Tag Archives: Film

How Wonder Woman Should Have Ended

(Warning: Here Be Spoilers)

Wonder Woman is a profoundly important film. The first female-driven superhero flick of the modern era is a soaring success, galloping on horseback to glorious box office numbers and critical acclaim.

But it had the wrong ending.

Before we dive deeper, let me just say that the film works on almost every level, often in poignant and meaningful ways. There are very conscious subversions of superhero tropes, and more importantly, there are scenes that are in no way subversions, which are refreshing thanks to being told from the female point of view.

For example, when Diana stumbles upon Steve Trevor in the baths, I was on the edge of my seat with joy. The number of times a male lead has lucked into seeing the female love interest naked while bathing is too many to count (never threaten that or someone on the internet will go and count them), and it was refreshing for a woman to get to enjoy a beautiful man—I think we can all agree that Chris Pine is indeed beautiful, or at least…above average.

Beyond that, Pine gets to play a fully rounded love interest, which is a great step in the right direction. He’s a three-dimensional character with his own story arc and narrative importance. Even more important, he’s not intimidated by Diana in some backwards form of machismo—in fact, none of the men are lessened because of her strength—just the opposite; he falls in love with her precisely because she is capable, forward-thinking, and entirely her own person (who knows how to dance and fight and experience pleasure sans men). But that’s just one of the cylinders Wonder Woman is firing on.

The setpieces are incredible, with memorable and emotional action. Each setpiece means something. The amazing battle on the beaches represents the moment when things can never go back to the way they were—it’s a heartwrenching moment of loss for the protagonist. Storming the trenches shows that Diana is able to lead by example and stir the hearts of men. Freeing the town allows Diana to experience humanity’s love. The beats are perfectly plotted.

That is, until act three.

And therein lies the rub. The premise of the film is that Diana is a godkiller created by Zeus to destroy Ares, and that Ares is the cause of all war, so if she can simply defeat him, war will end.

And then there is this beautiful, deep, profound, enlightening, powerful moment at the end of act two when she “kills Ares.” What a f*cking moment! She defeats Ludendorff, and…

War doesn’t end.

Because of course it doesn’t! War doesn’t exist because of Ares. War is caused by men because war lies in the hearts of all of us. We have the potential to do overwhelming good or enact overwhelming evil.

Diana kills Ares, but that doesn’t mean World War II doesn’t happen. It doesn’t mean we don’t go to Vietnam, or that there aren’t genocides or mass murder or terror attacks.

The moment when Diana is at her lowest, when she realizes that killing “Ares” won’t stop the war, is perhaps the most excited I’ve ever been in a superhero film. Steve Trevor tells her that maybe it’s not Ares. Maybe it’s us—but that doesn’t make a difference; things are still worth fighting for. And then he leaves to go try to do as much as he can to save lives.

At that moment, I was beside myself with how gutsy this film was, how powerful the theme. This was a superhero film that was going to exist WITHOUT A SUPERVILLAIN.

How incredible would it have been if Ares never existed, if Zeus truly had killed him all those years ago? And here Diana is seemingly without purpose, and then she must come to the realization that it’s not Ares who caused this, that men have the inherent potential to do evil, but they’re worth saving anyway? If the entire climax were about stopping that plane because even without a villain, saving lives and ending war are still worthy goals?

If the film needed a big bad for a boss fight, it should have been Dr. Poison. There could’ve been an explosion that blew up dozens of the small canisters Ludendorff was inhaling, and Dr. Poison could’ve gotten roided out on an overdose, and Diana could’ve had to fight her while Steve worked to down the plane. They could’ve worked together to complete the mission.

Because that’s all any of us can do. Our part. Our best to make a difference and lead by example.

How amazing would it be to see a superhero film discard the concept of a supervillain because villainy isn’t about supervillainy. Villainy is about being human, and at the end of the day, what matters is doing good in the moment.

This is the statement the film was making throughout. The underlying theme that elevated this piece of cinema. When Diana crosses No Man’s Land, it’s because she’s doing good in the moment because it’s the right thing to do. And the ending tried to have it both ways.

They tried to have a villain who was saying simultaneously “I am the supervillain” and also “none of this was my doing. It was their doing.” So if it’s their doing, why does Ares need to exist at all? You can’t have it both ways, Wonder Woman! Either he matters or he doesn’t matter. And my god, what a powerful film it would be if he truly didn’t matter.

