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Monday, April 11, 2005

When Irish-American Movie Critics Attack

Joe Queenan If You're Talking to Me, Your Career Must Be In Trouble

Joe Queenan loves movies. He also hates movie stars. And he is prepared to put his career and his health (and, hell, even his life sometimes) on the line to bring his readers tales of his journeys into the dark heart of celluloid. A man who made his living writing about the most horrendous monstrosities that America's movie industry could throw at an unsuspecting world, this book is a collection of articles he wrote between 1987 and 1992 for a variety of magazines and function as a showcase for the self-described mean-spirited turnip's, well, dysfunctional relationship with the movie world and the celebrities housed within. In the course of writing the articles collected here Queenan engaged in such acts of journalistic derring-do as attempting to spend a day in the skin of Mickey Rourke, trying to find the definitive bad priest movie, interviewing Renny Harlin, sitting through a bunch of Part III's of movie series that he hadn't seen either of the first two films, and attempting to write an entire article about Susan Sarandon without mentioning her breasts.

Mostly his writing consists of insulting the people whom he is discussing. Consider the following excerpt, from "If You Can't Say Something Nice, Say It In Broken English":

One of the interesting things about bad accents is the serial-killer component: the certainty that actors and actresses who have resorted to bad accents in the past will use them again. That's what happened with all-purpose, ethnic mother-in-law Olympia Dukakis - we didn't elect Mikey, so we're stuck with her - who gives the performance of a lifetime in Steel Magnolias. Hands down winner of the 1990 Tony Franciosa Least Convincing Long Hot Summer Southern Accent Award, Dukakis, who looks out of place anywhere south of the garment district, literally blows away the competition, thoroughly upstaging Daryl Hannah (generic redneck), Julia Roberts (Dixie peach), and Shirley Maclaine (bayou ballbuster). This film, so strange that it seems to have been dubbed into English, has one truly memorable line, when Maclaine tells Dukakis, "You are a pig from hell." Correct.

You see what I mean?

This book is tremendous fun, overflowing with an almost embarrassing abundance of mean-spirited riches. Quite clearly the stand-out article is "Mickey Rourke for a Day", where our intrepid scribe, having not washed or shaved for two weeks in preparation, smokes 82 Marlboros on the streets of Manhattan while harassing women, passers-by, and inanimate objects. Throughout this he is spewing a constant stream of Rourkean invective, while also acting out scenes culled directly from the great man's oeuvre. A sample: "6:25 Emulating Mickey, who regularly induces servile intermediaries to do the talking for him in public, I ask a friend to go into a Pakistani deli and tell the clerk: "Mr. Queenan would like you to sell him a pack of Marlboros.""

Although this is the high point, there are lots of other gems, like "The Dark Side of the Moon," which is about Melanie Griffith and her butt, "Sacred Cow" which eviscerates Barbara Streisand (an "intoxicatingly plain-looking, self-regarding Tartar"), and "In the Realm of the Senseless", an attempt to find the stupidest film of all time, in which Queenan sits through 25 cinematic atrocities like Ishtar, Joe versus the Volcano, and Hudson Hawk (among others) on his way to choosing Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate (the film that killed United Artists) as his all-time turkey. Amongst other explorations of cinema and the human condition.

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