Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Amer'cans Are Idiots

Ok so don't get me wrong. The United States of America really is the greatest country in the world. I'm not saying that because I live here or out of some sense of false national pride. I truly believe that it really is the Promised Land. It might not always be that way -- in fact it may cease to be as such in my own lifetime -- but right now we are that shining city on the hill.

But goddammit are Amer'cans fucking stupid sometimes.

Much like obscenity, I can't define an Amer'can (as opposed to an American), but I know one when I see one. I can name some famous ones: Toby Keith, Jerry Bruckheimer, Adam Sandler, Jay Leno. Maybe when it comes to doing something important or innovative or original, an Amer'can will always chicken out and take the easy, safe, lowest-common-denominator way out (see, respectively: that "boot up your ass" song, movies with lots of car crashes, formulaic man-child fart joke comedies, Jay Leno).

Art, and the appreciation of art, is one arena in which Amer'cans suffer. Whereas it seems that other countries tend to have at least a modicum of understanding about art, Amer'can tastes are much more poorly refined. If you look at the highest grossing movies of the last couple of years, you will see lots of crap, whether it's an Ice Cube kid's comedy or another bullshit horror movie, we tend to gravitate to what's easy. We don't challenge ourselves. I am certainly not above this at times. I do watch crap like American Idol and listen to Journey. Of course, Journey is awesome, so they don't really count. Forget I mentioned them, bad example.

Movies in Amer'ca are a very sore subject for me, because I am a tad on the snobby side when it comes to cinema. I watch a lot of indie stuff that looks like it was shot with Abraham Zapruder's camera, and a lot of long foreign stuff. A lot of that stuff sucks too, but I think I have at least the breadth of experience to know what is good and what is utter garbage.

So flash forward to last week. Right after American Idol, there was a show called On the Lot, which is sort of like ... no it is exactly, American Idol for aspiring movie directors. I'm a sucker for all things movie-related. I'm the kind of guy who watches those movie retrospectives at the Oscars (where they always show clips from Singin' in the Rain and Casablanca and Dog Day Afternoon) and actually tears up a little. Yeah I'm wicked queer.

So I am already pissed off at myself for watching the first 10 minutes of this stupid show because I know I'm gonna get hooked on it and have to watch the whole stupid thing. So one thing should have tipped me off that I was going to hate 90% of the "directors" on this show. The judges are Carrie "Princess Leia" Fisher, who hasn't done much as an actress but is actually one of Hollywood's best "script doctors," Garry Marshall, who hasn't made a good movie since ... um ... and Brett Ratner. Now in my opinion, Brett Ratner, along with the likes of Michael Bay and Brian Robbins, has helped ruin Amer'can cinema. Ratner was a music video director who ventured out into feature films. He made a couple of really mediocre action/comedy movies like Rush Hour and Money Talks, and because the former was a hit, was offered "serious" projects. He made a decent Hannibal Lecter movie in Red Dragon, and then completely capsized the "X-Men" franchise by making the very below-average "X-3: The Last Stand."

Bottom line: Brett Ratner is the knee-jerk, go-to "commercial" director, even though his skills as an auteur have been in question from the get-go.

So what is the first thing one of the "film makers" says when he sees who the directors are? "Wow, Brett Ratner!" said one bespectacled douche with a soul patch, "That's exactly the kind of movies I wanna make, commercial movies!" I thought the point of finding a film maker was to find someone with an original voice, rather than a helmer-for-hire that can point a camera at something and then yell "cut". Anyone could go to film school and learn to be a director. We shouldn't be having a talent show for trained monkeys.

Anyway, I'm a little off-topic. On Monday, they had the 18 finalists show their one-minute comedy films. There were maybe three or four legitimately well-made and/or funny films, but most of it was mediocre film school -- or worse, Bud Light commercial -- pap. Not really hateable, but nothing that blew my skirt up. (Why I was wearing a skirt has nothing to do with this story so just leave it for now.)

