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Event Horizon (1997)
Derelict Spaceship stands in for Haunted Gothic Castle
There are numerous Sci-Fi films jostling at the front of the pack for the "Worst Ever' accolade, and 'Event Horizon' is certainly one of them. After an experimental faster-than-light spaceship goes missing on its maiden flight, it mysteriously reappears seven years later orbiting Neptune, and another vessel is dispatched to investigate. Although the film has upscale production values, penny-pinching in the screen writing budget becomes apparent as soon as the characters open their mouths. The astronauts are squabbling like juveniles even before they arrive at the derelict hulk, and their undisciplined behavior degenerates further after they start exploring its vulgar industrial-Gothic interior.
The banal screenplay and hack direction result in the film deteriorating swiftly into a crude gore and horror fest, with the crew screaming at one another, and the soundtrack adding to the hysteria in an desperate attempt to paper over the deficiencies of the material. None of the tedious nastiness makes any sense, and the eventual explanation for the cursed vessel would be laughed out of a script conference for an early Star Trek TV episode. After '2001' and 'Alien' had shown the possibilities for modern sci-fi, 'Event Horizon' is just another major embarrassment for the genre.
A Solar Patient on Life Support
The premise of this pompous Sci-Fi fable is as preposterous as the science that's supposed to support it. Fifty years in the future the sun is dying, dooming humanity to frozen extinction - unless a group of unstable 30-something astronauts can kick-start our fading star back to life with an implausible stellar bomb.
After setting off in their spaceship, the robotic script forces this juvenile crew to wade through a predictable series of silly squabbles, deep space walkabouts, vacuous airlock antics and technical screw-ups until all the standard melodramatic possibilities are exhausted. With failure staring them in the face, an unlikely event offers a last chance to rescue the mission, igniting a period of lukewarm lunacy which leads to a damp squib climax. In between these tepid thrills, the cardboard cut-out characters exchange intense looks and babble scientific gobbledygook in a feeble attempt to make this stale stew seem believable. Unfortunately nothing can prevent 'Sunshine's' descent into overheated nonsense - and the brains of its audience from being burnt to a crisp by the film's relentless ridiculousness.
Blue Jasmine (2013)
No sympathy for stale stereotypes
Jasmine lives in her sumptuous New York apartment leading the privileged life of a socialite - until everything falls apart when her handsome, smooth-talking husband is exposed as a philandering real estate fraud and commits suicide in jail, leaving behind a mountain of debt. In an attempt to recover from this setback, Jasmine moves to San Francisco to live with a despised sister, who has been reduced to cramped rental properties and stereotypical blue collar, Italian boyfriends.
The film's narrative unfolds through hackneyed plot devices, and is populated by the usual collection of generic caricatures that pass for real personalities in Woody Allen's cinematic universe. It's hard to feel much sympathy for Jasmine since she's a neurotic, self-absorbed, self-pitying snob who patronizes the other characters in the same way that Allen does. While upending her sister's life, she proceeds to make another mess of her own, as she drinks too much vodka, whines about her misfortune, pops pills and tells lies to a promising new romantic prospect. Neither comedy nor drama, 'Blue Jasmine' is about as tasty and nutritious as a stale cupcake, although it does possess a few more crumbs of substance than a typical Allen film.
The Canyons (2013)
Sociopathic Sex in Canyon-land
'The Canyons' is a farcical tale about a collection of characters who deceive and manipulate each other to distract from the emptiness of their lives. Chief amongst them is a sociopathic film producer, Christian, whose jaded girlfriend Tara reluctantly consents to the sex orgies he arranges with random internet strangers. After Tara helps a former boyfriend, Ryan, get the lead role in Christian's new movie, they resume their old affair, despite Ryan having a girlfriend called Gina who is also working on the film. Christian grows increasingly suspicious of Tara's fidelity outside the group sex dynamic, and has her followed by a slacker private eye, while he hooks up with a former assistant, who is also an old girlfriend of Ryan.
This juvenile nonsense is merely the set-up, and director Shrader cannot elevate the subsequent hokey-pokey above the level of a day-time soap after making disastrous casting decisions with Lindsay Lohan, James Deen and Nolan Funk as his lead trio. The only competent actor is Amanda Brooks who plays the scorned Gina in a minor role. Although she's actually five years older than Lohan, she looks fifteen years younger and fifty times more desirable than the supposedly irresistible Tara. Sex is a crucial plot element, but no erotic intensity is generated since the characters are pathetically undeveloped. Instead the film wastes many tedious minutes on lengthy shots of them entering and exiting cars and buildings. 'The Canyons' limps along with wooden direction, dialog, acting and storytelling, failing miserably to invest this portrayal of Hollywood's seedy glamor with any vitality. None of the deceptions and manipulations have any discernible goal, but they eventually lead to a pointless act of violence and an implausible tired conclusion.
Enduring Love (2004)
On the brink of a marriage proposal as they picnic in a country meadow, a college professor and his girlfriend are blind-sided when an out-of-control hot air balloon drops from the sky with a terrified young boy in its basket. Strangers arrive from nowhere to grab hold of the tethering ropes, but a gust of wind lifts the balloon back up into the air. Everybody lets go - except for one man who plunges to his death shortly afterward.
From this melodramatic beginning, 'Enduring Love' quickly descends into an existentialist quagmire. The professor's romance begins to show signs of strain as he agonizes over his role in the accident, and one of the strangers from the field starts to stalk him. Characters converse in an artificially obscure manner, shout at one another and walk about in pouring rain to show their psychological stress. An intrusive soundtrack, glib camera techniques and jumpy editing provide further irritation until another melodramatic episode resolves the issue with the stalker. Several years later, some of the characters return to the meadow to discuss how past events have affected their lives - while an audience might want to consider how a pretentious director and screenwriter have collaborated to waste their time.
