November 01, 2009

The Cone of Boondock Shame

Over at THE FLICK FILOSOPHER, MaryAnn Johanson asks a rather interesting question in regards to simultaneous fan-wanks This Is It and The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day--"Is it a cop-out to say that a movie is 'for the fans'?" It's one of those questions you dismiss with an automatic "Of course it is," but naturally it deserves a deeper analysis.

Let me just say this first. The Boondock Saints II blows. It's very nearly the same film as the first one, complete with slow motion
, homophobic insecurity and LOTS AND LOTS OF SCREAMING--even Clifton Collins Jr. (a rising star if ever there was one) is basically limited to a rehash of the long-dead David Della Rocco character. The only thing that's noticeably different is a rather laughable attempt to mimic The Godfather Part II, with the MacManuses' father playing the role of Vito Corleone. As if the series had the character strength to warrant a backstory, or the smarts to support a mythology. But the fact that it blows should be fairly self-evident, no? It's about as self-evident as year-end consideration for This Is It should be laughable, but we're working at the mercy of cult audiences.

The other day, I was talking to a few critics with whom I attended the All Saints Day screening in Boston. It was apparently the first public screening of the film, and the fans were out in full force, along with renowned tool Troy Duffy and his principal cast.
(I will admit that sitting two rows behind Billy Connolly was a bizarre experience.) The standing ovations and the fawning Q&A session were a tough pill to swallow--I nearly choked on my tongue when Duffy responded to the requisite request for young-filmmaker advice with "be talented"--but you have to expect that. A strict retread is "a fanboy's dream," as one patron called it, and it's impossible to argue with that. But, as one critic eventually concluded, "It wasn't made for us." Okay--there's the unavoidable fact that everyone else assumes we're so far removed from movie love that we constitute a completely different genus of human being. But more to the point, he was talking about the age difference between his colleagues and the fans.

Here's footage from that dreaded premiere:

Being the youngest guy in a room full of critics has its problems. Paramount in this instance being that The Boondock Saints was made for me--or, at least, who I was whe
n it first started making the dormitory rounds a few short years into the decade. I was a fan. Not a t-shirt-and-bobblehead kind of fan, mind, but enough of a fan to consider it a minor masterpiece and regularly quote the film alongside my chums as a college freshman. I had read Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns by then, so I knew the attempts at profundity were bullshit. But what did that matter? When you're still obsessed with high-school cool, given license to curse with impunity and generally act like a moron, that kind of hyperactive gangland nonsense seems like everything that a movie can and should represent at that precise moment in time. Like everything else of such dubious worth, you grow out of it: The Boondock Saints loses its charm when you stop calling your friends "fags" and you start looking at Tarantino films for understanding instead of a cinematic circle jerk. That's something Duffy never seemed to learn in ten years (ten years!) of legal strife, Hollywood drama, and a documentary dedicated to his psychotic paranoia--the non-stop stream of gay jokes only yield for a few unpleasant dips into racist territory, and he even finds the time to orchestrate one of his fantasy shoot-outs as a grainy '70s exploitation flick! Good to know that he doesn't understand Grindhouse any better than he understood Pulp Fiction.

But for as much as I can tell you that The Boondock Saints represents a phase, it's still an embarrassing yearbook photo for yours truly. The new film definitely opened a few wounds: I knew all the characters, I got all of the in-jokes, and I cringed a little every time I realized that I used to think of them as height of wit. What else does that say about who I was at that time? The other thing is that I've been writing film criticism in one form or another for about ten years now, and taking a brief tour through old reviews is jarring, to say the least. That "minor masterpiece" line actually comes directly from an old three-sentence review of the original film, while I was devouring Leonard Maltin's capsulettes by the pound and wanted to see how well I could write in the same format. Three-and-a-half stars, somehow. I've written a few other pieces about the movie since then... and as I watched more films and read more criticism... the star rating steadily dropped with each successive run through it. Maybe it's appropriate that All Saints Day has arrived a full ten years after the first film, simply because it becomes a pretty harsh reminder of where you've been--and you have to wonder whether you've really evolved since then. What did I not get about Pulp Fiction, or The Godfather or The Dark Knight Returns, to have a piece of crap like The Boondock Saints strike such a chord? How far back into the past would I have to travel to see myself feeling the same way about this sequel?

The worst part about All Saints Day is the threat that it will be embraced by modern college freshmen as emotionally devastating, just as the original film was mistaken for being hip, original, and a contender in the debate on vigilantism.
It's a little sad that Duffy has closed himself off to all but a select few as they pass through a revolving door of taste, but I think we all saw that one coming. Read this interview with him at CINEMATICAL, linked from the FILOSOPHER, for more unsurprising detritus. Yeah, yeah, critics don't know nothin', they'll never understand what the fans understand--but, speaking as someone who thought he understood, how does a more discerning eye make my opinion of both films invalid? If you consider yourself too far out of his "target demographic" for your opinion to matter, you end up playing right into his hands. And I have to freakin' know--are there really any fans of The Boondock Saints who stick around ten, even five, years after they first saw it? How many films do you have to watch, and how many times do you have to watch them, before you can tell tinsel from gold?

This whole discussion can go both ways, of course, in the sense that you're sometimes surprised by where your tastes fall when you take in as much material as possible. A few months ago, I sat down to watch Ghostbusters for the first time in years, and I found it shallow, feckless, and irritating. My problem is that I'm only a Bill Murray fan when he's on a reasonable leash; give Venkman a straw hat and bamboo cane and it would have made no difference to me. Knowing that I kinda hated Ghostbusters made me feel miserable for the rest of that day--it was like I had stepped on a kitten. Nostalgic weltschmerz? Blockbuster disillusionment? Sure. But then there's the threat that people will shut down some future conversation: "Oh, of course dude hated The Boondock Saints. Dude even hated Ghostbusters!" Well, at least dude knows there's a gulf of difference between those two films. Ghostbusters rubs me the wrong way, but The Boondock Saints is just ugly posturing. And, despite rumors to the contrary, cinematic entertainment doesn't come in one flavor.

