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Jondough Deems Frank Miller’s THE SPIRIT The Worst Movie He’s Ever Seen!!

I am – Hercules!!
Jondough’s seen “The Spirit,” an adaptation of Will Eisner’s seminal funnybook character. It's from Frank Miller, one of the fellows who wrote and directed “Sin City.” Miller also contributed to the screenplays for "RoboCop 2" and "RoboCop 3." "Spirit" stars Gabriel Macht (“The Good Shepherd,” “Because I Said So”) as masked avenger Denny Colt. It’s also got Sam Jackson and pretty girls, among them Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes and Jaime King. It opens Christmas Day. The reviewer says it’s replaced “Battlefield Earth” as the worst movie he’s ever seen.
Gentlemen. It’s been ages since I sent something in. It’s not that I haven’t seen worthwhile films, mind you. I have. But life gets crazy, schedules get crammed, and suddenly the idea of sitting down to write a few hundred (thousand?) words about WHY something moved me in a particular way gets pushed down the To-Do List until someone else has written a perfectly serviceable piece which for the most part echoes my own thoughts. However, today is different. Today is special, if you will. But first, some background. I wrote years ago after having seen “Love Liza” at Sundance. I think I called Hoffman’s performance something special, which for the 12 people who’ve seen it since, is usually agreed. I also wrote a few years back after having seen an early screening of “Love Actually,” which continues to be yet another example of just why Richard Curtis is a special talent whose films get pulled off the shelf and revisited often. Sappy? Yep. But perfectly harvested sap is delicious. This year, my list of Bests include (in no particular order, except for the first) Wall*E, Slumdog Millionaire, The Dark Knight, In Bruges, Burn After Reading, Kung-Fu Panda, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Iron Man. I have yet to see the heavyweights (Button, Reader, Milk, Frost/Nixon, etc.), but expect at least a few of them to be worthy of slots. We’ll see. Okay, so that’s a taste of my taste. Just so you know where I’m coming from. For years now, I’ve owned a copy of “Battlefield Earth.” I’m not sure I need to explain to this crowd why, but for the newbs, I’ll go ahead and give it a shot. Both as someone who wants to make movies and one who just plain loves movies, I own movies that inform my ideas of what film could and should be. Films that share my sensibility, my ideas of romance, action, comedy, etc. Films that give that same gut reaction the 10th time you watch that they did the 1st. And then, there’s “Battlefield Earth,” which I own as the example of the opposite of everything I hold true. Its incredibly bad performances (Forest Whitaker, for God’s have an OSCAR!), its insane script (which, I know, was an adaptation, so it gets SOME slack, but still: 1,000 years in the future, the Constitution is still there...untouched...still legible, along with all the books in the Library of Congress...they haven’t turned to dust. Hmm. The Harrier jets still work. ONE THOUSAND YEARS in the future), the fact that it made Barry Pepper (who I consider a fine actor) look like an idiot...GUH! SO BAD. Sorry...I’ll try and contain myself. But those aren’t the only reasons I own it. I own it because, as a whole, the movie is the worst thing I’ve ever seen. It made me literally laugh out loud in the theater. AT IT, not with it. With other people, yes, but collectively we laughed (and pointed, in some cases) at the movie unspooling before us. We came together in that dark place over how bad this thing was that we were watching, and then actually hung out outside the theater (keep in mind, these are people I had never met before walking into that theater) to rehash exactly what it was that we saw. That’s a powerful kind of bad. And now I’ve seen something that has taken the top prize from “Battlefield Earth.” I mean, I honestly thought that would never happen. And it’s not like there aren’t MANY shitty movies made every year, and it’s not like I don’t SEE many of those. In fact, friends of mine and I have recently started a “Bad Movie Night,” where we have an opening act, a main feature, and a dessert: all of incredibly bad film & TV (the last one we did featured a vampire theme, so we started with “Knight Beat” (only available on VHS, but highly recommended), we feasted on the horror that is “Lost Boys 2: The Tribe”, and then for dessert, watched the (very) little-seen, “Paul Lynde’s Halloween Special” (holy crap! Amazing!). They’re our very own “MST3K” nights. Yet, despite all of the “badness,” I’ve never had that potent sense of “this is bad on a level worthy of B.E.” before last night. “The Spirit,” as written and directed (hahahahahaha) by Frank Miller, is that movie. I can’t go into specifics of HOW, exactly, I saw the film (I use that term loosely here), as there are privacy issues at stake, but it’s not even all that important. What is important is that the two of us who stayed awake (one of us has a “real” job...he’s already an outsider, no reason