Saturday, January 03, 2009

The 10 Worst Movies of 2008

This is an annual tradition here at Crushed by Inertia - one of the few I've managed to keep up - and so even though I've been blogging less lately, I wasn't going to skip it. (Also stay tuned for my "Best Movies of the Year" list, which is currently being written. (I still have to see a few big, Oscar-buzzy end of the year films before it's finalized as well). I know I say this every year, but it feels like 2008 had a higher-than-average number of truly awful movies. Some really good ones, too, but...holy shitballs...I


The Love Guru

One of the least appealing trailers I have ever seen. I couldn't even watch this film just based on Myers' atrocious accent.

Bangkok Dangerous

I've seen the original Thai version of this (the American one is made by the same guys, the Pang Brothers), and it sucked. Now it sucks with Nicolas Cage, which likely makes for a deeper and more nuanced level of suck. But I think I can safely skip it anyway, unless it develops a Wicker Man-esque cult-like reputation for sucking so bad, in which case I'll have to check it out after all.

Vantage Point

I have completely lost all interest in these kinds of "race against the clock" thrillers. Seriously, they never add up to anything more than gimmicry. Has any movie in this genre - and I'm thinking of stuff like Nick of Time or Snake Eyes here - been good in decades? Seriously...decades...

Superhero Movie/Disaster Movie

STOP! Please, stop! I can't take even hearing about the existence of these any more. The parody movie is unfortunately dead. You have killed it. Let it rest in peace, you bastards.

Smart People

Oh my God, I'm so urbane and Caucasian...It's awful...Please listen to me whine about my chronic depression and my intimacy issues for two hours while I make informed cultural references...What if I bring Juno along? That do anything for you?

Meet Dave

Hey, it's "Herman's Head" meets Pluto Nash! Who wouldn't want to see that?

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Really? I need another entry in the Brendan Fraser Mummy series like I need another Fast and the Furious sequel. Wait, really? They're doing another one of...with Vin Diesel and Paul Walker again...Are you fucking serious? Ugh.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Yeah, I just don't care any more. I even liked Revenge of the Sith, too. But it's just overkill now. Congratulations, LucasFilm. In the course of one year, you made me bored with both Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Fortunately, you've got so many other great properties to work with...I'm anxiously awaiting the big Radioland Murders follow-up.

Righteous Kill

It has been so long since either of them were relevant, it's hard for me to even remember being excited about the prospect of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro sharing the screen. Now, it just invites grim mathematics...if two guys whose films are routinely awful star in a film together, with their awfulness cancel one another out, or make the film doubly awful? My bet was the latter.

The Duchess

I can't take one fucking more pouty-yet-defiant Keira Knightley bland-fest. It's just not in me. I'm done.

An American Carol

I watched the Ben Stein documentary. Isn't that enough? I'm not sure I can handle Kelsey Grammar as General Patton, okay? I'm delicate.

Seven Pounds

Will Smith's annual venture into treacly earnestness never interests me. This movie looks so earnest, I hear they digitally added Jim Varney into a couple of scenes, just for the sake of consistency.

You Don't Mess With the Zohan

This was a recommendation from @britsilverstein on Twitter. Adam Sandler making a bad comedy based solely around a wacky accent and a wig is pretty much an annual event any more. He's on a rather amazing streak, really: It's almost impressive (almost!) how steadily drab and uninspired his films have been for more than a decade now. (What was the last one that actually worked as a film at all? Wedding Singer? That was 1998!

And now...


10. Rambo

Okay, the film is complete nonsense that takes itself very seriously. Fine. I could deal with that. But it also feels the need to realistically recreate in the most fetishized, off-putting, gruesome manner possible, acts of deplorable violence against innocent men, women and even children. I'm not a prude when it comes to movie violence BY ANY MEANS. I've even defended Hostel on this blog. But there is a huge difference between cartoonish movie violence, designed to elicit chills or even laughs, and brutal recreations of genuine international conflicts. Do we really need to see wave after desensitizing wave of villagers cut down in vividly gory detail to recognize that Sylvester Stallone's character is heroic?

