The Year of Flops
January 24, 2008 9:34 PM   Subscribe

On Tuesday, A.V. Club critic Nathan Rabin's reassessment of the rabidly ambitious Perfume: The Story of a Murderer marked the culmination of his Year of Flops project, a reviewing marathon of 104 commercial and critical failures. Here's the index of the films, sorted into Elizabethtown-derived categories of good but luckless movies, ordinary losers, and disasters of mythic proportions. posted by Iridic (35 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Rabin is a decent writer in need of a good editor. His digressions are sometimes amusing or relevant, but they are usually just digressions. I've read almost all of these as they've been posted, because I too have a deep and abiding love for horrible fiascoes and secret successes, but only about half his pieces wound up doing their subjects justice, and considering the plum choices on this list, that really says it all about MYOF.

Failure, Fiasco, or Secret Success? Failure.

Also, this glass house I'm typing from needs curtains.
posted by hermitosis at 9:54 PM on January 24, 2008

I had been ardently following the column all year. Simply fantastic.
posted by ninjew at 9:55 PM on January 24, 2008

Interesting collection. About time someone gave props to Ishtar. Really. At the same time, calling Dreamcatcher a success (secret or not) is ridiculous.
posted by dobbs at 10:02 PM on January 24, 2008

I was fiending for these all year. (particularly the digressions) It was such a wonderf- BEES! THE BEES ARE IN MY EYES!
posted by Taargus Taargus at 10:03 PM on January 24, 2008

Return to Oz has no place on any list that contains North, Cool World, or Toys, unless it's some kind of 10,000 film list of 'most awesome' to 'shit'.

Infinitely agreed, Item! But I wasn't composing a list of bad movies; I was throwing together a collection of relevant and funny/interesting/bizarre/schadenfreude-evoking clips from films covered by Rabin's project. Both the "Return To Oz" and "Pennies From Heaven" scenes fall under "interesting" and "bizarre," I would think - while also illustrating while the films themselves were commercial failures.
posted by Iridic at 10:04 PM on January 24, 2008

Quite enjoyed Perfume myself.
posted by Wolof at 10:04 PM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Interesting stuff. I'd like to read more of them, although it did seem like his ratings were slightly askew. He rated Southland Tales a fiasco, while granting that it had some manic brilliance that just couldn't gel, but then rated Wicker Man a secret success just because he was entertained by how terrible it was?

(Although, after watching that clip from YouTube... yeah, the bees, man. The bees.)
posted by papakwanz at 10:07 PM on January 24, 2008

Quite enjoyed Perfume myself.

Same here.

Sorry, Nathan, the movies you think *suck* don't reflect the taste of others.

"Seacrest Out! Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success: Secret Success."
posted by ericb at 10:09 PM on January 24, 2008

Perfume The Story of a Murderer -- User Rating at MetaCritic: 7.1 (out of 10)

Roger Ebert | Sun Times:
"Not only does 'Perfume' seem impossible to film, it must have been amost impossible for Patrick Suskind to write. How do you describe the ineffable enigma of a scent in words? The audiobook, read by Sean Barrett, is the best audio performance I have ever heard; he snuffles and sniffles his way to greatness and you almost believe he is inhaling bliss, or the essence of a stone. I once almost destroyed a dinner party by putting it on for 'five minutes,' after which nobody wanted to stop listening.

Patrick Suskind's famous novel involves a twisted little foundling whose fishwife mother casually births him while chopping off cod heads. He falls neglected into the stinking charnel house that was Paris 300 years ago, and is nearly thrown out with the refuse. But Grenouille grows into a grim, taciturn survivor (Ben Whishaw), who possesses two extraordinary qualities: he has the most acute sense of smell in the world, and has absolutely no scent of his own.

This last attribute is ascribed by legend to the spawn of the devil, but the movie 'Perfume: The Story of a Murderer' makes no mention of this possibility, wisely limiting itself to vile if unnamed evil. Grenouille grows up as a tanner, voluptuously inhaling the world's smells, and eventually talks himself into an apprenticeship with Baldini (Dustin Hoffman), a master perfumer, now past his prime, whose shop is on an overcrowded medieval bridge on the Seine.

Mention of the bridge evokes the genius with which director Tom Tykwer ('Run, Lola, Run') evokes a medieval world of gross vices, all-pervading stinks and crude appetites. In this world, perfume is like the passage of an angel -- some people think, literally. Grenouille effortlessly invents perfect perfumes, but his ambition runs deeper; he wants to distill the essence of copper, stone and beauty itself. In pursuit of this last ideal he becomes a gruesome murderer.

Baldini tells him the world center of the perfume art is in Grasse, in Southern France, and so he walks there. I was there once myself, during the Cannes festival, and at Sandra Schulberg's villa met les nez de Grasse, 'the noses of Grasse,' the men whose tastes enforce the standards of a global industry. They sat dressed in neat business suits around a table bearing a cheese, which they regarded with an interest I could only imagine. On the lawn, young folk frolicked on bed sheets strewn with rose petals. You really must try it sometime.

