Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Is mediocre the New "Good?"

Go Into The Story's Scott Myers and I exchanged a few tweets Friday night, which was motivated by my assessment of Green Lantern, which was "Not as good as I hoped, but not nearly as bad as I feared."

Scott replied: "Rinse, repeat for all comic book movies / sequels? Mediocrity = The New Good?"

I have to admit, I'm wondering if that's the case. I've seen a lot of movies this year that have been "just okay." Almost six months in, I can't think of a single release that's blown me away. I've been entertained, certainly, by movies like Thor, Paul, X-Men: First Class, and Super 8 among others, but I've yet to come across a film that really made me saw "WOW! Why can't I make that?"

In other words, it seems like Hollywood is doing a good job of getting on base even hitting a few triples, but no one's hit a home run yet - let alone a grand slam. Yet every now and then it seems that film fans try so hard to praise a particular film as not just good, but as the second coming of film. I'm not naming names, but there's been a recent release or two that seems to have gotten more credit than they're due.

For instance, something that's an original idea in a sea of remakes seems to get an A grade just by virtue of the fact that it's not a rehash. Yet if the film were held to a more objective standard. It might be more of a B.

So is this how we rate movies now? "A for effort?" All flaws are forgiven so long as the filmmakers had pure motives?

Which brings me to a couple tweets from screenwriter Justin Marks (Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.)

First he said, "Go find me a bad Hollywood movie, then find me the director who says he wasn't trying to do something special with it. Doesn't exist."

This remark clearly ruffled some feathers and I saw one reply Justin wrote, saying to a person arguing with him, "I refuse to accept your premise that there are people who intentionally set out to spend 2 yrs making a bad movie!"

No, of course no one sets out to make a bad movie, but that doesn't mean there aren't cynical reasons for making a movie - reasons that perhaps lead creators to cut corners creatively. There's also the fact that these movies are a product with a release date, and sometimes, creators have to make sacrifices to meet their deadline.

Let's put it this way - when you were in school and had a 20 page paper due, I'm sure you didn't set out to get a D grade. However, the circumstances under which you approached completing that assignment might not have been the most conducive to an A grade. You don't necessarily have to be lazy to be incapable of putting the best effort possible. Maybe the material was beyond your grasp, maybe you completely misunderstood the assignment, maybe you completely lost sight of the goal.

Whatever the reason, when the teacher handed you back your work, explained all the ways in which you failed the assignment, I'm willing to be you didn't offer a defensive "I tried!" and expect that to wipe the slate clean.

Filmmakers made bad decisions for reasons other than laziness - and just saying "Well, they tried" isn't good enough. That doesn't mean that an utter failure like G.I. Joe or Wolverine gets a walk. True, perhaps some criticisms of those films step too far into personal attacks, and I suspect that's what Mr. Marks is reacting to.

But when we start arguing that motive and effort are on an equal par with quality - that's what leads to what Scott was talking about - the day that medicore is the new good.

What do you think?


  1. We agree with you, Bitter. Nobody's trying to make anything new, special, or different.

    We think that Hollywood, especially the pro screenwriters, have realized that the audience is burned out, and doesn't care anymore.

    We just watched the trailer(s) for Transformers 3. Now the Transformers used to be the most awesomest thing ever when we were growing up.

    The Transformer movies sucked the life out of the story and only shat out CGI onto the screen.

    But the fucking public LOVES IT.

    What REALLY pisses us off about the Transformer movies wasn't the shitty screenplays, but the poorly staged action scenes. Even Bay was phoning it in for the first two movies.

    Often we couldn't tell who the fuck were the Decepticons, and who were the Autobots. And despite having ILM do the visual effects, everything about the whole movies just felt FAKE.

    Look what they're doing with "Battleship." The studios are dropping $200 million on a cobbled together movie based on a fucking board game (based on a common word) that the kids today have no fucking clue is about.

    Green Lantern should be a wakeup call that the audiences have grown weary of visual effects.

    We have nothing against popcorn movies, but if you've noticed, the popcorn movies that have characters people like, tend to do boffo business. Look at the new "Pirates" movie. The fucking thing's been out for a MONTH and has made close to a BILLION dollars. Sure, it has Depp, but the franchise is built on some good (but not necessarily great) storytelling.

    We do have to say this, the feature screenwriters today don't have any fucking imagination whatsoever anymore.

    We almost puked when we saw that the Green Lantern created a Gatling Gun, just like it was a fucking videogame, and he got powered up.

  2. Source Code is the one movie so far this year which swept me up in the story and made me forget I was in a cinema. The one movie that made me leave that cinema feeling renewed. It hasn't even made it's budget back domestically. Transformers will likely make more in its opening weekend. :(

  3. The unfortunate truthiness of today's cinemagoing audience is that a lot of them are fickle, easily-pleased idiots, and the unfortunate co-truthiness is that Hollywood is dominated by smart guys in suits who know how to give these suckers what they want.

    I myself, as I'm sure most of us will be, have been a fickle, easily-pleased idiot on many occasions. I loved Tron Legacy (if you think about it, Tron was a bit of a mess but had a quirky charm that made it likeable - so did TL on both counts) and I'm sure there are plenty of 'bad' movies I've enjoyed in recent years.

    Sad fact is that as long as people keep flocking to see movies that will obviously be terrible, then they will keep getting made. We've never been safe from trash that should go straight to video/DVD/whatever because we're a culture easily fooled by clever marketing and star names.

    Seconded for Source Code, though - great stuff. Felt they forced a 'happy' ending on it a little, but hey. Thumbs up either way.

  4. You mightn't want to name names, but I will: Super 8. Emperor's. New. Fucking. Clothes. Better believe this movie would've been shat on had Abrams/Spielberg not been attached to it. Friends and I debated our problems with it... it was a long fucking list. Everything half-way 'meh' gets applauded. Disturbing trend.

  5. Okay, above might be a bit harsh... but still: People are going way too easy on that movie. And I wanted it to win: Original idea, Abrams/Spielberg joint, alien, kids riding BMXs - I was pre-programmed to love this movie. But didn't. Unsmiley face.

  6. You want solid evidence that mediocrity is the standard for screenwriters? Look at the Black List every year. It's generally dominated by some pretty-mailed in stuff, in my opinion.

    In response to theauditorz's comment "We do have to say this, the feature screenwriters today don't have any fucking imagination whatsoever anymore," I'd just like to point out that blaming "screenwriters" as a group is a fallacy. Blame the guys who hire the bad ones, blame the audiences who go see their movies, blame the tasteless actors and directors who attach themselves to projects that suck for vanity reasons, blame the agents at the big 5 who haven't got a damn clue what good writing looks like (and yeah, there are more than you'd probably like to believe). And sure, I guess, blame the screenwriters. I've read enough scripts to know yes, as a group, screenwriters are pretty incompentent.

  7. Short answer, sometimes I think that people like Carson & you set a very high standard (rightfully) for yourselves. However, perhaps you merely need a palate cleanser. I find that I enjoy new movies more when I've interspersed them with classic movies. Or I'll sometimes even watch a Lifetime or Hallmark movie on the telly. Then I'm ready for a Hollywood blockbuster. Things look better when expectations are lowered. It allows more of a sense of wonder. The other thing I do is I often bring people w/me to a movie. Nothing like seeing a Disney/animation movie when you do it with friends & children :)