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Tag: bad movie

The Great Wall (2017)

The Great WTF

It feels weird, following our last week 2016 wrap up, that our first 2017 movie has such a solid chance to also be this year’s worst. The Great Wall is truly dumbfounding, and the only thing it shares with its titular wonder of the world is a monumental scale – of stupidity and ugliness. Some movies truly are beyond any word or philosophy: they just happen for undecipherable reasons, like an earthquake, the killing spree of a mass murderer or a flood. Call it an act of God if you must, something He would send His followers to test their faith. Yes, it’s that bad. And oh, it’s actually worse.

Matt Damon plays (if what he does here still qualifies as such) a mercenary on the quest for black powder. His crew has no map, no medicine, no food. They do not have a script, either, so they basically walk forth until they bump on the Great Wall. That’s when you remember that Yang Zimou directed the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony before this, for Chinese troops are colour-coordinated and all too eager to give a Cirque du Soleil performance under Power Rangers management. But first, Matt Damon has to clean up and shave, otherwise he wouldn’t look like a good actor with questionable choices.

As soon as he makes a grand entrance in the banquet hall, everyone raises and applaudes his fresh looks, as was the custom in ancient China. The head warrior, who also is the general’s daughter, looks suspiciously like good CGI and she tells him “Meet me on the Wall”, which considering the length of said wall sounds a bit like “Meet me in Chile”. There, the High Concept is exposed: Mars has been attacking China for the last 20 centuries, and the purpose of the Wall is to contain the green herds, looking suspiciously like bad CGI. What’s implied is that only Matt Damon will be able to successfully stops the invasion, first because he’s white, but also because he knows that killing the alien queen will result in her spawn dying in a second. Does that sound familiar to you? I don”t know what you’re talking about. Did one mention it happens in CHINA?

Chinese people, if they were stupid enough not to implement the very basic plan Matt Damon comes up with, have not remained idle during these twenty centuries. On top of black powder they have invented trust-building exercices, moderately successful hot air balloons and rotor blades, even though most of their creativity seems to have been spent on military fashion. At some point the Emperor even discovers the fridge magnet: both hilarity and mayhem ensue.

Add to this William Dafoe, convinced he stars in a Beijing Circus version of The Count of Monte Cristo, a sadly underused Andy Lau, any available cliché including the slow clapping traitor and the bravoury suicide, and if you are not bored stiff you will be rewarded at the end by a couple of scenes, one in the Forbidden City sewers, one in a tower entirely made of typical ancient Chinese rainbow stained glass. Already in Yang Zimou’s The Forbidden City, interior decoration was bordering on garish; here, we enter Las Vegas LSD Disco Inferno territory. Once again, to say that it’s stupid and ugly would be missing the point: The Great Wall is far, far beyond both. Have your optometrist at hand if you dare watching that thing. Just saying.

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Assassin’s Creed (2016)

Steve Jobs: The Untold Story

One remembers watching the first Assassin’s Creed demo in 2007 and being wooed by its visuals and its cinematic fluidity. The fact that 10 years later none of the movie even approximately approximates this cinematic level speaks volumes about Hollywood’s conflicting marketing unability to make anything out of anything. As a movie, Assassin’s Creed is almost entirely unwatchable; as a game-inspired movie, its makes a nice bookend with Doom; as a game-inspired movie franchise, it’s dead on arrival.

Should one bother with the story? The prologue establishes that the hero’s father killed the hero’s mother because the hero’s blood was not theirs. And one more for blood purity, a worrying concern for recent alleged blockbusters. Ensues a life of crime after which Michael Fassbender, looking suspiciously handsome, clean-shaven and muscular for a prisoner on Death Row, is executed by the State, only to be ressuscitated by Marion Godzilla. Amply provided with absurd lines by the script, she warns him “You are about to enter the Animus”. There are three know modes for Miss Cotillard: ordinary girl, in which she excels, fabricated heroin, for which she has star power, and vilain’s daughter in auto-pilot. Unfortunately, she’s in full gear third mode here.