I believe in my heart of hearts that somewhere out there exists a script without Ares, and it’s the blueprint for what could have been the greatest superhero movie of all time. But somewhere along the line, some exec comes in and says, you have to have a supervillain—Ares is the whole backstory! And so they shoehorn him in, but to attempt to maintain the theme, they force him to have endless doublespeak where he says he’s insignificant and irrelevant (and yet you still need to kill me for some reason and when you do all the soldiers will hug–but yeah, still they weren’t under my control or anything).

[Plus, their whole battle breaks Sanderson’s First Law–because we don’t know how fighting between gods works, we’re not invested. Every other fight sequence is amazing because we’ve been introduced to her shield, her lasso, her sword. God powers come from nowhere, and they can teleport and materialize weapons out of thin air and none of it is grounded in magic we understand, so we have no conception of when they’re in danger or how either one of them can win.]

This film is profoundly feminist. It is beautiful. It is moving. It is f*cking badass. And it was nearly the most interesting superhero film of all time. In an era when supervillains wreak endless destruction, decimating entire cities without a second thought, we nearly had a film that changed what it meant to be a hero.

So yeah, that’s how Wonder Woman should have ended.



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The Hobbit: An Unexciting Journey

The best part of the journey is out of the theater.

The best part of the journey is out of the theater.

An interminable journey? Uninteresting journey? Long fucking journey of ultimate boredom? So many options. My drive to the theater was more entertaining than this film, and I listened to Christmas Music. And I so wanted The Hobbit to be good. That’s the problem. All of us have seen The Lord of the Rings. All of us love The Lord of the Rings. We were hoping for another installment in that epic franchise, and what we got instead was a lot of walking broken up by meaningless battles of ultimate meaninglessness.

The Hobbit: An Uninspired Journey starts off nice and slow, letting you really sink your teeth into the exciting town of hobbitshireville, where such events occur as cooking dinner, writing in a book, seeing Elijah Wood, and then cooking a bigger dinner than expected. This lasts for about half an hour, but after that, Bilbo finally decides to join the thirteen dwarves on their mission to retake their underground home from the evil dragon Smog, or Mist, or something. I can’t remember.

The problem with this is that we’ve already watched three films where the stakes are the safety of the entire planet (or the middle of it at least). And now we have to care about 13 dwarves getting their home back. It’s a little bit hard to feel anything, especially when the dwarves get about as much characterization as in a Snow White film. There’s Hungry, and Fatty, and Foody, and Fighty, and so on.  From the very beginning we’re uninvested, and then we have to spend two and half more hours watching a bunch of characters get marginally closer to their pedestrian goal.

The movie tries to explain why Bilbo is on the quest; it really does. The brave company apparently needs a thief for some reason, and dragons are particularly bad at picking up on the scents of hobbits (because they’re so clean? Because they don’t use old spice? I don’t know). But here’s what I’m thinking. If I’m Thorin, and I say, “Yo, Gandalf, can you find a 14th member of our party?” And he comes up with Bilbo Baggins, I would be seriously pissed off. Like, can’t he get us one fucking eagle. Honestly. It could just fly us straight to Arabor and everything would be chill. But no. He gets a hobbit.

Everyone's pretty confused about Gandalf's decision.

Everyone’s pretty confused about Gandalf’s decision.

And armed with that hobbit, they journey on foot rather than on eagleback, and they have to deal with a bunch of things that happen. This film is like a tv show that has an awesome pilot, but then realizes it has no idea how to fill the plots of each episode. We get a great opening sequence, but then the rest of the movie is a series of unrelated events. The group fights some trolls, and doing so has little to no impact on the characters or the storyline. Then they walk some more and then they fight some orcs. Doesn’t affect anything. Then they’re walking along some mountains and it’s raining and someone shouts the stupidest line ever: “That’s not a thunderstorm. That’s a thunderbattle!” And then the mountains come alive and these two rock giants start fighting for no fucking reason. And then after that Bilbo decides that he should go home, which is an entirely unmotivated character change, because his actions during the random-ass giant battle didn’t endanger anyone, and it’s not like this battle was any different from any other. It’s like the writers knew they had to have some sort of story progression, but they were afraid audiences would get bored if the movie ever dealt with dialogue or characterization for more than five minutes at a time, so they constantly inserted bland and unnecessary battles, battles made worse by the light-hearted tone which robbed the film of any sense of danger. They fought some goblins, they walked, they fought some more orcs. It was so unexpected!

This scene especially made me feel like Peter Jackson was trolling the audience.

This scene especially made me feel like Peter Jackson was trolling the audience.

