In which we carve up the year's
less nourishing films.

Contributors: Mark Ashley, Michael Buck,
Melissa B. Cummings, Chris Dashiell, Lev David,
Richard Doyle, Lovell Mahan-Moutaw, Ed Owens, Les Phillips, Rolando Recometa, Nathaniel Rogers, Shari L. Rosenblum, James Snapko, and Sasha Stone.

Minority Report
This is an action-melodrama in the guise of science fiction. It gives us flying cars and terms like "precrime" and "precogs" to make us think we are watching something meaningful and apocalyptic. There is almost nothing in the movie we haven't seen done before (and done better) in movies like Blade Runner, Strange Days, or Demolition Man. The movie does have a moral, but instead of believing that we could be intelligent enough to figure it out ourselves, the film forces it on us in the final five minutes by having Tom Cruise explain everything that just happened in the last two hours. After last year's mess called A.I., Steven Spielberg once again proves that he couldn't make a truly dark science fiction movie if his life depended on it. He insists on inserting moronic comic relief, ridiculous clichés and a gag-inducing happy ending, all of which creates one of the most disappointing movies of the year.
-- Melissa B. Cummings

An intriguing premise gets the Spielberg treatment--all dressed up and doesn't go anywhere. The film confuses mealy-mouthed dialogue and obvious, superficial metaphor with thematic development, and tacks on a tie-everything-up-neatly ending that flies in the face of the entire 2+ hours that preceded it. Given the similar failings in last year's A.I., Spielberg is at least consistent. -- Ed Owens

While certainly visually inventive (though I winced at the gumball-machine spitting murderer-I.D. device), Spielberg just can't quite finish off the darker material he is trying to take on. The picture's happy ending is such a missed opportunity. What could've been a haunting, lingering film relevant to worrisome current times ends up as flashy summer eye candy.
-- Michael Buck

The Importance of Being Earnest
I am a snob when it comes to Wilde. I demand that he be done properly and done right. This is possibly the least intellectual and silliest of his plays, yet the film cannot even live up to the simple technique that is required. A crap film, despite the talent employed. This one really deserves huge dollops of cranberry sauce.
-- Mark Ashley
It's bad enough that Oliver Parker thought he needed to trick Wilde up with slapstick, flashbacks and fantasy sequences. It's bad enough that he has no sense of comic timing, and that he lets his actors flounder on screen without adequate direction. But he misunderstands Wilde so utterly as to actually reverse the meaning of the play into its exact opposite. The whole point of Earnest is the complete artificiality of its characters. Parker wants to give them inner lives, make them warm and cuddly - thus turning Oscar Wilde's art into something it should never be - tame.
-- Chris Dashiell

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
I can't say enough bad things about this film. The accents were bad, some of the performances were bad, the adaptation of the story was bad, the move was just plain bad. It was a total waste of time, which is a shame because with the talent involved and the book, which is a gem, it should have been anything but.
-- Lovell Mahan-Moutaw

John Q.
It may have had its heart in the right place, but this health-care screed is relentless in its transparency. If the preaching wasn't bad enough (the evil adminstrator is named Mrs. Payne!), a major directorial gaffe (or audience insult, if intentional) near the end was a major cheat about the fate of the film's protagonist.
-- Michael Buck

We Were Soldiers
The latest kind of war movie puts on airs of being oh-so-sad about the tragic waste of it all, while still reveling in super-realistic bloodletting and warrior values. God forbid that we should ever have any political opinions, or - can you imagine? - actually get angry. Films like this and Black Hawk Down are essentially passive, timid when it comes to confronting any moral issues involved in war. We need someone like Kubrick who had the nerve to make real antiwar movies, movies like Paths of Glory and Full Metal Jacket. Movies that said something.
-- Chris Dashiell

