Tag Archives: spice world

“That Said…” #1 // SOMETHING SOMETHING SOMETHING SPICE GIRLS

In the midst of NaNoWriMo, my friend Matt agreed to do a recurring guest column for the blog. Called “THAT SAID…”, Matt’s column will look at the redeeming features of films wider audiences might not regard as works of “art”. In his last column, he laid out his manifesto: the guidelines he’s following for his critiques.

Now, welcome to Matt’s defense and analysis of the 1998 Girl-Band escapade  “Spice World”.

 

spiceworld

THAT SAID…
by Matthew Lyons
Spice World, 1998

I want so badly to believe that everyone had better things to do with their time. I want to believe that there were a thousand other excellent projects that all, through some cosmic clusterfuck of bad cinematic karma, happened to just fall through, all at the same time, and everybody had no choice but to do the Spice Girls movie. I mean, house payments gotta get made somehow, you know? They don’t pay for themselves, and even in 1998, banks weren’t the most forgiving.

I want dearly to believe that. But, no. No, this is a movie that people chose to make. With their own money and time and talents, and (presumably) without the influence of any serious chemical dependencies. That’s the world we live in.

The ugly facts are simple: Spice Worldis your basic cult-of-personality dreck. Poorly written, poorly acted, weirdly directed, campy, ugly, silly, self-indulgent, and above else, a shameless cash-in on a well-oiled global machine that’s less about music than it is about money.

This is an objectively bad movie.

That said, it’s also way, way more fun than it has any right to be, which, in a way, makes it successful in its means. It’s a movie about The Spice Girls – campy” was a cornerstone of their appeal. Hell, one of the members admitted to intentionally dressing like a drag queen for most of the group’s run. But you know something? They weren’t trying to make a good movie. They were trying to make a movie that their fans would enjoy.

It’s also weirdly great in certain ways – it has some really remarkable parts, like the self-awareness, the Inception-like levels of reality it puts us through, and maybe most of all, the brilliant casting.

If the movie itself feels uneven, that’s because it is. TVtropes.org describes Spice World as “a by-the-numbers ripoff of A Hard Day’s Night, a self-spoof, and a harsh satire of the Spice Girls and their culture.” I see no reason to disagree with that, but that’s fine. Spice World is supposed to kind of be a rip-off of A Hard Day’s Night. It revels in that fact. Half made up of surreal, cartoony vignettes, half of patched-together plot, starring the biggest band in the world at the time? The similarities are too obvious to not be intentional. At least it has fun with it, you know? Spice World knows that it sucks, and at least has fun with that fact (The Tower Bridge jump being the foremost example here).

It could be a joyless, humorless waste, and it would have been forgotten just as easily as it was made. That it knows exactly what it is makes it stand out. It doesn’t take itself too seriously or pretend it’s something that it’s not. Enjoy it for what it is – if it’s terrible, hey, fuck it, at least it’s having fun being terrible. What more than fun do you want from the Spice Girls movie? You want a little flash of intellect? Hey, fine, it’s got that, too.

There are like, three levels of reality at work in the world of this movie. Maybe four. Bear with me. There’s (1) we the audience watching this movie from the comfort of our couches, (2) the main narrative, there’s the (3) fictional chase scene Mark McKinney tells Richard E. Grant about at the end of the movie, and the (4) mid-credits scene where they’re shooting the movie that we just watched, and everyone is just being themselves instead of the characters they played in the movie we just saw EXCEPT FUCKING MARK MCKINNEY WHO’S STILL PLAYING THE SCREENWRITER HE PLAYS IN THE MOVIE.

The core narrative of this movie is at least three, or as many as four levels of reality removed from the audience. Christopher Nolan can suck it; Bob Spiers had him beat by TWELVE YEARS. So what if it doesn’t make sense? That’s the magic of Girl Power, broseph.

