Dec 20, 2009

2009 in Review Pt. 2

Bottom 10: The Worst of the Worst

The quotes here are taken from my initial review of each film.

10: The Informers
Dir: Gregor Jordan
“quite spectacularly terrible, but there’s nothing really to say beyond that, because it’s not terrible in any interesting way”

Gregor Jordan’s film is based on a set of interlocking short stories written by American Psycho author Brett Easton Ellis when he was in his late teens. This teenage sensibility seem to carry over into the screenplay (by Ellis and Nicholas Jarecki), which is less concerned with coherence and character than with broad stereotypes and random scenes of nubile young things lying around wearing as few clothes as possible (Amber Heard’s credit really ought to be solely for her breasts).

It’s a real shame that The Informers is as crashingly boring as it is, because Jordan’s visuals aren’t terrible (there’s a nice clean 80’s sheen to them, set against the seedy events) and the cast is top notch ranging from fine character actors like Billy Bob Thornton, Mickey Rourke, Kim Basinger and Winona Ryder to talented up and comers like Lou Taylor Pucci and Amber Heard’s breasts. On a sad note the film also features a bloated Brad Renfro, a pale shadow of the intense and interesting talent he might have been, in his last role before his death of a drug overdose.

As you might expect from a film adapted from short stories The Informers is bitty, there are ties, but each story largely floats around, independent of the rest, and anyway, each of them is written with such a tin ear for dialogue, acted with such disregard for what real human behaviour is like and so mind bending in its tedium that even if the film were more coherent it would still be terrible.

9: Afterschool
Dir: Antonio Campos
“badly told from both a narrative and a technical standpoint”

The fact that Antonio Campos has managed to make and release a first film at just 26 is impressive, but unfortunately Campos’ first feature is a pretentious, masturbatory mess, so impressed with its own cleverness that it forgets little things like an interesting story, or characters we understand or enjoy spending time with.

Campos’ visual style is deliberately unpolished, the framing is almost always off, the focus always extremely shallow, characters are frequently only half on screen, even in their most important moments (Olivia Williams' teacher is represented solely as a disembodied voice and an out of focus pair of legs). The problem is that, though he clearly wants this to seem as though it is observed and almost improvised, every single shot feels absolutely designed, painstakingly chosen to convey an empty metaphor.

The story, which sees two popular students at an exclusive boarding school die of drug overdoses, and an awkward member of the video club assigned to make tribute video, rehashes themes from the likes of Elephant (as well as nicking its supremely irritating style) and Heathers, but there’s little shape to the story, and we never know enough about anyone involved to allow us to be engaged. The monotonous performances simply add to the somnambulant tone of the film, and though young Addison Timlin does manage to rise above the material, her contribution is far too little, far too late.

8: Bruno
Dir: Larry Charles
“pathetically retrograde, sniggering, haphazard, pointless and outright unfunny”

I noted in my review that there was one joke, involving Mel Gibson, that I laughed at during Bruno. I no longer remember that joke, what I do recall from the long and tedious experience of watching Bruno is that for 81 minutes and 59 seconds of this 82 minute film I was not just un-amused, I was usualy quite cross.

I was cross for the same reason that I was cross during Sacha Baron Cohen and Larry Charles earlier overrated opus Borat, and that’s because this brand of gotcha comedy strikes me as cruel and largely unfair. During Bruno, Baron Cohen tries as hard as he can to get people to reveal themselves as homophobic, making Bruno himself the most unappealing, in your face, flaaaaming stereotype possible. Over and over he confronts people with his upfront sexuality and, for the most part, he meets tolerant, polite people who indulge him. They may look shocked on occasion, but generally nobody cares that Bruno is gay.

When Bruno does get a rise out of people it’s because he’s pushed the boat out so far that almost any reasonable person would react that way (for example, what would any straight man do if, in the middle of the night, they were woken by a naked, condom carrying, gay man they barely know, who is asking to sleep next to them?)

Yes there are disturbing things in the film (the closing wrestling match for example) but those sequences are disturbing, not funny, and this is supposed to be a comedy. Sacha Baron Cohen is clearly a supremely talented actor, and it is a real shame to see him wasting his talents on such braindead, unfunny, borderline offnsive, idiocy as this.

7: New Moon
Dir: Chris Weitz
“I just object to anything so slapdash, so lackadaisical, so explicitly an exercise in commercial cynicism, being vomited into cinemas.”

I know these films aren’t for me, but oh for the love of god, why must they be quite so terrible? The thing that bothers me about this that the audience that these films are for deserves better. It is as if the producers of the Twilight series have assumed that Twilight fans have no critical faculties and will readily accept any old slapdash shit… OH! I get it now. Still, that’s no excuse.

