Tag Archives: worst films

Worst of 2017: The Assignment

The Assignment

Continuing my spotlight on a handful of the regarded worst films from 2017, today I’m going to take on Walter Hill’s The Assignment.

The plot of The Assignment, according to IMDb, is as follows:

After waking up and discovering that he has undergone gender reassignment surgery, an assassin seeks to find the doctor responsible.

The central cast of The Assignment includes Sigourney Weaver (Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Avatar, The Cabin In The Woods, Ghostbusters), Michelle Rodriguez (Avatar, The Fast & The Furious, BloodRayne, Resident Evil), and Tony Shaloub (Monk, Men In Black, Wings).

The Assignment was directed and co-written by Walter Hill, a well-regarded action icon whose writing and directing credits include influential films like The Driver, The Warriors, and 48 Hours, as well as less-than-memorable films like Bullet To The Head and Red Heat.

Hill’s co-writer for the movie was Denis Hamill, who notably wrote the Richard Pryor movie Critical Condition and Bob Clark’s Turk 182!.

The editor for the film was Phil Norden, who cut a couple of episodes of the miniseries Broken Trail as well as a handful of small independent movies, like Blood Shed and The Martial Arts Kid.

The cinematographer for The Assignment was James Liston, who has shot numerous episodes of the current Supergirl television show, as well as films like Wrecked and Severed.

Two people are credited for the music in The Assignment: Giorgio Moroder, who is known for movies like Scarface, Flashdance, Over the Top, Cat People, Midnight Express, and a popular re-scoring of Metropolis, and Raney Shockne, who has primarily worked on TV shows like Queen of the South, Kevin Can Wait, Jersey Shore, Real World, and Project Runway.

The screenplay for The Assignment dates back to 1978, when Denis Hamill wrote the first draft. At that point, it was under the working title Tomboy, which it held almost until its release. Walter Hill was initially drawn to it because he “liked its audacity, and its potential to be … a kind of really terrific B movie.” Hill optioned it in the 1980s, but wasn’t able to put it to film for decades. However, at one point, Hill adapted it into a graphic novel, though it never saw release. Once funding came through to make a movie from the screenplay, he dropped the idea of releasing it as a graphic novel.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, director/co-writer Walter Hill had the following to say in regards to the more controversial elements of The Assignment:

“I’m not trying to make a statement about trans- or cis-male behavior. There’s nothing in the movie that doesn’t agree with transgender politics or rights, at least in my admittedly limited understanding of them…I wouldn’t make a movie that hurt transgender people. Some of them have had a tough time of it, and the last thing I want to do is make anyone’s road harder. But look, I understand the concern. Is it lurid? Yes. Is it lowbrow? Well, maybe. Is it offensive? No. I’m just trying to honor the B movies that we grew up with.”

After a poor initial showing at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016, The Assignment received only a limited theatrical run in 2017, which grossed just over $200,000. I wasn’t able to find a production budget number for the movie, but I greatly suspect that the film failed to break even from the theatrical release. However, its primary release platform was video on demand, and it is hard to say what sort of income streaming brought in.

The reception to the movie, however, was clear: it currently holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 31% from critics and 20% from audiences, alongside an IMDb user rating of 4.5/10.

One of the handful of apologists for the film was Peter Sobczynski of RogerEbert.com, who gave the film a modest 3/5 stars, writing that The Assignment is:

a modestly scaled B-movie by one of the best genre filmmakers of our time, Walter Hill, that has enough skill and personality going for it to make it worth checking out, even if it doesn’t quite live up (or down, depending on your perspective) to its borderline sleazy premise.

To begin with, I agree with Sobczynski that The Assignment doesn’t live up to its undeniably unique premise, though I definitely didn’t like it as much as he did. It just doesn’t do much with a really outlandish foundation, which might have made for a bizarre, over-the-top action movie. Instead, it is bloated and plodding, which isn’t helped by some really rough screenwriting.

