Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Formulaic Movies

(By Richard Goodman, 25 June 2013)

When people knock summer movies as being too formulaic, they are making a blanket statement that implies a standard level of crappiness amongst them all.  Just because something is formulaic does not necessarily mean it is bad.  A lot of the time, enjoyment of a movie is based on how well it executes the formula.  For instance, how many times has “Romeo And Juliet” been reused as a movie plot?  Every star-crossed movie couple owes a huge debt to William Shakespeare’s 400 year old play.  “Clueless” was a great movie but it simply updated Jane Austen’s book “Emma” from 200 years ago.  There have been a dozen Batman movies but no one got it quite right until Christopher Nolan’s second one, The Dark Knight, came out five years ago. 

Looking at this argument from a broader perspective, it makes even less sense.  Coca Cola is made all over the world using the same basic formula, but it still tastes delicious every time you drink one, and especially if it is a Cherry Coke Zero.  French toast is made from slight variations in the way bread is fried after it has been dipped in a mix of eggs, milk and cinnamon (or possibly with vanilla, brown sugar, apples and other spices and flavorings.)  Despite using the same staple ingredients, some people make French Toast that tastes way better than other people’s.  Using a formula is not a bad thing.  What matters is what ingredients are used and how they are put together.  Grandma’s formula, her recipe, for apple pie tastes better than what you get when you buy a $6 apple pie that Safeway made in their bakery using their recipe. 

So formulaic is not bad.  What matters are the ingredients that you add or subtract from your concoction and how you prepare it.  If you make a cake that uses salt instead of sugar and you bake it for seven minutes at 200 degrees, nobody will go back for seconds because they’ll be too busy running to the bathroom to spit up their first mouthful.  Below is a list of movies I’ve seen recently, including numerous summer blockbusters.  Just about all of them follow some formula so I spelled out exactly how the movie was concocted, what ingredients were added and subtracted and then gave it a rating.  It’s a short hand way of describing what I thought about the movie without having to write a lengthy review, plus it will give you a sense of how tasty you will find the movie.  For example, if you don’t like onions, like The Walking Dead, you won’t like a nuanced, tangy, drama like World War Z.  So take a look at where some recent movies came from and tell me if you agree.    

5   Death Race 2 = Death Race – Jason Statham

5   Good Day To Die Hard = Die Hard With A Vengeance + Goldfinger – humor, plausibility and hair

6    Juan Of The Dead = Shaun Of The Dead + Nacho Libre - Zombieland

6   Bachelorette = Bridesmaids + Crazy/Beautiful - American Pie

6   Fast & Furious 6 = Fast 5 – Ocean’s 11

6   The Internship = Office Space + Old School - Wedding Crashers

6   Now You See Me = The Illusionist + Robin Hood – House Of Games

6   Oz The Great And Powerful = The Wizard Of Oz + Spiderman – Time Bandits

7   Before Midnight = Before Sunset + Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Wolf – Before Sunrise

7   Friends With Benefits = No Strings Attached + N’Sync & That 70’s Show – Garden State

7   Fun Size = Adventures In Babysitting + I Love You Beth Cooper - Suburgatory

7   Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters = Van Helsing – Monster Squad + Underworld

7   Iron Man 3 = Iron Man 2 + Quantum Of Solace + Transformers

7   Man Of Steel = Superman 2 + The X-Men – The Avengers

7   Moonrise Kingdom = GrownUps + Life Aquatic

7   Oblivion = Total Recall + Wall E – Minority Report – Independence Day

7   Olympus Has Fallen = Murder At 1600 + 300 – The Rock

7   Warm Bodies = The Walking Dead + Romeo And Juliet - Heathers

7   World War Z = The Walking Dead + Outbreak - Aliens

8   Dredd  = Judge Dredd- Tango & Cash + The Punisher (The good one)

8   The East = Erin Brockovich + She’s All That + Inception

8   Les Miserables = Great Expectations + Borat + Chicago - Mamma Mia

8   Star Trek: Into Darkness = Star Trek 2: The Wrath Of Khan + Sherlock Holmes: Game Of Shadows

8   This Is The End = Left Behind + Pineapple Express  - South Park The Movie: Bigger, Longer & Uncut + Superbad


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