourself if you don't like Steven Spielberg movies. Some of my best friends (ha-cha!) don't like Steven Spielberg movies. What I'm saying is, lumping Spielberg in with Frank Capra (who did make propaganda films during WWII, and was totally upfront about it) is specious at best, and presupposes a degree of control over a billionaire filmmaker that the government simply doesn't have in this day and age. People suck at keeping secrets. If Spielberg had made Saving Private Ryan at the government's behest, you'd better goddamn well believe the media would have been all over it. Bill Clinton couldn't get blown in 1998 without an international crisis, how in the hell's he supposed to keep it secret that he's commissioning propaganda films? Keep in mind, a private citizen deciding of his own volition to make a movie that's like “hey, I like this thing my country did this one time” is not propaganda. You could argue, in the wrong case, that that guy is being a bit of a drip. But come on, making a movie about WWII where a bunch of guys get killed following orders is a far cry from “America Uber Alles.” Seriously.

So. Solutions. I wouldn't be surprised if some asshole marketing yuppie with his feet up on his desk had his unpaid interns crunch numbers that proved that people on the Internet react most strongly to anger, and that memos subsequently made their way to editors saying “deliberate provocation = traffic.” If that's the case, then some other marketing yuppie with his feet up on his desk needs to have his unpaid interns crunch numbers that prove that the way to get traffic is to not be a fucking asshole. But the problem is, if we ever definitively prove that not being a fucking asshole is the way to go, we're going to have to put every yuppie up against the wall, which will get messy, and with all the gun nuts buying up all the ammunition we might run out of bullets.

Anyway, I got distracted. Utopian political fantasies will do that. The real solution, alluded to cynically in the above paragraph, is to somehow devalue empty provocation in public discourse. If that means The-Site-That-Shan't-Be-Named-Because-They've-Been-Publishing-My-Friends-Lately needs to rebrand, hey. Buck up, fuckos, it's evolution, baby. There's no reason why serious critical writing can't be entertaining to read. And people shouldn't throw shade at serious critics for agreeing about stuff. No, we don't say Citizen Kane is great because we're afraid to think for ourselves. When you know a lot about movies and how they're made you watch Citizen Kane and see that it's great. Trying to argue otherwise can be a useful exercise, rhetorical calisthenics if you will, but it's futile in any real sense unless you really fucking bring it, and if you know enough to really fucking bring it on this question, the chances of your deciding to make the argument are really slim. And, if your argument is that it's boring, well, no. You're boring. Stop talking. And go fuck yourself.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

R.I.P. ROGER EBERT



“We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try.” --Roger Ebert

“Many try. You succeed.” --Humphrey Bogart

Monday, June 11, 2012

JESUS CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, AND ACTUAL PROMETHEUS SPOILERS



This weekend, I swear. For about 72 consecutive hours I've either been trying to avoid, actively engaged in, or stewing about some sort of impassioned discussion about Prometheus. And, before that, I'd been sitting around since Tuesday night trying to figure out what the fuck to write about it. And before that there were the months of faux-viral video clips and Stephen A. Smith bellowing about it during basketball games and the filmmakers being coy about it. It would have been too bad if after all that, the movie was just another boring, business-as-usual blockbuster. But that's the thing. It isn't. And it kind of is.

A movie that's at odds with itself about what the fuck it actually is is going to provoke some discussion. And holy cow did Prometheus ever set off a shitstorm. I saw it last Tuesday at an all-media, and after the whole clusterfuck of getting our phones back was done, my friend with whom I saw it and I spent the next hour or so walking to the subway and riding back to Park Slope repeatedly asking each other, “Why did Prometheus suck so bad?” Then, after we got back to our respective apartments, we hit each other up on Gchat to ask again: “WHY DID PROMETHEUS SUCK SO BAD?”

So, I had a couple days to think about it, which was actually really valuable because the review I ended up writing for Tor had evolved beyond that initial negative reaction and developed a bit of nuance. That extra time to think allowed me to sort the things that pissed me off about the picture and weight how important each was to the whole thing. Also, it allowed me to assess Prometheus in relation to Alien, to Ridley Scott's career as a director, and to the median 2010s-vintage Hollywood blockbuster. The result? I really respect what Prometheus (mainly Ridley Scott, Dariusz Wolski, the designers, and the cast) gets right. (Ed. Note: if only there was a way to make the incipient “but” in 400 point boldfaced type with an mp3 of Samuel L. Jackson hollering “BUT” when you clicked on it . . .)

