Fuse Film Commentary: Guilty Displeasures — The Hated 8

Are people more desperate or deluded, or have my own critical faculties narrowed and deteriorated?

By Peter Keough

Every year – and I’m sure this has happened to many other critics as well – I am totally baffled by movies that everyone else thinks are masterpieces. Lately it has been happening with greater frequency. Are people more desperate or deluded, or have my own critical faculties narrowed and deteriorated?

Answer: I’m right and they’re wrong. But that’s just my opinion.

Here are my 8 top guilty displeasures of 2015.
(Warning: there are no spoilers. Most of these films I didn’t finish).

Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel in "Youth."

Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel in “Youth.” An old story — pretension is forever young.

1. Youth
I hated this movie so much I didn’t even see it. So how can I judge it? you might ask. Especially since I have condemned others for the same practice. Very well, dismiss my opinion if you will, but I hated Paolo Sorrentino’s previous overpraised ersatz masterpiece The Great Beauty so much (and at least that had the muffling effect of subtitles) that I realized that if I saw another sanctimoniously wry, solipsistic tribute to smug mediocrity I would poke out my eyes with a coat hanger. [My review in the Globe ]

2. The Clouds of Sils Maria
I did watch this one. About a half an hour. Unlike Sorrentino, Olivier Assayas is a filmmaker I have always liked. But maybe because Assayas is not a natural at English dialogue, this was unbearably trite and pretentious. Persona-ish without any personae, it involves Juliette Binoche (I like her!) and Kristen Stewart (I like her too!) as an actor and her assistant who are rehearsing the worst play in the world. They reverse roles! It takes over their lives! It drove me out of the theater. Your time would be better spent ordering Persona or Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant from Netflix.

3. Room
Why are there no articles in Room? I don’t mean household articles, like spoons and knives and chairs, but the parts of speech, “a” and “the” and “an”?” Speaking of knives, couldn’t “Ma” have found a moment to cut out her “Old Nick’s” heart, say while he was taking a leak or snoring away or fixing plumbing? Or couldn’t she have put “chair” on “table” to climb through “skylight?” And when [ACTUALLY THIS IS SPOILER BECAUSE I DID WATCH THIS MOVIE TO END] they get finally away, why is little boy Jack, who has spent his whole life watching bearded man rape “Ma,” sent to “therapist,” who is bearded man? Maybe I’m being too literal because lack of articles in dialogue suggests allegory, in which case Room is as insipid and hackneyed as C+ assignment in a sophomore composition class.

4. Grandma
From the minute she uttered her first gratuitously nasty line of dialogue, I knew I was never going to like Grandma (Lily Tomlin). I’m usually a fan of Tomlin – she is the heart and soul of Robert Altman’s Nashville. But here she is unbearable. True, it is a fallacy to think that every protagonist needs to be nice or sympathetic. But they should at least be entertaining or funny.

The fragments of psyche in "Inside out." Should

The fragments of psyche in “Inside out.” Shouldn’t they be selling breakfast cereal somewhere?

5. Inside Out
This high concept animation, with its cute Freudian overtones, was clearly made for parents and not the kids they dragged to see it. I doubt any youngsters enjoyed the clunky concept – in which the interior of a little girl’s mind is shown to be ruled by a quintet of anthropomorphized emotions who look like they should be advertising breakfast cereal. A lot of this will be over the kids’ heads – hopefully the sexist stereotypes. I could take the leaden pacing and the visual ugliness of this banal parable from hell (kind of the cartoon equivalent of Room with articles). What did me in, even more than the strident peppiness of “Joy,” was the predictable party-pooping of “Sadness.” She is the Grandma of animated allegorical characters.

6. Tangerine
My hat’s off to Sean Baker for making a raunchy romp about transgender LA prostitutes and filming it with a handheld pseudo-verité immediacy. Also for the candy-colored palette of the cinematography – he includes not just tangerine but all the flavors in the Life Saver’s tropical fruit assortment. But the inane story reduces these characters to children, making them not just annoying but condescendingly cute.

7. Mad Max: Fury Road
Though the action scenes are truly impressive, the characters are a little – well, let’s say that the road hath more fury than they do. The problem might be that many of the key characters are indistinguishable amidst all the dirt and rags and shaved heads. It’s the same problem as in David Fincher’s Alien 3. And the story? Halfway through the word to describe it hit me: “stupid.”

8. The Hateful Eight
Is this the first Quentin Tarantino film with a continuous voiceover narration? It’s a device for directors who can’t come up with a more cinematic way to tell the story, or aren’t sure the audience is bright enough to follow. Or is it just a send-up of that device? Either way, it’s a far cry from the brilliant narrative structuring of Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown or just about all his other films. There’s the usual allotment of esoteric and usually gratuitous allusions to other genre movies, gratuitous racial slurs, homoerotic gibes, and misogyny. Those too might be ironic, but what’s the point? Some engaging performances, such as Tim Roth as a dapper little British toad called “The Little Man,” but all blown away by Samuel L. Jackson’s bloviating and the slapstick orchestration of the Grand Guignol violence (though the severed arm is pretty funny).


