Even great artists stumble every once in a while. No matter how talented they may be or what great track records for quality they may have otherwise built, even the best of directors drop the occasional stink bomb. This week’s Roundtable is all about ferreting out the worst movies from filmmakers capable of so much better.
For many years, I used to call ‘Wild at Heart’ David Lynch’s worst film. Yet even that movie has some degree of interest, some measure of watchability, and a few individual scenes that are among the best that Lynch ever directed. However, after what was likely his last great success with ‘Mulholland Drive’, Lynch spent too much time puttering around on his personal web site, getting lost in his own head, and making dreadful short films and animated sketches that no one but his most fervently die-hard loyalists could possibly defend. The culmination of that time came with the astoundingly awful ‘Inland Empire‘, a three-hour rehashing of themes he’d previously covered better, and a regurgitation of all the worst ideas rattling around in his brain that had no other outlet.
‘Inland Empire’ is everything that Lynch’s critics had long (falsely) accused him of being. It’s tedious, repetitive, nonsensical, weird just for the sake of being weird, and wholly without point or purpose. Having recently split with his longtime girlfriend (and short-time wife) Mary Sweeney, who had edited all of his films for the previous decade and a half, Lynch’s work here suffers a complete lack of structure or coherency. It’s not so much a movie as it is a collection of random nonsense thrown together, and it drags on forever.
With ‘Inland Empire’, David Lynch not only jumped his own shark, he turned around and jumped it again for good measure. And what is this once-great artist who gave us the brilliant ‘Blue Velvet’ and ‘Twin Peaks’ doing today? This is what he’s doing now.
The man is totally lost.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
One of the smartest buys I ever made throughout my many years of obsessively collecting movies was the Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection that Universal released on DVD back in 2005. The bulk of my favorite Hitchcocks are a part of that set, and I try to make it a point to watch all the films in the collection at least once a year. Well, all the films with one small detour, at least. ‘Topaz‘, a Cold War-era political thriller filmed near the end of Hitchcock’s career, is unwatchable.
Aside from one arresting setpiece – a purple dress flowing outward as if a pool of blood – Hitchcock’s trademark visual flair is altogether absent. Although ‘Topaz’ sports a terrific supporting cast, its lead, Frederick Stafford, is aggressively bland and wooden. The film’s dialogue is cringe-worthy more often than not. Topaz is easily the most poorly paced of Hitchcock’s films, meandering around aimlessly throughout its bloated two and a half hour runtime.
Perhaps Hitchcock was hoping to turn his favorite premise on its ear. Rather than pitting ordinary people against extraordinary situations, he’d explore the banality of an international spy’s daily routine. But the end result is a political thriller devoid of any thrills. Hitchcock never had a grasp on the material. The screenplay is convoluted and unfocused, the movie putters along without any energy or intrigue, and Hitchcock fumbles desperately to find something resembling an ending. On the upside, the back-to-back failures of ‘Torn Curtain’ and ‘Topaz’ inspired Hitch to make ‘Frenzy’, and I’d argue that’s his last great film.
Although I don’t like many of the films that Clint Eastwood has directed, there’s no denying that the guy is strong filmmaker – but he often just makes bad movies. In particular, ‘Flags of Our Fathers‘ is a terrible film. Although it plays out like an ensemble piece, it ultimately tries to be a single person’s story. The characters are unlikable, and the only one you actually empathize with is the one who’s never given any closure. People complain about the multiple endings of ‘Return of the King’, but ‘Flags’ has so many false endings that it makes ‘Return of the King’ feel positively brief. The repetitious 4-note score melody is also nauseating. I could go on forever bashing on ‘Flags’. But then you have its companion piece, ‘Letters from Iwo Jima‘, which is the same story told from the Japanese perspective. ‘Letters’ is focused, solid and emotionally moving. Everything that ‘Flags’ gets wrong, ‘Letters’ gets right. What’s the difference? The screenplays. They’re both well directed, but ‘Flags’ is simply a bad movie. It is a shame that Eastwood usually picks such bad screenplays.
I know that Peter Jackson made silly B-movies before making a name for himself, but even before the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, Jackson directed the very capable horror film ‘The Frighteners’ starring Michael J. Fox. ‘Lord of the Rings’ was his opus, and quite possibly the best film trilogy ever constructed. After ‘Rings’, Jackson went on to remake ‘King Kong’, which some people trashed, but I loved. Then came his stink bomb, ‘The Lovely Bones‘. I hated this movie so much that for a minute I forgot it was made by the same man who gave us the masterful story about Middle Earth.
Few directors are as good as Steven Spielberg. He’s been nominated for six Best Director Oscars, won two (with another win on a producing credit), and his films have earned countless acting and editing and effects nominations to boot. Spielberg has directed fourteen films that have passed the $100 million mark, and had a few more falling just a hair short. Four of the mentioned fourteen films have involved the same character, Indiana Jones. As soon as I said that, you just knew what I was going to say next, didn’t you? For a man as talented as Spielberg, there’s absolutely no excuse for ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull‘. None. Ninteen years had passed since ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’. That’s almost as long as the gap in time that takes place between ‘Revenge of the Sith’ and ‘A New Hope’.
I can’t say that everything about the film is awful. I loved the credits…. Ok, I lied. I just love what the credits symbolize: the end of the suffering. The movie is a bloated, hideous mess that sullies the legend of one of the silver screen’s most beloved characters. With the ridiculous casting of Shia LaBeowulf as the bastard child of the whip-wielding treasure hunter-slash-professor, and the lack of any memorable villain, the film has nothing going for it. Admit it, the scenes that are “memorable” are that way because they’re that fucking stupid. Refrigerator, big ants, and aliens. Spielberg’s résumé is damn near flawless when you remove this unintentional parody of a film. I wish I could just blame George Lucas on this one, but sadly, there’s enough blame to go around and sully everyone.
There’s one guy who came instantly to mind when I heard this topic, and that’s Steven Spielberg. He’s been a favorite of mine since I first saw ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ as a kid. Flicks like ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘Schindler’s List’ and ‘Jaws’ have only cemented that love. No, I’m not going to fault him for ‘The Crystal Skull’ – I feel like that was a group failing. I will, however, call out one of the first Spielberg movies that managed to disappoint me. ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park‘ is a painful and shameless cash-in by Spielberg, who is at least partially responsible for the second book being created as well. It’s boring and mindless, and watching it robs the original of its power and excitement. Spielberg’s better than this movie, and he’s far better than the last ‘Indy’ flick. Let’s hope for good things out of ‘Tin-Tin’ and even better out of ‘Lincoln’.
Those are our choices. Now it’s your turn to call out the worst duds from directors who ought to know better. Tell us all about them in the Comments below.