Top Five Wasted Efforts – 2016

1. John TollBilly Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

 

John Toll has two Oscars. He won them in consecutive years. He’s shot some of the prettiest movies (and TV) in history and has absolutely nothing to prove to any of you. When he signed on to shoot Ang Lee’s new experimentally formatted movie, he was probably pretty excited about it. For someone so thoroughly experienced, this groundbreaking venture might have been enticing even without the cache of Ang Lee being attached. Being among the first to shoot in color or Cinemascope or 3D or HD or whatever technological advancement isn’t necessarily always going to garner accolades, it probably leans a little toward the opposite even, because nobody likes change and our eyes are just about the least open minded part of our bodies. So how then could shooting Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk in 128fps 3D be a wasted effort?

 

Well, mostly because what John Toll signed on for originally was not Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, but an (as yet unnamed) entirely different project that would have reportedly been a more intricate and effects heavy.

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Instead John Toll, triple nominated double Oscar winner, American Society of Cinematographer’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner, is stuck working out the kinks of a revolutionary new cinematic format on a droll drama that feels like a high school play where everyone in the class had to be included regardless of their abilities. He had to figure out that he needed five times the lighting as he normally might, which was extra annoying since he simultaneously discovered that he needed to shoot real locations because the picture would not hide most of the tricks regularly employed by Production Designers to mask the fact that the whole thing is being done on a set. All of this coming at the expense of time he could have been shooting something slightly more conventional, but infinitely more influential and/or important. Something good. Something that anyone saw. Something that anyone who saw it wasn’t stunned at the fact that the theater they were watching it in hadn’t turned off their motion smoothing setting.

 

 

 

2. Oona LaurenceBad Moms

 

From originating Matilda on Broadway to playing little Pennsatucky on Orange Is The New Black, Oona Laurence has already shown the capability and versatility that makes her the envy of actors three and four and five times her age. She was Jake Gyllenhaal’s typically movie-advanced child in Southpaw last year and filled the typically forgotten love interest proxy role in Pete’s Dragon in this one. But the best performance on her young (but extensive) career is in an otherwise forgettable and blunted supposed shock comedy, Bad Moms. In a movie filled with cartoon versions of people who never existed in the first place, all in the service of dangerous laughs for safe people, Oona Laurence’s Jane is an already anxiety ridden child now in the throes of her parents’ separation and is probably losing her mind. The movie really should be about her, but toonahen I guess the title would have to be changed since a movie called Bad Moms is obviously about mothers who want to have their own life outside of motherhood once in awhile but still love their children and will do outlandish things for them.

 

 

3. Stunt TeamHardcore Henry

 

Stunt people risk their lives every day. And for movies! It’s crazy. So really, most stunt teams are wasting their effort by the definition as I have laid out here. But they love it and they’re like magicians or con artists or something, incredibly protective about their jobs and how they do them. So it isn’t a waste, not to them; they’d probably be jumping off buildings and crashing cars on their own if they didn’t have the movies. And what a nightmare that would be for the rest of us.

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Singling out Hardcore Henry then seems so speak fairly negatively of the movie, if I‘m saying these crazy people were crazier than the rest of their ilk. And I am. It’s an awful thing. But that isn’t all of it. The stunt team on Hardcore Henry had a few other outstanding circumstances. First of all, they did it in Russia. There’s no stunt union governing the safety of their members there. There’s barely any laws at all unless you’re trying to be gay or Ukrainian. Second, it’s generally freezing. And here you are jumping around on and off moving vehicles with not quite as much blood in your extremities as there usually is. But neither of these is something particularly exclusive to Hardcore Henry. What makes this stunt team somewhat singular is the fact that they were also largely responsible for operating the cameras.

 

If you haven’t heard, Hardcore Henry is entirely recorded from the point of view of Henry himself. You never see his face because his face is the camera. Which means what Henry does, the camera operator must do. Which in turn means the camera operator is jumping around on and off moving vehicles with little to no organized supervision and not as much blood in the extremities. And in order to do this, the camera operator has to wear experimental head gear that not only impairs vision but is significantly heavier than the regular head one is used to carrying around. Even a head as big as a stuntman’s might theoretically be. (After all the swelling, I mean, not that they are egotitsts.)

 

Any behind the scenes footage from Hardcore Henry will tend to look extra insane. But only as insane as all those Jackie Chan end credit sequences. There we can see a person we recognize who for all intents and purposes does not need to be putting himself in such danger. But what cannot be seen is the monstrous effort put into even creating the environment in which men in Daft Punk helmets are doing awkward parkour in and around very dangerous materials. All so we could watch a live action version of a thing we’ve become inured to as a result of the infinitely less dangerous act of animating a video game.

 

 

4. Nigel Booth and Mark CoulierZoolander 2

 

The original Zoolander was never given a chance, with a(n intended) release date of September 14th, 2001 it was then delayed for two weeks, you know, until everybody was over it. It’s not that Zoolander was ever going to be a blockbuster, but it took a very long time to find a significant audience. That audience was never significant enough to warrant any sort of sequel, but such a long lay over seemed preposterously egregious. Even in this time of reviving most everything that has ever existed. So you might think anything involved with a sequel to a box office failure fifteen years after the fact would qualify as a waste. And you wouldn’t be wrong.

 

But the fact is, they made a Zoolander 2. And there was a larger percentage of the world’s population excited about that notion than were the original. Whether that is because it was now a known commodity or because there is a direct correlation between that percentage and the percentage that has no memory of September 11th, 2001 is not something we can definitively research (not because it would be impossible, but because the funding is understandably unavailable.)

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I suppose the biggest waste in all this falls on the person who came up with the idea to call it Twolander because other more powerful people decided against that and it is very unfortunate. But the second biggest waste involved with Zoolander 2 is the extensive make up effects and prosthetics that so many of the jokes rely upon. Jokes that mostly don’t work, but that’s just most of the jokes in Zoolander 2. It certainly has nothing to do with the quality of the work. Some of them are even designed as literal throwaways, where a character will tear off the prosthetic and toss it aside, which is the entire joke. I guess. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell where a joke begins and ends in Zoolander 2. Or if they begin at all.

 

 

Ava DuVernayThe 13th

 

The 13th is obviously not a waste of a movie, as the naming of the director in this light might imply. It is a fairly staid documentary though, which might have more to do with it going straight to Netflix than any sort of nobility and/or freedom of information that seems to be the assumption.

 

There’s not any reasonable disputing the importance of the information provided. That it isn’t so interesting as a movie is beside the point, I suppose. Plenty of people make bland movies out of interesting subjects. Even people who have done great work before. There is an element of blowing a chance to make this particular subject essential viewing beyond the basics. But that isn’t the true wasteful part.

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Towards the end of The 13th, the movie shifts dramatically into a warning, which at this point is fairly standard stuff for documentaries. If there isn’t something to scare us with it’s almost as if there isn’t a reason to make it in the first place. But more than that, it turns into a political platform. By the end it becomes an unabashed Clinton campaign commercial though, and besides just being bizarre and making the movie an instant time capsule, it clearly was a waste of effort, knowing what the election results turned out to be. One could argue that maybe more such documentaries could have turned the tide just enough, and no effort could have been a wasted one, nor will it ever be, but watching this on November 10th as I did, it couldn’t have felt like anything else. I can’t imagine what watching it on next November 10th might be like. No matter what side you’re on or even if you’re without one, you’ll have to turn it off at that point, it will be laughably obsolete by then. And for a movie to qualify as important in any way, any such reaction probably has to be avoided above all else.

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