Monday, August 31, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
Metal was completely dead. Metallica was busy covering Bob Seger, and the other pillars of the genre weren't really trying anymore. "Nu metal" was played out by Korn's second record. Every metal fan I know was clinging to anything with rapid riffs, but that almost surely were in the context of overtly cheesy songs with vocals that would make The Darkness' lead singer blush. There was no real reason to pay any attention to the genre. Then, rather suddenly, along came Atlanta's Mastodon. Their first few records were crafted with a strong sense of metal's glorious history. Their second full-length was a heavy metal reenvisioning of Moby Dick! As lofty as those intentions may have been, and though it is a decent album, it never really won me over.
In March of this year they released Crack the Skye. It is both an evolution and resurrection. There are no hot licks on this record. This is not heavy metal to blast in your Camaro while the wind whips your mullet around. There are so many things going on within each song, it takes about a dozen listens to get all of it. But right off the bat, it's clear that the band decided they were going to be as ambitious as possible. Sure, it is loud and heavy, but the edgiest thing about this record is all the rhythmic transitions. Drummer Bränn Dailor seems to be driving every song. He quite simply couldn't play any busier than this. The vocals are passed from one member to another, but we don't really care about them. My buddy Nick, a devout metalhead, says that he prefers to listen to the instrumental-only version. It's that impressive.
Obviously, this is one of the newest albums on the list. In many ways, I'm still just getting to know it. If I were to recreate this list in five years, who knows whether it would climb higher or I would simply tire of it, but at this point, my money's on the former. It's just an incredibly impressive effort that keeps paying more and more dividends. The big question is, what will it do for the genre as a whole? They are breaking new ground and will hopefully continue to do so. My hope is that the kids listening to this release and thinking of picking up a guitar themselves are inspired to push the limit. It's possible that years from now, this will be regarded as a landmark such as Are You Experienced? or What's Going On. OK, perhaps that's a bit lofty, but if this record can at least flirt with such a notion, we'll all be very fortunate. Don't be afraid. Give this a spin.
#48 - Shout Out Louds - Howl Howl Gaff Gaff
#49 - At the Drive-In: Relationship of Command
#50 - Rival Schools: United by Fate
Thursday, August 27, 2009
I have to be honest. This album nearly didn't make the cut. But going back to that whole "enjoyability factor" upon which I based my overarching criteria, I couldn't leave it out. There's really nothing profound about this record. But it's gotta be the sweetest little album you'll ever hear.
They open with the boop-boop-boop-beeeeeeeep taken directly from Atari's Pole Position before kicking into their first single, "The Comeback." I mean, how cute is that? But not only cute, it was a crafty move that sets up the groovy guitars. The rest of the album flows from there, alternately hopeful and forlorn. But at every point, you get the feeling that these are people you'd want to hang out with. The album is overtly welcoming.
After the most forlorn tune, "Go Sadness," another brilliantly cheery riff kicks off "Please Please Please" and we go round again. Like I said at the top, there's nothing profound here. But that's not the point. It's great background music in that you feel like your life is going well when it's on. When DJ-ing a party, I have often reverted to "The Comeback" when I needed an old favorite that I knew couldn't miss, whether anyone had heard it before or not. Sometimes it's OK to be a goody-goody. In sum, I pop this sucker in way too often to leave it in the honorable mentions now. If that makes me a goody-goody, I'll have to live with that distinction.
(Note, this is NOT the real video. Someone made it for a school project. But the song is legit.)
#49 - At the Drive-In: Relationship of Command
#50 - Rival Schools: United by Fate
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Monday, August 24, 2009
At 2:46 into the first song, Cedric Bixler-Zavala inserts a shrieking gasp into his hollering that surely must be an accident. It borders on comedy. I never noticed it before today, yet I think it matters because it highlights that this was a band going for broke. They had already built a following for their screamy rock, but had only found their real stride on the previous EP, Vaya. But they truly unleashed everything they had in their 2000 album, even deploying Iggy Pop in a distracting cameo that somehow worked to great effect. The record is an all-out assault. The few "quiet" moments still feel disconcerting before they revert to all hell breaking loose all over again. Needless to say, this is not an album for everyone. But it certainly is for me.
