Sunday, August 28, 2011

Project Transformers: 13 Going on 30

Please excuse the short hiatus from watching these movies.  I grabbed the first disc of season one of Justified from Netflix and nothing else (besides shows that are airing new episodes right now) graced my TV until I had finished the second season and watched the ending twice.  I'm sure I'll go into more detail about the goings-on in Harlan, KY, later, but now back to my journey through my wife's chick flicks and it continues with the 2004 movie, 13 Going on 30.

A nerdy 13-year-old girl in 1987 hates her life and how she is not friends with the popular crowd, constantly wishing that she could be 30 and glamorous like the people in her favorite magazine.  After the cool kids destroy her party, leaving her to turn on the only friend she has, she has some sort of glitter fall on her and wakes up as a 30-year-old (Jennifer Garner) in Manhattan in 2004.  She learns that she turned into one of the cool people and ditched said only friend when she goes to find him (Mark Ruffalo), also living in Manhattan.  She discovers that the nerdy girl was the best girl to be all along and falls in love with the old nerdy friend, yada yada yada.  It's difficult to pick the plot apart to some extent (even leaving out my astonishment that Garner only had to get used to cell phone rings and her own boobs, with no mention whatsoever of how the world changed internet-wise from 1987 to 2004), because the movie is essentially a fairy tale and one wouldn't really pick apart the plot of a Disney movie.  Having said that (with a nod to Jerry Seinfeld), pick this plot apart is exactly what I'm about to do, because the ending of the movie is BS.

Living happily ever after is all well and good for a fairy tale, but how we get to the "happily ever after" in 13 Going on 30 is so flawed that I've seen Saturday Night Live sketches with more thought put into how they're going to close.  Bear with me as I explain, but I refuse to "spoiler alert" a movie from 2004.  Ruffalo is getting married to a woman who, by all accounts, is just fine but just not Jennifer Garner.  So Garner, having saved her magazine (presumably only to go out of business in five years or so when the internet makes most magazines obsolete) with Ruffalo's help, goes to find him at his wedding (which, frankly, seemed to just pop out of the blue as a plot device, making it the only matrimony ex machina I can ever remember).  She expresses her love to him and he is broken up about it because he has always loved her, but he's about to marry this not-so-bad woman. (Aside: the potential for him to leave this perfectly not-so-bad woman to marry the girl of his dreams made me think longingly of Michael Showalter's The Baxter.)  He then goes to his closet and takes out the "dream house" that he made for her when they were kids -- from which the magic glitter fell on her in 1987 -- and the glitter falls on her again, upon which she wakes up back in 1987 but just moments before the original glitter fell on her, just in time for her to express her love for Kid Ruffalo and then they are shown living happily ever after.  Let's go through the problems with the ending:

  • Problem #1: She gets back to 1987 right before the original glitter falls on her.  By kissing Kid Ruffalo, she averts the glitter from ever falling in the first place.  How did she then learn she should kiss him?
  • Problem #2: In the timeline of the movie, she became popular in high school by befriending the cool kids and then ended up with a great life, lots of money, and a dream job.  She worked at the job with the leader of the cool kids, played by Judy Greer (Fun Fact: she was also in 27 Dresses! Yay for Judy Greer's career!).  If Kid Garner fell in love with Kid Ruffalo, then presumably she did not sell out to become one of the cool kids.  The "happily ever after" part of the movie doesn't say what she does for a living, but I'm guessing she still had the great magazine job.  So how did she end up looking exactly the same and happy in the same way, even though her entire high school experience and the entire track of her life changed?
Again, it's a fairy tale, but I'm uncomfortable with this idea that she changed something in her life, but it still continued down the same track for everything but her love life.  There's another paradox as well.  Where did 30-year-old Jennifer Garner's conscious mind go when 13-year-old Jennifer Garner's mind was in the 30-year-old body?  Was it a Quantum Leap situation, where it was hanging out in some room somewhere.  Did it jump into the 13-year-old's body, where it was extremely bored because there was no internet in 1987?  The only way these paradoxes don't matter is if the whole movie is a dream, but that can't be true because of "Problem #1" above.  Like I said, BS. 

I should also note here that another release in 2004 was one of the best high school movies ever, Mean Girls.  That movie talks about nerds versus cool kids and how, in the end, people just sort of outgrow it.  13 Going on 30 does not subscribe to that theory and that bothered me.

The prime fun in this movie comes from the references to '80s music, keyed by the big "Thriller" dance scene, but even there I found a little annoyance as the edit they used of "Thriller" was not the actual song and, at one point, a character turns on "Ice, Ice, Baby" and the song starts at the beginning of the third verse.  Over all the movie is fairly fun, especially because it's impossible to hate Mark Ruffalo, even if he's playing a guy who runs over a kid or a way-too-hippy-ish winery owner who inexplicably attracts a married lesbian.  Garner does not do a very good acting job in this movie, but I like her okay too, from her time on Alias or in Juno.  So, yes, my anger at the ending aside, I enjoyed this much more than 27 Dresses and generally did not hate it.  Even if there's no way in the world that that many people know the "Thriller" dance by heart.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


There is no argument that TV is stronger right now than it has ever been.  The four best dramas of all time aired in the last ten years.  After hitting a major lull after Seinfeld, sitcoms are back and networks, especially NBC, are airing shows that are not purely broad comedy.  Most of this quality comes from the rise of original programming on premium cable, which then spread to basic cable, so shows did not have to be as popular to survive because the networks were getting some revenue beyond just advertising and the usual standards and practices of prime time network television did not have to apply.  So it's no surprise that the best networks for original programming are on cable, namely HBO, AMC, and FX.  HBO had the first two of those aforementioned four greatest dramas of all time, The Sopranos and The Wire.

HBO still has some greatness in Game of Thrones and Curb Your Enthusiasm and Treme, but in pure quality of shows, it may actually be third right now.  AMC has great schlock in The Walking Dead and great acting in The Killing.  FX has the awesome Sons of Anarchy and Justified (I mean, really awesome) and almost unbelievably great comedies in Archer, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Wilfred.  But, more importantly, these two networks have the three best shows on TV.  Two are obviously the other two of the four best dramas of all time, Mad Men and Breaking Bad.  The third is FX's Louie.  Of the three, Louie may be the only honest-to-god perfect one of the bunch.

The broadcast networks don't really have any great dramas -- I don't watch The Good Wife, but Grey's Anatomy is sometimes very good and House used to be sometimes very good.  They do have some great comedies -- Parks and Recreation and Community, especially.  It's possible even that those two shows are the second and third best comedies on the air, but neither is close to Louie.  In fact, the continuum of TVcomedies right now goes something like this:
<Louie-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Parks & Rec-Curb-Community------Everything else->

You can take it from esteemed writers like Chuck Klosterman or Alan Sepinwall, but you really just need to watch it.  Louie is sometimes funny and sometimes thought-provoking and sometimes both and sometimes you're just not sure, but it always leaves me shaking my head at how brilliant it is.  It's probably the closest I've ever seen to the epitome of "I can't describe greatness, but I know it when I see it."  Even more, I know what perfection is every time I watch Louie.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Project Transformers: 27 Dresses

Once again, an explanation of "Project Transformers" here.

2008's 27 Dresses stars Katherine Heigl as, wait for it, always a bridemaid, never a bride.  She has been in twenty-seven wedding parties with twenty-seven dresses to show for it.  She loves weddings, but has not yet met the man who can give her her own perfect day.  She thinks her boss (Edward Burns) is that man, but he falls in love with her younger sister (Malin Akerman).  She resents that and, at the same time, is also being hounded by a wedding writer (James Marsden) who has a thing for her.  Will she end up with her dream guy?  Will it turn out that the wedding writer is really Mr. Right all along?  Do I even have to spoil it for you?

I have to admit that the movie had two strikes against it before I even pressed play.  One strike, the more minor of the two, was that there was a grammatical error on the DVD case, where it said that she had been a bridesmaid "no less than twenty-seven times."  Fewer.  The second, more major, strike was Katherine Heigl.  I am not a fan.  She wasn't horrible in her first big movie, Knocked Up, but she starred in the despicable The Ugly Truth (the awfulness of that was not all her fault) and, frankly, Izzy Stevens was always my least favorite Seattle Grace doctor (next to, of course, Meredith Grey, whom everyone hates).  In her leaving Grey's, Heigl came off as annoying in her remarks to the press and was involved in the worst story arc in a good recent TV drama that did not include members of the Bauer family.  The other castmembers are fine.  Burns showed up in a few too many of the "Worst of the Worst" movies for my liking, but Akerman can be funny and Marsden wasn't just good in X-Men and X2 but was also fantastic in Hairspray.  Judy Greer plays Heigl's best friend, but she seems to take too many roles to only be as awesome as she was in Arrested Development or is in Archer.

