My Most Painful Movie-Going Experiences of the Aughts
I said last week that I wouldn’t be putting together a list of the worst movies of the aughts, because it’s an impossible task. There were too many bad movies over the last ten years to consider — those Movie Movie parodies could make up half the list, easily, leaving another 195 movies to vie for the other five spots. It wasn’t just mainstream movies, either. Every dickbag with a credit card and a camcorder thought he could made a movie (thanks, Kevin Smith), and there were enough indie studios out there to push them out of their box-office wombs long enough for us to realize that their little Napoleon Dynamite fetuses should’ve been aborted in the first trimester. It’s hard enough putting together a top ten worst films for one year — doing it for a decade is near impossible, and in order to do it justice, wouldn’t I need to go back and watch a lot of movies I haven’t seen that might be up for consideration? It’s not worth it. I’m not watching Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, so forget about it.
But what I do know is which theatergoing experiences were the most painful for me. I absolutely love the movie-going experience, whether it’s a bad movie or not. You have to in order to be able to do it on a weekly basis. And no matter how bad the movie is, for me, it’s better than the alternative, which is probably doing due diligence or some document review 12 to 14 hours a day.
That said, there were several movies over the course of the last decade that really did make the alternative look enticing. I only remember walking out of three: One of the Movie Movies, which didn’t matter because they’re all the same; Year One, which I wasn’t even reviewing; and Bangkok Dangerous, but I forgot my book and had to return to the theater, where I gave in and watched the rest of the film, hoping mostly that Nic Cage would just kill himself (the fact that he did, in the end, nearly redeemed the movie for me). But below are the ten movies, for various reasons, that I had the most difficult time suffering through. They may not have been the worst, but they were the ones that inspired the most anger or were the most excruciatingly tedious or, in a couple of cases, simply made me uncomfortable because the environment I was in.
10.Black Snake Moan: Aside from Brewer’s feeble attempts in Black Snake Moan to pass off soft-core Ricci-porn as film, it was his treatment of the South that irked me most. Can we give the fucking Southern Gothic myth a rest, already? Seriously, Black Snake Moan isn’t a period piece, one that depends on some historical context to make its point like, say, The Color Purple. This is a contemporary film, set in the present day. So why, pray tell, does Brewer insist on dragging out every Southern cliché in the book: barefoot women, shitty trailer homes, shacks, steamy backwoods atmosphere, hillbilly fuckers, and an outdated, bastardized view of the co-existence of sex and religion. Jump. Up. My. Ass. Basically, what Brewer is doing by reintroducing the Southern Gothic myth here is giving himself permission to wax poetic about a period in American history characterized by segregation and bigotry and then, as if to excuse it, offering up his own personal Southern credentials as a way of saying, “Hey! It’s OK. I can talk shit about the South because I’m a Southerner.” That’s fine, Craig. All of us Southerners do, but if you’re going to make a contemporary film, then at least criticize the modern South and not, as you’ve done here, continue to perpetuate an antiquated view of it.
After all, Southerners haven’t chained up women and saved them with Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle” and collard greens in at least a decade now, you dumb shit.
9. Grandma’s Boy: But, c’mon! C’mon! C’mon! C’mon! How the hell am I supposed to look past the fact that the lead character (42-year-old Allen Covert) in Grandma’s Boy goes into a bathroom and jerks off to a goddamn Barbie doll … and then ejaculates all over an unsuspecting walker-in, or that a type of marijuana noted for its abilities to make you “shit your pants” is discussed while a monkey performs martial arts, or even that a 20-something-year-old guy fucks Shirley Partridge/Jones after she gets into the technicalities of giving Charlie Chaplin a hand-job. Seriously, people, how fucking obtuse do you have to be to find enjoyment in a gamer-geek who tries to pick up the ladies with robot-speak? It’s not funny, and I don’t care how many short buses you rode on as a kid; it would take an unearthly amount of pot to have you believe for even a few seconds that Grandma’s Boy has more entertainment value than does a herniated disc. It’s obscenely bad. It’s Manos: The Hands of Fate without all the plot intricacies; it’s a snuff film without the snuff; it’s a goddamn alcohol-free hangover that pounds … and pounds … and pounds. …
8. Eight Below: Disney’s tagline, “The Most Amazing Story of Survival, Friendship, and Adventure Ever Told,” is accurate on only one count: It’s amazing, all right. Amazing that it got made, amazing that any one of the jackasses in the cast signed on, and amazing that the studio has enough confidence in Paul Walker and a bunch of mongrel furballs to open it on 3,000 screens. Oh, and it’s amazingly bad, too, pushing just enough overwrought earnestness down your throat to tickle your gag reflex but not quite enough pull the trigger and relieve you from the decayed fragments of your life, which will sit and fester while you wonder what in God’s name possessed you to travel a career path that has led you to a place where Big Momma taunts you, where video-game harlots haunt you, and where you find yourself hoping that the dude from The Fast and the Furious would just hurry the fuck up and find those dogs so that man and beast can finally be reunited in a weird, face-licking, smooch-filled, inappropriate bliss.
