Archive for the ‘Poison (1991)’ Category

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

August 23, 2007

Here we are with Part 2 of our scintillating series on Bad movies by at least somewhat-excellent directors.

In our first installment, we covered some real humdingers: Match Point, Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, Vanilla Sky, and Internal Affairs, among others. We continue our look here, as I move down the list of directors alphabetically.

Closer, Mike Nichols. Take four pretty people who are otherwise annoying as hell, and make them fall for each other in various combinations. Hell, make one of them turn into a stripper. THAT would be pure movie magic. Such it was for Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Clive Owen, and Julia Roberts. Owen went on to better things, for sure, but here he – as well as the other four – comes off looking metaphorically awful. And Nichols is no slouch in the movie biz, having directed The Graduate, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and The Birdcage, among others. There’s no wit, there’s no charm, although there’s plenty of beauty, it’s barely skin deep.

Death Becomes Her, Robert Zemeckis. This “comedy” about a plastic surgeon (Bruce Willis) whose handiwork (Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep) comes back to haunt him is unfunny on any level, and it’s painful to watch considering the people involved. After Back to the Future, but before Forrest Gump, Zemeckis decided to see what would happen if he threw a lof of maybe funnies against a wall. Nothing sticks; everything stinks.

Driven, Renny Harlin. C’mon, Renny. Die Hard 2? Awesome. Cliffhanger, The Last Kiss Goodnight, Cutthroat Island? Less awesome, but still a lot of fun. No, really. And then this vomit, starring a weathered Sly Stallone as a veteran racecar driver who’s supposed to mentor a hotshot who doesn’t wanna play by the rules, man. Don’t keep him back! Let him fly! And then there are women involved, and jealousy, and crap it’s a bad movie. Do not watch it.

My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Ivan Reitman. Stripes! Ghostbusters! This junk! Where did it all go wrong for Mr. Reitman? This movie had a preposterous premise to begin with. Sure, I can see ex-girlfriends being pissy and not wanting “their” man to be with anyone else, ever, but when you make a movie about that, you either have to make the ex be the bad guy or you make her be the good buy but not have her, you know, go freaking nuts. Uma Thurman’s G-Girl goes nuts AND is the bad guy, and yet somehow we’re supposed to sympathize with her? The hell? Makes no sense. I felt bad for Luke Wilson for being in the movie.

Poison, Todd Haynes. Haynes had a pretty good idea with his later Safe, starring Julianne Moore. But rather than play it, ahem, safe, he got all experimentally and gave us a nonsense movie. It’s short, and it’s divided into three minimovies, so you get three short movies for the price of one, and none of the characters are compelling or even vaguely interesting. What else is there to say? It’s boring. Trust me. I don’t know what could have improved this movie. 

Primary Colors, Mike Nichols. A lot of people liked this filming of Joe Klein’s account of Bill Clinton’s first White House campaign, circa 1992, but I wasn’t suitably impressed. Someone with Nichols’ track record might have given me a better reason to like John Travolta (!) as the Clinton-like candidate (the movie’s barely fictionalized, for some reason). Come on, we all knew it was supposed to be Clinton, so why use Travolta? Although he’s porky, he’s still not presidental timber. His godawful Southern good ol’ boy accent grated rather than ingratiated. Good supporting cast, but a real doozy of a dozer.

The Road to Wellville, Alan Parker. Parker gave us Fame and Mississippi Burning, so he knows his way around a set. So why did he feel compelled to make a movie about people getting colonics and enemas at a health spa at the turn of the century (last century) run by the brother of the guy who invented Frosted Flakes? If there’s one thing I can never get enough of in movies, it’s people pooping their brains out. They should have marketed this with the tagline “Crap Happens. Eventually.” There, you see? Comedy gold! Or silver.

Signs, M. Night Shyamalan. M. Night suckered me into watching this crop-circles flotsam when it came out. Hey, the man did The Sixth Sense, which was fantastic, and Unbreakable, which was moderately awesome, but this one fell completely flat. Stupid kids, pious-to-a-fault dad, dopey brother – who’s really making those circles in the field, anyway? Lowlight? The rubber-suit alien who looks RIGHT out of 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon. Poorly written, badly acted, and a completely nonexistent special effects budget. Characters change from wacky to serious and back at the blink of an eye, thereupon jettisoning all you knew about them – or cared to, thankfully.

The Village, M. Night Shyamalan. Although Signs suckered me, I decided to give The Village a shot. Seemed like a good premise – a village in the middle of nowhere tends to its own, follows its own rules, has no contact with the outside world, and stays away from the scary monsters beyond its borders. And then they need medical help, and so.. It made sense to a fault, but there’s a huge red herring about three-quarters through the movie that, instead of heightening the mystery and suspense, merely makes you slap your forehead and say, “Ah, fer crying out loud! WHY THAT?” After this, I vowed never to watch Shyamalan’s faux twisties again, and I have held to that.

