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Ain't It Cool?: Hollywood's Redheaded Stepchild Speaks Out [Paperback]

Harry Knowles , Paul Cullum , Mark Ebner

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; Reprint edition (Mar 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446679917
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446679916
  • Product Dimensions: 22.2 x 14.1 x 2.4 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,188,730 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 2.5 out of 5 stars  63 reviews
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disingenuousness confessions of a Movie Geek. 8 Mar 2002
By Fantail Entertainment - Published on Amazon.com
I have always found Knowles to be an intriguing personality. Here's a guy who, with little more than a home PC and a handful of industry contacts, is able to successfully maintain a website that attracts hundreds of thousands-if not millions-of viewers every week, with virtually no overhead costs. Companies routinely invest obscene sums of money trying to acquire that kind of viewership. For a while he was a hot item in the press, an overnight folk hero of sorts, heralded as an ordinary guy simply pursuing his passion and attracting the world's attention for it. Thus, I was looking forward to reading this book to find out what Knowles had to say about the intriguing turns his life has taken.
"Ain't it Cool?: Hollywood's Redheaded Stepchild Speaks Out" starts out promisingly enough. The opening chapter explores Knowles' turbulent formative years coming of age in a severely troubled family environment. Raised by hippie parents who peddled vintage movie memorabilia for a living, Knowles' adolescence was thrown into chaos when his mother without warning abandoned her brood to move back in with her own family in rural Texas. Knowles was soon forced to join her there, amidst the company of relatives that, as Knowles describes it, were "the closest I've personally come to consummate evil". His mother eventually succumbed to chronic alcoholism and passed away under tragic circumstances. By then Knowles, now in his late teens, had returned to Austin to live with his father, whom he lovingly describes as his "best friend". Over the next several years Knowles helped his father run his memorabilia business until, one fateful day, an accident he suffered working at a collectors' fair left him immobilized for six months. This was during the mid-90s, when the Internet was just starting to make its way into domestic households. With little previous experience in computers, Knowles was soon expertly scouring the newsgroups and chat rooms, offering his insight and opinions to an attentive audience of fellow film aficionados. He learned to use the Internet as a research tool, digging up rare tidbits of news, gossip and conjecture and repackaging them for newsgroup distribution. Eventually he started his own website dedicated to the pursuit of providing original, breaking news about films in every stage of development and production. And thus, Ain't It Cool News was born.
Up to this point Knowles' tale is heartfelt, honest, and moving. Quickly, however, the book lapses into a self-aggrandizing portrait of the Movie Geek as Internet Revolutionary. He spends 300-plus pages fervently justifying his existence, bragging incessantly about the influential role his website has served to the culture of film fandom and to the film industry itself. He liberally dispenses anecdotes of his experiences rubbing elbows with Hollywood royalty, having us believe that movie directors routinely call him up in the middle of the night asking for career advice. He paints himself as a steadfastly independent-minded, free-thinking "film advocate" whose loyalty cannot be bought, but can be earned by making a good film. The only problem with that latter point is that, if one were to do a little research, this assertion of journalistic integrity is put into serious question. Knowles himself touches briefly upon some of the more disparaging accusations in his book, such as the controversy surrounding his coverage of the "Godzilla" world premiere in Times Square, but he is more defensive than apologetic in tone about his alleged transgressions and never admits to any wrongdoing.
I was also troubled by two chapters in Knowles' book that aggressively attack fellow Internet reporter Matt Drudge, and National Research Group chairman Joseph Farrell, respectively. In the latter case, I can understand Knowles' disillusionment with the film industry's controversial audience test-screening process (which Farrell's company solely administers), but I fail to see how distributing Farrell's private phone number to the press and obsessively analyzing a list of movies that Farrell may or may not like-in an attempt to infer something about his character-is helpful to Knowles' cause. The chapter dealing with Matt Drudge just feels dirty and cheap, as well completely out of place in the book. It is not appropriate for Knowles' to tout his own "Jeffersonian, liberal-humanist agenda" in the form of a critique on Drudge's personal politics, and then try to disguise it as a discussion on journalistic ethics. That in itself seems, to me, unethical.
