Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Hollywood Gets a Bad Rap; plus, Various Odds and Ends (Mostly Odds)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on November 10, 2005

OK, I’m back once again with an update. Life has kept me awfully busy lately, so I’m posting something now while I actually have the time. This one will mostly be some random thoughts that I want to clear out of the old warehouse, so bear with me.

Am I the only one who’s extremely annoyed by those constant Rent TV ads? I never knew having AIDS could be such an uplifting experience. Seriously though, I’m not a Broadway guy or a musicals guy (except for Little Shop of Horrors and the awesome Reefer Madness, starring the lovely and talented Kristen Bell, the DVD of which I’ll be reviewing sometime soon), so maybe I’m missing something. But if I hear that damn “ten thousand twenty-one hundred eighty-five million minutes!” (or whatever it is) song one more time, I’m going to fucking freak. Honestly, I live in the Midwest, so I have no idea who the audience for this movie might be. I’m sure there are people out there who are looking forward to seeing this – I just don’t know any of them. Movies based on Broadway shows generally underwhelm me – as I’m not privileged enough to live in New York City (like most of the world), I’ve never understood why I should care what the tourists and elitist snobs are forking over hundreds of dollars to watch. But hey, that’s just me.

A lot of things confuse me, as you’ve probably gathered if you read my stuff on a regular basis. This has nothing to do with movies, so skip this paragraph if you’re a stickler for that. I live in an area where everywhere I drive, I’m confronted by billboards that read something like “Get God’s Opinion on the Latest Sex Topics!” It’s apparently an ad for some local religious TV show that’s attempting to be hip. Seriously, is this the world I have to live in now? What the fucking hell, man? I honestly don’t care what your religious beliefs are – to each their own and all that. But you’re seriously delusional if you’re depending on “God” to answer your sex questions. God is not a sex therapist, OK? What consenting adults do in the privacy of their homes is their own damn business and no one else’s, and I feel sorry for you if you feel otherwise. If you’re not smart enough to make up your own mind about what feels right and wrong to you, then you shouldn’t be having sex in the first place. I can’t wait for Jesus to start giving driving lessons.

Right now as I’m writing this, rapper 50 Cent (I wouldn’t give him a quarter) is on Conan O’Brien, and he was on Letterman last night. He’s doing the talk-show rounds promoting his feature film debut, Get Rich or Die Tryin’. I’ve said before that I’m not particularly a rap fan – in fact, I haven’t listened to much of it since Run-DMC were popular. I like the Beastie Boys a lot, and that’s about it. I’m aware of who the big rappers are at any given time, I just don’t listen to any of them. It’s just not my thing. I don’t relate to the lyrics, and the music barely even sounds like music to me. That’s just my opinion. If people like it, they can have it. Whatever floats your boat, man. It’s just not for me. I’m a rock ‘n’ roll guy, always have been, always will be.

Then again, I’m old enough that I can honestly say that I really didn’t grow up with rap as the cultural force that it is now. There was a time when it would surprise me to see a rapper on a major talk show like Letterman (Arsenio Hall, sure). Not anymore. Hell, I remember when MTV didn’t even play rap videos (kind of a moot point, since they don’t play any videos anymore). But it generally doesn’t bother me either. I just kind of ignore it and go on with my life, the same way I ignored disco, boy bands and “new country”. It’s not my thing, so I have no reason to pay attention to it.

Still, I’m aware of the impact that rap has had on American culture for the past 20 years. That’s why I only flinch a little bit when I hear 7-year-old girls recite lyrics like “don’t you wish your girlfriend was a freak like me?” Nor am I particularly shocked by the multitudes of white American teens (and adults) who choose to act “black” in a desperate grasp at cultural identity. That’s old news by now. I still don’t understand how middle-class white kids can possibly relate to songs about “the hood” and “the streets” (places they’ve never been and never will be), but I accept it. And by “accept it”, I mean that I shake my head and laugh at them behind their backs. But I digress.

