By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist December 12, 2013 at 12:08PM
17. "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones"
"The Mortal Instruments" was another contender all set to be the next hot YA franchise, with an uber-successful book series of the same name penned by Cassandra Clare filled with all the right elements: a we-want-to-but-we-can’t love story to rival "Twilight"; similar fantasy-world-mixed-with-real-world elements of "Harry Potter" and some potentially scintillating fight scenes—demon fight scenes no less! Unfortunately as is often the case with these book-to-film adaptations, in an effort to stay true to the source material, it is weighed down by extraneous details and plot minutiae that may work very well in a 200-odd page novel, but not so well in a 120 min film. In fact the film shoved so much detail in there if you hadn’t read the books you probably spent most of the film trying to catch up on all the narrative ornamenting. Jamie Campbell Bower really deserves a shout out for being particularly woeful as the romantic lead Jace Wayland. The next R-Patz he is sadly not, but you must give the film props for including a homosexual corner to this particular love triangle—it's straight from the book of course, but still. But that's about all we can say in its defense, and also, note to the wardrobe department: there is such a thing as too much leather.
16. "Jack the Giant Slayer"
It was always getting pushed back … Or renamed … Or post-converted into muddy 3D. And Bryan Singer always had excuses, excuses, excuses. Well, when people finally got a look at the finished film, it was very clear what Singer had been up to—a $200 million adaptation of the "Jack and the Beanstalk" fairy tale in which everything fun and whimsical had been removed and replaced with unconvincing special effects, tonal unevenness, and a cast that seems somewhere between a Shakespearean theater troupe and a grade-Z renaissance fair (it's actually hard to watch Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor and Ian McShane flail like this). "Jack the Giant Slayer" was probably supposed to be arch and funny and "Princess Bride"-like, but it comes across as cynical and calculated and the number of fingerprints on the finished product suggests at various stages it was a whole plethora of different things (the fact that the director of "Wedding Crashers" and the writer of "The Usual Suspects" are both credited creative principles says a lot). Unnecessarily violent and startlingly unfunny, "Jack the Giant Slayer" was a movie that seemingly no one was asking for, yet Singer and company delivered anyway, a bloated, excessive studio trifle that was too light for edgy teens and too edgy for family audiences. If only they had kept pushing it back … until it was never released at all.
15. “The Canyons”
What’s so unfortunate about “The Canyons,” the Bret Easton Ellis-scribed, Paul Schrader-helmed, Lindsay Lohan and porn star James Deen-starring sex drama is that even when you’re expecting a high-camp fiasco, it still manages to disappoint by being pointless. With all of the expectations for titillation and scandal (the group sex! the nudity! the Lohan!), the result is just so hideously boring that you can’t even squeal in delight at the trainwreck you're watching—though there is one excellent moment where it looks like a UPS truck is going to barrel straight into one of Lohan’s interminable gossipy lunches that is a true delight. The one good thing about the film (other than the UPS truck) is that by putting Lohan in scenes opposite truly amateur actors such as Nolan Funk, it’s easy to see just how effortlessly she acts circles around them, even in a state of unreliability (as reported by Stephen Rodrick in the infamous New York Times Magazine piece). You understand why Schrader put up with her antics, because she’s literally the only thing going for this movie. And James Deen, as great a performer as he is (and he is!), here’s hoping he doesn’t quit his day job anytime soon, or at least until he gets some acting classes. A dull and insipid look at the lives of the rich and horny in LA, “The Canyons” tries to be profound and just falls flat on its face.
14. "Gangster Squad"
No one expected high art from "Gangster Squad," although there was enough hype surrounding the project, between its starry leading men (among them: Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, and Sean Penn) and behind-the-scenes talent (screenwriter Will Beall was supposedly tapped by Warner Bros to pen a "Justice League" script), to assume that the project would at least be passable. All of the marketing materials suggested this was going to be a "Lil' Untouchables," a lightweight, handsome-young-man version of Brian De Palma's classic. Of course, what we got was far, far worse. In the hands of Ruben Fleischer, the director of stylized fluff like "Zombieland" and "30 Minutes or Less," the sort-of-true story became a plastic bore, always pitched somewhere between absolute tedium and a nearly schizophrenic frenzy. In the former camp is Ryan Gosling's sleepy performance, where he barely raises his voice above a breathy whisper and seems utterly unconcerned with everything else that is going on in the movie (including Emma Stone's vacant vamp), while on that opposite side of the spectrum is Sean Penn as gangster Mickey Cohen. Penn is so over the top that the top appears as a dim blip on the horizon, and he doesn't speak his lines of dialogue as much as he launches them, violently, in each scene. If this movie was in 3D, somebody might have gotten hurt. Watch out for the flying ham!
If a film is playing in competition at not just one, but several major international festivals, you assume a certain basic level of quality. "Parkland" might have looked like some kind of "Bobby" prequel on the surface, but if it was in contention for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, surely there had to be something to it? Not so much, as it turns out: "Parkland," the directorial debut of novelist Peter Landesman, is a dire, poorly made film that takes a look at the assassination of JFK in an amazingly non-revelatory manner. But even if it gives the impression that most of the actors were the fourth choices for their parts, the cast has some promising faces, however aside from a typically scene-stealing turn from James Badge Dale as Lee Harvey Oswald's brother, most were either wasted or miscast, with Jacki Weaver coming off especially badly in a role ill-advisedly turned into a sort of comic relief. Landesman still has a way to go as a technical filmmaker, too: despite the presence of Ken Loach/Paul Greengrass DoP Barry Ackroyd, it's a shallow and flat film without much production value, and the editing is pretty dodgy (one scene gives the impression that Mark Duplass' secret service agent is able to teleport—that's certainly something we didn't know about the assassination of JFK!--but we're not sure that was the filmmakers' intention). Accidentally funny moments abound (Zac Efron hammering at the late commander-in-chief's chest, a Laurel and Hardy-esque bid to get the president's coffin around a tight corner on Air Force One), and there's an unpleasant feeling of cash-in around the whole enterprise -- whatever the filmmakers' protestations to the contrary, rushing your movie to DVD so you can be in shops for the 50th anniversary of JFK's death is always going to come off as exploitative. Especially if it's as bad as this one.