Monday, December 21, 2009

The 50 Worst Films of the Decade, 20-11

The Top 20 was REALLY hard to divide up.  I can honestly say that I hate every single movie between now and the end.  For some, part of that hatred stems from disappointment...There are a few entries in the next list of 10 that I sort of figured I'd enjoy, only to be bitterly disappointed.  For others, there was really never any hope for them, and yet they've come out WORSE than anticipated.  Once again, I feel like there are 2 films, maybe 3, in this list that many readers enjoy.  I'm not saying they are wrong...Only that...Okay, no...I guess, I guess I'm saying they are wrong.  But I forgive them.

The 50 Worst Films of the Decade, 20-11

20. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

I have heard ALL SORTS of defenses and apologias for the awe-inspiringly poor job the Wachowskis did of following up their surprise action mega-hit, "The Matrix."  The most ridiculous?  "You really have to know a lot about computer science to fully appreciate it."  Really?  Really?  That's like saying you need 3 years of culinary school to appreciate the intricacies of "Julie and Julia."  The movie's not boring, plodding and near-impossible to watch because it's so deep, but because the filmmakers have disappeared so far up their own assholes, you'd probably need to be a proctologist to fully appreciate it.  They've never really been that good at writing dialogue throughout their careers, but here, Larry and Andy force their actors to ramble on ceaselessly, like mental patients, taking eons to say absolutely nothing, yet constantly looking delighted with themselves all the same.  Abandoning pretty much the entirety of the first film's premise, and 100% of the promises implied by the final 30 minutes or so, "Matrix Reloaded" and its possibly-even-more-loathsome sequel set about creating a world of pointless, uninspired arcana, and build to what is, without a doubt, the most defeating and unsatisfying conclusion in big-budget trilogy HISTORY.

19. Appaloosa (2008)

Watching "Appaloosa" is sort of like watching a mediocre old school Western with all of the cool parts edited out, like when they show "Tombstone" on TBS.  I'm not sure Ed Harris (who wrote and directed the film, as well as starring in it) has ever SEEN a Western, and if he has, he was obviously distracted by something else at the time, cause he sort of missed the basic idea.  Here is a movie that sets up a lot of semi-interesting conflicts, but lacks sufficient interest or energy to actually follow up on any of them.  We're left with a series of gunfights that are called off at the last minute, face-offs that don't materialize, an exceptionally lethargic love triangle and...not much else.  The performances are just slack, so mellow that they barely even register, and Viggo Mortensen in particular would have to inject a few shots of adrenaline into his solar plexus to be considered somnambulant.  Harris seems to barely know where he is or what movie he's making half the time, and he's the writer/director.  Also, a word about Renee Zellweger's face.  GAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!  I mean, what's going on there?  She looks like she was stung in the face by about 18 bees before appearing in every shot.  I'm not sure if she's had too much work done or if they were going for a sense of realism, creating a world where Benadryl did not yet exist, but something went very very wrong.  Also, casting Renee Zellweger as a femme fatale makes roughly the same amount of sense as casting Shelly Duvall as the World Heavyweight Champion.

18. Baby Boy (2001)

With "Baby Boy," John Singleton takes a very straight-forward, simple observation and literally extends it to feature-length through purely the power of repetition.  "Though there are clearly external factors at play, some potential reasons that many young black men struggle through life is that they are lazy, immature and lack good role models."  There, see what I did?  I saved you the trouble of watching "Baby Boy."  Because there's only so many ways you can make that point, and Singleton makes them all, and then doubles back and makes them all again 100 more times.  You have scenes where protagonist Jody (Tyrese Gibson, in the first of a long string of forgettable performances in shitty movies) is called lazy to his face by supporting characters, scenes where he behaves in an immature fashion only to suffer negative consequences AND scenes where he behaves in an immature fashion, and is then called lazy to his face by supporting characters.  So eager is Singleton to demonstrate his strong feelings on Jody's laziness and immaturity, he visually depicts Tyrese curled up inside a mocked-up version of a womb.  Cause he never really grew up!  Because, apparently, though there are clearly external factors at play, some potential reasons that many young black men struggle through life is that they are lazy, immature and lack good role models!  Did I mention that already? 

17. Speed Racer (2008)

Watching "Speed Racer" is like eating a handful of Runts, then running around in a circle SO FAST and SO LONG that you start to throw-up, but instead of tumbling to the floor, the vomit is pulled by centrifugal force right back into your face.  So immersed is the film in a spastic, computer-generated universe of whiz-bang, it quickly becomes totally untethered from any kind of physical reality.  The actors disappear entirely into the florescent backgrounds, and to call the action sequences "cartoonish" would be an insult to the careful mimicry of reality and intuitive understanding of the world's physical properties demonstrated by the animators of "Snagglepuss."  This means that NOT ONLY do the endless racing sequences (it is nominally a film about car racing) lack any kind of visceral impact, but the dramatic scenes, which seem to last even longer, are just completely dead on arrival.  And let's not even get into the atrocious attempts at "comic relief," most of which consist of an unfortunate child actor named Paulie Litt, who has been encouraged to bug out his eyes and mug for the camera incessantly in lieu of giving an actual performance.  It's literally painful to watch, like what would happen if the Hot Wheels Corporation were given 3 hours of network airtime to hawk their product as they wished.

