Critic v Trolls: Dawn of Hate Mail

The Aisle Seat went online in October of 1995. In the last three days, I’ve received more hate mail than I have in the last twenty years combined. The source of all this anger is my review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Of particular irritation to the writers of all this hate mail is the beginning of the review, which was excerpted as my pull quote on Rotten Tomatoes:

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is one of the worst superhero movies ever made. It is worse than Batman & Robin. It is worse than Catwoman. It is worse than last summer’s Fantastic Four (or at least more disappointing).”

I didn’t mean it was a lot worse than those other films — they’re all terrible — but they had at least one or two elements that interested me on some level, whereas BvS had none. While I knew some people would strongly disagree with that sentiment, I wrote it for one reason, and one reason only: I really do think Batman v Superman is worse. I wouldn’t have said that if I didn’t believe it. Still, people accused me of making hyperbole, click-baiting, and attempting to piss off fanboys to drive up my web traffic. None of that was true.

The reaction to my review has been mystifying. People half my age have lectured me on comic books, despite the fact that I was into comics long before they were even born. I’ve lost Twitter followers. One person I have known and been friendly with on social media for years unfollowed me on Twitter and unfriended me on Facebook because of my review. That same creep then went on Twitter and said some things about me that were unkind and untrue. Angry readers have reached out to me via email, tweet, and Facebook message. I have been mocked and ridiculed in the forums of websites devoted to superhero movies. A couple strangers said I look like a child molester. People told me that I should kill myself. Why so many fanboys care so passionately about a bad review of a comic book picture is beyond me, especially given that there are so many important things to be concerned about in today’s world.

Do I care about getting flamed? No. I’m just glad people are reading my work and that it’s sparking debate. I don’t respond to trolls, except with the link to a hidden page on my site that attempts to humorously express my profound lack of concern regarding their anger.

Besides, troll rage is kind of funny, and that’s why I’ve decided to share a few pieces of hate mail here. (I won’t include the really dark stuff, which I may address later.) Below are actual messages I’ve received, unedited and unexpurgated, followed by some silly personal reaction to each of them. I’ve redacted email addresses, which are private. Twitter is public, though, so I’m leaving identities as they are. (Please do not harass anyone!) Enjoy!

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This is a fairly typical response — admitting the movie is flawed, but asserting its greatness anyway. And saying a review is bad simply because you don’t agree with it and are afraid to consider its ideas? Now that’s some hardcore bullshit.

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More bullshit? I’m starting to sense a theme emerging here. It reminds me of this scene from an old Mel Brooks movie. I guess I’m Mel and the trolls are Bea Arthur.

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Well, at least now I’m just writing the standard kind of shit. Is that an improvement?

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My entire professional credibility rested on this one movie? Why didn’t anyone tell me? If I’d known that, I would have given BvS four stars!

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I’m the worst critic ever? Do I get some sort of prize for that? A coffee mug, perhaps? Incidentally, this guy writes for a fanboy movie site. How well do you suppose he’d handle someone doing this to him? I bet I know.

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You got me. I watched a different movie. Warner Bros. cut together a special, sucky version of Batman v Superman just for me. And I would say that my horrible and negative mentality is one of my most endearing traits!

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10 gallons of bleach? I’ll stick with my beloved Diet Pepsi, thanks.

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Awesome! That’s exactly what I was going for in my review! Score one for me!

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Tyree was so incensed by my review that he reached out to me both on Twitter and via email. (He tried to fool me by using “Great article” in the subject line.) This message is a fabulous honor. There are literally tens of thousands of reviews linked to Rotten Tomatoes, maybe even hundreds of thousands. For mine to be the worst of them all…well, I believe that’s quite an achievement. I do have to ask one thing, though: How am I the idiot when Tyree 1.) says I should never write anything again, then immediately tells me to write something “without obvious bias”; and 2.) doesn’t know that it’s “an idiot” rather than “and idiot”? Kettle, meet pot.

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This one is my absolute favorite, and not just because of that ridiculous profile picture. First of all, he completely (and hilariously) misuses the word “prolific.” Second, he describes BvS as “realistic.” This is a movie about a guy who dresses as a bat and a flying dude from outer space teaming up to fight a giant monster. Third, he says Sin City is from the same publisher as Batman. Any serious comic book fan — and I consider myself one — knows Sin City was published by Dark Horse, not DC. Maybe I’m not the one who needs to “research the truth of the source material.”

