2016: Obama’s America (2012)
Originally written September 3, 2012
Dinesh D’Souza, noted conservative pundit and author, has risen to mainstream attention thanks to his documentary 2016: Obama’s America, a little movie making some big noise at the box-office. Co-written and directed by John Sullivan (Ben Stein’s Expelled), the film rationalizes that the American people don’t really know the true Barack Obama. D’Souza uses Obama’s own words from his best-selling memoir Dreams From My Father to try and decipher who the president is deep down, and D’Souza theorizes that the most powerful man in the world is really just trying to appeal to an absentee father. D’Souza visits the globe and promises to shed light on the “real” Obama, or, at least, the “real” Obama that fits into the narrative of a narrow political polemic.
After viewing 2016: Obama’s America, I am at a loss for words. This won’t last long, trust me.
This pseudo-documentary is such an intellectually dishonest, disingenuous, feeble-minded character attack, relying on heavy amounts of guilt-by-association, armchair psychology, factual whitewashing, leaps in logic, and ugly race-baited visual associations to remind its public that Obama is an “other.” I tried to be as objective as possible assessing D’Souza’s takedown on America’s first black president. I tried to analyze his rhetoric, his process of laying the case for his outlandish, paranoid claims. I tried to remove all personal politics from my assessment, and I still will attempt to keep them at bay, to simply review this as a “film.” What Obama’s America truly aspires to be is the evidence that your crackpot uncle cites as proof that his dismissive opinion of the president, that he’s not to be trusted, that he’s trying to destroy the country from the inside out, is correct. In this fashion, D’Souza is trying to give cover for the crackpots.
Let’s start with D’Souza’s fundamental thesis that supposes that Obama’s entire motivation is to live out the ideals of his father. He’s trying to impress his absent father. I cannot buy this broad generalization, and D’Souza keeps returning to it like he’s the only one who can see this obvious conclusion. I find it hard to believe that the father Obama saw once in his life is really the guiding force of his worldviews. Therefore, the more information D’Souza spills about Obama’s father the more he’s repeating the same conjecture without making any concrete connection. He interviews friends of Barack Sr. in Kenya and asks for their views of President Obama, a man they’ve never known. There is a litany of interview subjects with tenuous connection to Obama, most are always a step or two or more removed from the man himself. We get his mother’s college professor and Obama’s half-brother living in Kenya. That’s about as close as the movie gets. Often the interview subjects will disintegrate into weak hearsay (“I interviewed a guy who knew his father, so I guess I have some credibility.”). I also found it odd how when his interview subjects refer to his radical father, they keep repeating the name “Barack,” and not specifying senior or father. It happens so often that the intended association is quite transparent. Here’s a clue you’re dealing with a crank: D’Souza tries to make hay out of the fact that Obama’s book is titled “Dreams FROM My Father” and not “Dreams OF My Father.” Rarely has one preposition been given such (half-assed) psychological insight. The fact that the movie purports to get at the “real Obama,” and this is the scraps it offers, robs the movie of any desperately desired insight or credibility.
The movie, especially the first 20 minutes, is also the story of D’Souza and his personal journey of why he feels America is the greatest land of them all. Just because the man was born the same year as Obama, got married the same year, and comes from a foreign country (though Obama is an American citizen who only spent four years abroad, but I digress), doesn’t mean somehow D’Souza has been given such psychic insight into the mind of Obama. Like Michael Moore, D’Souza inserts himself and his life story into his narrative when it’s not essential.
This would also work as an excellent case study in psychological projection. Since we don’t get people close to Obama, we get lots and lots of conjecture and people offering their “esteemed” analysis of the man. These so-called experts do what the man’s worst critics do, which is ignore the reality of Obama and project their radical interpretation of the man. An even-keeled centrist is a boring narrative, so now he becomes a Marxist, a socialist, a leftist radical, an enemy of the American way of life. This just doesn’t jibe with a pesky thing known as the facts. If Obama is really the socialist he’s labeled, then he’s a horrible socialist. No public option? Recycling the Republican health care plan from the 1990s, including the mandate? Relaxing more gun control laws than Bush did in his entire presidency? Stepping up record numbers of drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Does that sound like a guy who’s “weirdly sympathetic to jihadists”?
