Thursday, 31 May 2007

WRONG!, Parts I and II

Every time I'm at the multiplex these days, I get an uneasy feeling. I wasn't sure why at first, but I've since discovered that the culprit is the poster for the new Judd Apatow comedy Knocked Up.

It looks pretty benign at first. But as the great philosopher Kevin Spacey once taught us, look closer. See it now. Read the tagline. This movie is assuming that I'm a woman.

Ideally, this shouldn't be a problem. The film theorist Laura Mulvey has reasoned that it is always unquestioningly assumed that a movie's audience is male. So maybe it's a breakthrough whenever a poster decides to target the overlooked remaining 51% of the population.

Except, it's not that simple either. Not only is Knocked Up assuming I'm female, it presumes I'm the kind of female who would never give Seth Rogan the time of day. Despite not really relating to Rogan in any overwhelming way, my oversensitive empathetic side took over. I had to voice my unreasonable complaint on the IMDb message boards... as a character who isn't myself, of course.

BOYCOTT!! - Offensive Poster!

The poster for the new movie KNOCKED UP asks the question, “What if this guy got you pregnant?” Below the question is a picture of the star Seth Rogan’s face.

I am offended by this for 2 reasons.

1) It is assuming that I am a woman.

And 2) I look exactly like the guy on this poster.

This is very frustrating since it gives the general public the impression that I have not laid pipe plenty of times.

Now, I don’t look exactly like Seth Rogan does normally. I saw him in the movie DONNIE DARKO, and he did not look totally like me there. But on this poster, where he strikes the Morgan Spurlock-minus-fries-in-his-mouth pose, well, that DOES look like me. I have the same golden curly hair, halfway-bug-eyed look, confused eyebrow pose, mouth, and other less descript general facial characteristics, although I just shaved. My friends make fun of me every time we walk past this stupid poster to get a latenight milkshake. Every time we walk by a fine looking lady, someone in my crew will say, “Hey, what if Gord got you pregnant?” Last night, I even punched my buddy Dave for carrying on with this $&!#.

I want to be very clear on this: Just because I look like that guy on the poster doesn’t mean that girls don’t want to have sex with me. I have given the beef injection to women who are prettier than Katherine Heigl.

There was a promo for this movie before THE INVISIBLE, talking to its stars. When Ms. Heigl came on she said that the premise is every girl’s nightmare. That’s fatuous! I know girls like Ms. Heigl and they only want guys who look like Mark Paul Gosseler, so what could she even know about what it means to be another satisfied customer!?

Frankly, I have had something against this chick ever since I saw her on Leno promoting the Gerard Depardieu epic MY FATHER THE HERO, where she said that she likes to toilet paper peoples’ houses on Halloween. Somebody should let her know that someone has to clean that $&!# up!

In conclusion, please boycott this movie! It is propaganda telling people not to have sex with me.


Now, in reality I don't look anything like Seth Rogan. I'm really a very masculine amalgam of the more flattering physical qualities held by Keanu Reeves, Chris Cornell, Anna Kournikova and The Rock. For all I know, Knocked Up could be great (I haven't seen it yet.) It's just that the motivation behind this ad is very clear, and fairly unimaginative. Knocked Up is attempting to market itself to a female audience who wouldn't typically go for a fraternal ribald sex comedy--the kind of cross-over effort the Farrelly Brothers achieved in There's Something About Mary.

But mostly, I just have the need to point out that THIS POSTER IS WRONG. By addressing its reader, even if its question is rhetorical, it is mildly discomforting. I've seen Minority Report; I know it's a bad future when ads start talking to me. And by misguessing my sex, I have an urge to pretend I'm insulted.


There's a new reality show on Fox this summer called On the Lot. It's basically American Idol with aspiring directors competing for a film deal. This marks a crucial difference with the other show for one reason. Beyond the monetary potential, the appeal of being the next American Idol is the possibility of a multitude of complete strangers masturbating to the idea of you. Filmmakers are less sexually lusted over than singers, but movies themselves are pure sex. That means that the people on On the Lot are in love with the idea of people getting off on their product rather than on them themselves.

That's really everything you'll ever need to know about movies. But I'll keep going anyway.

We feel (provided we possess a moral base) more comfortable judging the worth of movies than the worth of entertainers. This is because movies are products and not people, so any insult that comes back to a person is indirect. Or the blame is at least partitioned among a group of people. This is why when the judges on On the Lot don't like a movie, they always point out that the director is still talented without sounding like they're lying. A bad movie is just one instance of bad sex. Everyone feels entitled to say so, yet many haven't really investigated that opinion. More often critics just rely on cliches. On the Lot is proof of this.

On the second episode to air, judge Brett Ratner (director of the Rush Hour movies and X Men: The Final Stand) dismissed a filmmaker's one minute short because its use of text on the screen was too arty. Ratner said it was "style over substance." My friend pointed out that this text complaint means Ratner would likely hate my own movie Later That Stevening.

