Friday, August 19, 2011

Your Wish is My Command: The Worst Movies I've Ever Seen

Look at those cold, duck eyes.
          You've requested it time and time again, and I've never had the heart to sit down and write it. That is, until now. I promise that this has nothing to do with my recent run in with the total brain fart that is Sucker Punch, and has more to do with my bitterness toward the fact that summer is ending, but let's just say that bad movies everywhere should run for it.

         As usual with my list blogs, I'm going to break this down into three categories. Mind-Numbingly Mediocre, Offensively Bad, and Hilariously Bad. Let's get this over with.

Mind-Numbingly Mediocre:

  • 50 First Dates 
    • Really, this could have been any movie from Adam Sandler's Happy Madison production company. I choose 50 First Dates because I feel like it's the most absurdly mediocre of all of them. Sure, Grown Ups is stale, meandering, weak, and schmaltzy, but at least it doesn't have scenes like the one where Rob Schneider (Fill in the blank) and (Fill in literally any single thing that Rob Schneider does in this movie that wasn't the first thing). There are multiple jokes about a walrus' large penis delivered by pretty much every character, there is a totally thankless Dan Akroyd cameo, there are stupid and out of place steroid jokes, and there are stupidly racist jabs at pretty much every culture. Oh, and the ending is the most absurd cop-out I've seen this side of the O.J. Simpson trial. This movie is formulaic, lazy, boring, and insulting to its demographic. But most of all, it is unbelievably meh. 
  • Gran Torino
    • Yep, I went there. Gran Torino may be Clint Eastwood's final performance on screen. It is obviously meant to be the stuff of legend. And Eastwood picked a noble topic to leave on, the subject of gang violence and race relations in small town America. Kudos, Clint. But did he really have to hire non-professional actors? Did he really have to continue his trend of doing one or two takes before moving on? The acting by every single supporting cast member in this movie is pathetic. The line delivery is lousy, the body language is stale, and the chemistry on screen is non existent. In the scene where (Spoiler?) Eastwood locks Toad in the basement and Toad begs to be let out, the entire theater burst into laughter. This is not the response you want at the dramatic high point of your movie. Also, there's a bizarre scene around the same time where the police force the Priest to leave with them in their cop car in what must be the most awkwardly staged and poorly executed pieces of acting I've ever seen. The ending is schmaltzy and seems to actually do more harm than good, unless that particular gang only had about 8 members--in which case...that gang wasn't very threatening at all. 
  • The Fast and the Furious
    • The film that launched a truly strange franchise (the casts for each film makes for a fun game of bingo) is actually pretty meh. It follows a typical "machismo motorhead" formula and does just enough to keep the audience from falling asleep. The scene where the tech guy races the main villain, and then loses and escapes in his car, goes pretty much unexplained. Why did he race that guy to begin with? Why was he all of a sudden needing to prove himself? There was no lead-in to this character development. Until, of course, he's killed in a drive-by and the audience realizes he was just a poorly-developed plot device. Hmph. All I remember about this movie is the mean, bearded camo wearing guy who arbitrarily hates Paul Walker's character because the script demands a cathartic bond later in the film. They couldn't even explain a little bit why they hate each other? Sheesh. 

  • Honorable Mention:
    •  Tenure: look up this bland Luke Wilson comedy on Netflix watch instantly if you feel the need to sit and stare blankly at a screen for 90 minutes. 

Offensively Bad:
  • Battlefield Earth
    • Do I really have to tell you why? The cinematography is drunk, the plot is ridiculous, the effects are stupid, the ending is silly, and the casting is lame. Barry Pepper? Really? He's the guy you wanted to lead your revolution? How do a bunch of uneducated cavemen learn how to fly the world's most sophisticated jets in less than an hour? Why would a group of aliens place bombs so close to a portal that leads to their planet made of flammable gas? Why would the aliens heavily train one of their prisoners and then give them the ability to talk to their friends in secret? This movie makes no sense. 
  • Howard The Duck
    • There is a scene in Howard the Duck where Lea Thompson tries to get wit' dat. If that's not enough, look up the budget to this movie. Then look at the movie. Words will never describe its idiocy. 
  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
    • Headaches, headaches, headaches. This movie is long, bloated, loud, racist, sexist, crude, illogical, and pointless. Why would a robot have testicles? Why would two robots want to emulate stereotypes that haven't even been around for over two decades? Why would my beloved John Turturro accept a paycheck for this movie? He's The Jesus! He can afford to not be in the this. The lack of originality and logical thought put into this film's screenplay is offensive to anybody unlucky enough to be deemed this film's demographic. 
  • Honorable Mention:
    • Rocky V: simply unwatchable. And that's coming from a serious Rocky fan. 

