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:
"I really, really like 'Ishtar.' It is a great road comedy shot through with a vein of end-of-an-era sadness, made even richer by its total commercial and critical failure."
"I'm not alone in adoring Otto Preminger's 'Skidoo,' a kaleidoscopic homage to LSD that's also -- in a sublime, ridiculous role -- Groucho Marx's final screen performance (his very last line in the movie is 'Pumpkin,' which he utters moments after sucking on a joint). This is what critics tend to call 'a mess,' but it's a glorious one, and while certainly the least 'Preminger' of all of Preminger's films, it's a delightful, colorfully weird satire of seemingly everything in its sights -- free love, drugs, mass media, movie genre clichés -- and Preminger seems to celebrate its eventual descent into narrative chaos at the very end, when Harry Nilsson actually sings the credits."
"I've always unabashedly, unironically loved -- not liked -- the reviled 1991 Bruce Willis caper comedy 'Hudson Hawk.' Directed by a fresh-off-of-'Heathers' Michael Lehmann (although he seems to have been subjected to a lot of bigfooting by Willis, who co-wrote the script, and producer Joel Silver), I've always found the film's wholly intentionally cartoonishness to be charming, where everyone else seemed to find it insufferable. Different strokes for different dorks, I guess. Willis plays a cat burglar released from prison after a long sentence who is immediately blackmailed by the C.I.A. and other nefarious parties into stealing the various pieces of an alchemy machine invented by Leonard Da Vinici, which are now hidden inside various of his artworks on display in some of the world's best-defended museums. It was an expensive picture for its time -- 'Terminator 2' was probably the only would-be blockbuster that summer that cost more -- as bombs must be to get written about, but you see that cash on the screen. Yes, Andie MacDowell is terrible in it, but you get Danny Aiello as Bruce's mentor/sidekick, Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard as tongue-killing sibling supervillains, 'Our Man Flint''s James Coburn as a C.I.A. heavy, and a pre-'NYPD Blue' David Caruso who is very likable in his sunglasses-and-dialogue-free role as a killer mime. Just the fact that Aiello and Willis time their burglaries by singing their way through them (they have a large songbook, and they know how long it takes them to sing each standard, down to the second) is enough to make me love it."
"I have a nostalgic fondness for Mark Rydell's 1976 movie 'Harry and Walter Go to New York,' a period caper film that's such a dud you might not have heard of it. The actors, however, should sound very familiar: James Caan, Elliott Gould, Michael Caine, Diane Keaton, Charles Durning, Carol Kane, Lesley Ann Warren, and Burt Young among others. I stumbled across it with my dad when I was a teenager on vacation with my family in Florida, on a rainy night when we had nothing to do but watch local TV indoors. We were fascinated -- it wasn't good, obviously, but we were enjoying the hell out of it. Every few years I find the film and watch it again. It's flat and poorly paced and has some awful, heavy-handed scenes but I still sigh over Caine as a gentleman thief and giggle over the operetta at the climax. Sadly, it's currently out of print on DVD and expensive to watch online so I'm overdue on a viewing. Oh, and I have the poster; it's an early Drew Struzan."
"I loved the first hour or so of Billy Bob Thornton's 'All The Pretty Horses,' which qualifies as both a critical and financial dud with a 32% Rotten Tomatoes score and a $39 million loss at the box office. Unfortunately, thanks to 'Harvey Scissorhands,' the second hour is legitimately horrible... so, my answer is Tim Robbins' 'Cradle Will Rock.' Made for $36 million, it grossed just $3, and most cinephiles I know think I'm crazy for liking it. But I was completely swept up by the Depression-era tale of Marc Blitzstein's titular play being performed against all odds. The artistic passion -- the compulsion to express one's self -- that Robbins portrays is at the heart of why I love movies."