I’m not sure which is the worst aspect of New Moon. It might be the script, which seems to take Stephenie Meyer’s semi-literate Anne Rice impression as if it were Shakespeare, treating it with absolute seriousness and as if her every word were some piece of sacrosanct poetic wonder, resulting in a film that runs an arse paralysing 130 minutes despite having a ‘story’ that would struggle to fill an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, as a result, is boring beyond description.

Then again, it might be that Chris Weitz’ direction is the worst thing on display here. He shows no ability with the actors, and is unable to alter what seems to be the franchise style of shooting every possible frame of film in close up. He uses gimmicky frame rate effects during the (brief) action scenes, but to no real purpose other than that it might look cool (it doesn’t, Stevie Wonder could shoot a better action sequence).

I know what the worst thing is about New Moon. It’s the acting, or rather the ‘acting’. Kristen Stewart, has there ever been a face on screen that seemed less encumbered by thought or emotion? The two expressions she does have (‘Huh?’ and ‘Can’t act, blinking’) tell us nothing, and the fact that she seems to be afraid of the camera is a real problem. Robert ‘poor man’s Derek Zoolander’ Pattinson seems embarrassed to be in this movie, he’s so clearly collecting a paycheque that you almost want to send the poor guy a donation. It’s not an excuse for his utterly vacant performance, but it may be an explanation. As for Taylor Lautner, well, who needs that talent stuff when you’ve got abs?

Actually, now that I’ve given it some thought, the worst thing about New Moon is that it exists.

6: Observe and Report
Dir: Jody Hill
“a violent, mentally unbalanced racist who at one point date rapes the girl of his dreams. Ladies and gentlemen, our hero”

Director Jody Hill said of this film that it is the first comedy to be inspired by Taxi Driver. From this we can divine two things: 1: Jody Hill hasn’t seen, or didn’t understand, The King of Comedy. 2: Jody Hill REALLY didn’t understand Taxi Driver. Here’s the thing about Taxi Driver; Travis Bickle isn’t the hero, he’s a dangerous mentally unbalanced nutter with a gun and an obsession with Jodie Foster, the fact that the media makes him out as the hero at the end of the movie isn’t telling us what to think, it’s a comment on the media. Jody Hill clearly doesn’t understand this.

Hill’s Bickle analogue is Ronnie Barnhart (Seth Rogen) and the film holds him up as an unambiguous hero, despite the fact that he is a psychotic, violent, gun fetishising, racist who has gone off his medication and at one point in the film commits a date rape. It is one thing to take an immoral, or amoral, character and refuse to judge him, but to hold up someone as corrupt as Ronnie as a hero is both sickening and irresponsible.

The other problem, aside from the film’s offensiveness, is captured in a line about midway through the film, in which someone says “I thought this would be funny, but actually it’s just kinda sad”. This is one seriously depressing laugh desert of a comedy, hunting for a funny joke here is like trying to find a strand of hay in a huge stack of needles; as fruitless as it is painful. Hills gags are juvenilia that Benny Hill would have rejected as being a bit retrograde, they aren’t even jokes really, it’s more like ‘look, a penis, isn’t that funny?’ or ‘people swearing is funny’ or ‘twins, Chinese twins, isn’t that the funniest thing you’ve ever seen?’

Observe and Report is a stupid, offensive, unfunny, juvenile film made by people who think that what they are doing is edgy and clever. I can hardly explain how wrong they are.

5: Crank - High Voltage
Dir: Neveldine / Taylor
“a perfect storm of terrible cinema. It is ineptly shot, written, edited and acted. Those are the least of its problems.”

Ah, Neveldine / Taylor, the Friedberg and Seltzer of action cinema, a two headed, empty headed auteur with the attention span of a 13 year old crackhead, and between them about 5% of the talent that resides in the little toe of Martin Scorsese’s left foot. Yes, make no mistake, Crank - High Voltage is, at every possible technical level, a film so bad that Ed Wood and Uwe Boll would have disavowed it. It’s so poorly written that Stephenie Meyer would laugh at it, the acting is so numbingly terrible that had the cast actually been dead Neveldine / Taylor probably wouldn’t have noticed and would have got about the same performances out of them and the abomination that is the editing appears to have been achieved by giving a hyperactive chimp the dailies, a blender and some sellotape. But that’s not why it’s here.

