That Awkward Moment
When it comes to end of year lists, most people will provide you with a Best Of, their choicest cuts of the year in list form. You’ll also find a fair few people giving you their worst of the year, as I have for the past three years. I commented last year that this was an increasingly futile exercise for me as I am a film blogger, not a reviewer and I actively avoid the dregs of the cinema releases unless I have a particularly burning desire to see them for reasons such as childhood memories or nothing better to do at the time. It’s been the same again this year; if anything, my overall level of quality has gone up further, so out of over 150 new films seen at time of writing I’ve only watched eleven which I would rate as being one or two stars on a standard five star scale.
There’s another problem with “worst of” lists; it’s inherently negative and it can all get a bit petty and unnecessary. While it’s great for me as a reviewer to let off steam sometimes, and for you the reader to enjoy my pithy rejoinders and endless sarcasm, it’s not really a solution to the problem. No one wants to make a bad film, let alone sit through one, so what does it achieve (other than scoring some cheap points) to sit and slag off people who’ve actually been making an effort, albeit a somewhat misguided one?
So I thought about what I’d do in a work situation, and styles of feedback. If you’re trying to give someone some constructive feedback, then you should tell them what they’ve done well in a given situation, and then what they could do better, rather than what they’ve done wrong. So this year I present my ten least best films of the year – there are undoubtedly many more than ten worse films that have disgraced the inside of cinemas this year but I’ve not seen them – but for each of these films, I’ll outline the good points and the areas for improvement. Can’t say fairer than that.
10. Hercules – 4/10
What you did well: Dwayne Johnson is an undemanding lead who’s got just enough charisma to keep you interested. There’s gravitas in the form of John Hurt and Peter Mullan, and Ian McShane is clearly on an agenda to have fun for his pay cheque. The end credits also feature some great artwork which applies some narrative linking to what we’ve seen in the film.
What you could do better: We’ll see if this becomes a theme as we go through, but the biggest warning for anyone attempting to make a film such as this is not to get caught between two stools. In trying to reimagine Hercules as a feasible real world hero, the adventure feels somewhat diluted and that also creates a chasm in tone between Ian McShane, who’s aimed where the rest of the film probably should have, and everyone else, who just takes things a bit too seriously. So it’s not really thrilling enough, and Joseph Fiennes’ character also feels weak and underwritten. It would be too easy to put all the blame at the foot of the door of Brett Ratner, but this is another black mark on an already smudged résumé.
9. The Congress – 4/10
What you did well: Certainly, after the success of applying animation to the documentary format with Waltz With Bashir, it was intriguing to see what Ari Folman would do in applying this to a narrative concept. If you’re looking to fictionalise this around the downward career trajectory of an actress, then Robin Wright is as good a pick as you could imagine.
What you could do better: This is, to quote the old footballing cliché, a film of two halves, and oddly it’s the first half in the real world that works better, with real emotion in the scenes leading up to the journey into the animated world. But that section, which takes as its inspiration a novel by Stanislav Lem, kind of works on it own terms but doesn’t gel at all with what’s gone before, and the film is a terrible mismatch. It’s a good job this is the only case this year of a novel adaptation becoming flawed after being padded out with new material. *cough* Hobbit *cough*
8. Maleficent – 4/10
What you did well: What an opportunity to allow Angelina Jolie to play evil, and how fantastic is she as the wicked Maleficent? With cheekbones that could cut glass and a deliciously evil smile, she’s perfect casting and the film itself also has a more balanced portrayal of female characters than most fairytales (if you can excuse what they’ve done to the three fairies).
What you could do better: I know I said I was trying to remain positive but seriously, you could have let Angelina Jolie be evil for more than about forty seconds?!?! For most of this misguided attempt to reinvent her as a tortured antihero, she either wails in pain after being brutally attacked or mopes around outside windows looking gooey-eyed. As the nominal villain of the piece, Sharlto Copley is so anonymous that I had to Google who he’d played after the film, Sam Riley is also under served as Jolie’s feathery sidekick and it’s one thing to look to balance our your female characters; it’s entirely another to just copy the end of Frozen. Top tip to film makers: at least try to put an original slant on your endings. Also, not every film set in a mythical kingdom needs to have a sub-Lord Of The Rings CGI battle with no weight or emotion.
7. Lucy – 4/10
What you did well: You hired Scarlett Johansson, then you hired Morgan Freeman. Er, that’s about it.
What you could do better: Probably just re-release Leon for its twentieth anniversary. It’s difficult to reconcile the quality of that film, which was offbeat and eccentric while still having heart, soul, an air of menace, Gary Oldman chewing off bits of scenery and some great action beats, with this high concept anti-action movie. By giving Lucy rapidly escalating powers that far outmatch anything that anyone can throw at her, any sense of tension is lost and we’re just left with a collection of increasingly unlikely imagery. Even the Matrix sequels, for all their faults, recognised that a godlike hero needs similarly powerful adversaries to combat. Also, best not to base your entire premise on the old myth that we only use ten per cent of our brains, given that just about everyone knows now that this just plain isn’t true, no matter how you try to twist it.
