Monday, July 17, 2006

Snakes on Salon and the Ol' Switcheroo

There is a snobby and imperious piece about Snakes on a Plane today by Snooty Von Snootenberg in Salon. You know, one of those "think pieces" about the movie industry that imagines you've just emerged after years in the New York Public Library or, well, in a "salon"... and the writer is going to tell you what's been going on among the unwashed and what it all "means"?

I should have known we were in for a rough ride when she referred to "unlikely cult hero Samuel L. Jackson." You mean cool, bad-ass Kangol motherfucker, insanely talented, mondo-good-looking Sam Jackson, who's been a cult hero for ten or twenty years? Yeah. Unlikely that he'd become a cult hero. *

But then comes this worrisome passage: "Everyone who hears about it loves Snakes on a Plane. And yet no one has actually seen it. There are countless homages and parodies of all levels of production value on the Web that millions have enjoyed... This preemptive attack of fandom was caused by the four syllables that make up the title."

Yeah, imagine. Judging a movie by its title. So let's move on to these quotes:

"The real question here is how Snakes on a Plane became so much more than just a shitty movie."

"The studio, realizing the golden, rotten egg upon which it sat..."

"[A]ll the really bad movies have really good titles... The underlying assumption here is that if a movie is an underwritten, overproduced turd kept afloat by an evil and powerful network of producers and distribution studios, the title has probably been expertly cleaned and perfumed to a degree greater than or equal to the shittiness of the film itself."

"If the title had stayed "Flight 121," it would have ended up in the dustbin of bad, bad movies."

"It's an agreement between David and Goliath, where Goliath slips up and calls himself a knuckle-dragging retard giant."

Pretty amazing, huh? We're idiots to look forward to a movie based on its title, but she's okay with calling it shitty based on its title. Twice. (Thrice if you count "turd.")

Then she goes on and on about pandering to the audience, and acts of dissent and Zen koans and who the fuck knows what else?

Look, here's where I'm coming from in a nutshell: I'm sick of going to the movies and getting the old switcheroo. You go to see a movie about a historical event, and you have to sit through an hour of a bad love story between two fictional characters first. You go to see a movie about guys partying, and you have to watch one of them missing his wife, because otherwise he'll be an unsympathetic character.

When I go to see a movie about, say, some people planning to rob a bank, I'm there because I'm interested in people planning to rob a bank. But first you have to sit through why they rob the bank... why it's important to rob the bank... maybe one of them has sworn to stop robbing banks... but he needs this money for some contrived reason... so he swears to the woman he loves, just one more heist and I'm out... which is all fine.

Except before you know it, we're a half hour in and NO ONE IS PLANNING A BANK ROBBERY!!

(Besides, Willie Sutton already famously told us why they rob the bank. "It's where the money is.")

It's the same thing in TV. There's something I call "The Thing." It's the premise you sold the TV show about. The one the network liked. The one they bought.

And then, on your way out, they say, "Now, it's not gonna be just The Thing every week, right?"

Oh, no, of course not, you promise.

So that's how Windfall, a show with a great premise (people win the lottery) ends up being about everything but people winning the lottery. Because someone decided you can't just do a show about the lottery every week. So they filled it with cheating husbands and discontented teens and adopted babies and all kinds of other soapy suds we can get on any other show.

To avoid The Thing. The Thing you turned on the show to watch in the first place.

(The ultimate example of Thing-o-phobia was the TV remake of The Poseidon Adventure, where it took over an hour for the ship to capsize. I mean, Jesus!!!)

The reason I'm looking forward to Snakes on a Plane is simple, and it has nothing to do with Zen koans, whatever they are. Snakes on a Plane promises to be about The Thing. I want to see a movie where people on a plane are terrorized by snakes, and I'm fairly certain this movie will have that. (Unlike, say, Must Love Dogs, which I'm told had very few dogs.)

She also refers to Con Air as a turd. I love Con Air. Killers on a Plane. Love it. I went to see a movie about Killers on a Plane, and that's what I got, well-made, well-acted, exciting, and possibly one of the great casts of all time. What's not to like?

It's summer. Summer is about air conditioning, big popcorn, and movies about people screaming and dying for no reason. When people like Jeffrey Lyons and Gene Shalit review movies like Final Destination 3 or You, Me and Dupree I have to wonder if they are putting themselves in the mindset of the intended audience.

There is a an audience out there that would love to see Lindsay Lohan in Just My Luck, and would rather drink Drano than see her in Prairie Home Companion. I confess, I may be one of them. We're not stupid, we just go to the movies for different reasons than does, say, anyone who would ever write movie reviews in a column called "The Current Cinema." (It's what Roger Ebert understands and Richard Roeper never will.)

And by the way, I have no idea whether Snakes on a Plane will be good or bad. I simply measure it on a different scale than I would, say, Judgment at Nuremberg. But it would have been just as good or just as bad under the title Flight 121. It's about the movie, not the title, Snooty.

*) Those of you old enough will recall there used to be an older woman who had a column in the Los Angeles Times about pretty much nothing at all. Just kinda whatever was on her mind. I want to say it was the actress Evelyn Keyes, but I can't be sure. Anyway, one day she wrote a swoony column about how parts of her that had long been dusty had suddenly grown moist over the two Olivers who had burst on the news scene that week: North and Stone. She wrote of careless forelocks and manly growls or somesuch. Those would be unlikely cult heroes, particularly given that one was about to be commit a felony, and the other is a great filmmaker, but I can personally say is a ginormous prick. (long story)

Anyway, I don't think she had the column much longer, but I could be wrong, and if I am, I apologize to what may have been a nice old lady with her heart on her sleeve. (the one with a tissue tucked in it)


Reel Fanatic said...

unlikely cult hero Samuel L. Jackson? Salon has been a crapfest from the beginning, but this is juat a new low .. thanks for the warning

Scribe LA said...

OMG, finally someone who can join me in my (a little too much) love for "Con Air"!!! I totally dig that movie. Nicolas Cage is awesome and John Cusack has some fun in this blockbuster romp. Throw in some Steve Buscemi and it's a party.

Michael Markowitz said...

Scribey, we are not just on the same page, but in the same paragraph. I never thought a movie would leave me rooting for the child molestor but Con Air manages to make it happen, thanks to the unbelievably charming Mr. Buscemi. And Cusack rocks. And it takes a stronger man than I not to mist up at the Bunny moment at the end.

Scribe LA said...

Oh no you di'nt... the bunny! Are you kidding me? Loves it! I mist up a tad, too. But I think I have the edge, as I can blame it on my womanly emotions getting the best of me. Rest assured, the feelings you have for the bunny moment at the end are safe with me :-)