Saturday, January 26, 2013

12 Disappointing Movies, Part 1: Films I Saw in 2012

Over the last two weeks, I listed some movies I saw in 2012, or that I watched again, and that I loved.  Being a movie lover, it was easy to do.

But that's not to say that I love all movies, or that I'm never disappointed.  I may not have hated these twelve movies I saw last year, but I was disappointed, at least a little bit.  I imagine some of the movies on this list other people probably loved (I can hear it all now:  "Why did you put a James Bond picture on this list?"  "What's wrong with Big Miracle?"  "Hey, Zookeeper was a cute family film!"  "Why did you include a film about the life of Jesus?")  And the thing is, there are things I liked about each one of these:  A performance here (The Iron Lady), some action there (Quantum of Solace), or some okay FX (The Blob), some good characters (Super 8) or comedy (Airheads) or a good message (King of Kings).  But in the end, these were just simply a bit of a let down.  Read on to find I why I thought so (and the titles all link to trailers or videos!):

The Blob
I actually liked this film, once upon a time, and as old 80’s monster movies go, it’s far from the worst.  Unfortunately, it also hasn’t aged all that well.  There are still a few good shocks, and the monster is pretty good, but watching it again all these years later makes me realize just how dumb the characters and the script are.  This is strictly B-movie territory with some pretty good effects for a film of this type.  Aliens it is NOT!

Okay, for the record, let me just say that I like James Bond.  I really do.  I even liked some of the lesser Bond films starring some of the lesser Bonds, like Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton.  They are enjoyable.  However, after all those novels and films, 25 in all (I’m including David Niven’s appearance in the parody Casino Royale from 1967, Daniel Craig’s brand new 3rd Bond film Skyfall, and Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again, which is not considered “cannon” and is a loose remake of Thunderball), they all start to meld together and are somewhat interchangeable.  At this point, with such a franchise, it’s hard for a single movie to stand on its own.  It’s not a stretch of the imagination to say that if you’ve seen 20 Bond films, you’re really not going to see anything new in the latest chapter.  There’s Bond, the cool Bond vehicles and contraptions, the gorgeous Bond women, the evil Bond villains, the exotic locations and international espionage, all brought to you by the letters M & Q and the number 007.  That basically describes every Bond movie ever made.  The plot is coincidental.

I’d heard of this movie before, about Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, and Adam Sandler as three metal heads who take a radio station hostage to have their demo tape played.  It had a certain dumb allure about it, especially at a time when all three of these actors were on the way up, but was ultimately forgettable, and the music, not my taste, of course, sucked.

This movie should have been better than it was, and maybe it’s because when we watched it, the picture was set too dark.  I couldn’t see anything.  The movie had a certain nostalgic appeal that brought to mind other films such as Explorers, The Monster Squad, Matinee, and The Goonies.  Some kids growing up in the 70’s are making a very cheap 8mm zombie film and in the middle of filming, they capture the destruction of a derailed train.  When the military starts to take over the town, the kids discover it has something to do with a very dangerous alien creature.  For me, I actually preferred all these other films that mixed artistic, youthful nostalgia with a bit of sci-fi creepiness.  When they showed the monster in all its gory glory, which was still very hard to see, the main kid has some sort of tlelepathic connection with it, and it lets them go, but this is after it has killed a whole bunch of people, some of them perfectly innocent victims, and I just couldn’t feel sympathy for it.  And I hated that ending!  [SPOILER ALERT]  The creature makes a new spaceship to leave earth, but to complete it, it needs the locket with the picture of the protagonist’s dead mother.  Say what?  What was sweet to some was, to me, overly cheesy and bizarre.

This Hallmark Channel production also wasn’t too bad, yet in point of fact, I have seen both Neve Campbell and Patrick Stewart do better work; Neve in the superior Scream franchise and Stewart as Captain Picard and, later, Professor Xavier.  Still, this was a fun, little movie, but given the source material, from Oscar Wilde, it should have been more.  As it was, it reminded me of inferior ghost stories such as High Spirits (1988) starring Steve Guttenberg and Daryl Hannah, and The Haunted Mansion (2003) starring Eddie Murphy.  I’m afraid any ghost story that happens to be easily compared to films like that doesn’t have a high credibility factor.  In the end, this is just another forgettable little family film for a weekend afternoon on basic cable rather than a must-see, great rendition of a literary masterpiece.

Based on the previews, I was expecting something a bit different.  Bradley Cooper, looking the worse for wear (if you can imagine that!) plays a junkie who takes a pill that will give him full use of his entire brain, changing him into a genius extraordinaire!  The trouble is, the effects don’t last, and he has to keep taking it, or it will kill him!  The story severely derails when you start to realize the focus of this movie is on the junkie aspect of the characters and not really on the possibilities of what a person could do with full access to all of their brain, as the previews teased.  In other words, the plot forsakes the more fantastical elements to instead focus on the story of a bunch of junkies hooked on a drug.  It revels in the base elements that accompany drug abusers, such as the scene towards the end [SPOILER ALERT] when the main character infects his girlfriend to help him, and, when he’s dry and in need of instant IQ points, he sucks blood off the floor belonging to a murder victim who was himself taking the drug.  See what I mean?

I like Emma Stone.  I really do.  And going in, I was kind of intrigued by the concept of a high school student using some themes from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlett Letter, yet actually wearing that red “A” with pride, even though she had not actually been adulterous.  As with such characters as Ferris Bueller (1986), Charlie Bartlett (2007), and Juno (2007), she tries to rise above the normal riff-raff of her fellow students and clueless teachers, but it all comes crashing down before the end, and she really winds up no smarter than anyone else in this movie.  She tries to wield her magic “A” like a superpower, to help her geeky classmates out of the social pariah pool or to aid her gay friends into remaining in the closet, safe from the heckles and suspicions of their classmates.  It even works for a while, but in the meantime, she skates on the edge of morality, even if she isn’t doing the deed.  In the end, I’d say it’s probably as bad to pretend to do it for money, and it puts her only one step above a hooker.  I think the makers of this film would like to think their as socially conscious as those who make Heathers (1988) or Mean Girls (2004), but it falls way short.

