The Worst Movie I’ve Ever Seen…

badcowork_introWith the backlash and outrage aimed at mother! this past weekend, my wife casually asked me, “What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen?” As a movie critic, I was surprised at how I didn’t really have an answer to this question at the ready. I generally try to only see movies that I hope I’ll like, and while I am occasionally disappointed, I usually can find some aspect that salvages the experience from being completely worthless. However, her question prompted me to delve into my cinematic history, parse through the depths, and once and for all recognize one film as the worst one I’ve ever seen.

Now I want to be clear, since I try to avoid the bad ones, I have not seen classically hated movies like Gigli, Troll 2, or Battlefield Earth, so they cannot be the worst movie I’ve seen. Still, I’ve seen a lot of movies, and like any serious undertaking, this decision requires some preparation and a few ground rules. Obviously, when discussing any medium of art and expression, the overall reaction is entirely subjective. Therefore, I need to determine what it is to me that makes a movie terrible. After racking my brain, I’ve determined that the following 4 factors are critical in determining a film’s lack of value.

  1. Story – If the story is contrived, poorly written, implausible, or a combination of these things, then the movie is in trouble. A great story can salvage bad acting, but bad acting cannot save a bad story. Writing and originality factor into this piece of criteria as well.
  2. Acting – Yes, acting does play a major role in determining a movie’s greatness. So much of how we interact, empathize, and respond to a movie has to do with how we project our values and opinions onto the people playing the parts.
  3. Dullness – This is perhaps the most important factor of all. Movies can be good-bad or bad-bad. The difference has to do with dullness. If a movie is dull with poor pacing and extended periods of just nothing going on, then the movie is doomed. Many interior sub-areas influence this category including music, directing and editing.
  4. Technical – Sometimes a bad movie can be saved by its technical achievements or visual aspect. Additionally, sometimes a good movie can be mired in terrible technical blunders, mistakes, and shortcomings. And worst of all, sometimes a bad move can be made dreadful when the technical pieces put the last nail in the coffin.

Additionally, there are a few movies that I hated so much that I turned them off or walked out on them. Ironically, those films will not be considered in my deliberation since I never saw them in their entirety. For the record, this is a rare occurrence with me, as I prefer to see films through regardless of how bad they are, and the films I turned off or walked out on would likely not have displaced my ultimate choice for worst movie I ever saw.

Now that I have my criteria in place, I am ready to reveal the worst movie I’ve ever seen; however, if you know The People’s Critic, then you know I can’t do this without making it a list. So I give to you, The People’s Critic’s Five Worst Movies I’ve Ever Seen (by the way, I’ve seen mother! and it’s nowhere near this list).

5.  A Good Day to Die Hard

Die HardSo what went wrong? First of all, no more catch phrases or cliches. “Yippee Ki-Yay” is grandfathered in, but now we’re reminded that John McClane is “old” and “on vacation” at least ten times. This repetition serves no purpose except to go for a cheap laugh, but you’ll never hear the laughter over most of the theater slapping their hands to their foreheads in disgust. Furthermore, this installment takes place in Russia. In one scene, John is handed a tour book by his daughter, Idiot’s Guide to Russia. Clearly, it was the same book Skip Woods used to write the screenplay because the film exposes Russia’s traffic issues, introduces characters named Viktor, Yuri, and Anton, and its climax seals the cliché deal by taking place at Chernobyl. Oh, did I mention Yuri is introduced playing chess, so we know he’s a smart Russian? Disappointing stuff.

Then there’s the action. Atrocious sound stage garbage. Action confined in one setting for ten minutes with no real danger becomes dull in 30 seconds. The previous four films did not feel so confined to sound-stages as this one does (even though the first two had McClane trapped in a building and an airport respectively), and it ruins any tension or fun.

Finally, if one wants to make a sequel, then make a sequel. What happened to Bonnie Bedelia as McClane’s now ex-wife, Holly? Where’s good ole’ Reginald VelJohnson as Sgt. Powell? Why introduce all of those fun tech-geeks in Live Free or Die Hard only to strand them in that film? Screenwriters, listen up; these character actors will sign up if the story is there!

4.  Only God Forgives

Only God ForgivesNot a lot happens in Only God Forgives as several scenes are composed of people just moving around, albeit moving around slowly and deliberately.  Many scenes are composed of one-shots (one character in the frame) that last 30 seconds or more!  This results in manufacturing the slowest 89 minute film in recent memory.