6. Stage Fright – 4/10
What you did well: A film I caught at FrightFest, and it was the late night Sunday showing which should maybe have been an indication that this wasn’t likely to be the greatest horror movie of all time. Still, I was just after campy fun, and the inclusion of both Meatloaf in a supporting role and a cameo from Minnie Driver. And what’s not to love about a slasher musical?
What you could do better: Plenty, as it turns out. It’s all going well through the over the top intro and the opening big number, with just the right tone, and then the film decides to abandon the musical concept for around 45 minutes and instead become a sub-Glee – sub-Kids From Fame, even – story of children of all ages being mildly terrorised and moderately bored. Consequently, by the time the songs kick in again and the killing wraps up, it’s become difficult to care about anything, other than the fact I could have been home and in bed by now. So if you’re going to make a film with the courage of your convictions,
5. The Canal – 4/10
What you did well: Another good concept here, with the idea that there’s terrors lurking in old film stock and films from over a century ago.
What you could do better: Maybe get a second opinion on your film before you start, as it almost feels as if the film makers didn’t recognise they had a great concept on their hands, as they ignore it after the first ten minutes for long periods. It also appears phenomenally easy for the lead characters to get film developed and processed in this digital age (not to mention when characters are under suspicion), and I suggest a different casting director may also help as almost every role here feels miscast. Steve Oram is the prime example of that as a weary policeman who seems to be wandering in from an entirely different film whenever he appears, and that’s a shame because I like Steve Oram.
4. Transcendence – 3/10
What you did well: Quite understandably, when Christopher Nolan’s director of photography decides to become a director himself, attracting a high calibre cast isn’t a problem, with Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Kate Mara and Cillian Murphy being a list of names that would flatter any film, even before you mention Johnny Depp.
What you could do better: If you’re going to write a script in the world of science fiction, I cannot but feel it would be helpful to actually watch some science fiction first. The core idea is a worn out science fiction cliché that has appeared in some form in any long running sci-fi TV series you’d care to mention, and the script adds nothing here. It also makes you realise that being a director is not just about the composition of a visual image – and there’s too much of that going on in a way that doesn’t advance the plot, and often makes the film feel remarkably small scale for a big budget sci-fi – but it’s also about getting the actors to put in a level of performance, and while Rebecca Hall tries her darnedest, she’s swimming against the tide.
3. Robocop – 3/10
What you did well: So, Transcendence, I trump your casting with Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Jackie Earle Haley, Jennifer Ehle, Joel Kinnaman and Gary freakin’ Oldman. I then further trump it with some good performances, particularly from Keaton and Oldman. In addition, director José Padihla came with the pedigree of two Elite Squad films behind him, and the Robocop concept is ripe for remake (given how poorly the Frank Miller scripted sequels exploited the concept, although I still have an undeserved soft spot for Robocop 2).
What you could do better: I have a section in each of my film reviews called “What about the rating?” I didn’t see this in a cinema, but if I had I’ve would’ve had plenty to say about the rating here, which was 12A for “moderate violence, injury detail and infrequent strong language”. If you’re going to portray a cyborg police officer dealing with the scum of society, giving it a child friendly rating leaves it totally neutered and this is an action movie with almost no action in it; what’s here isn’t really any good. When you think that the original Robocop was originally submitted in a cut form to get an 18 certificate, and that it even had two trailers that got an 18 rating on video (when did you last seen an 18-rated trailer?!), then it’s clear where the gap is.
2. That Awkward Moment – 3/10
What you did well: Another tale of good casting, but this time the rating was a 15, so there were no holds barred on the language and That Awkward Moment could be a scabrous, raunchy comedy with the bonus of Zac Efron to draw in the teenage crowd.
What you could do better: Have you ever told your friends a joke that you heard and thought was really funny, but they just pull a face and suggest that it was in really poor taste? This is the 94 minute cinematic equivalent. Calling a woman a prostitute to their face, but then them overlooking that and still falling for you, might be achievable in an innocently cheery way in safer hands than these, but here it’s one example in a whole film that comes over more as uncomfortably sleazy. If that’s a fine line, then That Awkward Moment is staggering about drunkenly on the wrong side of it for an hour and a half.
1. Nymph (Killer Mermaid) – 2/10
What you did well: Well, you hired Franco Nero, that has to be a good start. And who couldn’t love the concept of a killer mermaid? Trashy horror movie staples on the SyFy channel have come off with a lot less to work with.
What you could do better: I appreciate that it may be a little difficult for you to judge my least best movie of the year when you probably haven’t seen it and never will, so just have a look at the trailer.