It's hard not to notice the song construction here. Every note is punctuated. This album is built with nails, tacks, and other sharp objects. Laid across those pointy things, the production lends a slick polish that accentuates the intensity while at the same time giving the songs the flow they need. I almost want to say that there is a groove here, but that would be awfully misleading. I guess what I'm saying is, the tacks and nails aren't the rusty kind you find in a junkyard. They are fresh from the box and ready to do their damage.
For me, there's no better album for the moments when you're looking to shake things up. It can turn sullen into angry, bored into unnerved, and content into manic. When deployed correctly, this can be a wonderful tool. For instance, this record once single-handedly saved a bachelor party weekend in Vegas. I'm serious. Yet on top of the visceral feeling, there are moments so over the top, you have to take a breath and note them. What Bixler-Zavala does in the finish to "Invalid Litter Dept." is something to behold. "Cosmonaut" knocks the listener around from start to finish, but you can still dance to it.
To be honest, I hadn't listened to this album in a while, but a feeling kept nagging me that it had to be included here. I gave it another spin, and sure enough, it's fantastic in its own way. Does that sound like a backhanded compliment? I didn't mean it that way. Certainly it's not perfect. When someone is screaming his head off like this, you wish that the lyrics were a bit more compelling. And there's no individual musicianship that you can point to as being "incendiary." But the whole outdoes the sum of the parts here, and just writing about the album gets me fired up. The band broke up after this release, splitting into two lesser groups, Sparta and Mars Volta. But maybe that was just as well. To top their output here would have been unlikely.
#50 - Rival Schools: United by Fate
Friday, August 21, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Yep, we're counting down the top 50. Click here for overview and criteria.
We all have our own favorite musical "tragedies" of varying scales. Certainly we should all agree that Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix left us too soon, right before what we sure to be fruitful periods in their careers. But you could point to any number of other groups that simply called it quits when by all appearances they were on the verge of something great. I haven't put together a list or anything (yet), but one band that would definitely find itself on it is Quicksand. In my mind, they were the height of post-hardcore rock, or whatever you want to call it, with aggressive riffs laid over technically precise yet pounding drums. When they broke up, I was crestfallen. Crestfallen I tell you.
But frontman Walter Schriefels didn't take too long to put together another outfit ready to stand on the shoulders of what Quicksand had accomplished. Rival Schools was a mini super-group of sorts, joining Schrifels with members of CIV, Glassjaw, Iceburn, Youth of Today, and Die 116. While the union didn't seem like an overly serious endeavor, they put together a kickass album. It covers all the bases, at times sounding like Quicksand lite, and others attacking the listener with everything they've got.
This record holds up really well. I don't find myself spinning it as often as I should, but every time I do, I'm reminded of how sewn up it is. The guitars work perfectly on each track, either fanning out to spread across the spectrum of the song or crunching and churning. Highlights include "Traveling by Telephone" and "Used for Glue." They still sound fresh - especially in this day and age where nobody but Billy Corgan wants to actually rock (just wait, I'll contradict myself on that on within a week when we get to album #47, but the point stands). The album closer, "Hooligans for Life" has a triumphant vibe that perfectly sends you on your way. You can't listen to it and fail to have pep in your step.
The album was released on August 28, 2001. That's not the luckiest timing to launch a new outfit. The fair amount of attention and excitement surrounding these guys quickly evaporated. In many ways, this album is a tie to the previous decade. Because really how many post-hardcore bands can you think of after this one? The four band members all went on to "less intense" groups or solo projects after this, and the genre basically went with them. They've recently reunited, but I don't think they're going to make a trip to Buenos Aires anytime soon. Anyone who's seen them recently care to comment?