Crank - High Voltage is here because it is the product of a diseased, disgusting mind. This vomitous, hateful little film seems to have no other purpose than to cram as much bile, as much depressing vileness, as is humanly possible into 90 minutes. It is unremittingly sexist, treating all women as no more than walking breasts and vaginas (one especially putrid moment, played - god help us - for comedy, sees a stripper shot in the breasts and the silicone leaking out of her implants). Not a single woman n the film has either a character or a brain; Amy Smart’s entire purpose here is to be fucked. It’s also racist; every villain in the film is a stereotypical ethnic minority (one played, in a performance redolent of Mickey Rooney in Breakfast At Tiffany’s in its stunning racism, by David Carradine) and every ethnic minority (and every homosexual) in the film is utterly morally corrupt.

Even if Crank - High Voltage were as perfectly crafted as No Country For Old Men its putrescent content would still have landed it on this list. It is a despicable, nasty, depressing film and Neveldine / Taylor should never be allowed to step behind a camera again.

4: Beyond the Fire
Dir: Maeve Murphy
“speaks to an almost Ed Wood-esque allergy to a second take”
This is, without question, the single worst made film I’ve ever seen at a cinema. The fact that something this inept managed to show at London’s ICA is, frankly, embarrassing. Every single technical aspect of the film is mortifyingly poor. The lighting is perhaps especially bad, with some scenes so poorly lit that you can hardly see the characters through the light bouncing off the lens, and others so murky that the picture (which already looks like bad, old Hi-8 video) degrades into a greyish brown murk.

It’s a real shame that Beyond the Fire is so poor, because it is about something that really is important; how people are treated after and cope with having been sexually abused, but the important subject is lost among the hideous look, the cack handed editing, and acting so bad that it wouldn’t seem out of place in “Manos” The Hands of Fate. Every single scene in the picture rings false, because the script never gives any of the characters anything that resembles normal, recognisable, human emotions or behaviour (or when it does the acting is so poor it still seems false). How about the way that rape victim Katie (Cara Seymour) takes ex-con Sheamy (Scot Williams) into her life without question? Or the jaw droppingly stupid scene in which, after Sheamy admits he’s a virgin, Katie makes explanatory sketches of the female anatomy for him.

There’s just such a lot of awful things to choose from: like Hugh Sachs’ quite astonishingly awful performance as the priest Sheamy goes to after his release, like the fact that Seymour and Williams romantic chemistry generates all the warmth of a freezer at the south pole, like the abysmal live music Katie and Sheamy listen to. You probably won’t get a chance to see this film, which is almost a shame because, perhaps uniquely among this list, it is genuine car crash cinema; so awful that you have to slow down and look.

3: Halloween II
Dir: Rob Zombie
“an inexcusably awful film, by a filmmaker who has said that this excremental production represents his vision. That being the case he should get his eyes tested and have his DGA card taken away”

Since his debut, House of 1000 Corpses, Rob Zombie has built a career, and something of a following ripping off the 70’s and 80’s horror films on which he grew up, so it perhaps wasn’t surprising when he remade John Carpenter’s peerless classic Halloween. It was also not much of a surprise that the remake was abysmal. Halloween II is worse, staggeringly worse, so much worse that it almost beggars belief.

Zombie’s big idea in Halloween was to explain Michael Myers; here he takes that idea further, plunging us into the psychology, the dreams, of the previously faceless killer. These are, despite attempts at intended comic relief, perhaps the funniest thing in the film. The dreams are so pretentious, and so pedestrian, that all around me at the screening people were sniggering. Really they are no more than Zombie’s excuse to put his (admittedly pretty) wife Sheri Moon-Zombie in the movie, despite her character; Michael’s mother, having died in the first film, he opens the film with a caption, explaining the symbolism of the white horse that appears in theses dreams. Despite this I have no fucking idea what the horse, or any other ingredient of these scenes, means.

The acting is abysmal, but it’s hard to blamee the cast once you hear what they have to say. First of all, about 75% of the dialogue appears to be the word “Fuck”, and it is used with exactly the same abandon by every single character in the movie, meaning that every single character in the movie sounds exactly the same, as though the script were chopped up and lines picked at random out of a hat. Zombie’s direction of his actors appears to extend only as far as ‘more redneck’ for the guys and ‘again, but could you try it sluttier?’ for the girls. Most of the cast appear not to be able to act in the first place (stand up Scout Taylor Compton), but when Brad Dourif and Malcolm McDowell are rubbish, that’s a directorial problem.

Oh, and by the way, Rob, If I EVER meet you I’m going to punch you in the face for lifting the last shot of Psycho and aping it in this shitpile of a movie.

