This article may offend you. There’s nothing I can do about that. There will be times when the professionalism that I try to maintain arguably gets thrown to the curb. We’ll be looking at two films today. They are films which many have dismissed, but both have their own group of fans. And this is where we get into a tricky area. Because while the ratings here reflect the films themselves, I can’t restrain myself any further. I’m calling out the audience. Some of you out there are the problem. Please crack a book because you’re making the world a dumber place.
Yes, it sounds immature and uncalled for. But sometimes we need to throw up our arms and say that some of the problems with the films and television shows today, with the questions over faith, politics and current events, with the need for action above drama or credibility – all of this can be traced to the stupidity of an audience that laps it up and the apathy from the rest of us who let it happen. Even this, a website on the internet, is just criticism boiling over into blind rage. I hold no illusions that this article will change a single thing, even if it were read by ten times the amount of people I anticipate actually will. And if that’s the case, all bets are off. Let me have my moment. And in my moment, I’m going to have to call out everyone who perpetuates these films. It’s not just the filmmakers, it’s the people who clamor for more. It’s not just the moron movies, it’s the morons who love them.
DAY 18: JANUARY 30, 2013
MEANT TO BE (2012) – first viewing – A young writer (Bradley Dorsey, who also writes, produces and directs here – a real auteur) wants to bond with the mother that gave him up to foster care years before. In town, he stays at a sparsely populated hotel where he is charmed by the no-nonsense optimism of the maid (Della Reese – am the only one who has a problem with the only African-American in the entire film being a maid and source of magic wisdom a la FIREPROOF?). With the help of a young woman he meets at the hotel, he tracks down his birth mother (Erika Eleniak), who is currently feeling abandoned now that her daughter has gone off to college. At the same time, Eleniak, who is a social worker, is trying to help out a teenage girl deal with her pregnancy.
While I personally have a deep belief in God, I’m also not a conservative and MEANT TO BE does take a pretty conservative stance, especially later on. That is not why I’m going to beat it down so hard right now. After all, I don’t believe in torture and yet I enjoyed ZERO DARK THIRTY. I don’t believe in vigilantism, but Charles Bronson was the Man. My point being that my beliefs don’t need to jibe with a film’s beliefs in order for me to get something out of it. At the same time, I freely admit to skipping films with a more overt message like 2012’s films LAST OUNCE OF COURAGE or 2016: OBAMA’S AMERICA. It would be as hard for me to give those films a fair shake as it would for a conservative to judge the latest Michael Moore film on its own merits. Not impossible, but pretty unlikely. And yet, as someone who believes in God, I’ve been hoping that in the latest glut of faith-based features, there would be at least a few good ones. I always go in with total optimism. I don’t need to agree with the stance the film takes, just as long as its heart is in the right place and its a quality piece of work. I have been disappointed on these two very basic requirements again and again.
The writing, direction, editing and even the sound would only be acceptable if this was your first semester in film school. The acting, from both the amateur cast and the seasoned professionals, is terrible. There is nothing remotely competent about the proceedings. Had this been released to theatres, this would have easily secured a place towards the top my Worst Theatrical Releases of 2012 list.
Worst of all, the film throws a twist into the third act. It’s one that I sort of saw coming, although I dismissed it early on, telling myself that no, the film would not be that stupid or heavy-handed and I should be ashamed of jumping to those conclusions. I underestimated the stupidity of this film, of the people who made it and yes of its wingnut target audience. This is a moron movie with a moron rationale aimed at a moron audience that desires to have its own beliefs kept secure and never, ever challenged. The left-field twist Dorsey threw in there must have made him awfully proud, because he probably thinks no one else has seen M. Night Shyamalan’s most well-known works. It’s used as the pulpit for such a belabored, logic-defying (though thankfully not hateful or judgemental) statement about the abortion debate that it’s ridiculous (the film bills itself as “a right to life parable” so this is hardly a spoiler). The writing gets worse, the acting gets worse and my jaw was left on the floor. This isn’t the worst faith-based film ever made. C ME DANCE, actually one of the worst films I’ve ever seen period, still holds that honor for me. This is merely an example of the terrible films being made routinely with faith-based messages. What makes me so angry about this is that there are a lot of uplifting messages of acceptance that could be made into quality entertainment. A quality faith-based film would be able to expand its audience to people outside the churches and appeal to people from every walk of life with universal truths that bring us together instead of dividing us. MEANT TO BE isn’t hateful understand. But the sheer incompetence of the production, the rampant idiocy of the script and the heavy-handedness of the execution would prevent it from being effective to anyone who had mastered the art of breathing through their nose.
By the way, not a comment on the film itself, but take a look at the poster. Ask yourself what’s worse, that Dean Cain (who doesn’t do such a bad job actually) is billed fifth or that they spelled his name wrong? ZERO STARS (out of ★★★★)
THE PAPERBOY (2012) – first viewing – Unlike MEANT TO BE, THE PAPERBOY is not pure in heart. In fact, it’s ridiculously sleazy and it wears that like a badge of honor. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the film is any good.
The “paperboy” of the title is Jack Jansen (Zac Efron), but it also refers to his brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey) and colleague (David Oyelowo). These “paperboys” are working to exonerate a death row inmate (John Cusack) who is obviously the lowest form of scum on Earth. Of course, this makes him irresistible to the woman he has been corresponding with (Nicole Kidman). And of course, her desperation, dimwittedness and big tits make her irresistible to Jack. Why? Because the movie says so, dammit!
