Thursday, March 31, 2005

Debugging my brain

So Monday night, my wife Meauxjeaux and I head to the Esquire Theater in Cincinnati, ostensibly to see the new German drama Downfall, about Hitler's last days in the bunker. The Esquire is Cincinnati's lone nod to blue-state film sensibilities; the 20 of us in town that actually care about indie films can usually count on getting the cream of the crop at the Esquire about two weeks to a month after they debut in LA, New York and Chicago. Other than that, it's Hitch playing on at least three screens in every multiplex ringing the wasteland of the city's dying urban core.

The problem is, we don't actually make it into Downfall. As we're standing in line to buy tickets, a wiry little gentleman in ratty jeans and sandals approaches us.

"What movie you going to see?" He asks.

We tell him. "Oh sure, you're going to see the depressing Hitler film," he says. "Why not go see The Gospel of Lou instead? You got the writer, director and star standing right here in front of you." To seal the deal, he offered to pay our way in, and stuffed a $20 bill into my shirt pocket.

"If you don't like the film, keep the $20," he said.

He wasn't, in fact, a crackpot. His name was Bret Carr, and he is indeed the director, co-writer and star of The Gospel of Lou, a $50,000 independent production shot in and around New York City in 2003 that is, as they say, currently seeking distribution. The guy has actually made noise around Hollywood-- he first achieved notoriety when his short film the Passion of the Heist generated enough Internet buzz to get him a few meetings, an agent and mention in the Hollywood Reporter. Lou is supposed to be the vehicle that catapults him into the ranks of working indie auteurs. He had come to Cincinnati for a three-day test screening because, as he put it, "Cincinnati is the worst place in the country to debut a movie like this. If it'll make money here, it'll make money anywhere."

Duly insulted but worn down by the hard sell, we abandoned the depressing Hitler film and settled in for The Gospel of Lou. The film stars Carr as Lou, a down-on-his luck boxer with a bad stutter and an attitude problem. After receiving news that a brain aneurysm could kill him if he continues to box, Lou is forced to reinvent himself. Can Lou stop his stutter and conquer his demons before the credits roll? Cough up your eight bucks and find out.

Carr refers to Lou as "transformational cinema," and the power of personal transformation is Lou's central motif. The film revolves around a gimmicky self-therapeutic process called "Debug Your Brain," which is supposed to snap you out of whatever childhood trauma has been subconsciously informing your life and keeping you from reaching your true potential. It's Scientology for short attention spans. Apparently Carr developed the process himself out of an exercise commonly practiced in acting classes.

Like most indie films desperate for attention, the credits are lousy with name-dropping. Quinn Redeker, who has a story credit on the 1978 Michael Cimino film The Deer Hunter, receives a story credit on Lou; Bill Conti, who wrote the score for Rocky, wrote some of the music; Burt Young, who played Paulie in the same movie, has a cameo as himself.

I won't sugarcoat it: The Gospel of Lou is a clumsy, amateurish film. The script is a mess. The direction is ham-handed, with cheesy slow motion, cartoonish voice effects and the kind of reverse-negative special effects that went out of style in 1973. It has a few redeeming qualities; most of the film takes place out in the streets, giving it a brisk urban vibe that keeps things moving. Carr's performance as stuttering Lou lies somewhere between Ratzo Rizzo and Bugs Bunny, which makes him an entertaining if not entirely ludicrous character. But large swatches of the film are laughably bad.

After the screening, Carr gathered together the ten of us he had managed to rope into the theater for a little Q-and-A. He insisted again that he really was the director and star of the film, even though no one appeared to doubt his claim. He complained about the small turnout, blaming it on everything from his Marketing guy to the Final Four to the low-brow tastes of local moviegoers. No one seemed willing to ask a question. I asked him if he was four-walling the film in the hopes of getting distribution.

"Why do you want to know?" Carr asked me. "Do you have money?"

A creepy, Jeffrey Dahmer-esque guy who claimed to be a Cincinnati Police officer said the movie made him "cry like a baby." Come on, I thought to myself. It wasn't that bad. But Carr seized on the comment like a drowning man clinging to a hunk of driftwood.

"That's significant, because you represent about 100,000 cops who will feel the same way," Carr said. "Would you be willing to come back here tomorrow night, in uniform, to give a testimonial on camera?"

