Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Nails on a chalkboard

Everybody has them, whether they admit it or not: Actors and actresses whose mere presence set your teeth on edge because something about them, whether logical or illogical, whether you think they just suck or whether there is something more intangible. (NOTE: I just included the above photo of Robert Shaw from Jaws to illustrate the title, not to reflect an opinion of him, whom I like a great deal). Of course, they often spark fierce debates as proponents of one actress duel with her opponents and vice versa, so I figured the time was ripe to discuss this in more depth. Yes, I am going to bash on Danny Huston some more. You've been warned.


Since Huston currently occupies the top spot among actors who set my teeth on edge because I don't think he can act. At his best, he's a nonentity who doesn't harm a movie much, at his worse (think John Sayles' Silver City), he can destroy an entire film. Silver City might not have worked with anyone in Huston's role, but he certainly didn't help. His scenes in Birth, an embarrassing excuse of a movie to begin with, are even more cringe-inducing. When he goes after the kid, his acting is so atrocious, it reminded me of those worst Kevin Costner moments when his limited ability to express emotion catapults you out of any movie he's in. I know people who are convinced that I'm wrong about Huston, so I decided I'd start sleuthing the only way I could think of, namely perusing critics' comments on his work. To my surprise, no matter what film or what critic I looked up, most of the time, Huston barely gets any mention, negative or positive, beyond a sentence telling the role he plays in the film in question. It seems to back up my theory: He's so uncharismatic that he leaves no impression at all most of the time. Not many people say he's bad because most people suffer amnesia when it comes to remembering he was even in any given movie to begin with. It was a bit of disappointment: I wanted to find some nice slams but not much is written about him at all except in reviews of The Proposition, which I admittedly gave up on before he even showed up.


Speaking of Kevin Costner, he's a more unusual case. When he first came to my attention in The Untouchables, I thought he was bland and milquetoast but the film itself was so much fun and everyone else made up for his weaknesses, that I didn't think about him much. Though admittedly, Wagstaff and I used to have a running gag about that hysterical Sean Connery death scene where Costner's Eliot Ness keeps asking the poor dying man what he wants, picking up item after item off the apartment floor. Then Costner did some really smart things. First, he got cast in Bull Durham. My argument has always been that you could take just about anyone off the street, give them Ron Shelton's lines to read, and they'd probably come off as well as Costner did, but at least he did summon charisma and again surrounded himself with great actors such as Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. He followed this strategy again the next year with Field of Dreams, where the strong script and great cast covered up his lack of acting prowess. Then, however, Costner got careless. Revenge was the first sign. Despite his Oscars for Dances With Wolves, it was clear to me how bad he was in it. Imagine an actor with talent playing that part. Did anyone really believe he was suicidal in the film's opening sequences? Then came the horrors of Robin Hood and his first in repeated bad attempts to do other accents. The spell was broken and I couldn't not see how bad he was, even in movies I might otherwise like such as Oliver Stone's JFK, with another bad accent and really laughable "reaction" shots. Watch him when he learns Robert Kennedy has been killed and try not to giggle. Then, as if he hadn't inflicted enough damage on his career, came Waterworld and The Postman. (One of my favorite all-time Simpsons gags: the DVD commentary for The Postman which consisted of Costner on a split screen just repeatedly saying, "I'm sorry.")


I imagine someday if there is some kind of reference source that explains the origin of the phrase "nails on a chalkboard," the photo that accompanies it will be one of Lori Petty. Unlike Huston (or Costner), I've never found anyone who defends this freak who can make any movie she's in unbearable. Even the watchable A League of Their Own was undermined by her casting as Geena Davis' sister. She's so annoying in it, who has any sympathy for her complaints? In fact, more likely they are hoping a drunken Tom Hanks will go out and bash her head in with a baseball bat so she shuts up. He may think that there's not supposed to be crying in baseball, but there really shouldn't be acting this bad in movies about baseball either. For that matter, movies about killer whales, Army comedies, comic hostage situations in car dealerships and anything else Petty has appeared in. The last time I saw her she was ruining a short commercial for horse racing in the Tri-State area. I haven't checked, did she destroy pari-mutuel betting as we know it from people afraid she'd be at the track?


