Writing, Reviewing and Criticism In The Internet Age

Tag: List of films considered the worst

Doubled Barrelled Shotgun – Bad Movies & ‘Bad Movies’

So after the disappointment that was last week’s review I started thinking about bad movies and  what makes some movies worse than others, and to be honest that didn’t really seem like enough to get a whole column out of. Then I had a little epiphany – there are bad movies, and then there are there are “bad” movies.

Let me explain – “bad movies” appear in a vast array of different forms and the best ones, (in my opinion, as I do accept that tastes vary) come from the late 1980s and usually featured a muscle bound man blowing stuff up. Think ‘Commando’ (1985) or ‘Predator’ (1987). Big, dumb, loud films that had people blowing stuff up, caricatures of bad guys with evil beards and heroes who were unquestionably good and usually packing more muscle than a small bull. They were awesome. But they weren’t and most certainly aren’t even now, critically, objectively or artistically good films. Because films are not art – or rather, films are not just art. Films are fun. Films are entertainment and these films entertain a huge amount. They are ‘bad’ movies – some people use the term guilty pleasure as a way of justifying watching them. It’s strange and guilty language to use about something you enjoy, and it sort of suggests a distancing, a way of saying ‘yes I like it…..BUT I KNOW I SHOULDN’T’

When I stop and think about it, this strikes me as strange but really when you like at most forms of popular art, you’ll find similar language being used. People who enjoy certain pop music, or TV shows, or really popular books (50 Shades of Grey anyone?) You don’t tend to find this kind of thing in art forms that aren’t as populist as film and TV. After all, I’ve never heard about someone saying they’re going to see Edward II because plays by Marlowe are a guilty pleasure. There isn’t such a thing as a trashy opera. In short this might be part of the historical hierarchy of the art world coupled with maybe a pinch of guilt about the level of culture we engage in, but I really hope we can reclaim ‘bad movies’ as something to celebrate. This year the Edinburgh Fringe Festival had another midnight screening of the wonderful bad movie ‘The Room’ which serious cultural reviewers were calling one of the best things at the fringe. When the frankly hilariously bad ‘Showgirls’  came out it bombed and then people started throwing Showgirls parties to come together and watch the film with friends. In a way these ‘bad movies’ are a great cultural education ( OK maybe I’m pushing this argument a little far) but at the very least they bring people together and enable them to have fun in a way that Fellini marathon probably couldn’t.

Another thing I noticed about ‘bad movies’ is that they don’t appear overnight. It takes time for something to be recognised as a bad movie – ‘The Room’ was released in 2004, but it wasn’t until the last few years that it started to get wider recognition. The action movies of the 1980s that I love so much were treated very straight faced when they were released but in the ironic hipster nostalgia boom of my generation they’ve been re-discovered anew. But something has been happening recently – as always – that threatens to ruin everything I like about these films. I’m being given new ones, or even more annoying, new ones that are pretending to be old ones.

Total Recall. The Expendables II.  YOU GUYS ARE RUINING MY FUN!

Let me put it like this – when I look at films like this that are coming out lately, it feels like I’m being forced to have new favorite ‘bad movies’ and as I’ve said, it should take time for these movies to become the kind of movie that you can enjoy on a night in with friends.  Now this can happen more quickly – the frankly bonkers ‘Crank’ from 2006 and ‘Shoot Em Up’ from 2007 being notable exceptions to the rule but lately it feels like I’m being forced into these films. The remake of Total Recall feels like someone sat the writer in a room and told them the plot of the original and left out the one liners and the self-awareness that made the original a great Arnie vehicle. As a film, its fine – I suppose – competent at the very least but it isn’t nearly as good as the original. Will it become one of the great ‘bad movies’ of the future? NO. Will it be found in the bargain bin of HMV in 5 years’ time? Yes. Well, if HMV is still in existence.

Compared with the Expendables II though, the Total Recall remake is a minor irritation. If there was any a film franchise that was aching to tap into the nostalgia of the 1980s it is this one. The Expendables is desperate to be one of the ‘bad movies’ that you watch with a fridge of cold beers and all of your best friends.  And it must be awesome – BECAUSE YOU RECOGNISE THE ACTORS IN IT! AND EXPLOSIONS!

You can sense the neediness – it’s there in the complete lack of original thought and the generic action sequences that ape the action sequences that were interesting to watch 20 years ago, all that’s changed is the effects. What’s most depressing about the film though is how crushingly serious it is and the trailer for the sequel doesn’t give me any hope that they’ve made it any more fun. It used to be that movies like this made the effort to demonstrate some self-awareness in what they were, and not be so Po-faced. I can hardly be expected to find something awesome if all I have to look forward to is Dolph Lundgren glowering at me! Is this what the ‘bad movie’ has been reduced to? These aren’t ‘bad movies.’ They’re just bad.

That being said I do have some hope for ‘Lockout’ – who ever managed to pitch Guy Pearce fighting his way into prison to rescue the president’s daughter IN SPACE, clearly knows exactly what makes a bad movie tick…



Marvel Month IV – ‘I can’t even hate this’ or, Why film execs think we’re all stupid


It’s a widely held belief that those of us who reside in the dark and slightly musty area of the creative industry known as criticism really enjoy it when we get to talk about bad movies. Whilst this is true, I really don’t think someone gets into criticism, (maybe on a small film/book blog), simply so they can spout bile and hatred. In fact, thinking about it, I really enjoy bad movies. Watch them in a room with some good friends and a few bottles of drink the whole thing becomes sublime. Even on a critical level when a studio puts out a complete disaster there is a measure of, something approaching wonder, as to how something this bad was unleashed upon the world. The very absence of any technical skill, or artistic vision can approach a kind of modern art. If you don’t believe me, then please check out sublime ‘The Room,’ that elevates the bad movie to heights previously unscaled.