The plot is entirely cliched, but there are still a number of confusing moments in the film.  For one thing, Heigl works for a company that puts out catalogs, she's being pursued by a writer for a newspaper with a really popular wedding section, and her father has a family-owned hardware store.  The movie came out in 2008, but the script was written in 1952?  The scene where Burns proposes to Akerman involves a huge sign being unfurled that reads, "Will you marry me?" but she asks what is going on and seems surprised when he gets down on one knee.  My favorite is that the end credits begin over the newspaper story of her wedding and there are two weird errors.  One, more lazy, is that it refers to Heigl's character as the daughter of "Hal Nichols and Mrs. Nichols" which sounds dumb, especially when you consider her mother died when she was very young and would never be referred to in that way.  Second, more funny, is that the article next to the wedding story is written by Marsden's friend (played by an underused Maulik Pauncholy), who is never given a last name in the film and so the story has a by-line of just "Trent."

I went in not wanting to like the movie, but some of the people are likable enough that it wasn't miserable.  The jokes fell flat, but romantic comedies are generally not my thing, anyway.  It is bad though and I dislike most romantic comedies in that same way that I dislike children movies that studios just spew out with no intention other than making as much money as possible.  There is a point in the movie where Heigl's character has just found out Marsden's character is a wedding writer (who has previously said that he hates weddings, but he secretly likes them, it's just that he once had an awful wedding, because he can't just be a guy who doesn't like weddings, he has to be the sweet but wounded guy that needs the right romantic woman to heal him) and she says to him: "You write the most beautiful things. Do you actually believe in love and marriage and just pretend to be a cynic or are you actually a cynic who knows how to spin romantic crap for girls like me?" Hmm.  Autobiographical?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Light Our Darkest Hour

It's time to announce the next movie project.  The last one came about by chance, more or less.  I happened to have a large chunk of time open up on my weekly schedule with nothing to fill it in the same week that Rotten Tomatoes released their list.  I had only seen three.  If it had been fifteen or fifty, I don't know that I would have taken on the movies, but I hadn't and I did.  I enjoyed having the goal, so with the "Worst of the Worst" finished, I wanted to take on another one.  This one is much, much more stupid.

Which is the best movie based on a cartoon based on an action figure?  The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie stunk and the cartoon was originally based on a comic book, anyway.  The recent G.I. Joe movie was awful.  It certainly wasn't Care Bears: The Movie or anything with the Go-Bots.  No, it was the non-KMart version of the Go-Bots (clip from Clerks II not available on-line), the Transformers.  And it wasn't the Michael Bay crapfest, of course.  We're talking about the 1986 cartoon, complete with one curse word and the voice talents of Orson Welles, Leonard Nimoy, and Robert Stack.  Yes, it was Orson Welles' last movie. I've seen it a dozen times, at least.  I think I saw it multiple times in the theater and they showed it on TV as part of the show and I owned at least one copy of it on VHS.  In 2006, a special edition was released on DVD and I bought it.

And found out my wife had never seen it.

I was perplexed and horrified.  Somehow, she had never seen this seminal movie of my childhood.  I had to set that straight, so I insisted she watch the movie with me, but she refused.  She claimed that I make her watch everything I like and rarely watch stuff she likes (and I type this sentence while the TV is showing True Blood, which I don't get at all).  She told me that the only way she would ever watch the great Transformers: The Movie is if I watched every one of her DVDs that I had not seen.  It's only eleven, not anywhere close to the ninety-seven I watched for the last project, and they're not all bad movies.  So it will take me much less time than the twenty-two months the last list took me -- it also helps that I have all of the DVDs and don't have to rely on sending them back and forth to Netflix -- but I am still not super-excited about watching these.  Eleven movies and I made no promises to my wife that I would not completely savage them, so I expect to do just that.  Hope you enjoy it more than I do, which I won't, probably.

The list:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Worst of the Worst: Post-Mortem

Now that the quest to watch Rotten Tomatoes' worst-reviewed 100 movies of the decade is over, some wrap-up.

Since this was a list of the worst-reviewed movies, as determined by the films' percentage on the Tomatometer, it's not anything that I decided.  There were movies that, after watching them, I didn't think were among the worst movies I had seen recently.  Similarly, there were movies not on the list that I would have included, given the chance.  The two movies that come to mind immediately are Year One (about as funny as any of the Epic Movie-type movies, but after much higher expectations) and The Ugly Truth (just an abominable, stupid film).  I'd listen to arguments on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.  The three movies I'd take out are Ben Affleck's Surviving Christmas, the Toby Keith vehicle Broken Bridges, and the slightly-funny Boat Trip.  Surviving Christmas is the best of the three, making it the "best" movie on this list.

Three acting performances need to called out as being noteworthy in a negative way.  There was a lot of bad acting, but some of it was either expected (people in the ___ Movie movies or Larry the Cable Guy or Eddie Griffin) or came in movies that nobody will ever know existed (Fascination).  The three I'm pointing out came from known movies or are known actors.  First is Max Beesley as the manager/love interest in Glitter.  It's not nearly as bad a movie overall as I thought it might be, but he stands out with his bad accent and makes all of his scenes awkward.  Second is Chris Klein as the street-wise Interpol agent in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.  His overacting needs to be seen to be believed.  I strongly suggest anyone who enjoys funny-bad movies watch this movie just for him.  Third is, of course, John Travolta in Battlefield Earth.  This is a legitimate, talented actor, who puts on a crap performance for the ages.  He is as bad in Battlefield Earth as Colin Firth is good in The King's Speech.

On the flip side, you have actors that outperform their movie.  A lot of big name people embarrassed themselves on this list, from Barry Levinson to Guy Ritchie to Al Pacino to Ben Stiller to Robert De Niro, but there were some bright spots.  I wrote earlier this week about Antonio Banderas in Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, who does so by default.  Zoe Saldana is so good in Constellation that she seems like she's overacting because she even gives a damn.  Zooey Deschanel is great (and adorable) in The New Guy because, well, she's perfect.

Very soon, I'll be embarking on the next project and will explain the parameters in this space.  Until then, we'll leave off with the only three lists that really matter.

5 Worst-Made Movies: This has little to do with entertainment value, but with actual quality of the movie -- the concept, the execution.

  • 5. Dirty Love -- I have never seen a more disgusting movie.
  • 4. Fascination -- A perfect storm of bad acting, bad plot, and even bad music.
  • 3. Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever -- I have seen more coherent YouTube videos.
  • 2. Battlefield Earth -- With the budget that went into it and the controversy that surrounded it, one must tip their cap to a movie this bad.
  • 1. Merci, Docteur Rey! -- It gives messes a bad name.
5 Most Entertaining Movies: They may be bad, but these are the ones I'd suggest someone watch if they felt like checking these movies out.
  • 5. Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever -- I laughed and laughed and laughed.  If someone attempted to film an abstract concept like schadenfreude, it might come out looking like this one.
  • 4. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li -- Yes, Chris Klein is that gloriously bad.  Also, one of the Black Eyed Peas members plays a bad guy, has no lines, and is still somehow bad.
  • 3. House of the Dead -- Uwe Boll intersperses scenes from the original arcade game with the movie, but the original game was 8-Bit or so, so the pixelated frames do not quite match up with the live action.  Some of his choices on making the action artistic are so outrageous that they must be rewound and rewatched multiple times.
  • 2. Battlefield Earth -- There are a lot of parts that are funny, but mostly one just has to see this movie to understand how bad it truly is.
  • 1. Bloodrayne -- I've watched it twice.  I'd watch it again right now.  Michael Madsen's hair by itself would be funny enough to make this a classic, but the gore effects (think the end of Peter Jackson's Dead Alive, but not meant to be wacky) are probably the most entertaining thing Boll has ever put on film.
5 Least Entertaining Movies: This is the final and biggest one.  If movies are made to be entertainment then a badly-made movie that is entertaining is at least accidentally successful.  Those movies that are least entertaining are the worst kind of movie I can think of.
  • 5. Dirty Love -- I didn't even feel bad for Jenny McCarthy.  After sitting through this sexist, racist, demeaning movie, I was glad that she had failed at movie-making and would be forced to go on to a career in trying to keep kids from getting medicine.
  • 4. All About Steve -- Sort of an upset because it was so low on the list (#96), but it is uncomfortably bad, especially given the stars (Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, Thomas Haden Church).
  • 3. 3 Strikes -- I still clearly remember how angry I got when I watched this movie, in October of 2009.
  • 2. The Master of Disguise -- I was once with a group of friends and, upon hearing about how bad this movie was, they found the Turtle scene on YouTube and watched it.  I warned them against it.  They watched it and then turned to me with sick looks on their faces.  I warned them.
  • 1. Merci, Docteur Rey! -- I have nothing to say.  I'd prefer to forget I ever watched it.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Worst of the Worst: #1, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever

And so we come to the end of the journey, 647 days after I first saw Rotten Tomatoes' "Worst of the Worst" list and 643 days after I watched the first movie, A Sound of Thunder.  We'll get to a post-mortem on the quest in a couple of days, but first, there's one more movie: the single worst-reviewed movie of 2000-09, according to Rotten Tomatoes, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever.

Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever is a movie about a person named Ecks fighting a person named Sever.  Okay, not really.  They barely actually fight.  This confused me because I proclaimed loudly as the movie began that, as the movie subtitled "Ecks vs. Sever," there was no way that Ecks and Sever would ever join forces to fight against a common enemy, especially since both are played by the two biggest stars (by far) in the movie.  Alas, Ecks and Sever only nominally fight, in that Ecks fires like two of the approximately one google bullets fired during the movie at Sever at one point.  I suppose Ballistic: Ecks and Sever vs. Evil Rich Guy would be a stupid title.

Lucy Liu is Sever (no first name), a super agent for an American defense agency, who is really good at shooting people and then beating them up by kicking really close to their face, but never quite connecting, even though they fly backwards.  Antonio Banderas is Jeremiah Ecks, though he is consistently referred to in the second half of the movie as Jeremy Ecks, a super agent for the FBI, who we are told is really good at shooting people, but he doesn't really fight all that much in the movie because Banderas isn't as good as an actor at martial arts as Liu is, I think.  Notice that both are American agents, yet everything happens in Vancouver and nobody cares.  Everyone else in the movie is there to be shot, beat up, or both, except for Ecks' wife and her son.  We learn that Ecks thinks his wife is dead, but she's married to the bad guy, but then she just goes right back to Ecks anyway in a scene involving dolphins swimming behind a darkened room.  The dialogue in that scene -- and all scenes -- is delivered at a whisper.  I thought that the Netflix stream was messed up, but it wasn't; I had to turn the TV way up to hear the speaking, but the explosions were at regular volume, so my ears went from bleeding from the loud explosions to hurting from straining to hear the actors speaking.  I can only assume they whispered to make the many, many, many explosions sound that much louder.

So, yes, there are explosions every two minutes, there is a series of events that is called a "plot," there are words put together that are called "dialogue."  There is even a long fight scene at the end between Lucy Liu and Ray Park, two accomplished martial arts actors, in which they barely touch each other, are lit badly, and the director's insistence on cutting between shots every three seconds leads to no continuity of the action.  Of course, that no continuity is right in line with everything else in the movie, so I guess it works.  All of this combines to make a real head-shaker of a movie.  All of the choices made with the movie (assuming someone was actually thinking about this purposefully), from the story to the editing to the acting to the sound to the camera work and so on, combine in a way in which one can understand why this would stand atop the heap as the #1 worst movie of the decade.


It's just not that bad.  It's bad, absolutely, but it's not #1 bad, for two reasons.  One, Banderas is just a good freaking actor.  He has nothing to work with here, but he has such screen presence that he makes it so that not every second is awful.  He's delivering crappy lines to bad actors, but he's delivering them in a way that makes sense.  Also, I tried to envision some of the lines as coming from Puss in Boots, and that helped.  Two, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever is hilarious.  I've written about how some of the movies on this list are painful to watch, but that's just not true of this one.  It is a mess in such a way that I was laughing out loud for most of the movie.  The goofs in the stunts where it is clear that nobody is actually touching anyone else during fights.  The moment where a guy gets shot and everyone runs to put pressure on his chest, but you never see a bullet hole or any blood (and later find out that he's totally fine because the bullet missed his heart by one centimeter).  The constant explosions that led to the $70 million budget (it made less than $20 million at the box office).  I particularly enjoyed watching the guy who played Curtis on '24' in every scene he was in; he perpetually looked either confused at the direction or angry to be in the movie.

Ballistic is about as poorly-made as any big-budget movie I've ever seen, but the fact that it made me laugh means that it was at least a little bit entertaining, even if it wasn't in the way the film makers had planned.  Movies that are made poorly are one way to decide what is "worst," but I think the best way is that entertainment value.  If you really get nothing out of a movie, it's worse than a movie from which you get even a little bit.  So Epic Movie or Meet The Spartans, which were a big zero on the entertainment scale?  3 Strikes or Master of Disguise or Merci, Docteur Rey!, which were net-negatives in terms of how they made me feel?  All are worse than a movie that made me laugh.  If this film were a spoof of a no-plot, all-action movie, trying to be bad, it would actually succeed in ways that any number of SNL action-spoof movies have not.  Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever may very well be the worst put-together movie I've ever seen, but it's not the worst movie, and not even that close to it.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Worst of the Worst: #15, Alone In The Dark

The ninety-ninth and penultimate movie I have to watch on Rotten Tomatoes' list of the worst-reviewed movies from 2000-09 is one I was saving.  I had intended to watch it for months, but I knew I'd be disappointed if I watched it too early in the process.  There are movies on the list that fit into certain categories and I tried to deal with those categories in kind.  So, the ____ Movie category (Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, et al)?  I tried to get that the hell out of the way as quickly as possible.  Ditto, any period dramas.  I waited quite a bit longer with the three Larry the Cable Guy movies before I could steel myself.  But, from the second I watched Bloodrayne (the only movie that I've watched twice so far), all I wanted to do was watch Uwe Boll movies.  The controversial German auteur had four films on the list and they are glorious.  He has so little care for the quality of his movies -- for good reason in some cases -- that the viewer must simply sit back and laugh and laugh and laugh.  All are ultra-violent with little plot and inane dialogue.  Most of his movies -- and all that were on the list -- are based on video games, which is already a wasteland genre for cinema.  So, I saw Bloodrayne and loved it and House of the Dead and kept rewinding scenes because they were so funny-bad and  In The Name of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale and thrilled to the bad music and worse casting.  And I wanted to watch Alone In The Dark so, so badly, but I didn't.  I wanted more of Dr. Boll's brand of genius to look forward to.  After all that, the verdict: Alone In The Dark is disappointing.

I don't doubt that it's the worst of the four movies on the list.  Mostly, it's just really boring.  So much of the movie is so dark -- the monsters in the movie are hurt by sunlight, even though they inexplicably come out into the sunlight at the end -- that you don't get the graphic gore of Boll's other movies.  What little plot there is is so confusing that the movie starts with a ninety-second scroll/narration to explain the story, setting a sleep-inducing tone.  Tara Reid is so bad that Boll excised her scenes from the director's cut, but she's bad in a "Well, yeah, it's Tara Reid, so who cares," sort of way.  The dialogue is all exposition, so it's less funny bad than tune-out bad.  Everything in the movie screams, "Yawn."

There are some funny moments.  At one point, a soldier falls into a pit and the rest of the team searches for him by calling out his name, which was -- wait for it -- Marco.  I have never before prayed so hard for Joel Hodgson or Mike Nelson and crew to be with me when I was watching a movie, because it ended up sounding lame when I called back, "Polo!"  The CGI is Ray-Harryhausen-technology-esque.  The movie has a load of obvious continuity errors and one famed goof, when one of the soldiers is killed but as the camera focuses on her body she lifts her head up right before the scene cuts.  It's not a total loss -- it is, after all, an Uwe Boll movie -- but it is mostly forgettable, which Bloodrayne, for instance, is most definitely not.  I freaking love Bloodrayne.

I'm still happy that I saved Alone In The Dark, because I am so fascinated by Dr. Boll and his films.  It was much more enjoyable than the #2 movie on the list, which I watched a couple of days ago.  I also don't intend to stop watching bad movies forever when the list is finished and that especially goes for Boll's oeuvre.  The list, however, will be finished soon.  Stay tuned, tomorrow, same bad time, same bad channel.  Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Worst of the Worst: #2, One Missed Call

I'm not a fan of horror movies.  In some cases, it's because I just can't take them.  Case in point, I've never been able to watch The Exorcist all the way through, even after reading the book.  In most cases, it's because horror movies tend to be pretty poorly made.  The makers think the shocks will make up for skimping elsewhere.  Case in point, Saw, through which I laughed and laughed and laughed because of the bad filmmaking.  I do like some horror movies and those tend to be the ones that are better made, but not too scary.  Sort of "horror lite."  The ultimates are, of course, John Carpenter's brilliant Halloween and the Spielberg-driven Poltergeist, but when it comes to more recent movies, I'm looking at The Sixth Sense, The Ring, and Final Destination.