"Uh, urrmh," said the cop. "I don't know about in uniform..."

"You should move to New York or LA, where you could make a real difference," Carr continued.

"Excuse me," said a man in the back row. "Are you saying he can't make a difference in Cincinnati?"

"As you can see in the film, I have embraced non-violence," Carr said. "You win the argument."

Carr went on to mention all of the film festival awards his film had won, bragged about flirting with Nicole Kidman at Cannes and claimed that his next film would be a "Stars Wars type thing." He claimed to have met with Carl Lindner-- our local Mr. Burns-type billionaire-- that afternoon to discuss financing his picture. He complained about how broke he was. He hit on the lone single woman in the audience and told her he hoped he wouldn't have to spend the night alone ("This is you chance to be with a movie star who's not a movie star," he told her).

Finally he offered to lead us on an exercise of debugging our own brains. He told us to close our eyes and look up at the top of our eyelids.

"Now, when I clap my hands, I want you to shout out the first number that pops into your head," Carr instructed. He clapped his hands. "Your age!" he shouted.

"Five!" I shouted back.

"Keep your eyes closed and keep looking up at the top of your eyelids," Carr said. "Your eyes in this position simulate REM sleep, and you now have access to every subconscious memory in your brain. Now take yourself back to that day in your head where you are the age you shouted. Think about the trauma that happened to you that day, and how you keep repeating that experience in your adult life, hoping to change the outcome."

Not sure what "day" I was supposed to be thinking about, I did have a random image pop into my head-- I recalled a day when my mother took me out of the car while I was going down on a pretty big lollipop. As she took me out of the car, the lollipop fell out of my hand and landed on the filthy asphalt parking lot. I screamed and cried-- I want my lollipop! But Mom said it was too dirty to eat now, and we had to go. Devastated, I sobbed with loss and disappointment as my lollipop vanished into the mists of my subconscious mind, never to be retrieved.

That moment was the "bug" in my brain, Carr told me. Now that I had identified it, all I had to do was open my eyes, and the loss and grief of that moment would no longer consume my adult life. My mental hard drive would be reformatted.

Could it be that simple, I wondered? Could every failure in my life, every doubt and insecurity and disappointment, all stem from that fateful lollipop? Could the loss of it be the source of both my oral fixation and my debilitating fear of failure resulting in lifelong procrastination? Have I forever been afraid of reaching for another lollipop, lest I lose it all over again?

Nah, I finally decided. It was only a fucking lollipop.

The rest of the audience seemed similarly unmoved. "I couldn't think of a scene at all," Meaux told me. "Did you?"

"Yeah," I told her. "I'm cured."

Carr seemed to think he had given us all a profound gift. As he wrapped up the session, he told us, "Get everybody you know to come to this theater in the next two days and see this film. And I'm selling personal shares in The Gospel of Lou for $3,000 apiece. You can see a significant return on your investment."

I guess Carl Lindner didn't bite.

So what do I ultimately take away from this experience? Well, here's a note from someone else who attended that same screening, posted anonymously on Lou's entry page on the Internet Movie Database:

Bret Carr is a sad, sad, s-s-s-sad man., 26 March 2005

Author: ihatebretcarr from United States

I went to go see this at the Esquire Theatre in Cincy, OH, and - I hate my life now.

Christopher Reeves would have been a more believable boxer.

As a film it was painful, but seeing Bret Carr in person was to see desperation at its pinnacle.
My favorite part of the movie was seeing BC slammed in the face with what appeared to be a "C" battery. The jury is still out on this. It was from a dildo and it was in slow-mo. Yep.

"Shoot the left side of the face only...people become famous by demanding things!" - Bret Carr

B. Carr donned a Chicken Suit for a bit of reverse psychology, roaming the streets of Clifton bashing his own film. He should. This is correct to bash the film.

My soul felt chafed after this movie.

Bret Carr is not charismatic enough to be the leader of a cult, or smart enough for that matter. That is the feeling you get from the What the Bleepesque trickle of brainwashed, impressionable neo-yuppies that came to see this Bret Carr Piece of Work.

It's an emotionally draining experience just thinking about writing about this film, so goodbye.

