Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Faves of Fanboys: A Cinematic Guide

As critics of The Dark Knight were recently reminded, running afoul of fanboys (and, in rarer cases, fangirls) can be a terribly awkward experience. Possessed with inflamed Bronte-esque passions, an accountant's hyperattentiveness to detail, and a mafiaso's resentment toward the slightest inkling of disrespect or betrayal, the fanboy can be either your best friend or your worst nightmare, quick with a pat on the back and even quicker with a shiv to the heart. (If they weren't strictly virtual, that is, and could come anywhere near your back or your heart.) The fanboy frequently works alone, though may also join forces with others when in the midst of a humiliating verbal smackdown. Knowing the potential targets of their obsessions is necessary for online survival. While comic-book movies are an obvious target (and you will incur their wrath faster than the Joker with a pencil by employing the term "comic book"), lesser-known films and the auteurs behind them have surprisingly vocal bases as well. Contrary to popular myth, although fanboys and professional critics often see themselves as archnemeses, the two factions are not mutually exclusive. When it comes to film directors, I have learned to tread lightly around the following icons:

1. Brian De Palma
Cinematic Style: smooth, showoffy, sleazy.
Target Demographic: Paulettes, film school geeks, the French.
Fans/Apologists: Armond White (pre-Redacted), Charles Taylor, Stephanie Zacharek, Keith Uhlich, Matt Zoller Seitz.
Critics/Naysayers: Mike Clark, feminists, me.
Most Worshipped Films: Carrie, Blow Out, Casualties of War, The Untouchables.
Tests of Faith: Mission to Mars, The Black Dahlia, The Bonfire of the Vanities.
Quotable: "It can be said with certainty that any reviewer that pans (Mission to Mars) does not understand movies, let alone like them." -- the ever-magnanimous Armond White.

2. Terrence Malick
Cinematic Style: nature hike.
Target Demographic: film school geeks, aging hippies, bird-watchers, tree-huggers.
Fans/Apologists: Armond White, Matt Zoller Seitz, Keith Uhlich, N.P. Thompson.
Critics/Naysayers: the Paulettes (sans White), Odienator.
Most Worshipped Films: Days of Heaven, The New World.
Tests of Faith: none, or all, take your pick.
Quotable: "Terrence Malick never met a leaf he didn't like." -- Charles Taylor, quoting another viewer in his review of The Thin Red Line.

3. Tim Burton
Cinematic Style: black.
Target Demographic: film school geeks, embalmers, morticians.
Fans/Apologists: the Slant boys.
Critics/Naysayers: N.P. Thompson, me.
Most Worshipped Film: probably Ed Wood, though others have their admirers.
Test of Faith: probably Planet of the Apes, though others have their detractors.
Quotable: "And so (Tim Burton) wanted to make a Superman movie....preferably one where Superman had scissors for hands." -- Kevin Smith.

4. Steven Spielberg
Cinematic Style: visceral, visually confident, emotionally insecure.
Target Demographic: The Greatest Generation, Oscar voters.
Fans/Apologists: Armond White is his constant. Others float in and out.
Critics/Naysayers: Many float in and out.
Most Worshipped Films: E.T., Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan.
Tests of Faith: 1941, Hook, Indy IV.
Quotable: "Spielberg turned claptrap into a reconsideration of what tickled America’s sense of international sovereignty; non-thinking adolescent viewers (of all ages) could thrill to the can-do effrontery." -- from Armond's latest mash-note, his review of Indy IV. (No, I don't get it either.)

5. George Lucas
Cinematic Style: incompetent.
Target Demographic: kids, illiterati.
Fans/Apologists: Roger Ebert.
Critics/Naysayers: Too many to count.
Most Worshipped Film: The Phantom Menace (before its release)
Test of Faith: The Phantom Menace (after its release)
Quotable: "Sith. What kind of a word is that? Sith. It sounds to me like the noise that emerges when you block one nostril and blow through the other, but to George Lucas it is a name that trumpets evil." -- Anthony Lane, reviewing Revenge of the Sith.

6. M. Night Shyamalan
Cinematic Style: Methodical, slow, mesmeric, tin-eared.
Target Demographic: New Age types, evangelicals.
Fans/Apologists: M. Night Shyamalan.
Critics/Naysayers: Originally just me, now increasing in numbers daily.
Most Worshipped Film: The Sixth Sense.
Tests of Faith: The Village, The Lady in the Water, The Happening.
Quotable: "That's not to say The Village looks cheap -- it must have cost plenty of dough, particularly considering Shyamalan's inexplicable prestige. And there's no doubt about it: His movies make money. Shyamalan has got the magic rocks all right. Too bad they're all in his head." -- Stephanie Zacharek.

7. Wes Anderson
Cinematic Style: Pop-up book.
Target Demographic: Collectors of ephemera.
Fans/Apologists: Armond White, Kent Jones.
Critics/Naysayers: Paulettes, Fernando Croce, Odienator.
Most Worshipped Films: Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums.
Test of Faith: The Life Aquatic.
Quotable: "Give Wes Anderson credit for hygiene: The deeper he crawls up his own ass, the cleaner his movies become." -- Fernando Croce, reviewing The Darjeeling Limited.