Red Dragon
Why remake a thriller as well done as Michael Mann's Manhunter? Because there's a lot of money to be made by any film with Anthony Hopkins appearing as Hannibal Lector, and Red Dragon shows its reason for being on its sleeve. It has nothing new to offer except another opportunity to see Hopkins play the world's favourite psycho, and it doesn't even do that very well. Hopkins phones in a cutesy performance, substituting mannerism and a puzzling Southern accent for the depth of understanding he exhibited in The Silence of the Lambs. There is no chemistry between him and Edward Norton, who delivers an almost chirpy performance as Will Graham, a man who is supposed to be deeply disturbed. The film's one saving grace is Ralph Fiennes as Frances Dolarhyde, but the performance is sabotaged by two ridiculous plot twists that run counter to the psychological motives Fiennes worked so hard to portray. A very cynical film that feels like one last attempt to get our money before the Lector character is retired.
-- Richard Doyle

My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Milking ethnic stereotypes with the subtlety of Amos and Andy, reveling in mockery of the unattractive and the unsophisticated, and pretending to warmth of heart in its petty meannesses, My Big Fat Greek Wedding is one of those films you laugh at while watching and then cringe about for an eternity. Not satisfied with mere derision of a culture (for all its celebration of difference, the actual Greek family is all but ideal, while its contrasted hero is white, pure white inside and out, with the questionable allure and firmness of a slice of white bread sopped in milk), and misread as a celebration of the non-traditional beauty, the film makes gestures at progressiveness while endorsing ideas like "men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses." The whole point is supposed to be that she gets to go to school -- but the film belies even the women's lib liberalism it aspires to by making the cornerstone of her success her big deal wedding day.
-- Shari L. Rosenblum

The Master of Disguise
Weeelll, wasn't that special? Dana Carvey officially ends his career with what would be the worst ex-Saturday Night Live star vehicle ever, if not for many of the other horrible ones. Do kids think running-gag fart jokes are riotous enough to repeat them five times in the same film? If everything else about the script hadn't been so completely inept, I'd say the film had a saving grace in coming up with the great irony of having Carvey, disguised as Dubya, saving the Constitution. That, however, must have been accidental.
-- Michael Buck

Tries to emulate The Usual Suspects by forcing a convoluted plot twist on the audience at the end, but before we even get there the film forgets to answer one minor question: Why should we care?
-- James Snapko

Changing Lanes
Roger Michell and Chap Taylor apparently made a bet to see if heavy-handed, force-fed, pseudo-profundity could be pawned off as an intelligent thriller...the losers were the viewers, at least those not bludgeoned into submission by the film's relentless sophomoric moralizing.
-- Ed Owens
Vanilla Sky
Vanilla Sky is further proof that Tom Cruise is a better actor when he's wearing a mask (without it he's all teeth and strained intensity). Call it Open Your Eyes Wide Shut or Not Another Tom Cruise Movie. Or just call it crap. Tom Cruise plays another hotshot living in his father's shadow . He still gets the girl in the end. Or does he? Like Eyes Wide Shut, this movie plays like a dream. We're never sure what's happening. The movie constantly employs the new and already annoying cinematic gimmick called "Otnemem." But almost has-been Cameron Crowe makes sure it isn't too confusing for Tom Cruise's young fans. We hear the words "open your eyes" every time Cruise is about to take his shirt off. The girls in the audience then suffer short-term memory loss and forget that they're watching crap. The guys, on the other hand, try to make new memories and fantasize about fucking Penelope Cruz or Cameron Diaz. So if you must see this movie, watch it with your eyes closed! and your legs open. The only one getting fucked is you.
-- Rolando Recometa
Vanilla Sky is a slightly fictionalized documentary. The subject is Tom Cruise's concern with his cheek structure. Tom Cruise plays Tom Cruise. Jason Lee, Penelope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz ("I swallowed your come! That means something!") are allowed to play other people, people who are not Tom Cruise. Vanilla Sky II and Vanilla Sky III were shot contemporaneously with Vanilla Sky. They will be released in December 2002 and December 2003, respectively. Vanilla Sky II is about Tom Cruise's teeth, and Vanilla Sky III is about Tom Cruise's hair. The producers were most economical; neither sequel contains very much footage that was not also in the first film. Some writers have been impatient with Vanilla Sky's treatment of dream and reality. What is reality? What is dream? Do I wake or sleep? They miss the point. There is no reality, no dream, there is not even Cameron Diaz ("Your body made a promise!"). There is only Tom Cruise. There are reports that Tom Cruise's people and Barbra Streisand's people have discussed collaboration on The Mirror Has Two Faces II.
-- Les Phillips
If you ever wondered what an artist who starts believing his own publicity can do to damage his reputation, see Solaris, Steven Soderbergh's latest film -- a $40 million-something abstract sci-fi love story. Solaris is good up until the final third, but at that point, it is as if another director took over for Soderbergh and/or someone lost the final reel and it had to be re-shot from scratch. It is not, as the filmmaker intended, an "important" film like 2001. At best, it is an acting showcase for the very stiff and awkward George Clooney, whose much chattered about butt was, in the final analysis, the best thing about the film. The main problem: Clooney is hard to buy as someone who would sacrifice it all for love. I just never bought it. He is cute enough to snap his tawny fingers and he could get any gal he wanted. I never believed he was in love. Someone left the turkey out in the rain for a couple of days, because this baby stinks.
-- Sasha Stone