BUT, Prometheus has some of the dumbest writing, from inexplicable character behavior to unnecessary and poorly-placed plot twists to clunky big-idea-conveying to those ideas not being as big as they would seem in more competent hands to an ending that can go fuck itself in the severed android neck, since Tommy Wiseau's proud nadir, The Room. I don't invoke St. Wiseau the Lowest of the Low in vain, believe me. Here's a partial—complete would take us all day—list of dumb shit in the Prometheus script (and in case subtle hints like the title of the fucking post didn't convey this, spoilers in the following):

—Despite having no reason to do so, CEO Guy Pearce of Evil White Guy Industries (a pre-Yutani merger Weyland Corp.) stows away on the Prometheus and only reveals that he's on board near the end of the journey. The reveal has no dramatic impact, no purpose whatsoever: it just happens and suddenly Guy Pearce is doddering around in Andy Garcia Dead Again makeup and everyone's acting like he's always been there. Why wasn't he?

—When all the scientists go down to the planet, the air isn't breathable, so they wear their space suits. Then they get inside what turns out to be an alien spacecraft and suddenly, whaddaya know, the air's breathable. Far out. The scene where some dude cracks open his space helmet to breathe air just like back home on Earth is a staple of SF. So some dude cracks open his space helmet. Then everyone else does. Even after they discover alien shit so alien it killed other aliens, they're still lollygagging all over the fucking place with their helmets off touching stuff.

—Per the last, to repeat, they're scientists.

—The “ticking clock” is a time-honored suspense device. Alien had a literal one that counted every last second until the Nostromo blew up. But in Prometheus, near the end when Noomi Rapace is running around while shit blows up, her helmet tells her she has like thirty seconds of air left. She keeps running around doing all kinds of strenuous shit like trying not to get killed by various kinds of aliens (at some point the fact that she was supposed to be running out of air kind of becomes a non-thing) and trying to convince Michael Fassbender to fly another dormant alien spacecraft (hold that thought) to the head aliens' home world to ask them “Seriously, what the fuck, guys?” Despite the fact that this is totally retarded and Fassbender's head, back when it was attached to his body, thought it was a good idea to convolutedly impregnate her with an alien squid thingie either to kill her or just because what the fuck, he agrees to set up the sequel with her. (It's okay, take an Advil, I'll be here when you get back.)

—Per the ticking clock point, the whole point of the climax was that there were two spaceships on the planet: the Prometheus and the flying alien death croissant. Idris Elba, Benedict Wong, and the other guy made a whole big deal out of kamikaze-ing the Prometheus into the flying alien death croissant so it wouldn't go to Earth and turn the sequel into a Roland Emmerich movie. So, Idris et al take one for the team. The aliens maybe get killed. Then Fassbender's head just tells Noomi Rapace “Oh yeah, and there was no need for Idris and everyone to get killed.”

—Last, and most fundamentally, there's a way to do the whole “larger forces are at work here, and they may be beyond our ken, and thus this movie shall lay things out allusively rather than run the risk of the explanation for shit being stupid” thing. Stanley Kubrick was up on that with 2001, and 2001 was awesome. If you look at 2001, it's all right there: A leads to B leads to monolith acid trip leads circularly back to Strauss in a clean, orderly fashion. Who the fuck the aliens are and what their whole deal was is left alone, because there was no answer that was going to be cool enough, and leaving it ambiguous has been giving us stuff to yak about for almost 45 years now. Prometheus wants to be this thing—which is why I graded it on the curve for ambition; they might have fucked it up but they at least tried—but, as that bit inside the em-dashses alludes to, they fucked it up. The movie over-explains who the “Engineers” are, literalizing them as these big white emotionless humanoids who somehow are a 100% match for human beings genetically and also started the evolutionary process that led from primordial ooze to us jagoffs (in case it's been a while since you took biology, those are mutually exclusive conditions except under staggeringly improbable circumstances; the whole “they created us but evolution is still a thing” is total bet-hedging controversy-averse screenwriter dicklessness). And yet, in spite of defining the terms of the explanation in such a way that there's shit that needs to be explained, it just leaves everyone hanging. Anyway, tl;dr Prometheus' handling of its own mythology is a total misfire. (Thank fuck they cut the part about Jesus Christ being an Engineer . . .)