I find it hard to argue with this assessment. The short answer to the question above is that I got talked out of seeing the film I wanted to see in order to placate a publicity-hungry charlatan and sit through a wretched and doggedly amateurish film that has zero chance of finding a distribution deal. I've met a lot of would-be filmmakers in my day (I was once one of them), and Bret Carr fits the bill: unpleasant, egotistical, condescending and possessed of a near-mystical belief in his own abilities that far outstrips his actual talent. That he persistently dogged my hometown, troubled and pathetic as it so often is, made me dislike the man. Fuck you if you don't like it here, mac. Go back to New York and peddle your piece-of-shit film there.

But I'll say this for Carr, and for others of his ilk: unlike you, me and the million other wannabes who have dreamed about making movies, Carr actually got his film made. It's in the can. As awful as it is, the picture exists, and the physical fact of its making will open doors for Carr and set events in motion that he can't anticipate. Maybe he'll eventually slip back beneath the surface of the ocean of mediocrity with the rest of us. Maybe he'll continue to shill his Debugging process and become the next L. Ron Hubbard.

Or maybe, just maybe, he'll make it. He certainly has the balls, if not the talent. In Hollywood, you can get by without talent. But without balls, you're dead meat. If balls and attitude are enough, then I'll be able to say I met Bret Carr on the way up-- even if his movie did stink on ice.

I kept his $20, by the way. Small compensation for the 90 minutes of my life that I'll never get back. But it'll never make up for the tragic lollipop loss that haunts me to this very day.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Bottom feeding in March

Once upon a time, you could count on a few good mainstream releases hitting the box office in March. January was traditionally Oscar-nomination catch up month; February was "Shit Can" month, the time when studios dumped their obvious bombs and cheapo horror films into the multiplex hospice and then quickly pulled life support.

But by March, you could count on seeing at least one tentpole film released in the hopes of building up early word of mouth and ruling the box office until the big May releases. For example: The Matrix debuted in March of 1999; Erin Brockovich in March 2000; Memento in 2001; Blade II in 2002; American Splendor in 2003; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in 2004. All of these releases were either solid popcorn fare or smart indies looking to break out. Every year, we had at least one decent release to get us through the Ides of March.

(By the way, you have to love the Internet Movie Database. Only on IMDB could you learn that Masturbation: Putting the Fun Into Self Loving made its auspicious debut in 2004.)

By contrast, take a look at what's playing at my local gigaplex this week:

The Aviator
Be Cool
Diary of a Mad Black Woman
Guess Who
Ice Princess
Million Dollar Baby
Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous
The Pacifier
The Ring Two

It's nice, I suppose, that three high-caliber Oscar winners-- The Aviator, Baby and Sideways-- are still in front of the masses at this late date. Nothing wrong with that. The month's two major studio releases are both sequels-- Be Cool and The Ring 2-- and both of them blow. Robots? eh. Constantine? pee-eew.

That leaves us with a slew of brain-dead comedies, a routine Bruce Willis vehicle and a Disney picture aimed at tweens. Not much to choose from if your cerebral cortex is still in good working order. Thank God for Sin City, which bows on April 1; advance word says it's a sight to behold. After that, I'll be haunting my local indie theater until Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy launches at the end of the month. Thus far, 2005 is looking like slim pickings.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Fuck Blockbuster up the ass

I mean it. No doubt you've seen the latest example of Blockbuster's death throes: the new television commercials in which hordes of rapturous Blockbuster cultists do the Safety Dance to the idea of watching unlimited movies for a mere $14.99 a month. Blockbuster is waging a campaign of desperation against the infinitely superior Netflix online service, hoping to milk a few more dollars out of us junkies before they finally go the way of the dodo bird.

To the impartial observer, Blockbuster's offer isn't bad. For a mere 15 bones a month, you can watch as many movies as you want-- keep out three at a time from their online service or one at a time from the brick-and-mortar stores. You can watch movies until your eyes bleed. You can host your very own Adam Sandler film festival. You can keep White Chicks in your DVD player for a whole year if you want. What's not to love?

I'll tell you what's not to love. For many, many years, Blockbuster was the only game in my town, and probably yours. Oh sure, you could always slink into Hollywood Video, the K-Mart to Blockbuster's Wal-Mart. Or you could patronize the local mom-and-pop and try to score their one copy of The Two Towers while skirting past the pervs creeping into the adult section in the curtained-off rear of the store. But if you craved reasonable access to the latest Hollywood releases, it was pretty much Blockbuster or nothing.

