Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Zelazny Effect

Roger Zelazny is probably my favorite science fantasy author. Counting anthologies of his work, he has had 53 books published under his name, and another dozen or so collaborations with other authors.

He is perhaps my favorite fantasy author ever, and out of those, what, 65 books, I own, maybe, a dozen. I've read, I would guess, a dozen more. And out of those 25 or so books by Zelazny that I've read, I've only really, genuinely, enthusiastically enjoyed 7 of them -- the first AMBER series, the first novel of the second AMBER series, and, especially, LORD OF LIGHT.

I also own, and like, many Zelazny anthologies; he was, arguably, better at short stories than he was at novel length works. But, while I will pick up anything by Zelazny and try to read it, more often than not, I get a third or halfway into the majority of his books that I try out and then I give up in disgust. His plot wanders or disappears, his characterizations go demented, his prose style veers wildly out of control, I cease to be able to comprehend even remotely whether he is writing about a red red rose growing all horny-thorny from of the center of a solid steel catcher's mitt that once belonged to the half-blind Norse god Odin, or a fiery-mantled singing dog hung by its star-jeweled collar from the shimmering skyhook that is the Orion Nebula. And I can't begin to make myself care, either.

So it would be safe to say that the vast majority of Zelazny's work that I have read I do not like, and I have little hope I'd like much or any of his work I have not read. Regardless, anything I have not yet read by Zelazny I would happily essay given the chance, and even with all of the above, I still regard Zelazny as one of the best writers of fantasy fiction ever, and he is without a doubt my favorite all time fantasy writer, and why?

Because the first six CHRONICLES OF AMBER, and especially LORD OF LIGHT, are --
That. Fucking.

Okay. Hold that thought.

A Perfectly Cromulent Blogger has been kind enough to link back here to me based on a comment I left in one of his threads a few days ago.

The kernel of my comment that APCBer re-posted and then responded to at some length was as follows:

It’s odd. Something has changed in how films are made these days. Back in the 80s, when I was in college, I had many favorite directors, and I based my moviegoing choices around them. None of them were completely reliable (in fact, looking back on it, pretty much every director I ever would have listed as a favorite at that time — Hill, Spielberg, Scorcese, Romero, Myers, Gilliam, Kasdan, Cameron, Howard, Levinson, McTiernan — ended up producing more movies I disliked than liked; Hill, in fact, has only directed five films I really enjoy out of 25… and most of the others have similar track records).

And yet, nowadays it seems like I have no favorite directors, and while I will weigh directors when deciding what movies to see, it’s no longer anything like the decisive factor it once was. Curtis Hansen directed one good movie right in the middle of an ocean of crap, but it was SUCH a good movie… I like Chris Nolan’s work, but what the fuck was that INSOMNIA nonsense? Bryan Singer did USUAL SUSPECTS, sure, and the first two X-MEN movies were swell, but I still can’t scrape SUPERMAN RETURNS off my nutsack. Peter Jackson? Jesus Christ, even if I didn’t keep a cheap videotape copy of THE FRIGHTENERS around as a reliable insomnia cure, I need only remember how mind bogglingly awful the last two LOTR installments were to get me past that. Barry Sonnenfeld? Lick me, WILD WILD WEST boy.

And this has made me wonder exactly where it was that all my favorite directors each jumped the tracks. Because every single one of them has, at some point or another. A few of them are still making movies, but at this point, there is no particular director's name that will move me to automatically get my ass out to a movie theater to see something they've done. Even my favorites have disappointed me too often, so that nowadays, when I hear names like 'the Coen Brothers' or 'Martin Scorcese', yes, my ears perk up... but then I remember some dreadful piece of crap each of them has thrown at me over the past ten years or so (like FARGO and HUDSUCKER PROXY for the Coens, and BRINGING OUT THE DEAD and GANGS OF NEW YORK for Scorcese), and I falter. I hold back. If it's a good cast or there's something else about the project that interests me, I may make an effort to get out early and see the film; otherwise, I wait for reviews.

