Derek Miller – Interviews with Movie Critics
B-movie critic Derek Miller is the unfortunate result of a lifetime spent almost entirely in Southwestern Ohio, being fed a steady diet of Nintendo, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and Gary Larson comics. In early 2005, Derek decided to channel his love of the bizarre and under-appreciated side of cinema into BadMovieRealm.com, a website dedicated to cult, sci-fi, kung-fu, fantasy, and just plain bad movies.
Derek also happens to be our guest this week on Critical Juncture, the weekly feature where we get the cinematic thoughts and opinions from movie critics and movie bloggers from across the Internet. And just in case you’re wondering what kind of films are reviewed over at Derek’s site, feast your eyes on this:
- Fever Night aka Band of Satanic Outsiders
- Gamera vs. Jiger
- Invasion of the Bee Girls
- Teenage Caveman
- Project: ALF
You can also head over to his Disasterpiece Theatre and watch a number of bad movies in their entirety. These films are in the public domain, so you don’t have to worry about ending up in Guantanamo or as part of a naked human pyramid. Here are just a few of the b-movies available:
- Plan 9 from Outer Space
- Santa Conquers the Martians
- The Brain that Wouldn’t Die
- Ninja Terminator
Before we get started, it should also be noted that Derek Miller did send me a photo. Unfortunately, the sinister combination of AOL and Windows Vista conspired to keep me from being able to post it. In lieu of his real picture, I’ve decided to include a look-alike. And for those of you keeping score at home, yes, that is MMA fighter and star of Universal Soldier: Regeneration, Andrei “The Pit Bull” Arlovski. I’m betting that the 6’4”, 245 pound Belarusian fighter is a little bigger than his b-movie-loving counterpart, but they do share the same charming smile and love of facial hair.
Now let’s get to the interview…
Only Good Movies: What’s the first movie that you remember seeing?
Derek Miller: If we are talking about the first film I remember seeing at the theater, I’m thinking it was most likely Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990). I was six years old at the time and like practically every other American boy my age, I was a huge Ninja Turtles fan. My father (after much pestering, I’m sure) took me to see it. I can still remember how shocked I was at Raphael saying “damn” several times throughout the film.
I suppose it’s sort of appropriate, considering my eventual taste in film, that the first movie I ever saw at the theater featured a group of anthropomorphic, martial arts wielding reptiles—under the guidance of an irradiated, far-eastern philosophy-spouting rodent—doing battle against a villain who dressed like the bizarre offspring of Prince and a medieval cheese grater.
To this day I am still amazed at how good that film actually is, considering its thoroughly ridiculous subject matter.
OGM: What’s the most recent movie you’ve seen?
DM: That would be the recent Star Trek reboot, which I was very pleased with. I’m not a huge Trek fan, so I wasn’t concerned with the unforgivable blasphemies I’m sure the hardcore “Trekkers” (Trekkies? Trekkites?) found devastating. I thought it reset the series rather nicely, and was pretty damn entertaining at the same time. Couldn’t really ask for much more from my point of view. Could’ve used a dash of Shatner, but what are you gonna do?
Seeing as that film came out last May, you’ve probably already guessed that I’m not much of a theatergoer. I generally prefer to watch movies in the comfort of my own home, away from the constant distraction of crying babies, ringing cell phones, and horny teenagers dry-humping each other two rows away…plus the drinks aren’t $6.00 a pop at my place.
I take much more pleasure in digging up past obscurities and oddities than I do keeping up with the latest blockbusters. Because of this, I’m typically at least a year or two behind in terms of current releases. I’m the guy who will finally see the epic, groundbreaking film six months after it’s been released on DVD. Speaking of which, I recently heard about this film that came out a few years back called Citizen Kane that’s supposed to be pretty good…
OGM: Is there a particular film which you feel is criminally underrated?