Hilariously Bad:
  • The Wicker Man
  • The Room
    • Another film, another medley of clips. The Room is astoundingly bad. It is also astoundingly brilliant. No other film has made me laugh harder in my life. And that's a fact. The line delivery is awful, the cast is bottom notch, the cinematography is bland, and the plot is...kind of whimsical in its absurdity. The best part is when Tommy is talking to his friend, and out of nowhere, asks him about his sex life. 
  • Batman & Robin
    • Whaaa? Bat Credit Card? Nipples on the bat suit? Ahnold delivering a a wonderful medley of puns, George Clooney trying desperately to appear awesome and failing, and Uma Thurman chewing up the scenery like she's going to find Quentin Tarantino in it? This movie is a spectacular failure in the highest degree. And it is flat out hilarious. 

  • Honorable Mention
    • Plan 9 From Outer Space: Most people know about this one. If you've never seen it, you should definitely check it out. It is a treasure trove of awful. 

What are some of the worst movies you've ever seen? What category does it fall under? Should I have included the Pirates sequels? Let me know the comments section below or on Facebook. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Underrated: Valhalla Rising


          Somebody once described the style of Nicolas Winding Refn's Valhalla Rising to me as "What if David Lynch made a Viking movie?" However, I'm not sure if this description is totally fair to either party. For one thing, this implies that the movie is surreal. It isn't. It also implies that the film contains dark humor, it doesn't. It's actually pretty amazing how dissimilar this movie is from any David Lynch film ever made. Amazing only because I can see why people would make a comparison between the stylistic choices of Refn and those of Lynch.

          Valhalla Rising is dark, moody, atmospheric, uninterested in linear plotting, and totally committed to its central theme. This theme, of course, is terror. The story is presented as a sort of bad acid trip (the director's intention) that only gets worse. Its protagonist is One-Eye, played by Bond villain extraordinaire Mads Mikkelsen, a blood-thirsty warrior who is seen at the opening of the film as an enslaved gladiatorial piece of property. He fights while chained to a stake for the gambling profit of the elder warriors in a clan of Vikings.

          Of course, One-Eye escapes the clan and seeks retribution. But instead of being able to exact action movie revenge, One-Eye is instead captured by a group of nomadic Christians traveling along the fresh water lakes of what is now Delaware. They are frightened by One-Eye, but they can't resist keeping him around as a sort of insurance policy. He might be extremely violent, but he also only kills those who cross him.

         The audience is then subjected to several strange and disturbing scenes of violence. So disturbing, in fact, that in one scene I actually said "oh my god" uncontrollably. I was by myself when I watched the movie.

         People probably relate this film's style with that of David Lynch because they've never seen a Werner Herzog movie. Valhalla Rising feels a whole lot like Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath of God, and Mikkelson's performance could have easily been captured by the manic Klaus Kinski. But I think what we're really seeing is another new voice in cinema. Nicolas Winding Refn is responsible for the Pusher trilogy, Bronson, and this year's Cannes Film Festival Best Director prize winning Drive (click for trailer), my most anticipated film of 2011.

         Refn is part of a new generation of filmmakers who grew up watching films by Lynch and Herzog and Jodolowsky and has crafted his own synthesis of these visions. He's part of the New Danish Cinema movement fronted by Lars Von Trier, and he's of a similar style and influence.

       The film is beautifully shot and acted well by all of those in involved. Its pacing may be a bit slow for those expecting more action, but I said violence, not action. It is definitely worth a watch if you enjoy films like those collaborations between Herzog and Kinski, or if you enjoy films like El Topo or even, to a lesser extent, Lost Highway and Wild at Heart.

Valhalla Rising is currently available on Netflix's watch instantly. Check it out for yourself.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Movie Review: Sucker Punch, or, "As long as you're self-aware about it, then you're okay!"

No, but she's fierce! 
          Movie news website Film School Rejects interviewed director Zack Snyder about his newest film, Sucker Punch, a couple of weeks after the film hit theaters. They allegedly set out to ask the polarizing director tough questions about the film. Specifically questions regarding the film's sexuality. The interview starts by asking the question on everybody's mind, "Would you say this film is a critique on geek culture's sexism?"
        "It is, absolutely," Synder says.
        Well then. If he claims it's a commentary, let's take a look at it as one. Here's what I thought of Sucker Punch:

         When Snyder's 300 came out, most of my friends went to see it opening night. They kept telling me that it's really awesome, visually stunning, all that. So, I go see it. It's pretty much what I expected, except boring. I just couldn't get into it. There was something about the emptiness of the visuals. It looked pretty, but it wasn't saying anything. It barely had a pulse.
         A couple of years later, Watchmen is released. I see it opening night, and I have the exact same reaction. It is beautifully shot, but I don't feel any connection whatsoever to the characters. It mostly plays out like a slo-mo music video cut to covers of great songs.
        A couple of years after that, I rent the Watchmen director's cut, and something weird happens. I really, really like it. Now, I don't really remember what was cut or added between the versions, but something definitely changed. The characters became more three-dimensional. Something made me care.
       So when I saw the preview for Sucker Punch, I thought,"Hey, I'll give him a chance."
       But then I didn't go see it. And then I forgot about it. And then last night, I watched it.
       And boy was it bad.