OK, so that's #50. We'll get to the rest day by day when I can find the time. Normally I'll embed videos, but since Universal Music Group is run by dickheads, you can't embed their videos. Still I recommend checking out:
Rival Schools - Used for Glue
Rival Schools - Good Things
I should note that if someone else were creating this list, they would have their own criteria, methodology, and reasoning. This list is not a poll of writers or blog contributors. I have not asked Kozy or Pmaz, Biz, and Jonas their opinions. They may very well create their own lists with their own reasons. But loyal readers also know my analytical nature that leads me to desire some structure for this endeavor. My criteria is simple. I care about M.E. --> my enjoyment. So when I say I am counting down the FtY official Top 50 albums of the 2000s, that means that these are the 50 albums that have given me the most over these past ten years. To be sure there is are quality releases that didn't make the cut, but when in doubt, I went back to the question, "How much did I get out of this record?" That made things a bit more simple. So, with all due respect to Radiohead and the decade that most would generally agree belongs to them, they're only getting one spot on this list. I won't reveal the whole thing until we actually get there, and we're going one album at a time. I hope you enjoy the ride.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
I'm not even going to ask what you thought of The Proposal or why you went to see it. I'll instead answer that while I found Billie Frechette to be horribly acted by Cotillard, I think she might be the ultimate two-face in the history of cinema. In occasional scenes, I thought she was rather fetching, but in others, well, for obvious reasons I really don't want to use the word "beat," so I'll just say she was "mousy." You must admit that she had her moments - at least during the brief bathtub scene. She certainly was better looking than Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, but, there, now, dammit, you made me think about Sandra and Ryan Reynolds again. Why do you torture me so?
I agree with you that I wanted more Chicago. The movie had a ton of close-ups, and that added to the immediacy of what was a somewhat slow-paced film. But did keep us from seeing a more glorious Chicago of the 1930s. Then again, spending too much time in the city would have risked pulling a Road to Perdition which showed a modern-day el train cruising around town, air conditioning and all. Still, there was enough to make me a bit homesick.
One of the things that really bothered me about this film was the artistic license. There were enough things that I knew to be false, I had to question everything (which, after reading up a bit, proved to be a correct assumption). The most blatant gaffe was that the police officers (whom Dillinger never actually visited in real life) were listening to a Cubs vs Yankees game in the middle of the summer. I may not be the baseball fan here, but even I know that's not possible. Turns out the Cubs were playing the Phillies that day. Furthermore, the "woman in red" wore "an orange skirt" in this adaptation. Why? What possible purpose is there to changing history that is a big part of the Dillinger legend? Maybe Mann wasn't worried about the details, but it did break the moment for me. I suppose they were trying to shoehorn a love story into the life of someone who was a known womanizer to make it play better. The final scene was a melodramatic way of wrapping things up, but it never actually happened because Dillinger never said a word in his last moments.
Again, I go back to the question of why they didn't try to make this movie say something. I'm not the first person to make this point, but we live in a time when the government is bailing out fatcats who are already wealthy while the economy fails for everyone all the same. I couldn't help but think that a great allegorical jab could be made at the situation. During The Great Depression, the fact that Dillinger was sticking it only to the rich and not behaving like a common thief was the big thrust of his popularity. You think if someone ganked Bernie Madoff's wife's jewlery and got away with it, the whole world wouldn't give him an "atta boy!"? Maybe Mann owns stock in Goldman Sachs...
It's a shame we couldn't have taken this one in together via the Brew N View at the Vic Theater on Sheffield. I think it would have been a lot more fun. Instead I had to shoot dirty looks at the Argentine teenagers in the row behind me that wouldn't stop giggling and kicking my chair. Unfortunately, my Spanish still isn't good enough to say, "Hey you sloppy fat chicks, I think you're in the wrong theater. G-Force is in the next one over." I tried thinking about it during all of Christian Bale's scenes, but without a Fernet con Coca to get my dander up, the words wouldn't come.
Stephen Dorff was in this one? I didn't even notice. Tell me more!
