- So you stumble out of the wilderness, several days’ worth of growth on your chin, wearing a stink of something gone over, and sporting a real bad attitude with weasels in your eyes – and you find yourself in a (imagine it) conversation with some prickhole named who cares what his name is who does something or another involving cheesing knobs and chugging cocks at studio junkets for something I’ve never heard of with “Hollywood” in its title, before a screening of Will Ferrel’s sure-to-be-awful (but actually excellent, believe it or not) Talledega Nights - and what would you do?
- Background, first, I stumbled bad at the finish line – pulled up lame like a tricked up thoroughbred and only managed to complete about half of what I intended to complete for the book and that in a crazed, glazed fashion. Consolation for me, for what it’s worth, is that it might show up some day in some form less embarrassing than the permanence offered by a bound edition.
- But this alien, he gives me ropey strings of credentials, lists off all the press conferences he’s attended in five minutes flat, tells me he’s a shrink, that he was Stephen Bochco’s assistant although he seems not to understand that Michael Mann had nothing to do with “Hill Street Blues” (“he ghost wrote a lot of episodes” this creep backpedals, touching me on the shoulder in an unsuccessful attempt at mind control), that he broke his back falling out of a window, that he’s a Film Critic of some standing in the Broadcast Journalist Society or something (I checked, he is, but so is Susan Granger and the Cliffords).
- He also wants me to know that he liked Michael Mann’s “version” of Miami Vice. Sometimes I feign confusion, sometimes I’m just confused.
- I say “Wow. You’re everything.” And, puppy-hurt, he pulls out a business card that, I kid you not, is creased from wear and has “Broadcast Journalist Association” written on it as if an affiliation to some assclown parade its members know about is akin to weight.
- I say “Look man, I don’t give a shit what your credentials are – put that sorry shit away, I can print a “President of New Guinea” business card and it means the same thing – if you want me to think that you have a valid opinion, why not offer one?” I say “Look man, the film is extant, the reaction to it is personal – you poll everyone in here, everyone in here will see a different picture – you call yourself a critic, your responsibility is to ask big questions of yourself.”
- He says “I just like to be entertained.”
- I say “What entertains you?”
- “Good writing.”
- “What’s good writing?”
- “It’s good characters”
- “What are good characters?”
- “It’s just what I like”
- “Why do you like what you like?”
- Then he repeats me to me almost word for word about the personal reaction jig and then accuses me of dancing around the issue – I’m sure this burst capillary in my right eye is his fault. I say “That thing of yours; that gift for taking what I say and saying it back to me as if it were your idea and meaning it – that’s a brain tumor that yes-men and other toads have.” and then I say, “If you don’t have anything more interesting to say than that you were entertained, then you’re exactly the function and form of a publicist. I’m not saying that they don’t have a hard job, understand, in fact without irony I can offer that I have no idea how they do what they do with the people, on both sides, that they have to deal with – but they’re publicists, see, whose job it is being gladhanding sycophants and I wonder while knowing the answer why you’re doing their job for them for free under the guise of being a film critic.”
- “I find it to be, let me be honest here, morally and artistically repugnant.”
- “Well” he says “I didn’t think I was going to get psychoanalyzed here.”
- And I say “Buddy, I could give a poop about you. It’s your kind that offends me. And don’t flatter yourself, we crack open that coconut and moths fly out.”
- Did the screening/discussion mambo with His Girl Friday a couple of weeks ago and was reminded that this is one tough little cookie. Suicide, murder, capital punishment, and corruption up and down the beltway and the fourth estate. It’s funny, sure, but the humor is painful. Grant’s never better than as the world’s biggest asshole whose ex-wife remarks half-in-seriousness that charm always came naturally to him because granddaddy was a snake. Hawks’ macho worldview of tough-talking dames and effeminate men (or vice-versa), gets both sides of the coin here in poor Ralph Bellamy.
- They started shooting on the day that Poland was invaded by Germany.
- At issue in the film, the use of the word “pickaninny” by one of the press pool. I argue that it’s in there for shock value, that tsking over how backwards the Greatest Generation was is doing this sharp-hewn, modern film a deep disservice. At some point, being patronizing cunts actually makes us the burlier bigot.