Curious as to how the consensus-defining Internet was reacting to Ratner's criticism, I did a combined google search on the terms "brett ratner" and "style over substance". Instead of getting anything related to the show, I ended up with dozens of links to reviews accusing Ratner's own movies of their style over substance.

This would be a poetic justice, except how is it even possible? How much discernable style do Ratner's movies possess? And how is it overwhelming the substance? Isn't the whole point of getting Brett Ratner to direct a movie that it isn't going to be personalized?

Saying that a movie is style over substance is a bizarre complaint anyway. I can't think of many movie-smart people I've ever heard say this. Interpreting style reveals substance. The two are connected most of the time. In cases where they aren't entirely, the issue of the "style over substance" charge is really just that the movie doesn't contain adequate substance. So the style is a virtue. If you take the style away too, you're not left with much. Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven, for example, is a letdown thematically and conceptually. But it's a gorgeous movie. Every frame looks like a painting. The filmmaking style isn't a detriment, it's the major thing the movie has going for it.


Friday, 11 May 2007

Wearing Movies Like Prada

So last night I'm sitting in a gourmet hamburger restaurant on Hollywood Blvd. thinking hard about the usual LA concerns--money, networking, my abs--when a small posse walks in. Beyond the nobodies that make up 5/7 of that group is Jimmy Kimmel and Sarah Silverman.

"Excuse me," Kimmel says approaching my table. "Have I seen you in anything?"

"Yes, I get that a lot," I reply, trying to sound as polite as I can.

"Grindhouse, right?. You're Freddy Rodriguez."

As Rodriguez has stolen my beard style and haircut, yet looks a whole foot shorter than me, I find this vaguely insulting.

"No. I'm not Freddy Rodriguez."

"Are you sure? From Planet Terror, Robert Rodriguez's half of Grindhouse. Oh man, it's great. You need to see it."

On a sociological level, what's most interesting about this exchange (which may or may not have transpired exactly as documented) is the way Kimmel made no effort to conceal his love of Planet Terror. He wanted me to know he loved it. People try to shape their image through telling people what movies they love.

It's that whole thing about checking out your girlfriend's CD collection before judging whether she's worth your time. Except that music purchases are less reliable. Just because I took a chance on buying something doesn't mean I like it. It doesn't compare to the utility of including 35 titles on my MySpace top movies listing.

It's not worth anything to like a movie if others don't know how cool that makes you. That's why people wouldn't stop telling me how great they thought Little Miss Sunshine was. It's a sensibility that says, "Not only is this movie off the beaten path of my viewing habits, it defines me."

This is one of the reasons I don't like arguing movies with people I don't know. Beloved films become so tied in to one's identity that it's like arguing religion. People like what they like. I found The Royal Tenenbaums shrill and precious, but when I debated its merits with a friend it was like convincing him he was worshipping a false god.

Here's a true story: A couple weeks ago I was on a roadtrip with a bigtime filmmaker, his girlfriend, and a British guy who unforgiveably tried to cockblock me later that afternoon, but failed, so I can't be too upset.

Anyway, we have the radio on, and some sleazy film journalist is interviewing the director of a popular new English take on American buddy-action films. The interviewer comments that he thinks it was funny that the police force in said movie is called NWA--based of course on the trend setting gangsta rap unit.

"Yeah," the director responds. "I wanted to have a scene where somebody says "F-the Police", but they already used that joke in [$30 million-grossing biker movie that the director sitting in the car directed]."

"Holy shit!," the car passengers exclaim in near unison. This guy knows his modern B-movie history.

"Now we're getting into the classics," the snide interviewer says.

"[$30 million-grossing biker movie] is one of the greatest bad movies ever," clarifies the English director.

Now, I get a clear impression that this unnamed director is a fan of this unnamed movie. (Both are unnamed because as a reader of this blog, I like to keep you working hard for my insightful rewards.) Yet he's still hiding under the veil that this movie is ultimately a guilty pleasure.

Funny thing about people who qualify some movies as guilty pleasures: You can't trust them.

"Guilty pleasure" is one of the most overused terms in the popular film lexicon. Like "The worst movie ever made," which I suppose is the opposite of "The worst movie ever not made." It's a free ticket to snobbery. What kind of hypersensitive fool would feel guilt for liking a movie? It goes back to the film as fashion issue: Movies as identity projection.

"Well, I have a guilty pleasure," British cockblocker adds to our debate. "Troy. As a kid I always liked those kind of sweeping epics, which is what this movie reminded me of."

"That isn't a guilty pleasure," filmmaker counters.

"It's MY guilty pleasure."

"Why are you guilty about liking Troy?," I ask.

"Because it isn't very good."

"So what?"

The thing is, if a Hollywood movie gives you "pleasure" it probably isn't worth feeling guilty about. And in most cases, people who call these films guilty pleasures are just trying to disassociate themselves from the way they look by liking them. It's a way of kowtowing to society's standards of what's good and what's bad.