There was a lot more hate mail, but these examples pretty well sum it up. Like I said, I’m thick-skinned, so my feelings weren’t hurt by any of it. However, there is something dispiriting about this mentality. When I was growing up, liking superheroes and comic books got you bullied. Kids who liked them were considered “dorks” and “nerds.” Now these things have moved into the mainstream, and the people who are heavily into them have become the bullies — threatening, ridiculing, and harassing those who fail to appreciate them in the “right” way. Superhero fandom was never meant to be like this, and those who go this route are an affront to everything comics are supposed to stand for. They are Lex Luthor or the Joker, but they erroneously think they’re Superman or Batman.

Life goes on, and so do movies. My review will soon be forgotten, replaced by whatever the next faux outrage is. The trolls will move on to other people. My heart goes out to the next victims.

A Modest Review of “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice”

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Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is the worst superhero movie ever made. Worse than CatwomanWorse than Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Worse than Batman & Robin. It’s even worse than last summer’s Fantastic FourIt is an irredeemable piece of garbage that’s dark, moody, and no fun. Only a moron would like this incessantly stupid “film.”

Okay, I guess I should admit here that I haven’t actually seen Batman vs. Superman. I mean, I saw some of it, but I fell asleep about 20 minutes into the press screening. (I hate movies. Having to actually watch them all day is so cumbersome.) When I woke up, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor was rambling about something boring, so I played Candy Crush on my phone until the movie was over.

Not that any of this matters. Marvel paid me $5,000 to pan the film, which they hope will be a box office flop. I wasn’t sure whether to accept the cash at first, but most of my fellow critics told me that they were planning to take it. (Have I mentioned that we have a super-secret cabal?) That being the case, I decided that I may as well get paid, too. Hey, I have a family to feed! You’d have done the same thing.

And really, I don’t need to see Batman vs. Superman to know it sucks balls. The writing is on the wall:

Ben Affleck as Batman – The dude from Gigli, Paycheck, Saving Christmas, and Pearl Harbor? I think this falls under the category of “bitch, please.”

Zack Snyder sucks – He seems like a guy who really loves comic books and superheroes, and wants to treat them with care. What a nerd! Snyder is the kind of guy I gave wedgies to in high school — and I was a frequent victim of bullying myself! (Note: This is why I became a film critic. Now I get paid to say horrible things about famous people who are better looking and more talented than I am. Fight the power!) One more reason Zack Snyder should never be taken seriously: Sucker Punch. Seriously, he gets a lifelong “fail” just for that thing.

I’m biased against DC – I admit it! DC is inferior to Marvel. Name one good DC superhero. You can’t! Batman? He’s a guy in a black suit with a car. It’s not like he’s a talking raccoon or a monosyllabic tree, for crying out loud! Superman? He’s strong and can fly. Big deal! Give me a guy with a flaming skull who rides a motorcycle over that dweeb any day! And Wonder Woman? She’s not as hot as Jessica Jones or Black Widow. For further proof of Marvel’s dominance, look no further than Ryan Reynolds. DC casts him and what do we get? That crappy Green Lantern movie. Marvel casts him and we get DeadpoolBoo-ya! DC also hires no-talent hack directors like Christopher Nolan (who couldn’t direct a good movie if Alfred Hitchcock rose from the grave and did it for him). Marvel, on the other hand, hires great directors, like Jon Favreau and Kenneth Branagh.

Marvel is sooooooo much better than DC, and I’d say that even if they hadn’t just paid me five grand to trash their competitor’s film. I mean, they gave us the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where everything is connected! DC is just trying to copy their winning formula because they have no good ideas of their own. Does anyone in their right mind really think Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is going to be better than Marvel classics like Thor: The Dark World or Iron Man 2? Only slobbering DC fanboys, I can tell you that! And they’d think Mortdecai was a good movie if it had the DC logo slapped on it!

So yeah, Batman vs. Superman sucks and is only for brain-dead idiot fanboys who live in their mother’s basements and have eggs as their Twitter avatars. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write my rave review of Captain America: Civil War, which I won’t actually see until late next month.

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice rating: (Zero stars out of four)

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Speed Zone: The Forgotten Cannonball Run Sequel

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Quick –  how many Cannonball Run movies were there? If you said two, think again. Most people remember the 1981 original, which starred Burt Reynolds, Farrah Fawcett, and Dom DeLuise. It was a huge hit that spawned a sequel, 1984’s much-maligned Cannonball Run II. (“This is the movie equivalent to phoning it in,” said Roger Ebert in his half-star review.) A lot of people remember that one, too, in part because it reached new levels of cash-an-easy-paycheck atrociousness, more or less killing the public’s interest in the franchise. And maybe that’s why very few people recall that there was a third Cannonball Run movie. On April 21, 1989, Orion Pictures released Speed Zone, which was alternately known as Cannonball Fever. If it’s possible to make a movie on this subject that’s even worse than Cannonball Run II –– and Ebert thought it was, awarding this one a rare zero stars — Speed Zone is it.