The Assignment is, if nothing else, gimmicky in conception. Normally, gimmicks are pretty harmless, and sometimes border on ingenious. However, when dealing with a highly marginalized population and social issue as a plot device, I just don’t think it works: it comes off as an unpleasant mix of pandering to the zeitgeist, as well as skirting around reinforcing dangerous misconceptions and stereotypes. So, in this case, as much as the concept is original, I’m not sure if it can actually earn points for that. At the same time, the movie is way less insensitive than I had expected: as Hill stated in his interview, it isn’t a movie about trans people, and doesn’t delve into the issue: it is simply a revenge story, with a re-assignment surgery as a plot element. Still, the movie comes off as immensely tone deaf, and bordering on exploitative. On top of that, the movie makes the reassignment surgery itself seem kind of minor: the lead character recovers incredibly quickly, which debatably trivializes an incredibly dangerous operation. In the grand scheme of things, though, the movie could certainly done a lot worse than that.

From a film-making standpoint, this movie is exceptionally terrible. The editing and transitions are the worst I have seen since going through the IMDb Bottom 100, and stick out immensely from the rest of the movie. From what I can gather, a lot of these transitions were vestigial elements left over from the story’s translation to graphic novel, and back into screenplay form. On the whole, the jarring, cartoonish transitions contribute to a movie plagued across the board by an uneven tone, varying from dark revenge drama to some oddly-placed and poorly-executed comedic moments.

One of the most cringe-inducing elements of The Assignment is the dialogue. While it is never good, I found the writing for Weaver’s character to be particularly abysmal, almost as if it was lifted in total from the subreddit r/IAmVerySmart, However, Weaver does her absolute damnedest with dialogue that sounds like an 11-year-old imitating what they thing a smart person sounds like, and seems to have a blast with the scenery-chewing as a result.

Another big issue with The Assignment is the comic book stylizing, which pops up in a number of sequences. At this point, even comic book movies have left this technique behind: it would have been more appropriate 10 years ago, and the movie feels even more out of touch for using it. Again, I think this is a vestige from its brief life as a graphic novel, which Hill seems to have been pretty intrigued by. However, as with the transitions, it just doesn’t look right on screen. Sin City was an exception to the rule, but it seems like it is taking a long time for folks behind the scenes to figure that out.

Another element of the movie that is impossible not to note is the opening. The opening few minutes of The Assignment are, to say the least, highly distracting. Though I can understand the attempt to establish Rodriguez’s character as hyper-masculine, which is thematically key, and to get the audience to disentangle the physical body of character from their outside recognition of Michelle Rodriguez, it isn’t executed well at all.  However, despite Rodriguez’s performance (which isn’t bad), the whole effort winds up being a bit off-putting and jarring, thanks in large part to some creative masculine overcompensation. Even Sobczynski, one of the film’s defenders, admits that:

the early scenes in which [Rodriguez] portrays the male version of Frank, complete with a wildly unconvincing beard and a lingering close-up of his genitalia for good measure, do inspire a few bad laughs right when the film is trying to establish itself. For some viewers, it may never recover from that.

Overall, The Assignment is at most a temporary curiosity in the movie world: a b-movie trying to capitalize on something that was perceived to be part of the zeitgeist. However, it might have actually benefited from leaning in more, and actually getting into the politics and social issues related to trans folks. It could still be a cool action movie, and balance that with social critique. However, instead, it is a boring action movie with nothing to say. The biggest takeaway of this movie, in my opinion, is that Walter Hill has passed his expiration date, and should probably take a seat. As for a recommendation, there’s a lot here that could serve as a negative example: basically, it is an exemplar of what not to do, on a number of levels. For entertainment purposes, though, you should absolutely skip this one.

Advertisements

Worst Movies of 2017

Howdy loyal followers! As you are well aware, we are just about to put another year behind us. With 2017 coming to an end, I wanted to, once again, shine a spotlight on the publicly perceived worst films of the year.

