TROUBLE CITY

CHUD'S 50 BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS, DAY 23

Movie NewsMicah RobinsonComment


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/blowpos.jpg#6 - Blow (2001. dir. Ted Demme)

After Scorsese’s Casino arrived to its own share of relative disappointment in 1995, there was a gaping hole left in the “charged crime biopic” lane that Marty had carved out much to our collective delight. For anybody to even think about stepping in those shoes and putting on that suit, they’d have to have a rare combination of chops, vision, and talented actors to bring to the table. In all fairness, Ted Demme was certainly up to the challenge when he made Blow six years later. He had established himself as a top-notch workingman director, able to turn out rock solid pictures rich with characterization and heart (Beautiful Girls, The Ref). Now, it was his time to deliver a signature film that would establish his name once and for all. In telling the story of the film – the rise of cocaine in America through the eyes of one notorious mid-level trafficker – he certainly wasn’t hurting in the vision department, and with the film firmly planted atop the capable shoulders of Johnny Depp and a powerful ensemble cast (Ray Liotta, Cliff Curtis, Franka Potente), acting wouldn’t be a problem. There was one secret ingredient to the Scorsese formula, however, that Demme definitely never got a handle on, and that is while ace filmmaking and vivid performances can make a good film great, there’s little to nothing that one can do to make a dull man’s story fascinating.

Although Blow has more than a few flaws, its chief one, much less cited than Demme’s blatant co-opting of Scorsese’s crime biopic style for his own, is that the Depp’s George Jung is about as conventional and one-note a character as you can get. It’s through no fault of Depp’s, bringing his A-game with a nicely restrained Boston accent (see Kevin Costner in Thirteen Days for ample proof of how badly this can go) and an appropriately quiet demeanor to a bland role that many actors would be tempted to ham up over the course of the film’s two-hour running time. Instead, the blame has to lie with Demme for giving us a glimpse into the equivalent of a championship game starring a legend (Pablo Escobar) and then sticking us with the shittiest tickets and worst vantage point possible. Through the film’s events and his voiceover narration, we can clearly see that Boston George himself is nothing more than a bemused observer who happened to chance upon a connection to Escobar, thereby giving him first crack at giving rappers’ current favorite product a stranglehold here in America. Thus, we’re stuck with a slacker of a narrator while more potent characters like his “friend” Diego and Escobar go about their infinitely more interesting lives. When they’re not onscreen, you can feel the air leaking out the film. There’s a well-worn rise-and-fall, three-act template that the movie follows, but with Jung having such crappy taste in confederates and lovers, the “fall” portion of that equation, brought on by a myriad of telegraphed betrayals, just isn’t worth the time or effort. The final bum notes come from scenes of George struggling through dysfunctional relationships with his conflicted parents and, finally, his neglected daughter. Because Demme builds his drug opera to climax with the resolutions to these domestic struggles, he essentially wants to wash away the grimy, guilty pleasure of the previous 90 minutes with a final reel of weepy melodrama meant to somehow redeem George as an unlucky, but still worthwhile dad/son. But we know it’s a too-little/too-late lie, and Demme’s inability to reconcile these disparate parts of his life show that that while he loved Marty’s films, he apparently misunderstood them and why they worked.

It’s become trite to simply dismiss Blow as nothing more than Diet-Scorsese, but it’s also inaccurate. That would imply that he rendered a lighter, yet faithful version of the Goodfellas formula when he actually fundamentally changed it for the worse. A much better analog would be New Coke.

- Micah

Travesty Scale (1-10): 5 out of 10

 #5 - The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996. dir. John Frankenheimer)

The most popular topic on message boards about the state of the film industry is the prevalence of remakes. ‘Why, oh why can’t they just come up with good stories?’, we all whine. The simple truth is that Hollywood has always been about the remake -– you think John Huston was the first to take a crack at The Maltese Falcon? – and sometimes the remake can be quite relevant, by spinning a familiar story according to the prevailing attitudes of the day.

Other times, however, the remake becomes a near-apocalyptic mess. And still further, there’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, which is to the apocalypse what a rotting abscess is to a mosquito bite.

Just look at that cast. Kilmer. Brando. Thewlis. Temuera Morrison. Hell, Hootkins and Dacascos! All in the service of fun monster make-up and genetic experiments. With off-kilter South African filmmaker Richard Stanley at the typewriter and manning the helm, this could have been so much fun.

And while, at this point, there was little reason to defend Richard Stanley as some great auteur, at least he was interesting. Hardware was a fun, flawed movie and the recent DVD of Dust Devil at long last proves it to be a solid, intriguing genre offering. I love Kilmer and at this point was willing to give Brando the benefit of the doubt, but the real reason I wanted to see Moreau was Richard Stanley.

Then came the fights.

Followed by Frankenheimer, who couldn’t keep a handle on his bored cast.

So Brando wore a champagne bucket on his head.

Call it high (unintentional) comedy. Call it a tribute to the self-indulgence of stars and the cowardice of a studio unable to manage its investment. You can even call it a good excuse for covering your face in Gold Bond powder as a cheap last-minute Halloween costume. But beyond whatever sort of willful interpretation you want to offer, at the end of the day Moreau is a turgid, stinking carcass of a once vibrant idea. And you thought they smelled bad on the outside!

I feel almost bad that this is the second Frankenheimer film on the list, but this is only partially his fault. In fact, I almost passed on titling this entry after the film – I was really tempted to just call it Brando’s Last Decade. You can call Don Juan DeMarco watchable and even entertaining, but there’s very little justification for this, The Brave or The Score. Especially The Score. (That’s a surefire Disappointments Addendum right there.) But if I’d done that, this would have to be a ranked list, with the end of Brando’s career sitting at number one. We’ve seen the mighty fall before and since (Welles, DeNiro, et al) but none hit the ground with such a dull, awful thud as Brando. It’s movies like these that actually made me glad to hear he’d passed on. - Russ

Travesty Scale (1-10): 9 out of 10

Previously Disappointing:

Official Message Board Discussion.