Memorial Day Weekend. Always a nice time of year. If you're at all like me, early summer is synonymous with a tempered anticipation for the upcoming high budget, star studded blockbuster that features familiar story lines, green screens and shit getting blown the hell up. All in all, it's not a bad way to spend eight bucks on a ball sweating July day. The air conditioning is also nice.
We've all had that experience of having our high expectations dashed by lazy, stupid, audience insulting movies. It is a strange feeling of betrayal. It's not just that you've wasted your money and your time. You've been swindled. You allowed the Hollywood marketing machine to fool you into expecting something good, when you should have known better. And like any victim of a con, you blame yourself. "How did I not see this coming? 'Men In Black 2'? Why did I think that would be good? And yet I was stupid enough to fall for the hype, once again." It can really mess with your self esteem if you're not careful.
So in honor of our fallen soldier's, I present a Memorial Day list of five summer movies that I thought/hoped/ needed to be good but ended being a festering pile of lazy, formulaic shite. This isn't a list of bad movies. It is a list of bad movies that some strange part of me needed to be good. And when they sucked, it led to a soul crushing realization that I am far more susceptible to manipulation than I like to believe. And at times, a beloved franchise was tarnished forever.
I really hope the new Terminator movie doesn't qualify as one of these. But since it is written by the screenwriters of "Catwoman" and directed by the guy who did "Charlie's Angels 2 Full Throttle", my hopes are not high for John Connor.
Holy balls, this movie was crap. Dimwitted, cliched, homo erotic crap. It should have been obvious to me going into the thing. But I really liked "Sin City". And since this was also a Frank Miller adaptation, I was happy to give it the benefit of the doubt. Also, I had heard the story of 300 Spartan soldiers holding back the Persian Army at Thermopylae years ago. Probably from an eager football coach psyching us up to "battle with our brothers" or some bullcrap. So I was excited to see that story portrayed on film.
And you gotta admit that the trailer looked bad ass.
But we ended up getting a dumber than dirt movie. I love how the evil politician, (played by McNulty from The Wire) was smart enough to carry the bribe of Persian money with him to the Senate floor so it could conveniently spill out, exposing his betrayal. Also, brilliant tactic by the Queen. "McNulty has slandered my husband, forced me to have sex with him and is now calling me 'Queen Whore' to usurp my husband's power. However shall I retort? A rousing, climactic speech inter cut with battle scenes to emphasize the principles of democracy that our army is dying for? Na. I'll just stab him right in front of the Senate."
Subtle. Well done, "300". Thank you for not demanding much from your audience.
4. "Pearl Harbor"
Movie trailers are one of the most impressive forms of deception. It's been 8 years since this movie came out and I know full well it sucks. But watching this trailer again still gives me those "fist pumping, flag waving, Toby Keith listening, WWII winning, U-S-A!" kinda chills. Seriously, America deserved a better film. Shame on you, Michael Bay.
There was a time when I didn't hate Ben Affleck. "Good Will Hunting" was a damn fine movie. Although I'm still convinced he didn't write one bit of it. But whatever. If you gotta ride your buddy's coattails to an Oscar, it's not the worst thing in the world. And to be fair, Ben Affleck's character is one of the best parts of that movie.
"Good day, gentlemen. And until that day comes, keep your ear to the grindstone."
But his giant head and pompous charm started running pretty thin by the summer of '01. Do you remember the hype of this movie? It successfully tapped into the "Saving Private Ryan, romanticized World War II glory" brand of patriotism. They held the premier on a Air Craft Carrier. That one clip of the Japanese bomb as it dropped onto the US ship was in every Memorial Day news story. PBS, Discovery Channel and the History Channel all aired documentaries about Pearl Harbor. If you didn't stand in line to see that movie, then it's clear you hate America.
But my hope for an American version of "Braveheart" (both written by the same guy) was destroyed by ham-fisted apple pie Americana schlock, a nonsensical love triangle, historical ignorance and Cuba Gooding Jr. I really wanted this to be a good movie. How do you go wrong with a historical backdrop like Pearl Harbor? But they did go wrong. Terribly wrong. And it turns out that two and half hours is too long to handle Josh Hartnett's squinty "Ah shucks." facial expression. (How does he see? Seriously. How can light enter through those eyebrows and into the tiny slits between his eyelids? One photon at a time, I suppose.)