I’m also fully aware that my resistance to the rap movement sometimes costs me some cool points with people. And I’m OK with that. For instance, I recently rode in a car with someone who was genuinely shocked that I hadn’t heard a song called “My Humps”. To which I responded, “what is that, a skin condition?” (OK, I didn’t really say that. But I wish I had) He helpfully played the song for me against my wishes, and like most rap, it sounded like total and utter nonsense to me. I get that it’s some kind of sexual reference, but other than that I have no idea what it’s about, and I really don’t care. It might as well have been in Swahili as far as I’m concerned.

The point is, people obviously feel like I’m missing out on something by not paying attention to this stuff. And yet I continue not to care. I don’t consider myself culturally deprived, any more than I do when someone brings up Kenny Chesney or Extreme Makeover: Home Edition or the criminal antics of some overprivileged athlete. They probably think I’m strange because I don’t care about those things, but I find them equally strange because they do. C’est la vie.

Anyway, it doesn’t surprise me any more to see major movies being made starring popular rappers. It used to be an anomaly, a cheap cash-in like the legendary flop Cool as Ice (which I’ve never seen, and never will). But rappers are getting smarter now (or at least their handlers are), and they’re actually getting talented directors to make these vehicles. Curtis Hanson’s 8 Mile (again, never seen, never will) crossed that line once and for all, and somehow they’ve talked acclaimed Irish director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father, In America) to helm the 50 Cent movie. Because no one really knows the rap lifestyle like the Irish. I have no particular interest in seeing Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and I don’t think it needed a Jim Sheridan to get made, but it doesn’t bother me that it exists. I’m sure there’s a large audience for it, and they can have it.

What does bother me is when rappers are thrown into movies for no particular reason other than because some cynical studio executive decided they could make an extra $10 million from the “urban audience”. For instance, take the mainstream thriller Derailed, which couldn’t look more safe and white-bread. Here’s the cast lineup that I heard in one of the ads recently: “Clive Owen! Jennifer Aniston! RZA! Xzibit!”

Say what now? They cast not one but two rappers in this thing? Why? How can they possibly justify this artistically? I could see maybe one rapper, that I could deal with. But two? Are you honestly telling me that there weren’t any talented black actors available who could have played those roles? Come on. According to the movie’s IMDb page, they’re playing relatively minor parts (RZA is 5th-billed, Xzhibit is 8th-billed) and ranked below such actors as Vincent Cassel, Melissa George and Tom Conti. So why play up their presence so highly in the TV ads? To bring in an audience that wouldn’t otherwise want to see a movie with Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston (let’s face it, they’re not exactly big draws to black audiences)? It should come as no surprise that this little deception was perpetrated by the Weinsteins, as part of their new company’s first release. If they really think that rap fans are going to go see Derailed this weekend, they are out of their ever-lovin’ little Weinstein heads.

I don’t know, I haven’t seen Derailed yet, and for all I know RZA and Xzhibit (gee, I wish I could just make up my own name) might give Oscar-worthy performances in it. And maybe there are tons of “urban” audience members clamoring to see a light thriller with “Rachel” and “the guy who was almost James Bond” in it. But folks, I seriously doubt either of those things to be true, because I live on planet Earth. We know how things work in the real world, don’t we? These two movies will have two very different audiences. They might both do very well, but there’s not going to be a lot of crossover between them. Let’s get real. And in fact, the presence of the rappers in Derailed might actually turn off a certain section of that film’s potential audience. If they’re displayed so prominently in the TV ads, unknowing people might expect it to be “some kind of rap movie” and will dismiss it on that basis.

So why exactly were these non-actors cast in this movie? Obviously, the Weinstein boys thought they could milk some extra cash out of it. But I think there are more people who are annoyed by such cynical miscasting than there are people who are attracted to it. Look at Paris Hilton in House of Wax – for every person who saw that movie because she was in it (a thought scarier than anything in the movie), there were probably a dozen who avoided it because of her. Not that I blame them, you understand.