16. I Know Who Killed Me (2007)

"I Know Who Killed Me" seems to have been based on the principle that a movie's popularity is directly proportional to how unpleasant it is to watch (possibly due to the massive success of the "Saw" franchise?)  If judged by this standard, it's clearly a huge success; a lurid, unrepentantly sleazy, gruesome and ugly tour de force of unpleasantness.  Lindsay Lohan takes on the dual role of a suburban good girl and a lonely, desperate stripper; when the suburban girl is kidnapped by a serial killer, the other one appears in her stead.  Is she the same girl, suffering from amnesia or other post-traumatic stress?  Or has there actually been some kind of Stripper Swap, which would also, I should note, be a great set-up for a reality series? That's about it for the basic set-up...For some reason, suburban Lohan can't be found, or thinks she's stripper Lohan, or something.  I'd call Lohan out for bumbling distractedly through the movie without ever once investing in the scenario...but I can't really blame her.  There's nothing here to maintain her interest, and she was getting invited to what I'm sure were some kickass parties at the time.  But unfortunately, that doesn't give the audience much to hold our attention save some totally unnecessary and completely tasteless torture sequences, and a climax that may be the most inane, stupid "plot twist" imaginable.  I promise that you'll never guess the secret behind the Double Lohan Convergence, but that's because it's entirely ludicrous, as opposed to, say, oh, I don't know, clever.  (So ludicrous, in fact, that the movie has to have radio personality Art Bell appear in the movie on a TV assuring us that, indeed, there have been reports of this plot twist happening.)

15. K-PAX (2001)

"K-PAX" is just another retread of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Next," but with aliens!  $20 says that was the pitch meeting in its entirety.  I've really yet to see a post-"Cuckoo's Next" movie set in an insane asylum that doesn't, on some level, just rip off that movie's basic dynamic.  ("12 Monkeys" gets sort of close, but it's really not about the mental institution for long).  "K-PAX" adds the element that one of the crazies, who thinks he's an alien (and is played by Kevin Spacey), may actually be telling the truth.  At least, he spins a yarn well enough to fascinate his doctor (played by Jeff Bridges).  Now, at this point, you're probably saying to yourself, "hmm...I wonder whether he really is just a crazy guy or an alien...What an intriguing puzzle!"  Ha ha!  Not really!  Because the movie basically refuses to make up its mind, at all, and therefore can't ever actually DEVELOP.  To have a complete story in which we could emotionally invest, and that would inspire some genuine emotion or discussion, we'd need to basically decide at some point whether this is a movie about a mental patient or an alien in a human body.  But "K-PAX" refuses to pull the trigger, apparently thinking that setting up an unsolvable scenario (for how can you DISPROVE someone is an alien if they have a witty rejoinder for every hole you'd try to poke in the scenario?) is enough momentum for an entire film.  So you get the 1 hundred billionth movie about the fun of life in the nuthouse, that treats crazy people like adorable pets, cute cuddly objects that make you feel better about yourself but have no real inner life of their own, and then it sort of ends, ponderously.  It's a good thing people in mental hospitals probably don't watch movies set in mental hospitals.  I'd have to think even they'd know well enough to be insulted.

14. Lady in the Water (2006)

M. Night Shyamalan needs to fucking check himself.  I'm not sure anyone has ever made a more egomaniacal, self-serving film than "Lady in the Water," and it's not like he was coming off of the "Apu Trilogy" just before or anything.  I'm not sure if, after making "The Village," you've really earned a victory lap.  But I'm not even exaggerating when I say that Shyamalan has made a film in which he himself stars as the greatest writer in the history of the world, whose work will inspire a global, positive change.  Not only that, but he takes time out to show a scene of a film critic - a character who, in the reality of the film, doubts the supremacy of the character played by M Night Shyamalan - get brutally eviscerated by a cartoon wolf.  In case, you know, we missed the point, that he's a genius and those who doubt him should die like pigs in hell.  Barely-concealed subtext aside, the movie is just shoddily made and poorly conceived.  The main characters are presented with very few challenges and no conflict beyond a fear of invisible creatures...The sole action taken by the film's janitor protagonist (gamely but half-heartedly played by Paul Giamatti) to solve the mystery of the creature who has shown up in an apartment building's pool is to convince one of the resident's to tell him the plot.  For real.  This leads to a string of sequences SO TRANSPARENT, clunky and lazy, in which a pointless supporting character with no inner life just explains from memory what's going on, that I was frankly shocked.  This should really get Manoj kicked out of the WGA.  A beginning screenwriting teacher would not pass this, and suggest that the writer think of ways to INTEGRATE these details into the actual story itself, lest the audience get bored or restless.  At least, if you're going to craft a 2-hour fantasy film as an homage to your own power of imagination, come up with a way to get some exposition out there without a character just telling the audience the story, "Night."

