The Good, the (Not) Bad & the Ugly: OGR takes Directors to School

Morning class, as we progress through our review of the school year let me first say that not all of you will make it to the next grade. In fact some of you are being asked to leave the class permanently. I derive no joy from telling you this – just as I derived no joy spending a couple hours each time I reviewed each of your projects over these past years. Just know that you will be improving the quality levels of the class by leaving.

So there’s that. (Phew that was easier than I thought.)

To the bulk of you – the median – we all know that most of you have too great a gap between your best and worst. For some this means simply eradicating the low points and elevating your average output to new heights, for others it means not being so lazy and lifting your game.

Greatness can’t take a day off…

And for the shining lights in the class – you know who you are – I have loved each and every assignment that you have submitted, so much so that I have stumped up my own cash just to grade them. You have been a joy to teach and to be frank my assistance was probably not really any help at all to you.

Unacceptable

I have no option but to recommend this child be held back until they prove they are ready to produce work of a credible standard.

The sad part about ‘F-Troop here is that many of them were rightfully considered to be quality – or at least extremely promising – directors at some point in time. That is aside from Mr Bay and Mr Boll, who have carved out inexplicable careers thanks to; gullible teenagers with too much pocket money and; large Tax breaks for film financiers who care not a zack about cinematic integrity whatsoever respectively.

Michael Bay & Ewe Boll

2 much loathed guys. 25+ combined films, not one of them worthwhile.

Michael Bay wins the box office, Ewe Boll wins the boxing match.

No-one in the audience wins either way unless the mercy rule is invoked and they both fuck off.

McG

To your credit you didn’t totally mess up Terminator: Salvation, though no-one would ever confuse it for the first or second film.

But you saw fit to direct not only one Charlies Angels’ film but 2. THENNN, you deliberately dubbed yourself McG and continue to allow people to refer to you by that name. Sorry Bud, you haven’t got the credits in the bank to allow that sort of chicanery.

M. Night Shyamalamadingdong

The Sixth Sense gave him pull in Hollywood and reinvented the twist as a modern day cinematic device. It’s a shame that every film since has seen a decline in quality and impact.

Let’s just say that if he were a professional athlete he might have secured a big contract thanks to The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, but his record since would have seen him dropped to the minors long ago.

Unless he finds form and soon, it’s going to be a loooong Night (Shyamalan) for us all. See I knew your real name all along; how’s that for a twist?

Wes Craven

Too often the guy that invents something gets altogether too much credit – look at The Social Network. The twins coined the idea and good old Nerdlinger stepped in to refine it and take the credit… and the billions – Yes Wes Craven made some groundbreaking horror in The Last House on the Left, A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Hills Have Eyes. Yes Craven took a meta-look inside the horror movie conventions with Scream. Yes Red Eye was a pretty good, if limited, thriller.

Are they sufficient justification for 15 years of crap in which Red Eye was the ‘highlight’?

Wes you might have had a hand in bringing horror to the mainstream – for better and worse – but that doesn’t mean you have a meaningful role to play in the genre anymore.

John Carpenter

Ummmm. Ditto? Except in the sentence “Are they sufficient justification for 15 years of crap in which Red Eye was the ‘highlight’?” replace ‘15 years’ with ‘25 years’ and ‘Red Eye’ with ‘absolutely nothing’.

Brett Ratner

Let’s face it, in 1998 the mainstream world was ready for Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker’s hijinks were new and still fresh. Any talentless moron could have pointed a camera at them and allowed them to come up with something pretty good. Rush Hour was that pretty good film, but it took another 7 films (so far) and a heap of regrettable publicity before Hollywood twigged to what the general public have been screaming for over a decade;

Brett Ratner is actually a talentless moron. Nothing more. Nothing less. Why is he still getting work?

Kevin Smith

A one man publicity machine (and buffet destroyer), Kevin Smith allowed the initial buzz earned from Clerks to go right to his bearded head. His best moments rival some of Tarantino’s good stuff, his worst can’t be heard over the fart jokes and Tracy Morgan mumbling… Oh the fart jokes and Tracey Morgan were supposed to be the jokes. Well that’s embarrassing, though more for Mssrs Smith and Morgan if you ask me.

