The Worst Movies I Saw in 2013

January 8, 2014 on 9:49 pm | In interviews, lists | No Comments

I’m sure only people covering the junkets saw some of these! Here’s my list of the worst movies I saw last year:

Now You See Me
9. Now You See Me
When the producers admit that you don’t know who to root for when watching the movie, there’s a problem. It’s not clear who’s behind the elaborate trick heists of four magicians or who grouped them together in the first place. They’re seeking revenge that isn’t their own and that’s just not satisfying. Especially when the film ends up asking you to side against the most lovable actors in the cast, for no good reason. The plot and character motivations make no sense, so the final payoff is just a big shrug. The only thing I enjoyed was the flirtation between Melanie Laurent and Mark Ruffalo.
–> My interview with Mark Ruffalo
–> My interview with Jesse Eisenberg

Paranoia
8. Paranoia
Not terrible but not particularly worthwhile either. Liam Hemsworth brings nothing besides a nice set of abs to this half-baked thriller about corporate espionage. Gary Oldman has some fun but you have to ask yourself why he or Harrison Ford agreed to do this one, other than nostalgia for that time they made Air Force One.
–> My interview with Liam Hemsworth.

The Place Beyond the Pines
7. The Place Beyond the Pines
Far and away my least favorite Ryan Gosling movie of 2013. The first section about Gosling’s motorcycle-riding, bank-robbing punk, is enjoyable enough. Then it segues into a not really related second act centered on Bradley Cooper then is followed by a third act involving their two sons that’s utterly pointless and seemingly neverending. A single scene of the sons meeting would have been so much stronger than the rambling last section which drags on and on.

Evil Dead
6. Evil Dead
Maybe not the worst movie of 2013 but definitely the one I hated the most. I wanted to walk out (and plenty of other journalists did) but professional obligation kept me in until the bitter, gruesome, bloody end. There’s overkill and then there’s OVERKILL and this movie put its audience through the wringer. If that sounds like a recommendation, it most definitely is not. The one bright spot: Lou Taylor Pucci, whose character keeps somehow surviving. That’s the closest the movie ever came to the humor of the original series and it wasn’t remotely close enough. Count me out of any sequels!
–> My interview with Jane Levy

The Lone Ranger
5. The Lone Ranger
The thing that really sunk this wasn’t the excessive length or Armie Hammer’s less than thrilling leading-man presence or yet another Johnny Depp eccentricity: What tripped it up, for me, was the wildly clashing, grab-bag tone of the film. During a scene that’s lamenting the slaughter of Indians, we cut to Tonto doing something silly and slapsticky. Kudos for trying to pay tribute to real Native Americans, but you can’t have your massacre and your slapstick too. The one saving grace, for me, was James Badge Dale (this summer’s MVP, with roles in Iron Man 3 and World War Z), who leaves the film far too soon.
–> My interview with Gore Verbinski.

The Host
4. The Host
There’s no getting around the laughably silly premise: Aliens conquer earth and start possessing humans. A girl (Saoirse Ronan) resists the “Soul” that’s taken her over, so most of the movie is her arguing with herself and occasionally fighting her own body. (Sadly, it’s not a comedy, like Steve Martin’s All of Me.) Add in two different love interests for the two personalities and you’re in YA hell. The movie, understandably, tanked. Not that awfulness stopped the Twilight movies from making bank.
–> My interview with Saoirse Ronan
–> My interview with Max Irons

Upside Down
3. Upside Down
Never heard of this one? It was filmed years ago, sat on the shelf, and was barely released to theaters. It stars Jim Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst as Romeo/Juliet-esque starcrossed lovers who live in planets with opposite gravity and can only meet at the top of a mountain that transects both worlds. This might make for a nifty visual at first, but sustaining the clunky mechanics of dual gravity, especially when the rules change at a whim, makes for a very tedious film. The whimsical touches, such as pink bee pollen being the solution to conquering gravity don’t help. It might have made a cute short film but as a feature-length film, it’s so bad that it generated laughs during the press screening.
–> My interview with Jim Sturgess

The Canyons
2. The Canyons
From the first second, I wanted to hit stop (watched this one via streaming). A tale of bored, vapid L.A. scenesters features wooden acting and bad dialogue and I didn’t care what happened to any of them. Lindsay Lohan acquits herself well enough but when the best thing you can say about a film is that it had great locations (I covet the murdered girl’s house in Los Feliz), that’s faint praise indeed.
–> My Moviefone interview with writer Bret Easton Ellis.

