Maps to the Stars
David Cronenberg's film of Bruce Wagner's Hollywood satire-nightmare turns ludicrous situations into operatic tragedy.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sometimes, Roger Ebert is exposed to bad movies. When that happens, it is his duty -- if not necessarily his pleasure -- to report them (fairly, accurately) as he sees them. Whether they're so bad they're funny, so bad they're not funny, or so unfunny they're not funny, he must critique them. From bad Elvis to Deuce Bigalow, these are excerpts from reviews of some of the worst movies he's ever seen. (Click on the titles for the full reviews.) It's not just their measly ratings -- from zero to 1.5 stars -- but what Ebert has to say about them that really conveys their true awfulness.
We professional movie critics count it a banner week when only one movie involves eating, falling into or being covered by excrement (or a cameo appearance by Carson Daly). We are not prudes. We are prepared to laugh. But what these movies, including "Joe Dirt," often do not understand is that the act of being buried in crap is not in and of itself funny.
I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.
Add it all up, and what you've got here is a waste of good electricity. I'm not talking about the electricity between the actors. I'm talking about the current to the projector.
"Mad Dog Time" is the first movie I have seen that does not improve on the sight of a blank screen viewed for the same length of time. Oh, I've seen bad movies before. But they usually made me care about how bad they were. Watching "Mad Dog Time" is like waiting for the bus in a city where you're not sure they have a bus line.... "Mad Dog Time" should be cut into free ukulele picks for the poor.
The movie resolutely avoids all the comic possibilities of its situation, and becomes one more dumb high school comedy about sex gags and prom dates.... Through superhuman effort of the will, I did not walk out of "The Hot Chick," but reader, I confess I could not sit through the credits. The MPAA rates this PG-13. It is too vulgar for anyone under 13, and too dumb for anyone over 13.
"Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo" makes a living prostituting himself. How much he charges I'm not sure, but the price is worth it if it keeps him off the streets and out of another movie. "Deuce Bigalow" is aggressively bad, as if it wants to cause suffering to the audience. The best thing about it is that it runs for only 75 minutes.... Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.
The movie doesn't work, but was there any way this material could ever have worked? My guess is that African Americans will be offended by the movie, and whites will be embarrassed. The movie will bring us all together, I imagine, in paralyzing boredom.
This is an old idea, beautifully expressed by Wordsworth, who said, "Heaven lies about us in our infancy." If I could quote the whole poem instead of completing this review, believe me, we'd all we happier. But I press on.
I should be a good sport and go along with the joke. But the joke is not funny. The movie is not funny. If it's this easy to get a screenplay filmed in Hollywood, why did they bother with that Project Greenlight contest? Why not ship all the entries directly to Larry Brezner, Michael Fottrell and Walter Hamada, the producers of "Sorority Boys," who must wear Santa suits to work?
The Spice Girls are easier to tell apart than the Mutant Ninja Turtles, but that is small consolation: What can you say about five women whose principal distinguishing characteristic is that they have different names? They occupy "Spice World" as if they were watching it: They're so detached they can't even successfully lip-synch their own songs.
In taking his name off the film, Arthur Hiller has wisely distanced himself from the disaster, but on the basis of what's on the screen I cannot, frankly, imagine any version of this film that I would want to see. The only way to save this film would be to trim 86 minutes.
Do I have something visceral against Adam Sandler? I hope not. I try to keep an open mind and approach every movie with high hopes. It would give me enormous satisfaction (and relief) to like him in a movie. But I suggest he is making a tactical error when he creates a character whose manner and voice has the effect of fingernails on a blackboard, and then expects us to hang in there for a whole movie.
How to account for the fact that Larry David is one of the creators of "Seinfeld''? Maybe he works well with others. I can't easily remember a film I've enjoyed less. "North,'' a comedy I hated, was at least able to inflame me with dislike. "Sour Grapes'' is a movie that deserves its title: It's puckered, deflated and vinegary. It's a dead zone.
It's a retread of a sitcom that ran from about 1979 to 1985, years during which I was able to find better ways to pass my time. Yes, it is still another TV program I have never ever seen. As this list grows, it provides more and more clues about why I am so smart and cheerful.... Bo and Luke are involved in a mishap that causes their faces to be blackened with soot, and then, wouldn't you know, they drive into an African-American neighborhood, where their car is surrounded by ominous young men who are not amused by blackface, or by the Confederate flag painted on the car. I was hoping maybe the boyz n the hood would carjack the General, which would provide a fresh twist to the story, but no, the scene sinks into the mire of its own despond.