Another point: I understand that there are instances when you shouldn't outright abandon certain media and properties under a strict social mandate of maturity. Video games are a prime example, aren't they? When time allows, I still play video games--sometimes for fun, sometimes in want of a good intellectual challenge--and I've come across a few older titles that I believe established the medium as a legitimate art form. That's a discussion for another day, but I will say this right now--I've long considered Ebert a bit of a troll on the subject, but for as much time as he's spent winding up gamers with his "architecture" and "life hours" rhetoric, he's gotten plenty of "NO U" retorts that only add fuel to his fire. So what's his motive there? Is he daring the industry and its constituents to buckle down, get to work and prove him wrong? Artistic maturation is inherently tailored to posing and accepting challenges against a standard of thought, no matter how you're supposed to feel at a given moment. What survives ten years down the road? What falters? It's a never-ending process. When you get right down to it, it's why I'm in this business.

Anyway, O'John already covered "shameful ethical stances" on the blog a while back, and "guilty pleasures" are al
ways a popular topic. Let's talk about skeletons in your closet. Are there any films (or books, or plays, et cetera) that you're embarrassed to admit you liked once upon a time? No cheating--we all liked shitty things when we were uncritical children. That's just part of the education, so "Groovie Goolies" would hardly represent the Mark of Cain for anyone. I mean the properties that had a memorable, unironic impact while you considered yourself someone with a working understanding of metaphor, narrative, allegory and all that good stuff.


Also, in case you didn't see the alert on the mothersite, The Film Freak Central 2009 Superannual is currently on sale at Amazon. Just don't forget that it's still available directly from our publisher, Lulu. You'd best pick one up, because that is one quality tome, right there. (I'll go ahead and say that Walter's review of Tropic Thunder may very well be definitive.)


Ryan said...

I take great pride in the fact that I've never made it all the way through Boondock Saints. I was a college freshman in the fall of '02 when I first caught wind of it, hearing from close, usually reliable friends that it was right up there with Pulp Fiction and that as a Scorsese/Tarantino fan (as well as being a fiesty punk of Irish heritage), it would no doubt become my favorite movie of all time. Yeah, didn't happen. I got through maybe 35 minutes. David Della Rocco's performance is undoubtedly one of the worst, most obnoxious things I've ever seen, the "fag"/"nigger" jokes are laughable in every wrong way, and the whole enterprise made me seriously question the intellectual capacity of my friends. I kept hearing that I'd love it if I made it through the entire thing, but just that first half-hour rendered it completely irredeemable. I still have no idea how it ends and wouldn't want to waste the breath asking.

As far as skeletons in the closet go: Kevin Smith. What I thought was "fresh" and "witty" seven years ago now makes me want to jab freshly sharpened pencils in my ears.

Patrick said...

Boondock Saints is a perfect example. I recently went back to it so I could write a complimentary review of a cult film, if only to prove to myself I wasn't "out of touch", so to speak – I loved this film, but watching it again I was shocked how bad it is. Amateurish, faux-intellectual (the closing marquee with interviews), just ugly.

Bill C said...

Not that I ever worshipped him, but kevin Smith is a good example of a skeleton for me as well. Silly me, I thought he would get better, not become so atrophied by his cult of personality.

I had the same GHOSTBUSTERS epiphany a few years back--Bill Murray is just unfiltered smarm in that movie--but warmed to it again earlier this summer when I realized that all the Ghostbusters are fucking chain-smokers and how ridiculous that is for something that spun off a cartoon and popular toy line. I will say, however, that it's atrociously edited.

My brother insists that GHOSTBUSTERS II is "so much better than the first one," and I intend to pick his brain on that soon, since that's pretty much the Bigfoot of opinions, that.

James Allen said...

I think Ghostbusters actually holds up today as a Halloween perennial, but in a different way than when it was originally released. After all, it was the comedy (with former SNL stars) that your parents liked. (I was 17 when it came out, and my parents went out and bought themselves Ghostbusters t-shirts. Creepy.)

Now, it just strikes me as I would think it struck my grandparents watching old Abbott and Costello horror/comedy films on TV; yeah, you notice the flaws, but you still have fondness for the memory.

As far as films I loved then (for me, the mid-80's) that I can't stand now: Red Dawn (natch, a thoroughly embarrassing film now that I'm thinking about it), Tootsie (Travis wrote a spot on review of this awhile back), and WarGames (its ham-handedness hasn't worn too well. The opening scene, with then unknowns John Spencer and Michael Madsen, still is great, though.)

As far as the orginal question MaryAnn posed, no, it's not a cop-out, it's actually quite honest to admit you're cynically pandering. It's their pit, no one is obligated to lie in it, and it's only natural that some people will eventually climb out, look down, and see what a mess it was.

James Allen said...

Bill, I agree with you about Kevin Smith 100%. I thought Clerks was a little too glib, but it's DIY cheapness made it an admirable effort, and something to use as a jumping off point.

I don't think he really atrophied, though, I think it just turned out that he never really had all that much filmmaking talent to begin with, and so he decided that being a hustling raconteur was the way to go; and while some of his stories are hilarious (the John Peters/Superman Reborn story is priceless), he's pretty much been grating for a long while, his self-awareness notwithstanding.

DJR said...