It is in the nature of creatures like Grenouille (I suppose) that they have no friends. Indeed he has few conversations, and they are rudimentary. His life, as it must be, is almost entirely interior, so Twyker provides a narrator (John Hurt) to establish certain events and facts. Even then, the film is essentially visual, not spoken, and does a remarkable job of establishing Grenouille and his world. We can never really understand him, but we and cannot tear our eyes away.

'Perfume' begins in the stink of the gutter and remains dark and brooding. To rob a person of his scent is cruel enough, but the way it is done in this story is truly macabre. Still it can be said that Grenouille is driven by the conditions of his life and the nature of his spirit. Also, of course, that he may indeed be the devil's spawn.

This is a dark, dark, dark film, focused on an obsession so complete and lonely it shuts out all other human experience. You may not savor it, but you will not stop watching it, in horror and fascination. Whishaw succeeds in giving us no hint of his character save a deep savage need. And Dustin Hoffman produces a quirky old master whose life is also governed by perfume, if more positively. Hoffman reminds us here again, as in 'Stranger than Fiction,' what a detailed and fascinating character actor he is, able to bring to the story of Grenouille precisely what humor and humanity it needs, and then tactfully leaving it at that. Even his exit is nicely timed.

Why I love this story, I do not know. Why I have read the book twice and given away a dozen copies of the audiobook, I cannot explain. There is nothing fun about the story, except the way it ventures so fearlessly down one limited, terrifying, seductive dead end, and finds there a solution both sublime and horrifying. It took imagination to tell it, courage to film it, thought to act it, and from the audience it requires a brave curiosity about the peculiarity of obsession."
posted by ericb at 10:15 PM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Quite enjoyed Perfume myself.

Same here.

Sorry, Nathan, the movies you think *suck* don't reflect the taste of others.

"Seacrest Out! Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success: Secret Success."

I think some of you are missing the point of the series. It's not about bad movies, it's about movies that flopped. Some were very very terrible and some were gems that somehow got missed by the public.

You might want to read it before you criticize it.
posted by Bonzai at 10:46 PM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I read his review. I merely noted my enjoyment of the film.

I'm not really interested in reading any more of this chap's writing. It's garrulous, chock-filled with annoying tics, and demonstrates little engagement with the material specificity of the medium.
posted by Wolof at 10:56 PM on January 24, 2008

I liked Toys.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:09 PM on January 24, 2008

I also like the novel and adaptation of Perfume. That guy saw the move but was too dull to smell it. I can smell it. Philistine.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:12 PM on January 24, 2008

I admire what Ang Lee was trying to do with "Hulk", ... as a commercial failure perhaps it belongs on that list, but as an attempt to translate and elevate comic books into film, no. Apparently, Ang Lee considered ending his career as a director due to the critical reception.
posted by Auden at 11:20 PM on January 24, 2008

A movie can hardly be considered a flop when it wasn't released theatrically.

Movies released straight to video because the studio wouldn't stand behind them with a promotional budget are rarely fêted as conspicuous successes, though.
posted by Wolof at 11:21 PM on January 24, 2008

From the Gigli review:

I’m going to be writing about movies that were big critical and commercial disasters initially and don’t have much a cult following.

So if Metacritic's 56 rating (based on critic reviews, NOT user reviews) is any indication, Perfume qualifies.
posted by chrominance at 11:45 PM on January 24, 2008

His review of Joe vs. the Volcano lovingly sums up why I love that movie so much.
posted by waxpancake at 11:49 PM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's not about bad movies, it's about movies that flopped.

I have to disagree. Billy Jack Goes to Washington? A movie can hardly be considered a flop when it wasn't released theatrically.

But it's actually called "My Year of Flops" <------ look. right there. the word is in the title.
posted by Bonzai at 11:56 PM on January 24, 2008

Heh. 1941 is on the fiasco list. At last I am vindicated! For years I stood alone amongst my friends as the lone nay-sayer, when it comes to that bloated mass of utterly unfunny crap.
I shall sleep soundly tonight
posted by Thorzdad at 4:31 AM on January 25, 2008

You'll all be guilty! GUILTY! And you're doing it for NOTHING! KILLING ME WON'T BRING BACK YOUR GODDAMN HONEY!! No, not the bees! Not the BEES! My eyes oh god my eyes! Oh! OH! AUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:34 AM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm looking forward to his next project, My Year of Fops, in which he dedicates himself to the canon of Hugh Grant, Rupert Everett and Colin Firth.
posted by Flashman at 5:18 AM on January 25, 2008

Count me as another one who loved 'Perfume'. It was compelling.
posted by Summer at 5:29 AM on January 25, 2008