There was, however, one so-called quote-unquote "filmmaker" that did catch my eye. His name was Kenny Luby, and he happens to be from Owego, New York, not really all that far from my own hometown. Kenny had been portrayed on an earlier episode (this show's version of "Hell Week") to be a bit of a prima donna who probably shouldn't have made it as far as he did. Still, he's a local boy, and he didn't go to film school, and I thought maybe if this kid could make something good, I might have to root for him. He submitted a film called "Wack Alley Cab." I viewed it and was simply astounded.

This is one of the most stunning pieces of pure excrement ever committed to celluloid. It is loud, the dubbing sucks, the writing is shit, the acting is beyond worthless. I've seen funnier stuff in Schindler's List. It was as funny as a snuff film. Nobody laughed, the three judges -- including the too-nice guest judge DJ Caruso, director of the underrated and excellent The Salton Sea -- all took a dump on it. There was no narrative point whatsoever. The characters were annoying and loud. There was not one real thing about it. It was made by a simple-minded hack job for a bunch of other simple-minded moviegoers. It was like the worst Time Warner Cable ad being viewed while on crystal meth. Utterly without value or merit. [Update: here it is]

At the very least, I thought, this young quote-unquote "filmmaker" would be exposed to the nation for the no-talent that he is. The market, I trusted, would bear this out to be a rotten concoction. Even the phone-voting public would be able to pick this turd out of the mud pit and fling it back from whence it came.

But I forgot: this is Amer'ca.

Not only did this sub-Ed Wood douchehammer get a single vote, but he was not even eliminated! That means that at least three people got less votes than he did. That means that someone out there saw his 60 seconds of bile and actually said to themselves, "Wow, that was pretty good. I'm gonna vote for that guy," and then returned to eating vaseline and punching himself in the genitals. I had no idea there were that many vaseline-eating genital punchers out there. Small world.

I have no more faith in the Amer'can public, not after tonight. This would be the equivalent of William Hung making the final 12 on American Idol, and not as a joke. I mean, could this be a joke? Is Amer'ca really that cinematically illiterate that they can't tell that this farce of a short film is the equivalent of a kindergarten finger-paint?

Sadly, I suspect that it is. I'm not really offended by American Idol because it pretty much caters to a certain audience, and let's face it, the music industry is in disarray as it is. But when you put the voting public in charge of cinema, you are treading dangerous ground. There was very little that I saw in the short films they screened that made me laugh more than any sketch (even the weak ones) on "The Whitest Kids You Know." Let's get these kids to make commercials for beer companies or blue jeans. For the love of Robert Altman, keep them out of theaters.


Dunford said...

Does Adam Sandler really count as an "Amer'can?" I mean, the guy has taken some artistic chances to get away from his usual schtick? I mean, I know that "Punch Drunk Love" and "Reign O'Er Me" aren't exactly AFI list material, but they at least diverge from his normal film roles.

Aside from that, well said, sir.

Bill said...

Whenever Sandler has creative control, he inevitably takes the lazy route. Aside from "Billy Madison" and "Happy Gilmore" which were two of his early free-wheeling successes, I feel he has followed the "man-child who gets shit on and then makes all the bad people pay for what they did to him" formula all too often. The only times he's transcended that milieu ("Punch-Drunk Love," "Spanglish"), it's been because he was working with an actual director (Anderson, Brooks, respectively) and had to actually follow a script he and his cronies didn't actually write themselves. He may one day follow the Jim Carrey model and branch out and work with real directors, but as long as he continues co-writing everything, casting Rob Schneider and having Dennis Dugan direct, he's probably not going to evolve much.

Dunford said...

Agreed about the creative control aspect of it, but how often do you see a major star with creative control, a production company, and a built-in audience give that up to try something risky? I mean, Harrison Ford won't even step out of that comfort zone anymore.

I'm with you, generally - I do tend to like Happy Madison productions, but understand the limitations going in, but I think that the willingness to transcend the milieu in and of itself, when he doesn't actually have to, actually speaks volumes.