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The Bottom Five Films of 2011

January 23, 2012

Last week we looked at the best films of 2011 and now with the Oscar nominees just around the corner, it’s time to take a look at yet another list of films – this time the Bottom Five! For the first time here at Keeping It Reel, I’ve decided to share five films (ten would be too excruciating) that left me feeling: sorely disappointed, wishing I could unwatch what I had watched, or just made me want to hit my head against a wall (because it would be more entertaining). Now, since I made a commitment to myself last year to not see Every Movie Released (I learned my lesson in 2010 with “The Last Airbender” and “My Soul to Take”, to name a few), I’ve asked someone who Every Major Release last year to join me.

I met local writer and film critic, Locke Peterseim at the 2010 Chicago International Film Festival and we’ve had some great film discussions and debates at various screenings since then. I’ve come to appreciate the insight and humor in his reviews, which always include clever observations and blunt truths. See yourself over on his Facebook page, Locke: Film. I’m honored to have Locke join me in this endeavor and hope to have him back again in the future.

While I consider this my “Worst of” list, Locke has another perspective on the task at hand, “These are not the worst-made or most inept films of 2011. (That list would be filled mostly with Happy Madison productions.) Rather these are five films that received a large amount of praise, attention, or box-office love, but that I found particularly loathsome more for philosophical and thematic reasons than simply shoddy film making. (In fact, the majority of them are technically well-constructed and acted.)”.

Well said. Now without further ado, I give you the doo-doos to avoid….

I do….I don’t….no wait, I do!




I didn’t “mind” my first CHIPMUNKS movie while watching–that is to say my head didn’t explode with horror…much. But in the weeks after the screening, I noticed more and more how pervasive this sort of below-mediocre, heavily marketed gunk is. Kids simply “have” to see it because of name-recognition due to the franchise, and because marketing and commercials jam it down their throat. And in the end, the main message of the CHIPMUNKS films in our all-too American-Idol culture is “It’s sooo cool to be a famous singing star.” It’s a sick and hollow message and one our children don’t need to hearing any more than they already do. And for that and the fact that so many people take their kids to these movies because “eh, what else is there?” I hate the CHIPMUNKS.


Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment tried to branch outside the Dark Knight realm mastered by Christopher Nolan with their power ring –wielding space cop, Green Lantern– and they failed miserably. Oh sure, the kiddos ate it up and that’s one part understandable and one part depressing, but for anyone who knows who Hal Jordan (aka Green Lantern ) is, or just has an understanding for how characterization and storytelling should be done – it’s easy to see how this wanna-be space epic turned out to be a summer stinker.  Besides the atrocious writing and awful editing, the biggest problem the movie had was its lead, Ryan Reynolds. He looked and acted stupid in the costume (as  if he was dressing up for Halloween) and his behavior outside the costume was just as asinine. I could go on and on about how bad this movie was: like the cheap CGI (in 3D, of course), or how actors like Mark Strong and Peter Sarsgaard almost saving it, and the lazy/unearned end credits scene. The saddest thing is that Green Lantern is a cool concept/character and had the potential to be some great cinematic escapism.

Just think, we get to do this again for Part 2! 




Ironically, thanks to director Bill Condon, the fourth film in the wretched series is actually the best-filmed of the bunch. But as with the novel, this is the point in the TWILIGHT franchise where its (and author Stephanie Meyer’s) reprehensible gender and romantic attitudes come to full, awful flower. On top of absolutely horrific “moralistic” (Mormantastic) messages about love, marriage, sex, death and pregnancy, the film spends its first hour simply padding things out (so Summit can double its money with a Part 2 this fall) with a pandering “Weddings of the Living and Damned” aspirational fantasy about The Best Prettiest Sexiest Most Special Ceremony Ever. Followed by an awkward, fear-of-sex honeymoon on a private island in Brazil. (Occupy the Undeads’ Tropic Getaways!) On top of all that, the film is ungodly dull. Adult women love to say that they enjoy the books and films as fun, romantic escapism. Fine, but they’re also pumping this insidious toxic bilge into the heads and hearts of young women.


And here we have another Green 3D stinker – this time with a gas gun. Like “Green Lantern”, I was actually optimistic about this one, but with all the drama leading up to the making of this movie, I should’ve known better, especially since it had been dropped in January. But even with a creative director like Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), I still felt like there could be hope. Not a chance. In fact, there was no trace of anything remotely resembling Gondry. Instead, the movie was all Seth Rogen, who co-wrote and starred as the annoying titular character, and when the only redeeming aspects turn out to be a pimped out car, the sidekick (a great Jay Chou), and a cameo by Rogen’s pal, James Franco, well it’s just not a good sign. Unfortunately, Rogen got in the way of himself here. He might as well have directing credit. Even if the goal was to do an irreverent comical riff on the crime-fighting duo – it just doesn’t work. It comes down to this, a spoiled, petulant man-child in a mask with a cool gun (made by his someone else) running around town in a cool car (again – made by someone else), doesn’t make for a cool superhero flick.

Jenna, we should’ve passed on this script!




For starters, other than a couple Zach Galifianakis bits it’s not funny, but I don’t think it was meant to be—I think it’s meant to be Todd Phillip’s giant “Eff You” to the audience and to humanity itself. This is pure anti-life—it’s filmmaking about how much people suck. If it were a dark comedy like OBSERVE AND REPORT that admitted that cynicism and sold itself as a film about how much people suck, I’d be okay with it. But by wrapping things up with a neat “guys will be guys” bow at the end, the film embraces its cynical, misanthropic, racist, sexist, xenophobic, self-loathing as “just good fun.” The characters in the HANGOVER films never truly pay for their selfish, asinine behavior—instead they’re rewarded with “growth and learning” and self actualization, because that’s how you sell something this hateful to a mainstream summer audience and make them think they like it.


I thought there might be a lesson somewhere in here about not taking your spouse for granted and realizing how good you have it, etc. and so on – boy, was I a fool. What was I thinking? Watching “Hall Pass” was one of the most repulsive and insulting viewing experiences of 2011. I occasionally take pride in “taking one for the team”, or seeing movies so others don’t have to bother, but man – this felt like the team punk’d me. I’m not sure how or why anyone can think “Hall Pass” is funny. After all, it’s just more juvenile man-child antics on display and if anyone thinks it’s funny to see a trashy gal explode her fecal matter all over a hotel bathtub, well that’s pretty messed up. It’s from the Farrelly brothers, so stupidity and silliness is expected, but these guys are getting to old for this (but that’s not stopping them, since we have “Three Stooges” coming out this year). In fact, Owen Wilson looked old in this movie, and SNL alum, Jason Sudekis (a comic talent I usually like) was an unfunny mess. The movie not only wasted my time, it also wasted the talents of Richard Jenkins, Stephen Merchant, and made Christina Applegate and Jenna Fischer look like hags.

I got my Heartsring map with my Tearduct tambourine!



Because it turns loss into a grandiose pop-up book conceit. Because there is nothing real or honest about the characters or emotions—it’s all just ginned up for maximum manipulative punch. Because its maps and mystery quests and ponderous precocious whimsy make it feel like Wes Anderson’s 9-11. Because it comes off as healing by numbers, and if you take away its self-pleased gimmickry, it has no more artistic or emotional depth than a WTC street mural or commemorative coin. Because it doesn’t say anything other than, “Look at what we can do to you with all this pain,” then guilt-dares you not to be touched – if you don’t cry, you must hate children and America, not understand grief, and love 9-11 and terrorists. Because Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock and especially Max Von Sydow all do decent work but still feel like props. And most of all, because it leaves you feeling not moved, but shoved.


It sounded like a possible late-summer sleeper hit. Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Noami Watts come together for a haunted house thriller, directed by Jim Sheridan (“My Left Foot” and “In America”). But then came negative word-of-mouth, zero press screenings (never a good sign!), and no interviews with the actors, but the biggest sign of doom was when Sheridan disowned the entire film. He claimed the Morgan Creek (the studio) took control and did their own re-shoots after they didn’t like his own re-shoots. And then everyone shot themselves in the foot. And who suffers most? Those who saw this mess. It’s one of those rare movies that is populated with actors that are generally likable (not to mention one Oscar nominee and one winner), including the great Canadian import, Elias Koteas – but it wound up being a sloggish snorefest. At least, something good (one can hope) came out of it, Rachel Weisz and Daniel Craig tied the not – what do ya know? Misery unites!

Oh yeah? Just wait till you see all the yelling I do in GHOST RIDER 2!!!