So, yes, the script is a shitpile. The handful of wholly negative reviews have focused on this, to the exclusion of all other aspects of the movie, as in the case of this tantrum over at /Film. The whole thing focuses on stuff like I listed above, ending with the dismissive, “But boy, it sure is pretty.” To recap, that's six words devoted to any aspect of Prometheus that isn't the script. Writing a review of a movie and focusing solely on the script is almost like writing a review of a movie based on what the wallpaper looks like in each scene, or what kind of chairs everyone's sitting in (yes, the script is more important than the art direction, and if you'll note I actually agree with a number of the points the dude made, but come the fuck on, THERE ARE OTHER ASPECTS TO THE MEDIUM).

On the other hand, Roger Ebert (and others, not to beat up on ol' Rog) giving Prometheus four stars isn't any better an indicator of value. I mean, this happens every now and then, everyone's fretting about an uneven balance of quality between different dissonant elements of a given film and Ebert chimes in like “FOUR STARS! I WAS TRANSPORTED!” and everyone else is like, “Uhh . . . ok.” (Also, unlike the /Film review, to the former's marginal credit, Ebert spoiled nine kinds of fuck out of the plot before any civilians had had any chance to see the movie, and without warnings, either. Naughty, naughty, sir.) Prometheus' champions are almost all saying “meh, fuck the script, the movie's awesome, it's Ridley Scott's best picture in years and truly beautiful filmmaking.” And that's all true. The photography is gorgeous, and finally there's no reason at all to bring up Dances With Smurfs in the discussion of best use of 3D, because Prometheus raised the bar really, really high. The only problem with that is . . . the script really, really sucks. There's a degree to which direction, photography, sound, design, and the other elements that make cinema cinema can overcome a shitty script, and when all of those elements are at an elite level, as they are in Prometheus, that degree can be nearly enough complete to make the overall experience enjoyable. But with an elephant turd of a script like Prometheus', it can never close the circle and make for an unqualified masterpiece.

Prometheus is a frustrating one, for sure. It's too ambitious to be dismissed out of hand, but the train-wreck script undermines those ambitions and makes them seem more commonplace than they actually are. If it makes money, maybe someday someone else gets to make a big beard-stroker R-rated SF movie that actually works better. But the fact that it's out, and we all saw it, means that at the very least we don't all have to keep fucking talking about it coming up. Also, everyone had to re-watch Alien to prepare, and that's a net gain, because Alien fucking rules. Prometheus will never fuck that up. So, hey. Life goes on. Now let's all spend a month and a half driving each other batshit (get it?) talking about The Dark Knight Rises.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

CLEANING LEXICAL HOUSE: A FAREWELL TO "FANBOY"


On Saturday, Roger Ebert tweeted “Removing the word 'fanboy' from my vocabulary.” I know the feeling: last year I made this argument to retire the phrase 'chick flick' from the vernacular, and I've made a conscious effort to stop using words like “retard” and “fag” ironically, the former because if I can't find a better word than “retard” I'm, well, a retard (Ed. Note: this one's a work in progress, clearly), and the latter because even though I'd probably put out for Michael Fassbender or Hrithik Roshan, there's a difference between having a shortlist and being family. But this raises the question, with regards to the word “fanboy”: is it really on that same level? Actually, yes.

It's no n-word. That's still the big boy on the epithet block. The silver medalist is the c-word, which is only acceptable under extremely rare, extremely intimate conditions (or in the UK or Ireland). Then, to paraphrase Brad Pitt (speaking of the above-mentioned shortlist) in Moneyball, there's fifty layers of crap, and then there's the field, your retards and fags and, per the focus of this discussion, your fanboys. “Fanboy” is actually a matched pair with “hipster,” in that the hateful fuckface in question is always some other hateful fuckface, it's never you. But, where cracking on someone for being a hipster is essentially saying “That person is thin, dresses fashionably, lives on the first couple Brooklyn stops on the L train, and listens to music I very well may claim I always liked in five years,” because even though there's a lot to be annoyed by with that vague genus of urbanite, there is a sliver of class envy there. Sometimes.