Barry Levinson's Sphere. I don't know why, but I loved the hell out of that ridiculous movie in high school, analyzed the shit out of it, and even purchased Elliot Goldenthal's (very good) soundtrack. Now, I realize the movie is pretty inept, but I still have nostalgic feelings for it. Ditto Event Horizon, from the same year I think.

Anonymous said...

American Beauty. How sadly that film unravels with later viewings.

Also, fuck you guys - Ghostbusters is great. Ditto the sequel.

Jefferson Robbins said...

Is there a Godwin's Law equivalent for invoking Star Wars?

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed Ghostbusters thoroughly, though - Viggo the Carpathian notwithstanding - the sequel is feel-good piffle. After all these years I still find Clerks pretty amiable and enjoyable, and some bizarre whinge of nostalgia makes me stick up for Chasing Amy and prevents me from outright hating Mallrats. Always thought Dogma was self-important dreck, though - the same damned voice came out of so many of the characters' mouths.

As far as treats from my younger years that I now find detestable: Independence Day was brainless fun when I was 14, and now makes me feel like heat is rising behind my eyes; The Fifth Element is gorgeous, surprisingly well-acted, and amounts to precisely dick; and most of Robin Williams' back catalog should be expunged from human memory. Also, seriously, let's just throw Forrest Gump into a deep dark pit with round-the-clock armed guards just to keep that fountain of shmaltz from being uncovered again...

- M.

Anonymous said...

I suppose it depends on which Star Wars you're talking about, Jefferson. Frankly, I'm always interested to hear why someone doesn't like A New Hope or Empire. Maybe it's just because I like to jumpstart arguments about competing Academy Award nominees--I love the original film myself, but Annie Hall is better by a country mile.

Speaking of Ghostbusters and video games, actually, has anyone here played the new "third movie"? Max von Sydow cameos as Vigo.

Alex Jackson said...

I never really change my mind about anything. When popular critical opinion disagrees with my early otherwise uninformed opinions (like with Chapter 27 or Precious or 2005's Crash which I saw well before the backlash set in, much less the Best Picture win) that just makes me dig my heels in all the harder. Ain't nobody gonna tell me that I'm wrong.

I'll offer You've Got Mail or The Full Monty as some kind of answer. I thought those were great films when I saw them and cooled off considerably afterwards. But I didn't grow to hate them. They still have the sweetness that turned me on to them in the first place and I still find them to be modestly attractive for it.

You know, though, I saw Boondock Saints like a year or so ago and I hated it. And I don't think that I would have liked it if I saw it ten years ago. It's not even really because I'm smarter than the people who like it or because I "see through it" or anything like that. It's an ugly, repulsive movie. It's a truly homophobic film in the sense that it's obsessed with men's hairy asses and veiny cocks and salty sweaty bodies rubbing against one another. It hates the male body, but there are like no women in it and so there are no suitable alternatives to men.

I mean, there is a real dearth of sensuality in the film. I don't understand how anybody could get any pleasure out of the picture. On a visceral, instinctual, lizard-brained level. I don't know how anybody could prefer The Boondock Saints to virtually anything else at all.

Paul Clarke said...

I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, but I thoroughly enjoyed Forrest Gump when I saw a sneak preview showing of it. I admired the craft of the film and, hell, even got quite emotional at several points. It's reputation has slowly disintegrated in my mind to the point that now I hate even hearing Hanks' irritating voice as that character. I've never revisited it and doubt I ever will.

On the subject of The Boondock Saints I caught it on cable tv, tried watching it for a while, and gave up. A dull, irritating piece of shite. It's amazing what gets a cult following.

Anonymous said...

Jefferson: Hell no, especially if it's Return of the Goddamned Jedi. Elaborate at length.

- M.

Bill C said...

@Alex: I think that's an altogether separate issue, i.e., having your opinion mutated by the majority. That's just plain insecurity as opposed to growth or whatever we're talking about.

Alex Jackson said...

@Alex: I think that's an altogether separate issue, i.e., having your opinion mutated by the majority. That's just plain insecurity as opposed to growth or whatever we're talking about.

Oh, I think that there is a lot of overlap though admittedly the two things probably shouldn't be seen as interchangable. I think it's difficult to suss out what's "growth" and what is "being mutated by the majority". I still maintain the romantic notion that maturity is a constant trade-off and the perspective you have today isn't necessarily better or more accurate than the one you had ten years ago.

That said, I haven't watched American Beauty in a while and I'm a little scared to. (Same with Magnolia, actually). But I think I would still stand up for American Beauty and I would still defend it.

And I mean, American Beauty against Boondock Saints. There is no comparison. Regardless of AB's flaws this is the last time those two films should ever be mentioned in the same sentence.

Man, Boondock Saints sucks.

Bill C said...

Agree that I never would've liked BOONDOCK in the first place (no disrespect to Ian), either, but then I also thought MAGNOLIA and AMERICAN BEAUTY were pretty juvenile the first time around. I enjoyed the latter superficially but even in 1999 knew it wouldn't stand up to a second viewing--and it didn't.

But yeah, there's probably some overlap, and certainly I have a few skeletons that are skeletons less because I've changed than because their reputations have. INDEPENDENCE DAY and, yes, SHORT CUTS, are two I'm vaguely embarrassed about having liked back in the day because their stock has fallen so precipitously. Yet I'd consider them skeletons as opposed to, say, guilty pleasures, because I would only revisit either if I were obliged (as I was when I reviewed ID4).

On the other hand, I try not to be absolutist about these things, and just because I consider something a skeleton wouldn't necessarily preclude rediscovering it in some vital way. I think the idea is that what makes it a skeleton is that it feels like it belonged to a person you no longer are, and therefore while you might retain some residual affection for it, you no longer want it to define you.

eddie said...

