Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene The Worst of '98 Cinema

By Scott Manzler

DECEMBER 28, 1998:  What a year. First, our local arthouse screens that jewel of world cinema, Species 2. Then, once the programming hits its stride, the theater announces it is closing down for good. Add to that nearly 50 new screens in the area showing virtually the same 25 movies every week, and you'll see why we're choking on our popcorn. With all due disrespect, the Scene's reviewers sift through the silt of the year, 1998's worst movies.


The bottom 10

Jim

1. Clay Pigeons. In a year of vile Angry White Guy comedies, this reprehensible goof about a lovable serial sex murderer was the most soulless and brainless of the lot. The cast and crew should donate time to a domestic violence shelter.

2. Godzilla. The original was played by a guy in a zippered suit. For the remake, the studio spent something like $150 million, and all anybody remembers is the Taco Bell commercial.

3. Full Tilt Boogie. Only the egomaniacs at Miramax would release a glorified infomercial about the making of the two-year-old From Dusk Till Dawn--while allowing worthier domestic and foreign films to languish in their vaults. The combined star power of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez wouldn't turn the knobs on an Etch-a-Sketch.

4. Hush. The world's meanest mother-in-law, Jessica Lange, meets the world's dumbest new parents, Gwyneth Paltrow and Johnathon Schaech, in the world's most numskulled family-in-peril thriller. After many title changes, the filmmakers missed the obvious: Natal Attraction!

5. Your Friends and Neighbors. Neil LaBute forces his characters down narrow little nihilistic paths, then presents his own limited imagination as proof of the hopelessness and cruelty of life. Back at ya, pal.

6. The Theory of Flight. Wheelchair-bound, speech-impaired Helena Bonham Carter enlists wacky, impotent, would-be bank robber Kenneth Branagh to get her laid. In short, basically what you'd expect from crossing Rainman with Little Darlings.

7. BASEketball. The year's perfect cinematic distillation of Big Dumb Jock Nation, where anyone who isn't a frat boy is a target for abuse, and women just die if they don't get to suck something. The important difference between this and There's Something About Mary: Something About Mary was funny.

8. Hope Floats. A tub of tepid goo in which Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick Jr. gaze vacantly and have their thoughts expressed by soundtrack advertisements. Hell is an endlessly crashing airliner with this as the in-flight movie.

9. Apt Pupil. The Nazi Horror Picture Show.

10. Bride of Chucky. Fails to meet the high standards set by Child's Play 3.

Dishonorable mention: Armageddon, The Big Hit, Caught Up, Dark City, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Lawn Dogs, Little Voice, The Replacement Killers, Species 2, Sphere, Woo.


Noel:

1. Krippendorf's Tribe. In which an idiot anthropologist defrauds his idiot colleagues by smearing mud on his face and going "ooga-booga." This salute to academic dishonesty and broad stereotyping makes political correctness look like a good idea.

2. Ringmaster. In which Jerry Springer stands up for the impoverished and then proceeds to portray them as greedy simpletons willing to suffer any degradation to get on TV.

3. Woo. In which seemingly intelligent black urban professionals bug their eyes and trip over furniture in pursuit of "booty."

4. Six String Samurai. In which novice director Lance Mungia courts an insular society of geeks with a pointless blend of cable-ready post-apocalyptic chopsocky and every pseudo-hip irony-rich adventure comic on the racks.

5. The Theory of Flight. In which an aviation-hobbyist-cum-bank-robber agrees to help a foul-mouthed ALS-afflicted woman lose her virginity. How, uh, heartwarming.

6. Sphere. In which a handful of America's greatest actors mumble and fidget while being attacked by sea monsters. Having them read the phone book would be as interesting.

7. Hurlyburly. In which a handful of America's greatest actors disprove the theory that they could read the phone book and be as interesting. Characters we don't really know talk about things we don't really understand for over two hours.

8. 54. In which the most potent sociopolitical symbol of the disco era is used as a backdrop for the bickering of two bare-chested busboys. Reaches a delirious climax when octogenarian "Disco Dottie" overdoses, and everyone is forced to come to terms with...something.

9. Firestorm and U.S. Marshals. In which we learn that you don't need dialogue if you have jargon, and you don't need plotting if you have peril.

10. Doctor Doolittle. In which we learn that if animals could talk, they'd mostly just ramble on about their butts.

Dishonorable mention: Almost Heroes, Armageddon, The Avengers, Blues Brothers 2000, Godzilla, Half-Baked, Holy Man, Jack Frost, Mercury Rising, Star Kid.


Donna (in alphabetical order):

Apt Pupil. For the way it picks at the scabs of the Holocaust in search of entertainment, this callous Nazi exploitation film gets the award for most offensive movie of the year. Bryan Singer, director of the overrated bait-and-switch The Usual Suspects, doesn't bring a single original thought to the project.

