Why We Love Bad Movies – Part Three: Genre Cliches

Sometimes we go to the movies not to be challenged, but to be entertained and comforted.  Genre cliches, movies that are about the same no matter what, that meet our expectations but never exceed them, are the comfort food of movies.  We know that they are not particularly good, but we go back to them anyway.  They are familiar, predictable, and we know exactly what we’re getting.  Observe:

Salisbury Steak (Romantic Comedies)

e.g. New Year’s Eve (2011), You’ve Got Mail (1998)

There are plenty of great romantic comedies, but it seems like most of them are cobbled together from hamburger to resemble a superior product.  For example, New Year’s Eve is a cheap copy of a better movie (Love, Actually (2003)).  You’ve Got Mail has the same leading actors and same plot of a better movie (Sleepless in Seattle (1993)).  Here’s the clincher – everyone knew this going in, and both of these films made a ton of money at the box office.

Twinkees (Musicals)

e.g. Spiceworld (1997), From Justin to Kelly (2003)

The Musical is a genre that has fallen out of favor in modern Hollywood.  Before the days of television (music videos especially), they were frequently either star vehicles or showcases for Vaudeville style acts.  While some musicals remain popular for various reasons (Singin’ in the Rain (1952), West Side Story (1961), White Christmas (1954), The Wizard of Oz (1939)), many feel dated – like someone cobbled something edible together from sponge cake and filling.

But pre-television musicals have an excuse.  Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) for instance seems dated now but it served its purpose as a showcase for Judy Garland’s talent and brought it to a wide audience during an era when people needed an escape.  Poorly thought-out modern musicals have no excuse, and serve as long, ill conceived, music videos for flash in the pan artists (Spiceworld) or popular televisions shows (From Justin to Kelly).

Kung Pow Chicken (Action Movies)

e.g. Faster (2010), Battlefield Earth (2000)

Sometimes we like something a little spicier.  Yeah it’s fried and bad for us, but it’s so cheap, tasty, and here in twenty minutes.  Yes we’ll be hungry again in half an hour, but it’s great while it lasts.  While there have been excellent, popular, purely escapist action films, some are filled with terrible dialogue, boring car chases, and plots that make absolutely no logical sense.  Watch Faster and you’ll see what I mean.

Watch Battlefield Earth and you’ll see even worse.  It makes Faster look like Citizen Kane (1941).

Jello (Comedies)

e.g. Deuce Bigalow, European Gigolo (2005), Every “____ Movie” after the original Scary Movie (2000)

Want something kind of light and a little gross?  The gross-out comedy genre has what you’re looking for.  It’s too bad that whenever Hollywood has a decent idea for an R-rated comedy, they dump a horrendous sequel on us.  Sometimes the sequels have at least some redeeming value, but sometimes the first movie wasn’t that good to begin with (Deuce Bigalow) or it’s another of a seemingly endless parade of “Scary Movie” style parody films.

Vodka (Horror)

e.g. The Saw Films (2004-2010), Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)

Horror movies are the empty calorie, escapist, cash-cow of the movies always have been, and probably always will be.  They’re cheap to make (Saw), easy to pump our sequel after sequel (Saw), and always end up making a decent amount of money (Saw).

The problem is that the horror movie genre ends up looking far easier than it is.  This is what inspired a New Mexico insurance salesman to create a “horror movie” that may be the worst film every released in a movie theater – Manos: The Hands of Fate.

Next time: Epilogue – Movies with No Redeeming Value

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe

 

Why We Love Bad Movies – Part Two: Failed Blockbusters

We, the American public, are in an unhealthy relationship with the Hollywood Blockbuster.  As a crazed songstress who enjoys getting drunk and thrown out of baseball games in her spare time might put it…actually no. I’m not going there.

A great blockbuster has the ability to entertain us again and again like no other genre of film.  The best ones are mainstays of our movie collections – the ones that we upgrade from VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray to Digital.  The worst ones, well that’s another story.  They often make lame excuses for their transgressions, but we keep coming back.  Here are some of them…

But baby, I give you what you need

e.g. Transformers (2007), Armageddon (1998), Independence Day (1996)

Sometimes we just want to turn our brains off and watch things explode.  The more explosions the better.  If recognizable buildings are destroyed (Independence Day), fantastic.  Or if the explosions are caused by giant robots trying to kill each other (Transformers), that’s pretty great.  Also if the explosions are caused by asteroids (Armageddon), asteroids are fun right?  Boom!!!!!!!

Is there anything wrong with our insatiable desire for explosions?  I don’t know.  Even if we secretly wish the human protagonist would get stomped by Megatron, we keep coming back for more.

