Forget the grade school pageant acting, or the insidious Chick-fil-A propaganda, or even the brain-bleeding notion that this film’s obscene profit margin will ensure more and more of its type. This monstrosity from the twisted mind and blackened soul of Alex Kendrick sweeps through and captures the year’s most dubious prize because with
Hollywood product at an all-time low of social relevance, Fireproof still managed to portray the most ridiculous human relationship ever captured on film. Not only is love not possible without an oil-soaked Jesus occupying center stage of your respectable suburban home, it can be destroyed in a moment’s notice by nothing less than a failure to have a piping hot dinner ready and waiting for your hard-working man. And god forbid you forget to wash the stray dish that sits in the sink like an oozing boil of defiance. So retrograde as to render the Eisenhower era an orgy of long-haired rebellion by comparison, you watch in horror as it checks off all the expected boogey men of a fundamentalist’s fevered mind. Porn kills the spirit, working outside the home turns women into short-skirted whores, and anything but 2,000-year-old texts written when women were property and the idea of love a ridiculous fantasy are wholly irrelevant when trying to heal matrimony’s sting. Worst of all, it’s awful without being the least bit funny, save for Kirk Cameron’s belief that “pissed the fuck off” is all one should take from acting school.
2. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
Who knew that Ben Stein, that sad-eyed, monotone little man from the silver screen, harbored a heart so black and so twisted that he – not Pat Robertson or James Dobson – would argue, without a trace of irony, that Charles Darwin was directly responsible for the Holocaust? The scene where Stein stands before a statue of the great thinker – you know, the one where the soundtrack features the exact same music as that which filled the screen during shots of Europe’s death camps – is so morally and ethically insidious that I couldn’t help but wonder why Mama and Papa Stein had been spared during the period. As expected, every possible scientific argument is twisted to serve Stein’s agenda, and interviews are selectively edited to ensure that the scientists themselves are turned into stammering clowns. Stein, though a Republican, always struck me as a man who was reasonably intelligent at the very least, but having decided that his inane Jewish heritage is suddenly more important than the whole of Western thought, he has joined with the mouth-breathers and truth assassins at last. More than a shot across evolution’s bow, this is a no-holds-barred war against the Enlightenment and all it hath wrought through the ages. Depressing, mean-spirited, and devious to its core, Expelled celebrates stupidity as the American virtue.
3. Revolutionary Road
The trouble with Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road is that, for all of its claims to Oscar respectability and assumed depth, it never quite understands how ridiculous it is. Playing it straight without a touch of irony, the film is akin to a wax museum; wholly divorced from reality and lacking the good sense to milk its melodramatic excesses for much-needed hysterics. Tucked away in this self-described “examination” of 1950s suburban malaise is a tale of great humor; an exercise in full-frontal camp that could have dismantled much more than an over-analyzed era’s hypocrisies. Only Mendes chooses not to take this road, believing instead that the shouts, tears, and overturned tables of Frank and April Wheeler’s improbable marriage are not only to be taken seriously, but act as a universal stand-in for marital discord itself. Funny, then, that the two leads are not even remotely up to the task, substituting hyperbolic emoting, gesticulating, and mannered excess for any semblance of genuine character. It’s like a high school freshman inhabiting the skin of Lear for the spring’s dramatic offering. The little guy can hit his marks, remember his lines, and even don the robes, but it’s all a pale imitation; there’s no life beneath the artifice to convince you he means it. Self-importance has never been so agonizing.
4. Four Christmases
Beneath the slapstick, poop jokes, and copious amount of baby vomit, lies the season’s most reactionary hit. At bottom, no greater evil exists than the young, carefree couple who travel, eat at fine restaurants, fuck like rabbits, take dance lessons, read without interruption, and play board games at all hours. They must be targeted and destroyed, lest their sense of self spread like a plague to an unsuspecting
America. Hell, I’m used to Christmas films exploiting our sentimental attachment to family, but unlike more benign offerings from the past, this little nugget seduced the softer minds among us with madcap hilarity, only to take our rebels (emasculating the gent and feminizing the lady in turn) and insist that until you breed, life is a complete waste of time. Worst of all, our heroes failed to put up a fight from the get-go, as Reese Witherspoon’s resistance to the lure of a cooing infant approximates an AIDS patient amidst a flu pandemic. The film also turns on an axis of reverse-snobbery, where there’s no greater insult than to actually care about the finer things in life. And you best not rub in your education or success when around family, especially when they shop for gifts at the dollar store.
5. The Love Guru
Once upon a time, Sir Ben Kingsley was Gandhi. Now, he’s Tugginmypudha, a cross-eyed guru whose idea of enlightenment is to train young recruits in “Stink Mop,” whereby a man grabs a mop, soaks it in a bucket of Ben’s urine, and slaps fellow competitors across the face. Again and again. Still, why blame Kingsley alone? Why not Justine Timberlake, who plays Jacques “Le Coq” Grande, a goalie for the
L.A. Kings who steals a star player’s girl with his Clouseau-like accent and massive genitalia? Or Mike Myers, the star and writer, who apparently thought his comeback should include 36 references to, or jokes about, penises, balls, or nutsacks (yes, I counted). Just to be safe, he also added 10 distinct fart jokes, Verne Troyer as Coach Cherkov (say it fast, but say it no fewer than three dozen times in an 87-minute film), cameos by Jessica Simpson and Val Kilmer, and a personal assistant named Richard Pants. The Guru Pitka, played by Myers himself, hails from Harenmahkeester, which might have been amusing had Mel Brooks not already mined it for laughs in the Catskills a good half-century ago. Add to that topical jokes related to The Electric Company, 9 to 5, and Steve Miller, and you have the makings of a guaranteed hit. And did I mention that the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup, but only after two elephants fuck at center ice to a Chris Isaak tune?
