Rise of the Film-Geek Fascists

This is getting stupid.

Not sad, not alarming (okay, maybe a little bit), but really fucking stupid.

What I’m referring to is this: sources say The Dark Knight Rises opens on Friday. There is a bottomless conclave of hype surrounding it, including how critics will react to it. A small screening was met with a standing ovation and some very ecstatic tweets last week, so everyone expected every film critic to fall in love with it and bow at the alter of Christopher Nolan like they did with The Dark Knight, four years ago. For the most part, that has happened. As of Monday night, the movie currently sits at 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and several critics were genuinely blown away by it. But even the most positive reviewers pointed out flaws with the film, and a couple of critics, most notably Marshall Fine of Hollywood and Fine and Christy Lemire of the Associated Press, dared to give TDKR (gasp) negative reviews. Of course, you would expect Internet commenters, most specifically the ones who frequent Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb, to accept the dissenting opinions and move on with their lives right?

Sure; if we were dealing with responsible, coherent adults. Instead, this legion of fanboys and trolls lost their minds over the fact that people would dare not bow down to the obvious awesomeness of The Dark Knight Rises. Does it matter that they haven’t seen it? Of course not! Some people feel it is necessary to throw basic cinematic analysis and accept the potential greatness of a major film, such as Dark Knight Rises, as a forgone conclusion, that its quality is sacrosanct and any heretical critics who have issues with it must be taken down in as many public forums as possible. Here are some of the measured, logical responses to the reviews posted by Fine and Lemire:

“[Lemire] is biased and ignorant. She only gives high scores to movies she likes.”

“[Lemire]  gives amazing spiderrman,savages,snow white,ted and other worse things fresh review but mocks dark knight rises..she is not geniune guys..she is a fame seeker who wants attention. I bet she is a bigger letdown in her real life then she thinks dark knight rises is..”

“I knew there’d be a contrarian troll or hipster [Fine] somewhere to taint the film’s perfect 100% fresh rating.”

“Fine needs to kill himself.”

These are actually some of the nicest comments. Fine and Lemire have both received death threats, and the fact that Lemire is a woman has created an even more horrifying, sexist fervor. Posts on IMDb have called her “unstable,” with liberal use of the C-word (which is not “cuckold”), and telling her to get back in the kitchen because women know nothing about movies, especially if they are comic book adaptations.

This behavior isn’t new, unfortunately. Similar remarks were made against critics who panned “The Avengers,” among numerous other high-profile films over the past five years or so. It goes without saying that this behavior is appalling. But the question is: why does it happen? Why have IMDb members become fanatical monsters who go on personal, vitriolic vendettas against anyone who likes different movies than they do?

I think one reason may be the widening of how much movies are covered in online news. This effect is twofold.  Every single piece of information released in connection to a major movie, The Dark Knight Rises especially, is treated as an event. We are bombarded with trailers, casting updates, production notes, concept art, pictures from the set, etc. We have all the information anyone could want without actually seeing the movie at our fingertips. I think, as a result, fans become more immersed in the movies they are excited for. They have so much information that they think they can develop a concrete opinion on whether a movie is good or not just by reading everything around it. It’s like judging the quality of a meal by looking at the recipe card.

The advent of countless open forums, such as IMDb, Facebook, and Twitter, has given people the opportunity to voice their opinions, positively or negatively, anywhere they want. As a result, people meet up with other people who feel the same way about movies that they do. If they are made by an established filmmaker, like Christopher Nolan, it is intensified. People who love movies directed by Nolan, Scorsese, Fincher, etc., amass in these spaces, and this overload of chatter creates a deification of directors. The legion behind Nolan is probably the largest. Look through the IMDb boards on any of his films and you can see countless boards filled with hateful comments condemning anyone who says anything that is contrary to the deluted mythos that has been established around him. Don’t like “Inception?” You’re an imbecile who couldn’t handle the mindfuck brilliance of Nolan’s vision. Think “Batman Begins” is better than Dark Knight? Not only are you an idiot, you’re an idiot who should spend any and all free time fucking his mother. In a way, online movie geeks, like the ones who attacked Lemire and Fine, have become movie fascists: any and all dissenting opinions will be met with hostility, name-calling, and the desire to not see that critic alive anymore.