Armageddon. Among its many grievous sins, this bombastic "action" film kills off its only genuine indie actor, Owen Wilson, yet brings Ben Affleck back from the dead. Extra nausea points for all the rapturous shots of Liv Tyler's slack lips and empty, children-of-the-damned eyes.

BASEketball. Trey Parker and Matt Stone should have waited until their crude little cutouts were ready before making their movie debut. If nothing else, they've proved that they can mug for 90 minutes without doing anything funny.

The Big Hit. This early entrant in the imitation Tarantino/Woo sweepstakes is an embarrassment to the words "quirky" and "cool."

Blues Brothers 2000. Should be called "Blues Brothers Y2K" to designate its complete systems crash. Dan Aykroyd books dozens of deserving musicians, and then cuts away from them for insert shots of his unathletic dancing.

Godzilla. What happens when a studio spends $100 million dollars irradiating a lizard? Apparently, the elimination of any chance that some entertainment might seep through to the moviegoer.

Krippendorf's Tribe. Ethnic insult is a dish best served cold, and no movie froze its audience into horrified icicles quicker than this comedy about academic fraud and black-face natives.

Lost in Space. Taking its campy TV namesake way too seriously, this shiny sci-fi drama offered PG-13 violence in a package marketed to boomers and their toy-addicted children.

Woo. Why make an African American version of Party Girl? Because that film's director, Daisy v.S. Mayer, is available? Or because some racial stereotypes haven't been beaten to death yet? Whatever the rationale, we can rest a little easier knowing this idea can't be used again.

U.S. Marshals and Soldier. Why not release these marginal features straight to video? Instead, their amateurish, socially meaningless action tied up screens and forced a few more indie and foreign films out into the cold, distributorless night.

Dishonorable mention: Six String Samurai, Jack Frost, Spice World, Doctor Doolittle, Knock Off, 54, The Avengers, Conceiving Ada.


Guilty Pleasures

Jim: Knock/Off. The squandering of Hong Kong talents in lame Western vehicles was one of the worst trends of the year--see The Big Hit and The Replacement Killers for proof--but this Tsui Hark/Jean-Clause Van Damme dust-up was so insane, so cheerfully bereft of common sense, that I kinda dug it. How scatterbrained is it? Show up five minutes late and you'll find Rob Schneider aboard a runaway rickshaw, popping Van Damme's butt with an eel.

Noel: Wrongfully Accused. In a year when Mafia! and BASEketball proved that the surreal, gag-filled Airplane genre had hit a dead end, Pat Proft's take on the same material turned left and ran along the wall with blind gusto. Pointless, yes, but surprisingly energetic and funny.

Donna: No towering masterpiece of entertainment gave me a better time this year than Black Dog, the Patrick Swayze truck-driving thriller. This shameless Hal Needham-style throwback had a quotable line every five minutes and hot-rubber action from start to finish. Rent it and go home happy.


Not-so-great performances male

Jim As the unflappable secret agent John Steed, a role that ought to bring out the derring-do in any actor, Ralph Fiennes walked through The Avengers with a bumbershoot up his butt. After good work last year in Chasing Amy and Good Will Hunting, Ben Affleck sauntered through Armageddon with a beefy smirk that made him look like a Spam Muppet. In the "surprise" ending of the staggeringly inept Caught Up, B-movie horror vet Jeffrey Combs supplied enough ham for a one-man deli tray, while Robert Redford gummed his lines in The Horse Whisperer as if he'd learned them from a whispering horse. But for real horselaughs, nothing topped groggy, grouchy Michael Madsen, who lumbered through Species 2 like a hibernating bear awakened with an airhorn.

Noel: Contrary to general fiat, Samuel L. Jackson doesn't always elevate his material--check him as a host on SNL or ESPN, and understand why Sphere and The Negotiator stumbled. Brad Renfro's atrocity-addicted teen in Apt Pupil displayed no interest in his own surroundings, let alone his supposed obsession. Matthew Perry is on a roll with TV's Friends, but his decision to do Chandler with a forced patrician accent for Almost Heroes was laughable for all the wrong reasons. Finally, two documentarians need to stop pointing cameras at themselves: Nick Broomfield, with his tiresome, dishonest faux naivet; and Michael Moore, with his insufferable, exploitative self-righteousness.

Donna: Robert Downey Jr. tackles his greatest challenge: playing a sober law enforcement agent in U.S. Marshals. John Malkovich articulates agonizingly in The Man in the Iron Mask and spits out lines in an impenetrable Russian accent in Rounders. David Schwimmer inspires pity rather than laughs as the doomed fianc in Six Days Seven Nights, and laughs rather than chills as the doomed guidance counselor in Apt Pupil. And Richard Dreyfuss, unable to find comedy in the script for Krippendorf's Tribe, resorts to continuous, Popeye-like guttural mumbling.