The thing that I'm most ashamed to ever have liked was Limp Bizkit. I was 14 years old and was trying to branch out and listen to something other than hip-hop. I asked a few friends for some bands to check out and Limp was one of the recommendations. For a few years I thought they were awesome. By the end of high school I had significantly cooled off on the Limp love. A year or two into college I caught one of their songs on the radio and I was flabbergasted. Luckily I was alone in my car, as I was overcome with shame.

As for films, Billy Madison is something that I watched a few weeks ago and was astounded by its complete lack of comedy. I just don't get why people like that movie.

RE: Boondock Saints, I tried to watch it a few years ago, around the time of the SE DVD release, with no success. There were three of us watching it and after a half hour we all looked at each, begging with our eyes for someone to say what we were all thinking. Ten minutes later and we reached the breaking point. The next day I tried to finish the movie by myself. After ten minutes I shut the thing off and wanted to slap the people that told me it was amazing. A flicker of anger runs through me every time someone tries to extoll the virtues of BS on myself or someone around me. I'm not surprised that people like it, I'm just surprised at how many of my friends like it.

RoQnRollMartian said...

My junior year of high school, it was all about Napoleon Dynamite. I don't really know how to explain it now, though I guess at the time I should have realized that the fact that every jock in my school was constantly quoting it might have pointed to the fact that it wasn't the ode to the quirky outsider that I had thought it was. My only comfort, I suppose, is that in catching it on Comedy Central every once in a while I find it to be not only utterly unfunny but also the exact kind of ugly, hateful stuff pretty much everyone else has pointed out it is. Around this same time I was also going through the type of horror/zombie movie freakout that caused me to launch many a heartfelt defense for Romero's Land of the Dead. I shudder to think of what kind of critical pretzel I must have twisted myself into to argue that as a masterpiece. At least my initial love for that summer's The Devil's Rejects only grows stronger each time I revisit it. On the "shameful ethical stance" front, I admit I crack the fuck up every time I watch Scary Movie 4. I'd try to explain it, but I'm not entirely sure I can.

As for Boondock Saints, without parroting what everyone else has already correctly said here- it's an atrocious, hateful little film- I'd just say I'm surprised how many otherwise thoughtful, intelligent people I talk to who answer accusations of the film's homophobia, misogyny, ugliness, fascism, etc, with a simple "it's not supposed to be taken that seriously." It's sort of the same thing, now that I think of it, as claiming it's "for the fans"- a convenient way of passing the blame off to the critic for finding something wrong with the thing in the first place.

jer fairall said...

@Bill C: Ok, you're gonna have to explain the dig at SHORT CUTS.

I watched it again not long ago and still loved it. But more to the point, I don't get how it's anything to be embarrassed about.

Stephen Reese said...

Seconded. Where does Short Cuts come up short?

Bill C said...

Dennis Cozzalio articulated a lot of my nagging discomfort with SHORT CUTS back before Altman passed away and I got the sense then that, although Dennis himself considered it a minority opinion at the time, he was surfing a changing tide.

I actually bought the Criterion DVD, thus occasioning a reading of Carver's stories (the book came packaged with the discs), which Altman really trivializes--for starters, by assuming Carver's Pacific Northwest is interchangeable with LA--and makes misanthropic. Some of Dennis' observations--such as that its performances are uniformly terrible--are food for thought that I frankly can't challenge without another viewing, but I would add that it looks like a TV movie from the '70s. A 70mm TV movie from the '70s.

Good gateway Altman movie, maybe, but it's NASHVILLE for people who hate NASHVILLE, if you ask me, lazy and self-parodic and skin deep at best.

Rick said...

Why is Troy Duffy constantly touring colleges? Does he even have a GED?

Rick said...

Hopefully each campus Duffy visits have blue light phones.

Bill C said...

Sorry for the lack of updates at the mothersite, by the by. We have a few reviews in the chamber, but the Bat-computer keeps cakking out on me.

el_pe1on said...

I was aghast to find myself quoting John Bigboote a few months ago, at launch of a frisky Saturday morning ride to some bargain shopping at the local outlet mall: "Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seat-a-belts-a and extinguish all smoking materials...". I generally don't mess with Lithgow, but Ellen Barkin ???

Maturity does come at a cost. Outlet mall shopping???

Anonymous said...

Prior to this week, I've never seen Robert Altman's fantastic M*A*S*H nor any of the TV series that it spawned, nor any other Robert Altman flick. At all. In an effort to fix this, I'd like to know whether I should take to the M*A*S*H TV series, and also find out what everyone considers to be necessary Altman viewing. What do we think?

Alex Jackson said...

Prior to this week, I've never seen Robert Altman's fantastic M*A*S*H nor any of the TV series that it spawned, nor any other Robert Altman flick. At all. In an effort to fix this, I'd like to know whether I should take to the M*A*S*H TV series, and also find out what everyone considers to be necessary Altman viewing. What do we think?

Funny, I just watched and really enjoyed Popeye and it occured to me that Altman was such an eclectic filmmaker that he's managed to produce a few things that align with my sensibilities even though I reject his best recieved films.

From Best to Worst:


-"Les Boreades" in ARIA (pretty much the only thing worth watching in that film, but it's amazing).
-SHORT CUTS (yeah, I haven't seen it in years and I wouldn't discount Bill's complaints about it, but I still think this is much more up my alley than NASHVILLE)









Again though, I think that list kind of goes against the grain. And there is a lot that i've yet to see.

Anonymous said...

What's your beef with M*A*S*H?

Anonymous said...


I remember liking Boondock Saints, but I want to defend myself for being a testosterone-charged adolescent who liked rooting for the underdog. Anybody?

