Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Destroying the Artist: Heckler

I found Jamie Kennedy's Heckler for $3.99 used at a local Walgreens, the obvious hub of film for a cinemaphile like myself.  I hadn't seen the movie before, but a documentary examining the irritants known as hecklers seemed like it would be interesting.  As far as Kennedy goes -- I've liked some of his stuff more than others (the Jamie Kennedy Experiment was pretty damn good), but I can say that about almost anyone (and I'm sure it's been said about me).  Watching the movie, however, proved it was far more than interesting.  It was, no hyperbole intended, essential viewing for any artist or critic.

Kennedy's film starts out with some great stories about hecklers, and plenty of comedians and others in the public eye share their experiences with them.  This examination of the heckler soon turns into a very pointed look at critics and their role in society.  As someone who has been a professional critic (meaning I get paid, yo) for more years than I care to remember, this hit home. I know I've been guilty of writing scathing reviews.  I know I've probably been more personal than I should have been.  I also know I try to write something positive about movies I hate, too.  On the flip side of that, I've also been "heckled" as it were.  (One reader, angry about a review I gave a CD, wrote into the magazine I wrote it for saying he wanted to cut my head off and shit down my neck. He wasn't even associated with the release.  He was just a fan of it.)  That said, I'm glad this film doesn't let critics off the hook (in fact, some of them are confronted face to face with results that are shocking, to say the least).

I could write about who is in this movie and how funny they were (or not, in some cases), but you can look up the subjects on your own.  What is important is what this film says about the critic (a professional heckler,perhaps).  I've written about this before.  Artists and non-artists alike tend to dislike critics.  I can understand the artist disliking them, but the non-artists' disdain has always puzzled me.  When these people tell me they can't trust critics, or that critics don't like anything, I always ask what films (usually) they recommend or would steer me away from.  Inevitably they will name something, and when I ask for a reason why I should see it or spend my time elsewhere, I get the worst answers.  ("It sucks."  "It has cool car chases.")  The critic is supposed to dissect and explain why a piece works or doesn't work.  Lately, though, everyone really is a critic, and therefore you get critics who can't explain their own damn feelings. 

I've defended the profession of the critic often in the past, but even I will admit it gets hard when a critic, like one covered here, tells Kennedy to his face that his panning of one of Kennedy's films has now given Kennedy a new "dark place" to go "cry."A  s someone who has been accused of being "mean-spirited" in the past, even I would not go this far.  (Except, of course, when it comes to that band The Presidents of the United States.  Those guys know why they piss me off.)

What was Kennedy hoping to accomplish with this film?  People who already agree that critics are worthless slugs on the plant of life are only going to nod their heads in agreement.  People who think creators who put their creation in the public eye have to accept that the criticism will not always be kind will think that Kennedy and company come across as whiny, pampered stars.  (Judging by some reactions on the Internet, there are a lot of people in this camp.)  Was Kennedy hoping to cause viewers to feel sorry for him?  Was he trying to get people to stop reading critical pieces on film, music and the like?  No on both counts.  What he is trying to do, or at least what I think he is trying to do, is to get everyone to be better at their craft.  When anyone with a computer can hop online and write anything they want with anonymity, it cheapens all words.  When anyone can go into a comedy club and disrupt someone's act and think that's okay, it continues to foster disrespect for someone's art.  (And while I am the first to admit I don't like all art, I do respect what goes into it.  The process of creation, and comedy is art and creation, is not an easy one.)  Kennedy doesn't want critics to stop writing what they think.  He wants them to write it better.  He wants them to create work they can be proud to call their own.  Hell, while he doesn't go out and say it, I bet he wants critics to spend as much time on their work as he spends on his act.  You may not like everything he does (and you may not like everything a critic has written), but if you can tell there is time and thought put into something, you can respect it more.  (One scene features Kennedy reading an awful review of his work back to the critic who wrote it.  Kennedy is clearly hurt by it, but he takes the time to tell the writer that he uses "beautiful" words.)  You can respect it for that.  We've lost a lot of that respect for art, and in turn we've lost it for ourselves ... and what we do.

