Film Reviews

Does "Promising Young Woman" Fail Sexual Assault Survivors?

The rape-revenge thriller is up for five Oscars, but it might perpetuate the harmful stereotypes it tries to abolish.

Content Warning: This article contains mentions of sexual assault.

Promising Young Woman, the directorial debut of The Crown star Emerald Fennell, has racked up five nominations for this year's upcoming Academy Awards.

The feminist crime thriller stars Best Actress nominee Carey Mulligan as Cassie, a barista and medical school dropout who spends her weekends at clubs alone pretending to be drunk to teach a lesson to the sordid men who attempt to take advantage of her in her faux-powerless state.

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Film Lists

26 Ridiculous Movies That Received a 0% Fresh Rating on Rotten Tomatoes

To some extent, a 0% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes is an honor.

Photo by Stefano Carella (Unsplash)

Even amongst trash cinema, the Rotten Tomatoes 0% are a special breed of stank.

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The 5 Worst Movies of the Decade All Starred Will Smith

He's one of the most charismatic and entertaining people in Hollywood, so why does he keep making awful movies?

American actor Will Smith arrives at the Los Angeles Premiere Of Apple Original Films''Emancipation' held at Regency Village Theatre on November 30, 2022 in Westwood, Los Angeles, California, United States.Los Angeles Premiere Of Apple Original Films''Emancipation', Regency Village Theatre, Westwood, Los Angeles, California, United States - 30 Nov 2022

Photo by Image Press Agency/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

With a new year and a new decade approaching, the endless retrospectives cataloging all the most powerful and lasting works of cinema are piling up. But in looking back at how the art and industry of film making have evolved since 2010, I've found it more instructive to consider the worst films Hollywood has produced. Because, to badly paraphrase Tolstoy, while each good film of the last decade has been good in its own way, all the worst films have had one big factor in common: Will Smith.

After Earth, Collateral Beauty, Suicide Squad, Bright, and Gemini Man.

I doubt most people will agree with me that these five films are the absolute worst of the decade. That's a subjective measure, and there are obviously different metrics by which to measure the quality of a film. Purely in terms of box office failure, none of Will Smith's movies of the last decade can touch the disastrous US premiere of Playmobil: The Movie, which opened at 2,337 theaters on December 6, and made less than $700,000 its opening weekend. And if we focus purely on critical reception, there are dozens of worthy contenders, from The Snowman, to Slender Man, to The Bye Bye Man—actually, all the awful horror movies with titles that end in "man" probably deserve an article of their own.

What makes these five movies special is that they have everything going for them, and they still manage to be terrible. They have big budgets, major marketing pushes, respected writers, directors, and studios backing them, along with the immense, international star power of Will Smith—the star of Independence Day, and Men in Black; the lovable, charming, funny, handsome, and talented man named by Forbes in 2014 as "the most bankable star worldwide." The fact that all those elements can consistently come together to produce sloppy, dull, and incoherent movies poses a mystery. While other movies fail pathetically, movies like this fail on an epic scale. So what the hell keeps going wrong?

​"After Earth​" (2013) Rotten Tomatoes Score: 11%

Coming just one year after 2012's Men in Black 3­—which was generally well received—After Earth was hardly the first bad movie Will Smith ever made, but it was, according to Smith "the most painful failure" of his career. It was also the first in his current cold streak. Since that year, no movie that Smith has starred in has scored above the 60% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. There are a number of factors that came into play for the production of After Earth that may have contributed to his current jinx.

For a start, he made the movie with M. Night Shyamalan, a man who takes himself so seriously, and is so certain of his own genius, that he continues to write his own movies even after 2006's Lady in the Water. Bringing in Will Smith for After Earth was part of a big studio effort to rehabilitate Shyamalan's deflated career, but perhaps it merely spread the curse that Shyamalan finally escaped with 2016's Split. Shyamalan and Smith wrote the screenplay together with a man named Gary Whitta, so it remains unclear who was ultimately responsible for naming Smith's character "Cypher Raige."

Another prominent factor that sets After Earth apart from most of Smith's movies is his co-star, Jaden Smith—reprising the father-son pairing you might recognize from The Pursuit of Happyness and, you know, real life. Will has expressed vocal, emphatic support for his children's creative endeavors, but After Earth came out at the height of Jaden's "eyes aren't real," white-batman-suit-at-Kim and Kanye's-wedding phase. If Jaden was trying to take an active role in the film's creation, it's possible that Will may have been too supportive. Whatever the cause, After Earth's slick sci-fi visuals couldn't prop up its flat characters and the dull, dragging pace. While the Smiths' performances didn't necessarily bring much to the movie, it's hard to see how much they could have brought to such self-serious material.

