1. Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull – This is so obvious I feel as if it shouldn’t even qualify as a disappointment. Because why in the world did we ever expect anything different? George Lucas has effectively transformed his name into the American equivalent of Uwe Boll. Only without the kind of awful you look forward to (and the translation issues.) But I guess if Uwe Boll hired Steven Speilberg to direct BloodRayne 3, we’d expect something from that as well. So maybe we’re not quite as dumb as it ought to appear.
It’s not Indy’s age, they addressed that as well as they could have. It’s not that he has a surprise son, Shia LaBouef is duller than he’s ever been before, but that’s still not that dull. And it’s not the aliens, because that’s just as ridiculous as a guy who eats peoples’ still-beating hearts out of their chests or arks that melt Nazi faces. It’s not even the terrible graphics presented by the two people that have blazed the trail of visual effects for what seems like forever. It’s more the things that are missing. Not concrete things, like anyone from any of the other movies besides Karen Allen, but rather the feeling that something’s going to happen, that something’s at stake. At some point there needs to be one of those things. Maybe even both.
It’s not without its moments. Whenever we’ve seen Russian secret agents chase Americans before, it’s been through cramped and crowded European alleys, not throughout a continental college campus. And it’s a really good chase too. With a good ending that refers to the third movie without being stupid or obvious. Which is something the third movie itself couldn’t even manage to do. But ultimately it’s a removed admiration, not something that feels like just another exhilarating sequence in an Indiana Jones movie.
Fool’s Gold had more well thought out mystery solving that didn’t just involve deciphering the barely veiled ramblings of an old man who had apparently done everything we were seeing before and done it by himself. Pineapple Express has more well thought out ways for the protagonists to escape various perils that didn’t involve taking a crystal skull out of a bag and putting it between them and said perils. And it’s not that those movies are bad movies, you just don’t expect them to outmaneuver the character they too would consider an icon.
2. The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button – It seemed as if the trailer for this movie was showing us the entire movie and yet, at once, not allowing us to know what it was about. Turns out neither was true. Because to know what happens in The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button one must hear Benjamin Button tell you what happens, because the movie is too busy with people staring at things (each other, hummingbirds, nothing) to bother showing you.
There’s nothing in this movie, save for the obvious central plot device, that you’ve never seen before and seen done better. The Forest Gump comparisons are rampant. But at least Forest Gump did things along the way. He didn’t just observe and report. Benjamin Button has a lot more in common with Nick from The Great Gatsby (which I guess makes sense) than anyone else. Unfortunately, the things happening around him aren’t a fraction as interesting.
3. The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor – I realize The Mummy Returns wasn’t so great to begin with, but it was an appropriate let down after the first one. And it’s not as if anyone expected this one to somehow not suffer the same diminished returns as that did. But it’s so much worse than that. So much worse than any of the people involved have ever given us. You can blame the fact that Maria Bello is a poor substitute for Rachel Weisz. Or that it doesn’t make any sense that Rick and fake Evie have a grown adult son without showing any signs of the kind of aging that might require. But the truth is, if the rest of it was half as fun as either previous installment, you would not have cared.
4. Gran Torino – The billboard says, “Eastwood at his best.” I have to assume they mean Scott Eastwood, for having nothing to do with this movie.
It’s not that Clint Eastwood is bad in it, although there is that. His cartoon growling and mumbly soliloquies are terrible. But since he has surrounded himself with what has to be the most horrendous supporting cast ever assembled, he appears as though he is the superchampion of acting. Only John Carroll Lynch as his racist barber escapes this movie unscathed. So I guess maybe only the white racists are allowed to act well in this movie? Maybe this is Clint’s answer to Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song? Maybe there’s some metaphor I’m missing. But even so, it makes the mostly boring revenge story difficult to endure, never mind enjoy.
5. Religulous – I knew going in that while I’d agree with most of what Bill Maher was going to say regarding religion, that I was going to think his ultimate point was elitist and naïve. And that turned out to be true. I also expected him to be funny along the way, and while that turned out to be true as well, it was a whole lot less often that one would hope. Mostly he was just smirking at and remotely nudging us whenever some zealot said something supposedly ridiculous. In that way, he has a lot more in common with Mike Myers than Michael Moore.
Maybe more shameful is that he finds a few people who are actually saying interesting things about the religions with which they are affiliated. It’s not even as if these people were going against Bill Maher’s point of view, so it can’t be argued that they were cut to preserve the point of the movie. (One suspects those people were cut altogether or never interviewed in the first place.) It’s almost as if the movie doesn’t want you thinking too much about what it’s saying, but rather just to laugh at the Christian who shockingly turns to violence when the thing that probably saved his life a couple times is questioned by a smarmy egotist. Kind of sounds like a familiar tactic, but I’d need an out-of-context clip of a religious movie to be sure. Which, of course, is the worst element of Religulous. This relentless juvenile clip art only serves as exclamation point to the “joke” that was already in all caps. It was annoying and unfunny 20 years ago in Dream On so I don’t get why anyone thought it would work now.
Che – The chronology doesn’t work, but you’ll still swear that Vince’s movie Medellin in Entourage was based on this 4 and a half hour foreign language failure. The second half is much better, in that it isn’t just a string of bland fight scenes, but only because its bland fight scenes are interspersed with a slowly devolving squadron of rebels who are realizing they’re out of their league.
Be Kind, Rewind – This should have been good, right? The director of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind? Jack Black and Mos Def? Dummies remaking great movies? I don’t even know if I can tell exactly what caused this combination to fail. But it just always seemed as if nothing was ever really wrong, despite Mos Def’s constant protracted worrying.
Doomsday – Again, a post-apocolyptic action movie by the guy who made The Descent starring Rhona Mitra should at the very least have been enjoyable, if not great. But all the thought that made should-have-been-ridiculous movies like The Descent and Dog Soldiers really good was completely absent. As if somebody was out to prove that having a budget destroys the creative process.
High School Musical 3 – Shut your face. The first two were good. Well, the first one was great and second one was fine. But both were funny at times and this one wasn’t. Ever. Maybe once. But it wasn’t even attributable to Sharpay. Which is ridiculous.
Miracle At St. Anna’s – I know you don’t, but I like Spike Lee. And when he doesn’t write his own things, I like him even more. And after blasting Clint Eastwood over the completely-motivated-by-the-fact-that-there-were-no-integrated-battalions-in-World-War-II/about-Japanese-people lack of black people in Flags Of Our Fathers/Letters From Iwo Jima I figured he’d be extra motivated to be at his best. He wasn’t.