To clarify, I’m not condeming the Internet for this trend. I love the Internet; there is no Aaron Sorkin finger-wagging here. I am condemning these trolls and hatemongers for ruining and having an appalling misunderstanding of one thing I’ve loved about movies my whole life: criticism and discussion (okay, that’s two things, whatever). Even worse than hateful comments, one hilarious trick people like to pull out is looking at how the critics at hand felt about other movies, and condemn them for liking movies that they don’t. For example, the fact that Lemire liked “Magic Mike” shows that she has no taste, and she is willing to give a film a higher grade because, since she is a woman, she must’ve only liked it because it featured scantily-clad men. People need to understand there are no rule saying if you like certain movies, you must dislike other movies. If a lot of people have a negative or positive opinion on a specific film, it still isn’t a fact, it is always, by definition, a shared opinion. Movies, like all forms of art, are subjective, and everyone is going to have a different reaction to them. For example, I hate “Gone With the Wind.” I really hate it. But a lot of people think it’s a masterpiece and that is perfectly fine. It’s  the fascism popping up again. Nobody is going to tremble at you calling out Lemire or Fine for liking “Ted” when you hated it, or worse, calling them trolls for Marvel Comics because they preferred The Avengers.

The lack of etiquette and proper discourse is also quite harmful. There is nothing better than listening to someone giving a detailed and fair defense or condemnation of a film, and then arguing with someone who disagrees. I spent my first three years at SUNY Oswego digging through the old archives on the At The Movies website. Watching Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, and later Lemire herself and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky get into it over the merits, or lack their of, of a movie like “The Silence of the Lambs” or Jean-Luc Godard’s “Film Socialisme.” It was great because there was actual knowledge behind the opinions, not just blind adulation of the creators of the work. It changed how I review, write about, and analyze movies for the better. I’m 23 years old, and I’m actually saddened by the fact that my generation is responsible for this dumbfounded view of movies.

Also, it is affecting my own excitement for The Dark Knight Rises. I honestly can’t remember being more excited for a movie in my lifetime. I love Christopher Nolan’s films, from the low-fi narrative shuffle of “Following” and “Memento” up to the dreamscape/heist delirium that was “Inception.” I feel like my love of his work is tainted by these people who want critics to die out of some twisted devotion to the works of Mr. Nolan. He is a great director, he isn’t God. People tend to forget that.

But perhaps the best plan of action is, to quote Bruce Springsteen, sit back easy and laugh, at the morons who don’t have a grasp of what loving movies is all about. I have to wait an extra week to see TDKR, and I hope it really is a great film. But that doesn’t invalidate what people who don’t like it have to say. It would be a boring world if everybody had the same opinion about every film. Art is suppose to get a rise, good or bad, out of the viewer. If we forget that basic fact, we forget the purpose of movies in the first place. Especially if it involves a movie that NONE OF THEM HAVE EVEN SEEN YET. If you want to act like a spoiled child on the Internet, go ahead, its your loss. Myself and countless others will be acting like the adults.


Catching Up With: Project X – 2012

It takes a lot to actually get me mad while watching a movie. Only a few, including “The Passion of the Christ” and the 2009 remake of “Last House on the Left” have left that much of a profound, infuriating impression on me. Usually bad movies just disappear like vapor to be replaced by ones that are worth remembering.

Then I saw “Project X.”

Here is a disclaimer: I get annoyed when film critics get pious. Usually critics who get all flustered over a movie’s allegedly compromised moral compass are overreacting (the controversy over Hit Girl in 2010’s wildly overrated”Kick-Ass” being a recent example). But sometimes, those criticisms are necessary. Movies are entertainment, so it takes a lot of illicit material to get to the level of possibly being “objectable.” Especially when a lot of great movies revolve around murderers. But it is a problem when movies blatantly glorify horrible behavior, which is one of many problems with “Project X.” Because even if you don’t mind underage kids destroying property, cruelly bullying their peers and destroying property all in the quest of “being cool,” then you may mind the fact that this movie is character-free, monotonous and painfully lacking in anything close to real laughs.

