by Chris Parry
In writing this review, one thing became abundantly clear to me: critics are the absolute worst at taking criticism. My original review went up the day after I’d seen the movie, and I don’t mind telling you that it was harsh. I didn’t just dislike the movie, I thought it was terrible. Like, really bad. But hey, that’s my job – I’m supposed to contrast and compare whatever movie I’m seeing against every other movie out there. So a filmmaker mortgaged his home to make a personal tale of love and redemption - and failed? Too bad, my job is to say so. Another filmmaker opted to make a flick about the meaning of life, using only out of focus shots and White Stripes music? Hey, congratulations, you’re an artist, but my job is to warn people that your opus blew.And so we get to My Big Fat Independent Movie, the big foray into filmmaking from the guys at Film Threat. I’ve never had a lot to do with the FT fellas, short of a few semi-greetings when friends of friends have said the words, “You know Chris Gore, right?” Gore’s a pretty polarizing figure in the indie world. Some people think he’s the greatest thing since the homemade dolly, others think he’s a pox on the bidness. Personally, I think he’s just a guy taking a few chances, sometimes screwing up, other times excelling, same as anyone else out there in the indie game. The only difference is, Gore has a public profile, and thus he has ‘enemies’.
"It smells like burning."
I learned of one of those enemies when word started flying around SXSW this year, after my review had gone up, that I had supposedly posted “a lot of shit” about Gore on the IMDB messageboards. That was news to me – while the “Chris Parry” in question had been posting his abuse and plagiarizing my review, adding paragraphs of slander to it in the process, I was actually sitting on a festival panel alongside Film Threat’s Eric Campos, extolling the virtues of sites like his to the indie world. In my opinion, Film Threat may be considered a competitor to our own site, but since when did the internet only have room for one online media outlet? There should be no reason our site, their site, and a million more like them shouldn’t flourish. And the indie world would only be healthier if they did exactly that.
Anyway, so this cretin on the IMDB was misusing my review, dragging my name through the mud, and doing his best to hurt Gore’s film in ways a negative review can’t. He was going for the balls, calling Gore a drunk, making accusations, all sorts of things that I’m in no way down with – especially when the guy is using my name. That’s mondo uncool, and I said so right here, after taking down my original review so that it couldn’t be misused by this guy any further. My rationale was, let other reviewers have their say so that mine isn’t the only voice out there. If everyone else thinks it’s great, then good – I’m wrong, I’ll wear it. If everyone else thinks it blows, even better – I’m vindicated.
At least, that’s the way I thought it would go. Instead, it went pear-shaped. My house was called three times in a night by people from Film Threat when the initial slander went up, asking me what the deal was. Then I happened to overhear Film threat writers pontificating loudly in a screening that I was the worst kind of jackoff, then doubting that I even existed, with the suggestion that I was some kind of pseudonym used by Scott Weinberg so he could put crap on Film Threat. I heard more, “Dude, what the fuck is up with that review” comments from vested interests than I’ve ever heard from even the most stung filmmakers at festivals previously. Put simply, in the words of Big Chris, “it’s been emotional.”
But here’s the thing – I’m not about to back down. I reserve the right to say what I think of a film, no matter whether the people who made it are great guys, bastards of the highest order, or something in between. I reserve the right to take down my review if I feel it is being unfairly used to hurt another writer. I reserve the right to swear and curse, if I so think it’s appropriate to do so, and if that means I’m considered ‘unprofessional, despite over 1000 reviews posted over the past five years and having had my byline in over a dozen national magazines in that time, then so be it.
But what I won’t do is sell out my readers by saying a film that blows is anything less than a film that blows. My Big Fat Independent Movie, sadly, is a film that blows. And everyone out there – from the guy who keeps rating the film 1-star on our website because he hates Chris Gore, to the other guy who keeps rating it 5-stars, over and over, because he thinks Gore is the bomb, to the guys that poured their heart and soul and money and contacts into the finished product, are just going to have to deal with that reality.
Anyways, on to the new and improved review.