The “fanboy,” though, everyone pictures roughly as being like this guy (the guy this guy in the video is making fun of, to be clear):



The Simpsons has been fucking with that guy—not specifically him; “that guy” in the cosmic sense—for decades. And it's not like “that guy” is always just benignly bitching about Bioware's avarice or confronting William Shatner about the fact that he was holding his phaser wrong on some episode or other of TOS. Sometimes shit gets ugly. The week or so leading up to the release of The Avengers when the reviews started coming out, there were a couple nasty incidents of guys telling female critics who committed the unpardonable sin of not fawning over the picture to “stick to rom-coms, bitch” and accusing them of having to check with their boyfriends because girls clearly know nothing about comics, don'tcha know.

Almost as bad was the return volley of sneering about “fanboys” after all that shit. Heaven forfuckingfend we get deep on the origins of this kind of stupid misogynistic bullshit. The problem was not “fanboys” taking comics too seriously, or even the way Samuel L. Jackson impulsively tossed a lit match onto the gassed-up mob mentality of Avengers movie fans (n.b., before anyone other than critics had actually seen it), siccing them on A.O. Scott for his lukewarm review in the New York Times. Fandom, much like the Chinaman (why not just get all the offensive nomenclature into this post, amirite) in The Big Lebowski, is not the issue here.

The problem with the condescension and hostility toward women critics is with a warped variety of hetero male privilege, and an inability to assume responsibility for personal inadequacies. It goes like this: sometime after the onset of puberty, boy meets girl, boy wants to make sex with girl, girl does not reciprocate but due to there being other things in the world besides coitus maintains polite interaction with boy, boy interprets girl's politeness as an indication that she wants to sex his penis, girl meets other boy to whom she actually is sexually attracted and becomes boyfriend-girlfriend with him, first boy interprets this as meaning that girl has been manipulating him and that second boy is ipso facto a douchebag for making sex to first boy's beloved, with said sexmaking being entirely assumed by first boy. The end result is an abiding belief that any time a girl does not make sex with one, the girl has “friend-zoned” one, and that all girls like douchebags, and that nice guys (because one always perceives oneself as being a nice guy) are prey for manipulative, scheming villainesses who will weaponize nice guys' niceness against them. One awesome side effect of this avalanche of paranoia is a bitterness toward women that makes it impossible for the guy in question to get laid. This feedback loop has other byproducts, such as regarding women as the enemy and ascribing all kinds of weird, occasionally baseless characteristics to them a la the commies in the Cold War. Meanwhile women—with their own massive array of shit to worry about—are sitting there going “what the fuck did I do?”

But, the next chapter in this story is not “Frustrated by sexlessness, boys turn to all-male fandoms and become that supervillain . . . THE FANBOY!” Fandom has nothing to do with gender or how often one gets laid, it has to do with consuming, uncritical enthusiasm. One will note, the term “fangirl” is usually self-applied, by girls who are fans of things, i.e. “I'm a huge Buffy fangirl,” and there isn't the pejorative, always-the-other-never-me taint of “fanboy.” That's because the shit that pisses people off about so-called “fanboys” has nothing to do with fandom, and everything to do with a lot of bullshit repressed dysfunction, and denial of privilege and agency. Fandom is fandom, though, and doesn't have to do with penises and vaginas (unless you're in a really fun fandom), it has to do with the heart. Y'know, in the gooshy sappy emotional sense.

Fandom and criticism exist on a polarity, since fandom is an a priori, uncritical state of being, and criticism is concerned with rationalism, observation, and leaving one's own tastes at the door. This is why people like Roger Ebert occasionally toss around the term “fanboy” derisively, because to a critic, someone who reacts as a fan actually is the other. Until now, though, as—while I obviously don't know what his actual motivation was for deciding to purge his vocabulary of the word “fanboy,” I'll take the risk of guessing—it would appear Ebert realized that “fanboy” is a reductive term at best and, to my eyes per the above, not even really a thing.

