Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Four Types of Movie Watchers

I've wanted to do something like this for a while. Ever since I became a serious movie watcher some 15 years ago, I've been pretty fascinated about the different expectations and standards people have for the medium. For anyone who doesn't know my background, I lived and breathed movies for my high school years before majoring in Cinema Studies at New York University. I wanted to be a film critic, but I couldn't afford to keep living in the city after graduation and even in an environment like that, the jobs are slim. I did write movie reviews for my hometown paper for a number of years but eventually moved on to other pursuits. I still watch movies constantly, however, and perhaps one day I'll find a major use for this expertise. So long story short, I've had extensive experience with all of these "types" and I'm not talking out of my bum. With that established, let's get started.

Casual Viewer

For these people, movies just aren't a significant part of life. They've seen plenty, although they would have no clue how many if you asked them. They probably are in a movie theater less than five times a year, for major blockbusters or romantic comedies, depending on taste. Perhaps a book they really liked was adapted into a film, they'll check that out. If they have children, they are actually fairly knowledgeable about the Disney and Pixar canon because it's an easy way to give the rugrats something to do. Learning about the history of movies is not something they have any interest in doing. Chances are they haven't seen most of the more famous classics (i.e. Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Godfather, etc) unless one was shown to them in a classroom.

It will be very hard to write this paragraph without being condescending, but please know I'm trying my best. A defining trait of the casual viewer is a lack of expectations. They go to movies expecting a two-hour distraction and if they got that, then they're satisfied and it's time to go back to the real world. Every so often, this total lack of critical evaluation can be infuriating to anyone who has thought seriously about film. In particular, Michael Bay's Transformers movies have become notorious for drawing the battle lines between casual moviegoers and everyone else. You'll often hear them defended as "just a dumb action movie" or "a fun popcorn movie," which is a phrase the person saw in an article recently. Perhaps you'll be told to go watch some highbrow French film instead, as if there's no possibility for an intelligent action film. Therein lies the key issue, actually - understanding the difference between "silly" and "brainless." A silly movie can be a lot of fun, but a brainless movie just sucks. I'm not really comfortable calling anything "objectively" terrible, but those Transformers movies really tempt me.

Casual viewers hate the Oscars because... "Who cares about the Oscars? Nobody's ever heard of the movies that get awards!"


For fanboys (hopefully the inclusion of all genders is understood at this point), it's less about movies and more about geek-friendly genres of fiction like science-fiction, superheroes, fantasy, animation and horror. Most of them don't have much interest in the world of cinema outside these genres, but they are incredibly passionate about the movies within their realm. These are the costumed fans who will stand in line at Comic-Con for six hours to watch a two minute clip of the next Marvel movie. When it comes to the movies they love, they are tireless advocates. In particular, fanboys have been essential to the continued success of the horror genre.

However, there are dark sides to this level of fandom. They don't react kindly to innovation or experimentation when a movie adapts their treasured source material. They expect the movie adaptations to cater totally to them and resent attempts to appeal to a wider audience by altering the original stories. When this happens, they flood the internet with the level of vitriol you would expect from gun control debates on Facebook. Tread carefully before you start a conversation about George Lucas.

Fanboys hate the Oscars because...all their favorite genres routinely go ignored by the Academy. The only horror film to win Best Picture is The Silence of the Lambs, which people try to separate from horror by calling it a "psychological thriller." Please. A guy gets his a chunk of his face bitten off, it's a horror film. There you go, fanboys. Don't said I never did anything for ya.

Film Buff

A film buff will watch just about anything because they love movies. They seek a broad understanding of the medium, watching stuff from all genres and locations, and like to share their passion with others. When they see something great, they will sing its praises to their friends. When they see a fun bad movie (i.e. Plan 9 From Outer Space, Troll 2, The Room), they will make sure their friends get a chance to experience it. When they see a movie that's just plain bad, they will relish the chance to rip it apart. If you want a movie recommendation, find a film buff. If they know you well, they'll be able to cherry-pick their mental library for something you will like.

Passion and knowledge of film can impress other people, but it can also cost them friends if they don't keep their ego in check. Some film buffs take a fanboy attitude towards cinema as a whole, dismissing the opinions of others who haven't seen as many films as they have. A long movie-watching resume does give you a very informed opinion, but it doesn't take away the inherent subjectivity of the medium.

