Thursday, February 14, 2013

The 10 Worst Films of 2012

Julien Faddoul

10. This Means War

The title might mean that, but this movie means nothing. Reese Witherspoon, who, when looking at her current resume, is the great sadomasochist of our time, plays Lauren, the dumbest female character of the year. She is being fought over by FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy).

Also, their in the CIA. That’s the premise, and now you can probably fill in the rest yourself. Save your $10.

9. Rock of Ages

No movie was more inert, dreary and lifeless this year – in other words, it didn’t rock at all. The plot (which actually has very little in common with the show it’s based on) mixes together strands of Footloose and Burlesque. Sherrie (Julianne Hough), just a small town girl and Drew (Diego Boneta), just a city boy, meet on the Sunset Strip while pursuing their Hollywood dreams.

The two young leads are insufferable and talentless, but I guess their job – trying to hold the movie together – is a futile one. They are holding cardboard together with paper. And the supporting cast is laughable, with one role dumber than the next. You know something is off when a role played by Alec Baldwin should have gone to Stephen Baldwin, and when Catherine Zeta-Jones has less energy here than in Ocean’s Twelve. Oh, and also, Tom Cruise sings into Malin Ã…kerman’s anus.

8. Taken 2

Let me risk offending some people by divulging my dislike for the surprise hit and much-cherished original film, but compared to the sequel its cinema du jour. On a vacation with his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and daughter (Maggie Grace), Liam Neeson's ex-CIA op, Bryan Mills, is kidnapped and held captive in Istanbul by murderous Albanians.

Director Olivier Megaton (the stupidest fake name for a director) shoots and edits close-proximity physical action that’s worse than blurry distortion. In short, this is another one of those sequels that seems to make perfect sense to the people who made it, but to no one else. In any event, I give this film a very high recommendation for all insomniacs.

7. The Lucky One

U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault (Zac Efron) returns from Iraq, with the one thing he credits with keeping him alive – a photograph he found of a woman he doesn't even know.

There’s nothing overly horrible or deadly about Scott Hicks’ adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ novel per se, it’s just compulsively generic. It follows every teen-aimed romantic drama cliché – even those that were contrived in 1972 – as though they were Holy Scripture. From the ridiculous premise to the male-body worship to the evil ex-husband to the kooky mother/best friend. I have seen whole films that felt shorter than the last half-hour of this one.

6. Alex Cross

A disastrous attempt to revive a blockbuster publishing franchise, James Patterson’s Alex Cross crime novels, starring Tyler Perry. The result is bonkers.

Everyone (not just Perry) is miscast, the plot is pitiable, the dialogue risible. Most of the actors look bored, if not altogether ill-at-ease with the material presented to them. But they had it easy, it was me who had to sit and watch them.

5. Red Dawn

Ha ha! This was a joke, right?

4. Fun Size

A film that is no fun for the whole family! At any size. It’s the obligatory story of a young high school senior named Wren (Victoria Justice), who gets invited to the biggest Halloween party around – by the cool-kid who’s throwing it. But her mother assigned her to babysit her baby brother. Whatever will she do?

I don't dictate all high school (or middle school) comedies to contain brilliant and eloquent future masterminds of the nation. But I am appreciative when the movie at least concocts something interesting for them to do, or expresses identification with their real natures. The characters in Fun Size are shadows of shadows, thinned from innumerably better, even faintly better, movies. There was no purpose to make this movie, and no purpose to see it.

3. A Little Bit of Heaven

A Little Bit of Heaven is one of those movies that’s about a bunch supposedly everyday people yet they seem to lack any kind of human characteristics we recognize – such as the ability to walk and talk and think.

Kate Hudson stars as a carefree young woman who falls in love with her doctor after she's diagnosed with colon cancer. Oh, by the way, this is a comedy. For me, it was a little bit of hell. But I might have been the only person who saw it….so that’s good.

2. That’s My Boy

Uncouth, distasteful, mean-spirited and most belligerent of all: not funny. The most offensive film of the year was without a doubt That’s My Boy. While still in his teens, Donny (Adam Sandler) fathered a son, Todd (Andy Samberg), and raised him as a single parent up until Todd's 18th birthday. Now, after not seeing each other for years, Todd's world comes crashing down on the eve of his wedding when an uninvited Donny suddenly shows up.

To clarify, there is nothing wrong with making comedy out of forbidden topics. But comedy must be part of that equation. Merely presenting horrendous circumstances — fat strippers, dumb prostitutes, horny old people — is not, alone, funny. One would think after this many years that Mr Sandler and his associates would understand this. Did I mention the movie is 116 minutes long?

1. Playing for Keeps

If, as the old proverb goes, a camel is a horse designed by committee, then Playing for Keeps was designed by the camel. A former soccer player (Gerard Butler) agrees to coach his son's soccer team in an attempt to become a better father, yet still finds time to bed an array of beautiful soccer-moms.