Free Birds
1. Free Birds
Usually I find something worthwhile in every movie I see, but this one was a huge exception. Apart from the pleasure of interviewing the always hilarious and charming Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson in person, this was a total loss. I could only think “This is TERRIBLE!” the whole time. Blah animation, a bizarre storyline and why on earth did turkeys wear Native American face paint?! Alas, a total turkey.

‘Room 237′ director on the mysterious number ‘42′

April 11, 2013 on 6:19 pm | In Uncategorized | No Comments Can you connect the movie "42" to "The Shining?"

This is a snippet that was cut from my AOL Moviefone interview with Rodney Ascher, the director of “Room 237.”

Moviefone: The number 42 figures very prominently in the film: It’s mentioned that if you multiply 2×3x7, it equals 42. But it also pops up in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” as the answer to the meaning of life and it was one of the numbers on “Lost.” What is it about the number 42?

Ascher: There’s the movie poster outside right now for “42.” I don’t know. I was tempted to use that clip from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” but I thought it was too silly. And the first time I made that connection, I didn’t laugh. I thought it was eerie. “Maybe 42 is the answer to everything.” This movie, “42,” I guess it’s about Jackie Robinson. Clearly that’s a movie about race relations and if we’re talking about Jews and the Holocaust or Native Americans in early America, there’s a relationship between their struggles and African-Americans in the United States. It’s a funny coincidence that that billboard is all over town in the weeks before “Room 237″ is opening. And there’s another coincidence that the LACMA Kubrick exhibit is still up and Jack Nicholson’s face is leering through that doorway on every phone pole in Los Angeles. The movie “42″ can’t help but be a coincidence, but the strange and troubling thing is that if “The Shining” would seem to spontaneously generate coincidences, then “Room 237″ is doing the same.

So after spending so much time at the Overlook Hotel, you start to see patterns everywhere.
Ascher: There’s a phrase that came up in discussions of this movie, which is “the brain is a machine for recognizing patterns.” And there’s a term that some critics have used “pareidolia,” which is about seeing significance in random objects, like the clouds or sand or lamb entrails or whatever. But “The Shining” is not a random object. It’s carefully crafted by a singular intelligence. John Fell Ryan says flat out near the end of the movie that this movie is a trap for people like me who go looking for clues and keep finding them.

All 47 movies in “The Shining” documentary “Room 237″

March 29, 2013 on 11:20 am | In articles | No Comments

Room-237-010

The documentary “Room 237″ takes a unique approach to its subject matter, Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” by not only including clips from the movie, but from every other Kubrick film and dozens of other films. In fact, every shot in the film is from an existing movie. I put together a list of all 47 movies featured in “Room 237″ for Moviefone,. Here is a more fleshed-out list that includes the context in which the clips are used in the film and director Rodney Ascher’s commentary on some of his choices.

Kubrick’s other films

“Eyes Wide Shut” Tom Cruise looks at posters for “The Shining” and feels he’s being spied on. In actuality, Cruise’s character was looking at a poster for his friend Nick Nightingale’s musical performance. Ascher admits to doctoring the poster. “It’s eerie how close to ‘The Shining’ poster the one in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ is. There’s a part of me that would have liked to have not changed it and forced the audience to project ‘The Shining’ onto the poster that was there.”
Paths of Glory Clips of the WWI film show calls being made from the front to an officer as we hear in voiceover that a team of researchers checked out the Colorado Estes Hotel (the model for the film’s Overlook Hotel) for three months and called in their reports to the director.
Barry Lyndon Shown when royalty is mentioned as having stayed at the Overlook and to illustrate Kubrick’s apparently being “bored” while making it and wanting a bigger challenge with The Shining 
“2001: A Space Odyssey” Similarities between the room in the final scenes and the mysterious Room 237 in “The Shining” are made.
There are also clips from Kubrick’s “The Killing,” “Fear and Desire,” “Killer’s Kiss,” “Dr. Strangelove,” “A Clockwork Orange,” and “Full Metal Jacket”

