As the old adage goes, even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while. This week’s Roundtable is a flipside to last week’s discussion. Instead of highlighting the worst movies made by otherwise good directors, we’re looking for those rare good movies that were made by directors generally known for crap. It may not happen often, but it does happen!
When his brilliant debut ‘Donnie Darko‘ was first released, it looked like the emergence of a new cinematic visionary in director Richard Kelly. The movie played sort of like David Lynch crossed with John Hughes. Although the surreal story may not have made sense logically, it absolutely made sense emotionally. It’s such a beautiful puzzle that you don’t mind that not all of the pieces fit.
Unfortunately, it would appear that the film was one of those incredibly rare occasions where all the elements in the universe lined up just perfectly to produce something transcendent that could never be duplicated. By the time he recorded his three audio commentaries for DVD, it started to become clear that Kelly didn’t really understand the movie he had made. He babbled on and on about how it was a “superhero” story (wha…??!!) about a boy who saves the universe, which just has absolutely nothing to do with anything that the rest of us saw on screen. And then Kelly made his Director’s Cut of the movie that tried to “fix” the story by explaining away all of the beautiful ambiguity that made the film so compelling in the first place. His explanations were cheesy and inane, and opened up huge plot holes that hadn’t been there before.
Kelly followed this up with ‘Southland Tales’, a nearly three-hour apocalyptic road movie/comedy/musical that was literally laughed off the screens at the Cannes Film Festival. Its reception was so disastrous that Kelly cut out a good chunk of footage before its regular theatrical release, which was just as badly panned and was a huge box office flop. With his third film, the astoundingly silly and moronic sci-fi thriller ‘The Box’, Kelly demonstrated that the achievement of his first movie was an incredible fluke that he’ll probably never live up to.
I still think that Kelly has some talent as a director, and really just needs to give up the writing side of the filmmaking process. If some studio could pair him up with a really good script from a decent screenwriter, Kelly may just redeem himself yet.
Director Renny Harlin has churned out a lot of crap. ‘Cutthroat Island’ is one of my guilty pleasures, but I can admit that it’s a nearly irredeemable movie. Harlin’s track record, for the most part, screams schlock. ‘Mindhunters’ was mind-numbingly awful. ‘Deep Blue Sea’ is another guilty pleasure, but is by no means a good movie. Seriously, we’re talking about the guy who directed ’12 Rounds’ with John Cena. The man who brought us ‘Driven’ with Sylvester Stallone. His entire filmography reads like a list of movies you’d use as enhanced interrogation. That is, until you see ‘Die Hard 2: Die Harder‘ on that list. In my opinion, ‘Die Hard 2’ is one of the best action movies ever made. It’s a nearly flawless demonstration of what the ’80s and early ’90s action movies aspired to be. It’s the Michael Jordan of action movies. Roger Ebert even gave it three and a half stars, praising its director by saying, “Harlin has taken Hollywood commercial moviemaking, shaken it and given it new energy.” Granted, Ebert didn’t know that Harlin was going to continue making terrible movies afterward, but that’s quite the compliment.
I know I’ll get shit for admitting it, but I’m a pretty big Uwe Boll fan. Yes, he’s somewhat inept, especially considering the amount of films he’s made now, and he’s probably as famous for beating the living hell out of his critics in a series of boxing matches as he is for adapting random video games into film (see: ‘Bloodrayne’, ‘Alone in the Dark’, ‘Dungeon Siege’, ‘House of the Dead’, ‘Postal’, and so on…). But even this entertaining yet somewhat blind horse can find water if it searches long enough. Boll definitely hit the mark with ‘Rampage‘. His career arc has been moving more towards exploitation and shock cinema, as the upcoming ‘Blubberella’ perfectly symbolizes. With each movie, he pushes the envelope of acceptability and taste more and more, and this film was made by the right director at the right time in his career.
‘Rampage’, even in its edited cut (I still cannot get my hands on the uncut Blu-ray from Germany, hard as I’ve tried), is unforgiving, unflinching, yet not all that unrealistic. After the series of school and job shootings that have been sensationalized ever since Columbine in 1999, the idea of a movie focused solely on a man going through town mowing down random people seemed somewhat impossible to make, realistically. Yet here’s Boll, actually making an entertaining, if deplorable, film that actually has a point and a message buried beneath all the bodies and bullets. Star Brendan Fletcher, who has gone on to be in many more Boll films, is a solid casting decision. The action and story elements are spaced out perfectly to get viewers interested and keep them there for the duration. It starts rough and ends on a flat note, due to some of Boll’s amateurism that has yet to fade, but the rest of the film is the antithesis of Boll’s career to that point.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
I genuinely dig Stephen Sommers’ revamp of ‘The Mummy‘. It’s a summer blockbuster in the proudest, kick-back-and-munch-on-fistfuls-of-popcorn tradition: a whirlwind of masterful visual effects, gobs of swashbuckling adventure-flavored action, and an infectiously breezy sense of humor. Like Indiana Jones before it and ‘Curse of the Black Pearl’ not all that long afterwards, ‘The Mummy’ is just fun. It’s exactly the movie it sets out to be, and audiences the world over ate it up… so Sommers retreaded the exact same thing, only louder and dumber, with ‘The Mummy Returns’. The masturbatory CGI sensory overload of ‘Van Helsing’ was even worse. By the time he limped to the unwatchable ‘G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra’, you kinda get the sense that Stephen Sommers is a seven year old with a box of toys making it all up as he goes along, only someone’s right behind him scribbling out checks for tens of millions of dollars to throw at every half-thought-out whim. He’s like the kid who writes ‘Axe Cop’, only someone’s willing to fork over a $175 million production budget.
Brett Ratner is one of the worst directors (somehow) still making movies. When his black/white buddy flick ‘Money Talks’ failed, he simply changed the recipe to include karate with a black/Chinese duo in ‘Rush Hour’ – which he milked three terrible times. When handed the third ‘X-Men’ film, ‘The Last Stand’, he completely drove the franchise into the ground. But amidst the forgettable heap of crap in his list of credits is a prequel that I love: ‘Red Dragon‘. While many complained that it was nothing more than a carbon copy of ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, I found it just as chilling, mesmerizing and intriguing as the original, and far superior to Ridley Scott’s failed chapter, ‘Hannibal’. Edward Norton, Emily Watson, Ralph Fiennes and Anthony Hopkins all gave fantastic performances from a strong, well-written screenplay. Aside from the fluke ‘Red Dragon’, Ratner has never made a movie worth a second viewing, or maybe even a first viewing.
Kevin Smith tops my list when it comes to bad directors with movies that I actually like. He clearly has no idea what he’s doing and he’s said as much himself, but still he’s managed to create a few solid films. My favorite of his is ‘Mallrats‘, which combines his witty writing, crude humor and unconventional characters into one great flick. Sure, he complains that the studio took control, but that conflict made it a better movie overall. It doesn’t drag like ‘Chasing Amy’ and it’s not over the top and silly like pretty much everything after ‘Chasing Amy’.
One quick note before we go: The Bonus View will be taking Monday off for the Memorial Day holiday. We’ll see you all back here on Tuesday. Have a great long weekend!