Reverse Shot's 11 Offenses of 2007

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Welcome to our annual 11 Offenses, a proper wake-up call from the end-of-year lovefest that found us waxing on the greatness of contemporary cinema, as well as the only list you’re likely to see that doesn’t feature There Will Be Blood. With a year as great as 2007 behind us, it took all we could muster to get out the knives and sharpen them up, but how could we deny our fans the pleasure? Why, just read a sampling of reactions from some devoted, erudite readers about last year’s litany of litter:

“Who are you people and why does anyone give a rat’s ass what you think?” . . . “The article does come across as though someone played around on Word's synonym tool.”; . . . “what a moronic column. absurd. friggin idiots. next time i bump into a bitter film critic, i guess i'll punch them in the face instead of just laughing at them.” . . . “Criticism, in general, is such a negative thing. And real hard to do. Not! Hey, instead of actually doing anything, I will just judge what everyone else does....nice! Great Legacy! trust me bro...you dont look smarter, no matter how hard you try!”

With only 11 slots, and so much ground to cover—somewhat less than last year’s bumper crop of high-profile stinkers, to be sure—there are bound to be omissions. By all accounts, Trade should be on this list, as it’s probably the most offensive, and inept, movie in many a moon, but not only has it already been appropriately excoriated by Reverse Shot, we also really don’t want to have it give that largely unseen filth another half a thought. But all you bad films know that we know you’re out there. So, back by popular demand: 11 Offenses!

[Capsules by Jeannette Catsoulis, Michael Koresky, Jeff Reichert, Michael Joshua Rowin, Andrew Tracy, and Chris Wisniewski]

southland.jpgSouthland Tales
Richard Kelly’s pretentious, dunderheaded sci-fi bonanza Southland Tales bombed, and rightly so, but if a vocal group of critical supporters gets its way, we won’t be hearing the last of it—it’ll be rescued, positively reevaluated for zeitgeist-humping “irreverence” and eventually placed in the qualitatively underwhelming but somehow influential cult pantheon. So maybe this needs to be nipped in the bud right now: Southland Tales is laughably inept, and making a case for it smacks of reverse snobbishness. Instead of the fawning hyperbole slavishly piled on Important high art, what we have with the Southland lobby is powerful wishful thinking converting creative diarrhea into a misunderstood work of genius. I still haven’t read a defense of Southland that convincingly explains any idea actually contained in the film—there are only laundry lists of Kelly’s pop references and plot contrivances, as if their mere existence on movie screens amounted to subversion. However dressed in a media-saturated trashiness Oliver Stone and Gregg Araki pulled off with infinitely sharper satirical bite more than a decade ago, Southland’s interpretation of American politics (Republicans are evil, global warming is bad, oil dependency is wrong) remains embarrassingly unimaginative. Contrary to building critical revisionism, Southland Tales says nothing about life in 2007, unless it demonstrates just how small a vision the supposedly best and brightest of young American directors possesses. —MJR

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Gerard Butler’s gleaming rock-hard nips are pointed directly toward the end of civilization. It’s nearly impossible to enumerate the crimes committed against ideology, aesthetics, and overall good taste in Zack Snyder’s nefarious piece of pomo propaganda in a mere 200 words (for a full account, just click here); in the wake of 300’s disheartening success, expect a parade of more dead-eyed, jingoistic, white supremacist saber rattlers, perched on the ever-more precarious edge between glorified military recruitment ad and video game. I’m still flabbergasted: Would the disconcerting trend of refashioning history as Tolkein-cribbing fantasylands really please anybody other than fanboy nitwits if hip-swaggering, homophobic, Bush-era political conservatism weren’t opportunistically added to the mix? I guess we shouldn’t have expected anything less from the man who reprogrammed Romero’s blatant capitalist critique Dawn of the Dead as a kick-ass spectacle of action-movie mayhem. —MK

juno-1.jpgJuno
What, exactly, is Juno about? It’s not about teenage pregnancy—unless that means the subset of pregnant (white) teenage girls whose parents respond to the big news by joking about the potency (or lack thereof) of the father-to-be, or who conveniently give their babies to (rich, white) childless couples. It’s not about abortion, to be sure, despite its “abortion scene”—a parade of stereotypes that hinges on the intervention of a pro-life Asian girl with bad grammar (of course she has bad grammar, silly . . . she’s Asian!). It’s not about motherhood, excepting its contrivance that the arrival of an infant can transform a stiff, cold, deadeningly boring yuppie into a glowing beacon of feminine warmth. And if this movie is supposed to be about love, well, you’d think it would spend more time—or any time, really—developing its ostensible love interest, beyond turning him into a walking visual gag (Track suit. Got it. Yes, I am familiar with The Royal Tenenbaums). No, Juno is really about hype: the packaging of a smug, self-satisfied, faux-edgy, faux-quirky, faux-indie studio film into the cross-over story of the year, complete with its stripper-makes-good, soon-to-be-Oscar-winning screenwriter as star. So what if it makes buckets of money? In ten years, no one will care. You can bet your hamburger phone on it, home skillet. —CW

