Bad Movies Done Right – When Is A Bad Movie Not A Bad Movie?

Every week Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a movie either so bad it’s good or just downright terrible. Today: Special Reading Rainbow edition!

A question I tend to get a lot from friends and family is why do I watch so many bad movies. There are a ton of classic films I’ve yet to watch (titles that if I admitted to not having seen yet I’d have to turn in my “movie buff” card), yet I spend at least four nights out of the week watching films that no normal moviegoer would possibly choose to sit through — let alone watch in their entirety.

Some of the bad movies I am sent to review. Having films show up in my mailbox with titles such as Mutant Vampire Zombies From the Hood or Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus is a by-product of gaining a reputation as the guy who’ll watch anything. I really am the Mikey of movie watching.

Other bad movies I’ll watch out of choice — either because they are so gloriously terrible in their production values that watching the films is like seeing a train wreck in slow motion or because I have a special soft spot for certain bad movies comparable to the soft spot lonely fat women have for mangy looking kittens. There’s something adorable about movies that look like they’ve been in the loosing side of a fight with a bigger, better movie.

The bottom line is that I watch bad movies because I enjoy them. I enjoy laughing both with and at bad movies. I enjoy the fellowship that comes from a room of friends sharing a pizza and a twelve-pack of beer as they watch Troll 2. I enjoy the cheesiness, camp and misplaced ambition that springs forth from bad movies like puss from a zit. Most of all, though, I enjoy the cult that comes with cult films.

There’s something special about watching a movie that most people have never heard of and would avoid like the plague if they ever had. The solidarity shared by those who have suffered through some of the worst of worst movies is akin to what I imagine the passengers of the bus from Speed felt after Keanu saved them from a bomb-happy Dennis Hopper. Watching a truly awful movie is, in many ways, like surviving an hour and a half disaster from the comfort of your E-Z-Boy Recliner. By the time the movie ends, your ears are ringing, your muscles ache and a slow drizzle of blood is running from your nose. As you pop half a bottle of Aspirin and Febreze the damp spot of the sofa you’ve just spent the last hour and a half oozing into, you can rest easy with the fact you’ve survived a bad movie. Who the hell needs skydiving or bungee jumping when you can just watch Birdemic?

But what makes a bad movie a bad movie? According to John Dimes (writing as his alter ego Dr. Sarcofiguy), there is no such thing as bad movies — only bad audiences.

Sarcofiguy, the emcee of the horror host TV program Spooky Movie Television, has written a manifesto of sorts entitled There Are No Bad Movies! (Only Bad Audiences) — A Treatise on the Cynical Cinemaphile.

Dimes makes the argument that it’s never a movie’s fault if you do not enjoy it — merely your own. If you didn’t dig the last Transformers movie, don’t blame the director or the screenwriter, blame yourself for not synching with the filmmakers’ vision.

Like a very, very casual school essay, Dimes sets forth a series of points he would like to make supporting his argument and then systematically checks them off. Some points are better made than others but overall, readers will have no problem buying into Dimes’ passion and knowledge. He knows his stuff and he cares about film. His heart’s in the right place — even if the book struggles a bit to showcase it.

One of Dimes’ biggest pet peeves, it seems, is the overly caustic critic who spends more time focusing on the negatives of a movie than its positive. These critics try hard to be clever in their writing — often at the expense of the filmmakers’ feelings.

Those of you who read my column on a semi-regular basis know this describes me to a T. When it comes to Bad Movies Done Right, I consider myself an entertainer first, a critic second. I’m not trying to analyze a film’s critical merit or plumb its hidden depths nearly as much as I’m trying to write a humorous summary of the movie and leave it up to the readers to decide whether or not it sounds like something worth watching.

Despite the fact writers such as myself are the enemy as described in Dimes’ book, I found myself hard pressed to argue against the points he makes. Yes, myself and other critics like me who’ll gleefully kick a bad movie while it’s down are assholes — but that doesn’t mean there are no such things as bad movies.

