TROUBLE CITY

CHUD'S 50 BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS, DAY 7

Movie NewsJeremy SmithComment


Welcome to the next CHUD List.

We've tackled our essentials list and the continued revelation of our Kills List from 2003, and now that we've begun the beguine, we must continue. Behold:

The CHUD.com Top 50 Disappointments.

A quick word on the criteria. We could very easily have spent this whole article discussing sequels and prequels and adaptations of television shows and called it a day. Instead, we tried to go a different route. Also, from a master list of over 100, the involved parties (Devin, Jeremy, Micah, Russ, and myself) all killed off a choice for each one we claimed. As a result, we'll run a big list at the end of this of the 'ones that got away'. So, here is day one of many where we chronicle the 50 Biggest Disappointments. Two a day, every week day for five weeks. In no particular order:

http://chud.com/nextraimages/bonfireofthevanities.jpg#38 - Bonfire of the Vanities (1990. dir. Brian De Palma)

Brian De Palma wasn't exactly riding high in 1990. His passion project, Casualties of War, had just tanked the previous year, effectively wiping out the commercial goodwill built up three years prior by what was then his biggest box office success, The Untouchables. It was a major blow to a filmmaker who, try as he might, could never consistently connect with the mainstream. So when the opportunity arose to bring Tom Wolfe's celebrated New York City satire, The Bonfire of the Vanities, to the big screen, De Palma threw himself into the project - even though Michael Cristofer's multiple drafts of the screenplay kept missing the mark as the film neared production.

De Palma was better suited to the material than most think; there's always been a satirical bent to his work, stretching back to the beginning of his career with the wild duo of Greetings and Hi, Mom! But De Palma had no time to adequately tailor Wolfe's novel to his sensibilities (the studio was adamant about hitting a Christmas 1990 release date despite a rougher than expected pre-production), and the result was a head-on collision of diametrically opposed tones. Even for fans of the director (and even if you don't much care for the novel), The Bonfire of the Vanities is a complete disaster. Miscast from the top down and played as broad satire ala Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (a key point of reference for De Palma), the movie lurches from scene to scene acquiring little in the way of narrative momentum or coherence. Tom Hanks was a few years away from being able to project the pomposity necessary to make "Master of the Universe" Sherman McCoy's downfall dramatically viable, and he is awful in the film, but performances are almost beside the point in a movie this discombobulated.

The problem is one of ideology: Wolfe is a conservative and De Palma is a liberal. And Hollywood is chickenshit, which explains the tacked-on happy ending. What you get is an underdeveloped movie rushed into production by a studio giddy for Oscar glory. The movie itself is the ultimate act of vanity. And, yet, it's absolutely worth seeing if only for the masterful opening tracking shot that follows Bruce Willis's drunken journalist from a parking garage all the way up to the lobby of the World Trade Center (a moment that's obviously gained some unexpected poignancy over the years). It's the perfect first scene of a classic satire De Palma had no shot at nailing. - Jeremy

Travesty Scale (1-10): 10 out of 10

http://chud.com/nextraimages/dominionposter50.jpg#37 - Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist (2005. dir. Paul Schrader)

If you’re any kind of movie nerd, your knee-jerk reaction to the idea that a movie by a revered veteran of the 70s Golden Age of American film was suppressed and then reshot by a grotesquely hacktacular and mildly competent director should be to believe that the original film is a buried gem, a true treasure that the money-changing Visigoths wouldn’t understand if it spit pea soup in their faces. That was the situation with Paul Schrader’s Exorcist prequel, a movie that was mostly finished and then shelved, with financers Morgan Creek bringing on the auteur behind Mindhunters and Cutthroat Island, Renny Harlin, to redo most of the work that Schrader had done. The word was Schrader’s film was a grown-up horror movie, about the terrors of moral ambiguity and philosophical scares as opposed to cheap, The Ring-inspired jump scares.

So when Schrader’s version was made public (after Harlin’s disaster), it was easy to expect a magnum opus, a vision of evil from one of the most twisted and gifted minds in film. After all, Schrader had written Taxi Driver and The Last Temptation of Christ, and just mashing those together would make for a nice ontological horror movie. Of course he wasn’t writing the film, but his directorial efforts, like Mishima: A Life in Four Parts and Affliction, showed him to be exactly the man to explore murky moral issues. And then there was his whole life – Schrader had been raised strictly Calvinist, and hadn’t been allowed to even watch movies until his teens. A religious horror film from a man who had lived religious horror? How could Dominion not be amazing?

Pretty easily, it turned out. Looking back at my original review I can see the disappointment just dripping off the words; I’m trying to keep up a good face and focus on the positive aspects of the movie, but there’s no escaping the conclusion that not only is Dominion not the movie I wanted to see, it wasn’t a particularly good movie after all. A disappointing movie isn’t necessarily all bad - hell, Dominion is miles better than Harlin's truly painful version - it just doesn’t live up to hopes. Dominion not only didn’t live up to the hopes we had before seeing the movie, but the film itself falls apart slowly, reel by reel, until it reaches a perfunctory climax that just couldn’t have been satisfying to anyone. Schrader has the pieces he needs, with a Father Merrin tormented by a strong central moral dilemma, perfect fodder for Pazuzu (if not a perfect Pazuzu - the movie may have been doomed from the moment it was decided to make the devil look like The Man Who Fell to Earth), but it's like he never figures out how to make those pieces work together. The most disappointing thing about Dominion is that there’s the inkling of a strong movie in there somewhere, but whether because of Morgan Creek’s meddling or the fact that Schrader just didn’t have it in him, the one that ended up in release was weak and flawed and ultimately just kind of bad. - Devin

Travesty Scale (1-10): 6 out of 10

Previously Disappointing:
The Ladykillers
Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Bram Stoker's Dracula
Ultraviolet

New York, New York
Billy Bathgate

Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Willow

Superman Returns
Blade: Trinity
Art School Confidential
Lifeforce

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