When Filmmakers Throw Hissy Fits

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This weekend, Gods of Egypt bombed at the box office, earning just $14 million on its opening weekend. Considering the film cost a reported $140 million to make, that was not good news for anyone involved. On Sunday, the film’s director, Alex Proyas, took to Facebook to address his movie’s failure, utilizing an all too familiar approach: he blamed critics. Here’s the full text of his statement:

NOTHING CONFIRMS RAMPANT STUPIDITY FASTER…
Than reading reviews of my own movies. I usually try to avoid the experience – but this one takes the cake. Often, to my great amusement, a critic will mention my past films in glowing terms, when at the time those same films were savaged, as if to highlight the critic’s flawed belief of my descent into mediocrity. You see, my dear fellow FBookers, I have rarely gotten great reviews… on any of my movies, apart from those by reviewers who think for themselves and make up their own opinions. Sadly those type of reviewers are nearly all dead. Good reviews often come many years after the movie has opened. I guess I have the knack of rubbing reviewers the wrong way – always have. This time of course they have bigger axes to grind – they can rip into my movie while trying to make their mainly pale asses look so politically correct by screaming “white-wash!!!” like the deranged idiots they all are. They fail to understand, or chose to pretend to not understand what this movie is, so as to serve some bizarre consensus of opinion which has nothing to do with the movie at all. That’s ok, this modern age of texting will probably make them go the way of the dinosaur or the newspaper shortly – don’t movie-goers text their friends with what they thought of a movie? Seems most critics spend their time trying to work out what most people will want to hear. How do you do that? Why these days it is so easy… just surf the net to read other reviews or what bloggers are saying – no matter how misguided an opinion of a movie might be before it actually comes out. Lock a critic in a room with a movie no one has even seen and they will not know what to make of it. Because contrary to what a critic should probably be they have no personal taste or opinion, because they are basing their views on the status quo. None of them are brave enough to say “well I like it” if it goes against consensus. Therefore they are less than worthless. Now that anyone can post their opinion about anything from a movie to a pair of shoes to a hamburger, what value do they have – nothing. Roger Ebert wasn’t bad. He was a true film lover at least, a failed film-maker, which gave him a great deal of insight. His passion for film was contagious and he shared this with his fans. He loved films and his contribution to cinema as a result was positive. Now we have a pack of diseased vultures pecking at the bones of a dying carcass. Trying to peck to the rhythm of the consensus. I applaud any film-goer who values their own opinion enough to not base it on what the pack-mentality say is good or bad.

There are a number of problems with what Proyas says. First, he’s wrong. Without critics, smaller films like Room and Spotlight would have trouble getting notice amid the tentpoles and franchises Hollywood tends to focus on. Further, he accuses us of going online to see what other critics are saying, then simply following suit. Critics are the first people to see a movie. When we post our reviews — often on or before opening day — there is nothing out there to compare them against. There is no “status quo” at that point. And the assertion that all his movies have gotten bad reviews is absurd. Many critics, myself included, gave positive notices to The CrowDark City, Knowingand I, Robot.

His biggest mistake, though, is in saying that critics are “less than worthless” people who audiences don’t pay attention to, and then turning around and blaming us for the commercial failure of his film. If the public doesn’t listen to critics, then how are bad reviews the culprit? You can’t have it both ways.

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There are plenty of people Alex Proyas could blame for the failure of Gods of Egypt (which, in full disclosure, I have not seen). He could blame the studio marketing department for making it look like another lame Clash of the Titans/300 retread. He could blame audiences in general for giving their money to the third weekend of Deadpool and generally ignoring his film. Or, he could blame himself for making a movie set in Egypt and casting it with white actors, including Scotsman Gerard Butler.

But no, he blames film critics. And he’s not alone. After the failure of Cop Out, Kevin Smith famously barred critics from screening his future films, saying that anyone who didn’t “create art” was not qualified to assess it. After the dismal failure of The Lone Rangerstars Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer bitterly accused critics of “gunning” for the movie. More recently, Kill List director Ben Wheatley echoed Smith’s claims, saying, “Talking about other peoples’ stuff is weird. Why aren’t you making stuff? And if you aren’t, why should you really have a voice to complain about things until you’ve walked mile in someone’s shoes?”

There’s nothing wrong with filmmakers feeling a little stung by bad reviews. There is, however, something wrong with acting like a whiny baby about it. For instance, if Alex Proyas really, truly believes that critics did wrong by his film, why didn’t he defend it? You’ll notice there’s nothing in his Facebook post to counter critics’ claims. It’s just random insults and name-calling. Ditto with Smith and Depp/Hammer.

Filmmakers really need to — pardon the expression — grow some balls if they’re going to publicly respond to critics. Cinema is fundamentally about analysis, exploration, discussion, and debate. Everyone sees a movie in their own unique way. Critics, love them or hate them, work on writing carefully considered reviews, with the intention of discussing movies in an intelligent, articulate manner. Filmmakers should respond the same way, not the opposite.