So directors no longer polarize me... at least, not to the positive. There are still directors whose work I will not watch for love nor money, people like Robert Zemeckis, or, lately, Frank Darabonte. The two Scotts, Ridley and Tony, will generally push me away from movies they helm because those movies are usually dreadful, but each of them has, by apparent random accident, directed a few of my favorite movies (THELMA & LOUISE, ALIEN, and BLADE RUNNER for Ridley, THE LAST BOY SCOUT and CRIMSON TIDE for Tony) as well, so, you know, I try to keep an open mind. But none of those four films are strong enough by themselves to get me over just how bad the vast majority of the Scott Brothers' product has been.

But the Zelazny Effect does, or at least, did, hold for a long list of other directors whose work I once enjoyed, from the early 80s through the mid to late 90s.

I'm almost certainly going to forget to list one or two of my 'favorite' directors from this period, but nonetheless, I'll take a stab at listing them all:

The Coen Brothers - I saw RAISING ARIZONA in the theaters in the summer of 1987 and fell in love with the Coen Brothers. I'd seen BLOOD SIMPLE on campus earlier in the decade (many of the thousands of movies I saw during the 1980s I saw on campus, for free, as a member of Syracuse University's Film Board) and been largely impressed with the directorial style even if I hadn't cared much one way or the other about the characters or the storyline. RAISING ARIZONA was utterly charming and remains to this day one of my all time favorite movies. The Coen Brothers then followed that movie up with the equally but differently brilliant MILLER'S CROSSING, which also remains one of my all time favorite movies. And this pretty much cemented the Coens in my mind as 'favorite directors' --

-- until BARTON FINK, which was good, but a good step or two down from the apex of cinematic genius represented by the Coens' two preceding films. Still, it was far from bad, so I had high hopes the Coens would get back to giving me topnotch entertainment with their next movie, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY.

Which, unfortunately, sucked.

But not as badly as FARGO, which is without a doubt one of the worst movies I have ever seen, and which may still represent my biggest cinematic disappointment of all time, as I deliberately waited on FARGO until I heard reviews, and all the reviews were excellent, and I really like William H. Macy, and regardless of any of that, FARGO still sucked so hard it left a blood blister on my balls.

I mean, Jesus CHRIST that movie sucked.

HUDSUCKER PROXY was just empty. Sterile. The Coens got a huge budget for the very first time, based on their previous two films, and they apparently spent every penny of it on wardrobe, sets, and lighting. Was there any characterization at all in that film? Maybe in the glowing tip of Paul Newman's cigars, or the soles of Tim Robbins shoes. Yet I would eagerly take shelter in a perpetual hell comprised of a movie theater showing nothing but HUDSUCKER PROXY and serving stale popcorn drenched in movie theater oleo before I would willingly sit through FARGO again, with its waddling, honking nightmare of a Frances McDormand bumpkin copper hooting and bumbling her way from one dumbass snow-encrusted crime scene to another. William H. Macy chews his own hair off, Steve Buscemi rolls his eyes and falls weeping to the ground, an enormous number of people get shot by morons, there are hookers everywhere, and I kept praying that Texas Ranger Jack Benteen or New York mobster Henry Hill would show up at some point and start either blowing holes in everything or pistol whipping everyone. But neither of them did and I wound up staggering out of that film like a drunken hobo, eyes wide with appalled disbelief, spine nearly dislocated from the force with which I had unconsciously shrunk back into the depths of my seat away from the dismal banalities and stupidities enacted on screen.

And since then it's been pretty much turtle shit all the way down. THE BIG LEBOWSKI, like that unseen tertiary character in CLERKS, died trying to get its own dick into its mouth. This would have cured me of the Coen Brothers forever, but then O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU came along and suddenly the motherfuckers could give me a good movie again. Huzzah! This suckered me into getting THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE, which was nearly as enjoyable as watching a toad sit on an dead old lady's knitting for two hours. But then INTOLERABLE CRUELTY had George Clooney in it, so I watched that, which horror immunized me against THE LADYKILLERS, but now, all that good press and all those rave reviews have me wanting to see NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, and maybe I should just lobotomize myself with a power drill to save myself some grief.

It's the Zelazny effect, you see. RAISING ARIZONA and MILLER'S CROSSING were so good, that the Coen Brothers only have to toss out one fair-to-middling film every eight years or so to keep me hoping, no matter how horrible the detritus they put out is in between them all.

