Monday, December 10, 2012

Why do movies suck?

The simplest answer is filmmakers' lack of imagination, of course. But as Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon explain in their memoir -- an indispensable Christmas present for any would-be screenwriter who'd sell his grandmother and soul to get a Lexus -- the most successful writers TRY to be unimaginative. They live to sell concepts that can be expressed in a dozen words or less, and Hollywood producers revere them.

The book's title is "Writing Movies for Fun and Profit," and the words "Fun and" have been crossed out with a red pencil. (It comes from Touchstone Books and costs $23.99. Even if you have no intention of prostituting yourself in Hollywood, you'll get $24 worth of laughs.)

These guys know whereof they speak. They have worked on "Night at the Museum" and its sequel, the Jimmy Fallon/Queen Latifah turkey "Taxi," "Herbie Fully Loaded" and "The Pacifier," which along with their other films have collectively grossed more than a billion dollars. They're now collaborating on "Hell Baby," described this way on IMDB: "An expectant couple who move into the most haunted house in New Orleans call upon the services of the Vatican's elite exorcism team to save them from a demonic baby." Nuff said!

What makes their book so entertaining is that they speak truth so bluntly. Most of us assume moronic movies are failed attempts to do better work, but their theory is the opposite: Hollywood strives to make movies as bland, derivative and free of novelty or daring as possible, in order to appeal to the widest possible audience. That audience often can't tell the difference or doesn't care, so everyone involved goes home rich. (An example: The $177 million U.S. gross for the brain-dead "Night at the Museum 2.")

Their book offers frank, funny advice about real situations: joining the Writers Guild of America, entering arbitration over credits, what to do when your movie goes into turnaround (i.e. the person who fought for you at the studio gets fired, and his replacement hates you). You could use it as a guide to breaking into the business, while laughing over chapters with titles such as "I'm Drinking Too Much: Is That a Problem?" and "Why Does Almost Every Studio Movie Suck Donkey Balls?"

The book's depressing if you take it seriously, because it implies that thousands of people who might otherwise be at least slightly creative have devoted themselves to feeding you junk food. But as long as audiences buy that junk food cheerfully, why should they make anything else?


Anonymous said...

What a great blessing to this country it would be if Hollywood ran its course and ended.

Anonymous said...

There is no incentive for the big studios to make good movies anymore. If you make a movie, and market/hype it well, with a weekend or two of sales (at $12+ per viewer) you make money, regardless of what the movie is about, or if it is any good. A year later, the studio does it again with rentals and they profit again. Lower ticket prices and force the big studios to make good movies, to make a profit.

Anonymous said...

If hollywood "ended" liberals and democrats wouldn't have anyone to make up their minds for them. Geeze.

Augustus Gump said...

They're right. That's why 99% of movies are basically the same. Pick up a book on screenwriting and they tell you how to write to the formula. I don't remember the last time I was surprised by a Hollywood movie. Years of watching them means that, even if you are not consciously aware of the formula on which they all are based, unconsciously you recognize the plot (same one as the last movie you saw) and know exactly what is going to happen. If you have something original, it hasn't a chance - and no, I'm not a frustrated screenwriter, just a frustrated movie watcher.

On another note, the three comments before mine are just sad. What has this hateful bile got to do with the post?

Anonymous said...

The simplest answer is that all movies don't suck, but if we believed all your reviews, we'd think they did. Some movies do suck, and it's like you wait for those to review, instead of looking at what's worthwhile.

I've actually stopped reading most of your reviews. I don't think you know how to critique a film.

Anonymous said...

Audiences like the familiar. It is not too hard to figure out but it gets muddled when a film tries to appeal to too broad an audience. These films become incoherent because they operate on a buckshot philosophy instead of delicately layering of themes and references. Wait for the video or find a critic you trust before you spend your cash.

Archiguy said...

I'm a movie buff, I read a lot of critical reviews, and Larry Toppman is one of the best in the business. We're lucky to have him here in this cultural backwater.

Mr. Gump above was correct - where does this disgusting bile come from? There really needs to be more moderation on these comment boards. Or at least make people - mostly hate-filled freeloaders I'm guessing - prove they subscribe to the paper before they're allowed to leave comments. They ruin the comment sections for the rest of us who know how to act in a civilized manner and are trying to contribute to a worthwhile discussion.

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Elizabeth J. Neal said...

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