Category: Remembered and Over-appreciated

This category compartmentalises films that have been undeservedly steeped in praise. Some titles here are perfectly fine, others are hateful, but they are all uniform in their overration.

Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

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A predictable, dull film that’s merely a vehicle for Williams’s tediously overbearing comedy.

There’s a great Family Guy cutaway gag in which Peter Griffin and Robin Williams are sitting on a sofa as Peter names topics such as religion and politics for Williams to comment on. Williams does so with his trademark brand of insufferable overbearing comedy, which is filling any amount of time with incessant, frenetic rambling. Peter responds simply with an exasperated sigh before leaving for a five minute break, which prompts Williams to start yet another barrage of supposedly funny noises.

I felt much like Peter Griffin whilst watching Good Morning Vietnam. It reaffirmed my opinion that Williams was not the ‘tragicomic genius’ that so many purported him to be. Williams was much better as a straight actor.

Read a short synopsis of Vietnam and you’ll know exactly what it’s all about: the loveable family favourite Robin Williams being kooky and charming the troops but clashing with straight-laced, humourless authority figures. It’s completely predictable and completely trite. They also throw in a love interest for good measure in the form of Trinh (Chintara Sukapatana), a wholly lifeless woman whom Williams refuses to stop pestering.

Williams is never funny during his radio broadcasts, but the film repeatedly tells us otherwise, showing us scores of characters struggling to hold back their tears of laughter. So many of the supporting actors, whether they’re random troops or studio operators, were just diegetic canned laughter rather than proper characters.

Make no mistake, Robin Williams isn’t playing Adrian Cronauer, he’s playing Robin Williams at his most loud and rambling. Williams is repeatedly characterised as the loveable clown who brings the people together, it’s rather nauseating. No matter how hard the film tries, it cannot convince me that he’s either funny or charming, it only succeeds in making him very irritating. Despite this, there are some moments that raised a smile, such as the language class scenes in which he focuses on New York City street talk rather than the artificial, staid sentences of the textbooks.

Williams’s flatly developed adversaries Lt. Steven Hauk (Bruno Kirby) and Sgt. Major Dickinson (J.T. Walsh) are the typical officious military men. They develop a resentment towards him that’s so instantaneous that it’s contrived and unbelievable; they’re just narrative functions that try and make you feel sorry for Williams, the sweet crazy cookie. Both characters aggressively impose their superior ranks on Williams and the other men, reminding me of the great Machiavelli quote – ‘It is not titles that make men illustrious, but men who make titles illustrious.’  Quite frankly, the quote is wasted on a trivial, tiresomely annoying film like this.

It sometimes attempts to be a drama or ‘dramedy’ with moments of perfunctory war moralising, but ultimately Good Morning Vietnam is preoccupied with indulging Robin Williams rather than achieving anything approaching credible commentary or pathos.

45%

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Let the Right One In (2008)

let the right one in

Let the Right One In wants the viewer to sympathise with someone who murders people because she ‘has to’.

Not as affecting as I was led to believe.

I don’t like vampires; I’ve found the genre’s latest surge in popularity most boring. Indeed, I don’t particularly like fantasy generally, I’ve never been that interested in the much lauded Lord of the Rings trilogy, Game of Thrones or the scores of others. However I do like fantastical narratives when they’re grounded in reality, like the superb Pan’s Labyrinth.

Let the Right One In, which I have been comparing to Pan’s Labyrinth, is grounded in reality too. It is set in 1980s Blackeburg, an achromatic, modernist mess in suburban Stockholm. However, unlike Pan’s, this Swedish horror is bereft of the characters, the imagination and the pathos that made Guillermo Del Toro’s film such a great piece of fantasy.

The film focuses on Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), another archetypal bully victim who’s too sensitive to stick up for himself. I love seeing a bit of playground retribution, and there is a great moment of it in Let the Right One In, but Oskar is a stock character who is generally quite unremarkable and hollow.

This proverbial loner soon meets the mysterious Eli (Lina Leandersson), who unfortunately is even more laconic. Although Leandersson isn’t given much dramatic range, she has a good physicality for the role with her long, dishevelled hair and her big, brown, bleeding eyes.