Picking on Shore is almost too easy, but when I actually found online a photo of the movie scene that scarred me for life from Bio-Dome with Stephen Baldwin chewing off Shore's toenails, I knew he must be included. Besides, he co-starred with the aforementioned Lori Petty in In the Army Now, so it seemed a natural segue. Of course, why kick a freak when he's down? I know why: Because I can. There was a time when people inexplicably enjoyed this moron who managed to make buddy into a five-syllable word. Of course, his time mercifully passed and other savvier film killers such as Adam Sandler sprang to prominence (and as bad as Sandler is when he does one of his patented annoying characters such as in The Waterboy or Little Nicky, he's even more insufferable when he tries to turn "serious" in things such as Punch Drunk Love or Spanglish. Thankfully, I think he may be subsiding as well. At least I can hope so.


In an appearance on one of the Oscar broadcasts in the 1980s, Liberace said, "I've done my part for movies — I've stopped making them." Thankfully, Kate Capshaw has pretty much done that as well. Hell, if you're married to Steven Spielberg and can't act your way out of — well, anything — why keep working and making the rest of us suffer? She ruined Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (though I can't prove that it would have worked with an actress playing her role either), although I admit I would have liked it better if Mola Ram had pulled her heart out when she was on the sacrificial altar. Capshaw gave an impressive list of awful performances in movies that were sometimes even worse such as Spacecamp, My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys and Black Rain. Still, my favorite Capshaw story always will be her work on the late soap opera Edge of Night. She was hired to play a character who only had six months to live — but she was so awful they fired her almost immediately because they couldn't handle her stinking up the screen for even that short a period of time. Stay at home Kate. Even your husband has been wise enough not to cast you in any of his movies since you snared him away from Amy Irving on Temple of Doom.


Now, there is hope for some of these performers who grate on me (well, maybe not for Lori Petty) and Douglas is evidence of that. As Josh R wrote in an earlier post Is Michael Douglas a male chauvinist pig?, for most of his acting career, I just found Douglas to be intrinsically unlikable in just about anything he made. No matter whether his character was the "victim" or not, I found myself rooting against him in movies such as Falling Down, Disclosure and Fatal Attraction. He even teamed with another acting demon on this list, Kate Capshaw, in Black Rain, where he played a horrendous American cop in Japan. When his partner Andy Garcia got killed, I lamented in my review that the wrong officer got killed since that meant Douglas would stick around. The only time I found that my resistance to him worked was in War of the Roses, where it helped that he was a bastard. However, Douglas managed to turn me around with his great portrayal of Grady Tripp in the adaptation of Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys. Not only did Douglas give his best performance, I went from periodically railing against his Oscar win for best actor for Wall Street to railing against his snub for Wonder Boys. So, there is hope for getting off my shitlist.


Another example of someone who won me over is Kim Cattrall. She was just awful in films ranging from Big Trouble in Little China to Bonfire of the Vanities. She even sucked in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, where she was assigned the task of playing a Vulcan, who presumably should show no emotions and she couldn't even pull that off. In fact, for a long time I even offered a theory that any actor with the initials K.C. must suck (Kevin Costner, Kirk Cameron, Kate Capshaw, Kim Cattrall. Only Keith Carradine seemed to be a possible exception, unless you saw him in The Ties That Bind). Then came HBO's Sex and the City and Cattrall's role of Samantha. My dislike of Cattrall made me avoid the show for a long time for fear that I couldn't possibly like it with her in it. However, I eventually caught up and she proved me wrong. Perhaps it was a case of the perfect merging of an actress and a role, but Cattrall was great as Samantha. Now, I haven't seen her in anything since Sex and the City (I missed that Britney Spears movie. Damn!) Maybe Cattrall will revert to being on my list of actors who grate on me, but for now I'll give her the benefit of the doubt because as Samantha she was damn good.