“Project X,” which was written by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall and directed by Nima Nourizadeh, is yet another example of the “found footage” trope, and focuses on three high school losers, Thomas (Thomas Mann), Costa (Oliver Cooper), and JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown), and their mysterious camera-wielding comrade Dax (Dax Flame). It’s Thomas’ 17th birthday, and Costa decides to plan the mother of all parties for him at his spacious house while his parents are away for the night. But since these three aren’t the least bit popular, nobody at their school even knows who they are, let alone wants to party with them. Also Thomas is hesitant to have such a massive celebration, since…the script needs him to be reluctant. But Costa (more on him later) convinces him otherwise, since “getting laid” is the most important thing in the history of the world, so they procure some alcohol and for some reason just about everyone in their county decides to attend this party, and the movie chronicles how it spun completely out of control.

That is the entire movie in a severely lacking nutshell. The lack of any kind of depth keeps this movie from moving past its found-footage gimmick. All we see for the next 80 minutes is people we are not invested in at all partying and acting like idiots. There are plenty of movies revolving around a single party that are interesting, but that’s because they have characters, with histories, problems and goals to carry us through. “Project X” couldn’t be bothered with things like stakes or character development.

That is due to the fact that Thomas, Costa and JB are not people; they’re types. Thomas is the shy, nerdy protagonist. That’s all we ever learn about him. JB is the obligatory “fat kid.” We get even less about him, because physical appearance is always more interesting than traits or goals or any of that boring stuff. That leaves us with Costa, who is set up as the movie’s wise-cracking, lecherous comic relief. The good news is, we do get a lot of time with Costa. The bad news? Costa is one of the most hateful, irritating and obnoxious characters I’ve ever encounted in any medium, let alone movies. He treats women like garbage (he thinks they like being referred to as “mommies”), he constantly bullies JB for being overweight, and considers people who don’t drink or act like idiots as “faggots.” He thinks being considered cool in high school and getting laid are the two most important things in life. If the movie realized how much of an asshole Costa it would’ve been tolerable, but “Project X” is so convinced that Costa is hilarious and that he is endearing is a catastrophic mis-calibration of a character. We all knew douchebags like Costa in high school. Who in God’s name would want to sit through an 85 minute movie about them?

In fact “Project X”‘s biggest problem is that the entire movie takes on the attitude of Costa; it is so convinced that the explosive party is the greatest thing ever, and goals in life, such as making your parents proud or going to college, are not nearly as important as making the people in your high school, who are just as superficial and immature as you are and 90 percent of whom you will never see again after graduation, think you’re cool and want to have sex with you. And all of the female things (I call them things, because none of the women in “Project X” are considered actual people) in the movie exist to take their clothes off, get drunk and do any hard drugs that are available. There are stretches of the movie where there is no dialogue, it’s just endless montages of loud music and people drinking and dancing. Watching other people partying isn’t entertainment; you wouldn’t pay to watch someone else ride a roller coaster would you?

But what truly makes “Project X” infuriating is its attitude towards the illicit behavior; it glorifies things that in the environment of 17-year-old high school students, are not hilarious; they speak toward problems with the whole generation. When a garden gnome is smashed open revealing hundreds of ecstasy pills, we see everyone at the party flocking to them like . There is nothing humorous about what are essentially children downing hard drugs like candy. these kids downing pills, alcohol and destroying any property they can get their hands on all in the name of “coolness.” These scenes feel like they were pulled from an HBO documentary, meant to shock and alarm; to find them in a comedy is (to me at least) troubling. The film also has a horrible mean streak, with its objectification of women and hateful attitude to anyone who is different in anyway. Bullying is an epidemic in middle and high schools, and the idea of a movie having one of it’s main characters, who is not meant to be a villain in any way, bully people so brazenly is downright galling and shameful. This movie is sorely lacking in the self-awareness necessary to make these elements work in this context.  It’s in these elements that one can see what “Project X” should’ve been: I think it would work perfectly as a dark comedy that satirizes the immaturity of high-schoolers while at the same time exposing the increased focus on the hedonism of this current generation of teenagers. But the people who made “Project X” probably couldn’t spell “satire” if you gave them all the letters except for “s.”