Martin Scorcese - probably the living prince of the Zelazny Effect as it applies to film directors, Scorcese gave me four movies so brilliant that I am willing to forgive him for endless reams of disappointing drivel ever since. The four movies I liked so much? THE KING OF COMEDY, THE COLOR OF MONEY, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, and, finally and mostly, GOODFELLAS. So wonderful were each of these films that I stuck with Scorcese through such crapapaloozas as CAPE FEAR (the biggest goddam waste of Nick Nolte and Robert DeNiro in the history of film, and both actors have made some pretty crappy films), THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (I went hoping for the Daniel Day Lewis of LAST OF THE MOHICANS, and got some preening fop that Chingachgook or even Major Duncan Heyward would have cheerfully slapped to death with their scrotums), and CASINO, which would probably have been a fabulous movie if I hadn't already seen it three times better with Ray Liotta and Paul Sorvino.

All this crap should have cured me of Scorcese, and let me happily skip over everything he made afterwards, but, nooooo, I got sucked back into BRING OUT THE DEAD, which was pretty much unrelentingly pretentious garbage, and that should have warned me off anything else by Scorcese, but then along came GANGS OF NEW YORK, which looked SO cool I had to go see it, but it was unbelievably wretched, so that did indeed let me skip THE AVIATOR. But I got pulled back in to THE DEPARTED, because I like cop movies in general, and the cast was pretty good. And THE DEPARTED is a good movie by late 90s -- early Oughts standards, it's just kind of mediocre for Scorcese.

In point of fact, Scorcese may also be an example of the anti-Zelazny effect -- so utterly disappointing were CAPE FEAR, AGE OF INNOCENCE, BRINGING OUT THE DEAD and GANGS OF NEW YORK to me (not to mention earlier crap like AFTER HOURS) that it's very difficult for me to make myself watch a Scorcese movie now, because you just don't know when he's suddenly going to throw Terri Garr in a beehive hairdo up on the screen again, and I dasn't chance it, either.

Nicholas Meyer - I loved TIME AFTER TIME, which I first saw in the early 80s at Syracuse University. I was very pleasantly surprised when Meyer signed on to direct the second Star Trek movie, WRATH OF KHAN, and even more surprised when WOK turned out to be the best Star Trek story that would ever be filmed -- a movie so good, in fact, that it is still one of my favorite films despite plot holes big enough to fly a Romulan warbird through. (Why is Starfleet searching all over the galaxy for a lifeless planet to test the Genesis Effect on when it turns out the Project: Genesis satellite lab is actually orbiting a lifeless planet? And how is it that a genetically engineered supergenius can't figure out Spock's pathetically obvious "If we went by the book, Admiral, hours would seem like days" radio code? Or that in space, you can move your ship up and down as well as backwards and forwards?)

After TIME AFTER TIME and STAR TREK II, Meyer made VOLUNTEERS, which was pretty much crap but which I enjoyed anyway; then he made COMPANY BUSINESS which I badly wanted to like but couldn't, and then he made a really crappy Star Trek movie (VI) to balance out his really good one, and then he fell off the planet, so that's okay.

Walter Hill - Much to my surprise, when I look up Walter Hill, I find he's made something like 25 films. Out of those 25, I like five -- THE WARRIORS, 48 HOURS, STREETS OF FIRE, EXTREME PREJUDICE, and JOHNNY HANDSOME. I like these moves a great deal, so much so that I still consider Hill to be a 'favorite director' even though his other twenty films are, as far as I can tell, pretty much crap.

STREETS OF FIRE is one of my all time favorite movie length music videos; I think the transcendent brilliance of its casting director and chief photographer is matched only by the abject awfulness of whoever wrote that godawful script. Absolutely every single character in the movie looks completely and utterly perfect for the part they are playing; it’s only when any of the actors tries to mouth so much as a single syllable of the script that the movie becomes painful to, not watch, no, never watch, it’s doubtless one of the finest pieces of eye candy ever put together… but oh my god, it’s agony to listen to any of those jamokes bumble, grit, contort, and otherwise exhort their way through any of that execrable dialogue. Other than the music, which I enjoy beyond all let or hindrance, STREETS OF FIRE should have been a silent movie. Not that the crappy banter and verbal byplay would have worked any better on cards, but at least we would have been spared the anguish of Michael Pare and Amy Madigan attempting to emote.