"Suicide Squad" (2016) Rotten Tomatoes Score: 27%

This is another case of Smith jumping on-board an existing curse. With the notable exception of Wonder Woman the DC movies have consistently failed to capture the spark of the Marvel Cinematic Empire. But Smith can be forgiven for not realizing this issue, as Batman Vs. Superman and the "Martha" debacle and the "Martha" debacle didn't shake out until well after Suicide Squad had wrapped production.

Still, it's hard to imagine a screenplay for this movie that could have enticed an actor to sign on. Will Smith's Deadshot is undoubtedly the most developed character, but the story is a mess of conflicting visions, with a wild excess of character introductions and either not enough or far too much of both brooding darkness and irreverent "humor". Director David Ayer and the studio seem to have been pulling in multiple directions, with the rest of the production struggling to hold itself together through reshoots and multiple competing cuts.

While 2015's iteration of Fantastic Four may have been a slightly more absurd mess of studio development, the blow in that case was cushioned by a storied history of awful Fantastic Four movies. Suicide Squad takes on the task of trashing its source material all on its own—and does a thorough job of it. The jokes are lame, the action nonsensical, and the attempts at heartfelt drama are clumsy and self-serious. Perhaps the movie's worst sin is the badly disjointed editing that only starts to make sense when you learn that it was done by a third-party firm known primarily for cutting together trailers

Despite all this, and the film's dismal critical reception, Suicide Squad actually performed pretty well at the box office—which is as damning an indictment of the movie-going public as I know.

"Collateral Beauty" (2016) Rotten Tomatoes Score: 14%

It's hard to know what to say about Collateral Beauty that it's trailer can't say more succinctly.Never has a teaser tried harder to convince you that a movie deserves an Oscar. The sweeping orchestral music, the cast of former nominees and winners making vague philosophical pronouncements in dire tones. The film's entire concept seems to follow the same ill-conceived Oscar-bate model—attempting to tap into the weighty challenges and lessons of life while bypassing the basic reality of human stories.

Instead of simply struggling with questions of mortality, of love, of the passage of time while navigating the course of real and difficult personal events, Will Smith's character, Howard Inlet—Howard Inlet—meets and interacts with the concepts of Death, Time, and Love—all of them actually actors hired by Inlet's business partners—all of whom lecture him into sorting his life out. "I'm Time. I'm a gift. And you're wasting me!" All of this while a private investigator follows their interactions in an elaborate plot to prove that Howard Inlet has lost his mind. And if you can follow that plot, you too have lost your mind.

The movie's self-serious tone cuts against the wild absurdity of its premise, and ends up continually reminding the viewer of how hard it's trying to be award-worthy. Trying and badly failing. Also, Edward Norton's character is named Whit Yardsham—Whit Yardsham—and it sends me into a Cypher Raige every time I think about it.

"Bright" (2017) Rotten Tomatoes Score: 28%

Bright was Netflix's first attempt at a big-budget blockbuster, and Will Smith's second attempt at making an awful movie with director David Ayer. After the baffling box-office success of Suicide Squad, I guess they decided not to mess with a formula that had churned out popular dreck once before. And Bright certainly would have been a commercial success—if the millions of viewers had actually paid for tickets. With 11 million viewers in its first three days, ticket sales would have paid off the movies budget almost immediately. Of course the fact that few if any of those viewers had to spend a penny of their money to see Bright does undermine that success a little bit. As do the generally terrible reviews.

The film's attempt to build a modern fantasy version of LA was sloppy and incoherent, with inconsistent rules that undermine its slapped-together plotting. There's a tired chosen-one prophecy, and a wand that is an all-powerful weapon, but also generally useless, and also the key to lazily fixing everything, and it's just generally one of the loudest, dumbest MacGuffins in cinematic history. Meanwhile, the movie tries hard to push a self-serious racial allegory, despite the fact that, early in the film, Will Smith casually smashes a creepy little humanoid out of the air and announces that "fairy lives don't matter today!" Just awful.