2: The Ugly Truth
Dir: Robert Luketic
“[a] fundamentally broken and diseased idea”
I have been, basically, obsessed with movies for 20 years, and in that time I’ve come to understand a lot about Hollywood and how the industry works, but even after two decades and 7000 odd movies, sometimes I’m still just baffled. How, how in the name of all things holy, does a film like The Ugly Truth manage to worm its way into cinemas?

Honestly. How, in the first place did initial screenwriter Nicole Eastman come up with an idea so fundamentally awful as this? How did she write two characters (Katherine Heigl’s careerist, self-obsessed, anal retentive, borderline autistic harridan Abby and Gerard Butler’s rampagingly sexist ‘relationship guru’ Mike) so utterly unlikable? How did she manage to ensure that at no time would there be anything resembling a tender moment between the two characters who are supposed to fall in love? How did she manage not to get sued for ripping off Roxanne (albeit without the jokes)? How the holy hell did anyone see enough potential in this hideous, misshapen thing that they decided to have rentahacks Karen McCullah Lutz and Kristen Smith do a rewrite? How did they not manage to add a single joke during rewrites? How did they manage not to get sued for ripping off When Harry Met Sally?

How did anyone convince themselves that this script needed a budget of nearly $40million? How did anyone decide that spending that much on it in the first place was a good idea “Here’s a script that’s utterly unfunny, lacks any kind of credible romance and is sexist to its very core”. “Will $40millon be okay?” It’s a conversation I struggle to imagine.

How did they manage to cast anyone as these awful, awful people? How, especially, did Katherine Heigl, who had previously denounced her breakthrough film Knocked Up as sexist, get involved in one that could be accused of out and out misogyny, except that it actually hates everyone? How did they manage to allow someone’s six year old cousin to do the composting on the sole big effects shot?

How did anyone look at this and even manage to think ‘That’s releasable’, let alone put it in cinemas? Really, if someone can tell me the thought process I’d be fascinated.

1: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Dir: Michael Bay
“a collection of footage that someone threw at a screen, without caring what it ended up being”

Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to have surprised you. I’d like to have put this film a bit further down the list, and found some other colossal turd to sit atop this steaming pile of shitty movies. I really, really, hate to be predictable, it’s just that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen really is that bad. And then some.

Revenge of the Fallen is the loudest film of the year, perhaps of any year. Stuff is always happening, and even when it’s just an astronomy class it’s happening LOUDLY with WHOOSING CAMERAS and BOMBASTIC MUSIC. Come the action scenes the noise becomes eardrum splitting in its pummelling intensity, but despite levels of noise that I’ve only previously experienced at gigs I had trouble staying awake in Revenge of the Fallen. That’s its biggest crime; it’s boring. It’s so boring that I began to think about trivia, rather than what we’ll charitably call ‘the plot’. When you are picking out grammatical errors in a film’s dialogue, that is when you know what boredom truly feels like. When, during a scene of two huge robots fighting, you are trying to work out the geographical logistics of the last five minutes; that is boredom.

There’s nothing wrong with making a big, loud, entertaining, film about robots punching each other, that’s what Transformers was, and while it was certainly not great art it did its job perfectly well. The problem is that Revenge of the Fallen isn’t, not for a second, entertaining, because even when it’s just robots hitting each other the effects are so busy, and the colours so dull (gun metal grey hitting gun metal grey, that you can’t see what is hitting what. You can’t get invested in the action, because it is ineptly shot and edited, with close ups far too prevalent and a cut every half second, just to make sure you are still awake (fair enough, you may well not be) but also because the ‘plot’ is so convoluted, so abysmally poorly told, that you will likely have no clue what’s going on.

As well as being stupid and badly made, Revenge of the Fallen is an objectionable film. First off it is jingoistic, warmongering flag waving at its most obnoxious. One hideous scene sees a government agent who thinks that negotiation might be a worthwhile tactic thrown out of a plane by a military commander (okay, he’s given a parachute, but it’s still played as something we’re supposed to cheer). More troublingly, the film is also racist. How the hell did a Transformers film manage to be racist? Why did anyone think that the two Sambobots were even remotely acceptable, either their designs or their voices, in this day and age?

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a $250million fuck you to a global audience. It’s a film that says ‘you are so fucking stupid that we can do THIS LITTLE, we can make a film this bad, and you’ll still come’. Well, fuck you too, Michael, cause I’m done with your movies.


  1. Bahahahaha!

    Funny read. I really liked Observe and Report so I can't agree with you there, but Transformers 2 is indeed an abomination. You did the impossible by pointing out even more things that make it 'deserve' the honour of being the worst film of the year.