I actually don't like writing negative reviews of films, books or music.  (I think plenty of people do like writing those because it's easy, and you can actually have some fun with it.)  I find it to be taxing, and I feel as if I've wasted my time.  I try to find something I can respect in every piece (sometimes that is quite hard).  I will admit, though, I've written some nasty reviews (nothing I've thought was unwarranted, though), and when I did "Excess Hollywood" for Film Threat I wrote more than my share of pure hatred.  I can honestly say, though, that this anger comes from my passion for movies, books and music.  I love and respect these things so much that when I feel they have failed, I do take it personally.

Years ago I got an e-mail from a director whose film I trashed.  She wasn't happy with me, but she thanked me.  She said I made some good points about what went wrong with the film, but the part that stuck with her the most was that even though I hated it, I pointed out one thing I thought did work ... and it was her favorite part of the film.  That letter meant a lot to me.  It showed me that my words not only have power, but they are also read by people who can be directly effected by them.  Heckler demonstrates the exact same thing.

Kennedy may go on to bigger and better things.  I think he is talented enough to stick around for a while, if he doesn't get discouraged by all the crap that is thrown his way.  This will be the most important film he'll probably ever make, however.  I don't mean that as a slam or as a prediction on his future career.  What I mean by it is that he has made something that is bigger than it has any right to be.  Rarely do artists speak out about these sorts of things because they don't want to be seen as whiners and ungrateful.  Kennedy not only shows that the hecklers and critics have an effect on artists and their work, but that critics should also try to elevate there's so that there is real criticism going on ... and not just pointless rants that amount to nothing more than a man yelling, "You suck!"  People may still say Kennedy sucks, but after seeing this you won't be able to deny that he's made a bold film that few others would have the guts to create.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  I paid for this film, and I think I didn't pay enough.  Also, if you click on a link you may end up earning me a small commission.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Don't Mess Aroun' With Foxy Brown

She is the meanest chick in town.  No shit.  She really is.  She'll burn you alive.  Shoot you twice in the head.  Cut your penis off and give it to your girlfriend in a pickle jar.  That's just some of the fun that can be found in this 1974 classic of blaxploitation.  Directed by Jack Hill and starring Huggy Bear himself (Antonio Fargas), Pam Grier in the title role, and the always enjoyable Sid Haig, this was originally supposed to be a sequel to Coffy, but American-International Pictures decided it didn't want a sequel for some odd reason.  The film still came out, obviously, but one can't help but wonder what it would've been like if Hill was allowed to go back to the Coffy pot.

Instead, we get Foxy (a.k.a Misty Cotton later in the film), a woman whose Fed boyfriend is gunned down after an identity change.  How did this happen?  Fuckin' Huggy Bear sold him out, and therefore ruined his sister's day.  That's right.  After Foxy saves her ne'er-do-well brother (we all have one), he decides to screw her over to help pay his debt to some people running a prostitution/drug ring disguised as a modeling agency.  (Now they just use Taco Bells for that.)  Foxy decides to go undercover as a high-class hooker and for her troubles gets injected with heroin, raped and beat up a bit.  Disney, it should be noted, is not looking to remake this.

Foxy Brown influenced a lot of movies since then.  (Fans of Superbad will feel right at home in the opening credits.)  This is due to the fact that this was blaxploitation at its peak.  You've got a great soundtrack, poor acting (and some good acting, too), female empowerment to the nth degree, Grier's breasts, and dead white people.  Mainstream Hollywood this was not, and people like Quentin Tarantino understood the power of these films. 

The film, as influential as it is, falls into the same trap that plagues blaxploitation films.  Made with little money, these films tried their best.  Some of the actors weren't up to the script, and the scripts weren't always all that great to begin with.  The only reason these films seemed to get funding is because an underserved audience ate them up, and it was looked at as money in the bank.  The message, however, was the important thing.  It was subversive and at times stereotypical.  It was also a free-for-all where anything and everything could happen.  The audience the films were intended for were rarely disappointed; happy to see stories geared to them finally make it to the big screen. 

