2009 Film Review: 10 Disappointments

Last year was sadly plagued with all sort of cinematographic deceptions: we found some of our favourite authors struggling to make sense; some others venturing into register changes with disheartening results; a few high-profile literary adaptations sinked and mainstream cinema gave further proof it has completely swallowed the independent way of film-making that meant such an influential batch of fresh talent during the 80’s and 90’s. The following ten titles arrived full of promise, but were not able to deliver…

agora-poster-trailer-teaser-film-alejandro-amenaba1 10-AGORA
Alejandro Amenabar

In the year in which the other Spanish director with international fame gave also worrying signs of creative fatigue, Alejandro Amenabar embarked on an spectacular production that failed to keep his privileged niche among international authors.

The unquiet film maker can be praised for his ambition and continuous genre hopping , but his arrival to the field of historic epic didn’t quite work, despite an intelligent alibi to denounce the barbarism generated by religious intolerance. The story of Hipatia, one of the first female philosophers and astrologist living in ancient Alexandria, who was killed in the midst of religious conflicts brought by the unstoppable rise of Christianism, was incapable of matching its noble intentions. Neither Rachel Weisz’s presence, nor its noticeable art direction could save a predictable screenplay from drowning. One to be filed in the noble failures section.

500_days_of_summer 9-(500) DAYS OF SUMMER
Marc Webb

An intrícate screenplay that feel like a puzzle whose pieces were put together by jumping backwards and forwards on the events of a frustrated relationship between two model youngsters of today, nearly manages to cover the absolute hollowness of the story and its cardboard-like characters. The process of stealing the aesthetic values of old independent cinema and music –the film includes a karaoke with the main star singing songs by The Pixies; and well known lyrics by The Smiths and Belle & Sebastian are quoted; next to the accumulation of pretended real-as-life situations made us come to the conclusion that indie cinema as we used to know it is gone. The industry has found the market niche for its exploitation and turned it into another soulless sub-genre, devoid of everything that once made it stand as a revolution against the establishment.

lovely_bones_poster 8-THE LOVELY BONES
Peter Jackson

Adapting Alice Sebold’s popular novel to the big screen didn’t look like an easy task. Its tone was set halfway between the material and the spiritual worlds and it narrated the terrible killing of a teenage girl from the perspective of the victim after dying; while she’s getting acquainted with her new situation as a spirit, whereas in the meantime she watches the effects the aftermath of the crime has in her family. Finding the right balance between reality and spirituality was always going to be tough. Sadly, not even the man who translated Tolkien’s imagination into movies has been able to. Peter Jackson built up a personal dream world to display the main character’s post-mortem stage that didn’t quite work. But it was, however, in the real world where the plot showed most of its flaws, with a top-notch cast (SSusan Sarandon, Rachel Weisz –who has not been very lucky with her recent choices-; Saoirse Ronan; Mark Walhberg..) whose characters did not have the necessary depth to grant the earthy credibility this unusual drama needed so much.

The_Limits_of_Control_DVD_cover_Jim_Jarmusch_Isaac_de_Bankole_Bill_Murray_Tilda_Swinton_spy_assassin 7-THE LIMITS OF CONTROL
Jim Jarmusch

The Spanish reviewers rightly described the last opus of the independent american filmaker as “Snail-paced thriler”. Jim Jarmusch seems to have developed a taste for slow plot developments and stories so minimal that feel like they’re little else than mere style exercices. In this case, we follow the steps of a contract killer, exchanging instructions with a series of mysterious characters across the geography of Spain. Most of the actors (Tilda Swinton; John Hurt; Bill Murray; Gael Garcia Bernal…) felt completely miscast; on purpose away from their best known dramatic registers. The beautiful cinematography, next to that absence of a clear plot, turned the film into a sort of feature length commercial promoting the wonders of Madrid and Andalusia, in the same way Woody Allen’s ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ was one for Barcelona and Oviedo, but without the sense of humour. It may have all been just Jarmusch trying to test the limits of its own control.

s_791303_4f834016 6-GENOVA
Michael Winterbottom

Another all-ground director that’s been changing genres as if they were the pieces of a collection he needed to complete at any cost; Michael Winterbottom reached one of the lowest moments of his otherwise notable, if a bit unfocused, career with this family drama, wrapped with some veiled supernatural touches, in which Colin Firth –right before that other role that has meant his best performance to date- took his family on a long holiday to Geneva, looking for a change of air after the tragic death of his wife in a traffic accident somehow provoked by the mindless games of one of her daughters.
Sadly, neither the way one of the girls face her guilt, generating dream-like appearances of the mother; or the other coping with loss and her mixed feelings towards her sister; nor the overall misadventures during the family’s Italian stance offered much of interest to an audience that, wisely, completely ignored the film.

