Eric’s Sack of Mail: shocked & appalled, snide, movie grades

Here are some more recent items in Eric’s Sack of Mail, the place for e-mails I get that are neither angry nor stupid. They cover a wide range of topics, so put your thinking caps on!

First, a reader whose name I neglected to keep pointed out an amusing paragraph in a recent edition of The Daily Universe at BYU.

I thought of you when I read this. It’s from a front-page article printed in the The Daily Universe on May 25 about the rising cost of gas:

“I’m shocked and appalled,” said JaNae Besendorfer, a senior from Nephi. “It will just be so expensive to go anywhere.”

I especially like that her name is “JaNae.”

I agree! Made-up Mormon names with two capital letters are the best when using expressions like “shocked and appalled.”

Next, a fellow named Rod stumbled across my site and read my somewhat infamous Ann Landers “Snide Remarks” column, to which one angry-letter writer tried to pass off “dishonest” as a normal, common definition of “snide.” Rod had this to say:

I came across your Ann Landers column while seeking a definition of “snide”. Frankly I share the view of those readers who thought it was in very poor taste, though I don’t want to get self-righteous about it, since lots of things I like are in bad taste. By the way, I’m not sure you’re right that no one uses snide to mean dishonest – what led me to your column was reading “Fingersmith” by Sarah Waters, where the leading character describes fake jewelry as snide. However, this may be a Victorian usage, as the novel is set in Victorian times. One online source quotes a 1913 edition of Webster as referring to “snide goods”, but says this usage is archaic. This other source has more on the origin and history of the word “snide.”

That is actually pretty fascinating. I’ll summarize what the second link says: While people generally assume “snide” came from German “schneiden” or Dutch “snijden” — both meaning “to cut,” which lines up with the modern definition of “snide” — in fact “snide” in English ORIGINALLY meant “false, bogus, counterfeit.” That definition of it goes back to 1859, while the current meaning (sarcastic, snooty, sneering, etc.) is only traceable to 1933. So we actually don’t know where the English word “snide” came from — or, if it did come from German or Dutch, why we changed it to mean “fake” before eventually going back to a meaning closer to the German/Dutch one.

Or maybe it’s only interesting to people named Snider and/or people who write columns called “Snide Remarks.”

Next, Justin writes in with a question about my movie reviews:

When you give a film a C+, does that mean the film can be counted as a “good film,” or a “bad film?” (Or a “neutral film?”) Let’s take Hollywood Homicide for example. That’s a perfect example of a movie that I cannot say I feel is a GOOD movie…however, I still cannot say I feel that it is a BAD movie. So in my mind, it’s neutral. (You gave it a C+.) So would it count as a “good” or “bad” film? (I kept thinking about this, especially since your reviews are posted on Rotten Tomatoes, where it has to be either one or the other.)

Rotten Tomatoes has the cut-off at B-, so by their reckoning, C+ is “rotten.” But they don’t leave room for the middle ground: movies that aren’t good, exactly, but aren’t bad either.

As you guessed, that’s where the C+ comes in. Here’s how I think of a C+ movie: You wouldn’t see it on purpose, but if you’re standing at the theater and you’ve seen everything else and the C+ movie starts in 10 minutes, then sure, go ahead and see it. It’s better than not seeing anything.

A straight C grade to me means the film inspires no strong feelings one way or the other, a completely neutral film. C- is where I start using the word “bad” to describe it, and of course it gets worse from there.

(By the way, Justin’s e-mail address bounced when I tried to send this response to him, so I hope he’s reading this.)

Finally, a reader named Mike has a similar question regarding how I rank movie reviews. He writes:

I scanned your movie reviews and noticed that you haven’t given any teeny bopper movies an A rating. That’s as far as I looked, so maybe you’ve given one a “good” rating, I don’t know.

So, my question is whether you have given a teeny bopper movie a good rating, like above a B? You said to some guy on your blog that you try to evaluate three things when you review a movie: what’s it trying to accomplish, does it accomplish it, why. Do any teeny boppers, um, bop teens well? That is, where do most teeny bopper movies fall short?

I think it’s important to point out that I don’t give very many movies of ANY genre an A or A- grade. Since those grades are less common in general, it makes sense that if you narrow it down to a particular genre, there are going to be even fewer.

Second, I guess it depends on what you consider a “teeny-bopper” movie. If you mean movies aimed at teenagers, especially teenage girls — that’s what I think when I think “teeny-bopper” — then “Bring It on,” “Stick It,” “Crazy/Beautiful,” “Anywhere But Here” and “Mean Girls” all got very high marks from me. (Those are the first few that come to mind.) But “teeny-bopper” is kind of a vague term.

RE: “You try to evaluate three things when you review a movie: what’s it trying to accomplish, does it accomplish it, why.”

When I consider those questions, I’m not taking into account who the movie has been marketed toward. What a movie is “trying to accomplish” means what its storytelling goals are, not who it’s trying to appeal to. Plenty of very bad movies meet the goal of appealing to an audience. Saying that a movie achieves that is the same as saying, “It will make a lot of money,” which says nothing about its actual quality.

Many teen-oriented movies are bad simply because they treat the audiences like they’re stupid, talking down to them with idiot plots, unoriginal dialogue and cookie-cutter characters. The movies I cited above all buck that trend by being smart and mature. There is probably a great percentage of teen movies that are bad than with some other genres, simply because with teens, so many filmmakers (and the studios behind them) don’t even TRY to be good. They only want to appeal to teens on a superficial level.

That does it for Eric’s Sack of Mail for now. But soon there will be a new installment addressing “An Inconvenient Truth” and people’s opinions of it. Well, not of the movie, since I don’t think any of the people who have written to me about it have actually seen it, but about global warming in general. So, you know, you can look forward to that.