She’s “protectress of the Apple” because, see, “the Apple is everything”. Or something. And one more for questionning the nature of reality, thanks to bogus X-ray science she developped in a secret laboratory by peering once or twice in a microscope, surrounded by fake stone pillars, dusty files and glassboxes full of antiques – which surprisingly enough, won’t get smashed this time around. Not that there are no ninjas around, though.

Twenty per cent of the movie shows a CGI eagle flying over CGI nothing while CGI bloodless massacre occurs. Filters vary wildly, and there’s is enough lense flare to suspect JJ Abrams was involved in the production. The insistance of motion capture during the contemporary scenes makes the thing look and feel like a behing the scene documentary of the game’s conception, while the horrendously edited period scenes have all the dramatic impact of an epileptic fit in a smoke machine. Late into the movie, someone utters “Commencing regression”, and it’s much, much too late an awakening of conscience.

Bless the damned thing for a one minute scene opposing Jeremy Irons (who spends half the duration of the movie looking into the abyss, maybe reminiscing the time when he got interesting roles in good movies, and doubtlessly waiting to cash his check) and Charlotte Rampling, who would make any under-written villain interesting. Michael Fassbender looks hot without a shirt on. Godzilla looks lovely with short hair. And last but not least, the line “Steak for the pioneer!” is a valuable entry in our ongoing contest for the most ridiculous line of 2016. Utterly avoidable.

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The Girl On The Train (2016)

Hitchcockiana

The thing with Hitchcock is rather simple: he was a formalist and a control freak without much empathy. Show one a fully fleshed character in his entire oeuvre and one will show you a liar: they’re all puppets serving his vision. There are therefore two possible paths when copycating / paying hommage to him: the formal way, which Brian de Palma had some success with, although he was too much of a Catholic, giallo-raised Italian to do more than mimicking a repressed English Protestant; or the “inspirational” way, which equates to placing “real” people in Sir Alfred’s trademark tricky situations. And this simply can’t work, because the absurdity of the plot then takes centerstage and backfires on the characters, making them caricatures of “real” people. Exhibit 2016 is The Girl On The Train.

An awkward mix of The Lady Vanishes, Rear Window, Spellbound and Suspicion, the movie stars Emily Blunt (good, and blessed with an even better eyesight) as commuter Rachel, vicariously living a perfect life through Megan, a woman she watches on her way to and back from the city, who seems the embodiement of bliss with her blonde looks, big house and handsome husband. The day she glimpses Megan in the arms of another man sends her into a downward spiral of alcohol-fueled rage and further enhances her aptitude at stalking her ex-husband (Justin Theroux, bland) and his new wife, Anna, who gave him the child he always dreamed of after Rachel proved to be barren, rhubard rhubarb rhubarb. Are we twisted enough yet?

One fateful night Rachel has a few too many and wakes up in a confusion of blood, vomit and cryptic flashbacks from a convenient blackout. Megan has been killed and Rachel becomes The Wrong Man (well, woman in that instance), which at least has the advantage of bringing on Allison Jeanney as a surprisingly understanding cop (she must have read the script). Twists and turns ensue, until a finale which might surprise you if you have never seen a thriller before, but earns a few brownie points for a corkscrew murder – call it alcoholic justice.

Build as a 21st century TV series, with the action jumping backwards and forward via title cards, including ones introducing the female leads by their first name, The Girl On The Train is not bad at putting together in a bell jar a bunch of parasites unable to feed from each other, and that’s quite about it. Rachel the wacko tries “to remember when was the last time she had meaningful contact with anyone”, which sounds a rather quaint way to qualify her situation. Also, she’s an alcoholic for the exact time the script needs her to be, after which a brief AA meeting allows her to breeze through the programme’s 12 steps in order to ask herself meaningful questions of the “do you ever really know anyone else?” kind. Oh, rutabaga.

Don’t miss the ginger haired Red Herring or the analysed-by-numbers shrink scenes, shoehorned into what should have sticked to an unreliable witness tale of frustration and depression, or a dream, or a ghost story, or a split personnality case, or whatever else it actually is. That’s how bad it is. The Girl On The Train pilfers Hitchcock’s vocabulary but doesn’t have any grammar to put the words in a correct sentence; it is therefore a meaningless, useless exercice. Oh well, at least the last scene doesn’t show a train rushing into a tunnel; that would have been the cherry on the layer cake.

