erik lundegaard

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Wednesday January 30, 2013

My Five Worst Movies of 2012

Last year about this time I posted the following:

Writing about movies is in some sense like putting on corrective lenses. It clarifies my vision but it also also polarizes my feelings. The good become very, very good; the bad godawful. The muddy middle disappears.

A year later and my corrective-vision analogy stands corrected. This year felt like a lot of muddy middle. Nothing as good as “The Tree of Life” or “Un Prophete.” Nothing as bad as “Sucker Punch” or “Green Lantern.”

I thought about adding some high-profile films to my “worst of...” list, but in the end it didn't feel honest. I enjoyed “The Dark Knight Rises” enough in the theater, even as I was shaking my head away from it. “Cloud Atlas” collapsed on itself by the third act but there's talent there. I squirmed through the last third of “Silver Linings Playbook” but I liked a lot of what David O. Russell attempted.

So here we go. This is the fun one, kids: the Golden Globes of lists. Get a drink, sit back, and go, “Oh right. Ewww.”

5. Wrath of the Titans

Early on, Zeus tells Perseus, “You will learn that being half human makes you stronger than a God.” Then he adds, “not weaker,” so we know what stronger means. But it’s total bullshit. On the Mount of Idols, Ares, a full god, kicks Perseus’ ass. It’s not even close. He could break him in two. Why doesn’t he? It’s not in the story. Perseus has to overcome great odds, and even greater pain, to become the demigod version of Rocky Balboa or John McClane. He isn’t a character. He’s a copy of a copy of a copy. Everything about him is blurred. It’s the CGI that’s sharp and in focus.

“Wrath” gives us comic relief that's not funny, a battle-ready Andromeda who can’t battle, and a Perseus who forgets his entire raison d’etre from the first movie. In that film, Hades (Ralph Fiennes) killed his adopted parents and sister, and Perseus burns to take him out. He has the chance at the end of this movie. Zeus is dead, Hades is weak, Perseus eyes him. With revenge? Will he take him out now? Will he even reference his raison d’etre from the first movie? No. “All my power is spent,” Hades says. “Who knows? I might be stronger without it.” Then he walks away. Perseus watches him and ... smiles. Then he goes and kisses Andromeda. Because he’s supposed to. He’s a copy of a copy of a copy.

Snotmonster in "Wrath of the Titans" (2012)

Yay! Snot Monster may have snot, but at least he's in focus...

4. Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance

The Devil bestrides the Earth again in the guise of another actor (Ciarán Hinds, replacing Peter Fonda), and he wants his son Danny back from his mother, Nadya. In his way? The Ghost Rider, of course. Or “The Rider” as he's called here. Is “Ghost” too silly now? Did it not test well? Is the term too associated with a ridiculous 1970s-era Marvel Comics character with a flaming skull and a flaming motorcycle who sells his soul to the Devil, then fights the Devil, even as he eats souls ostensibly for the Devil?

At one point the Rider wakes up in a hospital and Nic Cage gets to do crazy Nic Cage shit: asking for morphine and pills and yadda yaddas. When he and Nadya hook up, Nic Cage gets to say a few crazy Nic Cage lines: “No, I get it. You’re the devil’s baby mama.” Nic Cage has built the second-half of his career around intentionally stupid shit, and some of it would’ve been preferable to the paint-by-numbers plot we get here. At a diner, for example, after he and Nadya rescue Danny, and after seeing a father and son bonding at the diner for a few seconds, Johnny decides he wants to bond with Danny, too. Sure! His need is so palpable that Danny tells him, “Dude. You’re way cooler than the guys she hangs out with.” This, sadly, pleases Johnny. Is there anything worse than an adult who need the approval of a child? Who want to be cool in the eyes of children?

But then Danny is more grown-up than the overacting adults around him. He actually raises the question we’re all wondering. Aren’t I the Devil’s son? Isn’t that bad? Why save him? To which Johnny replies:

The power we have comes from a dark place. But it doesn’t mean we’re bad. We can do good. We can help people.

I thought the Rider didn’t help people? Oh right, that's what he said a half-hour before.

Nic Cage, Hack for Hire in "Ghost Rider 2"

Nic Cage, Hack for Hire.