There’s a difference between a genuine saturation into the culture and an obviously hacky bid at money-grabbing. If there’s a good reason to cast someone, then it shouldn’t matter who they are or where they come from. But casting people simply because of their popularity in another realm of show business is just misguided. This is just one example of how insidious this whole thing is. I have my own opinions of how rap has impacted American culture (primarily negatively – Christ, not even Johnny Cash ever said it was cool to go to prison), but if you like the idea of your kids aspiring to be “pimps” and “ho’s” when they grow up, then by all means, have at it. Just keep it away from places it doesn’t belong. Busta Rhymes kicking Michael Myers was not an image I ever needed to see. And while I was once moderately interested in seeing Derailed, now I’m not so sure. Unless maybe they’re willing to consider casting Rivers Cuomo or Billie Joe Armstrong in the sequel. Sound ridiculous? Now you know how I feel.

OK, so let’s catch up with some movies I haven’t had time to write full reviews for:

The Fog – yes, I was going to write a review for this, but I found it too depressing to contemplate. The problem isn’t even that it’s a slick, cynical retread for the MTV generation; the problem is that they did it so BADLY. Even leaving the original aside, this is one seriously incompetent excuse for a scary movie. Yes, the idea for both movies was ridiculous, but Carpenter succeeded through atmosphere and verisimilitude. Tom Atkins looked like a guy who’d been fishing all his life; Tom Welling does not. Jamie Lee Curtis looked like the girl next door (at least in 1980); Maggie Grace looks like she’s just come from a Maxim shoot. But it’s not just the casting – everything about the remake just feels wrong somehow. There’s not an ounce of genuine suspense or even interest generated by this thing. It just lays there for its entire running time, never bothering to engage us or, at the very least, make any sense. Carpenter, at the time, was a master of minimalism – he knew exactly what to show and when. The remake is just overblown, full of lousy CGI effects, terrible dialogue and superficial “modernizing” that all reek of lame straight-to-video hackwork. The Fog needs subtlety and nuance, and you’re not going to get that from the director of Stigmata, for cryin’ out loud. I can’t imagine what they were thinking with this monstrosity, but even if you’re not a fan of old-school horror, the results are just plain sad. What a complete waste of time and effort. *

Stay – an intriguing premise, a solid cast and an interesting sense of style. And it’s all blown to hell by one of the lamest “twist endings” I’ve ever seen. It feels like it was written by a junior-high student after sitting through a Twilight Zone marathon. It’s a real shame, because it had the makings of a pretty good psychological thriller, but that ending is just a cheap, unjustifiable cop-out. They should’ve called it Stay Home. **

Saw II – I thought the original, while not being any masterpiece, was a solid little indie horror flick with some genuinely tense moments. The inevitable sequel is comparable to Halloween II – basically the same movie, just bigger and slicker, but not necessarily better. Still, if you liked the original, there’s enough here to enjoy (if that’s the right word), particularly Tobin Bell’s expanded role as the villain Jigsaw. On the other hand, it’s one of those sequels where you learn too much about the bad guy, and it takes some of the mystery away. But there are a couple of nasty set pieces here, and the big reveal is genuinely surprising, so if you’re into it, it’s decent enough, but not essential. **1/2

The Legend of Zorro – a few years too late, maybe? I thought The Mask of Zorro was surprisingly fun, and like most sequels, Legend captures maybe 75 percent of the original’s charm. But that’s not too bad, and if you can roll with it, it’s pretty enjoyable old-fashioned Saturday-matinee escapism. Yeah, it’s a bit long, and the pacing could be quicker, but overall I enjoyed it for what it was. Banderas is still a disarming action hero (I’m always surprised he’s not an even bigger star). And if you actually need a refresher on how gorgeous Catherine Zeta-Jones is, well, here you go. Ay Chihuahua. ***

That about covers it for now. Talk to you soon – hopefully!

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