By Matt Singer | Criticwire April 1, 2013 at 10:05AM
Q: What movie widely regarded as a cinematic dud do you like (or maybe even love)?
The critics' answers:
"Easiest question. 'Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.'"
"I kind of love 'Billy Madison' and 'Happy Gilmore.' They came out when my sense of humor was at its most infantile, so they stuck. I'm not the only one who thinks this; according to Roger Ebert, Paul Thomas Anderson watches Adam Sandler movies when he's lonely on a Saturday night."
"Well, there are a number of films that I enjoy even as I acknowledge that they're terrible ('The Room,' 'Miami Connection,' the filmography of Jean-Claude van Damme, etc), but that's not quite what this question is asking for, is it? Instead I'd like to acknowledge 'Willow,' a film which I know a great many critics point to as the genesis of George Lucas' later fumbles. And I'll admit, I have no use for the unfunny comic-relief Brownies played by Kevin Pollak and Rick Overton. But I loved every other moment of the movie when I first saw it at age 10, and love it still."
"I choose 1979's '1941!' I'm sure my own sense of childhood nostalgia plays into these opinions, I can still sit down with '1941' and 'objectively' point out tons of little things that make me smile: the opening scene cameo from Susan Backline; the banter between Tim Matheson and Nancy Allen; the dummy on the ferris wheel; the tank that goes through a paint factory and then a turpentine plant... for no reason other than a silly joke. I love the weird contributions from Christopher Lee, Slim Pickens, Toshiro Mifune, Warren Oates, and Robert Stack. I love the jitterbug scene in the middle, the house destruction at the end, and just about every single stocatto syllable that pours out of Dan Aykroyd's mouth. Read the rest of 'In Firm Defense of Steven Spielberg's '1941'' right here."
"George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett' was such a flop that, according to Hollywood lore, Cukor and his star Katharine Hepburn offered to do their next movie for free. Cary Grant and Hepburn, who dresses as a boy for most of the film, have so much wild energy and achieve a richness of Shakespearean clownery that matches their future collaborative masterpiece 'Holiday,' also directed by Cukor. 'Life is a Bed of Roses' directed by Alain Resnais is another overlooked favorite that daringly condenses civilizations into one architecturally ambitious castle in the forest through time."
"There are so many, but putting aside a lot of the ones that I enjoy on their campy merits, the most recent example is 'John Carter,' a genuinely epic movie with some great characters (Willem Dafoe's Tars Tarkas particularly) and an unusual structure that eschews standard 3-act formula for something more akin to book chapters and old adventure serials. And that ending, with its heartbreak after triumph, then triumph again, takes my emotions for a ride. I'm really disappointed we won't get further adventures in that world, especially knowing what happens in subsequent books."
"If the 1975 blaxploitation comedy 'Darktown Strutters' is regarded at all, it's as a camp curiosity booked in trash movie marathons. It deserves a better fate, or at least a DVD release. A chaotic whirl of old styles married to new politics, it's Black Power slapstick. There's the old guard action chops of director William Witney (who started in the serials), the ferocious charisma of Trina Parks (the Bond girl Thumper in 'Diamonds are Forever') and the backbeat of soul group The Dramatics -- who play their hit 'What You See Is What You Get' in the underground prison of a fried chicken mogul (did Louis C.K. see this before making 'Pootie Tang?'). Parks is part of a gang of Black drag racing chicks searching for her mother Cinderella -- who disappeared after opening a secret abortion clinic. Chased down by a resurgent KKK and a trio of racist Keystone cops (including Dick Miller), the movie espouses a kind of Black separatism amid the manic pratfalls."
"Ed Wood's 'Glen or Glenda.' It's still on plenty of 'worst movie ever' short lists, right? Because, for all its comic ineptitude, it's nonetheless a rich and fascinating film with an overwhelming weirdness about it. Is it an unusually poignant work of horror and exploitation? A surrealist fantasy inscribed with Wood's erratic ideas about gender identity? Both, probably, and it certainly has more going on than the so-bad-it's-good label would suggest."
