Issue: December 2015 - Stuff We Hate

The TFS List: 5 films so bad, they’re good

There’s a particular type of joy found in watching a bad movie. Maybe it makes us feel good to think we could do better, or it’s just nice to see that everybody around us isn’t perfect, so we can stop worrying about whether we are. However, there are some films that transcend awfulness and by being terrible on every level they become incredibly entertaining. SyFy has built a brand upon this idea. With films like Sharknado and Birdemic gathering all kinds of undue praise, filmmakers are increasingly attempting to create something bad and then revelling in how terrible it is. While there may be some fun in watching movies like this, they’re missing the point. What makes a film fall into that category of “so bad it’s good” isn’t that it’s attempting to be bad — quite the opposite, actually. These films are desperately trying to be good. Nobody involved set out to make a terrible movie, so when that’s the end result, it can often be incredibly entertaining. In a month where we’re celebrating what we don’t like about the movies at Toronto Film Scene, it’s the perfect time for a list of films that nobody should like, but we somehow can’t help but be entertained by. There are many that couldn’t make the list, and everybody has their own idea of what a “so bad it’s good” work is. Some obvious...

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Cinema Revisited: Ishtar

There are cinematic failures and underperformers, and then there’s Ishtar. Next to Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate and the Liz Taylor- and Richard Burton-starring Cleopatra, no film has been as synonymous with Hollywood egos run amok. The ’80s delivered plenty of divisive, often terrible box office tragedies, but none were greeted with as many knives out as Elaine May’s updating of the Hope-and-Crosby-style road picture for a new generation. Its perceived failure, to put it in Hellraiser terms, was legendary, even in hell. Time went as far as to add the film to its list of the “100 Worst Ideas of the Century.” That’s how dire the reception was. There have been hundreds of think pieces and historical examinings of Ishtar, and at this point, it’s generally accepted that Ishtar received a raw deal. With stories of how out-of-control the Warren Beatty- and Dustin Hoffman-starring picture was getting coming out at an alarming rate from “anonymous” sources, a yearlong post-production process and hatred from Columbia Pictures executives almost from the outset, Ishtar wasn’t actively trying to fail, but the forces surrounding it were positioning it to. The sad truth is that the stories of artistic and corporate malfeasance surrounding Ishtar’s production will always overshadow the film. Elaine May, at a Q&A following a screening of the film several years ago, rightfully said that the number of people who claim to hate Ishtar outnumber the people who actually saw it. In reality, and viewed through...

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Media Impact: misleading movie trailers

Movie trailers are a divisive topic. While some love being hyped-up about coming attractions, others dislike how modern trailers give away practically the entire plot. There’s also the fact that many don’t properly advertise their film is actually about. Since many are produced by independent marketing firms and are often put together with unfinished footage, there are many featuring scenes that fail to appear in the final cut or suggest that a film is much different than it turns out to be. Here is a look at a few excellent examples of misleading trailers, in one form or another. (Please be advised that spoilers may be ahead.) Alien 3 (1992) Alien 3 has one of the most infamously misleading teaser trailers of all-time. Featuring zero footage from the final film, the voiceover promises, “On Earth, everyone can hear you scream.” This excited audiences, who were expecting Ripley to clash with the Xenomorphs on her home planet. However, this teaser was made while the film was still in-production and final script stages; it turned out the final version took place on an off-world penal colony. This teaser was just one of countless problems for David Fincher’s notoriously troubled first production. Executive Decision (1996) Steven Seagal was a rising action star in the ’90s and Executive Decision was poised to join Out for Justice and Under Siege in the now much-beloved...