3. Dark Shadows

So Elizabeth wants the fact that Barnabus is a 200-year-old vampire kept secret from everyone, including the family, so she introduces him as Barnabus III. From England. Ha ha. All of these jokes fall flat. Then Barnabus meets the new governess, Victoria, who looks exactly like his long-lost true love, Josette, and discovers that his nemesis, Angelique, has survived all of these years and is now running the town. What does he do? Get revenge on Angelique? Court Victoria? Neither. He sets about restoring the family name and reputation. We get a montage—backed by the Carpenters’ “Top of the World”—of workers sprucing up Collinwood and the Collins Canning Factory opening its doors again. When Barnabus finally meets Angelique, she makes a pass at him; the second time they have rough sex. He also sucks the blood out of a band of hippies in the woods. Ha ha. Then he kills Dr. Hoffman, who, under the pretense of curing him of vampirism, and wanting eternal youth, tries to turn herself into a vampire. Before this, she goes down on him. Ha ha.

Throughout, director Tim Burton lets his freak flag fly. He paints Johnny Depp chalky white as in “Edward Scissorhands,” “Ed Wood,” “Willie Wonka,” and “Sweeney Todd.” He has the living and the dead raise a family again, as in “Beetlejuice.” But there’s no juice here. Burton’s always been a lousy storyteller, sacrificing plot and plausibility for imagery, but even the imagery here feels stale. Burton’s love of the dead finally feels dead.

Chloe Moretz in "Dark Shadows"

Totally, Chloe.

2. Les Tribulations d'une caissiere (A Checkout Girl's Big Adventure)

How bad is this thing?

Near the end, our title character, Solweig (Déborah François), a cashier at a Target-like store, is being followed into the women’s locker room by the creepy floor manager, Mercier (Jean-Luc Couchard), who has just found out—ah ha!—that the mysterious blogger, misscheckingout.com, who has gotten over a million hits expounding on customer-service matters, and whose posts have led to the beginning of a nationwide strike by checkout girls, is, in fact ... Solweig! She’s the one who’s making the lives of management miserable! So what does he do with this information? How does he handle Solweig, who, he now knows, has the ear of the nation? He sexually assaults her, of course.

But wait! At that moment, passing by, is a handsome man dressed in a Santa Claus suit. (It’s Christmastime.) He’s named Charles (Nicolas Giraud), and he has a thing for Solweig, and she for him, because one night when it was snowing as prettily as it snows in snowglobes, she, in the midst of breaking up with a boyfriend we’ve never seen, slips in the snow and Charles emerges from a limo to help her up. Like in a fairy tale! He also gives her his phone number, which is subsequently made illegible by her bratty 10-year-old brother, so of course she can’t call and make a date and continue along the path of young love. Fortunately, he finds out about her. But isn't she a tutor? Why is she working as a cashier? Rather than ask, he dresses up as Santa Claus so he can spy on her without revealing himself. But when Mercier attempts to rape her, he bursts in, head-butts Mercier, gapes at Solweig, and flees.

But wait! Our heroine, who is sweet, pretty and rather self-satisfied for someone with such a shitty job, has just been assaulted by her scummy boss, then saved by the man of her dreams. What does she do? She follows the man of her dreams into the parking lot to ... berate him for making her lose her job. Seriously. “I’ve lost everything because of you!” she wails. Because he saved her from rape? From her boss? She can get fired for that? Besides, doesn’t she get it? A million hits. Talked about on the nightly news. How can she not see the upside of all of this? Surely it means a book deal. Maybe even a best-seller. Perhaps called, as this film is called, Les tribulations d'une caissière. Because we can see it. We can see it a mile off.

Checkout Girl's Big Adventure

Apparently the French can make shitty movies, too. Vive le meme chose!

1. Trouble with the Curve

Remember all of those aging decrepit scouts in “Moneyball” who didn’t know shit compared with the sabermetric whiz kid with the computer (Jonah Hill)? Well, they’re back, baby, but this time they’re the heroes, with the lead scout played one of the most iconic figures in Hollywood history (Clint Eastwood), while the whiz kid with the computer is now played by the asshole who cuckolded George Clooney in “The Descendants” (Matthew Lillard). Consider it “Moneyball II: Revenge of the Decrepit Scouts.”

My early guess as to the film's resolution: The asshole sabermetrician will want the can't-miss prospect, named Bo, who's a tubby jerk, while the iconic scout will see some problem with the kid (maybe he has ... trouble with the curve?), and recommend against, but offer up Rigo, the modest, flame-throwing Hispanic kid, instead. All of this nearly comes to pass. Gus, with macular degeneration, hears that Bo has trouble with the curve, which is confirmed by his estranged daughter Mickey (Amy Adams). But the team GM assumes the asshole sabermetrician who cuckolded George Clooney knows what he’s talking about, and picks tubbo. Meanwhile, it's Mickey, in the midst of being passed up for a promotion at her sexist law firm, run by the Shawshank warden, who hears, then sees, then catches Rigo, and brings him to Turner Field to face Bo, who is hitting batting-practice pitches into the stands for the local press. It take Rigo all of five pitches (two fastballs, three curves) to dismantle the Braves’ No. 1 pick. I know. In the process, he is compared to: 1) Sandy Koufax, 2) Steve Carlton and 3) Randy Johnson. I know. Then Mickey becomes Rigo’s agent, Justin Timberlake returns for a kiss, and we get our Hollywood ending. I know.