Having said all that, SOF was probably Hill’s best directing effort ever, at least, from an entirely visual viewpoint. As far as complete films go, though, I’d say Hill’s best work was either EXTREME PREJUDICE (Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, Michael Ironsides, Clancy Brown, William Forsythe and Rip Torn blowing gigantic holes in everything that moves — life don’ ged much betta dan dat, even Maria Conchita Alonso running around breathing heavily for far too much of the footage can’t ruin that movie) or 48 HOURS… and I’d only consider 48 HOURS for the position because James Remar is such a good psycho.

I like THE WARRIORS a lot, but it seems to me to be pretty much a pencil sketch (albeit one by Jack Kirby, perhaps) compared to some of Hill's later, more fully realized works. STREETS OF FIRE has more dimension to it and is a more interesting urban fantasy, and while Hill certainly stages wonderful fight scenes, it’s his gunfights that truly excel. And, while I think Ajax is a fun character, he’s a two dimensional one (essentially, little more than a loud, mean asshole) surrounded by other cardboard cut outs in THE WARRIORS. His portrayal of Albert Ganz in 48 HRS, on the other hand, may be the best rendition of a pure sociopath ever seen in the action film sub-genre. And, of course, 48 HRS has a lot more going for it than just Remar; even with the disadvantage of Eddie Murphy’s constant preening, it still had a solidly memorable cast (Annette O’Toole just sizzles) and Nick Nolte’s brooding, unstoppable Jack Cates was a leading man performance only to be exceeded in Hill films by the same actor’s Jack Benteen later on in EXTREME PREJUDICE.

I'll end all this by saying EXTREME PREJUDICE may well be the finest pure action movie ever made.

Steven Spielberg - What I like Spielberg for is the first and last Indy movies, JAWS, EMPIRE OF THE SUN, and SCHINDLER'S LIST. Spielberg has made other movies which I wanted to like but that ultimately disappointed me (ALWAYS, AMISTAD, JURASSIC PARK,and A.I., just to name four) and one that is such a horror and a blight to me that I fly into a Hulk-like rage whenever I am reminded that it actually exists (MINORITY REPORT). All told, I'm pretty much over Spielberg (if MINORITY REPORT weren't enough, all the mediocre crap he's made since 1998 would have been) but I'm eager to check out the next Indiana Jones movie, just to see if digital special effects have progressed to the point where we won't be able to see Harrison Ford's walker in any of the action scenes.

George Romero - Romero became a favorite strictly on the basis of the last two DEAD movies, DAWN and DAY. His other stuff has been hit and miss at best, including the latest DEAD installment, LAND OF. Nowadays, I hear Romero's name and I go "nrrrr... maybe".

Terry Gilliam - MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL should be enough to make Gilliam a favorite director for all eternity in any sane continuum. You add in TIME BANDITS and BRAZIL and you'd think he could withstand nearly any subsequent flaw or failure on his part. But, well, along comes THE FISHER KING, and suddenly, you know, doubt creeps in. But then, he does TWELVE MONKEYS, which may be just about the only truly intelligent, internally sensible time travel SF movie ever made, so, okay, he's good again.

But then, along comes FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, which was not just bad, but "oh God somebody pop my eyes out of their sockets with a plastic DQ spoon and then rupture my eardrums with my Oreo Blizzard straw before I have to in any way perceive one more second of this godawful movie" bad, I mean, dreadfully appallingly bad, on the same level as DEEP IMPACT or SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE bad.

So, then, you pretty much have to resign yourself to the idea that Terry Gilliam may well never direct another watchable film in his life, and perhaps it's time to move on. Although I'm given to understand that if you drink heavily, do a lot of illicit drugs, or both simultaneously, FEAR AND LOATHING works much, much better for you. Maybe that's true; I wouldn't know.

So, in the end, Gilliam has fallen from my favor, which was really hard work, given how much I liked four of his movies.

Lawrence Kasdan - BODY HEAT, SILVERADO, THE BIG CHILL and THE GRAND CANYON are some of my favorite movies. On the other hand, watching THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST was like being trapped inside a gigantic molecule of pus for two years, I LOVE YOU TO DEATH was just stupid, and WYATT EARP was so fucking boring and poorly put together it made TOMBSTONE look like a John Ford Western. And speak not to me of the horror that was FRENCH KISS; like THE JANUARY MAN, those of us who actually enjoy Kevin Kline's work must never be reminded of this film's existence, lest we simply implode.