transformers.jpgTransformers
The world has generally accepted that, something like bi-annually, Michael Bay will commit a $200-million dollar filmic abortion on screens around the globe. It will generally make scads of cash, and occasionally a franchise or profitable merchandising line will be spawned. We’re inured to it, but why, why, why did he have to take the extra step and pervert our childhood memories? And how did he convince Steven Spielberg to help him do it? In Bay’s hands, Transformers, whose original cartoon was somewhat seminal to the Reverse Shot set, is thoroughly raped and left a robotic shell of its former self, barely recognizable amidst the wreckage of a once airtight scenario and characterizations. Its action sequences are inchoate, its stabs at comedy (big robots poorly hiding behind trees=LALZ!) wildly flat, its globetrotting “narrative” preposterous, and woe to the “live” performers who showed up—a lot less care was obviously paid them than the CGI. Would that Shia LaBeouf’s mouth-breathing Michael Cera+Jonah Hill+Michael Angarano pastiche had ended his improbable rise to stardom. Already cast in a memorable film—albeit with (gasp!) 2D animation—that had the chutzpah to kill off Optimus Prime and introduce a fairly weighty resurrection narrative, the Autobots and Decepticons in no way needed digital treatment, especially not of this sort. Thankfully, Transformers 2 is already scheduled for 2009! —JR

hostel2_l.jpgHostel Part Two
Just because it summarily slid out of theaters (leaving a scummy trail of residue on the way out, no doubt) doesn’t mean that Eli Roth’s sleazy sequel doesn’t deserve another slap across its smug, twisted face. In a year of flat-out lousy horror movies (Joshua, 30 Days of Night, Severance), this was probably the worst of the bunch, a reductive, misogynist wankfest cloaked as a serious-minded, “feminist” (Roth’s words, not ours...or anyone else’s) horror subversion—apparently, pea-brained Roth fearfully equates feminism with castration. It’s common to dismiss the gruesome lows of provocations like Hostel with casual yawns, yet outrage is wholly appropriate for a film such as this, which rubs our noses in filth and then tells us how instructive it’s being. Catch that closing “ironic twist,” when the tortured final girl turns bloodthirsty, vengeful killer. It’s the cheapest moralizing tactic in the book, one that takes the daring stance of supposing that “inside we’re all capable of such acts.” Well, no, Eli, we’re not, but thanks for the brief window to your soul. —MK



goldencompass2.jpgThe Golden Compass
2007 was the year studios realized that Harry Potter audiences were not to be fobbed off with dreck like The Seeker: The Dark is Rising or the tongue-twisting zoology of The Golden Compass. While New Line executives cowered before the Catholic bishops, dousing Philip Pullman’s atheistic fantasy in the holy water of inoffensiveness, they neglected to notice that their director, Chris Weitz, was completely out of his depth. Whatever the limitations of the first Harry Potter, Chris Columbus at least took the time to craft a world we cared about before drowning us in magic and mythology. Hogwarts was a real character, a place of safety and wonder where wizards incubated and attachments were nurtured. Compass, however, has no such grounding: the briefly seen college may be Lyra’s home but it’s as amorphous as her parentage. Overwhelmed by too many blue screens and too few pronounceable names, Weitz threw his hands in the air and surrendered his movie to a computer-generated polar bear. Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig may yet save the sequels, but only if the studio ditches Weitz in favor of Alfonso Cuarón. —JC

hannah_takes_stairs.jpgHannah Takes the Stairs
Why take offense at Joe Swanberg’s Hannah, the mumblecore super-movie made on half a shoestring, and carried aloft into distribution on the wings of good intentions? Well, for reasons similar to why one should take offense with Juno, just on a more manageable scale. Hannah is a self-conscious valedictory lap for a mini-movement instead of a film, and one that sucked all coverage and attention to it and away from more valuable work (Katz’s Quiet City, Swanberg’s own LOL). Obviously not all of this is the film’s fault. And of course, Hannah is hardly the blockbuster success of Juno, isn’t likely to be Academy Award–feted, and hasn’t propelled lead Greta Gerwig to Ellen Page status. But still, it might forever be known as a film that defined its moment, and even if many of its slights stem more from its reception than the art itself let it not be said that the art is good. Ugly and flat, shapeless to the point of interminability, twee beyond belief, Hannah neatly embodied all the worst that loosely defined genre known as mumblecore has (had?) to offer. Reverse Shot’s so mean for beating up on little independent films, right? Only when they suck! —JR