Kevin Smith can take his anger and outrage to the top of Mount Internet and tell his loyal whipped band of followers what they have already been brainwashed to believe all he wants, but if he keeps rolling out Jay and Silent Bob fuelled lazy nonsense and absolute drivel like Red State and Cop Out then he might as well hit the professional hot dog eating circuit where at least he has a fighting chance.

The only thing worse than a bad director is a once good one who has gone bad, but refuses to see all evidence to the contrary.

Paul W.S. Anderson

Event Horizon made me happy even though it wasn’t the best film. At least it tried. Ever since then P.W.S.A. does his best work when he doesn’t seem to try.

Resident Evil was derivative, straightforward, and pretty good. Ditto Death Race. Trying to change his image from ‘boring director’ by getting creative with The Three Musketeers, Alien Vs Predator and the derisible and increasingly indefensible Resident Evil sequels has shown only that being a ‘boring director was in fact his strength.

Worse for me is that both he and wife Milla Jovovich openly admit to only churning out shoddy Resident Evil films because they keep making money. They both know the films suck but essentially challenge us not to watch. I just wish more people would take the challenge.

John Woo

 Maybe John Woo is a case in point example of ‘you need to be there’, only this time the ‘you’ is him, and the ‘there’ is Hong Kong. While he was directing Chow Yun Fat as he effortlessly laid waste to entire populations with dual handguns filled with an endless supply of bullets all was good in the world. Then once all the Hot Young Things in Hollywood found out and started ripping off his moves, angles and plots it was inevitable that they would eventually steal Mr Woo himself.

The early results were promising but not world beating, Face /Off being the best of a fairly ‘meh’ bunch, followed by a decade of mediocrity and a return to China to make his LotR style opus Red Cliff, both of which were hardly immortals but at least his best efforts in a while.

I’m not sure if Woo even intends to head back to the US to chance his luck again, it’s fair to say that the action genre has been moribund for some time now aside from one J Statham. If he does he better be a little more judicious in selecting his material and a lot less caught up with the white doves and jazz music.

Needs Improvement.

The next section includes some of the bigger names on the list. Yes I’m taking it upon myself to call out some name brands who I feel have gotten lazy and complacent or drunk with power and ego, as a teacher might scrawl on a report card ‘Little Johnny has proven he can handle the work in the curriculum, he needs to not allow himself to be distracted and try harder’.

In my opinion the space between these director’s worst and best is simply too immense to blame a script or an actor, either they pick better material or simply try a little – or in some cases a lot – harder.

Peter Jackson

Just facts.

Let’s examine his non-LOTR work. An R rated puppet flick that is more notorious than celebrated. A pioneering schlock and gore piece about alien invaders that eat vomit. An indulgent remake of King Kong that was pretty to look at but ultimately vacuous (and inspired me to write a long pointless diatribe that in turn was the genesis of this very website). An adaptation of a much loved book that in turn was not very much loved.

He made The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and he seems like a very nice bloke. But facts is facts. Maybe he is just a crappy chef who is very good at making one recipe; say a type of cookies? Let’s see what he has next…

Oh The Hobbit you say? Mmmmmmmmm, cookies.

The jury is out.

Neil Marshall

No-one is a bigger The Descent fan than me. But that counts for nought when the remainder of Marshall’s CV is so bereft of quality. As it stands Neil Marshall is a man capable of turning a pretty good idea into a film that is strongly reminiscent of one of his earlier films…

I firmly believe that this is a man capable of creating another Great flick. He just needs to hit the reset button first.

Jon Favreau

Iron Man was awesome. He was great in Swingers. He dated Monica! He gained and lost a heap of weight and seems like a nice guy.

