New Year’s Resolution

I have a bit of a reputation amongst friends and family for obsessing on the failed and the miserable. Where others bathe in the light, I complain about the shadows. It’s a martyr complex, perhaps, or just plain negativity.

This year I’ve been particularly aggressive towards the movies I’ve had to endure. This may sound like hyperbole or just plain unfounded pessimism, but 2014 has been one of the worst years in cinema I’ve ever experienced. I’m only 25, mind you, but that’s still two and a half decades (over half of which I can remember quite well), and I seriously cannot recall living through a more pathetic 12 months of movie making. On the whole, it was shit.

Of course, everything hasn’t been terrible. In fact this was the year in which I, ironically, saw the greatest science fiction horror film I’ve seen since Alien. Jonathan Glazer’s masterpiece, Under the Skin, is actually better than Alien and became my new “favourite sci-fi horror of all time”. This was also the year in which we were given groundbreaking treats like WhiplashBirdman, and Boyhood, blurring the boundaries between cinema, theatre, music, and life itself, while David Fincher’s stylish gender war film Gone Girl took care of all the fun there was to be had in well-lit pool of blood.

There were also under-marketed and un-rewarded golden nuggets like Locke, Only Lovers Left Alive, Snowpiercer, and Nightcrawler. Big budget glory? There was certainly some of that. I have to admit that I enjoyed The Lego MovieGuardians of the Galaxy, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes enormously. Still…

its_all_so

 

To put it accurately, this was “the great year of disappointment”. The hyped up heavy hitters too often under-delivered, leaving the void to be filled by movies which, any other year, would normally have garnered a “nice try” at best. Nowhere is this more glaringly obvious than at the Oscars.

Best Picture 2015

Our first clue to 2014’s bleakness is the fact that the Best Picture category has been shaved back to a mere eight nominations. Then, even with a smaller number of slots, the Academy still felt the need to pad it out with undeserving mediocre titles like The Theory of Everything, American Sniper, and Grand Budapest Hotel.

If this were 2013, these three films would have been regarded as mere “Oscar bait”, but this year they’re real contenders. Deplorable!

Have a look at last year’s roundup:

2014 Best Picture Nominees

The only ones I question are 12 Years a Slave, Captain Phillips, and The Wolf of Wall Street, but at least I can understand why they were nominated.

This year’s competition is only as interesting as the title fight between Boyhood and Birdman, and just about everything else is sure to be a bore. The ceremony, therefore, is Neil Patrick Harris’ to save. Goodness knows, we don’t care much about the nominees.

So let’s go over the casualties of 2014:

 2014 The Year of Unsatisfying Sequels and Remakes

Annie

Some may nitpick and say that the 2014 adaptation of Annie is not strictly a remake of the most famous 1982 version, but rather another adaptation of the 1977 Broadway musical. Well, I disagree. It’s a remake, and a cheap cynical one at that!

Originally it was announced that Will Smith’s 11 year old daughter Willow Smith was going to play Annie, and internet commenters were not happy. They claimed that it was merely a negative response to Will Smith pushing his talentless children into shameless vehicles to foster their spoiled careers, but others thought they detected a dash of racism amongst all the fervour. It was to be expected, i suppose, when a young black child takes on a role that has thus far been portrayed as a ginger-haired little white girl. Round and around we went until finally Willow dropped out, Quvenzhane Wallis stepped in, and the controversy died down.

All of it was, of course, pointless. The first review of Annie described it as an “auto tune disaster”, and the rest of them weren’t any kinder. Hardly any of the actors were appropriately cast, knew how to sing, or did anything to build upon the original. The 1982 “Hard Knock Life” musical number was ambitiously choreographed and playfully shot. The new one was bizarrely small scale and boring. Cameron Diaz’s portrayal of Ms. Hannigan is awkwardly slutty, makes no logical sense, and doesn’t have a chance in hell of equalling Carol Burnett’s hilariously drunk take on the character. Shame!

Dumb_Dumber

It’s been 20 years since the original Dumb and Dumber, a film that even the most cultivated film critic had to admit laughing at. It was a dumb film, but that was clearly the point. For the last two decades, fans have been asking for a simple sequel and never got it…until now.

Urgh! Either this film is comically anorexic or my sense of humour has turned sour. I think I was 10 years old when I saw the first Dumb and Dumber, and I cackled all the way through it. This one had me pinching the bridge of my nose after 10 minutes. Opportunistic cameos from reality stars are crowbarred in to make the movie seem relevant. The terrible punch lines can be seen coming a mile away and still take forever to arrive. The otherwise funny Jim Carrey is now shockingly dull. The whole experience of sitting through this thing was just sad.

