Monday, May 02, 2005

One paragraph book review: Schock Value-Hollywood at Its Worst by Richard Roeper

Richard Roeper was merely a horrible columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times until picked to replace the late Gene Siskel as Roger Ebert's TV reviewing partner. By making this selection, Ebert successfully made sure he'd never be again challenged as the show's top dog.

Still, it was a fortuitous moment for Roeper, who instantly became one of the nation's most prominent (if not worthy) film critics. Now he has further cashed in by writing one of those teeny books that will make sure public libraries never go out of business. You think people really want to spend $17 (or even a discounted portion of that sum) to read Roeper's lame brand of snark?

I was expecting the worst (and with all due respect to Mr. Roeper, Hollywood Schlock is something I know a little about), and I got it. In fact, I got it in the first paragraph of the book's introduction, which reads as follows:

"Every movie fan knows these truths to be self-evident: Chris Rock and Vin Diesel are movie stars. The most successful movie of all time was Titantic. Every critic in the nation panned Gigli. Russell Crowe and Salma Hayek have never made a movie together. Winning the Golden Globe is the next best thing to taking home an Academy Award. Pretty Woman made far more money than The Graduate. Accepting Best Actor honors for Philidelphia Tom Hanks made one of the greatest Oscar speeches of all time."

Unsurprisingly, Roeper then proceeds to show his superiority by proving these apparently universal precepts incorrect.

The problem, of course, is that the list seems false to start with. Chris Rock is not much of a movie star and never has been, Vin Diesel is hanging on to that superlative by his fingernails. Titanic is the most successful movie of all time in terms of money made, but anyone who knows anything knows that something like, say, Gone With the Wind has sold many more tickets. 'Everybody' panned Gigli would be acknowledged by most people as an exaggeration, as generally nothing is hated by each and every person who sees it. The Golden Globes are generally viewed as a joke except for the people who give them out and those who get them. I doubt if most "movie fans," much less "all," feel so conversant with Crowe and (especially) Hayek's filmographies to make such a weirdly specific claim. For Pretty Woman as compared to The Graduate, as with Titanic, yes, inflation must be taken into account. Finally, does anyone anywhere really care enough about the Oscars to make a claim about 'best' speeches?

Anyway, Roeper proceeds to blow our minds by debunking these universally help precepts. Wow! And the manner in which he does this is as bad as the list is to start with.

Neither Rock nor Diesel, he argues, "has turned in a single performance worthy of the "movie star" tag." Well, that's not what most people mean by the term 'movie star.' If Rock and Diesel are not movie stars, its because at this point they don't draw large audiences to films they star in.

Crowe and Hayek "actually did make a movie together. It's just that nobody saw it." I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed when Richard Roeper pointed out that these two did make a movie together. Wow.

Titanic and Pretty Woman: Inflation, blah blah.

Gigli: "...a few critics actually praised the film." Wow, another mind-blower.

"The Golden Globes? A golden crock." That 'joke' alone would have had me punching Roeper in the nose on sight had I actually bought his book with my own money. Besides, this one is probably true, although I guess Roeper doesn't get that the Oscars are just as much of a 'crock' as the Golden Globes.

" the transcript [of Hanks' Oscar speech] and you'll realize the man was...babbling." So? If people remember his speech (and that's Roeper's assertion in the first place) and were affected by it, then you could easily argue it was one of the "greatest" Oscar Speeches. Which isn't saying that much.

Anyway, that still leaves 200+ (small) pages of the wit & wisdom of Richard Roeper, so don't blame me for ruining the book.


At 5:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to mention the self-evident point that a comment along the line of "Vin Diesel is a movie star" obviously assumes there is an agreed-upon definition of "movie star", which clearly is not the case.

It's amazing how much inane fribble actually gets published.

-- John Nowak

At 6:05 AM, Blogger BeckoningChasm said...

A movie star is anyone who makes movies, I guess; though I think he or she would have to show up in the gossip trades to fully qualify.

My definition would be someone who brings people to the theatre solely on the strength of his or her name. Tom Hanks was the last one, I think.

At 6:21 AM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Like I said, that paragraph I quoted is the first in the book. I got about another ten pages in, and no offense to Mr. Roeper (although I wasn't surprise, having occasionally read some of his columns), but the writing is pedestrian at best. And I mean, 'at best.'

Then there's the way he begins defining certain actors' movie "batting average" and uses percentages, as in Drew Barrymore has an "18 percent" batting average. Cripes, didn't they assign this guy an editor?

Anyone in the Cabal, and a lot more people besides, could have written a vastly funnier and more insightful book. In fact, the Stomp Tokyo guys already have, although I'm sure they sold but a fraction of what this turkey has sold. That's the real rub.

At 7:17 AM, Blogger BeckoningChasm said...

So can we call him The Grim Roeper?

At 9:00 AM, Anonymous twitterpate said...

Didn't Bo Derek's publicist once say "she's not an actress, she's a movie star"? Since they felt it was undeniable that she had, indeed, starred in at least one movie. What else would it take, they argued.

Now, I suspect there's a difference between Vin Diesel (at least in the current stage of his career), and, oh, Jimmy Stewart. Or even Steve McQueen. But that's getting into a qualitative argument that could go on forever, over the difference between a "star" and someone who merely gets cast repeatedly in lead roles.

At 3:53 PM, Anonymous Prankster said...

What's the Russell Crowe/Salma Hayek movie?

At 11:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My definition would be someone who brings people to the theatre solely on the strength of his or her name. Tom Hanks was the last one, I think.

I think that's a darned good definition -- but how do you prove it, really? Obviously, there's some percentage of the ten people who saw A Man Apart who saw it only because Vin Diesel was in it, but how many?

I think that Ken actually praised The Oscar for handling a similar issue correctly.

-- John Nowak

At 8:18 AM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

To refine that, and I think Beckoningchasm is 95% correct, but now the functioning defination of a movie star is someone who will "open" a film during it's first weekend.

In other words, someone whose star power is such as to come close to ensuring that there will be a sizable audience there for that first weekend. After that, continued success is generally on the film itself.

Tom Cruise is definately a movie star. Jim Carrey, too. Russell Crowe probably warrants the designation, and perhaps Bruce Willis. But there you are already getting into names that need another factor, as in "Bruce Willis plus Action Movie" or "Julia Roberts plus Romantic Comedy."

However, there aren't as many as there used to be, and especially in the age of the block buster, it's the project itself (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Spider-Man, etc.) that is of paramount importance. This is also true of the successful string of comparatively low budget horror movies that have been raking in money for the last several years.

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