Film buffs hate the Oscars because...actually, they are the ones who are most likely to get at least some enjoyment out of it. Chances are, they like at least one of the movies that gets a statue. But they are also very familiar with all the films in each category, getting pissed off about their favored film losing the Cinematography Oscar while their friends are bewildered. It's a serious love/hate situation.


The cinephile is more interested in movies as art than as entertainment. Unlike the film buff, who seeks familiarity with all genres, the cinephile has no use for movies with overt commercial intentions. They have discerning taste and usually have a formal education in the history and language of film to back it up. I once heard a cinephile define "film buff" as "someone who dominates at Trivial Pursuit but has never seen a Victor Erice film." Directors like Erice, Eric Rohmer, Andrei Tarkovsky and Yasujiro Ozu are their bread and butter. They have a huge tolerance for boredom as long as the film they're watching is technically or thematically appealing to them. As you might have guessed by now, there is a noted correlation between cinephilia and hipsterism.

Like film buffs, a cinephile's worst enemy is his own ego. If they can keep that in check, cinephiles make outstanding professors and can get others to appreciate film in exciting new ways. If not, they run the risk of being utterly insufferable like the infamous commentator Armond White. In fact, most film critics are cinephiles (although the late Roger Ebert was definitely a film buff).

Cinephiles hate the Oscars because...they pretend not to care about the Oscars at all. But they do. However, the movies they love are almost always too obscure to get any nominations. Maybe in the Foreign Language category if they're lucky.

As for me, I'd identify myself as a film buff, but I do have a cinephile's education and a few of those tendencies (I have seen a film by Victor Erice, in fact). Not everyone will neatly fit into these categories, but I think articulating differences like this helps create more of a vocabulary that can be useful for discussing movies in general. I'd love to hear feedback about this one if anyone reads it. Am I on to something here or not even close? Which one are you?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ten Great Movies for Swearing

I love swearing. I don't do it all that often on this blog, mostly because I try to keep a lighthearted, even-keeled tone here. It's not really a place for full-on rants. But when you are in the mood for a good rant, is there anything more satisfying than letting loose with some cuss words? "Bullshit" may be one of the most useful words in the English language - I can't think of any term more appropriate to describe so much of what we deal with in our daily lives in modern America. Even on a smaller scale, I don't know what I would do if I couldn't shout "God damn it!" when I hit my toe on some sharp children's toy that's been left in the middle of the floor.

It's an unfortunate reality that in a world full of starvation, war, injustice and other problems that actually harm people, there are still quite a few folks who get deeply offended by "naughty words." But I suppose that if they still weren't so scandalized, it wouldn't be as much fun to bust them out. The breaching of decorum associated with swearing is primarily what makes this glorious compilation of news anchors swearing on air so hilarious. With that as an appetizer, let's get into ten movies that use swear words to brilliant effect.

The Big Lebowski (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1998)

Jesus Quintana: You ready to be fucked, man? I see you rolled your way into the semis. Dios mio, man. Liam and me, we're gonna fuck you up.
The Dude: Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.
Jesus Quintana: Let me tell you something, pendejo. You pull any of your crazy shit with us, you flash a piece out on the lanes, I'll take it away from you, stick it up your ass and pull the fucking trigger 'til it goes "click."
The Dude: Jesus.
Jesus Quintana: You said it, man. Nobody fucks with the Jesus.

The Coen Brothers are Oscar-winning directors who have given film buffs everywhere many classics to obsess about, from Blood Simple to Fargo to Miller's Crossing to No Country For Old Men. But honestly, none of those movies are as much pure fun as The Big Lebowski, a movie that felt just as unambitious as its layabout hero. Critics had no clue what to make of it upon its initial release, but its fantastic cast and endless hilarity have earned it a huge following in the years since.

Casino (Martin Scorsese, 1995)

Nicky Santoro: Get this through your head, you Jew motherfucker, you. You only exist out here because of me! That's the only reason. Without me, you, personally, every fuckin' wise guy skell around'll take a piece of your fuckin' Jew ass. Then where you gonna go? You're fuckin' warned. Don't ever go over my fuckin' head again. You motherfucker, you!

