Controversial Criticism

The Bad

The Bad/Controversial Criticism (20 -59)

Title Director, Genre, Year

Rating

Conviction
Conviction tells the true life tale of a woman’s (Hilary Swank) 18 year long quest to prove her brother’s (Sam Rockwell) innocence of a brutal murder, a quest that alienated her from her family as she put everything on hold to go back to school to train as a lawyer. There’s a powerful story to be told here not to mention two actors who can do it justice but unfortunately it falls short thanks to a combination of weak directing and writing. At the expense of an honest and substantial probing of the cast iron motivations of its two very interesting protagonists, we are given what seems like a summary of the key events in this tale because, once it establishes the backstory, the film whisks through the 18 years in the space of about 50 minutes. In fact, if it wasn’t for the albeit constrained performances of Swank and particularly Rockwell, not to mention the gripping events at its centre the story, this movie would be nearly unwatchable. But thankfully the two actors’ natural presence and skill are just about enough to draw the audience in and while Rockwell has far less screen time than Swank, the glimpses of him that we are given are emphatic testament to what he can do when he chooses to take on a straight-up dramatic role.
Goldwyn, Drama, 2010

59.8

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Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
For a director who underwent such a dramatic shift in style from JFK onwards it was always going to be fascinating to see if, while revisiting a film he made in the 80’s, Stone would adopt the more patient and story-centred approach that made that film and his earlier films so good. Well in WSMNS he did and he didn’t. Many of the film’s scenes are given the time to grow naturally as Stone rests his usual demands for frenetic edits and short lens shots. There is a (somewhat) trackable story and the abrupt interjection of source music is kept to an acceptable level. There are shades of the exciting stock manipulation sequences that made the original so tense. As with the first film Stone manages to make New York look great while not overdoing it on the ariel or wide cityscape shots. For the few similarities there are, however, many differences. There are split screen shots galore and bubble and laser graphics floating through various scenes the likes of which never featured in the original. However, the film does feature the return of one of cinema’s most iconic characters, Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko, and an interesting story-arc brings something new to this character. Alas, Stone chickens out and deprives us of an ending that would have given this most intriguing of characters a near perfect arc. Gekko deserved better.
Stone, Drama, 2010

59.5

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Looper
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a hit-man in the year 2044 who disposes of mob victims sent back in time from 2074 when hiding bodies has become impossible. When his next victim turns out to be his future self, he hesitates and lets the older Bruce Willis version of himself escape, thereby making him a target for his present day boss and intermediary with the future-based mob, one Jeff Daniels. Up until this point, Looper is a pitch perfect execution of 1980’s sci-fi principles and it’s simply electric to behold. The dystopian society of 2044 is richly drawn according to contained visual and conceptual premises and writer-director Rian Johnson’s combination of lighting and modest set design gives it a dizzying quality. Sure, it’s no Blade Runner or even RoboCop but it’s every bit as substantial and established as something like Total Recall (the original of course). Jeff Daniels promises to be as untrustworthy and nerve inducing as any sci-fi villain, Noah Segen is the crazed loose cannon mobster who hates Levitt and is destined to get involved in a grudge pursuit. Gordon-Levitt is sinister and stained by the depravity of the future even if the digital melding of his and Willis’ face is distracting and wholly ineffective in making him look like a younger Bruce Willis. His impersonated mannerisms are bang on the money though and whet the appetite for the real thing. Unfortunately, when Willis does show up it coincides with the total deflation of the movie as the plot changes dramatically around possible telekinetic powers that future mutants are born with and a race against time to destroy a super mutant who will grow up to be some kind of super villain. Huh???!!! Sounds like this review just skipped into the review of a different film, right? Well that’s exactly how it feels too. What’s more, the fact that this “new film” is far less intriguing and exciting and ultimately the shift just makes the whole stupid exercise all the more infuriating.
Johnson, Sci-Fi, 2012

59.3

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Before Sunrise
Richard Linklater could legitimately be described as a master of talk cinema but irrespective of how many people hail this as a perfect film there’s no way around the fact that this is an awkwardly acted, superficially written, and adolescently conceived exercise in tedium. Fans of the Linklater that gave us the gentle wit of Slacker, the thunderous resonance of Dazed and Confused, and even the insightful analysis of Tape have repeatedly tried to like this but Before Sunrise fails to even roughly emulated those aforementioned pieces. On top of that, the two leads are entirely out of synch with each other for much of the film, which alone destroys its entire premise. Ethan Hawke comes across as annoying and vacuous and Julie Deply seems continually disengaged and overall an unlikely match for him. Linklater’s directorial craft is all over this however, and his ability to seemingly blend the camera into the reality of the characters’ worlds is as evident here as it was in Slacker. Alas, that is not enough to save this un-engaging and excruciating romantic drama.
Linklater, Drama, 1995