Kate and Leopold
This deserves its own special turkey award for wasting the magnetism and truly delightful romantic heroism that could have been Hugh Jackman. Another award could go to the worst turkey of a hairstyle, worn with all seriousness by Meg Ryan. This movie makes women look bad, and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ryan needs to move on.
-- Lovell Mahan-Moutaw

There's this watch that speeds up your molecules when you push a button on it, okay? So that everything else around you seems to have stopped - and, um, a teenager gets a hold of it...let's see, he finds it in the basement, and his father...well, anyway, he does some practical jokes with it, but the evil corporation that developed the watch is after him, and, um...the teenager's girlfriend, uh...I'm sorry, I dozed off there for a moment. I'll ask the flight attendant for a pillow. A snack? Don't mind if I do...
-- Chris Dashiell

The original 1975 Rollerball was set in a futuristic USA where corporations had replaced nations as the global powers of relevance. The management that ran the game had a hidden agenda, in that they wanted the game to show the pointlessness of individual effort. In John McTiernan's noisy Gen-X, extreme sports remake, though, the players are encouraged to make great efforts to achieve individuality, mostly through lowbrow costume choices. That's fine, except that it reduces the management to having a mere monetary goal in running the game, and instead of the seemingly upstanding but nefariously controlling John Houseman, we get the "no one knows how secretly evil I am" Jean Reno. There's no subtext left, and a movie this loud desperately needs a subtext. Chris Klein made a great doofus in Election, but he just doesn't have the moxie to cut the heroic figure required here. He isn't helped by the stupefying dialogue he is given, either. ("Look at all these baubles!" "You think we could do this in a bed sometime? You know, with sheets and stuff?") The game sequences are dreadful and completely incomprehensible. There are various characters who speak English with affected Russian accents. The sound editors may have noticed that these characters were mostly unintelligible, so they made the natural English-speaking characters equally difficult to understand by burying all their dialogue under motorcycle engine noise. A lengthy chase scene is done completely in that green-cast night-vision scopes look, just to annoy the audience. Then, there's the revolutionary mixed-sex locker scene. I was shocked, SHOCKED! We're supposed to think this scene exists to show the ostensible future for more sensible attitudes towards mixed-sex nudity, but it's really for titillation value only, and even that is somehow missing. Finally, instead of the honorable, almost elegant defiance of the main character in the original, who defeats the evil plans of the corporate types, the remake resorts to an ultraviolence climax that merely has Klein do a smash, shoot, and grab to kill the baddies, get the girl, and live to play more extreme sports another day. The whole thing is pointless, loud, defamatory, and completely unnecessary.
-- Michael Buck