to ridicule him further) for the film in its entirety could talk about nothing else for the remainder of the night. After 2 hours of ruminating, pondering what had just happened, we came up with this description of what the viewing experience was like: “I feel like I just watched a movie in a foreign language, where you speak JUST enough of the language to realize that the main character just said he had sex with your mother and then wrote a movie about it...a movie that you can’t fully understand except for the nagging feeling that that’s your mother up there getting reamed.” Or, as said about a half hour later by my buddy, in all seriousness, “I think I now know what it feels like to be raped.” (The sense of betrayal, the sense of loss, the sense that somehow it was his fault.) Where to begin? (...says the guy 944 words into this already) Let’s start with the acting. Oh lord. I didn’t know who Gabriel Macht was before this film, and I don’t really care to know him after. But according to IMDB at least, it looks like his agent’s pulled an “Ari” and gotten him a bunch of work based off this lead role before anyone saw it. Good for his agent. Because when people see this steaming pile of shit, where Macht is on screen the vast majority of the time, he’s going to take the biggest hit. To be fair, I’m not sure it’s ENTIRELY his fault (see “Actors: Self-Direction”), but Christy Christ, son. Going to the gym a lot does not mean you’re prepared for a role. If your director doesn’t give you any help, for god’s sake, HIRE AN ACTING COACH. I mean, do you realize that the nature of film is for people to SEE it? People are going to see this movie (granted, not many), and when they meet you on the street (assuming you’re wearing a stick-um mask, as he sports it during the entire movie...maybe that was his idea, to protect his face), they’re not going to be able to say anything other than, “Oh, hey. You were in the Spirit...(starting to laugh), no, it’s not anything you did...(laughing harder), I was just thinking of something else...(bent over now with laughter, then slowly recovering themselves)...But seriously, you were awful.” This scene will be played out all over town, all over the country. Probably not all over the world, though, as it’ll tank well before it gets real distribution. (Then again, this movie may actually MAKE more sense if you don’t speak English, so maybe your star has finally come after all, Gabe.) To be honest, Old Gabe doesn’t even come off that least not compared to Sam Jackson. I mean, seriously, what the fuck? Sam: what the fuck, man? I’m not going to rehash your old glories here: you know them better than I do (hell, you’ve been reliving them on screen for the last decade). But come ON. I would have said you’re better than this...but you’re really not, are you? How big is your coke habit? Who do you owe money to? WHAT THE FUCK???? Dude...didn’t you suspect something was amiss when they asked you to bring all your own costumes from home? (Costumer Designer: Hi Mr. Jackson, it’s Susie over at Lionsgate. Listen, we’re wondering if you have anything you’d be willing to bring in for the shoot tomorrow. Do you have any old costumes from movies you’ve done in the past? Mr. Miller wants to blow the whole budget on “the look,” as he calls it. Sam Jackson: Well...let. Me. See, little lady. I do still have my mutton chops from when I played Vincent in Pulp Fiction. Will that work? C.D: Perfect. What else you got? S.J.: I’ve got some old mothafuckin’ samurai robes from a chewing gum commercial I did in mothafuckin’ Japan. Don’t MAKE me smell yo’ bad breath! That was the tag line. C.D.: Fantastic. Anything else? S.J.: Well, I really wanted to be in Valkyrie, so I bought an authentic Nazi uniform. A hat and everything. But that SONOFABITCH Toooom Cruuuuise said there WERE no Black Nazis. I said, “There weren’t no mothafuckin’ black Jedis either, bitch, but that didn’t stop George Lucas from putting me in there.” Oh, that reminds me, I have my purple light saber. Will that help? C.D.: Yes to the Nazi uniform, hold off on the light saber. Aww, hell, bring it all! I don’t know how, but we’ll shoehorn all this stuff into something. Thanks! S.J.: Hey, I’ve also got a huge plaster-of-paris Iron Eagle Nazi emblem. You know, just in case. C.D.: Yeah, that’d be the props department. I’ll have Skipper give you a call.) Samuel Laura Jackson, you should know better. That’s just all there is to it. Maybe you aren’t BETTER than this, but you should certainly KNOW better than this. This...well, this is a mothafuckin’ horrible movie. Alright, so those are the two main acting offenders...but before I get off this subject, let me just give you a brief rundown of who else is in this pile. Sarah “Why The Hell Did Studio 60 Get Cancelled” Paulson; Paz “Yes, I’m hot, but I’m fucking Spanish, not French” Vega (playing “Plaster of Paris”...clever, right?); Scarlett “How did anyone ever consider me a good actress? By sheer volume!” Johansson; Jaime “Wait...this isn’t Sin City 2? Shit” King; Dan “Hey, remember The Wonder Years? Yeah, me neither” Lauria; Louis “I play, like, 