So as the destruction and mayhem culminates in a fiery climax and Thomas’ plans for college are jeopardized by his furious parents, is he upset and sorry for this party? No, because in the universe of this movie, college is for people who don’t care about being cool in high school. Pretty enlightening stuff.

Perhaps I’m overreacting. There is nothing wrong with watching “Project X” and not being rubbed the wrong way by the consequence-less drug abuse, injuries and destroying of property for no reason. This is all just subjective speculation. But that doesn’t excuse “Project X” for being cruel, misguided and painfully unfunny. That’s the biggest buzzkill of all.

Grade: F

New Arrivals: Prometheus

There are few things in the process of making and writing movies harder to implement and/or analyze than narrative ambiguity. Movies defined by philosophical musings or non-linear narratives have to decide how to present their secrets and secluded themes. Make things too obvious and you sacrifice narrative stakes and also insult your audience; make things to confounding and you…sacrifice narrative stakes and insult your audience, by limiting or completely removing the catharsis that can make a movie satisfying.

It is even harder when a movie has connections to an older, more beloved movie, one made by the same director to boot. 1979’s “Alien”  is a masterpiece of slow, unbearable dread; a haunted house movie in space that gave birth to one of cinema’s iconic monsters in the Xenomorph alien and launched the careers of star Sigourney Weaver and director Ridley Scott. When it was announced a couple of years ago that Scott was working on a project that may or may not be a prequel to “Alien,” a storm of intrigue brewed as a result. That film has become “Prometheus,” and the onslaught of trailers made a lot of people wonder how much of a connection to the “Alien” universe this new film would have.

First of all, “Prometheus” is a prequel to “Alien.” This is undisputable. But how does it do as a stand-alone movie, and not just another chapter in a franchise? “Prometheus” comes close to drowning in its own ambiguity and mythology, creates characters and plotlines that go nowhere, and its lofty ambitions are sometimes beyond the grasp of director Scott and co-writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof (co-creator of “Lost”). But despite the flaws in its vision, “Prometheus” can be downright electrifying; visually stunning, almost vibrating with otherworldly intensity, and for better or worse, tries to add some philosophical heft that summer movies, and the sci-fi genre, have been missing for many a moon.

After an eerie prologue involving a humanoid being drinking a strange substance and disintegrating into the ocean, we are introduced to Drs. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), who are married and happen to both be scientists. While exploring some ancient caves in Scotland, they find drawings containing a star formation that has popped up in heiroglyphics around the world. This star formation exists in a far off solar system, and Shaw and Holloway lead an expedition funded by the mysterious Weyland Corporation (run by Guy Pearce under a mountain of old-age makeup) and take the good ship Prometheus, along with 15 other crew members, to this distant star system, hoping to find what may be the key to the origin of mankind.

On this journey, on which they all spend two years in hypersleep before reaching their destination, Shaw and Holloway are joined by Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), a representative of the Weyland Corporation, Janek (Idris Elba), this ship’s gruff and charismatic captain, a bunch of red-shirt scientists that turn out to be cannon fodder, and David (Michael Fassbender), the enigmatic android with a slightly unsettling interest in humanity. The star map leads them to the moon LV-223, where they find caves filled with familiar markings, and more importantly, pods covered with a tar-like substance and monuments of beings that look just like humans. Shaw finds a severed, humanoid head and brings it back aboard the Prometheus. And for the rest of the movie, all hell breaks loose in a variety of gruesome and shocking ways.

It would be unfair to reveal what happens next. “Prometheus” is so defined by its own mystery that knowing them would dampen the experience of seeing the film. For the first hour of “Prometheus,” the film is a master class in mounting suspense. We’re left wondering what are those creatures that they find? What is up with the black, gooey substance, and the small worms that swim through it? And what is the deal with David? Can he be trusted? Does he have an alternative agenda that may endanger the rest of the ship?