But baby it was so great the first time

e.g. Star Wars Episode I (1999), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997),  The Matrix Reloaded (2003), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), The Godfather Part III (1990)

Remember those blockbusters I mentioned in the intro?  The ones you absolutely love and can’t get enough of? Well sometimes the sequels don’t pan out so well.

Whether it is caused by misguided megalomania (Episode I), a director who’s just trying to make a quick buck (The Lost World), or failure to understand what made the original movie so popular (Matrix Reloaded), sequels often fall short of the glory of the first film. This seems to be especially the case when a lot of time has passed between films (Crystal Skull and Godfather 3).  But that’s okay, if they make a third one it’ll be better, right?

But baby you love this, don’t you remember?

e.g. Transformers 2 (2009), The Matrix Revolutions (2003),Pirates of the Caribbean 3 (2007)

Wrong!  We know it’s going to be bad because the first movie was bad (Transformers), the second movie was bad (Matrix Revolutions), or the second movie was lackluster (Pirates of the Caribbean 3).  But we really hope it’s better.  It’s gotta be better, right?

It won’t be, but we want to see what happens next, and, when we are inevitably disappointed we want to commiserate with everyone and complain about how bad that third movie was.  In a perverse way, I think we like these movies more – we can endlessly pick apart how we could have done a better job.  After all, movie lovers probably spend more hours picking apart disappointing films than praising great ones.

But baby, I’ve changed

e.g. Transformers 3 (2011), The Incredible Hulk (2003), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)

Sometimes the sequels will have a cast change (Hulk), a promise from the director that this time it’ll be better (Transformers 3), or a more promising storyline (Fantastic Four 2).  But alas, we’re fooled again.  We’re pretty sad at this point but…

Enough!

e.g. Speed 2 (1997), Godzilla (1998), Batman and Robin (1997), Gigli (2003)

Oh you may entice us with basically the same storyline, but on a boat! (Speed 2)  You may woo us with promises of iconic monsters! (Godzilla) You may even try to slake our endless lust for celebrity couples (Gigli) or the promise of endless snow and ice puns (Batman and Robin)!  But this ends now!  I’m not paying $8 to see that and I don’t care what you say!

Epilogue

At the end of the day, the blockbuster is an easy genre to churn out summer after summer, but a difficult one to master.  I really don’t regret a couple hours away from air conditioning in the summer to enjoy some popcorn though.  I like being in on the conversation when those movies misfire.  And I like to make fun of these movies on DVD later.  Not every blockbuster is going to be Star Wars (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), or The Dark Knight (2008).  And I’m actually okay with that.

Next Time: Part 3: Genre Cliches

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe

Why We Love Bad Movies – Part One: Poorly Made Films

Why We Love Bad Movies – Part One: Poorly Made Films

There are some bad movies that are worth your time, if you’re in the right frame of mind of course.  They are just poorly constructed.  B-Movies, Cult Classics, and crap that absolutely can’t be defined in any conceivable way can be a valuable part of our movie experience. Quentin Tarantino, for instance, is a notable proponent of the Poorly Made category, and if that horrible “my first movie experience” montage at the Oscars this year has any redeeming value, it at least goes to show that the movie stars we pay to see often have the same crappy taste in movies that everyone else does.  Let’s break down this category into the aforementioned sub-categories:

A) B-Movies 

e.g. Robot Monster (1953), The Killer Shrews (1959)

When I first explained the classic TV series “Mystery Science Theater 3000” to my parents, my dad responded, “Oh, those were the crappy movies at the drive-in that no one stuck around for.”  Often shot on a shoestring budget and in two weeks or less, B Movies were a staple of the Hollywood Studio System and kept fake blood manufacturers, costume shops with poor supply chains, and horrible singer after horrible singer employed in Southern California until the 1980’s.  While television rendered the double feature obsolete, it also rescued the B Movie genre from the dustbin with its endless, succubus-like need to fill hour upon hour of dead air with schlock.  Even the old B Movies were saved to a certain extent by MST3K by becoming objects of endless humor.

We love B Movies because we can’t take them seriously, but they were thrown together so fast that I doubt the filmmakers really cared one way or the other.  For instance,  can anyone be expected to take an “alien” seriously that is clearly a guy dressed in a gorilla suit with a diving helmet on (Robot Monster), or a “monster” that is clearly a dog with some stuff glued on it (The Killer Shrews)?  Of course you can’t – but it’s so ridiculous that it’s funny.