GRAND CANYON was somewhat misshapen, but still fairly enjoyable, whenever Mary Louise Parker wasn’t snarling, spitting, whining, pissing, moaning, and rolling her eyes all over the screen.

It's not out of the question that Kasdan could make a movie I might like at some point again before either of us die, but it strikes me as wildly unlikely.

James Cameron - Unlike most SF fanboys, I'm not wild about ALIENS, mostly because I was so disappointed that the interestingly futuristic, corporate controlled homeworld culture largely implied in the first ALIEN somehow metamorphosized into a 1980s Reagan era Planet America with interstellar spacecraft, humanoid synthetic slavedroids, and gigantic machine guns. So that movie, which many hail as Cameron's crowning SF achievement, never worked for me. On the other hand, you will find no bigger admirer anywhere of THE TERMINATOR, or of Cameron's mostly disliked underworld adventure THE ABYSS. (I admit, I much prefer the stripped down version originally released in theaters and on videotape to the more recent, much slower and more bloated Director's Cut that has recently come out on DVD, but that's neither here nor there.)

However, if I was disappointed with ALIENS, I was positively mortified by TRUE LIES and horrified by TERMINATOR II, with which, in one foul 137 minute stroke, Cameron managed to completely undo every intelligent, internally coherent story element established in THE TERMINATOR, and give us a lot of stupid horseshit dressed up with cool digital F.X. instead. Since then, of course, he's also gifted the world with TITANIC, which was sort of a weird adventure of The Phantom where The Phantom pretended to be a creepy rotter for reasons of his own, but it all turned out okay in the end because Leonardo diCaprio froze anyway. And then there was all that DARK ANGEL nonsense on FOX TV, which launched Jessica Alba's career, providing us with two FANTASTIC FOUR movies (the second of which is pretty enjoyable) and, sometime next month, THE EYE.

Paul Verhoeven - God I love ROBOCOP. And BASIC INSTINCT was pretty good, too, plus, I enjoyed FLESH & BLOOD. But TOTAL RECALL was a 5 gallon gas can full of fermented donkey piss, STARSHIP TROOPERS was an anal assault to every Heinlein fan living and dead, SHOWGIRLS was unwatchable whenever Gina Gershon wasn't sucking Elizabeth Berkley's tongue, and HOLLOW MAN was the biggest waste of Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Shue in the history of celluloid. Yet I would still check out nearly anything Verhoeven directed, based nearly solely on ROBOCOP. The Zelazney effect, indeed.

Ron Howard - A very reliable director (at least, for me) up through PARENTHOOD. Um… well, okay, he wasn’t, really; I loved SPLASH, liked COCOON fine, liked GUNG HO a bit less (never been the world’s biggest Michael Keaton fan), nearly put a gun in my mouth halfway through WILLOW, then came back for PARENTHOOD, which I mostly enjoyed. But Howard pushed me away with BACKDRAFT, a movie that had no idea what it wanted to do or be and that managed to utterly waste Donald Sutherland, Robert DeNiro, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, shoved me off a cliff with FAR AND AWAY, kinda-sorta threw me a half assed hank of knitting yarn for a lifeline with THE PAPER, got me all the way back with APOLLO 13… and then squandered it all with every movie he’s made since, especially the horror men call A BEAUTIFUL MIND. (The First Movie Where Jennifer Connolly Keeps All Of Her Clothes On, While Russell Crowe Loses His Mind. If only they’d used that tagline I could have saved seven bucks at the box office.)

Overall, I don't feel any wild, pressing need to check out Ron Howard movies any more. And I would normally go along with A Perfectly Cromulent Blogger's assessment of Howard -- "When he stuck with the harmless stuff - like Splash and Coccoon - that lingering Happy Days taint was fine, but even his Big Movies are too sterile and sitcom-y." But Howard proved to me that he could direct a Big Movie even within the limits of his old sit com writer gang Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz with PARENTHOOD, and move beyond them brilliantly with APOLLO 13. His work has fallen off badly since (although I admit, I enjoyed THE MISSING quite a lot; it's a very decent post-modern Western, in a fluffy, forgettable, "nobody's gonna care in twenty years" sort of way).

