Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you their responses in The Criticwire Survey. We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters. The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, this week's question:
Q: In golf, a "mulligan" is the term for a do-over; a player hits a terrible shot, they take a mulligan, and try again. So let's imagine "movie mulligans" — a second chance to make a film that botched an interesting premise with poor execution. What film from 2012 is most deserving of a movie mulligan?
The critics' answers:
"'Prometheus' needs a mulligan, one where the script follows basic plot logic."
"I enjoyed the first 10-15 minutes of 'Red Lights,' with Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy as paranormal investigators keen at sniffing out fakes. Sadly, the rest of the movie is completely vile, featuring perhaps the worst performance of Robert De Niro's career. But I'd watch the hell out of Weaver as Sherlock Holmes and Murphy as her Watson, and I wish that screenplay had a 9/10ths mulligan."
"My vote goes for 'Beasts of the Southern Wild.' I can't imagine that will be a popular answer, but maybe a few commenters or critics will back me up. 'Beasts' succeeds on the level of acting, I'll give it that, but it also — intentionally or not — celebrates a stubborn and noxious form of individualism. If that weren't bad enough, it's shaky cam aesthetic literally makes large chunks of it unwatchable. I understand the reason director Zeitlin did what he did, but a little bit goes a long way."
"Mary Harron has some great kernels in 'The Moth Diaries' which had a limited release in the U.S. in 2012. When I spoke with Mary Harron in April of this year, she said: 'I would have liked to do more outside shots at night.' With more time and a bigger budget, three girls in nightgowns and jackets on the nightly roof of an old hotel could turn into fascinating female Peter Pan Diaries. The free floating song from the Juniper Tree, sung by a blood soaked Lily Cole in the boarding school library works, so does the supremely real sense of devastation and betrayal by a teacher's kiss and Sarah Gadon, who played Carl Jung's wife in David Cronenberg's 'A Dangerous Method,' as the girl, who is burdened with the magical gift of restoring her girlfriends' normalcy. The moths, unfortunately, seem to have eaten the rest of the movie, which could have been a strong vampire counter argument to the ebbing 'Twilight' franchise, that changed the signifiers of our favorite shape-shifters nevertheless. I can only hope Brian De Palma does not choose to do a remake of 'The Moth Diaries.'"
"Just over a week after it opened, 'Wreck-It Ralph' has had sterling praise and very solid box-office returns. So everyone must like this movie, right? Yeah, hey, over here. I’m the one guy who really, really didn’t. Outside of the lead performance, I found the movie both too limited and too scattered. So how would I suggest the Disney filmmakers do it over? Expand the world of the movie, first of all. The three video game worlds where we spend time are a drop in the ocean of any arcade. What’s it like to be part of a Dance Dance Revolution-style game? Or how about a sports-themed video game? Or an adventure game? The list goes on. And here’s something 'Wreck-It Ralph' almost entirely avoids: the humans playing the games in the arcade. Outside of a couple of very quick scenes, we never see the humans. How do the video game characters feel when they’re literally controlled by someone else, their movements not being their own? There’s one gag on this idea, but it feels tossed off. The concept of 'Wreck-It Ralph' is clever and fertile with possibility, but I (and I know I’m probably the only one) found the execution sorely lacking."
"If this were an instance where I could allow filmmakers to show us their film before it had been messed with by outside forces and assorted higher-ups, then I'd go with 'Branded.' But if I'm understanding the sports analogy, this would be a complete do over with the same budget and support. So, I'll go with either 'Silent Hill: Revelation' (which had Deborah Kara Unger and a good monster but ignored/undid everything that was intriguing and unexpected about the first one) or 'Wrath of the Titans' (because I've never been so uninvolved in any film — tens of millions of dollars, and nothing)."
"Of all the potential movie mulligans in 2012, 'The Watch' comes to mind. Given the ridiculous premise and all-star cast, this film had every right to be downright hilarious, but it simply wasn't. Akiva Schaffer hit a home run with 'Hot Rod' (well, a double or triple to be fair) but grounded out here."