I've quite enjoyed Mr. Rabin's column for the last year, although I do agree that he could use an editor. My personal favourite of his reviews begins thus:
An entire generation knows Josh Logan’s Paint Your Wagon primarily as the movie the Simpsons rent expecting a typical Clint Eastwood bloodbath, only to discover, much to their shock and horror, a toe-tapping musical about the fun of painting wagons. ... Alas, the real Paint Your Wagon is far stranger than the Simpsons parody suggests. Paint Your Wagon represents an odd marriage of convenience between the manliest (the Western) and girliest (the musical) cinematic genres. It’s a ragingly homoerotic film about a three-way marriage and two cowpokes who just can’t quit each other even after a fetching little lassie gets in the way of their partnership.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:02 AM on January 25, 2008

I enjoyed the hell out of My Year of Flops and I'm sad to see it conclude. I didn't always agree with him, and sometimes he went overboard with the verbal diarrhea, but it was almost always entertaining.
posted by picea at 6:14 AM on January 25, 2008

Vaguely related, but usually unbelievably idiotic AV Club comments have taken a turn for the awesome beneath the Untraceable review:

I will only see it if Colin Hanks is the killer (which is the strangest phrase I have uttered in weeks) and I am guaranteed one shot of someone firing a full clip into a computer to stop the killing.

And like that.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:24 AM on January 25, 2008

Nathan's always been one of my favorite Onion reviewers, although maybe that has something to do with the shortness of the Onion's reviews. Still, he really nails The Fountain. I was kinda hoping he'd do the same for Sunshine.
posted by mediareport at 6:54 AM on January 25, 2008

Mr. Rabin definitely is fun...
In the years following Batman & Robin, Uma Thurman was brutalized, buried alive, spent several years in a coma, and was shot in the head. Also she starred in the Kill Bill movies. hehe
I also likes me some "punishing arthouse film" reviews.
posted by yoHighness at 7:00 AM on January 25, 2008

Anyone tempted to rent The Wicker Man after seeing the highlights reel on YouTube should note that those are, indeed, the only parts worth seeing. That said, they are fucking awesome.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:26 AM on January 25, 2008

waxpancake writes: His review of Joe vs. the Volcano lovingly sums up why I love that movie so much.

From the site's homepage:

I took great joy in bringing attention to the Capra-esque, life-affirming whimsy of Joe Versus The Volcano

True Coincidence:

This morning, before looking at MeFi, I was out in the parking lot extolling the virtures of Joe Vs. the Volcano to a cow orker who had never seen it.

posted by sidereal at 7:26 AM on January 25, 2008

On the other hand, I nearly died laughing both (yeah, you heard me) times I saw Battlefield Earth in the theatre, so that one's a renter. It's on my top five (along with Tango and Cash, ZARDOZ, Road House and Showgirls) Best Bad Movies of All Time list.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:32 AM on January 25, 2008

(Blog comment)
I can pinpoint the exact scene which ruins this film
by MBI
It's the moment where the Mystery Men kill Captain Amazing. They kill him with their own incompetence. And it's a big, elaborate, painful, excruciating death.
At that point, the Mystery Men go from lovable losers to dangerous screwups who need to be kept the fuck away from the proceedings and let adults handle the situation.

-this of course was my favorite part
posted by MtDewd at 8:23 AM on January 25, 2008

Loved Perfume the book, loved the movie too. Far better than I was expecting.

Reading that review was an exercise in scanning. I'd say only about a third of the text actually pertained to the film. I despise this trend in pop culture writing and it just seems to be getting worse and worse.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:30 AM on January 25, 2008

I think the review for Perfume was extra-long and extra-reference-y because it was the last one in the Year of Flops. They aren't all that epic.
posted by Locative at 10:19 AM on January 25, 2008

Okay, calling Dreamcatcher a success, as someone else intoned above, is ridiculous. Not just because the movie is garbage, but because his article literally reads like this:

"blahblahblah Great Gatsby. Dreamcatcher is one of the worst movies i've ever seen. It's incredibly stupid and nothing in it is remotely engaging.

Anyway, it's good. the end."

Buh. Hu-wha?!

Look, I've seen that piece of shit. It sucks. It's not one of those "so bad it's good" types. It's just bad. Yes, there are shit weasels, no they're not funny despite being shit weasels. He claims the movie has people saying "Oh my god, you have to see this movie, it's nucking futs!" It does nothing of the kind. Instead, it's more like two people walking around a blockbuster wondering what to rent.

"Hey, have you seen this movie Dreamcatcher? I heard it's pretty crazy."
"Hm? Oh, yeah. I saw that. It's pretty bad."
"Bad as in good?"
"No. But it does have shit weasels."
"What are shit weasels?"
"You know what? It really doesn't matter. Let's rent Wickerman instead."
posted by shmegegge at 10:26 AM on January 25, 2008

Nonsense. I DUDDITS! *morphs into Power Ranger monster* *fails*

But I am Duddits! I did it once! I really morphed into an alien monster hero thing!

And the outtakes from the film are priceless. Dude, I said UN URM ILL URL.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:17 AM on January 25, 2008

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