And then the tv show gets cancelled, so you know they can finally use all their good ideas in a great series finale. The problem is, we have to wait a year for the series finale. There simply isn’t enough story to sustain this two hour and forty minute movie. And the story that does exist is bad and I hates it.

We have the same shots of the ring falling onto the outstretched hand. We have the same deus ex machina at the end of the movie. Nothing feels fresh, and nothing is epic. The stakes are low, the characters (other than Bilbo) are uninteresting, and it’s impossible to be emotionally invested.

And honestly, keep an eagle with you. At all fucking times. It’s just a good idea.

The Hobbit Eagle 2

There were some good things about the film, however. For one, Radagast is awesome. He’s this animal-loving wizard who rides a sleigh pulled by rabbits and lets birds live in his hair, and whose top priority is saving hedgehogs from death. Who doesn’t like that? Another good thing about the movie is that, due to a clerical error, I was able to see it for free. And my third favorite thing about The Hobbit: An Insipid Journey, was that, since I didn’t want to spoil any of Star Trek, I walked out of the theater during the 9 minute preview and got to bond with the girl who handed out the hobbit posters. That was nice.


2 Pennies


Standard Crap

It’s like Lord of the Rings, but with short people, and no Liv Tyler.


Filed under Review

John Carter and its Infinite Flaws – Sex, Goals, and Telegrams

Technically a way to spend your time!

We made sure to get there early. After all, John Carter was so well advertised that almost two of my friends had heard of it. What if it sold out? This was opening day after all. As we pull into the theater, I see a giant, swarming mass of bodies. Lines everywhere! Noooo! Whyyy? Why didn’t we get there even earlier?

Turns out it was Bollywood night and it was just a bunch of Indian folk lined up to see Kahaani-D. Still, we barely managed to snag a seat for John Carter. By the time we arrived, they only have 307 seats remaining, at least, 307 in the IMAX theater. As far as I could tell, the other showtimes were completely empty.

And by the end of the movie, did we ever feel foolish for being there. What an utterly horrible attempt at cinema! The acting was flat and generally atrocious, the characters unlikeable, and their motivations were muddled or non-existent. The love story was totally stale and unbelievable, and the girl wasn’t even that hot. Even the color scheme of the movie was confusing! All people are red people, but some red people fight with blue energy? And some blue energy users are bad, and there’s green aliens who are good, but also green ones who are evil, and…Oh god.

The first problem with the movie is the opening scene, always a bad sign. It begins on Mars with some lofty explanation of some cultures and their problems. One city at war with another one or something, and there’s an evil one and a good one, but who knows which is which? Then there’s a battle on some sky-ships, and you have no idea which characters represent what, but one ship is getting shot the fuck up by three other ships, so you immediately start rooting for the underdog. And then, suddenly, when he’s about to be overcome, some godlike people come down and grant him an all-powerful wristband. If he chooses to wield it, he can be the next king.

I should have known Mark Strong was evil because, well, he's always evil.

Now, my friends and I are pretty intelligent. High SAT scores, good schools. But as we watched this, we assumed that this underdog was the aforementioned good species and that he would now have a way to fight off the villains. Yay! I thought. The hitherto unseen villains are about to get some serious comeuppance. And then my mind continued. Is this in the past? Does this king go mad with power after so many years? Will John Carter have to stop him now that he’s abusing his bracelet, and if so, how will he defeat the bracelet?!

Turns out this wrist-band wielding character is the villain and some god-people decided to give him the bracelet for no reason, and now John Carter has to defeat him. And when I say “no reason,” I mean no reason. This movie commits the worst atrocity I’ve ever heard of in the history of storytelling. At one point the villain (played by Mark Strong, who is awesome) has  captured John Carter. And Carter says something like “Why are you doing all of this?” And the bad guy replies, “We have no goals. Our species is immortal. We have no motivations for any of the things we do.”

Whaaa?!?! I’m sitting there, mouth agape, utterly taken aback. That’s the opposite of characterization! How can I possibly buy into the storyline if—what?!?! If you have no goals or motivation, why are you doing any of the things you’re doing?! Why are you doing anything? Wouldn’t everyone be living peacefully if you hadn’t interfered? I just, I, ergg, laskjg ahhhhhhh.

I still can’t think about that statement without my brain breaking. It’s like Captain Kirk outlogicing a robot into blowing itself up “Russ, I have this great idea for a character,” Kirk would say to me. “Sweet. Tell me about him.” “Ok, so he’s this immortal guy, but when I say immortal, I mean that he immediately dies from even a single gunshot no matter where it strikes him, and he has no goals or reason to do anything.”