One of the main problems is that there just isn’t much chemistry between them, not much depth. Yes, the principal characters are 11-year-olds, I know from personal experience that children aren’t as likely to discuss in detail things that really matter, but seldom if at all do Eli and Oskar have an interaction that is above vacant gawping and muttering.

It is a film about two outcasts coming together, it should be moving, I was expecting something of a vampiric Leaving Las Vegas, however it’s difficult to empathise or in fact care at all when one character is a murderer and the other is a laconic child who forever fails to wipe his runny nose (which is rather repellent in full 1080p). Some of the supporting characters were also flat, especially bullies Conny and his older brother, who are excessively and unrealistically cruel.

This all may seem harsh, I don’t think it is a bad film, but the endless praise and the 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes had given me high expectations and they were not met.

Through cinematography, décor, costume design and plenty of Scandinavian pathetic fallacy, the film achieves a pervasive and at times oppressive ambience of melancholia. There are also some very well-orchestrated set pieces, particularly the film’s penultimate scene in Oskar’s school swimming pool; it is initially ambiguous, proceeding to shift mood and wind tension and suspense excellently. The sound is also sharp and really booms in some instances, adding to several of the film’s jumpier moments.

Although I liked its ambience, realist elements and several grisly scares, Let the Right One In fails to justify its reputation as it doesn’t sufficiently explore its characters, the central relationship is quite vapid and the narrative is marred by several instances of Eli’s gratuitous violence and an implausible conclusion.

68%

Glory (1989)

Glory_Head_ExplodeAfter this appropriately nasty image, ‘Glory’ becomes awfully choreographed.

Ultimately rather average.

‘Glory’ charts Colonel Robert Gould Shaw’s (Matthew Broderick) appointment to the head of a coloured regiment through to his battles with institutional racism during the American Civil War.

As a result of familiarity and the majority of the characters being quite bland, I found Glory’s central theme of racism somewhat unremarkable. The flattest characters in the film were the troops of the coloured regiment, who should be central to the film. The problem is they’re not, which is an issue. ‘Glory’ is adapted from Robert Shaw’s letters to his mother, meaning the film is naturally focused on him. Consequently, the core subjects of the story are quite underdeveloped.

Morgan Freeman gives a very Morgan Freeman performance as John Rawlins, the measured, sensible and wise Sergeant Major, characteristics so typical of Freeman’s oeuvre. Denzel Washington is more interesting as Private Trip, an angry runaway slave who’s understandably embittered with the world and everyone in it. This anger manifests itself as bullying, he’s always provoking people who threaten that chip on his shoulder. His wrath is felt particularly by Corporal Thomas Searles (Andre Braugher), an educated, well dressed man whom Trip considers an uncle tom.

Trip is a decent character and convincingly played by Washington, he conveys that pain and anger well; his Oscar winning turn is probably the best performance of the film. However Trip is, like the rest of the film, still somewhat unremarkable and overly familiar. There is one scene where Trip remarks how the regiment is ‘the only family he’s ever had’, which is so clichéd and predictable you could see it coming a mile off.

What perhaps is worst about the film are the battle scenes. While there’s a grisly headshot at the beginning and it succeeds in depicting the disgraceful death of the suicidal battle charges, it ultimately does not convince or affect. There’s far too much choreography going on, whether its soldiers exuberantly throwing themselves about under cannon fire or the almost laughable scenes of contrived mêlée where the soldiers run about rifle butting each other like in some second-rate action film.

Mark Kermode spoke of how ‘Glory’ had ‘visceral war scenes’ that were ‘long before Saving Private Ryan’. Indeed, ‘Glory’ was before ‘Saving Private Ryan’, but the latter heralded a new level of brutal realism, after its awesome 169 minutes you feel completely battered and depressed. I am very surprised that Kermode would compare this tame piece of work with Spielberg’s stark WWII epic.

Despite my reservations, I wouldn’t say ‘Glory’ is a bad film, it goes along just fine. Although I thought there should’ve been more focus on the black characters, it is Shaw’s struggle to control and maintain his new regiment that’s probably the most interesting part of the film. Although a compassionate man, he realises that he is now an authority figure, he must nurture a veneer of unwavering stoicism and power so the men respect and obey him. This means he must adhere to the rules of the time, including the ugly, violent ones. I was most engaged when watching Shaw wrestle with the officialism and racism of his regiment, however the men he commanded were trite and boring.

While it may have been more profound in 1989, I felt that the film, although competent, was rather neutered and covered well-trodden ground.

 69%

Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner

Admittedly this shot makes Blade Runner look quite good, but trust me, there is little beyond the iconic imagery.

Fatally overrated, this film is remarkably dull

Blade Runner is nothing more than a visual spectacle, and its special effects are quickly failing the test of time, which means it’s swiftly losing the only feature that could be considered somewhat redeeming. The film is remarkably flat, in terms of both its characters and narrative; it is completely unengaging in its entirety. Deckard (Harrison Ford) is assigned to find and kill ‘replicants’, which are ‘biorobots’ that have been declared illegal on Earth. The replicants effortlessly blend into society as they look and behave exactly like humans, their cover is blown only through detecting their lack of empathy.

Many people revel in the many different cuts and theories of ‘Blade Runner’, it’s got a prominent cult following. That’s fair enough, but on initial viewing I was left bored stiff – when it comes to sinister cybernetic organisms, it doesn’t get better than ‘The Terminator’ (1984)

This clinical, emotionally detached approach is common in many of Ridley Scott’s earlier work; the whole crew of ‘Alien’ were forgettable, much like the cast of ‘Blade Runner’. I didn’t sympathise with or fear any character, leading to its conventional, tired plot lacking any device to thrill, entertain or ultimately keep me watching. It took an act of will and devotion towards my friend (who is a fan of BR) to endure the whole thing.

I have been aware of the film and its reputation for years, however I had never been that interested in seeing it, but I felt obliged to see it, I’d always get looks and utterances of mock outrage when I said I hadn’t seen it. Well, now I have, and next time I can reply with ‘Yes, I have seen it, and it’s one of the most overrated films I have ever seen.’

50%

To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

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No matter how hard I try, I just cannot like this film in its entirety.

‘To Live and Die in L.A.’ is ultimately something of a snorefest; watch this with even a grain of lethargy and you’ll be lost. And that’s a shame, because there is much artistic merit to be found in the film. The killer Wang Chung soundtrack compliments stylish sequences throughout, and is especially effective when capturing the Los Angeles landscape. The opening montage is very striking both visually and aurally; the sequence showing Master’s counterfeiting procedure is also a pleasure to watch. Sadly though, the first twenty minutes and the closing credits of the film are the most interesting and engaging.

Surprisingly even its stylistic flair becomes tired, Wang Chung is overused and placed in sequences that just don’t require it. ‘To Live and Die in L.A.’ could’ve been far tauter; it rouses you from your catatonic state only a few times with its surprising violence and of course that famous lengthy car chase.

The premise is simply Richard Chance’s (William L. Peterson) relentless pursuit of a murderous counterfeiter named Eric Masters (Willem Dafoe) who has killed Chance’s partner and ‘best friend for seven years’. Chance, whose safety is hindered in the haze of his own hubris, is prepared to do whatever it takes to put an end to masters, even if it means breaking the law he enforces. Peterson’s anti-hero is certainly clichéd; when presented with his new partner John Vukovich (John Pankow), he delivers the common ‘You know I work alone’ trope.

In its entirety, ‘To Live and Die in L.A.’ is a superficial, viewer-unfriendly production that just doesn’t engage its audience. The characters are unsubstantial, the plot is tediously bloated and hard to follow and its aesthetic redeeming features soon become tired over its 1hr 56 minutes. Not even its director William Friedkin could save it; it wouldn’t be until his collaboration with writer Tracy Letts 20 years later that he would return to the form of ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘The French Connection’.

55%

True Grit (2010)

TRUE GRIT

Overrated.