- Did the same mambo with Keep the River On Your Right, that morally suspect documentary about artist Tobias Schneebaum, forced by virgin brother/sister filmmakers to confront his dark past in the bush. Ultimately about identity and the need to assimilate into a culture that’ll have you – the discussion raised a few dark issues for me about this infernal little project. Lucky for everyone involved that Schneebaum saw it as redemptive at the end rather than second degree kidnapping for the purposes of making a festival darling.
- Same again, lecture format this time, with three films from 1961: Splendor in the Grass, The Hustler, and The Misfits. Two hours of me talking about waterfalls. It’s a wonder anyone comes to this shit at all. Next month: Gene Hackman flicks from the 1970s.
- Gave a speech about the state of modern film criticism to the Cherry Creek Rotary Club – Cherry Creek, by the by, is the richest area in metropolitan Denver. I think John Elway has a house there. First time I’d ever been to a Rotary Club meeting. It’s not like anything that I could have expected and more news from here might be coming in the next few weeks.
- During the late-night screening of The Descent - a thoughtful, frightening little English horror flick – the local publicists put on a show by decorating the hall leading into the theater like a cave mouth. Interiors dark and cold with a soundtrack of squeals and howls making this the world’s most misguided post-prom party – but admirable for the effort. Not so hot were the people who like to talk through horror movies as a nervous reaction, for the idiot checking her cell phone every few minutes, and for the baby crying every few minutes. At least it wasn’t out of focus for the first two reels like this morning’s screening of The Illusionist.
- Is there something wrong with me, by the way, that the worst part of every screening experience for me now is the fear that I might overhear someone else’s post-film post-mortem?
- Working on the Dr. Who Season One set of last year’s resurrection of the Time Lord. Preliminary verdict? Sucks. We’ll see what working it out through a few thousands words turns up.
- Putting the screen capture on hiatus to let my computer cool down. Here, instead, more lovely reader mail.
subject: PULL YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR ASS
If you are going to take the cynical low road of film
criticism and excoriate director Scott Derrickson (The
Exorcism of Emily Rose) by calling him names (an ice
cream-suited revival-tent preacher, idiot, full of
shit, creepy guy with a weak chin, etc...) then you
really ought to at least GET YOUR FUCKING FACTS
STRAIGHT before doing it.
Derrickson doesn't "modestly cop to reading over
two-thousand books on demonic possession" on the
director's commentary. Listen to it again, dickwad,
he clearly says he read over TWO DOZEN books, not TWO
THOUSAND. You were only off by 1,975 books.
For fucks sake, when you THOUGHT you heard two
thousand, are you really such a cynical asshole that
you didn't question the lunacy of that number and
rewind once to see if maybe, just maybe, you heard it
wrong? If you have any integrity at all, you'll at
least fix that part in your review.
And what fundamentalist Christian or Catholic priest
pissed on your puppy when you were seven? I'm no fan
of religion myself, and I agree that the film was not
as balanced as the film makers seemed to think it was,
but it was a hell of a lot more open-minded than you
were in your review. In fact, it's not really a
review at all, it's a case study in anti-religious
Actually, Griff, I was off by 1,976 books if you’re right, and, what the hell, I’m giving that one to you because I’m not nearly depressed enough to pull that disc from out from under my nice cool drink to listen to the commentary track.
Am I an anti-religious zealot? The religious zealots seem to think so.
Just having certain enemies says a lot of good things about you a person so, thanks. My prescription for you is that you say “twenty Dario Argentos from the early-mid seventies” for what ails you. Go with Jeebus.
subject: WHO ARE YOU?