Also, why is Kate Beckinsale only in terrible movies? She's gorgeous. She's clearly talented. But she has piddled away her career on the "Underworld" series and "Van Helsing". " Snow Angels" was her artsy fartsy attempt at legitimacy but that movie was irredeemably depressing. Kate, find a happy medium between brainless, CGI crap and pretentious, suicidal despair.
If you want to see a truly great WWII film set in the Pacific, I recommend Terrence Malick's "Thin Red Line". That's a movie that will blow your hair back.
3. "Matrix Reloaded"
Do you remember how amazing "The Matrix" was in 1999? It totally came out of the blue. No one saw it coming. It was stylized and original with just enough substance that make it worth thinking about. And it starred Ted Theodore Logan! Who hell would have thought? Somewhere the guy who played Bill S. Preston Esq. is crying himself to sleep surrounded by Matrix posters with his face pasted over Neo's.
Look, the sequel wasn't terrible. But it wasn't worth it. It demanded a lot of attention and thought from its audience. But in the end it just wasn't worth the effort of deciphering what the hell they were talking about. All the asinine dialogue("Ergo! Vis a vis! Concordantly!"), the useless plot twists (Neo is The One, but there have been a million Ones before him? And the Oracle is now part of the Matrix?), the bullshit pseudo philosophy ("Cause and effect.") and all the endless fights that never lead anywhere because no one ever lands a damn punch. It all added up to confusing, overdone fluff. I actually fell asleep when I watched this for the first time. I never sleep in movies. I woke up during the weird, sweaty, oily orgy scene. It was very disturbing.
Again, not a terrible movie. It's the least bad of any on this list. But it was definitely a let down.
2. "Indiana Jones and the Ridiculous Alien Bullshit"
I'm not going to bother posting a clip of the trailer. It's best to pretend it never happened.
Nineteen years. That's how long we waited for the next chapter of Indiana Jones. That's fine. I'm happy to wait. But Lucas and Spielberg waited two decades for this crap? I remember hearing rumors that M. Night Shamalamanamlanamlan had written an Indy script shortly after "The Sixth Sense" and that it was rejected because it wasn't good enough. Apparently M. Night received his script back from George with red marker on it saying, "Not enough ridiculous alien bullshit. Also, it needs CGI monkies that intuitively attack Russians."
Harrison Ford just might be the coolest actor since Steve McQueen. Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Jack Ryan, Richard Kimball and a lot of lawyers. But he hasn't done a good movie since "Air Force One" and that was over ten years ago. Now, he's good in every movie he's in. But he has chosen some real stinkers. Actually, the Russian sub movie might be good. I never bothered to see it. But my point is, he's a guy that deserves a good role. You could tell that Harrison Ford knew this Indy movie was crap while he was making it. He rolls his eyes while delivering every one of his lines.
A nuclear bomb proof fridge? F*ck! What in holy hell were you thinking, Spielberg? You know better than anyone how to make a good summer movie. And you thought Shia LaBouf was a good idea?
"Raiders Of the Lost Ark" was a perfect movie. Perfect. " Temple of Doom" was just as good. A lot of people bag on that one, but watch it again. It's solid. " Last Crusade" was nearly flawless. A little too much slapstick for my taste but a classic nonetheless. But I can't think of a positive thing to say about this last debacle. It felt like a cheap rip off of "The Mummy", which was nothing but a cheap rip off of "Raiders Of the Lost Ark". "Indiana Jones and the Ridiculous Alien Bullshit" is "Godfather III" times a thousand.