For a movie that so caters to the twelve year olds and the youths and whatnot, there’s a surprising amount of metatextual meat in here. The movie’s narrative itself isn’t the reality, and our reality isn’t reality, either – capital-R-Reality is that third-or-fourth-reality when the Spice Girls start talking to the camera, and the bomb glued to the underneath of their bus from the chase scene goes off, off-screen, that’s the accepted really-real Reality. Capital-R Reality. The one that frames the rest of all of it. This level of reality takes us out of the narrative only to change gears and pull a U-turn back into crazyland. The goddamn Spice Girls, temporal wizards that they are, are sending us through recursive realities, and no one notices. As the movie closes, they seem to take us to some clever behind-the-scenes footage, only to reveal that the guy that WE recognize as Mark McKinney from Kids in the Hall is really still actually a screenwriter in Spice World (the world, not the movie Spice World, try to keep up here) named Graydon, and the Spice Girls recognize the audience themselves (ourselves?), therefore confirming their existence in a sort of perpetually-1998 super-reality, seeing across all realities. This is the place where someone makes a SPICECEPTION joke.

Do you see what has happened? By acknowledging the camera, by pulling us into their super-reality as part of the entertainment, the Spice Girls have folded reality over onto itself, and now up is down and black is white and Cool Britannia holds sway over all. How has no one explored the implications of this?

In the meta-reality of Spice World, celebrities are at once their characters and their real selves. The lines between fiction and fact begin to blur. The world smudges and you’ll never know what exactly fits where, ever again. Whatever theory of Spiceception or Spiceality (oh, jesus, someone please help me) you adhere to, there’s no denying that it’s a world filled to the brim with People, capital P.

There are an astounding amount of People in this movie, People that anyone – anyone – watching the movie is guaranteed to recognize and enjoy in some way or another. Sure, sure, there’s the unnecessary and inexplicable cameo from Elton John, everyone knows about that. But that only scratches the very surface of the movie.

When this came out in theaters, the kids were here to see the Spice Girls, but their parents would have recognized Meat Loaf, Elvis Costello, Richard O’Brien, Bob Hoskins, Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie, Jennifer Saunders, Mark McKinney, Richard E. Grant, Roger Moore, George Wendt, and on and on and on. Now, everybody, parents and former kids alike who watch this movie for the first time in a long time (or ever) is guaranteed to say “Hey!!” at least once when a familiar face pops up on screen. Who knows what happened for them to show up in this movie at any given point, but I’m glad they’re here.

And they’re here for one of two reasons: One, because the filmmakers behind this masterpiece secretly have unimpeachable taste, or two, because the filmmakers obviously drove a dump truck of money up to their houses so they could make the movie more palatable for the adults in the audience. Either way, it doesn’t really matter. The reasoning matters so much less than the benefit of having them there, in the movie, talking to Mel and Mel and Victoria and the blonde one and the slutty one.

Spice World is retroactively brilliant in its casting, too – there are early appearances by Alan Cumming, Dominic West (Jimmy McNulty from The Wire, the sleazy scumbag douche from 300, etc.), Jason Flemyng (Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for some reason) and Naoko Mori, who, ten or so years later, would be introduced as the smart-yet-conflicted Toshiko Sato on Torchwood. Hell, even Mr. Gibbs from most (? I didn’t see the fourth one, so who knows) of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies shows up as a cop for no apparent reason at one point. Well-cast, or at least, intricately-cast to the point of being somewhat prophetic of the A- and B-actor lists yet to come.

Look, like I said, this isn’t a good movie. Anyone could tell you that as soon as you tell them “It’s the Spice Girls movie.” Whoop-de-fucking-do. Point is, it’s worth watching. It’s fun, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it plays with reality when you’re not expecting it, and the people in it are kind of fucking brilliant. Just don’t go into it wanting more than it gives you. But that’s the great part: it gives you more than you expect.

Side Notes:

– I laughed at the Meat Loaf “I’d do anything for love” throwaway joke, I don’t even give a shit what you think.