7. The Man: After years of stagnant lobbying attempts, after decades of futility, finally (Oh, what a day!) Hollywood has seen fit to cater to a demographic so long forgotten by the powers-that-be in the studio system: The terminally brain-dead. Coma patients: You can rest easy, because Hollywood does care about you and your plight; your bedsores and joint aches are going to hurt just a little less tonight. Oh lucky day. Lucky, lucky day! Had those nasty Florida judges just waited a few more months, Terri Schiavo would’ve lived long enough to see the day when New Line Cinema cared enough to make a movie designed for her “special needs,” i.e., the inability to show any feeling at all. Brain-dead patients all over this great land of ours will never have to worry about feeling left out while everyone else is laughing, because absolutely no one will enjoy The Man. That perpetual look of blank disbelief, snoring with your eyes wide open, the drool dripping from the side of your mouth, the powerlessness to express amusement: all characteristics that make total sense in the context of The Man.
6.Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector: Through it all, Health Inspector takes shape as the cinematic equivalent of middle Pennsylvania (Pennsyltucky), demonstrating all that is ugly about the South without incorporating any of its charm. Indeed, Health Inspector is the lowest form of comedy: repulsive and proudly ignorant and, perhaps worst of all, Larry ridicules those he means to amuse, while propagating unfair cultural stereotypes about the South, validating and confirming the opinions of their uppity, intellectual counterparts in the North. Of all the films I’ve had the displeasure to sit through as a movie critic, I can safely say that none are as abhorrent as Health Inspector, and I beseech anyone who will listen to avoid it at all costs and, please, throw sharp objects at those who choose to attend, and when they are writhing in pain and bleeding from their open wounds, stuff their pie holes with a Confederate flag and tell them Pajiba sent you.
5. Twilight: The audience for the movie — bookish teenage girls in puffy sweaters, hoodies, and horn-rimmed glasses — isn’t nearly as obnoxious as I thought they’d be. I attended a midnight screening, fully packed — on a school night, no less — with almost nothing but teenage girls. You can’t begin to know the humiliation that accompanies being not only one of three guys in the entire theater, but by far the oldest, and the only one without eyeliner. (I suspect that anyone that noticed me hidden in the back of the theater thought I was trolling for jailbait.) But in sheepishly eavesdropping on conversations in the ticket line, in the concession line, and in the theater, I realized that most of these teenage girls didn’t take Twilight seriously. They knew it was trashy. They expected the movie to be bad. They weren’t hopelessly in love with the idea of Edward Cullen. They didn’t want to be Isabella Swan. And during the film, they laughed in all the inappropriate places. It dawned on me, in fact, that for a lot of 16-year-old girls, Twilight is their Snakes on a Plane, and Edward Cullen is their Sam Jackson. And in that realization, my faith in the Twatwaffle Generation, or at least parts of it, was instantly restored. There is hope yet, folks.
4. John Tucker Must Die: Dustin Rowles slinks back in his leather office chair and stares forlornly at the ceiling. Though he is unabashedly liberal, though he is a proponent of strict gun-control laws, on his way home from the theater this afternoon, he found a gun show in the outskirts of Ithaca and circumvented the waiting period, purchasing a small, but powerful handgun — desperate times call for desperate blah blah blah. All six chambers are filled; there will be no Russian roulette this afternoon. Agony of this magnitude can’t be left to chance. He leans forward, grabs the pistol, and relaxes in his chair again, weighing his options before ultimately concluding that Hollywood has finally hit rock-bottom — there is no downward left to its spiral. A threesome-revenge flick without the slightest redemptive value whose only selling point is two girls kissing can only mean that the studio system has finally bottomed out. Living, at this point, is kind of pointless.