I think the planet you came from is calling you home! I have read terrible reviews and you come close to having the worst. You must be friends with Tipper Gore. I know that this film is not for everyone. I am not defending the topic, but it's clear that you have not sat and watched someone you love die in the manner that Harry Stien would have. Yes I know what you would say to that, it's just cowardly. Walter the man has passed already, if the movie is not for you, don't watch it. There has been much talk of the moving performance of Eric Roberts, and the movie had a wonderful mixture of cast members. Grow up, get a new hobby, maybe be a volunteer for aids patients who have no family. SB
Well, Susan, if the mother ship ever comes for me, I’ll be ready. I did actually watch my father die a couple of years ago – what that has to do with a piece of ass-candy starring Eric Roberts, I’ll never know. Real charity, apropos of nothing, doesn’t advertise itself on Lifetime. I think you meant to send this letter to Oprah, though, so all’s forgiven again. What movie, by the way, are you writing about?
subject: Response to an Old Review
I stumbled upon your film review of the 2003 movie The Other Side of Heaven and just wanted to say to you that you might want to know a little bit about a religion before you go bashing it... you only sound like an idiot when you criticize a church you obviously no nothing about. In your review you
call the mormon church, (really named the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) basically a church full of close minded, naive morons. To me you seemed the moron because you babble a bunch of b.s. and uneducated opinions of a truly christian organization. Next time you criticize a faith of millions worldwide you might study up a bit on their actual beliefs, and not go on aobut the common misunderstandings and rumors thought to be the "true mormon religion" by so many uneducated dolts. If you would like to
respond, please do.
Dear Mormon wacko,
Surely you don't think that I'm in the minority voice here, do you? I mean, let's be serious, you have some dangerous, half-illiterate, proudly-professed-to-be uneducated dude setting up a cult in Utah with tales of Lamanites and sheets of metal buried in New York, and Moroni/Nephi/Christ parading around the maize in rains of light, right?
Tell me about how black people get lighter-skinned when they get closer to Mormon. . . tell me about the secret names your women get that their husbands whisper to them to allow them access to your lonesome heaven. Scientology ain't got nothing on you guys, man.
Tell me who Nephi was? Tell me how an angel became first the Holy Ghost and then the Lord Christ in Joe Smith's seminal vision from 1821 or 1822 or 1823. Then tell me how it comes that mortals have the authority to meddle so calamitously with your inviolate holy scripture.
But you're right, all I have to go on is a read of your silly "Golden Bible" (except for the parts ripped off the King James Bible's Book of Isaiah: those parts are pretty bitchin') given me about twenty years ago by a couple of nice young, dead-eyed men in white shirts and black ties; the equally silly A PEARL OF GREAT PRICE; Roberts' STUDIES OF THE BOOK OF MORMON; a read of Martha Becks' LEAVING THE SAINTS; of Simon Southern's LOSING A LOST TRIBE; a read of Jon Krakauer's UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN' and, best, a few of Michael Quinn's hilariously spot-on refutations of your religion's basic tentpoles. You're dead on correct to notice that I'm not of the true faith.
I’m thinking, here, J. Ricks, that you’re peeved because Big Brutha has instructed you not to read anti-Mormon texts and, whoops, here’s one masquerading as a review of your favorite movie.
(I also enjoy HBO's "Big Love" series, proving that bad religion can make good entertainment instead of pieces of irresponsible, unfiltered shit like The Other Side of Heaven.)
I'm not willing to investigate Mormonism further, sad to confess, and if the best you've got for me is that I'm a moron, not you, well - I'm rubber and you're glue. I didn’t name any of my prophets “Moroni” after all. Sounds a little like a retarded pasta. Looking back, it seems like I was making the point that this film treats the non-believers in its audience like morons for not believing. If you feel as though that somehow translates into Mormons being morons, well, who'm I to argue so fine a point?
Let's agree to disagree, jm ricks, because you're not converting me and I'm not converting you.
I would however part by recommending that you educate yourself in defiance of your church leaders because, and I promise you this, no legitimate god wants actual sheep in his flock.
- Parting thought: I screened/discussed Brazil during this period, too, only to find that I didn’t like it anymore. I still like the Ministry of Information Retrieval bits, but the rest of it finally struck me as it’s struck Gilliam’s critics for years: busy to no end, confused, abrasive to no end – on and on. I see why it’s a cult film – as a giant “fuck you” to paperwork, it really enthralled the college-bound youth of me yesteryear – but the movie (the 144 min director’s cut) is laborious. Turns out I only still like three Gilliam flicks: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Twelve Monkeys, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Now, granted, I haven’t seen Baron Munchausen in about ten years. . .
- Question of the hour: films that you loved at one time that you can’t bear to watch now.