– No tour bus looks like that on the inside, I don’t give a shit if it’s a double-decker or not. Did they steal a fucking TARDIS or something? I’d say that was a clever reference that the movie made, but that’d be giving it WAY TOO MUCH credit. Which I clearly am not in the business of doing. Not with a movie like Spice World, no. #pleaseletMelBbeatimelordplease

– Does anyone else think that it’s nice to see Richard E. Grant not play a horrible, villainous dickhole for once? I mean, what was the last movie he was in before this? Was it Hudson Hawk? I think it was Hudson Hawk. So he doesn’t have the best track record with quality, but at least he’s not orgasmic over his own evil machinations this time. Wait, I should totally do a re-review of Hudson Hawk – Rachel, add that one to the list.

– “Melvin B, Melvin C,” … “Howtie and the Blowfish,” ha!

– I love how all the Spice Girls character traits seemed shoehorned in (Sporty is… uh… sporty, Baby is infantile, Ginger is secretly a nerd and certainly not just the one in drag with red hair) except for Posh, who just gets to act like a catty, elitist, obstreperous hosebeast like all the time. Not a lot of imagination required for that one, eh?

– Nicola is, what, their secretary or something? No room for Pregnant Spice on Spice Force Five? She adds nothing to the story, she just fucking shows up from time to time, being pregnant all over the place and that’s about it, and when the girls come together to show her a good time out on the town, it takes them a grand total of twelve seconds to abandon her on the balcony so they can go downstairs and Spice Girl it up while their own music plays on the club stereo. I’m going to say that again. They abandon their pregnant friend to go dance to their own music.

– Am I the only one who noticed the SUPER RACIST lyric in the performance of “Spice Up Your Life”? “Yellow man in Timbuktu/Colour for both me and you/Kung fu fighting” Uhh… what?

– Did you know there’s a Spice Girls song called “Viva Forever”? Yeah, I didn’t either, but it’s definitely a thing, I’m not even kidding.

– Holy shit, I just realized that the “Wannabe” video is all done in one take.

Wherein I Acquire a Regular Guest Movie Reviewer, and MANIFESTO ’13.

nanowrimoFourteen days into NaNoWriMo 2013, I’m just under 25,000 words into the first draft of a novel. It’s the first in a series I’m writing with Sare Liz Gordy. A couple of friends have agreed to do guest posts while I’m pounding out this work of supposed genius, and today I’d like to introduce you to a new occasional guest blogger, my friend & coworker Matthew Lyons. Matt will be writing movie reviews.

After a conversation at work where it was suggested his love of defending indefensibly bad films be translated to a column called “That Said…” , we got to talking about movies people like or don’t like, I started going on about my love of Von Trier, and Matt came up with the idea of creating a set of guiding principles – a manifesto, if you would – that would guide his critical journey. Today, I present that manifesto. Sit back, strap in, and enjoy the ride.

PROFANITY 2013: “Most Movies Are Probably A Little Better Than You Thought”

A vague guideline to the movies you probably forgot or maybe just wanted to forget, what the hell, I don’t know how you live your life or the choices you’ve made thus far, we’re just talking about movies here, okay?

By Matthew Lyons

I think that we can all agree that there are more bad movies released every year than good ones. That’s not news, and it’s not a revolutionary concept. The good movies out there, and even rarer than that, the great movies Hollywood has to offer are few and far between. The average, mediocre and the-why-in-the-jesus-h-tapdancing-christ-did-I-waste-two-hours-of-my-life-on-that-pile-of-dogshit-anyway flicks tend to rule the roost, since they tend to be the money-mills, the Big macs of the movie world. I get that.

But just because something is bad for forgettable or just plain “Eh…” doesn’t automatically disqualify it from having good parts. After all, Wings was a fucking terrible band, but it had Paul McCartney. Point is, bad things can be made with good parts, and those good parts, as a rule, don’t get nearly enough credit as they should. Nowhere is this more apparent than in movies. That’s what this series of guest blogs is about, revisiting the good parts of objectively bad or low-average movies. That, and I get to watch a lot of movies. That’s a big part of it, too.