Star Wars, Episode II:
Attack of the Clones

The Star Wars series reached its peak with The Empire Strikes Back and has gone steadily downhill from there. Given this trend, I was not expecting much from Attack of the Clones, but I received even less. It is technical filmmaking at its worst, all effects and no soul. It delivers the minimum it has to, fantastic effects and basic plot advancement, and nothing more. The series has never featured great dialogue, but it was memorable dialogue in the tradition of escapist adventure films. The dialogue in this film is all flat and expository, and I cannot remember a single line of it. The effects are brilliant in their conception, but pack no punch. I felt like I was watching a series of artists drawings, the kind that are used to provide the initial models for effects. Finally, the plot was so sketchy, and went by so fast, that I couldn't honestly tell you what it was. The entire experience was like watching a sterile, technological exercise made because Lucas promised us three more films, not because he feels any need to tell us a story.
-- Richard Doyle
While Yoda's big fight scene campily reminded me of my childhood Spirograph set, what really caused pain here was the Anakin-Padme romance. It was so syrupy as to bring to mind the sludgy Black Oil from The X-Files. Who knew, way back during the original trilogy, that Darth Vader might ever need to be bitch-slapped?
-- Michael Buck
Lucas has apparently sold his soul to ensure the success of the franchise, regardless of the depths to which it sinks. I'd gladly sell mine to make him stop.
-- Ed Owens
Ladies and gentlemen, our auteur. George Lucas was interviewed in Film Comment, and he sounded so enthusiastic about digital technology. But when the interview turned to the story elements, he sounded bored and lazy - nothing to say but the most barren technicalities. Yesiree, here's the film artist for our time - offering a vision of life without thought, without meaning, without people.
-- Chris Dashiell

Auto Focus
Haughty, derisive, judgmental of its characters and its time, Auto Focus is Paul Schrader at his worst. The portrait of Bob Crane, the star of Hogan's Heroes, plays as if written through a gnarling sneer and photographed from a perch upon an upturned nose. The acting is good, but the characterizations mere caricatures. Despite the actors' efforts (and they do seem at points to be at odds with their task), the director reduces them to heads-on-poles as fire and brimstone warnings against veering from the moralist preacher's path.Squandering the large part of its opportunity for cinematic syllogisms about sexuality and the camera, Auto Focus is distasteful diatribe from beginning to end, without even considering the ugly story at its center.
-- Shari L. Rosenblum

Okay, so maybe it's not really a turkey-turkey, but it's certainly half-cooked. I'd been dying to see something new and gorgeous from Andrew Niccol. His Gattaca blew me away; the writing was beautiful, the photography and production design equally so. But S1m0ne suffers from the same maladies as the Niccol-penned The Truman Show -- among them, not having sufficient ideas to sustain itself, being too swept up in its own limited cleverness, and having the wrong leading man (in this case, Al Pacino). For God's sake, Al, you're not blind anymore -- look at the other actors when you talk to them!
-- Lev David

The Time Machine
I have to wonder if the makers of The Time Machine actually read H.G. Wells' book, since beyond it being about a man who builds a time machine, there is little similarity. Wells' story, like most good science fiction, combines futuristic adventure with socio-political commentary. The film, however, relies solely on action and lacks any of the original's poignancy. It lacks depth and meaning, and instead becomes a tired, effects-driven formula with plot holes you could drive a truck through.
-- Melissa B. Cummings