"It's a film previously synonymous with failure, but I think Michael Cimino's 'Heaven's Gate' is an absolute masterpiece. When it was released in 1980, following speculation of a troubled production lead by the megalomaniacal Cimino, critics had a field day unfairly insulting the film. New York Times critic Vincent Canby noted that it was an 'unqualified disaster' and was like 'a forced four-hour walking tour of one's own living room.' Maybe some critics felt the need to put Cimino in his place following the resounding creative and critical success of his previous film, and Best Picture winner, 'The Deer Hunter,' or maybe they legitimately disliked the film, but they ostensibly buried 'Heaven's Gate,' New Hollywood, and Cimino's career along with it. I, on the other hand, could not disagree more with people like Canby who feel the film is a disaster. In fact, I see the film as an extension of Cimino's immersive technique he began with 'The Deer Hunter.' Scenes extend so the viewers get used to the environments, and the patient way the film ambles through the plot veers towards the true reality Cimino worked so hard to capture. It also subverts Western tropes and cleverly informs the class warfare of the film's time period. I also think it's probably the most beautiful looking film ever thanks to the talent of DP Vilmos Zsigmond and Cimino's tenacity. You might hate it, but I love it, and the film's recent reassessments -- including its inclusion in the Criterion Collection -- show that people might finally be coming around."
"I may be abusing the assignment again this week, since many critics have yet to weigh in on it, yet I suspect Terrence Malick's 'To the Wonder' is in need of a champion or two. I'm happy to volunteer, since I found it moving and majestic, and I'm eager to see it again. Malick takes his Affleck/Kurylenko/McAdams love triangle and strips it to emotional basics, absent the usual narrative ballast, and the effect is both direct and disorienting, like a hypo to the heart. It may not be the masterpiece that 'The Tree of Life' is, but it shouldn't have to be."
"Time and context can sometimes change everything. For years 'Heaven's Gate' was a punchline. Today an inchoate cineaste reading film blogs would be forgiven for thinking it is the greatest frickin' movie of all time. (For the record, there are some great moments, but no amount of will can transform it into a lost classic.) With that out of the way, let's unveil my embarrassment. While I only saw the film once, and therefore hardly consider it a personal fave, I've been on the receiving end of good natured ribbing for saying nice things about 'Green Lantern' for close to two years. Here's what I said in my review and I still stand by it. 'Perhaps now's a good time to look in the mirror and admit that, by and large, your average issue of a superhero book maybe isn't an intellectual text worthy of the McSweeny's-style lionization comics have enjoyed of late. For every Alan Moore there are dozens of writers pushing a plot and tweaking a retcon and making a deadline. Which is not to say they don't have value. But perhaps that value rests more in plain, dumb fun than in a representation of 'our modern mythology.' 'Green Lantern' is, more so than most, an accurate representation of this artform: brisk, enjoyable and, like a 30-page single issue, ephemeral."
"So much of a dud it may now live in cinematic oblivion, 'The Brothers Solomon' is a movie I cannot help but adore. Starring Will Forte, Will Arnett, and Kristen Wig under the direction of Bob Odenkirk you kind of know what sort of movie this would want to be, you just couldn't be sure if it would succeed at it. For me, and apparently three other people, it worked so well that I still manage to revisit it from time to time when I need a bit of empty giggle time."
"'Land of the Lost' with Will Ferrell. Completely nonsensical at times (see the lobster scene), it was mindlessly entertaining."
"Personally, I've never had the problems most people have with Steven Spielberg's 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.' So call me crazy, but yes, I'm cool with Shia LaBeouf and I'm cool with the aliens (I mean, it's not like Spielberg hasn't dealt with aliens before, especially in the context of a story about people seeking something far greater than themselves), among the other usual complaints about this widely derided fourth installment in the beloved Indiana Jones series. For me, the film has something of an autumnal, reflective feel to it underpinning the action-adventure intrigue that I find kind of moving. All that said, I'm okay with the series stopping here and not continuing with a fifth installment, as has been rumored; this strikes me as the perfect endpoint, anyway."