59

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Avatar
Before diving into a scathing review of Avatar, one must firstly acknowledge the quality of the visual effects. With or without the 3D this film looks spectacular. The world of Pandora and the indigenous tribes are brought to life in such rich detail that you really do get the feeling that you are right there in the middle of everything. The action is also very good and there are some really well crafted action scenes that use the expanded physical possibilities of the alien world to great effect. Add the 3D experience on top of all that and this movie becomes an awesome visual experience. However, despite all this, when one is forced to objectively review Avatar as a film, there can be no escaping the realisation that there are some fundamental and critical problems which even the visuals cannot compensate for. In many ways, Avatar is “Dances with Alien Wolves” but with even worse writing-related problems. The characters are all uninteresting (despite Sigourney Weaver’s best efforts) and are all variations on cliched action movie themes. The dialogue is clunky at the best of times and downright awful at others. The story is wafer thin with seriously trite plots and sub-plots. Concerning the wider plot, there are gaping holes in the logic and as if to confirm the audience’s suspicions that the story was indeed an afterthought to an otherwise technological project, they come up with the idea of a magic tree to encapsulate a crudely conveyed hack environmental “message”. This hack emotionality and the battle sequences which attempt to drive it home like a rusty nail are without a doubt the most jarring problems with the movie. One of the main arguments for a film to be placed on The Bad list is that the filmmakers are disrespecting the audience by trying to dupe the audience into thinking the film is of weight when it’s really just a crass load of nonsense. It could be argued that Avatar imparts a simplistic “message” in far too childish a manner to be guilty of that crime and that the writers simply devoted too little attention to the script to be aware of the mistakes they were making. However, given that it took almost a decade to make this film, there simply can be no excuses for having overlooked something as crucial as the story.
Cameron, Sci-Fi, 2009

58.5

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The Equaliser
A numbingly formulaic action thriller the likes of which Denzel Washington can make watchable in his sleep. Which he kind of does. The movie adaptation of the Edward Woodward led television show focuses on yet another ex-spy/secret agent/assassin who gets caught up with the Russian mob while living under an assumed identity. Cue boo-hissable bad guys with scars, tattoos, and intimidating scowls, painfully earnest action sequences anchored in slow motion (so that we can see just how skilled out hero is), and straw characters reflecting just enough cheese-ball sentiment to justify our hero’s return to the dark side. Of course, Denzel is nonetheless Denzel and his natural burning charisma makes this movie just about bearable. In fact, if The Equaliser does anything, it stands as testimony to the strength of that charisma because Washington isn’t even trying here. Granted there’s not much of a script to try with but this movie is a continuation of the type of cruise control/paycheck mode that has defined his career since Training Day. Fuqua was the director behind that one too but he had David Ayer’s boiling screenplay to work off. All he’s armed with here is that slow motion button and the predictability of a climactic showdown in the rain. Well under a sprinkler system – just so long as we get a close up of the hero’s face wet with victory and with the water very, very slowly dripping off it. You know, so as to emphasise the magnitude of the moment.
Fuqua, Action, 2014

57.9

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The Dark Knight Rises
Stunning but only in its capacity to underwhelm, The Dark Knight Rises may have had an army of fanboys defending its name on (and even before!!) its release but this supposed movie extravaganza is nothing but a damp squib. Christopher Nolan’s final contribution to the Batman franchise sees Gotham being held for random by a formidable foe named Bane (Tom Hardy) who hijacks the city under the threat of nuclear destruction. Set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, a physically weakened Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) who has hung up his cape these last few years poses little threat to the savage Bane and must rediscover his zest for life in order to defend the city once again. Along for the ride are the usual assortment of characters from Michael Caine’s Alfred to Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon as well as a few newcomers, namely, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a boy wonder type, and Mathew Modine as a bigwig in the police department. After struggling with the coordination and overall pacing of the multiple subplots in Batman Begins yet seemingly mastering them in the The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises is a return to the muddled film-making of Nolan’s first installment. Side stories are merely introduced and with no time to let them nor the characters they’re built around develop, they’re accelerated, truncated, and fleetingly revisited all with the intention of bringing them together at the end. Unfortunately, given their slipshod construction we could care less about any of those characters by the time they get there. Even Batman elicits little in the way of the audience’s concern as the interminable final act plays itself out. The character who suffers the most in this is Hathaway’s Catwoman as her early sequences showed some promise as the potentially treacherous nemesis of the Caped Crusader. But like every other character in this movie, the tension she offers peters out and the treachery becomes jarringly ordinary. Yes, it doesn’t help that Hathaway is operating in the shadow of Michelle Pfeiffer’s seminal turn in Batman Returns wherein she came to embody the very essence of feline treachery but in truth she was never even given a chance to compete. Tom Hardy puts in an interesting shift as the bad guy and Nolan sets up his character and introduces him effectively. However, because his brooding menace culminates in nothing more than a bunch of physical beatings he dishes out, the character ends up stagnating and even diminishing in threat. On the technical front, Wally Phister’s cinematography, Lee Smith’s editing, and the visual effects are undoubtedly spectacular but with such an insubstantial story underlying them, the movie begins to feel like nothing more than a slideshow of striking images. This becomes rather jading and the film feels more and more like a visual marathon. It’s true that Nolan hires the cream of the industry’s technical talent and so his films have a very shiny gloss indeed but with such confused and unfocused writing and direction it’s all just a bottle of smoke.
Nolan, Fantasy, 2012