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I've long held that Kim Cattral in "Big Trouble in Little China" is one of the worst performances ever seen in a major movie. Even though I love the movie and have seen it many times, I can't believe John Carpenter let her get away with that.
Well, I love Cattral on Sex and the City, but outside of Porky's, I don't even remember her in most of the movies she's in. So she doesn't grate on my nerves (she rubs other parts of me quite well, though).

Thank you for that picture of Stephen Baldwin giving Pauly Shore a foot job. If I had any aspirations of having a foot fetish, this effectively cured me. I can agree with you on Shore and Sandler, though I profess love for The Wedding Singer. That new movie with Don Cheadle scares me to no end, because it is directed by someone who sets my teeth on edge, Mike Binder.

Binder, not Costner, ruined The Upside of Anger. I thought he and Joan Allen had great chemistry despite a horrible script by that Binder fool. I have less violent reactions to Costner than you, and I completely disagree with you about him not giving good performances in Field of Dreams and Bull Durham. But I agree about Il Costino and Waterworld.

But back to Mike Binder. He did that HBO show The Mind of The Married Man, which was so bad that it made Arli$$ look like a masterpiece. He grates on my nerves as a writer, director and actor. Never have the words "triple threat" seemed more ominous. If anything, I can thank him for writing that scene where Joan Allen does a Scanners on him. I think I applauded in the theater.

Gary Oldman also grates my last nerve sometimes (but not always), as does Meryl Streep. You can SEE THEM ACTING!!!! It's annoying as shit. Granted, I've loved Meryl in a few movies of hers (Postcards from the Edge, Death Becomes Her and Adaptation immediately spring to mind), but she is often too mannered. It drives me crazy.

Theresa Randle, a beautiful actress, grates my nerves not because she's a bad actress, but because she should fire her agent. Whenever she shows up in a movie, I start cringing. I know the movie's going to do wrong by her, and that she's going to be completely wasted. Her biggest offender has to be Spike Lee, who had her go topless for a panting Quentin Tarantino in Girl 6.
the first time i saw kim cattrall was in a 1982 canadian film called ticket to heaven which was about being kidnapped by the moonies (or some eerily similar 70s type religious cult) and i think she was pretty good in it (i haven't seen it since, though)

my two chalkboard actors are helen hunt and tom cruise
It's funny you mention The Wedding Singer, Odie, because that is also the only Sandler I've been able to halfway tolerate. I understand some of the anti-Streep stuff and I am beginning to think she has more of a flare for comedy even than drama, though I think her performance in A Cry in the Dark is unsurpassed. I'm also not much of a fan of Mike Binder, but Costner's role there was small enough that he didn't bother me. It's funny you mentioned Helen Hunt, Par, because yesterday I caught my mom watching As Good As it Gets on FX and they had one of their annoying promos that seemed to be timed perfectly. Just as Helen reaches over and kisses Nicholson, they had a huge promo in the corner for The Day After Tomorrow where everything turns to ice and shatters.
The Dingo ate the baby! Meryl's Emo Philips wig kept throwing me out of that movie.

Par, I recall seeing that movie on Canadian TV a few years back. It was about cults and deprogramming. The guy's family kidnaps him from the New Agey cult. (It should have been called "California: Dangerous to Canadians!")

Josh Hartnett is another actor that makes me think of nails on a chalkboard. I wanted Michael Myers to kill him in Halloween: H20, and both The Black Dahlia and Pearl Harbor were on my ten worst list. And while we're on my ten worst list, can I put in my vote for Robin Williams? I could name 5 performances of his that I love, but I can name at least twice that many I've despised, the latest being Minstrel Penguins, I mean Happy Feet.
I get that nails on a chalkboard feeling more from TV lately than movies. The countless Law & Order and CSI shows grate on me. When CSI Miami comes on, my wife makes me leave the room. David Curuso is bad enough, but Emily Procter drives me batty. 7th Heaven is another show that drives me ape shit. Not since the novels of Samuel Richardson has imperiled innocence been so ridiculous and funny. I refuse to watch such smut. Just a few minutes of that show makes me want to streak bare-assed naked through a church on Sunday just for spite.
I don't remember Binder from any movie (well, Diner maybe) so much as his stand-up act, so his annoyance factor is pretty low with me. Also, he directed the charming little sleeper Indian Summer, so he should get props for that.

