Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Ten Worst Movies Of 2012

10. Hitchcock
There’s nothing worse than that sinking feeling you get when, a half hour into a movie, you realize that they aren’t joking. That the embrace of cheap artifice and glib laughs is actually meant to be sincere, and it’s not some sort of elaborate conceptual joke or spoof. Consider me stunned that we were supposed to take this dime-store psychology approach to Alfred Hitchcock seriously, give or take a few laughs, usually at the expense of how gay Anthony Perkins is. Even the jowly, dubious makeup on Anthony Hopkins is a misfire, as he delivers all his lines by quite obviously arching his back, growling and bearing his teeth, which further emphasizes a poor impersonation as substitute for performance. That may be a fitting metaphor for this howlingly-obvious attempt to plumb Hitchcock’s psyche during the making of “Psycho,” which boils down to the fact that he didn’t appreciate his wife (Helen Mirren, animal wig), letting her stray into the hands of an oily writer (Danny Huston, always awful). “Hitchcock” is tone-deaf, a tacky disaster with nary a single solid performance or clever line, and zero insight into the actual making of “Psycho,” which no longer seems like the work of an artist at the top of his game, but according to “Hitchcock” was more or less a self-directed accident.
9. Red Dawn
The bulk of “Red Dawn” feels overly conceptual, like an avant-guarde filmmaker attempting to boil an action movie down to its very essence. The problem is that “Red Dawn” is the debut of skilled second-unit action director Dan Bradley, who previously concerned himself with bodies in motion, cars, cranes, planes and trains. And Bradley reveals his notable shortcomings not only by shooting the action incomprehensibly, assuming sound and fury will do all the work, but he’s a non-starter when the momentum slows – poor guy just isn’t used to dealing with people. As such, this overtly racist narrative falters on its own when we’re forced to care for the characters, particularly braindead Josh Peck, who looks like he’s just filling the screen until someone more exciting comes along. Credit Bradley for an audacious passage-of-time montage that conveys absolutely no sense of time passing, however: as the Wolverines head to the woods to learn self-defense and weapon skills, it could be days, weeks or even months in which these Central Casting teens (complete with blacks and Hispanics, quietly pushed to the back of the group) train to fight the villainous interlopers. Who seem Chinese, but are actually North Korean. With help from Russia. Or something. Whatever.
8. This Is Forty
7. People Like Us
I want to say this has nothing to do with race, but that would be a lot easier if these films had less-definitive titles, like “Insufferable L.A. Couple” or “Terrible Dickhead Has Lame Secret.” But since they insisted on being inclusive, I can only recognize how exclusive they really are. The former, the worst of Judd Apatow’s “joints” thus far, uses our familiarity with Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s semi-unhappy couple (and it’s not a strong familiarity for most of us) to skip the usual Apatow-esque charming-screwup introductions, landing us right in the middle of a series of yelling matches between shrill, obnoxious Mann and spineless, apathetic Rudd. It’s the sort of movie that someone only makes when they’re rich with fuck-you money, when they expect you to see a fluctuating mortgage onscreen and assume that the solution isn’t to eliminate spending freely, but to tighten up their diets, which involves tossing perfectly good food into the garbage instead of taking it to a shelter or perhaps even a less-fortunate loved one (does anyone think Lena Dunham’s record company employee is paying her rent with any ease?). More importantly, several of Apatow’s ringers aren’t here to improv their way out of here: for a supposed comedy legend, Apatow’s fourth directorial effort simply isn’t funny in the least, attempting to wiggle out of poorly-written corners with some Charleyne Yi schtick, or bumbling Jason Segel gag, or even some roundabout discussion of “Lost” that gives absolutely no insight as to why the show is popular and/or hated (though John Lithgow’s furrowed brow accidentally speaks volumes).