The final chapter of the book is a call-to-arms for Hollywood to make better pictures, and Knowles offers a number of (highly unrealistic) suggestions on how the industry can alter its existing business model to accommodate his appeal for qualitative change. While I couldn't agree more that Tinseltown has for the most part been putting out an abysmal product for years, I have to question Knowles' own conviction that "movies should be better". Recalling some of his film reviews I had come across in the past, I decided to go to his website and see just how bad he thinks the majority of today's studio-produced pictures are. "Armageddon", "Charlie's Angels", "Rush Hour 2" and "The Mummy Returns" all received glowing reviews. It seems to me like Knowles is perfectly content with the kind of product Hollywood is churning out these days, so it's mystifying that he would purport to want to see broad changes in the way studios make films. Or maybe he just wants to establish some kind of journalistic credibility by offering a pseudo-intellectual analysis on the state of the industry. In any case, there seems to be a bit of disingenuousness on Knowles' part, both pertaining to his questionable journalistic standards and to the apparent contradictory nature of his attitude about the kinds of films Hollywood should be making.
There is no question that Knowles is a knowledgeable and passionate movie enthusiast who has a lot to offer in the way of film appreciation and connoisseurship and, to that end, his website will always serve a purpose. It is perhaps advisable, then, that the next time he decides to write a book, that should be the sole focus of his efforts.
51 of 58 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Admire the Man, Not The Writer 12 Mar 2002
By Denise B Robinson - Published on Amazon.com
You can say what you want about the man, he's done what so few of his critics has: he has created something unique. Maybe that's why so many people constantly tear him down. On paper, every film geek should love Harry Knowles. He's a personable S.O.B. who loves films with an intense passion, and he's gone from his parents basement to the upper echelon of Hollywood, acheiving the ultimate geek dream. In reality, Aint It Cool News attracts more detractors than fans these days, a litany of negative, cynical film geeks who once looked to Harry as "The King of the Geeks", sort of like Anthony Michael Hall in Sixteen Candles. Now they look at him with scorn and disdain. It always happens to underground icons who achieve mainstream success. They are loved as minor celebrities, and loathed as major ones.
So it is with little doubt in my mind that Harry's first book "Ain't It Cool? Hollywood's Redheaded Stepchild Speaks Out" will be met with both loving and loathing. Harry's fans will love the book regardless, Harry's detractors will hate it. Anyone unfamiliar with Mr. Knowles should well stay away from this poorly written tome.
Much like his site, Harry's book focuses way to much on his perception of things. Mind you, it is his book, and he can do whatever he pleases, but this autobiographical/film philosophy hodge podge comes across as little more than a self serving, self congratulatory ode to himself.
Note to Harry: When other people call you "revolutionary", it's creates the perception of truth. When you call yourself "revolutionary", well that's just kind of sad.
This book could have been so much more. Knowles has forgotten the fundamentals that made him popular in the first place. While he still wears the mantle of "outsider", he is anything but, and he makes that abundantly clear with constant anecdotes about Hollywood types that he rubs elbows with, and filmmakers that call him all the time just to talk. Metaphorically speaking, it's like the friend at work who gets promoted, then becomes your boss. They try and tell you that "nothing's changed", when in reality, they're welling up with pride and looking forward to the first time they can reprimand you. Harry's anecdotes all have that "ha ha, i'm here and you're not" vibe. Rather than a wide eyed, outsiders look at the internal mechanisms of the film industry, you get an anecdote laiden book, full of painfully obvious observations by a writer (or Three) who acts as if all of this is owed to him for some inexplicable reason.
Much like the Internet IPO's, Harry's book is something that should have been sold off two years ago. Aint It Cool: The Book, could be easily equated to the rise and fall of the internet. It has lots of potential, has way too much worthless information, and ultimately is nothing more than a complete waste of time. Personally, i don't believe in the internet's ability to make or break films. For every Blair With Project, there's dozens of other films that are released, make money, and perpetuate the careers of people supposedly hated by the Internet community. At the same time, Internet celebs and cult phenoms like Bruce Campbell have a difficult time finding roles. I don't believe Harry Knowles is some sort of visionary who has the ability to change the film industry. He's just a guy, and that's why i liked him to begin with. That's why i went to the site and read his grammatically challenged columns. This book has none of that charm. The book is an overwritten homage to Harry, and what he feels his role in the industry is.
Harry, if you write another book, let me give you a piece of advice. Just be yourself, and let the industry define your role in it. Spend more time on your thoughts and feelings about film, not the industry. Save your "geek manifesto" and other such nonsense. At the heart of your success if a normal, everyday guy. You were once easy to identify with. This book shows you are far from that point.
