“Turkeys” We Can’t Help But Gobble Up
In the world of filmmaking, every movie is a gamble, you never know which ‘may flower’, or which will burn to a crisp at the box office. There’s a cornucopia of bad films out there, but for every bad film is a sucker who loves it anyway. We are those suckers.
In this season of thankfulness, we show our gratitude for the under-appreciated (or straight-up hated) films of this world. Yes, we’re being corn-y, but this is one feast of ‘turkeys’ that won’t leave you five pounds heavier.
Way Too Indie’s Favorite ‘Turkey’ Movies
Man of Steel
At the risk of alienating all of my colleagues here at WTI, I’m standing up for a movie that’s everything under the sun, except indie. I walked into Man of Steel as someone who has very little admiration for Zack Snyder and his slow-mo-action antics. Not even talk of Christopher Nolan’s involvement gave me much hope. Superman is a boring know-it-all superhero, Snyder is a showboating director of music videos in disguise, and this is going to suck. That I walked out feeling none of the above was surprising, most of all to me. Critics beat on Man of Steel harder than Clark beats on General Zod, but for me; this movie was a helluva lot of fun.
This is as dark and gritty as a Superman story can get, and we do have Nolan to thank for paving the way with his supreme Dark Knight Trilogy. For the first time ever, the story of an alien with superhuman strength landing on earth and not knowing who or what he is, was directed and acted in way that made plausible sense. Henry Cavill acts like a confused, emotionless, alien. Good. That’s what Superman is. He’s plagued by flashbacks of his adoptive father (Kevin Costner, nailing this part in ways he had no right to), and inquisitive with his biological dad (another perfect casting choice in Russell Crowe). Good. That’s exactly the kind of thought-process I’d expect Clark to go through before realizing what he is. And it goes on and on; the background on Krypton, the exhilarating action scenes with Zod (Michael Shannon, effortlessly watchable as always), the realistic destruction of a city, one of Hans Zimmer’s greatest scores, etc. etc. I’ve got plenty of reasons to love, and very little reason to hate. [Nik]
Is it insane to say Crank is a masterpiece of action cinema? Not as insane as Crank actually is. It starts off with a simple premise: Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) wakes up to find he’s been poisoned, but as long as his adrenaline is high enough the poison won’t take effect. The concept is really just an excuse to hurl as much action and carnage at the screen as possible, and Crank more than delivers on that front. Statham is the ideal leading man for this sort of film, embracing every piece of insanity thrown his way. And by tying the need for action to the protagonist’s health (if there’s no action he will die), Crank is one of the most fast-paced action films ever made as well as one of the closest things to a live-action video game.
Directors Neveldine/Taylor also know how to shoot great, kinetic action on a low-budget. Crank certainly was divisive when it came out, but the concept paid off: it made over three times its budget at the box office, and despite the very conclusive ending a sequel came out years later (fun fact: Crank: High Voltage is even more maligned than Crank, but is also a good movie). Crank is one of the few movies that says it has “non-stop action” and means it. Other action movies only wish they could be this frenetic or creative. [CJ]
For all the praise Christopher Nolan enjoyed for telling some of the best Batman stories ever, in any medium, Joel Schumacher has drawn just as much hatred for his two zanier contributions to the Dark Knight mythos, Batman Forever and its sequel, Batman & Robin. I share most people’s disgust for the latter, with its hideous puns and George Clooney mis-casting, but I actually have a lot of fun with the former to this day. It’s playful popcorn entertainment, built on spectacle and gags; but if I come across it on a lazy day of channel-surfing, I’ll watch the hell out of it, happily.
Aside from the splashy art design, with its elaborate laser light shows and sets that look like gothic-themed nightclubs, what I enjoy most about Batman Forever are its performances, particularly Jim Carrey’s as The Riddler/Edward Nigma. Val Kilmer plays a fine Bruce Wayne, but Carrey stuns with one of the most unencumbered, yet refined performances of his career. His androgynous, flamboyant take on the classic Bat-villain fits the movie’s fetishistic tone perfectly, and his double-team comedy schtick with Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face/Harvey Dent is a lot of fun, though both characters still maintain an air of danger. It’s as easy to dismiss silly superhero movies as it is to embrace gritty, reality-based ones. Batman Forever doesn’t want to make you think or depress you; it just wants to have a good time and zoom in on Batsuit nipples. Is that so wrong? [Bernard]
The Family Man
Sitting next to my growing library of Criterion Collection titles is a DVD which always gets the reaction, “Really? You have that movie?” when spotted by friends. That film is Brett Ratner’s 2000 rom-com The Family Man. Maybe it’s because the film stars Nicolas Cage, an actor a lot of people criticize for agreeing to star in just about any movie that asks him. Or perhaps people just thought the film was a little too cheesy, predictable, or feel-good at times (it’s guilty of all of them). But nevertheless, I don’t have any troubles defending this film as a charming heartfelt holiday film the whole family can enjoy.
