Movies hit the theater behind a machine of hype and high expectations. The internet is full of people raving about, or condemning pictures before they even get released. Already, I am hearing endless negative when it comes to fans’ reaction to “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”. Fair enough: if you’ve seen the film and disliked it, good for you. If you enjoyed it, good for you too.
After watching a movie, you’re most-likely going to have an opinion of what you just saw and it is your right. I am guilty of checking ratings and opinion before I review a movie. I try not to let the other’s opinions sway me beforehand, but sometimes it is not possible to avoid having a preconceived notion about what you have just watched before you watch it. There’s no crime in scouring the internet for tidbits on a film you’re aching to see. Sometimes, you get caught up in the hype swirl that surrounds tentpole movies, big budget action flicks or whatever project your favorite actor is currently hawking on Twitter, talk shows and anywhere else. I myself walked into the theater downright giddy that “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” had finally arrived. The publicity and public awareness could not have been higher. Sherpas on remote mountains knew this thing was coming out. I liked the movie. A lot. Quite a bit, in fact. But truth be told, it’s “A New Hope” with a female protagonist. That is not a bad thing, but I was slightly let down due to the overblown expectations. Nobody’s fault but my own. Still had a great time, but I felt mildly let down too.
Here’s a list of over-rated films that arrived with huge expectations, had great word-of-mouth or amazing reviews. For whatever reason, after seeing them I was more disappointed than I would have been if I heard nothing at all. Some of these are bound to make some of you very disappointed in my choices, but this is my piece of the internet as part of a brilliant site full of amazing writers. If you really hate what I wrote, call your congressman. Maybe he can give you some spoilers on whatever film Sandra Bullock is in next.
The English Patient (1996)
This is a well-crafted movie with absolutely no chemistry between the leads. There’s Ralph Fiennes, doing his best to be vague and Kristen Scott-Thomas, who has never looked lovelier, but never been more emotionally distant. Winner of nine Academy Awards, which truly baffles me. Set in October 1944 in war-torn Italy, a French Canadian nurse stays behind at a church to nurse a dying patient with amnesia. He is badly burned and horridly disfigured and his memory has gaps. All the patient remembers is that he is English and he is married. Everything else is murky. Murky, cold and distant. I have no idea how this film had the lady next to me weeping during the film. I only know I was suppressing fits of laughter at the dialogue. Not a horrible movie, just a dull and detached one.
Shakespeare In Love (1998)
Despite this and “The English Patient” being my first two movies listed, I have nothing against the Fiennes family. Joseph Fiennes is Will Shakespeare, broke and searching for his muse. He finds Viola de Lesseps and the movie begins to sink under the weight of pure evil. Of anyone on the planet to ever collect a paycheck as an actor, the worst by far is the talentless, vain, Gwyneth Paltrow. Any film with her in it is worse as a result. Any time she speaks, it is an assault to my ears. Hell is not a lake of fire; it’s a crosstown bus and the only other passenger is the hellspawn of Blythe Danner and Bruce Paltrow. And she’s talking about how wonderful she is and how much better the world is because she is in it with all of us plebeians. Then the bus breaks down and she loads this film into the portable DVD player. It is at that point all hope is lost and all hearts in the world go dark.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
I ordinarily love the Coen Brothers’ films. “Raising Arizona” is perpetually on a loop in my brain. “Fargo” makes me chuckle just typing the name. “No Country For Old Men” is epic and brilliant. Then there is “The Big Lebowski,” and maybe I was just not stoned enough to enjoy it properly? Is there a zen to Jeff Bridges and his character, the Dude, that I have not noticed in the 20, or so times I’ve watched this film? John Goodman and Steve Buscemi usually make me glad I set aside time to watch them on screen. There is the one segment, where the two gather to scatter a friend’s ashes and the wind changes directions and blows them back in their faces. That made me laugh out loud. The looks on their faces was priceless. But that was it for me. I feel badly for every friend who has told me of this film’s brilliance. It’s like I’m letting them down, simply because of the fact that I’ve seen their Holy Grail and did not want to drink from it.
