Joe Queenan is a cynical bastard. No, that’s not an insult, and he probably wouldn’t take it as such. In fact, he’d probably revel in it and tell me to keep up the good work. Queenan used to write for Movieline magazine and, for me at least, was the only thing worth reading in there. Confessions of a Cineplex Heckler is a collection of some of these articles. As long as you don’t mind raw language and (usually) snarky comments about movies and movie stars, you won’t find a funnier book of entertainment essays around. I had to read parts of this book out loud to my wife (who has already read it, but so long ago that she doesn’t remember details) because I had to talk about them to somebody.
This was my first exposure to Queenan (at my wife’s urging), and I can definitely say I’m going to track down the rest of his books. He has a self-admittedly bad attitude which doesn’t really suit every reader but makes me giggle endlessly at what he says. The title article, where he goes to certain movies and heckles them loudly to see how long it will take before other movie-goers will do something other than say “shhhhhh!” works on two levels: it shows what a complete ass he can be, but it also shows how passive a society we have become. He went to ten films and shouted things at the screen or at audience members who politely asked him to be quiet (such as “The movie’s in Greek, pal. Potato chips can’t drown out subtitles”). In only one of these movies was he thrown out, and most of the other time, people either just tried to ignore him or basically just said “shhhh!” Very rarely did anybody actually *do* anything about it.
That’s one of the great things about Queenan. Sometimes, behind all the cynicism and general bad behavior, there’s a point to his articles. There’s a wonderful article on Spike Lee in here, where Queenan not only interviews him but comments on the interview, too. Queenan doesn’t ask the soft, simple questions but instead asks Lee things about the craft of his movies, even criticizing a bit and asking him to respond (like asking him about the long, drawn-out endings to his films). He comments in the article about how good he thinks Lee is, despite some of the problems in his films. Some see the article as tearing down Lee, but I saw a lot of respect underneath the smart-ass questions, questions such as “I like your movies, but couldn’t they be better if you do [fill in the blank]?” Of course, he does end the article with a note written since the article was published, saying that he would think that, after Lee heckled Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers in a playoff game, inspiring him to 50 points and the win, that the New York Knicks would have “kicked his scrawny ass. No such luck.” But again, I think that’s his good-natured cynicism.
There are plenty of other hilarious articles in this wonderful book, and only a couple of clunkers. Some of the great articles are the first “Don’t do this at home,” where he tries to enact certain movie scenes to see if they are at all realistic, an article on Irish films and their clichés, an article about the suddenly common practice of ear mutilation in films, Antonio Banderas and why he keeps getting pushed down our throats as “the newest star” though his movies keep bombing, bad hair in films, and too many more to mention.
There are a couple of skippable ones in this book, though. “For Members Only,” an article about the mutilation of male genitalia in movies, is kind of boring. An article about how he became a crusader against sitting through bad films and started reimbursing customers who went to see them falls a little flat. And the article on his foray into watching just foreign films and how he discovers they are the same horrible stuff that Hollywood is putting out, while mildly interesting, lacks some of the zing of his other articles. Unfortunately, the book ends on a lackluster note with another “Don’t Try This at Home” article that’s nowhere near as good as the first one in the book.
Still, if you like cynical humor, can put up with foul language and wondering if there is a movie in the world that Queenan likes (he does compliment quite a few films, though some of those compliments are sort of back-handed), then you will love this book. Queenan has quite the way with words, and as long as his style doesn’t turn you off, he’s a great writer. Some of the articles talked about movies I’d never heard of, but I didn’t care. His writing made the article worthwhile. Personally, I’m going to be tracking down all of his other books and giving them a try as well.