015 – What makes me think a movie is bad? (Oh my God – A non-political editorial!)

What?  A Pearl editorial and it has nothing to do with politics?  Actually, come to think of it, the subject of this post can only very loosely be categorized as an “editorial”.  But hey, it’s my blog, and I’ll categorize it as I see fit … so there!

In my most recent movie review post, regarding Valerian, I very clearly indicated my displeasure with that movie, even going so far as to give it a place in my all-time non-Top 10 list.  I think that I provided a number of somewhat coherent explanations as to why I was so dissatisfied with that movie.

But it also got me to thinking.  Just what precisely does or does not a movie need to do in order to incur my reviewing wrath?  When I first started writing reviews, and emailing them to friends and family years ago, I was sometimes asked if I had ever thought of trying to write movie reviews avocationally, if not professionally.  My internal answer to that question usually involved my feeling that I just felt hard-wired, it seemed, and predisposed to like at least something about almost any movie I would see.  I never felt like that was a very good starting point for a career as a professional movie critic.

In addition to that feeling, if I ever did review professionally, I would likely see many more movies, and certainly many of those would not be movies that I likely would have chosen to see if left on my own.  Whenever I have gone to see a movie to date, it has almost always been because I felt that there was at least something that attracted me to it.

So what are some of those terrible movies that I have seen in the past?  Given my age, I will have to go back quite a few years for most of them, so some of you may well not be familiar with them

Billy Jack.  This was the original movie with Billy Jack in the title which was released in 1971.  However, this was not the first movie that contained the character of Billy Jack.  That distinction belongs to the 1967 movie Born Losers.

  • Billy Jack, as with most if not all of the movies in the series, was co-written, directed and starred in by Tom Loughlin. For those of you, who don’t know who Tom Loughlin was, basically think of Chuck Norris before Chuck Norris… WAY before Chuck Norris.  Heck, Billy Jack was even before Bruce Lee.

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  • Billy Jack was a Navajo Indian badass, Green Beret Vietnam War veteran and martial arts expert who came home to right the wrongs perpetrated upon the Native Americans he grew up with. The movies dealt with Billy Jack coming home and kicking ass, going to trial because he kicked ass, and then later even being elected to Congress!
  • Here’s a TV reference for you with a link back to Billy Jack. Remember the TV series The Incredible Hulk, starring Bill Bixby?  In the opening credits, there was a scene where Dr. David Banner was speaking with the investigative reporter.  He tells him, “Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry.  You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”  I’ve often thought that was a bit of an homage to Billy Jack.  Often, before Billy Jack would kick ass, he would take off his signature hat, wipe his brow and with great exasperation say something like “You know I try, I really try to remain passive, and to control my violent temper.   But sometimes, sometimes … I just go berserk!”  at which point he definitely kicks some ass.

Here is a scene from Billy Jack where he goes berserk …

 

Here is David Banner warning Mr. McGee not to make him angry …

  • I clearly remember the first time that I saw the original Billy Jack. I was in the Air Force, stationed mainly in Washington DC in the early 1970’s.  It was a time where I was seeing LOTS of movies.  In fact, I kept track one year and my total for the year was well over 100 movies (which includes a number of movies I saw multiple times, such as Klute, which I will refer to again later in this post.
  • I remember feeling totally manipulated and almost dirty when I walked out of that theater. The movie shamelessly works the audience up into a lather with the gross caricatures created, and the humiliation foisted upon those poor Navajo kids.  Then in walks Billy Jack and you just can’t stand even having to wait at all for him to just make those bastards pay.
  • In addition to that, the movie was incredibly poorly acted. Loughlin’s actual wife, Delores Taylor, played his wife in this movie as well.  I’m sorry to say, but someone actually trying to act badly could not have done it more convincingly than Delores.

 

Walking Tall (1973).  This also was the original Walking Tall  with Joe Don Baker as Sherriff Buford Pusser (not  either of the remakes of this movie, by the same name, starring Bo Swenson in 1981 and starring The Rock in 2004).  (Geez, Dwayne Johnson has been making movies that long already?!)

  • Walking Tall told a supposedly true story which was very loosely based upon the real life Sherriff Pusser in Tennessee.  Think Billy Jack with a badge … eventually.  He comes home, also as a war veteran, to find his small hometown overrun by the scum boss of a local casino.  The casino is the centerpiece of gambling, drugs and prostitution that has made everyone in town afraid.

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  • Not to worry because enter Buford Pusser who challenges the corrupt Sherriff after being acquitted of kicking ass at the casino, and becomes the new town Sherriff. After which he continues to kick ass again, and again.  In the original movie, Sherriff Pusser dies in the end in a mysterious single car crash as supposedly the real Sherriff Pusser died in real life.  I don’t remember exactly whether or not The Rock dies at the end of his remake.  I’m pretty sure he does not.  That wouldn’t be any way to treat The Rock, now would it?
  • This movie came out just the following year after Billy Jack and I probably had a hangover from my feelings about that movie. My reaction to Walking Tall  was very much the same as the reaction that I had to Billy Jack – I greatly resented having that same feeling of manipulation.

