Archive for the ‘Black Sunday’ Category

Worst movies by Great (or at least Good) directors: Part I

August 18, 2007

Everyone has their missteps. Heck, even The Beatles had “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”, which was by all standards absolutely awful. And so it is with movie directors who ordinarily turn in pretty good, nay, great work. Let’s look at some of them, shall we?

The Beach, Danny Boyle. After Trainspotting, but before 28 Days (and Weeks) Later, Boyle got this gig, Leonardo DiCaprio’s first film after Titanic. Much pressure was on Boyle and company, and this adaptaton of an Alex Garland movie was doomed from the git-go, what with problems with weather while filming on location. The movie couldn’t possibly have lived up to the hype it generated, but it was simply a bad idea. The only saving grace is the awesome scenery.

Black Sunday, John Frankenheimer. This 1977 “thriller” is about a terrorist plot to kill a bunch of people during the Super Bowl, but it’s largely suspenseless and dull. This from the man who directed The Manchurian Candidate and Birdman of Alcatraz. What was he thinking? No, don’t answer that; it’s rhetorical, that means you don’t have to answer. Frankenheimer probably needed the cash. But at least you get to see Bruce Dern unhinged, and you know that never happens in movies.

Bonfire of the Vanities, Brian DePalma. DePalma might be a copycat of Hitchcock, but his movies are generally pretty good entertainment. Blow Out was good, dammit, and so were The Untouchables and Dressed to Kill. But this bloated sea of entropy was downright awful, with uninspired casting, dreadful directing, and laughable dialog – from a Tom Wolfe novel, no less. And to make it all clear how bad this is, some awesome actors were involved – Tom Freakin Hanks! Bruce Willis! Morgan Freeman! The hell? These guys are great, and yet..

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, Joe Berlinger. Back in 1993, Berlinger made a great documentary called Brother’s Keeper about four siblings who lived in the same tiny shack in upstate New York, until one of them killed another of them. It’s a tremendous, honest look at not only the crime but also the lives of the reclusive brothers. Seven years after making this documentary, Berlinger was handed the reins of the Blair Witch sequel; people either loved or hated the original, and many revered its anarchic, low-budget approach. Since the original made so much money, there was a sizable budget allowed for the sequel. Instead of making a plausible follow-up, Berlinger instead had a bunch of crappy wannabe journalists and “fans” show up in the same woods to have the same crap happen again. The acting was completely nonexistent, and any relation to the first movie was coincidental. It’s an embarrassment. Berlinger should have instead made it as a documentary about the first one!

The Brothers Grimm, Terry Gilliam. Gilliam has a wonderful imagination and odd sense of humor (coming from the Monty Python troupe, of course), so why did he dredge up this dreck? The leads (H. Ledger and M. Damon) aren’t appealing, although the visuals are good. Trivia: Gilliam refused to allow Damon to wear a prosthetic nose in the movie, leading the latter to do so in his Ocean’s Thirteen. But Grimm is confused about what it wants to be, and therefore it’s master of nothing.

Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, Bob Clark. Yes, the man who brought you A Christmas Story and Porky’s started out with this awful junk. The “children” are the minions of a film director who wants to make a scary movie. I think I’m selectively blocking out what the dead things are, but the movie’s terrible from start to finish, with crappy production and a disinterested cast. Boring. But then again, it IS Canadian.

Cool World, Ralph Bakshi. The man brought us Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic! He was a great animation artist! And then, in 1992, he unleashed this crap on us. Kim Basinger plays a cartoon who yearns for the real world, and she gets her wish when Gabriel Bryne brings her here. Only it turns out that’s bad, for reasons that escape me now. But here’s the thing – Basinger’s SO unsexy, her ‘toon form is a sex goddess by comparison. Sure, that’s Basinger’s fault, but trust me, it’s a muddled, dark, listless pile o’ dung.

Gosford Park, Robert Altman. Altman was a genius, yes, although for most people he was just as bad as he was good. He was innovative, people! Actors mouthing dialog over each other, heck, that was a new thing in 1970. Used to be, you’d have to wait for Hepburn to quit jabbering before you could get your lines in, but I digress. Altman was behind Gosford Park, which somehow I forgot to review. Oh well, let me put it here – it was convoluted and confusing, and with so many British accents floating about, I had trouble figuring out what the heck was even being said, let along following a coherent plot. It was all pointless.

Internal Affairs, Mike Figgis. Figgis would go on to direct Leaving Las Vegas, which won scores of awards.This one’s about a bad cop (Richard Gere) and the cat-and-mouse game he plays with the division of the title, represented by Andy Garcia. Both actors are pretty troubling, but Gere’s performance is constipated, even for him.

Jade, William Friedkin. What do you do when your romantic leads don’t have any chemistry? Well, apparently you make the movie anyway. Starring Linda Fiorentino (who knows from neo-noir), Chazz Palminteri (who does, too), and David Caruso (wha?). Makes you long for The Exorcist to possess all three of them. What should have been titillating was merely dull.

Life Stinks, Mel Brooks. If Brooks weren’t in this dud, you’d never have ascertained he was behind the camera, too. A rich man is bet he can’t survive 30 days on the street, and thereupon he finds the True Meaning of Life. Not Laughs. Mining the homeless for jibes seems like shooting fish in a barrel, but first you have to get the fish into the barrel, then select the right gun, and … eh, let’s face it, Brooks shot his comedy wad a long while ago. This one was deadingly flat.

Man on the Moon, Milos Forman. Forman, the auteur who gave us One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, stumbled with this biopic of comic Andy Kaufman, who died young after living oddly. The trouble is that no one understand Kaufman any more after watching the movie than they did before it, and this was a man who’s life was screaming to be understood. He seemed strongly unlikable, which made him an odd selection of a biography in the first place. It’s a worthless mess.