D’Souza and his interview subjects even take the step of saying that Obama’s even-keeled style is really just a front, that deep down he’s a raging black man just like failed presidential candidates Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. The reason we don’t see this font of anger is because, and here’s the ingenious part, Obama knows how to manipulate us all! He’s secretly hiding his surplus of radical anger through emotional pragmatism. Not only that, Obama is manipulating race relations to lull us into complacency, because he knows white America wants to be assuaged of feeling racist, so we’ll appreciate and advance an African-American man of merit. Excuse me? Does that make sense to anyone, that instead of just being, you know, a pragmatist, Obama is secretly exploiting white guilt to advance, because otherwise how would this man become president unless we were all duped? None of that holds together. D’Souza’s 2010 book was called The Roots of Obama’s Rage (he also penned the 1995 book The End of Racism, so I guess he was just a little early on that one). The fact that two years, or less, into his presidency, D’Souza is ready to lambaste the man as “rageful” makes me think that D’Souza just cannot perceive objective reality like the rest of us.
D’Souza and company also take any opportunity to de-legitimize the man’s accomplishments. Obama didn’t win the presidency because he was an eloquent, charismatic, intelligent, and compelling political figure, not to mention that he got ten million more votes than John McCain. Could Obama have achieved the historic because of his accomplishments? According to this movie, Obama won the 2008 presidential election because of one thing: he was black. You see foolish reader, America as a nation wanted to assuage any collective white guilt over the transgressions of our ancestors, so we all (myself included) voted for the man as a declarative statement once and for all that we are not racist. Maybe a handful of people were motivated by such a ludicrous notion, but all 69.5 million Obama voters? This is not the film’s only simplistic generalization. We also have a psychological expert on what an absentee father does to a child. This is not a unique situation in our culture, nor is it one that prescribes a catchall response. Just because one person grows up without a father does not mean they will rigidly follow the same path in life; there are too many variables to prescribe one fate.
The most telling moment occurs when D’Souza visits Kenya to trace Obama’s father’s life. He interviews the president’s half-brother and tries to needle him that his distant, famous relative is callous. “Why hasn’t he helped you out here?” D’Souza presses. “He has a family of his own. I can take care of myself,” the half-brother reasons, adding, “He’s got other issues to take care of.” This is the only member of Obama’s actual extended family that D’Souza manages to snag an interview with, and he shuts down his line of inquiry pretty succinctly. Later, the man gives some rather hostile views of Israel, which is meant to signal that any possible points he made should be invalidated.
Then there’s just the disingenuous and petty digs that omit key clarifying facts. D’Souza keeps railing against Obama as an anti-colonialist. First off, who in this day and age is going to champion colonialism, a system where the strong take from the weak? And why is colonialism even a relevant prism for the twenty-first century? Again, D’Souza offers little evidence to tie his theories to the man he’s critiquing. One of his key pieces of evidence is that Obama returned a bust of Winston Churchill back to England. For D’Souza, this is a sign of his distaste for Churchill as a colonialist. However, the facts are that the bust was on loan and scheduled to return to England anyway, before Obama took office, and there’s another bust of Churchill that remains in the president’s private offices. What an inconvenience the actual facts make. I’d like to share my friend and PSP colleague Ben Bailey’s thoughts on this specific matter:
“Little known fact I just learn from the Obama 2016 documentary: The bust of Winston Churchill that used to be kept in the White House was actually a magical artifact that protected this country from socialism as long as it was in America. Naturally, the Anti-Colonialist Obama’s first action upon taking office was to send that shit back. The other bust of Churchill that still resides in the White House does not have any magical powers, so it was kept.”
D’Souza also hammers home the notion that Obama opposes the British rule of the Falkland Islands, a tiny group of islands off Argentina’s coast. Another casual fact-checking venture proves this is false. The U.S. refused to endorse a declaration of Argentina’s claim of ownership. And these are just the petty examples of D’Souza’s argument approaching snide, dickish territory.
There are also the demonstrably false assertions, like Obama’s desire to destroy America’s superpower standing. D’Souza likes to obfuscate the eight years of Bush, speeding over him quickly in a timeline, lumping the national debt explosion under “Bush and Obama.” Conservative pundits like to lambaste the president for the dour economy, which has improved over the past four years, but they also conveniently forget the mess the man inherited. To ignore eight years of policies that helped lead to near financial ruin, two wars that Bush also left off budgets and Obama did not, among other things, is to remove all context. It’s like setting your house on fire and then blaming the next guy for trying to put it out: “Why haven’t you fixed everything yet, pal?” Record debt and financial ruination did not suddenly appear one day in January 2009 when a Democrat took office, despite what some choose to believe. Forgetting the eight tumultuous years of Bush, and their far-reaching complications, is a disservice to history and an ignorant understanding of how we got where we are now.
