I used to think that you had to be at least a tiny bit smart to be able write a movie, but clearly that is not the case. Judging from the crap I see on Netflix (my theme for this month), I am amazed that movie writers are able to feed themselves. When I say feed themselves, I am not speaking metaphorically for a minimal economic success; I mean literally. They must be so stupid that it is remarkable that they can raise a fork to their face and cram a wad of mashed potatoes into their talking hole without stabbing themselves in the eye. I expect that eventually all the dumb ones would starve to death, and what will be left are only the ‘A’ writers and the great screenplays they write. Some limousine-liberal must be taking pity on them and having their servants feed them, for the bad movie situation seems like it is not ending anytime soon. You see? This is what happens when we interfere with nature. Please do not feed the typing monkeys!
First of all, a good movie should start with an event. Something significant should happen in the first few minutes that sets the tone for everything else that follows. Plane crashes are always neat, but car crashes will do in a pinch. Really, anything exploding would be acceptable. I am not interested in watching plodding scenes of character development for the first 35 minutes, because that can be done as we go, after the primary explosion. When you want a character to be the hero, have them do something heroic, like running into the post-explosion fire to save a ménage (http://synonyms.net) of raccoons from certain death. If you need them to be the coward, they can run away screaming, “We’re all going to die!” Villains can always be identified by their deeds and mustaches, so there is no point in having them read lines of contrived nonsensical monologue where they state their dark motivations, “When my mother died from cancer three years ago, I promised that someday I would get my revenge by killing all mothers.” Although I will admit, there is nothing like revenge for getting back at something.
If a movie begins with a scene of a guy turning off his alarm clock, I know I have plenty of time to kill before a weak plotline is exposed. Call me when something good happens; I will be in the kitchen watching the dishwasher do its thing with the dishes. When putting on slippers is followed up with the acts of eating breakfast, brushing and flossing teeth, and a somber commute to a day job, all without a single word spoken, and in the complete absence of any explosions, I know this movie is going to be a total snorefest. You do not have to show me how incredibly dull and boring the characters’ lives are, because I have one of those, so I already know what it is like. That is the very reason I am watching a mindless movie in the first place—to escape the doldrums of my own day-to-day. Even on fast-forward, such movies are incredibly boring, and they usually require subtitling for the emotionally impaired.
Many times, movies will start out with very fancy and artful opening credit scenes. Tiles that shift around, turning from one thing into another, and eventually revealing the DP’s name. It is all very cool and everything, but if more thought and creative effort has been put into the style of the credits than the actual storyline of the movie, the producers should demand their money back. It is like drinking nasty wine from a pretty bottle, or putting lipstick on a pig.
Movies written to a formula are so predictable that the ending can usually be accurately predicted after the first ten minutes, “that guy did it,” “she’s pregnant and he’s the father,” “the orphan from the plane crash grew up to be Angelina Jolie, and now she wants congress to repeal the law of gravity.” They are as predictable as reading the dictionary—it always ends in the letter Z. Eventually, recycled movie plots will all be numbered, and instead of having to sit through the entire thing, we will see a message at the start that says something like, Plot #33, Variation on a theme #2, Starring Tom Cruise and Cee Lo Green, followed by the end credits. What a time saver that will be.
Oh, and please don’t make the characters behave so abnormally different from genuine human beings. Strident women and men who cry over all of their emotions have been picked off by evolution tens of thousands of years ago, along with all the people who insist on being the first to try eating the suspicious looking red berries. A woman sitting alone in her living room hears a noise in the basement. The lights are out, and there is a killer on the loose. Does she leave and get help like a normal person would? No. She walks downstairs in the dark, all the while calling out, “Hello, is anyone down here. I am very attractive and completely defenseless, so please don’t hurt me.” Stupid and unbelievable behavior. Of course, if I wrote the story, she would call 911 for help, the police would arrive and arrest the murderer in the basement, and the movie would end after the first 15 minutes.
