Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Terrible Fists of Uwe Boll!: HECKLER (2008)

A great movie is out on DVD called HECKLER, and if you're a film blogger or nit-picking critic you may be surprised that sub-par comic Jamie Kennedy has feelings, and that when you trash SON OF THE MASK or MALIBU'S MOST WANTED you are trashing a human being. 'Bout time!

There are two types of critics of course, and it hurt my feelings when talking heads in the film note that there was great film writing--Pauline Kael--but that no great film writing is being done today. But dudes! That's not true. What about me??

There are a certain segment of us who don't want to injure Jackie's feelings as we trash his films. Back when I was writing for a respected search engine I was supposed to review films but simultaneously not say anything negative and yet not lie. What-EVER! But it forced me to realize that not every film is out to please me, and I think that's a problem with a lot of critics -- they pan a film if it fails to amuse them how they expected to be amused, and they hate having their expectations dashed in this manner. My task of trying to find positive things to say about second tier review assignments like LARRY THE CABLE GUY: HEALTH INSPECTOR, or BLOODRAYNE, or THE COOK-OUT, or 17 AGAIN forced me to realize there's something nice to say, always. Such crap films always seem to involve mobsters, often played by ex-Sopranos stars, and climaxes that take place at on-air tapings or live broadcasts, to ensure that judge, jury, and executioner are all bearing instantaneous witness to the mobster's confession before they fall into a vat of green slime, but hey, you know, maybe there was a single good performance or nice song on the soundtrack. BIKER BOYZ for instance has such a bangin' soundtrack the whole film was (almost) redeemed. And I liked the way the Italian mob boss in Usher's IN THE MIX doesn't even flinch at the thought of a schwartze dating his daughter.

My point is, if you're a critic, don't be a hater by nature, don't piss off people you might meet on the way up who may one day knock you back down. If you want to be good impartial critic, bear in mind your state of being before watching and plan accordingly. Make sure blood sugar is high for action, make sure you're high for comedies, and makeshshesh sure you've kept your expectations low.

For example, on behalf of film critics everywhere, let me tell you, it's one thing to love movies, another to have to feign interest in LITTLE FOCKERS just because your editor decides you need to attend the press junket so you can siphon sound bytes off Robert De Niro. If you got the job because you're a film snob it's going to be demoralizing if you're forced to watch stuff you object to on a metaphysical level, like the rote bible brainwashing of THE VEGGIE TALES. But you know what I said about the JONAH: A VEGGIE TALES MOVIE (2002)?
Adults unfamiliar with the series may be startled at first by the unusual combination of Bible studies and talking produce (as well as the high-pitched, Monty Python style vocalizing) but those already VEGGIE-savvy should get right into it. In addition to the goofy humor, there are lessons to learn about compassion and mercy, so parents might notice a lull in inter-sibling bickering afterward.
 See that? You'd never be able to tell that I spent the whole movie shuddering in a Ned Flanders douche chill. I submitted to the ickiness and actually came out of it feeling slightly more holy, even if I did have to scrub it off with a Silkwood wire brush when I got home.  Then there's Usher's big showcase film, IN THE MIX:
Director Ron Underwood takes his time going around the more edgy turns in the script, giving the actors room to stretch out and get comfortable in their characters and surroundings, and helping the film transcend its more formulaic elements (it's an obvious nod to the 1992 Whitney Houston/Kevin Costner chestnut, THE BODYGUARD). Best of all, Usher proves his game extends to the big screen, where he displays plenty of debonair warmth and easygoing charm
In this case, "debonair" and "warmth" are meant to quietly cancel each other out: "Easygoing charm" is meant to mean his charm goes away easily. But if you weren't paying attention, that would gloss right over you, and you'd never miss it. See? I stayed tru to tha game!

What's funny in HECKLER is that this is an intelligent, fast-moving film that fairly explodes off the screen, so important and obvious was it as a choice for subject. It becomes something that lives up to critics' expectations even if it is about the pain they cause. Obviously this stuff needed to be said. The talking heads here needed to get it off their chests, and it leads me back around to wonder what the critics got off their own chests by trashing their films in the first place. I think a lot of it has to do with one's perception of themselves an arbiter of taste, which is sometimes really a catalog of hang-ups.  After all, if my concert pianist uncle tells me he hated GET CRAZY then I know I want to see that film (so why isn't out on DVD?) but similarly if my classical music-hating brother tells me he really liked CARNEGIE HALL, I know he must really love the ingenious use of poverty under director Edgar G. Ulmer.

My point: film critics at press screenings can't often sneak out from really dismal films (the film's publicist is usually sitting outside the door with a shotgun) and so it's important their two wasted hours watching some real dreck at a midtown screening room isn't a total loss. Therefore they want to trash it as revenge and venom purging; to give back some of the headache it caused. But I say to thee critics 'tis far more productive to be a lowbrow holy fool and forgive and see the beauty in all things, even PLUTO NASH.