28weekslater.jpg28 Weeks Later
The very fact that this sequelized spawn is so wholly unremarkable from its generic fellows, masking its shallow straining for effect behind a skein of underplayed subtlety, makes the complacent cynicism of its aesthetics (grainy-shaky-cam-half-seen-splatter) as well as its zeitgeist-baiting (Green Zones and free fire on civilians) all the more noxious. Grindingly, predictably bleak in a way that doesn’t so much shred the nerves as slowly erode them with relentless and relentlessly boring carnage, 28 Weeks Later is an exemplar of that brand of self-consciously “slick,” tritely topical transnational hackery which surfs the “wicked-cool!” wave to modest profits and eventual (and deserved) disappearance. Appropriating the mantle of seriousness retrospectively bestowed upon the Romeros of this world to give an aura of relevance to its clichéd mechanics, 28 Weeks Later’s combination of affected, disingenuous “humanism” and cheap nihilism, particularly in its offensively cynical conclusion, views the end of the world as a sure-fire recipe for franchise expansion. Months, Years, Decades Later still await us with the continental leap at film’s end, after all—in this bunch’s hands, the zero-sum game of apocalypse is merely a handy way to tack more zeros to their take. —AT

kingdom.jpgThe Kingdom
A major theme of 2007 was the box-office failure of overtly political, usually Iraq War–oriented films: In the Valley of Elah, Rendition, Redacted, Lions for Lambs. The relative success of The Kingdom puts the story in greater perspective—it’s not that audiences don’t want to hear about the war, they just don’t want to hear people talk about it. None of those films were stellar, but quality aside, dialogue-heavy moral reckonings about the War on Terror and attendant issues just won’t go over. Render the war a mind-numbing action spectacle (with sloppy handheld camerawork and throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks editing for “verisimilitude”), however, and it’ll sell just fine. There’s not much more to say about The Kingdom except that the breadth of its hegemonic strategy is impressive, managing not only to reduce a complex nation like Saudi Arabia and its relationship with the United States to a CSI case file, but even define American characters via the stupidest clichés: the defenseless, wise-cracking Jew; the tough, common-folk Southerner; the steely African-American; the Woman. Screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan tacks onto the end of The Kingdom an unearned irony about revenge just to make sure he doesn’t come across as totally deluded, but it’s a gesture as empty as the film’s concern with the role of America in the Middle East. It’s all just a show. —MJR

dwights.jpgIntroducing the Dwights
At this point, I’m not quite sure what to do with Brenda Blethyn, and not just because she's become an extended replay of the whining, monstrous mother she portrayed more than a decade ago in Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies. What makes her such a liability for anything other than the crassest comedies is her desperate need for attention: incapable of sharing the limelight, she sucks the oxygen from every scene, leaving her costars gasping on the fringes like landed fish. As Jean, the vulgar, delusional comedienne who dominates Cherie Nowlan’s shrill dramedy, Blethyn puts a ravaged face on the struggle between aging and arrested development. But neither Keith Thompson’s trite script nor her own bombastic acting style allow us to probe the more interesting corners of her dysfunction. Chewing both her sons’ testicles right along with the scenery—she even intrudes on her retarded son’s bath-time to ensure he isn’t playing with his duckie—Blethyn makes Jean a black hole of maternal need. Never mind that beneath the postmenopausal shrieking lie uninvestigated themes of far greater interest than Jean’s self-infatuation (there is real pathos, for example, in her estranged husband’s attempts to reach out to his sons); it's a movie with no higher aspirations than a group hug and a rousing chorus of “Nutbush City Limits.” —JC



acrossthe_universe1.jpgAcross the Universe
Words are flowing out like Lucy in the sky with Mr. Kite and Eleanor Rigby, sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come together down the long and winding road—I could go on, yet why stoop to Julie Taymor’s level of nonsensical referencing? Everybody’s least favorite big-screen magical realist sprinkles fairy dust all over the Beatles and offers up the eight-hundred-and-ninth twee, Disneyfied recapitulation of the Sixties as an adorably liberal mash-up of kooky costumes and Real Serious Stuff. Taymor may be reliving her glory days with ingenuous nostalgia, but her tendency to reduce experience to wackily over-art-directed visual signifiers makes her film little more than a Gump-like greatest-hits compilation of the failed counterculture. Do see it, though, if only to savor the lunkheaded literalness with which she wields the Lennon/McCartney songbook: “Dear Prudence,” sung by a group of boho buddies to a sad closeted lesbian...named Prudence…who’s locked herself (wait for it…) in a closet; “With a Little Help from My Friends” rudely turned into a sub–Richard Lester beer-and-pot frat-house romp; a CGI-spectacle of Vietnam draftees being rounded up and herded like cattle overseas, while an Uncle Sam recruitment poster sings “I Want You” and the boys moan the parenthetical “She’s So Heavy” as they drag the statue of liberty on their backs across the Vietnamese countryside. (A rendition of “Glass Onion” featuring the annoying model-pretty cast chomping on, say, a glass onion? Must be on the cutting-room floor.) The temerity of Taymor’s grade-school metaphors, when paired with the grueling, soulless, Broadway-pageant bastardizations of the music, turns Across the Universe into something of a must-watch mess, yet that doesn’t make Taymor’s affront to pop cultural history any less resounding. —MK