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Allied (2016)

Play It Again, Marion

For “inspired” as it pretends to be by a timeless classic, Allied sure has a twisted sense of timing. It kind of does the trick for thirty minutes or so, on the inspired grounds of “What would Casablanca become from the point of view of the woman in charge?”, then any intention to bring a new perspective to whatever is the subject goes down the drain unhappily ever after. This is French Morocco, during WW2, the villains are Nazis and this is not a Raiders of the Lost Ark spin-off, so what were you expecting? This movie is not an oddity, it is an anomaly, not to say an abberation.

Before we get to the Ferrero Rocher extended ad, let’s talk about language in this movie. It’s about spies, see, and their ability to blend in. Miss Cotillard is very good as an agent double before the script asks her character to bend over twice, and definitely better at giving birth than at dying. Mr Pitt, on the contrary, makes a fool of himself attempting at French, all the while fooling close friends or fluent German spies. And don’t start one on simulated post-coital bliss on a rooftop, spoken in English when all the neighbours are German spies. In dialogue as in war, one has to chose sides, and this movie is neither here nor there.

So, Ferrero Rochers. One guesses the ambassador assassination features prominently in the trailers, because it’s the only exciting moment of an otherwise dull, useless and as exsanguinated as the 2015 version of Madame Bovary (featuring a dull, useless and exsanguinated Mia Wasikowska). It’s all going Bourne all of a sudden, even though it doesn’t work for a number of reasons. The best thing here are character actors, which are quite on par with the alleged original. Mr Pitt, though, strikes awkward poses in uniform during an absurd bunker scene.

And it goes and on, attempting at pilfering Hitchcock’s Notorious, then Suspicion, then Sabotage, to no avail. The original, for which one doesn’t have any feeling, at least had cult lines like “This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” while here we are blessed with “Show me your chickens, Max.” Further down the drain, there is a scene which is an embarassment to France and its national anthem, not to mention the Resistance. One thought Mr Pitt should have known better after Inglorious Basterds, but one doubts anyone involved in production was over 25.

Featuring no less than Mr Pitt killing in cold blood a woman in front of her infant child, Allied is some seriously awkward stuff, intended as an hommage but ending as a travesty of everything it is supposed to revere. It’s garbage, undecided to be an old new movie or a new old one, a black hole of every talent’s involved in the pursuit of such a McGuffin of a movie. Call it the Oscar Curse; if only it was the worse thing Miss Cotillard was involved this year (see next).

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Underworld: Blood Wars (2016)

There Won’t Be Blood

Attempting at resurrecting the lifeless corpse of Kate Beckinsale’s career, Underworld: Blood Wars (thereafter Blood Wars) looks and sounds like someone made a terrible mistake and injected it formaldehyde instead. Her character Selena is destined to become one of the Vampire Elders and she starts looking the part even though she seems in great shape, which is more that can be said about the CGI tornado wreaking havoc around her.

Braindeadly written and irrepressibly poorly filmed, this meager epic takes great caution in disgressing to something else, anything really, anytime something threatens to move the plot forward. Due to, one guesses, budget constraints, Blood Wars circumnavigates its big scenes through cheap slow-mo and epilectic ellipse while feverishly trying to check all the required action boxes. The result is not unlike watching unsuccessful attempts at defribrillating something long dead during ninety minutes: it’s not cinema, it’s electro-convulso therapy.

Blood Wars is much more interested in fetish gear than in the vampire lore. One mused where on Earth are so many barely legal hairdresssers that much into leather parties, and the answer is Prague, standing for “The Eastern Coven”. There, millenary vampires act like brooding teenagers, need modern medical equipment to take blood and have installed a “Dawn Alert” fired sixty seconds before sunrise because, one guesses, vampires have all the time in the world but a short attention span. Well, daylight is not such a threat anyway, considering a sunny morning gives instant way to diluvial rain in order to stay true to production design.

