Author’s Note: An earlier version indicated The Host as Roger Ebert’s last film review. Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder was his final review.
Confession time: Roger Ebert is the reason I love going to the movies.
As a boy, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel’s At the Movies was a weekly ritual and it is through them that I learned to appreciate directors like Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese. His book Scorsese by Ebert is one I continually like to go back and flip through. I’ll probably do that more often now that he’s gone.
Ebert’s endorsement alone was enough to convince me to see a film I might have been wavering about, and when I saw him at press and industry screenings at TIFF, it was assurance that what I was about to watch would be good.
His favourite films included Vertigo, Raging Bull and The Tree of Life. And along with Siskel, Ebert also took the Academy Awards to task for not nominating Lee’s Do the Right Thing for Best Picture in 1989.
But when he didn’t like a film, Ebert didn’t hold back. Assembling a true worst-of list is something only he could have done himself. I doubt that it would have interested him, but in honour of his sometimes caustic wit, we take a look back at some of the films Ebert hated the most.
We’ll definitely see him at the movies, just not at any of these.
Death to Smoochy, March 29, 2002: Danny DeVito plus Robin Williams plus Ed Norton added up to monumental failure.
“Only enormously talented people could have made ‘Death to Smoochy.’ Those with lesser gifts would have lacked the nerve to make a film so bad, so miscalculated, so lacking any connection with any possible audience… The movie ends by crossing an ice show with elements of ‘The Manchurian Candidate.’ It involves an odd sexual predilection: Keener has a fetish for kiddie show hosts. It has a lesbian hit-squad leader with a thick Irish brogue. It uses four-letter language as if being paid by the word. In all the annals of the movies, few films have been this odd, inexplicable and unpleasant.”
Just Go With It, February 9, 2011: Ebert was kinder than most to many of Adam Sandler’s movies including Little Nicky and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, but he didn’t mince words when it came to this rom-com that co-starred Jennifer Aniston.
“The people in this movie are dumber than a box of Tinkertoys. One fears they’re so unfortunate it’s not Politically Correct to laugh at them… There is one funny scene in the movie. It involves a plastic surgery victim with a roaming right eyebrow. You know the movie is in trouble when you find yourself missing the eyebrow.”
Season of the Witch, January 5, 2011: Nic Cage has been running a cold streak for quite sometime. Ebert was lukewarm to most of his recent work (suprisingly, he liked The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), but you have to smile at his assessment of this straight-to-DVD flick.
“You know I am a fan of Nic Cage and Ron Perlman (whose very existence made the ‘Hellboy’ movies possible). Here, like cows, they devour the scenery, regurgitate it to a second stomach found only in actors and chew it as cud. It is a noble effort, but I prefer them in their straight-through Human Centipede mode.”
The Love Guru, June 19, 2008: Toronto homeboy Mike Myers really got beat up in this one. Interestingly, he hasn’t had a lead role since.
“[Mike] Myers has made some funny movies, but this film could have been written on toilet walls by callow adolescents. Every reference to a human sex organ or process of defecation is not automatically funny simply because it is naughty, but Myers seems to labour under that delusion.”
Pootie Tang, June 29, 2001: Roger didn’t like it. Are you surprised?
“‘Pootie Tang’ is not bad so much as inexplicable. You watch in puzzlement: How did this train wreck happen? How was this movie assembled out of such ill-fitting pieces? Who thought it was funny? Who thought it was finished? For that matter, was it finished?”
Armageddon, July 1, 1998: Bruce Willis saves the world, but he couldn’t save Ebert from hating this movie.
“The movie is an assault on the eyes, the ears, the brain, common sense and the human desire to be entertained. No matter what they’re charging to get in, it’s worth more to get out.”
The Last Airbender, June 30, 2010: M. Night Shyamalan is a polarizing director, some people love him, others find his shtick nauseating. But he managed to really, really tick Roger off with his foray into kid-friendly territory.
“‘The Last Airbender’ is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. The laws of chance suggest that something should have gone right. Not here. It puts a nail in the coffin of low-rent 3D, but it will need a lot more coffins than that… I close with the hope that the title proves prophetic.”
Godzilla, May 26, 1998: Likening a movie going experience to a satanic ritual is never a good thing.
“‘Godzilla’ is a big, ugly, ungainly device to give teenagers the impression they are seeing a movie…. My brain rebelled, and insisted on applying logic where it was not welcome. How, for example, does a 300-foot-tall creature fit inside a subway tunnel?”
A Nightmare on Elm Street, April 28, 2010: When it came to reboots, Freddy Krueger was one character that should have stayed dead.
“It is sad to think of all those Dead Teenagers. They were played by ambitious, talented young actors, some of them now in their 40s, who survived grueling auditions for the honour of being slashed by Freddy.”
Battlefield Earth, May 12, 2000: John Travolta’s pet project, which was a colossal box office bomb, provided fodder for some of Ebert’s best lines.
“‘Battlefield Earth’ is like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time. It’s not merely bad; it’s unpleasant in a hostile way… Some movies run off the rails. This one is like the train crash in “The Fugitive.” I watched it in mounting gloom, realizing I was witnessing something historic, a film that for decades to come will be the punch line of jokes about bad movies.”
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, August 7, 2009: Taking my wife to this movie almost caused a divorce. Ebert found the experience slightly better than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – but that’s not saying much.
“Plot details are not developed at great depth, because the movie is preoccupied with providing incomprehensible wall-to-wall computer-generated special effects. I should have been carrying a little clicker to keep count.”
Transformers: Dark of the Moon, June 28, 2011: The third instalment of Michael Bay’s take on the battle between the Autobots and Decepticons was a hit at the box office. But with Ebert? Not so much.
“There is more of a plot this time. It is a plot that cannot be described in terms of structure… Shia LaBeouf is scarcely heroic, and his girlfriend has no particular function except to be in constant peril and (in two hilarious shots) stare thoughtfully into space as if realizing something.”
North, July 22, 1994: It’s unlikely you’ve seen it, but Ebert deemed this Rob Reiner film “one of the worst movies ever made.”
“I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.”
In one of his last reviews for The Host, he could have easily panned Andrew Niccol’s adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s post-Twilight novel. But he felt the girl-meets-alien concept could have worked… Maybe.
“‘The Host’ is top-heavy with profound, sonorous conversations, all tending to sound like farewells. The movie is so consistently pitched at the same note, indeed, that the structure robs it of possibilities for dramatic tension.”
His last blog post said that he would continue to review movies, but only the ones he wanted to.
His last line, as always, “I’ll see you at the movies.”
You will be missed Roger.