[23 January 2013]
When movies are mediocre, they’re maddening. But when they are as bad as the selections here, you can’t help but question the artform’s overall validity.
With its lack of emotional or even pragmatic investment and a lousy lead performance at its core, Savages doesn’t stand a chance. It may capture a bit of the angry adult audience (they won’t be lining up to see Spidey swing again) that is usually left out of the Summer season mix, but for the most part, said oldsters will be bored by this by the numbers nonsense. We are supposed to see Ben, Chon, and O as naive idealists dealing with a band of cutthroat criminals. We are supposed to champion their laidback lifestyle, menage a trois relationship, and fierce determination to play the dope game on their own terms. We are supposed to hiss at Del Toro, sympathize (to some extent) with Hayek, and wonder aloud why John Travolta is chewing the scenery so (he plays a DEA agent who, naturally, is working both sides of the situation). In the end, we find few rationales.
Yet it’s Ms. Lively and her lack of clear characterization that causes Savages to stumble. She’s our narrator, our rich girl gone to pot seed, tanning her skin while sexing up her male meal tickets. She tries to turn the role into something of a little girl lost, but since Stone can’t stop fashion photographing her, all we get is vague and shallow. There’s no meat to her performance, no moment when we stop seeing O as a THC opportunist and more like a human being we care for… and since we don’t get upset when she’s kidnapped (she gets treated rather well, for the most part), we don’t care if she’s rescued. This makes the next two thirds of Savages almost pointless. As individuals, Ben and Chon are nothing more than a dichotomy—moral/amoral, cautious/contentious. Besides, this is not their story. It’s O’s, and the movie suffers because of who was cast. Bill Gibron
After a few years of ‘80s remake mania, a new version of Red Dawn isn’t just an apotheosis of pointlessness. It’s both more and less than the ultimate nostalgic cash-in. In its current form, after years of release delays, it’s an accidental experiment, a movie that deconstructs the very notion of a nostalgic cash-in.
The 1984 film imagined a Cold War gone hot and aggressive, with Soviets and their allies invading the United States and then facing rebellion from a ragtag group of teenagers. The Dawn remake began by simply swapping out the Russians for the Chinese, but then made another race-switch in post-production, when positioning the Chinese as our enemies began to seem less than expedient—not because it’s a ridiculous notion, but because China has become a boom market for boom-heavy US action films. The enemies arriving on US movie screens for Thanksgiving weekend are at least somewhat transformed: their flags are digitally adjusted even if the actors’ Asian features remain visible, and their backstory is now changed, by bad expositional ADR, to North Korea—until, presumably, North Korea begins importing more US movies, at which point these bad guys will be turned back into Russians.
These shifts perfectly illustrate the quaintness of redoing Red Dawn. The title is a brand to which the remake must adhere, except the brand is also outdated, so it must be tweaked. The result is a generic version of a 1984 time-capsule relatively few people care much about anyway, now untethered from any meaningful context. Nothing much replaces any sense of anxiety over actual geopolitical events; the North Korean invasion is just another rah-rah football-game-style proving ground. Jesse Hassenger
13Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
A difficult film to truly hate, because it has the best of intentions but doesn’t really know how to put all of them together, and is completely forgettable in the process. For example, Adam Brody is in this movie. I am both a big fan of The O.C. and saw this film in theaters on opening weekend and I am just finding out right now that Adam Brody plays a fairly significant supporting role.
This revelation stumbles upon a theme throughout End of the World, as it wastes several of the most likable television actors from the past decade—Brody, star Steve Carell, Rob Corddry, Connie Britton (this movie’s ultimate sin might be the discovery that Tami Taylor is hilarious, then dumping her and Corddry’s characters after about 10 minutes), Patton Oswalt, Gillian Jacobs, Jim O’Heir, William Peterson—on a patchwork script that never really finds a groove. At best, it feels like you’re watching a halfway decent sketch comedy (i.e. a scene at a theme restaurant with a drug-addled Jacobs and T.J. Miller as hosts), but at worst, just feels like nothing.