The Family Man borrows the same basic premise of another Christmas movie It’s A Wonderful Life. Nicolas Cage plays a single wealthy businessman who gets a glimpse into what his life could have been when he wakes up one morning as a middle class husband and a father of two. Nicolas Cage haters might just be surprised by how good he is here, showing his range by playing two completely opposite characters with firm conviction. The universal message of the film is learning to love your own life, which might just inspire you to do the same. Though at the very least, The Family Man is a holiday movie worth watching despite what others might say. [Dustin]
Before Rocky IV and before Cobra; before Beverly Hills Cop II, Brigitte Nielson debuted her tremendous Nordic height in Red Sonja. Originally planned to be a spin-off or sequel to Conan the Destroyer, Director Richard Fleischer failed to obtain the rights thus moving forward with what everyone just assumed was the sequel, even including a co-lead identical to Conan. As much as Arnold Schwarzenegger declared THIS to be the worst movie he ever made (that’s telling more than anything) it was MY favorite as a child. Bad parenting aside, Red Sonja was my first awakening towards female empowerment.
With a particularly confusing plot (though no more so than either of the Conan films) and pretty memorable special effects, this won Brigitte Neilson a Razzie Award for Worst Actress in 1985. But don’t tell that to my seven year old self. It spent more than double what it made in theaters, but it’s not enough of a failure to completely shut down talks of a potential remake in the near future. Rumor has it they might already be thinking of who might fill those high Barbarian boots. Though I’m not sure I can see Zoe Saldana pulling off those red tresses in near the same way. [Scarlet]
Richard Kelly followed up his hit film Donnie Darko with this ambitious, but deeply flawed film. Southland Tales was ripped apart by critics upon initial release and still it goes unnoticed to this day. Set in 2008 during the few days leading up the 4th of July in Los Angeles, Tales tells the story of a few individuals (a porn star, a movie star, a war veteran and a police officer) whose stories start to intertwine as they all seem to be a part of a vast conspiracy. Trying to describe what happens throughout the film is nearly impossible; the film is a complete mess. Kelly pulls influences from multiple genres and most of the time nothing works.
Beat-master Moby scores the film and Kelly sprinkles in hits from Jane’s Addiction, Elbow, The Killers, Blur and Black Rebel Motorcycle Society to boot. The film is a pulsating and vibrant black comedy that I’d liken to watching the Hindenburg crash down from the sky. You just can’t look away. Having said all these negative things about the film, I can’t hide my love for it. It’s weird, illogical, baffling and sometimes stupid. And yet, it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. [Blake]
Though Sleepaway Camp has fully achieved cult status, I still feel that there are too many of its supporters that would glibly throw away that it is nothing more than “so bad it’s good.” I would like to challenge that claim. That’s right, you should take the 1983 teen slasher seriously. If you want to sit back with your friends and a few adult beverages and laugh your way through all of its sillier traits, that’s fine, I don’t want to take away that experience from you. But I would like you to consider Sleepaway Camp’s genre innovation and way ahead-of-its-time sexual politics.
As a slasher, Sleepaway Camp is a particularly good one. The kills are incredibly inventive and appropriately gruesome. Whenever people aren’t being viciously killed, the tone is sweeter than the genre’s norm, with realistically-aged actors dealing with the relatable problems of growing up. What the film does really well, though, is center the kills around a mystery. In later years, slashers became less interested in keeping an audience engaged through a mystery and instead plopped the killer’s persona as the main attraction (the similar Friday the 13th series is a good representation of this). As for the transgender issues around the film, this is a touchy topic that deserves a much bigger platform. I will say, however, that no other film at the time looked at this issue with any sort of substance, and few have since. It’s potentially harmful to make a transgendered person the killer, as if Angela is some sort of monster because of her identity, but it makes me feel more sympathetic to the character. Sleepaway Camp’s famous final frame is shocking and horrific, but its perspective on Angela makes me consider the character and the film to be more than your typical twisted horror. [Aaron]
I remember the first time someone told me that Unbreakable was generally considered a “weak” film. I was in film school and contemplating using a scene from Unbreakable for a project. My partner scoffed, he thought referring to this film would get us laughed out of class. A debate ensued. We used the clip. I think we got an ‘A’. I’ve been unabashedly supporting this film ever since.