57.8

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The Mission
A confused, rushed, misconceived, cliched, ham-fisted piece of filmaking hidden behind a magnificent score. Essentially, director Roland Joffe and writer Robert Bolt attempt to tell three stories simultaneouslly: the work of the early missionaries in South America; the redemption of a slaver; and the oppression of a native people by western powers. Perhaps, they could’ve successfully blended two of these stories into one movie but in attempting to blend all three they do none of them any justice. In trying to do too much, the film comes across as rushed and lacking in substance. The people on whom our sympathy is supposed to rest (the native South American tribes) are left almost entirely unexplored. Where was our introduction to their customs, their learning of and blending with western/Christian customs? In fact, we didn’t we get to know even one single native character in the entire film. The evil-doers in this film are painted in the most trite cliches right down to their posh British accents. The acting is decent but within the rushed and misconceived confines of the film it is snapshot out of any believable context. Robert De Niro does not seem as dedicated to the part as he usually would’ve been at that time judging by his decision not to slim down for his scenes where his character was supposed to have been wasting away for six months in a self-imposed penance. Jeremy Irons is good but has limited screen time and in fact the same can be said for all the main players. However, for all these problems, The Mission remains a film which the audience really wants to like. Not because of the subject matter which has been addressed in countless other films but because we so desperately want this film to be worthy of Ennio Morricone’s mesmeric score. Considering that he is probably the best film-score composer in the history of cinema, it’s no small matter to claim that his compositions for The Mission are amongst his very best. His is a haunting, lingering score that will stay with you for the rest of your life whether you ever see the film again or not. In fact, the score works so well that many of the film’s scenes work solely because of it.
Joffe, Adventure, 1986

57.8

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Saving Private Ryan
Outside of the opening sequence which is undeniably terrific, Saving Private Ryan is Spielberg at his laziest and most ham-fisted. He shows little patience or subtlety and rather than giving us a real picture of humanity and war he instead falls back on a cartoon depiction of good guys versus bad guys. The first 15 mins were spectacular – so spectacular in fact that they seemed to act as a cloak for the rest of the film. A clever tactic: make the first 15 minutes so good that the audience will be so desperate for the remainder of the film to be worthy of its opening that they will willfully ignore the most blatant of shortcomings. This is most likely why so many poor sequels are purposefully overrated (i.e., Matrix Reloaded). The simple truth is that the remainder of the film is driven by childish and cliched moral quandaries the likes of which were addressed just as superficially and ad nauseum throughout seven years of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is not to say Spielberg is a poor director. He’s a great director who just lives up to his talent far too seldom due to an over-reliance on special effects and/or reluctance to move out of his comfort zone.
Spielberg, War, 1995

55.3

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Contact
Robert Zemeckis’ big budget adaptation of Carl Sagan’s story stars Jodie Foster as the prodigious astronomer whose obsession with discovering evidence of extra terrestrial life pays off when she receives a deep space signal. Things get even more astonishing when she discovers that the signal contains a cyphered message with instructions on building an interstellar craft that promises to unite the two communicating civilisations. As the world scrambles to catch up with the implications of this message, she and a team of meddlesome government officials led by a nasty Tom Skerritt prepare to build and launch the machine. As you’d expect from a Robert Zemeckis science fiction epic, Contact is punctuated by some fantastic visual effects and thrilling drama. In particular, he comes into his own during the central contact sequence serving up a feast of pin point editing, sound mixing and dialogue, a feat which reminds us all of exactly what his strengths are. Alas, Contact is flush with his other trademarks too such as the impulse to inflate the basic idea with lofty aspirations. The result is a reckless twisting and deformation of the plot until all sense is wrung out of it. Contact was a bold undertaking and was much anticipated due to the calibre of talent behind and in front of the camera. Unfortunately, rather than playing to its strengths, it flounders in those ambitions and becomes another example of Hollywood missing the mark.
Zemeckis, Science Fiction, 1997

