Tag Archives: Movies

Why We Love Bad Movies – Part One: Poorly Made Films

Why We Love Bad Movies – Part One: Poorly Made Films

There are some bad movies that are worth your time, if you’re in the right frame of mind of course.  They are just poorly constructed.  B-Movies, Cult Classics, and crap that absolutely can’t be defined in any conceivable way can be a valuable part of our movie experience. Quentin Tarantino, for instance, is a notable proponent of the Poorly Made category, and if that horrible “my first movie experience” montage at the Oscars this year has any redeeming value, it at least goes to show that the movie stars we pay to see often have the same crappy taste in movies that everyone else does.  Let’s break down this category into the aforementioned sub-categories:

A) B-Movies 

e.g. Robot Monster (1953), The Killer Shrews (1959)

When I first explained the classic TV series “Mystery Science Theater 3000” to my parents, my dad responded, “Oh, those were the crappy movies at the drive-in that no one stuck around for.”  Often shot on a shoestring budget and in two weeks or less, B Movies were a staple of the Hollywood Studio System and kept fake blood manufacturers, costume shops with poor supply chains, and horrible singer after horrible singer employed in Southern California until the 1980’s.  While television rendered the double feature obsolete, it also rescued the B Movie genre from the dustbin with its endless, succubus-like need to fill hour upon hour of dead air with schlock.  Even the old B Movies were saved to a certain extent by MST3K by becoming objects of endless humor.

We love B Movies because we can’t take them seriously, but they were thrown together so fast that I doubt the filmmakers really cared one way or the other.  For instance,  can anyone be expected to take an “alien” seriously that is clearly a guy dressed in a gorilla suit with a diving helmet on (Robot Monster), or a “monster” that is clearly a dog with some stuff glued on it (The Killer Shrews)?  Of course you can’t – but it’s so ridiculous that it’s funny.

B) Bad Cult Classics

e.g. Reefer Madness (1936), Showgirls (1995),

They’re so bad they’re good.  Usually a bad cult classic develops a following because it does something it wasn’t supposed to.  The term “Cult Classic” can also be applied to brilliant but overlooked films like Blade Runner (1982) or Office Space (1996) which flopped at the box office but became popular later.  Those aren’t the movies I’m talking about.

Take Reefer Madness for example.  Here was a film that was designed to teach teenagers the terrors of marijuana use, but it was so over the top that it became a favorite of, guess what, marijuana users.  Showgirls was actually an honest attempt at serious drama, but instead inspired endless laughter and almost as many drinking games.  These films are different from B Movies because the makers of the films actually spent some time on them, and but they did such a crappy job anyway that the movies did the exact opposite of what was intended.

C) Total Crap

e.g. Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)

These may be the worst-made movies of all time.  They’re so bad that I had to separate them from the other two categories. Maybe there’s a obvious attempt to replace an actor who passed away halfway through production (Plan 9), or maybe it contains an endless montage of empty landscape and an antagonist who gets massaged to death (Manos).  Whatever the case, it seems that chimpanzees could be trained to make better movies than these.

By any objective standards these films fail in every conceivable way.  But we love them anyway.  Is it the the fact that we can sit down with a group and make joke after joke at their expense? Does it take a special, morbid talent to fail so spectacularly? Or is it simply because we could probably make better movies ourselves?  Who knows, but more importantly, who cares?  Just sit back and enjoy the train wreck!

Next Post: Failed Blockbusters

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe



Why We Love Bad Movies: Intro

Why We Love Bad Movies: Intro

So I’ve been traveling a lot the last couple of weeks.  On a flight to Anaheim, CA, I was stuck watching “New Year’s Eve” (2011) on the airplane.  As I picked apart its flat acting, predictable plot, dumb jokes, and complete lack of logic or creativity (oh and Ludacris playing a cop and prefacing nearly all his statements with “as a New York City police officer”), I couldn’t help but remember that this movie made a decent haul at the box office.  Someone must have enjoyed it somewhere.

Plenty of the top grossing movies of all time are hated by audiences and critics alike (Star Wars Episode I, the Matrix sequels, Pirates of the Caribbean 3) .  So why do we like some bad movies and not others?  Why do we keep coming back for more even when we know we don’t like it?  I think the best way to answer these questions is to talk about the “kinds” of bad movies: 1) Poorly Made Films; 2) Failed Blockbusters; 3) Cliched Films; and 4) Movies with No Redeeming Value.  I’ll start with Part I, Poorly Made Films tomorrow.