If you're willing to tell people you barely know that it's a guilty pleasure, it isn't a real guilty pleasure. It's not like saying you fuck sheep or fantasize about eating shit off Scarlett Johansson's chest.

"Well, I have a real guilty pleasure this time," British, basically good-natured, guy qualifies. "The movie Dune."

I'm not sure when we became so self-conscious about how movies look on us. I have absolute faith in my tastes in movies. Afterall, they're mine. But I also won't deny that I've seen Idle Hands and Not Another Teen Movie probably a combined dozen times.

The worst instances of guilty pleasure discussions come when people try to show how absolutely superior their taste is by condescending to a universally lauded film as something beneath them. Example: "I only watch Fellini and Antonioni films, but when I just want to relax, Casablanca will do... you know, as a guilty pleasure."

What's interesting is that the fashion statement aspect of movies has reached a stage where movies are now consciously defining their viewers.

By the mid 90s there was a surge of action films with interchangeable, but no-nonsense titles like Maximum Risk, Sudden Impact, Executive Decision. Those films sound like brute cologne. And there was a market for that stuff that lasted about 5 years.

But the funniest instances are with recent Women's Films. There has not been a more expertly titled movie in the past year than Because I Said So--the mother/daughter Diane Keaton/Mandy Moore Thing. I don't even know what that title has to do with the movie (and I've seen the thing), but it speaks very specifically to a female audience. Something's Gotta Give has a title that falls into the same camp of comfort films for women who can't get the respect they want from men. Soon we'll be seeing You Promised to Call, I Told You Already, and the urban equivalent Oh No You Didn't.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Pop comfort

"You don't feel at all sorry for Britney?," Joseph asks the teenage girl sitting at our table on the first day of Coachella.

"No!! Why? She messed herself up. And she didn't donate anything to help out after Katrina."

Joseph nods--a nod of acceptance rather than agreement. The girl doesn't know that this is Joseph Kahn, someone who helped shape Britney's pop image in her heyday.

I do feel sorry for Britney Spears.

It's less a mere case of her abandoning her fans than it is of her fans turning their back on her product. Everybody needs somebody to hate. It's a fool's version of self-worth. Celebrities are prime targets because it's easy to not look at them as real people. Those with success are the easiest targets of scorn. When the world's impotence gets directed at Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, of course it makes them lose their minds. They're built as products by the people, and destroyed with even more glee.

If I walk down a busy street in Halifax, maybe 1 in 100 people will let me know they recognize me from that drawing in The Coast where I look like a stoned Rabbi. Everybody in the world knows who Britney Spears is.

You're also responsible for killing Anna Nicole Smith.

As I wrote in my review of Vacancy, our Culture of Celebrity is also a Culture of Death.

After the Britney Spears chat at Coachella, we got up to see Peeping Tom, Mike Patton's most recent musical act. Peeping Tom's CD is ok, but on stage they're really on fire. Patton's variation of cooing, barking metal, and Jim Carrey elasticity is backed up with a female chorus and Dan the Automator.

"You guys want to hear a funny joke?," Patton shouts into the crowd. "The Arctic Monkeys!"

But this represents a troubling pop attitude as well. Speaking as a Patton fan, and someone who 8 years ago would identify as a big Patton fan, I'm troubled by the tendency to place the artistic value of one brand of pop music over another, based on its compatibility with a person's taste. Patton is a master at what he does, but the artistry involved calls more attention to itself than what Kelly Clarkson does. It's the whole Spielberg-dilemma: The filmmaking mastery is often invisible, so dull critics assume it isn't there.

Just as it was necessary to digitally adjust the size of Clarkson's booty in a video, Mike Patton delivers to an audience that expects a certain thing. It's a hard style of music to catch on to, but once you manage it becomes comfortable. A real challenge for Patton's listeners would be to give them a song that could make them cry.

The same goes for Bjork, who headlined that night. First stepping out on stage wearing a dress flowing from a white, spotted cushion hat, that made her look like a cross between ancient royalty and the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man, she got the crowd into her weird trance with her new single "Earth Intruders."

Surrounded by a sea of people, I looked around me to see what other Bjork fans look like. I was expecting something weirder; they're the general Coachella population. Bjork was giving us our anticipated dose of Icelandic quirk... exactly what we want from a Bjork concert.

After certain songs she would enthusiastically intone into the microphone a too-cute, "Zhank you!!"

It was a great performance, but I was more challenged trying to make my way out of the crowd to get an early start on the parking lot exodus than I was by anything on stage. (A plan which turned out to be completely futile, since finding where you parked at Coachella is the reason Al Gore invented the needle in the haystack analogy.)

It felt like a half-mile walk out of that crowd. The three most difficult factors with trying to squeeze out of a festival performance early are the assholes who will do anything to not let you by, not knowing how frequently you're expected to say "Excuse me," and avoiding the stoned people that think it's smart to lie on the ground at night. Girl I stepped on: I'm sorry, but you're stupid.

The music from the stage was a strangeness that felt much more comfortable.