It’s always hard when a film critic has to review the work of someone they’ve met before and the film just isn’t up to standard. Usually, this trap is avoided by simply keeping to ones self at film festivals and not getting too snuggly with the filmmakers while you’re grabbing swag and downing sponsored vodka, but when the filmmaker is another critic, in this case FilmThreat honcho (and MBFIM producer) Chris Gore, you have to think twice before putting the boot in. I mean, we’re all human, we’re all trying to do the best by our respective professions, and my take has always been, at least when it comes to independent film, you have to cut the little guys some slack and take into account such things as low budgets, lesser quality actors, and substandard production values, when critiquing their work. That’s not to say you lie and call a bad movie good, but you take those issues into account and cut a fella some slack if you can. As Gore fronted a post-screening Q&A, voice clearly cracking, as he tried to gauge whether the audience thought his film was up to standard, I snuck out the back door. Why? Sorry Chris, but your movie was really not very good. In fact, I actively disliked it. Though I’ll try to at least be constructive in explaining why.
My Big Fat Independent Movie is an attempt to Airplane-ize the indie film business by spoofing all the usual clichés and targets of the 90’s-00’s indie film explosion. References to Pulp Fiction, Amelie, Pi, The Good Girl, Dancer in the Dark, Reservoir Dogs, Secretary, Memento, Swingers, El Mariachi, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Run Lola Run, The Hours, and Sex, Lies and Videotape abound. There’s a gag about every four seconds, with a far-too-loose story wrapped around it all involving two Travolta/Jackson Pulp Fiction wannabes looking for a briefcase while they kidnap a Favreau-like refugee from Swingers and an Aniston-like Good Girl checkout chick.
So what’s the problem? Let’s start with the concept. If you’re going to base a spoof film on something, you really need to ensure that something isn’t generally outstanding to begin with. Not that you couldn’t spoof indie films easily enough, but all the films mentioned above are, at the very least, considered successes, some commercially, some critically, which makes the task of making fun of them really hard to pull off. In essence, to ridicule Run Lola Run, your film has to be better than that film, much like Scary Movie was better than Friday the 13th Part XXIV, or how Airplane was streets ahead of the Airport disaster flicks. It’s like this: if you’re standing in a room full of really cool, successful, intelligent, well-liked people, and you decide to say really loudly, “Oooh, I’m such a cool guy! Look at me, I’m so coooool,” chances are you’re going to get booed out of the room. When you make fun of the cool kids with jokes that are anything less than total burns, you don’t come off as smarter than the object of you ridicule – in fact, you come off as a bit of a schmuck.
If the makers of MBFIM had chosen only awful indie films to ridicule, they might have found it easier to keep the comedy standard high. Alternately, if they decided to go way over the top and jam as many pop culture references in as possible, as a true test of the indie film fan’s knowledge, they might have carried things off on pure geek homage value. But the film as it stands is stranded in a dire middle ground, where the target audience loves the films being ridiculed too much to go along with things, and the wider audience simply won’t get what films are actually being referenced. In fact, some of the references in the film even I didn’t get – a Dancer in the Dark scene went straight over my head until a fellow critic informed me that it wasn’ta scene from Cabaret. Anyone who missed Memento or Amelie won’t get a good 1/3 of the jokes in the film at all, and if you can’t identify Jason Mewes’ voice without seeing his face, you won’t understand why some in the crowd are laughing as the very sound of it as it emerges from a telephone answering machine. Other references I got without any problem, but only because they were just too darn easy. Having Lola run down the highway is obvious, but telegraphing her impending connection with a car for a good twenty seconds before it happens is the very antithesis of comedy timing. An earlier scene where the Mariachi steps backwards onto the highway… and back… and back… and back… and then is hit by another car, falls victim to the same lack of comedic editing ability. A joke where Clint Howard identifies himself as The Mechanic (of Pulp Fiction fame), and then proceeds to realign the suspension of a car, wasn’t a bad gag. Or at least it wouldn’t have been if it wasn’t explained to the audience. And then explained further. Until such a time as the audience had stopped laughing while the gag is still going.
The acting? Rough, with the sole exception of Paget Brewster, playing an Aniston-esque sex monster who likes to take it ass-to-ass. Brewster sells every gag with everything she has, completely outshining her colleagues who wallow in some poorly-written, utterly hack-like humor that really should have been given the fine-toothed comb treatment before the project went anywhere near a camera.