Sin City 2

Similarly, the original Sin City was released 10 years ago and was a weirdly trippy noir homage that achieved its humble goals. Corny as hell, sure, but a lot of fun.

Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For has been lingering in development hell since then and only now makes it to the big screen. Robert Rodriguez shouldn’t have bothered. There’s no story here worth paying attention to, and the cheap green screen animation could be done by any highschool kid with a camera and a copy of AfterEffects. You get a few dimly lit shots of Eva Green’s boobs, but it’s not like that’s anything we haven’t seen before. The gory deaths are uninventive and repetitive. Maybe you should just make another Spy Kids movie, Robert.

300_Rise

Same deal. Terrible green screen. Boring gore. Eva Green’s boobs. Next!

Ninja Turtles

It’s perhaps no surprise that a Michael Bay produced remake of an adaptation of a kids tv show inspired by a comic book turned out to be terrible. Well, no, but oddly enough I had hopes that this film would at the very least not be the visual equivalent of nails on a chalk board. I thought to myself “with modern CGI, they can realise the Turtles in a way that hasn’t been possible before, and that part of it might work well”. Unfortunately, they were realised in the most abominable way, and should have been aborted immediately.

The filmmakers decided to add nostrils to the Ninja Turtles and it made them vile to look at. So much so, that internet followers edited the screenshots to “fix” them, and did a pretty good job.

turtle_fixed

Yeah, I think we all prefer number 1. Instead, I had to sit through 101 minutes of that deformed frog thing pointing its grubby fingernails at me and smiling with a mouth full of peanut-butter coloured chiclets. Gross! But enough about Megan Fox, the Turtles were ugly too. Ba Dum-Tsssss!!

Fallen Kings

Exodus

Although I haven’t had the chance to see Exodus: Gods and Kings, its reputation precedes it in more ways than one.

The first hint that this movie was going to be a problem was when the controversial casting was announced. It came to people’s attention that all the important roles had gone to the white actors and minor (often villainous) roles had gone to the brown ones. Since the film is set in biblical Egypt, where everyone would have obviously been Egyptian…this was an issue. It was an issue that no one involved with the film really addressed or worked to solve, but simply barrelled on with confidence that the final product would shut down the haters. Turns out that didn’t work, as Exodus ended up becoming one of the worst reviewed films of the year.

Ridley Scott used to be a great filmmaker. I’m not exactly sure what happened.

interstellar_banner

You can read about this one in detail here, but simply put; Christopher Nolan wasted more money this year than any other single person I can think of. Interstellar is a 160 million dollar turd in a toilet bowl. I can’t remember the last time a filmmaker angered me so much, and to think that until now I was a big fan.

Men_Women_and_Childen

If you like Juno, Up in the Air, Thank You for Smoking, or Young Adult, then you’re a fan of Jason Reitman. He made his name as the architect behind wonderful drama-comedies, or “dramadies”. Then what happened to him? Did you even know that he made another movie this year? I don’t blame you if you didn’t.

Men, Women, & Children has been described as “First World Problems: The Movie”, and I couldn’t agree more. I guess Reitman thinks he made an ensemble film about the connections between people, but seems to have ended up with a sluggish bore-fest about the connections between computers. “The internet can be bad for you” is the redundant theme here. There’s a father who gets addicted to internet porn, a boy who’s addicted to online gaming, a girl who finds herself pressured into anorexia, a series of misunderstandings over someone’s tumblr account, blah blah blah blah….

Monica_Blah

There’s no fucking conflict in this thing. Spoilers! The movie crescendos with a kid trying to commit suicide after his dad blocks his MMORPG account. What??? You’re gonna kill yourself over a video game? Well, don’t let me stop you then. Why am I supposed to care about this?

I know about the hellish pressures of high school as much as anyone, but watching this thing was almost worse than being back there. Do everything you can to avoid this film…everything!

Inherent Vice

I’m a drooling fan of Paul Thomas Anderson. As Nolan has his Nolanites, Anderson has his Andersonites. I am a proud Andersonite! The man can do no wrong. Or can he?

Not every Paul Thomas Anderson film is equal. In descending order or greatness we have; Boogie Nights, Punch Drunk Love, Magnolia, Sydney (Hard Eight), There Will Be Blood, and The Master. Still, a P.T.A. movie is like sex or pizza; even when it’s bad it’s still pretty good…until now, perhaps.

I have been eagerly awaiting Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s apparently unadaptable novel Inherent Vice. It seemed to disappear upon arrival, however, due to a controversial split in opinion. Some critics liked it, most hated it. I haven’t heard of a single person who completely loves it, though, and that’s unusual for an Anderson picture.

