It’s been several days at this point, but I still feel compelled to say that I personally sure as hell didn’t see the death of Michael Clarke Duncan coming. I’m sorry it happened for purely selfish reasons. He was one of those actors who made me think, “Well, okay, no matter what happens, no matter how vindictively awful this movie (or show) might be, I can at least hedge my bets on Michael Clarke Duncan being fantastic.”
I’m not going to rush out and watch Daredevil again (my masochist tendencies don’t run that far), but I do remember considering Duncan to be the only redeemable quality in that movie. Comedy makes up most of his career, but, of course, there’s The Green Mile, which got him an Oscar nomination. I love that movie, and his performance is the best thing about it, but I also think he had the ability to do a lot more than comedy. Although there’s nothing wrong with that. He had brilliant timing, delivery and chemistry with just about everyone he ever worked with. His size, body language and deep voice gave him that obvious intimidation factor. It gave him distinction in several comedic roles, but films like The Green Mile or even Sin City proved he could handle more than just “It’s funny because he’s a huge black guy with a scary voice.”
I have no complaints about what his filmogaphy offers me, but it might have been interesting to see him in other serious parts.
As always I can only view his untimely death in the narrow terms of someone who loved his work. And on that level he’s going to be greatly missed.
I was just thinking the other day how the world has seemed desperate for a remake of a Steve Martin-Lilly Tomlin comedy from the 1980’s. Good to know that at least some of my prayers are being answered.
I have absolutely zero interest in sequels to Independence Day.
The plan for Spielberg’s Lincoln epic remains to double-bill that baby with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. That just seems like a good idea any way you look at it.
Someone asked me not too long ago if I went out of my way to avoid reviewing movies I really hated. Anyone who has read more than a couple of these columns knows that’s not true. It could be that I’m not as harsh a critic as I could be, or it’s just that I’m saving the venom for things that are actually difficult to sit through. There are movies that didn’t make any kind of impact on you at all (the worst kind, if you ask me). There are also movies that you probably won’t watch again, but they weren’t wretched enough to make you wonder if joy still exists in the world. Then there are movies so bad that you become aware immediately afterwards of how precious and brief life on this planet is. You think about this, because you realize you just wasted two hours of that precious and brief gift on something so disgusting, you feel halfway tempted to get tested for sexually-transmitted diseases. There is no such thing as water hot enough to wash that feeling away.
I’m pretty good at this point in my life at knowing which movies are going to make me feel that way, even though I also try to balance that with an open mind, but there are a few gems that manage to slip through. They get by that little voice in my head that says, “You could, you know, catch up on your reading, or learn how to perform open-heart surgery on yourself.”
I have a long list of movies I’ve seen recently that I could cover for this column. They’ll still be there when we get around to the next one. What I’m going to focus on today are a small handful of movies that I truly wish I had been able to avoid. That’s right. We’re going to deal in nothing but relentless, unflinching negativity. This isn’t a countdown of the worst of the worst. It’s just a few select titles that left me thinking that I had just been cheated. That somehow I had been tricked into trading a piece of my life for someone’s maddeningly stupid vision of what they think a film should be. That’s of course a pretty stupid thought. No one tricked me. I watched it myself. Something, boredom or spectacularly-misplaced optimism, drove me to give a chance.
I think about this, and I feel even worse.
We’re going to select a few random picks with these thoughts in mind. I’m going to try and find a mix of movies that were just a big letdown, and movies I’d just as soon admit I’ve never actually seen.
Should be fun.
Shark in Venice (2008): F-
I grew up on Mystery Science Theater 3000, so there are times when I’ll watch something simply for the fact that I have some friends, hard liquor, a whole evening and a more sarcastic mindset than usual handy. It’s not that I expect a masterpiece like Shark in Venice to be good, as much as I just expect to have a lot of really cruel things to say about it, for the amusement of anyone else who happens to be in the room. It’s with this in mind that Shark in Venice shares something with the two Twilight movies I’ve seen. In that I couldn’t think of a single thing to say about it. I just couldn’t. Every time I tried to think of something to say, I found myself lost in the cold, hopeless wasteland of Stephen Baldwin’s eyes. I understand he’s become a big fan of Jesus over the last few years. That’s fine. I don’t believe it for a second though. Watch that movie. Watch those soulless eyes, as he goes about trying to make us believe for even a second that he’s smart enough to be a professor of anything. I really can only remember but so much of this movie. I know there are indeed sharks, and I know that the movie was actually shot in Bulgaria, not in Venice. I also remember Scarlett Johansson’s sister, Vanessa, appearing as Stephen’s very special friend. There’s also something in Shark in Venice about the mafia, a brooch and Baldwin searching for his missing brother. At this point it’s all become just a blur of sound and horrible visuals. It’s all just a backdrop to the horror that is Stephen Baldwin’s eyes. Watching them it’s impossible to imagine that even H.P. Lovecraft could describe the nightmares swirling around in those black globes of death. What I do recall is that Shark in Venice is bad not because everything in it is completely and thoroughly terrible, but because it demands we take its story and characters very seriously. That tends to suck the fun out of what should be a hilariously-bad Z-movie affair. There is nothing even faintly amusing about this. I didn’t even get the laughs I was hoping for.