The greatness of The Sixth Sense goes without saying; it's less a horror movie than a great movie that is based in the supernatural.  Final Destination is just fun.  The first one is well-made (the others are crappy, but hilarious) with the right amount of character development to make you actually care if something happens.  Also, the first twenty minutes or so are plain riveting.  The Ring is a touch scarier, but still has solid acting and an interesting plot.  I remember watching that and having my phone ring in the middle.  If my wife, calling me, knew any better she could have whispered, "Seven days," and I'd have run screaming out of the apartment. The Ring is based on a Japanese movie and its success meant that more American remakes of "J-Horror" films would be coming.  Hence, we have the 2008 remake of the 2004 Japanese film, One Missed Call.

Let's review.  Final Destination has elaborate, visually impressive death sequences and worthwhile characters.  The Ring has a creepy premise, good acting, and some decent scares.  One Missed Call is remarkable because it does its best to be Final Destination meets The Ring, yet it has not one of those things that either movie has.  There is no redeeming quality in One Missed Call and there are no scares.  It is so minimalist in what it brings to the cinematic table that its eighty-six minutes of run-time seem somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty-six minutes too long.  It is a movie that is neither scary nor funny with a weak premise, no character development, and a lazy ending.  In other words, it has all the charm of an eighty-six minute Saturday Night Live sketch.

There are a bunch of students at the psych ward of a medical school.  I think that's what they were supposed to be.  One by one, their phone rings with a weird tone and they never pick it up in time.  When they look at their phone, it says, "1 Missed Call," and has a date and time in the future.  When they listen to the message left, it has their voice right at the time of their death.  Then, at the appointed times, they say the same thing as on the message and either fall in front of a train or get impaled on a girder or get strangled to death by a demon (I think, that scene was confusing).  Ed Burns is the streetwise detective whose sister was the first victim of the phone calls and when our main character, one of the girls, tries to find out what's going on before she's killed, he helps her.  The cops tell her that nobody had any messages on their phones, but somehow Ed Burns has done research and figures out where the call to his sister was coming from.  They use it to track down the family that had a kid that died who is haunting the phones, blah blah blah, but it makes no sense because the kid had a cell phone that was too big for her being so young and how could Burns track down a cell phone to the foster home for the sister of the dead kid who owned the phone.

The plot makes no sense, but it's not helped by insulting dialogue delivered by actors who don't give a crap.  It's also not helped because we jump right into the phone calls and deaths and therefore don't know who any of the characters are and, therefore, really just don't care about anything.  Girl falls in front of train?  People die all over the world all the time, kid, so I can't work up the sympathy.  I can feel bad for Sonny Corleone when he's in the tollbooth because I know who he is.  You, guy who was in one scene and died in a ridiculous fashion that tried to be Final Destination but fell way short?  Meh.  The dialogue is so lame and the acting so bad that the entire movie feels like what I've been told the acting parts of porn are like by people who have seen those sorts of movies.

The sorts of movies I like to watch do not generally include spirits -- even those created by special effects that look like they were written in Basic -- or hauntings.  I'll take a comedy or a war movie or mob movie.  You can keep your possessed cell phones and your nanny cam teddy bears that are supposed to be creepy, but not nearly as creepy as a really creepy teddy bear.

Two left and they're both at home.  One I've been saving for pure enjoyment, the last Uwe Boll movie.  The other is the #1 worst movie of 2000-09, according to Rotten Tomatoes.  It's just a matter of days. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Worst of the Worst: #63, Yours, Mine & Ours

This being the remake of the 1968 Henry Fonda-Lucille Ball film, this time starring Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo, two likeable stars.  Quaid is a widower with eight children.  Russo is a widow with ten children.  They were high school sweethearts and Quaid has moved back to their hometown to become head of the Coast Guard Academy.  Yes, Quaid is military and by-the-book, while Russo is a disorganized wild child.  Will they ever fall in love?  They do, and quickly.  They decide to become a family, but the kids have other ideas and band together to sabotage the relationship.  I gather from a close analysis of the IMDB plot synopsis that this differs from the original, where the kids just had trouble getting together.

I'm betting that, unlike this modern one, the original is not just a mashup of as many slapstick jokes as can be fit into eighty-seven minutes, with Quaid ending up with his face in goo multiple times and kids either having a paint fight or hanging out of a window every other scene.  Quaid and Russo are not easily hateable, but the kids are so annoying and the realization the kids come to towards the end is so lazy that they completely overshadow the passable leads.  Sort of like, say, if it were Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt?

Yours, Mine & Ours may be nominally a remake of a 1968 movie, but I didn't like it the first time when it was called Cheaper By The Dozen.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Worst of the Worst (with Introduction "Why Bad Movies"): #47, Soul Survivors

Introduction: "Why Bad Movies"

On September 29, 2009, the movie website Rotten Tomatoes released their list of the one hundred worst-reviewed movies of the decade.  I was shocked to learn that I had only seen three of them.  Considering myself a connoisseur of bad cinema (and with some extra time on my hands because of a change to my regular week's schedule), I charged myself with the sacred quest of watching the other ninety-seven movies on that list.  We're now nearly twenty-two months later and I am onto the final five movies I need to complete the list.  In that span of time, the response I most get when I speak of the list is an incredulous question: "Why would you waste your time doing that?"

When I say I'm a connoisseur of bad movies, I don't mean to say I have bad taste.  I mean that I enjoy seeing where something went wrong or how bad something can go.  There can be a fine line between greatness and awfulness, probably finer than between greatness and mediocrity because awfulness can come from someone really going for the gusto and missing badly, whereas mediocrity just comes from no real effort whatsoever.  Take two comedies.  Anchorman is unquestionably a good movie.  The Goods is unquestionably a bad movie.  Seeing where Anchorman went right and The Goods went wrong (better ensemble, tighter writing, more original jokes, to name a few things) makes me appreciate the former because of the pitfalls it dodged to become great.  You can only really appreciate what it's like to feel good about something because you know what it's like to feel bad about something.  There is also no small amount of schadenfreude in seeing a team of filmmakers really, really screw up.  Train wreck cinema.

I think it's not that I'm watching bad movies that raises the "why" question, but that I purposefully set out to do it.  People watch bad movies all the time.  How many people went to see the last two Transformers movies?  People watch whatever crap comes on whatever TV station they happen to be flipping by, or they go to the theater and see the next thing that's showing, or they go see what everyone else seems to be seeing.  People watch bad movies all the time for two reasons: apathy and ignorance.  They either don't care what they are going to watch or they don't do any research and go in blind.  When watching a movie -- especially if I'm paying in the theater -- I couldn't live with either apathy and ignorance.  I have to know what I'm getting myself into.  That's not to say that I really knew what I was getting into when I started on the list; my taste in bad movies runs to the "funny bad" side of things and a precious few of these movies fit that bill.  But if you had to watch a hundred so-so movies to get to The Godfather and four great comedies, you'd do it.  Battlefield Earth and the four Uwe Boll movies make the whole endeavor worthwhile.

People waste time constantly.  I find it fairly self-deceiving when someone says, "I don't have two minutes to do X," because they probably wasted two minutes doing something else, but want to feel busy.  I'm insulted when someone says, "You must have a lot of time on your hands," because everyone has the same amount of time on their hands as everyone else; it's all about what you decide to do with it.  I've decided to not just play with my baby daughter and read and run and watch TV and play fantasy baseball; I've decided to take ninety minutes to two hours out of every week or so for the last two years to complete a goal that I had set for myself.  My question isn't, "Why did I do this?" It's, "What do I do next?"


Two of the most controversial (critique-wise) plots of TV shows in the last decade or so were both in the final season of great shows: the Kevin Finnerty sequence of The Sopranos and the Sideways world in Lost.  Both are so controversial because, as sequences that were disparate from the actual goings-on of the shows' world, one could easily dismiss anything that happened as meaningless or unearned.  In the case of The Sopranos, you knew all along that it was not "reality" (and, granted, the show had used many dream sequences before).  In the case of Lost, you had no freaking idea what was going on.  In both cases, what happened in those sequences had no real bearing on the resolution of the "real" story line; less so in Lost, but that's an argument for another time.  All this is to say that when people decide to buy into the "reality" of a story, they feel cheated if it turns out that the whole thing wasn't ever "real" at all.

Soul Survivors has a surprisingly good cast for a movie you've never heard of, including the underrated (and he's not bad here) Casey Affleck and Wes Bentley (who somehow has turned a smallish part in a great movie into being considered a respectable actor).  And that's where the good ends.  The movie is supposed to be horror, but tries to pass off weird as scary.  The movie is supposed to be edgy, but tries to pass off weird as edgy.  The movie is supposed to be weird, but ends up passing off boring as weird.  