There is not much good to be said for the film.  Ryan Gosling is practically emotionless, giving the blandest performance of his career, although clearly steered by director, Nicholas Winding Refn.

Winding Refn’s directorial choices are certainly strange from time to time.  With virtually no exposition, his film complicates matters by introducing confusing segments of “dream-like” scenarios (most of which include red dragon wallpaper) that may or may not be real. Furthermore, a major talking point for this film is its use of violence.  Only God Forgives appears to be an instrument for Winding Refn to release his own personal anger against spirituality, against God, against mothers – it’s an angry film.  Much of this anger manifests as violence and while occasionally off screen, two rather brutal scenes do not hold back. These scenes drip of anger but offer little redeeming quality (See No Country for Old Men for a film that accomplishes the task of personifying wrath).

Only God Forgives is a mostly failed attempt at expounding on the undertakings of an angry God.  Instead of making a film that analyzes and examines anger, he has made one that simply exudes his own.

3.  Savages

savaIs Savages pulp? Yes. Is Savages fiction? Oh God I hope so. But Savages is definitely not Pulp Fiction, despite its desperate attempt to be, including casting John Travolta. Savages is a gritty, hard-core examination of the cut-throat high pressure, high stakes game of marijuana cartels. Wait, what? Marijuana cartels? Oliver Stone crafts a screenplay, with help from Don Winslow who penned the source material, that does explain this unorthodox cartel’s extremely violent nature. The story is actually very simple. Young marijuana entrepreneurs gain the attention of a major drug cartel who kidnaps their shared girlfriend in order to force their hand to deal with them. Those entrepreneurs are played by Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson. The shared girlfriend who drags her nails across the chalkboard with flat acting and dreadful voiceover is played lumberingly by Blake Lively. Why they want her back is the film’s biggest mystery. Her character, O, is named after Hamlet’s deranged, suicidal lost love and she hints from the first line of the movie that she may not be alive at the end, providing some powerful wishful thinking. The biggest problem with Savages is the same with most Oliver Stone movies that don’t work, its agenda. Now, this time there is no political agenda; instead it’s a “look how edgy I am” agenda. This agenda is completely fulfilled by putting the viewers out of their misery with one of the worst endings in recent memory.

I could go on about what doesn’t work in this movie, but I feel the point is made. Instead, I’ll quickly mention the things that do work. Benicio Del Toro’s character is introduced with brutal gusto. Also, the film is mostly in focus, even during the ridiculous number of close ups. That’s about it.

2.  Freddy Got Fingered

Freddy90s “comedian” Tom Green wrote and directed this mess, and I fell for it. I was 20 or 21 and Tom Green was kind of still happening, so I went to see it with some friends. Green was known for being a bit of a stunt comedian where he’d play pranks on unsuspecting people. Not bad, not great. However, as his popularity grew, his stunts became more gross-out related; queue Freddy Got Fingered, which demonstrates the rule that when gross-out goes wrong, it goes way, way wrong. Pink Flamingos, There’s Something About Mary, South Park, these films work on a subversive level, but Tom Green went for derivative and there he will sit for eternity. There are no words for the feeling you experience while watching the protagonist of a major studio film cackle wildly while manually stimulating a male elephant. No words. I hated this movie to the point that for a moment when my wife asked me what the worst movie I’ve ever seen was, this sprang to mind and I almost answered definitively, but it did manage to only reach #2. Which is actually perfect in that it achieves nothing, not even the distinction of being the worst.

1.  Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

PepperNumber one on this list nearly lost its spot on a technicality, in that this was a film I had previously turned off in disgust, only to reluctantly return to and finish just to say I did it. This film is the ultimate disaster and personal retribution because not only is it a dull, pointless, poorly acted pile of trash, it also does irreversible damage to my previously untarnished images of The Beatles, Alice Cooper, Billy Preston, Peter Frampton, and Steve Martin (The Bee Gees were already kind of ridiculous to me). And that’s what put it over the edge; none of the previous films caused any real long-term damage like this one did. Why did this movie have to happen?

The movie is basically an incomprehensible variety show hoping to capitalize on Beatles covers but failing and collapsing into a gestating puddle of embarrassment and technical misery. I’m pretty sure director Michael Schultz literally put the camera on a tripod, hit record, and just left. I know that sounds like a hyperbole, but if you watch it, you’ll see what I mean – and this is a “concert film,” but the camera doesn’t do anything!