Barry Levinson - My love of Levinson all goes back to DINER, and, to a lesser extent, TIN MEN. Those two movies kept me interested enough in Levinson to keep checking out his work up through, I dunno, BANDITS. But BANDITS was pretty awful, and that, combined with how generally disappointing stuff like SPHERE, SLEEPERS, DISCLOSURE, RAIN MAN, and AVALON had been, and how unrelentingly awful TOYS and YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES were, and even DINER can't keep me afloat any more. I'll watch DINER another fifty or sixty times before I die, I have no doubt, and enjoy it just as much as ever every single time. But I'm not heading out to the theater on the strength of Levinson's name any more.

Rob Reiner - THIS IS SPINAL TAP in and of itself justifies lifetime veneration of Rob Reiner. Add in THE SURE THING, STAND BY ME, and A FEW GOOD MEN and he should be a solid lock for personal fave forever. But Reiner has thrown some truly horrendous horseshit down the chute at me over the years, too -- THE PRINCESS BRIDE, NORTH, MISERY, and THE STORY OF US, among others. (I shouldn't dislike THE PRINCESS BRIDE as much as I do, given how much everybody else seems to like it, and I probably wouldn't, either, if I hadn't read the book. Yes, Reiner's movie adaptation is about as faithful as any movie adaptation could ever be, but it just goes to show you, some books cannot be adapted well onto film, and probably shouldn't be. And you'll never get any points with me casting Robin Wright-Penn as any part that is supposed to be at all attractive, much less, as the most fabulously beautiful woman in all of human history. I mean, bitch PLEASE. And having said all that, Cary Elwes was a fabulous Wesley.)

John McTiernan - my high regard for this director came nearly entirely from PREDATOR and DIEHARD. But nearly everything he did after DIEHARD was pretty much turd-like, including the DIEHARD sequel he came back and directed when his name turned into box office poison after LAST ACTION HERO. The last thing he did was the dimwitted and boring BASIC back in 2003, but he's got four different movies in pre-production right now, so I suppose he could get lucky and have one of them end up being watchable. I'm not going to hold my breath, though.

Brian dePalma - What did I like dePalma for? PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, CARRIE, THE FURY (the book was better, but what the hell), BLOW OUT, SCARFACE, and THE UNTOUCHABLES. Is it enough to get me by crap like BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES, SNAKE EYES and MISSION TO MARS? No no a thousand times no. I can, however, still remember how terribly disappointed I was when CASUALTIES OF WAR turned out to be crap, though. I'd really expected better of DePalma. I guess I had to learn sometime.

John Carpenter - HALLOWEEN was excellent, and I remember enjoying Carpenter's original version of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 a lot when I saw it on campus, too. Carpenter's THE THING was brilliant, as was THEY LIVE. Yet THE FOG was a retcher, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK turned out to be the worst SF film disappointment of the entire 80s, STARMAN made you wonder why you ever wanted to hit Marion Ravenwood in the first place, PRINCE OF DARKNESS just blew chunks, and IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS was an even worse disappointment for the horror genre than ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK had been to SF.

And then Carpenter really started chewing up film stock and spitting it back out -- VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED just sat in the front yard eating dirt, ESCAPE FROM LA was (unbelievably) worse than its predecessor, VAMPIRES hit the ground with shovels in both hands, each tentacle, and every orifi, and ended up tunneling down nearly to the depths of DEEP IMPACT and SUPERMAN IV, and while GHOSTS OF MARS was several steps back up from VAMPIRES, it still was perhaps best summed up by the rhetorical question "What the FUCK am I doing still watching John Carpenter flicks?"

And I haven't even mentioned MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN, which would have made me run screaming out of the theater if I hadn't already knocked myself unconscious banging my head against the back of the seat in front of me.

Nothing Carpenter has done has been good enough to overcome the sheer tonnage of unrelenting crap he's done since, so the Zelazny effect really doesn't apply to him. I'm just done with him.

John Sayles - my listing Sayles as a favorite director is really only based on a handful of movies — BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET, LONE STAR, CITY OF HOPE, and, especially, EIGHT MEN OUT, the finest sports film ever made. But that’s the same Zelazny effect in a nutshell… a few good movies, combined with one brilliant one, far outshine all the crap I couldn’t stand and, generally, don’t remember.