I want to re-emphasize that this is a list I generated based on public perception, and not objective quality. I chose to measure this by compiling 11 currently published year-end “Worst of 2017” lists (from sources like The AV Club and The Chicago Tribune), then I tallied up how often each film appeared. It is a pretty simple and data-driven way to make this sort of list, and gives a rough idea of how widely despised individual films were.

As with last year, there was no consensus between the various “Worst of 2017” lists. Between the 11 ranking lists I initially pulled movies from, I wound up with roughly 70 different films with at least one tally, which included some obviously contentious, contrarian picks like Phantom Thread and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. For the sake of brevity, I’m only listing out movies here that appeared on more than 2 lists, but if you want to see the final version of my spreadsheet with all of the tallies and sources used, you can find it here.

Once again, there was no consensus pick for the worst picture of 2017. Last year, the most consistently reviled movie (Independence Day: Resurgence) was on 10/14 rankings, which crunches out to just under 72%. The fact that the closest thing to an agreed “worst movie of the year” failed to land a vote on 28% of lists certainly says something about either a variety of tastes, or a competitive field of bad movies. This year was no different: the highest vote-getter only barely squeaked by a tight pack of contenders, and received votes on only 7/11 lists (63.6%).

Without further ado, here are the publicly perceived worst movies of 2017:

  1. Transformers: The Last Knight
  2. Book of Henry / 50 Shades Darker / The Emoji Movie
  3.  The Mummy / Baywatch
  4. The Great Wall / King Arthur / Chips / The Snowman / Geostorm
  5.  The Dark Tower / Flatliners / Rings / Suburbicon 

Are there any movies that you expected to see that didn’t make the cut? Let me know in the comments!

Worst of 2016: Gods of Egypt

Gods of Egypt

goe2

Today, I am going to be kicking off an entire month dedicated to the worst films of 2016. First up is the controversial bomb, Gods of Egypt.

The plot of Gods of Egypt is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Mortal hero Bek teams with the god Horus in an alliance against Set, the merciless god of darkness, who has usurped Egypt’s throne, plunging the once peaceful and prosperous empire into chaos and conflict.

Gods of Egypt was directed by Alex Proyas, who is best known for movies like Dark City, The Crow, and I, Robot, among others.

The screenplay for the movie was written by the duo of Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, who recently penned Dracula: Untold and The Last Witch Hunter, and wrote the script for the upcoming Power Rangers movie.

Gods of Egypt stars Gerard Butler (300, Olympus Has Fallen), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones, Headhunters), Brenton Thwaites (Oculus, Maleficent), Geoffrey Rush (Mystery Men, Green Lantern, The King’s Speech), and Chadwick Boseman (Captain America: Civil War, 42).

goe1

Richard Learoyd served as the primary editor for the film, after cutting Proyas’s previous movies, Knowing and I, Robot. The cinematographer for Gods of Egypt was Peter Menzies Jr., who has shot such films as Four Brothers, The 13th Warriors, Kagaroo Jack, The Incredible Hulk, and Die Hard with a Vengeance. Also of note among the crew was the production designer, Owen Paterson. His design credits include work on The Matrix trilogy, Red Planet, V for Vendetta, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

The musical score for Gods of Egypt was composed by Marco Beltrami, who has had a number of high profile film scores over his career, including Scream, Snowpiercer, Blade II, The Hurt Locker, Jonah Hex, The Faculty, and Mimic.

This plot of Gods of Egypt is a heavily modified version of the Egyptian myth “The Contendings of Horus and Set”, in which the gods Set and Horus vie for the rule of Egypt. Set, played by Gerard Butler in the movie, was the Egyptian god of the desert, storms, disorder, and violence, and served as lord of the red land (essentially, the deserts of Egypt). His foil, the protagonist Horus, is played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and is the Egyptian god of the sky. Horus is the son of Set’s brother, Osiris, whom Set ursurped and murdered in his quest for power. Because of this, Horus and Set are at odds in Egyptian mythology, a conflict that is carries over into Gods of Egypt.

goe3

Other Egyptian mythological figures who appear in the film include Ra, the sun god; Osiris, the god of resurrection and the afterlife; Thoth, the father of science, religion, magic, and the written word; Apophis, the enemy of Ra and lord of chaos; Hathor, the goddess of love and beauty; and Anubis, who was the lord of the underworld, and tasked with ushering souls into the afterlife.