40 different guys, but only get paid for one? I’m gonna kill my agent. Oh, and Entourage hasn’t been funny in ever” Lombardi; and a special nod to Eva “Yes, I show my ass in this, perverts” Mendes, who gets the default nod for Best Performance in this movie. I know, I know, I’m as surprised as you are, but holy crap everyone else was that bad. I know this is long, and I apologize, but seriously guys, I haven’t even gotten to the Main Offender (“MO” hereinafter). Before I do, one small prop (and I mean small) to Bill Pope, the cinematographer. The movie does, truly, LOOK spectacular...but SO much of it is nearly indecipherable because of Miller’s intent on using darkness. Stop it. Didn’t you see “Renaissance”? That was ONLY black and white, and I still knew every thing that was going on. This thing’s sort of dim, and it’s a shame, because the work Pope did is pretty awesome. (See that? Even the one huzzah has a huge caveat attached to it...horrible) Okay, Mr. Miller. Let’s get it on. (I stand, wearing my v-neck sweater over button-down shirt. Frank is standing at my desk, trying desperately not to look me in the eye. I touch his shoulder, grasping it firmly.) It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. (he starts to gently weep.) It’s not your fault. (ANNNNND scene.) Seriously, it’s not. You clearly don’t have any idea what you’re doing. Someone, ANYONE, over at Lionsgate should have known this. Fuck, it’s their JOB to know this. But they didn’t. They somehow bought the idea that you “co-directed” (hah) Sin City, which even if it WERE true, doesn’t mean you directed the movie. It means you sat in a seat next to Rodriguez and took notes on what words to say when (we see Frank scribbling furiously into a steno pad, tongue out in concentration. Close up on the notebook: “Action” – say this at the beginning when you want the pretty people to talk. “Cut” – say this when everyone looks at you). How could the suits know that your direction to the actors was, apparently, “You guys’ve done this before, just do what you normally do.” (Look! There’s Sam Jackson doing Sam Jackson. There’s Eva Mendes playing sexy. There’s Eric Balfour doing...what the fuck is he doing in this movie?) Seriously, how on Earth could they know that your idea of direction is to place the camera on a tripod and have your two actors walk back and forth for five minutes in front of a dimwit committing seppuku? They couldn’t, of course, but they should have. You apparently storyboarded the whole film. Did they LOOK (like, with their eyes) at these? Didn’t they notice the length of the scene? Didn’t they notice the lack of dramatic action? Didn’t they know that high school plays directed by a middle school teacher who’s only directing because he hates his life has better staging than this? They SHOULD have. That’s my point. They should have known better. You should not. I mean, it’s not like you’ve ever, you know, SEEN A FUCKING MOVIE BEFORE. (Not a “fucking movie”, by the way...he may have seen one of those, but I don’t want to assume anything) Because if you HAD seen a movie before, you’d realize that just because you have two mouth-flappers walking back and forth (dressed, mind you, as a samurai and a geisha (Johansson)) it doesn’t mean you have a scene worth actually SHOOTING. Ugh. I’m tired of this already. The MO isn’t really the MO after all. He’s just the sap that came up with the idea, wrote the script, convinced Lionsgate to finance (I could be wrong about this, I have no idea who actually came up with the cash for this thing...and honestly, I don’t really care. Lionsgate released it; they get the blame), and then “directed” it. The real Main Offender here is the company that thought this was good. Thought this was worthy of your twelve bucks. Because they, my friends, are assholes. That’s all it comes down to. They MUST know that this movie is a piece of shit...I mean, it is so bad they literally HAVE to know how bad it is, no matter how cynical you are about the intelligence level of Hollywood producers. Which means that they think so little of the movie-going public that they’ll drop this bomb on us and just expect us to go see it “‘cause it looks like Sin City.” We’re smarter than that. Which, I think, by default, makes us smarter than them. So, execs over at Lionsgate: Fuck. You. You should know better. And if you don’t, I just got laid off, and I’ve got TONS of ideas. And none of them involve hiring a visually-overindulgent, first-time director and throwing $30 million at him. (I have no idea what this actually cost...if it’s less, congrats. If it’s more, double shame on you. I’m just guessing, based on your slate of releases and that you pride yourself on your budget-consciousness.) I apologize if I got a little (or a lot, even) long-winded and rant-ish. I was inspired by the worst movie I’ve ever seen: “The Spirit”. Folks, this movie is that bad. I heartily recommend it if you have a strong stomach and an even stronger sense of Bad-Movie-Love. Otherwise, steer clear. God I want to see The Watchmen already.

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