Cinema's 50 greatest flops, follies and failures: part 4

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In Part Four we're all about the menfolk, be they brave and true like Kev Costner, dumb and eager like Tim Robbins, romantic and jazz-tinged like Bobby De Niro, groovy and rebellious like Mark Frechette or even big, green and grumpy like Eric Bana...

20. To Be or Not To Be (1942)

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Not to be
Arguably the funniest film ever made, ‘To Be or Not to Be' is an interesting example of the calamity caused by film critics reviewing the idea of a film rather than the work itself. Sure, the content of Lubitsch's masterpiece was near-the-knuckle, a screwball take on Nazi occupation in which a pompous Shakespearean ham actor played by Jack Benny foils the plans of an SS officer by donning a fake, Swastika-emblazoned uniform and passing himself off as a high-ranking Gestapo officer. But its themes about the theatricality of politics, the personal import of religion and the peculiar forms that heroism can take in desperate times – not to mention the blissful comic timing of all the performers - have rightly resurrected it from an early grave and installed it as one of the great masterpieces of the '40s. DJ
Watch a typically dizzy exchange from the film Read the Time Out review


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19. The Postman (1997)

Directed by Kevin Costner
Kevin's gate
Between them, Kevin Costner and his good buddy Kevin Reynolds have chalked up a fair old dungheap of floppy failures: Kev C rose to prominence in comedy Western folly ‘Silverado' before collaborating with Lawrence Kasdan on serious Western folly ‘Wyatt Earp', while Kev R battled through what-were-they-thinking Easter Island exposé ‘Rapa Nui', and later completed his troubled trifecta with pointless period slog ‘Tristan and Isolde'. When the two men came together, they created one of the most famous failures of all time: the seafaring, gill-wearing, fish-scaring floptacular ‘Waterworld'.

So why isn't that film on this list? Well, partly because it eventually made its money back, believe it or not. And partly because, a few scant years later, The Cost (as no one calls him) parted ways with his pal and headed back into the dystopian fray to direct this gutless, actionless, even more flagrantly wasteful apocalyptic epic. Doubtless convinced that the movie was some kind of treatise on the importance and nobility of the Common Man, Kev poured his heart and soul into a personal tale of pain, perseverance and postage, and even convinced Tom Petty to bob up at the end in the key role of Only Man on the Planet More Self-Involved Than Kevin Costner. TH
Watch some Petty crime

Read the Time Out review



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18. The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

Directed by Joel Coen
‘What we need is some jerk we can really push around...'
‘Barton Fink' might have swept the board at Cannes, but it did nothing to improve the Coens' box-office allure. Joel Silver – super-producer of ‘Lethal Weapon', ‘Die Hard' and, erm, ‘The Adventures of Ford Fairlane' – took a gamble that with his production savvy allied to their quirky talents there was no reason that they couldn't fashion a leftfield award-magnet that would also set the cash registers a-ringing. Unfortunately, it didn't pan out. This Capra-esque fable starring Tim Robbins as a gormless corporate stooge fell awkwardly between stools - a little broad for the Coens' regular coffee-house crowd and just too weird and old-timey for the cineplexers. It's a decent enough film, but it's also a copper-bottom case of wrong time, wrong place... ALDWatch a clip from the film here

Read the Time Out review

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17. Rosebud (1975)

Directed by Otto PremingerA rosebud by any other name A lot about ‘Rosebud' - an acrid bowl of espionage-based Euro pudding - stinks to high heaven, with Peter O' Toole as the CIA-sponsored mercenary (who, for some reason, wears a tattered flyfishing bonnet for the entire film) asked to track down a Black September terrorist cell who have kidnapped the daughters of five prominent millionaires from Europe and the US. The acting is wooden, the direction is dull, the action scenes are painfully protracted and meandering and the decision to cast Richard Attenborough as a Palestinian terrorist ringleader operating from a cave in East Lebanon is something of a head-scratcher. Despite the fact that the politics of the movie now look incredibly astute in hindsight, you wonder how a multi-million dollar blockbuster, directed by the master who made ‘Anatomy of a Murder' and ‘Daisy Kenyon' and at various points had Robert Mitchum and Oscar Werner among its potential cast members, could end up being the cinematic equivalent to breast-stroking along a canal of expired gravy. DJ
Watch a a 70s interview with Preminger Read the Time Out review