The opening sequence has a blond girl being murdered by a guy in a mask.  Another blond girl then goes to her first weekend at college.  She loves her boyfriend but is still friends with her ex-boyfriend.  She goes to a party where the guy in the mask who murdered the first blond girl accosts her.  She throws him off, drinks too much, gets behind the wheel, and crashes into a car with the guy in the mask, throwing her into a ravine and killing her boyfriend.  She's overcome with guilt, but soon is visited by her boyfriend's ghost who is trying to save her from some supernatural demonic forces (read: guy in the mask, who randomly appears here and there) that are trying to kill her.  She is also helped by a priest, played stoically by Luke Wilson.  Yes, I realize that I do not know how to install a laugh track on a website for just that sort of line.  There's a twist involving Luke Wilson's character that you can see coming a mile away and a bigger twist at the end of the movie when (my general rule is not to "spoiler alert" this movies, because I know nobody is going to watch them) it turns out the whole thing was a dream while she was in a coma and fighting for her life after the accident.

It's actually an interesting premise for a movie and the concept saved me from really savaging the film, because it is awful.  But the dream sequence also made the entire rest of the movie meaningless because there was never any clue that anything wasn't actually happening to the main character.  In fact, the whole idea of the dream sequence where the guy in the mask is trying to kill her makes your brain hurt when thinking about the opening sequence, because there's no reason that guy would kill someone else.  It's an entire movie made for that "gotcha" moment at the end, which I figured out too early.  Sure, people might say that's what Shyamalan does, but his twist never discounts the rest of the movie, it just makes you see it in a different light. Being as critical as possible, The Usual Suspects has that kind of twist, but it a) is not a dream and b) was made with such great quality that the whole ride is enjoyable, even if you have already seen it.  It's okay to be cute, but you simultaneously have to be great to have your main story stand out on its own.  The Usual Suspects did it. The Sopranos did it. Lost did it. But that's probably why none of us have ever heard of Soul Survivors.

Four more to go.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Rewatch: 'The Social Network'

The Social Network is the perfect storm of a movie that desperately wants to be cool with accolades heaped upon it by a lot of people that desperately want to be cool.  "Oh, it's about the Facebook?  I've heard of the Facebook!  The kids like the Facebook!"  It walks away with three Oscars: Best Score (deservedly), Best Editing (not nearly as good as Inception), Best Adapted Screenplay (not a strong category for the year, but a few lines of great dialogue don't make it better written than Toy Story 3).  It's not a bad movie; far from it, it's a very good movie.  It's just not the great movie that many people tried to make it out to be.

There's an interesting plot with personal intrigue.  The plot drives the pacing, which is mostly breakneck, reminiscent in some way of All The President's Men.  There is one excellent acting performance, two very good ones, and one uneven one.  Respectively, that would be Eisenberg, Garfield and Hammer, and Timberlake.  The acting in All The President's Men is what makes it a great movie, but it's not the lack of great acting that knocks The Social Network down.  It is that Academy Award-winning writing.  There is some fantastic dialogue in spurts, but it is Sorkin's preachiness about the internet age that, in part, shows the movie to not be as cool as it wants to be.  In a key scene, Zuckerberg confronts his ex-girlfriend in a bar right after he has become famous.  She rants about how what's wrong with kids today is that they think they can put everything on the internet as if people care and that, once out there, nothing can be taken back.  Sorkin may as well have just shown up in more than just his one cameo and said that himself.  Not only would that type of character not have delivered that sort of speech in real life, but it turns into a "get off my lawn" moment in a movie that's supposed to be about kids stomping all over the world's damn lawn.

Fincher goes a little crazy with some vanity shots of crew racing that don't quite work to push the flow of the movie along (hence, my preference for the editing in Inception), but it is the ending that hurts the pace the most for me.  I grant that there was no clear ending to the story and so they had to build the frame story of the lawsuit that was not in the book.  Once again, though, there is a voice that seems outside the natural story in Rashida Jones' character.  She takes a shine to Zuckerberg in a way that is not earned.  In the end, she says that Zuckerberg is not an a**hole, even though he tries to act like one.  There is a scene, maybe two, where he seems to be softer than his exterior, but that is very fleeting.  He only cares about Facebook and maybe that doesn't make him an a**hole, but it certainly does not make him not one.

The movie is beautiful, visually.  There are some flashes of brilliance in the dialogue.  Eisenberg finished the ascent he began in Zombieland from Michael Cera wannabe to leading man.  It's a very good movie, worthy of the Best Picture nomination, particularly when there were ten nominees.  Sorkin and Fincher just don't get exactly the perfect feel for a movie about something as modern and pervasive -- and maybe even culture-changing -- as Facebook.  The movie speaks to how people who don't use the technology see the technology and that's why those people liked it so much.

Monday, June 27, 2011

An Uncanny Attempt At Importance

I've now seen the three comic book movies that have so far been released this summer and, of the three, X-Men: First Class is the most entertaining (I rank Green Lantern second and Thor third). There is a lot to look to for X-Men's quality: the lead performances by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are very good; the movie doesn't bog down in exposition like so many others; some of the special effects, particularly the power of the evil mutant Azazel, are not as fake-looking as everything in Thor. It's a fun movie and that should be enough for a lot of movies, especially anything that comes out between Memorial Day and Labor Day. X-Men: First Class strives to be a bit more than just fun and its failure to do so makes it effectually worse than even Thor (can you tell I didn't like it?) when looked at on any level above pure escapism.

In his essay collection, Eating the Dinosaur, Chuck Klosterman discusses advertising strategy in a Mad Men world. He argues that we as viewers grasp the perfection of Don Draper's Kodak speech in the first season because we understand that advertising is not selling us a product, but rather our feelings about a product. That may not be something that people understood fifty years ago, but we buy something because we understand what intangibles a brand is selling and we want to be associated with that brand (his actual example in the book is Obama and Pepsi). I argue that we don't look for not-so-hidden themes in advertising, but in everything we watch. Maybe it's the advertising that conditioned us to do this, maybe it's the other way around, but it's why people immediately jumped at Avatar and its anti-imperialism message. Yes, that notion could not have been any more clear in that movie, but neither could the Lost Cause mythology have been any more clear in Gone With The Wind and it's only recently that I hear people discussing that.

We look for the hidden meaning in things that we watch and those who make what we watch know it. Again, this is most clear in advertising because it is usually something we are watching for free and they try to provide impetus for us to act, but it is of course true in movies or television. Cameron wanted us to think about the War in Iraq when he made Avatar, just like Lucas did in the Star Wars prequels. Similarly, a movie can be made devoid of hidden meaning so that viewers are encouraged to enjoy it only at face value (prime example: Gladiator). Movie makers have been doing this for a long time, to be sure, but the major discourse of these themes had been the purview of critics until blogs democratized that flow of thought. People like to deconstruct what they watch and so it is no coincidence when a movie tries to reveal a theme to make itself more interesting than it may be at face value. Enter: X-Men: First Class.

A mild spoiler warning for what comes after the jump.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Worst of the Worst: #16, Daddy Day Camp

The future rocks. With six of these movies left to go and only the #1 movie (Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever) which I plan to watch last, on Netflix Watch Instantly, I've been trying to find these movies anywhere I can to quicken the process of having to wait for Netflix disk turnover. I regularly search the FIOS TV listings on-line and set my DVR accordingly and, sure enough, Daddy Day Camp was coming on Cartoon Network on Saturday evening. At the same time that I was getting on a plane to go to California. My hope is to finish the list by the end of July, so I didn't love the idea of having to lose ten days or so. But. The plane had satellite television service, which included Cartoon Network. I was reminded of the movie when put the station on to calm a crying baby and was informed that Daddy Day Camp was coming up next. I plugged in my earphones, settled down, and prepared to watch.

Now, it's quite possible that movies seem better than they should on a plane. Since one can assume that a better-than-average movie is, by definition, better than at least half of all movies, there is at least a 50% chance that a movie shown on a plane (or, I suppose, on a TV network carried on a plane) is going to be bad. I've watched Hitch and The Pacifier on a plane. Once, in a show of utter cruelty, a flight even tortured its confined passengers with Batman and Robin. Because there is this real chance that the movie is going to be bad, we may lower our expectations. Anything to get through the next couple of hours without having to talk to anyone, worrying about the sleeping person next to us having their head roll over onto our shoulders, or praying that everyone around us isn't just farting and hiding the sound under the engines.

When it comes to Daddy Day Camp, though, I don't think my expectations could be raised at all. The original Daddy Day Care had its funny moments, but it also starred Eddie Murphy, Jeff Garlin, and Steve Zahn, all capable of being funny. The sequel stars Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Brendan Fraser laughs at his movie choices), a guy who sort of looks like Jeff Garlin, and a guy who doesn't look at all like Steve Zahn. On top of that, it has one of the least original plots to come around since Shakespeare stole all of his work from Francis Bacon and Kit Marlowe. I felt like I needed to mention Shakespeare, Bacon, and Marlowe in this review. The three guys run a camp. It's dilapidated. Only losers go there. There's a camp next door with more resources and a take-no-prisoners owner. If the loser camp doesn't beat the awesome camp in some sort of contrived set of games, the loser camp will fold. I'm pretty sure this story was originally conceived in cave paintings 30,000 years ago. You know it's going to be slapstick. You know Gooding is going to disgrace himself, his family, and his species. You know there is going to be fart and/or poop humor (there's both). You couldn't possibly raise your expectations because this movie has "garbage" written all over it.