Then there’s D’Souza’s dangerous assertion that Obama wants to weaken this country by cutting defense spending and our number of nuclear warheads. Anyone that talks about seriously reducing debt and the deficit and doesn’t offer slashing defense spending, a huge part of the pie, is simply not committed to their goal. Like not one dollar of defense spending is wasteful, and any cuts would endanger the security of American life? We’re drawing down two wars; do we need to keep spending like they’re still active? Also, Obama wants to reduce the world’s nuclear arms, and what’s so wrong with that? How many warheads do you need? Are 1,500 warheads not enough to blow up the world ten times over? The notion that any reduction in arms or spending accompanies “weakness” is fanciful. Obama doesn’t want to weaken this country by reducing America’s nuclear stockpile while the world continues to wield these weapons. He wants to reduce all the world’s nuclear arms to zero, an ambition D’Souza callously dismisses as fantasy. You know who also wanted to reduce nuclear weapons to zero? Ronald Reagan, D’Souza’s hero. As per his 1984 speech: “My dream is to see the day when nuclear weapons will be banished from the face of the Earth.” Even Superman was for limiting nuclear arms!
Now, as a piece of pure agitprop, Obama’s America suffers as well. D’Souza is no conservative alternative to Michael Moore, an expert at crafting a cohesive message with needlessly duplicitous measures. There is no subtext here; it’s all text. There are literally slasher movie violin shrieks on the soundtrack when D’Souza and an interview subject discuss the debt under Obama. There’s the image of thorn-covered vines covering the Middle East, threatening Israel to become the “United States of Islam.” There is no connecting of the dots, there’s only wide conjecture and baseless fear mongering. What this movie becomes is one long string of codes and buzzwords and dog whistles, meant to elicit a certain response from its likely audience. How many times does the phrase “Third World” need to be repeated? D’Souza even tries to turn Hawaii as a stalwart of radicalism with ONE interview from a guy who makes unsubstantiated claims. D’Souza also reminds the audience, as a wink to the birthers out there, that Obama’s birth was reported in two Hawaiian newspapers. What other purpose is there to mention this ordinary fact other than to appeal to the birthers in a coded manner? There’s a lot of juxtaposition between foreign cultures, Kenya, Indonesia, but what about the fact that Obama spent a far majority of his life in the United States? The man spent four years in Indonesia, and D’Souza makes it sound like this was the central formation of the man’s worldviews, not as he grew into maturity, went to college, and practiced law. Surely Obama became the man he was when he was seven years old, just like the rest of us.
D’Souza collects a conservative rogue’s gallery of people who must have had tantamount influence on Obama, including old targets like Bill Ayers and Rev. Wright. This is a continuation of guilt by association, a common tactic in 2008. Obama’s half-brother in Kenya talks about the West’s need to “tame Israel,” so D’Souza relies on us to make the connection just like with his father. If Obama’s family thinks this way, surely the son they have seen so rarely must be in lockstep? Because nobody ever differed in political views from his or her family.
2016: Obama’s America, which hilariously predicts the end of the American empire circa 2016 (I guess a Republican president won’t be able to fix things), is a documentary that will convert no one. It’s constructed entirely to reinforce the alarmist notions of the president’s most fringe detractors. D’Souza doesn’t deal with facts because they get in the way of his exaggerated narrative of a fictional Obama, a man who is destroying our country in a quest to prove himself to his absentee ghost of a father. There’s plenty of logical inconsistencies, conjecture, and psychological projection and little evidence besides the expert opinions of people who knew a guy who knew a guy who knew Obama Sr. There’s plenty of unintentional comedy to be had, however, like a ludicrous racism-is-dead visual reenactment where a black man is upset because people at a bar are purposely giving him the cold shoulder (racists!). A minute later, they come out with a birthday cake and everyone in the bar, including the tattooed biker dude, erupts in applause for the heralded black man (see how wrong you were, world?). The basic assertion that Obama’s presidency is his attempt to live out his father’s ideals doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. It marginalizes a complex, educated man, saying he’s just a daddy’s boy, just like the film marginalizes the president’s historic election by saying it was simply an outpouring of white guilt (what about non-white people?).
I repeat: this pseudo-documentary is such an intellectually dishonest, disingenuous, feeble-minded character attack. It’s slimy, snide, petty, and wallows in conjecture and fear mongering. When the denizens in my theater applauded by film’s end, I felt a great sadness wash over me. If these people thought this appalling film was effective, was compelling, was informative, and was accurate, then I fear what prism these people choose to view the world through. Because 2016: Obama’s America isn’t just a horrid example of propaganda, it’s also the worst movie of the year, bar none.