I'll take it a step farther and say that fans and critics could do well to consider the other, or at least not dismiss the other out of hand. There's something to be said both for an emotional, visceral, experiential approach to the arts, and for understanding what in the given work of art creates that reaction. And, at the very least, we all need to remember that the world is not an extension of the self. So fare thee well, fanboy. And for fuck's sake get laid.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

CONFIRMED!!!! CHRISTIAN BALE IS . . . TAFT


HOLLYWOOD (AP)--Academy Award winning actor Christian Bale has decided on his next project, a biopic of the 27th President of the United States, Supreme Court Justice, and champion trencherman William Howard Taft.


Bale announced his intention to play the role without the aid of prosthetics or CGI, that he would instead gain almost 200 pounds to play Taft: "Ah think it's a fockin' great honor to play such a fockin' great man, and ah mean tha' as every bit the double entendre as i' looks," said Bale with a rakish grin after finishing his third breakfast of the morning.

Bale is no stranger to radical weight loss and gain, having lost 60 pounds for The Machinist and immediately thereafter gaining almost 100 for Batman Begins. But this will be the biggest (pun intended!) challenge of his career.

Director Michael Bay, attached to helm Taft in what many in the industry feel could be his long-elusive Oscar picture, had this to say: "Fat guys fucking own." He refused comment on rumors that the entire final hour of Taft would be Taft and Teddy Roosevelt machine-gunning their way through World War I, except to smile and repeat "Fat guys fucking own," with a wink.

Pauline Kael, however, was reached for comment despite having been dead for ten years. "This shit is gonna be fucking tighter than butt sex," said arguably the greatest American film critic. Although he declined a phone interview, Roger Ebert later cryptically tweeted "Citizen Kane? LOL, BITCHES!"

The lone voice of dissent thus far has been Armond White, who complained that the fact that Jason Statham was not cast as Taft was a clear indication of racism, and blamed Noah Baumbach and J. Hoberman. Bale weighed in on this minor controversy to say "Tha's fockin retarded, man."

Taft is being planned for a December 22nd, 2012 release, distributed by the Weinstein Company.



Additional reporting by Steven Gilpin

Thursday, May 26, 2011

FOR YOUR READING PLEASURE


(h/t edifyingspectacle.org)

I've got a bunch of cool stuff planned for this place, but while we wait for that, here's a bunch of stuff at other quality destinations around the Internet:

1) There's always Tor.com, where I'll be covering the summer's biggest SFF releases (except for Green Lantern because every time someone says the words "Green Lantern" to me I lose consciousness; this aside took me eight hours to write) as well as a thrilling, multi-part series on a movie franchise that shall not be named. Expecto critique-um. Okay, yes, that may be the worst joke that ever appeared on this site. Moving on.

2) I've written a couple pieces over at TruTv.com's Dumb As A Blog. All you sports fans out there, my pieces on the dumbest trades in the history of sports, and the dumbest attempts to cheat in sports. More musings on dumb stuff are sure to follow, not exclusively on sports.

3) Because it ain't always just about me (shocking, I know) I present you with Our Beloved Armond's ghastly, almost hauntingly shitty review (by which I mean it's a really terribly done piece of film criticism) of Terrence Malick's newly-minted Palme D'Or winner Tree of Life.

4) To close things out, and a bit of a palate cleanser after Armond's weird bullshit, the great Roger Ebert on lazy-ass movie theaters doing more to destroy the movie business than lazy-ass movie studios. Rog, I love ya.