"I've defended 'Brave' to a lot of people who think it's complete garbage, but even I recognize that it's a deeply flawed movie — and in a lot of ways I don't think it has to be. It's got one of the shakier scripts of any Pixar effort, with that infamous twist near the middle and strands of mythology that are just totally dropped by the end. So if they could take that lush, awesome Scottish photography, the fantastic heroine Merida and what I thought was a touching mother-daughter story, and insert it into a plot that was actually fulfilling, I really think 'Brave' could stand up with the studio's best works. Hell, these guys are infamous perfectionists — maybe they're already doing this!"
"I'd watch Werner Herzog's 'Act of Valor' or Gaspar Noe's 'The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure' in a heartbeat."
"'Prometheus:' Same beautiful mise en scene, but this time the characters will do smart stuff."
"It wouldn't make a masterpiece, but if you could mute the pop soundtrack in 'Hope Springs' and let Streep and Jones convey the feelings that they are more than capable of doing without blaring hints from Annie Lennox, you'd have a much better movie."
"I'm going to call a mulligan on a filmmaker instead of a specific movie. While 'John Carter' was truly terrible, writer/director Andrew Stanton is one of the most original voices at Disney and deserves a second shot at directing live-action. The man behind 'Finding Nemo,' its sequel in production, and my favorite Pixar film, 'WALL-E,' Stanton has proved his importance. Sure, 'Carter' was the biggest write-off in film history, but let's forget that for now and give Stanton one more chance to direct live-action. Judging by 'WALL-E''s sci-fi aesthetic, I think Stanton is better suited for more story-driven live-action sci-fi in his future."
"'Looper.' I know I'm in the minority on this one, but I think 'Looper' was an enormously promising movie that went totally off the rails in its third act, which saw the far more interesting Joe/Old Joe dynamic supplanted by a sub-'Akira' story about a kid with psychic powers. I'd love to see Rian Johnson go back to his original script and throw out everything after Joe and Old Joe meet at the diner. My dream version of 'Looper' would shift the third act back to the central conflict between Joe and Old Joe, focusing on the simple, fascinating tension that should have remained 'Looper''s primary focus: How can Joe outwit an older, wiser version of himself, and how can Old Joe defeat his younger self without causing himself irreparable damage? Anything involving psychic powers in 'Looper' served only to muddy those promising waters, making the film simultaneously more complicated and less interesting."
"There were a couple movies I considered, but I kept coming back to 'Rock of Ages,' a film that I found to be monumentally disappointing. The potential was certainly there to turn the Broadway sensation into an equally dynamic movie, but there were so many bad choices made along the way. I'd like to see the film redone with leads more engaging than the super-bland Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta. While they're at it, they should also drop all the stuff that was added for the big screen version — i.e. the material with Catherine Zeta-Jones as a Tipper Gore-esque political wife – and drastically truncate the scenes between Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand. Most importantly, they should fix the fatal miscasting of Tom Cruise as big-time rock star Stacee Jaxx, replacing him with someone (anyone!) more credible in the role. 'Rock of Ages' was a smash on Broadway for a reason, but you'd never know it from Adam Shankman's disastrous adaptation. I say, give it a mulligan, with someone like Baz Luhrmann or Bill Condon behind the camera."
That's easy: 'Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.' That opening scene, where Steve Carell hears on the radio that the Earth is going to be destroyed in three weeks, his wife runs off never to be seen again, and the DJ drops the opening notes to 'Wouldn't It Be Nice' by the Beach Boys… oh man, such pitch-perfect tragicomedy. I can't remember the last time a scene really grabbed me by the scrotum and squeezed like that. It was a perfect short film by itself. Then a few scenes later, watching drunk Patton Oswalt chugging wine from a carafe at an end-of-the-world wine orgy, I thought I might be witnessing the high-water mark of film. And then the movie just sort of just forgot it was even about the apocalypse. It turned into a sappy romance between Steve Carell and his quirky pixie dream girl Keira Knightley who just couldn't face death without her collection of vintage records! Music is the soundtrack of our lives, you know. I think I pulled a muscle rolling my eyes. Ah, but what could have been. I pour out my wine carafe for that one."
