I: How to Qualify Badness
What is the worst movie you have ever seen? Perhaps you had a sixth grade history teacher, who, during your unit on the 1950s, showed you a B-movie called The Brain That Wouldn’t Die in an attempt to get the period off to grade. It could have been an action movie that’s plot existed only to string together several large scenes of urban destruction. Maybe this movie was a disappointing remake of a franchise you loved as a child. Possibly, it was an attempt to cash in on a recent fad – vampires, zombies, creatures from the black lagoon, etc. This movie might’ve been an attempted exploration of romantic love that just reminded you of everything that sucks about relationships. The characters could have been flat, the acting wooden, the special effects Paper-Mache. It could have been a comedy that should have been able to make you laugh and made you cry instead, or it could have been a drama that did the opposite. But whatever it was, it failed to engage you in some way.
For the past three years, I have been watching bad movies and writing about them for fun. And what I’ve found is that criticism is mainly difficult because it’s hard to compare different sorts of movies. It can be daunting at times. Even when you lump movies together into genres, each one individually is still influenced by a unique set of economic realities, artistic sensibilities, and cultural context. There are as many different kinds of movies as there are movies, so a rigorous set of critical criteria is necessary.
The variables going into a movie’s Objective Badness are frustratingly complex. Does it matter what the auteur intended for the movie to be? Does a cocky director hurt his cause, and does a humble one help his? How much does the exposure of the movie, and its economic success or failure, play into its quality? Should a cheaply-made movie be treated on an equal level with a movie that has had significant financial backing? Is it possible for a movie hated by critics to be good, simply on the basis of its populist appeal? And does it matter just how painful the thing is to sit through?
I’d argue that there’s not really a formula for this– pretty much every factor has to be taken into account. Context is essentially unavoidable during criticism.
D.L. Hughley, why were you in this movie? You’re better than this!
I am in no way ethnic- I could not be more of a honky if I tried. My mother recently got back the results from an Ancestry.com DNA test that matched her to countries in which similar people lived, and Africa was not on the list until the thirties. There is nothing black about me- I am the oppressor. So, this means that I can’t say anything about race because I can only comprehend what it’s like to be discriminated against in the vaguest sense possible, right? Not really. People say race is a complicated issue, but it’s not. It’s pretty simple. For example, when a nutritionist who professionally yells at people says the n-word to an actual black persons face, when my grandfather calls the waiter at a Chinese restaurant “oriental,” or when someone like Michelle Bachmann runs for President, I get that it’s fucked up and wrong. And let me tell you, Soul Plane is fucked up and wrong. Soul Plane has streamlined the process of making stupid comedy out of stereotypes so perfectly it gives Tyler Perry and Marlon Wayans envious wood to this day. This movie is to Black people what Blue Collar Comedy is to white people: a cinematic recalculation of the least common denominator reveling in ethnic stereotypes and anti-intellectualism. And, even if you disagree with me and feel that I can say nothing important about race because I’m a whitey, that’s fine- Soul Plane is still an unfunny movie that demeans not just the black community, but human beings in general, and I can sure as hell say something about that.
It’s not difficult to understand why Twilight became a bestselling book. Quality isn’t exactly the first thing on the minds of most publishers, cash is, and twelve year olds, (girls, in this case) will throw their (parent’s) money at anything. Stephen King made the compelling case that this is because the series is erotic, but very vaguely so, it appeals to newly pubescent girls who aren’t ready to accept their blossoming sexuality. And, since I was in middle school when the books came out, I can tell you, he’s absolutely right. Some older women read it, sure, and that’s sad, but as soon as Fifty Shades of Grey came out that kiddie shit was in the trash. The Twilight Saga is like the Jonas Brothers of modern fiction- it exists only as a platform for girls to realize they are interested in boys (or not) in a safe way. That being said, just like the Jonas Brothers, it fucking blows. People compare it to Harry Potter, but it’s not. It’s bad. The fact that there were five movies made out of it is a disgrace, not to mention the millions of dollars worth of shirts and accessories and dildoes sold. I can’t say if The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn- Part Two (Electric Boogaloo) is the worst in the series, but it’s the only one I’ve seen because watching all ten hours of Glittery Vampire Theatre is not worth the zero dollars I make from this website.
Just because a film addresses a topic that is highly emotional and controversial does not make it above criticism. This week’s bad movie, Act of Valor, stars and is about the lives of U.S. Navy Seals. It is dedicated to all of those Seal Team members who have died since 9/11, and every one of those guys is a better person than me. I value what soldiers do. They leave home to go fight missions that, let’s face it, are increasingly ambiguous. They used to have the comfort of saying they were fighting for their country, but since their country isn’t in the Middle East, that’s getting harder to say. Veterans are just the best, but sometimes movies about them aren’t. Yes, this is a film about the people who fight for my right to write about bad films, and yes, I have some strong words to say about it, but the Founding Fathers would absolutely respect my freedom to do that. Such liberties are the basis of the American system these people fight for, and to believe that my opinion on a movie is offensive to veterans just because that movie is about war is immature. Are we good? Alright.
This movie fucking blows and let’s god damn talk about it.