Thursday, January 28, 2016

2015 Year in Review: Worst Films

This year, more than ever before, I tried really hard not to watch films that I knew I would dislike – films that got bad reviews, and looked horrible, and so I just didn’t bother. So, if there is a film out there that seems to be making all of the “worst of” lists that isn’t on mine – there’s a good chance I didn’t see it. Having said that, I still somehow managed to see quite a few bad movies including: Black or White (Mike Binder) a preachy, unconvincing look at race relations. Chappie (Neil Blompkamp) a misfire as a comedy, action movie and sci fi film. The Face of an Angel (Michael Winterbottom) a disappointing, and preachy, fictionalized take on Amanda Knox. Fantastic Four (Josh Trank) may not have quite been the god awful film so many seemed to think it was, but it still isn’t good at all. Good Kill (Andrew Niccol) an unconvincing look at drone warfare. Home (Tim Johnson) a by the number animated film for kids that no adult could possibly like that much. Hotel Transylvania 2 (Genndy Tartakovsky) which provided more of the rather lame same in this series. Hot Girls Wanted (Jill Bauer & Ronna Gradus) a documentary on an important subject that it unfortunately doesn’t really dig deep enough. Hot Pursuit (Anne Fletcher) has two appealing leads, and gives them nothing funny to do. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (Francis Lawrence) is needlessly drawn out and not very exciting. The Intern (Nancy Meyers) which wastes two fine performances with bland execution. McFarland (Niki Caro) another inspirational sports movie that failed to inspire. Lost River (Ryan Gosling) which is the type of debut film that shows some real talent – but is horrible on a narrative and character level. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon) which annoys me more and more the more I think about it. Minions (Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda) which proves, yet again, why some characters should stay in supporting roles. Paper Towns (Jake Schrier) which seemed to miss the point of the book it was based on. Pawn Sacrifice (Edward Zwick) which has a great true life story to work from, and does nothing with it. Pitch Perfect 2 (Elizabeth Banks) which was worse in every way than the original – which I didn’t even like that much. Poltergeist (Gil Kenan) which failed to scare, or even interest. Run All Night (Jaume Collet-Serra) which should have been so, so much better. San Andreas (Brad Peyton) an instantly forgettable disaster movie. Secret in Their Eyes (Billy Ray) took a great original, and did nothing with it. Ted 2 (Seth Macfarlane) which was just incredibly lazy. True Story (Rupert Goold) which doesn’t really have anything to say about its subject. Woman in Gold (Simon Curtis) which takes a fascinating true life story and drains everything interesting about it out. Z for Zachariah (Craig Zobel) which was simply an uninspired post-apocalyptic indie.

And those are just the ones that I didn’t have room for in the bottom 10.

Bottom 10

10. The Gallows (Travis Cluff & Chris Lofing)
I have sometimes defended found footage horror movies – there is no reason why they cannot work, and work well, as M. Night Shymalan’s The Visit proved this year. But its films like The Gallows that give the genre such a bad name. This film, about four high schoolers in the school theatre after hours, which may or may not be haunted by the ghost of the student who died 20 years in a freak accident doing the same play these students are about to put on is quite simply stupid. It’s not scary, it’s not original, it’s not clever – it does nothing new with the genre, but simply recycles what has worked for other movies before with terrible results. As a horror fan, I often go a little easier on the genre than most – I liked to be scared, and like to see new ways that can be accomplished. The Gallows is a prime example of why many people think the genre sucks. In this case, they’re right.

9. Jupiter Ascending (The Wachowskis)
I really want to like the Wachowskis – they are among the only filmmakers who take huge risks on a large scale, and sometimes they result is amazing. And sometimes, the result is Jupiter Ascending – a rather silly space opera, full of overacting, average special effects, silly characters and a rather dull story. The Wachowskis built this world from the ground up – you have to hand that to them at the very least – but there really isn’t anything in this world that is worth watching. Recent Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne is probably the worst in the cast – but when the films turns charming actors like Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis into complete zombies in terms of performance, it’s hard to blame them. After this and Cloud Atlas – a movie I loved – it’s hard to imagine The Wachowskis getting much in the way of money again anytime soon – and that’s a shame because we need people like them taking risks with blockbusters – the alternative is too dreary to contemplate.

8. Aloha (Cameron Crowe)
Cameron Crowe used to be one of the best writer/directors in Hollywood – with films like Say Anything, Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous and the unfairly maligned Vanilla Sky on his resume. But somewhere along the way, he seems to have forgotten how to make the romantic comedies he was so good at. Or perhaps it’s something similar – which is that his view of people seems to be stuck somewhere in the teenage years, which is why his two best films are about teenagers – and when he writes similar characters as adults, they seem like idiots. Still, there is no excuse for writing and directing a romantic comedy with Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone as your leads, and giving them nothing to do, and saps all the charm from them. He wastes a talented supporting cast – and a beautiful setting in Hawaii as well. The film just seems confused and jumbled – as if he didn’t even really think through the screenplay at any point, and just decided to start shooting figure out what he had later. He had nothing. Let’s hope this is the nadir of Crowe’s career – it would be hard for it to get much worse.