Since the early 90s, I really no longer have 'favorite directors'. As I said before, something seems to have changed in how movies are made these days. Maybe it's all the different studios working on the same property; maybe it's how movies get developed these days, with all the packaging and merchandising and attachments. Whatever it may be, no one director seems to do anything consistently any more; even prolific directors who do a great many films seem to mostly end up doing a lot of stuff I can't stand and maybe one thing I really like a lot.

These days, if a single contemporary director winds up making ONE movie I like, it's a cause for celebration. If that same director does TWO movies I like, it's like a thermodynamic miracle, and it's nearly as reliable as gravity that there will be three completely crappy movies between the two. It is almost impossible to imagine someone like Paul Thomas Anderson ever doing three movies I'd like... at least, it is after MAGNOLIA and PUNCH DRUNK LOVE.

So there are no directors who really move me, all by themselves, out to the theater any more. I mean, you can't trust any of them -- Barry Sonnenfeld gave me THE ADDAMS FAMILY and the first MEN IN BLACK movie, and then puked up the hairball that was WILD WILD WEST. James L. Brooks did BROADCAST NEWS, which remains one of my favorite movies ever, but I'LL DO ANYTHING was a disappointing abuse of Albert Brooks and Nick Nolte, and AS GOOD AS IT GETS made me shit blood clots for weeks afterward. And what the fuck am I supposed to do with Zack Snyder? His DAWN OF THE DEAD was a fun to watch but feeble remake of the utterly brilliant original, 300 was pretty astonishing once you get past the insanely conservative underpinnings and the usual Hollywood contempt for actual history, and, well, I just know he's pissing all over WATCHMEN even as I type.

For example, Curtis Hanson. I haven't liked anything else Hanson has directed (I mean, seriously, BAD INFLUENCE? THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE? THE RIVER WILD? WONDER BOYS? Can you say what the fuck, dude? Sure, I knew you could), but I am a huge L.A. CONFIDENTIAL fan.

Having said that (now, here's my L.A. CONFIDENTIAL schtick again, longtime readers of the blog, you've read it all before, you can skip to the end) I believe that movie ends five or six minutes before the actual ending; credits should have rolled immediately following the moment when Eckley ‘holds up his badge to show he’s a cop’, as the black and whites are rolling up the hill towards the Victory Motel, seconds after he’s ‘shot a suspect he knows is guilty in the back, to prevent him being acquitted at trial’. At that point, the movie is over and every character has completed their necessary arc — Lynn has advised Eckley that she’s ‘all right’, neatly taking her off the stage, Dudley, Bud, and Hollywood Jack have all paid for their murderous sins with their lives (some of them we’ll mourn more than others, but in a true morality tale, there can be no redemption for any of them short of the grave), while Eckley, who has never been guilty of anything worse than political conniving, has managed to prove himself a cop by Dudley’s entirely corrupt standards, while simultaneously demonstrating that he truly ‘doesn’t have to do it the way his father did’.

The last five minutes is crap; a sudden resurrection and happy romantic ending for Bud White and his hooker with a heart of gold, a medal for Eckley, and about 270 seconds of elaborate expository dialogue for those too lazy to pay attention to the preceding 133 minutes of film-making, or (ghod forbid) read the book. But as I have the movie on videotape, it’s no problem for me to hit STOP and then REWIND when I see Eckley holding up his badge and walking into the oncoming headlights.

No, there are no favorite directors any more... but, if movie making has changed in the last ten years, the entire medium is changing even more, even now. The time way well come when I will have favorite directors again... men and women who make entire movies entirely for posting on the Internet, or transmission via cellphone. When that time comes, who knows? Maybe I'll be able to say "I'm a big Fill In The Blank fan" again.

Until then, though, I guess I'll just be like everyone else, and go to see movies that have seriously kick ass trailers.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:56 PM

    I've only really, genuinely, enthusiastically enjoyed 7 of them -- the first AMBER series, the first novel of the second AMBER series, and, especially, LORD OF LIGHT.

    I'm afraid that I could only get about half way through THE GUNS OF AVALON before I quit. I quite liked LORD OF LIGHT though.

    The Zelazny effect is a great phrase.