Then, something funny happens. The movie lives up to that expectation. It isn't better than you expect, but it isn't worse, either. It is exactly what I expected it to be and that, in some weird way, makes it not that bad. It is exactly what you think it is. It's not going to shock you with its badness, not going to make your jaw drop with its ineptitude. It is what you thought it was. Maybe I was apathetic because I was on a plane, praying that the baby next to me would go to sleep -- praying harder because she was mine -- but I really do think it was just boringly average compared to my expectation and that's just good enough for me not to savage it. And I still like Cuba Gooding, Jr. Somehow.


I was inspired to rethink this blog, so coming soon -- perhaps, Sunday -- will be a bit of a reboot. All pop culture, most likely all long-form essays. More promotion in social media. First up: why X-Men: First Class is both an entertaining movie and much more of a failure than the mostly unentertaining Thor.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Broken Record

Out of town for a bit. I did watch my 95th Worst of the Worst movie over the weekend -- on the plane, no less -- but I'll post the review tomorrow or Friday. Today, instead, I have to marvel in writing a little bit at a realization I had today.

We all know that technology has made certain things obsolete, especially when it comes to personal entertainment. I have a VCR, but I haven't hooked it up for at least three moves. Book stores are suffering because of Amazon and the idea of physical books may suffer even more as e-books become more and more popular. Of course, the rise of iPods and the inclusion of MP3 players in phones have made CDs less important, to the point that CDs now sit in a tiny, disorganized section at big box stores or book stores (for as long as they still exist). For the most part, the record store has gone the way of the video store. There are still a few here or there and the best of those is one I visited today, the Mecca of music stores, Amoeba Music in San Francisco.

I wanted to go because it's in the Haight, which is just a fun little area to walk around and people-watch (to see them try to recapture an era that quickly became a mockery of itself forty years ago), but also because it's a site to behold, as you can see in the pictures on the website. Thousands upon thousands of CDs, a good amount of vinyl, a nice video area with a huge foreign section. It would be fun to leaf through the rows of albums, seeing if I can find anything cool to pick up. I recognized that I could get anything through iTunes, but I grew up with record stores and I was pretty sure that I still valued the concept of holding a physical product in my hand. Sure, I've probably bought three physical CDs in the last two or three years (two Eminem albums and a special edition of the Ben Folds/Nick Hornby collaboration), but I was holding on to nostalgia, if nothing else.

So I began walking through the aisles, looking at the CDs and it hit me immediately. Immediately. There was absolutely no reason for me to ever buy another CD again. It wasn't some huge epiphany. It wasn't something I had to work out in my head. It was immediate and obvious. Anything I bought would be just as, if not more, expensive as/than anything I could buy on iTunes or Amazon MP3 and I'd just have to then take the disc home and load it into iTunes so I could get it into my phone. So instead of looking around to buy something, I treated the store like a museum. Took a picture of the Green Jello album. Flipped through the Ben Folds and They Might Be Giants stacks. Checked out Bon Iver at a listening station to see if I'd want to buy it on iTunes (verdict: yuck). I guess that's progress for you. I didn't lament not wanting to buy a CD because it would just seem more inconvenient than downloading the album. I just accepted it as a universal reality that buying CDs is done. And then I tweeted about it and put it on Facebook while I was standing there.

Epilogue: My quick-thinking wife actually pointed out a reason to buy a CD. Unlike a Best Buy or a Target, Amoeba had used CDs that they sold at a lower price. So, for example, I think I had Flood on cassette or a disc that I couldn't find, so we picked up a copy for $4, much cheaper than I can get it for on iTunes. I also grabbed a couple of used DVDs (the brilliant Korean film, Save the Green Planet, and the entire series of Da Ali G Show; $9.99 each!), so we did buy some stuff there.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Worst of the Worst: #57, Godsend

Godsend is a horror movie that isn't scary, but that's true of a lot of movies that are bad, but not bad enough to be on this list (for instance, Saw). Visually, it's not bad. The acting isn't too bad, either. There's a kid actor in the main role who's so-so, but Greg Kinnear is always at least solid, Robert De Niro hasn't been in a good movie in a while but is never really bad, and even Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is fine and only slightly bad when she has to do any emotional scenes. The script itself is pretty lame, with too much exposition at points to move the poorly-paced story along. There are a good number of continuity errors, including a newspaper at the end that has a misspelling in the headline. But, yeah, for the most part the movie is merely less-than-average. What kills me is the plot.

Kinnear and Romijn-Stamos play the loving parents of a loving son (all set up lovingly in the opening scenes), but the son is killed in a horrible (read: too contrived) accident. After the funeral, they are approached by De Niro, who is a brilliant genetic scientist (and somehow Romijn-Stamos' freshman professor, even though she's a photographer). He has a way of cloning the boy and the parents agree to try it out. De Niro goes into this long explanation of the process, meant to confuse us into not thinking about it critically, and then the mother is impregnated when a pre-stem cell (?) is injected into an egg and then delivers the child after nine months. Everything is the same for the first eight years of the kid's life. Anyone who's read The Boys from Brazil knows that this is ridiculous. The original boy had died on the day after his eighth birthday and, sure enough, on the day after his eighth birthday, the new kid starts seeing visions of a dead child and turns evil. He gets all creepy and murder-y, showing up at weird times in dark rooms to shock his parents and then killing the school bully (a murder that the local police decide not to investigate, apparently). Then, there is a twist that is so implausible and so impossible scientifically in any sense of real life that I couldn't totally understand why or how said twist came to be. They probably just didn't explain it because the actors would have had too hard a time not laughing. Anyways, the kid is somehow possessed genetically (I think) and everyone's running around doing nothing to stop him, other than running into dark rooms that he scares them in. Kinnear gets hit by a blunt object hard enough to pass out in a burning room, but somehow shows up minutes later, just in time to stop an axe from chopping someone up. Finally, nothing happens at the end to resolve anything and everyone is essentially in the same place they were right before the climax.

The end.

Well, one of the ends. They had such a hard time wrapping up such a ridiculous plot that they actually shot five different endings. The other four are available on the DVD and I watched them, including the first with commentary from the writer and director. Sure enough, the director actually admits that none of the endings really worked, so they just went with the one that is least black and white because they couldn't figure out how to appropriately resolve the characters. At least the guy was honest.

I'm not sure that Godsend really belongs on this list, because it's just not poorly-made to the level of some of these other movies. But, on the list it is, making it the ninety-fourth that I've watched. Six left.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Worst of the Worst: #11, Merci Docteur Rey!

Merci Docteur Rey! is the worst movie I have ever seen.

I hope that over these ninety reviews (I started out having seen three of the movies) over the last twenty or so months, you have seen that I've tried not to exaggerate the level of awfulness of any of these movies. I've written about how bad many of them have been, but I've saved any superlatives for a very select few. I'm often prone to hyperbole, but I take this seriously. I've loved bad movies my whole life, but I had never set out to expressly watch them like I have in this project, so I honestly want to leave this list with an understanding of where the different movies fall. So, let me state it again, so you can see where this one falls.

Merci Docteur Rey! is the worst movie I have ever seen.

It's not just the plot, about the son of an opera diva who is closeted and goes to meet an older man only to find out after witnessing the man's murder that he was his father and upon finding this runs to a psychiatrist who it turns out has died of a heart attack and is sitting in a chair Weekend-At-Bernie's-style and the guy then turns to the crazy patient at the time for therapy while he attempts to find the murderer on his own. It's not just the acting, which is almost the worst I've ever seen (you can't top Travolta in Battlefield Earth or Chris Klein in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li), even though it includes Dianne Wiest and freaking Vanessa Redgrave and Simon Callow. A lot of it is the direction, which is easily the worst I've ever seen with atrocious framing and editing. It's not just the music, which never fits the scene. It's not just the dialogue, which is partly in French and partly in English and wholly bulls***. It's not even the ending, which involves a completely unbelievable line and curtains closing while one of the characters inexplicably drops in on a cable, but then the movie isn't over and keeps going for a few minutes while I alternate between cursing and shaking my head. No, it's all of this and more. When you're up against Battlefield Earth and The Master of Disguise and 3 Strikes, you can't just be pretty bad in all aspects; you have to be horrendous in all of them. Success!