The theory that “The Shining” is really about the massacre of Native Americans:
Drums Along the Mohawk The 1939 movie starred Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert as settlers fighting Indians
The Battle of Apache PassThis 1952 western starred Jeff Chandler as Apache chief Cochise
The White BuffaloA 1977 western take on “Moby Dick,” starring Charles Bronson
Sitting Bull at the Spirit Lake Massacre A “thrilling epic from frontier days” circa 1927
In the Land of War Canoes 1914 silent film by Edward S. Curtis.
Although it doesn’t depict Native Americans, Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” is cited for its scenes of human sacrifice, which is compared to the scene in which Wendy hits Jack with a baseball bat and he falls down the stairs.

The Holocaust theory

Schindler’s List Spielberg’s Holocaust epic is mentioned in connection with Jack Torrance’s typewriter, which was from a German manufacturer and supposedly represents the ruthlessly efficient bureaucracy machine of the Nazis.
The Eagle Has Landed A thriller based on the Jack Higgins novel about a Nazi plot to kidnap Churchill.
The Beast in Heat A 1975 “Nazispolitation” film
Lolita Humbert Humbert (James Mason) seems overcome with depression when the film mentions Kubrick’s own depression in trying to make a film about the Holocaust 

The anti-semitic origins of the phrase “the wolf at the door” is illustrated with these clips:
Wolf Jack Nicholson’s character, who’s been bitten by a werewolf, pursues a deer in the forest
“An American Werewolf in London” David (David Naughton) who’s been bitten by a werewolf, has a nightmare about Nazis
“Merrie Melodies: Three Little Pigs” Did the controversial 1933 film, which featured the wolf pretending to be a Jewish peddler, inspire Kubrick or did Nicholson ad lib “little pigs little pigs” line? 

Universal guilt
The Thief of Bagdad” Illustrates the theory about the “universal weak male” and his involvement in the wars and genocide of the centuries. Bill Blakemore talks about the power of the genie in his confinement. This sequence starts with Jack telling Lloyd that he is the “best damn bartender from Timbuktu to Portland, Maine, or Portland Oregon for that matter.”
Spartacus A clip of Kirk Douglas looking morose accompanies talk of “dealing with the weight of the past.”


The Minotaur theory

“Satyricon” The minotaur scene from Fellini’s ode to Roman decadence is shown to back up the theory that Jack Torrance is the minotaur in a maze. Or something.
“Killer’s Kiss” One of Kubrick’s earliest films from 1955 begins with his logo: “A Minotaur Production”
This video (not in the film) shows clips from other Kubrick films, including “Paths of Glory” to illustrate his love of labyrinths and mazes.

Faked moon landing theory
“The Shining” Danny is notably wearing an “Apollo 11″ sweater in the scene where he is summoned into Room 237.
Capricorn One Scenes from this underrated 1977 thriller — about a faked Mars landing — are used during the theory that Kubrick supposedly faked the Apollo 11 landing for the government 

Numeric symbolism
The Magic Mountain The 1981 German film, based on the book by Thomas Mann, is set in another hotel high atop a mountain and makes frequent reference to the number 7
The Summer of ‘42 Danny and Wendy watch this on TV at the Overlook.
Kubrick’s “Lolita” also features the number 42. In “Room 237,” it’s pointed out that 2×3x7=42, which is also a key year in World War II.