"'Flight.' Take out the unnecessary love affair with the junkie and instead of the manipulative, contrived ending, have Whip Whitaker lie through his teeth, deny everything, be hailed as a hero by all of America and then have to live with who he is for the rest of his life. Much better movie."
"I really wish that a better movie had been made about Alfred Hitchcock during the time of 'Psycho' than the upcoming 'Hitchcock' (which I like just fine but see as a missed opportunity), but my 2012 mulligan pick has to be 'Prometheus.' We could have gotten something really special there, but needless obfuscation on the part of Damon Lindelof and Ridley Scott torpedoed that flick I love a film that doesn't give you all the answers, but you have to play fair and keeping things from your audience just to seem more clever than you actually are is annoying. I didn't hate the movie, but it should have been better."
"I initially had such high hopes for 'John Carter.' I'd like the makers to go back to the planning stages with the production budget reduced by $50 million (and no means of extending that), the original title intact, and for director Andrew Stanton to basically take the Yoda route (unlearn what he has learned). Oh, and maybe think about recasting the lead."
"I'll go with 'Lay the Favorite,' the Stephen Frears film that landed with a splat at Sundance despite a cast including Bruce Willis, Rebecca Hall, Vince Vaughn, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. So much promise, so much fail. The Weinstein Company has it for a late-year release. With luck, it will get as lost as 'W. E.' did last year and few of those who made it will be held to account for it. But the premise and setting were peachy. Just hard to believe this crew botched it so badly."
"Since 'The Dictator' was my most disappointing film of 2012 (so far), I guess I'd give Sacha Baron Cohen a mulligan. How did the great satirist take on this topic in the midst of the Arab Spring and offer little more than fake beards, blithe racism, and stale one-liners about paying extra for hotel Internet?"
"Well, I finally rented 'John Carter' not so long ago and ended up watching a movie that doesn't provoke almost any emotion at all, bloated with not-so-hilariously wooden actors and an uninspired script. So yeah, I guess that's my pick. What I disliked the most, though, was the look of the film, so digital and bland and unappealing; I was expecting visuals more like 'A New Hope' and ended up getting 'Attack of the Clones,' especially with the aliens. Shudder, the aliens. All thanks to the power of modern visual effects, I guess, but in this case the creative team either had too much money to spend and/or didn't know what to do with it. And, mind you, the movie wouldn't irk me as much if I hadn't watched the making-of featurette, which lavished plenty of time to the original stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs and really revealed what a squandered opportunity 'John Carter' ended up being. That made me honestly mad, seeing the romantic, epic science-fiction of poor Burroughs turned into an embarrassing heap of junk while Andrew Stanton — whatever happened to the guy who made 'Finding Nemo?' — jabbered on and on about his cinematic baby."
"'Prometheus.' Terrible, terrible movie with awful, incoherent writing and nonexistent characterization that does have obvious potential, and interesting underlying ideas. If the script had had several more passes, I think this could have been good."
"'The Cabin in the Woods,' which is a structural mess. Not only does the cross-cut between the two stories lessen the impact of both humor and horror, but the film's most unique deconstruction of horror — the party scene — could've played much better as the finale of the film. However, Whedon/Goddard feel the need to give their film an entire mythology that doesn't add to its clever conception, only protracts it for its own self-satisfaction. So go in, re-edit the structure, drop most of the mythology behind the machinations, make the satire more biting, and probably hire Joe Dante instead. (Honorable mention: please make Lynn Shelton write a third act for 'Your Sister's Sister' instead of dropping in a montage)."
"Pretty obvious, it seems to me. Anthony Hemingway, John Ridley, Aaron McGruder and company ought to be allowed to make the 'Red Tails' they wanted to make. With George Lucas only allowed to handle the dogfight scenes. That is all."
"I keep coming back to how unfortunate it is that 'Flight' squandered that superbly intricate and intense crash sequence and Denzel Washington's terrific, vulnerable-yet-charismatic performance by settling for — and shoehorning in — so much saccharine redemption. Credit where credit's due though: It was the first time a movie ever provoked in me the conflicting impulses of wanting desperately to go do a line of coke and then start a 12-step program."