Without question there were factual errors in Public Enemies. It certainly distracted me when the cops were purportedly listening to a Cubbie game and the announcer mentioned the Yankees would come to bat next. Was there a Cubbie World Series appearance that I somehow had never learned about?
But I suppose Mann’s accuracy is open to some debate. Roger Ebert describes Mann’s research as “fearless,” and goes on to confirm that the Lady in Red is a myth and that “in real life she (Anna Sage) was wearing a white blouse and an orange skirt, as she does in the movie.”
I am not certain what is truth versus embellishment in Public Enemies, but I am willing to accept that almost every movie takes liberties to drive their story, even documentaries. Hell, we both just watched the preview for “The Blind Side,” I can only imagine how many liberties Sandy Bullock has taken with that “fearless” true story performance! (… and why do I keep talking about Sandy – someone needs to stop to this – please help me!!!)
As for Cotillard having “moments” of good lookingness, I’m saying, meh …. She certainly looked ‘beat’ in the interrogation scene. In the bathtub scene she looked ‘wet’. In the jailhouse scene she looked ‘sad’. And she had a nice accent switch to accentuate each mood.
I totally agree with you regarding the criticism of why Mann didn't try to make this movie say something. It seemed to me to be a no-brainer given this Robin-hood depression era story that a link to today’s financial and social turmoil would be prudent. Stick it to the rich and greedy I say!
In the end I think Public Enemies is a decent film with a great starring performance by Johnny Depp. I as well do not have a desire to see it again, nor have I recommended it to anyone who has asked me how I liked the movie. My typical response has been that if you like Depp and/or Mann, then you’ll find something to like about this movie, but it is certainly not a must see.
So what’s the countdown on The Blind Side? I read recently in an interview with Steven Soderbergh that his planned adaptation of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, to have starred Brad Pitt, fell through. So at least there is still a chance that one will turn out OK.
I hear you might make it to Amsterdam in September - maybe we’ll catch our next flick together!
Monday, August 10, 2009
Hey there Kozy!
For the first time in our joint reviewing efforts, we are faced with our own storied past as former Chicago residents. I must admit, that there were many moments in this film that made me think of home. From the old-timey el tracks, to street names that evoke so many memories, to the inevitable climax at the Biograph Theater. I trust we won't let our personal nostalgia factor cloud our objectivity here. I suppose I should also note that you and I have both have a history of general dissatisfaction with bio-pics. So perhaps that will even out the good feelings with the bad.
Throughout this movie, I couldn't help thinking about Michael Mann's Heat, a movie I've long adored, and seen countless times. The overlapping themes are obvious, but the stakes are higher with this movie. John Dillinger was a real guy who lived and died, and did some of the things we saw in this film. I had a lot of preconceptions about the story, as does anyone who's been to the Biograph (where you and I once watched South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut - Dillinger would be proud). But knowing the conclusion did not mean I was without curiosities. Surely the Dillinger character would be interesting, especially the fame he garnered as Public Enemy #1 who was both revered and vilified in his day. But I have to say, this film didn't fulfill those curiosities.
They could have taken two approaches: 1) Go for the gusto, ala Heat, putting some visually stunning and visceral bank heists and prison breaks. But each heist was basically the same (punch the security guards in the gut, grab the money and go). And the prison breaks actually took some historic liberties, but still didn't have over-the-top action. 2) Create a compelling character study or allegorical statement about a Robin Hood-esque figure. What made Dillinger tick was never addressed. He flatly says, "I rob banks" much like one would say "I am an accountant." Cursory mentions are given to the fact that many citizens found him to be more of a hero than villain, but the subject was never explored. The lack of either of these approaches left me feeling like there was no clear point to this movie. Did they think about giving it a real purpose?
The above concerns aside, Johnny Depp gave a superb performance. He really owned this movie every step of the way, even though he wasn't given much to work with. The dialogue was completely cliche, and hardly any of his supporting cast seemed to give much effort. For instance, I couldn't tell which of her seventeen accents Marion Cotillard was supposed to be the right one. I also couldn't tell whether Christian Bale mailed in this performance more than the one he gave in Terminator 4, but I suppose that will be the kind of thing scholars debate for decades to come. Every scene with Depp was at least interesting to watch, and every scene without him felt hacky to me.
