5. Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
Everyone loves a good murder mystery and Agatha Christie is the queen of the genre. Kenneth Branagh has a history of delivering faithful adaptations, so his helming of the project appeared to be a great idea. For some things, it was. For others, it felt like it detracted from large parts of the story.
Firstly, Branagh playing the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot seemed like a bit of a misfire in hindsight. There are myriad French speaking actors out there, why is it that we need an Englishman to do a Belgian accent while speaking English? Branagh’s attempt at sounding Belgian only serves to distract from his performance, which, is otherwise pretty good.
This could also be said of the rest of the performances. Though well intentioned, the idea of putting on ‘old-timey’ English accents merely comes across as strange, not nostalgic. Making a modern interpretation of Christie’s work does not mean doing it exactly the same. Using the source material to make a serious mystery without hammy acting would have made for a more compelling contemporary work.
Finally, the ending went full melodrama with Branagh shouting at all of the suspects, stating that one of them must shoot him, with Michelle Pfeiffer breaking down in tears moments after. With a dramatic score in the background, it all felt too heavy handed and as though we were being told what to feel too obviously. Branagh definitely turned in an entertaining period drama with a mystery at its heart, but more than likely it won’t become iconic.
4. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Francis Ford Coppola’s rendition of the classic vampire story is a fun romp through the Victorian era and has such lavish costume and set design that you are bound to be swept up in its Gothic aura. However, a few things stand in the way from making this film a truly enveloping vampire adventure.
Keanu Reeves may not be the best actor who has ever lived, but he is certainly serviceable in particular roles. An FBI agent who surfs to catch criminals? Keanu Reeves is your guy. A cool cop trying to stop a bus from exploding? Reeves can do it. An English solicitor in the Victorian era? Keanu is… not ideal. Coppola himself has stated he was wrong for casting Reeves in the film and Keanu has said he was unprepared for the role. Unfortunately, it shows in the finished product. Reeves’ performance comes across as stilted and foreign from the 19th Century set. His English accent leaves much to be desired and distracts from the other performances that shine brightly in the story.
Besides the awkward moments some of Keanu’s acting produces, Coppola attempts to turn the film into a sentimental romance in some scenes, making the film feel uneven in terms of its direction. Gary Oldman is a bloodthirsty vampire in one scene, then a melancholic and regretful man in the next. The duality of man or an unbalanced narrative? Whichever it is, it leaves one thinking that what could have been an enchanting escape to a Gothic vampire era was squandered for a fun film. Coppola’s Dracula is good, but it isn’t great.
3. About Time (2013)
Truthfully, About Time (2013) is my least favourite film on this list, so I shall try to be fair. Richard Curtis is known for writing and directing sentimental romance films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Love Actually. His film About Time could have been a deviation from the norm, an exploration of the existential themes attached to love and time. However, Curtis wanted to walk over well-trodden ground.
The thing with About Time that bugs me is that it had the potential to be much more than just another sappy romance film, with touches of comedy sprinkled sparingly throughout. However, this is exactly what happens throughout the film. It is just a romance film and does not really explore the consequences of time travel as interestingly as it should have done. Of course, Tim must grow up and say goodbye to some of the people that he loves – such as his father – but beyond that, nothing actually goes wrong. The story features zero conflict of any kind and so everything more or less goes Tim’s way. Any moment that might have been problematic is fixed almost instantaneously and because of this, we are robbed of character development.
Besides this, the story ultimately feels uninspired. There was a great deal of potential for a romantic-comedy with a backdrop of time travel, but About Time does not take advantage of it. The result is a run-of-the-mill romance film featuring insipid characters and rather uninteresting plot points. A two hour run time is pretty standard, but since the plot is devoid of conflict, the film feels longer than it is. The film could have been great. If there were real stakes created or some kind of obstacle which Tim had to overcome, it would have been memorable and perhaps even a deeply moving tale about the true timelessness of love, family and friendship. Instead, the film was barely good and nothing more.
2. Inherent Vice (2014)
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the greatest working directors currently. Making his directorial debut in 1996, Anderson has consistently turned in amazing films, often exploring themes of our humanity, our connections with others and our search for meaning and happiness. Unfortunately, Inherent Vice (2014) was not his best work by far and, when compared against the rest of his stellar work, appears to be a bit of a dud.
Perhaps the issue with this film that stands out the most is that it is a detective film that has very little causality between events. In most mystery films, someone uncovering evidence will find a clue, research it, potentially uncover something else, right up until they get to the heart of the investigation. However, in Inherent Vice, Larry follows clues and will end up on a long, bizarre deviation from his initial goal. With such little coherence in between plot points, this pattern ultimately made the film overly long at two and a half hours, even making one feel as though the film itself is on drugs – though, perhaps this was the intention.
It could have been another great film from Anderson. He was working from rich source material and collaborating with great actors, like Joaquin Phoenix, Owen Wilson and Josh Brolin. However, expecting to make a mystery film with a meandering plot and seemingly no causality between scenes can make for a difficult viewing experience. A mystery film set in the 1970s and directed by Anderson just sounds like an iconic film waiting to be created, but in reality, it wasn’t great.
1. The Hobbit (2012)
This is one which I’m sure many of you have been waiting for. Following the huge success of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, a prequel was planned and had Guillermo Del Toro at the helm for years of pre-production. What could have been an amazing return to Middle-Earth was instead a rather dull affair.
Del Toro had originally planned for the films to be a two-parter, believing that anything beyond this would have been too much for such a short book. I would even go further: even a long film could have done Tolkien’s The Hobbit justice. However, Jackson and MGM decided for the films to be done as a trilogy, even though the novel The Hobbit is four times shorter than the Lord of the Rings books. In case it needs to be made even more obvious, making a children’s book into a nine hour long film adaptation is not a good idea.
The most frustrating thing about The Hobbit (2012) was that all the pieces were in place to make a film that would return viewers to the glory of Middle-Earth. Instead, we got an overly-long film that would lead to two more lifeless and uninspired sequels, ruining material that was brimming with life and inspiration. The Hobbit (2012) is good in parts, but that’s about all you can say. Of all the films mentioned on this list, this was the one which had the most potential and also the film which squandered it the worst. Instead of becoming an immediate film classic, The Hobbit became a film you’d watch once and say: “Meh… It was good enough…”