On Movies

I was having a conversation with some folks in the ship’s Wardroom a couple days ago about what qualities we look for in movies, and what qualities are dealbreakers.

The number one dealbreaker for a movie for me is any attempt at slapstick comedy. Unless you are the Three Stooges, you can stick your slapstick comedy straight up where the good lord split you. I find it to be such a banal form of humor that it personally insults me to think that someone would imagine they could make me laugh by “fall down go boom” or hitting their head or making some stupid “WhooaoooaOOOAAHH!” sound as they go sliding down a fire escape toward an open dumpster filled with cushy black bags.

It’s fine for kid’s movies. Put it in a real movie, and I write you off forever. This means you, George Lucas.

In fact, I’ll write a movie off before watching one moment of it if the marquee shows a single character with what I call the “shocked idiot” expression. They get the actors to take these pictures to advertise the movie/show. These actors have to put on facial expressions that are in character. If the expression says “Farging Idiot”, I see it as a fair warning that the movie likely has no redeeming value.

Both of these elements are specific examples of a more general turn-off where movies and shows are concerned… unnatural responses. I find myself unable to suspend disbelief where unnatural responses are concerned. People casually walking away from explosions, bad guys with no sense of self-preservation, standing out in the open shooting at the good guy while the good guy wisely takes cover behind a car, people getting shot and acting like its no big deal, showing no genuine concern upon finding out that someone they knew was killed, etc.

I can suspend disbelief where circumstances are concerned. I can accept extreme and fictitious circumstances. I have no problem with spaceships, aliens, sorcery, the force, demons, superpowers, or spontaneous song-and-dance routines.

What I do have a problem with is when a purportedly ordinary person experiences something that would normally send someone into shock, and casually shrugs it off as though it was no big deal. I do have a problem with someone being knocked back 20 feet by an explosion (which would kill you) and walking away from it as though it were merely a gust of wind. I do have a problem with huge gaps of information being shrugged off with a wave of the hand.

Personally, my favorite comedy style is deadpan. Unfortunately it’s a grossly underutilized and undervalued style, but you still see it done well from time to time. Satire pulls a close second.

In general terms, authentic human behavior and genuine responses are the essential qualities I look for in movies, and art in general. I do not tend to appreciate contrivances, whether they be found in movies, TV shows, photography, music, art, or performing arts. As Bill Hicks so succinctly articulated, “PLAY FROM YOUR FUCKING HEART!!”

Slapstick comedy is “McDonalds class” movie making – it’ll always appeal to the lowest common denominator and therefore sell a million copies each time. This is one reason that the level of quality of movies has gone down the tubes over the last 30 years. Quality satire, spoofs, deadpan humor, authentic drama, and genuinely scary movies are becoming a rare breed – they don’t sell as well and are a lot more difficult to create. But if I had the choice between Hollywood releasing 5 quality movies per year, and releasing 500 movies a year, maybe a dozen of which are worth a shit, I’d choose the former. It would be worth it not to have to filter out the crap, two hours at a time.

If you’re really interested in movies, TV, Hollywood, performing arts, and that sort of thing, you may have a good time going through the TV Tropes site. It’s pretty enlightening to find out how many shows share similar characteristics and use similar methods. It also put names to a lot of the more annoying tropes you may have noticed but didn’t quite know how to describe.

P.S. Any movie involving Tyler Perry sucks. Hard.

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