I realize what I've written sounds overly negative. I did like this movie somewhat, even if I'm not clear why. I don't think I'll ever want to watch it again, though. But now I'm very curious about how you found it. Knowing your disdain for the bio-pics, I am anticipating venom more than generosity. What's your take?
It's been too long since our last movie repartee! It's been months since we shredded on Terminator 4 and since then I've seen Drag Me To Hell, Bruno, The Hangover and The Proposal. All four of those movies I looked forward to seeing more than Public Enemies. There was just something about the PE preview that did not engage me, not that it looked bad, but just that it did not look good. But this Sunday a bunch of my Eurotrash friends decided they really wanted to see a real Chicago movie, with gangsters in it! So who was I to deny them a glimpse into the history of our home town!
Sitting in the cinema pre-show I was bragging of Chicago's beauty, describing how the climatic action filled finale would go down in Lincoln Park. The storied neighborhood that played host to an important part of our early 20's drinking education. Ahhh .. .50 cent beers at Otis', wings at McGee's and hockey puck burgers at Kinkade's. My, what we we were willing to put up with for cheap beer!
As the action played out on screen, I tried hastily to point out 'this and that' about Chicago to friends, but if you didn't know the streets inside and out, this wasn't the kind of movie that was going to make you fall in love with the city. In fact, aside from a few important landmark scenes, this was a movie that may well have been shot in Toronto. That's how small of a role Chicago played in this one. I realize this is not Before Sunrise, but a bit more homage to Chicago would have been a good thing in my book.
Similar to the films locational ambiguity is the character ambiguity. Like you said, Dillinger's remark, "I rob banks" passes for character development in Public Enemies. You commented that I am not a fan of the bio-flick, which is of course true. But in many ways Public Enemies did not play like a bio flick, mostly because there was no bio. This was a cat and mouse story, where the cat (stick with me here ...) aka Christian Bale seems sleepy and in general lacking interest in the chase. Maybe if Michael Mann had allowed Bale to use that gravelly Batman voice he has grown so fond of we would have gotten a bit more emotion. Or perhaps the fault lies on Mann himself. By setting the film in the city of Chicago, Bale may have had slid into his sullen, aloof Batman character, for which Christopher Nolan stroked him lovingly. Anyways, back to the analogy ... Depp is of course the mouse with no real motive. Yes his dad beat him and his mom died, but not that he is interested in talking more about. Rather Dillinger is a hedonistic pleasure killing, prostitute fucking, sport robber.
But of course, this movie has strengths as well. In classic Mann style, there are some extended scenes, mostly of action, that are fantastic. This is really Mann's signature style and he plays it beautifully in Public Enemies. You correctly point out that the heists all play similarly, but the getaways certainly did not. The shootout in Sioux Falls, North Dakota, the stance at the Little Bohemia Lodge and of course Depp's long stroll through the police stations "Dillinger Headquarters" were all amazingly tense and Mann at his best.
By the stories end, Dillinger is already a relic. He represents the old and inefficient and needs to be helped to the side. Depp plays at this pitch perfect. For the first time Dillinger breaks all of his own rules, like running with people he does not trust or respect. Dillinger even agrees to the fatalistic notion of 'one last big score' and then moving on with his life. But of course, Dillinger has no exit strategy, or least he won't have one until he sees it first on the silver screen. And this movie obsession humanizes Depp's Dillinger and makes the movie quite watchable.
Ok, that was quite a ramble and I did not even mention Stephen Dorff, Billy Crudup or Giovanni Ribisi!!
Nor did I get to Marion Cotillard, whom I have to say is one of the least fetching leading ladies I have seen in a feature film. Aside from being French, I bet Johnny Depp was not thrilled with her selection as Billie Frechette. Do you agree?
Talk to you later!
