Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Worst Ten Films of 2013: or, better late than never, part III

There were 41 movies I'd readily describe as bad in 2013.  These are the picked turds.  These are the bottom ten.

91.  R.I.P.D. (2/10)
When a bad cop dies, he doesn't go to Hell, he goes to the Rest In Peace Department.  It's much worse.

Your anti-chemistry lesson for today is to kidnap legitimate super-actor Jeff Bridges, pound drugs into him until he thinks he actually is Rooster Cogburn, and then convince him to spout lines of varying degrees of relevance at the Dollar Destroyer himself, the poor, unfortunate soul that is Ryan Reynolds.  Describe how they fail to react with one another.

Or, if you're really desperate, film a whole damn movie centered around their non-dynamic.  That's what the makers of R.I.P.D. did, and few things have failed so much in 2013.  By no means can you really shoulder all the blame upon Bridges and Reynolds, although neither one does anything at all to elevate the material or even make it passably entertaining; no, the true ire must go to the producers who believe that reconstituted Men In Black and Ghostbusters, shorn of every iota of both series' charm, hilarity, and skilful world-building, could ever work.  There's a line somewhere toward the end of the second act where Reynolds hatefully whispers that he hopes that Bridges' long-dead corpse was indeed skullfucked by coyotes.  This represents R.I.P.D.'s very best banter.

R.I.P.D. is a film where the "Dead-Os," souls that have escaped judgment, are flushed out of their skin-suits, and into their oppressively bad CGI forms, by the smell of Indian food.  This is also a film which cost 185 million dollars.

And where did it go?  Up their noses and into their asses, maybe, but I can tell you where it didn't: on the motherfucking screen.

92.  THE CONSPIRACY (2/10)
The shadowy Tarsus Club rules the world from behind the facade of history.  It is up to our hero to expose their systems of corruption and control.

That actually sounds pretty rad, right?  Unfortunately, The Conspiracy is amateur hour in the worst possible way.  Now, it is very uncool to slam microbudget movies like this, which attempt to do something a little more interesting than recording the banal trials and tribulations of 20-somethings.  Unfortunately, when they even fail to make their chosen subject more interesting than that, what can you do but shake your head at their ineptitude?

Our protagonist is a documentarian of no note, who is putting together a piece about conspiracy theories.  Together with his partner, their lazy efforts have zeroed-in on one particular (local) conspiracy theorist, who describes a vast combine of global leaders bending the world to their whims.  He links events at random in a spiderweb of intrigue ("9/11!  The pyramids!  The Smoot-Hawley tariff!"that sort of thing).  Then he disappears; but as if obvious mental illness were a communicable disease, our hero begins to track down his documentary subject's "leads."

If that still seems interesting, it's because, in the hands of marginally capable filmmakers, it would be.  Unfortunately, hampered by lack of budget and lack of talent, nothing occurs for what seems like whole years of nauseatingly shaky found-footage camerawork in The Conspiracy.  Only at the very, very end, when our hero and his pal have infiltrated the meeting of the mysterious "Tarsus Club" does anything of importance happen.  And what does happen to our hero?

Why, the Tarsus Club plays a mean prank on him.  This movie sucks.

93.  2 GUNS (2/10)
2 guys with 2 guns get 2 deep.

I described Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters as the second most mediocre film of the year.  Oh yes, it is quite the motionless picture, but it is no 2 Guns.

2 Guns is weaponized mediocrity.  In many regards, a "C" would still be the most appropriate grade for this, this pure film of absence, for it is the blandest thing imaginable; to call it vanilla would be to direly insult a perfectly good flavor.  But that is not how ranking should work.  Ranking should describe, with some precision, to what degree I enjoyed a movie.  By that metric, 2 Guns readily maintained its presence on my evolving list of 2013's very worst.  For I enjoyed hardly a minute of this lazy, soft-R, paint-by-numbers, poorly-researched, barely even a noir at all.

From the utter boredom Denzel Washington projects every moment the camera turns its gaze upon him to each new failed opportunity to do something, anything visually stimulating or emotionally interesting, I still hold to the damning praise I gave it half a year ago: I recommend 2 Guns wholeheartedly if you don't think that, one day, you will be dead.

94.  PASSION (2/10)
Two career women vie for power in Brian De Palma's corporate thriller.

Now we have arrived at the movies that did not simply bore me, but grievously offended me.

Allow me to digress:  there is a sequence, somewhat famous, in that serial killer super-classic, Silence of the Lambs, that I'm not sure I like very much.  It uses editing to lie to the audience about where Jack Crawford is, where Clarice Starling is, and, most importantly, where Buffalo Bill is in relation to them.  An FBI goon rings a doorbell; in Bill's dungeon, a klaxon sounds furiously; Clarice is in another state entirely; Bill finally answers the door; but who is standing there?  It's Clarice.  Fooled you!

