Sunday, December 30, 2007

Crimes Against Cinema: The Ten Most Piss-Poor Movies of 2007 OR Why Danny Dyer Should Be Tried as a Serial Offender

Piss-poor cinema is typically lazy, formulaic, badly produced and lacking in ambition or artistic integrity. In previous years, the chief aggressors were studio hacks pumping out weak franchises aimed squarely at the lowest common denominator. But in recent years, we've seen the co-option of the American independent cinema movement, with a certain style of "Sundance" movie feeling as jaded and derivative as the studio fodder it seeks to replace. Hands up all those sick of quirky characters, faux-naif camera-work and self-conscious music choices. So this year's Worst Of List eschews the usual commercial crap that harbours no ambition of greatness. Instead, we focus on movies that really were trying to be good but failed.

My first two picks are both low-budget British erotic revenge thrillers that reach for profundity but stumble into cheap exploitation. Both also star Cockney geezer Danny Dyer in performances that demonstrate his limited range. The first offender is STRAIGHTHEADS - in which a women is brutally raped by a couple of slack-jawed yokels in deepest darkest Worcestershire (from the look of it.) She turns into a psycho-killer and exacts a revenge that will be familiar to readers of Marlowe's Edward II. The second movie is called THE GREAT ECSTASY OF ROBERT CARMICHAEL. In this flick, a young man desensitised by popular culture and political violence brutally rapes and kills a random middle-class woman. We know this is meant to be a "serious" movie about "issues" because the psycho-teen rapist listens to classical music, just like Alex in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. The problem is that neither film has the intellectual gravity of ORANGE or STRAW DOGS. As a result, they just feel like crass exploitation flicks.

Britain's Most Wanted: Is this man the most annoying Cockney since Dick Van Dyke?The third film in this year's list is yet another low-budget British revenge film featuring Danny Dyer! The only slight difference with
OUTLAW is that the pscho-revenge-killings are not prompted by rape. But everything else is depressingly familiar: from the incredible dialogue to the insufficient character delineation to the weak performances. Grim.

The definition of irony: the cop from the Village People on America's Most WantedAs we move away from the low-budget revenge thriller, you might think we'd be leaving territory besmirched by the inappropriately smirking face of cinema's equivalent of Victor Willis. You'd be wrong. Still, in fairness to Dyer, his typically one-note performance was by far not the worst thing about low-budget British comedy THE ALL TOGETHER. He was trumped by the arid wasteland where Comedy Used To Live.

Speaking of which, the fifth item on the list is, you guessed it, a low-budget British flick called MAGICIANS. I'm not sure how it happened but this flick took two of the funniest guys on British TV - Mitchell and Webb - and put them in a feature length film that was almost entirely devoid of laughs. There's a PhD for some poor film student in working out what goes wrong when TV comedians fail on the big screen.

Venturing outside of the UK, we had plenty of examples of formulaic American movies in the faux-naif genre.
YEAR OF THE DOG is a case in point. Quirky characters up the wazoo; a cast-list stuffed with darlings of independent cinema; this film has Sundance ooozing from its pores. It's also faintly patronising toward its characters, unfunny and unable to engage its audiences in it protagonist's emotional crisis. These directors need to realise that if quirk is not balanced with genuine comedy, it's just irritating. Moreover, it's a barrier to the audience relating to the protagonist.

The seventh movie on the list proves that the Spirit of Sundance is infecting cinema as far away as New Zealand, and that Mitchell and Webb are not the only successful TV comedians to suffer an embarassingly laugh-free transition to the big screen. In
EAGLE VERSUS SHARK, Jemaine Clement of the hysterically funny duo Flight of the Conchords plays a quirky geek who pisses off his long-suffering quirky geek girlfriend. Then he fights a disabled guy, which is quite funny. Then the movie ends. Weak beyond belief.

The eighth movie on my list is
THE DARJEELING LIMITED. Wes Anderson is the director who can most clearly take credit for inventing the Sundance style, despite the fact that he actually makes studio films. But as his characters have become more wealthy and his reputation has become more august, his films have delivered diminishing returns. Where we had genuine emotions and love-able characters in BOTTLE ROCKET, we now have ever-more flowery production design and ever-more vacuous characters and thinner plots. I don't care about the characters in THE DARJEELING LIMITED. They are as indulged as this film is indulgent. I despair of Wes Anderson.

Ikea Knightley buys furniture from Ikea. Too Perfect!The ninth movie on my list is a genuine all-out fiasco called ANGEL. It's a French-produced melo-drama set in Edwardian Britian called Based on a sappy sub-Mills and Boon novel by Liz Taylor, the movie is about a wilful authoress who manipulates everyone around her. Director Francois Ozon will no doubt argue that the over-acting, absurd dialogue, fantastical costumes and sets, are all intentional. But a pastiche is interesting for only so long, and this film certainly does not sustain our interest. I only hope that talented actress Romola Garai's reputation survives.

Note that, despite their failure, I still have more respect for these nine movies than piss-poor studio films that don't even try to do anything different. A noble failure is better than a mediocre, banal auto-flick. Having said that, I can't help mention a string of uninspired shameless cash-ins from our friends in the West - namely HOSTEL PART II, HANNIBAL RISING, BECAUSE I SAID SO, GOAL 2 LIVING THE DREAM or the most piss-poor studio films of the year: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END and SPIDERMAN 3. Of all these movies, PIRATES 3 must take the biscuit as the example par excellence of all the traits that characterise flabby, over-busy franchise films. Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I give you: Ikea Knightley's and Orloondo Bland's* wooden central performances; a plot so convoluted you could catch fish in it; the indulgence of Johnny Depp's ego; the inability of the screen-writers to stick the rules of the fantasy genre that they set up in the first film; the reliance on running and shouting rather than genuine chemistry between the romantic leads or genuine tension in the adventure story plot. *TM BBC Radio 5 Live, Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode on film.


  1. I would like to add Epic Movie, a film so awful, I'd rather to watch "Analyse That" twice before revisiting this dross.

  2. True dat. I could easily have filled my list with piss-poor spoofs that lack plot or character and consist of a loose affiliaton of "jokes". Most of these are based in puerile toilet humour and prat-falls and contain about as much wit as Bernard Manning. EPIC MOVIE was certainly one of the worst offenders, but let's not forget the stream of veritable bat's piss emanating from the SCARY MOVIE franchise.