Wednesday, January 7, 2009

2008 in bad and disappointing movies: A series of Top Five Adventures

I have a confession to make.

I haven't seen "The Wrestler" yet.

I wrote out my Top Ten Movies of 2008 post, and put the wrestler on it, but felt it would be best to wait until actually having seen the movie to post it. So that will probably be up at the end of the week. Until then, you'll have to settle with a pair of top fives, for the worst and most disappointing movies of the year.

Most disappointing movies of 2008

5. Cloverfield

There was a lot of hype and high hopes for this movie, and although it wasn't necessarily bad, "Cloverfield" certainly did not live up to expectations.

This super-cool concept was marred by hammy acting, a ridiculous looking monster, and camera work that would make the Blair Witch lose her biscuits.

4. Hamlet 2

The advertising and trailers for this movie promised a raunchy, controversial, creative comedy, and what audiences got was a pretty safe movie that never moves beyond the raunch introduced in the trailer.

"Hamlet 2" never delivered any huge laughs, but Steve Coogan's wild-eyed, lovable performance in the lead saved the movie. The problem is that it shouldn't have to.

3. Hancock

What this movie promised was a wise-eyed sendup of superhero movies, featuring an alcoholic superbeing and the PR guru trying to clean him up. And that's what we got--for the first half of the movie.

At almost the exact halfway point of the movie, the focus shifts from Hancock's behavior to his relationship with the PR guy's wife, played by Charlize Theron, who has similar powers to Hancock, and claims that they share the same fate

 At this point the movie stops being funny. Very soon after, it stops making sense. Somehow Hancock and Charlize are linked, and when they get close to one another, their powers weaken. But it doesn't seem to always work like that all the time, and the climax of the movie hinges on logic that either wasn't explained or isn't there at all.

A great concept marred by sloppy handling. I would actually like to see Will Smith come back for a "Hancock 2"--with a new director and screenwriters that can do the movie right.

2. Speed Racer

Now don't get me wrong, because I actually liked "Speed Racer." Visually, it was the most stunning thing I've ever seen. It was colorful, visceral, completely fresh and altogether insane. And John Goodman suplexes a ninja.

However, as far as being a coherent film, it falls a little bit. The plot is both sloppy and simplistic, dialogue is stilted and there are only a handful of worthwhile performances.

Those looking for more visual innovation from the Wachowski Brothers were doubtlessly thrilled by this movie. Those that were hoping the Wachowskis would climb out of the hole they dug themselves with the "Matrix" sequels and create another genuinely great movie remain wanting.

1. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

19 years.

Movie lovers around the world waited 19 years for a new "Indiana Jones" movie, and this is what they got. CGI gophers and monkeys. Nuclear bomb-proof refrigerators. Unbearably phony Russian accents. Shia LaBeouf. The list of complaints goes on an on.

I think this movie recaptured the look of the old "Indy" flicks on the most superficial levels, but absolutely failed to FEEL like Indiana Jones. The action never stops long enough for tension to builds. The characters never stop to THINK. There's never any feeling that Indy is in peril after the first 15 minutes because HE ALREADY SURVIVED HAVING AN ATOMIC BOMB DETONATED ON TOP OF HIM.

Spielberg and Lucas have already begun talking about an Indy 5. Unless they are planning to get back to the high-tension adventure escapism of the previous films, I think the majority of the viewing audience would rather if they didn't bother.

Worst movies of 2008

5. Punisher: War Zone

Yes, it was a bad movie. It bombed, and rightfully so. But that's not to say it wasn't fun.

The story is childishly simple. The editing is pretty poor. The acting--save for Ray Stevenson, the best Punisher ever--is atrocious. The villain is laughable. This is not a good movie.

But Stevenson's psychotic, determined Punisher and his hard-core crimefighting make this movie an absolute riot. The Punisher grabs a bad guy and PUNCHES A HOLE THROUGH HIS FACE. Another bad guy is jumping from rooftop to rooftop, only to get hit midair by a rocket-propelled grenade and disappear into a red mist. Wayne "Newman" Knight shows up as a weapons-dealer, for crying out loud.

I recognize this as a bad movie. But it was the most fulfilling, entertaining bad movie of the year, so I guess it can take that as a victory (because the movie certainly had no victories in the box office). This is a movie to watch with buddies on a Bad Movie Night. Wait three years, and this will play on TBS from then until forever.

4. Max Payne

I would have not thought it possible, but "Max Payne" manages to essentially be an even less-intelligent "Punisher" movie. It tries to be visually interesting but ends up distracting, the story is essentially gobbledygook, the action is uninteresting, and star Mark Wahlberg does nothing to save this sinking ship.

The movie's one saving grace may be the brief appearance of Olga Kurylenko, who would later be seen as the Bond girl in "Quantum of Solace." I don't think she had really been in anything significant before this. Don't by any means think I'm calling "Max Payne" significant, but that's just an interesting little piece of trivia.

3. Doomsday

CMU film professor Ken Jurkiewicz loved this movie. I love Dr. J, but on this point I could not disagree with him more. This movie is derivative of things like "Road Warrior" and "28 Days Later," without managing to be half as interesting. This is not a horror movie, and tilts more towards action, but the copious amount of gore in this movie is played more for gross-outs than thrills, and the lingering camera on decapitated heads and acts of cannibalism both throws the movie completely off-pace and makes the audience totally uncomfortable. Not even worth seeing for a laugh.

2. TIE: Disaster Movie/Meet the Spartans

I don't want to dignify Friedberg and Seltzer by putting their cultural regurgitations at the top of this list. They're crap. Everybody knows it. I'm pretty sure even Friedberg and Seltzer know it. Nobody could churn out movies like this so quickly and humorlessly without knowing that what they are making is total drivel. In an economic climate where so many people are desperate for jobs, how is it that these two hacks are still making movies?

1. The Spirit

I can't believe anybody thought this was a good idea. Frank Miller, a comic book writer that has no experience directing, and hasn't even written a good comic in ten years, turns in the most flaccid, ineffective, poorly written, poorly directed, poorly acted attempt at cinema to make its way to theaters in a long time. He surrounded himself with talented people and adds a black mark to their IMDb pages--legendary cinematographer Bill Pope, for example, who still makes this movie look as good as possible.

Don't see this. Don't buy this. Don't give movie studios any motivation to give Miller another directing job. This movie sucks so bad.

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