Tim's Vermeer (2013)
An amateur artist stages an expensive demonstration
Inspired by David Hockney's book about technical innovations in 17th century painting, a maverick American IT entrepreneur invents (or re-invents) a tilted mirror device to copy images and scenes. Tim Jenison suspects the renowned Dutch master Vermeer utilized this method in his paintings, and decides to replicate one of the artist's major works to prove his point. He builds a simulacrum of Vermeer's 'Music Lesson' interior, and after many months of painstaking labor, this untrained amateur manages to produce a respectable copy of the masterpiece.
Jenison makes a good case for the disputed theory that Vermeer used mechanical aids, but doesn't really prove anything. The Dutch artist's work possesses unique qualities that defy analysis, and any experienced painter will recognize Tim's device harnessed to his current level of expertise cannot match Vermeer's deft brushwork and luminous light effects. The film makes a number of interesting points even though a fair amount of nonsense is talked about painting - principally by Hockney who has serious limitations as an artist.
The English Teacher (2013)
Considering that 'The English Teacher' was clearly intended to be a comedy, watching it while fully awake is a wretched experience. The basic concept has some promise - a failed young playwright returns to his home town where he encounters the high school English teacher who had inspired him to write. Unfortunately the idea is treated as broad farce from the moment the disillusioned Jason runs into prim Ms Sinclair at an ATM, and she mistakes him for a mugger - and after attacking her former student with a pepper spray, the penitent teacher decides to recommend Jason's latest work to her school's drama department.
The remainder of the film exudes a sense of desperation, as director and cast put on an over-acting showcase in search of easy laughs. After several pratfalls, shameful revelations and last minute hitches, the play opens to a predictable reception. Needless to say, Ms Sinclair's enterprise earns her the traditional romantic reward of a 'unexpected' suitor. As the curtain falls, she sheds her primness for a prosperous, contented future in American rom-com dreamland. It makes Jane Austen's work look like gritty urban drama.
The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012)
A voyage into love's danger zones
There are very few films as emotionally raw and truthful as 'The Broken Circle Breakdown'. Set in Belgium, and somewhat reminiscent of 'Betty Blue', it tells of the love affair between Didier and Elise - a bluegrass musician and a tattoo artist. The story begins with the couple attending to their young daughter's needs in a cancer ward as she battles for her life against the disease. Flashback sequences interrupt the medical treatments to portray the couple's initial meeting, the mad passion of their early romance, and fine performances by Didier's bluegrass band after Elise joins them as a vocalist. Before too long, the enchanting Maybelle enters their lives.
Back at the hospital seven years later, the child endures the toxic effects of chemotherapy, her health alternately improving and deteriorating, while the parents accompany her on an agonizing roller-coaster ride. At the end of this passage, fracture lines appear in the couple's deep bond as they embark on the next stage of their journey. Atheist Didier rails against a god that could have inflicted such cruel suffering upon his innocent daughter, while Elise struggles to process her anguish and rediscover hope. Somehow their heroic odyssey into the deepest regions of pain is neither pessimistic nor depressing, and their story communicates profound insights about the need for love, forgiveness and understanding in extreme circumstances. By contrast, it makes most Hollywood productions look like cynical, trite insults to human intelligence. Perhaps they are - and maybe audiences should look elsewhere for authentic artistic expression. This film suggests Belgian cinema might be somewhere to start the search.
Goodbye World (2013)
Neo-hippies confront Armageddon - Big Chill style.
When a computer virus leads to the collapse of civilization, an assortment of 30-something, ex-university pals head for the California hills, where two married friends live in an organic off-grid, hot-tub utopia with their young daughter. After everybody has arrived at the neo-hippie compound, these former acquaintances are immediately recognizable as reincarnations of the clique who gathered for 'The Big Chill' in 1983 - and the characters even include a doppelganger of Meg Tilly's college-age interloper, who once again critiques her yuppie elders for their self-obsession.
Beginning with an aborted suicide in the opening sequence, 'Goodbye World' proceeds to plagiarize or rewrite many of the earlier film's scenes and plot points. It's often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but unfortunately the producers of this copycat project forgot to clone themselves a screenwriter with Laurence Kasdan's talent. Although they're surrounded by marauding biker gangs, meth-head neighbors, rogue National Guardsmen and the smoke of burning cities, these privileged airheads respond to the crisis by getting high on weed and reviving old disputes. None of the pointless wrangling over past business deals, sexual jealousies or ownership of the property has any relevance in their apocalyptic new world - it seems to flare up simply because the writers had been told drama requires conflict. As the film nears its conclusion, all the lame bones of contention are magically swept under a carpet, and the tribe's rosy future is optimistically symbolized by a giant soap bubble floating above some freshly planted crops.
Drinking Buddies (2013)
Shallow characters with a shallow dilemma
From the threadbare 'Hannah takes the Stairs' to the layered, clever 'Alexander the Last', the quality of Joe Swanberg's cinematic output has traditionally been erratic. 'Drinking Buddies' falls approximately in the middle of his range as it portrays how a couple of brewery co-workers deal with mutual sexual attraction while engaged in other relationships. Kate and Luke use their love of beer as an excuse to hang out while concealing their ambivalence in an alcoholic haze. The improvised dialog does deliver some amusing and insightful moments, but overall there are too many repetitive mundane exchanges, which dissipate the film's energy. The two lead actors, particularly Olivia Wilde, create believable characters, but Swanberg doesn't give them anywhere particularly interesting to go. Kate and Luke's contemporary Romeo and Juliette saga turns into a circular song-and-dance routine, and their initial amiability becomes submerged by dishonesty and narcissism. Swanberg has shown he can do better than this - the end titles arrive just in time.