I suppose that I should lay out some guidelines here (rules are so stringent, and I’d just end up breaking them, anyway) to help outline what movies I’m going to watch and how I’m subsequently going to babble about ‘em. Bear with me:

1. Unanimity of reception is as boring as watching shit dry

Yes, we get it, everybody loved Anchorman and Super Troopers. I did too – still do. They’re awesome movies. But that’s exactly the problem. If there’s a widely-accepted consensus on a movie, there’s no debate. That means most award winners (Oscars and Razzies alike) are out, as are most cult films – one of my friends shrilly insisted, like three goddamn times, that I review Paul Verhoeven’s seminal campy dogshit-a-thon Showgirls. My response was a resounding “Hell Naw.” All the film school dickheads in the world have already made their minds up about it. I get about as close to “cult classic” as I’m going to with the very first review, just so I can get about as far away from “cult” as fast as I can. I’m here to maybe tip the review scales on underwatched or underappreciated flicks a little closer to the positive.

2. Genre? Never heard of it

I don’t think I should have to explain too much that genre is not necessarily going to be a mitigating factor in what or how I watch something, but people will bitch about anything these days. I like movies of all stripes, so I’m kind of going to watch whatever the hell I want. Movies are movies are movies, and like Ebert said, It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it’s about it.

3. I Hope Jeffrey Lyons Dies, or, Who cares what some dick movie reviewer has to say? …Hey, wait a minute…

This one’s really a two-parter: (1) I’m going to keep external opinions about the movies I watch to a bare minimum, pre-screening. Most movie reviewers are self-aggrandizing jagholes looking to kick the director in the sack so they can be The Infamous Guy, You Know, He Of The Cruelly Negative Reviews, and I’m not interested in having something awful sticking in my craw while I try and find stuff to love. (2) I’ll probably regularly go after what’s critically wrong with the movie, however briefly, and only to throw the good stuff into perspective. I’m about examining the good parts, not pointing and laughing at the bad stuff. There are plenty of other bloggers who do that, so if that’s what you’re looking for, go read them and leave me the fuck alone to love these movies without irony.

4. Film school can blow me

This is not some pretentious, sweatervest-wearing dickhead dissection of the cinematic techniques present in any movie. Fuck your dutch angles and deep focus. This is not a debate of the symbolism in the cinematography. This is about stuff that almost anybody can love about movies that got none. For the casual viewer as well as the movie geek. Movies are for everybody, you know? Why try to force them into some silly little exclusive box? Doing that’s more about the reviewer’s ego than the movie itself, anyway. And my ego’s already doing awesome, thank you.

5. The film stops when I say it stops

A.k.a., The Playfair Principle. It’s like this: everything related to the movie is fair game for inclusion. Soundtrack, promotional material, interviews the stars gave, shit, even action figures or stickers, whatever the movie’s got to offer. I’m sure there are going to be movies where the best thing I can say about it is “I really liked that Dinosaur Junior song on the soundtrack!” and that’s just fine. You stamp it with the movie’s brand, it’s a part of the movie’s world. That easy.

6. Fuck you, I’ll play favorites if I like

Of course, I’m not going to watch nothing but movies I haven’t seen before – I’m going to watch some lame movies that I love anyway, because I love them, and I want to write about them so other people will love them, too. I never claimed to be objective, and I’m not going to sit here and fucking lie to you like an asshole. Actually, that’s a pretty good one…

7. I never claimed to be objective, and I’m not going to sit here and fucking lie to you like an asshole

Another one that should probably be obvious, but what the hell: I reserve the right to call “uncle” if a movie has no redemptive value whatsoever. I’ll still write about it, but I imagine those entries will probably be a little different than my regular fare.

8. I curse a lot.

You’ve probably figured that out already. Hope that’s cool, that’s probably going to make this a lot easier for the both of us.

Anyway, those are what I’ve got right now. I might come back to work on it a little later, but it’ll do for now. Still with me? Awesome.

Let’s go.

Matt’s first review for the blog: a look at 1998’s SPICE WORLD – will be up soon.