54.5

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The Mist
Thomas Jane stars as a small town artist who heads off to the store with his son to collect supplies in the aftermath of a terrifying storm. While in the store, a thick mist rolls through the town enveloping anyone it catches up with in a bloody screaming demise. Soon enough, everyone is holding up in the store as they try to figure out collectively and individually what horrors the mist has brought to their town. In these early scenes, some interesting characters and character dynamics are set up which promise to provide a rich pretext to the drama when it eventually unfolds. After all, working together is much more interesting when there are differences to overcome. Unfortunately, just when those moments arrive, the tense build up begins to unravel as everything gets just a little too silly. The Mist isn’t a total washout. Jane consolidates his status as a strong lead, the visual effects are fantastic and set against the heavy atmosphere of the mist, they feel substantial. Frank Darabont’s direction is flawless and would’ve easily facilitated the script at the level it wanted to be at. Alas, the script isn’t at the level. It was nowhere near it. So bad was it in fact, that everything in this movie fails because of it.
Darabont, Horror, 2007

54.5

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Hero
Hero is a beautiful looking film full of astonishingly choreographed fight scenes. These are typically the two stated reasons why this film is lauded as much as it has been. However, while it may look lovely and involve lots of choreography, unfortunately Hero makes some unforgivable movie-making mistakes while getting there. Firstly, it does look lovely, every second of it. That’s the problem. By making every frame of every scene a picture of beauty, Yimou Zhang shows no understanding of the importance of restraint and so he saturates the audience very early on. A Kubrick, a Jackson, or a Malick would tease you here and there and then intermittently knock you for six with great cinematography. One of the reasons why cinematography is a separate profession to directing is because cinematographers don’t necessarily have the training to know how to put all their lovely shots together. It’s the discipline of a great director that makes the best use of great cinematographers. Hero is a case of astoundingly good cinematography let down by astoundingly poor directing. If indiscipline is the first major problem of this film, then pretension is the second major problem. In his desire to show off, Zhang gets his priorities backwards by using the plot as nothing more than a tool to present us with as many visual feasts as we can chew on – and then a dozen more. With such visual saturation and with plot and story coming second to the look of the film, the audience becomes alienated from the characters and Zhang’s directorial failure is complete. And then there are the fight scenes. Great choreography in a fight scene is of course important but it means nothing if the scenes lack the more important visceral factor. In an effort to augment the gentle balletic qualities of his movie, one can only assume that Zhang substituted good old fashioned hard hitting thrusts and smacks with the tippy-tappy attacks that these flaccid scenes serve up and the result is a series of anaemic battles that are simply not believable. Unfortunately, therefore, in the final analysis, Hero is a case of all gloss and no substance which is a pity because the gloss is pretty spectacular but as it is not embedded in a story of substance (and therefore being a servant of that story instead of vice versa) it becomes decidedly unsubstantial.
Zhang, Martial Arts, 2002

54.5

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Prometheus
There is a scene in Prometheus where two scientists are examining a fossilised alien head. One of them suggests about 10 seconds into the examination that they administer an electrical charge in order to reanimate the head. The other agrees this is a good idea. They do so. The head grimaces and explodes. This stupefying and moronical scene encapsulates everything that is wrong with this film. Prometheus is arguably the worst case of lazy and ill thought out writing in recent Hollywood history. Filled with characters whose motivations are rewritten scene by scene to suit whatever special effect laden sequence the guys in charge had in mind for those corresponding parts of the film. Or characters who are left completely undeveloped until such time that similar moments require them to be and always in the most contrived fashions. This leads to rushed moments of trite exposition being peppered throughout the film leaving the whole project an utterly unintelligible fiasco. And of course all of this is born out in how little we care about every last one of these characters. Special effects, thus become the focus of the film while the real task of a director – tying them into a coherent story where they serve it instead of taking precedence over it – is forgotten. Thus, despite the spectacular visual effects, Prometheus boils down to a series of alien-related sequences utterly disconnected from each other in both plot and pacing.
Scott, R, Sci-Fi, 2012