"She's Out of Control" (1989)
What planet did the makers of this film come from? What assumptions do they have about the purpose and quality of life? I ask because "She's Out of Control" is simultaneously so bizarre and so banal that it's a first: the first movie fabricated entirely from sitcom cliches and plastic lifestyles, without reference to any known plane of reality.
Judging by their dialogue, Oliver and Emily have never read a book or a newspaper, seen a movie, watched TV, had an idea, carried on an interesting conversation or ever thought much about anything. The movie thinks they are cute and funny, which is embarrassing, like your uncle who won't stop with the golf jokes.... Later they Meet Cute again, walk into a bar, drink four shots of Jack Daniel's in one minute, and order a pitcher of beer. No, they're not alcoholics. This is just Movie Behavior; for example, at first she smokes and then she stops and then she starts again. That supplies her with a Personality Characteristic.
"Tommy Boy" is one of those movies that plays like an explosion down at the screenplay factory. You can almost picture a bewildered office boy, his face smudged with soot, wandering through the ruins and rescuing pages at random. Too bad they didn't mail them to the insurance company instead of filming them.
This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.
Hideous horror & science afflictions
She becomes Catwoman, but what is a catwoman? She can leap like a cat, strut around on top of her furniture, survive great falls and hiss. Berry looks great doing these things, and spends a lot of time on all fours, inspiring our almost unseemly gratitude for her cleavage. She gobbles down tuna and sushi. Her eyes have vertical pupils instead of round ones. She sleeps on a shelf. The movie doesn't get into the litter box situation. What does she think about all of this?
Of the many threats to modern man documented in horror films -- the slashers, the haunters, the body snatchers -- the most innocent would seem to be the druids. What, after all, can a druid really do to you, apart from dropping fast-food wrappers on the lawn while worshipping your trees?
I wonder how Ben learned English. I seem to recall from "Willard," last summer's big rat movie, that Willard trained Ben to heel, beg, roll over, play dead and sic Ernest Borgnine. Not bad for a rat. But when did Ben learn English? It takes Berlitz six weeks of intensive training to get a French businessman to the point where he can proposition a girl on Rush St. -- and here's Ben learning instinctively.
It is also the kind of movie where the sun god Ra, who has harnessed the ability to traverse the universe at the speed of light, still needs slaves to build his pyramids. And where the local equivalent of a Nubian princess is sent into the chamber of the Earth visitors, to pleasure them. Don't tell me there aren't any coincidences. The movie "Ed Wood," about the worst director of all time, was made to prepare us for "Stargate."
The shatterproof glass cages, we learn, are engraved with ''containment spells'' that keep the ghosts inside. You can see the ghosts with special glasses, which the cast is issued; when they see them, we see them, usually in shots so maddeningly brief we don't get a good look. Our consolation, I guess, is that the cast has the glasses but we will have the pause button when ''13 Ghosts'' comes out on DVD. The only button this movie needs more than pause is delete.
The forces of hell manifest themselves in many ways. One victim is eaten by flies. A young girl is possessed by a devil, and Constantine shouts, "I need a mirror! Now! At least three feet high!" He can capture the demon in the mirror and throw it out the window, see, although you wonder why supernatural beings would have such low-tech security holes.
But . . . what IS the Devil's Rain? This is a question frequently asked in "The Devil's Rain" and, believe me, frequently answered. Picture it this way: All the good things of life are on one side of a sheet of plate glass, and you're on the other, and it's raining on your side, bunky.
"Critters 2: The Main Course" is a movie about furry little hand puppets with lots of teeth, who are held up to salad bars by invisible puppeteers while large numbers of actors scream and pronounce unlikely dialogue.
The owner of the ship (Anthony Heald) makes several speeches boasting about how stable it is; it can stay level even during a raging tempest. I wonder if those speeches were inserted after the filmmakers realized how phony their special effects look. Every time we see the ship, it's absolutely immobile in the midst of churning waves.
These people are not very bright. They are so dumb, in fact, that they have had to learn to speak the English language by watching old AIP exploitation movies, and their dialog is eight years out of date. They talk like Frankie Avalon trying to pass for hip, translated from the German. Count Khorda (for such is his name) makes them a proposition: "Would you like to trade a lifetime of petty passions for an eternity of ecstasy," They would, I guess. Well, wouldn't you?