8. Paul Thomas Anderson
Cinematic Style: overheated, emotional.
Target Demographic: film school geeks, manic depressives.
Fans/Apologists: Fernando Croce, David Edelstein, me.
Critics/Naysayers: N.P. Thompson, Armond White, Odienator.
Most Worshipped Films: There Will Be Blood, Magnolia.
Test of Faith: Magnolia.
Quotable: "His fanboys call him 'P.T. Anderson' because it evokes another P.T.: P.T. Barnum. He said 'There's a sucker born every minute.' I think Anderson's counting on it with this film, his most empty film ever." -- Odienator, commenting on Ed Copeland's review of There Will Be Blood.

(UPDATED: to include the following)

9. Quentin Tarantino
Cinematic Style: formal, leisurely, overly verbose.
Target Demographic: film school geeks, pop culture fanatics.
Fans/Apologists: Slant, David Edelstein, Owen Gleiberman, me.
Critics/Naysayers: Armond White, Matt Zoller Seitz, David Denby.
Most Worshipped Films: Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs.
Test of Faith: for some, Death Proof.
Quotable: "The pop encyclopedist and video-store genius has become a megalomaniac, and the exhilarating filmmaker he might have been is disappearing fast." -- David Denby, reviewing Kill Bill Vol. 2.

10. David Cronenberg
Cinematic Style: autopsy.
Target Demographic: medical examiners.
Fans/Apologists: they're out there somewhere.
Critics/Naysayers: ditto.
Most Worshipped Films: A History of Violence, The Fly.
Tests of Faith: M. Butterfly, Cannonball Run 3-D.
Quotable: Nothing interesting has ever been written or said about David Cronenberg.

11. David Lynch
Cinematic Style: "dreamlike" (an oft-repeated cliche).
Target Demographic: film school geeks, writers for Cineaste, small-town folk whose friendly smiles hide dark secrets.
Fans/Apologists: the Paulettes, the Slant guys.
Critics/Naysayers: N.P. Thompson, dwarves.
Most Worshipped Films: Blue Velvet, Mulholland Dr.
Tests of Faith: Dune, Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me Down to the Ice Cream Social for a Cherry Coke.
Quotable: "Have you ever had a dream with a dwarf in it? Do you know anyone who's had a dream with a dwarf in it? No! I don't even have dreams with dwarves in them. The only place I've seen dwarves in dreams is in stupid movies like this! 'Oh make it weird, put a dwarf in it!' Everyone will go 'Woah, this must be a fuckin' dream, there's a fuckin' dwarf in it!' Well, I'm sick of it!" -- Peter Dinklage in Living in Oblivion


Jason Bellamy said...

Good list. But let me help you fill it out to 10. Somewhere in there has got to be mention of Quentin Tarantino (anything post "Jackie Brown") and, even more, David Cronenberg (in my opinion you have to work pretty hard to call "A Hitory Of Violence" art, but, wow, lots of critics managed to do so).

Craig said...

Thanks, I was hoping others would step up with their own picks. (David Lynch is another possibility, but I didn't feel like delving into his work.) I actually love Tarantino, including his recent stuff, but he's certainly fair game, even though lately he seems to enjoy subverting and frustrating fan expectations more than playing into them. And I don't know if I'd call History of Violence art either, but I thought it was damned entertaining (thanks mainly to Ed Harris and William Hurt), and I normally have about as much use for Cronenberg as I do Lynch.

Slightly OT, but related to History: anybody notice how often Maria Bello's being mentioned on the IMDb news links lately? It's almost daily, with breathless reports that she's dating a waiter, got a tattoo with her dad, and calmed a hysterical passenger on an airplane. I've always liked her, and I realize she has a crappy new blockbuster out, but the publicity is reaching "Harrison Ford saves mountain climbers in his helicopter" territory. Very weird.

Craig said...

Ok, you talked me into it. I updated the list to include QT and the two Davids.

Jason Bellamy said...

I'm not necessarily dissing QT or Cronenberg. I'm just looking at it from the fanboys-(including-critics)-overlooking-the-flaws point of view. So QT's acting, or the fact that all his characters in all his movies essentially have the same kinds of conversations. And for Cronenberg, say the Harris/Hurt acting. I'm not here to argue whether it's crap (my take) or damned entertaining (yours). But I figure you'll agree with me that those performances are on the razor's edge of genius and camp. You can love 'em or hate 'em. Not much room in between.

On that note: With "HoV," I noticed that my less cinema-savvy friends, who wouldn't know Cronenberg from Lynch (another good pick, by the way), and wouldn't care, HATED that movie. Critics loved it. My hunch is that a lot of that came down to whether Cronenberg's reputation meant somthing to the viewer going in. If it didn't, I think many moviegoers felt no reason to give it the benefit of their doubt. But I digress.