Wednesday, October 26, 2011

fish in a barrel

I just caught the trailer for this abomination:

Tower Heist is a comedy about a bunch of disgruntled hotel employees who were scammed by their Wall Street businessman tenant and decide to avenge themselves by robbing his penthouse. It stars a group of rich actors pretending to be average Joes & Janes while simultaneously lining their pockets with the cash of said Joes & Janes, and it's distributed by Universal Pictures, a company largely owned by a corporation famous for having paid zero in taxes last year. So basically the film is disguised as something that sides with (or at least tries to tap into) populist anger but which actually helps to deflate the anger, monetizes it, and then redistributes it upwards to the very Wall Street villains the audience is meant to root against.

Universal originally planned to release Tower Heist via parent company Comcast's video on demand service three weeks after opening it in theaters but decided against the idea after several theater chains threatened to boycott the film if Universal went through with the plan. The cost of ordering the film on demand was going to be a head-scratching $59.99. (Surely this must have been an homage to one of William Castle's gimmicks, the idea behind it being that the audience of Tower Heist would have actually been defrauded, thereby giving them the feeling of having been one of the characters in the movie.)

william castle, skeleton, gimmick, house on haunted hill, the tingler

Also from the trailer:

"We're not criminals. We don't know how to steal."
"Don't worry, I know someone who does."
Cut to: Black Man (Eddie Murphy).

It sure is funny(?) that the trailer for a film in which the villain is supposed to be a rich white man who stole everyone's money still cuts to an imprisoned black man when the image of a "thief" is to be evoked.

* * *

While I'm on the subject, I'm sure I'm not the only one to have noticed how uncreative and condescending movie titles have become (I know this isn't anything new, but aren't they getting worse?). The major studios seem to have arrived at a formula where the stupidest movies (ie, the ones aimed at the largest possible audience) are given titles in which the sole purpose is to sum up exactly what the film is about in as few words as possible. Take a moment to actually consider the fact that, out of every conceivable possibility, the aforementioned film was named Tower Heist.

Here are a few other examples:

Dolphin Tale (cute pun!)
Hot Tub Time Machine (I guess this title is supposed to be funny?)
Vampires Suck (another pun!)
Night at the Museum
Horrible Bosses
Cars 2 (Roman numerals are confusing)
Bad Teacher
Battle: Los Angeles
The Fighter
And Killer Elite, a film about elite hitmen starring Robert De Niro as "Hunter." Unfortunately the much simpler and even more to the point "Hitman" couldn't be used because it was already taken four other times -- five if you count The Hitman. And make sure not to confuse Killer Elite (2011) with The Killer Elite (1975). (Killer Elite is based on a novel called The Feather Men, which, in terms of telling the audience exactly what the movie is about in just two words, would have been downright confusing. The Killer Elite is based on a novel called Monkey in the Middle, a title that is clearly unusable because of the word "monkey" (which is only permitted for horror films and comedies), and because it uses the letter "y" (which is sometimes a vowel but no one really understands why).

The precious titles that follow are an even more advanced demonstration of this mentality:

Fast & Furious
Monsters vs. Aliens
Aliens vs. Predator
Cowboys & Aliens

(Keep all of this in mind when you find out the title for Clint Eastwood's newest film starring Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover.)

It's only a matter of time before we see trailers for the movies Explosions & Cleavage and Guns & Gore. But, unfortunately, even those titles will sound creative compared to their culmination:

Action & Adventure
Action & Adventure 2
Action & Adventure 3
Action & Adventure 4
Ad Nauseam
Suspense 2
Horror Film 6
Action & Adventure 5
Ad Nauseam 2

* * *

It's only in this context that one can make (some) sense of the Michigan woman who recently decided to sue the distributor of Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive (2011) because the film didn't feature enough... driving! It "bore very little similarity to a chase, or race action film," she said. If the film is called Drive, according to the formula, it had better have a hell of a lot of driving in it! Viewers, accustomed to movies being summed up (or represented literally) by their title, have now started to sue for false advertising when this is not the case(!) What else can be said?

drive, movie poster, woman sues, ryan gosling, scorpion jacket, refn

* * *

Probably the most famous (semi-)recent example of dumbing down a title is Harry Potter. Fearing that American children wouldn't want to read a book with the word "philosopher" on the cover (and ensuring that they never would), the publisher of Harry Potter changed the title of Rowling's first book to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, even though "philosopher's stone" refers to something very specific. As a result, the publishing company played their own role in a kind of alchemy: the turning of American children into future illiterates.

This brings to memory something Christopher Hitchens once said in an interview:

" ... They'll say, “Don't use the word 'Promethean.'” Actually, that happened recently. I used the word 'Promethean' and the [magazine editors] said, “Take that out because people won't know what Promethean means.” I said, “Maybe they won't. I'll cut it out if you give me another synonym for it. You give the words that would stand in for it and I'll change it.” “There doesn't seem to be one,” they said. “No, there isn't, is there?” You either know what “Promethean” means or you don't. If you do, it saves you about 50 words. And if you don't, then you can look it up! So I said, “No. I'm going to keep it, because it's an important word and it's actually not condescending to Americans in the least. You have to condescend far more by finding the 50-word substitute. No, I won't change it. Fuck you. And I don't mean to publish in your magazine, either, for that matter.” I'm reading this review, and I happen to remember – I forget what the review was of – but they mentioned Tolstoy. This sentence said, “This is reminiscent of the 19th Century Russian novelist Count Leo Tolstoy.” Now, clearly, the author [of the review] had not written this. But someone had thought, “Not all our readers know who Tolstoy is. We better tell them.” This is ridiculous! If you don't know who he is, that doesn't tell you any more than what you don't know. [...] “Homer's Iliad, based on Homer's The Iliad.” “The 19th Century Russian novelist…” It's insulting, the people who do that. It completely broke the rhythm of the writer's sentence. Whatever he had, it's completely undone by shoving all this crap in. It's yet another case of one thinking, 'What are they taking me for? Do they think I'm a moron?'"

* * *

And now the moment you've all been waiting for:



Gentress Myrrh said...

Don't even get me started on "Kung Fu Panda 2"!! hahaha...
Yes, it is all excrement.
Let's all guffaw ourselves into acid reflux over the antics of DONKEY, Kung Fu Panda, Sarcastic Entitled Battery Powered Car and his Flatulent Friends.

Andrew said...

Great post. I'm curious about your thoughts on current film writing that seems to embrace this stuff. I don't really know how to explain what I mean but, it seems like a rise of neo-Farberism + neo-Kaelism - any 'political' thought. I find this on a ton of blogs and places that feature young, digital-age cinephiles (Mubi for example). I get the sense that they are afraid of taking a stand against patterns of film making and ending up on the wrong side of history. The auteur theory driven to its logical conclusions it seems. Sorry if that is incoherent.

Tyler said...

lol @ WAR HORSE, Spielberg's new film about war... and a horse!

Tyler said...

re: above

I should have said "commercial FILM" instead of "commercial ART."

Tyler said...

It is happening!

Anonymous said...

Turin Horse

Tyler said...

Nah. Had Tarr's film fit this trend, THE TURIN HORSE would have been called BOILED POTATOES.