What stands for a script is obsessed by drug-taking and blood purity, to the point of having a coven of recently machine-gunned peacenick Walkyries return as Aryan elite warriors when some back up is needed. Selena is flanked by mostly bland characters, to the exception of the appropriately lupine Marius (Tobias Menzies) and vilain of the piece Semira (Lara Pulver, a talented antagonist in Sherlock Holmes‘ first season, here caught several times gazing at nothing, obviously bored). Oh, and Charles Dance plays Tywin Lannister – again.

Everyone being related to more or less anyone else, the thing ends – not, a sixth instalment or the franchise being planned – in family feud and serious questions about inbreeding that, unfortunately, the viewer is the only one to ask oneself. Such miscegeneration would at least explain why that fanged cohort is, from start to end, acting more like retarded backwater cannibals than like ladies and lords of the night. “Turn off the lights!” are a dying vampire last words. Please, do so, and shut the door behind you.

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La La Land (2016)

La La Lalala Lalala

The thing with reviewing La La Land is to be able to talk about nothing. Because there is nothing to say about such an absurd abuse of musical, with no less less than a vague hommage to Jacques Demy, which hold waters during a De Palma opening which has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, being one Oscar moment in a movie filled with them. It’s either Musicals for Dummies or the Cliff Notes for the same, meaning that it would make any Astaire or Kelly ashamed of their legacy to Hollywood. And do not let one start with Rogers or Charysse. It’s your 6yo attempting at Silk Stockings with only you thinking she has star material. It’s vile, repulsive material, which Hollywood will be too happy to bestow all possible Oscars on, because we are still on denial time, and the clock is not set five to midnight. Yet.

Emma Stone (playing herself to the point of being dangerously diegetic) has no less but four Oscar moments, either stripping her soul bare or belching her heart out on mediocre melodies. She also attempts at a dancing number with Ryan Gosling which is too embarrassing for words. But let’s not even start with Gosling. Emma Stone, see, is very cute. Was she aware that she was starring in a much more succesful remake of Showgirls is a question for the guy in charge of that expensive, ultra-filtrered piece of garbage, without any good supporting cast, by the way, so obsessed it it with its two stars that anyone else is reduced to pixels, including JK Simmons.

So, the problem is not that much Ryan Gosling, specialised as he is in not being there, but much of the productions choices, from colour-coordinated “chorus girls” to various filters. One means, even Baz Lufhann did it better, and this is both setting the bar pretty low and incommensurably higher. What we have here is the most possibly contrived rom-com ever (she loves jazz but she’s doomed to be a star, he plays jazz in a world where everything stopped with Charlie Parker), with half-baked cupcakes all the way.

There is an absurd music montage with actors unable to sing. For some reason it is structured on seasons, like a Buddhist movie, only without gluten. Paris is eternally stuck in the fifties, when everyone liked jazz, now a dead form of music, and please, stop this obscene carnival just now. There is nothing to like in La La Land except if you’re completely illiterate in musicals, nothing to enjoy if you have seen a couple of rom-coms, nothing to say about it except it will get many Oscars because for the time being, we like stupid escapism better than fighting the monster put in the Oval Office. This movie is criminal for saying nothing about the worst situation ever, and la la lalalala.

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Passengers (2016)

The Bible! Backwards! In Space!

Three quarters lukewarm water and one quarter a quite effective fish-out-of-water nightmare, Passengers suffers most from inconsequent Biblical allegory, and having its best quarter first. Not that it is an uncommon plague, excelling at the exposition of a high concept and being unable to convey it further than its inherent limitations, but this movie, through ingenious (not smart) use of multiple other sources, provides the viewer with one milquetoast experience which is as hard to hate as it is hard to like: the exact compendium of what Hollywood should send to space as a Rosetta stone, should it chose once more to elect Christian values over cinematography. Go figure what aliens will make of such a rewrite of the Scriptures.