As his immediate follow-up to the film that catapulted him into cult status, The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan’s shunning after Unbreakable’s release was swift and harsh. He had been pigeonholed, and when he ventured to move on to another admirable hero tale, this time drawing on comic-book themes, audiences held up the rubric they created just for him and immediately dismissed it as mediocre. What’s ironic about the public’s disdain for Unbreakable is that it incorporates many of the exact elements that made The Sixth Sense great. Once again we have Bruce Willis in the lead as a man desiring to do good amidst a failing marriage, and there’s a kid—his child Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark)—who helps him uncover a secret about himself that makes for an unexpected twist at the end. The action is slow but deliberate, the imagery bright and intriguing, and the character revelations satisfying. It was criticized as unconvincing and overdone, but perhaps with only a year between The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, the buzz was still too fresh in stubborn audience’s minds. To me it’s another example of all that Shyamalan is capable of. [Ananda]
Law Abiding Citizen
F. Gary Gray’s Law Abiding Citizen was maligned almost universally by critics and audiences, for lots of stuff: unnecessary, excessive violence; a plot with a stupid amount of logic holes; characters with far-fetched motivations. Why did I love it? Well, I just happen to enjoy tasteless violence in movies quite a bit from time to time. “Plot holes” and “low plausibility” almost never bother me (if they bother you, you’re a bore), and I find single-minded characters to be quite enjoyable if used correctly.
Gerard Butler plays a man hell-bent on avenging the deaths of his wife and daughter (whose murderer is set free) by killing law enforcement officials… while locked in a high-security prison cell himself. How he’s able to lead the hapless cops to their gruesome demises (via mechanized death machines he’s crafted himself) while trapped in prison is the film’s central mystery, which D.A. Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) intends to unravel before more innocent blood is spilled. The dialogue between Butler and Foxx is overblown, as are all other aspects of Gray’s explosive mystery-thriller, but that’s what I love about it. It’s an unbridled, gory vision of revenge that’s filthy as hell for a reason: when people are stripped of everything, there’s no limit to the ugliness they’re capable of. Many call Law Abiding Citizen tasteless; I call it honest. [Bernard]
The 90’s were littered with teen sports flicks. Rudy, Little Big League, The Sandlot and The Mighty Ducks series are prime examples. Lost amid all of these popular and instantly quotable movies was Airborne; one of the few movies tough enough to tackle the cool it-sport of the moment, rollerblading. Cool Californian, Mitchell Goosen (helluva name) is sent to live with his cousin and his parents in cold and frosty Cincinnati after his parents have to leave the country for work. This wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that Mitchell lives for surfing. No waves in Cincy, bro.
Airborne is devoid of any kind of originality at pretty much any point in its 91 minute running time. Its plot is culled from many other sports films of the era. The film was largely ignored during its original release due to the market being saturated with similar releases, and yet, the film works in its own way. The actors, including early roles from Seth Green and Jack Black, bring a great energy to the material and Rob Bowman’s direction puts you right into the thick of the action. Airborne, might have never taken off during its premiere run, but for me it soars. [Blake]
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
It’s easy to see why critics love to hate Jim Carrey movies, most of the time they’re idiotic, outlandish, and even insulting to its audiences. But they can also be downright entertaining. Fitting into all of those descriptions is the 1994 film Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, a slapstick comedy full of laughs, if you’re willing to turn your brain off first. Clearly Roger Ebert wasn’t able to (along with most other critics at the time) as he gave the movie a lousy one star rating and called it a “long, unfunny slog through an impenetrable plot.”
Hardly anyone will argue against Ace Ventura’s weak plot—a wacky detective who specializes in finding lost pets gets hired to find a football team’s mascot—but it’s hard to fault a film that only aims as high as lowbrow humor. Instead, Jim Carrey defines the meaning of physical comedy in every scene, contorting his body and his words in ways only he could express. His comedy knew no limits and he was willing to do just about anything for a laugh, including bending over to talk through his butt. While Ace Ventura was considered a flop at the time, the film made Jim Carrey a household name, and remains one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Just don’t feel obligated to watch the sequel. [Dustin]
What Lies Beneath
It may be that I find it incredibly difficult to dislike films that Harrison Ford is in (Crystal Skull excluded), or that I find the best psychological thrillers take place in the most ordinary of settings, but to me What Lies Beneath is a well-crafted and twisty tale. Michelle Pfeiffer is the star despite Ford’s presence, playing a mom with slight empty-nest syndrome and a Rear Window-style bad habit of peeking in on her neighbors. Robert Zemeckis’s sappy style is accused of weighing down the film’s thrills and its pacing regarded as glacier, but to me these are the sugar-coating on a poisoned apple. When the film’s finale hits and the plot’s mysteries mostly revealed, it becomes a true cat and mouse game, and I’m reduced to uncomfortable squirming every single time. I’ll admit the teasing of a ghost story seems distracting, but I just see it as the sort of diversion that tries to throw off the scent of real danger.