And what did those motherfuckers do? They soaked us for late fees for years. I personally could have purchased a brand new Ford Expedition with the amount of money I donated to those bastards in late fees. When you returned the movie a month late and tried to rent another one, the weasily clerks made you grovel like a slave while you ponied up the $28 late fee just so you could rent Clerks. If your rental return was so late that you avoided Blockbuster out of embarrassment, they then sent collection agencies after you to collect the late fees as if they were credit card debt. They were to customer service what the Exxon Valdez was to the Alaskan shoreline.

And now they want to play all nice and let us have as many movies as we want for a low monthly fee? I have two words for Blockbuster: fuck you. Eat shit and die, you worthless cocksuckers. Karma has finally come around to bite you in the ass. You're scared; I can see it in your eyes. And when your awful blue-and-yellow bandboxes are finally empty husks, and we're all downloading the latest releases straight to our TiVos from our favorite online service, I will personally stop by the boarded-up Blockbuster store closest to my home, and piss on your grave. It will be no less than you deserve.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

So why another movie review site?

So here's what happened. In 1995, I was a budding writer and day-job sufferer who started sending out weekly movie reviews to a small e-mail list. After a about a year of this, a web-savvy buddy suggested that I create a web site to host my reviews. So I did a little research, scored a free copy of Frontpage and found a friend who was willing to let me hitch a free ride on his web server. I secured the domain name (if you go there now, you'll see an atrocious site that I have nothing to do with), and I was in business.

From 1996 to 2001, filmgeek grew in scope and popularity. I was a well-regarded member of the internet film community, was a member of several online critics groups, and started receiving Academy screeners in the mail every Oscar season. I was also making a tidy chunk of change every month. Not enough to quit my day job, you understand... but enough to support my movie habit, pay for site support and put a few dollars in my pocket.

The height of my time as the Film Geek came in late 2000. I was approached by a vice president at the Digital Entertainment Network ( named Scott Immergut, who asked me if I'd be interested in selling filmgeek. Uh, maybe, I said. What are you offering?

Negotiations began in earnest. I closed the deal to sell filmgeek and become the full-time, paid film critic for My dream come true, right? The goal had always been to eventually break through the brick wall that separates "legitimate" film critics from the hobbyists, and I had done it. I remember closing the deal by cell phone at a spring training game between the Reds and the Rangers in Sarasota; I missed a crucial Barry Larkin homer in the 5th inning while I was on the phone with Immergut. I had finally reached the big time.

But alas, I had flown too close to the sun. A few weeks later-- one day after my first official day as a full time film critic-- Immergut called me and said, "I'm sorry, Rick. We just closed our doors and fired all of our employees. We're out of business."

It's true. turned out to be one of the more spectacular flameouts of the dot-com bust. The company had been backed by some heavy hitters-- Ford Motor Company and Coca Cola, to name a few, and the company's lofty goal was to become the first broadcast entertainment network on the web. But they burnt through $30 million of investment capital in just two years without turning a dime of profit or coming up with a business model that even approached reality. I got there just in time to see it all come crashing to the ground.

Needless to say, I was crushed. And then something else happened: I got divorced. Never mind the sordid details; suffice it to say that for the next six months or so, my personal and professional life descended into chaos. I rediscovered drugs and alcohol. My friends didn't know me any more. And in the middle of the madness, my domain name,, came up for renewal. I didn't even realize I had lost it until three months after some pinhead snatched it up for himself.

I spent the next year or so putting my life back together. I started a new relationship with a fabulous, intelligent babe. I got a new job working for Major League Baseball, which occupied about 16 hours a day of my life during the season. The idea of going back to writing reviews for the web seemed ridiculous-- that was a part of my old life. I pretty much stopped going to the movies altogether.

Fast forward to 2005. I'm remarried to that same fabulous babe. I'm director of marketing for a marketing firm, I'm a new homeowner and I'm thinking about a family. Life is good again. Over the past six months or so, I started to get the itch to write about film again. Friends have encouraged me to give it another shot. And then, in a moment of narcissism, I googled myself and found this:

An homage to yours truly

I took this as a sign that it was time to get back to my one true writing love: bullshitting about movies. So here's the new site. Hope you you like it. E-me if you you have any questions or comments... more later.