DM: The first film that comes to mind is Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. Maybe not so much underrated as it is unknown, thanks to the most pathetic release this side of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie. Test audiences reportedly hated it with a passion, but I think that says much more about the people typically chosen for test audiences than it does the actual film itself.
With the exceptions of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, nobody today does a better job of using absurdity to illustrate the absurd than Mike Judge. The film certainly has its flaws, and I think Judge missed the mark on several occasions throughout the movie, but Idiocracy still manages to do a wonderful job of highlighting just how stupid our popular culture has become, and just how scary it may be in a few years if we continue in our intellectual devolution.
That said, there are times when I wouldn’t mind kicking back and enjoying me an eight-hour marathon of “Ow! My Balls!” with an “Extra-Big-Ass Taco” in one hand and a 3 gallon cup of “Brawndo” in the other.
OGM: Which director do you feel has turned out the best overall body of work?
DM: Well I suppose I could give the safe, standard answer of Kubrick or Scorsese, but considering the realm of cinema in which I choose to dwell, that would seem more than a little contrived coming from me.
I think I’ll stick to the cult, b-movie side of things and go with Roger Corman. Granted, he hasn’t directed anything for 20 years or so, was far more prolific as a producer, and produced some real stinkers in his day, but he also was at the helm of some of my favorite b-movies of all time. In fact one of his films, 1956′s It Conquered the World—starring Peter Graves, Lee Van Cleef, Beverly Garland, and a ridiculous, three foot tall, Venusian pickle-monster—is quite possibly the finest b-movie ever made.
You know, in a roundabout way I think I just favorably compared Teenage Caveman and Attack of the Crab Monsters to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Full Metal Jacket. I have now completely obliterated any ounce of credibility I may have had going in to this interview.
OGM: From an artistic standpoint, which film do you think is most important?
DM: Considering the amount of enjoyment I get from the works of Ed Wood and Roger Corman, I am probably the wrong guy to be asking. Obviously I’m not much of a stickler about a film’s “artistic merits.” Were I forced to pick a film, I would probably pick something from the silent era, like Metropolis (1927). Being an unapologetically selfish, Capitalist pig-dog myself, I could do without the simpleminded, anti-capitalism, anti-progress message, but even I must admit you would be hard pressed to find a single science fiction film produced in the last eighty years that didn’t “borrow” heavily from Metropolis in both style and theme.
OGM: All artsy considerations aside, which movie is your personal favorite?
DM: Oh man, that is a tough one. I don’t think I could ever hope to narrow it down to one “favorite” movie. I am a big fan of South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut; O Brother, Where Art Thou; Shaun of the Dead; the Zatoichi series of films; the early Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson splatter flicks; and just about anything starring Japanese guys in silly rubber suits beating the living sushi out of each other. Not exactly the most high brow list, but there it is.
OGM: In your opinion, which film is entirely overrated?
DM: I’m sure I’m not alone when I say Slumdog Millionaire was easily the most overrated film of the past few years. Fairly depressing for a film that was supposed to be the “feel-good film of the decade.” I sat for two hours waiting for the “feel-good” part, but it never really came. Beautifully shot and edited, but ultimately the contrived plot, simplistic dialog, and uneven performances from the supporting actors really drag it down.
My apologies to anyone who found this film to be inspiring, but when a film’s message is essentially the Hindu equivalent of “Que Sera, Sera,” it is hard for me to be inspired. The thought that our destinies are predetermined and we have little to no control over our own lives isn’t exactly a comforting one for me, either. It didn’t deserve 8 Academy Awards, I guess is what I’m trying to say. The dance number at the end was a nice touch, although personally I still prefer Benny Lava.
(OGM Note: For the record, this is our first Benny Lava reference at OGM, and it’s long overdue. Who the hell is Benny Lava, you may be asking? Click here and prepare to be blown away.)
OGM: Have you ever walked out of the theatre during a film? If so, what movie was playing?