And then my head explodes.

My friends and I decided that these immortals had lived so long that almost nothing could entertain them anymore. They’d seen and experienced so much that only the most epic situations could stir any emotions in them. Thus, they traveled from planet to planet, riling up the local species and working behind the scenes to create an all-out war. Watching it unfold and seeing all living creatures murdered in their apocalypse is the only thing that can help keep the boredom at bay for a moment.

That would also explain why these all-powerful beings chose to interfere in only the most minor of ways. They have access to an infinite amount of energy, can shape-shift to look like anyone, and can teleport. Who knows what other powers they have? If they want to get something done, they could fucking do it. Why have the princess come to her wedding? Why not just shapeshift to look like her and attend the wedding yourself? Why give the evil king that bracelet? Why not just kill him and become king? Why do anything at all?! Oh wait, even the movie couldn’t figure that one out. That’s why they had the villain state his complete lack of motivation! Well I guess that justifies it then. They’re 100% illogical beings.

Oops, this is already really long and I haven’t talked about the main character. I’m just trying to make the experience of reading this review a lot like watching the movie. Confusing, out of order, and utterly terrible. In the best way, of course! John Carter himself is completely unlikable. He’s a confederate cowboy who doesn’t care about anyone or anything and just wants to find a cave full of gold (and then he fights aliens. Sound like Cowboys & Aliens, anyone? And then he ends up spending a lot of the movie wandering through the desert with a princess. Prince of Persia much?). He sucks in every conceivable way. He has no sense of humor, he’s only sort of attractive, and the actor has no range whatsoever.

This was taken just after they asked him what the movie was about.

Throughout the film, he’s constantly bludgeoning into your head the idea that he fights for no man, that causes are for chumps. And this princess chick keeps trying to convince him that her cause is worthy, and then he says, “I fight for no man. Causes are for chumps,” and so forth and so on.

That’s great. At least this guy has characterization, albeit a crappy one. And you’re watching, thinking, I bet he’ll undergo a thing called character change, and by the end he’ll realize what’s important. I don’t think the people who wrote this have ever heard of character change, because it DOES NOT OCCUR.

He never, ever decides to fight for a cause. He’s never convinced that princess girl’s cause is just. The first time he fights, it’s to save the girl because she’s hot and he wants to bone her. And then he’s fully committed to going home and letting all the Martians perish, but someone points out that technically hot girl is a Martian, and that she’d be perishing. And you can see the moment when the thought crosses his face (again, thanks to such great acting). Wait, if hot Martian girl perishes, I will have no place to house my glorious cock! “To battle!” There is no indication ever given that John Carter gives one modicum of a shit about anyone. The moral of this movie is: don’t believe in anything. Believing in things is stupid. Now, how do I get laid?

I probably shouldn't be complaining. That's basically my main motivation.

Some of you might say John Carter has a change of heart because he falls in love. Love? LOVE?! There are a few scenes that look as though they might be trying to convey this feeling, but there are only about 2 such scenes, and they take up almost no time, and they’re horrible written. “Still playing at the madman?” asks the princess, referencing an earlier line of dialogue. “Or the thief,” smiles John Carter. And the princess swoons. Have you ever heard a line so charming? Oh wait, it’s not charming at all, and yet the director clearly tells the girl to swoon, and he asks John Carter to try to make it sound like he’s wooing her, although I’m sure no direction is capable of altering his monotone feeling: mild anger.

I can see casting an actor without range. Sometimes movies cast a hot person instead of a talented one, you know, to appeal to us young folk. But this movie was so poorly cast I wanted to tear my beard out. The main actor is such a pretty boy that he clearly cannot grow a beard. He wears one in the beginning of the film, and it looks so ridiculous that when you first see him you can’t help but laugh. He’s supposed to be this withered old war veteran with a wife and children, but he’s super young looking. This role absolutely needed to be played by someone much, much older, like Harrison Ford or Daniel Craig (oh shit! Cowboys & Aliens again!).