On the other hand, since Iron Man Favreau also made Iron Man 2 and Cowboys and Aliens. For these two reasons his progress will remain under supervision…

Sam Raimi

I love The Evil Dead 1,2 and of course 3, name a movie fan in their late 30s who doesn’t. But The Evil Dead was 30 years ago, Army of Darkness 20.

Remove them from the CV and you have the man who made Drag me to Hell – better known as the film that ripped the best bits from The Evil Dead films – and The Gift, The Quick and the Dead, A Simple Plan and three Spider-Man films where the quality progressively fell off a cliff.

Oh, and Raimi also has a horror movie production company that keeps greenlighting mediocre horror movies that fill the time.

I guess what I am really asking is exactly WHY we really want this man to continue that badly?

Ben Affleck

I could easily justify putting Mr Affleck in the next category, that of making as many films as they possibly can. Gone Baby, Gone is that good, and The Town isn’t miles behind.

But until he stops acting in stuff like Paycheck and Smokin’ Aces, I’ll leave Benny right here, and keep pretending to be surprised when he continues directing quality films.

Gore Verbinski

You need to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em Gore my man. Your best is quite brilliant your worst quite piratey.

Quentin Tarantino

The collective chill of a million fanboys just solved global warming for a few
years. Yes Mr Tarantino, Mr Pulp Fiction himself, right here in the ‘Needs
Improvement’ bin.

How dare me! Well allow me to retort: Here are my favourite Tarantino films from best to worst;

Pulp Fiction. Reservoir Dogs. Jackie Brown. Kill Bill Vol. 2. Kill Bill Vol. 1.
Inglourious Basterds. Death Proof.

Invert that list and switch Basterds and Death Proof and you’ve got a continuous slide in quality and entertainment value lasting nearly two decades, and at least Death Proof was supposed to be C Grade.

Why am I the only one who is concerned by this?

Judd Apatow

Alright Judd, I laughed my arse off at The 40 Year Old Virgin. For half of Knocked Up I remained a fan. Then things kinda went off the rails.

Can I just give my opinion? And it’s only an opinion mind you, but perhaps putting some funny guys in a room and allowing them to riff isn’t necessarily the right equation for quality. People thought ‘Whose line is it anyway’ was funny and original too – the first time they saw it on an inflight TV lineup in 2000.

Can I just say it mightn’t be a great thing to be remembered as the guy that brought us Jonah Hill…?

Brad Anderson

Yeah A Vanishing on 7th Street blew, but to me Session 9 covers up for a lot of mistakes. The Machinist divided audiences, Transsiberian was underrated and underseen, and did I mention one of my all time faves Session 9.

Whichever way you look at it Brad Anderson is too adventurous and too ambitious to be wasted on TV, even good TV.

Session 9!

Zack Snyder

See what I wrote about James Gunn below? I might’ve written that about Zack Snyder if he didn’t decide that endless slo-mo and pervy camera angles were the be all and end all.

I could watch 300, Watchmen, and Sucker Punch all day, but it would take a lot of heavily muscled Spartans, some unlikely – and unlikable – superheros, and a few giant imagination robots to make me. And I’d fight them with every ounce of my being.

(Actually 300 isn’t that bad…)

Zack gets one more chance to replicate Dawn of the Dead’s quality, even something a little better than 300 will do. But only one. You’re on notice.

A+ for effort and consistency

Many of these guys n gals are already responsible for several films that I have seen fit to categorise as ‘Great’, I only hope they enjoy as much creativity and success in decades to come, and don’t find themselves victim to the same drop off that some of the guys in the first list don’t seem to be willing to acknowledge.

Chan Park Wook. Wook Park Chan. Park Chan Wook

Whatever his name is – and I’m positive I’ve seen all variations used – old Wooky made Oldboy.

Hey, he also made the Sympathy films, JSA and to a lesser extent Thirst. I like everything that he has made that I have been able to track down and I have every confidence that he will continue making challenging, high quality work.

If not? I always have Oldboy…

James Cameron

The Terminator. Aliens. The Abyss. True Lies. Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Avatar.