7. Insurgent (Robert Schwentke)
The Divergent books were bad – the movies are perhaps even worse. What makes little sense on the pages of the books, makes even less in the movie – when so much exposition is cut out from it. Shailene Woodley is a fine actress – but she cannot make Tris anything close to resembling a human being – and she’s probably the best one in the cast, aside from a slumming Kate Winslet. The movie has been given a high gloss sheen, typical of YA dystopian crap that they churn out nowadays. Worse of all, the film is boring – you cannot laugh at it properly, because it puts you to sleep. I may have been hard on the final installment of Hunger Games – but if anything, crap like this makes me appreciate what they mainly pulled off in that series – and how hard that must have been.

6. Terminator Genisys (Alan Taylor)
It should not be possible to screw up a Terminator movie this badly. Even if the plot of the movie is horrible – which it is in this case – the idea of robots fighting robots, and Arnold in his signature role, should at least make for an entertaining – if stupid – night at the movies. But in this case it doesn’t. Terminator Genisys falls in the same trap that many reboots and long past sequels do – which is to pay too much respect to the past, and not enough on just making a good damn movie. This movie would be meaningless to people who do not know this series – not confusing, which would at least be understandable – absolutely meaningless, because the movie aims for unearned moments based on what happened before. It doesn’t work. Neither does the action sequences, the performances or anything else about the movie. Hopefully, this movie will kill the franchise.

5. The Gunman (Pierre Morel)
Sean Penn clearly hoped that The Gunman would kick off a run of Liam Neesom-like, late career action movies. He hired the director of Taken after all, and the film really does feel like a clone of that movie. Yet, despite a cast that is far more gifted that it needs to be, the film just never finds its footing. Part of the problem is that Penn – who also co-wrote the movie – also wanted to delivered a message along with the action – so the whole endeavor is preachy and dull. More surprisingly, director Morel – who can usually be counted on for decent action – drops the ball here, meaning that even when the audience isn’t receiving a lecture, they’re bored. The film tanked – so hopefully Penn will get back to doing what he does best, and leave this kind of cheesy action to Neesom (even though he did even worse this year).

4. 50 Shades of Grey (Sam Taylor-Wood)
I feel bad for Dakota Johnson, who I must say is actually quite good in 50 Shades of Grey – as an innocent, virgin drawn into a world of sex and bondage by the billionaire who becomes obsessed with her. Yet, the film cannot overcome its roots – a kinky, creepy Twilight fan fiction, and a lifeless Jamie Dornan in the male lead pretty much kills the movie. Worse, the film doesn’t even operate as a guilty, sexy pleasure – the sex is banal and boring, and not the least bit erotic. At least Gaspar Noe’s Love – not a particularly good movie – was able to get that part right. Johnson is great here – everything else is pretty much horrible.

3. Knock Knock (Eli Roth)
I don’t know why I keep watching the film of Eli Roth – I haven’t liked any of them, and worse yet they are frustrating beyond belief, because there is always a kernel of a good idea to them – a way that you could see just how good they could be, if Roth had the desire (or perhaps talent) to follow through. This film stars Keanu Reeves as a good guy husband and father, alone for the weekend when two sexy young women arrive, soaking wet, on his doorstep – and practically force him to have a threesome with them – and then refuse to leave, and essentially torture him for a couple of days. This could work – there are hints of Michael Haneke in the premise, and the concept of guilt, but Roth doesn’t have Haneke’s skill or discipline – and basically ends up repeating the same scene over and over again, offering no real insight into any of the characters. At least Reeves is having fun – and him yelling about free pizza is a highlight – but once again Roth has delivered a film that isn’t just bad – but offensive.

2. Get Hard (Etan Cohen)
Don’t ask me how two actors as funny as Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell collaborated to make such a laugh free film as Get Hard. It shouldn’t be possible, as both actors will do just about anything for a laugh – so normally, they’ll at least elicit a chuckle or two even in dreck. Not so in Get Hard – which is a film based on stereotypes, that seems to think its subverting them, without actually do any of the hard work of actually doing so. The film is lazy on every level – and actually quite offensive when you think about it for a second or two (which hopefully, you didn’t). I have no doubt they will be funny in something again at some point – but it certainly wasn’t in Get Hard.

1. Taken 3 (Olivier Megaton)
I didn’t really like the original Taken very much – but it was an earnest attempt at an action movie, and had some moments that have become iconic. I liked Taken 2 even less – but the film at least acknowledge, and embraced the silliness of its premise, through coherence out the window, and just tried to be fun and ridiculous in equal measure. It didn’t work, but they tried. That’s why I hated Taken 3 most out of the series – it isn’t just that the film is a cynical attempt to cash in on fans of the series. EVERY series does that eventually. It’s that everyone involved seems to have completely stopped caring. Everyone is on autopilot, just out to cash a cheque, and no one seems to give a shit. That level of cynicism drives me nuts. Say what you want about the other films on this list – for the most part, I actually do believe that people were trying to make a good movie, trying to satisfy an audience – they may have failed, but dammit, I appreciate the effort (even from Eli Roth). NO ONE involved in Taken 3 seems to really care, seems to take what they are doing seriously. So the movie becomes a complete a total bummer to sit through – I didn’t have a more miserable movie watching experience this year.

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