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe


Sideways (2004)


Directed by Alexander Payne

USA, 2004, 126 min

“No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving.  I’m not drinking any !@#$% Merlot!” – Miles Raymond

Two men spend a week in California’s central wine country in advance of one of their weddings the following Saturday.  In some ways, Sideways is a fairly standard buddy, road movie.  It is, however, an exceptionally good one with absurdly funny situations, mostly sharp dialogue, and well developed characters, including the California wine country itself.

It is a bit hackneyed to say that the setting is a character.  One can make that statement about any film set anywhere remotely interesting.  But the laid back, friendly wine country stands in stark contrast with the film’s main duo – the neurotic and depressed Miles (Paul Giamatti) and the amoral, sex-addicted train wreck, Jack (Thomas Haden Church).  The movie doesn’t play up the fish out of water situation, but it is clear from the beginning that neither character truly belongs.

Miles certainly comes close.  His often clobbers his dim-witted friend over the head with his knowledge of wine, and he is depicted as a regular to the area and a friend of the locals.  He is also constantly on edge, afraid of defeats that he has already conceded, and pining for the past.  It becomes clear that he doesn’t particularly belong anywhere, at least not until the movie’s ambiguous ending.

Jack on the other hand is a monster.  Miles sets up the week in wine country for his own selfish enjoyment certainly, but Jack’s selfishness exists on another plane of existence.  His actions are reprehensible, and if wine country were nastier turf he probably wouldn’t have made it out alive.  Needless to say he’s not welcome back there by the end of the movie.

While I enjoyed Sideways, it suffers from two issues.  First, in the few places where the dialogue is weak, it’s really weak (we get it – Miles sees himself as a Pinot grape).  Also, its two main characters are so unlikeable that it may turn some moviegoers off.  Otherwise, it’s worth a couple hours of your time.


You may like Sideways if: You are in the mood for a clever, mostly well written buddy comedy, or you absolutely love wine.

You may not like Sideways if: You get annoyed by occasionally weak dialogue, or you are turned off by unlikeable protagonists.

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe

Oscars 2012 – Post Script Snap Judgments

Oscars 2012 Snap Judgments:

Not a long post here everyone, just some thoughts:

1. I noticed they crammed all the technical awards into the first half of the show, presenting two or three at a time.  I’m fine with this one, especially since the average moviegoer doesn’t know or particular care about the process of making movies behind the scenes.  That’s unfortunate, but at least the Academy doesn’t make like the Recording Academy and give out the majority of the awards off camera.

2. Some of Billy Crystal’s jokes were funny, others fell flat.  I guess you can only host the Oscars so many times and stay fresh.

3. Good for Meryl Streep! It has become a bit tiresome to nominate her every single year and not give her an award for the last three decades.  If I were her I would have made like Woody Allen and stopped showing up years ago.

4. So let me get this straight, they cut the “Best Song” nominees to two, perform neither of them, and fill up time with a bunch of boring interviews?  Does anyone really care what Adam Sandler’s first movie memory is?

Oh and congrats to Lauren for guessing the most winners at our Oscar party last night!

(c) 2012 D. G. McCabe

Oscar Weekend! Top Snubs by Category

Top Oscar Snubs by Category

Ah the Academy Awards, the annual love-fest when the Hollywood elite get dressed up and give themselves a big pat on the back.  While Hollywood’s love for itself is true, sometimes its collective judgement proves false.  In that spirit, here are Cinema Grand Canyonscope’s top Oscar snubs of all time in the “Big Four” Categories:

Best Picture – “How Green was My Valley” over “Citizen Kane” (1941)

“How Green was My Valley” is generally considered to be ranked somewhere in the top quarter of John Ford’s films.  Certainly the tragic tale of a Welsh coal mining family has much to recommend it, and fabulous performances by Maureen O’Hara and Donald Crisp.

That being said, many film historians consider “Citizen Kane” to be the most important and most influential American film ever made.  The reasons for the snub include William Randolph Hearst’s vicious campaign against the film and Orson Welles’ legendary ability to burn bridges in Hollywood.  Also, perhaps Welles’ masterpiece was too far ahead of its time, and the Academy chose safer, more comfortable ground by selecting a high quality John Ford film for the Best Picture of 1941.