The movie is written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, who previously penned 2009’s much more likable (and financially successful) Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Seeking a Friend treads similar territory (mismatched lovers, the importance of music) but gets multiple things that Nick and Norah got right completely wrong. Michael Cera and Kat Dennings sparked that film to life, whereas Keira Knightley lacks any chemistry with Carell (Knightley is a maddeningly inconsistent actress, and it doesn’t help that she’s completely miscast here) and the movie’s musical subplot feels forced. By the time the movie winds down in a ludicrous twist involving Martin Sheen, like all well-intentioned things that aren’t very good, you feel completely worn down and upset at your wasted time. Steve Lepore
12The Three Stooges
The worst thing to happen to the Three Stooges since Joe Besser, the Farrelly brothers’ big screen update on the classic comedy trio probably has Curly shuffling 360s in his grave right now. The film attempts to offer an origin of the Stooges, however, it merely serves as a loose framework for a series of unfunny pratfalls and eye-gouges. Even more pathetic than The Three Stooges’ “storyline” is the film’s desperate attempt at credibility via a string of cameos by award-winning actors and the now-irrelevant Jersey Shore crew. The original Stooges’ PG-rated slapstick was far funnier and holds up better over half a century later than this wreck does mere months after its theatrical release. Bobby and Peter Farrelly should be forced to “pick out two” for this clunker. Lana Cooper
I’m not sure what’s more irritating about the Luc Besson action factory’s space jail action picture Lockout: that it’s a movie about space jail where neither space nor jail factor in to much of the uninspired action, or that it’s somehow developed a minor reputation as an underappreciated, unpretentious B-movie that delivers the goods. It doesn’t; the only one who even seems to be trying to deliver any manner of goods is poor Guy Pearce, who could clearly make a sharp wisecracking action hero, if anyone were to write him a single decent wisecrack or put him in a single decent chase, fight, or shoot-out. Instead, he gets perhaps the worst-looking action sequence of the year: a motorcycle chase that wouldn’t pass muster in most videogames. Jesse Hassenger
It sounded like a good idea on paper. Silent House cast rising star Elizabeth Olsen in a creepy haunted house movie before she got too big to make these kinds of movies. Using a little-seen but well-regarded Uruguayan horror movie as remake fodder, directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau set out to make a film that stayed with Olsen (and only Olsen) the whole way through, unfolded in real time, and seemed to be one long take. Our hero, Sarah, gets stuck in a boarded-up old country house with very few sources of light and some very scary noises, and bad things start to happen. But then the cracks in the story start to show. Olsen, though game, couldn’t really pull off playing a single emotion, “terrified,” for the entire length of the film. Kentis and Lau, it turns out, hadn’t made a movie since 2003’s mildly well-regarded Open Water. As such, they either didn’t have enough clout or didn’t have any interest in trying to change the ending, but they should’ve made the attempt. Although the movie is genuinely unsettling for its first 2/3rds, the last act is full of reveals that come straight from the “annoying horror movie clichés” playbook. Silent House completely blows it when it comes time to show us the tormentor, turning what is a pretty solid horror flick into yet another regurgitation of a plot twist that’s doomed several movies in the past decade. Chris Conaton
So says Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) as he pens a new story in an effort to save his kidnapped fiancé from the hands of a serial killer using Poe’s own stories as inspiration for his murders. Does that sentence sound convoluted? More so than the quote preceding it? I’d say it’s a toss-up, along with my feelings about The Raven. The premise of the movie is so appealing it almost makes up for faulty execution. Parts sound intriguing: like the latter half of the quote and the inspired serial killer aspect of my summary. Others sound ridiculous: how does “regardless of what you think of me” factor into the equation? In context it makes a bit more sense, but when that aspect is further examined it makes even less. Let’s do that, shall we? Ben Travers
8The Devil Inside
It’s not just the fact that the theatrical version of The Devil Inside ended with a title card directing viewers to the film’s website for more information that made audiences howl with disgust. It’s bad form, to be sure, especially considering that the website hosted videos that none-too-subtly revealed further twists that would’ve been obvious had they been in the movie to begin with (and, with a running time of a mere 83 minutes, it’s not clear why those scenes weren’t included in the first place). No, it’s the very idea that The Devil Inside—an obvious and uninspired exorcism tale that treads on the same themes about faith that have been explored since The Exorcist—merited any further investigation into its surface-level plot that’s the true insult. Marisa LaScala
Far be it from us to rely on an old joke as an introduction, but whatever the person is getting for guiding Amanda Seyfried’s career as of late, it shouldn’t be 10%—it should be life. The poor girl, once thought of as the next Hollywood starlet, has been given over recently to the ripe ridiculousness of Red Riding Hood and the tepid In Time. Instead of the intended A-list, she keep falling further down the direct-to-DVD rabbit hole. Gone is not going to help. As a matter of fact, this ludicrous excuse for a thriller is so bereft of anything remotely resembling intelligence, logic, or entertainment value that if it doesn’t kill Ms. Seyfried’s future employment possibilities, it’s only because she’s in possession of a substantial amount of blackmail material. Bill Gibron