"While it's not completely botched, I would love to see 'The Dark Knight Rises' take a mulligan. The main problem with 'The Dark Knight Rises,' beyond gaping plot holes and sloppy exposition, was how tired it felt. On both a thematic and visual level it felt like Nolan and company were simply tired, happy to rehash familiar ground to finally finish the trilogy. This led to a systematic superhero movie that was fun to watch, but did nothing to contribute to Nolan's overarching themes. While that made for a mostly fun movie to watch, I couldn't help but wish that it had accomplished more as a finale."
"'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.' So ridiculous, but could have been done well and actually been something enjoyable."
"I think there's a great film to be made that explores in an interesting an engaging way the working relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville, but, alas, 'Hitchcock' was not it. So, let's pretend that this particularly awful film never existed, and create something actually worthy of this story of the collaboration with Hitch's true life partner, and the creative audacity shown from a director that was at that moment in time at the top of his game."
"I’ll be shocked if 'Prometheus' is not the most submitted answer this week. Such a promising film and one of my most anticipated releases of 2012. Ridley Scott’s execution is flawless, which makes it even more frustrating when you think about what it could’ve been with a better script. The lack of answers to the big questions is not even my biggest gripe — that would be the insane amount of wasted potential with interesting characters that become absolute idiots once they take their helmets off, as if the atmosphere on that moon was saturated with the same substance that they dispersed in 'The Cabin in the Woods.'"
"'Alps,' by the Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos who previously did 'Dogtooth.' The idea in this film is that there's a group of people who run a business where they pretend to be people who recently have died in order to help their relatives and friends through the grieving process. The exectution is very slow and the fact that the actors read the lines with as little sentiment as possible makes it cold and distant. As opposed to 'Dogtooth,' which worked as a twisted kind of thriller/horror movie, this film is impossible to engage with on an emotional level. It's obscure, but not in an interesting way, just boring, and it was only with great difficulty that I managed to stay awake to the end. I still think that there's something about the idea that is intriguing and could be worth exploring. It needs different pacing though, and a little more clarity about what it's going for."
"Two related answers for the price of one: 'Hitchcock' and 'The Girl.' The former normalizes him, the latter demonizes him, and both are hopelessly reductive in the process. The films naturally appreciate that Hitchcock is an emblem for the cinema itself, but neither expresses any significant understanding as to what that means or how it informed his self-image. Adequately tackling a man of Hitchcock's stature would require a filmmaker to exploit a certain angle (or get behind the controls of a forklift), but it's hardly a fool's errand… ecstatically daring biopics like Schrader's 'Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters' prove that a feeble dramatization of ancient rumors isn't the best way to understand the working life of an iconoclast. Even confining the discussion to Hitchcock, there's Johan Grimonprez's sly 'Double Take,' which — in its elusive way — allows for a far more intimate understanding of what Hitch was all about. Toby Jones and Anthony Hopkins each offer amusing bits of mimicry, but it's curtains on the Titanic. I understand that both of these movies may have been defanged by Hitchcock's overprotective estate, but the sad fact remains that these twin mediocrities will ensure that it'll be a long time before someone else attempts to explore The Master of Suspense in his native tongue."
"There's a germ of a good idea in 'Dark Shadows' — namely, to redo the gothic, low-budget soap as a gothic, big-budget screen drama — but going down the wacky spoof route was a huge miscalculation. And I'd be more willing to write off Tim Burton entirely had 'Frankenweenie' not been so terrific. So if they'd made 'Dark Shadows' dark (and brooding, and sexy, and tortured), it maybe woulda worked."
"I'll probably be the only critic in this list who chooses 'Rock of Ages' and that's because I had a chance to see the musical on Broadway and it was so much fun, even though I generally am not into any of that cheesy '80s hair metal. There was nothing rock or heavy about the movie at all and the only thing even remotely entertaining was watching Tom Cruise really getting into the role of Stacee Jaxx. I feel that there was a better movie that could have been made from this musical but Adam Shankman really screwed this one up and made something nearly unwatchable."