So, soon as I finish L.A. Noire (which is a fucking humdinger, boy, lemme tell ya) and a couple other extracurricular things, I'll be back posting on a more consistent basis. Hope y'all are good. (Oh, and happy birthday to friend of the blog Steve Gilpin, who just turned the big 3-0. Go get yer fuckin wheelchair, old timer).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

DANNY GOT TROLLED


Careful readers of this blog may have detected, here and there, a sense of humor. From other subtle hints I've dropped you may also have surmised that I get a kick of out of fucking with people. Yes, I once mixed a friend a drink called a Fire Island Iced Tea, so called because it would fuck his mind in the ass. (Ed. Note: it did). It is important, if you're going to behave in this way, that you accept the possibility that people will fuck with you right back. And thus, when this Matt Damon/Randy Travis lookin' ass motherfucker lent me Freddy Got Fingered on DVD, I had the sneaking suspicion that I was being trolled. Yes, Mr. Yustin assured me that it was legitimately hilarious, but I've been down this road before (“sure, that second pill won't make you freak out, you'll be fine”) and, remembering the singularly passionate negative critical response the movie got upon its release, I approached watching it with great trepidation.

Turns out, ya know what? It's a pretty funny movie. Tom Green, who co-wrote, directed, and starred, is the kind of comedian one either gets and thinks is hilarious, or does not get and thinks is the Antichrist. His style of humor is he doesn't give a fuck. Observe this classic bit, a collaboration with the similarly divisive Andy Dick:

Bonus Bob Odenkirk: the pause that refreshes. Anyway, Tom Green's popularity itself was considered an act of trolling at his peak. Most critics had no idea what the fuck to make of him and subsequently wrote him off as a talentless hack who just mugged a lot and trashed shit. I freely confess to total confusion myself. I would, if someone asked me, “Are you a Tom Green fan?” say something like “Dear God, no. Heavens! Thinkst thou me hoi polloi?” without really having more than an out-of-context bit here and there or a trailer, and then see him show up in something like Charlie's Angels or Road Trip and be like “Whoa, that guy with the goatee is funny.” This is what happens when you let critical consensus do your thinking for you, kids.

Freddy Got Fingered, in truth, falls between the two polarities of Roger Ebert's “This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels . . . The day may come when Freddy Got Fingered is seen as a milestone of neo-surrealism. The day may never come when it is seen as funny” and A.O. Scott calling it “conceptual performance art”and Nathan Rabin declaring it a “borderline Dadaist provocation.” The truth is, Freddy Got Fingered is a movie by a guy trying to be funny, and whether he succeeds or not depends entirely on the audience's sense of decorum or tolerance for non sequiturs and immaturity. A) Just because something doesn't make any sense doesn't mean it's postmodern or Dada or whatever the fuck and B) far as I'm concerned, a chef should have taste, a comedian doesn't have to. That covers that.

The movie has a number of truly inspired and strange sequences. The opening with Tom Green skateboarding through a shopping mall for no apparent reason had me going “What the fuck? There're actually a couple sweet Steadicam shots. Is this . . . a real movie . . .?” The cinematics, the rest of the movie, aren't quite as flashy, but they're still surprisingly solid considering a laundry list of critics called this one of the worst movies ever made.

As for the cast, Tom Green is Tom Green, doing what he does. There's a point with him where you either have to turn the fuckin movie off or surrender to his insanity, because if you don't find him funny, you're not suddenly going to half an hour in. One thing Tom Green the director does that's very wise is make sure that Tom Green the leading man doesn't overwhelm everything; the supporting cast features any number of really solid performances. Harland Williams is pretty funny getting his ass kicked as Tom Green's buddy, and Julie Hagerty is good in the first thing I've seen her in in about 20 years, as Tom Green's mom (who takes Tom Green's advice that she go out and "have sex with basketball players" to heart and ends up shtupping Shaq, in a funny cameo by himself). Anthony Michael Hall is funny as a Hollywood douchebag (it's always fun for actors to play executives and producers, they get out all kinds of long-simmering resentments). Marisa Coughlan plays the love interest who, of course, is a wheelchair-bound amateur rocket scientist with a fetish for being caned on her paralyzed legs who loves giving head; this, of course, is proof that Marisa Coughlan either has a really solid sense of humor or really needed to pay the fuckin rent.

But above all else, Rip Torn is fucking amazeballs off the fucking reservation in this movie. He plays Tom Green's dad, which explains everything. Rip Torn could kick ass in anything, no matter how bad (and has devoted most of his career to proving this point), and when given some snappy text like in Men in Black or The Larry Sanders Show, he makes being awesome seem utterly effortless. Some examples:

Tom Green: Wow . . . it's a LeBaron!
Rip Torn: You bet your boots it's a LeBaron. Fine car. Convertible.