Initially conceived as The Cannonball Run IIISpeed Zone required a title change when Reynolds and original director Hal Needham opted not to return for another round. The premise is that surly Washington, D.C. police chief Spiro T. Edsel (Peter Boyle) wants to stop the scheduled auto race from his city to California. He arrests all the competitors prior to the start of the event, leaving the sponsors scrambling to find new drivers. The only options are a ragtag assortment of goofballs. There’s a timid parking lot attendant (John Candy), riding with the hot girlfriend (Donna Dixon) of his bully (Eugene Levy). There’s a hitman (Joe Flaherty) and the guy he’s been sent to kill (Matt Frewer). There are two MIT graduates (Sheri Belafonte and Flash Gordon‘s Melody Anderson) who have developed high-tech gizmos to give racers a competitive edge. And there are the millionaire cheaters (the Smothers Brothers) who managed to escape the mass arrest. Tim Matheson and Mimi Kuzyk play TV reporters also competing in the race, under the guise of covering it for their station.

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Speed Zone also boasts a number of celebrity cameos, including Brooke Shields (who won a Worst Supporting Actress Razzie Award for her role as herself), Alyssa Milano, John Schneider, veteran character actor Lee Van Cleef, Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis, and NASCAR legend Richard Petty. Most notably, Jamie Farr cameos as the Sheik, the character he also played in the two previous Cannonball Run installments, making him the only actor to appear in all three.

There’s not much plot in Speed Zone. It’s essentially a series of barely-connected scenes in which the characters either engage in bizarre bantering in their cars or attempt to outsmart each other through a variety of dirty tricks. The level of humor in the movie is often lowbrow. In one of the lamest jokes, a Frenchman on an airplane offers Tom Smothers his peanuts, but it sounds as though he’s saying “penis,” leading to some homophobic confusion. Other times, the comedy is just plain goofy, with no real point. Boxer Michael Spinks, for instance, emerges from a store holding a box of wine under each arm. Upon seeing his car accidentally demolished by two of the Cannonball participants, he squeezes the boxes so hard that they spray.

Other jokes aren’t really even jokes at all. Speed Zone thinks it’s funny to have cars abruptly swerve, change direction, drive in reverse, or crash into something. When it gets bored with that, it stages an elaborate sequence in which a jet plane carrying the Smothers Brothers leaves the runway and begins driving on the road. Really, the only time the movie even hints at approaching actual comedy is in the scenes between Candy and Levy, who bring a well-honed SCTV touch to their interactions, and between Candy and Dixon, who is delightfully ditzy as an aspiring actress. Everything else is dead weight.

Speed Zone was written by Michael Short, the older brother of comedian Martin Short and a former SCTV scribe. It was directed by Jim Drake, a sitcom director (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and Gimme a Break!), whose only previous feature film experience was helming 1987’s Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol. He never made another theatrically-released movie. (Drake later did eight episodes of the Disney Channel show The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, among other TV gigs.) What they deliver is a choppy, inconsistent film that often feels assembled from the deleted scenes of other movies. Speed Zone lurches awkwardly from one unfunny moment to the next, culminating with an end credit sequence in which all the cast members drive bumper cars. By that point, we’re quite ready to bail.

Speed Zone opened opposite Pet Sematary, the Dolph Lundgren vehicle Red Scorpion, and the Jeff Bridges/Drew Barrymore drama See You in the Morning. It debuted in 10th place, earning $1.4 million on 1,195 screens. (It was handily beaten by the 19th weekend of Rain Man.) Second weekend box office dropped by 62%. There was no third weekend. Speed Zone earned a grand total of just over $3 million during its brief theatrical run. To say reviews were unkind would be an understatement. The Washington Post’s Hal Hinson called it “scarily unfunny,” adding that “it does something that I thought was virtually impossible — it makes us nostalgic for the previous two.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Speed Zone has long been out of print, which is another likely reason why so few remember its existence. The picture was released on VHS back in the day, but has never been available on DVD or Blu-Ray, making it difficult to find. There is, however, a YouTube upload that’s of semi-decent quality.

One suspects that those involved are quite happy Speed Zone has faded from the public’s memory. Surely, none of its makers or stars would consider it among their finest achievements. That said, it’s nonetheless a true late-’80s curio — a throwback to a time when movies still occasionally assembled name actors, paid them for a couple days of work, and tossed the half-assed results onto cinema screens across the country.

As for Burt Reynolds, passing on Speed Zone proved to be one of the few smart career choices he made in the era. If only Candy, Levy, and everyone else had followed suit.