It’s a long, slow trek to the painfully obvious. How painful? Like this:

Clint Eastwood in "Trouble with the Curve"

And on your list?

Posted at 07:27 AM on Jan 30, 2013 in category Movies - Lists
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Thursday December 27, 2012

Roger Ebert Says 2012 is the Best Movie Year ... This Decade

Rogert Ebert posted this on Facebook this morning:

Roger Ebert's 10 best movies of 2012

The best year for movies this decade? You mean in three years? Isn't that like being the best-looking of the three stooges?

But I don't even agree with that, seeing, as I did, great things in movies in 2010 (“Un Prophete,” “Restrepo,” “The Social Network,” “True Grit,” “A Film Unfinished”) and 2011 (“The Tree of Life,” “Des hommes at des dieux,” “Young Adult,” “Moneyball,” “The Descendants”), but not so much this year. I think this has been a pretty lame year for movies, actually. I keep waiting to get stunned and it hasn't happened. I guess I don't know if it's me or the movies. Maybe Roger's right and I'm wrong. It's happened before.

I love that Roger included “End of Watch” among his top 10. Everyone is forgetting that one. And I suppose it won't be too difficult to find a top 10, particularly if I include documentaries and foreign films from 2011 that didn't get a U.S. release until 2012. But I'm not getting stunned at the movies this year. There are no movies like “L'heure d'ete” or “Un Prophete” or “The Tree of Life” where I think, “Let somebody beat that.”

Some come close:

  • “Argo,” if it had focused more deeply on the characters and less on the difficult-to-believe thrill of the chase.
  • “Lincoln,” if it hadn't tried to mythologize fore and aft.
  • “The Avengers,” if it had held up on second viewing and wasn't about, you know, superstrong people and space invaders and Norse gods.
  • “Les Misérables,” if it was truly interested in les misérables rather than love love love.
  • “Life of Pi,” if its two stories could collapse into each other better.
  • “The Master,” if it had created any kind of story with any kind of resonance.

But no clear knock-out. I'm reserving judgment on “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Amour” until they fucking arrive already.

Posted at 02:26 PM on Dec 27, 2012 in category Movies - Lists
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Saturday December 08, 2012

15 Movies in 2012 That Were Worse than 'John Carter'

TIME magazine recently announced its 10 best and 10 worst list and had “John Carter” as the second-worst film of 2012, eclipsed only by “Cloud Atlas.” Jeff Wells, no fan of “Cloud Atlas,” objected. “Worse, even, than John Carter?” he writes. “That's saying something.”

I'll say it again: I liked “John Carter.” It's a good, original, heroic-epic story that got a bad rap from the get-go and then a worse rap because it died at the box office. It won't make my top 10 list but it will head my “Most Undeservedly Maligned Movies of 2012” list. If I put together such a beast.

In the meantime, to answer Wells' question, here's a list of 2012 movies I think are worse than “John Carter” (in alphabetical order):

At least with “John Carter” I was always interested in where the story was going. With most of the above, I knew exactly where it was going and rolled my eyes when it got there.

Hell, I might even add this one.

John Carter poster

Will make a lot of “10 worst” lists because it bombed at the box office not because it was bad.

Posted at 05:36 PM on Dec 08, 2012 in category Movies - Lists
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Tuesday October 16, 2012

What's Missing from AV Club's Top 50 Films of the 1990s?

Last week, the AV Club over at the Onion, which writes seriously about film, listed its top 50 films of the 1990s.

Not a bad time to do it. We're 12 years removed, the teenagers who saw movies then are now in their 30s and a little smarter, the folks who were in their 30s (me) are now nearing 50 and a little wearier. So ... not a bad moment to pause and collect and sort through.