Dimes’ arguments against the invalidity of the term “bad movie” aren’t as much arguments as pronouncements of support for movies he feels have been unfairly maligned. Sure, it’s not hard to disagree with Dimes when he says things like audiences shouldn’t judge a movie by its trailer or pay too much attention to special effects’ lack of reality — but than again, he doesn’t stray far from films that have been only slightly critically poo-pooed. Defending Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace is one thing. Where’s the defense for Manos: The Hands of Fate or Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever or Batman and Robin?

And for those movies he can’t defend, Dimes has developed a really clever way to say a movie is a bad movie without really saying it’s bad. Instead, Dimes says he was a bad audience for certain movies. He takes the blame on his own back like Jesus with a Blockbuster card — carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders alongside a large popcorn with extra butter.

But really, saying you were a bad audience for a movie is a lot like saying that bad movies are subjective. One person’s bad movie is another’s cinema masterpiece and vice versa. This is something I’ve always believed and supported. You, as a person, have every right to believe that Mac and Me is the best movie ever made — just like I have every right to slowly back away from you and report you to the nearest psychological hospital.

Despite my quibbles with titles and semantics, Dimes brings up very many valid complains about the state of movie criticism today — such as an over emphasis on factors that don’t have anything to do with the movie itself such as budget, celebrities’ personal lives or nitpicky little quibbles that don’t add up to much more than a fanboy’s frustration.

Other arguments, though, aren’t as well defended. Dimes’ assertion that there’s no such thing as a movie being too long feels a bit misguided. Dimes claims that it’s not a director’s fault if audiences grow bored and restless just because a movie has just waltzed past the four hour mark. It’s the director’s vision, after all — the audience can choose to tune in or tune out.

Just like there’s an art to acting and an art to writing, there’s an art to editing. Saying there’s no such thing as bad editing is a lot like saying there’s no such thing as playing the piano out of tune and off key. Leaving in unnecessary scenes or not providing ample transitions is valid criticism for a movie. It’s up to the director and editor to find the right length for a movie and that comes with carefully tinkering with the structure and pace.

A movie that’s too long doesn’t just mean that it’s reached the point past where audiences can comfortably sit in a single position for a set period of time — it means that the movie has fallen out of sync with its proper pacing. Sure, that four-hour cut of the film may be the director’s vision but that’s why optometrists prescribe glasses — to correct bad vision.

There Are No Bad Movies! is an easy read — written more like a blog than a text book. Unfortunately, to borrow Dimes’ phrasing — I may not have been a good audience for Dimes’ particular writing style. I couldn’t get behind the extremely casual vernacular he uses throughout the book.

A sample sentence reads: “Honey chile, you NEED to read my chapter over that so called complaint about “Style Over Substance!” It’s a fallacy, ya great BIG Nanny goat! Ya ninny! You got it all wrong! All wrong, I say! YAAAARRGGHHHHH! Sigh … I feel positively purged!”

An overuse of exclamation marks, purposely misspelled words and long, meandering tangents all add up to a book written like I assume the writer talks — a prose style that’s fine in short bursts but can grate on one’s nerves after a while. The book’s free-flowing style and clearly perceivable passion makes me wish Dimes’ arguments were available as a podcast or audio book. I’d much rather listen to Dimes’ talk than read what seems like the transcription of a late night, one-sided discussion of a slightly buzzed movie fan.

At the risk of sounding like one of the big bullies Dimes writes about in his book, There Are No Bad Movies! could have really used a few more edits. A helping hand to clean up some of the book’s unresolved tangents, distracting grammar choices and the few factual errors would have been appreciated. In addition, certain chapters could have been exorcised to the book’s benefit — especially the final chapter in which Dimes summarizes ten superhero movies, quotes some critic slamming said movie and than, instead of making an argument for the movie, mocks what the critic wrote.

The chapter, while entertaining in a certain way, didn’t offer anything new or substantial to what had already been written.

In the end, though, There Are No Bad Movies! remains worthy of a read for those looking for a few good arguments against cynical criticism. It certainly gave me plenty to think about.

I’ll still review bad movies and I’ll still refer to them as bad movies. I’ll still put more effort into being clever or cute than trying to preserve the feelings of the filmmakers. In other words, I’ll still be an asshole. Thanks to John Dimes, though, I’ll be more of a self-conscious asshole than usual.

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