It's forty-five seconds and as cruel as it is, it works in Silence.  Personally, I prefer my movies to arrive by their surprises through skillful misdirectionI point you to Hannibal's escape in the very same picture.  Such is far more satisfying than having a director use the very language of film for such blunt-force dishonesty.  But, in the final analysis, it barely registers as a mild criticism of that otherwise so perfect work of art.

Now let's come back to PassionPassion is a feature-length lie, told by Brian De Palma, with expressionistic subjective filmmaking that forces you to believe that what his protagonist is purportedly experiencing is objectively true.

The result is one of if not the worst movie in De Palma's filmography.  By destroying the bonds of trust and the very semantics which permit any movie to work, De Palma made a movie that inherently cannot.  All the splitscreen in the world, no matter how good, can't change that.  Passion is thus Side Effects' dark mirror, its evil anti-film twin.

And, yeah, it is also really, really boring, and extremely blandly acted by Rachel McAdams, who is usually more than adequate, as well by Noomi Rapace, which, frankly, should be a surprise to no one.

95.  COMPUTER CHESS (2/10)
It's the early 80s and dweebs are programming computers to play chess against each other.

Computer Chess is droning garbage with non-actors, a non-plot, and a great deal of non-sense.  Yet it was a minor indie darling, and sometimes I feel like the whole fucking world is gaslighting me.  How could anyone like this?  Why would anyone make this and feel that they had achieved something?

The central figures of Computer Chess are two people who can remember their lines most of the time, and who, in an actual movie, may have been played by Anthony Michael Hall and Jeff Goldbum, respectively.  This should, I hope, communicate their characters; if not, one's a socially inept nerd (even amongst socially inept nerds) and one is a vaguely relatable, mumbling jerkoff who thinks he's much smarter than he is.

Of course the set-up is small-scale but it was potentially quite interesting.  Unfortunately, increasingly bizarre segues substitute for the absent plot in Chess.  Note, in particular, the scene where one of the programmers relates the tale of the computer that gained sapience, and behold as this thread leads to absolutely nowhere.  Then boggle at the black-and-white giving way to color in what must be the most formally pointless and one of the more narratively needless scenes in just about any movie of the year.  Computer Chess makes Escape From Tomorrow look accomplished.

96.  FRANCES HA (2/10)
An awkward woman navigates the painful transition between late, late, late adolescence and even later adolescence.

Ohhhh, I do so hate you, Frances.  Let me count the ways.

You're lazy, stupid, entitled, vapid, selfish, talentless, mooching, and, honestly, I am concerned you're a sociopath.  In short, you are everything Noah Baumbach thinks a Millennial is, but he thinks it's charming.  Probably because he is, to paraphrase a scene from your film, fucking your performer.

Frances is not charming, and neither is Baumbach's movie, but his work of accidental generational warfare has somehow become some sort of high-cultural touchstone.  Occasionally the witticisms rise to the level of "funny," but even in the midst of laughing in a sort of shell-shocked way, I was never not outright disgusted by Frances Ha.  I doubt I'll ever clean the foul afterimage of this vile film off the back of my eyes.  No matter how much lye I use.

97.  TYLER PERRY'S TEMPTATION: CONFESSIONS OF A MARRIAGE COUNSELOR (1/10, but from a certain perspective, 8/10)
A marriage counselor is tempted to stray from her own wedding vows.  Wackiness ensues.

Seems like most modern movies, when they're bad, are just boring (The Last Airbender) or ethically monstrous (see above or below) or straight-up unwatchable (The Hunger Games).  Most are not "so bad its good."  Even movies like The Room are really only legitimately entertaining in the context of professional commentary tracks; I certainly wouldn't suggest that watching it alone and unadorned is an enjoyable experience.  But then... there's Temptation.

Oh, it is atrocious, and Perry's ideology is indeed quite ethically monstrous, but it is extravagantly fun, and all by itself.  Featuring just about the most essentially mechanical view of humans, especially women, that I have ever seen outside of a PUA handbook or JD Underground, Temptation is the tale of a young, married, Christian career woman in D.C., who is seduced by a handsome, amoral, rich man.  Temptation is in all respects a 21st century remake of Reefer Madness, but substituting for the horrors of marijuana are "abs", or if you must be crass, "cock."  Yet that barely scratches the surface and this movie is probably both worse and funnier than even that old piece of ignorant propaganda.