"Gemini Man" (2019) Rotten Tomatoes Score: 26%

Gemini Man is the spiritual successor to After Earth, in that it stars Will Smith and a younger version of Will Smith in an action-packed sci-fi scenario, and that it flopped hard. Released in multiple formats to showcase the cutting edge tech that went into its production, Gemini Man relied heavily on the draw of its expensive visuals, without much concern for its shoddy story. When a hitman goes rogue, his own clone is sent to kill him, but in the process, both Will Smiths must confront a crisis of identity and a self-serious philosophical and moral struggle that plays out self-seriously while they self-seriously try to kill each other in elaborate, self-serious chase sequences.

Have I given away the ending yet? All of these movies—even the ones that try to be goofy and fun—have a core of affected drama that asks the audience to take it all in like it contains some profound, life-changing message. But none of them do. They are all formulaic, studio messes with directors, writers, and "bankable" actors slotted in with an eye on indirect goals—something marketable, with a big box-office draw or a shot at winning an Oscar.

These movies exist less as attempts to tell stories than as elaborations of high-concept elevator pitches. And that can be fine. Men in Black and Independence Day were produced by similar studio processes, and those are classics. The differences is that at some point either the studios or Smith himself decided that it wasn't enough for these movies to be fun ways to help the audience turn off its collective brain. They had to really be saying something—to have an important message at their core. And the lowest-common-denominator Frankenstein process of rewriting, reworking, recasting, and focus-grouping is just not conducive to that goal. Instead of eye-opening, these attempts at serious messaging come across as preachy, flat, dull, and pretentious. Self-serious. They undermine the fun that these movies can otherwise deliver.

With all of that said, the live action Aladdin recently became Will Smith's best performing movie. Whatever else you can say about Smith's role as the genie, he certainly doesn't seem to have been trying to play it too seriously, and the movie wasn't half-bad. The upcoming Spies in Disguise, set for release on Christmas, likewise looks wholly playful and silly, and the early reviews are good. So maybe, with the decade coming to a close, Will Smith has finally escaped his self-serious slump, and gotten back to his lovable, goofy roots. Here's hoping.

Film Reviews

Narcissism and Poison Vapes in Tim Heidecker's "Mister America"

Heidecker is the outsider who believes that his mere existence outside of the political system qualifies him to reform it completely.

Mister America's star, Tim Heidecker, is a deeply weird dude (as anyone familiar with the ancient history of Jefferton or Tim and Eric can attest).

But since teaming up with Gregg Turkington in 2012, he's shed much of the hyperactive strangeness of his earlier projects and achieved a subdued brand of absurdity that can be hard to distinguish from reality.

This is the world ofOn Cinema at the Cinema, which Heidecker redefines in each intro. For instance: "A web series dedicated to movies and reviewing movies and what's coming out this week, and whether or not you should go see them, or whether or not you just stay away and stay home and do something else… or watch the football game." It's a distorted version of the Siskel and Ebert model of a movie review series, wherein the stars are wildly incompetent narcissists, locked in toxic codependence, growing to hate each other over the course of years—constantly bickering and frequently distracted from their supposed task by all manner of personal and medical drama.

Heidecker and Turkington play caricatures of themselves that remain just this side of believable. Heidecker's politically reactionary, endlessly ambitious alter-ego reached new heights of reality blurring in 2017 with the spin-offThe Trial of Tim Heidecker, a livestream of a six-day trial for the supposed negligent homicide of 20 people poisoned by proprietary vape pens (predating the current vaping scare by two years)—though Heidecker describes his victims as having "overdosed on medicine that was tainted by China." Mister America is a follow-up mockumentary that brings On Cinema at the Cinema to… the cinema for the first time, and tells the story of Heidecker's campaign to unseat Vincent Rosetti—"Rosetti the rat"—the San Bernardino DA who put him on trial.

Heidecker travels around San Bernardino, struggling with his Apple Watch in a focus-grouped beard and a flowing suit that might have been tailored for an obese, '90s era Steve Harvey. He runs his campaign out of a temporary hotel room residence that he shares with Toni Newman—his lover, campaign chair, and the sole dissenting juror who saved him from a murder conviction. Throughout the film, Heidecker interacts with real citizens, soliciting signatures for his ballot petition, hanging "WE HAVE A RAT PROBLEM!" campaign signs in restaurants and delis, and espousing his abhorrent politics, all while dogged by his business partner/nemesis, Gregg Turkington—who insists that the documentary is actually about himself and his vast collection of VHS tapes.

Fans of the webseries will no doubt find a lot to enjoy about this longform addition to the On Cinema universe and its bleeding of fiction and reality. People who are new to the series will likely find much of the experience alienating, but if they can stick with it, they may find some catharsis in this story of failed political insurgency.