Best Actor – Art Carney for “Harry and Tonto” over Al Pacino for “The Godfather Part II” and Jack Nicholson for “Chinatown” (1974)

How does Jackie Gleason’s goofy sidekick from the “Honeymooners” beat out not one but two unforgettable performances by legendary actors?   Certainly, Carney is terrific in “Harry and Tonto.” But I can only guess that the votes for Nicholson and Pacino were so split that the third best performance got the award by a nose. But Pacino and Nicholson each gave one of the two or three best performances of their careers in 1974, if not the best, and that tells me that the Academy should have honored at least one of them that year.

Best Actress – Judy Holliday for “Born Yesterday” over Bette Davis for “All About Eve” and Gloria Swanson for “Sunset Boulevard” (1950)

Sometimes it’s hard to pick a winner.  The year1950 had an embarrassment of riches in the Best Actress category, and I don’t mean to downplay the quality of Holliday’s performance in “Born Yesterday.”  Still, “All About Eve” may be Bette Davis’ best performance, and Swanson’s Norma Desmond is one of the greatest characters in the history of film.  Did Holliday win because her Billie Dawn was a more familiar, more comfortable Eliza Doolittle inspired character than the other two choices?  Were Norma Desmond and Margo Channing (Davis) too similar?  Or did they hit a little too close to home for some of the aging actresses that voted in 1950?

Best Direction – The Entire Category

The entire category of “Best Direction” has been so mangled over the years that I can’t in good faith choose one snub over any of the others – they’re all bad.  For instance, if you look at my Top Twenty Directors list, you will only find four Oscar winners (John Ford, David Lean, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg). Examples of specific snubs include: “How Green was My Valley” over “Citizen Kane” (1941), “Going My Way” over “Double Indemnity” (1944), “West Side Story” over “La Dolce Vita” (1961), “Tom Jones” over “8 1/1” (1963), “My Fair Lady” over “Dr. Strangelove” (1964), “Oliver!” over “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), “Cabaret” over “The Godfather” (1972), “Terms of Endearment” over “Fanny and Alexander” (1983), “Out of Africa” over “Ran” (1985), and “Dances with Wolves” over “Goodfellas” (1990).

Don’t forget the 84th Annual Academy Awards are at 8:00pm EST on Sunday, February 26, 2012 on ABC!

(c) 2012 D. G. McCabe

Vertigo (1958)


Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

United States, 1958, Color, 128 minutes

“Alright I’ll do it.  I don’t care anymore about me.”

– Judy Barton

Like many of Alfred Hitchcock’s (1899-1980) best films, Vertigo examines a man who ignores the real world in favor of what is portrayed as a fantasy world.  Hitchcock often vindicates the protagonist’s obsession, or at least explains it as being the result of mental illness.  What is most unsettling about Vertigo is that there is no such justification for the disturbing behavior of the protagonist, and we’re actually made to sympathize with him.

To begin, Hitchcock introduces us to John “Scottie” Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart), a retired detective who suffers from a crippling fear of heights. Ferguson has been hired by his friend Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) to follow his wife Madeline (Kim Novak) around San Francisco.  Elster suspects that his wife has been possessed by a dead woman, or at least she believes that she has, and he needs Ferguson to help him confirm those suspicions.  As he follows Madeline, Ferguson grows increasingly obsessed with her.

Ferguson appears to be the typical, everyman protagonist that Jimmy Stewart (1908-1997) played in many of his earlier films.  Stewart’s performance forces the audience to sympathize with Ferguson, even as his obsessive behavior becomes increasingly dangerous in the second half of the film.  While Stewart is convincing the audience to trust Ferguson, Hitchcock is busy using every tool available to him to try to convince the audience that Ferguson is descending into madness.  As I watched, I couldn’t decide whether Ferguson was an obsessive maniac or a brilliant detective until the very last scene.

If Vertigo has a weakness, it is the somewhat stilted performances of its supporting cast.  I find it hard to hold this against the actors themselves.  Hitchcock’s minor characters are often little more than devices he uses to push his plots forward.