From my original review:

Once we arrive in Burma, the movie is essentially a carnage promo reel. Think "Satan's Screen Saver." The Burmese army enters villages, rapes women and children, and generally just turns every living thing into CG-enhanced red goo, much of which is splattered directly into the camera. Then we get some scenes of Rambo laying waste to the bad guys, and then the film's over.

9. Jumper

It's hard to even write anything about this movie, because I remembered so little about it 10 minutes after it's over. The narrative is garbled, clunky and confusing - I suppose you could follow it if you were really determined, but who would want to actually devote the energy? Something about a war between Samuel L. Jackson and other actors who don't yell quite as loudly as Samuel L. Jackson.

I will say that I distinctly recall hating the film's protagonist, a man who can teleport at will and uses it to non-creative ends like robbing banks and impressing ladies. I suppose it's somewhat realistic that a young guy would use these powers in that fashion, but that doesn't mean I'm going to root for him when a bad guy wants to put an end to his journey of greedy, perverted self-discovery. Doug Liman once made good, or at least watchable, movies. Now he turns in woeful turds like Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Jumper. Did we anger him somehow? How can I make this right?

8. Get Smart

The wit of the original TV series "Get Smart" never once surfaces in this wretched, embarrassingly-unfunny homage, which is a shame, because Steve Carrell could have worked as Maxwell Smart in an actual adaptation.

I'm not sure anyone who was involved in making this film has ever seen the series "Get Smart." Neither the characters nor situations in this film not resemble their original counterparts in any way, and they don't even make any sense and behave inconsistently from one scene to the next.

Does The Chief like and respect Agent 86, or does he think he's an idiot? What about Agent 99? I'm not even sure if Max is supposed to be smart or dumb in this version. The movie hasn't even figured that out! He's sort of like Ace Ventura - brilliant in one moment, then talking with his butt the next. I didn't think that character worked too well either, but at least Jim Carrey was completely unleashed to do his thing in every moment of every scene, squeezing out all the laughs he could from a murky, uninteresting premise. Here, Carrell's given a bunch of lame, unfunny dialogue and a stupid spy plot to navigate and never gets to open up and have any fun with it at all.

What results is a 90 minute comedy without a single actual funny joke. Pathetic.

7. The Ruins

I swear to Christ, the plot of The Ruins involves a bunch of teens on an outdoor adventure that get chased to the top of a temple and then are not allowed to move around or leave! Seriously, THAT sounds like a fun romp. I mean, maybe as a set-up for a STAGE PLAY, that could work. But as a movie? It's like "Samuel Beckett's Existential House of Horrors."

Possible tagline: "A nightmare may be just around the next corner...too bad you're stuck on that stupid sound-stage looking Aztec-like ruin, fuckstick."

I'll also add that this is the latest in a spate of recent horror films that confuse "scary scenes" with "scenes showing people in excruciating pain." Now, sometimes a scene that is scary also happens to feature an individual that's in excruciating pain. But JUST because you're showing someone who's hurt real bad doesn't necessary mean that the scene is going to be exciting, frightening, or spine-tingling for the audience. Just maybe difficult to watch, if anyone's sensitive to that sort of thing. I'm not sure why this is so confusing for this new upcoming generation of horror movie directors, but here we are.

6. Teeth

Watching Teeth, I got the impression that writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein read about the archetypal concept of "vagina dentata" (or "toothed vagina") somewhere, laughed for 20 days or so, and then wrote this "movie" in a weekend. The thing is, if you've matured to a point where the mere concepts of penises and vaginas no longer make you howl with laughter, you're probably a bit too grown-up for this movie. Which means the ideal audience for the film's humor is too young to actually get to see the film, which includes a few close-ups of its favorite organs and is therefore inappropriate by the contemporary standards of American parents.

A movie about a girl whose vagina bites off weiners could potentially be clever, I guess, though I'm tempted to say that 99% of the time, it would quickly devolve into sophomoric, Troma-esque "gross out" schlock or camp, as it does here within 10 minutes. Even worse than the fact that he's just retelling the same dick and pussy joke for the length of a feature, though, Lichtenstein actually thinks he has something to say about sexually repressed religion-obsessed Middle Americans or something. He doesn't.

5. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

Yes, I actually watched it. (Hey, it's streaming free on Netflix). Suffice it to say, Ben Stein should stick to hosting game shows and eye drop ads. His anti-evolution screed (let's not mince words, "Intelligent Design" as a theory and this movie as a propaganda item are nothing more than rejections of evolutionary theory) is both offensively and bafflingly stupid. There is a difference.

Insultingly stupid is when someone says something stupid that you secretly think he or she doesn't really believe, just to see if they can make YOU believe it. For example, when Ben Stein implies that the theory of evolution is responsible for the Nazis.

Bafflingly stupid is when someone says something stupid that you think he or she really does believe, and you're stunned that anyone could possibly hold this position. For example, every other scene in this movie.

Stein's constantly trying to make the case that his viewpoint has been PURPOSEFULLY LEFT OUT of school curricula across the nation, as if this is somehow rare and his beliefs have been singled out. He's of course never able to reasonably make his case in this film, because it's dumb. Most things that could possibly be taught in schools aren't actually taught there, because of time constraints or a lack of consensus or a million other factors, not because of deep-seated prejudice towards them or those that believe them. So Stein just kind of hopes you won't notice this glaring hole in his argument and never addresses the issue of just why we should give his particular viewpoint more credence than any of the other hundreds of thousands of personal philosophies on the origin and nature of the universe that Americans might hold.

4. The Women

The opening titles of The Women credit the screenplay to Diane English, a human person, but this can't be right, because none of its characters have any genuinely human qualities, or behave the way real people would. It's like watching Russian spies try to recreate "Sex and the City" using sophisticated robots.

Like "Sex and the City," we have a diverse cast of four well-off ladies who are good friends. Only these women don't share any chemistry, or really anything in common, and the film can't be bothered to establish their friendship before the "plot" kicks in anyway. "They like each other," the movie seems to say. "Just go with it."

Actually, now that I think about it, the film can't really be bothered to establish anything about anyone in it, and that's why it's impossible to care what happens to them. English just relies on tired dog whistles and lazy sitcom shorthand - the home-wrecking floozy loves perfume and expensive clothes, the busy career-woman is always on her cell-phone, the brilliant writer is a troubled lesbian...Blurgh.

Also, I hate to say this, but Meg Ryan's horrible plastic surgery is making it hard for me to buy her in any movie roles any more. She's made it so she can really only play "over-the-hill actress who got a lot of unfortunate work done" believably any more.

3. The Happening

M. Night Shyamalan went from being one of the most promising up-and-coming American filmmakers to a national joke REALLY fast. It's bewildering. I don't think his downward slide is going to stop until he just stops getting money to make movies. Considering his level of name recognition, I'm doubting that will happen any time soon, which is really too bad for all of us.

I can't really recap his latest bit of mawkish, self-aggrandizing claptrap any better than I did in my original review:

Not only does The Happening lack any kind of tangible antagonist or enemy, it lacks any kind of conflict whatsoever. There are two types of scenes - scenes in which Wahlberg finds out something about the "happening" second-hand and scenes in which Wahlberg watches people in the middle distance kill themselves in increasingly laughable ways. You may notice, neither of those scenes involves any kind of conflict.

The most compelling bit of dialogue in the entire film is played between Wahlberg and a potted plant...At a random point, the film just ends, without purpose or explanation or any kind of pay-off or showdown or denouement whatsoever. The last scene is meant to be chilling, but it's so obvious what's coming and so silly by that point that it actually plays like a joke. And that first credit - "A Film By M. Night Shyamalan" - is the punchline.

2. Speed Racer

I think we can all agree that something can be an innovation without necessary moving things in a positive direction. Many people I've spoken with want to give Speed Racer a pass because it is trying to do something new with computer-generated imagery in films, to take a live-action movie and meld it with an animator's sense of color, pacing and motion.