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16. New York, New York (1977)

Directed by Martin Scorsese
The city that never sleeps. The movie that never ends
Glancing over Marty's illustrious CV, there are a couple of wobbly near-contenders that could have nuzzled into this list nicely. ‘Kundun' was a sterling piece of craft and an exceptional catch-all introduction to Eastern religious mysticism, but there was a sad lack of Brooklyn pimp-daddies and Stones songs for the fans to gnaw on. ‘Gangs of New York', too, was his over-reaching attempt to capture the cultural birth of a city that falls somewhat short of its mad ambition. But it was always going to be his luminous, wrath-tinged tribute to the MGM musical - ‘New York, New York' - that we'd eventually go for. On the back of an iconic performance in ‘Taxi Driver' the previous year, Robert De Niro flaunts his range as an anger-fuelled saxophonist in a travelling showland band who finds success in teaming with Liza Minelli's power-piped chanteuse, only for an ensuing romantic attraction to send them both into a psychological tailspin. At almost three hours, the film tested the patience of Scorsese's new brood, which in turn spelt disaster at the box office. Though he went on to make ‘Raging Bull' and ‘King of Comedy' directly afterwards, the film is now considered by many as one of his greatest, an expansive, romantic love letter to old Hollywood with an acerbic modern spin. And the finale - when Liza belts out a version of the title tune - is one of the all time greats. As a ‘see also', Peter Bogdonovich's take on ‘Top Hat' with Burt Reynolds – ‘At Long Last Love' – could take this spot. DJ
Watch Scorsese look back at the movie

Read the Time Out review


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15. Zabriskie Point (1970)

Directed by Michaelangelo Antonioni
Zabriskie business
We could have just as easily selected Michelangelo Antonioni's ‘The Passenger' (1975), as that was another of the Italian malaise-monger's English-language sojourns that came a cropper in the distribution/crit-love stakes. But the LA-set eroto-cream daydream ‘Zabriskie Point' almost encapsulates a lore unto itself – a flared-trouser, post-'68 freak-out about the various ways one was able to ‘sock it to the man', if one were so inclined. Made in good faith by MGM (Antonioni's previous film ‘BlowUp' was an unexpected hit), it opens on a radical theatre-style intrusion of a student debate where the pros and cons of violent direct action are picked apart. Then, loose cannon flowerchild Mark Frechette shoots a policeman in a campus riot, steals a biplane and heads off to Death Valley to have earth-air sex with various lank-haired vixens while hulking metaphors about the ills of consumerism explode in super slow-mo behind them. Naturally, every negative critical superlative in the book was hurled at the film upon release, and its mid-point climax involving a vast panorama of hirsute young couples making sweet love at the titular point was the subject of conservative ridicule. Now, the film stands as one of the director's most stimulating achievements. DJ
Watch things fall apart Read the Time Out review

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14. Hulk (2003)

Directed by Ang Lee
Bana v Banner
The most expensive art-house film ever made? Possibly. Ang Lee's tilt at the comic book blockbuster is a genetics think-piece awash with Oedipal claptrap, olive-hued navel gazing and impressionistic dust-ups amid painterly thunderclouds. By the standards of the superhero film it's fairly demented, but it's also astoundingly original and genuinely beautiful to look at. Considering Lee had already proved he could turn his hand to any genre – from the bone-crunching violence of ‘Crouching Tiger' to the stewing familial tensions of ‘The Ice Storm' – his appointment as director isn't as leftfield as some would make out, but kudos to the producers for thinking further outside the box than usual. Disappointing box-office receipts suggests that Lee's ‘Hulk' isn't for everyone, but for big-budget folly fans it's a stone-cold classic. ALDWatch a typically odd moment from the film here