The movie takes place in a future world in which all civilization has been reduced to a few phony movie sets. Leather-clad neo-Nazis stalk through the ruins, beating each other senseless and talking in Pulpspeak, which is like English, but without the grace and modulation. It's cold in the future, and it's wet, but never so cold or wet that the costumes do not bare the arm muscles of the men and the heaving bosoms of the women.
"Halloween III" ("Season of the Witch")
The one saving grace in "Halloween III" is Stacey Nelkin, who plays the heroine. She has one of those rich voices that makes you wish she had more to say and in a better role. But watch her, too, in the reaction shots: When she's not talking, she's listening. She has a kind of rapt, yet humorous, attention that I thought was really fetching. Too bad she plays her last scene without a head.
OK, say you do succeed in blowing up an asteroid the size of Texas. What if a piece the size of Dallas is left? Wouldn't that be big enough to destroy life on Earth? What about a piece the size of Austin? Let's face it: Even an object the size of that big Wal-Mart outside Abilene would pretty much clean us out, if you count the parking lot.
"Resident Evil" is a zombie movie set in the 21st century and therefore reflects several advances over 20th century films. For example, in 20th century slasher movies, knife blades make a sharpening noise when being whisked through thin air. In the 21st century, large metallic objects make crashing noises just by being looked at.
But zombies themselves are not interesting, because all they do is stagger and moan. As I observed in my review of the first film, "they walk with the lurching shuffle of a drunk trying to skate through urped Slushees to the men's room."
There is nothing wrong with the title "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever" that renaming it "Ballistic" would not have solved. Strange that they would choose such an ungainly title when, in fact, the movie is not about Ecks versus Sever but about Ecks and Sever working together against a common enemy -- although Ecks, Sever and the audience take a long time to figure that out.
Hiring Travolta and Whitaker was a waste of money, since we can't recognize them behind pounds of matted hair and gnarly makeup. Their costumes look like they were purchased from the Goodwill store on the planet Tatooine. Travolta can be charming, funny, touching and brave in his best roles; why disguise him as a smelly alien creep? The Psychlos can fly between galaxies, but look at their nails: Their civilization has mastered the hyperdrive but not the manicure.
"Kirsty!" we hear. And "Tiffany!" And "Kirsty!!!" and "Tiffany!!!" And "Kirstiyyyyyyy!!!!!" And "Tiffanyyyyyyy!!!!!" I'm afraid this is another one of those movies that violates the First Rule of Repetition of Names, which states that when the same names are repeated in a movie more than four times a minute for more than three minutes in a row, the audience breaks out into sarcastic laughter, and some of the ruder members are likely to start shouting "Kirsty!" and "Tiffany!" at the screen.
To call it an anticlimax would be an insult not only to climaxes but to prefixes. It's a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It Was All a Dream. It's so witless, in fact, that when we do discover the secret, we want to rewind the film so we don't know the secret anymore.
Sex, romance, music, drama and other crap
The film version imagines all of the events leading up to the adultery, photographed in the style of those "Playboy's Fantasies" videos. It adds action: Indians, deadly fights, burning buildings, even the old trick where the condemned on the scaffold are saved by a violent interruption. And it converts the Rev. Dimmesdale from a scoundrel into a romantic and a weakling, perhaps because the times are not right for a movie about a fundamentalist hypocrite. It also gives us a red bird, which seems to represent the devil, and a shapely slave girl, who seems to represent the filmmakers' desire to introduce voyeurism into the big sex scenes.
"The Skulls" is one of the great howlers, a film that bears comparison, yes, with "The Greek Tycoon" or even "The Scarlet Letter." It's so ludicrous in so many different ways it achieves a kind of forlorn grandeur. It's in a category by itself.
"Flashdance" is like a movie that won a free 90-minute shopping spree in the Hollywood supermarket. The director (Adrian Lynn, of the much better "Foxes") and his collaborators race crazily down the aisles, grabbing a piece of "Saturday Night Fever," a slice of "Urban Cowboy," a quart of "Marty" and a 2-pound box of "Archie Bunker's Place." The result is great sound and flashdance, signifying nothing.
There is an Irishman named Muldoon, a doubting journalist, a Negro, a little refugee kid with a pet dog, a hard-bitten veteran and the rest of the stock characters who fight every war for us. Everybody is there except the Jewish kid from the Bronx and the guy named Ole with a Swedish accent.
A case can be made for the movie, but it would involve transforming the experience of viewing the film (which is excruciatingly boring) into something more interesting, a fable about life and death. Just as a bad novel can be made into a good movie, so can a boring movie be made into a fascinating movie review.