My female "nails on chalkboard" are, of course, Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan (and I'll spare everyone the lengthy rant here) but with regards to the male gender, it would be Bruce Willis and Andy Garcia. Willis is so insufferably smug he makes me want to do an Elvis on my TV set and as far as Garcia goes, I've never been able to understand any one line of dialogue that comes out of his mouth.
I used to believe that there could not possibly be any bad English actors. I was wrong. Rebecca Pidgeon (wife of David Mamet) makes Kate Beckinsale (another terrible Brit actor) look like Olivier. At least Beckinsale has the Underworld movies and looks great in tight leather, but Pidgeon enters every Mamet film, like poor Olive from Bullets Over Broadway, and dashes everything to pieces. You just know a better actress could lift Mamet's dialogue off the page and make it soar. Call her the British Kate Capshaw.
Willis can give that impression a lot but sometimes it really works (as in Die Hard and Nobody's Fool) and of course I loved him in "Moonlighting."
I've been trying to remember some bad British actors (I agree that Beckinsale is blah), but I'm having trouble coming up with any others. It seems more often that good British actors will sometimes give bad performances, which of course is probably a subject for an entirely different post. I'm sure I'm forgetting someone. I remember how blah I thought Leslie Howard was in Gone With the Wind but when I saw him in Pygmalion and The Scarlet Pimpernel, then I realized he was good. One could make a huge list of bad Olivier and Michael Caine performances. Perhaps the Brits are just much better at weeding their bad actors out than Americans are. It's worth noting that very little of Beckinsale's work has been in truly British productions.
I agree Vernon was one of the weakest parts of Point Blank, but I wouldn't trade his Dean Wormer in Animal House for anything.
Can we list both Rebecca Pidgeon and Jennifer Schwalbach under "for the love of God, please stop casting your wife"?
You reminded me of another of my nails on a chalkboard from the past: Those interminable days when Clint Eastwood used to put the god-awful Sondra Locke in every movie he made.
Adam: Can we list both Rebecca Pidgeon and Jennifer Schwalbach under "for the love of God, please stop casting your wife"?

NOOOO! Now come on. You know that is NOT gonna happen!

Wife: Put me in your movie.
Director: But honey, you can't act.
Director: OK, you can be an extra.
Wife: Extra? I don't wanna be no damn extra! I want the lead!
Director: But are a horrible actress!
Wife: There's one thing I AM good at.
Director: What's that?
Wife: What you won't get any more of if I'm not the lead!
Director: But...
Wife: (singing EnVogue) Never gonna get it. Never gonna get it! Woo-woo-woo-woooo!
Director: Sigh. OK. You're the lead.
( the premiere)
Adam: Oh no! Not her again! Why! Why! Why!!!! (Pulls out hair)
It can go the other way too. Remember what Renny Harlin did to poor Geena Davis' career.
I'm totally with you on Pauly Shore, Ed.

A couple of "actors" that I don't despise nearly as much as I used to are Kevin Costner and Adam Sandler. There was a time that you couldn't pay me to watch one of their movies, but now I am not quite as bothered by them as I used to be. Michael Douglas I actually like quite a lot and Kate Capshaw... well, she's married to Steven Spielberg! In my mind that overrrides anything else one can say about her! The rest on your list have never made enough of an impact on me to have an opinion either way.