My watching experience went something like this: I watched the first five minutes and considered breaking the DVD in half -- I figured that since it got 0% on Rotten Tomatoes and only earned $19,500 in theaters, I may have had the only copy not owned by someone who made the movie, assuming they didn't already throw it away to deny any hand they had in it. I proceeded to watch a good portion of the movie while yelling, "What the f*** is this?!" every so often. I began to hold my head in my hands. I mocked every line. I rewound the ending with the curtain to make sure I saw it right. Finally, as the credits rolled, I fell back on the sofa, exhausted.

Battlefield Earth was a big budget sci-fi movie. The Master of Disguise was a slapstick kid's comedy starring a major comedian. Merci Docteur Rey! is a foreign-ish film with a budget that was probably less than Battlefield Earth's catering bill. It's really difficult to compare these three. They all failed in their own way and deserve recognition for being, in the first two movies' cases, an epic disappointment and the embodiment of negative entertainment value, respectively. But it is the third movie above that is so poorly conceived and executed that you question not just the existence of the movie, but the existence of everyone who had anything to do with this movie. You see on imdb that people who saw this movie at film festivals thought it was brilliant and realize that it is so perplexing that these people thought it was art and therefore needed to say it was brilliant in order to look like they understood it and you pity them and their sad inferiority-complex-having lives. Battlefield Earth and The Master of Disguise, as mainstream Hollywood movies, are more easily understood to be historically bad and more easily understood to have been reaching for some sort of brass ring of which they fall way, way short. You can talk about expectations and you can talk about prior knowledge of a movie and you can talk about being more upset with a Travolta or a Carvey when they put out dreck, but, no, none of that matters when the cold hard truth is staring you in the face.

Merci Docteur Rey! is the worst movie I have ever seen.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Worst of the Worst: #52, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

On this list, there have been a number of movies with names attached to them that have belied the actual lack of quality of the movie. One would hope that Guy Ritchie could do better than Swept Away, that Ben Kingsley wouldn't show up in any of these, that Al Pacino would never have sunk to where he is now. Alas, big names attached to a movie do not a great movie make. But that seems nearly impossible when it comes to The Bridge of San Luis Rey. It's based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Thornton Wilder, the 23rd best American novel of the 20th century, according to Time. It stars Gabriel Byrne, Robert DeNiro, F. Murray Abraham, Harvey Keitel, and Kathy Bates. There's no way that it could be that bad, right?


It's really bad. Really, it's more boring than anything else (exacerbated by the fact that over the weekend, I saw two of the most extraordinarily un-boring movies of the past year, Super 8 and Black Swan). The story involves an incident in Peru where five people fell to their deaths when a bridge collapsed. A monk was watching and he investigates the lives of the deceased to see if it is mere coincidence or if God really has a plan. Since he is questioning God, the Inquisition tries him for heresy. The movie ends up being a procedural with flashbacks where we learn about the lives of the people who will eventually meet their demise -- with five or ten minutes left to go in the movie, which makes them luckier than the rest of us. I imagine the book is better paced than the movie, which is interminable. Whereas the book splits the stories up so you're following one person all the way through, the movie mixes everything together so you can't tell what is going on at any given point (if you even cared to know it, in the first place).

The boredom is bad, but the worst part of the movie is the fact that, given the source material and actors, the inexperienced director (who nobody has ever heard of) squandered her riches by being utterly lost. The timing is abysmal. Her script is written to be read, not spoken. Can you imagine Harvey Keitel delivering really stilted Skakespeare-esque lines? Please try hard not to. Worst of all is that line delivery. I don't like when English-speaking actors are asked to use accents to signify that they are speaking another language. This, of course, is worst when it's people in Rome speaking in British accents for some reason, but it goes for people with Spanish or German accents. Ridiculous. And yet, I may have learned to get over that with this movie. The director had the actors use no accent at all other than their own. So, you get a Peruvian court case where Gabriel Byrne has his Irish accent defending himself against DeNiro with his New York accent. Kathy Bates seems to be the only person who even tries, but that could be because she has no discernible accent.

I think, in watching this, I discovered that a great actor can make an entertaining movie from a mediocre one. Denzel Washington has made a career on this. But not even the best actor can make an entertaining movie from a really bad one. Those actors who make only good movies are apparently really talented at picking the right movie with the right script and right director. To paraphrase Wilder's last line, good cinema is solid ground and an actor's choice is the tenuous bridge that break at any moment, plunging us all to the depths of a bad movie.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Worst of the Worst: #43, Darkness

Some movies like last night's King's Ransom are bad and could never have worked under any circumstances. Some movies like tonight's Darkness are bad and could have easily worked under different circumstances. But, alas, no. What could have been a pretty chilling horror movie was instead a confusing mess that had no thrill at all.

Darkness is your standard haunted house fare. Family moves into a house. Kid starts hearing weird things under the bed. Father goes insane. Teenage daughter is the only one who figures everything out. Et cetera. In this case, the father is played by Iain Glen (who I quite like as Jorah Mormont on Game of Thrones) and the daughter is played by Anna Paquin. So you have some acting talent, but they are asked to deliver nonsense. And I don't just mean that the lines are poorly written; they seriously often don't make any sense. It's just a bunch of words strung together that are supposed to convey some sort of plot about Satan worship, but don't make the viewer care at all. Speaking of Old Scratch, I'd like to revise one of the most famous lines in modern cinema. It is not true that the greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world he didn't exist The greatest trick the devil ever played was working his way into movie after movie even though that whole thing was pretty tired even by the time Sardo Numspa came after Chandler Jarrell.

But even the worst script in a horror movie can be saved by true scares, but this one has none of those. There are ghostly kids inhabiting the house, but they really just stand there and stare at people, which is about as scary as the Today Show audience. Every time someone is about to be killed, we instead get flashes of millisecond clips of weird images, which is about as scary as a kaleidoscope. At the end, the evil turns out to actually be darkness, so all of the killing occurs when the screen is pitch black, which is about as scary as turning your TV off. Which I could have easily done to escape the boredom. The director went for super artsy instead of super scary and missed. Could have been creepy, ended up with incoherence.

So, yeah, in the end it was all about Darkness, imprisoning me, all I could see, no absolute horror. So bored that I felt like I could not live, but I could not die, trapped in myself, images on the TV my holding cell. Maybe better off without my sight or hearing, too.

Ninety-one down, nine to go.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Worst of the Worst: #4, King's Ransom

Oh, my God...

I squealed in ecstasy as I watched the first five or ten minutes of King's Ransom. Do you remember the first time you watched the first tracking shot of The Godfather or the opening chord and title scroll of Star Wars? It is mesmerizing to watch the object of pure beauty that comes from when a group of people -- director, writers, actors, musicians -- join together in the goal of making something perfect and then actually succeed. De Palma's savage gang meeting scene in The Untouchables, with David Mamet's classic baseball monologue and De Niro's cocky but menacing delivery. The chemistry between Shaw, Scheider, and Dreyfuss, as they sit around the table on the boat, captured so realistically by Spielberg. These and so many more of the greatest moments in cinematic history, almost a living symbiosis of talent aimed at putting on celluloid what nobody else has ever seen. And then, in 2005, directors and writers and actors and so on and so on got together and set out to make one of the worst movies the world had ever seen.

That has to be what happened, because it's the only way anyone could have made a movie this goddam bad.

No matter that Jeffrey Byrd only directed music videos and a couple of independent movies before tackling this project. No matter that Wayne Conley wrote for Keenan and Kel and Nick Cannon before turning his pen to this. No matter that Anthony Anderson has been in mostly bad movies or that Jay Mohr's film and TV career was never what you may have thought after Jerry Maguire or that Charlie Murphy somehow got an acting job. No matter any of this, because the mite that lives in the turd that was thrown at a slack-jawed petting zoo patron by a bored, malnourished monkey could see that everything was wrong with everything that was happening around King's Ransom.

The acting is so poorly timed that it looks like everyone was shown their line for two seconds upside-down and in Pig Latin and then asked to recite it back. The lines themselves are so poorly written that I almost paused the movie to look for more depth of narrative in Goodnight, Moon. The sound effects -- yes, sound effects -- that they play to emphasize what is supposed to pass for a joke -- and they are not funny, no matter how often Anderson fake laughs after his own delivery -- are so ubiquitous that I thought one of the sound editors had let their two-year-old loose because they just didn't care about what they are doing. Nothing in this movie works; towards being a good movie, that is. I could tell within the first five minutes that I was in for something epic. Sometimes, it's just that obvious. So many of these bad movies have been purely boring that it is a relief to see something so excruciatingly and offensively, well, bad.