Subliminal messages
“Agency” In this 1980 movie about the advertising business, Lee Majors shows off a classic “scotch on the rocks” subliminal message

Dreaming and the unconscious
The Brain from Plane Arous” Ascher explains, “Bill Blakemore says, ‘Kubrick is acting as a mega-brain for the planet.’ He was comparing how Kubrick made a film to how you dream. You take everything you know and you condense it and work it out symbolically. He was doing that with more intention, trying to compress history, finding some simple images that would work in a dream like what he did to talk about historical events. So when he said “super-brain for the planet,” I took a look at ‘The Brain From Planet Arous.’My jaw hit the floor when I found a scene of a giant brain floating in the middle of a room looking at an X.”
Also: “BrainWaves” (1983), “Dreamscape” (1984), and Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” (1945)

The moviegoing experience
demons
Demons Ascher says of the 1985 Italian horror movie, which is about people who are invited to a watch a horror movie and are turned into demons as the movie progresses, “It was a Eureka moment when I was like, “a theater, 1980s…oh yeah, ‘Demons!”‘ It’s also incredibly appropriate, because it’s a film where the line between reality and the movies gets very, very blurry as creatures come literally out of the screen. We don’t use any of that footage from ‘Demons,’ but our audience — or the kind of people I thought would be the only ones to see ‘Room 237′ — would have been steeped in horror movies and they would make that connection in a way that’s a little subliminal.” There are also clips from its sequel, “Demons 2.”
“All the President’s Men” Robert Redford’s shocked reaction to Deep Throat’s information is used to illustrate one person’s reaction to “The Shining”

Examples of “bad” 1960s movies
One contributor laments the musicals My Fair Lady and Dr. Doolittle as why he hated cinema in the 1960s, until he saw Kubrick’s “2001″ and became a believer.

Other horror movies

Faust(1926) Ascher says, “There’s the story that Stanley Kubrick watched every significant horror movie ever made while researching ‘The Shining’ and ‘Faust’ would certainly be one of those. There’s that scene where he’s on a magic carpet with Lucifer. He comes around this mountain range and it looks just like that helicopter scene at the beginning of ‘The Shining.’” Ascher includes that shot in the film, although the point is only made visually.
The Legend of Hell House A clip of the 1973 film demonstrates the kind of horror movie Kubrick wasn’t making.
The TerrorA shot of a very young Jack Nicholson in the 1963 Roger Corman B-movie
Also featured: The 1981 thriller Looker

Key players
Jesus Christ SuperstarBarry Dennen, who plays Bill Watson who sits in on Jack Torrance’s interview, previously played Pontius Pilate, which some theorists believe is significant.
CreepshowA clip of a shocked Stephen King is used, apparently reacting to Kubrick’s adaptation of his book (which King famously hated).

Read the rest of my interview with Ascher and “Room 237″ producer Tim Kirk.

Will this year’s Oscars set any records? Where do winners keep their Oscars?

February 17, 2013 on 9:38 am | In articles | No Comments

Oscar-related articles I wrote for AOL Moviefone:

Daniel Day-Lews, Getty Images

Daniel Day-Lews, Getty Images

Oscars 2013: 12 Ways the 85th Academy Awards Could Make History, January 31, 2013
There are several ways that the 85th Academy Awards, which will be held on February 24, might set several Oscar firsts: If Daniel Day-Lewis wins Best Actor, he will be the only actor to have won three Oscars in this category.

Oscars History: Directors Who Have Gotten The Most Acting Nominations, February 21, 2012
Who’s the best director in Hollywood history? You could look at who’s won the most Best Director Oscars — that would be legendary John Ford, whose four wins include “The Grapes of Wrath,” and “The Quiet Man” — but perhaps there’s another metric with which to judge. Moviefone took another look at Oscar statistics by counting which directors’ films have resulted in the most acting nominations.

Oscar Loves A Comedian (When They Get Serious), January 25, 2012
When Jonah Hill’s name was called out as an Oscar nominee Tuesday morning, there were audible rumblings of surprise and, dare we say, disapproval: The Academy rarely shows love to comedians.

Meryl vs. Glenn: A Ridiculously Early Look at the Oscar Race for Best Actress, July 9, 2011
Is July too early to be predicting who’ll be in the running for next year’s Best Actress Oscar? Not when we’re getting our first glimpses of Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in ‘The Iron Lady’ and Glenn Close as a Victorian woman passing as a man in ‘Albert Nobbs.’

Where Do Oscar Winners Keep Their Oscars?, February 17, 2010
For such a coveted prize, Oscar sure does find his way into some odd places. A hen house? The refrigerator? One surprisingly favorite spot: the bathroom, which doesn’t exactly seem like the best place to keep the Golden Guy. (They can rust, as Jodie Foster found out.)