I will happily grant that I have never seen another film that felt or looked like Speed Racer. But that's a good thing, because this is the cinematic equivalent of eating a tub full of cotton candy and then riding the Tilt-A-Whirl until it becomes up a regurgitated pink mass in the center of your favorite shirt. I've never seen a movie animated exclusively with human feces either, but that doesn't mean I want the Wachowskis to give it a shot...just to see if they can...

That this ugly mess is 2.5 hours long makes me think the Larry and Andy may have been in league with Donald Rumsfeld and John Yoo. They couldn't have intended this for use on American audiences, could they? It makes the Matrix sequels look sparse and unassuming.

1. The Spirit

I thought FOR SURE when I beheld the grotesquerie that is Speed Racer that it would be my pick for Worst Film of 2008. I was POSITIVE. 100%, not a doubt in my mind, that I'd hate it more than any other film this year. I found it physically painful.

But, no, Frank Miller's attempt to reinvent the Will Eisner comic The Spirit outdoes it, and at a far more efficient 90 minutes to boot. This movie hits every single "bad movie" note RESOUNDINGLY:

- It makes absolutely no sense and displays shockingly little narrative continuity
- It is hugely, massively shrill and irritating
- Ceaselessly gimmicky, the movie never stops dicking around to even attempt something mundane like storytelling
- The dialogue is atrocious
- The performances are excruciatingly broad

Miller's amateurish writing and direction here is actually kind of shocking. The story's so incomprehensible, he constantly has the Spirit explaining the plot directly to the viewer, either in voice-over or actually by TALKING TO HIMSELF in the middle of a scene. Looney Tunes-style sound effects and not just impossible, but impossibly silly, physics spoil all of the action and fight scenes. The comedy falls ENTIRELY flat, and suffers from both an intensely juvenile sensibility along with poor timing and a tendency to make references that no one besides a hardcore comic book dork would appreciate. Many of the scenes resort to having Samuel L. Jackson yell random phrases ("egg on my face!!!!!!!!") while mugging for the camera.

And as for the visuals, it looks like a poorly-shot Sin City with really bad production values. Check out the make-up and costumes:

What the fuck is that? That supposed to be funny?

The Spirit is a complete disaster. The whole time I was watching it, I tried to imagine the level of dread and panic that must have set in among executives when they started seeing the first dailies. I don't think there's a single minute of footage you could take from out of this nightmare to even simulate the existence of a decent movie.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Top Thirteen Albums of 2008

Okay, usual disclaimers: These are just my favorites, and in no way definitive. There's lots of good stuff this year that I haven't heard (and some that I'm still getting into, like Elbow's The Seldom Seen Kid and the new Blitzen Trapper). Blah blah blah, you see where I'm going with this.

Also, be sure to check out Jonathan's list at Country Caravan. It is far longer, more insightful and better-written than mine, and he clearly listened to more new music this year.

Now on to the lists, with less commentary, cause I don't really know what I'm talking about.


13. Deerhunter, "Microcastle"

This song is called "Agoraphobia." It's the track that really sold me on the album, which definitely took me a few listens to fully appreciate. The entire second bonus disc is good enough to stand alone, making this really one half of the year's best double-album.

12. Los Campesinos!, "Hold On Now Youngster"

The song is "You! Me! Dancing!" Really fun, energetic, upbeat music. There's too little like that in my personal collection.

11. Lil Wayne, "Tha Carter III"

This track is "Lollipop," chosen because it gives the best insight into the album's sound of any of the singles. But my favorite song, "Mr. Carter," didn't get a video. Shame.

10. Wolf Parade, "At Mount Zoomer"

It seems like there was a lot less hoopla/interest/hype for this year's Wolf Parade album compared to Apologies to Queen Mary, but it wasn't due to a dramatic dip in quality, near as I can tell. These guys also put on one of the best live shows I saw in 2008 (the other being the band coming in at #1).

9. Vampire Weekend, "Vampire Weekend"

Serious blowback to this collection, and I can't figure out why. It's incredibly likeable. I'm sure it's very difficult for a bunch of American kids to tackle an African sound without coming off as pretentious or silly. (Okay, this LP IS a little silly, but in a good way.)