That's the end of Part I. Tune in Wednesday when we'll conclude our review of Public Enemies wherein Andrew will debate Brad on the relative attractiveness of Oscar winner Marion Cotillard.
Previous A to Bs:
Terminator 4: Salvation
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
I originally wanted to write a Top Ten Best Cartoon Remakes, but then I realized that there would be a significant problem with that approach. Remakes of cartoons are nearly always dreadful at best. I am afraid that I must conclude that Michael Bay's first Transformers effort barely gets the nod over the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie as the best one ever made. Greatly begrudging and half-hearted kudos to you, Mr. Bay. The fact that these remakes are always a disappointment has not slowed their production. Aside from this week's sure to be atrocious plunge into the live-action world of GI Joe, here's an abridged list of other projects apparently on the docket: Voltron, Hong Kong Phooey, The Smurfs, Tom and Jerry, Marvin the Martian, Yogi Bear, Johnny Quest, Thundercats, The Last Airbender, He-Man, and The Jetsons. To be honest, that last one has me mildly intrigued. Maybe there's a reason they keep sucking us in to watch these dreadful things. Maybe we're all curious to see if the magic that dazzled us with only two dimensions when we were children can be translated to our adult frame of reference. Sadly, these movies seem to always fail for both fans of the series and those who've never heard of them before. You'll surely be irked at what didn't make the cut, but there's only room for ten. So let's get this over with already. The Top Ten Worst Live-Action Cartoon Remakes.
10. Underdog (2007)
Say what you want about the original Underdog cartoon. It was flimsy, repetitive and campy as hell, but at least it had character. After taking a pill, Shoeshine Boy would transform into Underdog and rescue his Sweet Polly Purebred from the nefarious Simon Bar Sinister. From the newsreel narration to Underdog's peppy attitude, its tone always delivered a smile to viewers' faces. But this Disney film is not interested in tone. It's hard to tell if it's interested in much of anything, actually. Casting a real beagle as Underdog is a questionable decision at best; in the series he always seemed more like a regular person who was born with floppy ears and a wet nose. Affected by a lab experiment gone awry, Underdog can suddenly talk and fly and accidentally blow things up. It all plays out like a cross between Benji and Blankman, except, you know, dumber. If they really wanted to make this a dumbed down kids film, they should have made a "Superdog" movie and called it Air Bud: Pooper Trooper. Or they could have gone in the other direction and hired Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. But this is family fare that will only serve to put your kids to sleep. Also, I freaking hate beagles (long story). Here's an example of the humor on display in this stupid movie:
9. Masters of the Universe (1987)
How do you translate a beloved, but somewhat insipid children's cartoon to the big screen in 1987? You bring the characters from Eternia to Earth of course. That way you don't need any elaborate sets or special effects. Also, you completely abandon most of the storyline, history, and characters from the original series because you think you can come up with something better - like soldiers in black helmets with machine guns (seriously). And of course, you hire Dolph Lundgren. The He-Man series was always a rather basic show, with Prince Adam and Cringer screwing around until Skeletor showed up with a cadre of evil dudes at which time Adam would transform into He-Man and save the day. But this film adaptation completely ignored the Prince Adam storyline. Instead the main characters are two high school sweethearts, one of whom is played by a young Courtney Cox. This movie exudes the notion that was made up as it went along, completely full of nonsensical preening and lacking the majority of the eccentric characters from the series. The funny thing is, as bad as this film was, the only thing that kiboshed a sequel was the high cost Mattell was charging for the rights to the characters.
8. Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
The one thing they did right with this movie was to hire three hot chicks. (Admit it. You thought Tara Reid was hot right up until she became Tara Reid.) Sadly, that's the only thing. The TV show always featured the band seemingly "covering" an episode of Scooby-Doo whereby they would foil some sinister villain's plot to destroy the world or steal a lot of money. In the film, the scheme is being perpetrated by their own record label and the US Government. But it's so incredibly stupid that it pains me to give the description. The whole idea is that the government is trying to make sure teens get the message that they should spend their hard-earned babysitting and lawn-mowing money to further the economy and embrace American consumerism. It's hard to tell if the filmmakers were trying to make a point because there were 73 separate companies that were involved with product placement in the film (though none of them paid for it). It's also hard to tell if they were trying to make a joke because there's not a single thing worth laughing at in the entire film. During their meteoric rise to superstardom, the girls get "catty" with each other before working out their differences. The end result is one of the most boring and credulous movies about the inner workings of pop music you could imagine. But hey, at least the music is horrendous:
7. Garfield (2004)
OK, let's start with the fact that outside of tracking down lasagna from the kitchen, Garfield isn't supposed to "do" anything. That's the whole point of his existence and the reason suburban 40-somethings paste his image on their cubicle walls. After a cursory look at his laziness, the majority of this film consists of Garfield running around town, trying to save Odie, a dog he hates. Bill Murray supplies Garfield's voice, a transgression for which he will be forgiven largely because he's Bill Murray and because it's only his voice, so nobody will casually recognize him while flipping across TBS. But worse than the nonsense surrounding the main character is the romantic subplot played out between Breckin Meyer and Jennifer Love Hewitt. After seeing Hewitt's The Tuxedo, I recently remarked to a friend that the most notable thing in the film is that Jackie Chan acts circles around her, and he can't even speak English. In this case, the real dog playing Odie easily outdoes them both, though this his hardly surprising. I realize making a movie out of a character that normally occupies our attention for three panels a day is a daunting challenge. But nobody held a gun to the heads of the filmmakers and demanded they take up such a challenge.
6. Mr. Magoo (1997)
It is tempting to believe that Leslie Nielsen was simply so old that he thought he would probably die soon after the success of The Naked Gun and its sequels and wanted to make as much money as he could as quickly as possible. How else can you explain appearing in Spy Hard, Surf Ninjas, Wrongfully Accused, and 2001: A Space Travesty? But of all the dreadful films he's made, none are more ill-conceived than Mr. Magoo. This might be the best existing example of Hollywood executive stupidity. If you're going to remake an old cartoon, at least choose one that people actually like. For those who don't know, Mr. Magoo is basically blind, but apparently is not aware of the severity his condition so he frequently mistakes one thing for another. What he believes to be a beautiful woman may in fact be a sunflower or a broom. He'll wander into a restaurant thinking it's a hospital or a zoo. Even though Nielsen is clearly not a picky man, I can't help but wonder if he was already method acting when he OK'd the script. Actually, if you're curious about this movie and want a laugh, the best thing to do is read Roger Ebert's review and save yourself 87 minutes. It's far more entertaining than anything in the film. Just watching the trailer is unbearable:
5. Inspector Gadget (1999)
This was probably an idea doomed from the start, but casting Matthew Broderick in the titular role certainly didn't help matters. Broderick can play the bumbling fool, but not an arrogantly incurious one. And since arrogant incuriousity was the whole point of the original series, it was clear that they weren't even aiming at the right target. The movie finds itself completely derailed from its source material, but has a myriad of other problems as well. Whoever thought it was a good idea to take a character who has a helicopter come out of his hat and "play it straight" had a couple screws loose. Instead of giving Gadget a wild series of clues to follow (with help from his niece Penny and her computer book), we get a maudlin backstory of a security guard who always wanted to be a police officer, and is also a really nice guy. After being nearly killed, they turn him into an android who then goes about saving the day and whatnot. It's like Robocop, but for comotose kids. Maybe they were trying to set up a series of films that would better follow the gleefully obtuse antics of the original series, but the film was such a disaster that the inevitable follow-up featuring French Stewart and went straight to DVD. Thank goodness. Trust me when I say that this video is better than any scene in the film. You're welcome:
4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
This is easily the biggest disappointment on the list. The story is as revered as they come, and the 1966 cartoon is replayed every Christmas with wide appreciation. A big-budget treatment directed by Ron Howard and starring Jim Carrey certainly seemed like a good idea. But its failings are as varied as they are consistent. Let's start with the glaringly obvious: the Whos down in Whoville look really freaking creepy. I felt the strong urge to look away every time one appeared onscreen. The original special was only 26 minutes, a running time that pretty much told the complete story. To stretch it into a feature film, various asinine plot points were included or adjusted. First of all, the Grinch has a past as one of the Whos, he has a love interest putting him in competition with the current mayor of Whoville, and little Cindy Lou Who has a weird fascination/friend crush on the Grinch. None of this makes any sense except to align the film with typical Ron Howardian sentimentalism and add minutes. But the biggest problem is that Jim Carrey does exactly what he was hired to do: act like a buffoon. That the majority of his scenes are shared solely with a dog only gives him more creative license. The Grinch was always more conniving than evil and in no way a clown. But Carrey hams it up way more than he did as The Mask. With all the plot changes and Carrey's mugging, they should have just made up a whole new set of characters and called it something else. It wouldn't have made the movie any better, but at least Theo Geisel's grave could stop spinning.