54.4

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A History of Violence
Small town man Tom Stall lives what seems to be the perfect small town life: close-knit family, respected around the community, and a solid little diner-business. Until one evening two psychopaths stop by his diner and attempt to murder a waitress while holding the place up. Stall springs to life and disarms one of the assailants before killing him and his partner in a clear cut case of self-defence – albeit an incredibly heroic one. Things get even more interesting when some mob guys from Philadelphia, having seen Stall’s picture on the news, show up and claim that Tom is their old acquaintance, crazy Joey Cusack. Stall denies it vehemently and an enthralling guessing game ensues which sees even Stall’s family begin to doubt him. If you haven’t seen this film then the set-up described should have you tingling with excitement and up to this point the film lives up to any expectations you might have. Viggo Mortensen is excellent as everyman Tom Stall who just found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Cronenberg took his time getting there and had struck just the right balance between the more violent and calmer aspects to the story. Best of all, Ed Harris as the Philly wise-guy is electric in a role that has you guessing from the first time we see him. Unfortunately, just when Cronenberg should be ramping up the mystery and tantalising us with a resolution that is better off not provided he resolves it flatly and in as manic and unintentionally farcical a fashion as you could possibly imagine. The third act descends into an eye-deceiving second-rate Jean-Claude Van Damme flick with unexplained martial arts ability, gratuitous sex scenes, illogical family behaviour, and cartoon gangsters everywhere. To say that this movie’s final act was a let-down is the understatement of all understatements. If you like brain-at-reception movies simply because your brain has been permanently left there then you’re probably one of the many who have raved about it. However, if you believe a film that starts off intelligently should conclude in similar fashion (if not more so) then avoid, avoid, avoid!
Cronenberg, Action, 2003

54.2

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Sideways 
Two middle-aged men tour California’s wine-country the weekend before one of them gets married. From the self-deluded music which tries desperately to convince you this is actually funny to the odious characters who ensure that it never is, this film is really quite painful to watch. The major issue is that the two central characters are explicitly and unapologetically self-absorbed a&*holes. That’s not a problem if the writer gives the audience (like all good writers do) that one redeeming trait that they must seek out and connect with. Unfortunately, Alexander Payne doesn’t do this and instead thumbs his nose at the audience, obviously under the impression that his “funny” score will offset the negative connotations to the characters’ behaviour allowing them to be instead perceived as immature and mischievous. It didn’t.
Payne, Comedy, 2004

54.1

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The Imitation Game 
Morten Tyldum’s moody WWII drama is based on the true life endeavours of Alan Turing as he attempted to crack the Nazi’s Enigma code by building a top secret machine that would become the platform for the modern computer. Outside of the broader premise which is executed rather well using montages of actual WWII footage, a lot has gone wrong here. The “extraordinary guy in an extraordinary situation” has become a staple of Benedict Cumberbatch’s career so much so that one struggles to think of him as anything but the socially inept, arrogant, patronising, superior mind so far removed from the rest of us that he’s destined to be misunderstood forever. What’s worse is that, over the last decade, this personality has crept insidiously into the television and Hollywood mediums like few others. Everyone from Hugh Laurie’s House MD to Claire Danes’ Carrie Matheson has had a crack at it and while a small few like Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network have done it with a level of complexity that humanises the conceit, most have bored the socks off us. If Cumberbatch’s Sherlock placed him among Eisenberg’s precious minority, his version of Alan Turing is very much the other kind – though his screenwriter Graham Moore (adapting Andrew Hodges’ biography) should shoulder some of the blame. Inaccessible but interesting isn’t easy to pull off but a lack of effort in achieving such balance is what is most concerning here. Everyone seems happy enough to portray the tortured mathematician as an oddball and nothing more. To celebrate it, in fact. As such we get a one-dimensional (not to mention cliched) central performance that scuppers the film from the outset.
Tyldum, Drama, 2014

54

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Before Sunset
See “Before Sunrise” above. Another tedious treatment of one slightly annoying wonman putting up with one incredibly annoying man. We still think Linklater and Hawke are tops but just not here.
Linklater, Drama, 1995

53.9

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War of the Worlds
Spielberg and writers Josh Friedman and David Koepp make the mistake of trying to tell a “meaningful” story of fatherhood and family against a backdrop of alien invasion and the result is a complete mess. Though charismatic in the role, Tom Cruise looks about as fatherly as Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. In addition, the two children are overwhelmingly annoying with each rivalling the other for most annoying child actor since Edward Furlong in T2. Dakota Fanning spends the two hours either disobeying her father, forcing him into repeated rescues or screaming hysterically with her arms in front of her chest in some nonsensical Dr Philian self help exercise. Justin Chatwin (as Cruise’s son) on the other hand keeps trying to convince the three of them to turn back so that they can fight they aliens. All too often Spielberg attempts to makes his fantasy or sci-fi movies ‘something more’ by adding a crass emotional component and so it comes off as being nothing more than a saccharine and cynical attempt at audience manipulation. Unfortunately, the demographic who fall for it most often, the Oscar demographic, are those who have most influence in promoting movies. There is of course a lesson in all this. H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds is a classic as is and so please avoid any inclination to tether a tedious dramatic subplot to it. There’s quite simply no need.
Spielberg, Sci-Fi, 2005