The screenplay is so murky, indeed, that I was never sure whether the Kids hated the Hitler Youth lads because they were Nazis, or simply because they didn't swing. At a time when civilization was crashing down around their ears and Hitler was planning the Holocaust, it doesn't make them particularly noble that they'd rather listen to big bands than enlist in the military. Who wouldn't?
Like the Rocky movies, "Staying Alive" ends with a big, visually explosive climax. It is so ludicrous it has to be seen to be believed. It's opening night on Broadway: Tony Manero not only dances like a hero, he survives a production number of fire, ice, smoke, flashing lights and laser beams, throws in an improvised solo -- and ends triumphantly by holding Finola Hughes above his head with one arm, like a quarry he has tracked and killed. The musical he is allegedly starring in is something called "Satan's Alley," but it's so laughably gauche it should have been called "Springtime for Tony." Stallone makes little effort to convince us we're watching a real stage presentation; there are camera effects the audience could never see, montages that create impossible physical moves and -- most inexplicable of all -- a vocal track, even though nobody on stage is singing. It's a mess. Travolta's big dance number looks like a high-tech TV auto commercial that got sick to its stomach.
Elvis looks about the same as he always has, with his chubby face, petulant scowl and absolutely characterless features. Here is one guy the wax museums will have no trouble getting right. He sings a lot, but I won't go into that. What I will say, however is that after two dozen movies he should have learned to talk by now.
Typists will enjoy the typing scenes, in which she makes typing errors, causing her to throw away countless copies of Page 1, and then has the whole manuscript typed in no time. This is the way typing is thought about by people who always use yellow legal pads themselves.
There are other moments of incredible inaccuracy. They almost outnumber the moments of dreadful inactivity. For what seems like hours, the three heroes sightsee at Niagara Falls while a lousy pop group sings dreary, square songs. Our attention is finally reduced to the lowest common denominator: Will anyone ever, ever make it with Jackie?
"Camille 2000" is shot in color. It is dubbed into English instead of subtitled. It is wide screen. It has a pretty girl in it. Her name is Daniele Gaubert. Whoever painted that big sign in front of the theater has an accurate critical sense. The sign says: "See Daniele Gaubert presented in the nude ... and with great frequency." That captures the essence of Metzger's art.
Let's face it. Going into this film knowing what we've heard about it, we're anticipating the scenes in which the two kids discover the joys of sex. This is a prurient motive on our part, and we're maybe a little ashamed of it, but our shame turns to impatience as Kleiser intercuts countless shots of the birds and the bees (every third shot in this movie seems to be showing a parrot's reaction to something).
There are probably no 14- or 15-year-olds in the entire world like these two; they seem to have been created specifically for the entertainment of subscribers to Teenage Nudist. The archness of their "innocence" toward sex is, finally, just plain dirty. And the worst thing is that the movie seems to like it that way.
Once again, my comprehension began to slip, and finally I wrote down: "To the degree that I do understand, I don't care." It was, however, somewhat reassuring at the end of the movie to discover that I had, after all, understood everything I was intended to understand. It was just that there was less to understand than the movie at first suggests.
The makers of "Beyond and Back" were also responsible, if memory serves, for another film called "In Search of Noah's Ark." It figures. At the end of that one they were still searching for Noah's Ark -- never found it. At the end of "Beyond and Back" we're back, all right -- but were we beyond?
Columbus encounters friendly Indians, of which one -- the chief's daughter -- is positioned, bare-breasted, in the center of every composition. (I believe the chief's daughter is chosen by cup size.) Columbus sails back to Europe and the story is over. Another Columbus movie is promised us this fall. It cannot be worse than this. I especially look forward to the chief's daughter.
What about the story here? It has to be seen to be believed -- something I do not advise. There's all kinds of murky plot debris involving nasal spray with cocaine in it, ghosts from the past, bizarre sex, and lots of nudity. We are asked to believe that Madonna lives on a luxury houseboat, where she parades in front of the windows naked at all hours, yet somehow doesn't attract a crowd, not even of appreciative lobstermen.
"Caligula" is sickening, utterly worthless, shameful trash. If it is not the worst film I have ever seen, that makes it all the more shameful: People with talent allowed themselves to participate in this travesty. Disgusted and unspeakably depressed, I walked out of the film after two hours of its 170-minute length.
Many films are bad. Only a few declare themselves the work of people deficient in taste, judgment, reason, tact, morality and common sense. Was there no one connected with this project who read the screenplay, considered the story, evaluated the proposed film and vomited?
Captain's log: eight fifth graders, one adult, one James Cameron movie.
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