If you’re going to bite off the worst of all shitty blockbusters from the last decade, at least add a little flavor. Everything about “Battleship” feels secondhand, the antithesis of Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers.” Whedon came to that alien invasion picture with a borderline PhD in the last two decades in blockbuster filmmaking. “Battleship,” however, seems as if director Peter Berg crammed three Simon West films right before finals, and it shows. Every single element of this ill-advised board game adaptation (which rightly torpedoed Universal’s exclusive deal with the moviemaking wizards at Hasbro) felt thrifted, from the alien beasts that looked like an MS-OS version of Ed Asner-playing-Mickey-Rourke’s scrotum, to the dorky comic relief of sadsack shitty eighth generation Dustin Hoffman clone Hamish Linklater. There’s some partial credit for giving a role to an actual double amputee veteran himself, which is then squandered by an absolutely flabbergasting moment where a submarine crew actually is forced to guess coordinates like the board game, a concession not to storytelling or theme, but to the purpose of selling more merchandise. Is it one of the worst movies of the year? Put it this way -- as a throwaway gag, it would have been laughed out of a pitch meeting for “The Critic” fifteen years ago.
Blame marketing. Blame development hell. Blame difficult source material. Blame Bryan Cranston’s yellow yarn wig. Blame whatever you want, anyway you slice the shit pie of a movie that is “John Carter,” it is still a pie made out of shit. The movie was too... everything, while also being absolutely nothing. Too earnest, too long, too silly, but also crushingly boring and dull. The main problem was that director Andrew Stanton wanted to have it too many ways -- a fantastical space odyssey for kids, but also wanted to be a serious adult sci-fi flick, and the tonal swings could not be saved by what was a rather insipid story. The death knell of a bad movie is when it takes itself too seriously, which was the biggest crime “John Carter” committed. What was that about a moon wedding you intoned so seriously, Dominic West? Ever crack a smirk, Taylor Kitsch? You are leaping about Mars in a loin cloth, after all. Even Han Solo managed a smirk. Yes, the crimes of “John Carter” are many, and it’s an unfortunate turn of events for all involved (Disney, Disney Marketing, Stanton, Willem Dafoe, West, Cranston, Kitsch, and yes, I am looking at you too, Woola), but there’s no redeeming “John Carter.” It’s emblematic of everything wrong with commercial filmmaking these days: made by committee, market-research driven creative decisions (it was said that women don’t go see movies with "Mars" in the title, so that’s why they dropped the "of Mars,” because “John Carter” just screams fantastical period movie/space adventure), and pandering to the four quadrants. “John Carter” tried to please everyone and instead pleased no one. Hopefully Hollywood learns some important lessons from this fiasco, but realistically, and unfortunately, probably not.
How could we almost forget this abysmal indie film? So, thanks to Playlist contributor Todd Gilchrist who gave us the helpful nudging ("wtf?") reminder. While Derick Martini’s “Lymelife” was a decent little coming-of-age tale, something went painfully awry with his directorial follow-up “Hick.” based on Andrea Portes' novel about a Nebraskan teen who gets more than she bargained for when she sets out for the bright lights of Las Vegas, “Hick” is an utter disaster. A mess of a movie, half offbeat roadtrip with strained, near-laughable serious notes, the picture, to put it in a nutshell, is deeply tonally challenged. Starring Chloe Moretz, (a woefully miscast) Eddie Redmayne and Blake Lively, as our review earlier in the year said, "Hick" was "intended to be a calling card for all parties involved to point at as evidence of their talent and bravery; instead, it's a black blot of shame for everyone who had a part in its making." Indeed.
Up until now the "Paranormal Activity" gravy train had been an intermittently scary franchise based around the found footage conceit (which ceased being clever a couple of sequels ago) and a series of goose-bumpy sequences in which doors slowly open on their own. But for this, the exhausting fourth entry in the franchise, the concept has finally been worn out completely. What we're left with is a loose collection of sequences that stay super-glued to the aesthetic principles of the "Paranormal Activity" franchise (which this time includes security camera footage and Skype conversations -- the latter was done much better and with way more nudity in the semi-clever found footage anthology “V/H/S”) while halfheartedly attempting to push the series' "mythology" forward (it involves witches or ghosts or something). Audiences groaned audibly (we were in one of them) at the inherent lack of artistic or entertainment value. Also it was really boring. But all this it wasn't enough for Paramount to put the kibosh on this lucrative cash cow – 2013 will see "Paranormal Activity 5" hit the big screen. Hopefully that will be the end. Doors opening slowly on their own are only so scary for so long.
If there's been one silver-lining to John Cusack's career in recent years, it's that many of the terrible film he's made -- "Shanghai," 'The Factory" -- never even saw the light of theatrical day, sparing the actor from further embarrassment. Sadly, that was not the case with "The Raven," which received a puzzlingly wide release (fortunately, few people actually bought tickets for the thing). Melding the aesthetics of an early '00s movie filmed in Prague to a "Seven"-style themed-serial-killer movie, it sees Cusack play Edgar Allan Poe in the final days before his death, helping the Baltimore PD (led by Luke Evans, the most generic, least interesting cop in screen history) investigate a crazed murderer inspired by the writer's work, one who makes the stakes personal by kidnapping Poe's fiance (Alice Eve, in a box). We suppose it's not a bad premise, but it's one saddled with a truly disastrous script that appears to be a clever parody played with perfect deadpan delivery (no comedy this year had such hilarious lines, or anything as ridiculous as Poe's pet raccoon). The murders are neither sufficiently inventive nor justifiably gory, the killer might as well walk on screen wearing a t-shirt with the words I Did It on the front, and bar Cusack (who's at least having fun playing Poe as a "Saturday Night Live" impression of Robert Downey Jr.), the actors are visibly grinning and bearing it until they can get back to the hotel bar and swap stories of what they're going to buy with their paychecks. The worst culprit of all is director James McTeigue ("V For Vendetta"), who ladles on the atmosphere, but not much else, failing to tell the story in anything like a coherent manner, and pretty much ruling him out in future from directing anything that doesn't star Nicolas Cage. Quoth the critic: "Nevermore."
The start of “Red Dawn” is a burst of action, no surprise given that director Dan Bradley cut his teeth working in second unit on a number of big studio action blockbusters. Once our group of demographically-diverse teens (but blacks and Hispanics to the back of the line please!) makes a break for the forest, avoiding the unlikely North Korean invaders, they lie low and examine the stakes. Led by the bombastic patriotic speech of Aussie Chris Hemsworth, the crew decide to band together and fight back. What follows is the most bewildering, borderline avant-garde passage of time in any mainstream film this year. A training montage occurs, with Marine Thor putting his crew through the paces, before they eventually armor up against their oppressors, and the audience has absolutely no clue as to whether this has been days, weeks or even months. If it’s months, then these kids sure haven’t grown much. If mere days have elapsed, then how is it these suburban kids learned guerilla tactics so quickly? Oh right, Playstation. Even if you excuse the the film's Yellow Peril and the horrifying post-production process that involved changing Chinese actors into Koreans (there’s a Romanian New Wave movie waiting to be made about the guy responsible for this), there’s the fact that the action sequences, led by the charisma-less duo of Joshes Peck & Hutcherson, are a jumble of incidents that presume the North Koreans sent ten guys to take over Spokane, Washington, and one of them, (Will Yun-Lee), is a teleporter who can pop up and sneer at almost every location. Sometimes films sit on the shelf for legit reasons.