movie-poster-Benjamin-Button 5-THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
David Fincher

Released for the Oscars surrounded by a truckload of nominations; based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson –later we found out it was considered a minor work; directed by the until now impeccable David Fincher and blessed with another impressive cast headed by Brad Pitt & Cate Blanchett, some compared it to ‘Forrest Gump’ and some others to a sort of hero biopic; but ‘Benjamin Button’ was little more than a very long two and a half hours highlighting the glory of the visual effects that made believable this story of a man whose life goes backwards, and instead of growing old, he gets younger; while everybody else’s run their normal course. Without being backed by any moral, vital or intellectual conclusion, the project fared rather poorly and left a bad taste in our mouth, after all the grandiosity surrounding its conception.

cheri-poster-0 4-CHERI
Stephen Frears

Initially, it featured in all the list of the most awaited film of the year. Stephen Frears right after his return to form with ‘The Queen’; Michelle Pfeiffer’s comeback and a literary adaptation from French writer Colette all led us to recall the golden days of ‘Dangerous Liaisons’. However, this love story between a wealthy courtesan and a spoilt young man, abruptly interrupted by the announcement of the guy’s marriage, felt to pieces from the beginning.

The relationship between Pfeiffer and Rupert Friend felt rather unbelievable as it lacked any chemistry; whereas the subtle irony and open-mindedness of the original was lost on a script that failed to capture the spirit of the novel. All of those who were waiting a long time to see Michelle Pfeiffer being recognized by the Academy, had to go back and pray for the industry’s offering her one more chance.

away-we-go-poster 3-AWAY WE GO
Sam Mendes

A debut as remarkable as ‘American Beauty’ has ended being quite an obstacle for Sam Mendes’ career when his next steps as director paled in comparison. Last year he successfully adapted the classic novel by Richard Yates ‘Revolutionary Road’ and right afterwards gave a 360 degree twist by announcing the arrival of his first comedy. The choice of actors, all with TV series background, offered a refreshing and humble touch that did not diminish in the least the buzz surrounding ‘Away We Go’. What a shame then that this road-trip with a starring couple waiting for a baby and travelling around visiting friends and relatives in search of a new place to live, wasn’t funny in the least. A few minor changes in the script would have convincingly turned it into another competent drama, which seems to be far more appropriate for Mr. Kate Winslet’s abilities to shine.

invictus-poster 2-INVICTUS/GRAN TORINO
Clint Eastwood

After decades cimenting an enviable reputation as one of the most respected members of the director’s guild, Clint Eastwood managed to disappoint us twice. First, it was ‘Gran Torino’, his emotional blackmail to Hollywood in order to be recognized as actor as well, field in which years of playing ‘Dirty Harry’ have taken away a big chunk of his credibility. ‘Gran Torino’ was solidly written and directed, but his fierce vindication of old-fashioned values against the ones prevailing in today’s gone wrong world; as well as his self-proclaiming role as a third age hero, left a certain smell of racism, intolerance and, even worse, being fake that didn’t help. Later this year would arrive the turn for the even inferior ‘Invictus’, in which what could have been a decent biopic about Nelson Mandela’s presidency was reduced to an episode highlighting the marriage made in heaven between patriotic and athletic values in the time when South Africa was shaping its new post-apartheid identity. A real story turned rather boring affair, in which Mandela allegedly took advantage of the national rugby team’s victory to boost the national pride in both black and white people, that would have been more suitable for a documentary format.

antichrist-poster 1-ANTICHRIST
Lars Von Trier

Containing so many wrongs that is hard to isolate the most blatant ones, ‘Antichrist’ was hailed as Lars Von Trier’s incursion in the horror genre. The same director justified it as a product of his depression, which is hardly surprising when you see the results. The iconoclastic Dutchman revisited the way horror movies were done in the seventies and invented a ropey premise: ‘Nature is the devil’s playground’ to round everything up throwing some excessive scenes of male castration in which the promotion of the film seems to have been solely based. The famous, beautifully photographed images, were not worthy of such scandal. The rest of the movie shifted from boredom to laughter, in the face of the useless efforts the director went through to give a psychological explanation to the madness of a mother who retires to her refuge in the mountains to be treated by her psychologist husband from the down she suffers since her son’s death. Just to think that in his next project Lars will venture into the catastrophe genre is far scarier than anything in this film. Penelope Cruz has already turned down his offer, judiciously so.

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