James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. For a time, nearly every creator has a stutter-step or two, and that’s totally OK. Nobody is expecting these auteurs to be batting 1.000. But some of those never fully regain the luster they once had for the craft of story-telling. People change, especially filmmakers. Maybe they got the chance to work with an actor they’ve always admired, or they have different creative drives, or they may just need a paycheck.
Just look at Francis Ford Coppola, who in the 1970s had a string of the best films ever made: THE GODFATHER PT. 1 and PT. 2 (1972/74 respectively), THE CONVERSATION (1974) and APOCALYPSE NOW (1979). His biggest hit in the past 20 years is that dinky Matt Damon lawyer movie, THE RAINMAKER (1997), but that’s beside the point.
There are those infallible filmmakers like Martin Scorsese who can do no wrong. Even in the twilight of his career he keeps evolving much like the filmmaker that inspired this very list.
And that filmmaker is the (often) great Ron Howard. After coming off of the gripping Formula 1 thriller RUSH, Howard is riding high and back with what supposedly was to be another hit. His latest, IN THE HEART OF THE SEA, was pushed from March to December, which is usually a sign that the studio believes they have a hit critically and hopefully commercially. But this is a surface-level thriller that fails to capitalize on the inherent and rather complex drama by going for something rooted in stale, old-fashioned cinema. Things aren’t looking up for Howard on the critical front as he has the third film in THE DAVINCI CODE series titled INFERNO, starring Tom Hanks coming out in October 2016.
Here are a few titles to make you shake your head at, we really should demand more from these talented individuals.
ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013) – Nicolas Winding Refn
Like Lars von Trier, Nicolas Winding Refn is a bold filmmaker who is willing to test new waters and take audiences inside, often dark and dream-like settings. In 2008, he sent viewers into the mind of Britain’s most violent criminal in the devilishly entertaining BRONSON. In 2011, he put a scorpion on Ryan Gosling’s back and directed him to spectacular effect in DRIVE. In 2013, ONLY GOD FORGIVES saw Refn team back up with Gosling to create an aesthetically pleasing but ultimately dissatisfying experience.
After DRIVE, Refn had a significant amount of pressure on him (the great documentary MY LIFE focuses on such). The truth is, movies cannot be judged solely on whether or not their scripts work, it’s a visual medium. There are other things at play, and ONLY GOD FORGIVES is a visual film. The look gives a toxic attraction and alluring gravity. However, there has to be more to a movie than what’s on the surface. There’s a difference between being abstract and flat out dull, unnecessarily violent and uninviting, and that’s what ONLY GOD FORGIVES is.
Appreciation— that’s all I can give it.
— Preston Barta
TWIXT (2011) – Francis Ford Coppola
One of the most accomplished American directors of all time, Coppola tried to deliver something different with this thriller, but doesn’t deliver the goods at all. Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) is a well-known author of ghost stories but has hit a wall with his next novel. He lands in a small town on a book tour, only they have no book stores. The sheriff (Bruce Dern) is a huge fan, and shows Baltimore the inspiration for his own book, the corpse of a girl with a stake through her heart. He then starts having dreams of a ghost named V (Elle Fanning), but are they just hallucinations?
It doesn’t matter because they’re all boring. There could’ve been a lot more to add depth (the movie clocks in just under 90 mins.), but everything is without substance and is sometimes laughable. TWIXT is just a waste of all the talent involved, and a terrible epilogue to Coppola’s outstanding career.
— Jared McMillan
THE TERMINAL (2004) – Steven Spielberg
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002) is in the pantheon of incredible films by legendary Steven Spielberg, which was fresh, off-beat and pretty funny. None of which could be said for THE TERMINAL (2004), which put Tom Hanks as a Russian traveler stuck in JFK airport. Hanks is rarely out of form and watching him fumble through Western customs can be endearing at times, yet this is a rare miss for the duo who have collaborated four times thus far.
Spielberg misses the chance to dive into rich political commentary given this was at the height of the Patriot Act in conversation, but the only lip service rendered is “America is Closed.” And Spielberg shows Hanks as Viktor witnessing the turmoil in his homeland, but its hard to connect with the juggling of tones. One minute THE TERMINAL is a romance, the next is a bit about stilted political jargon. Spielberg is held in high-esteem, but Hanks doesn’t help much to life the picture up either, both of these fellas can shoulder the blame.
It didn’t take long for Spielberg to rebound. The next year he made the hard-hitting film MUNICH, which saw a distinct shift back to a gritty style.
— James Cole Clay
ALIEN: RESURRECTION (1997) – Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Granted, it can be said that David Fincher’s ALIEN 3 is the worst in the series, however that was his first feature as a director so it gets a slight pass. However, Jeunet had established himself as a visionary upstart with DELICATESSEN and THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN; so when this landed on his doorstep, it looked like the perfect time to inject some life into the franchise. It didn’t work out at all.
The plot is that Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has been cloned due to a blood sample found on the prison planet from ALIEN 3, in order to retrieve the embryonic DNA of the alien and recreate a queen. She has been used to harvest an alien, which will predictably let loose at some point. A group of space pirates board the science ship, including Winona Ryder and Ron Perlman, to hijack some cargo. They are soon fighting for survival, with clone Ripley as their only hope.
A lot of what’s wrong with ALIEN: RESURRECTION isn’t really Jeunet’s fault. The previous installment left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths, so trying anything different would prove disastrous (i.e. the reveal of the new queen). Ripley had died as well, so resurrecting her, in extremely far-fetched fashion, starts the movie off on a cynical note. Jeunet’s talent lies in making something beautiful out of a grimy, bleak setting, but his visual style doesn’t
— Jared McMillan
- THE BROTHERS GRIMM (Terry Gilliam)
- MIMIC (Guillermo Del Toro)
- ELIZABETHTOWN (Cameron Crowe)
- ALEXANDER (Oliver Stone)
- A GOOD YEAR, THE COUNSELOR, and EXODUS: GODS & KINGS (Ridley Scott)
IN THE HEART OF THE SEA opens tonight.