Another analogy: If you've ever been stuck talking to someone at a party who's just so annoying and enervating that you pray for someone you know to come by so you can introduce them, pawn them off or break up their monotonal sermon and you go home and even the next day you can taste the person's musty thoughts in your cranium, well, then you know why critics sometimes lash out at movie stars, athletes and so forth, as it to say 'how dare you infect my head like a bad 1980s synth pop song?' If you put yourself in the spotlight, you--as an actor, star, and person--subtextually promise that you will endeavor to at least measure up to a baseline expectation. If someone asks for a birthday clown and you show up determined to fix the roof instead then you're not edgy, just not the right man for the job. That's why I endeavor to do a little bit of everything I write about, to keep my hand in: a short film here, an voiceover gig there, a bizarre album (limited edition - four copies, unsigned) here and there, if for no other reason than it makes me better appreciate how hard these things are to do and savor them all the more when done well. Once you try and speak to a huge group of people with nothing but blinding hot spotlights in your face and the need to not sweat or shake the paper, then you no longer snarl at bad acting. Even being a bad actor is harder than it looks.

And yet the opposite holds true as well: beware hurling accolades on something that looks like it's safe to praise, i.e. made by a canonized 'genius,' set in the 19th century, etc. And write from a place where you see the forest for the trees. As you get more sophisticated as a critic, even stuff you used to love can seem juvenile and vice versa. Just because 2001 is a masterpiece doesn't mean FULL METAL JACKET is above critique,  but lauded circle-member critics don't dare be the first to say there's no clothes on emperors Malick or Kubrick.

To get back to search engine, there's a time, every once in awhile, when I got lucky, and was assigned something I was fully expecting to be as bad as LARRY THE CABLE GUY or Russia's FATHER AND SONS, and it turns out to be frickin' hilarious, dark, twisted and urgent. An example would be, of course, the films of Jody Hill, like OBSERVE AND REPORT:
Rogen projects a surprising amount of unstoppable force as the delusional, compulsive, bipolar Ronnie, while also displaying tenderness for his alcoholic mother (Celia Weston) and a genuine desire to protect the perfume-counter girl (Anna Faris) he loves (even though he ends up getting her wasted and taking advantage of her in a controversial scene). Even with such stiff competition, Michael Peña manages to steal almost every scene he's in as a lisping, sycophantic co-worker. Ray Liotta plays a "real" detective, and Hill regular Danny McBride shows up in various amusing cameos. Inexplicably released the same year as PAUL BLART: MALL COP, this is the darker one--the raging id, the heavy-hitter version--with a vengeance.
Now, if I hadn't been assigned the film who knows if I would ever have seen it? If I had been allowed to trash films in my reviews I might have figured out my negative review before even sitting down in the theater, and would have hated to have to change it. but in fact I loved the film, and it made me do a 360 on Seth Rogen, and as a critic it became my job to attempt to point out the route by which this film could be appreciated, not as a dumb comedy but as a dark twisted satire of America.

So.... HECKLER: Jamie Kennedy narrates, and calls his hecklers backstage to ask them why they do it, and even interviews his harshest critics. But the best parts are when random celebs get to fire back at their critics, and none more savagely than Germany's most incompetent director, Uwe Boll. Even critics who hate BLOODRAYNE (2002, top) will enjoy the footage of Boll beating the shit out of his snotty hipster critics (see below), especially because said critics prove by accepting the challenge that they haven't seen GUYS AND DOLLS (and thus wind up with saspirilla in their ear). Me, I've seen it thrice, so when I had to cover BLOODRAYNE I made sure to like it:
With all its swords, chained breasts, gushing arteries, and severed heads, BLOODRAYNE seems more like a welcome throwback to those great early 1980s drive-in sword and sorcery flicks. In between the slashing and gouging there are torch-lit castles, nefarious booby traps, blurry flashbacks, and aerial camera shots that swoop down through the gorgeous Carpathian landscapes. Loken, with her fangs and low-rider leather chaps, looks pretty gorgeous herself, and there's a surprising number of name actors in bit parts (...) It's directed by Uwe Boll, the man who gave us the video game adaptations of HOUSE OF THE DEAD and ALONE IN THE DARK. Cult cinema fans should take this one to--and through--the heart, especially for the chance to see Madsen's period costume and long hair.
and HOUSE OF THE DEAD before that, which was so bad it made BLOODRAYNE look like BEN HUR:
Uwe Boll's HOUSE OF THE DEAD, based on a video game, manages to capture the goofy, giddy flavor of the drive-in features and Saturday morning cartoons of the 1970s. The story involves a sextet of attractive, romantically entangled Seattle hipsters who hire a boat manned by a salty sea captain (Jurgen Prochnow) to take them to an island rave. (...)  By the time the gang lands, most everyone at the party has already been killed and joined the ranks of the living dead. Fortunately, the captain is also an arms smuggler and soon the dwindling survivors are geared up with heavy artillery, blasting their way through the hordes in high video-game style. Pumping hard core techno rap fusion, swooping MATRX-style camera moves, manic editing, ample gore effects, clips from the actual video game, and a dash of nudity all coalesce to keep things lively, those who like their horror a little on the cheesy side may just find themselves in zombie-movie nirvana.

So there you go, Uwe, don't hurt me!  Though now that Muze is gone and I'm contracted to no movie search engine, hey Uwe! You SUCK!!

1 comment:

  1. Dude, I believe you have mastered the art of veiled burns. Bravo.


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