It should also be noted that few white women in films were as tough as Foxy at this time.  You didn't get many of them running around putting bullets into people or chopping off a penis.  At least I don't recall Jane Fonda doing that in any way but symbolically.  Grier was the definition of a tough woman, and she made the roles she took believable.  Some would say this is her best film.  I'm not sure I agree with that, but she is really the only reason to watch it.  (Haig, whom I like, is wasted here.  He has a bit role that doesn't have enough meat in it to satisfy.  He relishes it, though.)

They don't make films like this anymore.  Audiences wouldn't tolerate them.  There are films that try, though, but they are homages and nothing more.  This era of film is done, and this stands as one of its highlights.  Any film that can make white men fear for their penis is tops is my book.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review, and seeing as I'm too lazy to add links, there's no need to worry about me getting a commission off this one. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bloodsucking Freaks -- The Trouble With Vampires

Fright Night returns!  Like the vampires it portrays, it is back from the dead starring everyone's favorite overrated actor, Colin Farrell.  Think Twilight for cooler kids.  Well, not really, but that pissed some people off.

I saw the original Fright Night when it came out and read the book by two exceptional authors (Skipp and Spector).  I disliked both of them quite a bit.  Why?  The movie had too much humor and the book read a lot like fan fiction.  Oh, and I don't really like vampires.

Don't get me wrong.  There are some great vampire movies.  (There are some great vampire books, too, but this isn't my book blog.)  The original Nosferatu.  30 Days of Night.  Vampire in Brooklyn.  (I'm kidding on that one.)  It is possible to make a good vampire movie that doesn't involve teens and love.

Even though I'm not a vampire fan, I do have a certain type of vampire I like to see.  It's not the dashing misunderstood type, who broods and pines for lost love, spouting off lines about eternal life being a "curse" and a "burden."  Nor is it the faux bad boys that turn ugly in the very homoerotic film called The Lost Boys.  Nope.  I like my vampires feral.  Animals that bathe in the blood of their kills as they lap up around the open wounds.  If they're sexual, I want the sex to be born of rage.  I don't want any complaining about eternal life, either.  I like my vampires more like Cassidy from the Preacher comic books and less like Lestat.  (I actually blame Anne Rice for a lot of that romanticism that has ruined the vampire mythos.  Yes, it was always there on some level, but she made it really popular.  Now she can go and ruin Jesus, too.)

I imagine Fright Night will do well at the box office.  It looks to be a little less humorous than the much-loved original, too.  (Thank goodness for small, unasked for favors.)  I won't watch it unless dragged to it.  I won't read the book, either, if that happens to come out.  All of which brings one thing to the forefront:  If I don't like vampires all that much, and don't like too much humor in my horror movies, why did I watch the film and read the book in the first place?  The answer's easy.  I want to like vampires.

The horror fan in me loves whenever a horror movie comes out, even if it is a remake.  I think vampires, as a subgenre, have a wealth of untapped potential.  Every time I see a new movie or book, I get a little hopeful that this will be the one to turn it all around.  30 Days of Night, which started out as a comic book, was such a great idea it's hard to believe someone didn't think of it sooner.  The comic series and the movie were both pretty good.  Most of the times, though, what we are given is just more of the same.  I don't want 43 year old mall moms digging vampire tales unless they are already a little twisted in the first place.  They definitely shouldn't be using stuff like the Twilight series as masturbation material, yet that is what is happening.  Teen girls love it.  Mall moms love it.  Vampires should not be adored by these people.  They shouldn't be fantasizing that Edward will come and carry them away.  They should be fearful he'll come and rip their fucking throats out.  You don't see this demographic (a broad one, I know) getting all weak-kneed over cinematic serial killers (Anthony Hopkins the exception) or sporting Maniac t-shirts reading "Team Frank."  But throw a vampire their way and expect the batteries to disappear out of the remote.

Vampires have become cuddly and safe.  Muppets with stylish hair.  Gone are the days of hanging garlic on the door and hoping the Glick boy doesn't come scratching at your window.  Now we have vampire weddings and births, cool guys on motorcycles who glimmer in the sun or some such nonsense.  At least some horror conventions are still sacred.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: Clicking on a link could earn me somes spendings monies.