There aren't many directors who have contributed as much profanity to the world of movies as Scorsese. From Raging Bull to The Wolf of Wall Street, he understands the visceral power of dropping f-bombs. When compared to some of his best work, Casino feels mostly like an unofficial sequel to the classic Goodfellas. Like most sequels, it's still a lot of fun but not quite as satisfying as its predecessor. However, when it comes to swearing, this movie is packed with glorious rants, most of them delivered by Joe Pesci's character.

Commando (Mark L. Lester, 1985)

[Cooke has a loaded gun]
Cooke: Fuck you, asshole.
[He pulls the trigger. It's out of bullets]
John Matrix: Fuck YOU, asshole.

The Film Encyclopedia's priceless description of Arnold Schwarzenegger reads, in part, "Curiously, Schwarzenegger's limited acting range, his deadpan expression and thick-accented delivery of American slang proved assets rather than liabilities in his rise to top popularity." If you want to see that dynamic in action, there are many choices but none greater than the sublimely ridiculous Commando, one of those treasures that you can't wait to show to someone who hasn't seen it so you can hear them howl with laughter for 90 minutes. I can't keep track of how many times I've watched this one and that's probably for the best.

Glengarry Glen Ross (James Foley, 1992)

Ricky Roma: You stupid fucking cunt. You, Williamson, I'm talking to you, shithead. You just cost me $6,000. Six thousand dollars, and one Cadillac. That's right. What are you going to do about it? What are you going to do about it, asshole? You're fucking shit. Where did you learn your trade, you stupid fucking cunt, you idiot? Who ever told you that you could work with men? Oh, I'm gonna have your job, shithead.

Glengarry Glen Ross is how the bloodthirsty nature of commercial real estate corrupts...oh, forget it. It's about swearing, okay? The reason anyone watches this is to see a cast of great actors hang around an office and read David Mamet's gloriously profane dialogue. Al Pacino gets most of the best lines, but Jack Lemmon has one meltdown near the end that just about steals the show. A foul-mouthed classic.

Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood, 2008)

[Walt Kowalski comes across thugs that are bothering a young girl while her friend stands by]
Thug: What the fuck you lookin' at, old man? Huh?
Walt Kowalski: What the hell are you spooks up to?
Thug: Spooks? You better get your ass on, honky, while I still let you. That's what you better do.
[Walt gets out of the truck and spits on the ground]
Walt: Ever notice once in a while you come across somebody you shouldn't have fucked with? That's me.
Thug: Are you fuckin' crazy, man? Get outta here.
Thug 2: Why don't you get outta here before I kick your old wrinkly white ass.
[Walt makes his finger into a gun and intimidates the thugs, then tells the girl to get into the truck. When they try and stop her, he pulls out a real gun.]
Thug: Whoa! Hey pops, come on now.
Walt: Shut your fuckin' face. You fuckin' don't listen, do ya?
Friend: Way to go, old man!
Walt: Shut up, pussy.

Clint Eastwood plays a grumpy old war veteran so politically incorrect he makes Archie Bunker look like a feminist twitter account. My friends and I were intrigued by the ads for this movie. We didn't know what to expect, but we certainly didn't anticipate the full-on laughing fits we had at watching Clint drive around his rough neighborhood with a permanent scowl. The second half of the movie is far more serious and dark, but the first half is a riot.

In The Loop (Armando Iannucci, 2009)

[Malcolm Tucker is on the phone while walking the streets of Washington, DC]
Malcolm: Fucking hung up, haven't you? You fucking...hoity-toity...fucking...
Tourist: Hey, buddy? Enough with the curse words, all right?
Malcolm: Kiss my sweaty balls, you fat fuck.
[he runs off]

Before he was writing priceless profane outbursts for Julia Louis-Dreyfus on HBO's Veep, Armando Iannucci directed this uproarious satire of Iraq War politics. It's exceptionally well-written, but the main reason to watch this one is Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker, a British political strategist who spends all his scenes terrorizing the other characters with brilliantly off-color rants. The one drawback is that sometimes his heavy Scottish accent muddles what is being said. Turn on the subtitles for maximum enjoyment.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (Kevin Smith, 2001)

Jay: Type this shit. "All you motherfuckers are gonna pay. YOU are the ones who are the ball-lickers! We're gonna fuck your mothers while you watch and cry like little bitches. Once we get to Hollywood and find those Miramax fucks who are making this movie, we're gonna make 'em eat our shit, then shit out our shit, than eat their shit which is in reality our shit that we made 'em eat. And all you little fucks are next. Love, Jay and Silent Bob."