From those terrible assholes Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci comes “People Like Us,” which is meant to be their atonement for penning “Transformers” and “Star Trek” variants all over Hollywood. Here, the duo reveal their knowledge of real people comes exclusively from movies, with insufferable Chris Pine as a rich boy who inherits a large sum from his dead father, but who can’t bring himself to tell his secretly estranged sister. Of course, he’ll still introduce himself, non-romantically entering her life under the aegis of just being some friendly stranger that only exists in movies. Poor Elizabeth Banks, who has to perform this hoodwinked character with every shred of her dignity – there may be no better actress stuck in worse movies right now. I made a crack on Twitter about how co-star Mark Duplass probably hung out on set bragging about using the budget to make twenty movies exactly like this, and just as crummy, and he went after me. Telling that he expected me and him to be able to join forces in an “indie brotherhood” of sorts; this is the sort of movie that assholes make in their off-hours.
6. Battleship
It takes a lot of guts to go full retard as Peter Berg did with “Battleship,” a honest-to-God adaptation of the board game that I still can’t believe exists. This naval warfare movie, which wouldn’t even leave the pitch meeting as a joke on “The Critic,” suggests that a little bit of military might goes a long way, even for such a screwup as tail-chasing Taylor Kitsch, still infatuated with the general’s daughter even after ending up falling ass-backwards into the Naval Academy. It’s snobs vs. slobs on the high seas for a while, until aliens land, getting pissy when we decide to strike the first blow. What follows is CGI nonsense of the highest order, with absolutely no point of view, no perspective, and no thrills. The aliens are completely indistinct characters with opaque motivations, and our heroes are vengeance-driven jerks out to measure their dicks instead of save the world. The first half manages to hit some candy-colored sweet spot as far as incompetent, grisly sci-fi action, showing that Berg, for all his blank machismo, knows what he’s doing behind the camera. But soon the plot gets bogged down in logistics and MacGuffin-chasing, leaving poor Taylor Kitsch to yell coordinates at other soldiers (including Rihanna, because of course) in a large scale version of the game. If you’re going to be that ridiculous (ending the film with “Fortunate Son”!), maybe you should have had the balls to have SOMEONE say “You sank my Battleship.”
5. The Campaign
How do you screw this up? The new media marketplace seems to suggest that funny people be funny all the time – it’s not enough to do some amusing movies, you have to also provide yuks on YouTube, Twitter, television specials, and cameos in other peoples’ movies. So, I suppose, there’s a built-in excuse for why Funny Or Die regulars Will Ferrell and Zack Galifianakis didn’t even bring their D-game to this attempt at shooting fish in a barrel. Despite being separated by Democrat and Republican party lines, there’s not much that distinguishes Ferrell’s brassy lout from Galifianakis’ dimwit rube politically, which pushes all the “smart stuff” to the side in favor of these two goofballs openly mocking and thrashing at each other, while the Motch brothers (a toothless parody of the Koch’s) pull the strings from the sidelines. “The Campaign” is one of the few comedies that would benefit from a PG-13 rating instead of an R, as most of the gags seem to hinge on a not-particularly-well-timed “F” word, the film employing vulgarity as a crutch to the point where it’s just boring. And being released in the midst of a ludicrous election cycle which saw several candidates make a mockery of the Republican party, it couldn’t even measure up to what we were seeing on our television every night.
4. This Means War
Distinctly desperate-to-please and succeeding in absolutely zero ways, the stupefying failure “This Means War” tries to be something for everyone, not understanding how exactly it’s insulting each specific demographic. By trying to be female friendly with a lady “player” at its center (Reese Witherspoon, lost), it only makes her oblivious to the fact that she’s actually a pawn in a dick-measuring contest. By trying to be an action picture, there’s very little combat, with villain Til Schwieger only emerging as a threat in the last ten minutes. As a workplace comedy, it looks as if CIA agents Chris Pine (obnoxious) and Tom Hardy (uncomfortable) work inside a goddamned IPod and do almost nothing all day. As a slapstick comedy, it’s impossible to note that, in both of them pursuing this woman, they’re using sitcom techniques (oh no, the sprinklers!) in an absolutely absurd abuse of taxpayer money. As a romance, it turns its lead female into an object to be “won” by two jerks who lie to her, with the assumption that audiences will root for her to end up with one of them despite Pine and Hardy having more chemistry with each other. But if this were a Target commercial, I suppose it would be alright.
3. Act Of Valor