Match Point, Woody Allen. Yes, many people despise him for shacking up with his stepdaughter, or adopted daughter, or whoever she is. Fine, whaddever. But beyond that, Allen’s made some truly wonderful films, such as Manhattan, Annie Hall, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Bullets over Broadway, and Hannah and Her Sisters and is regarded as an auteur. But for his misstep, I give you Match Point, the worst of the bunch. Yes, he’s done some unsatisfying movies over the years, particularly in his sixties and seventies, but this one’s the worst because everyone ELSE seemed to think it was perfect. Boggles the mind. It was SO bad. The lead actor couldn’t act, and the movie takes a wild left-hand turn about three-fourths through it that makes no sense – and then is intractably predictable the rest of the way. Implausible and unlikable.

Panic Room, David Fincher. The man gave us Fight Club, Seven, and even The Game, and we get this, too? Anytime you keep the action in a movie confined to one room, you’re in trouble. Even Jodie Foster can’t save this junk – the added touch of the ugly daughter being sick was just treacly enough to induce vomiting. The only standout is Forest Whitaker as one of the three bad guys. Otherwise, it’s useless.

Red Eye, Wes Craven. There’s little suspense, since most of the action takes place on a plane that’s NOT being hijacked, and even when we get off the damn plane, the movie turns into the most predictable pile of glop ever. Rachel McAdams is agreeably perky, and Cillian Murphy makes a good bad guy, but the whole thing’s flat – and why the hell is Craven involved, anyway?

The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes Anderson. A pastiche of rich, unlikable bastards, and it’s supposed to be funny AND heartwarming! I liked Bill Murray, but Paltrow, the Wilson boys, Hackman, and Huston seemed useless. This is the kind of movie that makes you wanna fall into a distant state of ennui. Drugs might help. There’s not one character, aside from Murray’s, maybe, who you don’t want to club sideways with a two-by-four.

Scream and Scream 2, Wes Craven (again). Craven makes the list three times! Why yes, I’d love to see a scary movie, but instead I’m watching this junk. Love the fact that it snarks on previous horror movies, but it does so with such an aren’t-we-so-freakin-clever attitude that you want to slap the smugness off its face. Yeah, we get it, LIFE IS LIKE A HORROR MOVIE. Amazingly, when the horror geek lists all the things dumbass heroines do in horror movies, everyone goes out and does them. The parodies – the Scary Movies – were much better, for the most part.

Vanilla Sky, Cameron Crowe. Ooh, look! Tom Cruise, Movie Guy, playing a guy who’s disfigured! I’m sure his master thespian skills will shine! And he’s up against fellow legend of the acting profession Cameron Diaz! How could there be a better movie out there, with these two throwin’ down histrionics? Man, when Jason Lee gives the best performance in your movie, dude, you so suck. Irony alert: Look at the poster. He’s not disfigured, is he? And yet he IS disfigured, shortly after the movie begins. I wonder why? Could it be because the movie STINKS?

Part II when I get to it.

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Black Sunday and Blind Side

February 28, 2000

Black Sunday (1977): This adaptation of Thomas Harris’ bestseller concerns a terrorist group that plots to bomb the Super Bowl and enlists the aid of an unhinged Vietnam vet (are there any others in the movies?), played by Bruce Dern, to carry out the dirty deed.

There are many problems with this so-called thriller. For one, the terrorist group members themselves have thick, almost-incomprehensible accents, which is fine if they’re only going to be onscreen briefly. But they’re not, so I found myself straining to understand them. Also, even though this is supposed to be an action movie, full of tension and suspense, it doesn’t get out of first gear until the denouement. Heck, it hardly has the wherewithal to take the foot off the brake pedal. It’s not that the movie’s premise is preposterous – terrorist groups have targeted the World Trade Center, for example – it’s just that all of the machinations and ruminations and preparing for this terrorist attack are outlandish, the proverbial much ado about nothing. Worst of all, the cop in charge of getting to the bottom of matters (Robert Shaw) isn’t exactly portrayed in an appealing light either – for much of the movie, I had no idea who I was supposed to root for! This is a major flaw, a fault of junky screenwriting. I’m glad I didn’t waste time or money in a theater seeing this one, and I hope you avoid that as well. (*1/2)

Blind Side (1993): Doug and Lynn Kaines (Ron Silver and Rebecca De Mornay), furniture tycoon-wannabes, are in Mexico scouting out a new location for their business. Driving back home, they seemingly strike and kill a man standing in the middle of the road. Frightened, they drive on home. Shortly after they get there, however, Shell (Rutger Hauer) shows up on their doorstep, claiming to have been in Mexico and to be looking for employment.

The Kaines, presented to us as everyday people (albeit with money), instantly sense that Shell knows something about the hit-and-run – or does he? They don’t know for sure – not at first – but even the possibility of the hulking Hauer being able to hold something over this affluent couple is enough to spook them. Complicating matters is the fact that Lynn’s pregnant.

So what would YOU do? Charming, handsome (“in an outdoorsy way,” Lynn says), eager to please, Shell seems like he wants to fit in – yet he drops hints that he might have been a witness to the accident. Screenwriting being what it is today, we have a pretty good idea things will wind up in the open before too long, but not before the lives of the Kaines are completely ruined. If the lead characters were in their twenties, we’d see Shell try to do something to their parents, but since they’re all grown up, Mom and Dad are out of the picture. (Which is not to say that Shell doesn’t find someone close to them to harass, of course!) The story gets sillier and sillier as it goes on, but somehow the performances by all three leads keep it afloat. Hauer’s doing a role he can pretty much do in his sleep, but he hasn’t lost any edge off it. All in all, a fine HBO movie. (***)