Although I am sure I critically applauded many indefensible films, Forrest Gump and A Life Less Ordinary stick out. My feelings were strong enough about A Life Less Ordinary that I had the gall to e-mail Mr. Chaw to question him as to why he pooped all over it. Needless to say, at the time I didn't really understand his response--I am not sure that I would today--and I haven't seen the movie since.

Forrest Gump was, well, what everybody in my peer group wanted to see and loved. But I vividly remember the day I saw Pulp Fiction and realized that I was a feckless moron for ever considering Gump cinematic beauty (and that I was befriending feckless morons; harsh, but true).

Thank you, Mr. Pugh, for dredging up memories of the stupidity that was and hopefully is no more.

Anonymous said...

Oh man, I remember Aria. I also remember only being able to get into the Godard (because I'm such a huge Godard nut) and Jarman segments. The movie itself, as a whole, isn't very good. In fact, I can't name many of these ensemble-type movies that were actually any good.

Bill C said...

Once again, many apologies for the radio-silent week at the mothersite. I suffered a worse crash than the last time (yes, it is time to invest in a new computer), and the restoration effort is still going.

For what it's worth, Walter awarded ZERO stars to THE BOX, while Ian gave A CHRISTMAS CAROL a 2 and THE FOURTH KIND a ZERO. Those reviews will be up just as soon as it's humanly possible. I feel like you did in school when you finally got sick enough to stay home but then you spent the whole time worrying something good was happening in your absence.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, M*A*S*H is a fuck-ugly movie. I really hate it. It's got this awful, self-negating combination of smug, self-righteous hippieism and fratboy, Tucker Max misogyny. It's a lot like Zombieland in its utter nihilism -- the total breakdown of society through warfare/zombie apocalypse is an avenue to become FUCKING AWESOME.

And for what is basically a snobs vs. slobs comedy for large chunks, the snobs seem utterly powerless against the combined might of Hawkeye and the other guys that they become bullies rather than underdogs. Ferris Bueller never attacked his enemies, he just let them make fools of themselves.


Alex Jackson said...

Shit, Kim put it much more eloquently than I could.

Yeah, MASH is too misogynistic and too mean-spirited for me. That iconic shower scene? Seriously? I can see why they sanitized it so much for the TV series. I wouldn't want to spend week after week with these people.

Too smug also, I dislike that fourth-wall breaking gag with the intercom at the end.

I agree with virtually everybody who has seen it that the Godard segment in Aria is definitely for Godard completists only. The Ken Russell one is really really bad, by the way. Jarman's was OK. Way too broad though and it hasn't dated well.

Aria is possibly the worst anthology movie I have ever seen, but I would recommend it if only for Altman's segment.

Dan said...

Saddened to hear The Box scored a zero here, but interested to read the rationale. I love Donnie Darko, and it's a shame that Richard Kelly hasn't become the exciting new voice I had hoped for.

I liked elements of his Southland Tales (and Salon ran an interesting article "explaining" it that helped post-viewing), but it was a really unwieldly mess. I was hoping The Box would be a sure thing for Kelly, as it seems like a very simple concept you can play with to great effect.

Of course, I don't always agree with Walter, so I'm hoping I'll find more to enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Bwahahahahaa, really?! The Box worse than Southland Tales?

Anonymous said...

Poor Richard Matheson just can't seem to get a break these days. I myself haven't seen The Box yet, but if it's anything like The Killing Button...

James Allen said...

"Button Button" (the basis for The Box) is not even top drawer Matheson to begin with, but more to the point, how you can expand that story to a full length film is beyond me. Lots of car chases and things blowing up, I suppose.

Alex Jackson said...

Of course, I don't always agree with Walter, so I'm hoping I'll find more to enjoy.

Just checked his Rotten Tomatoes page and I can honestly say that I have never liked anything that Walter has given zero stars to. There's one there that I sorta kinda liked (Love Potion No. 9) and a few that I didn't think were completely terrible (I'm of the minority opinion that Transformers 2 and Bride Wars are just kinda meh and not signs of the end of civilization as we know it), but there is nothing he has given zero stars to that I would actually recommend.

Greatly disappointing to see The Box is that bad. I was seriously looking forward to it and now I'm beginning to see how it can fail.

Does this mean the end of Richard Kelly then?

Anonymous said...

I really liked it, for what it's worth. I can't wait to read Walter's criticism to compare notes.

Dan said...

@Alex: Richard Kelly may be one of those writers who has ONE great idea to get off his chest (Donnie Darko), and the ability to film his idea well... but he just doesn't have much else to actually say.

If I end up agreeing that The Box isn't very good, I'll probably give him one more chance, but then I think we can start tagging him as a one-hit wonder. But I'll keep a watchful eye on him, to see what he does next. Maybe he'd fare better on TV, with smaller budgets and more scope to plan out things? I always thought Darko would have made a great mini-series, and heaven knows Southland Tales could have done with similar breathing space.

Anyway, whatever happens, Darko was marvellous, so I'll always be grateful to him for that.

Justin B-H said...

Talking of directors working to smaller budgets than usual, I picked up Frank Darabont's The Mist yesterday on the strength of Walter's Superannual recommendation-what a great B-grade horror flick! Chintziest CGI monsters I've seen since The Langoliers, but the script, acting and direction knocked me for six.

Bill C said...

The Friday theatricals are up at last.

@Justin B-H: You digging the new book, then? We haven't heard a lot of feedback; I sorta feel like it exists in a vacuum.

Anonymous said...

I fucking love the new book. Whenever I've got a few minutes to kill at work, instead of surfing the Internet, I read the book.


Justin B-H said...

@Bill C: I've been reading it on the bus to work every day. It's great - the exclusive-to-the-book reviews are some of the best in there.

Bill C said...

Hearing that kind of feedback makes me happier than a picture of Taylor Swift.

Thanks, guys. Sincerely.

Dan said...