Gods of Egypt was filmed in Australia to stand in for the Sahara desert. While this was partially because of safety concerns, Australia also offers significant tax incentives to bring in film productions. Between these incentives and pre-selling international distribution rights, Lionsgate and Summit had very little risk involved with the project (rumored to be only $10 million), and almost certainly made a solid profit.

The title of the movie was modified in a number of markets to be Kings of Egypt, in order to avoid potential religious controversy and censorship. Interestingly, one of these countries wound up being Egypt itself.

Controversially, Gods of Egypt features no Egyptian actors, and hardly players any of African descent. This caused a significant backlash from internet figures and film critics, prompting a wave of apologies from the director and the studio. Chadwick Boseman, who portrays Thoth in the film, had the following to say to GQ about the movie’s whitewashing of Egyptian mythology:

“When I originally was approached with the script, I thought this [critique] might come up, I really did. And I’m thankful that it did, because actually, I agree with it. That’s why I wanted to do it, so you would see someone of African descent playing Thoth, the father of mathematics, astronomy, the god of wisdom…people don’t make $140 million movies starring black and brown people.”

goe4

On the flip side, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Horus in the movie, told The Red Bulletin his feelings on the controversy:

A lot of people are getting really worked up online about the fact that I’m a white actor. I’m not even playing an Egyptian; I’m an 8-foot-tall god who turns into a falcon. A part of me just wants to freak out, but then I think, “There’s nothing you can do about it.” You can’t win in that sort of discussion.

goe5

Following the near-universal negative reception to the movie, director Alex Proyas did what most directors of prominent flops seem to do: he lashed out at film critics.

They can rip into my movie while trying to make their mainly pale asses look so politically correct by screaming “white-wash!!!” like the deranged idiots they all are….we have a pack of diseased vultures pecking at the bones of a dying carcass. Trying to peck to the rhythm of the consensus. I applaud any film-goer who values their own opinion enough to not base it on what the pack-mentality say is good or bad.

Gods of Egypt was made on a production budget of $140 million, on which it took in a lifetime theatrical gross of just over $150 million dollars. While this ultimately covered the production, the production budget number doesn’t take into account post-production and marketing costs. However, thanks to the pre-sales and tax incentives, the film was probably profitable when all was said and done, though not the blockbuster smash that was hoped for. It is interesting to note that Gods of Egypt only made $31 million of its total gross domestically: the movie had to rely heavily on foreign markets to even get to it’s ultimate lackluster take.

In keeping with the disappointing monetary take and pre-release controversy, critics and audiences had little positive to say about Gods of Egypt. Currently, it holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 16% from critics and 38% from audiences, along with an IMDb user rating of 5.5/10. Peter Bradashaw, in his review of the movie for The Guardian, said:

It’s…fuelled with its own absurdity, like an ecologically unsafe type of diesel.

I don’t think I could have said it better, honestly. Gods of Egypt has an awful lot of problems that plague it from top to bottom. First off, it lacks a clear direction or mission, often shifting focus from one McGuffin to the next, such as one or the other of Horus’s eyes, or Ra’s staff. The writing also relies heavily on prior knowledge of Egyptian mythology, rarely introducing characters or elaborating on any objects, people, or beasts not at the very center of the primary plot. Ra’s solar barge is glossed over, as is his space worm opponent. Likewise, the rules of the afterlife seem rather convoluted and prone to change, and further, apparently the afterlife as whole is edible? Also, it is heavily implied that Horus’s powers were either magnified or manifested from his eyes, until it was revealed that they weren’t actually connected, and that his eyes are mostly irrelevant. However, his eyes are still magic and capable of blinding mortals.