That is a lot of mystery to cram into two hours. And for the first half at least, it works beautifully. We are just as curious about the meaning of these discoveries as the crew of the Prometheus, and that is thanks to Ridley Scott himself. Over the past decade his films have become very ham-fisted in his directorial approach; using liberal amounts of slow-motion and editing his films into mush like they all suffer from ADHD. There is none of that here. Scott’s directorial approach is very restrained, using long shots and slow, snakelike camerawork to give the movie an atmospheric, almost seductive pull. Scott’s best films, including “Alien,” “Blade Runner” and Matchstick Men” all put story first and trickery second. Scott has rediscovered his storytelling mojo. It helps the film is glorious to look at; the shots of the landscape on LV-223 are as beautiful as a Monet, the ship itself has an eerie, green glow. The fact that this movie is so amazing to look at makes some of its more frustrating aspects easier to deal with.

The acting does too. Elizabeth Shaw is a different kind of heroine than Ellen Ripley; she is more curious, less of a warrior-in-waiting than Ripley was. Shaw’s devout Christian beliefs are what lead her on this quest; she thinks solving the mystery of the star formation and the origins of the Earth may bring her closer to God. Rapace, Lisbeth Salander 1.0 herself, is put through one hell of a ringer in this film (there is a scene where she must perform surgery on herself that is one of the most unsettling things you may ever see), but she makes the path from exuberance to terror seamless and realistic. Her husband Charlie, as played by Marshall-Green is less interesting; in both the way the character is written and the performance; the movie doesn’t know what to do with his character. Same with Theron, who can do the “uptight bitch” shtick in her sleep at this point. Idris Elba (the immortal Stringer Bell from “The Wire”) brings humor and tenacity to Janek; but the rest of the crew are barely developed at all; they are just there to get ripped to shreds.

But the best part of the movie lies with David. Fassbender is brilliant, finding the right balance between David’s obviously robotic nature combined with a darker undercurrent and something approaching childlike wonder. He is obsessed with humanity; he models his personality and appearance on Peter O’Toole in the film “Lawrence of Arabia;” he watches the dreams of the crew while they’re in hypersleep; we come to empathize with part of David’s plight. He was given the gift of having an understanding of humanity, but his prime directive is to serve them and cast his curiosity aside.

But once the crew touches down on the planet, and digs around in the strange artifacts that they find, all this mystery becomes too much of a good thing. Every answer brings only more questions. “Prometheus” delivers on the suspense and some truly terrifying moments, but all the setup collides in a traffic jam, and the story becomes distractingly muddled. But the most frustrating thing about “Prometheus” is how much of this murkiness is intentional; does the film’s lack of obvious answers come from bad writing, or is the film withholding information on the beginnings of mankind to comment on how curiosity can lead to despair and hubris?

The answer will different depending on who you ask. I don’t know for sure what role the ambiguity plays, but I think “Prometheus” could really be, at its core, a movie about faith. Shaw and David are both on a quest for knowledge, although they want to know different things. David wants to know what makes humans tick, Shaw wants to know who built the ticking mechanism. We have not, and possibly never will, find a definitive answer to where we came from; but Shaw, and plenty of people in the real world, keep searching anyway because their faith burns so brightly that no roadblocks can diminish it, sometimes to their detriment. Do we as an audience have faith that answers will come, or do we give up and go look for easy explanations? Horrible things happen to Shaw, David and the people they care about, but their faith is never diminished, even though the answers are hazy at best. Maybe we as viewers have to decide whether or not to follow them down the rabbit hole.

Or maybe I’m wrong, and Lindelof and Spaihts are just trying to hide the holes in the story they concocted. With “Prometheus,” you have a decision to make; if you can ignore the ambiguities and expect the film to work as entertainment, “Prometheus” can be thrilling. If you want it to provide revelations withing its own story and its connective tissue to “Alien,” this movie may give you a headache. Either way, “Prometheus” is worth the ride. Perhaps hindsight will elevate this movie to the level of the genre’s masterpieces with mysteries of their own, like the aforementioned “Blade Runner” or “2001.” Or maybe it will only become a footnote; but Prometheus is still an enthralling, flawed vision; albeit one that is defined, and consumed by, to quote Tolkien, “riddles in the dark.”

Grade: B+