My Superannual order's being processed, apparently. I should get the book early-December. I'm not sure why it takes 4 *weeks* to send something from the US to the UK, but there you go.

Dennis said...

Bill, your dual review for Music and Lyrics and Once made me reconsider my stance for both.

And Walter, thank you for putting Paranoid Park in its place. I wasn't quite as negative as you were (I gave it two stars), but it's refreshing to see others who disliked the movie, considering its positive reception by most of the critical community.

Ryan said...

I dig the book as well. It's made my daily train ride into work that much more tolerable.

And I'd like to second Ian's proposition that Walter's take on Tropic Thunder is the only one to actually capture the highs and lows of that thing. I knew I liked it when it came out last summer, but couldn't bring myself to really love it. There's so much good stuff in there, but it's padded by so much not-so-good stuff, and I had trouble articulating how the two coincided. So thank you.

Patrick said...

unfortunately, I will have to make the annual a christmas shopping thing, which means hopefully I'll buy it after christmas. Sorry, guys, but my budget was attacked by old clothes and a broke printer.

O'JohnLandis said...

I have been dealing with the flu, but I wanted to weigh in on Ian's original question because it's a good one. We certainly don't need another argument about the difference between what we like and what we think is good, so let's just say that the most obvious way for film opinion (either like/dislike or good/bad) to change is for a film either to completely fill or lightly challenge a limited perspective (leading to positive opinion) or to drastically surpass a limited perspective (leading to negative opinion) and then the perspective expands. I think we could really get some interesting responses--responses that show growth or lack of growth, little time capsules of experience--if people were truly willing to take this question seriously. That said, some people might not have the flu and instead have lives.

When I was just about to turn five, my favorite film was Saturday the 14th. (Everyone saw their first Friday the 13th movie at age four, right? Good.) When I was six, my favorite film was Clue. When I was seven, my favorite film was The Bad News Bears and I watched it and its first sequel back-to-back, oh, let's say 50 times in the 80s. To this day I don't think there has been a better sports movie than Bad News Bears, but it's not really a reasonable "favorite film" choice.

I was barely eleven when Terminator 2 became my favorite film. It's not exactly fine art, though in an era when we have to put up with a Michael Bay movie every year or two, does anyone remember how fucking good James Cameron was? The Terminators, Aliens, True Lies, The Abyss, fucking Titanic--in terms of technical directing, the look, getting great performances, high standards--there might not be anyone with so consistent a track record.

I bring these movies up not because they're relevant to the question--they're not--but as a trick in case you were playing along at home. Before high school, can you remember seriously liking a large number of films at once? Because I can't. I remember those three (kinda four) films, in order, from my elementary school days in New Mexico and then that one right after I moved to Buffalo. I didn't have five or ten or 100 favorite films at once until I turned 16 or so, and it's the period between 16 and 19 that I will focus on, because I was a sponge, and as we know, sponges absorb a lot of sludge.

Are Ghostbusters or the first three Kevin Smiths really bad enough to be skeletons in a closet? I don't think so. The first three that came to mind for me were Pi, Shakespeare in Love, and Scream. I drastically overrated Shakespeare in Love as an emotional response to how much I hated Saving Private Ryan, but Shakespeare in Love is not terrible, it's just minor. Scream's aggressive meta attack is tiring, and I'm sad to say that I thought it was about the smartest thing ever made when I was 16, but it's well acted and directed and not at all stupid. Pi, on the other hand, is kinda silly. I didn't know better back then, but there's a fine line between scary and silly, and Pi just doesn't hold up on repeated viewing. When the structure of the thing is no longer a shock, there's not much there. Still, I thought of a much better skeleton.

The Brothers McMullen

I saw it when I was 16 or so and thought it was a minor masterpiece and a perceptive, original statement about love and relationships. I do not remember even one moment from this film. Not a line, not some image that lingers in my head, nothing. Oh wait, I might have one vague memory of a static shot of a house. Does that sound right? QED?


I never really change my mind about anything.

You do have to give Alex credit for one thing. He doesn't bury the lead.

Bill C said...

Didn't realize you were younger than me, O'John. I sure don't act like it.

I would agree that there is maybe no Kevin Smith film bad enough to be a skeleton, but would disagree that Smith as a concept, as a cult of personality, does not qualify. Like Howard Stern could be a skeleton, maybe.

I kept thinking, and there's not a lot of formative shit of which I'm truly ashamed. I mean, I guess I enjoyed WALK LIKE A MAN far too much when it came out, and the original TEEN WOLF, but they don't feel like skeletons to me because children are stupid and I can't do anything about having been a child. By the time I was in my teens, I loved Michael Mann (circa MOHICANS) and Roman Polanski. I still do. I never loved SCREAM enough to feel like I overrated it, and SCREAM 2 remains so underrated that I'm still content to defend it.

Anyway, I'm babbling now.

Dan said...

You digging the new book, then? We haven't heard a lot of feedback; I sorta feel like it exists in a vacuum.

Just to sound out some more redundant praise for the new superannual: I lurve it. Personal favorites so far are Bill's 'Music and Lyrics/Once' review (which articulates all the reasons why I have found myself defending the former more than once - often to my own surprise), Walter's delicious vampire movie double-whammy, and Ian's definitive takedown of those Scary/Disaster/Superhero Movies. Thanks, guys!

Bill C said...

@Dennis/@Dan: Thanks for saying so.

Justin B-H said...

Just got back from watching 2012 here in Sydney. OK, I know - I got some pretty bad news today and I felt I really needed to fling some elephant dung at a geek in a pit, as Walter once put it.

