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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Grading Movies

Welcome back to Free Toy Inside. This week we'll be discussing movies, because a geek doesn't thrive on video games alone. Somtimes you just don't want to have to be the one who pushes the story forward, but you don't want to have to use your imagination either; and so instead of reaching for a book, you reach for a DVD.

And let me be perfectly clear: There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Well, unless you're watching the wrong kind of movie, in which case: shame on you.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

In the world of Hollywood, there are several grades of movies. I don't mean the ratings-- PG, R, NC-17, DNPGDNCTHDDNUACSTM (Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect Two Hundred Dollars, Do Not Under Any Circumstances See This Movie) No, I mean grades. Like with beef (nature's Tofu) there are multiple grades of movie depending upon what kind of cow it came from.

Starting out, we have the "good" grade, which is the filet minon of movie grades. In other words, it's movies critics love, but ordinary moviegoers tend to scratch their heads at. Anything directed by Stanley Kubric, for example. These movies win the most oscars. Million Dollar Baby, for example, would qualify as a "good movie." You can usually, but not always, spot a "good" or "fine" movie by the fact that it is critically acclaimed, but does shite at the box office.

This isn't a hard and fast rule, however. Shawshank Redemption would be an example of the "good" grade movie, and that movie is very watchable. I think it has something to do with the ending. Good movies tend not to have happy endings, for the same reason the books they make you read in high school tend not to have happy endings. I'm not sure why. It must have something to do with suffering for art. The artist did, and now it's your turn.

Next down the line, there's the "bad good movie."A bad good movie is a good movie that just doesn't work. These movies can also win oscars, but have happier endings. "Gladiator" was a bad good movie, in that it had all the pretensions of oscar bait, but appealed too much to the groundlings. For my part, I loved every minute of it.

Again, this isn't a hard and fast rule-- Gladiator did win an Oscar, after all. (Though you might recall a lot of critics bawling about how they bought the award.)

Other such movies are Rocky and Rocky II, Cinderella Man, and The Incredibles. These movies are usually, but not always, less critically acclaimed than "good" movies, but do really well at the box office. They are the barbecue of movies-- the meat my not be of the best quality, but if it's done right it's probably better than 90% of what you've eaten in the past year.

Below the bad good movie, is the "okay" movie. Okay movies are the ones most people watch and buy on DVD. They tend to get mixed reviews, get unremarkable numbers (but profitable), and their watchability is largely subject to taste. It is within this region that your standard summer blockbuster and your standard chick-flick both reside, living in relative harmony. The "Okay" movie is the movie that you think should win the oscar, but doesn't, so it wins the People's Choice award instead. In other words, it's the hamburger of movies-- tasty and satisfying but kind of insubstantial for seven dollars. (I'm looking at you, Applebees.)

Movies of this caliber include Transformers, Die Hard 1 and 2, and The Rundown.

Now here's where things get interesting. Once you go down a grade from "okay" movies, you're in the minus world-- a world of bad movies. But, like good movies, there are some graduations. Of course, there's the "bad" grade (anything featuring Barbara Streissand), not to be confused with the "BaaaaaAAAAD!" grade (anything featuring Samuel L. Jackson). Bad movies are usually panned by critics, and do bubkus at the box office. For examples, see (or rather, don't see) Howard the Duck, Snakes on a Plane, Star Trek 1 and 5, and any Star Wars movie made after 1980. Bad movies are the lips and hooves of the movie world-- stuff they make oscar meyer bologna out of. In other words, consumable if you're in the mood but liable to leave you queasy afterward.

But the really interesting grade is what comes between Bad and Okay; The Good Bad Movie. If we're sticking with the meat comparison, the good bad movie is the kind of meat they make really good sausages and hot dogs out of.

The Good Bad movie, sometimes called the "B" movie, is the opposite of a Bad Good Movie. Nothing in the movie should work; the script, the acting, the story, the directing; nothing. But, somehow, it all comes together into something that's just darn fun to watch. Usually, this grade is mislabled "camp" but camp is a genre, not a movie grade. Camp is a what you get when you try to make a bad movie on purpose (This excludes anything by Uwe Boll, because making bad movies on purpose for artistic reasons is differnt from making bad movies on purpose for tax reasons). The result can be a good movie (Pulp Fiction) or a bad movie (Kill Bill, Mars Attacks) or anywhere in between. But just calling something "camp" does not tell you what it's grade is, nor does it give you an excuse for having made a bad movie.

The main difference between a good bad movie and camp is the nature of how a person enjoys it. If you enjoy the movie ironically, in a wink-wink-nudge-nudge-isn't-this-stupid way, then it's camp. If you enjoy the movie honestly, inspite of it's flaws rather than because of them, then it's a good bad movie.A good example of a movie that is both "Camp" and a good bad movie is Evil Dead 2. Good bad movies tend to slip through the cracks. They don't last long in theatres, they are rarely reviewed well, and their box office performance is spotty at best. They tend to have decent opening weekends, followed by two weeks of kilo-dollar returns, then consignment to the $15 bin at your local Best Buy. Good bad movies include Red Dawn, Spaced Invaders, and Bubble Boy.

This may seem like an awful lot of verbiage to describe something that most people understand inherently, but I am writing a geek entertainment blog after all. Anyway, I personally own 412 movies and TV series (each series counts as 1 title, by the way) on DVD that run the gamut from good to bad. I have them organized in a spreadsheet so by title, genre, sub-genre and three principle actors. It helps me pick what movie I want to see, because browsing over 400 titles in a shelf gets unwieldy-- even if they are alphabetized by genre.

Yes, I have some nerd in me as well as geek. Surprised?