Lookin' Good

Those are most of the major problems, but I still feel that I haven’t accurately conveyed how riddled with minor flaws this film was. What about the time Carter, princess, and that utterly irrelevant green alien girl all go to that mystical river? Green alien girl is about to get into a canoe, which, to me, seems like a completely reasonable action. Then Carter sprints over to her all dramatic-like and says something along the lines of “Noooo! Don’t throw your life away!!” What?! What is he talking about? Is it some sort of suicide canoe? How do you even kill yourself with a canoe? Like, maybe if you had some rope, you could tie yourself and capsize it, but that doesn’t seem that effective, and they didn’t have any rope. This movie never explains the stakes of any given action, so they all just seem silly. And after Carter successfully convinces her that life is worth living, after she’s determined to avoid the dangers of canoeing, Carter goes “Let’s all hop in a canoe!” And the three of them start canoeing down the river. Whaaa?!

What’s so mystical about the river anyway? I get that there’s important technology at the center, but the green chief makes it sound like no one ever goes to the river because it’s so powerful and ancient and whatnot. But then Carter and co. run into a giant horde of violent green aliens who are right there. They don’t seem worried about the river’s mysticism one bit.

They seem more interested in fighting John Carter, which is a bad decision, because he and his dog-like companion fuck them up in one of the worst examples of intercutting I’ve ever seen. Some sappy music sets the mood, drowning out the sounds of violence, and we’re treated to scenes of Carter burying his wife and child spliced in with scenes of him killing huge quantities of aliens. His shove stabs the earth, his sword stabs an alien. What a clever juxtaposition! Too bad we know nothing about his wife and feel nothing for his plight. Too bad the actor doesn’t have the gravitas to make us care. The scene does not work at all.

On the plus side, the dog creature is a real champion. In fact, he was my favorite character. He seemed to make the most logical choices and have the clearest motivation. He took a liking to John Carter and spent the movie trying to protect him, always choosing the course of action that would best bring about Carter’s safety. The more I thought about it, the more I figured maybe the whole thing was the dog’s plan. There was only one of his species shown the entire film, so he has to be some sort of rare magical beast. Maybe he’s the counter to the villain—an all-powerful creature who uses his strength for good instead of evil. Maybe he knows that John Carter is the key and is nudging him to greatness. Yeah. I like that.

The best character in the movie, and I don't even know his name.

Almost done, but first I have to talk about some fun logic problems. Carter explains at the end that teleportation works like a telegram. A copy of his earth-based body is created on Mars. He then goes on to explain that his earth body must be protected at all costs, because if he dies on earth, his copy dies on Mars, you know, like a telegram. That’s what made those early world wars so problematic. Burn the original telegram and all others are immediately destroyed! Made sending orders super difficult.

So based on this, Carter devises a way to protect himself. He will lock his earth-body in a crypt that only opens from the inside. This stone structure will surely protect him from the immortal beings who can shoot blue rays that incinerate everything in their path including giant metal warships. Brilliant, Carter. Brilliant!

And he also doesn’t explain what his body is doing the whole time he’s on Mars. It’s not like telegrams instantly fall into comas or anything. The way he tells it, it seems like his body would keep doing stuff, completely unaware that a copy was out on planet number 4 being a hero. When Carter teleports back to earth, what the crap is happening? In order to accomplish that, wouldn’t he actually just be producing another  copy of himself? Wouldn’t there be two of him on earth now? One that had the memories of the Mars trip, and one who just thought he fell asleep in a cave? Jesus. I don’t know.

And what’s up with Carter drinking some weird Martian liquid and then immediately understand Mars-speak. You know what, I’m actually ok with that. It’s science fiction. They can have some magic. But why does the universal translator juice selectively malfunction? It’s able to translate every word perfectly, that is, unless it sounds cool not too. I was dying of laughter every time Carter and the princess bickered over the correct name of something. Like Mars was called “Barsoom.” But they were both perfectly happy to call water “water.” And sex was easily translated to “the only reason I choose to do anything.”

And yet it was all worth it, because once we got out of the movie (which began after TWENTY-FOUR minutes of trailers), we stood outside in the freezing cold for an hour and a half, just to tear the thing apart. We got an entire movie’s length of entertainment ripping on the thing! And what a blast that was! So if you have a couple of good friends who are great at picking apart every single aspect of a film, bring them along. It’s worth your money.




Filed under Review

The Nine Alignments Of Movies

If reading’s not your thing, click here to skip ahead a bit. Otherwise…

Before there were movies, before men and women gallivanted in front of a camera, tugging at our heartstrings, before Spielberg and Kubrick and Scorsese, before even time itself, there was a little thing called Dungeons & Dragons. At least, it started before I was born, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s right around when time began. My birth was apparently quite a hassle—I came out mouth first and the doctor thought I had a gaping hole in my head. I mean, I did, but he thought it was an unnatural hole when really I was just hungry. After that, it was smooth sailing for 12 or 13 years, until…

Doesn't a game that takes place in your collective imagination sound COOL?!