Thelma and Louise (1991)
Aside from the fact that Ridley Scott seemed asleep while directing this film and the script is horrid, “Thelma and Louise” deserve the praises it received. It’s not a film about “sisterhood” as many people have said; it’s a badly made buddy movie trying to give itself some form of message about something, but I have no idea what. I consider myself a feminist, and I fully support women’s rights. But I am also a movie critic. And this movie is over-acted, under-written and filmed as if the camera operator had an appointment he had to leave for. Susan Sarandon is always amazing to watch work. Sadly, this is the exception that proves the rule. Geena Davis is a member of Mensa and a world-class archer. I would rather watch her shoot at targets for two hours than sit through this again. Argue about the merits of this film and I will listen. Hand me a petition for equal pay for equal work, I will help you get signatures (I will also tell you that unions already guarantee that for all members. Join a union, it pisses off CEOs). Tell me that women still face many unfair obstacles in this world and I will agree with you and point to my incredibly outspoken daughter who I am proud of to show you the future of women’s rights is in capable hands. Tell me I’m sexist for not liking this film (which happens too often), and it will fall on deaf ears.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
I love going to Dark Horse Coffee on Adams Ave., the coffee is amazing. Last time I was there, standing in the tiny shop, I couldn’t help but overhear a couple talking about “Napoleon Dynamite” and how brilliant it was. That moment was deja vu. Many of the times I wander into a coffee shop for my usual three shots of espresso, I hear people from all walks of life quoting this movie. Laughing about this movie. Re-enacting entire scenes. I often wonder if I am the one sane person in San Diego? The “Napoleon Dynamite” I saw was a horribly acted film full of half-thought out stereotypes and bad jokes. Maybe there was a different film with the same name?
Moulin Rouge (2001)
In Baz Luhrmann’s hands, the Moulin Rouge is a loud, colorful place that is bereft of emotional connection and way too many swirling lights. It’s the story of Christian, a young English writer in Paris to capture the thriving Bohemian revolution in the city’s dank, drugged-out underworld. Oh, and there are prostitutes too. And courtesans. The one to stay away from is Satine, she is the courtesan who has captured Duke’s heart. Duke is a bad man in this acid trip set to music that is great at inducing a massive headache and perhaps a seizure. Clearly, Luhrmann is trying to use pop music as a vehicle to move the emotion and story forward. Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor are the eye candy and central focus, but they are window-dressing in this out of control mess. This from the guy who made “Strictly Ballroom?” Disappointed and my stomach is queasy just thinking about it.
“Avatar” has been referred to as “Dances with Wolves” but in space with blue people. Well, yes, but it’s not as good and the pro-environmentalism plot is not enough to carry this laborious film across the finish line. James Cameron said he waited decades to make this film. He should have waited a few more. So, to sum up the plot, what little there is, the blue folks are the good guys and the poorly written right-wing bad guys are greed incarnate. It was filmed in 3D and there is more CGI than any other film in the history of the planet and all of the animals have six legs…but it is deathly dull, horribly written and an utter disappointment. Sam Worthington was living in his car when he auditioned for his role. I’m glad he got work. Nobody should be homeless, even bad actors.
The Dark Knight (2008)
If Heath Ledger had not died tragically, would anyone even remember this film? Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” is an exercise in the incredible darkness of being the darkest of dark people in a dark world. Ledger won a posthumous Academy Award and his gorgeous wife, Michelle Williams, got very teary-eyed during the acceptance speech. I’m not a heartless jerk, I found her speech touching and wondered what other roles Ledger would have nailed in the future. Because he was solid here as the Joker. Solid, not award-winning calibre. In the context of the film, he is suitable, but there is nothing outstanding about the film as a whole. Harvey “Two Face” Dent is more cartoony than he is in the comic books and the rest of the cast is a group of one-note characters with little to add. I’m more of a DC guy than a Marvel fan, but Marvel churns out watchable, sometimes great, films. DC continues to churn out films with brooding leads that set a bleak tone and almost always disappoint.