Any of Kevin Smith's movies could have been on this list (even the family-oriented Jersey Girl has some choice bits of profanity), but this one definitely has a place in my heart and is one of the most frequently used DVDs in my collection. The slapstick adventure has a lot of celebrity cameos but it's Jason Mewes, known only for this role, who carries the movie. The short-tempered, immature Jay appears in most of Smith's movies but he's never been funnier than here.

Nothing to Lose (Steve Oedekerk, 1997)

Terrence "T" Davidson: There's a spider on your head.
Nick Beam: Look, I'm sorry, I am not up on all this jive-talkin' home boy lingo. What the hell is that supposed to mean, there's a spider on my head?
T: It means...there's a spider...on your motherfuckin' HEAD, man!
Nick: Well, get it off! Get it off!
T: I ain't touchin' that SHIT!

The "white guy meets black guy" comedy was ubiquitous during the 1980s and 90s, but the old cliche doesn't get much funnier than this underrated gem featuring Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence. A favorite from my teenage years, the humor is often so random I wonder if most of the script was improvised. There are tons of laugh-out-loud hilarious moments in this movie, the best of which are the confrontations between the two protagonists and their evil counterparts (a pre-Scrubs John C. McGinley and a pre-Breaking Bad Giancarlo Esposito).

Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)

[Vincent and Jules are cleaning the inside of the car which is covered in blood]
Jules: Oh, man, I will never forgive your ass for this shit. This is some fucked-up repugnant shit.
Vincent: Jules, did you ever hear the philosophy that once a man admits that he's wrong that he is immediately forgiven for all wrongdoings? Have you ever heard that?
Jules: Get the fuck out my face with that shit! The motherfucker that said that shit never had to pick up itty-bitty pieces of skull on account of your dumb ass.
Vincent: I got a threshold, Jules. I got a threshold for the abuse that I will take. Now, right now, I'm a fuckin' race car, right, and you got me in the red. And I'm just sayin', I'm just sayin' that it's dangerous to have a race car in the red. That's all. I could blow.
Jules: Oh! Oh! You ready to blow? Well, I am a mushroom cloud layin' motherfucker, motherfucker!

Pulp Fiction's dialogue is legendary for its overall cleverness, not just for swearing. Look in the "memorable quotes" section of its imdb page and you'll find basically the entire screenplay. For the purposes of this list, however, we recognize it for giving a career-defining role to Samuel L. Jackson and showing the world how adept he is with a certain 12-letter obscenity.

South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (Trey Parker, 1999)

Eric Cartman: Don't call me fat, you fuckin' Jew!
Mr. Garrison: Eric! Did you just say the F word?!
Cartman: Jew?
Kyle Broflowski: No, he's talking about fuck! You can't say fuck in school, you fuckin' fat-ass!
Mr. Garrison: Kyle!
Cartman: Why the fuck not?!
Mr. Garrison: Eric!
Stan Marsh: Dude, you just said fuck again!
Mr. Garrison: Stanley!
Kenny McCormick: (muffled noise)
Mr. Garrison: Kenny!
Cartman: What's the big deal? It doesn't hurt anybody. Fuck fuckity fuck fuck fuck!
Mr. Garrison: How would you like to see the school counselor?
Cartman: How would YOU like to suck my balls?!
Mr. Garrison: WHAT did you say?!
Cartman: Oh, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. What I meant was...[picks up a bullhorn] How would you like to SUCK MY BALLS, Mr. Garrison?
[long pause]
Stan: Holy shit, dude.

The quality of the TV show over the years is wildly uneven, but the South Park movie is a flat-out masterpiece: a great musical, a hilarious comedy and a blistering satire about how America gets all worked up over non-issues like swearing while perpetrating violence all over the world. An uproar over swearing in a Canadian film escalates into a war between the US and Canada and on the eve of the battle, uptight busybody Sheila Broflowski tells the troops, "Remember what the MPAA says - Horrible deplorable violence is long as you don't say any naughty words!" And when you can cut off someone's head or destroy an entire city in a PG-13 movie but more than one "fuck" gets you an R, it's clear America lives by these words.

Happy swearing, everyone!