While the design and appearance of the movie is impressive at first glance, the shiny veneer and immaculate production design are often ruined by shoddy CGI, even outside of the cringe-inducing action sequences (which I’ll get to shortly). One frequently used, yet inconsistently applied, digital element in the film is the size differential between mortals and humans. Sometimes, the gods appear only slightly taller than most humans, and in other scenes, they look like giants. I understand wanting to make the gods look superhuman, but unlike the impressive perspective work done in Lord of the Rings for the hobbits, Gods of Egypt never nails down the art of pulling this off effectively, and it mostly served to make my eyes confused for the first few minutes of the run time.

While watching the movie’s action sequences, I was reminded of the climactic fight between Superman and Zod in Man of Steel: in spite of all of the damage and punches being thrown, I was pretty bored after only a few seconds. The hits never look like they have weight, and the rapid movements and cutting distract from any kind of tension or compelling visuals. That said, there wasn’t much to see in the first place: the animal transformations of Set and Horus that appear in most of their fights just look goofy. They are a little too fluid and shiny to be tangible, and stand out like two big, cartoonish sore thumbs whenever they show up. This is really unfortunate, because they should be cool, and I’m willing to bet that their designs on paper were fantastic. Similarly, a 9-foot-tall Geoffrey Rush on fire fighting a space dragon should one of the coolest things you could ever see, but the result on screen just looks like a bad video game.

There are some good things to say about a few of the performances, however. Chadwick Boseman’s hammy portrayal of Thoth is refreshing, and adds some genuine humor to the movie. Gerard Butler also seems really comfortable in the role of a heel, and I hope he continues on his path of villainous portrayals. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is the platonic ideal of a stone-faced, handsome protagonist, and his comedic banter with his co-stars is genuinely charming at points. However, there are also some less than stellar performances to be found, particularly among the cast of mortal characters. Brenton Thwaites, who plays the (I guess) protagonist Bek, is absolutely terrible, from his inconsistent accent to his awkward deliveries. His romantic interest, played by Courtney Eaton, is also far from stellar (again, a bad accent), but is relegated to basically being a McGuffin herself instead of an actual character with an arc or discernible traits. Speaking of which, the accents n this movie range all over the place: I kind of suspect that there wasn’t any kind of directorial edict as to what the Egyptians would sound like, so each actor did whatever they felt like.

I’ve said it before, but it is worth reiterating again: Gods of Egypt has a pretty damn cool idea on paper: the designs of the sets and costumes are ambitious, bold, and interesting, and the classic story makes for a solid base for a film. However, the execution here was way off the mark. Partially, I think this is because the necessary budget to pull off the number of creatures and sets required to meet the vision was beyond the production’s grasp, so the production team settled on a number of less-than-ideal versions that came slightly cheaper.

The insensitivity and lack of foresight in the casting, which has come to embody the impact and legacy of Gods of Egypt, is 100% the result of Hollywood thinking: they clearly didn’t anticipate the backlash, and just wanted faces they thought would be marketable with a relatively affordable price tag. Hollywood is still trying to catch up with the zeitgeist on whitewashing: Ghost in the Shell, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and Gods of Egypt are all indicative of that. Partially due to obliviousness, partially due to stubbornness, and partially due to a powerful, capitalistic drive, a whole lot of studios and producers have held on to the model of The Conqueror: “John Wayne can be Genghis Khan, because he’ll sell the tickets and that’s what people want!” The only way to change this is to keep chipping away at the profits of these movies: don’t buy a ticket, and complain on social media as loud as you can. Eventually, the financial losses and toxic word of mouth will lead to some changes. At least, we can hope so.

As far as a recommendation goes, there are some positives to the film, but they don’t come anywhere near outweighing the negatives. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t. Or, if you are deathly curious, look up some clips. I just wouldn’t advise putting any money into seeing this.