8. Fleet Foxes, "Fleet Foxes"

I got into these guys after seeing the video below, an episode of the awesome "Takeaway Show." I figured the songs would sound very different on the album than they do in this setting, but it's not really so. Such a simple, throwback folk sound. It's not at all difficult for me to understand the appeal of Fleet Foxes to a public tired of over-produced, cheesy pop songs and grinding, unimaginative nu-metal.

7. Department of Eagles, "In Ear Park"

An acoustic version of "No One Does It Like You" is embedded below. This was the Song of the Year for me. Not necessarily because it was the Best Song, but because I couldn't get it out of my head from the first time I heard it, this fall. Still can't, really.

6. My Morning Jacket, "Evil Urges"

I really, viscerally disliked "Highly Suspicious," the first song I heard from "Evil Urges," for at least a month. It sounded shrill and screechy and utterly unlike the My Morning Jacket I loved and remembered. Then, something finally clicked, and now when I listen to the whole album, I can't even hear the thing that once bothered me any more. Weird. Anyway, it sounds different at first, but "Evil Urges" boasts the same fantastic songwriting that has marked every MMJ album since "At Dawn." Simply one of the best American bands of the moment. Embedded below is "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Part 2," though if you asked me, they're clinically insane not releasing "I'm Amazed" as a radio single.

5. Beck, "Modern Guilt"

Beck's best since Midnite Vultures. He hasn't made an album this consistently engaging, interesting and diverse since his heydey. "Gamma Ray," embedded below, and "Walls" are my favorite tracks.

4. No Age, "Nouns"

These's a kind of sound that I've just always liked in my rock music, ever since I first started listening to the stuff in the early-to-mid '90s. It's kind of a fuzzy, lo-fi, thick, hazy guitar sound, of the kind you'd hear on Dinosaur Jr. albums. No Age captures this sound perfectly. It's so rich and busy, I'm constantly surprised these songs are performed by only two people. Here's "Teen Creeps." I also think "Things I Did When I Was Dead" is awe-inspiring, though.

3. Cut Copy, "In Ghost Colours"

I mean, just listen to it. Pure ear candy. This was the year's most infectious collection of songs. Below is the single, "Lights and Music," but just about every song on the album is this good.

2. The Walkmen, "You and Me"

This track is called "Four Provinces" on the album, but is here titled "Hey, Leah." I love this live performance, but my favorite track on the album is probably the haunting "On the Water," which will always remind me of 2008.

1. TV on the Radio, "Dear Science"

I think these guys are the only band which has produced by Favorite Album of the Year twice since I started keeping track of such things. (Radiohead, maybe? OK Computer and Kid A? It's possible.) Dear Science is their best work yet, which is pretty staggering considering how much I like their older music. A unique, layered even, dare I say, whimsical record. This is my favorite song, "Golden Age":


Eagle Seagull, "I Hate EPs!"

Fleet Foxes, "Sun Giant"

Professor Murder, "Professor Murder On a Desert Island"


These are in no particular order.

"Waving Flags," British Sea Power from Do You Like Rock Music?
"White Shoes," City Center

"Gotta Cheer Up," Cotton Jones from the unreleased Paranoid Cocoon

"Sex On Fire," Kings of Leon from Only By the Night
"With a Heavy Heart, I Regret to Inform You," Does It Offend You, Yeah? from You Have No Idea What You're Getting Yourself Into
"Airplanes," Local Natives
"Mister Jung Stuffed," Man Man from Rabbit Habits
"Electric Feel," MGMT from Oracular Spectacular (below is the amazing Justice remix)

"Share the Night," The Clientele from That Night, a Forest Grew
"Ready for the Floor," Hot Chip from Made in the Dark
"Regarde," Monade from Monstre Cosmic

"Think I Wanna Die," Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin from Pershing
"Tell the World," Vivian Girls from Vivian Girls
"In the Aeroplane Over the Sea," The Chairs from November EP

"Honor Amongst Thieves," These United States from Crimes
"Quarantined," Atlas Sound from Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel

"Echoplex," Nine Inch Nails from The Slip
"Demon Apple," Tapes N Tapes from Walk it Off