By Lon Harris
#10: WORLD WAR Z
I have not read the novel that inspired this troubled Marc Forster production (is there any other kind?), but I can only assume that it has some kind of narrative structure. Things happen that cause other things to happen, and thus a story progresses in some kind of logical fashion. Beginnings, middles and ends and all that. Maybe a few characters who seem like they almost resemble actual living people are introduced, they make decisions that impact their eventual fates, maybe we learn a little something about them and even, by extension, ourselves in the process. That sort of stuff.
“World War Z” has no time for any of that, though I’m not sure what else it was doing, either. Brad Pitt sort of rambles around the world getting into scrapes that all end the same way (zombies!), and then things just sort of work themselves out.
Also, the notion of a mass of zombies moving in unison, in the style of a single organism, is a good one, and could have looked pretty spectacular, I should think. But, save for that iconic one-sheet image of zombies piling up a wall like ants, which doesn’t even make a huge impact in the film, “World War Z” does nothing with it.
If it hadn’t made half a billion dollars worldwide, I’d almost hope it might do something to slow the glut of lame zombie movies with which we’ve been stuck for years now.
#9: OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL
My issues with “Oz the Great and Powerful” don’t really center around the story, which is forgettable but not atrocious, and does manage to cleverly tie up everything and set the stage of “Wizard of Oz” neatly.
The problem here is that, at no point did I believe any of the human beings were actually standing in the merry old land of Oz. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” came out in 1988, and I had an easier time believing Bob Hoskins was really tooling down the main Toontown drag than I did thinking James Franco was actually skipping down the Yellow Brick Road.
So tragic that Sam Raimi – one of the greats of contemporary inventive DIY guerrilla-style filmmaking – retreated behind a bank of monitors, putting together a formulaic, bubble-gum theme park attraction that couldn’t feel further away from the quirky, charmingly hand-made Oz of the classic film.
#8: AFTER EARTH
I know Will Smith was involved, and that automatically got projects fast-tracked in 2013 Hollywood, but it’s hard to imagine anyone thought “After Earth” was conceptually sound. There are SO MANY problems with this just as a pitch!
– There are only two main characters, and no antagonist, and no one is ever on screen together
– The film is structured as an action film but there’s almost no action
– A feature-length film will be entirely dependent on the acting chops and charisma of Jaden Smith
– Despite being called “After Earth” and being set on an abandoned Earth, the fact that the characters are on Earth doesn’t matter and never comes up
– The plot requires the main character to eliminate all emotional response, which not only is impossible to do but makes him a totally unsympathetic blank figure.
– At one point, there is a dramatic scene between our hero and a computer-generated hawk.
#7: THE LORDS OF SALEM
I love Zombie’s odes to ’70s grindhouse – “House of 1000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects” – but when he aims for more mainstream-style horror, say with his “Halloween” reboot, it typically misses the mark. But “Lords of Salem” is his weakest outing yet, an incoherent, plodding and surprisingly sloppy attempt to re-imagine “Rosemary’s Baby” but without any of the symbolic heft or mounting terror.
Zombie’s wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, plays a totally uninteresting DJ who is possessed by a coven of witches harkening back to the infamous Salem Witch Trial era. That’s not a quick summary of the film’s main action – it’s a complete list of everything that happens. (“Possession” itself in the film largely consists of Ms. Zombie writhing around on the floor, moaning, and having odd, frequently sexual visions of witch rituals.
Zombie struggled to find distribution for the movie, and at the screening I attended at SXSW, said to the audience beforehand “Some of you will like this, and others are going to hate it.” He seemed oddly ambivalent about the whole thing, maybe realizing the idea was not fully baked only after the project was completed?
[I should also note, the film implies that Salem really was overrun with witches a few hundred years ago, thus making the Puritans disgraceful, cruel, inhuman behavior correct and called for. That’s some truly vile revisionist history there… Why not make a movie in which the grown men who tortured and murdered innocent young girls are the bad guys?]
#6: THE SWEENEY
This update of the 1970s British TV cop drama compiles every known cop movie cliche into one blisteringly insipid mess. I never need to see another film in which the brash, impulsive but also always-correct-when-it-counts cop/unit breaking all the rules and getting chewed out by The Chief. The presence of respected actors like Ray Winstone and Damian Lewis, trying their best with hopeless material, only highlights how tired these old routines really are.
Let’s also talk about the woeful action sequences. We have a bank heist turned shootout in London’s Trafalgar Square so obviously inspired by Michael Mann’s “Heat,” it’s practically Sweded. Unlike Mann’s original, the action mechanics of the shootout make no sense here – the good guys are able to block incoming gunfire with absolutely any physical piece of matter. At one point, portly Ray Winstone is able to dodge an onslaught of bullets behind a tiny metal ladder. Surely ONE of those bad boys would have managed to get through! Come on! There’s even a car chase on a very thin, narrow road that’s only the width of a single car. Where’s the drama in that? What are you even going to do if you catch up to that other car? Bump it?
[I’d also add that there’s a sub-plot in which the fetching Hayley Atwell’s character (age 31) is having an extra-martial affair with Ray Winstone’s character (age 56) which is not just unrealistic, but downright distasteful.]
#5: GI JOE: RETALIATION
Hard to believe that, out of the two contemporary “GI Joe” movies, the lame Stephen Sommers entry comes out ahead, but here we are. Jon Chu’s follow-up gives us all the bored, phoned-in performances, offensively inane anti-humor and bloated, ugly spectacle we’ve come to expect from toy brand tie-in movies, but with the added benefit of being totally incomprehensible.
It felt at times that I was watching two different “GI Joe” movies that had no intention of ever really coming together – sort of like the “Godfather II” of the series, I suppose. I’m not sure if the ninjas ever got around to influencing the more traditional soldier plot line; I’d pretty much checked out by then.