Still, Hitchcock was not attempting to create a richly layered world of interesting characters in Vertigo. Instead he was examining one question: how far will we go in pursuit of our fantasies?  I don’t think I like the answer.


You may like Vertigo if: you’ve ever enjoyed a thriller in your life.

You may not like Vertigo if: you demand complex secondary characters from every movie you see, or you just don’t like movies.

(c) 2012 D. G. McCabe

Metropolis (1927)


Directed by Fritz Lang

Germany, 1927, Silent, 148 min

“No! I must always stay at the Machine!” – Georgey 11811 to Freder Fredersen

Metropolis is one of the most important films ever made, but in many ways it is an outlier.   Fritz Lang (1890-1976) was far more interested in making dark, seedy, modern crime dramas than he was in dabbling in dystopian science fiction.  Lang himself never cared for what many consider to be his masterpiece, and the film itself has been subject to all manner of neglect, censorship, and re-editing.  It was once thought that about a third of the film had been lost forever, but in 2008 a nearly complete negative was discovered in Argentina, and thanks to the F.W. Murnau Foundation (http://www.murnau-stiftung.de/en/01-00-00-stiftung.html), a version of the film that comprises around 95% of Lang’s original can be viewed today (the original film was 153 minutes, the restoration, including inserted credits, is 148 minutes).

That was the version that I watched this morning.  The plot itself is predictable by modern standards (but only because it has been copied so many times) and the central message of the film is a bit simplistic and borderline naive.  That being said, those are the only weaknesses that I can think of, and the film continues to mesmerize 85 years after it was filmed.

Lang’s dark vision of the future takes place in a city where a vast system of machines sustain the prosperity of those who inhabit it, or more specifically, its above ground portions.  There are stadiums and nightclubs, pleasure gardens and terraces, and the people who inhabit these locales are well dressed, well fed, and happy.

This is not the case for the workers who operate the machines. These men and women toil ten hours a day in exhausting and repetitive jobs.  They work non-stop and in hellish conditions, risking certain death if they make any mistakes.  When they are not working, they are forced to live underground in squalid poverty.   The life in “The Depths” is a constant nightmare – a darkness of exhaustion, starvation, and isolation.

The hero of the story, Freder (Gustav Frohlich) is the son of the city’s ruler, Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel).  One day while he is enjoying his, ahem, female companions (no, that’s not a type-o, there are more than one), Freder’s pleasure garden is crashed by the beautiful Maria (Brigitte Helm) and a group poor children from The Depths whom she has brought to the surface on an apparent visit.  After she and the children are thrown out by security, Freder, who is enchanted by Maria, darts from his pleasure garden to follow her.

While searching for Maria, he witnesses a terrible industrial accident.  An exhausted worker makes a mistake, and causes the massive machine he is operating to partially explode, killing several workers. To demonstrate Freder’s horror, Lang provides us with a hallucination of the workers being thrown into a monstrous oven.   Although the film is silent, Lang’s imagery allowed me to imagine the screams of the workers so clearly that their sound could have scarcely added to the horror.

It is the emotions of the workers themselves, not Freder, that drive the course of the rest of the film.  Maria brings hope to the workers by speaking of  a coming “Mediator” who will bring harmony and understanding between the rulers and the workers. She hopes that she has found that Mediator in Freder. In contrast, Fredersen and his ally, the mad scientist Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Logge), have created a “machine man” to manipulate the workers.  Fredersen hopes to use the automaton to incite the workers’ anger in a plot to maintain control over them, while Rotwang has his own, more devious objectives.

Many silent films have a hard time holding the attention of modern audiences.  Metropolis does not suffer from this problem, and I don’t think the film would be greatly improved by adding dialogue.  The film moves along with such fluidity that the audience doesn’t have time to consider its weaknesses or hunt for clues as to what would inspire films such as Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, Gattaca, Dark City, the Matrix, and hundreds of others.  Despite the opinions of its author, it remains a landmark work that every fan of film should view at least once.


You may like Metropolis if: You enjoy dystopian science fiction films or adventure films, you are interested in where the techniques used in many of your favorite science fiction films come from, or you are in the mood for a high quality, emotionally charged film with high artistic merit.

You may not like Metropolis if: You absolutely hate all science fiction or silent films, or you get really annoyed with films that use somewhat predictable plot devices, even if the movie is the first time those plot devices were used.

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe