Bah, and indeed, humbug. While we like to spread Christmas cheer with our celebrations of the year gone by, we’d also be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge some of the catastrophes of the last 12 months. If we had our way, the perpetrators of these heinous crimes would be boiled with their own Christmas puddings and buried with stakes of holly through their hearts. Or if that’s a bit harsh, maybe they should just be given a stern talking to and have their mince pies confiscated. Here's the parade of cinematic shame...
With this and Dracula Untold, it was not a good year for classic monsters. Stuart Beattie, the writer of 30 Days Of Night and the original Pirates Of The Caribbean made his directorial debut with the rather good, little-seen Tomorrow When The War Began, but sadly, he followed it up with this lumpen PG-13 wannabe goth-horror franchise based on a comic by the guy that wrote Underworld. Frankenstein’s monster emerges from a century in hiding to act as a sort of chosen one in an aeons-old battle between, ahem, demons and gargoyles. Those who saw it would have been pleased to wake up for a few minutes to see an amused-looking Bill Nighy, before nodding right back off to sleep again for the next murky CG battle. All that said, it’s still not as bad as Van Helsing.
A New York Winter’s Tale
People spoke about this in a sort of awestruck daze of disbelief - but not in a good way. Akiva Goldsman’s fairy tale directorial debut is in many ways laudable for its utter strangeness and bizarre stirring of ingredients, but anyone who endured the sequence in which our heroes escape from the cops on a smart-arse flying horse, or the interminable latter third in the modern setting, or Russell Crowe’s entire performance, is probably not willing to cut it much slack. The stars were not aligned here.
Postman Pat: The Movie
Where to start? We’d suggest the Postman Pat movie you'd expect would involve the residents of Greendale banding together to prevent the closure of the local post office where it all began - a gentle affair about community spirit, in other words, though there would be some quiet political undertones. Mrs. Goggins, perhaps, could lead some sort of Occupy movement in the form of a knit-in, opposing the dastardly bowler-hatted financial types arguing that closing valuable local amenities is a necessary thing.
So what did we get? Pat goes on The X Factor. "What do people like...?", wondered a marketing focus group of earth-shattering and depressing witlessness. People like The X Factor. That's what people like. So Pat discovers he can sing and is replaced by evil robots run by a Bond villain who wants to take over the world. Because, reasoned the marketing focus group, if there’s one thing toddlers will like even more than Pat going on The X Factor, it’s a megalomaniac intent on global domination, and Jess being transformed into a terrifying helter-skelter-eyed Terminator. Sweet dreams, kiddly-winks!
Grace Of Monaco
Olivier Dahan called the Weinstein cut of his biopic “catastrophic”, but it’s hard to imagine that Grace Of Monaco is any good in any version. For masochistic reasons beyond our ken, Nicole Kidman fancied a slice of Naomi Watts’ Diana action and joined Tim Roth, Frank Langella, Parker Posey and Derek Jacobi in a cast that looked very impressive on paper. On screen, however, it was an entirely different story. The end result proved chortle-inducing and rarely less than historically risible. “It’s cinema,” said Dahan in his own defence. Not often, thankfully.
Pudsey The Dog: The Movie
It’s a film about a performing dog-turned panto star from Britain’s Got Talent. What were we expecting?
A Million Ways To Die In The West
You knew it was in trouble when Seth MacFarlane had to parachute Ted into the trailers to explain who he was. Liam Neeson was the bad guy, but hubris was the real villain here, with MacFarlane pouring his newfound power into a self-starring comedy Western. Self-indulgent to the tune of an exhausting two-hour length, it focused less on rambunctious old-West action tomfoolery than on the no-chemistry romance between MacFarlane and Charlize Theron. The supporting cast was strong, but when your most memorable sequence is Neil Patrick Harris shitting at some length into a hat… you’ve got problems.
Christopher Nolan's regular cinematographer Wally Pfister’s directorial debut suffered from 'High Concept/Dull Execution' syndrome. The added problem was that the whole thing is essentially The Lawnmower Man, which wasn’t very good the first time, although it didn’t help that the usually reliable Johnny Depp appeared to be sleep-walking through his own performance.
There are moments right at the beginning of the RoboCop remake where it looks like it’s heading in the right direction. ED-209 units and robot soldiers oppressing the streets of Tehran as part of an American ‘Operation Freedom’ seems like a clever inheritance of Paul Verhoeven’s biting satire, while an ED-209’s overkill massacre of a child clutching nothing but a knife smartly gets us to the same place as poor Mr. Kinney’s death in the boardroom. Sadly the rest of the movie is just a watered-down retread of the film we watched 25 years ago, with the odd embarrassing image like Robo running through a rice paddy or Murphy hanging suspended in a lab as just a head and a pair of lungs. Corporate swine Michael Keaton and bullyboy annoyance Jackie Earle Haley aside, there’s no notable villain either. That Antoine Vallon sure ain’t no Clarence Boddicker.
Mrs. Brown’s Boys D'Movie
It’s Brendan O’Carroll in drag as an Irish mammy who falls down and says “feck” a lot. Oh, and as a Chinese caricature running a school for blind ninjas for good measure. Everyone knew this and yet sentient people went in their thousands all the same, with D'Movie making more money at the box office in its first few days than Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa’s entire run. Ouch.
The Book Thief
Markus Zusak’s novel reaches the screen as a twee project buried under the weight of its own self-importance. Self-consciously “Oscar-y”, it has nice cinematography and some okay performances, but shies away from the horrors of World War II and orphaned protagonist Liesel’s situation, even as the Nazis perform house-to-house searches around her or a child flounders in an icy river. The novel’s Grim Reaper narration is also mangled as an intrusive voiceover. This is unfortunate since it’s kind of the whole point.
Need For Speed
As with his previous Act Of Valor – a film of eye-popping awfulness – director and former stuntie Scott Waugh here gives all his attention to the practical action and approximately none to the screenplay. So the car chases are adequate, but there’s no framework to really hang them on, barring a skeletal plot about Aaron Paul having a long way to go and a short time to get there. Imogen Poots gets possibly the worst, most inconsistently and haplessly written female role of the year.
Paul Haggis aims for another large cast, multi-strand narrative like the Oscar-winning Crash, but forgets to create any characters we like or care about. The characters he does create are then to be gloomy for 150 minutes. It’s a weakness.
Men, Women & Children
Ham-fisted hand-wringing about teenage life as it’s lived through social media. The dialogue is unlikely, the moral lessons overbearing, and the outcomes obvious. As a TV movie-of-the-week it’d be unremarkable, but as a film by the usually reliable and often inspired Jason Reitman, it’s perplexing. He usually has something to say, but he struggles to find any points here other than the bleedin’ obvious. LOL.
The Other Woman
Somehow both a three-hander where only two of the leads have anything to do, and a revenge comedy where the revenge is feeble (Trick shampoo! Paperwork!), with its USP being that there aren’t any laughs. For the second time in this list, the image that will stay with you is a character (in this case a dog) experiencing a call of nature. More than one critic pointed out that the careful effects work that went into his leavings kind of functions as a metaphor for the whole movie.
Empire was on a plane recently where the most ubiquitous films on the screens around the cabin were overwhelmingly 300: Rise Of An Empire and this. As in-flight entertainment goes, it's not as fun as watching the plane move across the map.