There is one "actress," though, that I REALLY cannot stand. I have actually described her effect on me before as "nails on a chalkboard" (BTW I love that you used that shot from Jaws): the horrendous Sandra Berhnhard. I'd sooner watch a Fran Drescher marathon than anything with Sandra Bernhard in it (which is unfortunate because I happen to love the movie King of Comedy, but can't watch it very often). Seriosuly, how this woman got a cereer I have no idea.
There is no one in films, I think, who fills me with more dread than Renee Zellweger. If she turns up in a trailer - I have to avert my eyes. That squint! it's horrible! There was a time - ca. The Whole Wide World, say - when I thought she was a good actress: now? I get cold chills just thinking about her....

Kurt Russell, I have to say, also annoys me mightily...
Geena Davis was a jackass! She didn't have to make those movies with her husband. I mean, was she on drugs when she chose Cutthroat Island? Ain't that much love in the world. She ruined her own career.

Hey, who shot that arrow in here?!
Having just watched THE HOLIDAY, I'd have to go with Jack Black.

I know he is loved in some circles, and I've tried to give him a chance, but he makes Robin Williams tolerable by comparison.

And his overuse of his eyebrow arching has even Jim Belushi embarassed by how he is ripping off his brother.
A lot of these choices (in the post and comments) seem like fish in a barrel. I'd be curious to hear choices for respected performers you can't stand.

De Niro makes me want to run away, not because he's a bad performer but because it doesn't seem he has anything fresh to contribute as an actor.
I know what you mean in a way about DeNiro. He's still good, but it's been a long time since he's delivered a performance that made you go "Wow" the way you did when you saw Taxi Driver or Raging Bull or much of his early work. The man made The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle for crying out loud. He was entertainingly over-the-top in Cape Fear, but it was a cartoon. Checking IMDb, I think the last time I saw him give a performance that showed me something different was Jacknife way back in 1989. He's never bad for the most part, but he definitely seems to have been coasting for a long time now.
CS: I'd be curious to hear choices for respected performers you can't stand.

Didn't I dis Meryl Streep a little earlier? And Gary Oldman too?
He's not someone I dislike, so this is slightly off topic, but can anyone explain to me how Djimon Hounsou has two Oscar nominations? He always seems exactly the same to me whether he is supposed to be a 19th century African slave leading a revolt, an NYC artist dying of AIDS or a modern African man trying to smuggle a diamond to save his family.
Djimon Hounsou, I think, has his nominations for the simple fact that he is scary. It's not even always a trait necessary for the character he's playing, and yet, there it is. I thought Leonardo deserved to win this year because he refused to yield the screen to him in Blood Diamond.

It's satisfying to have found a kindred Danny Huston hating spirit in you. Nobody I know can ever seem to understand what an instant tragedy he can make of a movie.

I'd like to add Lindsay Crouse and Kelly Lynch to the list. I used to think certainly Lindsay Crouse was at least slightly better until I saw the remake of Desperate Hours recently. They have a scene together and Kelly Lynch clearly wins. In the nobody wins kind of way.

Also, and I don't truly want to defend Lori Petty as that's just dumb, but I don't think we were supposed to sympathize with her complaints in A League Of Their Own, were we? Did I read that all wrong? Because I might hate it if I did.
I can’t stand Juliette Lewis. I dare you to watch The Other Sister and try to take her seriously in any role. After watching Too Young to Die? I wanted to kick her in the mouth.

Quentin Tarantino is horrible. He always reminds me of the kid everyone hated growing up that talked with a lisp and had an inhaler.
I feel that no matter how talented or untalented a well-known actor is, they always look fake when they try to play mentally challenged. I thought Sean Penn was a grievous example in I Am Sam, especially since he was surrounded by some actors with real disabilities making his fakery all the more glaring. The reason DiCaprio was so good in Gilbert Grape was because no one really knew who he was then. In fact, after my dad and I saw it, my dad asked if he were really retarded.
I recently posted a piece over at Screengrab, linking to yours. I also discussed at some length one of my Nails on a Chalkboard actresses. I'll leave it to you who see who it is...

Ummm ... errr ... .

