Top Ten Film Disappointments

Life is full of disappointment, people letting you down, letting yourself down. It’s a shame that the place I seek solace from this – film – offers the same:

Toklat (Robert Davison, Sweden, 1971) The first film I ever saw in a theater, and it was awful. Shots of a bear randomly stitched together. Yes, disappointment starts early.

Juggernaut (Richard Lester, UK, 1974) Advertised as an edge-of-your-seat thriller but in reality was all talk and no action. Terrible fare for a 11-year-old.

Sorcerer (William Friedkin, USA, 1977) I have never been more excited for a film, nor more disappointed. The poster was the best part. Southern Comfort (Walter Hill, USA, 1981) A bunch of guys wandering around in a swamp. Sounds existential but not.

Conan The Barbarian (John Milius, USA, 1982) The prototype for why all comic books fail on the screen.

Return of the Jedi (George Lucas, USA, 1983) The only thing worse than an Ewok is a Jar Jar.

Legend (Ridley Scott, USA, 1986) Alien, Blade Runner…and then this?!? Aliens (James Cameron, USA, 1986) How to Ruin a Franchise 101.

The Godfather III (Francis Ford Coppola, USA, 1990) Not as bad as everyone says, but Ms. Coppola is. I also had a guy behind me explaining Godfathers I & II to his girlfriend. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA, 2014) The problem with a high bar is that you have to maintain it. (See also Woody Allen, post-2000)

The Edge: Of Good Writing

Screenwriting is a most inconsistent proposition. While there are many films that have great scenes and characters, the work is often lacking in its overall story. Paul Thomas Anderson‘s films, including The Master, fall into this category as does the work of many modern screenwriters/filmmakers, such as Gaspar Noe, Terence Malick, Pedro Almodavar, Jim Jarmusch, and that other Anderson, Wes.  I posted recently on Andrei Tarkovsky’s film The Sacrifice, and his struggle with story-telling.  This too is an issue for many of the great auteurs: Francois Truffaut, Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni and, even my favorite, Werner Herzog; it’s the image, the motion, the atmosphere first and everything else after that. This is not say that the story arc of Hollywood should be subscribed to in any way. There is nothing so painfully innocuous as to be dragged along through the introduction, conflict, rising action, climax, denouement and all the pain-in-the-ass red herrings in the films of Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, Jimmy Cameron or Clint Eastwood.But there is a middle ground out there, something between the poetic image and the Hollywood ride. It’s as hit and miss as the rest, although there are diamonds in the rough. One film that comes to mind is Greg Motolla’s Superbad (written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg); as stupid as this movie can be, the story is true, the characters honest. Another surprising film is Lee Tamahori’s The Edge, written by David Mamet. This film is typical Hollywood, “Jaws with claws” as it was dubbed; however it is well-written. The story structure is effective – except for a weird denouement/climax #2 – and the arc is clear. The characters are engaging, even as types, and interact in an interesting way with both each other and their environment. The message is loud – We must face our demons! – but it’s a good film. And the bear is great. Really.