The best thing about “Act Of Valor” is that it’s really only a few degrees removed from a parody. Maybe it’s the heroes with devoted wives at home, descending onto a terrorist’s yacht populated by supermodels in bikinis, who literally vanish when bullets start flying – do they evaporate? Perhaps it’s the terrorists, members of Al Queda, working with Mexican drug cartels, with ties to the Russian mafia, who probably tried but couldn’t also get the Yakuza involved as well. Or maybe it’s the horrifying supposed-to-be-awesome visual of a couple of “bad guys” turning a corner, only to be greeted with a relentless hail of gunfire, the type of brute force that separates our state-of-the-art heroes from the peasants with shotguns they’re literally dismantling. “Act Of Valor” isn’t a movie, it’s a showreel: for the military, for the War on Terror, and for the directing team the Bandito Brothers, who must have flipped a coin to determine whether they’d make “Act Of Valor” or shoot hardcore porn.  
2. American Animal
Writer-director-star Matt D’Elia is the one-man wrecking crew behind this, one of the year’s most defiantly obnoxious pictures of the year, a towering tribute to egotism which D’Elia would likely argue was “beside the point.” In this claustrophobic comedy/drama/torture chamber, D’Elia plays a rich young man who inherited a fortune and has spent it staying inside his roomy two-floor studio apartment, doing whatever he pleases under the auspice of “puttin’ on the ritz.” Each moment is an opportunity for him to perform to a nonexistent audience, via costumes, “funny” voices and absurd proclamations, regardless of how anyone reacts. The assumption is that this has finally reached a head when similarly wealthy roommate Brendan Fletcher announces he’s got a job that starts the next day, prompting D’Elia’s newfound aggression and antagonism. Except that Fletcher’s performance suggests that he did not forsee this: the film’s attitude seems to be that D’Elia is the world’s most obnoxious man all the time, but Fletcher’s dialogue and actions make it appear as if D’Elia’s behavior is some sort of out-of-the-blue surprise. Which makes perfect sense, given that “American Animal” is a beyond-intolerable performance film dedicated to seeing D’Elia romp around in his underwear, tell jokes without punchlines, and generally act like a foul wart of a human being, logic be damned. The saddest part of it all is that three other actors had to witness this bullshit in person.
1. The Hunger Games
Absolutely dunderheaded in every way, Gary Ross’ disastrous adaption of the YA novel pussyfoots around literalizing the horrors of violence at the heart of the story, which is weird because everything else feels so obvious and spelled-out as to become redundant. Each scene in “The Hunger Games” slogs forward with almost no purpose, few with any payoff, as characters vacillate between extremes – Haymitch is an unclean, drunken jerk who is also sometimes a super ninja, and excellent at politics! Meanwhile, Ross’ world-building falters immensely, as he fails to show how life in the Districts is any different from a CMT music video, nevermind how impoverished representative Katniss (a too-old Jennifer Lawrence) doesn’t even bat an eyelid at the improbable food spread in front of her once she volunteers for the Games. The cities themselves seem populated only by fashion rejects from a Lady Gaga concert, all CGI in the background while we’re stuck inside endless marble rooms to witness the pathetic politics of the game play out, particularly within the unconvincing romance between Katniss and dwarfy camouflage-master Peeta. Oh, and let’s pick your favorite minority character: is it the black fashion designer who boosts Katniss’ confidence and fits her for a terribly-unconvincing CGI fire dress? Is it the black little girl who breaks the rules of the competition to save Katniss for almost no reason whatsoever, paying for her kindness with her life? Or maybe it’s the male black teenager who vows not to harm Katniss because of the kindness the girl showed towards her, only to quickly meet death himself? Man, black people sure love Katniss Everdeen.


  1. (Danny Huston, always awful)

    *shrugs* I've always though Danny Huston was great, ever since "The Constant Gardener". What caused you to dislike him BEFORE you saw this film that hasn't been released in my country yet?

    more or less a self-directed accident

    A self-directed accident? How can something be both a personal accident and personally directed? Isn't that an oxymoron? *scratches head*

    What did you think of the HBO movie "The Girl" about Hitchcock's sexual harrassment of Tippi Hedren, starring Toby Jones?

  2. As in, "Psycho" directed itself, essentially. By accident.

    I did not see "The Girl."

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