"Hmm, because Criticwire already has me thinking Spielberg, I'll go with 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.' I went long on why I think it's a pivotal (and rather great) film for Reverse Shot."
"It's been universally reviled -- particularly by many of those involved with making it -- but I think time has been kind to 'Myra Breckinridge,' a movie that was postmodern and deconstructionist when postmodernism and deconstructionism weren't cool. From its daring gender politics to its pioneering recontextualization of vintage Hollywood clips, this is an audacious comedy. And it's enough of a departure from the source novel to be considered on its own merits. Raquel Welch may never acknowledge it as such, but this is arguably her greatest performance."
"It depends on what you mean by a 'dud.' If you're talking box office, there's lots of movies I liked or loved that didn't do that well at the box office, such as Edgar Wright's 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.' If you're talking about a critical dud, a movie that's genuinely hated by critics and will never make any Top 10 artsy film lists, then I'd have to go with 'Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle,' a movie that is far more entertaining than recent critical faves like 'Moonrise Kingdom' and 'Zero Dark Thirty.' I saw the movie opening weekend with some friends on a lark and I've probably seen it a dozen times since then because I'm just so entertained by the 'we don't give a f*ck about art' attitude that movie has. It's obvious they were just having fun and it makes me smile every time I see it."
"It's funny how off the mark I was about Baz Lurhmann's 'Australia.' 'You'll definitely hear about 'Australia' in the Oscar buzz,' I wrote back in November 2008. But get this, I've watched it several times since then -- voluntarily -- and I still love it. I find its mixture of spectacle and intimacy quite touching. I'm immensely besotted by its love of cinema and country, and its willingness to express regret over Australia's unsavory part in the plight of the Stolen Generations (when aboriginal children were forced from their homes, turned over to white families to be raised, and usually ended up as servants). Lurhmann does lay it on thick with sentimentality and artifice, but isn't that what the movies are for?"
"There are many films I love that are widely considered duds, however perhaps one of the most striking, is the Mike Myers version of 'The Cat in the Hat.' This was a film that I found hilarious as a young child upon release and was surprised to find upon a recent re-watch, that it more than stood up and in my mind, had become funnier. Currently sporting a 10% on Rotten Tomatoes, this modern interpretation of the classic Seuss tale is undeniably flawed, yet in my mind equally inventive and funny. It is perhaps simply a case of what most found unfunny I found funny, however I genuinely believe that if many were to give it a second look, or if it had come out at a different time, it would have been met much more positively than it was. Visually the film is surprisingly inventive, it's self-aware, Mike Myers delivers what was perhaps his best comedic performance in years (Although that is perhaps more a reflection of the trajectory of his career rather than the particular performance) and there is some commendable craft in regards to how the titular cat is presented and constructed. However at the end of the day it simply made me laugh, a lot, and continues to do so whenever I think of, and quote, certain jokes."
"Ever since I first saw it I've always kept a special place in my heart for 'Big Trouble In Little China.' It failed miserably at the box office mostly because people just didn't get it. It's no secret that 'BTiLC' has become increasingly more popular in the years after its release thanks to the cult following that embraced Carpenter's style/visuals and Russell's haughty swagger. Yet it just goes to show how a film's initial financial success isn't always the earmark of a terrible movie. Sure it's cheesy, and nonsensical at times, but it's also a whole lot of fun any day of the week and I love it to no end."
"'Glen or Glenda.'"
"'Joe Versus the Volcano.' One of Tom Hanks' five best films and yet has unjustly been ignored for too long. Meg Ryan is in three roles, one of them a marvelous love interest. In this whimsical comedy-adventure, Hanks is a working stiff who gets the diagnosis that he has six months to live. He can live rich for his remainder if he agrees to jump into a volcano at the end of the line. Less than scary, just enchanting."