"How could the answer to this be anything but 'Prometheus?' Ridley Scott returning to sci-fi with the potential for some expansion of the 'Alien' universe, be it a prequel or a companion piece, and this is the best we got? If not for the statement made that 'Prometheus' would have 'Alien' DNA of some sort, I'd have thought it was the adopted child in the overall series. Big questions with no answers, big ideas with no follow through, character motivations that changed on a dime and ultimately didn't make sense under the film's overall premise. Seriously, a complete do-over is the only way for 'Prometheus' to ever become acceptable. Maybe then we'll actually get some semblance of what the hell Scott was trying to do here."
"'Cloud Atlas' should have stuck with the source novel's nesting structure. Otherwise, like most portmanteaus, the film is pretty uneven. Still, 'Cloud Atlas' boasts a concept intriguing enough — both in the way it connects its disparate plots and in its casting — that I wish it had been better executed."
"I think Disney would probably love a do-over on 'John Carter,' but in terms of interesting premise and botched execution, I say 'Prometheus.' That film had such grand ideas and it looked pretty as hell, but it just got lost in trying too hard to be too many things at once."
"'Chernobyl Diaries' is the film from 2012 most deserving of a movie mulligan. The idea of making a horror film set in deserted land of Chernobyl is one ripe with tension, intrigue, and eerie horror. Just imagine if somebody had taken a Stanley Kubrick/'The Shining'-type approach to the material. The film was at its best in its early moments when it was showing real-life horror, such as contaminated fish and the reactors. If proper writers and directors had got their hands on this concept early, I genuinely believe it could have been a modern horror classic. Remakes are bizarrely reserved for much loved films. 'Chernobyl Diaries' perfectly represents the movies that should be remade; ones that had potential they didn't fulfill."
"There were so many big films this year with interesting ideas and middling execution, but the one movie that really sticks out as needing a do-over is 'Paul Williams Still Alive.' As a fan, I was thrilled to get to see Williams mounting a comeback and finally getting his due. What I got instead was a filmmaker openly using his documentary for his own return to favor. I don't think a great film was in there — artist docs tend to all blur together — but I would still love to see a Williams profile made by someone who would not interrupt a revealing, unprompted story to ask a banal, wholly unrelated question, nor ignore his subject's refreshing, reinvigorating time in the Philippines to concentrate on his own racist paranoia. Maybe I do not even want a mulligan of this movie so much as I want Stephen Kessler to never work again."
"There are parts of 'Prometheus' that are so great that it makes its spotty script even more frustrating. It's certainly not the worst film of 2012 — far from it, in fact — but with a reworked script it could have been a masterpiece."
"Either 'Taken 2' or 'Total Recall.' While they were both films no one was waiting for and highly unnecessary films they can't be allowed to dilute the films that inspired them. They both could have used more time in the oven giving more attention to story than simply force feeding us poor carbon copies of the films we love. Finesse and fun were both sorely lacking in both of Megaton and Wiseman's efforts."
"'Total Recall' had an interesting look at the beginning and presented hardcore sci-fi possibilities in its prologue. That was until it went into shoot 'em up mode and discarded anything that could have pushed the Philip K. Dick envelope. But how goddamn interesting would it have been if David Cronenberg been called to direct it? Cronenberg was actually the project's director back in the mid-80's until his vision was torpedoed, and producers hired Paul Verhoeven. I like Schwarzenneger's shameless carnage-fest but Cronenberg could have made a brainy classic out of it. In 2012, it would have been a fascinating venture to re-hire Cronenberg, since he's more powerful and visionary than ever, but oh well."
"I know it’s a highly acclaimed and beloved documentary, but I pick 'Searching for Sugar Man.' It’s a great story, this is true. But it’s not enough to just find a great story. '60 Minutes' was able to tell the same story sufficiently in a shorter segment. I wanted so much more from this film, a deeper examination of the racial effects of Rodriguez’s lack of success in the U.S. and his reasons for cult popularity in South Africa. There are so many questions we’re left with at the end, though not the sort that make a documentary good. They’re questions that simply weren’t asked or probed deep enough by the filmmakers. I’d love to see them try harder and do it over. Because I’m apparently alone in my criticisms, though, this will never happen."