I hope you guys are going to review it, cos my head's still spinning from the cognitive dissonance of seeing a film which had a reported $280M budget and some of the most jaw-dropping cgi I've seen (the destruction of Los Angeles and Las Vegas) but insisted on shooting interiors on cruddy digital video, and in particular making much of the last half-hour look like it was shot (and lit) by the second unit from Zombie Strippers.

Oh, and just like WOTW the world blows up so our hero can be a better dad and reunite his nuclear family, and in the first 5 minutes it knocks off (stupidly) the solar neutrino conceit from Arthur C Clarke's Songs of Distant Earth.

My highlight so far of the Annual is Walter covering the French horror ascendancy in one mammoth essay.

Rick said...

"I kept thinking, and there's not a lot of formative shit of which I'm truly ashamed."

I hope many of the younger bloggers here eventually feel ashamed of having once liked Family Guy.

Dan said...

3-stars for 2012? Hmm, I couldn't help getting the impression that review was overthinking things. But even then I would struggle to match 3-stars with the written word. 1 1/2 at best, surely.

Also, interesting that Fantastic Mr. Fox is getting good reviews Stateside. The film's been out a few weeks here in the UK and most people didn't like it. Not enough Dahl in the mix - pitched way above kid's heads.

Tom N said...

family guy is just horribly inconsistent, not outright bad.

i'm just here to say that i love walter right now for that 'fantastic mr fox' review, because he seems to virtually the only critic (who can also write) who can get past his love for wes anderson and see that film for what it is.

sad to read about 'the road', but won't be surprised if it's spot on. never thought 'the proposition' was any good either.

Rick said...

family guy is just horribly inconsistent, not outright bad.

Good comedy writers know Family Guy is outright bad and derivative. Most people seem to think it is funny but inconsistent, which doesn't really affect the fanbase much, due to their brains being on autopilot during the dead spots and pointless "obscure" references, only to be jogged out by an obvious, do-the-thinking-for-you-and offensive-but-who-cares joke. Man, rewatching 90s Simpsons makes Family Guy even more painful to get through.

JF said...

@ Tom N: I don't think it's that other critics can't get past their Wes Anderson love, I think (I haven't seen the movie yet because it's not coming out in my area for another week) it might be that the Anderson sensibility as applied to this material works for people who don't usually get him and doesn't work for some of those who usually do get him.

voice of midnight said...

A friend of mine once stated that the overwhelming college-based love for Family Guy was all the more bizarre given that Seth McFarlane apparently believes that musical theater is the height of comedy.

I'll be purchasing the SuperAnnual soon - not this paycheck, unfortunately, but possibly the next. I don't plan on seeing any films this weekend - 2012 if I have time, The Road out of morbid curiosity - and with Phoenix being the type of city it is, doubt I'll be at all encouraged to even go to the theater in my last few months here other than to see A Serious Man again.

Patrick said...

What about Wes Anderson as a skeleton in the closet? I do not get why people like his films. At all. They're the cinematic equivalent of "meh".

O'JohnLandis said...

I have a strange feeling that I might have argued about Family Guy with you, Rick--and not that long ago. But what the hell, I'll try again.

Who are the good comedy writers you're talking about? TV? Live action? Is Family Guy derivative? Nakedly, but so much in comedy is--hell, so much in all art is--that you're going to need to convict it of something else.

So what is Family Guy? As The Flintstones was a crazy parody of The Honeymooners, Family Guy is a crazy parody of The Simpsons that uses (or abuses, if you must) its animated form to interpolate sketch comedy asides into most of its stories. The frequency (and audacity or laziness or whatever) of these asides leads people to conclude that Family Guy is artistically inferior to shows that carefully make sure all humor comes from a story element.

And it's true that Family Guy is artistically inferior to many of today's best comedies, but not for this silly arbitrary rule. (Where is it said that anarchic asides that still manage to form and populate a tonally "right" world have to be structurally wrong? People are reading the wrong writing books, or something...)

The reason Family Guy is artistically inferior to something like The Office:

Its world (not its structure) doesn't have consistent rules, so emotional relationships never exist until they do, supernatural elements don't exist unless there's a joke, and there's constantly a level of detachment that prevents the sort of artistic appreciation that would take Family Guy to the next level. (There is one episode that actually does try to solve these problems--Brian Wallows and Peter's Swallows--and it might be the best Simpsons episode released this decade.)

So where does this leave Family Guy in the discussion of current TV comedy? In the bottom half of the top ten, but fairly consistently, and there over the course of ten years. And that's not a bad place to be--below The Office, probably below Chuck Lorre, but ahead of South Park and whatever happens to be left of The Simpsons.

Does the best of Family Guy even get close to the quality of the first six seasons of The Simpsons? Of course not. Nothing ever had, and likely nothing ever will.


Patrick, I kinda get the Wes Anderson doubt. I really liked Bottle Rocket, thought Rushmore was inconsistent, and respected Tenenbaums more than I loved it. But The Life Aquatic is wonderful, and certainly no one his age gets cinematography or art direction that's even close.

DaveA said...

And it's true that Family Guy is artistically inferior to many of today's best comedies, but not for this silly arbitrary rule.

Absolutely. I admit I enjoy seeing Family Guy from time to time. It's that sort of comedy which you shouldn't watch from DVD, since seeing it in quick succession makes its flaws very obvious. It's similar to 24 in that respect - you really need that week in between.

Stating arbitrary rules like "comedy is inferior if it isn't tied to some story" is just bogus. The funniest stuff I've seen this year was the Little Britain USA episodes; oh sure, it's repetitive, there's no story at all, and that's exactly what makes it funny. Whereas the worst stuff I've seen was Hung, where they had a story, but boy was it boring.

Alex Jackson said...