My other major complaint about the book is the fact that it took 3 people to express the thoughts of one man. Autobiographies with ghost writers? One of whom workled for Film Threat, a site that has spewed forth more bile about Harry than any other? Curious... Not even taking that into account, i can't concieve that it took 3 people to write and regurgitate this drivel.
Ain't It Cool? Is definetly a book that warrants reading if you're a fan of Knowles, and also a book to read if you're a detractor of him as well. There's enough morsels for the die hard Aint It Cool fans, and more than enough ammunition for the Aint It Cool critics. Personally, i just wish he had a more enjoyable book. All the posturing and posing, and self serving tales of his success do little to endear him to new readers. Harry might maintain his following with this book, but it certainly won't win him any new fans.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars DON'T WASTE YOUR MONEY 13 Mar 2003
By Jeff Willard - Published on Amazon.com
As an avowed movie geek myself, I thought I owed it to myself to check out the poster boy for geekdom. I WAS WRONG. I was casually aware of Knwoles borderline-... writing style, and found it charming at times. But this book is painfully ghost written, it feels more like something that would be in one of Knowles' precious cracker jacks boxes than a real book. I kept wanting to skip forward because it was so boring, but figured the good parts were right around the bend. I lost hope 3/4 of the way through, and finishing the last pages was truly an ordeal. Get ANY book besides this, or better yet, go get some movies to support your own geekdo instead of supporting this guys bloated ... and ego. I WISH I COULD GIVE IT ZERO STARS
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars His website should have warned you... 21 Mar 2003
By Douglas L Baughman - Published on Amazon.com
If you were to read this guy's writing out loud, you'd sound like seven year old kid just leaving the movie theater. I'm torn about his website because I love the information, but hate the writing style. That should have clued me in as to how bad this book is.
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Since when do "journalists" need co-writers? 26 Mar 2004
By Sean Brady - Published on Amazon.com
I was looking forward to reading this book when it was first announced as I was a frequent visitor to Knowles' 'Aint It Cool News' website at the time and wanted to find out more about the development and history behind the site. Once I had purchased the book, any enthusiasm I had quickly evaporated upon reading it. And I had stopped visiting AICN regularly by the time I finished it.
There's a wearying sense of self-importance throughout the book. For example, Harry recounts the story of having conversations with 'Batman And Robin' director Joel Schumacher after the film bombed, and suggesting to Schumacher that he take on more personal projects. Harry is quick to point out that he's not taking credit for Schumachers subsequent career turnaround, but it sure reads like he is as he portrays himself as Yoda to the directors Luke Skywalker. That's just one example of Knowles painting a picture of himself as someone whose opinions are highly valued and acted upon by Hollywood players.
And then there's Harry as journalist. He justifies using the label by reeling off a list of films about newspapers and reporters he's seen. I actually laughed out loud when I read Harrys attempts to portray himself as a real journalist. He then goes on to destroy any credibility he may have had by admitting to posting positive reviews for 'Gods And Monsters' under false names at his site in order to get folks to see the film. If a real journalist did something that dishonest, they'd be out of a job real quick. However, Harry is his own boss. And as long as traffic remains high at his site and he keeps getting interviewed by the mainstream media and offered film cameos, I'm sure he's not too concerned about any criticism that may come his way. It's also worth asking the question...how many real journalists need the help of not one but two co-writers to write a book?
There is some good stuff in this book, but unfortunately most of it is negated whenever Harry gets on his high horse about the movie industry. He expresses his views as though they are gifts for movie fans and industry insiders handed down from Heaven Above. Was he watching Charlton Heston as Moses when he was writing this book? I don't take his views too seriously as this is a guy who can spew bile about a movie project one day and then play nice the next in order to keep important Hollywood players happy after they complain. This happened (after the book was published) when writer J J Abrams called Knowles after reading a negative review of his Superman film script and a rant from Knowles which included a suggestion to readers that they boycott Warner Brothers stores until the Abrams script was ditched. Knowles then removed his negative comments and replaced them with a plea to Superman fans to be positive and adopt a "wait and see" attitude towards the film. That's a real journalist at work, folks ;-)
I haven't given this one star because I enjoyed Harry's lists of favourite and least favourite films at the end of the book. It doesn't save the book, but at least the man can write about film in a knowledgable, passionate and entertaining manner. Unfortunately he can sometimes be too passionate...if you have a strong stomach, visit his website and search for his review of Blade 2. Ugh. Fortunately Knowles reigns himself in here and doesn't give way to his worst excesses as a reviewer.
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