Rip Torn (about Tom Green): Miserable dead beat punk. Paid for his damn college. Sits around all day wacking off. Proud? My ass.
And of course, the scene when he comes in, shitfaced, and starts casually ripping up Tom Green's drawings. Tom Green nuts up and says “Fuck you.” Rip Torn pulls down his pants and starts waving his ass in Tom Green's face and goes, “Fuck me? Sure, go ahead! Fuck me!” This was some of the funniest shit I've seen in years, and if that means I never get to be grown-up pretentious movie critic like the cool kids, so be it.

What makes Rip Torn's performance so great is that he knows exactly what kind of movie he's in. He knows that, enjoyable though it may be in the right mood, you get what you paid for when you watch a picture called Freddy Got Fingered. We are not in hoity-toity land. We're in a movie where you get fucked up on Wild Turkey and wave your ass in Tom Green's face.

As much I enjoyed the movie, and as unapologetic as I am about so doing, there were large chunks I didn't find particularly funny. The notorious scene where Tom Green swings the newborn baby around the room by the umbilical cord? Not all that funny, though it's not offensive either, amazingly. The two women randomly banging tambourines the whole time make it wonderfully bizarre, like a reflection of something that makes sense in a parallel universe.

The role of animals in the movie is a strange one. Tom Green randomly pulls over to the side of the road to jerk off a horse at one point, because, hey, sometimes you have to randomly pull over to jerk off a horse. Then, following Anthony Michael Hall's advice to “get inside the animals” (Tom Green's initial pitch for his cartoon show lacks character depth), Tom Green finds a dead deer in the road and proceeds to gut it and wear its skin while running around Tom Greening. A bunch of other woodland animals serve as the audience surrogate, looking at Tom Green like “What the . . . fuck . . .?”

Overall, Freddy Got Fingered is kind of like a movie a Martian would make if he came to Earth, went to film school somewhere in upstate Ontario, and fell in with heavy acidheads. It follows the basic linear progression of a “normal” movie, except everything in it is as weird as weird gets. Strangely, though, at the end when Tom Green shows up in a helicopter with a bag of jewels and professes his love to Marisa Coughlan on the roof of her building (over the sound of the helicopter; she has to ask him to repeat himself a lot) and she says to him “I don't care about jewels. I just want to suck your cock” it's both pretty funny and oddly endearing. There's a whole bunch of business earlier about how all she ever wants to do is suck his dick, but Tom Green wants to go out on dates and stuff, so that's as close to “I love you” as you're going to get in a picture like this.

In a weird way, even though I rather enjoyed it, I understand why the critics all had to line up and pan the shit out of Freddy Got Fingered. It's indefensible, which is why I haven't been bothering to defend liking it. Real critics, though, have to defend their opinions; “fuck you, I liked it” works here at Movies By Bowes™ but I imagine the Chicago Sun-Times says “okay, lose the 'fuck' and extrapolate a little, wise guy.” I'm not, by any means, getting up in Roger Ebert's shit for not liking this movie; my mom took me to see Breakin' on his advice, for fuck's sake. Roger Ebert's cool. But his sense of humor, like most people's, has lines past which you ain't getting a laugh. The casual violence and the fact that the title is a reference to Tom Green falsely accusing Rip Torn of molesting Tom Green's brother flipped Rog's fuck no switch. I understand that. The evolution of popular culture has created a separation between an act and the idea of that act that's largely dependent on context. Molestation isn't funny. But Tom Green trying to “win” a therapy session by accusing his dad of molesting his brother is. Or, more to the point, it is when Tom Green throws a marble bust out the window for no reason and then jumps out after it.

I do not, the title of this post notwithstanding, feel like I actually got trolled (just as Freddy never actually got fingered). But do I ever want to see Freddy Got Fingered again? Probably not. Unless, of course, the time is right to mix someone else a Fire Island Ice Tea, itself probably the perfect mixological equivalent to this movie: a deeply irresponsible, mind-altering, and entertaining good time that actual mixologists (or cineastes) would find utterly appalling. But, ya know, sometimes you gotta pull over to jerk off a horse. And there's really no resisting inevitability.