Amy Adams

The Freds 2013: My Year in Film Watching (Part Two)

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In my last post I took a look at some of the best films I watched during 2013. This time around I’m going to go through the very worst of the 131 films I watched over the last 12 months. Some were let-downs, some were wasted opportunities, whilst some were just downright awful.

Welcome to part two of ‘The Freds’

Cloud Atlas
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Worst Movie
Watching a really terrible movie can be quite difficult unless you are at the cinema or watching the premiere of something made recently. This is not because modern films are rubbish, it’s because the majority of truly awful or forgettable films made more than 10 or 20 years ago don’t get a home media release or a TV slot for the very reason that they are so bad. Nevertheless, there was a few films that I watched last year that can be described as one-star affairs.

It was a day or two after New Year and my then fiancĂ©e (and the current Mrs. Sullivan) and I settled down to watch ‘Half Light‘ (2006), a supernatural thriller set in Britain and a vehicle for the plummeting star Demi Moore. With poor performances, truly nonsensical plot twists, and story lines that appeared, went nowhere, and then disappeared unresolved this is an unholy mess of a film. A lot of these supernatural shockers are pretty lacklustre, but most of them manage to squeeze one or two jumps out of me. The only way ‘Half Light’ would make anyone jump is if they were jumping for the remote to switch it off.

The universally derided ‘Cutthroat Island‘ (1995) marked the stalling point of the career of another 90s sex symbol, Geena Davis. It’s hard to believe, given the financial and critical disaster this film was, that Disney dared to make the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies less than 10 years later. Like ‘Half Light’ the films story line is virtually incomprehensible and with a dearth of acting talent on show there is nothing to save it.

Leap Year

Set in Hollywood’s view of ‘Oireland’, the pathetic rom-com ‘Leap Year (2010) was another stinker. The likable Amy Adams can do nothing to rescue the film, especially considering the startling lack of chemistry she shares with Matthew Goode, who spends most of his time drowning under an Irish accent worthy of ‘Far and Away’. The film is also incredibly boring with one contrived, but undramatic situation following another. 2010 also gave us cheapo animation ‘Monster House‘ which is surely one of the ugliest films ever made. Neither creepy, funny nor charming, ‘Monster House’ goes to show that what the likes of Pixar make look easy is anything but.

On a much more serious and darker note, I decided to watch one of the Nazi regimes most notorious productions this year. ‘The Eternal Jew‘ (1940) sets itself up as a documentary but facts are impossible to find in this vile and disturbing piece of anti-Semitic propaganda.

And the Winner Is…:
‘The Eternal Jew’ is easily one of the most horrifying films I’ve ever seen but it does hold a certain historical fascination. This is a tough choice between ‘Leap Year’ and ‘Half Light‘ but the Demi Moore thriller wins as ‘Leap Year’s weak plot at least made some sort of sense.

Half Light

Most Disappointing Film
Although ‘Secret Agent‘ (1936) has never been spoken of as one of Hitchcock’s great achievements, the directors record still meant I had high hopes for the film, especially considering it was made in the wake of the superb ‘The 39 Steps’ (1935). It’s not a terrible film, but it’s quite dull and lacks the great man’s usual skill in keeping viewers on the edge of their seat. John Gielgud is also badly miscast as the hero.

45 years later Gielgud popped up (and won an Oscar) for the highly regarded comedy ‘Arthur‘ (1981). Dudley Moore is the eponymous hero, a permanently drunk millionaire who risks his fortune for love. Petty-thief Liza Minnelli is the object of his affections and Gielgud is Moore’s redoubtable valet. Where the film’s big reputation comes from is a mystery to me. It had good moments, most of them provided by Gielgud, and Minnelli was still a charming screen presence at this point. The big problem is Moore. He’s really, really bad at playing a drunk and he’s just not funny when he tries. Unfortunately, he has to try for 70% of the movie.

As a big Orson Welles fan I was delighted when the opportunity to see ‘F for Fake‘ (1973) presented itself. There are sections of this documentary about frauds and forgeries that are compelling, but they are too few and far between and at least half the film is either dated, dull, or self-indulgent.