I like Kevin James, and there were a few funny sequences, and to be fair, some of my favorite films over the years have had talking animals, such as Babe, Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and Alice in Wonderland.  But having talking animals doesn't guarantee that it's going to be irresistibly cute.  Case in point:  Sylvester Stallone and Cher as the voice of the lions.  They add absolutely nothing to the picture, other than to add two more famous people as voices.  We were just starting to enjoy the movie when Kevin James manages to get away from the zoo and starts to have a good time with costar Rosario Dawson.  Then he made the mistake of, as my brother joked, "calling the gorilla for dating advice!”  For every halfway successful talking animal flick like Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008) or Good Boy (2003), there are tons of other films like the Cats & Dogs and the Air/Snow Buddies franchises.  A film like Zookeeper comes dangerously close to that kid pandering type of film.  Try getting through the entire scene I included linked to the title.

I was disappointed in The Greatest Story Ever Told, and hoped this old retelling of the Jesus story would be better.  It seems, however, that whenever Hollywood tackled the story of Jesus, they tried to give Jesus and the material the somber reverence it deserves, and it just doesn’t work.   The trailer, linked to the title, shows everything that is ultimately wrong with Hollywood Jesus stories.  In their attempt to make Jesus so worshipful and perfect, it always left Jesus, and the material, feeling overly detached instead.  Besides being the Son of God, of course, Jesus was a great teacher and philosopher, but he was also quite human, and was never that detached.  Never do we feel while watching these old movies that he has real feelings for the humans he walks with and teaches. Instead, it is some isolated connection to the Father.  I didn’t get that feeling with Robert Powell’s performance in Jesus of Nazareth.  In that movie, even though he carried the look of grace and wisdom, when he looked at other people, or taught them, he really connected with them.  You could tell he loved them.  These other movie Jesus’ are always looking upward.  They don’t have the loving connection with people they do with the Father, and that’s just not right.  THEY are the REASON HE CAME!  While watching King of Kings with Mom, I finally shut it off after the scene where Jesus collects Peter and tells him he will make him a “fisher of men.”  As shot for this film, it simply felt like actors on a movie set repeating lines of dialogue.  None of it was real.  None of it felt real.  I then showed her the same scene in Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazarath, and there simply was no comparison.  The Zeffirelli film seemed infinitely more “real”!  Not only did Jesus seem more real, but so did Peter and all the others, and even the sets were more real.  The best version of the Jesus story is Jesus of Nazareth.  All the others just don’t measure up! 

I was expecting great things from The Iron Lady.  There was no reason in the world this film shouldn’t have been as entertaining as The King’s Speech, especially with Meryl Streep winning yet another Oscar for her portrayal of Ronald Reagan’s British colleague, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who, like Winston Churchill before her, was highly thought of in conservative republican circles.  Yet despite all of this, this film was NO King’s Speech!  Yes, Streep gave a great performance, but that performance sort of just sat there in a bubble.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite that great of a chameleon-like performance in the middle of such a mediocre, historical film, especially about somebody I actually liked and respected!  One of the problems was the way the film was edited together.  Ever since Pulp Fiction dazzled critics by turning narrative film structure on its head, we’ve gotten countless movies that tend to jump all over the place.  This was confusing, and there didn’t seem to be any rhyme of reason for it, and the audience winds up asking the same thing the actor does when a film is shot out of sequence:  “Where is the character at during this point in their life?”  It makes it so hard to follow!  So disappointing!

Okay, for as much as the right, and I included, might want to complain about movies with a pro-environmentalist message, such as Avatar or the otherwise superb animated film The Lorax, none of them are as blatant as this supposedly warm-hearted family film.  Barrymore here plays a character I found to be thoroughly detestable!  She’s one of those crazy, rabid, domineering, self-righteous, leftist environmentalists, able to spout a bunch of facts and figures at the slightest provocation!  The whole movie was based on a true story about a group of three whales (dubbed Fred, Wilma, and Bam Bam) that got stuck behind in Alaska when the calf was injured (in some sort of net – another crack against the right), and the adults stayed with it and are now trapped, with the media jumping on the let’s-all-save-these-three-poor-whales bandwagon, and so does the head of a big oil company (his wife covertly directing him to that decision for good PR) and eventually, even the Russians get involved.   And in the middle of it all is Drew Barrymore, getting self-righteous and hot and bothered with her annoying little lisp.  I liked the John Krasinski and Kristen Bell characters, and it does have a nice message about looking out for the planet (that is, when the Barrymore character isn’t going completely off the deep end).  So it’s not a total loss.  I just think it would have been better without such a heavy-handed, liberal assault!

I couldn’t quite get through all of the first Madagascar movie, and had no desire to sit through another one.  While leaving the theater, my niece asked me what I thought.  I told her it was too over-the-top and bombastic.  She asked me what "bombastic" meant, and I did a lot of annoying mugging for her, shouting “Circus! Afro! Circus! Afro! Polka-dot! Polka-dot! Polka-dot! Afro!” while dancing around her with my arms jutting all over the place.  She got the point.  If the film were a bit less, “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” they might just have something there they could work with, but this was strictly for kids, and for teenagers who remember them fondly from their childhoods.  Old guys like me don’t apply.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry, but all I can think of right now is that Patrick Stewart had hair at one point.