B) Bad Cult Classics

e.g. Reefer Madness (1936), Showgirls (1995),

They’re so bad they’re good.  Usually a bad cult classic develops a following because it does something it wasn’t supposed to.  The term “Cult Classic” can also be applied to brilliant but overlooked films like Blade Runner (1982) or Office Space (1996) which flopped at the box office but became popular later.  Those aren’t the movies I’m talking about.

Take Reefer Madness for example.  Here was a film that was designed to teach teenagers the terrors of marijuana use, but it was so over the top that it became a favorite of, guess what, marijuana users.  Showgirls was actually an honest attempt at serious drama, but instead inspired endless laughter and almost as many drinking games.  These films are different from B Movies because the makers of the films actually spent some time on them, and but they did such a crappy job anyway that the movies did the exact opposite of what was intended.

C) Total Crap

e.g. Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)

These may be the worst-made movies of all time.  They’re so bad that I had to separate them from the other two categories. Maybe there’s a obvious attempt to replace an actor who passed away halfway through production (Plan 9), or maybe it contains an endless montage of empty landscape and an antagonist who gets massaged to death (Manos).  Whatever the case, it seems that chimpanzees could be trained to make better movies than these.

By any objective standards these films fail in every conceivable way.  But we love them anyway.  Is it the the fact that we can sit down with a group and make joke after joke at their expense? Does it take a special, morbid talent to fail so spectacularly? Or is it simply because we could probably make better movies ourselves?  Who knows, but more importantly, who cares?  Just sit back and enjoy the train wreck!

Next Post: Failed Blockbusters

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe

 

 

Why We Love Bad Movies: Intro

Why We Love Bad Movies: Intro

So I’ve been traveling a lot the last couple of weeks.  On a flight to Anaheim, CA, I was stuck watching “New Year’s Eve” (2011) on the airplane.  As I picked apart its flat acting, predictable plot, dumb jokes, and complete lack of logic or creativity (oh and Ludacris playing a cop and prefacing nearly all his statements with “as a New York City police officer”), I couldn’t help but remember that this movie made a decent haul at the box office.  Someone must have enjoyed it somewhere.

Plenty of the top grossing movies of all time are hated by audiences and critics alike (Star Wars Episode I, the Matrix sequels, Pirates of the Caribbean 3) .  So why do we like some bad movies and not others?  Why do we keep coming back for more even when we know we don’t like it?  I think the best way to answer these questions is to talk about the “kinds” of bad movies: 1) Poorly Made Films; 2) Failed Blockbusters; 3) Cliched Films; and 4) Movies with No Redeeming Value.  I’ll start with Part I, Poorly Made Films tomorrow.

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe

 

Sideways (2004)

Sideways

Directed by Alexander Payne

USA, 2004, 126 min

“No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving.  I’m not drinking any !@#$% Merlot!” – Miles Raymond

Two men spend a week in California’s central wine country in advance of one of their weddings the following Saturday.  In some ways, Sideways is a fairly standard buddy, road movie.  It is, however, an exceptionally good one with absurdly funny situations, mostly sharp dialogue, and well developed characters, including the California wine country itself.

It is a bit hackneyed to say that the setting is a character.  One can make that statement about any film set anywhere remotely interesting.  But the laid back, friendly wine country stands in stark contrast with the film’s main duo – the neurotic and depressed Miles (Paul Giamatti) and the amoral, sex-addicted train wreck, Jack (Thomas Haden Church).  The movie doesn’t play up the fish out of water situation, but it is clear from the beginning that neither character truly belongs.

Miles certainly comes close.  His often clobbers his dim-witted friend over the head with his knowledge of wine, and he is depicted as a regular to the area and a friend of the locals.  He is also constantly on edge, afraid of defeats that he has already conceded, and pining for the past.  It becomes clear that he doesn’t particularly belong anywhere, at least not until the movie’s ambiguous ending.

Jack on the other hand is a monster.  Miles sets up the week in wine country for his own selfish enjoyment certainly, but Jack’s selfishness exists on another plane of existence.  His actions are reprehensible, and if wine country were nastier turf he probably wouldn’t have made it out alive.  Needless to say he’s not welcome back there by the end of the movie.

While I enjoyed Sideways, it suffers from two issues.  First, in the few places where the dialogue is weak, it’s really weak (we get it – Miles sees himself as a Pinot grape).  Also, its two main characters are so unlikeable that it may turn some moviegoers off.  Otherwise, it’s worth a couple hours of your time.

Rating

You may like Sideways if: You are in the mood for a clever, mostly well written buddy comedy, or you absolutely love wine.

You may not like Sideways if: You get annoyed by occasionally weak dialogue, or you are turned off by unlikeable protagonists.

