Once upon a time there was a website called the Bad Movie Mecca (the name is a reference to tea, by the way), where my friends and I wrote bad movie reviews. Now, that website has become a blog, the Mecca has moved to Marathon (because I felt that the original title was potentially offensive without having a point to make) and the
dream nightmare lives on.
Back in the day, it used to be that a movie had to be, on some level, bad in order to be featured on the BMM. That didn’t mean they needed to be all bad, nor that they coudln’t be in some sense enjoyable. Bad movies can still be enjoyed; enjoyable movies can still be bad. Bad movies can have good features, and can in fact be considered more good than bad. They may even be in some sense good because they are bad. A lot of this is a matter of personal taste.
Later, that requirement was waived in favour of saying that a movie must either be bad, or in some sense seem as though it really ought to be bad. 2014’s Hercules should have been a complete train wreck, and yet it was huge and glorious fun. George Miller’s 2015 tour de force Mad Max: Fury Road should by all rights be a complete turdfest. It’s a late-sequel-cum-reboot of a franchise that crashed and burned thirty years ago, a callback to the heyday of high-octane misogyny and big, dumb, petrolhead male fantasy bullshit. Thus it got a place on the BMM despite being a superb, gritty action thriller with a feminist politic and a subtle depiction of in-universe misogyny which acts as a stark and untitillating critique of the objectification of women.
These days, I just review everything here, and so can you.
Five Ways to Fail
The core of the review system remains the highly arbitrary ‘percentage of awfulness’ scoring. Marks out of 20 are awarded in each of five categories, with 0 representing flawless execution in the field in question, and 20 a complete failure.
Sometimes a movie is plagued not by bad writing or poor performances, but simply by an absence of budget, or even more commonly a failure to correctly exploit the budget available. Scores for production values are typically low for expensive blockbuster movies, even when they score highly elsewhere, and high for cheaper and direct to video fare.
0 – There are no notable flaws in the production. The cinematography and direction are excellent, costumes and locations gorgeous – or at least appropriate when gorgeous would be out of place – the music on point, and whatever effects there are blend seamlessly into the action.
5 – The film does very well, but has some head-scratching shots, or just fairly obvious CGI, however shiny. Alternatively, this might indicate a low budget film gamely working with its restrictions.
10 – This level should be awarded when the film is pushing its budget – and its luck – a little too far, or in the case of a higher budget release, just not trying.
15 – The film’s ambitions wildly outstrip either the budgetary restrictions or the ability of the filmmakers to achieve their ‘vision’. Clunky effects, bad audio, and over-intrusive music could all qualify.
20 – A score of 20 should really not be awarded unless a) the video and sound were recorded on the same camcorder and are simultaneously invisible and inaudible, or b) a multi-million dollar budget has produced something that Ray Harryhausen could have bettered in his sleep forty years ago.
Dialogue and Performances
This is a two-stream category, judging both the quality of the written dialogue and of its delivery.
0 – If Shakespeare did a shine job on a David Mamet screenplay, and a time- and death-defying cadre of the greatest actors in history turned in the performance of a grotesquely distended lifetime.
5 – An excellent script and nuanced performances, trading a few imperfections for the integrity of the space-time continuum.
10 – Either an all-round mediocre effort, or a fine cast gamely struggling with a turgid screenplay. As Harrison Ford is said to have opined: “You can write this shit, George; but you can’t say it.”
15 – General failure, or a terrible cast murdering good writing.
20 – Terrible reading of terrible lines, with no redeeming elements. The simple presence of a slumming British thespian usually rules out a 20, although Jeremy Irons has proven himself game to match the worst his cast mates can offer.
Plot and Execution
Again, this judges both the strength of the fundamental plot, and the skill with which it is laid out.
0 – A subtle and complex plot is artfully woven together in a masterclass of the filmmaker’s art.
5 – A decent stab at a complex plot, or simple done exceptionally well. There is no shame here; not even Raymond Chandler could remember offhand who killed the chauffeur.
10 – At this level, expect complex to become simply confused, or bad pacing to hamper simpler stories. Red herrings may turn into pointless and over-developed lacunae, or vital plot points be dropped in so fleetingly that they are forgotten by the denouement.
15 – With the proper lack of care, even a straightforward plot can become hopelessly convoluted, or a complex plot completely mangled.
20 – Top marks in this field indicate a nonsensical plot delivered carelessly, and are usually heralded by a chorus of ‘what the hell was that?’ at the end of the viewing.
Not unrelated to Plot and Execution, Randomness is a measure of the director’s ability to stay on task. Points are scored for scenes which either make no sense in the context of the movie, or which make no sense in the context of anything. Any given Big-Lipped Alligator Moment would give a strong score here, but so too do actions which have little motivation save to move the plot forward – or, indeed, delay its conclusion – through internal stupidity.
0 – Cause and effect are in full residence; actions have causes and consequences. Anything which seems to come out of nowhere will be explained.
5 – Plot advances by minor happenstance, a few moments are clearly slipped in for cool value, or unconnected scenes are included for a sense of verite.
10 – Chance is the ruling factor of the film’s narrative universe (unless you’re watching Intacto and that’s the point,) or one or two scenes or intrusive musical numbers just come right the fuck out of nowhere.
15 – The film contains enough coincidences to make a drinking game.
20 – ‘What?’ is the most commonly used word while watching the movie.
Waste of Potential
A complex and highly-contextual category, this is an assessment of the degree to which the film could have been better. Points are awarded for misuse of ideas, actors, budget… in fact, any resource which was obviously available. This is where big-budget efforts often come unglued, as they have far fewer excuses.
0 – The platonic ideal of this movie could not be more perfect.
5 – The pursuit of perfection is just that; pursuit. At this level, a movie falls short only by virtue of the flawed nature of humanity.
10 – An excellent job is hampered by factors largely outside the filmmakers’ control.
15 – An excellent opportunity is hampered largely by the filmmakers’ lack of talent.
20 – Special effort has clearly been taken to make the basic concept of the movie much, much worse than it should have been.