Locke – THE HELP

It hits every Oprah-prescribed feel-good moment, but thematically, intellectually, historically, and artistically it’s an abomination. The fact that THE HELP is not unwatchable, unpleasant or un-enjoyable makes it all the more insidious and crappy on a much deeper level and larger scale, because it appeals to people who want to “feel” but not think. That makes it the worst kind of “bad” movie: the kind that doesn’t seem that bad. Yes, THE HELP truly is serving up a crap pie made to look and smell like chocolate. Despite fine performances from Davis, Spencer and Chastain, and the sterling righting-human-wrongs banner, THE HELP’s a button-pushing sham—it whitewashes grim, shameful events with pandering, crowd-pleasing self-empowerment hooey, a nice cute spunky White Girl for everyone to relate to, and some “Hee-LAR-ious” AMERICAN PIE-style hi-jinks to howl at. (Bryce Dallas Howard’s character is so awful I’m shocked they didn’t give her a mustache to twirl.) The film turns one of our country’s darkest periods into a Southern-fried rom-com that leaves the audience feeling “educated” and “enlightened,” but not “disturbed”: “Ooh, racism was so not nice… but yay, everyone has a happy ending! We’re such better people NOW! Have another slice of pie!”


File under: I Shoulda Known Better. I guess the best way to explain my curiosity in even considering watching this pathetic movie, is to liken it to a roadside pile-up. You know the kind that makes you complain that it slows down the traffic you’re in (or in this case wastes film and careers), yet when it comes time for you to pass it, you just can’t help but to gawk. That’s my generous assessment of “Trespass”, a film by Joel Schumacher, who has made more bombs (“Batman Returns” and “8MM”, hmmm both starring the stars of this movie) than hits (“The Lost Boys” and “Falling Down”) with Oscar winners (sometimes, it doesn’t mean a thing), Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman. The movie can be described as a home invasion flick, where a group of boneheaded thieves terrorize and hold hostage a contentious husband and wife and their rebellious teen daughter (hello, stereotypes!). The result is a convention of Stupid White People, consisting of an abundance of crying, yelling, and gun-pointing. It’s hard to believe this was shown at the Toronto Film Festival last year, yet easy to believe that it got dumped on VOD and was only in theaters for about a week. But, who knows, somewhere down the line, a  Cage line like, “Your filthy lust invited them in!” may turn this into a future classic.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. francesca permalink
    January 24, 2012 10:22 am

    Oh wow, guys, what GREAT reviews – if only I could say proudly that I haven’t seen any of this dross but regrettably……Dream House, three actors who I really like, a brilliant and respected director, what on earth happened? Given the potential greatness, the film’s worst crime for me was its total and utter banality – yes, I was on the edge of my seat alright, waiting for something, anything to happen..and Trespass, like you David I should have known better. Nicholas Cage, Joel Shumacher – looking bad already! So bad that I had deleted it totally from my memory and only now am I getting those nasty cinematic acid flashbacks. I want to see the outtakes on this film, I need to know that I wasn’t the only one laughing….

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      January 24, 2012 4:03 pm

      No, you’re not the only one laughing – and cringing, and crying….

  2. windi permalink
    January 24, 2012 8:58 pm

    Thanks for the rundown. I actually want to see “The Help”. I can’t help but think that you, Locke, are a wee bit cynical based on a couple of those reviews. Haha.

    The only other one I’ve seen is Breaking Dawn and I didn’t think it was *that* bad. Although I certainly am not going to put it anywhere near the top 10 either!

    Green Lantern looked good at first until the whole thing about the cgi suit and killed it for me. I couldn’t even watch the previews without being highly annoyed that they couldn’t just put him in a real suit… was so obviously fake I knew that is cringe the whole movie.

    None of the others even remotely interested me for pretty much the reasons you put them in the bottom five. Oh, except for The Green Hornet, which I didn’t watch after reading David’s review. That was a disappointing review to read.

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      January 24, 2012 9:10 pm

      When you watch as many movies as Locke – and when you know what components make a movie good, it’s easy to get judgmental, analytical, and yes – cynical. Having just recently seen “The Help”, I can attest that he’s not to far off in his assessment. There are some good performances in it, but overall it’s just too feel-goody for a story that is handling some contentious issues. In the end, I felt uncomfortable feelin’ good about something I should just feel uncomfortable about.

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