This film makes a faulty and simplistic distinction between those with faith and those without. Its central implication, that all you need to form or recover your spirituality is to stitch together a few random coincidences, is patently insulting. The film's further suggestion that if you aren't open to these implausible portents, you are an incomplete, weak, and ineffectual person, is, frankly, sociopathic. I think the next time the cat vomits in the entryway, I'll leave it there, just in case a burglar comes. After all, it might have been a sign.
-- Michael Buck
Easily the most overrated film of the year. Once again, M. Night Shyamalan is using his quasi-Hitchcockian suspense films as a means of promoting his strange brand of conservative spirituality. Signs signifies his propensity to ingratiate himself into mass culture.
-- James Snapko

Behind Enemy Lines
: Gene Hackman phones it in for this embarrassingly silly recruiting ad. Highly recommended to anyone who finds the thought of watching Own Wilson run for two hours entertaining.
-- Ed Owens
Hollywood Ending: If only it were an ending - of Woody Allen films, I mean.
-- Chris Dashiell
Queen of the Damned: You'll be damned if you waste your time on this thing.
-- Lovell Mahan-Moutaw
Reign of Fire: Unoriginal postapocalyptic Mad Max-esque monster film with poor performances. Enough to make you turn vegetarian.
-- Mark Ashley
Swept Away: Two words: Shit sandwich. -- Sasha Stone
Bad Company: Apparently the role of Hannibal Lecter doesn't pay as much as I thought. How else do you explain Anthony Hopkins' decision to participate in this confused and disjointed mess of a film? -- Ed Owens
My Wife is an Actress: Too bad her writer/director husband is an insufferable narcissist. -- Chris Dashiell
The Sweetest Thing: Watching Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate, and Selma Blair wallow through the base humor of this film actually reminded me of the children bathing in their own excrement in Salo. -- Michael Buck
The Bourne Identity: Matt Damon is too young for the role, character motivations from the book are not believable in the context of the screenplay, and there is no chemistry between Damon and Franka Potente - making the film's last hope utterly hopeless.
-- Shari L. Rosenblum
In the Bedroom: You see, when two male lobsters (wink, wink) get caught in the trap, or bedroom, as we like to call it (nudge, nudge), the result is a ponderous and pointless film that heavily treads where many, many films have trod before. -- Ed Owens
Orange County
: The only reason this meaningless movie exists is to showcase Tom Hanks' kid and to push Jack Black down our throats.
-- James Snapko
Brotherhood of the Wolf: Bad acting, bad special effects, silly story - there's nothing that isn't worth skewering in this film, and it makes you wonder if they didn't intend it that way.
-- Lovell Mahan-Moutaw
Crossroads: Britney Spears stars in this film, yet another friends-hit-the-road picture, in which absolutely nothing happens for eighty minutes until, during the final ten minutes, every pop trash storytelling cliché is trotted out, so that the audience can know it's time to go home.
-- Michael Buck
XXX: Just the thought of watching Vin Diesel and Asia Argento "act" is enough to give me a headache. The act of watching it was a horror only H.P. Lovecraft could put into words.
-- Ed Owens
Big Bad Love: Small bad film. -- Chris Dashiell


by Nathaniel

After Thanksgiving dinner each year, overeating seems like the quickest way to a stomach ache. But with Hollywood's biggest turkeys each year, a litttle nibbling will get you just as sick.