It’s hard to believe a movie like 300 can allow an actor to coast through fame for this long. Not that I mean to blame all the loathsomeness of my No. 1 Worst Film of 2012 on one actor, and his choices. Every actor in Playing for Keeps (which includes such high talents as Uma Thurman, Dennis Quaid, Judy Greer and Catherine Zeta-Jones…..again) should fire their agents for having recommended this horrid, risible script. I have chosen Playing for Keeps as my top bottom film not because it’s as offensive as That’s My Boy or as artistically evil as Red Dawn or as aggressively stupid as This Means War, it’s just astonishingly inept. My jaw was consistently on the floor throughout this movie, never quite believing the abundance of simple, easy mistakes made by every department from every angle. It is a film of utter incompetence, pure and simple.

Dishonourable Mentions:

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Act of Valor
The Apparition
Big Miracle
The Devil Inside
Hit and Run
The Hunger Games
One for the Money
Peace, Love and Misunderstanding
Project X
The Raven

Retrospective: Raise the Red Lantern (1991/Hong Kong)

Julien Faddoul

d - Yimou Zhang
w - Ni Zhen   (Based on the Novel by Su Tong)
ph - Lun Yang, Fei Zhao
ad - Juiping Cao
m - Zhao Jiping, Naoki Tachikawa
ed - Yuan Du
cos - Huamiao Tong

p - Chiu Fu-Sheng

Cast: Gong Li, He Caifei, Cao Cuifen, Zhou Qi, Lin Kong, Jin Shuyuan, Ma Jingwu

Of all the prominent and praised directors to emerge from the Fifth Generation of Chinese filmmakers who began making films after the Cultural Revolution, Zhang Yimou was their champion. After decades of little-to-no cinematographic information on China, its people or its culture, the world was blessed with a number of luminous, non-propagandist films, delivered by a group artists in the 1980s (most of which graduated from the Beijing Film Academy, class of 1982). Films filled to the brim with bold integrity, aesthetic ingenuity, a searing beauty, an overwhelming effervescence and, for the most part, a deep, deep sadness.

Of all these pictures the best of them is Raise the Red Lantern (1991). Zhang Yimou’s first two features Red Sorghum (1987) and Ju Dou (1990) are great films in their own right, but his said third film is his masterwork. He entered the film industry as a cinematographer and actor. Red Sorghum did two major things for him: it established Zhang Yimou as a director internationally and it showcased his early mediative manner for employing strong female protagonists. The film also marked the beginning of a personal and professional relationship with actress Gong Li that would last through seven films. Zhang Yimou experienced harsh political hardships with Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern when Chinese censors banned both films. After performing well internationally, and receiving Academy Award nominations, the films were reinstated by the Chinese government.

Set in the 1920s, Songlian (Gong Li), the college-educated beauty who arrives at a feudal mansion at the beginning of Raise the Red Lantern, requests that she lug her own luggage, which is practically the final turn of liberation she will be allowed throughout the course of the film. Obligated by her stepmother into what is basically the existence of a concubine, Songlian has settled to become the fourth wife of a feudal patriarch, a man so imperial that each of his wives supervises over her own isolated home. While acknowledging the man’s presence, Zhang Yimou then spends the rest of the film blatantly ignoring him, for this story is about women. Four women. Reined by intricate sacraments, the wives spend their time patiently waiting (or not) to be plucked for the night by their mutual husband, whose ways of deciding include allocating a special foot massage to the woman he likes best. "If you can manage to have a foot massage every day, you'll soon be running this household," wife No. 2 (Cao Cuifeng) tells the new arrival.

For the rest of its running time (128 minutes), Raise the Red Lantern takes on the episodic nature of a great Chinese novel, or an extravagant American soap-opera. It is as slow, quiet, and ritualized as the life it depicts. And needless to say, it ends in tragedy. Most of the movie unfolds in static long shots that beautifully cover so much emotional ground. On the scarce instances when the director moves in for the close-up, there's not much action, only twinkles of countenance dashing athwart the actresses' faces. Yet those faces hold us with great power, believe me.

Throughout his career Zhang Yimou has always insisted that “…the objective of any form of art is not political…I am not interested in politics”.  This is a complex ballet of words, for Raise the Red Lantern is one of the greatest movies ever made about the politics of power and control. It traces Songlian's mounting shrewdness once she becomes comfortable to the censures overriding her fresh life. It ultimately develops into an account of deceitfulness and treachery in some quarters and solidarity in others, with a narrative that harvests numerous shocking swings of character and mood. Songlian learns, among other things, never to believe her first impressions, and not to lose sight of who her enemies are. In a way, the film is about having enemies and the testimony that Zhang Yimou is telling us is that most of us don’t like to admit we have enemies or people who dislike us intensely, but we all have them, every single one of us, and there’s nothing we can do about it. The final moments of the film are some of the most beautiful and haunting as any I have witnessed and Gong Li’s performance is the most gorgeous vision of tragic wretchedness ever captured on film.

Raise the Red Lantern is based on a novel called Wives and Concubines by Su Tong. It is a cool study of sexual irrationality. It depicts a world where betrayal is the best possible action and transgressing is the worst. It is maddening, flamboyant, lush, intelligent and always fascinating. It also possesses a word that I use with great, great care: integrity. It is great film by a great filmmaker. See it.