Not-so-great performances female

Jim As a villainous baby-snatching in-law, Jessica Lange flounced through the laughable Hush like Blanche DuBois on No-Doz. In the maudlin Little Voice, Brenda Blethyn shrieks and squalls so unrelentingly she's almost guaranteed an Oscar nomination. And spare a moment's pity for Species 2's Marg Helgenberger, the Nurse Ratched action figure, who didn't give a performance so much as a cry for rescue.

Noel: Kristen Scott Thomas' self-absorbed magazine editor in The Horse Whisperer was chillier than the Montana landscape, and hardly worthy of Robert Redford's affection. The only thing more useless than the insipidly "pithy" British dialogue in The Theory of Flight was hearing Helena Bonham Carter slur her lines in a grotesque approximation of ALS-impaired speech. And Lela Rochon, Halle Berry, and Vivica A. Fox gave sisterhood a bad name while trying to out-sass each other in Why Do Fools Fall in Love?

Donna: Drew Barrymore displayed her stunning mediocrity in Home Fries and The Wedding Singer, then added an Emma Thompson impression for Ever After. Speaking of accents, Uma Thurman had a hard time settling on just one for her role in Les Misrables. Jennifer Love Hewitt and Neve Campbell adorn high-school lockers everywhere, yet they seemed horribly miscast as adolescent objects of desire in Can't Hardly Wait and 54, respectively. And Annette Bening looked like she was acting on the basis of post-hypnotic suggestion in The Siege.


Disturbing trend

Jim On the business end, there are too many disturbing trends to count corporate synergy schemes disguised as movies (You've Got Mail, Godzilla, etc.); the proliferation of enormous, impersonal, skeleton-staffed megaplexes; the death of independently owned theaters and arthouses; the dearth of solid foreign-film distribution; etc. As for the movies themselves, if I never see another montage of shiny happy people "spontaneously" dancing to some shoe-commercial oldie--as in Stepmom, Hope Floats, and, shiver me timbers, The Theory of Flight--it'll be too soon.

Noel: I counted almost 20 films this year that featured either the sounds or the sight of vomiting, which has replaced "man standing at urinal" as the way to inject earthy reality into a scene. Coming soon--nose-picking!

Donna: Spirituality drove several movies this year, but God was suspiciously absent. Films like City of Angels and What Dreams Make Come cloaked their essentially pagan visions of the otherworld in Judeo-Christian trappings, but when pressed for meaning, they could offer only New Age mushiness--"hearing music in the sunrise," or "creating a world out of your imagination." Note to Hollywood: When considering faith and religion, theology isn't disposable.


Head-scratching moments

Jim

  • How to Use Actors, Part 1, from Sphere: Hire Dustin Hoffman, then get him to flop around on a floor beating his pants legs while shouting "Snake! Snake!"

  • How to Use Actors, Part 2, from Sphere: Hire Queen Latifah, then place her in a bulky diving suit that renders her face and body unrecognizable. Extra points for further obscuring her with killer jellyfish.

  • The alien sexpot of Species 2 has her hormones regulated by cruel, inhuman means--nightly doses of The Dukes of Hazzard.

  • The sex scene between polyurethane dolls in Bride of Chucky--as much insight as I ever want into the sex life of Al and Tipper Gore.

  • The funniest line in Primary Colors: "No identification with actual persons, living or dead, places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred."


Noel:

  • The decision to put a whining mute boy in the rockabilly-fueled Six String Samurai means that long stretches of the movie sound like Dick Dale playing guitar for bleating sheep.

  • Bruce Willis leaves his oil rig to visit NASA in Armageddon; 24 hours later, Ben Affleck has apparently started his own drilling business, which is already failing.

  • Despite being imprisoned together for days, the three principals in Sphere wait until the last minute to come up with an excuse for their superiors.

  • Godzilla seems to change his size, speed, and fire-breathing abilities depending on the requirements of the story.

  • "Why a snowman? Is it because my name is Jack Frost? Man, that's not even clever!" You said it, Michael Keaton.

  • BASEketball--a game that no one would ever want to watch.


Donna:

  • Pleasantville turns the corner from innocuous fantasy to infuriating oversimplification when the "No Coloreds Allowed" sign appears.

  • The cast of Hard Rain spend a night up to their necks in cold floodwater without getting pruny fingertips, let alone hypothermia.

  • The end of Spice World proves yet again that there's nothing more embarrassing than a cutaway shot of an actor pretending to enjoy the Spice Girls.

  • In Lost in Space, William Hurt puts his Stanislavski training to work delivering such lines as, "The bubbles are doorways in time."

  • Ironically, in Mercury Rising it's Chevy Trucks shill Alec Baldwin who says, "I think you've seen too many of those four-wheel-drive commercials on TV."


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