"'Prometheus.' 'Prometheus.' 'Prometheus.' 'Prometheus.' 'Prometheus.'"
"Even though I enjoyed the movie as is, I'd like to have seen 'The Dark Knight Rises' address a couple of the things that caused all those nerd aneurysms, namely The Great Bane Muffled Voice Controversy. I think Christopher Nolan honestly believed that people would be able to understand what Bane was saying. Nolan, after all, knew what the words were because he and his brother wrote them, and this blind spot presumably led to the big scary villain of the piece being regarded as little more than a joke by many. I'll take my mulligan and rather than try to hit the pin, use a different club and just aim for the green, by which I mean altering the mask design and sound recording technique in order to better see and hear Tom Hardy, both of which are quite nice experiences under most circumstances."
"I already answered this question in my review of 'The Amazing Spider-Man,' in which I said the movie 'doesn't feel like a remake, good or bad… it feels like it already needs to be remade.' Spider-Man is defined as a character by his inability to accept that he is even a hero at all; no matter what he does, he'll always be a failure because of the death of his Uncle Ben, and must now atone for that failure by placing everyone else's needs above his own for the rest of his life, because he's unworthy of fulfilling even the most rudimentary of selfish desires. This new Spider-Man is just a guy who gets powers, tries to exact revenge for the death of a loved one (a death he can't even really blame himself for in this version), and fights a bad guy threatening the city. In the end, (SPOILER) he even breaks a promise to a dying man, whose death he arguably is responsible for, because living up that promise is a little inconvenient. That's not Spider-Man. That's just some guy in a Spider-Man outfit, acting in his own self-interest; the antithesis of the character. Even if 'The Amazing Spider-Man' was the only Spider-Man movie we ever had, I'd be pissed about that. But it's not the only one, and the contrast only highlights the embarrassing lack of understanding for what makes the character worthy of adapting into a movie in the first place. It isn't the worst superhero movie ever made, but isn't any better than 'Daredevil' or the original 'Blade,' which for all their flaws at least seemed to understand what made their heroes special in the first place. I don't want a mulligan because it's a bad movie, I want a mulligan because a Spider-Man movie should at least have Spider-Man in it."
"'Prometheus.' From its inadvertent 'Scorpio Rising' tribute prologue to its noisy depiction of the extended trials of a group of space explorers about as qualified for the gig as a crew of horny campers plucked from a 'Friday the 13th' flick, to its monumentally shrug-inducing conclusion, Scott, Lindelof and company's jaw-droppingly inept storytelling was more a tribute to 'Galaxy of Terror' and the other first generation of low-budget 'Alien' ripoffs than a sequel, prequel, reboot or whatever it was supposed to be. And yet all those smooth digital surfaces, a few welcome faces (particularly Sean Harris — the UK's answer to Warren Oates), and one or two gonzo set pieces (the abort-a-tron!), kept me and the Mrs. from incredulous laughter until we were dining on fried oysters at the clam shack across the street from our local multiplex and also suggested that perhaps that 130 million could have been a little better spent."
"For me the mainstream cinema of 2012 has been defined by the 'One-View Wonder.' From 'Brave' and 'John Carter' through to 'Total Recall' and 'Battleship,' the mid-level crowd-pleaser has suffered from being purely unremarkable, middling, or the dreaded 'alright.' The one film that sums this practice up for me more than any other would be Gary Ross' 'The Hunger Games,' which is a film in need of a new third act if ever I've seen one. So yes, 'The Hunger Games' gets my vote, with the hope being that the drive of the moderately impressive and refreshingly political opening half of the film could somehow makes its presence felt throughout."
"'Beasts of the Southern Wild' has some heartfelt things to say about New Orleans' post-Katrina resilience. The world that Benh Zeitlin and crew create does gritty justice to that community, but the film's story (or lack thereof) and general execution keep the full message from blossoming. Give the material some focus, a steadier camera, and a cast that knows what it's doing, and it might add up to more than just squalor."