Imagine how valuable it would be for someone like Alex Proyas to counter the claims of those who panned Gods of Egypt – to explain why he, as the craftsman, believes they’re wrong. That kind of discourse between film critics and director would undoubtedly enrich everyone’s understanding of the work. You would get an in-depth look at the intersection of artistic intent and objective evaluation. There would be more consideration of why certain choices were made, what the intended effect was supposed to be, and why the director used particular methods to tell the story. The point/counterpoint would be fascinating, leading to a fuller appreciation of the movie in question, regardless of any flaws it may have. It might even make initially ambivalent audiences more interested in checking the picture out.

Alex Proyas, Kevin Smith, and others like them have had the opportunity (not to mention the public forum) to defend their works, but instead they resorted to immature You didn’t recognize my genius, so therefore you suck! vitriol. Despite what some would say, critics can totally take a little criticism themselves. Tell us why we’re wrong! Explain to us what we didn’t “get,” or why we looked at the film the wrong way! Have a dialogue with us!

If filmmakers did this going forward, it could open up a whole new — and wonderful — way of engaging with their work. And that would benefit everyone who cherishes the power of cinema.

Ten Awesome Forgotten ’90s Movie Songs

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Having already looked at some of the most Awesome Forgotten ’80s Movie Songs not once but twice, it seemed like a good time to jump ahead a decade. The ’90s weren’t always the best time for movies — the ratio of junk to classics is probably at least 3-to-1 — but music continued to be well-used onscreen regardless. Everyone remembers Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” from The Bodyguard, Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic, and Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory” from Young Guns II, to name just a few examples. What follows below are ten other awesome ’90s movie songs, ones that have not made the same long-lasting impact. (Note that hip-hop’s move into the mainstream during this era is reflected quite well.) Some are one-time hits that don’t get played on the airwaves anymore, while others are tunes that should have been hits but weren’t. All are terrific, and I hope you enjoy discovering or re-discovering them.

“Part of Me, Part of You” by Glenn Frey (from Thelma & Louise) – The late Eagle Glenn Frey knew a thing or two about writing movie music, having famously contributed “The Heat Is On” to Beverly Hills Cop. He also performed “Flip City” for the Ghostbusters II soundtrack. In 1991, Frey wrote and sang “Part of Me, Part of You” for Ridley Scott’s feminist road-picture Thelma & Louise. While perhaps not his best-known song, it is one of the best he ever recorded. The composition speaks to the strong bond between the film’s two main characters, played to perfection by Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis. As for the movie, it not only retains its power, but in some ways is even more relevant today than it was then.

“C U When U Get There” by Coolio (from Nothing to Lose) – Nothing to Lose was a mid-level hit in 1997, earning $44 million, largely on the strength of the odd couple casting of Martin Lawrence and Tim Robbins. The film was released by Disney’s Touchstone Pictures division. Their Hollywood Pictures arm had great success with the Michelle Pfeiffer inner city education drama Dangerous Minds and its Coolio theme song “Gangsta’s Paradise,” which remains the rapper’s best-known work. Perhaps having him contribute “C U When U Get There” to Nothing to Lose was an attempt to recapture the magic. It almost did, hitting #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. (“Gangsta’s Paradise” went all the way to the top.) People don’t seem to remember this one as clearly, though, and that’s a shame, because in its own way, it’s every bit as good.

“Blood From a Stone” by Stacy Earl (from Untamed Heart) – Stacy Earl should have been a superstar. She scored two Top 40 hits in 1992: “Love You All Up” and “Romeo & Juliet.” Her music was very similar to what wildly successful (but less talented) singer Paula Abdul was doing. Yet for some unknown reason, Earl had an unfairly short-lived pop career. In 1993, she released her last mainstream single, “Blood From a Stone,” which served as the theme to the Christian Slater/Marisa Tomei tearjerker Untamed Heart. The song went nowhere, despite being typically catchy and beautifully sung. These days, Stacy is a mother and an adoption advocate, as well as an occasional singer of Christian music.

“White Men Can’t Jump” by Riff (from White Men Can’t Jump) – The 1992 Wesley Snipes/Woody Harrelson basketball comedy White Men Can’t Jump is still fondly remembered by a lot of people. How many can sing the eponymous theme song, though? A shining example of the musical style known as “New Jack Swing,” the tune, which only went to #90 on the charts, was performed by the New Jersey vocal group Riff. They had a few minor R&B hits in the early ’90s, but never really made the kind of impact that Boyz II Men and New Edition did. Still, their uber-catchy beats worked perfectly for the film. One listen and this will be stuck in your head all day.