53.8

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World War Z 
As cities around the world are overrun by hordes of zombies, former UN inspector Gerry Lane is asked to leave his family and lead a team across the globe in an attempt to investigate the causes of the disaster. Based on Max Brooks’ novel, this is a movie that had two very interesting dimensions that could separate it from the hordes of other zombie movies. Firstly, it uses the outbreak scenario as a means to explore the zombie apocalypse, focusing primarily on the investigations into the pathology of the plague. Secondly, it employs a world wide perspective zipping from one location to another in an attempt to trace the history of the disease. The movie more or less succeeds in including and doing justice to the latter dimension but makes only gestures at achieving the former. Whereas the investigation absolutely needed to be the primary focus, it emerges in fits and starts disappearing almost as quickly as it arose in a cloud of zombie mayhem as if the producers kept asking “where are the zombies?”. Now given the nature of the source material which focuses on a series of oral interviews compiled by the lead character, one could argue that this stop-start pattern is capturing the spirit of the novel. But in truth, it only disengages the audience and kills the narrative that writers Matthew Michael Carnahan and Drew Goddard explicitly attempt to establish in the first act (no coincidence that this is the best part of the film). Thus, the script suffers immensely from a lack of stability and it prevents any momentum from building.
Forster, Sci-Fi, 2013

52.4

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AI: Artificial Intelligence 
AI begins with a profound look at the subject of life and sentience in what is clearly the Kubrick half of the story. To be fair to Spielberg, he very much replicates Kubrick’s stark and symmetrical visual style during this segment (no doubt thoroughly storyboarded as it probably was) and gives the film the feel one could imagine Kubrick would’ve set. In this opening act, we follow a robot in the form of a human child called David (Hayley Joel Osment) who is purchased by a couple who believed their own child was lost to them. We see David and his new mother beginning to form a bond and for all intents and purposes David becomes part of the family. However, when the couple’s child returns to them, he quickly becomes surplus to requirements as the mother begins to see him for what he is. This is the point at which Kubrick’s contribution seems to end and Spielberg’s is stepped up and it practically descends into farce as we are given an unashamed story of Pinocchio in the future. Even the visual aspect to the film suffers as the downscaling of the story seems to remove any inspiration to get the look right. The film loses the subtle features which the previous tight production design and lighting ensured, as the need for ‘big’ special effects seems to send Spielberg fully into default mode where style replaces substance to such a point that the latter must be artificially generated and crammed in anywhere it’ll fit.
Spielberg, Sci-Fi, 2001

52.4

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The Big Chill 
Seven former college friends reunite for the funeral of one of their group and spend the weekend reminiscing and coming to terms with past…….ugh! The strikingly few critics of this film tend to focus on the fact that it reifies an overindulged generation of self-important self-obsessives. And that’s a fair criticism. But much worse, it’s an excruciating cring-worthy cheese fest where artifical cliched “middle-aged go wild” behaviour replaces any real genuine social interaction or discourse. Imagine a 100 minute montage of eight insufferables dancing around the kitchen to the rock ‘n’ roll of their youth, playfully laughing and talking with each other in a gushing waterfall of cotton candy nostalgia. You could watch this on your own and still feel embarrassed for the actors. The scenarios that emerge are scarcely believable and while that isn’t a crime in itself, the attempt to portray all this nonsense as emotionally honest makes it one. Pure self-deluded schmaltz from a film maker and cast who should’ve known better.
Kasdan, Drama, 1983

50.8

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Fright Night (2011)
Yet another example of modern film producers exploiting the name recognition of a classic movie and serving up a witless, soulless, and utterly predictable movie-by-numbers. Hollywood must be using remake software to churn this type of crap out, such is the consistency of the crap that actually counts as remakes these days. Similar to the 1985 Tom Holland story, a teenager (Anton Yelchin) living with his mom (Toni Collette) discovers their new neighbour (Colin Farrell) is a vampire. Cue a series of stuttering CGI scares and half-considered scenarios involving sub-developed characters. In fact, this is one of the best examples of how movie-making-by-numbers neutralises the creative juices as one half-assed gimmick is tossed on top of another. Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s inclusion as Evil is no better thought out than making him a Vampire Fogell and Chris Sarandon makes a painful cameo as “Jay-Dee” (did they honestly think that was clever?). Collette is completely underused which would be fine if a) she wasn’t such a good actress and b) they didn’t consistently attempt to bring her into the story (what was her final scene about?). And on top of all that, there’s the nonsense that was David Tennant as Peter Vincent, a character who worked very well in the original but whose inclusion in this movie seems to have been something the script writers only remembered to do at the last minute. Farrell does seem to attempt to do something different with his character but even he is given so little screen time that it comes across as awkward. And as for Yelchin, this is two of cinemas’ beloved characters he’s failed to even remotely get right – the first being that Terminator Salvation Reese-travesty.
Gillespie, Horror, 2011