"While I think maybe it's gained a small cult following over the past decade, the critics' scores and box office numbers for Antonia Bird's Western-cannibal-horror flick, 'Ravenous,' are pretty anemic: 37% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 45 on Metacritic for a movie that didn't even manage to make back 20% of its $12 million budget. That response has always surprised me, as it's a movie that I immediately became attached to when I first saw it, and go back to regularly. Yes, it's a film of wild mood swings, starting out on the bloody battlefields of the Mexican-American war, moving to a bleak and isolated military outpost in a Sierra Nevada mountain pass in what looks to be a turn towards frontier survivalism, and then out of nowhere it becomes a supernaturally-inflected, gory cannibal horror piece. But the genre mashup works, thanks to really fantastic performances from Guy Pearce as a cowardly army captain and the scene-chewing Robert Carlyle, tapping the same reservoir of villainous likability that fueled his turn as Begbie in 'Trainspotting.' Jeremy Davies, Jeffrey Jones, Neal McDonough, and yes, even David Arquette round things out nicely with a lot of really well balanced black comic relief. On top of all that, 'Ravenous' boasts one of the most striking scores from any film of the 90s, featuring off-kilter riffs on 19th-century Americana from Blur's Damon Albarn along with Michael Nyman."
"This is a relatively recent movie, but the 2010 Akshay Kumar vehicle 'Tees Maar Khan' fits the bill perfectly. Its horrendous critical reception derived primarily from three factors: first, that it was a comedy; second, that it was an unauthorized remake of the Vittorio de Sica/Neil Simon/Peter Sellers headscratcher 'After The Fox,' and the power of the names involved with the picture obscured everyone's memory of the fact that it wasn't any good; and third, and most importantly, the lead was originally supposed to be played by King Khan himself, Shahrukh Khan. There are two things in life one does not cross, the streams, and Shahrukh Khan fandom. Affronted Shahrukh Khan fans (many of whom, to all appearances, were film critics) exerted an enormous amount of energy saying the nastiest things imaginable about 'Tees Maar Khan,' and though the movie made money and had the smash hit item number 'Sheila Ki Jawaani,' it's widely regarded as being terrible. This is not true. It's one of the funniest movies in the entire world in the last decade, features a brilliant lead performance by Akshay Kumar, a masterful supporting turn by Katrina Kaif, and some all-time classic gags, not to mention one of the catchiest theme songs extant. Atrocious reviews (and dear me were they atrocious) be damned: 'Tees Maar Khan' is awesome. Endlessly rewatchable, as well."
"When I tell people that I love Robert Altman's 'Popeye,' they groan. When I tell them it's my favorite Robert Altman movie, they threaten to un-friend me on Facebook. Not that 'Popeye' is Altman's most meaningful or accomplished film -- it's light years behind 'Nashville,' 'The Player,' 'McCabe and Mrs. Miller' on that score -- but it's a unique and unusual adaptation of a cartoon that actually feels like the cartoon itself. I suspect that very disconnect is most people's problem. If 'Popeye' were 2D animated, it might have been remembered fondly. But since it's a live-action film, and the production design, costumes and the movements of the background extras feel so eerily cartoonish, it tends to put people off a bit. That's fine, it just means more 'Popeye' for me. Robert Altman combined his penchant for creating fully realized worlds in a two-dimensional story with two-dimensional characters, and the end result is so insidiously unlike any other film out there that I adore it. And the precisely off-key musical numbers, written by Harry Nilsson, are the most unexpected kind of earworms."
"David Fincher's 'Alien 3.' Looking back, it's hard not to cite his contribution to this franchise as anything other than a ballsy move. To the naysayers, of which there are many, this has to be one of the darkest, overly cathartic brooding sci-fi flicks in mainstream cinema. And while Fincher himself distances himself from the film, it marks the beginning of a defiantly talented career for one of the most accomplished directors working today. Those approaching it with an open mind will see that it does indeed have moments of quotable dialogue and a dourly potent narrative. Fincher never started out making compromises and, like it or hate it, 'Alien 3' is certainly a film worthy of your attention."