“Almost Unreal” by Roxette (from Super Mario Bros.) – Swedish duo Roxette took the music world by storm in the late ’80s, with ubiquitous hits like “The Look” and “Listen to Your Heart.” In 1990, they went all the way to #1 with their biggest smash, “It Must Have Been Love,” from the Pretty Woman soundtrack. (It was Billboard’s #2 song of the year, just behind “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips.) Roxette were then asked to record a song for the Bette Midler witch comedy Hocus Pocus. They delivered “Almost Unreal,” a song in which the words “hocus pocus” are prominently sung in the chorus. For whatever reason, the folks at Disney decided not to use it in that picture, Instead, it became the theme for another Disney production, the videogame adaptation Super Mario Bros. That “Almost Unreal” was not one of Roxette’s biggest chart successes is undoubtedly tied to the commercial and critical failure of the movie that spawned it. However, band members Per Gessle and Marie Fredriksson have also publicly dismissed their work in interviews, with the latter calling it “not one of our most inspired moments.” I beg to differ. Give it a listen and see if you love when it does its hocus pocus to you.

 

 

“The Color of the Night” by Lauren Christy (from Color of Night) – You may not know her name, but you definitely know the work of Lauren Christy. She was part of the writing/producing team known as The Matrix. Their hits include Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” and “I’m With You,” Jason Mraz’s “The Remedy,” and Liz Phair’s “Why Can’t I?” More recently, Christy has co-written tunes for Kelly Clarkson (“I Forgive You”) and Jason Derulo (“Breathing”). Unsurprisingly, she once took a shot at solo stardom. That came in the form of “The Color of the Night,” a sultry ballad recorded for the justly forgotten 1994 Bruce Willis thriller Color of Night, a lame attempt to recapture the psycho-sexual vibe that turned Basic Instinct into a phenomenon a few years before. The tune was nominated for Best Original Song at that year’s Golden Globes. The movie, on the other hand, was given the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture.

“Money Can’t Buy You Love” by Ralph Tresvant (from Mo’ Money) – After achieving stardom on TV’s In Living Color, Damon Wayans jumped to the big screen with Mo’ Money, a star vehicle he also wrote. The movie is about a con man who steals from the credit card company where he works and eventually finds himself tangled up in criminal forces much larger than himself. Mo’ Money got poor reviews, yet earned $40 million on a $15 million budget. Continuing In Living Color‘s tradition of showcasing R&B and hip-hop music, the film had a soundtrack that included Janet Jackson, Public Enemy, Color Me Badd, and New Edition’s Ralph Tresvant, whose “Money Can’t Buy You Love” remains an irresistible earworm.

“Life in Mono” by Mono (from Great Expectations) – True story: In late December 1997, I fell asleep in front of the television with MTV on. I dozed through several hours of music videos that night. Then they played Mono’s “Life in Mono,” which had been released in advance of Great Expectations, a modern adaptation of the famous Charles Dickens novel starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke. My subconscious registered the song and immediately woke me up. It had such an incredible sonic ambiance that my system was forced to pay attention. (The only other time this happened was in the ’80s, when Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom [Coming Home]” similarly roused me from a flu-induced nap.) To this day, I can’t hear the song without remembering that magical moment. Two interesting bits of trivia: 1.) “Life in Mono” was reportedly used in the movie at the behest of co-star Robert DeNiro, who heard and loved it; and 2.) Great Expectations was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, who later went on to win the Best Director Oscar for Gravity.

“Addams Groove” by MC Hammer (from The Addams Family) – This is probably the movie-est movie song on the list. In a true example of Hollywood “synergy,” rapper MC Hammer, who was a huge star in 1991, was hired to write and perform a song specifically for The Addams Family, a high-profile big screen version of the popular TV program that was slated for a cushy Thanksgiving weekend release. As much a piece of promotional material as it is a song, “Addams Groove” is nonetheless a cheerfully silly work, one that cleverly incorporates snatches of Vic Mizzy’s famous show theme. The accompanying music video even features the film’s stars. The Addams Family was a blockbuster, pulling in $191 million and spawning a sequel several years later. “Addams Groove,” meanwhile, went to #7 on the pop charts. It turned out to be MC Hammer’s final top ten hit.

“Identify” by Natalie Imbruglia (from Stigmata) – “Identify” is a weird song. It is sung by Australian pop singer Natalie Imbruglia, best known for her annoyingly chirpy hit “Torn.” It was co-written by Billy Corgan, leader of the alt-rock band Smashing Pumpkins. And it was recorded for the 1999 religious horror movie Stigmata, starring Patricia Arquette as a woman who inexplicably develops the wounds of Christ. If that’s not an odd combination, I don’t know what is. Yet despite not really liking Imbruglia, Corgan, or Stigmata (or it’s final third, at least), I have never been able to get enough of this song. It has a haunting quality — lots of minor chords and unusual progressions — that I find hypnotic. When it played over Stigmata‘s closing credits, I got chills that the film itself didn’t quite give me.

There you have ten awesome forgotten ’90s movie songs. Any of them particularly ring a bell for you? I’ve already got enough for a follow-up list, so be on the lookout for that in the future, along with another installment of the ’80s version.