While I have seen a lot of films this year, I have been relatively lucky as far as avoiding stinkers is concerned. Following disastrous trips to the cinema to see films like Jumper and Quantum of Solace on the grounds that I had a card that allowed me to get in for free, I have resisted seeing rubbish. The only exception being District 9, the film that effectively cured me of action films for good.
However, while I have avoided seeing terrible films, I have been lured to the cinema with high hopes only to see those hopes brutally crushed by terrible film-making. These are my five most disappointing films of the year.
1 – Synecdoche, NY (2008) : Charlie Kaufman writes and directs a film so huge in scope and ambitious in production that it is effectively meaningless. In a way, the film is almost a zen riddle as the meaninglessness of the film is reflected in the fact that the protagonist attempts to stage his own life only to realise that there are no meaningful narrative or hidden themes. But to say that this is kind of the point of the film is, it seems to me, to engage in the same kind of apologism as you get for Michael Bay films : “Of course it’s dumb and badly written but that’s part of the fun!”. I’ve now seen the film twice and while there are some decent scenes and ideas, the film left me feeling deeply dissatisfied both times I saw it. A glorious failure but a profound one nonetheless.
2 – The Cove (2009) : This film arrived at British cinemas with a mountain of glowing reviews behind it. Critics went on about how moving and how exciting this documentary is but I found it both dull and dishonestly preachy. The dullness comes from the fact that the film does not deliver the goods. The bulk of the narrative is devoted to a heist-type structure reminiscent of the equally over-rated Man on a Wire as a bunch of professional activists and tech people try to grab footage of a Japanese dolphin cull. However, after much sneaking around, the footage is of nothing but some red water. I was expecting a fucking charnel house! To build up expectations and not deliver left me with the impression that, actually, the killing of dolphins might not be all that brutal at all, and after all, there are bigger problems in the world. This dishonesty also leaches into many of the factual claims made by the film including some suspicious slight of hand where they go “in instance X, dolphin meat was poisonous” and then assume that all dolphin meat is poisonous and that the Japanese government are forcing Japanese people to eat tainted meat in order to keep some fishermen in a job. While I can believe that the Japanese government is turning a blind eye in order to protect its fishing industry, the over-statement of questionable facts only diminishes the impact of the truth.
3 – Thirst (2009) : As a huge fan of the Vengeance trilogy, I was hoping for a return to form from Park after the disastrously sickly I’m a Cyborg, But That’s Okay. What I got instead was a vampire film that never felt like anything more than a mess of clichés. Firstly, at well over two hours, the film is self-indulgently long. Secondly, the central relationship is not only entirely predictable, it is also almost identical to one explored in the grand-father of modern vampire films, Interview with the Vampire. Oh they’re both blood-sucking fiends! Oh one is more moral than the other. The decision to make one of the vampires a priest turned out to be a complete waste of time as it served only to allow the script to rehash a load of clichés about temptation and faith. On paper, this should have been a winner. On screen it was a mess.
4 – From Time to Time (????) : I attended the world premiere of this film and had high hopes for it. Not only is it directed by the man who wrote the screenplay for the upcoming adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell but it is also the first film to be made out of Lucy M. Boston’s Green Knowe books which I adored in the wake of the 80s BBC adaptation. This film (yet to be released I note) is an absolute catastrophe. The plotting is horribly clunky, the decent cast are saddled with weak and under-written characters and the entire film is enclosed within a vomit-inducing fog of horrifyingly cloying sentimentality. That and the bloke playing Tolly has lips like bruised vulva.
5 – Up (2009) : Pixar have something of a hit-or-miss record as far as I am concerned. I either adore their films (Toy Story, Monsters inc, The Incredibles, Wall-E) or I loathe them (Ratatouille, Cars). I went to see Up with an open minded but I found a film that was poorly directed, poorly written and conceptually flawed. On a conceptual level, the film wants to both have its cake and eat it. It opens with an image of a couple growing old together and living well. Then it tells the story of a member of this couple who has to realise that he doesn’t need to live great adventures because his life was one anyway. So the film builds up to a conceptual breakthrough that the audience were aware of from the first 10 minutes of the film. It’s as though The Crying Game had been called “She’s a Tranny!”. This issue aside, I felt that for a film that was supposedly all about the exoticism of far-away places, the far-away place it travels to was actually quite empty. Talking dogs and a giant bird? Hardly worth risking your life for. The sub-plot about the insane adventurer also annoyed me as it clearly existed only in order to justify endless chase sequences. For fuck’s sake… it’s a bird! If he wants to kill the bird then let him! Up also rubbed me the wrong way by being in 3D, a technology that continues to inspire headaches and cinema ticket price hikes with very little to offer in return.