Nate’s Grade: F
After Last Season (2009)
Originally written February 7, 2010 (my birthday! Happy me!)
After Last Season is a little movie that most people wrongly mistook for a joke. Writer/director Mark Region pulled off something rarely witnessed in modern movies: he put together a low budget movie all on his own and got it released nationally. The movie even has a Quicktime trailer on Apple’s website. It was released last summer in only four cities for a limited trial run, which explains why nobody has every heard of Region’s creative opus. It also might have to do with the fact that After Last Season is so appallingly terrible that the distributor reportedly called the theaters to advise burning the film prints rather than returning them. Naturally, given my cinematic tastes for the finest trash and my keen knowledge of the badest of bads, I instantly had to see this film for myself. The website for After Last Season boasts an Amazon.com customer review (nary a good sign of accomplishment) saying that the movie is unlike any you have ever seen. There’s a good reason for that. After Last Season approaches a near Manos level of ineptitude. That should speak volumes.
The plot, as can best be described, involves a university conducting scientific experiments. Sarah (Peggy McClellen) and Matthew (Jason Kulas) are interns conducting their own investigation into a recent string of murders. They have access to a device that allows the connection of minds, and so Sarah and Matthew link brains and get caught in the wavelengths of the campus killer, who now begins to target them. This plot synopsis is actually too kind and might mislead some into thinking the movie has drama or action or suspense. What really happens are characters who you don’t know doing things that aren’t fully explained followed by unexplained location changes where the whole process repeats itself. You haven’t lived until you’ve listened to Sarah’s roommates engage in senseless conversations about going to the North Market or the fact that there are printers in the basement that can be used.
When I say that this movie is awful, I really mean it with all sincerity. This movie is so awful, so off-the-charts painful to watch that there is not an ounce of derisive fun to be had. After Last Season does not fall into that coveted category of “so bad it’s good,” no, this movie is simply disastrously, regrettably, incomprehensibly bad. I would not recommend it to my friends or enemies. From a plot standpoint, there’s about 15 minutes of stuff stretched out to a short but far too long length of 93 minutes. The opening 10 minutes concern characters explaining how an MRI machine operates. It’s like Region once wrote a paper on an MRI machine and wanted everybody to know the work he put into it. The characters just keep rehashing the ins and outs of this machine, and the machine is clearly made of cardboard and in the middle of somebody’s living room (is it unusual for a metallic ceiling fan to be placed directly above a Magnetic Resonating Imaging machine?). Then there’s a 30-minute stretch in the middle that is nothing more than two people sitting across a table and dreaming about geometric shapes. 30 minutes! I doubt that I even have the ability to adequately explain the amount of mind-numbing torture that this sequence was. My friend Eric and I just kept looking at one another with hopeful expressions, silently pleading, “Will our pain and suffering soon be over?” 30 freaking minutes! One third of the entire movie is like watching somebody’s annoying screensaver from 1987. I can’t wait for the sequel where it looks like a bunch of windows are flying.
The rest of the script isn’t filled with intriguing character dynamics or challenging drama. It’s almost completely built from non-related scenes with non-identified characters having frivolous conversations about nothing. Most of the dialogue is driven by linked non-sequitors, which prompted me to repeatedly yell at the screen, “Why the hell was that important?” Characters will drone on in useless babble, never once circling a subject that seems to be related to the plot at hand. The small group of actors (you will be amazed that the end credits lists over 15 characters) feels like people awaiting an execution. True, the pitiful direction leaves them unmoored, fighting to find meaning in anything they say, but these people just suck at acting. The general range of acting goes from impassive monotone to somewhat less impassive monotone. It’s the acting equivalent of rounding up random people at the bus station and hoping for a miracle.
I have seen low budget productions before but this movie looks like it was made for the cost of a lottery ticket. For whatever reason, the current info has the budget at five million but there’s no way in hell that can be true (some producer must have ran off with like the whole sum minus twenty bucks). Reportedly the movie cost $40,000, which I can believe, and the special effects cost 4.95 million dollars, which I find baffling. The sets are all overly lit basements disguised by the clever decorative abilities of pegboards and sheets of paper. There are scenes where actual paper is taped to the walls like it was shingles, just like what a child might devise as a means of decoration. There’s even a supposed college class that takes place in this same low-rent location, which means that this particular university is really struggling for endowment funds. This utilitarian approach to locations is what I’d expect from a public access show or a student’s video project. These locations make it seem like every person is one moment away from being gutted by a serial killer just off screen. Did Region have only one abandoned office basement to work with? The visitations by the ghost/mind spirit/whatever are just as bad. We have the embarrassment of watching plastic tubs being pulled across the floor with fishing line. Having a low budget should force Region to be more creative with his use of resources, to work around his limitations. Instead, he just continually shines a bright light illuminating every possible limitation in the movie.
From a technical standpoint, After Last Season is an abysmal entry. It fails not just because of its lack of funds but it fails because Region lacks any filmmaking ability whatsoever. Sure, apparently the man was able to pose actors, have them recite lines, and keep the cameras running, but I expect more from my movies than the same criteria I have for family vacation videos. Region’s directorial style is, ostensibly, to have no discernible visual sensibility at all. Actors will routinely be cut out from the camera frame or the spatial relations will be completely out of whack, allowing for tremendous space above heads or showing the actor’s complete body except the upper half of the face. Characters will be bunched in one tiny section of the screen, or Region will suddenly cut back and forth between two different shots that conflict from a geographic standpoint; they don’t visually match up. There isn’t a single shot anywhere in After Last Season that couldn’t have been credited to a tripod for complete creative inspiration.
Here’s a terrific example of how creatively bankrupt this movie is, and no, I will restrain from making reference to the sheets of paper as decoration. The website for After Last Season actually touts its use of special effects. What special effects, you may very reasonably be asking yourself. Evidently, several scenes had less background coverage, so the special effects gurus took a sample background object and copied it to cover the space (like taking one sheet and making a wall out of them). Okay, fine, except that this special effects wizardry doesn’t always work. The website itself even showcases a scene where Sarah goes in for her job interview and on the right hand side we can see the special effect trick of covering up the empty space. However, the left side is completely untouched, leaving exposed all the set shortcomings and extension cords. Why cover one side but not the other? Too expensive? Here’s the best question of all. Why spend any money whatsoever on lame special effects when you could have simply zoomed in so that the two characters filled the screen? That’s a much more cost-effective option and wouldn’t break the perilous illusion of the movie. It is examples like this that condemn Region as an artist with zero creative ingenuity.
Now it’s at this point where I have to call into question the integrity of After Last Season. Was this entire project created on purpose to be terrible, and if so, does it even make a difference? Is a bad movie more acceptable if it’s intentional or unintentional? From my perspective, you cannot intentionally make a campy movie. The derisive pleasure must come from the fact that the filmmakers thought they were making compelling cinema at some point. If After Last Season is fake (I hesitate to use that word given its connotation) then it’s an even bigger waste of time (Update: I just read online interviews with Region, and the movie is for real). As it stands, the movie is technically inept on every level of filmmaking with a bad script, bad actors, bad pacing, bad direction, bad sets, bad sound coverage, bad “special effects,” and really bad editing. If Region was dreaming of creating a midnight-movie sensation like The Room then he missed the mark. This movie isn’t any fun whatsoever to watch because there’s not enough going on to laugh at. With The Room, every scene had like eight things wrong with it; that film was a 1000 brushstrokes of bad. With After Last Season, it’s the same forehead-smacking flaws repeated ad nausium. There’s no derisive joy to be had here, folks.
I’m not shocked that something as unrepentantly bad as After Last Season exists. There is plenty of crap on the Internet, and in this modern age of user media, there’s no shortage of poorly executed ideas finding a wider audience. It’s the same with the infamous 1979 blotch on cinema, Caligula. I’m not surprised that something so debased and wildly salacious exists, what shocks me is that a movie with incest, bestiality, necrophilia, hard-core sex scenes, and gallons of blood would star such a celebrated cast of thespians like John Gielgud, Peter O’Toole, Malcolm McDowell, and Helen Mirren (though if you’ve seen Zardoz you know that Mirren wasn’t too picky in those days). What shocks me is not that Caligula exists but the level of involvement and exposure. What truly shocks me is that After Last Season got a theatrical release over the likes of thousands of other movies fighting for a release. Yes, this only played on four screens in four different cities, but how does anybody justify After Last Season even being in the same consideration of cinematic art? I am faint to even refer to this as a movie. It almost seems like a social experiment with disturbing psychological implications. After Last Season isn’t a movie so much as an endurance test of how much pointless garbage a person can consume before they relentlessly cry, “Enough! You have officially destroyed my soul!” I never thought I’d say these words, but After Last Season makes The Room look competent. Your apology letter is in the mail, Tommy Wiseau.
Nate’s Grade: F
Meet the Spartans (2008)
Writer/directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer are, and I do not say this lightly, the worst filmmakers of all time. They are worse than Ed Wood, they are worse than Uwe Boll, they are worse than Harold P. Warren, who wrote and directed the worst movie of all time, Manos: The Hands of Fate, because of a bet that he couldn’t make a movie (I’m fairly certain he still lost). Friedberg and Seltzer are the antithesis to funny. They mock funny, they spit at funny. Meet the Spartans is their third spoof in three years, or, as I see it, their third miscarriage of comedy.
The plot to 300 is the framework for Friedberg and Seltzer to purge their juvenile gags. King Leonidas (Sean Maguire, who actually used to be a pop singer) leads a band of 13 Spartan warriors, including Hercules‘ Kevin Sorbo, against the mighty army of Xerxes (Ken Davitian). Back at home, Queen Margo (Carmen Electra) must seduce Traitoro (Deidrich Bader).
Meet the Spartans would be hard-pressed to fit the definition of a movie, no matter how generous you are with the term. True, it is a collection of moving pictures, but surely we must have greater stipulations for our movie going entertainment. The actual flick is only 65 minutes long, barely a little over an hour, and then it’s crammed with 15 minutes of outtakes and needless extra scenes to be strewn over the credits. I should be more upset by the total transparent laziness to even construct a film of suitable length, but every minute I was spared more of this junk was an act of divine mercy.
Friedberg and Seltzer are not filmmakers but regurgiatators, wildly lampooning anything that they feel approaches their young teen male demographic. Meet the Spartans, like Epic Movie and Date Movie, cannot be classified as a “spoof” because all the film is doing is setting up references and the references are supposed to be the joke. The film is like a meaningless and random scrapbook for the year in pop culture; the film’s only function to pacify total idiots with attention-deprivation issues. That’s why the movie just continues reciting 2007 movies and 2007 cultural figures endlessly, with no context and no setup or payoff; the payoff is intended to be the reference. So 12-year-old boys can recline in their chairs and think to themselves, “Hey, I remember Spider-Man 3. Hi-larious.” When the fat guy from Borat turned into a Transformer and then hit his TV screen mid section, which played the “Leave Britney alone!” kid … I swear, part of my soul died.
Friedberg and Seltzer have little grasp on he tenets of comedy. Their over reliance on lame pop culture references means that they have set a self-imposed expiration date on their movie. Once time passes this film will serve no purpose other than a crushingly unfunny time capsule. Friedberg and Seltzer think they must be the first ones who poked fun at the homo eroticism in 300. The armada of gay jokes they come up with would be on par with a sixth grade locker room. You want another cutting edge joke? They make a joke about how Angelina Jolie likes to adopt kids. Never heard that one before. Ever. In my life.
There is no such thing as wit when it comes to the comedy black hole. They are simply repeating the plot structure of 300 and throwing in aimless appearances by figures like Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan, and blurred shots of all three’s vaginas. At one point the judging casts from American Idol and America’s Next Top Model appear inexplicably, and then they too get knocked down into the pit of death. I ask this question: had Sylvester Stallone not made another Rocky movie and released it in December 2006, would the figure of Rocky Balboa even appear in this flick? I doubt it. The core audience for these cannibalistic films has such short attention spans that they need their fragile brains stroked, and Meet the Spartans will not challenge them in the slightest.
And yet, astoundingly, the movie still feels like it needs to set up its dumb, obvious gags. The film has one Spartan point off screen and say, “Look, it’s Ghost Rider,” and then we cut to a skeleton biker swinging a chain. Gee, the Ghost Rider movie came out not even a year ago, and the character is rather hard to confuse with, say, Marry Poppins, so why did Friedberg and Seltzer feel the need to name check? It’s even more confusing considering that the audience that would go see Meet the Spartans is likely the same audience that saw Ghost Rider. It happens again when Queen Margo changes into a black Spiderman suit and the narrator assist by saying she’s becoming Venom. I got it with the suit, yeah, because everyone saw Spider-Man 3. I can also recognize Ugly Betty when I see her, thank you useless narrator. I don’t need a handicap for non-obscure pop culture bon mots.
The product placement is also insulting and annoying. At one point the Spartan narrator tells us that the fighters needed to take a break to replenish their electrolytes. We are then treated to quick cuts of the Spartans holding Gatorade bottles until one looks directly into the camera and says, “Gatorade: Is it in you?” I must have missed what the joke was when the film just repeats the advertising slogan word-for-word without any alterations in tone and context. There is also a scene where Xerxes imitates a Dentyne Ice commercial and holds the product up to the camera. What is the purpose of either of these moments? If I wanted to watch commercials verbatim I’d stay at home and tune on QVC.
From a production standpoint, this movie looks really cheap. The sets and costumes and props look horrible, like something a high school production would ditch. Just because it reuses the same camera styles as 300 doesn’t mean it gets any closer to parody. For God’s sake, they couldn’t even come up with puns on character names, the only exception being Traitoro and Sonio, neither of which will induce a chuckle. Most of the non-reference “humor” is either insipid slapstick or a handful of moderately gross scatological jokes, and, oh, yes, lots of gay jokes, because those just get better the more you hear. Tasteless doesn’t always equal funny, and people drinking urine is rarely funny without some extra setup.
The actors all seem mildly embarrassed and they do nothing with their roles. It’s not their fault the material sucks so deeply, however, it is Electra’s fault for appearing in her third straight Friedberg-Seltzer spoof fest. The key to a good spoof is to play the damn thing straight. It’s annoying and redundant if the film keeps winking back at the audience.
Meet the Spartans is pop culture vomit. No, this is worse, this is cinematic diarrhea. It’s watery pop culture discharge masquerading as entertainment. This movie is offensive to anyone that appreciates laughter. This film and its ilk are offensive to mankind. And plus, it’s just not funny people, not in the slightest. There’s no wit here, no comedic payoffs, no running gags (besides gay jokes), no thought or upheaval of convention; instead, this movie is a lazy, cheap catalog of pop culture events from late 2006 to summer 2007. Even at 80 minutes (really it’s 65) this thing drags and feels exhausted long before it bows out. Just as I said in my review of Epic Movie, Friedberg and Seltzer must be stopped at all costs if comedy is to survive.
Nate’s Grade: F
Disaster Movie (2008)
Originally written August 30, 2008
Writers/directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer couldn’t leave well enough alone. I had become accustomed to these two tainting the beginning of a new year with their deeply unfunny “spoof” movies. In February 2006, they released Date Movie, in January 2007, they released Epic Movie, and in January 2008, they released Meet the Spartans. One cinematic blight wasn’t enough for these two and so, on the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina striking the Gulf Coast, these sultans of suck have unleashed the appropriately titled Disaster Movie.
I won’t even dignify this movie with a plot synopsis. To do so would acknowledge there was at any point a script. They even make fun of Oscar-winning Juno scribe Diablo Cody’s writing. That’s like George W. Bush mocking Barack Obama’s eloquence.
By pacing their horrible comedies a year apart, Friedberg and Seltzer at least have time to gauge what movies have become popular and what pop culture events have stuck in the public consciousness. But Disaster Movie was put on the fast track and was in production before many of the movies it deems worthy of attack were even released. As a result, it seems that the fail twins were watching trailers for upcoming movies and hedging their bets on what would be popular. This explains why they mention movies that made no cultural impact and flopped at the box-office, like Speed Racer and The Love Guru. Seriously, a “funny” reference to a bad Mike Myers movie months after it has opened and closed is, in itself, kind of humorous in how ridiculous and embarrassing this all is. Once again, Friedberg and Seltzer have assembled a highly disposable pop-culture yearbook except this time they took bets on what would be meaningful. Is anyone going to even get a reference to Jumper? How about in a few more months? Yet again Friedberg and Seltzer have assembled a movie that has a built-in expiration date.
As expected, Friedberg and Seltzer apply their shallow level of comedy to the movies caught in their crosshairs. These guys simply don’t understand the difference between reference and parody, and once again they deluge an audience with cheap references to other movies and the reference is designed to be the joke. Just having a character appear as the Hulk isn’t funny. Having a character appear as the Amy Adams character from Enchanted isn’t funny. Friedberg and Seltzer don’t even mock the disaster movies befitting its title, like The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure, or the more recent Day After Tomorrow. The only partially relevant movie they make reference to is Twister because it affords them the opportunity to drop cows on characters (if it’s not funny once, it’s not funny the thousandth time). Disaster Movie cycles through a mix of movies from the fall of 2007 to last summer, including Juno, 10,000 B.C. (a film worthy of parody by smarter people), No Country for Old Men, Sex and the City, Superbad, Beowulf, Wanted, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Prince Caspian (another movie that faded quickly), and others. Friedberg and Seltzer mix in attacks on pop culture figures like Jessica Simpson and Amy Winehouse, simplifying each to a one-joke premise (Amy Winehouse is drunk, never heard that one before). But wait; to prove how in touch they are, Friedberg and Seltzer have used their SECOND SPOOF MOVIE OF THIS YEAR to include jokes about Michael Jackson being a pedophile. Oh my good graces, how do these guys come up with such cutting-edge and timely material in the year 2008?
You want to know how truly terrible Friedberg and Seltzer are as filmmakers? Disaster Movie is the film debut of socialite and tabloid queen Kim Kardashian. This woman is known for one thing and that thing is her thang, namely her posterior. Friedberg and Seltzer fail to make even a single joke about Kardashian’s notable assets. Not only that, from a pure exploitation angle, they even fail to take advantage of Kardashian as a sex object.
To honor Friedberg and Seltzer recycling the same garbage and calling it by a different name, I will stop writing about their newest example of cinematic ineptitude and simply copy and paste sections of my review for this year’s Meet the Spartans. Enjoy my attempt at Mad Libs style film criticism.
“Writer/directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer are, and I do not say this lightly, the worst filmmakers of all time. They are worse than Ed Wood, they are worse than Uwe Boll, they are worse than Harold P. Warren, who wrote and directed the worst movie of all time, Manos: The Hands of Fate, because of a bet that he couldn’t make a movie (I’m fairly certain he still lost). Friedberg and Seltzer are the antithesis to funny. They mock funny, they spit at funny. [DISASTER MOVIE] is their [FOURTH] spoof in three years, or, as I see it, their [FOURTH] miscarriage of comedy.
[DISASTER MOVIE] would be hard-pressed to fit the definition of a movie, no matter how generous you are with the term. True, it is a collection of moving pictures, but surely we must have greater stipulations for our movie going entertainment. The actual flick is only  minutes long, barely a little over an hour, and then it’s crammed with 15 minutes of outtakes and needless extra scenes to be strewn over the credits [INCLUDING AN ALREADY PAINFULLY DATED PARODY OF SARAH SILVERMAN’S SONG “I’M F***ING MATT DMAON,” ALTERED TO PG-13 FRIENDLY LYRICS ABOUT “DATING” MATT DAMON]. I should be more upset by the total transparent laziness to even construct a film of suitable length, but every minute I was spared more of this junk was an act of divine mercy.
Friedberg and Seltzer are not filmmakers but regurgiatators, wildly lampooning anything that they feel approaches their young teen male demographic. [DISASTER MOVIE], like Epic Movie and Date Movie, cannot be classified as a “spoof” because all the film is doing is setting up references and the references are supposed to be the joke. The film is like a meaningless and random scrapbook for the year in pop culture; the film’s only function to pacify total idiots with attention-deprivation issues.
And yet, astoundingly, the movie still feels like it needs to set up its dumb, obvious gags. The film has one [PERSON] point off screen and say, “Look, it’s [HANNAH MONTANA],” and then we cut to [HANNAH MONTANA CRUSHED BY A ROCK]. Why did Friedberg and Seltzer feel the need to name check? It happens again when [A CHARACTER POINTS AND SAYS, “HEY, IT’S ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS”]. I don’t need a handicap for non-obscure pop culture bon mots.
From a production standpoint, this movie looks really cheap. The sets and costumes and props look horrible, like something a high school production would ditch. Just because it reuses the same camera setups as [ANY MOVIE] doesn’t mean it gets any closer to parody. For God’s sake, they couldn’t even come up with puns on character names.
The actors all seem mildly embarrassed and they do nothing with their roles. It’s not their fault the material sucks so deeply, however, it is Electra’s fault for appearing in her [FOURTH!] straight Friedberg-Seltzer spoof fest. The key to a good spoof is to play the damn thing straight. It’s annoying and redundant if the film keeps winking back at the audience.
[DISASTER MOVIE] is pop culture vomit. No, this is worse, this is cinematic diarrhea. It’s watery pop culture discharge masquerading as entertainment. This movie if offensive to anyone that appreciates laughter. This film and its ilk are offensive to mankind. And plus, it’s just not funny people, not in the slightest. There’s no wit here, no comedic payoffs, no running gags (besides gay jokes [AND COWS FALLING ON PEOPLE, HE HE HE]), no thought or upheaval of convention; instead, this movie is a lazy, cheap catalogue of pop culture events. Even at  minutes (really it’s ) this thing drags and feels exhausted long before it bows out. Just as I said in my review of Epic Movie, Friedberg and Seltzer must be stopped at all costs if comedy is to survive.”
In short, don’t see it and punch anyone in the face that ever thinks of seeing Disaster Movie.
Nate’s Grade: F