When Good is Bad

Photo credit: Steve Tropiano; Editing by: Jon Bassinger-Flores

Praise and positive reinforcement (treats) work extremely well in dog training and with humans.  The difference is, with dogs one can’t give too much praise when they do something good because of their simple and pure natures.   They like repetition in general, and when we add (even minimal) compliments to it, they’re sold.

Not so with us humans.   Our culture is caught in a time suck of overpraise.  Nothing is “good” anymore.  It’s fantastic!  Unbelievable!  Genius!  Imagine a canine demanding you up the ante from “good boy!” to fantastic, brilliant super dog?  Sure, they (and us) have a weakness for treats.  A dog might want to consume 12 steaks instead of a small plate of beef if we weren’t around to stop them.  But they have us to dole out the treats because our brains are bigger.  Yet who is really going to tell you to stop indulging?  (Note: Do NOT try this with your spouse, date or significant other, trust me).  Or be honest when the praise has gotten a little out of control?

Isn’t it okay for a movie or TV show or political candidate or business deal to be just good anymore?  Does it have to be BRILLIANT?  On the flip side, can’t a play just be disappointing or fair instead of being awful, offensive or a waste of time so great that one wants to see the producer/writer/director run out of town on a rail hanging by their toes?

I went to see “Super 8” this weekend and was so annoyed with its gargantuan plot holes that I left angrily just as the credits rolled and began to talk to anyone I could about just how much I “hated” it.  Of course, I didn’t hate it.  I loved Elle Fanning (on what plane of reality were she and her sister Dakota raised and can I redo my childhood?) and thought the lead young boy was wonderfully real.  In fact, I was so taken with their story that once the (spoilers, sorry) train crashed, the alien was hunted, the superheroes survived, and the unexplained bad guy government stuff started it was as if someone had told me I could never have pizza again and I started rebelling.  So much so that I missed what I’m told was the best part of the film – the short, finished Super 8 movie over the end of the end credits. (Have no fear, I’ll watch someone’s Academy screener because I’m still so mad at these filmmakers that I will not give them one more cent of DVD/Netflix or cable streaming revenue).  I guess I’m still p.o.’d, even now, which, I’ll admit is only slightly embarrassing because I think I’m right.

More Elle, less everything else

Speaking of the Academy, we spend about 50 years with only five best picture Oscar nominees and two years ago some committee decides to DOUBLE the nominees to 10.   Really?   As if to say they were wrong, the Academy several weeks ago announced it will now have 5-10 best picture nominees per year, all to be dictated by a top secret mathematical formula they hired a fancy accounting firm to design in order to better serve the membership.  In a further cost cutting measure, here’s some free advice.  JUST CHOOSE FIVE FILMS!  There must be a way to cut down this year’s list of “Black Swan,” “The Fighter,” “Inception” “The Kids Are All Right,” “The King’s Speech, “ “127 Hours,” “Social Network,” “Toy Story 3,” “True Grit” and “Winter’s Bone” and have the losing filmmakers still survive.  In fact, it might even make them stronger and give them something further to strive for (or totally defeat them and break their spirit but hey, survival of the fittest).

In the case of the Oscars, the issue is deeper than overpraise.  It’s marketing – selling – hype!!  Everyone knows it’s worth many more bucks (though it’s unclear how many more) if you can slap a “best picture nominee” and a little Oscar on your DVD box or in your advertising.  But the more people or things that have a logo, the less its worth.  Remember when Louis Vuitton, Beanie Babies and Cabbage patch dolls were something to crave?

I actually do have some friends with young children and occasionally they do (perhaps unwisely) let me around them.  Lately, I’ve noticed even their rooms are littered with awards.  (Third place?  Runner up? ) Here’s a thought — do kids in camp all really need a trophy, even when they’re lousy ball players?  I mean, I never won a sports trophy ever and I’ve only been in therapy on and off for 24 years.  Okay, 25.

Has anyone gone to a screening, performance or reading of the work of a friend recently?  What do you do when it’s over and it’s not brilliant, amazing and genius?  What do you say?   In my case, I was at something that I thought was good.  Solid.  It wasn’t great but it didn’t have to be.  Yet I found myself…well….stymied.  Good really isn’t good enough, is it?  Because then you’re met with – “what’s wrong with it?”  Or others suggesting – “hmm, maybe he’s jealous?”  (moi?)  Perhaps it has nothing to do with any of those.  Perhaps good is exactly what it seems to indicate in the dictionary – “to be desired (I’ll take that!) or approved of.”