Read the Time Out film



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13. Lady in the Water (2006)

Directed by M Night Shyamalan
Shyamalanadingdong
One of the major sticking points with sci-fi and fantasy has always been the names: Tolkien pretty much pulled it off, largely by drawing on Old English and Anglo-Saxon, but even he had his weak moments (Bifur, Bofur and Bombur, anyone?). JK Rowling, on the other hand, consistently struggles: can we really put our faith in a heroic wizard named Dumbledore? But without a doubt, the most excruciating naming disaster in recent history came courtesy of M Night Shyamalan in his long-gestating pet project and would-be career stopper ‘Lady in the Water'. We can handle Paul Giamatti being called Cleveland Heep – it's like Dickens meets ‘Spinal Tap'. But narfs? Tartarics? Scrunts? Even if the film had been some kind of awe-inspiring imaginative masterpiece - which it most assuredly ain't – Shyamalan would still have lost us by this point. What a total scrunt. THWatch a large nerd describe the filmRead the Time Out review Lola Montes.jpg

12. Lola Montés (1955)

Directed by Max Ophuls
La-La-La-La-Lola!
If there was one director whose work was constantly scuppered by audience fickleness, it was the late, German-born maestro of camera movement, Max Ophuls. Veritable hits such as ‘La Ronde' (1950) and ‘Madame de...' (1953) were interspersed with high-profile flops such as ‘Le Plaisir' (1952) and his radiant, ‘Scope-shot swansong, ‘Lola Montès' (1955), which now feels every bit the lush, lost masterpiece. Based on a tawdry romance novella by pulp author Cécil Saint-Laurent, Ophuls's distinctive script treatment backed away from cheap wish-fulfilment and melodrama to tell a story of feminine mystique which deals with (still relevant) issues of celebrity, scandal and human frailty. Naturally, it was cut to ribbons on its initial release, mangled by the studio into a shorter version that shamefully blunted the director's brilliant vision. Actress Martine Carol plays Lola, a pouting, vaguely synthetic beauty whose lack of obvious on-screen charisma adds a layer of ambiguity to her character, a world-weary nineteenth-century courtesan who spent her formative years charming numerous members of Europe's moneyed elite. Her story is told in the form of a series of flashbacks from the floor of a New Orleans travelling circus, with Peter Ustinov as the quick-witted ringmaster selling her life story (or is it?) to a crowd of spectacle hungry punters. Kubrick noted that Ophuls could move his camera through walls, but with ‘Lola Montès' he proved that he could also move it through human tissue to attain an almost soul-touching proximity with his characters and expose the deeper emotional truths behind their impassive faces. DJ
Watch a lovely trailer for the restored version
Read the Time Out review



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11. Southland Tales (2006)

Directed by Richard KellyCaliforniapocalypticexpositionheavydoofusThis really could have worked. An alternate-reality LA populated by a lunatic cast of porn stars, mentally divergent rogue cops, permanently baked neo-Marxists and Dwayne Johnson all criss-crossing and double dealing their way toward the apocalypse sounds like a heady, vibrant mix. Alas, Richard Kelly's script fails to bring any of his madball ideas into focus and his anything-goes direction only exacerbates the gale-force confusion. On the plus side, Johnson's performance is revelatory and Justin Timberlake weirding out to The Killers' ‘All These Things That I've Done' is a pretty cool standalone moment. And you can hardly fault Kelly for the breadth of his imagination, but when ideas and characters are this disparate, you really need to nail down what you're trying to achieve – and Kelly's loose-leaf futuro-folly is unhooked in every way possible. ALD
Watch the promising trailer here

Read the Time Out review

See 10 through to 6

Author: Adam Lee Davies, Tom Huddleston, David Jenkins and Anna Smith



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