6. Miracle at
Oh, that Spike Lee. Bitching and whining for years that the cinema has never seen fit to memorialize the heroism and sacrifice of African-Americans in battle, he at last gets that chance and has no fucking clue how to distinguish his mess from hundreds of other clichéd war pictures having the good sense not to be nearly three goddamn hours long. Grating for all the expected reasons, it infuriates that much more because it assumes skin color alone is reason enough to justify the experience, which for Lee, was thought to result in a shower of awards and praise. Little did he know, wisdom would prevail among the critical elite, and the film would leave theaters under a storm of yawn-filled apathy. Every character is a painfully obvious symbol, not flesh and blood, and Lee undermines his own case by insisting that the army was so desperate for men they’d enlist the aid of a certified retard with an obesity problem. Add to that a cheap, sentimental spirituality, horrifically awkward framing device, and jaw-dropping climax that wouldn’t make sense on Mars, let alone planet Earth. Still, it’s somehow reassuring to know that Lee hasn’t surrendered his heavy hand, or his propensity for filling every fucking frame with the deafening tunes of Terence Blanchard. Just stick to obnoxious
Square Garden appearances, Spike, and we’ll all be better off.
7. The Happening
Though not nearly as bad as Lady in the Water (what on earth could be?), M. Night Shyamalan’s latest is just another reminder of his rapid descent from the heights of imagination to regurgitated camp. I’m not sure even Paddy Chayefsky could salvage the story of killer plants and the suicidal impulses they inspire in mankind, but had Shyamalan understood the inherent humor in such a premise, he might have left us with a minor classic. Instead, he saw his story as a warning; a lecture for us all about the horrors to come, that is, unless we change our ways and help save the planet. As expected, the condescending tone bored audiences to tears, and left them wondering why anyone would choose Mark Wahlberg to be the vessel for anything so dire. Yes, Wahlberg’s performance is among the year’s worst, for I doubt even M. Night intended us to howl with derision during each and every reaction shot. Never before has a lack of range been so fatal to an already wafer-thin character. Did I mention he’s a science teacher? Again, only the somber Indian would fail to mine that shit for comedy gold. Also starring Zooey Deschanel, just to rub a few pounds of salt in an already gushing wound.
8. American Teen
Nanette Bernstein can go straight to hell. Instead of a probing, investigative look at the rot passing for American youth, this “documentary” filmmaker saw fit instead to celebrate the pastiche of quirkiness that has all but swallowed our civilization alive. More than that, the movie is a lie from the opening bell, as the director has clearly re-created scenes, assigned dialogue, and fashioned scenarios that would fit with her pre-conceived agenda. As such, authenticity takes a backseat to a “good story,” which might apply if the only criteria were a platform for self-obsessed monsters lusting for martyrdom. And let’s not forget Hannah Bailey, my selection as the year’s most vile creature. Among her many sins, she rails against the beautiful people, yet joins them the first chance she gets, and despite claiming to be above it all, is sidelined with depression the moment she isn’t noticed by the guy of her dreams. And oh how she dances! Yes, she’s one of those obsessively creative types who wants to act, sing, write, paint, sculpt, and build not for the inherent worth of art, but to be noticed, praised, and handsomely paid. I haven’t hated someone so completely in years, but Bernstein thinks she’s a star; a worthy young woman who should garner our sympathies and hugs. I hope for a sequel, but only if it centers on the little cunt’s funeral.
9. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The year’s most colossal fraud, all dressed up with Oscar buzz and star power, though, for its three endless hours, it most assuredly has nowhere to go. Mark my words: if any film will give the wildly overpraised Slumdog Millionaire a run for Best Picture, this is it. Though epic in scope and intent, it fails to deliver a single coherent or meaningful scene, believing that the Hallmark card wisdom of “nothing lasts” is enough to warrant its
Lawrence of Arabia-style ambitions. At bottom, it’s nothing more than a shameless, sentimental gimmick that sends Oprah’s audience into full swoon, but leaves everyone else cold. When you clear away the directorial flourish, visual splendor, and self-important narration, all one is left with is an appallingly uninteresting romance; the kind of “love” that might suit the mentally ill, but no one who truly understands the human heart. It’s Forrest Gump all over again, complete with a passive dullard at the center who lacks the wit to put any of his experiences in any sort of context. I would have disliked the thing regardless, but my mild rebuke moved to hatred due to its insipid framing device, one that inexplicably exploits Hurricane Katrina and our naïve hope that we’ll secure closure on a hospital death bed.
10. Gran Torino
Remove Clint Eastwood from the equation, and what you’d be left with is a half-assed effort so predictable and pointless that few audiences would survive to the midway point. With him, it’s still a disaster, but with the added bonus of watching a cinematic legend spit epithets at everyone not nailed down. Dirty Harry as George Wallace, and who on earth could resist his charms? By far the year’s most entertaining “important” movie, it would be dishonest to overlook its flaws, which color even the more riotous sequences with a light coat of hackery. No matter; Eastwood’s presence alone makes this a glorious ride, complete with more chuckles per square inch than anything
Hollywood burped forth all season. Even the non-actors, cast to lend authenticity to the proceedings, are so bad that they make Clint a stand-in for Laurence Olivier by comparison. Fully intentional, no doubt. Clearing away the brush and bramble, this is two hours of grunting, groaning, squinting, sneering, and teeth-grinding, and not an ounce of actual character development. And Clint’s suicidal act? The one that’s meant to be nobility and self-sacrifice personified? I’m still wiping away grateful tears, earned not by sentiment, but the hilarity only good intentions can provide.
The worst of the rest:
Synecdoche, New York
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Beer For My Horses
The Dark Knight
The X-Files: I Want to Believe