So, do you remember the Fall from Eden, Adam being God’s masterpiece, until a woman, a tree and a snake precipitated the human race into sin, scourges and an endless life of misery? Good, thank you for that. Now project it backwards, starting from the Fall and rewinding to God’s green Earth, only adding space travel and romantic comedy in the mix? Here you are, watching Passengers.

So, Adam (Chris Pratt, vaguely attempting at emoting in at least in one and a half scene) and Eve (Jennifer Lawrence, for once in the Bible provided with a gorgeous wardrobe) live an idyllic life in an slightly dysfunctionning garden of Eden, namely the Avalon spaceship, en route for one of these terraformed colonies which increasingly appear as the only option out of our decaying world. Of course there is a tree, which you are left to chose is either the one of Knowledge of or Life, or both. Instructed as they are about previous mistakes, they do not procreate, in one of the most unwilling plot twists of recent blockbusters: no, they live a selfish life, contemplating the universe, eating gold class breakfast and having shared custody of the Snake, aka Arthur the Bartender. It’s kinda the Bible for the Z generation, the elected ones spending a life of leisure and boredom, not giving any thought about what will happen for generations to come.

The Snake (Michael Sheen on Mr Pistorius’ prosthetics and therefore by far the most interesting character onboard even though he’s ripped off straight, set including, from The Shining) is omiscient on cocktails and therefore in biblical allegory, so he knows when to step out of character, violate a couple of the laws of robotics and precipitate an extended romcom segment during which Adam and Eve falls in and out of love, including multiple wardrobe changes, happiness montages and a space dance straight out of Wall-E. Disaster ensues, but does it?

An extended action sequence includes Lawrence Fishburne for quota reasons, even though he has nothing to do there (which he does extensively, delivering a poor attempt at playing God, sorry “The Captain”). It’s not so much as the entire sequence is a crossover between Gravity and Prometheus, it’s… oh whatever. The ultimate “Open the door” suspense until next week, this action third act is clumsily edited, confusely dramatised and obfuscatingly directed. When is who emoting why, exactly?

Remains the first act, which, for ressembling the business class The Martian that it is, elicits more giggles that anything that follows. You know, at the beginning was the Word, then the Word became Flesh? Well, just imagine that in reverse and clutch your popcorn.

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Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

You’re In The Army Now… Again!

A big fat neutered cat of an action movie, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (henceforth: JR2) has Tom Cruise, probably unaware the title tells him never to, well, going back to the army to clear up the name of a girl he thought at some point of their telephone exchange would be worthy of a diner invitation. Yes, that’s quite about it. Of course, there is something fishy in Afghanistan, rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb, weapon smuggling, etc. and Mr Cruise can practice his favourite hobbies: climbing stuff and chasing cars. Cats and dogs, all wrapped in that tiny bundle of joy.

If a movie is only as good as its villain, one will let you choose between the professional assassin appearing or vanishing at will, the old guy with the earpiece, and a French. If you need some time to think, please absorb a few fun facts along the way:

– It is extremely easy to escape from a military prison.
– A driver can be put in charge of the freshly proven ineffectual prison security without anyone noticing.
– A trained soldier armed with a meat cleaver will cower in fear of bullets shot in another direction.
– Annoying teenagers are punished by imprisonement in a very expensive art school.
– Twin beds are deterrent to sexuality.
– Afghanistan is sepia.

Everything is played by the book and it’s a very boring one. The only redeeming feature of JR2 is that Cobie Smulders (Robin Scherbatsky in the vastly overrated How I Met Your Mother) is a trooper when it comes to kick ass. Tom Cruise has obvious chemistry with her and he’s very good in a couple of mute scenes. But please, Tom, never go back there.

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Morgan (2016)

We Have To Talk About Morgan

Morgan has the lofty ambition to mix the Frankenstein myth, corporate evil and love against all odds and therefore fails at all three. It takes some specific talent, one guesses, to fail at the third, but to be fair, the context of genetically engineered pedo-lesbian maternity contest has its hurdles. Poor Morgan (Anna Taylor-Jones, from The Witch, here given nothing much to do but looking hostile) looks like 15 but is a 5 year old artificial creation referred as “IT” by souless government drones, and everything goes wrong from there. Nothing like a bad use or pronouns to trigger disaster, see.