The Notebook (2004)
Ryan Gosling is doomed here. “The Notebook” is the story of an earnest guy trying to win the heart of a woman who is nothing but unlikable. Nick Cassavetes directed a film based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. You can start honing in on the disappointment right there. Sparks’ novels are saccharin-sweet pages full of message-heavy dreck. Rachel McAdams turns in a performance that comes off as if she had wandered in from a different film. If Cassavetes told her to look confused in every scene, then mission accomplished. Gosling seems to have been told to look as if your heart is breaking and every word from your mouth is a new truth, never before being uttered. Then there are the older adult versions, James Garner and Gena Rowlands. These two have turned in more quality work than most other actors in the history of Hollywood. It makes me sad that they end up in this patchwork of flashbacks and subtle as a sledgehammer emotions. What is supposed to be a romantic film teaching us that love conquers all ends up being a disjointed story of a dedicated man and a confused elderly lady.
Modern Times (1936)
Disliking a Charles Chaplin film for a film critic is like a music critic saying he does not like the Beatles. Well, here I go: I did not like “Modern Times.” Chaplin’s last silent film, is not his best work. Even though everyone else was using sound, making talkies and expanding into new territory Chaplin intended to make this his first talkie, but only went half way. It’s filled with sound effects and voices from machines. Here, Chaplin rejects modern society and the machine age. Maybe he’s making a statement about the changing landscape of the film industry? The film was shot at 18 frames per second and shown at 24 to give it a more frenetic feel. All it did was make it look rushed. In the plot there is some sort of misunderstanding with the Tramp’s boss, who thinks he’s gone crazy or he’s a communist, or something. Maybe Chaplin set the bar too high with his previous work? Maybe he was just the guy who got lost in changing times? All I know is that I’ve heard nothing but high praise from many people and I was bored. Lost and bored. And I love silent films. I think that in many ways they were more original, creative and free to explore than films are today. Just not this one.
It is very important to remember this: Never give James Cameron carte blanche. He’s a gifted director, and he knows how to make a film. He also has an innate ability to get all kinds of long-winded and come up with some sort of romance in the face of an epic tragedy. Cameron can also bore me to tears. I loved “Aliens,” and thought “the Abyss” was well done. I seem to recall he had something to do with one of the Terminator films, didn’t he? After watching “Titanic,” so much room in my head was filled with questions about the incredibly long story of a 101-year-old woman named Rose DeWitt Bukater telling some tale to her granddaughter. Apparently, there was this ship with a steerage passenger named Jack Dawson, Leonardo DiCaprio doing his best with atrocious dialogue. He meets the lovely Ruth DeWitt Bukater, and her fiancé, the cad Caledon Hockley. Ruth and Jack have sex, their love is the most pure thing ever. And then in a cruel twist of fate that can only happen when the two people that the cosmos have decided must meet, the ship hits an iceberg. So, on April 15th, 1912 at 2:20 in the morning, love dies. The planet is now doomed. Everyone, abandon hope because we are all screwed. There are moments in this film that actually are touching: the mom reading the bedtime story to her kids so they don’t have to face the Hell outside, the elderly couple laying down together so they can face death with dignity as a couple, the band that played as the ship sank, the rescue crews rowing through an ocean of dead bodies… Most of those things happened in reality and Cameron films them with a subtle nuance that is meant to pull emotions out of the viewer. Then he cashes in and cheapens the actual emotional investment he’s earned by showing the mother’s corpse, floating in the icy water, clutching her baby. And why the hell didn’t Rose move over and let Jack onto the wreckage and blow the whistle sooner?