"People keep telling me that 2001's 'Josie and the Pussycats' is widely regarded as a bad movie. It makes sense. Most misunderstood masterpieces are hated by mere simpletons who find it easier to dislike things than to coweringly embrace their own intellectual limitations. Meanwhile, Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont's movie starring Rachel Leigh Cook, Tara Reid and Rosario Dawson as the titular trio who go from indie obscurity to mega-stardom is perhaps the most ingeniously subversive film of the past two decades. It's so candy-coated accessible to the audience it's mocking that it makes 'Spring Breakers' look like 'Gummo.' Disguised as a commercially safe paint-by-numbers adventure (not to mention a lazy, television cartoon adaptation), it successfully satirized corporate control, groupthink, rampant consumer culture, exploiting disposable teen income, boy bands and shirts with sleeves. It got MTV to make fun of itself while pointing out how terrible it is. Jonathan Swift would have been proud. Orange is the new pink. And, seriously, like what you like, people."
"Some of my favorite films are maligned by many, with Michael Cimino's 'Heaven's Gate,' Paul Schrader's 'Exorcist' prequel and Michael Mann's 'Miami Vice' all held in high regard by yours truly. But alas, and for the purposes of this question I'm going with Francis Ford Coppola's 'One From The Heart,' a film which I recently selected as my favorite film of my own lifetime (the last thirty years). From the sublime Tom Waits score to the unique cinematography that blended in-camera technique with an innovative set, there truly is no other film quite like it. On a wider note, it's worth placing the film within a historical and technological context too, with some of the advancements being made by Coppola et. al. at the time via Zoetrope Studios directing the way in which the film industry itself would flow in the age of the digital."
"Definitely 'Overnight Delivery.' I'd rented it when it came out, thinking it would be an ok B-movie background flick to play while I geeked online. But then I kept laughing, stopped geeking, focused solely on the film, and fell hard. It didn't hurt that I knew a guy who looked, acted, and spoke the Wyatt Tripps. And it's so much better than 'Road Trip,' the film that unabashedly ripped it off."
"'Hook' is certain to top many Worst Film lists in this week's Spielberg Survey, but not mine. Along with my fellow elementary schoolers in the early '90s, our two go-to movies were 'The Sandlot' and this tale of a grown up Peter Pan. Spielberg's film was my introduction to Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, and Julia Roberts and offers all the adventure, fantasy, humor, and fun that a kid can handle. Peter rediscovering his true identity with the help of the Lost Boys is pure joy, and with a wealth of quotables it's pretty much the perfect movie for youngsters. Now as an adult, I fully admit that nostalgia has a great deal to do with my love for 'Hook,' though it's an affinity that has not wavered. Bangarang!"
"To preface my response by acknowledging and bracketing your 'Rules of the Game's, which were reviled in their own eras but are now appreciated (by most) for the masterpieces they truly are, my own selection is far less ambitious and successful -- but at least people continue to sneer at any mention of the film: James L. Brooks' 'Spanglish.' Well, not Armond White who actually wrote an anti-awards diatribe suggesting that 'Spanglish' was the closest thing we've seen to a Renoir film set within the clashing worlds of upper-class Hollywood and lower-class immigrant L.A. White's claim might not be as crazy as it seems, given the (at least occasional) warmth, honesty, ambiguity and even visual unevenness -- signifiers of the Renoiresque all -- that mark Brooks' film. My wife suggests a second film that I will cite as a runner up, not because it is inferior to 'Spanglish,' it is substantially better, but because it is less generally despised: Bela Tarr's 'The Man from London.' Tarr's exercise in genre is one of the best looking films in eons that, nonetheless, was looked down on by some critics for all the wrong reasons."
The Most Popular Response: "Spring Breakers"
Other Titles Receiving Multiple Votes: "The Place Beyond the Pines," "Beyond the Hills," "Leviathan," "Oz: The Great and Powerful," "Stoker."