A compendium of annoying actors (Rose Leslie, anyone?) bickering on elegiac music, Morgan doesn’t bring anything to the experiment-going-haywire subgenre, even though it ticks most available boxes, from car chase to communion with nature, from return to the womb to a Terminator on hot pursuit (here played with rigid inflexibility by the unsufferable Kate Mara). Absurd editing pays its dues to absurd screenwriting, except in the Paul Giamatti death scene, but Mr Giamatti is better off dead in any role anyway.

“Just be yourself”, he tells IT at some point. As a psychiatrist, he might want to sort out his grammar first, but in a dialogue itself checking all possible boxes (“Open the door!”, what else?), it’s hardly salient. Also, it was one’s shock to realise that Michelle Yeoh had a hard time affecting a Mandarin accent, but it’s Michelle Yeoh so all is forgiven.

No, the only good thing about Morgan is IT feeling sad about Dr Kathy Grieff (sigh…). Not because she enucleated said doctor in the opening scene, mind you, but because she’s played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who’s a fearless actor. She was the only American actress to accept the titular role in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle when production was due in the United States and in a sense, she’s the American Huppert, only her career has been constricted by the puritanism and cowardice of the Hollywood system instead or blooming at the international level.

She’s by far the best element of the movie and she’s missing an eye, a trait shared with the director, the editor, the set designer and everyone else involved in that production, especially the one who came up with the idea of a finale mixing Ophelia and Friday the 13th. Long lives Jennifer Jason Leigh!

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Genius (2016)

You Can Leave Your Hat On

As fake as a true story can be rendered through awkward writing and ill-advised directing choices, Genius is a movie about language and writing. It deals like difficult subjects like the nature of art, the mysteries of inspiration and what it is like to live a literary life; quite unsuprisingly, it’s rather stiff and academic. It’s based on the relationship between Thomas Wolfe, the titular genius writer (Jude Law, somewhere between excessively Method and high camp) and his lifetime publisher Max Perkins at Scribner’s & Sons (Colin Firth, typecast in yet another majestic biopic). The publisher, who discovered Fitzgerald and Hemingway, helps the writer to spruce up his diluvial prose (one of his manuscript, apparently half writen on the top of a fridge, is 5000 pages long) and the writer helps the publisher loosening his tie and therefore live a little.

Both men have a pivotal woman in their life, Perkins a wife (Laura Kinney, good as usual) with whom he had many daughters, and Wolfe a mistress who left her stiffling marriage for him (Nicole Kidman, great in a scene which should never had been writen in the movie at all). The women lose patience while the men exchange the literary equivalent of sextos across a long period of time, so the men lose the women. They both know their Shakespeare, see, but neither of them has the singlest clue about relationships. It’s a passion of the mind, which leaves everyone involved embittered.

And so it goes as these things go, with lengths of cryptic voiceover quoting Wolfe’s novels, tongue-in-cheek cultural exchanges and meaningful silences. Colin Firth, flegmatic to the point of flatlining, never takes off his thinking hat to make sure the message he’s an intellectual comes across; Jude Law rampages through dialogues as long as his books and diverse states of agressive or ecstatic inebriation. Some namedropping cameos pop up to enliven what would have been better, should it have been a play. Guy Pearce makes a good Fitzgerald; the Hemingway scene is straight out of Midnight in Paris except it’s noon in California.

There is an inexplicably long scene in a jazz club, the mandatory setting for a breakup artist to nourish his inspiration and for a businessman to start tapping his foot, which is neither revealing about the characters or even interesting. There is a very good one during which one can understand what the job of a publisher is, editing a love scene to its bare minimum without ruining the author’s purpose (“He falls in love and his mind go to submarine life?” being the best dialogue by far, together with Wolfe recriminating that if Perkins had edited Tolstoi, his masterpiece would have been titled “War and Nothing”).

Good looking in its period details, Genius has failed at providing Oscar nominations for its two male leads. If only the writer had a publisher as good as Perkins, it might have ended otherwise. Eminently avoidable.

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