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,, 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 Wednesday January 30, 2013 in category Movies - Lists  
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