If I look through some random list of "great" actors, I don't see many names that flat-out irritate me, but I see quite a few performers who rub the wrong way with their choices of roles. They seem to have pigeonholed themselves through repetition or unwise stretching. When Tim Robbins or Jeff Bridges -- two of my favorite performers -- try to do straight villainy, they're very funny. Nicholson, Pacino, and Dustin Hoffman seem to think that chewing scenery is acting. Meryl Streep always strikes me as too mannered.

But that's not really the question, is it?

Sean Penn is probably the closest thing I have to a respected performer who generally bugs the shit out of me. Tom Hanks might come in second. Tom Cruise. Emma Thompson.

The odd thing is that it's not the performances that I dislike; it's the familiarity with the performances or performers.
I know what you mean about Sean Penn. I've loved his work but ever since he did the disaster that was I Am Sam, I've had a hard time forgiving him. Speaking of I Am Sam, has any good actress made more bad career choices than Michelle Pfeiffer? She turned down Thelma and Louise and The Silence of the Lambs to appear in turkey after turkey.
Oh, I got somebody who unforgivably grates my nerves!! This will get me in trouble for sure:

Dakota Fanning! God I hate her! And she's in I Ain't Shit, I mean I Am Sam too! She's worked with Tom Cruise, Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, people who have been mentioned on this post as nerve-graters!

I recall in my review of Man on Fire, I said about Fanning "she's not a little kid. She's really a 40-year old squished down by that thing The Tall Man uses in Phantasm." This is why I always mention her as "forty year old Dakota Fanning."
Someday soon when I'm not heedlessly procrastinating (schoolwork) I'll write my hubristic defense of Danny Huston. So, for now, all I got is my broken record: dude's tight. He uses his body (his size) better than a lot of actors and I, for one, find him charming and charismatic.
In fact, after my dad and I saw it, my dad asked if he were really retarded. about a gift from the Gods of Comedy Punchlines...
Funny, I thought the top of everyone's list would be Barbara Streisand. Her obvious regard for herself ruins every movie she is in. A few others - Robin Williams, George Segal, Ryan O'Neil. I feel like I can see right through them in whatever movie they are in. Someone mentioned Kurt Russell, who I have lately begun to think of as one of the most underappreciated actors working now, no one ever talks about a Kurt Russell film, but he always seems pretty solid in whatever he is in.
Jude Law. Most convincing role: a sleazy plastic gigolo android in A.I. Need I say more?
Robin Williams among the guys, and Renee Zellweger among the actresses. Both have given performances I like, but RW getting heavy and RZ with her little pout can really get to me.

Then there is Andie MacDowell. In a movie I really liked, Four Weddings, she plays the lone American and all the Brit actors just run circles around her. She is so out of her depth it is hard for me to watch...or to believe that Hugh Grant is smitten above all with her. Yeah, she's not bad looking but there are American Idol also-rans who look better. (If you want to see a good performance of an American in an Brit comedy, see Jamie Lee Curtis in A Fish Called Wanda.)
Actually I love Lori Petty. Tank Girl (although it's heavily flawed and compromised) is a personal favourite of mine, mostly because of her performance. Possibly I identify because I too am cursed with a slightly silly voice. I can see how she might grate on a lot of people though but I like her.
We are destined never to agree on Danny Huston, I fear, since I always enjoy him, and found him a charming and informative presence at a Q&A last year, to boot (of course, bad actors can be great speakers, but I happen not to agree with the bad actor bit).
Oh Jesus, all these comments and no mention of Richard Gere? That man is the most insufferably smug, self-satisfied rear end in a top hat I have ever seen. He always comes off as condescending and occasionally as preachy, and I can't name a single good thing he's contributed to cinema.
I found this entry by googling "danny huston worst actor". While he isn't the 'worst actor', I don't know why he would ever be cast above any other bad actor. When I learn his is in an upcoming movie I want to see, I'm disappointed. It's like he's a child actor in the body of an adult. He seems vacant.
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