Bedtime Stories (2008): F+
I watched this with small children, but I guess there’s no excuse for that. For what it’s worth I probably never would have caught this otherwise. Even though I’m admittedly a sucker for Adam Sandler. Sometimes that leads to a surprisingly excellent performance on his part. Other times it leads to one of those guilty pleasures I’m not going to apologize for. I learned after sitting through Bedtime Stories that it can also lead to this complete mess of a children’s movie. In which a hotel handyman (Sandler) entertains his young niece and nephew with fairy tales that soon begun to make their way into reality. I’m fine with kid’s movies. I grew up with four younger siblings, and I have three godchildren. I saw Wall*E by myself (that was one of the most depressing days of my life, by the way). They can reach me as well as any genre can. I might have liked this when I was little, but I severely doubt it. The kids I watched this with didn’t like it either. Say what you want about the current generation, but they still know when their intelligence is being insulted. Bedtime Stories doesn’t just do that. It leaves you with brain damage, and it hopes you die in the ensuing coma. I haven’t seen Sandler’s Jack and Jill, but I have a really hard time believing it could possibly be worse than this.
You’ve Got Mail (1998): F+
All due respect to the late Nora Ephron, You’ve Got Mail is the worst romantic comedy I’ve ever seen. This is another genre that can be a tough sell for me, but my heart isn’t completely turned black from years of enjoying cigarettes. A good movie is a good movie, and I do my best not to let something as silly as its supposed target audience stop me from watching and enjoy. I haven’t seen Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan fall in love for a third (and thankfully) final time in You’ve Got Mail since I saw it on, I think, HBO about thirteen years ago, but I feel pretty confident that my opinion wouldn’t change if I had endured its smugness, stupid story and awkward performances yesterday. I don’t mind love, happenstance or what happens when those two things come together in a movie. The sweetness and forced quirkiness in You’ve Got Mail is damn near perverse. Why couldn’t we just somehow make a sequel to Joe vs. the Volcano, if the world really was clamoring for another smarmy Hollywood love affair between Hanks and Ryan?
Simone (2002): D+
Andrew Niccol has made some really good films, like The Truman Show and Gattaca, so it was pretty disappointing to run across this largely-forgotten film from 2002 a couple of years ago. This is a good example of thinking I just can’t lose with a certain cast, a certain director and writer (and in case of Simone both chores were handled by Niccol) and a particular kind of story. So, it’s too bad when all of those things combusted out of nowhere over the course of the movie. Nothing wrong with Al Pacino as a weary filmmaker (I think after a certain year, you can just assume Pacino’s character is weary) who stumbles across a computer program that generates a simulation of a beautiful, perfect (she won’t complain, get tired, get an ego etc) actress (Rachel Roberts) to finish his troubled production. It works for a moment, and then everything quickly spirals out-of-control when the entire world falls madly in love with Pacino’s new “discovery.” It’s a neat story, and there’s a great supporting cast under Pacino that includes Catherine Keener, Jason Schwartzman, Jay Mohr, Evan Rachel Wood and Winona Ryder. It’s pretty obvious from the get-go that Simone is going to have heavy doses of satire and commentary on the media, celebrity, technology, the struggle of the artist and the like throughout its story. It could be then that with so much ambition, and Simone is fairly ambitious concept, that there was nothing for the film to do but fall flat. And it does. None of the parts of Simone are particularly awful. They just create something that’s pretty awful when they’re put together. Instead of something on par with Niccol’s better movies we get something that is painfully tedious and noticeably pretentious. I’ve always thought movies like Simone were even worse than movies like Shark in Venice. I guess that’s mostly because I expected something like Simone to actually be good.
Eyes of Laura Mars (1978): D+
Some people regard this as a cult classic, and I guess that’s fair enough. I thought it was ludicrously overacted (Rene Auberjonois is great though), played to slow pace that couldn’t get much life out of its dumb story and featured a twist ending that was more annoying than shocking. It doesn’t help Eyes of Laura Mars that I’ve never been a big Faye Dunaway fan. It’s not like I didn’t know she was in the movie going in though. So, I don’t think it has as much to do with the casting, because there’s a really good cast that includes Raul Julia, Tommy Lee Jones and Brad Dourif. I don’t think Irvin Kershner, probably better known as the director of The Empire Strikes Back, was a bad filmmaker. I don’t even really have a problem the story of a photographer who specializes in violent imagery begins seeing a series of grisly murders through the eyes of the killer. What kills Eyes of Laura Mars, besides things like dated 70’s visual touches, a dismal score and a lackluster execution of a story that didn’t have to be dumb, is that no one can seem to decide what the hell is going on here. Half the cast takes the material very seriously. The other half plays up the camp possibilities to heights that would be impressive if that was supposed to be the whole point of the movie to begin with. It’s an even bigger problem with the movie itself. There are moments in Eyes of Laura Mars that are genuinely suspenseful and nicely done. Others are so damn silly it’s hard to believe its part of the same movie. A movie that went in one direction and stayed that way probably would have been fine. A movie like this just gives me a goddamn headache. The 1970’s are my favorite decade for the movies. Eyes of Laura Mars is a good reminder that even my favorite decade isn’t perfect.