"My memory may be slipping, but I don’t think 'Mystery Men' was highly praised by critics, nor did it do well at the box office, back in the summer of 1999. This goofy superhero ensemble comedy, for whatever reason, still makes me howl with laughter even now that I’m an adult. I have a bit of nostalgia reserved for the film, if only because it’s the first I bought on DVD, one I own proudly today. 'Mystery Men' is nowhere near perfect or even truly accomplished -- its script is messy and Kinka Usher’s oddball directing style is sometimes distracting. Flaws aside, I don’t deny that 'Mystery Men,' with its inexplicable ensemble cast -- William H. Macy, Janeane Garofalo, Eddie Izzard, Tom Waits, and many more -- and clever dialogue and hero-skewering, always fills me with glee."
"There are so many for me to choose from, but I'll go with Richard Kelly's 'Southland Tales.' And, no, this is not just a contrarian stance. I honestly do love this film, despite all of the haters out there."
"Over the years it seems to have become critical orthodoxy. even among avant-garde film aficionados, that Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen's film 'Riddles of the Sphinx' is a 'dud.' There are a few reasons for this. For one thing, its makers created it in part as a demonstration of certain theoretical principles that have never been less than controversial; the film an attempt to imagine a film that avoided the 'male gaze' that Mulvey described in her foundational article 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.' In 2013, Mulvey's article does seem reductive. But at the same time, we have all spent decades arguing with it, which only proves how generative it was. But too often 'Riddles' has been shunted aside as a mere historical curiosity, an aesthetic cul-de-sac that offers little but a demonstration of why academics should stick to their bailiwick. If we can free ourselves from 'Riddles'' historical baggage, we can actually see a rather odd and lovely film that, among other things, displays Mulvey herself engaged in a Godard-like reflexive process of critical production (the sections 'Laura talking' and 'Laura listening'), a segment that reflects early film/video experimentation much like Chris Marker's 'Sans Soleil''s 'Zone' passages, and above all, a long, bravado midsection comprised of 360-degree pans that both 'tell a story' (a divorce, the formation of a child care collective) and demand an engagement with spectatorial distance. The film also captures 1970s Britain -- the broad collars, the boxy cars, the dingy look of a suburban Sainsbury's. It's time to reconsider 'Riddles of the Sphinx.'"
"Where to begin... 'Alien 3,' 'White of the Eye,' 'Alexander,' 'Cloud Atlas,' 'Grace of my Heart,' 'Pathos: Segreta Inquietudine,' 'Skidoo,' 'Mommie Dearest,' 'Boom!,' 'Let's Go To Prison.'"
"My response: 'Too many.' The one however that I feel more and more people are beginning to rally around and I loved ever since my first viewing was 'Speed Racer.' The film is completely art. It's what I consider the children's film that I want to show my future children because not only is it an entertaining lovely family movie but it feels like it has the elements that if someone were predisposed to it would help spurn on a deep interest in film in a way many other children films don't. Also, where else are you going to find John Goodman throwing down with a ninja?"
"People still think of 'Ishtar' as the quintessential Hollywood debacle, but the tide is starting to turn. The movie is a prescient political satire and a great New York buddy movie. Paul Williams' songs are a wonderful example of deliberately bad songwriting. That's right, it's deliberately funny, and Hoffman and Beatty have a great chemistry playing against type."
"Of late, I really liked 'The Paperboy, even though I don't know a single person who agrees. I was honestly surprised when the reactions were so uniformly negative. Sure, it's not for everyone. But Daniels had a really clear vision of something he was trying to realize, and I think he took a lot of risks to make that happen and that most of the time it worked. Kidman gives a fantastic performance, as does Macy Gray of all people. I wonder if it'll be re-evaluated as years go by."
