Wednesday, January 7, 2009

2008: Year In Movies (Part III: The Most Disappointing)


Not necessarily the worst of the year--I don't usually go out of my way to see terrible prospects like Disaster Movie or 88 Minutes, though if I was choosing a "Worst of 2008", it would easily be handed to Righteous Kill. That's neither here or there, though, what hurts more for movie fans like me are films that come with high expectation and leave us kicking cans with anger as we leave the theater. Here are eight films I can think of:


I have nothing against this film in terms of its visual style. Its wondrous cinematography and groundbreaking visual effects may very well be the greatest of the year, but lets just call it straight: thematically, this film is a total train wreck. No other major film I can think of follows a more laborious, blank slate of a character than Benjamin Button does, and Eric Roth's script may be rich in heavy-handed mortality lessons, but its constantly straddled by unneeded cuts to an aging Daisy (both Blanchett and Julia Ormond are wasted in these pointless scenes) and futile parallels to moments in history (Hurricane Katrina? are you f***ing kidding me?). This movie and Slumdog Millionaire* seem like locks for a Best Picture nomination, and I've heard one of Button's biggest fans call it a "thinking man's Forrest Gump". Whether its smarter than Gump, I'm probably not the best judge of, but I know this, I rather watch Forrest run through life than see Benjamin Button plod around any day.

*note: I won't include Slumdog on this list, because I actually enjoyed that film quite a bit, but I cannot for the life of me understand the unbridled adoration that this movie has received from the awards circuit and audiences. I feel its a much more shallow film than its biggest fans would lead you to believe.


I know, I know, we should've known that this film was going to be a total stinker, but I'll ask you this: throw out the plot, if I tell you that you will watch a film directed by Steven Spielberg, with a story developed by George Lucas, and has a cast that includes Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, John Hurt, Ray Winstone, and Jim Broadbent, wouldn't you expect the film to be ten times better than the film that eventually reached the theaters? Watching Indiana Jones survive a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator and later see Cate Blanchett get destroyed by aliens (ALIENS!!), you can't help but just shake your head at how much of a bastardization of the Indiana Jones franchise Crystal Skull really is.


I heard a lot about how this film (based on the novel by Rachel Cohn) is true to teenage life and love. As someone who is still a teenager (19), I found nothing within this exhausting, sentimental film that really rang true to my high school years. Headed by Michael Cera in the same performance he's had in his last five films, and Kat Dennings doing her best to prove she's much more than a pair of exuberantly-sized lips, the film sputters as a romance and hardly inspires a chuckle as a comedy. Add to that a character so unfunny as Ari Graynor's future A.A. member character Caroline--who is featured way too often in this hapless film--and you have a film that does more harm than good when defining a generation of teenagers who could care less about anything unless it involves cell phones or gay jokes.


The most boring movie of 2008, The Reader really tries your patience as it strolls haplessly into the Nazi Drama category. Let me just start by saying that since The Pianist in 2002, the genre of Holocaust Drama has really degenerated into one that relies soly on shock and guilt. We have a nonsensical romance between first-timer David Kross and nudity-veteran Kate Winslet that spirals into so many sex scenes (which, to their credit, has produced the most controversy--i.e. promotion--for the film). Add to that, we cut to the future in which we see that David Kross has turned into the six-foot-tall Ralph Fiennes in only ten years time (??). Just a completely flat narrative, which wasn't able to capture the most interesting aspects from the literary treasure it was based on.


There are only two kinds of people who could actually find this kind of movie funny: immature teenagers who find punches to the groin and two-minute farts hilarious, and psychotic sexual deviants who enjoy seeing things like Will Ferrall rubbing his scrotum on a snare drum. The movie certainly holds comedic pedigree within its cast: headed by Will Ferrall and John C. Reily, and also containing performances from future Oscar-nominee (I hope) Richard Jenkins and former Oscar-winner Mary Steenburgen. They all have comedic backgrounds, but they're all wasted in this jokeless film. The few times that this film's comedy depends on dialogue and actor improvisation, the movie is very funny, but unfortunately, the film spends too much time on gross-out gags that relate very little to the plot and are only there to appease shallow minds.


It almost hurts to put this film on here, as big a fan of Woody Allen as I am, and this is certainly a very traditional Woody Allen type of film. We have two women: one romantic and one conservative, and both swoon over the charm of a exotic male character, while the exotic male's borderline crazy ex-wife causes more issues. Standard Woody stuff. A fiery performance from Penelope Crúz* makes this film watchable, but this film is a total diagram of what has gone wrong with Woody's filmmaking in the last decade: his monotonous storytelling and visual style has become completely dull. Nothing within this film is remotely surprising or engaging, and without that, I'd at least expect the characters to be dynamic. Crúz is like lightning in a bottle, and Rebecca Hall's Vicky is certainly interesting, but two leads--Javier Bardem and Scarlett Johanssen--stand around vapidly, apparently under the idea that their characters are under constant sedation.

*note: To watch the ACTUAL great performance from Crúz in 2008, check out her beautiful work in the movie Elegy opposite Ben Kingsley.


Why make a two-hour film about a completely unpopular president still in office? Because Oliver Stone has absolutely no fear of the consequences that come with political drama. That being said, Stone's film lacks any profundity or bite, and save a title performance from Josh Brolin, is really inconsequential and passé. Add to that, the film is completely misguided as to what it's trying to be. Elizabeth Banks (as the First Lady) and Richard Dreyfuss (as Vice Pres. Cheney) suggest a high-brow chronology of a man in over his head, while Toby Jones (as the suave Karl Rove) and Thandie Newton (as Condie Rice) seem to think there within some biting, satirical Saturday Night Live sketch. The film never makes an effort to choose and we're left with a film as uneven as it is uninspired.


Days before I saw this film, I wrote a personal letter (via the blog) to Larry Miller, whose Utah movie theater chain refused to play Zack and Miri because it was "innappropriate", while having no issue showing Saw V. I personally defended Kevin Smith's new comedy, and I don't regret it. But I do regret having a mind to think that this film would be anything more than a lousy, one-note sex comedy, which takes its low-brow premise and doesn't deliver with anything useful or entertaining. Here's the deal: Kevin Smith acts like his films are anarchic and challenging, but the truth is, that if you take out the detailed sex dialogue, his films are really as soggy and sappy as an episode of One Tree Hill. Sometimes, Smith can hit a home run (Chasing Amy, Dogma), and sometimes Smith will ignore the sentamentality altogether (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Clerks). Zack and Miri Make a Porno does neither, and pays the consequences.



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