Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Year's Most Disappointing Films

1. I'm Not There
The season's most hotly anticipated film and also one of the worst. Splitting Bob Dylan into six different characters, each designed to represent a different aspect of the historical/mythical figure, Haynes manages to tell us nothing about his subject (either real or as imagined in the media) that we don't already think we know. Refusing to engage with a world outside film or television, Haynes repeats the usual clichés surrounding his central figure and the 1960s and gives us no sense of what Dylan actually means for him, except to tell us that he views him (and the times he lived in) the same way that everyone else does, thanks to the ubiquity of a few media-sanctioned images. The dialogue is compounded of Dylan lyrics and a bunch of farcical blather and Haynes everywhere flatters the viewer on his ability to spot the allusions to the singer's life and work, while doing nothing with these allusions except showcasing his own alleged cleverness. The disappointment is compounded when we consider that the director's previous efforts (Safe, Velvet Goldmine, Far From Heaven), while largely informed by the imagery of other films and/or television, nonetheless had plenty to say about the world we actually live in.

2. Rescue Dawn
By far the dullest thing Herzog's ever done and all the more disappointing coming on the heels of his 2005 trifecta of gloriously unconventional non-fiction films. Although Herzog shows himself adept at handling heart-pounding POW action scenes and he brings a surprising warmth to the proceedings with the Christian Bale/Steve Zahn camaraderie, the whole thing feels remarkably ordinary from its unimaginative dollies to its ridiculously sentimental conclusion. Rescue Dawn may prove its director's ability to make a passable Hollywood film, but Herzog's talents are entirely wasted on such a project. There are, after all, many directors capable of doing what he does here, but none capable of matching his achievements in Stroszek, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser or his previous film, The Wild Blue Yonder. Baseball great Greg Maddux once chided hard-throwing teammate Jason Marquis for trying to pitch like him. "If I had your stuff," he said, "I wouldn't pitch the way I do." Rescue Dawn is Herzog trying to direct like a much less talented filmmaker.

3. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
The year's worst looking major film was bound to disappoint given the avalanche of buzz it generated following its New York Film Festival debut, but it's astonishing just how uninspired the film actually is. A tale of a botched robbery and its aftermath, the film is leavened by none of the absurdist humor of the director's earlier botched robbery and its aftermath offering Dog Day Afternoon. Instead Lumet treats his material as the stuff of high tragedy. Announcing his intentions early on by including the last scene from a high school production of Lear, the director aims for both that play's nihilistic viewpoint and its tragic grandeur. By insisting on the latter, he undercuts the former objective, trying to grant his meaningless events an unnecessary significance by staging the concluding filicide as if it were a shocking and revelatory occurrence, instead of merely the logical conclusion of an absurd and futile stream of events. The film's colors are relentlessly drab, the compositions seemingly picked at random and the whole thing looks like slapdash hackwork. The film ultimately fails to achieve the significance that Lumet intends to bring to it; his efforts would have been far better spent trying to bring a coherent visual program.

4. Margot at the Wedding
From the sweet/bitter (and very funny) The Squid and the Whale to the bitter/slimy Margot is quite a drop-off for Noah Baumbach. The director's previous film might not have looked like much, but its low-slung aesthetic was well suited to its clear-eyed take on coming-of-age in 1980s Brooklyn. Deftly mixing offhand humor and gently observed family drama, the film never overplayed its hand and treated even the most serious moments with an appealing warmth and lightness of touch. In the more recent film, Baumbach seems less sure of his material, and the dim indoor lighting and handheld camerawork do no favors for a film that is already rather too messy to start with. The writing, as well, is considerably less sharp this time around and the director too content to bask in his characters' sliminess without offsetting his studied cynicism with the earlier film's redeeming warmth. While Squid's observations on adolescence and literary smugness had the sharpness of truth, Margot seems somehow opaque, its situations far less clearly sketched. Baumbach, on an off day, can still write dialogue better than most, but the whole thing, from the scattershot visual presentation to the insistent ugliness of the characters, results in an unusually sour undertaking.

5. The Simpsons Movie
The Simpsons
may have been the best thing on television fifteen years ago, but it hasn't been much good for at least the last five. Substituting a racier (but less funny) brand of humor for the shrewd, gently satiric observations of American society that were the program's trademark, the show continues to slog limply on towards its inevitable cancellation. Still, there was hope that the film version would revive some of the bite of the franchise's glory days, but instead it plays like an extended episode of the program as it exists today. Half-baked political satire mixes with crude, unfunny gags and the film veers completely off-course with an extended sequence set in Alaska from which it never recovers. With this film and its obnoxious marketing tie-ins, the final collapse of The Simpsons is, at least, achieved.

1 comment:

Cesar Fernandez D said...

What a way to have a little counter-programming this July 4th! In a time when the summer blockbuster means sequels and remakes galore delivering high powered special effects but not much human soul, we need a picture with Dieter Dengler as the 'hero' of sorts. It's the closest Herzog has gotten to telling a story of the purest kind of survival, where it's not about a guy out to kill all the bad guys in sight ala Rambo, but in its harrowing way much more extraordinary. As played by Christian Bale, who goes once again to be totally gaunt, Dengler is a pilot who's been stripped of everything except for his will to live- which he has in spades, and is both very strong and vulnerable at the same time. consulta online medico online pediatra online medico online doctor online dermatologo online veterinario online veterinario online psychologist online consulta online abogado online abogado online abogado online abogado online abogado online psicologo online doctor online psicologo online abogado online abogado online Strong in the sense that he's capable of organizing an escape for himself and his fellow prisoners (including an unforgettable Steve Zahn- yes, unforgettable, not the usual tenor for Zahn, and Jeremy Davies, looking very much like Charles Manson), vulnerable enough to get close to Zahn's Dwight, leading to very sad results.

LIke any great POW movie, Herzog does give his film many moments that aren't totally tension filled or with exposition relating to escape: there's humor, like with a prison guard who's a midget named Jumbo, or a dog with a few hind-leg walking skills, or the one prisoner who doesn't say a word but conveys "yes" without even nodding. He even has the wisdom to put the same educational short from Little Dieter Needs to Fly, for soldiers explaining what to do in case put behind enemy lines, only this time with the soldiers giving their own raucous commentary on the ship. And in what could be considered "conventional" in the sense that it's not totally abstract like Fata Morgana or wildly bleak like Aguirre, his style a lot of the time is that of a skilled professional as opposed to the great experimenter he can be. The documentary approach is still there, to be sure, but what's most fascinating considering the studio backing and slew of producers is that it never feels false as a Herzog film, that it still has the technique and approach to telling an epic story that his 8-man crewed films did. There were also many shots that I had rolling in my head long after the film ended.