48.7

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The Hangover
The hangover recounts a series of events that a bachelor party experience one night while partying in Las Vegas. In order to guess what those events might be just ask your average 18-25 year old what would be the craziest series of things that could happen to a bunch of lads and that’s them. Sound like a great premise to a movie? Well, there’s a major problem: your average 18-25 year old is not a screenwriter so simply listing a series of madcap events that the characters happen into does not make a film. Scenes need to be written into an overall story, they need to complement other scenes, maybe even be sacrificed for the integrity of more important scenes. None of that happens here. Instead, we have a series of unrelated events linked together with all the subtlety of a Jackass script. The Hangover merely pop up as a series of lazy vignettes designed to make a particular target audience laugh – not because the jokes are witty but because they abide by some adolescent archetype of craziness. And what happens? Young people laugh not because it’s funny but because they think that they should find it funny. That’s not comedy, that’s crass manipulation of your target audiences’ insecurities and immaturity.
Philips, Comedy, 2009

46.7

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Inception
Where does one begin with this mess of a movie? Ok, firstly, people say the film takes us into a world unlike anything we’ve seen before. Well it doesn’t. Anyone even remotely familiar with Star Trek or Stargate will know that the ‘dreamscape’ episode is a tired staple of the sci-fi genre and, what’s more, they all fall at the same hurdle: a lack of jeopardy – though we’ll get back to that issue later. The second major problem is that Inception is chock-full of windy intangible concepts rooted in the tritest forms of pseudo-psychology some of which are in direct contradiction to each other. The world Nolan creates is so fragile that you daren’t go about pulling on any loose threads lest the whole thing come apart. The result is alienation of the audience. This leads us to the third major problem. Inception presents us with a previously unknown universe. Fair enough, many great sci-films do that also. The problem with this movie is rather than treating the universe as a constant and building the story on that basis, it continuously builds the rules of the universe to move the story line forward. In other words, the universe is serving the story line when normally the opposite is true. This results in utter confusion and is the sole reasons why the various characters keep reminding the audience of the rules because they’re not intuitively related to each other. And if the inclusion of Rule A or Rule Z was to serve some deeper profound purpose one could forgive it, but alas each rule seems to be included for no other reason that to serve some visual flourish the director had in mind.
Nolan, Sci-Fi, 2010

43.5

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The Last Samurai
Idiotic Hollywood film that pretends to do honour the ideal of the samurai but in reality utterly demeans it by suggesting that a Yankee soldier can in mere months of training attain enough skill with a kitana to fight and beat samurai who have been training all their lives with that weapon. One can only assume that this film is nothing more than a despicable attempt by Hollywood to appropriate a cool foreign genre (that is by cultural and historical dicate off limits to western actors) in order to sell it to people who the studios felt didn’t want to watch foreign actors nor read subtitles. If that audience does exist then their’s is a taste that no film should ever be tailored to. If it was just the lazy assumption of a Hollywood executive then said executive should not be put in a position to green light an infomercial. And on top of all that you have the most laughable ending in the sad pathetic history of laughable endings. Maybe it needed more slow motion?!
Zwick, Adventure, 2003

42.8

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Set up as an origins movie, Rise of… attempts to shed light on how the apes became smart. James Franco plays a young scientist trying to discover a cure for Alzheimer’s by genetically enhancing some chimps. Cue a heavily contrived ape slaughtering sequence and violla he’s raising one such ape in secret. An Ape called Caeser (sigh!). From that point on the film deteriorates further into quite possibly the dumbest movie of all time. Once you poke holes in the flimsy attempt to make this a science-based thriller, the film simply becomes a vehicle for apes fighting humans and even in that baser attempt, the film comes off as decidedly pedestrian. The tension is manipulated in the most crass and cliches ways – cue nasty zookeeper who likes to be mean to animals. The emotions are manipulated with token references to Alzheimer’s and a superficial attempt to give Franco’s character a personal stake in his research – cue nauseating Hollywood earnestness. The  action sequences are so uninspired and manically conceived that they resort to the old build-the-scene-around-a landmark trick to make it in anyway memorable. On top of all that, there is the most cloy, predictable, and frankly ridiculous ending in years.
Wyatt, Sci-Fi, 2011

41.4

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Red Dragon
Brett Ratner’s attempt to tell the same story Michael Mann did 16 years earlier is by comparison grossly overstated and overcooked. Not only do we get Anthony Hopkin’s cartoon Lector in place of Brian Cox’s more intimidating foe but the directing is so completely uninspired in fact that it feels like a room full of studio executives not only cut it but were telling Ratner where to point the camera (that is not a defence of Ratner more an indictment). There is none of the dream like progression that we see in Manhunter or the subjective framing that allowed us to get so deep inside the characters’ minds. Edward Norton is a poor Will Graham. We feel none of the inner torture or sinister depths that came so subtly with William Peterson’s masterclass. Norton seems to be in pay-check mode and phones it in. And then there is that awful attempt to overly humanise Dolarhyde to the point that the films’ events seem akin to a public relations exercise. The underhanded sanitisation of his character is a classic superficial attempt to be deep when ultimately, it just comes across as a lazy attempt to appear deep.
Ratner, Crime, 2002