I have yet to see the film myself, and maybe that one contrarian fan could turn out to be me, but I’m woefully worried that this may in fact be the first entirely bad Paul Thomas Anderson film I’ve seen in my life. I’m not sure I want to live in that world, to be honest.

Jersey Boys

Before Clint Eastwood found himself in the crosshairs of the American Sniper controversy, he made a movie that absolutely everyone agreed on.

Jersey Boys was unanimously hated by critics and audiences alike. “Boring typical pointlessness” was one of the best summations I heard. Eastwood is considered to be an elite filmmaker, so I’m sure it gave no one pleasure to cast rocks at this abhorrent thing. It deserved it, though, that’s for sure. If you enjoyed the stage show, don’t taint your memory of it with this tripe.

Monuments_Men

I suppose I should have known that this would be the year of fallen kings when The Monuments Men was oddly pushed from December 2013 into February 2014, all at the 11th hour.

Directed by George Clooney himself, and boasting a stellar cast of old and new comedic/dramatic heavyweights, The Monuments Men was originally being sold as a contender for last year’s Academy Awards. That all changed when the studio heads who financed the film actually saw it. It was awful, so panic set in and the decision was made to shove it into February where it would have less competition. It didn’t work. Poorly told and ineffectively preachy, The Monuments Men expects us to care as much about the burning of paintings during WWII as we do about the 50 million people who lost their lives. I’m don’t know about you but I’m having…

Little_trouble

 Pointless Controversies

American_Sniper

I alluded to the American Sniper controversy earlier, so let’s talk about it.

Chris Kyle was a Texan who shot 160 people using a sniper rifle and then wrote a book about it. Apparently that’s a sufficient story on which to base a movie these days. The tagline for the film is “the most lethal sniper in U.S. history”. Wonderful.

Hard right wingers love this movie and softy lefties struggle with it, so pick a side. Either you think this guy’s a hero or not. Either way you’re bound to have someone argue with you, so honestly…who  cares?

It’s a mediocre film at best. It flips back and forth between realism and fantasy in the most ludicrous way, pitting a gritty true-to-life PTSD sufferer against a mythical “evildoing” sharpshooter inspired by Prince of Persia. The film never tries to explain who the “savages” Chris Kyle shoots actually are. They’re just a persistent cruel force that chews the bullets he delivers to them over and over and over and over again. Every so often he calls his wife and she cries, so that’s meant to make us care. Then, right in the middle of the “drama” we see the real controversy.

Fake_Baby

In one scene a plastic baby doll shows up and completely distracts you from the drama. You cannot help but laugh after noticing it. To make matters worse, both Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller treat the thing like a bag of spuds. Eastwood could have obscured it somehow, but was obviously “feeling lucky” and just shot the thing with his original camera setup. Well, it’s all up there in high definition now. Type “American Sniper fake baby” into youtube and see if you agree with those who think the fake baby should be nominated for an Oscar.

Who are we kidding, though, this whole movie was a fake baby. I feel sorry for Chris Kyle’s family and all that they have to go through, but i’m so not interested in this Hurt Locker ripoff.

The_Interview

We all remember The Interview controversy, where North Korea hacked the computers of Sony executives and employees because they didn’t like Kim Jong-un being spoofed in the latest Seth Rogan/James Franco comedy. They leaked tons of awkward but ultimately useless information and, as a parting gift, left a threat in ‘engrish’.

“We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places The Interview be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to. Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made. The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.) Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment. All the world will denounce the SONY.”

–  North Korean hackers

There still remains a large amount of scepticism as to whether the North Koreans actually did the hacking. They themselves denied it but said it was “a righteous deed”, which is a bit like saying “No, I didn’t poison you…and I hope it hurts!”

It didn’t matter to Sony though, they shit their pants after hearing “all your base are belong to us” and pulled The Interview from almost every screen in the country. Then, after a mountain of criticism, they sheepishly decided to bleed it out on the internet for every capable 12 year-old to torrent.

Well, at least the film was good, right? Not really. It was fine, as far as I was concerned, but nabbed quite a few nominations at the Golden Raspberry awards. Most of the funny jokes are in the first 30 minutes and I’m grateful to North Korea for saving me $20.

Dreadful Debuts

Winters_Tale

This year we had the (long awaited?) directorial debut of Akiva Goldsman. That may not be a name you’re familiar with, but to many it’s a thunderous warning of terrible things to come. Akiva has been a notorious scriptwriter in Hollywood for decades. His credits include the two worst Batman scripts, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, as well as other dented projects like I, Robot and The Da Vinci Code.

This year he got to direct his first movie, and of course it was a total disaster. The word “mess” is often thrown around undeservedly, but this time it’s scorchingly accurate. Winter’s Tale is a movie that makes no logical, consistent, or comprehensible sense. It’s thematically all over the place and doesn’t even seem to know what sort of world it wants to create. I suppose Goldsman’s philosophy was that cutesy love would overpower the confusing plot. Bad move!