This is the list they came up with:

  • 50. Dead Man
  • 49. American Movie
  • 48. Ed Wood
  • 47. Starship Troopers
  • 46. Heavenly Creatures
  • 45. The Limey
  • 44. Metropolitan
  • 43. Terminator 2
  • 42. All About My Mother
  • 41. Raise the Red Lantern
  • 40. Trainspotting
  • 39. The Blair Witch Project
  • 38. Fast Cheap and Out of Control
  • 37. Glengarry Glen Ross
  • 36. L.A. Confidential
  • 35. Naked
  • 34. Seven
  • 33. The Matrix
  • 32. Close-Up
  • 31. Paradise Lost
  • 30. The Thin Red Line
  • 29. Irma Vep
  • 28. Election
  • 27. Short Cuts
  • 26. Eyes Wide Shut
  • 25. Fight Club
  • 24. Crumb
  • 23. Carlito's Way
  • 22. The Sweet Hereafter
  • 21. Fargo
  • 20. Red
  • 19. Exotica
  • 18. Schindler's List
  • 17. Safe
  • 16. The Big Lebowski
  • 15. Groundhog Day
  • 14. Hoop Dreams
  • 13. Boogie Nights
  • 12. Miller's Crossing
  • 11. Barton Fink
  • 10. Being John Malkovich
  • 9. Rushmore
  • 8. Unforgiven
  • 7. Reservoir Dogs
  • 6. Out of Sight
  • 5. Chungking Express
  • 4. Dazed and Confused
  • 3. Toy Story 2
  • 2. Pulp Fiction
  • 1. Goodfellas

Not bad. I particularly like putting “Dazed and Confused” and “Rushmore” so high and not forgetting about “Crumb” and “Groundhog Day.”

Of course there were objections. Whenever you make a list, there are objections.

Specifically, some objected to the fact that there were no women directors on the list. As a result, critics such as Carrie Rickey suggested some female-directed movies, such as “Clueless” and “Point Break.” (Really, Carrie?) Slate piled on, too, with women and foreign and African-American-directed movies. Anything to get us away from the awful dreariness of live white males: You know, Scorsese, Tarantino, Eastwood, Wes Anderson. At least Slate quotes one of AV's critics, Scott Tobias, who defends their work, saying if there's bias its not AV's bias. “Don’t hate the player, hate the game,” he says. “The list raises questions about institutional bias in ’90s filmmaking here and abroad. In itself, it is neutral.”

Well, “neutral.”

But overall I agree. I think the objection from Rickey and Slate is a little silly and misses the bigger problem with the list:

Where the fuck is Michael Mann's “The Insider”?

Seriously. It's deep, serious, accessible, fascinating. It's about ordinary people under extraordinary pressure. It's about the preeminent issue of our time: how corporate profits trump integrity—scientific or journalistic or otherwise. It's about two men who sacrifice to win one battle in a war we are losing everywhere.

I'm not sure what my Top 50 films of the 1990s would look like. I don't even know what my Top 10 would look like. But at the least I can tell you what my top two would look like:

  • 2. The Insider
  • 1. The Thin Red Line

Posted at 07:19 AM on Oct 16, 2012 in category Movies - Lists
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Friday September 28, 2012

It's Late September: Do You Know Where Your Best Pictures Are?

I“m beginning to worry about the 2012 movie season. I know people think of the final three months of the year as the serious movie season, but for the last three years this hasn't been my experience.

By this point in 2009, I'd seen what became my two favorite movies of the year: ”L'heure d'ete“ and ”Up.“

By this point in 2010, I'd seen what became my two favorite movies of the year: ”Un Prophete“ and ”Restrepo.“

By this point in 2011, I'd seen what became my two favorite movies of the year: ”The Tree of Life“ and ”Des hommes et des dieux.“

And by this point in 2012?

I liked ”Footnote“ and ”Monsieur Lazhair“ well enough, both 2011 movies but released in the states in 2012, as well as ”Jiro Dreams of Sushi,“ ”The Avengers,“ ”The Woman in the Fifth,“ and ”End of Watch.“ But none of these stunned me, or worked their way inside me, or acted like a cresting wave showering me with clarity or epiphany. None of them made me look at the rest of the movies coming down the pike and think, ”Let's see you beat that.“

Did I miss something? Is the best still to come? I've seen ”The Master“ (review up soon), which is deeply and resonantly filmed, and beautifully acted. But there's a lot of ”buts“ there. Other critics loved ”Beasts of the Southern Wild“ and ”Moonrise Kingdom“ more than I did; I don't even think of them as Top 10 material. I have hopes for other films that are fast becoming the usual Oscar suspects—Ben Affleck's ”Argo,“ Steven Spielberg's ”Lincoln,“ Tom Hooper's ”Les Miserables,“ Ang Lee's ”Life of Pi“—but these are the usual Oscar suspects, meaning they're the best movies of the year that fit into preconceived Academy notions of ”best." It's a narrow field, even when expanded to 10 nominees.

Three months to go. Fingers crossed.

Les Miserables (2012) poster  Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" (2012)  Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" (2012)

Posted at 06:36 AM on Sep 28, 2012 in category Movies - Lists
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