I hate to endorse John's comment which he states like it's scientific fact. But he's right about the show's place on the bottom half of the top ten comedies currently on television and how it's better than South Park but doesn't come near the first six seasons of The Simpsons. And he's absolutely right that this is attributable to the lack of consistant rules, genuine emotional relationships, and a constant level of ironic detachment.

You win this round, Landis. Argh!

I like the show every once in a while. It does make me laugh. But whenever I watch an episode a second time, I feel that I've just wasted half an hour of my life. The comedy in Family Guy is very slash and burn, kill the goose to get the golden egg, kind of stuff. The show sacrifices building a deep relationship with the viewer for a quick visceral reaction.

I'm not quite so alarmist, but you could argue that Family Guy demonstrates how the Internet has had a negative effect on popular culture by stoking entitlement and instant gratification.

Rick said...

Who are the good comedy writers you're talking about? TV? Live action?

I was mainly thinking of the exact shows which Family guy directly steals from, including Simpsons, Conan O'Brien, whatever their staff happens to be watching. Forget being derivative, what makes Family Guy come in way under the incredibly high bar set by 90s shows like Mr Show, Simpsons, etc. is that those shows never pandered to assholes, they only criticized assholes. One example is in an opening of Family Guy when two golf commentators are talking to each other, in regards to a woman standing in the background, about how many golf balls could fit in her mouth. All I could picture was Family Guy's less respectable and majority fan base laughing with them.

Patrick said...

Will there be a blog review of the Prisoner remake? I'd love to have that as a companion piece to the original series review that I will now read.

In my German box set of the show, there is a booklet that details the viewing order (which is, I think, the Six of One order) and gives the reason for each episode being where it is, when it was broadcast, and when (and if) it was broadcast on German TV (they didn't show two episodes for being too controversial). I always loved that kind of detail for what amounts to a very short TV series.

Patrick said...

I now read the review. Great stuff. I must say when my father gave me the box set for Christmas two years ago, I had never heard of The Prisoner, nor was I prepared for a television series not only gripping me, but actually changing me at the age of thirty. But it did. I can honestly say I wasn't the same guy after that I was before. Though I never noticed ecclesiastical traits in the show, what impressed on me is the strident individuality of it. When, in the penultimate episode, Kern threatens McGoohan with 10 lashes and he counters: "12. So I won't forget." (or something similar), that is what epitomizes the series to me. Not budging to authority.

To a man starting to get lost in day-to-day compromise, it was a wake-up call.

Mike said...

Ahem O'John...first EIGHT seasons of the Simpsons.

Jefferson Robbins said...

That mainsite preview picture for the New Moon review ... oh God, help me stop laughing.

O'JohnLandis said...

Absolutely not--first six. Mike Scully usually gets blamed for destroying the show, but really it was Oakley & Weinstein who did more damage. They had a bizarre interpretation of what their jobs as show runners should be. They didn't think their job was to help make great episodes; they thought their job was to self-consciously alternate between: silly episodes that intentionally lacked weight (Mirkin's silly episodes never lacked weight), emotional episodes that always had a desperately schematic feel, and high-concept episodes that were never quite as good as they would've needed to be. If there are still a few great episodes in S7 and S8, and there aren't more than a few, it isn't proof that the show hadn't changed forever. Scully's seasons aren't good, but by the time he took over, the show didn't have an identity.

KayKay said...

Werewolf Walter has ripped bit-size chunks outta New Moon's Vampire neck:-) Loved it!

Vampirism as proxy for sexual desire has always been a cool concept, but as an ode to abstinence, it's certified shit!

JF said...

That New Moon review is Great and Glorious Poetry.

Patrick said...

I don't know, abstinence in Buffy sort of worked, but that's because Buffy was allowed to have problems with it, too.

Great preview image, great review. Thanks for staying sane about this.

jer fairall said...

Ha! Armond didn't even like it!

Rick said...

Can't wait for New Moon Rifftrax!

Justin B-H said...

Personally I think Walter's takedown of the first Twilight film in the SuperAnnual was a better piece of critical writing, but as passionate denunciations of toxic pop-culture juggernauts go the New Moon piece is right up there with his Attack of the Clones demolition. Can't wait to see the hate mail for this one!

Anonymous said...

If there's reason enough to bring back Reader Mail (provided Walter is still alive, of course) it's definitely all the hate you're no doubt receiving for that awesome, awesome review. But I think bringing back Reader Mail is something you should so anyway, as well as a podcast - it was always great to read responses to reviews, both positive and negative, and how you responded to that. (No, not just schadenfreude.)

Rick said...

Walter, please post any hate mail where a person calls you a "hater". That is probably my least favorite word of all time, it's such a reductive and simple-minded way to sum up a human being and dismiss them. But no doubt someone will call you this with the New Moon review.

Alex Jackson said...

Alas, nothing but positive feedback on Walt's review over on Rotten Tomatoes.

Ryan said...

You were actually expecting some kind of response? Most of the idiots who like this trash are illiterate, in addition to being imbeciles in pretty much every other way.

Mike said...

O'John, that's a good point about Oakley/Weinstein, but I still find season 7, especially, to be hilarious. Anyway, David Mirkin rules and season 6 is probably the best. He's also hilarious on the audio commentaries.

reach said...

Completely off-topic, I was wondering if anyone here can link me to some good critical writing on The Wire. Having just caught up with the entire series (start-to-finish in about a month - my God what an incredible show) and with a lot of my own thoughts fresh in my mind, I would love to read some thoughts from people much smarter than myself. Shame there's nothing from the FFC gang.

Rick said...

I don't care if people here believe they have outgrown MST3k, I still highly recommend getting Twilight with Rifftrax, it is one of their all-time best.

Dan said...

@Reach: Alan Sepinwall does good Wire (and Mad Men) posts at

Alex Jackson said...

Courtesy of the IMDB hit list: