The “it’s just mindless entertainment” excuse.

The “it’s just mindless entertainment” excuse. (photo)

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It’s been eight years since The Onion published “New Roommate Has Elaborate Theory About How Kenny Rogers Is A Genius,” and it’s still a painfully accurate skewering about how it’s become increasingly acceptable for people to overthink pop culture. It’s basically the birthright of anyone who came of age in the ’80s or later.

As long as pop culture’s the dominant texture of a lot of people’s daily life, the tendency to overread it will be with us. Kudos, then, to The Playlist‘s Jessica Kiang for going off on the “Twilight” movies and their unique gender relations: “How long before a self-help book hits the shelves that encourages us to divide our menfolk cleanly into vampires or werewolves?” It’s depressingly plausible.

Absolving teenagers (who never know any better) of blame, her ire is for the older women who come to see things they should’ve grown past:

The desire to be desired without reason; to have one’s life made remarkable by the men who fight over you; to define yourself entirely in terms of someone else; all this may sound thrillingly romantic to some, but it’s also just fucking stupid, and if you’re over 15 and still buying this crap, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

07072010_ts3.jpgBut of course, there’s always someone in the comments section to say “Women need their mindless entertainment too, and that’s all this is and I think there’s little to fret about in terms of social implications.” This is true, but it’s also an evasion. It dismisses the validity of a viscerally angry response, and it denies that something this freakishly profitable might tell us something about why people are watching it.

It’s a symptomatic comment that comes up every time someone wants to read depth into material that doesn’t overtly aim for it. It was hilarious that Jordan Hoffman offered up a reading of “Toy Story 3” as about the Holocaust (the three other readings of the film as existentialist, Marxist or panoply-of-religions should’ve been a tip-off) — and it was even funnier that critic Marshall Fine couldn’t tell he was joking, nor could a bunch of other people.

But it resonated with other writers, who expanded on it. A joke became a valid way for people to think about the movie, and that’s a good thing: any kind of weird read you can make on a film is worthwhile.

Of course, that’s not precisely what Kiang is doing when she’s beating up “Twilight,” but it starts from the same place: a response to mass culture that puts more thought into potential readings than those making it.

07072010_twilighteclipse.jpgWhen you do that, you can begin to think about ways that “Twilight” might be socially important besides merely theorizing that girls think Robert Pattinson is hot and want to swoon.

Every Hollywood movie stars the ridiculously genetically lucky and panders to some kind of stupid emotional reflex. Overthinking these kinds of things may be the only way to really engage with them; otherwise, you just end up screaming defensively about how it’s just harmless stupid fun with no resonance whatsoever, which is an awfully disingenuous way to discuss one of the weirdest, most profitable phenomena of the last few years.

[Photos: “Twilight,” Summit Entertainment, 2008; “Toy Story 3,” Disney, 2010; “Twilight: Eclipse,” Summit Entertainment, 2010]]

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Documentary Now! Robert Evans Mansion

The Reel Deal

Everything You Need To Know About “Mr. Runner Up” Inspiration Robert Evans

Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was narrated by Robert Evans and based on his memoir of the same name. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

Evans produced some of Hollywood’s true classics: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Love Story…the list goes on. Totally legit and amazing movies.

He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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