6 films; four Great, two very good. You give me a reason he should stop.

I will even give him the benefit of the doubt for Titanic, perhaps he wanted to give guys an excuse to take dates to his movies? “Yeah Avatar is made by the Titanic guy.”…

Brad Bird 

The Iron Giant is one of the more under-appreciated animated gems out there. The Incredibles is one of the better family friendly action flicks out there, animated or not.

Now Brad Bird has revived the moribund Mission Impossible franchise – in live action no less! I say ‘apparently as Mr Incredible himself couldn’t drag me to a Tom Cruise film unless he promised me he would die in the first scene. Oh, wait! I just did!

 Edgar Wright

The poster child for the nerd come good. The man is my age and has been making insanely creative stuff that has entertained millions for over 15 years.

Sure Shaun of the Dead gave him a profile on the back of a clever premise and a new angle on the ‘so hot right now/then’ zombie genre, but Hot Fuzz did the same thing to a stale buddy cop action genre, and it was somehow even better!

Then comes Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a film that oscillates in my mind as either the inspired work of pure genius, or the ever so slightly flawed work of pure genius.

I only know that I salivate over whatever comes next. I hear Ant Man…

Christopher Nolan

I’ll keep this simple. Christopher Nolan has made a great many people that he doesn’t even know extremely rich. You know all these crappy superhero movies that abound nowadays with your Ryan Reynolds, Chris Evans and Andrew Garfields? None of these exist without Batman Begins. (Sadly though Batman Begins and The Dark Knight remain head and shoulders above all the lesser films they inadvertently helped green light.)

On second thought…

David Fincher

Look, I’m one of the precious few who thought The Social Network was a bland piece of work, but Fincher’s intensity and commitment to his craft must be admired.

Se7en was somehow intensely dark, subversive and commercial (you can’t tell me that was all Brad Pitt), The Game, Panic Room and Zodiac all strong films and even though Fight Club is also over-rated by the back-pack hackey-sack set it had more than a few moments. Hell I even found his debut Alien 3 to be a far better film than most will give him credit for.

Remaking The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seemed like a big step backwards to me – why bother remaking a film so soon when the original was so good and accessible? But whether he continues churning our repeats or gets back to crafting his own original works Fincher knows that thanks to his CV and industry clout he has a built in audience that includes me.

James Gunn

The 2004 Dawn of the Dead film launched one Zack Snyder into ‘Gee I hope he makes a million films’ territory. A mere 7 years later he has managed to plummet into a rating that might best be described as ‘needs improvement’, and I only allowed him that liberty as his bland films are so damn pretty…

But James Gunn wrote the DotD reboot, and since then he has made the sublime genre spoofing Slither, and the hard to like but impossible to ignore Super. He also wrote the Scooby Doo film and he has a short film entitled Genital Hospital to his name. Wait. What?

I might not pretend to understand all that James Gunn does and why he does it – killing off Boltie by erasing half of her face was as dark a decision as I’ve seen in a superhero movie – but I can’t deny he is one of the more interesting and challenging guys working against Hollywood today.

I’ll slot you in here for now because I can’t imagine for a minute that I won’t watch what you create next.

Kathryn Bigelow

Kathryn Bigelow hasn’t made a great many films over her 30 plus years in the industry, but they include (a) many great films… Near Dark, Blue Steel, Point Break and The Hurt Locker. While some argue the merits of the films listed above, they are all indisputably in the upper echelons of their respective genres, even if Point Break’s genre isn’t necessarily that necessary to many.

All I know is guys like Brett Ratner et al keep churning out film after film and Bigelow selects her projects more judiciously. His make money, hers are worth watching.

She’s also the only woman on this list. Seeing as how I left the Wachowski brothers siblings, I mean the Wachowski Starship off… I mean they built this city.