This movie commits the ultimate shame of masquerading a business deal as a film and hoodwinking young people to pay into it. Now it rightfully is dejected as the horrendous dumpster fire that it is, but it did do one thing for me; it gave me a definitive answer to my wife’s question (although I wish it had a different title, so I wouldn’t have to be so specific):

What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen?

Why, it’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – the 1978 movie, not the album. The album is a masterpiece; the movie is complete and utter garbage!

What do you think? What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen? I’d love to know! Feel free to Tweet me @Peoples_Critic or respond in the comments.

Robocop

ImageThe murder of Alex Murphy in Paul Verhoeven’s ultra-violent 1987 Robocop still ranks as one of the most disturbing scenes I have ever seen.  This time around, the studio handcuffed director Jose Padiha to a PG-13 rating in hopes of recouping the $120 million dollar budget even though Padiha and star, Joel Kinnaman fought for an R rating.  The result is a film with an entirely different tone that goes for a strong punch in the arm rather than the jugular.   

The premise is mostly the same as the original.  Set in a dystopian Detroit in the year 2028, Alex Murphy (Kinnaman) and his partner Jack (Michael K. Williams) get too close to drug kingpin Antoine Vallon’s (Patrick Garrow) operation.  After a car bomb detonates, Murphy is critically injured giving mega-corporation OmniCorp a chance to unveil its capacity to create a part man, part machine police officer.  OmniCorp has had success with similar ambitions by planting robotic “peacekeepers” in military hot-zones throughout the world.  These giant, armed intimidation machines wander the streets bellowing phrases like “May peace be upon you” as they continuously scan the area for threats. 

US citizens are happy to have these things keeping peace in other parts of the world, but they have not warmed up to the idea of having them within their own boarders.  With much hesitation, Murphy’s wife, Clara (Abbie Cornish) agrees to allow OmniCorp to go ahead with their plans to use Murphy as a way to sway public opinion towards a robotic police force. 

 “Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.”  Screenwriter Joshua Zetumer takes these words to heart by writing a screenplay that has too many ambitions but still manages to take the audience for a ride.  While the original film had two feet firmly planted in satire, this sci-fi, action, satire, political drama, morality play, crime story doesn’t quite know what it is.  Regardless, it has sufficient doses of each of those to summon enough enjoyment for the movie to come across as surprisingly fun. 

The film also looks very good and it’s a credit to director Jose Padiha since his heightened budget is certainly on full display.  While occasionally delving into video game style action, most of the “futuristic” touches are done with seamless realism that do not force the audience to zone out.  This has been the case with too many action films of recent years, most notably, another 80’s retread (and coincidentally also a February release) A Good Day to Die Hard from last year.   Another credit to Padiha is that this film is far better acted than it has any right to be.  Kinnaman is a great Robocop and supporting roles from Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, and Jackie Earle Haley are strong, energetic, and believable.  However, the most surprising and enjoyable performance comes from Samuel L. Jackson channeling Bill O’Reilly as reality news anchor and personality, Pat Novak.  Novak spews absurdly biased opinions on his show, The Novak Element, and Jackson sinks his teeth in and does not let go.  I’d watch an entire movie about this character alone. 

While it lacks the bite and intensity of the original, Robocop is not bad.  Part man. Part machine. All cop.  Alright – B-

Robocop is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 57 minutes.  

Olympus Has Fallen

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High-adrenaline, fast-paced intense action, a victimizing, threatening enemy, and a strong, heroic lead character – Olympus Has Fallen succeeds where A Good Day to Die Hard miserably, miserably failed. On the other hand, it can also be said that Olympus Has Fallen succeeds where the original Die Hard also succeeded. However one wants to look at it, if you like any form of Die Hard, you are sure to like Olympus Has Fallen.

While the title may lead one to suspect that this is an epic Greek battle of the gods, this “Olympus” refers to the “most heavily secured building in the world,” the White House. Yet within thirteen minutes, a grisly surprise attack by North Korea causes this “Olympus” to fall and fall hard! Disgraced presidential security operative, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) finds himself in serious John McClane territory as he becomes the only eyes and ears that Speaker of the House and acting president Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) has on a hostage situation that includes President Asher (Aaron Eckart), Secretary of Defence McMillan (Melissa Leo), Vice President Rodriguez, and South Korean Prime Minister Lee (Keong Sim).