Perhaps films that hint at both psychological and supernatural thrills require too much to chew on for most viewers, but for me it’s just two elements I love. Pfeiffer makes the film. Her good nature and sweet demeanor as Claire Spencer just egging on my apprehension. It’s not the horror film anyone else will recommend to you for a Friday night fright, but it makes my Halloween playlist every year. [Ananda]
With critics bemoaning the lack of originality in mainstream films today, you’d think Cloud Atlas would have been welcomed with open arms. Independently produced for $100 million, this ambitious adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel was (and still is) unlike anything released by a major studio. Spanning thousands of years through 6 storylines, using the same actors in multiple roles to highlight themes of reincarnation and redemption, Cloud Atlas is bold, daring and exhilarating filmmaking, earnestly exploring ideas and concepts other films wouldn’t touch. That earnestness sometimes worked against the film: the make-up, used to change actors into different races and genders, ranged from impressive to disastrous. The filmmakers understandably came under fire when they dressed up white actors to look Asian.
But the film still works in spite of its flaws because of how much its three directors (Lana & Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer) have the guts to go all-in with the kind of sincerity others would bristle at. And plenty of people bristled; Time and Village Voice declared it the worst film of 2013, and a poor marketing and release strategy by Warner Brothers guaranteed a poor box office performance. Hopefully time will prove Cloud Atlas’ naysayers wrong. It’s the kind of cinematic experience that deserves to be lauded, not laughed off. [CJ]
Having Bruce Willis as a guardian angel would satisfy a number of wishes on my list. And seeing him in a full size pink bunny costume would satisfy the others. So just imagine my surprise to find out North is pretty much considered one of the worst movies of all time. It couldn’t have been the completely flat and stereotypical portrayal of nearly every culture in the U.S., or the star-studded cast, each actor providing perhaps the cheesiest performance of their careers. This movie might have flopped with adults, but only because their children were all most likely demanding to see it so many times it gave them the chance to notice every little flaw. That hardly seems fair.
While Rob Reiner does seem to be the captain of corny, mostly his films do pretty well in theaters and among all of us romantics. And who wouldn’t melt at little Elijah Woods innocent dimples? But somehow, with all of its arsenal (Reba AND Dan Akroyd), it truly failed to deliver. In fact, Roger Ebert stood by his unequivocal hatred of the film naming it the worst film of 1994 and making his list of worst films of all time. It swept the Razzies that year, at least for nominations, being nominated for Worst Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Director, and Screenplay. Unfortunately it couldn’t even manage a win there. In spite of all of this, it will always have a special place in my heart. [Scarlet]
The Three Stooges
OK, confession time. I actually like Bobby and Peter Farrelly’s take on the classic comedic trio. I’m not going to try and convince you that The Three Stooges is among the great cinematic treasures, but am a little baffled by the masses completely writing it off. I can understand the cultural perception, considering the long and heavily publicized production, initially stacked with incredible actors in the title roles. What we got, though, is far from bad and worth a look for those seeking a silly comedy. The film is a 90-minute live-action cartoon, overstuffed with gags and slapstick. The Farrelly brothers built their careers on goofy comedies, and The Three Stooges is certainly that, but this film has more kinetic energy than they’ve ever had previously.
The film works almost entirely because of the three leads: Sean Hayes as Larry, Chris Diamantopoulas as Moe and Will Sasso as Curly. Their performances are so dedicated to the cultural memory of the original Three Stooges that it could certainly feel like mere impressions, but they are able to rise above this through sheer effort. Diamantopoulos is especially good, perhaps with the benefit that I don’t recognize the performer as much as the other two. More importantly, they work incredibly well as a team, which is important with the madcap timing of the action. They always feel in control of a purposefully out-of-control film. [Aaron]
To the Wonder
Terrence Malick is not for everyone, and since Badlands, his movies seem to go further and further out of their way to prove just that. His last film, To the Wonder, pretty much drove everybody away (except for us). Even people who loved The Tree of Life have a tendency to say “To the Wonder? Way too weird, not for me.” It has a small number of supporters, and I – a zealous Malick fan – count myself among them. I think people who expected more plot, narrative structure, and character development than Tree of Life were the most bitterly disappointed ones because To the Wonder gives less in that respect. It’s not a story, really. It’s a visual essay attempting to capture concepts and fleeting emotions, and it plays out like Malick’s most personal film to date because of how utterly unhinged it is, without a speck of exposition. (It’s also said that the thin plot involving a man stuck between two women, one from Paris, and one from his hometown in the States, is an autobiographical account of Malick’s own personal life).
Though I’m no student of Heidegger, I appreciate Malick’s devoted attempt to grasp ethereal concepts like “being” and “experience,” trying to capture them on film like some kind of half-crazed lepidopterist chasing a reclusive butterfly, connecting them with the human emotion of love, and figuring out where faith stands in all of that. Lubezki’s luminous cinematography and Kurylenko’s graceful beauty complement each other wonderfully, and though it’s not my personal favorite Malick film, I still love it in more ways than one. To those who say “it’s way too weird,” I say, “no. It’s just way too indie.” [Nik]