I implore you to watch this whenever you get a chance, for I laughed like a madman and was legitimately entertained throughout.  The acting is unfathomably bad all around, but note particularly the parts where the lead actress tries to play "aroused."  Yes, I think I laughed for about five solid minutes at her fluttering eyes that for all the world make her look like she's doing an impression of someone having a stroke.

A clever nickname for the movie has been making the rounds, coined by the free-wheeling critic that is Dave White, but to say it aloud would be to spoil the very best part of the film.  Suffice it to say, this slut is punished, and it is hilarious.

98.  THE HOST (1/10)
Body snatchers have snatched almost all our bodies, but one of the few survivors maintains her personality against the physical control of one of the alien invaders.  A heinous love quadrangle results.

Basically, The Host is the second-most depressing movie of 2013, and I explain that at great length in my review, but here's why in two clauses: Andrew Niccol used to be a dynamite filmmaker, and now he makes films like The Host.

It is also very much the most offensive movie, in terms of content, that 2013 had to offer.  Even moreso than Temptation, and it's not funny.  The Host, and one thus supposes Stephanie Meyer and Andrew Niccol, does not understand the legal or even the commonsense definition of the word "rape."  Neither, evidently, does the ceaselessly bad actress that is The Host's star, Saoirse Ronan (she is known for the slightly better travesties, Byzantium and Atonement).  Playing both her snatched body and her body's snatcher, Ronan's emotionally arbitrary voiceover, that never reflects anything happening to her character's physical form, almost rises to the level of humorous.

But, no: aside from the very occasional and very bitter laugh, all this movie ultimately got out of me were shocked cries of pain and confusion, cries only intensified by the brief flashes of the Andrew Niccol of old, popping onto the screen for but a moment, before they were dragged back down, like the corpse of hope, into the endless sexual depravity that forms the content of the film.

With the aid of the Enterprise crew, Admiral Kirk must stop an old nemesis, Khan Noonien Singh, from using his son's life-generating mechanism, the Genesis Device, as the ultimatewait, is this right?  It sounds right, but...

Yeah.  I'm a pretty inveterate Trekkie.  But here's the truth: every moment I enjoyed in Star Trek Into Darkness is because of that fact, not in spite of it.

It begins so strongly: Kirk and McCoy are in the process of escaping the natives of a breathtakingly alien world while Spock toils to save it from an erupting supervolcano. This is amazing to behold and your expectations rise and you believe that this will be a great movie.

You do not realize, yet, that they do not know what they're doing; and how could you?  Somehow, the typing monkeys that are Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman and the Eleventh Plague known as Damon Lindelof managed to craft a prologue that serves as the perfected Prime Directive short film.  It is visually stunning and frankly brilliant, making the case for each side of the debate in a way so far removed from those endless jaw exercises on the subject witnessed throughout The Next Generation and beyond, and ends with one of the franchise's most indelible images as the savage natives draw the outline of their saviors' spaceship in the dust.

But the nature of Into Darkness is such that each subsequent scene is worse than the one before it; it follows that the first scene of Into Darkness should have been its last.

The true turning point, however, comes at the big "reveal" halfway through, which separates the good-and-sliding part of the movie from the precipitously-worsening part.  This "reveal" could only matter to those who are familiar with the Star Trek of old, and anyone new to the franchise will wonder why he's saying his name like that and why the score seems so damned interested.  Without that background, does this film even make sense?

While Abrams' first Star Trek shocked when it destroyed Vulcan, this one just bores as it baldly steals its moments, hollows them of any meaning or much interest, and never lets you forget how clever its purveyors quite incorrectly believe themselves to be.

I would have welcomed with open arms a well-executed remake of the source material so casually ripped off here.  I don't much care at all if they understand why the old material was important to so many peoplein fact, given the truly obscene level of fan-service involved in the climax, I think they may have an inkling of thatI just wanted them to understand why the material they're reusing was good.  Then maybe they could have made something good too, instead of using famous lines nearly out of context and recycling famous scenes bereft of any of the emotion they held in their original form.  This film holds contempt for all audiences, and even to the Trekkie in me, it's not sacrilege; it's just shit.

An awkward, introverted little Englishman, a sound engineer by trade, travels to Italy to help make a giallo film.
A fair number of movies have made me angry this year, but this one never did anything of the sort: it made me feel hollow and numb instead.  Imagine if Blow Out was just John Travolta doing his job for an hour and a half, and then he had a psychotic break that went nowhere.  And that's it.  That is this movie.

I have nothing to say about this.  Was the atmosphere oppressive?  Oh, one supposes.  Did the depiction of the process of sound design hold any inherent interest?  I guess.

But I felt so little, that I think I actually died.  And perhaps I did die.  Trapped in a curious hell now, thinking about these, the ten worst films of 2013.  God help me.  God help all of us.  Good night.

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