Imagine for a second, if Lucas and Spielberg had stuck with their original plan and continued the Indiana Jones serial with a new installment every couple of years. Their intent was to have a James Bond type of franchise. In 1993, four years after Last Crusade they would release "Indiana Jones and the Legend of Excalibur". It takes place in London during the blitz in 1940. Although previous Indiana Jones movies have involved Nazi's, none of them have actually taken place during WWII. Indy is teamed up with Abner Ravenwood and working for British Intelligence as consultants on the Arthurian legend. The Nazi's have launched a covert mission of German commandos into England to capture the fabled artifact. Come up with a reason for them to have a shootout at Stone Henge, then lead them across the channel to Paris so Indy has to work with the French resistance. Paris in 1940 would be a great backdrop for an adventure movie. Throw in some fake history, a hot British chick and some kind of supernatural climax and there you go.
Three years later in 1996 they would come out with "Indiana Jones and City of Atlantis." This one takes place 1943. Indy is an enlisted member of Patton's Calvary as they roll into Sicily. In an ancient Roman ruin he finds some crucial artifact leading to the location of the city of Atlantis, which is the mythical homeland of the Aryan race. He is captured by Mussolini's soldiers and is then delivered to a Nazi team of archeologist who commandeer him to lead an expedition to Greece to locate Atlantis. Eventually he is rescued by his father as Sean Connery reprises his role. Again, add some fake history involving Plato, a sexy local Italian girl that eventually betrays him and some spooky ghosts at the end and you have another classic.
In 1999 the release "Indiana Jones and the Samaria Tomb" set in the Japanese Empire just after their surrender in 1945. Indy has to . . .hell, I don't know. But they keep coming out with another chapter every three or four years. Once they get through WWII, they have the entire Cold War to play with. It wouldn't be hard to combine Indy's quest for a mythical archeological site with pivotal historical events. Searching the Caribbean for the Fountain of Youth in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example. There is no end to the material. Granted, at a rate of one movie per three years, some installments wouldn't be as strong as the others. But given the massive volume of Indiana Freaking Jones, we the audience would be quite forgiving of any missteps.
Eventually Harrison Ford would get tired of playing the same role, so he retires. They then cast Tom Sellick to play Indiana in the seventh or eight one. (He was the original choice to play Dr. Jones but turned it down to be Magnum.) And the same way James Bond did just fine with Roger Moore, the franchise just keeps on moving whether Spielberg directed them or not.
But no. Instead we wait nineteen years for this. It took me five minutes to think up those fake movies. And yet it took them almost two decades to crap out the festering turd that is the Crystal Skull. I blame it all on George Lucas. Which brings me to . . .
1. "The F*cking Phantom Menace"
I mean was there any doubt which movie was going to top this category? Look, there is no shortage of dorks like me in their early thirties whining about how bad Episode 1 was. "Lucas raped my childhood." is a hyperbole that is often tossed around. Frankly, it's not quite as bad as everyone remembers. It's a better movie than the last Indiana Jones, that's for sure. But the insanely high expectations of this movie cannot be overstated.
George Lucas accidentally created the single most anticipated movie ever and by doing so pretty much secured his own failure. By starting in the middle of the saga, finishing to the end and then waiting 16 years to start at the beginning, Lucas created the ultimate case of nerd blue balls. The movie could never have lived up to the hype. We had heard references to the Clone Wars, to Anakin Skywalker, to the Sith. But the original movies gave us very little information about them. But after aching for our entire lifetime to know more, what did we get?
Midichlorines and Jar Jar F*ckin Binks. What's even worse is that we also got one of the coolest movie villains since Darth Vader, but we only got him for like 10 minutes of screen time. Then he got cut in half. I guess they had to make more time for Jar Jar's hilarious antics. Man, Lucas gave us blue balls and then kicked us in the crotch. Not cool.
I'm still open to the idea that this movie was a massive Andy Kaufman style practical joke played by Lucas on his fans. If it was, he's a comic genius. But it wasn't. It was just a really bad movie.
If you've seen the new Star Trek movie, go with me on this one. Imagine if JJ Abrams directed made "The Phantom Menace". Imagine a Star Wars Prequel that was as fun and exhilarating as the new "Star Trek". The reason "The Phantom Menace" will forever suffer is because it will always be compared against the movie it should have been.
I like Patton Oswalt's take on it. Fair warning: this clip has a lot of swearing as well as a reference to John Voit's balls. Of course, I think I have referenced balls like five times in this post. So if you've made it this far, you probably won't mind.