Sunday, January 10, 2021

Sunday Worst: Bizarro Awards 2020

 My good friend the Doctor said that I should do a parallel list to my Kal-El Awards that reflect to worst in pop culture from the year.  He suggested that I call them the "Lenny Luthors" after the horrible Jon Cryer character from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.  The rational for choosing Lenny was that "he is terrible in every way that Superman is awesome."

I liked the idea, but I thought instead of Lenny Luthor we would name the awards after the true opposite of Superman:


Bizarro is the anti-Superman, literally.  He even maintains speech patterns that are the opposite of what he means.  "Good-bye, me am not Bizarro.  Me like you!  Live!"  said by Bizarro actually means "Hello, I am Bizarro.  I hate you! Die!"

So since Superman is my mark of excellence.  Bizarro will be my mark of utter awfulness.   Unlike the Kal-El awards, these will be focused only on movies.  The reason is that serialized work like television and comics require a longer time commitment in order to understand the material.  You may have to watch a show or read a comic for several months before you discover if it is truly bad or good.  It took me a few episodes to understand the logic behind Vincent D'Onofrio's performance in Daredevil.  The investment of time and/or money also precludes a lot of unnecessary sampling, so my exposure to bad material is a bit less.

With a movie, you can have a complete understanding of the product after 90-180 minutes.  So I only have two TV categories:

-Worst TV Show I Stopped Watching
-Worst TV Show I Still Watch

In both of these cases I will be giving my critical condemnation of shows about which I have some significant experience and thus have a basis for calling them critical failures

So now, here are the Bizarro Awards for movies this past year.  (based on the movies I have seen).


BIRDS OF PREY: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

As I wrote in my BEST IN MOVIES post for the year, I am very easy to please when it comes to super hero films.  I'm not a snob.  I can enjoy a film filled with plot holes like WW84 as much as one with a sharp script like The Dark Knight.  

But BIRDS OF PREY: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is not only the worst movie of the year, it might be the worst super hero film of all time (though I think that dubious honor still goes to Batman and Robin).  

Birds of Prey is a failure on every single level of film-making.  This movie isn't so much a movie as it is a rant.  Nothing is fun, nothing is funny.  As a comic book critic I follow says, the movie is filled with "LOL so random!" humor that it never actually approaches anything like real comedy.  All of this would be tolerable if we connected on any level to the characters, which we do not.  There is nothing enjoyable, likable, approachable, or sympathetic about any of them.  And while I know that movies tend to deviate from their comic counterparts, what they did with Cassandra Cain is a complete waste of a fantastic and interesting character.  

What makes it worse is that the movie is completely and utterly smug in how it presents itself, right to the final frame of the film.  The only time the movie has life is during some of the action sequences, particularly in the jail breakout.  For a moment we get a glimpse of what a real Birds of Prey movie could be, but it quickly collapses under the weight of its own inanity.  

10. The Midnight Sky
9. An American Pickle
8. The Lovebirds
7. Artemis Fowl
6. Enola Holmes
5. Dads
4. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
3. Palm Springs
2. Mank
1. BIRDS OF PREY: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn


Ewan McGregor - BIRDS OF PREY: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn


Ewan McGregor is truly talented actor, whose has gotten better over time.  But I don't know what happened here.  As I wrote in my review: "This might also be the worst performance of McGregor's career. Nothing he does is coherent. He plays everything in such utter broad strokes that he feels like a talking mime, over exaggerating every emotion to point where nothing he does seems genuine. In an age of CGI comic book villains, it is sad that Thanos came across as more human than Sionis."

My only guess is that McGregor decided that in order to really show the themes of the film, he had to be the embodiment of "toxic masculinity."  But that is not a character.  And so he had nothing to play accept broad emotional swings that lack any character logic.


Ella Jay Basco - BIRDS OF PREY: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

I usually try to give a lot of slack to younger actors.  They are still learning their craft and often are not at their best with their early film experiences.  But in a film with terrible performances, Basco was the worst.  As I wrote in my review:  "She is a charisma black hole... 90% of her performances is walking around with a slack-jawed, dull expression. She is the main person that brings the "heroes" together. But she is so unlikeable that you are half-tempted to root for the bad guys."

There is no sense that she is a real character, but a series of personality traits that have to be in place for the plot to happen, but she doesn't even play those traits very well.  


Cathy Yan- BIRDS OF PREY: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

From my review of BIRDS OF PREY: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn:

The fundamental issues is that the director Cathy Yan isn't really interested in making a fun, super hero film.  Instead it wants to say something about men and women, while at the same time be a fourth-wall-breaking meta comedy like Deadpool.  But that is an ambitious undertaking and Yan is clearly not up for the task... 

As I said, Yan wants to say something about men and women.  And that message comes down to this: men are awful.  I wish there was more nuance than this, but there isn't.  Every man, and I do mean EVERY man in the entire movie is awful.  It was like Yan told every guy in the film, "Okay, in this scene, I want you to look smug and condescending because you are talking to a woman, and all men hate women."  If you see this film, you will understand that this is not an exaggeration.  A lot of movies can be critiqued for objectifying and demeaning women.  But this feels like an over correction.  Catholic teaching is clear that men and women, though clearly distinct, have equal dignity. 


  • Christina Hodson-
 BIRDS OF PREY: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

From my review of BIRDS OF PREY: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn:

Christina Hodson's screenplay fails to give us anything resembling a sympathetic lead character.  Even Deadpool used its first act to show the tortured Wade Wilson become the Merc with a Mouth.  Seeing his horrible pain, we immediately empathize and thus follow him even during his more morally questionable turns.  But Harley is simply a woman who was dumped.  And while that is a common experience, it isn't enough to follow her horrid violence.  Early on, she spills a drink on a man.  When he complains, she breaks his kneecaps.  And the film makers don't seem to understand that this excess is actually repugnant.