The Weather Man, Gore Verbinski. In between romps with the Pirates of the Caribbean, Verbinski did this “small” film about a beat-down TV weather dude (Nicholas Cage!) who a wife who hates him, a son who’s in rehab, and a daughter who smokes. Oh yeah, they’re youngsters, too, not twentysomething debutantes. The whole thing is mopey, dopey, and completely lacking in vigor. Take some sleeping pills instead to save you the concurrent heartache.

(Edited to remove obvious inaccuracy. Mixed up Paul Haggis and Mike Figgis. Could happen to anyone, right?)

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Poison (1991), Pride of the Yankees, The Prisoner of Second Avenue

February 5, 2005

Poison (1991) * Todd Haynes’ Poison is three movies in one. Word to the wise, though: When your movie is only 85 minutes, maybe splitting it into thirds ain’t such a hot idea. What you’re left with is just an anthology of unrelated short films.

“Hero” is about a strange seven-year-old boy who murders his father and then flees; “Homo” is about (surprise!) a relationship between fellow prisoners; “Horror” is about a whiz-kid scientists who somehow drinks a potion containing the human sex drive – and inexplicably turns into a murderous leper.

None of these sounds like a “normal” movie, and that’s all well and good. “Hero” is shown in documentary style, trying to lend an air of authenticity to the story. “Horror” is told in fifties’ sci-fi style, with the usual theme of “science run amuck.” Each is very well filmed; with “Homo,” a real lurid atmosphere is created. You can almost feel the actors breathing on you.

That’s about it as far as positives go. “Horror” might have worked if it had been played as a parody of those old films. Instead, it took itself completely seriously; instead of mocking, it was mockable. And to tell the truth, I wasn’t the least bit interested in the characters of either of the three stories.

Some may look at this as fine independent film-making. All I see is a tortured, inescapably dull undertaking.

Pride of the Yankees: ***1/2 In today’s era of greedy athletes and their employers, the story of Lou Gehrig seems almost quaint. Here’s a young man who by all accounts was selfless, kind-hearted, and rather introverted. And, of course, it didn’t hurt that he was also a very good baseball player too. Put him on a lineup card today and he might not be the same player. Up until a few years ago, Gehrig’s record of 2,130 consecutive games played was a record, a record that many thought would stand forever. For 16 years he was in the lineup as the Yankees’ first baseman, never asking out for any reason. That alone should show you how special a person Gehrig was.

This biography is pretty straightforward. Unlike many of its kind, it doesn’t show its protagonist somehow succeeding against all odds. Gehrig didn’t have an abusive mother, he wasn’t beaten up by kids at school, he wasn’t learning-disabled, he didn’t have attention-deficit disorder, he didn’t come from abject poverty. He was simply a son in a working-class, immigrant family, as many were during the early decades of this century. And that’s why Gehrig is so special to so many people – he symbolises their own hopes.

Gary Cooper is aces as Gehrig, and Teresa Wright is wonderful as his wife, Eleanor. If there’s anything imperfect about the movie, it’s that it is…well, a little predictable. That’s something biopics can’t avoid, of course, so it’s no big problem. But even if most of the film doesn’t impress you, the final speech at Yankee Stadium – when Gehrig was suffering visibly from the disease that would eventually be named after him – will move you past tears. And even better, when Gehrig’s done his brief speech, he walks offscreen. If that movie were written today, he’d play another game and hit a game-winning home run. It’s this film’s honesty and sincerity that win you over.

The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975) ** Ordinarily, you would think a movie adaptation of a Neil Simon play starring Jack Lemmon as a very harried New Yorker would be perfect cinema – and ordinarily, you’d be right! Think of The Odd Couple and you have a good idea of a ‘good’ Simon film.

Lemmon’s character, Mel, is a Manhattan businessman who’s going through a bit of a midlife crisis. We’ve seen this sort of thing before in the movies – Lord knows we have!! – but the problem is, we’ve seen it much better. There’s a fine line to be walked here between maudlin and funny/touching, and sadly that line is crossed early on in the movie and never recrossed.

Mel suffers through a lot of problems in this movie, and your closeness to NYC life will dictate just how much sympathy you have for his plight. But be warned: Simon doesn’t combat these problems with wit and wisdom; to me, Mel just yells and screams and basically is thoroughly obnoxious – only Anne Bancroft as his suffering wife gives an appealing performance.

Bottom line is that unless you’re a diehard Simon or Lemmon fan, you might want to avoid this collection of angst, agita, and aneurysms waiting to happen.