13. Transformers (2007)

Not the sequel, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"?  No, I think that film's a good deal better than its predecessor.  Here's why: With "Transformers 2," Michael Bay has essentially moved beyond the narrative film.  He dispenses with storytelling convention entirely.  Dialogue is not discernible.  Plots are reduced to their most barebones, minimalist formulation possible, almost to the point of breaking down the fourth wall and explaining to the viewer what's coming next.  Many scenes begin with characters literally starting sequences by announcing they have to find something (usually called by a semi-English word, such as "energon") and then proceeding to look for it.  Characters are identifiable only by insignia, or name, and even sometimes they're not given that much.  The first "Transformers,' on the other hand, actually still tried to work like a real movie, and therefore is much more notable as a disgusting, grating failure.  Here are my two largest complaints: (1) Michael Bay has no sense of humor.  It shouldn't be too hard to get a chuckle out of the far-out concept of an alien species of robots that can make themselves look like cars, but literally every single joke feels drawn-out and hacky.  (2) The Transformers don't really look like much, have terribly-designed unexpressive faces and all look identically the same.  They are so poorly designed, it makes all the action impossible to follow and the fight scenes meaningless...You can't even tell who's winning. Everything is reduced to a sharp metallic blur streaking across a screen for 160 minutes.

12. Battlefield Earth (2000)

Movies that aim for an epic scale, in this case a story about mankind's revolution against an alien race that has enslaved them in the Year 3000, without the resources to really deliver on their promises, are seemingly designed, from birth, to frustrate and disappoint audiences.  It'd be like putting a Slinky in a PS3 box.  Now, I've nothing against the Slinky.  It can be a fine toy that, theoretically, provide a child with tens of minutes of fun.  But it's not going to seem like much if you already got your kid excited for "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2."  That's setting up the toy to fail. "Battlefield Earth" aims to be a spectacle on the level of "Avatar."  Only without the $300 million.  Or circa-2009 effects technology.  Or James Cameron. What were they thinking?  Most of the blame was shifted to star and producer John Travolta at the time, who worked tirelessly to get this novel, written by his religion's founder, L. Ron Hubbard, adapted for the big screen.  But in truth, dozens of people must have come together at some point in time in the mid-to-late-'90s thinking that they could put one over on audience's everywhere. And I'm not just talking about "budget" here...You sense that, with $500 billion, director Roger Christian (the auteur behind, um, nothing else of note, ever) wouldn't have been capable of realizing 9-foot tall dreadlocked aliens played by Travolta and Forrest Whitaker or a scene where an entire planet is destroyed.  It's just beyond his capacity.

11. Nacho Libre (2006)

"Napoleon Dynamite," a Sundance hit that became one of the decade's biggest sleeper comedies, was beloved in part because it was so unassuming.  A simple story about a not particularly bright or confident teen, the movie felt personal, even poignant, and though it was often goofy, there was also a carefully-realized, observant quality, like getting a look at some bigger-than-life characters who inhabited a very real, small American town.  Director Jared Hess' massively wrong-headed follow-up, "Nacho Libre," abandons every single one of these principles.  It's a loud, stupid, obnoxious, totally absurd un-comedy in which Jack Black throwing himself around while speaking in a bad Mexican accent is meant to substitute for writing comical set-ups or jokes.  If I had to pick one word to describe the movie, that would be "offensive."  Not just offensive to Mexican people, though it is certainly that, depicting all of them as bizarre, antiquated stereotypes, and sometimes just using their physical appearance as, itself, a joke.  And not just offensive to overweight people, though it is certainly that as well, even stooping so low as to make a running joke out of the existence of an overweight CHILD.  (Ugh, even years later, I'm still upset by that.)  Nope, it's just offensive to common sense, decency and good taste, a slapdash attempt to substitute childish cruelty for humor, like a 6th grade bully trying to do stand-up.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

RIP Brittany Murphy

Shocking news this morning that 32-year-old actress Brittany Murphy, who starred in a number of significant films of the '90s and '00s, has died from cardiac arrest. 

Without ever becoming a HUGE star, Murphy was just in so many popular movies that she kind of forced her way into the public consciousness.  "Clueless," "Girl Interrupted," "8 Mile," "Sin City" was eventually enough to get her a shot at her own vehicle, the little-seen "Little Black Book."  She had an over-the-top quality that was sort of sly, letting you know that she was AWARE that the performance was a bit heightened without ever completely obliterating the suspension of disbelief.  (It also matched her dramatic, expressive, almost anime-like facial features.)  Sometimes it went a bit too far - her "Sin City" performance is kind of ludicrous, particularly the part where Clive Owen races away after the bad guy and she calls out to him, "you damn fool!"  But most of the time it worked, and though the lovemaking-in-a-factory bit is extremely silly, she probably gives the overall best performance in "8 Mile" (which is, granted, hardly a acting masterclass.)

I totally forgot about this, but she was also the voice of Luanne from "King of the Hill."  That's a really full resume for a 32-year-old.  I'm sure she still had some good work left to do, which makes this day all the more tragic.  Mahalo's got more info about Brittany Murphy's untimely passing, if you're curious.  I'm sure more grim details will come out over the next few weeks.

Posted via email from Lon Harris