[Final note: Why does Bruce Willis continue to make movies when he clearly hates them so much? I know they pay him a lot of money to star in action movies, but he could make a lot of money with his own brand of applesauce, too, or by opening a Hollywood weed dispensary. I feel like he’d rather do absolutely anything else than star in an action movie, at this point, based on his performances in films like this one.]
#4: THE CANYONS
OK, so the hilariously awful disaster zone that is “The Canyons” is largely going to be blamed on Lindsey Lohan, and she definitely deserves some of the blame. She’s so wooden and distant here, it’s like she’s getting a Viking funeral. I kept waiting for someone in a horned helmet to shoot a flaming arrow into her. The character’s so zonked out and vacant, it took me like 45 minutes before I realized she’s the protagonist.
The plot – such as it is – concerns Lohan’s Tara, who is dating Christian (porn star James Deen), a trust fund scumbag using his family’s money to make terrible no-budget horror movies. Tara has been secretly having an affair with Ryan, an old flame who also happens to be the star of Christian’s latest bad movie. Christian finds out about the affair and sort of messes with everyone, but not in a way that is compelling.
There’s just no sense of why writer Bret Easton Ellis or director Paul Schrader (who used Kickstarter to raise funds for “The Canyons”) wanted to tell this meandering, dull story about these assholes. The film opens with a montage of condemned, abandoned former movie theaters throughout Los Angeles, so I thought – even if it didn’t work – the movie would be some kind of commentary on the end of the film business, or the end of movies as a communal, social activity. But then the film itself is barely about the film industry.
Also, from just a technical/professionalism standpoint, the movie reminds me of something you’d expect students to submit to a 24-hour film festival. It looks like Schrader shot it on an iPhone, the dialogue is both highly theatrical and bland, and the story has no momentum.
#3: UPSIDE DOWN
The set-up for this remarkably stupid sci-fi romance is that there are two planets orbiting directly side-by-side, facing one another. One is made up of poor, exploited workers and the other their wealthy capitalist masters. (They keep saying “up there” or “down here,” even though “up” and “down” don’t have a lot of meaning when you’re talking about planets. Everyone would feel like the other planet was “up there.”)
Anyway, it’s forbidden and physically impossible to go to the other planet from your planet, because everyone’s tied by their own gravity field to their own planet. Nonetheless, two very dull, uninteresting people – a poor orphan from “down here” (Jim Sturgess) and a rich girl from “up there” (Kirsten Dunst) – fall in love, and he becomes determined to use any means necessary to sneak to the upper planet to romance her.
The “up there/down there” stuff never stops seeming counter-intuitive and silly. (In particular, it has a really irksome tendency to assume that all the characters in this fantasy world would find the whole “double gravity” concept really weird and fascinating, just like we the viewers do, even though they have lived in this reality all their lives. Would people really drink anti-gravity cocktails from upside-down martini glasses? That seems inconvenient.)
But the film’s biggest problem is that it spends so much time establishing the double gravity rules and physics, it forgets to make the actual couple that’s in love compelling or relatable in any way. At heart, the movie’s a romance, but I didn’t give two shits about this couple. (Plus Kirsten Dunst’s character also has amnesia, so she’s impossible to invest in because she’s not even 100% sure who she is!)
#2: Movie 43
A surprising number of celebrities take part in this atrocious bathroom comedy anthology from Peter Farrelly. The stories are supposedly part of an insane pitch a desperate screenwriter (Dennis Quaid) makes to studio executive Greg Kinnear, but the film even gives up on this bookend conceit about halfway through, largely out of embarrassment. (For real!)
I think part of the reason these sketches seem SO awkward and painful is that they’re over-relying on the shock value of seeing these celebrities doing/saying stupid, “edgy” things (except for the scene where it’s supposed to be funny because they’re celebrities playing superheroes.) In some cases, such as the Halle Berry/Stephen Merchant “Truth or Dare” sketch, there actually AREN’T jokes other than the humiliation they put Halle Berry through.
There’s no real theme or coherent idea aside from “dick and poop jokes.” (The bookend thing is insane and adds nothing.) And nothing is relevant. The superhero parody ignores the last 50 years of actual superhero shows and films. The Apple parody focuses on a stupid product with no real-world relevance that’s based on the iPod, not even the iPhone. Also, inherent in the notion of a film anthology with multiple directors is that the individual segments will have a unique style or sensibility. These all feel like anonymously made Internet sketches.
#1: BAD MILO
Sadly, the final SXSW film I saw was not only “worst of the fest,” but one of the lamest and least funny comedies I have ever seen. It was just called “Milo” then but it’s being released as “Bad Milo.” The basic premise is that a regular guy (played by Ken Marino) starts having horrible digestive problems brought about by stress. (Lots of pooping and farting.)
He later discovers that he has a demon he calls Milo living in his colon andMilo occasionally escapes his bowels and goes to seek vengeance on people who are causing our hero (whose name I forget) stress.
It’s literally an entire movie of shit and fart jokes. I would say “it’s 100 minutes of shit and fart jokes,” but I walked out after about an hour.
But check out the CAST!
– Ken Marino
– Gillian Jacobs (from “Community”)
– Stephen Root
– Peter Stormare
– Patrick Warburton
– Toby Huss
It’s unfathomable to me that all of these people would sign on to a movie whose sole joke is “a guy has to shit and fart a lot.” Seriously, there are no jokes other than “ha ha that guy is covered in shit” or “now he has to shit again” or “oh my god the monster is now covered in his shit” or “the monster is going up his ass! lolololololol!” Even at 13, I didn’t find shit and farting this funny, and after about 15 minutes, I hit poop joke fatigue.