Anna Karenina’s Aaron Taylor-Johnson Movie Doppelgangers

November 15, 2012 on 9:05 am | In articles, photos | No Comments

If Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Anna Karenina looks familiar as the dashing, mustachioed Vronsky in “Anna Karenina,” it’s not just because you recognize the actor from “Kick Ass.” It might be because he looks so much like certain other actors with his curly hair, period mustache and those startlingly wide eyes. Could an SNL stint as “The Continental” be far behind?

Aaron Taylor Johnson in Anna Karenina

Aaron Taylor Johnson in Anna Karenina

Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein

Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein

David Hemmings in Charge of the Light Brigade

David Hemmings in Charge of the Light Brigade

David Hemmings in Blow Up

David Hemmings in Blow Up

Christopher Walken

Young Christopher Walken

Jude Law

Jude Law, who plays the hated older husband in Anna Karenina, back when he had a lot more hair.

RIP Tony Scott: Déjà Vu’s dream of changing our fate

August 20, 2012 on 9:48 am | In articles, obits | 1 Comment

World+Premiere+of+Touchstone+Pictures+and+Jerry+Bruckheimer+Films+"Deja+Vu"

As we mourn the loss of director Tony Scott, fans are remembering him for some of his most popular movies, including “Top Gun,” “Crimson Tide” and “True Romance.” As for me, I can’t help but think of his film “Déjà Vu.” In the 2006 thriller, Denzel Washington, one of Scott’s favorite leading men, goes back in time to prevent a horrible ferry disaster. I wasn’t always a fan of Scott’s hyperkinetic style of filmmaking, but this film hooked me with an incredibly compelling story and a race against — and through — time as Washington’s character works to prevent the bombing of a ferry and the murder of a woman with whom he’s fallen in love.

deja-vu-2006-tou-06-g
[Spoilers if you haven't seen the film]: There are moments when it seems that Washington’s character has sacrificed his own life to save others, until a twist reveals that he does survive in a different timeline, and that he can have the happy ending with the woman he loves. Isn’t that why we watch movies, to see heroes save the day against insurmountable odds? In the movies, we believe a man can travel through time, that he can stop a runaway train (as Washington does in Scott’s last film, “Unstoppable”), that he can get the bad guys, that all can be made right, that the heroes will live to fight another day.

Of course we can’t go back in time to save our loved ones or ourselves, which is why the idea is so appealing in fiction. We cannot change our fate, but we can appreciate and honor a man who gave us a dream where terrible, destructive things can be stopped and wrongs can be righted. Rest in peace, Mr. Scott.

Why I (sadly) didn’t love The Dark Knight Rises

July 22, 2012 on 9:22 am | In articles | No Comments
The Dark Knight Rises at the Vista Theatre in LA

The Dark Knight Rises at the Vista Theatre in LA

Like millions of movie fans, The Dark Knight Rises was a movie I’d been looking forward to for years. After the amazing first two films in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, I was sure that the final film would meet even my highest expectations. All the teases leading up to it (and I’d stopped watching additional trailers in the days before its release) only heightened my excitement.

As an entertainment journalist, I often get to see movies early, but that wasn’t the case with TDKR. I was content to wait and see it just as a fan. I nearly saw it at a midnight screening here in Los Angeles, but decided to wait until that weekend. Then came the news out of Aurora, Colorado that dozens of people who had gathered simply to see a movie had been targeted by a psycho with horrendous amounts of firepower. It wasn’t possible any more to separate that tragedy from the film itself. I waited another day and saw the film with two friends at a matinee on Saturday. I wasn’t worried that anyone would attempt a copycat shooting, but as the film began, every time someone shot a gun, or Bane shouted, “No survivors!” I was taken out of the movie and right back into those heartwrenching scenes of real-life tragedy on TV.