My friend, tempter that he was, showed me the magical world of D&D. And like any self-respecting nerd, I salivated over descriptions of Barbarians killing things in a raging frenzy, over Druids cavorting sexily with nature, and over Sorcerers who could bend the world to their will thanks to the dragon blood that coursed through their veins. Sure, at high school I was a pimply outcast, but in the game I could be whoever I wanted! I could be powerful! There was no way the jocks could defeat my level 13 Wizard and his maximized fireball spell.

Now I’ve grown up and of course become absurdly popular, but you know that. What you didn’t know is that I owe it all to Dungeons & Dragons. The tools I learned in those books were the keys to understanding and conquering life. Whenever I meet someone, I figure out what Character Class they would be. The hot girl at the party is a Rogue, trying to weasel drinks out of me but hiding her true motives. That guy everyone likes is a Bard, using his charisma and good looks to win hearts and minds, but deep down, he has no real skills. That dude wearing resplendent white full plate and wielding a dazzling longsword in one hand and an oversized cross in another is a Paladin, trying to stamp out evil in the name of God. You see, once I classify my competition, it’s easy for me to navigate the ins and outs of that daunting thing known as “basic human interaction.” But the most important tool by far is Alignment.

There are nine Alignments, each a combination of the two Axes.

I'm pretty sure Descartes died graphing on one of these.

On one side, Law and Chaos, on the other, Good and Evil. Put it all together and it looks a little something like this:

Take a moment to classify yourself, then let me know in the comments so I'll be able to interact with you socially.

If people, complicated beings that they are, could be broken up into 9 easy categories, then why shouldn’t movies? Exactly. They should.

Don’t worry, good citizens. Russ Nickel is on the job.

The system of giving movies stars, thumbs, and scores is as antiquated as it is uninformative. For years, we have abided by these subpar schemes, too afraid to stand up and say enough. But we need fear no longer, for I, intrepid innovator that I am, have devised an entirely new method of judging cinema, and I call it:

The Nine Alignments of Movies

Below, you’ll find each category expertly explained, if I do say so myself.


Spectacular Gold

We know them when we see them—movies that spin tales so brilliant even Rumpelstiltskin would be proud. They win awards for their acting and direction, but they’re not so artsy that they bore us common folk (not that you’re common). Yes, these are the films that help critics and bumpkins set aside their differences and embrace in the joy of cinema.

My Pick: Gladiator. To answer Peter Graves’ question, I do like movies about gladiators, especially this one. Russell Crowe is a champion (just like all Russells), the plot is poignant, and the action is awesome. It’s nearly universally praised, and it boasts an award for Best Picture.

Other Examples: Forrest Gump, Groundhog Day, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Titanic, Pretty much all Pixar movies


Spectacular Fluff

The acting may not be award-worthy, the plot may be absurd, and there might be a distinct lack of originality, but these movies are fun dammit! Of medium quality, film snobs will ignore them, but you and I know better. Good work, us.

My Pick: Independence Day. Will Smith entertains with his alien-punching and general badassery, Jeff Goldblum amuses with his ability to hack into a computer system of alien origin when most of us can barely make Windows Vista do what we want, and Bill Pullman rouses our patriotism with his epic speech. Plus, there’s an awesome Russell in this movie too. Unlike him, however, I certainly haven’t quit drinking.

Other Examples: Live Free or Die Hard, Troy, The Notebook, How to Train Your Dragon, Basically every good action movie


Spectacular Crap

My personal favorite category. Riddled with terrible dialogue, these movies are endlessly quotable, and the outlandish setpieces are a blast to describe to your friends! Whether it’s wolves on a boat in the middle of a city street or a bus that has to ramp off a freeway because it can’t slow down, these films’ plots are laughably over-the-top, the characters’ motivations are bipolar, and there’s usually a preposterous amount of illogical action. What’s not to love?

My Pick: G.I. Joe. Just listen to this dialogue:

Cobra Commander: “This will only hurt a little. What comes next, more so.” Very reassuring, doc.

Zartan: “Oh. That’s right. You don’t kill women.” Storm Shadow: “For you, Zartan, I’d make an exception.” Buuuuuurn!!!

Storm Shadow: “When our master was killed, you took a vow of silence. Now you will die without a word.” How fitting!

