Friday, November 26, 2010

"My Year of Flops" by Nathan Rabin

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the fine folks at Scribner, particularly my Publicity point of contact Brian Belfiglio. I'm not getting paid for this, I just do it out of the enjoyment of reading.

Consider for a moment the art of movie making.  A writer had to dream up a story, a director had to dream up a way to tell it, and a studio had to dream up the possibility of said end result even being marketable to greenlight its production.  Up to this point, there are many careers on the line, reputations at stake, and of course the collective dreams of the three branches of film production.  So naturally, it feels like a nightmare when the public, the critics, even test audiences you bribed with pizza and a signed photo of Alec Baldwin grind their collective boot-heels on everyone's dreams and turn them into cinematic cannon fodder.  Some films (Gigli, Howard the Duck, and Battlefield Earth) deserve it, others ( Joe Versus the Volcano, Heaven's Gate, Ishtar) don't, and others still (The Rocketeer) shouldn't even be compiled in a list of "flops".  Though no matter what level of Flop Hell they belong on, there's one man who's brave enough to take them all on and give them the second opinion they so desperately needed...Nathan Rabin of The Onion A.V. Club.  This is his charge.  This is his ballpark.  This is his destiny.  This is "My Year of Flops: The A.V. Club Presents One Man's Journey Deep into the Heart of Cinematic Failure."

For the 288 pages the book spans, Rabin takes the knife to the films he's chosen, while providing historical context and in some cases insight from those directly involved.  Each film is given equal time, each movie objectively evaluated equally, and each entry is an entertaining mix of trivia and snark.  Every film falls into one of three categories:  Failure, Fiasco, or Secret Success.  (To clarify: a Failure just doesn't make the cut, no matter how you put it, a Fiasco fails, but does so with flying colors, and a Secret Success turns out to be a a gem that just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.)  What's most interesting is when Mr. Rabin actually gets to interview someone that actually worked on the project he's just spent about a good couple pages either defending or eviscerating.  These interviews try to clarify somehow just what went wrong, who's to blame, and ultimately what lessons were learned in the act of flopping.  You might be surprised to see just what passes for a Secret Success, as well as just a mild "failure"; but the Fiascos are well screened.
Reading this book is a breeze, much like other anthologies I've read.  This one might have breezed by faster though because not unlike Mr. Rabin, I have a slight fixation with cinematic failure.  I've always wanted to riff a copy of Gigli, see just how horrible Ishtar was to have gained its reputation, and always take time to rip a new asshole in the remake of Psycho that should never have existed.  If you are a movie geek, or even fixated with just how bad ideas are created, this book is definitely your thing.  (Though if the relatively average length of this book makes you feel safe when it comes to films you thought most surely would make it onto the least, fear not...his entire archive/continuing adventures can be found here, and hopefully in 'My Year of Flops 2: Flop Harder'."

As if reviewing flops, expanding pre-existing reviews on his flops, and writing brand new "book exclusive" reviews for flops wasn't enough, Nathan does what only the brave have ever attempted...write a real time review of the Director's Cut to Waterworld.  This alone should be the reason you read this book, if anything to vindicate the author's dedication to his collection and destruction/redemption of such publicly neglected films.   (That, and it has a rather interesting anecdote about James Caan and his love of orally pleasuring females.)  Rabin uses his A.V. Club savvy and knowledge to tie together a collection of analysis that ultimately makes us think, just what films would we defend liking in public and which ones we leave in the dark corners of our DVD shelves.  

With another Holiday Movie Season approaching us, now is as good a time as any to read "My Year of Flops: The A.V. Club Presents One Man's Journey Deep into the Heart of Cinematic Failure", if only to help us truly separate the wheat from the chaff.  Indeed, if this book were to have been released this Summer, we might have seen a Box Office where Scott Pilgrim Versus the World would have ruled, and Eclipse would have resided in its rightful position next to Gigli.  To put it in corny critic pullquotes: "It's no secret, this book is a success!"

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