Maybe if this had gone for a campier tone or been in any way fun, it could have worked (possibly under the alternative title of Killer Mermaid), and I can’t bring myself to criticise because I cannot help but feel that the film makers’ hearts were in the right place, but there’s so little here of consequence happening that the film becomes a tedious domestic drama where people eventually end up running around a deserted island castle because they have nothing better to do. You can see what they were trying to achieve, but the film is criminally dull and the strains of the low budget are seen creaking at regular intervals, without the rough charm of any entertainment to encourage you to gloss over them. I only hope that, for those involved on the creative side, this is a lesson learned and that they can come back stronger for it. I’m off to watch Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie or Postman Pat The Movie, or possibly as much of Transformers: Age Of Extinction as I can stand, as to call this my least best movie of the year feels terribly harsh. Sorry, everyone.
The 10 Worst Films I Saw In 2013 “WINNER” – A Good Day To Die Hard
The 10 Worst Films I Saw In 2012 “WINNER” – Seven Psychopaths
The 10 Worst Films I Saw In 2011 “WINNER” – Battle: Los Angeles
The Pitch: “What if we did a romantic comedy from, say, the man’s perspective?” “Genius, take the rest of the day off.”
Review Awkward Moments List:
That awkward moment…
… when you’re a married man two weeks shy of forty going to a Zac Efron movie. On your own.
… when you hear the voiceover at the beginning, and find yourself wondering when Zac Efron’s voice broke.
… when you hear the main conceit of the film (guys trying to stay single to protect their friend whose marriage is on the rocks) and think it’s worryingly thin.
… when there’s a joke about a guy who looks like Morris Chestnut and you think he is Morris Chestnut but you can only remember him from Under Siege 2 and that was a long time ago.
… when you come home and Google Morris Chestnut and realise he was in Kick-Ass 2, which you saw not six months ago.
… when they roll out the Morris Chestnut joke again and no-one laughed the first time.
… when the film resorts to “I thought it was a mint, oh it’s really a Viagra” routines after less than ten minutes.
… when the payoff to the Viagra gag is Zac Efron prostrate and naked on a toilet and you realise you’re really not in the target demographic for this one.
… when the film introduces a comedy background character (played by Josh Pais) who’s one of the most excruciatingly unfunny comedy background characters ever.
… when Zac Efron thinks a woman he’s met in a bar is a prostitute after seeing two books, some money and her boots, despite the fact that a prostitute will generally ask from the money up front.
… when there’s a tiny part of you wondering if I’m speaking from personal experience. (I’m not – it’s just common sense. But thanks anyway.)
… when Zac Efron attempts to explain to the woman (Imogen Poots) that he thought she was a prostitute and she actually talks to him again, ever.
… when the film you’re watching is based on a conceit so thin that the film itself forgets about it for a good half hour and then forces it ever more painfully through in an attempt to justify itself.
… when the film manages to conjure up another background supporting character as bad as the first one.
… when you realise the plot is doing its best to see just how much of an asshole it can turn Zac Efron into and still get the girl at the end of it.
… when you laugh, despite yourself, and so does most everyone else in the cinema, and then you all feel embarrassed because it’s over an hour in and so far nobody laughed much at all and actually it was such a throwaway gag maybe everyone just needed some catharsis.
… when you realise that the black guy’s romance plot (Michael B. Jordan) has been sidelined for a long stretch, and he might just be there to cover as many demographics as possible.
… when a major plot twist relies on three people independently walking into a public toilet with a lock on the door and not one of them using it, and you’re expected to just laugh it off.
… when you realise that Imogen Poots and Mackenzie Davis, and probably Miles Teller, deserve better than this, but hey, at least they got paid.
… when you realise it’s not over and the credits have a succession of outtakes.
… when you realise the rest of the audience aren’t hanging around for the outtakes and probably have more self respect for themselves than you do.
… when you realise that this was a script on the 2010 Black List of the best unproduced Hollywood scripts, getting more votes than The Hunger Games, The Butler, Looper, Oz: The Great And Powerful and Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Why see it at the cinema: … when you realise that you’ve only gone to see it because Imogen Poots is great and pretty and you’re old enough to be her dad and now you feel just a bit dirty. See also Zac Efron if that’s your bag.
What about the rating? … when you realise that this is rated 15 because it contains over fifty uses of the f-word, a scene in a sex shop and a man having a wank with some tanning lotion, and this is supposed to be a romantic comedy.
My cinema experience: … when you realise that you’ve fallen back into old habits and are just seeing a film because you’ve got four hours until the film you’re actually paying to see starts, and that going for a walk would’ve been more productive, and that the only real bonus is that this kept the rowdy teenagers in the audience at Cineworld Cambridge so bored they kept generally quiet.
The Score: 3/10