Smug self-satisfaction has all but become our national language these days, so why not make yet another so-called independent release that traffics in little else? Ellen Page is a genuine talent, and an actress to watch in years to come, but as this little nugget will likely snag her an Oscar, she’s bound to be typecast as a surly, improbably articulate hipster with the requisite heart of gold. Here’s hoping I’m wrong. And while she does her best, she’s saddled with some of the worst dialogue ever put to paper, though it’s exactly what we’d expect when a fame-obsessed nitwit from the blogosphere (Diablo Cody, if that is your real name) finally gets her big break. Contrived, false, and about as earth-bound as any of the Star Wars disasters, this film fooled the critical establishment from top to bottom, apparently because it happened to be the one film all year that paid homage to both Soupy Sales and the Thundercats. Overwritten to a degree once considered impossible, the movie is obnoxious, hateful, instantly grating, and chock full of so many applause lines that it becomes a stand-up routine, almost against its will. Perhaps there never was a chance for the movie, as I despised it inside of ten minutes, but if this is what passes for wit and insight in our increasingly hopeless pop culture landscape, we might as well give up the ghost and move on to a new hobby. And did I mention that the little whore has a hamburger phone?
2. Factory Girl
Edie Sedgwick was a no-talent, drug-addicted tramp who deserved to die early and alone, but at no point did she warrant a motion picture devoted to her hapless existence. Apparently, director George Hickenlooper thought otherwise, and here we have one of 2007’s most unendurable messes; a witless, self-important act of war against entertainment that, for all of its crimes, manages to make Andy Warhol even less sympathetic than before. Lacking any real focus or purpose, the film asks us to watch scene after scene of tears, narcissistic preening, and obscenely shallow human beings exploit the hell out of each other for their own amusement. And when Hayden Christensen strolls by for an appalling imitation of Bob Dylan, it’s all we can do to remain seated. For brief flashes I thought the whole thing might have been a savage satire of an empty man (Warhol) and the insanity he hath wrought, but just as quickly, that feeling subsided and I was left with a request for sympathy and understanding. Sienna Miller is an attractive woman to be sure, but I’m not certain she can act, unless the purpose of said craft is to inspire homicidal rage in members of the audience. On that score, she succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.
3. Evan Almighty
Hollywood cozies up with the right-wing yet again in this offensive ode to God, though it tempers its religious mania with a few rebellious touches; i.e., the heavenly father is a Negro, and he’s more than willing to murder thousands of human beings to save his favorite valley near the nation’s capital. Still, despite an environmentalist deity, the movie is a feature-length guilt trip that only armchair liberals can pull off. In other words, the greatest crime possible for a father is not alcoholism, or infidelity, or even relentless abuse, but rather taking care of duties at the office instead of taking the brood on a family hike. The most ridiculous part of this is, of course, that the kids’ bitching occurs on dad’s first day as a Congressman, but more than that, it wags a crusty finger in the faces of the poor who have no choice but to skip frivolous weekend jaunts for fear of, you know, losing the house or not eating for a month. Elitism aside, the movie is a monotonous bore; a lecture set to music no one wants to hear, especially when overdubbed with a flood of unnecessary CGI effects. Broad, laugh-free, and militant, the script hasn’t a clue how real people live, nor does it even remotely understand politics in the modern age.
Big, dumb, and arguably the loudest movie ever made, this summer 2×4 to the chops is everything it had to be, unless of course you aren’t a freshman in high school who moves his lips while reading comic books. There are babes, big guns, explosions, and the usual forced attempts at humor, but it’s never acceptable to be assaulted at the movies, even if we’re asked to leave our brains at the door. Sure, I can understand the impulse to remove the stink of the original cartoon made back when these toys were first popular, but who on earth asked that it come twenty years later, when the very people who might remember the things are now carrying mortgages? Is this what nostalgia has become for the children of Ronald Reagan? And as gay as the movie could be when it let its hair down and remained honest with itself, it greatly disappointed those of us who expected even stronger erections and more overt phallic imagery. Action films have always been about oiled men using physical warfare to distract from their desire to fuck, but here, such verities gave way to timid indulgences that could have been dismissed as accidental. Still, the stink bomb made an ocean of cash, proving yet again that America’s youth will see anything so long as it’s shiny and jingoistic.
5. The Reaping
Atheists may have had their day in the publishing world during 2007, but once again, they saw their cause belittled at the box office. Hilary Swank, slumming as always after an Oscar win, is the typical representation of non-belief in Hollywood’s narrow world: she still believes, but “hates” God because he let her loved ones die a horrible death. So yes, friends, atheists are spoiled children who are throwing tantrums because they expect Jesus to keep all tragedy at bay. While impossibly oversimplifying the absence of belief (fine, distorting it to an unrecognizable state), it is also couched within an overwrought script that uses just enough Biblical prophecy to be dangerous, while exceeding the quota for stupidity in the first five minutes. God’s wrath is afoot, don’t you see, and with all the locusts, lakes of fire, frogs, and boils about, it’s all a person can do to remain defiantly skeptical. She tries, but eventually gives in (as all atheists must, the fiends) as it becomes apparent that good must battle evil for the soul of mankind. Or something like that. The film is thick with bayou atmosphere and cracker zealotry, but rather than take a novel idea — God actually hates his creation and likes nothing more than punishing it again and again — and run it to its logical conclusion, the script is content with standard scares and spooks that stopped being interesting thirty years ago.
