Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The 10 Worst Movies Of 2013

10. LONE SURVIVOR (d. Peter Berg)
The opening of Peter Berg’s supposed passion project (he volunteered for “Battleship” to get this off the ground – pound of flesh) is actual footage of Navy SEAL training. And as the heroic Explosions In The Sky score suggests, this is the origin of heroes, of men who will shape the world through brawn and attitude. And then the footage continues, and it begins to get a bit frightening. Suddenly, these troops are being cursed at, deprived of oxygen, tied up and brutalized. This montage ends in these soldiers graduating from the academy and meeting with friends and family, smiles on their faces. And then the next segment of footage, befitting the title, features a helicopter returning to base with one soldier, bleeding to death, punctured and annihilated. That’s the philosophy of modern war films, where we show the sacrifices the troops make without ever extolling the virtues of what we’re fighting for in the first place. The rest of “Lone Survivor,” believe it or not, is even more punishing, as a team of SEALS end up in an unwinnable situation and proceed to get torn up in some of the most visceral gun violence ever on the big screen. I’m not sure what this movie is really about, but it was a lot like getting shot at for two hours.

9. DRACULA 3D (d. Dario Argento)
What is this contemporary anti-art that is Dario Argento’s “Dracula 3D”? This retro retelling of the legendary saga pretends that there’s never been a Dracula movie made before, framing the action against a green screen background that wouldn’t pass muster on a PBS show and stranding poor, possibly sick Rutger Hauer with prose that no actor can sell. It’s bad in a post-modern way, where you find it hard to imagine that it’s being acted out by the likes of Hauer and Asia Argento, and not a couple of castoffs from the “Tim And Eric” world. At the very least, there is a sequence with a CGI praying mantis that ranks as one of the few moments this year where I honestly believed I was hallucinating in the theater.

8. BLACK ROCK (d. Kate Aselton)/YOU’RE NEXT (d. Adam Wingard)
I want this to be about the movies. I do. I want to talk about how these two films are byproducts of the horrid mumblecore era, one that has produced some strong films and a couple of great filmmakers, but has also resulted in a bunch of inorganically inarticulate films about people suffering from arrested development. I want to talk about how both films are joyless, pointlessly brutal, idiotic horror films that, befitting the mumblecore ethos, look like absolute shit. “You’re Next” peppers in some amusing humor, but it’s loaded with so much more shaky-cam bullshit than “Black Rock” that it’s basically a dead heat.

But again, and I am really not a trooper for this sort of thing, but both films feature disillusioned, psychopathic army vets as the villains. And there’s not one iota of believable character development to illustrate the mindsets of these rapey assholes. In “Black Rock” they’re dumbass blunt instruments, howling at the sky and firing wildly after three innocent girls. And in “You’re Next,” they’re killers for hire, mercenaries who walk into a Kevin McCallister trap because they were paid by someone to take out a miserable family of rich assholes. I have no qualms with negative depictions of the armed forces provided they’re interesting, three-dimensional portrayals. But when you just throw in some Fallujah, some racism, sexism, and general friendly-fire hate, you just look exactly what Aselton and Wingard are: a couple of attractive white filmmakers who hated every day they had to punch a clock, and who openly scoff when someone says “Support The Troops.” Maybe next time make a competent, good-looking, interesting film, and we can talk about your hatred for the armed forces and your feeble, de-politicized critique of the military-industrialized complex.



7. CBGB (d. Randall Miller)
Do you really have to know about CBGB’s to take issue with “CBGB”? To note that Iggy Pop (played here, cheaply, by non-actor Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters) never actually played there? To assess that owner Hilly Kristal (Alan Rickman, awful) was not the brain-dead slacker who accidentally stumbled upon some of the greatest bands of all time? To know New York so well as to realize that the picture was actually shot in Canada? Not really, no. From the early moments of comic book pop-ups on the screen informing the action, we can tell something’s really off. The flop-sweat pours off this film as every d-lister shows up to announce themselves (“Hi, we’re The Police!”) before unconvincingly lip-synching another classic. It makes every time you hear “Life During Wartime” feel like a squirm-fest, considering it’s only here because David Byrne name-checks CBGB’s in the song, and as each legend shows up, almost all of them depicted as dimbulb assholes, you start to actively wonder if CBGB’s was that great a place to begin with. If this movie was made to actively slander one of the greatest musical institutions of the 20th century, congratulations guys.

6. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (d. JJ Abrams)
What hath “Save The Cat” wrought?
This is what Hollywood thinks of us. If we don’t watch our asses, this is what every blockbuster will be like. Plots that don’t mean anything. Ineffectual villains that waver between good and bad guys not because of moral ambiguity, but because of shoddy characterization. Endless fake conflicts. Plot threads picked up and dropped at a moment’s notice. Logic purposely pretzeled so that viewers won’t realize the plot is a tangle of coincidences and happenstance. Empty echoes of 9/11, not because it’s horrible, but because it’s the vocabulary people recognize. Ethnic white-washing. And fan-service, gleeful fan-service, one that allows a character to almost literally poke himself into another film to ask what the rest of the plot entails. This is some end-of-cinema shit, people.