Mediocrity though, now mediocrity is special. The bad movies don’t enrage the critics of culture, what really gets under my skin, at the very least, is mediocrity. the important and crucial distinction for me is that a bad movie , at the very least, has attempted to do something. It may have failed, utterly, in every way but at the very bare minimum there was semblance of soul in the act of creation. Even without quality there can be integrity. Mediocrity is different; the most common way a film ‘achieves’ the dubious honour of being mediocre is really quite simply. A writer comes up with a script, its brilliant, bold and ground breaking – naturally it gets optioned off to a studio and given to a director who manages to get on board and come up with a bold vision to realise the potential of the script. So, our film studio takes the finished product to the marketing guys, the test screening people and it is here where the problems set in.  The finished product is too dark. It isn’t uplifting. Maybe it’s too cerebral for the cineplex crowd. And thus mediocrity is achieved.

The reason this gets me so blood boiling angry is that it pre-supposes that the vast majority of the audience for a major release is, well, kinda dumb. And so, to make sure that vast enough numbers of this cinema going public make it to see your, by now horribly butchered, picture then by all means sacrifice vision, integrity and insult the intellect of your market.

Now before anyone accuses me of wanting to abolish blockbuster movies in favour of monochrome art house movies where everyone speaks Danish, hold on. I love going to the movies, I don’t go to be a snob – I go to be entertained and mediocre films are so irritating because they set the bar so low for something that could be so great – Christopher Nolan’s Batman films proved that it was possible to do an intelligent blockbuster. And then there is this weeks film – ruined by the personification of mediocrity himself.

Hi, Ben Affleck. Yes, I’m talking about you. Because you, Ben Affleck made Daredevil just so, totally, utterly average.

Well, let’s be honest I am being unfair to poor Ben. The whole film feels like it’s been cut and edited down to within an inch of its life in order to get the running time under 100 minutes. There are a few niggly changes from the comics to the film but nothing that breaks the bank. However, whilst watching the film I was constantly aware that I wasn’t not loving the film. The visuals of Matt Murdock’s ‘radar sense’ were quite cool and I enjoyed the little nods to the comics by name-dropping certain Marvel writers and artists. There was nothing offensively bad about it but the whole thing lacked soul. Then I got about half an hour through. And then Matt Murdock tried to impress Electra (the token love interest) by having a fight with her. In broad daylight. Whilst dressed as Matt Murdock rather than Daredevil.


Frankly, let me skip over the worse sins of the film because they can be covered by the same caveat. The film feels like a film trying to be the ideal blockbuster films. Character development are slimmed down to the point of anorexia and the characters who aren’t Daredevil seem to just serve the point of getting the plot onto the next fight. And Colin Farrell is the bad guy, oh Colin Farrell…

Farrell plays Daredevil’s villain, Bullseye – a villain with the ability to be uncannily accurate with anything he chooses to use as a weapon. Which is a really cool idea for a bad guy. Farrell,  on the other hand, plays this cool character as Irish. As cartoonishly over the top as possible. And as a joke. In a way Farrell is the clearest example of something I initially struggled to put my finger on; the film manages to take the imagistic nature of the comics without taking the substantive writing. Apart from Bullseye the punchline, another good example would be Daredevil’s relationship with the Catholic church. In the comics Daredevil is a lapsed Catholic with a mother who took her vows into a nunnery, he is riddled with Catholic guilt, constantly wrestling with the moral and spiritual implications of violence, goodness and justice. It’s deep and well-written, delving into the issues confronting us all as a post-modern urbanised society. In the film? We get lengthy of shots of Affleck perched outside churches in the rain and there are a couple of fights in a church. That’s it. Taking the cool, and neglecting the real content. It isn’t bad, it’s just superficial.

Thankfully the same can’t be said of the comic run I chose to compare and contrast with, Daredevil Volume 2 written by Smith/Mack/Gale/Bendis/Brubaker/Diggle and with art by Quesada/Mack/Maleev/Lark. The first thing to note is the art. I am going to make an effort to find any more of Joe Quesada’s art – his pencil work is fantastic, fluid, alive and serves as a visual love letter to the gritty streets of Hells Kitchen that the writing perfectly complements.

As I’ve already said I wasn’t impressed by the film, but it wasn’t till I begain to read the comics that I appreciated just how badly the film had let down the source material. The comics are dark but not in a way that is trite. What impressed me the most was the writing from Kevin Smith, who only really appears in a comparatively low number of issues but shows the deft touch with dialogue and story that made Clerks and Dogma a couple of my favourite films. Another fact that elevates my opinion of the comic is, from what I know, I haven’t even read what is considered a vintage run on this character. Make no mistake, I’m going to seek it out.

To conclude,  the film is a new way of adapting badly; by adapting superficially from the source material the film feels rushed and insubstantial, without any of the depth or attempt at grappling with serious issues. If you based your knowledge of Daredevil on just the film, as I did, then like me I’ll be surprised if you can say anything about Daredevil that is distinctive or unique. Not that I hated the character, based on the film he was a hero, but forgettable. Bland and safe and designed for mass market consumption. That isn’t the kind of hero I want to become invested in and I don’t think anybody else should either. We’re better than that. Better than the watered down, bland and insubstantial shite we are expected to pay our money to see. Save the £10 you’d spend on the cinema ticket when the next piece of mediocrity comes out. Go out and read a book, buy a Daredevil trade and find a hero you can really get invested in.