      Now let me explain. I get it. I get it, okay? I understand. Snyder is making a point with the film. He's dressing his characters up as school girls and making them dance in front of fat, schlubby men. They're objectified women who decide to stand up for themselves and be freed of their oppression. They use their "fierce" will to conquer those pesky little men.

      I even understand that their outfits are satire. That their names are supposed to be absurd riffs on fanboy culture. I'm savvy with all of it.

     However, if anybody tries to use any of those points as a reason to permit this movie to use these images, I have to argue with you. I am compelled to challenge you.
     Sucker Punch is immensely sexist. I don't care if it's a commentary. You know why? Because that thing that is being commented on is a thing that the director is guilty of in every single one of his movies, including Sucker Punch. Every woman who has ever acted in a Zack Snyder film is thin, gorgeous, and scantily clad. Every single one. And here is a movie with characters with names like Babydoll and Sweet Pea who wear school girl outfits and little nurse outfits while they fight on a steampunk battlefield.

      Okay, so when I'm watching Emily Browning in her short skirt defeat giant samurais with her katana sword I'm supposed to...feel guilty about my objectification of her?
      That doesn't sound right. I think when girls in leotards infiltrate a train full of robots and disarm a bomb I'm supposed to be in awe of the great action set pieces. I think that the rockin' soundtrack is engineered to disarm me, to make me surrender to the almighty god of style. Nothing about these scenes of action scream commentary. Absurd? Yes. But absurd does not mean commentary. The very existence of absurdity is not in itself commentary. If that was true, then we can all thank Stalin for showing us how absurd killing poor people is.
     The premise of the film is this: A girl accidentally shoots her sister when she's defending herself from a molesting priest. The priest sends the girl, named Babydoll I must add, to a mental institution where literally every single patient is a beautiful 20 year old girl. The priest pays an orderly to give Babydoll a lobotomy. Babydoll is then introduced to a method of therapy where the girls are forced to use their imaginations and act out their frustrations. We are then subjected to a 90 minute dream sequence, that of course we are aware of, that involves all of the main girls working in a brothel/dance club run by the previously mentioned orderly. In this brothel/dance club, babydoll dances for men. However, when she dances, instead of the audience watching Babydoll on stage, the audience instead sees Babydoll perform amazing physical prowess in the most over-the-top actions scenes possibly ever filmed.
     This means that the majority of the film's visuals are filtered through a 20 year old girl's mind. If we were trying to comment on the geek scene, wouldn't the film really be filtered through an 18 year old boy's mind? Just sayin'.
     Apparently Babydoll doesn't think much of women. Because she believes that all women must be sexy. And by sexy I mean slutty. And by slutty I mean impossibly titillating to that ever-important demographic for box office revenue: 11 to 14 year old boys. Babydoll sees herself, and all of the other girls, as underdressed hookers who also fight in anachronistic steampunk battles.
     When Zack Snyder asked if his message would be lost by all of the clearly sexist dialogue and imagery, he responded with, "As long as you're self-aware about it, then you're okay!"
     Ohhh, I get it. You see, Zack Snyder is aware that he's being sexist, so he's actually not being sexist. He definitely hired these actresses because they are beautiful, chose the costumes because they are small and slutty, and wrote the dialogue to be as unoffensive to a 12 year old as humanly possible, and staged the action scenes to be as ridiculous and stupid as a budget can allow, but it's okay because he knows that those things are stupid.
     That makes me feel better.

     Apart from all of my other problems with the movie, here is a quick note of the basic problem at the fim's core:
    The girls are stealing items from men in order to escape the brothel/dance club. However, whenever the girls do steal an item, we are instead treated to one of Babydoll's dance numbers. Which is, as I said before, actually a stupid action scene. So here's all of the information that is withheld for the sake of cool:
we don't see the mental institution scene that is happening because of the brothel/dance club imaginings of Babydoll, we don't get to see Babydoll actually dance, even though it is implied that she is amazing we never actually get proof, and we never see the girls actually steal anything because we're watching them kill robots on a train. If you're going to make me care about what happens to these girls, stop cutting away to a girl's imagination when the real things that put their lives at stake are happening elsewhere. There is something at stake when the girl is trying to steal a lighter from the man's pocket, but we never see that because we're watching some girl's dream about dragons. WHY? The plot progression relies on the theft that we ARE MISSING.

      In other words, suspense is impossible if we don't get to see the suspenseful scene.

     However, I do have one small praise for the film. It contains an excellent example of a Hammeo.

(Note: A Hammeo is a cameo in any film or television show by Jon Hamm. My favorite is Hamm's appearance as a TV Repairman in The Sarah Silverman Program)