Pretentious characters that quote dead 17th century poets in order to make themselves look learned are so one-dimensional. How about quoting something more substantial from Harry Nyquist, one of the Bernoulli boys, or Blaise Pascal. Something like, system stability requires that all poles must be in the left-half of the s-plane with no repeated poles at the origin. That, however, would require writers having more than a remedial high school education. Instead of quoting Shakespeare, in the 24th century Captain Picard should be quoting the great 21st century philosophers from Jersey Shore, “Gym. Tan. Laundry.” I am not sure how he will fit it into a conversation, other than in response to, “So, Captain, what are you doing this afternoon?”
Any show of any genre with parents who do not listen to or believe their children are disturbing to me. What message are they trying to send? Adults are stupid, and children cannot trust them, especially if it is really important? Or, do parents think their children are compulsive liars who are only seeking attention? Either way, it is a bad message that should be stamped out by people with common sense. If one of my kids told me that an alien was living in their closet, I would at least go and take a look. It might turn out to be a Mexican gardener and not an E.T., but I would assume that the kid had seen something in the closet. It might even be Ryan Seacrest.
Perhaps it goes without saying, but movie endings should not suck, and they should be at least a little bit surprising. The difference between an OK movie and a good movie is in the quality and satisfaction of the ending. I am getting tired of the and magic happened types of endings. It was all a dream, or there was a button that they needed to press, or they all died unhappily never after. I once asked a guy if he had a match, and then I pushed him in front of a moving bus. The end.
Movies based on historical events are generally limited by the nature of the topic, and lack an opportunity for sudden turns at the end; I know how WWII ended. The same goes for Vietnam, Korea, Prohibition, and the Bee Gees, so do not try and surprise me with those stories, unless you are prepared to take some risks with historical accuracy. The ending of the 1996 movie Apollo 11 should have had Buzz Aldrin getting into an argument with Neil Armstrong, and, in a snit, deciding to remain on the moon. In the 1997 movie, Titanic, James Cameron should have had someone spotting the iceberg and avoiding it, or hitting it head-on and taking minimal damage. Show me the RMS Titanic making its way into New York harbor, and you have an ending with a twist worthy of M. Night Shymalamadingdong.
By the way, James Bond is such a total douchebag. We all know that Christmas only comes once a year, except when James Bond is involved, and then it is never. What self-respecting woman would voluntarily jump into the sack with that carton of wrinkled dried-up raisins? No father issues, there.
Writers should at least try and understand how the various laws of a nation work, and not just make up their own interpretation of due process. Just because the mayor is killed by a freak meteor storm does not mean there is going to be an emergency election, and the CIA does not arrest people for jay walking. The same goes for military ranks, insignia, and chain of command, too. Do a little bit of research before you sit at a table in Starbucks, with your new MacBook Air that your grandmother bought you, writing that screenplay.
Elements that are always movie ruiners:
- Long scenes of people looking at each other and facially emoting.
- Extended scenes of people walking down hallways, going from one place to another.
- When a character says they must travel to England, I don’t want to see them research where England is on a map, packing a suitcase, calling a taxi, driving to the airport, working their way through security, boarding the plane, putting on their seatbelt, asking the flight attendant for a drink, sleeping, arriving, deplaning, etc. Just say, and then they were in England. I have the imagination to fill in the relevant travel details on my own, but perhaps the writer did not provide enough dialog to fill 87 minutes worth of screen time.
- Any protracted scene that shows the systematic organization of pocket lint by size, composition, and color.
- Poorly done CGI or 3D effects taking the place of a solid story. Like CGI Joe.
- That annoying shaky-cam thing that is claimed to be deliberate for artistic reasons, but is really to cover up the fact that the director lacked the budget and brains to set up proper camera dollies.
- Ratings that warn of sex, violence, and nudity, but never actually deliver on any of them. Talk about overpromising and under delivering.
- Technologies that are magic and/or weird. Computer security with passwords that can be guessed with a maximum of three tries.
- The presence of Julie Benz, Will Smith or any of his offspring, or Helena Bonham Carter.