Peter Keough, currently a contributor to The Boston Globe, had been the film editor of The Boston Phoenix from 1989 until its demise in March. He edited Kathryn Bigelow Interviews (University Press of Mississippi, 2013) and is now editing a book on children and movies for the National Society of Film Critics.

14 Comments

  1. Bill Marx, Arts Fuse Editor on January 1, 2016 at 9:45 am

    Two films that I thought were overrated, by critics and the public:

    The Martian: Matt Damon plays a man who is left on the planet Mars, doomed. Over the course of the film the character experiences no depression, angst, regret, fear, or horror — he immediately adopts an implacable pragmatism, a can-do, stiff-upper-lip optimism. “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted,” wrote D.H. Lawrence. Replace “killer” with “robot” — very creepy.

    Brooklyn features Saoirse Ronan, who is an attractive actress, and there is nothing particularly objectionable in this yarn about an Irish immigrant come to an idealized America — aside from the utter familiarity of a boilerplate storyline that could have been filmed by Warner Brothers (albeit with a male protagonist and less sexual frankness) 70 years ago. Let’s see — Ireland in the ’50s was the land of prejudices and narrowness. As for America, there’s no repression, racism, or classism here. Just romance, upward mobility, and real estate opportunities in Long Island. The same old hooey about the American Dream wrapped up in a pretty nostalgic package, including a kid who fires off one-liners with Neil Simon-esque aplomb. And yet another concerned film that pays lip service to the poor without bothering to make any members of the underclass individuals. Let them eat chunks of Long Island …

  2. tim jackson on January 3, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    Even though I wasn’t affected the same way by most of these, none of the arguments strike me as unreasonable (including Bill’s). The list is so delightfully misanthropic that it makes me question my ability to experience joy.

    Speaking of Joy where is that nasty little movie on this list? Lawrence, DeNiro and Cooper are beginning feel like a David O Russell cult. Actors like Amy Adams, Clooney, and Bale have given him up as insufferable. His film is rambling and his exaltation of Jennifer Lawrence could backfire if she weren’t so delightful.

    • Peter Keough on January 3, 2016 at 5:39 pm

      Didn’t see it. Now I won’t.

      • Bill Marx, Arts Fuse Editor on January 3, 2016 at 10:54 pm

        Also not going to run out to see Joy.

        • peter keough on January 5, 2016 at 2:21 am

          I liked Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters), however, in Brooklyn.

          • Bill Marx, Arts Fuse Editor on January 5, 2016 at 12:29 pm

            I agree that Walters was fine — though the portrait could have used a pinch more acid. The character was a bit too nice too quickly to our “good girl” heroine.

    • peter keough on January 5, 2016 at 2:18 am

      If I have deprived someone of the capacity to experience joy, my job as a critic has been done.

      • Bill Marx, Arts Fuse Editor on January 5, 2016 at 12:35 pm

        I am sympathetic, but that grouchy sentiment plays too easily into the stereotype of the critic as a facile misanthrope. Good criticism should illuminate and provoke — critical judgement should raise issues/questions about what we value in art and why. Sometimes the emperor is as naked as a jay bird — and sometimes not …

      • tim jackson on January 6, 2016 at 9:24 am

        I will be stronger for my lack of joy.

  3. Gerald Peary on January 5, 2016 at 10:31 pm

    Bill, you are sounding like Bernie Sanders in missing the fact that Peter Keough is JOKING.

    • Bill Marx, Arts Fuse Editor on January 5, 2016 at 11:32 pm

      I assumed that it was a joke — but there are readers who will take that for real … so I figured I would make my point.

  4. Ollie Hallowell on January 7, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    I loved hating Keough’s 8 and was glad to have the company. I think that Mad Max: Fury Road is the single worst movie I’ve seen in recent memory, and yet Manhola Dargis of the esteemed NYT put it on her Best Picture of the Year list, along with Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, and Best Director. Might she have been tripping when she saw it? I think this would have helped.

    • tim jackson on January 7, 2016 at 4:55 pm

      Who’s to say that’s a bad criteria for a movie? Have the elders who gobbled sugar cubes to El Topo, Yellow Submarine, 2001, Liquid Sky, The Trip and maybe even Fantasia gotten stodgy?

  5. Clea Simon on January 7, 2016 at 5:43 pm

    Not a comment on your film criticism, but this must be said: It is not easy for a kidnaped rape victim to flee. I didn’t see the film of Room but I read the book on which it is based. And despite having some problems with the book (my least favorite of Emma Donoghue’s works), your critique of the mother’s inability to act is wildly off the mark to the point of being offensive. Sorry, Peter. Critique the movie, but do not ask why a victim doesn’t fight back.

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