James McCullen: “Once unleashed, the nanomites will not stop. Ever.” They won’t stop EVER?!? That doesn’t sound like a smart plan, seeing as they can eat entire cities.

As for ridiculous action sequences, the Eiffel tower explodes (a digitally embiggened version of the Eiffel tower, no less—you know, to make it more epic), there’s an underwater base that gets crushed when a bunch of ice sinks onto it, and two ninjas duke it out in a giant reactor core. That, my friends, is some Spectacular Crap.

Other Examples: Speed, The Day After Tomorrow, Speed Racer, The Core, Most disaster movies


Standard Gold

They come out every year, the run-of-the-mill, Oscar-hopeful films. Brimming with great actors, these movies deal with whichever depressing issue currently holds the nation’s attention. The director is probably foreign and it’s almost certainly a period piece. Perhaps a young white boy with a mental disability learns to play the piano with the help of his black football teammate despite the fact that they’re both orphans and everyone on the team persecutes them for their friendship. Or maybe there’s a war on, and only the fastest warhorse the world’s ever seen can turn the tide, but how is it supposed to run with a degenerative leg condition, especially when the only one standing up for him is a plucky cavalryman who’s coping with his homosexuality in an oppressive and close-minded society?

My Pick: True Grit. Great actors? Check: Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges. Great director? Check: The Coen Brothers. Heartwarming and semi-tragic tale? Check: the drunkard who cares only about himself learns the value of caring about others. The problem is that there’s just not much to this movie. The acting and dialogue are superb, but the story is unexciting. There’s little emotional attachment, and therefore it’s only somewhat enjoyable, even if it is Gold.

Other Examples: Seabiscuit, The Blind Side, Brokeback Mountain, The Pianist, Movies about boxing


Standard Fluff

Devoid of anything even bordering on original, these films leave absolutely no impression on you. Six months later, you won’t be able to recall more than one or two details, and that’s not a bad thing. It simply means your brain realizes it’s not worth committing the hard drive space to that hour and a half of mindlessness.

My Pick: Clueless. So my parents rented Clueless because they thought it would be an amusing diversion the whole family could enjoy. We promptly watched it and went on with our lives. A few years later, my parents rented Clueless thinking it would be an amusing diversion the whole family could enjoy. Not one of us realized we’d already seen it. After about 45 minutes, I start getting this dizzying sensation of déjà vu, and I say, “I feel like she’s going to get mugged.” My parents brush off the idea as absurd. A mugging in a light-hearted comedy? Never. Then, a few minutes later, boom! She gets mugged. My parents were amazed that I was a psychic, but then we went on with our lives. A few years later my parents rented Clueless, thinking it would be an amusing diversion the whole family could enjoy. Not one of us realized we’d already seen it. After about 45 minutes I start getting this dizzying sensation of déjà vu déjà vu. I say the mugging thing, parents brush it off, boom! She gets mugged. I kid you not—we watched this movie THREE times before any of us were able to remember having seen it. Man, were we Clueless. And that, my friends, is Standard Fluff.

Other Examples: I don’t even know. That’s the point right? Every romantic comedy ever. Every subpar action movie. Everything about werewolves, vampires, and zombies. Every animated Disney movie in between Mulan and Tangled and all but about three Dreamworks movies.


Standard Crap

The acting is a few shades short of acceptable, the dialogue is just above cringe-worthy, and the plot is riddled with holes so big you could drive your Hummer through them. Still, you can’t help but enjoy yourself, mostly thanks to the fact that there’s probably a hot girl in it.

My Pick: Fantastic Four. Jessica Alba is good looking. We can all agree on that. And I think some basically entertaining stuff happened. There were special effects and fight scenes and…well I’m not sure what else, but it was enough.

Other Examples: Clash of the Titans, Tron: Legacy, Alexander, Season of the Witch, Most Adam Sandler movies


Unbearable Gold

It wins all sorts of awards, but for the love of god, why?! Your parents think it’s the hottest thing since sliced bread, but apparently we’re jaded since we’ve never known a time when bread required effort on our part. You sit through it because you love your parents, but you’ll harbor that resentment forever. It’s just so slow moving, and there’s so much talking, and Nothing. Ever. Happens.

My Pick: 2001: A Space Odyssey. Monkeys banging sticks around, 15 minute scenes of a spaceship landing on a planet, 20 minutes of some guy re-experiencing his birth. Clocking in at well over 2 hours, this film is sure to bore anyone who’s seen Star Wars or virtually any other movie. It’s impossible to tell what’s going on, and whatever it is goes on for SO LONG. Sometimes I find it hard to keep on living when I know I’ll never get those hours of my life back.