What follows is a number of plot twists and turns that could only be predicted if you racked your brain for the dumbest, most heavy-handed contrivances possible. And even then, you may not sink as low as this does. I have seen porn more subdued and with better writing than THE PAPERBOY.
The only person to deliver a performance with subtlety and grace is Matthew McConaughey. Let that sink in for a moment. Kidman and Cusack, the two most recognizably talented actors in the cast, go for broke here. And broke is certainly a good way to describe this film. If they were any more unhinged, they’d be buck naked, frothing at the mouth and pounding the ground with clubs. And then there’s Macy Gray, by far the worst performance by an actress in 2012. Unable to emote or even speak her lines with coherence, she’s embarrassing. Early on in the film, we’re treated to the sight of Gray jerking epileptically on the ground as she mimes Efron’s masturbation fantasies. The director is as responsible for this as he is pushing further and further for the awful performances from Kidman and Cusack. I haven’t even mentioned the scene in which Kidman anxiously pisses on Zac Efron in a scene that I guess is supposed to be sexy. If you scraped the bottom of the barrel, you’ll find the script for THE PAPERBOY and then if you knock out the bottom of that barrel, you’ll find director Lee Daniels grinning up at you.
And let’s talk about Lee Daniels, shall we? I missed some of his earlier films. I did get some pretty extreme criticism for trashing his previous film PRECIOUS. I agreed that PRECIOUS was well-acted and addressed some crucial subject matter, subject matter that I thought deserved a better film to support it. Unfortunately, all the good intentions were undermined by the crushing weight of Daniels’ show-off direction.
Daniels reels it back a bit more here (meaning, no segues into Italian neo-realism for no reason whatsoever). But what he does choose to show is so ridiculously in your face that you’re almost embarrassed for the very existence of the film. After Cuba Gooding Jr. Humped his assassin stepmother in a field (Lee Daniels’ SHADOWBOXER), after the 360 degree turns of the camera incorporating Martin Luther King speeches in sequences that had nothing to do with the storyline (Lee Daniels’ PRECIOUS) and now after we witness Nicole Kidman spreading her sweaty legs and miming blowjob faces to John Cusack as he beats off in front of her and his lawyers (Lee Daniels’ THE PAPERBOY), can we please – PLEASE – admit that the emperor has no clothes? Lee Daniels is a terrible director. A person could become a solid filmmaker by asking Daniels the direction he would take a scene and then running in the opposite direction, one hundred percent of the time.
And yet, THE PAPERBOY wasn’t completely hated by critics or the general public and to that, I have to say – WHY THE HELL NOT?!?
The answer is actually a pretty solid one, and one I would ordinarily be sympathetic with. Many people are calling this a film so sumptuously awful that it was enjoyable. What they aren’t pointing out is that none of this is intentional. From the way he directs, it seems that Daniels believes he’s the next Federico Felini. But honestly, I’d trust one of Felini’s clown dwarves with a camera before I’d trust Lee Daniels.
Trust me, read the previous installments of the Journal. I gave MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE four stars just yesterday, so I’m very appreciative of a good bad movie. This isn’t bad in the way that PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE is bad. It’s bad in the way that SHOWGIRLS or MOMMIE DEAREST is bad. It’s a trashy, smutty, grim and dull film to be watched amongst cat-calls and two-for-one drink specials but nothing that can be enjoyed on the level of pure entertainment. People who know exactly the number of REAL HOUSEWIVES show on are television will enjoy this movie. People who give a shit who or what the Kardashians are will enjoy this movie. And not to be too judgemental, but people from the John Waters school of trash will probably enjoy this movie. But they will enjoy it like some people enjoy watching sporting events on television. With the right group, it’s fun. Take away the social aspect and you just stare at the screen and wonder when the next Doritos commercial will start.
There is a difference in bad movies, even ones that are appreciated by some. It’s how it leaves you. I couldn’t wait for this film to end and when it did, I felt horrible. It’s so earnest and straight-faced and somehow manages to suck all the enjoyment out of this trashy cocktail. Congratulations, Lee Daniels, you made me hate trash. Me! You motherfucker. ZERO STARS (out of ★★★★)
BERRY GORDY’S THE LAST DRAGON (1985) – The son of a Harlem pizzeria owner learns the ways of kung fu and glowing like a muse from XANADU while trying to remain passive against the taunts of the violent Shogun of Harlem, Sho’Nuff. He stumbles upon a dance show host (Vanity) is being pressured by an evil video game mogul to play his no-talent girlfriend’s music video and must save the day when the mogul uses violence to get what he wants. This film combines kung fu, high camp, blaxploitation and R&B and pop songs in a strange cocktail that could have only existed in the 1980s.
Of course, if you want to hear what Austin, Jesse and I have to say about it, you’ll have to wait. It will be covered soon on FILM GEEK CENTRAL PRESENTS: THE FILMS OF 1985 – our new podcast. This is where we review EVERY 1985 film on its corresponding week. We’ve got a few eps in the can and it only gets better as it goes on. Check out all of our back episodes here and check out what we’re covering in the weeks to come!
Total films watched in 2013 so far: 56
My soundtrack for January 30, 2013: “Never been no fragile flower. I always got too much to say.”