Butler plays this role well. He’s tough but also sympathetic. Director Antoine Fuqua keeps the action fresh, moving, and increasingly relentless. He also keeps it dark, and not just figuratively. Much of the film takes place in a darkened White House at night, which results in some confusing and disorienting action scenes from time to time. Butler’s main objective is to infiltrate the presidential bunker where North Korean terrorist Kang (Rick Yune) menacingly tortures and executes hostages until his demands for the US to withdraw all resistive forces from Korean territory are met. Kang is an excellent villain and Yune plays his part to a cold and ominous effect.

Olympus’s greatest advantage is its pacing and relentless action. There is little character development, barring a short prologue at the beginning that reveals the rift between President Asher and Banning; thus, the characters are hardly memorable. Instead, it is shooting, killing, stabbing, kicking, and punching and lots of it. The film isn’t lazy about its action though, and it is for this reason that it is successful in rising above average action fare. It is doubtful, we will see Olympus Falls Again, but for a one and done “kicking ass and taking names” kind of movie, this one feels like Die Hard on a “Good Day.” B+

A Good Day to Die Hard

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I wasn’t going to review A Good Day to Die Hard. Then I thought some people might try and see it, and if I could have stopped them, I could never forgive myself as a critic.

I recently stated that Safe Haven is a lazy film. That may be true, but it is Beasts of the Southern Wild compared to this weak fifth entry to the Die Hard franchise. The wheels fall off of this film almost immediately, and the audience is asked a question worthy of Simon from the immensely superior, Die Hard With a Vengeance: “Do I ride this out to its predictable, inevitable, and unsatisfying conclusion or do I admit that I wasted $10, walk out, and get a sandwich?” Simon says, “Get the sandwich.”

A Good Day to Die Hard sends John McClane (Bruce Willis) on vacation and he chooses to spend it in Russia checking up on his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney), who has recently found himself in some major international trouble. Within five minutes, we’re in the middle of a sloppy car chase where it is revealed that Jack is an undercover CIA operative attempting to derail a major nuclear weapons heist. Thus, Jack and John must team up against a Russian gang…

So what went wrong? I will not admit that Die Hard is done; one bad film does not a franchise ruin. So let’s look at this constructively. First of all, no more catch phrases or cliches. “Yippee Ki-Yay” is grandfathered in, but now we’re reminded that John McClane is “old” and “on vacation” at least ten times. This repetition serves no purpose except to go for a cheap laugh, but you’ll never hear the laughter over most of the theater slapping their hands to their foreheads in disgust. Furthermore, this installment takes place in Russia. In one scene, John is handed a tour book by his daughter, Idiot’s Guide to Russia. Clearly, it was the same book Skip Woods used to write the screenplay because the film exposes Russia’s traffic issues, introduces characters named Viktor, Yuri, and Anton, and its climax seals the cliche deal by taking place at Chernobyl. Oh, did I mention Yuri is introduced playing chess, so we know he’s a smart Russian? Disappointing stuff.

Next, is the action. In a high profile action film, it is expected that the action scenes are first rate, exciting, and innovative. Watch the opening car chase in A Good Day to Die Hard; next, watch the masterful opening scene of Sam Mendes’s Skyfall. Every confusing, flawed, elemental choice that John Moore makes in A Good Day to Die Hard is exposed when comparing the two. More attention needs to be paid to making sure the action is not as over-produced, compartmentalized, and hilariously slowed down as it is. There is a scene in A Good Day to Die Hard where the characters walk into a ballroom with multiple chandeliers hanging in different stages of preparation for some event that will be happening that evening. Audiences are immediately forced to think, “Well, looks like we’ll be in this scene until all of these chandeliers are destroyed”, and of course, they’d be right. This type of blatant predictability serves no purpose except to immediately signal a good time to hit the restroom. Action confined in one setting for ten minutes with no real danger becomes dull in 30 seconds. The previous four films did not feel so confined to sound-stages as this one does (even though the first two had McClane trapped in a building and an airport respectively), and it ruins any tension or fun.

Finally, if one wants to make a sequel, then make a sequel. What happened to Bonnie Bedelia as McClane’s now ex-wife, Holly? Where’s good ole’ Reginald VelJohnson as Sgt. Powell? Why introduce all of those fun tech-geeks in Live Free or Die Hard only to strand them in that film? Screenwriters, listen up; these character actors will sign up if the story is there!

At one point, it appeared that we were in for a slightly uplifting February movie season heading into the Spring, but it turns out it is still a dumping ground. A Good Day to Die Hard made $30 million regardless of its being terrible, so the audience is still there, and this film could have been a game changer that could show studios that good movies can be released all year long. Guess we’ll have to wait for a better day, not just a “good” one. D-

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