Finally, both ‘Frozen‘ (2013) and ‘Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs‘ (2009) were disappointing animated efforts. ‘Frozen’ was at least enjoyable enough that I would watch it again but ‘CWaCoM’ felt as if it was trying too hard for its few laughs.

And the Winner Is…:
It’s not the worst film of the five listed, but given its reputation as a comedy classic, ‘Arthur‘ was the biggest let-down of last year.

Arthur

Most Peculiar Movie
There were three films I watched last year that left me feeling more than a little confused for reasons other than a confusing plot. ‘Cloud Atlas‘ (2012), with its cross-cutting between seven different stories across several centuries, certainly had that, but it was the sight of actors such as Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugh Grant playing multiple roles, many of which they were totally unsuitable for, that left me bemused. Hanks ‘bettered’ Matthew Goode in the ‘Worst Irish Accent‘ stakes with a turn as a violent gangster-turned-author in one story, Berry turned up as a white woman in another, and Grant played both an oriental villain and a primitive tribe leader at various stages. This film proved that David Mitchell’s novel was virtually unfilmable as it swung wildly between situation comedy, brutal drama, and nightmarish sci-fi.

More straight forward was the musical ‘Orchestra Wives‘ (1942), the second of only two films to feature Glenn Miller in a prominent acting role. The story concerns the difficulties and destructive jealousies of those married to a touring orchestra, but every single character was in some way or another repulsive. The women were bitches and the men, including Miller but especially romantic lead George Montgomery, were either total bastards or idiots. I’m all for a film confounding expectations by going against the template of the genre, but for a wartime American musical to have no hero or heroine worthy of the name was a step too far, and one I believe to be an accident, not designed.

With a plot similar to the classic ‘The Searchers’ (1956), director John Ford at the helm, and leading men of the calibre of James Stewart and Richard Widmark, ‘Two Rode Together‘ (1961) should have worked well. However, the turgid, old-hat comedy moments that Ford occasionally dotted his films with was so poor that is nullified the films serious story about white families seeking but ultimately disowning relations kidnapped by native American tribes.

And the Winner Is…:
‘Cloud Atlas’ get a pass here as it was at least ambitious in what it attempted. ‘Orchestra Wives’ and ‘Two Rode Together’ were just misguided. I think I will go with ‘Two Rode Together‘ as ‘The Searchers’ showed five years earlier what could have been achieved with more care and attention.

Two Rode Together

Guilty Pleasure
Finally, I am rewarding the films that were so bad they were good. ‘12+1‘ (1969) is based on the same novel as Mel Brooks’ more famous ‘Twelve Chairs’ (1970) but updates the story to the 1960s. It’s probably slightly too good to be included in this section and showcased the comic talent of tragic beauty Sharon Tate to great effect. Much more of a surprise was another comedy, the 1982 Cannon and Ball vehicle ‘The Boys in Blue‘. In no way is this a good movie, but it had the feel of one of the 1970s ‘Carry On…’ movies which are mostly enjoyable even when they’re terrible.

The Final Countdown‘ (1980) posed the moral question of whether it would be right to interfere in the events of Pearl Harbour if you found yourself propelled through a portal into the past. It’s woeful special effects (even for the era) and predictable finale didn’t stop me from enjoying the film which was undoubtedly helped by the presence of Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen.

Equally fantastical is the story of Shangri-La in James Hilton’s novel ‘Lost Horizon‘ which had been brought to the screen in 1937 by Frank Capra. That straight version is very good, but in 1973 it was brought back to the big screen by Ross Hunter as a sprawling and colorful musical with an all-star cast, none of whom could sing or dance. Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote the songs, but their relationship was close to an end at the time and it shows in David’s dreadful lyrics (the tunes are alright). Peter Finch looks uncomfortable, Olivia Hussey is visibly pregnant (her character is not supposed to be), and George Kennedy and Michael York don’t even get to try any musical numbers. Liv Ullman, Bobby Van and Sally Kellerman at least tried to inject some energy into proceedings but they are fighting a losing battle. Oh, and John Gielgud’s back again, playing a Chinese man, which should tell you everything you need to know about the film’s reliance on star names over suitability for the roles they play.

And the Winner Is…:
Lost Horizon‘ – no contest. Absolutely terrible and way too long, but I know I will go back again and again.

Lost Horizon

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