It is in our nature to look for meaning in things that we don't understand. Lightning turns into a weapon hurled from Mount Olympus. Rainbows turn into a promise from God. A movie that does not work in any way on any level is rationalized as an attempt to satirize Hollywood by striving for perfect imperfection. Or maybe none of them gave a s***. Either way, I salute them. I enjoyed the destruction of all of their careers thoroughly.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Worst of the Worst: #62, Serving Sara

This movie brings up a question I have about a profession I know very little about. Serving Sara is about a process server. I've seen on TV the usual bit about process servers where they walk up to someone, ask the person their name to confirm identity, and then give the person the papers. I have no reason not to believe this is how it works in real life. Sometimes, the process server has to pretend to be someone else to get close to the target. That seems a bit fishy, but I guess it could happen. I just assume that most process servers are straightforward and, perhaps, fairly apathetic, like Seth Rogen in Pineapple Express. In Serving Sara, however, the process servers do all kinds of wacky tricks to track their person down because everyone seems to know that papers are coming and don't want them. One of the characters even explains this in the beginning by saying something along the lines of, "Being served papers is never a good thing." But does it really get so wacky that it turns into a spy-like thing? Or that the people being served try even wackier things to evade the papers like constantly pretending to be other people or even hiding in the middle of monster truck rallies?

So, you can see how I was already a little put upon by the ins and outs of the process serving industry, as depicted in this movie, but there's not much else in the film to recommend it. First off -- let's get the elephant out of the room -- Serving Sara was written by the team that wrote Norbit and the upcoming The Zookeeper (slapstick comedy with animals talking to Kevin James). There's all you need to know about the script. The director is not as poor in the resume department, but his work here left me annoyed. So many of the scenes involve people talking to each other with close-ups as each character delivers their lines. The cuts back and forth and the close-ups kill any kind of chemistry the actors may have had. Of course, they had none, so it just left me to be annoyed with how choppy it felt.

The actors themselves are the "stars" of the awfulness in this movie. Elizabeth Hurley as the love interest just can not act. Fine straight person for Mike Myers, bad romantic comedy lead. Vinny Pastore is just not meant to be in comedies (or, frankly, play any role other than Big Pussy). Bruce Campbell is the king of cult films, but his style does not fit with a mainstream romantic comedy. Cedric the Entertainer has appeared on this list of bad movies a number of times and, while he doesn't have tons of screen time, his acting in this is about as bad as he's been in any of the other movies. His role strikes me as a desperate attempt someone made to add any kind of last-second humor into what they knew would be a desperately unfunny movie (this move was done most egregiously with the obviously added scenes of Wanda Sykes in Evan Almighty, which I can't believe didn't make this list). That brings us to the lead actor, Matthew Perry.

I'm not a Matthew Perry fan. In fact, I don't like any of the Friends actors except for Matt LeBlanc in Episodes and Lisa Kudrow in a very few roles. Perry is just way too smug for me and he's very smug in this movie, but he has a bigger problem. During the filming of Serving Sara, Perry had to take a break because he went to rehab for a painkiller addiction. And it is obvious that he had the problem when you watch the movie. The Matthew Perry of Serving Sara is the bloated, disinterested, rough-looking Matthew Perry of the tabloids. He just looks strung out. So no matter that his lines are written poorly or that the big oh-please-won't-you-please-laugh-at-our-movie scene involves him with his arm up a bull's ass while it has sex with a mechanical cow, Perry is unfunny because you're uneasy watching him. That was enough for me to dislike the movie.

But it didn't end there! The only thing worse than watching a bad movie with bad acting is when someone you like shows up and you just feel sorry for them and dirty for watching them debase themselves in a piece of garbage. That happened with The New Kid and Zooey Deschanel and it happened with Bless The Child with Jimmy Smits, but nothing tops Serving Sara because it wasn't just someone I like it was one of the most talented actors, period. Sure enough, Matthew Perry tries to find Bruce Campbell's mistress at one point and we discover that she is played by none other than Amy Adams. Let that sink in for a second. You're watching a movie that stars Matthew Perry, Elizabeth Hurley, Cedric the Entertainer, and Vincent Pastore, and here comes Amy Adams. Sure, it was her first big studio movie, so when people originally watched it, she was just some random chick, but I didn't watch it in 2002 (when I had better sense, apparently). No, I had to watch it after Adams had established herself as acting gold. It just made me feel dirty.

So the writing was bad, the direction was annoying, the acting was atrocious, and I felt uneasy. Good times! Like many movies on this list, though, the one thing stopping it from being truly horrendous was that it just got boring. It wasn't offensively bad throughout. By the end, I was staring at the clock, wondering why they hadn't wrapped up the plot yet, when I knew there were only seventeen or so minutes left. And then it was blessedly over! Eighty-nine movies down, eleven to go, and this one not a moment too soon.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Worst of the Worst: #29, Bless The Child

I am not surprised in the least that Larry the Cable Guy had three films on this list, nor that Carmen Electra had six or seven and Eddie Griffin had what seems like seventy. I am surprised that Bless The Child marks the second film on the list for Rufus Sewell and even somewhat surprised that it marks the first for Jimmy Smits. Smits has come to be regarded as one of our finer actors, always likable, and that is no different here. Unfortunately, both of these actors star in this movie with Kim Basinger, who is awful.

Basinger won an Oscar and was a can't-miss star at one time, but she has completely fallen apart. What's the last relevant movie in which she appeared? Judging by her imdb profile, it's either as Eminem's mother in 8 Mile in 2002, or all the way back to 1997 for her Oscar-winning performance in L.A. Confidential. Maybe she's just out of practice? She overacts in this film like an amateur. Not that even a good performance from her would save this garbage.

Basinger stars as a woman who takes on her infant niece from her dope-addict sister. Six years later, the girl has something special to her. Kids her age are being kidnapped and murdered. The mother shows back up with Rufus Sewell -- playing a self-help guru -- in tow and takes the girl. We find out quickly that they are taking her for a Satanist cult. Smits plays a cop who used to want to be a priest and he recognizes the Satanic aspects of the cult. Murder, hunt, chase, blah, blah, blah. It's all just really boring, and that's saying something because it turns out the whole thing really is about Satan. There's all kinds of supernatural crap with demons flying around and messengers of God showing up. Satan himself even shows up at the very end (and does nothing but sit in a chair for two seconds!).

So, whatever, it's a total B-movie. Bad acting, awful special effects, worse camera work. It should be hilarious, but it's not. Just boring.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Worst of the Worst: #61, Good Luck Chuck

There is a lot about this movie that absolutely confuses me. Most of all, how there is not one good thing about it but it is still not offensively bad. By offensively bad, I mean to the level that you get angry or that it causes physical pain, like other movies on this list have. Instead, Good Luck Chuck flits between boring and eye-roll-inducing. Another thing about this movie that confuses me is more of a general brain-freeze about why anyone likes Dane Cook in any way. I mean, why he's put in movies, why people give him one red cent, why people don't run screaming whenever the concept of him comes to mind. Therein may lie the answer to my first question; maybe the movie isn't so bad because I can't hate it any more than I hate him. His presence sets expectations so low that no amount of awfulness could make this movie as bad as, say, the often funny Dana Carvey in Master of Disguise or 3 Strikes by DJ Pooh, the director of the great Friday.

Other than Cook's presence out-sucking the rest of the movie, the rest of the movie is bad in its own right. The writing is just one-liner after gross-out joke after slapstick gag, with all falling flatter than a manhole cover that I'd gladly pry open to dump every copy of this DVD into the sewers where they belong. There is also a lot of sex and maybe more naked breasts than any movie I can remember that came out since like 1982. Animal House thinks there were too many boobs in this movie (and I'm not even counting Cook and his co-stars, ha-ha!). There is a fairly graphic montage that involves Cook having sex with dozens of women. Yay!

Cook plays a guy who is cursed and every woman he sleeps with gets married to the next person they meet. Other than being the story of my college relationships, it's romantic comedy boilerplate. Women chase after him, wanting to sleep with him so they can meet their true love, until he finds the girl of his dreams and doesn't want to lose her. The girl of his dreams is played by Jessica Alba, who is very easy to look at but not very easy to watch act. Of course, to be fair, she's only playing off of Dane Cook and the guy who played Lonny in the first few seasons of 30 Rock, so there's not much to work with there. I keep Cook stinks, but it's true. His acting is awful and he lacks chemistry with every object, living or not, with whom he shares the screen.

Do people like Dane Cook because he sounds sort of like John Corbett and everyone likes John Corbett? Do people like him because MySpace drove you so batty that you had no other choice? Do people like him because it's easier to just give in? I'll never understand.

On a side note, this movie being one of the bigger movies on the list, I got it from Netflix in Blu-Ray. Blu-Ray enhances everything on the screen, which is fantastic for gorgeous movies like 127 Hours. It also enhances jerky camera movements -- such as in the pretty funny Cyrus -- which can be annoying. It also makes bad movies look as clear as real life, which is exceptionally disturbing. It makes me pray, in a sick way, that someone decides to release Battlefield Earth in Blu-Ray.