5. ARTHUR NEWMAN (d. Dante Ariola)
I sat through the entirety of “Arthur Newman,” a melting vanilla ice cream of a movie, wondering exactly who it was for. The idea of Colin Firth as a disillusioned middle-age burnout is re-enacted in a manner so politely that it seems all participants didn’t want to break any glass. But then there’s Firth’s golf pro alter ego going doggystyle on Emily Blunt’s Manic Pixie Dreamgirl and you realize this this script was probably at one point some incisive observation of an spoiled older white man at a crossroads, greenlit because it hit home to some graying financier, then smoothed down to a generic sheen when said financier realized it was too incisive, too combative. You almost feel bad, because the film is terrible in several boring, familiar ways (there’s nothing less relatable than both Firth and Blunt using affected, clearly fake American accents) that you’re certain anyone who hated it likely forgot about it immediately. Indeed, I had to consult my notes to realize I saw this earlier in the year, and not in spring 2008 or December ’10. Rail on the blockbusters all you want, with their endless orgies of CGI and violence, but this was probably the single most boring film of 2013.

4. THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (d. Ben Stiller)
A remake in name only to the original Don Knotts movie, this comic fantasia aims for the sort of emotional immediacy found in credit card commercials, where bank accounts are an imagined limit, and any working stiff white guy can blast the doldrums away with a little high adventure. But you wouldn’t want the comforts of home too far behind – billed below director/star Ben Stiller (vanity project) and participants Kristen Wiig (paid handsomely), Sean Penn (thought he was in different movie), Shirley McClaine (wanted to get out of the house), Adam Scott (embarrassed) and Patton Oswalt (shameless) should be Papa John’s and Cinnabon, among the various intrusive brand names that decorate this ode to capitalism and greeting card reality, the product of a millionaire who has long such lost his interest in telling plausible stories about real people. “Carpe diem” has never been so insincere.

3. GROWN UPS 2 (d. Dennis Dugan)
Congratulations to the $247 million (!) worth of people globally who watched Adam Sandler and his cohorts defecate onscreen for almost two hours in “Grown Ups” and said, “Hey, maybe this one won’t be wookie rape.” You clearly have second chances in your heart that I can’t muster, forgiveness that blossoms inside you in a place where surely I am dead inside. I assume you are all active community members and charity contributors, and not inhuman assholes who think farting on Salma Hayek is a killer punchline. Bless your hearts, for surely you aren’t murdering cinema, but actually giving your heart to the rest of us, showing us the way to forgive when multi-millionaires sleepwalk through expensive vanity projects flaunting their own flagrant bad taste.
2. R.I.P.D. (D. Robert Schwentke)
Bad movies used to be like found objects, accidental low budget curiosities soon forgotten because of an openly dismissive attitude from its principals, all of whom wish they could be someone else. In the modern era, they can’t be hidden, because most of the time studios spend hundreds of millions on them, stranding big stars in front of gratuitous special effects that are overused to the point of pornography. In that respect, “R.I.P.D.” is something of a perfect found object, an item so wrong that, for a minute, you forget at one point it was meant as a multimedia phenomenon, and not something to be thoughtlessly tossed into the wilds of a summer marketplace in a way that everyone wished they could forget. Jeff Bridges looks not only annoyed to be doing his umpteenth angry cowboy routine, but determined to will this desperately Looney Tunes-ish premise to life by sheer obnoxiousness, even if “broad idiot comedy” isn’t in his wheelhouse. And poor, pretty, dumb Ryan Reynolds is somehow playing his resurrected lawman as if someone told him it was a “Lethal Weapon” reboot, full of misplaced angst and outright rage. Both of them look pained to spend time with each other, and fully aware they’re in the midst of a disaster of a film that doesn’t work in any single way.

1. THE PURGE (d. James DeMonaco)
Man, Platinum Dunes is nothing if not consistent. Every year, these guys put out a serious contender for worst of the year (2014’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is an early frontrunner) and they may have topped themselves with this ugly, stupid stabfest that fails on almost every conceivable level. The premise - involving one day of unmonitored crime - is spectacular in how quickly the logic dissolves. The violence is poorly shot, dreadfully lit and neither enjoyable nor incriminating. The idea of these crimes being thinly-veiled class warfare for rich whites against under-equipped poor minorities is also fairly ripe - except that this is the type of movie that wants to indulge in the violence it scolds you for enjoying, while showing a racist side to its characters despite only one black character who nobly sacrifices himself for a white family and doesn’t even have a name. In other words, just another jackass movie made to critique the same shitty cheap-thrill ugliness of people while not-so-secretly loving every minute of it. Motherfuck Platinum Dunes to the high heavens, now and forever.

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