40.3

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Bad Santa
There’s no point wasting much time on this one because a quick scratch to the surface reveals this to be the empty suit of pseudo black comedy that it most certainly is. Black comedy and satire are amongst the more sophisticated forms of comedy not because of the darkness of the jokes but because of their implications for the wider story. Thus, writers of such comedy are not trying to be dark for the sake of it. They merely don’t mind going dark if the story calls for it. They don’t let morality get in the way of the story. Pseudo-black comedy arises out of a misinterpretation that black comedy is nothing more than gross out jokes and anti-pc humour for the sake of it. This misinterpretation is made by unsophisticated writers and moviegoers. Thus, in the same way that there are unsophisticated writers out there who don’t get black comedy but desperately want to look like they do, there are unsophisticated fans who don’t get black comedy but also desperately want to look like like they do. The former cater for the latter and viola Bad Santa is not only born but it becomes a box office hit too.
Zwigoff, Comedy, 2003

39.4

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Terminator Salvation
One could argue that the Terminator franchise should never have moved into the future (outside of a few flashback/forward shots) because it was inside the audiences’ imagination that the horror of that world’s future was at its scariest. But if one must make a future-based prequel then all fans would expect the plot to that film to lie in the story that Reese told Sarah Connor in the parking lot during The Terminator. The story of how John Connor brought the last remnants of human kind back from the brink by organising them, teaching them to storm the wire of the camps, to smash those metal…., anyway you remember. In other words, the film would illuminate that which was alluded to in the earlier films. Terminator Salvation gives us none of that. Instead, it lands us right bang in the middle of the resistance’s campaign where Skynet is already on the back-foot and John Connor is merely a local commander who takes orders from a bunch of guys on a submarine. It then proceeds to give us some half-assed story of a half-man/half-machine (Sam Worthington) creation of Skynet (that wasn’t in any way referenced in the earlier films) and amazingly makes it the central character! Connor is relegated to a secondary character in this mess, Reese is turned into a whiney boy who in no way resembles the battle-hardened and gnarly Reese of the first film, and the film lurches forward on the steam of its own crap.
McG, Sci-Fi, 2009

28.4

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Man of Steel
Zach Snyder’s groaningly familiar Superman reboot in which the kid from Krypton finds himself all grown up on Earth and battling his space daddy’s enemy, General Zod. Along the way he….argghhhhhhhh, seriously, why bother? One could simply label this “thing” as nauseating drivel but so obvious is such a comment that there’s a frustrating feeling of redundancy to such critique. Instead, maybe it’s time we realised that these movies are not well…movies. They are a peculiar product in the guise of a movie but not meant to be critiqued on those terms. Not at all! Artistically speaking, superhero movies have been a fatuous affair for a while now but since their recent explosion in popularity it has become ever clearer that they are no longer even aiming to tell stories. Rudimentary plots, water thin characterisation, stiff dialogue all point towards a concerted lack of interest and investment in the writing of these films. In the mind of the studio execs, they appear to be nothing more than modules for delivering cost effective CGI action to young boys. Kind of like a very long CGI cartoon with big name actors prancing around in front of a green screen. Man of Steel is perhaps the most comprehensive illustration of this. A hectic rush to get a cliched backstory out of the way and then a breathless lunge into a series of mindless CGI battles unfettered by plot and linked together by their mere contiguity. And on the other side of the battle, not one of the main characters comes out any different than they went in. The main players simply dust themselves off and wait for the next adventure which instead of being an “episode”, will be packaged as a “sequel”.
Snyder, Fantasy, 2013

25

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Only God Forgives
A Thai based drug smuggler (Ryan Gosling) is co-opted by his disturbingly affectionate mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) into a bizarre revenge scenario when his brother is killed. Oh dear! It’s impossible to properly describe how embarrassing this entire affair is for writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn. After pulling the wool over many fans’ and indeed critics’ eyes and convincing them that Drive’s directorial pretensions were in fact art, the emboldened Refn threw off whatever shackles his modicum of common sense placed upon him and went full tilt into a project of pure self delusion. The result is pretentiousness of genuinely hysterically proportions. From his main character’s metaphorical fiddling within the stomach wound of his enemy to the hack reinterpretation of Freud’s Oedipus Complex, this one just ploughs blindly forward with a smug smile and oblivious arrogance. However, the most unfortunate aspect to all this is that the truly talented Ryan Gosling seems to have bought the knock off Kool-Aid lock, stock, and rancid barrel.
Refn, Martial Arts, 2013

20

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