Heidecker is the outsider who believes that his mere existence outside of the political system qualifies him to reform it completely. He promises voters a 100% reduction in crime—with a zero-tolerance, instant life-sentence approach to all infractions—and a return to the good old days of the 1950s and '60s for "the original San Bernardino people." He stands in for a thousand Trump acolytes in a thousand local elections across the country, and it's a joy to see him devolve into violent outbursts and alcoholism as his campaign is stymied by incompetence and egotism.

In his drunken concession to Rosetti, Heidecker both acknowledges his guilt in the vape-poisoning case—taunting Rosetti that he failed to get a conviction despite having "the smoking gun"—and insists on the DA's corruption—attributing every misstep in the campaign to Rosetti's interference. Watching this brand of crass hypocrisy go unrewarded for 90 minutes provides some small relief and escape from the reality of our collapsing empire. I give it four bags of popcorn and one poisonous vape pen.

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡⚡/5


Photo by Andres Gomez - Unsplash

In Andy Muschietti's new film, IT: Chapter Two, audiences are reintroduced to the band of nerdy, endearing children they met two years ago in the 2017 installment of IT.

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Daylight Slayings in "Midsommar": Ugly Americans Get Theirs

Hereditary writer/director Ari Aster goes to the next level with his daytime cult horror film.

Writer/director Ari Aster experienced a roller coaster of feedback after the release of his first feature film Hereditary.

At Sundance it was heralded as the scariest movie in years, but horror fans were surprised to find that it wasn't the typical gory slasher film. That reaction led defenders to include Hereditary in the category of "elevated horror." Now that "elevated horror" is a firmly established buzzword, not to mention the brand of horror A24 is well-known for, perhaps everyone will know what to expect from Aster's follow-up film, Midsommar.

Dani (Florence Pugh) suffers a family tragedy, and her emotionally distraught state leads her to become dependent on her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor). All of Christian's friends advise him to break it off, but instead he invites Dani on their summer trip to Sweden at Pelle's (Vilhelm Blomgren) remote commune, Harga.

Aster builds up the Americans' arrival and the commune's anticipation for the Attestupan ceremony, a momentous occasion they only have every 90 years. Bros like Mark (Will Poulter) mock their traditions, while we see hints of weirdness, like a woman trimming her bikini area and focus on her bleeding.

So the Americans are actually surprised when the Hargan ceremony eventually turns deadly, while we just wait for Dani and friends to realize exactly what they've gotten themselves into. Like Hostel, this film starts out as a romp before turning terrifying.

Indiana Jones' Temple of Doom's got nothing on the Attestupan in Midsommar. Aster lingers on gory shots, too, and not just once: He cuts back to the bloody aftermath and even creates dreamlike montages of carnage.

At this point, sensible audiences will think, "Why don't the Americans just leave?" Well, some try to. This isn't Harga's first rodeo, so they know how to deal with outsiders who witness their Attestupan. Christian and Josh (William Jackson Harper) are writing a thesis about the commune, so they use that to justify staying, and Dani is stuck with Christian. The shocking ceremony seems to only make the festival more enticing for Mark.

There is a sort of devilish fun to these ugly Americans thinking they can get away with desecrating sacred artifacts and photographing the evidence. There's even a sense of raunchy comedy to discussions of the commune's explicit traditions, which both break tension and misdirect the audience from other threats.

After all, once Dani, Christian, Mark, and Josh decide to stay, who are they to condemn the further traditions of Harga? Not that they could have easily escaped, but they didn't even try; so on some level they've implicitly condoned the commune's extreme acts. Most of the horror comes from the group's off-kilter, taboo-breaking acts. While they use psychedelic drugs and we see some CGI-enhanced trippy imagery, those aren't the most troubling images. Gory rituals and a suicide make human behavior the film's most disturbing aspect. Placed in the permanent daylight of Harga, Midsommar is an heir to The Shining for showing terror in broad daylight.

At 140 minutes, audiences may feel like they spent the whole summer in Harga, but the running time moves very quickly. The Harga tradition is riveting, and the Americans' drama is made compelling by the tense in-fighting between Dani, Christian, and Josh. Some of the awkward preamble of getting to Harga could be shorter, but once the friends arrive, the action doesn't stop.

Midsommar is a level above Hereditary. Hereditary had shocking gore that impacted the rest of the psychologically thrilling story, but there's even less of a supernatural element to Midsommar. Perhaps once Aster hooked up with A24, he realized that he didn't need to couch horror in the supernatural, so he created an unflinching look at the evil humans are capable of.