I saw this movie at SXSW this year, a full year after it had played at the 2004 festival. The deal was supposed to be that it had been cut, some things reshot, and that it was laugh out loud funny. At least that was the early word. We’ll get to whether it was or not in a second, but before we do, I’ve got some things to say.
Another annoyance – product placements. And I’m not talking deals with Coca Cola in the background of the 78th minute here, I’m talking about a Film Threat product placement in the opening credit sequence, complete with mention of Gore, the film’s producer, as an indie icon in the opening theme song. We could go on – some of the direction is noticeably weak with eyelines not matching and light fading in and out between shots, but you could forgive those things if the script was a crisp, tight tale and not a case of gags by committee.
See, here’s the thing. MBFIM showed here at SXSW twelve months ago as a rough cut, before being reportedly recut, with new scenes shot, with the whole thing being tightened for release. But even with all that extra work, this film simply isn’t anywhere near as tight as it should be, and that extra year in the editing room has only served to make the pop culture references less fresh than they would have been when first written. From the first five minutes of this film, the number of jokes that clang far outweigh those that crack a smile, and those that don’t fall flat are a long way from gutbusting.
Bottom line – pop culture references by themselves just aren’t all that funny. There needs to be more of a critical point for a spoof to work, and there needs to be a real storyline to tie it all together. You wanna say Waking Life was a boring wankfest? Okay, I’m down with that, but wasn’t Amelie a good movie? Wasn’t Reservoir Dogs a good film? Is having a Spike Lee character mutter easy puns of past Lee movie titles honestly the best humor these talented guys could scratch out of his fifteen years on the indie scene? Where was Billy Bob and his Slingblade? Where was the old man on the ride-on lawnmower? Or the hippies on their choppers riding down the highway with the stars and stripes painted on the gas tank? Or Mad Max in a flaming dune buggy?
There’s no greater crime in comedy than poor timing, and you have to think that spoofing indie films that are in the zeitgeist, and then taking two years to get the end result to screen, is exactly the kind of poor timing that comedy disasters are made of. I didn’t want to hate MBFIM, but I did. It seemed like a pet project that a lot of people wanted to help along, but nobody had the balls to step in front of the truck and say, “Chris, we’ve got this all wrong. We’ve got to rethink.” Instead, what you have is a 1-star rated feature film that might have made a great 3-star short… with some work.
My Big Fat Independent Movie will probably get on a screen somewhere, and I’m sure it’ll end up on IFC TV eventually, where the indie filmgoing demographic will probably get most of the jokes, but sorry, guys, I can’t say this is a good film. Too many corners cut, not enough quality control, a screenplay that simply wasn’t ready for camera, and what you’re left with is a very underwhelmed audience that really wanted to love the film, but couldn’t.
UPDATE: The DVD reviews are in, and it's nice to see that, despite being pounded for daring to say the movie sucked, my opinion is not alone.
* "...Unrelentingly amateurish..." David Nusair, REEL FILM REVIEWS
* "It's a sour, petty act of mockery that values its own ineptitude over genuine cleverness, travestying Quentin Tarantino and others simply for dreaming up gimmicks that worked" Ben Kenigsberg, VILLAGE VOICE
* "This painfully unfunny spoof promises to do for independent movies what Airplane! did for disaster movies, but mostly what My Big Fat Independent Movie does is demonstrate the ineptitude of its makers" Lou Lumenick, NEW YORK POST
* "Lame spoof of a plethora of '90s indie films, directed in ham-fisted fashion by Philip Zlotorynski" Kevin Thomas, LOS ANGELES TIMES
* "Painful. This is the only word that can sum up this horrible mess of a film" Jason Coleman, JOBLO.COM
* "This whole project is the fruition of the celluloid fantasies of guys who spend way too much time looking at films" DVDVERDICT
* "One could easily point to the inferior performances, low-rent production values, and flimsy storyline as the cause of the movie's speedy downfall, but it'd be a lot easier (and accurate) to place the lion's share of the blame on the desperately unfunny screenplay" David Nusair REEL FILM REVIEWS...
Although there is a very positive review out there too, so maybe I should end with that one on the grounds of fairness:
*"Anyone who cannot recognize the spirit and imagination which this film posseses is an idiot" Phil Hall, FILM THREATNothing else to say, is there?
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=8866&reviewer=1
originally posted: 03/13/05 20:31:15