Like the animals we love, we humans do crave approval.  But if everything is genius or great, then nothing is. Or is it?  People nowadays love to say – “no worries,” or “it’s all good.”  But if it’s ALL good, then does that mean spending two hours at “The Green Lantern” is equal to two hours watching, uh, “Star Wars?”  Or “The Seventh Seal?”  Or “The Godfather?”  At least one of them has to be a dog.  Sorry creatures of beautifully simple and pure natures.

Please don't make me see "The Green Lantern"

I’m not sure where this all ends.  I was planning to include a list of films (and TV) that I felt were good, but not great/fair but not awful – but I chickend out. OK.  It started with “Forrest Gump,” which I claimed to have hated at the time, but now admit is just fair, well-made but not at all my cup of tea.  It was going to end with “The Voice,” which I seem to love and am addicted to because I have wished my whole life that I could be a singer.  I know it’s not a brilliant TV show and just a good, well-made one.  But in the case of “The Voice” good is good enough.  In a really good (meaning positive and desirable) way.

Except, for some reason, I think that show is JUST GREAT!!!!!!

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18 thoughts on “When Good is Bad

  1. A word comes to mind from one of my high school teachers. Agreed. ‘Nuff said.

    Just one question for all you Super 8 fanboys/girls: why were the kids running parallel to the crashing train? Don’t people tend to run away from flaming tankers and flying box cars, not along side them? I’m just sayin’…

  2. See, I know there were massive plot holes in Super 8 (J.J. really loves his extraneous details, right?!)… but I still enjoyed it a hell of a lot more than most movies that get made these days. Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney were extraordinary – and this is coming from someone who absolutely loathes most child actors. Definitely check out the end credits, “The Case” is worth seeing over and over again!

  3. @JBF: If that’s your biggest problem with Super 8, then I’d say the real plot holes couldn’t have bothered you that much. The train cars were flying in every which direction. When you see the wreck after, the wreckage has at least a quarter mile radius. It takes at least a minute or two to run that far.

    @Steve: I agree overall with the concept of this post — people are far too absolutist in their evaluations. Often times I’ll ask someone why they disliked something and it’ll be because they expected something else or ‘it just didn’t sit right’ with them, but they will readily admit that it was still well done or adequate. I think it’s the give and take of those that hated it and those that loved it. If you were merely disappointed by something, you almost revile the people that loved it, and vice versa, so you want to associate yourself with one camp or the other in the most absolutist sense.

    • It looked to me like they were running parallel to the tracks. Not the direction I’d run. Ginsberg’s right…it was a really good shot. I have other issues with the plot that I’ve forgotten at the moment, but this was the first thing that stood out to me. It wasn’t my biggest problem. I just didn’t LOVE the film like some did.

  4. I hate to say it, but JJ Abrams should stick to JJ Abrams, not Steven Spielberg. Pure JJ has its own unique vibe, which makes it artful. Super 8 was an imitation that made it 60% of the way. It’s like we were hitting all the Spielbergian plot points without having the meat in between that made Spielbergian so good. Good kid actors and an emphasis on story outside of the monster (wow, so brave!) does not ensure a good film; I feel like they wanted an audience to love it for the mere fact that it was not Transformers 3. Super 8 didn’t have the magic that made us give a shit about the Cloverfield monster story walking around. We cared about ET and the Close Encounters we couldn’t figure out because that was special. They didn’t wait to decide on a story that would capture our imaginations–no matter how well done the personal, “my mom died” story is. This was like some lite version that said, “Hey, look, I appreciate story too! I don’t rely on just special effects! Isn’t this awesome? You should think so.”

  5. You’re all very cynical. Except John.

  6. I’ve heard to this being referred to as the “Kohl’s” effect. If everything is on sale all the time, its really the same as nothing being on sale. I’m pretty sure that’s science.

  7. Not that this is a reason to dislike a film, but I came into Super 8 with inflated expectations, because I really enjoyed J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek, and I figured this would have similar energy, emotional stakes, etc…

    Oddly, for a monster movie, it didn’t really have much in the way of tension. At least for me.

    • It’s often about expectations but I had none and was underwhelmed by the storytelling – and I too, really enjoyed his reboot of “Star Trek.” Not every one anyone does can be a winner!

  8. Pingback: Super 8 » Movie Monster

    • My favorite part of your review is the chastisement that “not being based on a comic book” doesn’t equal “original.” Well put!!!

      • Why thank you. I was trying to build on your implication that just because something is original, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s “genius or great.” (I should’ve added a stipulation about sequels — I’ve heard it tabulated that there are a whopping 28 to be released this summer.) Anyway, I’d be interested to hear which of Super 8’s plot holes bothered you the most.

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