Other Examples: Citizen Kane, Blade Runner, Ben-Hur, Master and Commander, Almost anything that’s over 2 hours that adults say you need to watch because it’s a “classic.”


Unbearable Fluff

With Unbearable Fluff, you’re not quite sure what went wrong. You know you want to stab your eyes out, but you’re almost positive you haven’t slept with your mother. What could it be then? These movies have good actors, maybe even a good premise. You can see how some people might not be driven into a frothing rage by the inanity of it all, and yet you notice foam spewing uncontrollably from your maw. If it were better, maybe you could enjoy it; if it were worse, you could rip on it, but instead it’s in that horrible middle ground, a spiky, castrating, death trap that no one in their right mind wants to straddle.

My Pick: Dinner for Schmucks. ’Twas truly a movie for schmucks. Look at that poster. Even Paul Rudd is ashamed. The only reason he’s involved in this travesty is because he got paid a boatload of money. But what about us saps, the viewers? We had to fork over a very small raft of our own hard-earned moola just to sit through this torture. It had actors with the potential for hilarity, but instead of being funny, this movie was a plodding endeavor in mental anguish. Finally the situations got so painful I had to leave the theater. I wandered around, striking up conversations with the employees I encountered, because I literally could not bear to watch this film. On the plus side, the employees were very friendly.

Other Examples: Meet the Fockers, Across the Universe, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Transformers 2, Anything with Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Kevin James, or Ben Stiller that’s more about uncomfortable situations than about clever writing.


Unbearable Crap

The worst of the worst. The lowest of the low. The unbearablest of the crappiest. These “films” have no redeeming qualities. By the gods, do they suck. Halfway through you have to run to the bathroom to wretch, and the only reason you don’t walk out is because you’re on a hot date. Even that wouldn’t be enough to stop you, but she’s also your ride. If you rented this, you’d watch it on fast forward and then throw the disc in the fire, fees be damned, because you’re doing the world a service by removing even one copy of that abomination from this world. And then you don’t even tell your friends you ever watched it. It’s that embarrassing. Or, if you’re like me, you spend the rest of your mortal existence bashing it, hoping that if you can get enough entertainment out of it that way, maybe, just maybe, the regret and guilt will stop and you’ll be able to sleep again at night.

My Pick: Fucking The Last Airbender. I already spent an entire review explaining why this is my least favorite film of all time, and then I proceeded to give it virtually all of the negative awards in 5¢S’s version of the Oscars, but I’m always willing to write just a little more, for I am driven by a hate so powerful that no matter how much I pour out, I can never be sated. The battle sequences are devoid of excitement and originality, the dialogue is delivered by children who clearly have no grasp on what emotions should look like, and the pacing is too terrible for words. The whole thing is narrated, presumably because Shyamalan was too lazy to explain things with actual scenes, and it was impossible to tell what was going on, though that may have been due to the fact that I spent a great deal of my focus driving a spork into my leg to help distract me from the much greater pain of watching the movie.

Other Examples: The Hottie and the Nottie, Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, Santa with Muscles, Everything by National Lampoon (ok, except Animal House), Everything by writing team Friedberg and Seltzer (Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, Date Movie, Meet the Spartans, Vampires Suck, and Scary Movie). If you ignore their first film (Scary Movie, after which they’d used up every idea they ever had), their remaining 5 films have a total of 16% on rottentomatoes.com. 16% total! For 5 films! They’ve been called “evildoers, charlatans, symbols of Western civilization’s decline” and “a plague on our cinematic landscape, a national shame, a danger to our culture, a typhoon-sized natural disaster disguised as a filmmaking team.”


Phew, that was a mouthful. For those of you who managed to read this far, it is now your sworn duty to spread this wonderful, amazing, spectacular and golden new rating system as far and wide as you can manage.

Why? Because it is time for change, my friends. Time to move away from simple numbers and stars. You know as well as I that a 2.5 out of 5 could be a time-sucking romantic comedy just as easily as it could be a life-changingly eyegasming G.I. Joe. It is up to us, armed with this new system, to help viewers everywhere make more informed decisions.

Thus, I rate this post:

Score: 5/5¢

Alignment: Spectacular Gold

If somehow this post leads to internet fame, I swear by Cinæmus, god of film, that I shall sacrifice a small goat in honor of Dungeons & Dragons creator Gary Gygax.

Written by Russ Nickel


Filed under Feature