"I am going to have to go ahead and stick up for 'Sucker Punch.' The film is dark, fucked up and really unsettling under the surface and I don't think anyone gave it a chance. The themes of female empowerment are great and the commentary on how men want to keep women suppressed is biting. Its greatest fault is that these messages could have been a bit more clear and coherent, but they are there if you are looking for them. Beyond the intriguing and dark vision wrapped up in giant blockbuster film, it is a gorgeous and wonderfully executed action picture. Sure there is a lot of CG, but it looks great, and I love the added bits to the Director's Cut. There is a lot of originality and imagination on display here and it is a shame that our community that claims they crave for more of those adjectives wrote this one off so easily. Why does the sexualization in 'Spring Breakers' (which I loved) get a pass and 'Sucker Punch' doesn't? I would say the deeper themes of both of those films go over the common audience's head just as easily as one another. Those two films would make an intriguing double bill."
"The options here are almost endless, but considering 'Speed Racer' has become more agreed upon, or at least accepted as a cult favorite, and 'Joe Versus the Volcano' has almost become a genuine classic, I'm going to take a moment to champion 'Iron Man 2,' which is not only the best movie Marvel's yet produced, but easily one of the best superhero films ever made. Like all the best of that genre, it actually takes the time to craft a fully realized character, and constructs the story around that, to the point that the low point that must come at the end of every second act of every mainstream film is dictated not by the fact that Mickey Rourke or whoever is being really mean to Tony Stark, but because Tony has so thoroughly alienated himself from everyone he knows that he has to atone for that. Jon Favreau smartly sidelines the action (admittedly, far from his strong suit, and there are really only a handful of them here) for a laid back, almost Hawksian 'hangout movie' that just happens to involve people in wacky costumes (Tony having doughnuts in his Iron Man suit is a gorgeous touch). I'll also throw some honorable mentions to 'Nacho Libre,' one of the purest cinematic comedies, and 'The Green Hornet,' which is the greatest expression of Truffaut's 'joy of making cinema' that the superhero genre has yet produced."
"There are actually a lot of films people are shocked that I enjoy (including 'Revenge of the Sith,' 'Marley and Me' and the 'Clash of the Titans' remake), but for this I'm going to give two semi-recent films I love and many people seem to really hate. The first is 'TRON: Legacy.' I'm not a huge fan of the first 'TRON,' yet this film's pacing (helped a great deal by its awesome Daft Punk score) really grabs me every time I watch. I'll preface my second choice by saying I understand its flaws, especially in the shadow of the great trilogy before it, but I really enjoy 'The Hobbit.' Yes, I am annoyed that Jackson is dragging the smallest book of the series out to three long films, and yes, the pacing suffers somewhat in the beginning, but once the journey begins, hell, once the dwarves come to the Shire, I am onboard for this great, and sometimes goofy ride 100%. There are hints of Jackson's silly past on display here, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I have so far enjoyed his return trip to Middle Earth."
"I'll concede that the 'Step Up' films are no great shakes when it comes to their plots and actors. There's always a ballet-trained brunette who gets funk lessons from a cardboard hunk, and both are as forgettable as last year's Grammy winner for Best New Artist. But c'mon: are we really watching 'Step Up' for its story? The series, especially numbers 3 and 4, reaches Busby Berkeley levels of inventive brilliance. The dancers spring at the camera strapped to elastic chords, stomp their feet in six inches of water, and marshal themselves into a full-on cinematic spectacle. Do you remember the plot of 'Footlight Parade?' No, but you can still picture Berkeley's pool of choreographed mermaids. And Adam G. Sevani, aka Moose, is a modern Fred Astaire, a geek who becomes glorious in flight."
