Fresh Old Adage

For the last few months I dissected the act of viewing film trailers as a viable means of determining a film's worth (at first-run ticket prices). I even wrote a post or two decrying film trailers. I've now decided to trot out an old adage, because it has—once again—proven to be the most effective way to determine if an upcoming film will be good, bad, or ugly.

Base your decision—whether or not to pay first-run theater ticket prices for a film—solely on the director's past performance.

If you thought all of a director's previous films were good, you will consider his next one worth the price of admission (now extrapolate those you disliked and hated to fill in the bad and ugly spots). If a single person writes, directs, produces, and edits, this is an outcome magnifier. Conversely, a creative committee is an outcome dilutor, (if the director works with producers, screenwriters, and editors he has less to say about the final product).

As an apocryphal-test of this adage:

I really liked Richard Kelly's previous films Southland Tales and Donnie Darko, both of which he wrote and directed. So I wasn't taking much of a chance on his latest: The Box (which he wrote, directed and produced). Even though the preview made me not want to see it and the film was loosely based on a poorly-written story by a bad author, I liked the film.

The adage was easily reaffirmed when a director's previous films were ones I had a strong opinion about, but what about a director with a less-than-stellar résumé?

I thought F. Gary Gray's 1998 movie The Negotiator was mediocre; his 2003 caper movie The Italian Job was nicely above average; but his 2005 un-funny comedy Be Cool (which he also produced) was dismal. I saw his latest: Law Abiding Citizen. It's a mystery-thriller, which was not as bad as The Negotiator but not as good as The Italian Job. I only paid matinee prices, and wasn't too disappointed.

So...the adage still holds up—average directorial-performance in the past, results in average future performance. What about a film made by a non-director or by someone who's never directed before?

Grant Heslov has been a bit-actor on TV for over 25 years; he helped produce the interesting bio-pic based on a true story Good Night and Good Luck; as well as the un-interesting and sour historical-comedy Leatherheads (both of these producer-credits were with his friend, George Clooney, in the director's chair). His first film as a big-screen director The Men Who Stare at Goats was very disappointing. A muddled, poorly scripted/created/imagined, mix of great actors doing what-all and what-ever. Grant Heslov is not a good director; I imagine every decision on his set being made only after he consults with all his actor buddies and the producers and the screenwriters.

So, if this adage is to become my Ouija Board—deciding what films I see—what upcoming films does adhering to this adage predict I'll enjoy?

Roland Emmerich's new film 2012? He his a writer/producer/director kind of guy. Although I don't like most his films (Universal Soldier, Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla), two of his (Stargate and 10,000 BC) were not terrible-to-average. But, based on these statistics, I will not see 2012.

John Hillcoat's new film The Road? I've only seen his film: The Proposal, which I liked. So, I'll probably take a chance on The Road.

Wes Anderson's new film Fantastic Mr Fox? Another man-of-many-hats. I really liked, (loved) four of his five films, so I'm confident I'll enjoy Fantastic Mr Fox.

James Cameron's new film Avatar? And yet another WrDiPrEd kind-of-craftsman! I greatly enjoyed about 50% of his films. The ones I disliked were the sequels and historical dramas. Since I like his sf/fantasy, I'll try watching Avatar.

Peter Jackson's next film The Lovely Bones? I didn't like the first film I saw of his (Heavenly Creatures) but his next four were good-to-great and he produced this summer's District 9 which I enjoyed immensely. He is on a roll, so I'll see The Lovely Bones when it comes out in a few months.

Brick Eisner's remake of The Crazies? He directed 2005's Sahara (a convoluted mess of sf-thriller-comedy-action). He's also been hired to direct a re-make of The Creature From The Black Lagoon, as well as a re-make of Flash Gordon over the next few years. He seems to be someone you hire to direct re-makes of failed films, which means (to me) that he has no creative talent of his own. I won't see any of his coming films, including The Crazies.

Joe Johnson's 2010 release of The Wolfman? These two films of his: Jumanji and October Sky, were OK. I thought his three films Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, The Rocketeer, and Hidalgo were blah-middle of the road-blah boring. I hated his Jurassic Park III. Based on these statistics I don't think I'll see The Wolfman.

You sit at the board and suddenly your heart leaps. Your hand trembles to pick up the piece and move it. But what chess teaches you is that you must sit there calmly and think about whether it's really a good idea and whether there are other, better ideas. — Stanley Kubrick (film director, 1928-1999)

(November will, now, be split between Oprah and Stanley quotes, because it's ramping up to be a post-heavy month.)

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