    STREETS OF FIRE is one of my all time favorite movie length music videos;

    Preach it brother. You have no idea how relieved I am to know I am not alone in the universe. STREETS OF FIRE remains one of my favourite movies, despite the fact that everything you say about it (wooden acting, terrible dialogue) is absolutely true.
    Having said that, I can't put Walter Hill on my list of favourites, only because I've only seen SOF and 48 HOURS. Too small a sample size.

    Steven Spielberg - What I like Spielberg for is the first and last Indy movies, JAWS, EMPIRE OF THE SUN, and SCHINDLER'S LIST. Spielberg has made other movies which I wanted to like but that ultimately disappointed me (ALWAYS, AMISTAD, JURASSIC PARK,and A.I., just to name four)
    I haven't seen AMISTAD, and I think that SAVING PRIVATE RYAN is very nearly misses masterpiece status (by having a godawful ending on par with the misbegotten ending on L.A. CONFIDENTIAL you noted), but yeah. Spielberg is a wierd case. His talent is clear even in his worst films, but his choice of material is, to me, questionable, and every single film he's made (that I've seen, anyway) in the last decade or so has the same basic (weak) ending.

    Although I'm given to understand that if you drink heavily, do a lot of illicit drugs, or both simultaneously, FEAR AND LOATHING works much, much better for you.

    Which is why I passed on it, despite Gilliam being one of my favourite directors (BRAZIL remains probably my favourite movie ever). I hated the book too; I guess excessive, irresponsible drug use is not my thing.

    I did not, unfortunately, pass on THE BROTHERS GRIMM, and I wish I had. It's not that it's *bad*, so much as it's...well, nondescript, which I never thought I'd say about a Gilliam film.

    Part of the problem with Gilliam (and any other director causing the Zelazny effect) is that (for me) his good movies are *so* good, that my expectations are much higher for one of his films than for some other director. And after a couple of disappointments (THE FISHER KING, THE BROTHERS GRIMM) I just don't want to even bother anymore, since I'm bound to be disappointed. I didn't know whether to be thrilled or horrified when I found out he was attached to an adaptation of GOOD OMENS.

    you will find no bigger admirer anywhere of THE TERMINATOR, or of Cameron's mostly disliked underworld adventure THE ABYSS.

    The ending of THE ABYSS is a perfect example of the "and then everybody got run over by a truck, the end" ending, as I like to call it. Ruined an otherwise enjoyable ending. And I liked ALIENS for the non-stop adrenaline rush that it was. But TRUE LIES was truely awful.

    Paul Verhoeven - God I love ROBOCOP. And BASIC INSTINCT was pretty good, too, plus, I enjoyed FLESH & BLOOD. But TOTAL RECALL was a 5 gallon gas can full of fermented donkey piss

    I gave up on Verhoeven after TOTAL RECALL (I think you're being too kind, actually), but his most recent film, BLACK BOOK, is very much worth seeing. He's not quite back on my list, but he's at least off the "skip it" list.

    For example, Curtis Hanson. I haven't liked anything else Hanson has directed (I mean, seriously, BAD INFLUENCE? THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE? THE RIVER WILD? WONDER BOYS? Can you say what the fuck, dude? Sure, I knew you could), but I am a huge L.A. CONFIDENTIAL fan.

    So am I dude, but as far as Hanson's directoral skills are concerned, L.A CONFIDENTIAL was a fluke.

    Christopher Nolan is on my list, soley on the strength of MEMENTO and THE PRESTIGE, although I obviously liked INSOMNIA a lot more than you did. BATMAN BEGINS was okay too.

    And as far as the Coen brothers are concerned, RAISING ARIZONA and O,BROTHER WHERE ART THOU? are good enough that I can forgive a lot of the terrible crap they've put out. I've seen everything they've done except BLOOD SIMPLE and MILLER'S CROSSING.Oh, and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, but then, I only see about 2 movies a year in an actual theatre, so I'll be renting that one when it comes out on DVD.

    I am ashamed to say that I haven't seen DINER or TIN MEN, or any of Scorsese's movies other than THE DEPARTED, THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, and THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, so I can't really comment on them.

    At the risk of holding myself up to ridicule, I'd add Brad Bird (on the strength of THE IRON GIANT, THE INCREDIBLES and RATATOUILLE) and John Lasseter to the discussion, even though they toil in the ghetto of animated features.

    At one point, I would have put Sam Raimi on that list, but then he did SPIDERMAN 3. Some things can't be forgiven :)