I saw it at my favorite LA theater, the Vista: It’s a single screen theater with low prices even for first-run films. They don’t allow children under 4 (there’s a mommy and me screening once a week to make up for that), the leg room is amazing, as are the sightlines and the audiences are uniformly enthusiastic but respectful. As the lights went down, someone yelled, “THE DARK KNIGHT!” and I was just as excited as he was.

And then the movie started. I had issues right from the beginning with the sound, something that also happened when I saw Nolan’s Inception there two years ago. I spent most of Inception straining to hear what the hell Ken Watanabe was saying. I didn’t have a clue until much later what his issue was with that damn carpet.

In my excitement, I’d forgotten about that, but now as TDKR progressed, I found I wasn’t following much of the dialogue. It wasn’t just Bane: I couldn’t hear what most of the characters were saying. I got up to talk to an usher (sorry if I freaked out anyone out by getting up during the film) and he said that the fault lies with Nolan’s sound mix, not the theater. He let me borrow a set of headphones but they didn’t work. So I was left following the action but not ever able to get inside the movie or care what happened next. It wasn’t until Batman makes his first appearance that I felt the film really got going but even then it kept stalling out or getting sidetracked down avenues I didn’t care to follow.

There’s no way to know what it would be like to watch the movie without the shadow of what happened in Colorado. Some critics who did see the film before July 20 took issue with the film’s storytelling structure, and I have to agree with them. I admire immensely Nolan’s ambitious vision and scope, and the way his films are so densely textured. But in this case, the film seemed to lack focus. For me, it just didn’t have a cohesive forward momentum. The action sprawled in so many directions, with so many characters, I found I just didn’t care. Perhaps I’d o.d’d on scenes of the movie shooting on location: By the time it came down to Batman’s showdown in the snow with Bane, I just shrugged, “Yeah, I’ve already seen that.”

There were things I did love: I loved what Joseph Gordon-Levitt brought to the film and how he became the heart of the movie. I loved Gary Oldman, as always, as Jim Gordon. I loved seeing Bruce Wayne, a haunted survivor, try to find a reason to live that might not involve his own death. Anne Hathaway was Anne Hathaway: Fine but never completely convincing as Catwoman.

The film did start to come together for me in the last half hour and I’ll admit I did like the ending. I finally got emotionally caught up in what was happening on the screen. I just wish it had happened sooner. I will probably see the film again but what I was left with was overwhelming sadness, both for what happened in Colorado and (on a much, much more shallow level) that a movie I’d waited years for was ultimately a letdown.

Original Features for AOL Moviefone

August 28, 2011 on 11:38 am | In articles | 1 Comment

Here are some of the original feature articles I’ve written for AOL Moviefone:

‘Dark Knight Rises’ Conspiracy Theory: Christopher Nolan Is Fooling Us All, August 15, 2011
Director Christopher Nolan is famous for cloaking every aspect of his films in a shroud of secrecy, so why are we seeing so much of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ already? Could it be a huge campaign of misdirection?

5 Infamous Actor-Director Fights, June 27, 2011
Megan Fox and Michael Bay’s war of words is hardly the first time an actor and director have clashed on- or off-set.

Fact-Checking ‘Super 8′ — Rubik’s Cubes? Pee Chees?, June 13, 2011
Were Rubik’s cubes really around in 1979? And would a gas station attendant in a small Ohio town have a Walkman?

Our Favorite Movies: ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, June 12, 2011
Reflecting on seeing the movie on opening night, 30 years later

Making ‘Footloose’: The Movie’s Unsung Stars on the Prom Scene and (Gasp) Kevin Bacon’s Dance Double, September 22, 2010
Interviews with choreographer, Lynne Taylor-Corbett, dancer Christopher Harrison and Jay Grimes (the partner of Bacon’s dance double, the late Peter Tramm) about making the original ‘Footloose.

Is ‘The Switch’ Accurate? A Sperm Bank and a ‘Choice Mom’ Weigh In, August 19, 2010
Interviews with Scott Brown, director of communications at Cryobank, and Mikki Morrissette, author of “Choosing Single Motherhood: The Thinking Woman’s Guide.”

Casting the BP Oil Spill Movie, June 17, 2010
Casting the key players of the BP Oil Spill Scandal: Michael Sheen would make a perfect Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP.

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