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe

Oscars 2012 – Post Script Snap Judgments

Oscars 2012 Snap Judgments:

Not a long post here everyone, just some thoughts:

1. I noticed they crammed all the technical awards into the first half of the show, presenting two or three at a time.  I’m fine with this one, especially since the average moviegoer doesn’t know or particular care about the process of making movies behind the scenes.  That’s unfortunate, but at least the Academy doesn’t make like the Recording Academy and give out the majority of the awards off camera.

2. Some of Billy Crystal’s jokes were funny, others fell flat.  I guess you can only host the Oscars so many times and stay fresh.

3. Good for Meryl Streep! It has become a bit tiresome to nominate her every single year and not give her an award for the last three decades.  If I were her I would have made like Woody Allen and stopped showing up years ago.

4. So let me get this straight, they cut the “Best Song” nominees to two, perform neither of them, and fill up time with a bunch of boring interviews?  Does anyone really care what Adam Sandler’s first movie memory is?

Oh and congrats to Lauren for guessing the most winners at our Oscar party last night!

(c) 2012 D. G. McCabe

Oscar Weekend! Top Snubs by Category

Top Oscar Snubs by Category

Ah the Academy Awards, the annual love-fest when the Hollywood elite get dressed up and give themselves a big pat on the back.  While Hollywood’s love for itself is true, sometimes its collective judgement proves false.  In that spirit, here are Cinema Grand Canyonscope’s top Oscar snubs of all time in the “Big Four” Categories:

Best Picture – “How Green was My Valley” over “Citizen Kane” (1941)

“How Green was My Valley” is generally considered to be ranked somewhere in the top quarter of John Ford’s films.  Certainly the tragic tale of a Welsh coal mining family has much to recommend it, and fabulous performances by Maureen O’Hara and Donald Crisp.

That being said, many film historians consider “Citizen Kane” to be the most important and most influential American film ever made.  The reasons for the snub include William Randolph Hearst’s vicious campaign against the film and Orson Welles’ legendary ability to burn bridges in Hollywood.  Also, perhaps Welles’ masterpiece was too far ahead of its time, and the Academy chose safer, more comfortable ground by selecting a high quality John Ford film for the Best Picture of 1941.

Best Actor – Art Carney for “Harry and Tonto” over Al Pacino for “The Godfather Part II” and Jack Nicholson for “Chinatown” (1974)

How does Jackie Gleason’s goofy sidekick from the “Honeymooners” beat out not one but two unforgettable performances by legendary actors?   Certainly, Carney is terrific in “Harry and Tonto.” But I can only guess that the votes for Nicholson and Pacino were so split that the third best performance got the award by a nose. But Pacino and Nicholson each gave one of the two or three best performances of their careers in 1974, if not the best, and that tells me that the Academy should have honored at least one of them that year.

Best Actress – Judy Holliday for “Born Yesterday” over Bette Davis for “All About Eve” and Gloria Swanson for “Sunset Boulevard” (1950)

Sometimes it’s hard to pick a winner.  The year1950 had an embarrassment of riches in the Best Actress category, and I don’t mean to downplay the quality of Holliday’s performance in “Born Yesterday.”  Still, “All About Eve” may be Bette Davis’ best performance, and Swanson’s Norma Desmond is one of the greatest characters in the history of film.  Did Holliday win because her Billie Dawn was a more familiar, more comfortable Eliza Doolittle inspired character than the other two choices?  Were Norma Desmond and Margo Channing (Davis) too similar?  Or did they hit a little too close to home for some of the aging actresses that voted in 1950?

Best Direction – The Entire Category

The entire category of “Best Direction” has been so mangled over the years that I can’t in good faith choose one snub over any of the others – they’re all bad.  For instance, if you look at my Top Twenty Directors list, you will only find four Oscar winners (John Ford, David Lean, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg). Examples of specific snubs include: “How Green was My Valley” over “Citizen Kane” (1941), “Going My Way” over “Double Indemnity” (1944), “West Side Story” over “La Dolce Vita” (1961), “Tom Jones” over “8 1/1” (1963), “My Fair Lady” over “Dr. Strangelove” (1964), “Oliver!” over “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), “Cabaret” over “The Godfather” (1972), “Terms of Endearment” over “Fanny and Alexander” (1983), “Out of Africa” over “Ran” (1985), and “Dances with Wolves” over “Goodfellas” (1990).

Don’t forget the 84th Annual Academy Awards are at 8:00pm EST on Sunday, February 26, 2012 on ABC!

(c) 2012 D. G. McCabe

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