A bad movie is better than a movie you hate

I don’t see a lot of movies I dislike. Which isn’t to say I don’t see a lot of bad movies. But I shy away from the Hollywood product. And not the "official bad" Hollywood product, either. Just the "officially blessed" Hollywood product.

You see, a bad movie you love is better than a good movie you hate.

My case-in-point?

Martin Scorsese’s recent and well-reviewed crime movie "The Departed" cost 90 million dollars.


Okay, the flick is W-A-Y top heavy with “Big Name Stars” (BNS’s). More on this later-but--just for the sake of argument--Say you pay all the BNS’s (and the director) five million each. Let us estimate there are ten Big Name Salaries to pay (I'm not going to look it up to count—I think that kid from “Goodburger” was in it. I hope he got his five million.). That is still 40 million extra. 40 Million extra to make a pretty straightforward crime flick.

What costs so much in a crime movie? "The Departed" is hardly a formalist picture. You aim the camera and shoot. Zero car chases (thankfully). No kung fu (as they say). Maybe one wire gag, but it looked like a dummy. Well, it was Martin Sheen, so yeah, a dummy, but still. 90 million?

I thought--at first--that the film was a period piece, shot as though it took place in the late 80’s, but then the characters were suddenly using contemporary cell phones. So not a period piece. All of this after what turns out to be a superfluous prolog about racial tensions of the 60's. Come in late and it doesn't matter, like a joke about a Boston that starts out about Chicago. The only possible purpose the prolog serves is to allow Nicholson to use the N word in a film that otherwise has no place for it.

All of the Boston locations were of the point-and-shoot style, meaning the locations which were obviously sets, such as the state police HQ, might as well have been shot on *real* locations by a low budget 16mm crew. I am not praising the sets for their realism, rather, I am telling you that they did not get their construction money's worth--well, this *is* Boston, after all.

Editing was done in little TV commercial breaths. The lighting, however, was very good lighting. Indeed the cinematography was the best thing about this film. The Sound Design knob was twisted over to the special "extra-annoy" setting. An audio bleed is used in almost every transition. In fact, audio bleeds were sometimes used between different shots of the same scene (esp. whenever the camera was pointed in the vicinity of Jack™.

And what's the deal with Jack™ anyway? Instead of an actor, Nicholson has become more of a franchise product that you slather on your movie like cilantro or WD40.

But getting back to my point. 90 million dollars?

Gimme like 500k and I’ll get you “Sorority Slammer Girls” (Yes! I wrote a treatment for a movie called “Sorority Slammer Girls”)! Give me one million and I'll make “Nukes on the Moon” (working title). 10 Million and you get "God and Man in America". 20 million: “Sorority Slammer Girls 2000”.

BTW, “The Departed” contains the highest ratio of actors-I-do-not-care-for per movie, which is 100%. “The Departed” automatically becomes a sort of de facto benchmark. I’m not saying these actors have never appeared in quality films. To the contrary. I just don't care for them in particular. The following table is the absolute subjective truth. I’m not trying to be snarky in these evaluations:

Films for which I liked an actor in "The Departed"

Schema: Actor, role for which they are famous,
role in which I liked them best

Leonardo DeCaprio, Famous for : “Titanic”
Liked him in : “Critters 3“

Jack Nicholson, famous for (being Jack Nicholson).
Liked him in : “The Terror” and somewhat less in “The Raven” (Dick Miller would have been a better choice).

Alec Baldwin, Famous for (keeping his word and moving to Alec Baldwinia after the election)
Liked him in : “Hunt For Red October”

Mark Walburg, Famous for plastic shlong
Liked him in : No Funky Bunch jokes here. I've never cared for him at all. What a lucky actor.

Matt Damon, Famous for (I'm not certain)
Liked him in : Not certain. Was he in “Wonder Boys”? Didn’t care for it. Literary fiction doesn't cross over to motion pictures. See (don't see) any Paul Theroux adaption

I really have nothing against Matt Damon. He is just not very distinct. I'm not sure if he was the guy who was marrying J-lo for a while. Many of these guys are quite similar (Oh, now that's a deep concept! MUST have been be good screenwriting all along! The unintentional deep concept is the 2nd crutch of the bad writer {the first being nested parenthesis}).

Indeed “The Departed” suffers from the fact that Walburg, DeCaprio and Damon all look alike. I think the film relies on your familiarity with "BNS’s" as big screen ciphers instead of characters. There's the one that smokes. The one that plays by the rules. The pushy loudmouth. If these were chicks this film would be accused of being antifeminist satire.

Speaking of--if you have seen a J-lo movie (besides “Anaconda”), or “read” “People” “Magazine”, odds are you will be able to keep these guys separate due to your crucial celebrity knowledge. Your mother must be so proud.

I didn't care for “The Departed” at all. It does not take 3 hours to tell this kind of a crime story. If I ask you to imagine a crime story directed by Scorsese featuring Big Name Stars, the movie you create in your mind is better than "The Departed". When the critics give thumbs-up to “The Departed", they are giving thumbs-up to the movie in their own heads, not the movie on the screen. Their outlines were written before the first sprocket hole unspooled.

Certain filmmakers (Scorsese, Altman, and to a lesser degree Coppala) get free rides from critics as long as their films re-plow familiar territory. A filmmaker like DePalma or Spielberg will less frequently get a free ride, as they take more chances with material. Not conventional wisdom, I'm aware, but you know it is true.

Spielberg can make a crackerjack crime movie but imagine a credible fantasy-gimmick movie from Scorsese.

Even so, Spielberg also gets free rides for familiar material. The leaden “star power” that drags down his road-movie "War of the Worlds" rates the film an undeservedly high 72 on the Tomatometer. In that movie we are constantly goaded into rooting for the Martians simply because the focal characters make themselves so disagreeable (don't write me that they were not Martians). But disliking characters is something "The Departed" ratchets up by an order of magnitude.

And there are no Martians to root for.

Here is a tip for budding screenwriters: Cops. Doctors. Lawyers. Crime Lords.
Don't write about them. No Mafia. No gangs. Not one more shootout in an abandoned construction site.

Don't write about them for twelve more years.

It's been done to death.

Your cop-doctor-lawyer-criminals are no better and no different than anyone

Your take on a guy getting shot through a car windshield is not special, and not anything that anyone cares to see again in their lifetime. Or yours.

Maybe in a dozen years there will be something new to add.

What do you think?

Nice rant. I had no idea you hated the movie so much. I guess that we owe you a bad movie night. Promise not to hold a grudge?
I promise both to hold a Grudge 2 AND get my Ju-On.
You know what would have helped "The Departed"? Bruce Campbell!! That movie would have rocked with him in *any* capacity. And the Psychologist chick should have been Adrienne Barbeau.
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