They also don't have any idea how to write these characters.  I understand that there have to be adjustments when adapting any character to the screen.  And tweaking their circumstances can change how they behave.  But all of the great texture of the source characters is lost in big broad strokes.  In the comics, Zsasz is a fearsome psychopath on the level of Hannibal Lector.  Here, he is just a thug.  Sionis was originally written as a sophisticated, cold-blooded mob boss.  Here he is insane like Joker-Lite.  The worst example, though is Cassandra Cain.  In the comics, she is someone who was raised by the world's greatest assassin who only really communicates through fighting.  All of that uniqueness is tossed into the garbage can for some super-generic latch-key kid thief.  What a waste!


Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Some movies this year had small moments of blasphemy like An American Pickle and Palm Springs.  But Ma Rainey's Black Bottom gave one of its most pivotal scenes to a character who spent it uttering the most horrible blasphemies against God.  Now, there is more nuance going on in this play than what you find in most simplistic anti-Christian scripts.  I think that it is possible that you could make an argument that this movie is not anti-Christian based on how this horrid character ends up.  I make a similar case for the movie The Devil's Advocate.  

But the reason that this movie remains in this spot is because of the way it relishes in the blasphemies.  Recently the Netflix movie Cuties came under harsh criticism over its over-sexualization of minor children.  The director has stated on the record that her film is a critique of the exploitation of young girls.  Perhaps that is so.  But regardless of the intention, the way that people say the camera provocatively focuses on these girls, the film moves from a critique of exploitation to exploitation itself (to be fair I have not seen the movie).  This same critique is analogous to what happens in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.  The goal may ultimately be to show how someone with no God in their heart will implode under their own selfishness.  But the graphic and disgusting blasphemies weren't just stated: they were repeated with such force and drama that it felt like the film-makers were reveling in the audacious sacrilege.  

As I said, I am open to differing opinions on this, but this left such a horrid taste in my mouth that it turned me off to the rest of the experience.


Palm Springs

From my review:

The problem is that this movie takes the lessons of Groundhog Day and views them through a post-modern lens.  In both movies, our heroes try to first find meaning in illicit pleasures, followed by suicidal despair.  The difference though is that Groundhog Day wisely understands if you draw happiness from being a good an moral person, then the external consequences have less meaning.  Palm Springs uses morality like a Pelagian bargain where good actions should somehow earn grace.  And if they do not, then the good actions are viewed as pointless...

The movie is also incredibly vulgar, not only its graphic language, but in its raunchy approach to sexuality.  While there is no nudity, sex acts are shown in explicit detail for comedic effect.  But instead, it all serves as a gross turn off.  Samberg is famous for getting great laughs out of incredibly juvenile humor, and more power to him.  But Palm Springs is not helped by this tone.  It depicts Nyles as cavalierly engaging in depraved sex acts with women and men out of some kind of sheer desperation out of the morass of his meaninglessness.  But the humor never takes gets insightful enough about the nihilism that this movie offers.

There is also a joke that is so pointedly anti-religious, that I cannot understand why it is put in there.  I suppose that it there to show how Nyles is adrift in a sea of meaninglessness, but he never seems to come in to shore and find purpose.  True, the love story is supposed to be the heart, but there is something lacking here too.  It feels too narcissistic, like two people who turn their back on the consequences of the world and the moral life to focus on each other.  I've known couples like this who look at life as "You and me against the world," and it isn't a healthy philosophy.  


Star Trek: Picard

Cobra Kai is one of the best show around because it knows how to draw in a new audience while being so respectful to the history of the franchise and its fandom.  Star Trek: Picard seems to have looked at this blueprint and said: "You know what, we'll do the opposite."

Years ago, a friend of mine said that JJ Abrams 2009 Star Trek ruined the franchise.  I didn't understand what he meant at the time because I thought it was a good movie.  But now I understand.  It was a good movie but it was not a film where the film-makers adapted themselves to Star Trek.  It was a movie where Star Trek was changed to meet the style of the film-makers.  Now we can see the fruits of this in Star Trek: Picard.

I was open to the first few episodes, though the style was incredibly different than Star Trek: The Next Generation.  And there were moments that made me hopeful.  But most of that went out the window as the series went on.  It became dark and violent in a way that Star Trek usually is not.  And it was so oddly vulgar.

This show is the Star Trek equivalent of The Last Jedi.


Saturday Night Live

(Below are my comments from last two years, but they still apply to this year)

I still hold out hope that in 90 minutes of television there may still be at least 5 minutes of good humor.  But it takes a lot of endurance through horrible sketches to come across a gem like "Crucible Cast Party."

The show has two major problems in its current era.

1.  The Election of Donald Trump.  If you watch the skits before the election they were harsh but there was still a great deal that was funny.  But after the election, especially after that somber cold open (and it is not an exaggeration to say that it was the most somber cold opening since 9/11), with Kate McKinnon playing a heartbroken Hillary Clinton, something broke in the show.  Donald Trump is the president and he models incredibly unusual behavior, so there is fertile ground for jokes.  But the writers don't seem to be interested in jokes and are instead only interested in attacking someone they hate.  That's all well and good, but you need to at least make it funny.

2.  The Anti-Comedy skits.  Pete Davidson (who still shows up on the show) and Kyle Mooney seem to be hellbent on making the most un-funny comedy sketches on the show, particularly with their digital shorts.  I was never a big fan of Andy Sandberg's digital shorts, but you could tell he was working hard on trying to get you to laugh no matter how silly he was.  Davidson and Mooney present sketches that are so odd that they fail to do anything but make you say "What the hell was that?"  And that might be their point, but it makes for incredibly bad television.

No comments:

Post a Comment