Apart from a few pretty underwater scenes, there is no joy in watching Dark Tide, about a diver (Halle Berry) who swims with sharks for passion and profit. The story is uninvolving, with threads that dead-end never to be picked up again and people who make stupid choices for reasons that are never explained. The characters are spoiled—a thrill-seeking businessman coerces Berry’s character to take him on a free-dive that they both know is dangerous, and he spends the entire film throwing his weight around while she pouts about it—and spend most of their time arguing, all to serve an emotional arc that never materializes. Even the visuals become murkier and murkier, with the main characters blending into the background as an impending storm, opaque water, and people indistinguishable from either (or each other) all flood the screen. You’re better off with the sharks. Marisa LaScala
Former actor Peter Berg made one of the worst directing debuts in recent history with Very Bad Things, but recovered quite nicely while building a resume of Hollywood movies—The Rundown, Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom, Hancock—with more craft and smarts than you might expect from their various genres. All of that goodwill collapses under the weight of Battleship, which, unlike any previous Berg picture, is exactly as stupid as it sounds: a movie in which aliens invade a board game and produce a series of disconnected trailer moments. The movie becomes so jingoistic (and vague about its invaders intentions) that it almost seems like parody, but if Berg is indulging in Verhoeven-style satire rather than Bay-style inanity, he’s doing it so discreetly it can only be a private joke. Battleship‘s failed popcorn-movie ambitions, though, are very public indeed. Jesse Hassenger
Dark Shadows was supposed to be Johnny Depp’s love letter to the 1960’s daytime supernatural soap opera he watched as a child. Instead, this big-budget film adaptation ended up thoroughly punishing those who went to see it. After 18th century vampire Barnabas Collins (Depp) arrives in the year 1972, the movie lands a few tentative fish out of water jokes at his expense. But then it abandons that tactic and instead tries for a combination of broad comedy, horror, and soap opera. Considering the source material, this is understandable. But the super-powered slapstick isn’t funny and the movie is never, ever scary. As for the soap opera elements, the film doesn’t bother to develop any of its characters enough for the audience to care about them, so the melodrama doesn’t work, either. With all three of these styles competing with each other for screentime, Dark Shadows pulled off the rare trick of feeling simultaneously overstuffed and undercooked. This is the nadir of Depp and director Tim Burton’s many collaborations, and a powerful indicator that the two need to spend some time apart from each other. Chris Conaton
3What to Expect When You’re Expecting
“She’s totally doing him,” opines a viewer of Celebrity Dance Factor. She and her girlfriends are huddled on a couch, passing popcorn as they imagine the real life of reality TV star Jules (Cameron Diaz) and her TV dancing partner Evan (Matthew Morrison). As it happens in What to Expect When You’re Expecting—a movie that could not be more obvious about what to expect at every minute of its plot—Jules is doing Evan, a point made clear when they win the contest and she promptly pukes into the giant gaudy trophy.
Jules’ pregnancy is one of many in What to Expect, a movie apparently proudly based on a 28-year-old self-help book (it’s worth wondering, for a minute anyway, who, exactly, might be the audience for this movie). Each has a different provenance and conclusion, and not one is as entertaining as the film supposes it is. Demanding Jules and blander-than-bland Evan, ostensibly in real love (or as real as can be for reality TV people) spend their time arguing over their professional obligations and whether to circumcise their maybe-boy baby. She wants to continue her lucrative gig as a weight-loss show as long as possible and so urges on her large competitors as her belly grows larger each week. This even as he hopes she’ll slow down, and even not do the extra visits-with-former-contestants program, which entails flying around the country with camera crew in order to catch up with folks who may or may not be happy to see her. Cynthia Fuchs
We warned you. We said this would be the most dangerous movie released in 2012, and you scoffed at the sheer chutzpah of the comment… and then this happened. And then this. And this. You see, no matter the fictionalized approach or homage to teen comedies past, a movie that lays out the very foundation of how to have an illegal rave and basically get away with it is bound to inspire some imitators. That the studio and the movie’s makers have yet to be sued is confusing, though it’s only a matter of time before someone drops the legal bombshell. Besides, the film was terrible, an indulgent bit of stupidity that clearly sent the wrong message. Bill Gibron
Black chunks of mold growing in the corners of your house are scary, especially if it requires structural excavation to get rid of it all. For home owners mold can be a nightmare. Thankfully they made an entire movie about some ghostlike figure that first makes its presence known in the form of crusty chunks of black mold. Scared yet? You shouldn’t be. This dud starts off quite promising with a fairly good opening sequence whereby that blonde girl from Friday the 13th (the one with the camera) gets sucked into the wall. For some reason, the film shift gears and begins to focus on a married couple of whom, the guy was apparently there in that opening sequence somewhere? Was he? I can’t remember I’m so bored. As are this couple that you’re forced to watch run around through a nonsensical film where anything goes and there are no underlying establishing rules as to what this Apparition can do. Honestly though, this film suffers most from a horrendous script that has the most uninspired dialogue in a horror movie ever—those awful Nightmare on Elm Street sequels seem to be written by literary geniuses by comparison. Also not helping are the laughable performances by the two uninteresting leads. Avoid it. Enio Chiloa