 

Fun with Dick and Jane (1977).  George Segal and Jane Fonda.

  • Once again, this is the original that was also, for some totally inexplicable reason, remade in 2005 starring Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni (of Madam Secretary).  I intensely disliked “Fun with Dick and Jane”, starring Jane Fonda and George Segal.   I’m pretty certain that I never saw the remake with Carrey and Leoni.
  • The advertising said “Bonnie and Clyde they ain’t”.  Damn right.  One of the things that made Bonnie and Clyde so successful is that Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway actually made those despicable outlaws somewhat sympathetic, albeit with the great help of a script that often bore no resemblance to reality.  On the other hand, I had no sympathy, empathy or connection whatsoever to Jane and Dick.
  • I only saw it once, and it is hard to remember now so many years later just exactly why I disliked it so much.  But I think I just found the lead couple to be so extremely unlikeable that it overrode any other feelings I had about the movie.

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  • This was all in spite of my great admiration for the film career (at least most of her films) of Jane Fonda. For example, I saw, in theaters, her academy award winning performance in 1972’s Klute over 10 times.  I have even seen Klute  in a double feature (along with Summer of ’42) three times – once back to back on the same day.  That’s right.  I watched a double feature twice in one day.  I was in that theater in the tiny town of Milford Delaware back in 1972 for almost eight hours!  God knows how much popcorn and soda I consumed that day.  Now if that sounds really weird to you … I can hardly disagree

 

Bewitched  (2005) starring Will Ferrell and Nicole Kidman.

  • I enjoyed the TV show (though I much preferred the original Darrin Stephens, Dick York). I even sort of enjoy Will Ferrell normally (think strategery), though he can get on my nerves a lot of the time.  But this movie just left me totally cold.  I’ve only seen this movie once and my fading memory is that it was just totally stupid and not particularly well acted either.  But I remember clearly that I absolutely hated it.  Come to think of it, I actually may have walked out of this one.
  • I did note on at least this movie, that the majority of film critics and audience goers seem to agree with me. The movie received a 25%/28% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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My Dinner with Andre (1981) starring character actors Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory.

  • I know that I actually walked out of this movie. Why I even decided to see it in the first place is a complete mystery to this day.  Almost the entire damn film is two guys talking with each other in a Manhattan restaurant.  As I recall, I found both of them to be full of themselves, and about as intellectually annoying as you can possibly imagine.
  • Actually, there may have been at least one other movie that I walked out of, but I have been wracking my brain trying to remember it, with no success. If I think of it before posting this article, I will include that one in this list as well.

 

McClintock (1963) starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.

  • John Wayne was not the best of actors. He was beloved by many, but certainly not because of his acting chops.  But that has nothing to do with why I dislike this movie so much.  My dislike stems from only one solitary scene, in which Wayne needlessly and inexplicably kills a man in cold blood literally without thinking.  It was so bizarre and corrupt, and also so out of character, not only for Wayne’s character in this movie, but for most all of his other movie personas as well.
  • That’s it.  I have virtually no other memories of this movie.  But my memory of that one scene is so vivid, and caused such a visceral reaction for me, that it alone has earned this movie a place in my all-time non-Top 10 list.
  • I do have one caveat to this review. I am not entirely  certain that this is the movie in which Wayne thoughtlessly murdered that guy.  I know it was John Wayne, and it was a western (pretty safe bet there), but it may have actually been one of his other westerns.  But I will never know because I am not about to go back and watch any of his western films ever again.

I only saw Fun with Dick and Jane, McClintock, Bewitched  and My Dinner with Andre once, which was more than enough.  Whereas I have subsequently seen Billy Jack and Walking Tall at least once more.  In Billy Jack’s case, I saw it the second time years later and appreciated it in my second viewing for more of its campy nature.  It was so bad it was actually kind of funny.  I seriously doubt, however, that Tom Coughlin (the writer, director and star of Billy Jack) made it with anything but the most serious of intentions.

Given how I have gone into quite a bit of detail about Billy Jack in this post, including the You Tube video, you can probably tell that my opinion of that movie has softened a bit over the years.  But I can never remember ever since leaving a theater with such a feeling of real anger that I felt back in 1972 when I first saw Billy Jack.  For that, it retains its place in my all-time non-Top 10 list.

After having said Valerian would now make my all-time non-Top 10, in trying to come up with that list for this post, I can’t even think of 10 movies that would qualify.  I have listed six here, in addition to Valerian.

It would be quite presumptuous of me to consider a movie “bad” simply because I was not interested in the subject matter.  Therefore, I do not do so.  I simply avoid seeing movies that have subjects that don’t interest me.  Once again, that would likely create an obstacle for me were I ever to consider trying to review professionally.

I can’t seem to come with up any particular common denominator which has caused me to dislike each of these particular movies so much, other than the obvious thematic similarity between Billy Jack  and Walking Tall.  I guess if I had to pick one common feeling, it would be the feeling of manipulation that dominated my reactions to at least three of these six, which includes Valerian.  As you can tell, I don’t like that feeling … at all.