The film starts with a baby boy who is sent to New York in a tiny boat because his parents are refused entry into the city. The baby is raised by a thieving gang being led by an Irish demon working for Satan. When the child is grown up, he splits from the gang and randomly finds a magic horse that can fly. This horse is referred to as a “dog” for reasons that are never explained, like the existence of the horse itself. Our hero meets a woman dying of Tuberculosis, and has a short fling with her before she is poisoned and dies. After that he achieves the power of immortality (or possibly reincarnation, I’m not sure), again for no reason, but develops amnesia. For 100 years he draws chalk images of the girl he loved but can’t remember and then meets up with her sister who’s running a newspaper agency at 106 years of age, before contemplating hooking up with her daughter. The End.

are_you_kidding

I realise I just spoiled the whole thing but…come on! How on earth can anyone defend this concept, let alone the execution? It’s no Princess Bride, no matter how hard it tries to be. I dare say that even the most naive teenage girl will lose patience with this crap.

Transendence_banner

I was in two minds about seeing Transcendence, and eventually used one of my lifelines to help me decide. I asked the audience and received and overwhelming yes. Thank you for your responses, but in the end it was not a winning decision. I’m as much a fan of Wally Pfister’s cinematography as I once was of Christopher Nolan’s directing, and that’s why the existence of this movie saddens me. It may prove to be the first and last Wally Pfister film ever made, because of how boring and stupid it is. Normally a first debut gets the benefit of the doubt, but with a $100 million price tag, its box office failure is a damning smear on Pfister’s name. I suspect we’ll see him crawl back to cinematography for the foreseeable future.

Water_Diviner

And so we arrive at the final stroke, the straw that completely breaks the back of this malnourished, beaten camel.

The Water Diviner is the first movie directed by Russell Crowe, and it hurts more than I ever thought it would. I’ve never been a fan of Crowe as an actor. I find that he gets a lot of praise for contributing very little. It’s no surprise to me, therefore, that his directorial skills are equally over-privileged and under-developed. Like Winter’s Tale, there are a lot of random plot lines and decisions in this movie that never go anywhere.

Russell Crowe plays a water diviner (which has almost no relevance to the plot) whose sons are killed in the Battle of Gallipoli, so he has to go find their bodies and bring them home. Along the way, he stays in a Turkish hotel and falls in love with a woman who’s easily 20 years younger than him.

I have no idea what this film was trying to do or say. For a start, it’s funded by Channel 7 and subsequently looks like it. The entire aesthetic reminds me of Neighbours and Home and Away. A lot of fuss has been made about the inclusion of a “Turkish perspective” on Gallipoli, but Crowe seems more intent on having an inappropriate romance with Olga Kurylenko. Many of the actors portraying Turks are also not Turkish, as it happens. Kurylenko is Ukranian, and the other Turkish women are portrayed by Australian actors Isabel Lucas and Megan Gale with the added help of dark makeup and poorly approximated accents. A Turkish child who bonds with Crowe’s character over the course of the film is played by the aussie child actor Dylan Georgiades, who learnt a couple of Turkish phrases phonetically so he could pull off the illusion. Where is the outrage about this, at a time when Exodus is getting such a flogging for its racially inappropriate cast?

Nationalities are the least of the problems here, though. Crowe has proven himself to be totally inept behind a camera. For starters, there is no attempt at interesting blocking or camera setup. Actors simply walk into rooms and start spilling their garbage soap-opera dialogue in the manner of a cheap 1970’s porno. Awkward silences and frozen postures make you wonder if any of the actors have actually been on a movie set before. The shoddy attempts at humour all fall flat and provoked mere groans from the audience I saw it with. Good God, it was atrocious!

Worst of all, the film was met with rapturous applause by Australian critics. I used to wonder why our film industry was so poor, but now I know. It’s because we don’t require any better. Throw a good dose of “Australianism” in there and it’ll be a smash, right? That’s what people seem to think. The Water Diviner features the obligatory horses, hats, farmland, red dirt, accents, phrases, and even a game of cricket…all instead of a good story. Australians, can we please stop kissing our own sphincters and demand good films instead of just Australian films? Russell Crowe, shame on you for dragging us down further into the wasteland of cultural self-obsession. You need to do better, much better.

In fact, that goes for all of you. Do not let 2014 repeat itself! Next year I expect quality and quantity!

Up_with_this_I_will_not_put

2 thoughts on “New Year’s Resolution

  1. Pingback: Tough Race | Cinema Rant

  2. Pingback: Fifteen of Fourteen | Cinema Rant

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