I was looking forward to this film, but ultimately it was forgettable, a disappointment. My main problem with this film is the pacing. The majority of the film is slow, building the character of ‘Tom Chaney’ to be this elusive, faceless nemesis, almost being comparable to ‘Keyser Soze’ in ‘The Usual Suspects’. I felt that when or if the clan finally found Chaney it would be a grand stand-off, a chilling confrontation. But, in the back of my mind, it dawned on me that this film was only around the 1 hr 40-50 minute mark; it had the pacing of a film an hour longer than that, it couldn’t afford to be like this. And so it was, very little happened in the first 1 hr 30 minutes, with absolutely everything coming to a head within the next 10 to 15 minutes or so, it felt rushed and created a crushing sense of bathos. Ultimately, the film has a simplistic premise that is, quite frankly, poorly told; stories of retribution have been told better dozens of times.

While the narrative of the film lets it down, the acting does not. Performances from Bridges, Damon and Brolin are all relatively good (if you can put up with Bridges’ incoherence), but it is in Hailee Steinfeld that we see the best performance. The gumption the 14 year-old portrays in her character reveals her great confidence and talent as a young actress; initially it must have been daunting for a girl of her age working with her older, esteemed co-stars.

People I have consulted about the film praised its direction and cinematography, but the similar wide, open landscapes and nail-biting sequences of the Coens’ outstanding ‘No Country For Old Men’ were leaps and bounds ahead. Unfortunately, ‘True Grit’ produced nothing original, nothing that particularly etched itself on my mind.

In conclusion, I am totally bemused by True Grit’s praise and score on Rotten Tomatoes; I have a suspicion that it has something to do with the Coens’ reputation. If the film were directed by a lesser name, I think this film would’ve garnered a much lower score.

60%

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Dark Knight Rises

Disappointingly dull blockbuster fare.

Upon reflection, I realised that ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ isn’t much more than mediocre. It’s little more than a multiplex pandering, noisy summer blockbuster that hides behind a veil of overly dark and ‘serious’ themes in a really rather pretentious manner. Much like its predecessor, the film is convoluted; its simple plot is dragged over 165 minutes. I actually didn’t find the length particularly bothering, I don’t think I started to fidget too much in my seat, but I was certainly aware that it was too long.

Predictably, the film is overrated, much like fellow blockbusters ‘Avatar’, ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Inception’. All of them adopt the generic blockbuster formula, one of the signature elements of this formula being the humdrum orchestral score, which either sounds like an approaching ocean liner or is so flat and featureless that you’ll leave the cinema forgetting it had one. Christopher Nolan loves his epic narratives to be full of twists and turns, and he will create them no matter how implausible they are.

‘Rises’ isn’t at the top of the implausibility scale, I think that area is reserved for ‘Inception’ or ‘The Prestige’, but so many parts of this film are tiringly unlikely and badly executed. I’m not a fan of literal film criticism, however Bruce Wayne transforms from a decrepit, gout ridden Howard Hughes figure to crime-fighting Batman within an hour, as if the rather damning diagnosis given at the beginning of the film was false. I think they were trying to cram in too many elements of its source material into the bloated plot in a ‘Spider Man 3’ fashion. Without spoiling anything, the ending is also a weak point; its sheer theatrical unlikelihood saps any power or catharsis it intended to be dripping in. The careless implausibility is to be found throughout the film, and for me, it detracted significantly from my engagement with the film.

The film is striking, yes, but not as striking as you’d expect. The word ‘epic’ is being thrown around constantly about this film, but it’s rather ordinary; it’s decent, but it doesn’t stand out like ‘Avatar’. I must admit I found the opening of ‘2012’ more exhilarating.

Contrary to a rather sizeable opinion, I quite liked Bane. I liked his brutal strength and even his voice, which was only slightly irritating after the lengthy monologue delivered upon the car to the inmates. Christian Bale’s performance was again quite unremarkable, like everything with the film – it was okay, nothing special. I like Bale a lot, it’s not entirely his fault, it’s the fault of the character’s. Bruce Wayne and Batman aren’t the deepest, most multi-faceted of characters; Bale is either the restrained, non-entity of Wayne or the growling Batman. The best performance is Michael Caine’s, who has one particular scene that’s given with a marked sincerity that is a real showcase of Caine’s talents.

Ultimately, I left the cinema feeling quite hollow. It wasn’t all bad, but it was rather uninteresting, slightly stupid blockbuster fare.

70%