Robert Rodriguez

Sure we’ll let him continue to make the Spy Kids flicks that allow him to indulge his several young kids whose names all begin with ‘R’ (and lets stay cosy with Jessica Alba). But let’s be real about this; we stick by RR for his ‘R’ Rated flicks. Who else would put Johnny Depp as an undercover FBI agent who walks the streets in an FBI t-shirt? Who would dare wonder where a naked hot woman might keep her mobile phone? Let alone show us! Who else could take any shlocky premise and turn it into Planet Terror?

Well Tarantino couldn’t…

Alfonso Cuaron

I know he has directed a Harry Potter film but for me this is entirely based upon Children of Men. The film showcased a unique style involving minimal music (except for when it would have most impact) and long deliberate takes, often with one camera following the action for minutes at a time.

Children of Men could quite easily have been just another depressing ‘is it the end of the world?’ flicks, but thanks to Mr Cuaron it became so much more. I eagerly await his next effort to see if we have a true visionary on our hands or maybe another one hit wonder.

Guillermo Del Toro

Guillermo makes films that he wants to see, and you must admire him for that. In the case of Mimic this means that he practically disowned the original studio (interfered) cut as it ignored his solid build up in favour of a crash-bang finale.

Blade 2 took the super-hero flick to new heights only since scaled by the Batman flicks, and you have to love a big name director who geeks out over horror.

Del Toro knows his audience and does everything he can to please them – because he is one of them and more importantly he actually cares about something more than his next fat paycheque.

Michel Gondry

Anyone can make a romantic comedy. Few can make it less than awful, fewer still tolerable. But it is rare that someone makes one that makes you want to watch it again. Gondry managed this with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of the most interesting and creative films in the last decade.

Apparently after Be Kind Rewind flopped Gondry saw his ideas for the Green Hornet quashed or diluted by studio interference and/or Seth Rogen, the end result being a spectacular failure that pleased no-one, but with a few teases of inspiration shining through.

The Frenchmen has an erratic and varied resume including music videos for Bjork and the Chemical Brothers, episodes of Flight of the Conchords and Jimmy Kimmel and the hip-hop quasi-doco Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. The Kimmel episode was truly a head trip – part promo for the Green Hornet, part playing around – it was perhaps the most challenging and mind-blowing 40 minutes of TV in ages, even the bits that didn’t work were never less than compelling.

For this reason he stays on this list until he gets lazy or bored.

Rian Johnson

Stop press! Thanks to the essential Looper Rian Johnson has rocketed straight into this category. Consider Brick as paying dues, I am that confident that Looper wasn’t a mere fluke to instantly elevate Johnson into ‘must watch’ status for as long as he keeps making films.

Given the fact that the guy has made but three films – one of which ‘The Brothers Bloom’ I am yet to watch… this might be construed as a brave call, but it has been years since I have seen a film as well realised and immaculately presented as Looper.

Being a Great Director seems to involve a combo of instinct, flair, know-how and of course material to work with. Johnson showed all of the first three in spades, and given that he wrote the damn thing it’s fair to say that even if he can’t find the material he might just come up with it himself.

Given how Looper turned out though, I think aspiring scriptwriters would be lining up projects for this guy for a long while to come…

In Conclusion

Well class, it’s fair to say this project blew out well beyond my intended word limit.

Let’s just say in between starting this list about a year ago (!) there have been several directors pop up their heads, most notably Rian Johnson above.

Elsewhere John Hillcoat followed up The Road with the decent Lawless and Gareth Evans proved he knows his way around a martial arts set with The Raid.

My point is that there are so many good directors and so many up and comers out there, that treading water, or worse, continually creating mediocrity should not be tolerated.

Just like I generally avoid Shia Le Beouf when I can, I will make a more concerted effort to dabble exclusively in the deep end of the directing gene pool. You should too.

Let Will Smith and Kate Beckinsale buy their own yachts…

OGR

About OGR

While I try to throw a joke or two into proceedings when I can all of the opinions presented in my reviews are genuine. I don't expect that all will agree with my thoughts at all times nor would it be any fun if you did, so don't be shy in telling me where you think I went wrong... and hopefully if you think I got it right for once. Don't be shy, half the fun is in the conversation after the movie.
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