What if the great secret of your life, one you could only reveal as you lay dying, was one so insignificant and uninteresting that upon its release, disappointed friends and family, having gathered around in tight-lipped anticipation, attacked your withering corpse and tore it to ribbons like wild dogs upon a wounded fawn? While the film in question lacked the balls to end in so spectacular a fashion, it would have been warranted, as Ann Grant (played by both Claire Danes and Vanessa Redgrave) is the last person on earth we’d like to hear discuss any random five minutes of her boring life, let alone ramble on about it in full. What’s this, she loved another? The man she truly cared for was not the one she married? Good god, the tragedy! The pain! The regret and longing! One day, Hollywood executives will realize that the so-called wounds of the entitled classes might move book clubs to tears while they ingest cucumber sandwiches, but they come across as profoundly trivial in the face of true suffering. Still, there will continue to be movies made about the sorrows of those who own 8,000 square-foot beach houses, even if they lack the cynical wisdom of Fitzgerald. No, the characters of this piece are to be admired and honored, not pitied or mocked with justifiable derision. In all, this time-waster plays like a parody of the genre, and I half expected the otherwise luminous Redgrave to wink at the camera to let us know she was around solely to pay off a few bills.
7. The Darjeeling Limited
Thank you, Wes Anderson, for yet another exercise in audience contempt, where your private passions and solipsistic obsessions can be mounted on an expensive canvas for all the world to misinterpret as genius. As always, Anderson has brought to life a menagerie of characters who couldn’t possibly interest anyone, yet here they are, rambling on in affected tones, assuming that their mutterings bear any relation to real life. Anderson’s universe is a decidedly closed one, and through these three brothers (taking a train through India to find their mother), we learn nothing at all about the human condition save Anderson’s belief that ugly midgets can get laid almost on command. Curiously, the anger was muted this time around, though substituting boredom is hardly an acceptable alternative. While I scratched, stretched, and occasionally yawned, I waited patiently for all the obligatory scenes: the slo-mo walk while some cult song played on the soundtrack, the explosion of color to mask the empty script, and the gimmick, which in this case are Owen Wilson’s head bandages. At this point, Anderson is on auto-pilot, and he’d better learn how to tell a real story soon before he’s swallowed alive by his fanatical need to be quirky and bizarre for their own sake, rather than to any purposeful end.
Of all the films I have ever reviewed for Ruthless, this one received the most reader feedback by far. To a man (or should I say, cloistered, socially inept boy), these responses were vicious, mean-spirited, hateful, and often threatening. While time has been kind to my interpretation of the Bush parallels (future generations would do well to cite my canary in the coal mine), it is breaking the nerd taboo that seems to have gotten me in the most trouble. While it is an irrefutable fact that nerds are closet militarists who worship violence as a means to wreak havoc on a world that has left them in the dust of their own failure (the Virginia Tech murders proved this, if any doubters remained), they are also the world’s most loyal fetishists of the male form. Nerds may “choose” to dress poorly and shun exercise on principle, but deep in the recesses of their conniving minds, they lust for the physical perfection of masculinity with near fanatical devotion. This graphic novel brought to life was, if anything, a perfect realization of where the nerd psyche has been tending. As such, it will stand as a lasting social document of their world for centuries to come. As a movie, though, it’s so bombastic and silly that it deserves a fair share of condemnation, even if it is the opening salvo of fascism’s latest assault on civilization.
Yet another 2007 release that acted as if abortion were but a fantasy cooked up in the diaries of unshaven feminists, this slice of Southern hospitality fashioned characters so unsympathetic and unreal that it’s no wonder most of America fell in line. Old coots are actually obscenely rich sweethearts in disguise, and by gum, they’ll have a check ready at just the right time to make sure a dippy whore gets exactly what she wants. An intelligent, successful doctor with a wonderful wife can throw it all away for a trashy, spread-my-legs-for-a-shot-of-Jack type who couldn’t read her way out of an outhouse, solely because the lame brained script demands it, not out any fealty to reality’s call. We also have stuttering goof balls who recite on-the-spot poetry, abusive husbands who lack all shading that isn’t mean as an old, rabid coon hound, and a director (Adrienne Shelly) who, to my knowledge, was murdered because she kept singing the praises of her inept screenplay around her apartment building. With a film like this — small town life and a heroine whose plight reflects all too many in Dixie’s heartland — it’s all about tone, and so stacking the deck that we feel obligated to care is the first way to ensure my contempt.
For all those who objected to my negative assessment a few months back, go watch the scenes with the two Keystone cops again. Yes, all of them. All the way through now, and don’t hit scan. All done? Good. I accept your apology.