"I'm starting to think the Criticwire Survey is designed to make me look insane. Last week, I copped to not liking 'It's a Wonderful Life,' and this week, I'm telling you that I've always enjoyed 'Howard the Duck.' Call the men in white suits! I went to the first showing of 'Howard the Duck' on its opening day, August 1, 1986. Walking out two hours later, I thought to myself, 'That was great! This movie is going to be an enormous hit!' Hey, I was only 18, okay? I've seen the flick several times since, most recently about two or three years ago. Sure, it's a bit Daffy, but the movie really quacks me up. Maybe I just suffer from some sort of mallard-y that makes me find such fowl humor funny, or perhaps I just nostalgically remember wishing I was a talking duck so that I could make out with Lea Thompson. Whatever the reason, I find the film delightfully kooky. I even have a copy of the soundtrack album on vinyl somewhere in my basement. I can't believe I just admitted that! If I don't stop now, you're gonna get me to confess that I also love 'Xanadu,' 'Career Opportunities,' and 'Nothing But Trouble.' Dammit!"
"I have a handful of duds that I feel confident in defending as better films than their reputations suggest (for example, I contend that 'The Fountain' is just misunderstood, and as the years pass it seems like that movie is having its imagine rehabilitated slowly), but I really have no excuse for loving 'Elizabethtown' like I do. It's certainly not Cameron Crowe's finest hour, but inexplicably I downright love it. I can argue for the quality of a couple of scenes in the flick, but overall it's a film that I really love in spite of itself. Even my girlfriend judges me harshly for being as much of an admirer of it as I am."
"'Slackers.' It's a really, really bad movie. But the seeds of a great movie are so apparent, and it fails on so many levels, that I can't help but watch and rewatch... and rewatch and rewatch and just analyze ever single thing about it."
"I was an out-of-the-gate fan of Robert Longo's 'Johnny Mnemonic' and Rachel Talalay's 'Tank Girl,' both of which debuted in the mid-'90s when I was teaching and writing about cyberpunk culture. So maybe I had a built-in bias in favor. They were poorly received then, and they still have bad reputations (and not the good kind of bad reputations, either). But I still think 'Johnny' is quite stylish and knowing and 'Tank Girl' is filled with unguilty fun. Also, both feature Ice T, which is something I can't quite figure out but makes me quietly happy."
"Of course, the 'correct' answer is 'Heaven's Gate,' or maybe even 'Ishtar,' but I'm going to go further out on the old limb. Years ago, I sat in a screening room with one other critic. We watched a movie called 'Nuns on the Run.' And we both laughed ourselves silly at this gleefully silly, not particularly good, but merry romp, where Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane go all out bonkers, disguised as nuns, just to make us giggle. The movie opened to some of the harshest reviews of the time. Critics were horrified at the blasphemy of using nuns as a joke. I interviewed a rather shell-shocked Idle upon the film's release. He was practically crouching under the weight of it all and told me the days of Python-y humor were over, so he might as well just retire and read books or something. Thank God he got over that. Because sure, 'Nuns' isn't The Greatest Comedy Ever Made, but, two fine stars going for broke just to make us laugh? Gee, maybe this movie has more in common with 'Ishtar' than I originally thought."
"Most of them. I just like moving images. I never really end up caring what other people love or hate, and often if I find myself liking or hating a film for reasons can be very different from anyone else. I just want critics to believe in what they see in an image or sound and articulate it as thorough as possible. There are no party lines when criticism is used as a pure form of self-expression. I guess I'll mention Jazmin Lopez's 'Leones,' a film that just played at the New Directors/New Films and creates a certain spirituality through the tracking shot I've never quite seen articulated before. It's played a number of festivals and doesn't have distribution, so you might call that a 'dud,' though most of the people I convinced to see it were quite fond of it. If anyone with money is listening, I'd love it if the film were widely available."
"I unashamedly enjoy 'Ishtar.' I saw it in the theater when it came out and loved it then. It's reputation for being an expensive flop seems to ignore the fact that it's really quite funny. Seriously, to quote a song from the film, 'Telling the truth is a dangerous business/Honest and popular don't go hand in hand.' I'll tell the truth and go against popularity and say this comedy is an underseen gem."