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Essential Canadian Cinema: One Magic Christmas

Christmas movies usually come in one of three flavours: incredibly sappy and sweet; terribly depressing; or a combination of both. One Magic Christmas definitely falls into the latter category, ranking up there with It’s a Wonderful Life for heartbreaking Christmas fare. The film stars Mary Steenburgen as Ginny Grainger, a woman who’s forgotten what Christmas is about. Her husband, Jack (Gary Basaraba), has lost his job and their family is being forced out of their company home. With little money and no holiday spirit, Ginny needs a reminder of what’s important. Her daughter, Abbie (Elisabeth Harnois), meets an angel named Gideon (Harry Dean Stanton), who claims he can help Ginny remember how much she once loved Christmas, but he’ll need Abbie’s assistance. Here is where things take a dark turn. Getting Ginny to remember what’s important isn’t as simple as a few flashy tricks, and the way Gideon goes about things seems a bit unreasonable for a Christmas movie, but that’s how things go in the Great White North. Finding a Canadian Christmas movie can be a bit of a challenge, so selecting one worth discussing was a difficult task. Toronto Film Scene writers Andrew Parker and Will Brownridge donned their Santa hats and grabbed some tissues to examine this effort and decide if it’s not only Essential Canadian Cinema, but one of the great Canadian Christmas movies. Will:...

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The Soapbox: unnecessarily hairless women, what’s the deal?

You know what boils my water? Hairlessness. Unnecessary hairlessness. Historically unnecessary hairlessness. Historically unnecessary hairless women. Quick: take any Hollywood historical drama and find me a woman with historically accurate body hair. I dare you; I double-dog dare you. I bet you can’t, especially not quickly, and that’s because for some bizarre reason, the idea of a woman with a pit full of hair is apparently considered so sickening and unattractive that filmmakers would rather mess with accuracy than traumatize the audience with historically accurate bodies. You likely didn’t even notice the fact that hairless women have been rampant in Hollywood films for years, regardless of subject matter, from more recent examples like the Alien or Tomb Raider franchises to pretty much any historical film ever made in North America. You also probably didn’t know why this was troublesome. If you’ve watched enough European films, you’ll find that there are women with time-appropriate hair more often. The fact that much of Europe doesn’t have the same stigma attached to body hair as North America helps, but it comes down to the question of whether film is meant to reflect our society as is it, regardless of whether the film is about society at all, or is meant to entertain and educate us. The idea of a woman with a pit full of hair is apparently considered so sickening and unattractive that filmmakers would rather mess with accuracy than traumatize...

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Quentin Tarantino: it’s all about him

I will concede that Quentin Tarantino is a competent filmmaker. On a technical level, his movies are always solid and well constructed. However, like a student film where the filmmaker has memorized all the steps of a “How To” textbook and managed to tick all the important boxes, there’s little else to recommend. It’s all flash and no substance. Even more off-putting, hidden underneath the technical gloss and inciting dialogue, all that exists is an entitled man-child concerned with nothing more than proving he is better than everyone else. This is why Tarantino is overrated as a filmmaker: he lacks a distinct voice or clear vision. Instead, he cobbles together his favourite bits from better films and directors to create a patchwork of references to far superior works. My dislike of Tarantino’s oeuvre isn’t limited to his bringing only minimal originality to his work — there’s an overwhelming arrogance enveloping his films like a toxic cloud. The practice of pastiche is a time-honoured one, but there needs to be more to it than a borrowing of images and ideas — the new work needs to engage with the referenced ones; it cannot simply be a matter of “isn’t this cool?” and “aren’t I smart for being able to make this reference?” Not only are Tarantino’s best ideas taken from others, but he also holds an unwavering belief that he’s...

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Don’t be fooled: why films that try to trick us ultimately fail

The players are in place and the circumstances are set. The audience is expectant and the action can finally take place. Now, after an hour-an- a-half of systematic misdirection and play-acting comes the reveal. “Everything you saw was a set-up.” “Nothing is real.” “Be amazed.” The credits roll with aplomb as the audience feels, thinks and reacts in whatever way, and through whichever means, they’re accustomed to. The trick has been played and we have all been had. But have we? All the signs were there: the clever use of sleight-of-hand editing to undermine the audience’s anticipation; the dialogue explicitly framing the impending twists and turns; and the premise of the film, which denotes impending surprise. Does the fault then lie with us — that we allowed ourselves to be manipulated? This is the conceit of the “trick” film, which use the capacity of narrative and the expectation it can create to direct the audience in a desired direction. However, through the various means of doing so, these films potentially undermine any affective connections. In the deliberate set-up of the final twist (or intervening turns), the film betrays its ability to surprise the audience, which in turn strips the possibility of the narrative to shock, cajole and incite emotion. Hate, while a strong feeling, is an acceptable response. I hate that I initially was on board with the film...

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