3. First Daughter : About midway through the new Katie Holmes film, First Daughter, I discovered a hangnail on my left index finger. Fiercely gnawing away at my digit, I drew a little blood, and for the first time in nearly an hour, I felt something. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant sensation, but it was liberating. I had found a means to distract myself from the screen, to divert my waning attention from the cinematic scourge that was devouring my will to live. I began frantically searching for new bits of flesh that I might chew upon, or, failing that, for someone to come along and stomp on my toe or somehow trigger a massive coronary, anything to release me from the numbness that had taken hold. I began to wonder if I’d walked into the wrong theater; if, perhaps, I was watching a lifeless zombie movie with a shitty fairy-tale soundtrack.
Such is the pain of First Daughter, a movie so mind-numbingly dull, its high point is a lame zinger from Jay Leno, who is the comedic equivalent of a root canal. Why this movie was made is beyond me, and how the producers managed to snag Katie Holmes, Michael Keaton, Forest Whitaker — or even cameos from Joan and Melissa Rivers — is unfathomable.
2. Ice Princess: When Hadley Davis, one of the writers of “Dawson’s Creek,” sat down to compose the screenplay for Ice Princess, I very much doubt she ever considered the movie would appeal to anyone besides 12-year-old suburban white girls, dropped off at the mall by their mothers on a Saturday afternoon to shop for earrings at Claire’s, get a bite at Hot Dog on a Stick, and take in a movie. But if you were to attend an early matinee on a school day, you’d likely learn quickly that Michelle Trachtenberg, Hayden Panettiere, and a series of other 16-year-old girls in short skirts also appeal to an entirely different movie going demographic: the 34-to-48-year-old pedophile.
Indeed, 10 minutes into the screening for Ice Princess, I noticed the theater was a bit more crowded than is usual at a morning screening that doesn’t involve comic book characters (and their rabid, mostly unkempt fans). On closer inspection, it was revealed that most of the people in attendance were men — men well into their 40s, dressed in suits and ties (and often overcoats) who laughed at odd moments in the film, moments that didn’t seem to be intended to elicit much laughter; for instance, while one of the teenaged characters was weeping.
Recognizing that I, too, was neither a 12-year-old girl nor her mother, and that I had a notebook sitting in my lap, made me extremely uncomfortable. Did the other attendees assume that I was one of them, that I’d sit through a G-rated teeny movie for some other reason than to write critically about it? Did that explain why, when Michelle Trachtenberg’s character landed on her ass, the guy sitting three seats down from me winked knowingly, as though we were in on the same joke? And why (oh God why!) could the guy behind me not stop grumbling and rustling what I could only imagine was a brown paper bag. Why did I leave a movie about the pursuit of one girl’s dream to become a figure skater feeling so incredibly dirty?
1. Captivity: I don’t know how else to put this. There’s not a tactful way of saying it — no fancy critic-speak or appropriate metaphors to use here. So, I’ll just put it in the bluntest way possible: I fucking hated Captivity. I loathed it. I want to collect every print in America and burn them all. And I want to throw the filmmakers into the bonfire. I want to emasculate the director, Roland Joffe, and the screenwriters, Larry Cohen and Joseph Tura, in the worst way imaginable. I want to remove their testicles and feed them to wild animals while they look on in horror. I want to remove the three of them from the human race, along with the 12 producers, and the marketing team behind Captivity — I want to inflict upon them all some misguided vigilante justice. Some fantastical, Tarantino brand of vengeance. And though I know by wishing it upon them, I’m stooping to their level, I still desperately want them all to feel the pain of centuries of misogyny and female degradation in one prolonged, indescribably agonizing form of torment.
But, more than anything, I don’t want anyone to see this film — I want it to fail spectacularly. I want the filmgoers of this nation to prove that we’re above this sort of contempt and hate of the female sex. That we’re not actually a nation of sick, twisted frat-boy fuckers who’d get off on this sort of depravity. That there is a line, and that we, collectively, recognize that it’s been crossed, and we won’t subsidize it anymore. That we can reluctantly accept the insulting comedies, the drab thrillers, and the tiresome, lifeless romantic comedies, but that this sort of noxious cinematic poison is not only deplorable, but morally criminal.