FILMS OF 2015: THE DISAPPOINTMENTS

I thought that I would take a pause from running down my favourite films of the year, that the interest of balance that I should bring up some of the weaker films that I saw in 2015. There is little to be gained in continuing to deride such obviously poorly made and unoriginal fare as Entourage: The Movie, Jurassic World, Terminator Genisys, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, 50 Shades of Grey and the continued work of Adam Sandler and his Happy Madison production company/abattoir. Some of these films actually provoked quite interesting dialogue, if only for the dissection of their various offenses, how they went wrong and why this cannot stand in the current culture, but nobody expected these films to be good in the first place. Often times the more insidious works to me are the films that come from an interesting place, be that in its cast or crew association or subject matter.  Which is why rather than calling this the worst films of the year these are simply my biggest disappointments, because each of them could had reached such greater heights.

End of the Tour150730_cbox_davidfosterwallace-crop-promovar-mediumlarge

This film is doing genuine harm to the reputation of David Foster Wallace. My DFW obsessive friend, who read Infinite Jest the same summer I did and with whom I’ve devoured the rest of the DFW bibliography sent me the saddest message I’ve seen all year: ‘I think I’m done with DFW.’ I know that it wasn’t boredom with the work, but rather a frustration with all of the chatter around the work that has done him in. And The End of the Tour is at the centre of all of this. It is turning him into a sort of Buzzfeed icon, full of uplifting meme-ready quotes, the Foster Wallace of the insipid Harvard commencement speech ‘This is Water’ instead of the addicting, complicated, alternately acerbic and earnest personality behind Infinite Jest. The dialogue around the film did it no good either, often the kind of speech that was both reductive to Wallace’s work and dismissive of the film, almost as if those creating these thinkpieces were only halfway familiar with either.

If the film was worthwhile in its own right it would be worth such half baked discussion, and there’s certainly an argument that if the film gets even one more person into the work of the man at it’s core then it would be worth it, but the most punishing thing about The End of the Tour is how damn false the whole thing feels. From Jason Segal’s Wallace constantly talking about how ‘American’ his sitting in a shopping mall, or drinking coffee is, to his wearing of the signature Wallace bandana (Wallace in fact only dressed like that for interviews, to aid his sweating at the uncomfortable proposition of being on camera), the film takes all the signifiers of the Wallace mythos and spins them into caricature, a Sundance ready narrative that captures neither the breadth of his intellect nor the secrets of his interior. Wallace’s prose bore a great debt to cinema, the themes of entertainment and voyeurism come up again and again in his work, and often he describes scenes as though shot from different camera angles; it is just a shame that cinema was unable to return the favour by cottoning on to the depth and humanity of the man.

 

Love in 3D

xvm7ddbc3b2-1bec-11e5-b398-d350d7c71e31Gaspar Noe is a visionary, who marries uncompromising thematic darkness and cynicism with a most distinctive visual aethtic: his camera can duck and weave and glide through scenes and characters like no other, turning him into something akin to the cinematic equivalent of Joyce.

But even a visionary occasionally needs a flop to set realign their headspace. Love in 3D is Noe’s 2 ½ hour pean to lost love, the stupidity of youth, and himself. It follows recent 3D experiments from Herzog and Godard, both of whom managed to innovate despite the glasses causing 20% light loss to the screen. Noe’s innovations to the format are few, aside from the obligatory ejaculatory shot there is little that he does with the sex in 3D. There are a few moments when the darkness actually enables him to paint further shadows and shades of black using 3D, and the club sequences look more realistic for how obscured faces are by the light, but by and large the 3D serves no purpose, aside from the fact that without the 3D gimmick the film itself would serve no purpose

Love in 3D follows in the tradition of art house sex films like Intimacy and Pala X but adds little to the genre. The sex scenes are flatly shot from a static camera, only occasionally do we cut from one part of the body to another, or to a reaction shot. For all we know of Noe’s restless innovation, this is unexpected and leaves the viewer cold.

Noe winks towards the cinephiles with a string of background posters of classic films of a similar theme, for M, Freaks, and memorably for Salo. Self-indulgences such as a video copy of I Stand Alone or a model of the Love Hotel from Enter The Void are supposed to come across as knowing nods to the film fans but I saw nothing tongue in cheek here. The closest to interesting these moments get is one character’s statement that her son will be called Gaspar, and another character who appears named Noe. But it is never to a purpose other than to serve itself. Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, which was a similarly excessive film from a controversial director, was rife with such self-reference but in Von Trier’s reuse of actors and scenes from earlier films, Nymphomaniac was able to illustrate the director’s grappling with his own career, his demons and his obsessions.

Both are films about bodies which hold a tremendous amount of power just by virtue of their aesthetic subject matter. However Von Trier’s earlier work is about so much more, it is a sexual odyssey that manages to be funny and depressing, pretentious and good natured, depressing and revitalising. The biggest failure of Love in 3D is it’s inability to be anything other than boring.

 

Trainwreck

amy-schumer-came-up-with-the-idea-for-trainwreck-during-a-very-personal-conversation-with-judd-apatowIn her stand up comedy routines and sketch show Inside Amy Schumer, Amy Schumer has been quietly causing a revolution, producing broad comedy that deconstructs the inherent sexism of society at large; by sending up the way that we often willfully perpetuate these problems, either via sexist tropes in the media or by leaning into harmful social etiquette. It is therefore a blow to discover Trainwreck, Schumer’s first starring film role from a script she penned, is precisely the sort of lazy, audience pandering fare that she has so brilliantly taken aim at before.

Trainwreck follows a successful young journalist who has been taught by her bitter father to reject monogamy and so lives a carefree if empty life hopping from fling to fling. Complications arise when she falls for a doctor she is sent to interview, played by Bill Hader, finding herself in an actual relationship for the first time. From that auteur of over-privalidged man-children Judd Apatow, who has spent the last decade trying to perfect Frank Capra’s Harold & Kumar, it is no surprise that the subversive humour of Schumer is diluted over its two and a half hour(!) run time into the shaggiest of dog-stories.

When conflict inevitably arises, narrative convention leads one to expect Schumer’s character to go back to her fast lifestyle before learning a valuable lesson and getting back with Hader,

but she never sleeps with another man after hooking up with her romantic co-star, so for all that the film establishes her sexual promiscuity, she accepts monogomy in a heartbeat. Thus, her defining characteristic is reversed within the first third of the film. If polygomy can be considered her fatal flaw within the film’s conservative outlook, the fact that she resolves it so early removes any dramatic stakes from the film. In fact there is never any real shape or pace to the narrative, the characters  are often wanting for very little and there is none of the kind of cause and effect storytelling that is required of a relatively slight picture like this. But don’t be confused, this isn’t trying to be Eric Rohmer. Apatow and Schumer Are looking to create The 40 Year Old Virgin for women, which is admirable and necessary considering the problems that have arisen from Apatow’s work before. But Trainwreck perpetuates ideas about ‘Easy Women’ and vilifies those who don’t want to settle down or fit into conventional family roles.

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