DM: No, and I don’t think I ever will. If I paid good money for a ticket, I’m damn well going to see it through to the end—if for no other reason than to see how bad the film might ultimately be. Remember, I’m the guy who actively seeks out horrible movies, so walking out on a film would be almost like surrendering and I refuse to be beaten by a movie. I have been severely injured several times, but never beaten.
OGM: In your mind, what’s the ultimate goal of a movie critic?
DM: I’m not sure if I even consider myself a critic in the textbook sense of the word. Maybe trash movie historian or b-movie aficionado (good name for a magazine…likely with a rather small subscriber base) might be more accurate.
I can’t speak for others, but my ultimate goal is to be entertaining. I tend to prefer reviewers with a sense of humor. I read their reviews almost as much for the entertainment aspect as I do for the actual film they are reviewing. If I can make someone smile or even laugh while reading one of my reviews, I feel I have done my job.
I don’t believe it is a critic’s job to tell people what to watch. Unlike many, I rarely discourage people from seeing a particular film, no matter how bad it may be. As a rule, I think everyone should see some truly awful movies from time to time, if for no other reason than to make you appreciate the great movies even more.
OGM: Time to look into the future. Do you predict any major changes for the movie industry over the next 25 years?
DM: I certainly don’t think we will have to wait 25 years to see major changes in the movie industry. I think we will continue to see the shift towards digital distribution of movies. As the line between television and computer gets blurrier and home theater systems steadily edge closer to recreating and even surpassing the actual theater experience, I think you will begin to see major first run films available (legally, that is) for home viewing on day one.
The sooner the movie industry realizes there is ultimately nothing they can do about piracy in the Internet age, the better. Perhaps in an effort to get more people through the theater turnstiles we’ll see more promotions and gimmicks hearkening back to the glory days of William Castle and his magic coins, life insurance policies, and wired fright seats. Or more likely, they’ll continue to cling bitterly to the old distribution model, eventually leading to the massive film industry collapse of 2023.
OGM: Here’s another chance to predict the future. Name a relatively unknown actor or actress who’ll be a huge star within five years.
DM: Like I said earlier, I am a few years behind the curve with new releases, so any up and coming actor or actress who is relatively unknown to the general population is probably unknown to me as well. I am horrible at predicting who the general public will react favorably to anyway. Usually the people I enjoy watching stay unknown and obscure while the people I despise become huge stars.
I’ll take a shot in the dark and say Summer Glau of Firefly fame. Her only problem will be escaping the cult/sci-fi niche she seems to be stuck in. Terminator and Dollhouse certainly aren’t going to help matters on that front.
Actually now that I think about it, if the last decade is any indication, the next big star will most likely be some 14 or 15 year old girl currently starring in some painfully banal Disney or Nickelodeon produced teen sitcom, and her big break will come when she is chosen to star in the action-packed, Hollywood remake of She’s the Sheriff. Write it down.
OGM: Who’s your favorite movie critic to read?
DM: To be honest, I don’t read very many. Andrew Borntreger of BadMovies.org and Ken Begg of Jabootu.net were big influences on me and their websites ultimately inspired me to start my own. I am a very big fan of Robert L. Jones of Jonesing4Movies.com. As I mentioned earlier, I enjoy critics with a sense of humor, and Jones definitely fits into that category. In fact, the only time I have ever had to stop reading a review because I was laughing too hard, was Mr. Jones’ take on The Vagina Monologues.
I guess I would pick Michael J. Nelson as my favorite critic, and I would recommend that everyone reading this go out grab themselves a copy of Mike Nelson’s Movie Megacheese as quickly as possible. While they’re at it, they should pick up a copy of Mr. Nelson’s Mind Over Matters and Death Rat, as well. Not film related, but very funny stuff.
Thanks to Derek Miller for agreeing to lend his b-movie wisdom to this installment of Critical Juncture. It should also be noted that the Mike Nelson books mentioned above can all be purchased on Amazon, and clicking the provided links will take you straight there (plus give us a pittance of a commission). Be sure to join us again next week for another exciting episode.
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