3. Scooby-Doo (2002)
You knew this would be a bad idea the moment you heard about it. While nobody would ever go as far as to call the cartoon "smart", at least it had a somewhat hair-raising edge to it. But of course, the live-action incarnation was directed at those 8 and under which meant all the spookiness, sense of fear, and pot jokes would be left out of the script. (Seriously, what exactly is in a Scooby-snack? Why do they crave them so much and become wildly paranoid after eating them? But I digress.) Combine that with the casting of Hollywood's "up and comers" in the four human roles and this thing was doomed from the first moment director Raja Gosnell said "Action." Matthew Lillard puts a lot of effort into his Shaggy voice, but aside from that, none of the principals can keep up with the CGI dog, and the plot is worse than any episode of the original series. Also, instead of the Harlem Globetrotters we get the band Sugar Ray. Things were so bad that I was longing for Scrappy Doo. Perhaps the movie's biggest crime is casting a hotter actress a Velma than the one they picked for Daphne. Whose idea was that? At least we can thank this film for lowering the profile of both Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar. So in that sense I suppose it's not completely worthless.
2. The Flintstones (1994)
Halle Berry in a cheetah bikini only gets you so far. This is the one that opened the floodgates and therefore deserves a huge chunk of the blame for this list's existence. Perhaps some movie producer stumbled upon Raising Arizona, heard John Goodman's ubiquitous screaming and realized he'd riff a good "Wiiiiillllllmaaaaaa." No matter what the impetus was for this project, you'd be hard pressed to think of a more boring way to spend an afternoon. Goodman's "acting" in this one consists mainly talking out of one side of his mouth, and he's not given the opportunity to pull off even the most modest of Fred's traditional crafty schemes. From a business standpoint, they were on to something as this dreadful piece of schlock netted over $350,000,000 worldwide (plus another $70,000,000 in rentals). That number probably overcame the considerable advertising budget. This is a complete waste of time for all involved, but especially for any poor viewer who's bothered to sit down and watch it. It gets high distinction on this list because its success opened led to most of the others. This clip is more entertaining than the movie itself. Working hard on those moves...
1. The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000)
This steamy mess of a disaster cost 76 million dollars to make, but only garnered 26 million at the box office. It also caused considerable damage to the reputation of producer and star Robert De Niro. Not only does it completely miss the entire point of the series, there's not a damn thing in this movie that remotely works. They apparently thought that putting famous names alongside the cartoon characters everyone knew and loved would be sufficient. In lieu of working on a real script they painted the scenes with broad, dumb strokes and happily called it a day. Every attempt at the tongue in cheek humor from the original series ended up failing in this movie. Instead we get terrible puns that are not played for laughs - just for the references themselves. Whoopi Goldberg's cameo as a judge who exclaims "Oh my God, it's Rocky and Bullwinkle!" pretty much sums up the approach to making this movie. Watch the trailer, realize that these are the best jokes they had, and you get the idea. Let's never speak of this again.