1. Ron Howard won an Oscar. Say what you will about his film, A Beautiful Mind, and its merits. But the fact is that even if you accept the dubious notion that it's a good picture, you still have to deal with this: David Lynch, Ridley Scott, Peter Jackson, and Robert Altman all lost. The cinema wouldn't be the same without the individual and rich contributions of those four men. It would be exactly the same art form without Opie.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. One of the most offensive films in years arrives and seems to delight audiences instantly. Its beautiful message: Sure your parent is abusive, but they had it rough, so deal with it and love them. As if abuse were something to be shrugged off. Gee, I had no idea my mom went through that. I guess it's ok she hit me repeatedly. One of its disturbing scenes: the Mama's friends use a date rape drug to kidnap the abused daughter. What hijinks! What fun! To add insult to injury, this was Ellen Burstyn's follow up to her absolutely inspired star turn in Requiem for a Dream. To add further insult to all these injuries, critics decided to group intelligent and perceptive films like White Oleander and Lovely & Amazing under the same "chick flick" label as Divine Secrets, thereby dragging these films down: guilt by association.
3. The existence of Vanilla Sky. Cineastes around the world and a tiny portion of moviegoing audiences (to the tune of approximately $30 million dollars combined) delighted in Memento and Mulholland Drive during 2001. Then for Christmas, Hollywood entered the puzzle film fray and quickly destroyed a burgeoning genre. Vanilla Sky was like the crass Hollywood answer to films that bend your mind and make you think. (So the audience ate it up for $100 million.) We got Surreal and Weird as style devices, with no inherent feeling or artistry behind them. We got complete exposition in place of delicious ambiguity, just so we wouldn't have to think for ourselves. At all. Wouldn't want to have to do that at the movies, no!
4. The unfairness of the casting universe. It's been over ten years since Scorsese made his biggest hit: Cape Fear. (Gangs of New York is about to come out, so, thankfully he's back.) Cape Fear had four sensational actors in it. Juliette Lewis, Jessica Lange, and Nick Nolte all gave other fine performances in the '90s, but they've nearly disappeared from the screen. Yet Robert De Niro phones it in or hams it up every time out, and is still all the rage with casting directors. Enough with the mugging for the camera!
5. Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones. And we thought Jar Jar was as bad as it would ever get...
6. Death by Disney. Spirited Away, the best animated film of the past two years, got the same piddly distribution and lackluster marketing that Disney gave Miyazaki's similarly wonderful Princess Mononoke in 1999. Do they buy these films and bury them on purpose? Perhaps it's a defense mechanism. They don't want us to notice how much better these films are than features direct from the Mouse House.
7. Britney Spears and Eminem became movie stars. Perhaps I should get a new hobby. Television? The movie theater can be a scary place.
8. The unholy matrimony of Miramax and Lasse Halström. Last year at this time in Cinescene I was bitching about Chocolat, Miramax's poison goody of Oscar season, following the previous year's The Cider House Rules. They didn't let up the next holiday season. The Shipping News stank just as bad (but thankfully the third time out Oscar didn't bite) and proved to be last Christmas's soggiest drama. Lasse Halström is possibly the only A list director alive who could bring out so little from such a stellar cast. They each somehow managed to give their most lackluster or unmodulated performance. I pray it remains both the first and last time that Cate Blanchett ever gives a bad performance. And Kevin Spacey should have been nominated for the Razzies -not the Globes. Halström gets worse and worse and is still considered "Oscar bait." He has the sensibility of after school specials but he somehow gets to direct "prestige pics."
Auto Focus. You may have heard that Greg Kinnear is brilliant or that the art direction is superb, and if that's reason enough for you to head out to the theater, trust me when I tell you that the performance and production values aren't brilliant enough to make up for the tedium onscreen. Two hours in the presence of two joyless men with repetitive and banal pleasures doesn't, in and of itself, make this a bad film. In the right hands, most premises can be milked for fascinating or comedic/dramatic substance. But the film offers no insight that a synopsis doesn't provide: Bob Crane was a sex addict who starred in Hogan's Heroes. The End.
10. Tom Hanks drives Road to Perdition to a dead end. A cast full of vivid supporting characters and movie stars, breathtaking cinematography, top of the line production values...yet none of it matters a whit. Because at the very center is the worst casting job of the year. Tom Hanks plays a quiet, self loathing , and dangerous man. He does this by turning his star charisma down several thousand notches and speaking softly. Consequently the audience gets neither an insightful performance nor an enjoyable star turn. As a result of this botched performance, Road to Perdition (which also has some script and direction woes) gets sucked into the dead vacuum at its center.
-- Nathaniel Rogers

©2002 CineScene