Sunday, May 6, 2012

My 100 Worst Favorite Movies, Part 3

Clifford – Critically mauled Martin Short vehicle in which he plays both an elderly priest and a 10-year-old boy (in a movie-length flashback which never loses its half-intended quasi-surrealism considering Short was well into his forties at the time) chronically obsessed with visiting the Dinosaur World theme park. Clifford’s uncle gets saddled with the problem child, who engages in woefully unfunny pranks like planting bombs. Similar to ‘What About Bob?’ in that it’s obnoxious and yet, at times, mesmerizing. God, it’s terrible. I’m not sure I can or even should defend it.

Con Air – Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Malkovich and Buscemi star in this overblown action film about a hijacked prison plane. I’m not a fan of producer Jerry Bruckheimer in general, but Con Air’s non-stop nonsense is so resourceful, lightning-paced and special-effect-laden that one forgets its total nonsense. Or one doesn’t care. The film tends to lose several stars if not seen while eating buttery popcorn.

The Crawling Eye – Also called The Trollenberg Terror, this is a vintage 1950’s black-and-white sci-fi B-movie about an alien invasion. The aliens, mind-controlling giant eyeballs with tentacles that hide in radioactive mountain-top clouds, are amongst my favorite monster designs of the period (up there with Fiend Without a Face). The film is somewhat schematic and plodding during the lulls, but the best parts are thrilling and the worst parts are funny.

Cruel Intentions – Filmmakers just love adapting Dangerous Liaisons, but since its 1782 inception it has too often been treated as high art period piece Literature and not as the salacious prurient-pleaser that it was in its day. Roger Vadim’s version comes close, but this 1999 modernization starring a cast of hot young stars (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon, Selma Blair, Sean Patrick Thomas and Tara Reid) takes the cake for sheer shamelessness. Watching this film at 15 I was openly salivating over the meat puppets (Gellar as a brunette *swoon*) and completely into the killer soundtrack while being perfectly comfortable ignoring the clunky script, weak development and forgettable mise-en-scene (not that I knew what that was). I don’t have my age as an excuse anymore, but it’s still the Dangerous Liaisons version that I’m most likely to rewatch and, even if a bit ironically nowadays, to enjoy.

Cube – A bunch of people with nothing in common wake up in a large cube made up of many smaller cubical rooms, some of which are booby-trapped to kill them in all sorts of nasty ways. They try to figure out why they are there and how to get out. A great example of keeping viewers intrigued with only a single set, little acting talent and less money. The incoherent sequel Hypercube ran with the tagline “The first one had rules,” in an interesting case of producers trying to market a film by highlighting its greatest flaw.

Danger: Diabolik! – Diabolik is a sexy daredevil master-thief living in the height of 1960’s Italian kitsch. With his beautiful wife, he stages outrageous capers and makes fools of the government and criminal underworld alike. Even destroying the country’s tax infrastructure and stealing a multi-ton boxcar of gold hardly breaks his stride. Mario Bava’s film is light as a feather, but the heists are actually quite cleverly conceived and executed (I’m a sucker for a good heist). The humor, fashion and momentum win childish grins and clapping from me. On a more technical level, I like the way Bava uses bright colors and strong horizontals and verticals to break up the image in a way that harkens back to its comic book origins.

Dark Star – Astronaut hippies, unwanted by the space program, are given smart bombs and sent on an interminable semi-pointless mission to implode stars that might be inconvenient for future colonizers. One of the smart bombs develops sentience and begins to question the nature of its existence, forcing the hippies into a philosophical argument for their lives. Carpenter’s first film is a zero-budget student project that frequently transcends its visibly humble roots. Dan O’Bannon, later of Alien and Total Recall fame, wrote the script and helped with the endearingly low-fi special effects.

Day of the Dolphin – Do-gooder husband and wife scientists try to teach dolphins how to talk until terrorists force them (the dolphins) to bomb the president’s yacht instead. It sounds ridiculous, but everyone plays it straight and I was hooked. George C. Scott and his real-life wife starred.  Prix Goncourt winner Robert Merle wrote it. Mike Nichols directed. I was apparently the only one who watched.

Deadly Circuit – Isabelle Adjani stars as a black widow killer hunted by The Eye (Michel Serrrault), a detective who has lost his daughter. In an odd twist, The Eye develops romantic/fatherly feelings for the murderer, whom he has never actually met, and begins to cover her tracks rather than pursue her arrest. When she falls in love with one of her prospective victim, relinquishing her life of crime, The Eye can’t take it and must act to restore their doomed trajectory. It is, perhaps, a throwaway thriller, but the unusual touches in the script by a young Jacque Audiard (later a fantastic director in his own right) and the cast (I can watch Adjani in anything and often times do) make this work for me.

Dear Wendy – Much-loathed critique of American gun fetishism by uneven Danish director Thomas Vinterberg. A group of misfit teens becomes a tightknit club of friends through a shared fixation on antique firearms and foppish wardrobes, but their idealistic code of honor is no match for simply human failings. Predictably, blood will flow. Over-stylized, misdirected, insincere, self-indulgent and hypocritical (given its own capitalization on violence), this is still a film that I feel has a timely story to tell, points worth mulling, a cast with chemistry and a presentation that catches the eye.

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