Much of what follows was regurgitated from capsule reviews with the occasional extra added dash of bonus bile. (You don’t really expect me to give any of these a second look, do you?) Haters gonna download. For the rest of you, here are this year’s ten musts to avoid.
10) The German Doctor
It’s 1960, and Dr. Josef Mengele is alive and well, and living in a scenic Argentine bed-and-breakfast run by a family whose individual shortcomings and/or physical frailties transform the retired war criminal into a walking Make-A-Wish Foundation. Doctor M encourages dad’s dream of perfecting a master race of dolls, risks his life to save mom and her newborn twins, and the couple’s young daughter would still be called “dwarf” by her classmates were it not for the concentration camp sawbones’ injections of experimental growth hormones.
Àlex Brendemühl plays the titular killing machine with remarkable restraint and — considering how nitwitted all that surrounds him is — a straight face.
9) Third Person
Paul Haggis’s unwittingly sidesplitting multicharacter experiment in reheating his Oscar soufflé, Crash, produces more of a clunk. The all-star cast, as game as the material is gamy, boots us through over two hours of ringmaster Haggis’s voluble, slickly designed histrionics with a narrative throughline strung together with more stridently amateurish matching-on-action transitions (gears shift in Rome, cut to a car accelerating in Manhattan, etc.) than there are at a Film Tech 101 end-of-semester screening. A must for connoisseurs of bad cinema.
8) The Raid 2
Pit anywhere from 5 to 15 thugs against one lone tough and instead of a dogpile, the bad guys line up like they’re in a bakery waiting for their numbers to be called. (Don’t any of these maroons pack a firearm, and more importantly, haven’t they seen Billy Jack?) This scene is repeated at least a dozen times in Gareth Evans’s monumentally tedious, 148-minute (!) followup to his fanboy favorite of two years ago.
This also marked the most excruciating press screening of the year, what with a colleague and her invited bozos cheering and high-fiving every senseless act of violence like they were taking in a midnight screening at Horton Plaza.
Blended starts in a Hooters toilet and never quite recovers, yet the gales of inadvertent laughter it renders makes it almost unfair to rank baby-talking Adam Sandler’s latest among the year’s worst. (It brought forth more yuks than Tammy, St. Vincent, Neighbors, and just about all of this year’s other so-called intentional comedies combined.)
Screenwriters Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera’s depiction of pop-eyed, subservient natives indicates their knowledge of African culture was fashioned after watching old Tarzan pictures. Once again Frank Coraci (The Wedding Singer, 50 First Dates) is assigned the unenviable task of calling “Action!” “Cut!” and “Anything you say, mealticket!”
The recent announcement that Angelina Jolie has decided to retire from what she calls acting didn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who’s seen her last five pictures. I so miss the days of bat-shit crazy Jolie making out with a hot, bald-headed Asian chick and/or her brother, long before Brad Pitt entered the picture and the two emerged all spruced up as Hollywood’s #1 power couple.
Maleficent is 97 minutes of Jolie — with lips puckered and one leg outstretched — posing before a green screen. Is this acting or an extension of her red-carpet performance at the 84th Oscars? The film fleeced moviegoers worldwide to the tune of $757.8 million.
5) The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them
For once the scissor-happy Harvey Weinstein did moviegoers a great service with his insistence that director Ned Benson pare down a pair of pictures (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her), with a combined total running time of 189 minutes, and release them as a two-hour feature.
James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain star as an asshat and botched suicide, respectively, whose marriage fell apart with the death of their young son. Without one memorable visual or cut in the entire picture, Eleanor might just as easily have disappeared on television, or worse, radio.
4) Walking With the Enemy
A masterclass on Holocaust Trivialization in the guise of important entertainment.
In an attempt to help remove every Jew from Budapest, a couple of young Hungarians get their hands on SS uniforms and go all Batman and Robin on the Third Reich. Based on a true story (so it must be good), Enemy amounts to little more than two hours of killing Jews to awaken audiences to the heretofore unheard of notion that Nazis committed atrocious acts. Freshman director Mark Schmidt leads a uniformly unconvincing cast through a sty of sentimental hogwash that makes Spielberg’s amusement park ride look like documentary realism.
3) The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson lost me halfway through The Royal Tenenbaums, never to return. His five subsequent live-action features play as precious pop-up books, electronic wallpaper for Tim Burton–dismissing hipsters, where more thought goes into giggly, prettified production design than does storytelling. Time and again Anderson’s pretentiously schematized approach to mind-mapping a scene — center frame and teeter-totter compositions alternate — puts me to sleep.
Frank (Michael Fassbender), the visionary lead singer in an unsung alt-rock band, spends his entire life hiding beneath piñata headgear that brings to mind a Jack-in-the-Box drive-thru. His parents later confess their adult son suffers from mental illness. Really?
Huggable, Sundance-sanctioned babble that joins the ever-stretching dishonor roll of well-intentioned multiplex rot that shamelessly exploits and trivializes intellectually challenged minds. For a film about determined musicians, Stephen Rennicks’s abrasive score boasts more Mickey Mousing than a Silly Symphony. The band eventually makes its debut at SXSW, and with it comes the film’s only honest discernment: there is no better place for self-indulgent mediocrity to flex its commercial muscle than at a trendy film festival.
Godfrey Reggio, purveyor of fine coffee-table movies (Powaqqatsi, Koyaanisqatsi), is an acquired taste I have yet to acquire. Reggio uses precisely 74 shots to document his story. With only four behind me and 70 left to go, the film’s thesis already stated and its conclusion long foregone, I wanted to bolt.
Visitors intercuts black-and-white, dialog-free, unbroken, close-up ’Scope long-takes of faces — with allegorical inserts of abandoned amusement parks, disjointed hands moving a computer mouse (or is it close-up magic?). According to this highfalutin’ technical exercise, since humanity spends so much of its time staring into a computer screen, why not turn things around and situate an audience inside a laptop and force them to look out. There is enough accelerated cloud movement to make one time-lapse into a coma, and, of course, children as credulous symbols of hope. It’s Paranormal Activity for eggheads, a staring contest during which my eyes practically bled from focusing on so many fixed images for such long periods.