Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Top Ten Worst Films of 2015...

Here we are once again, folks. 2015 has ended, and now we look ahead to 2016. Who's to say what the new year will bestow on us, or in Norm of the North's case, inflict on us. But one thing's for sure, there will be a lot of exciting titles coming up. I don't know about you, but I am hyped to see Hail, Caesar next Friday.

But first, it's time to take a look back at both the highlights and low points of the previous year. Having seen a total of a little over ninety movies from that year, my thoughts on it were similar to those of 2014, in that it was a good year with great films, but had some scattershot selections that didn't help it hit the heights of 2013. Granted, this might be owed to the fact that, while the year's movies were probably no worse than usual, I ended up seeing a bit more of them, from full fledged disappointments to agonizing tests of endurance. In fact, it was so competitive that even Fifty Shades of Grey didn't hit the top ten.

Granted, that still doesn't mean I actively sought out every bad movie I've heard about, with titles that include The Ridiculous 6, War Room, United Passions, Hitman: Agent 47, Aloha, Hot Pursuit, and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. Even for guys like me, there are limits to the pain someone can endure, so these are only going to be limited to my personal experiences.

As always, let's get some dishonorable mentions out of the way. Lost River was a very beautifully photographed directing debut for Ryan Gosling, but he seems to have taken all the wrong cues from Nicolas Winding Refn, stringing together sequences at complete random with little to no context, including several minutes of awkwardly dancing Ben Mendelsohn. For the first time in my list's history, a YA novel adaptation didn't make it into the top ten, but The Divergent Series: Insurgent's blend of incomprehensible plotting and faux-psychological action nearly secured it a spot, despite the most committed efforts of Shailene Woodley. Fifty Shades of Grey could have made for a so-bad-it's-good mockery of its infamous source material, but instead takes it so seriously and brooding that it isn't even ironically entertaining, and though the production values are top notch, it's so dull that even its target audience will be turned away by its passionless love scenes. Having finally watched all three Insidious movies this year, I can safely say that Insidious: Chapter 3 is easily the worst entry in the series, with Leigh Whannell seemingly forgetting everything that made the previous two films the successes that they were, and forsaking its subtle terror in favor of cheap jump scare factories. Jupiter Ascending from the Wachowski siblings did have fabulous visuals and sound work, but squandered it all (as well as a hefty budget) on a plot so unintelligible that it feels like a TV show's first season condensed down to two hours, and featured some of the year's worst performances, including a mumbled and monotone Eddie Redmayne who looks like he's counting the days before he can star in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Alright, with that out of the way, IT'S CLOBBERING TIME!

Number 10
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Dir. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
I'm sorry, but I thought this was horrible. I never got what people saw in this movie. The film feels designed as an antidote to manipulative cancer-fare like The Fault in Our Stars and My Sister's Keeper, but whereas Fault at least has the benefit of being cheesy, pure teenage fantasy to its credit, Dying Girl is a much more "grounded" movie that's every bit as exploitative, but with far more bitter finger pointing. Fitted with a grating faux-Wes Anderson filmmaking stylistic, the movie's attempts at humor are amateur at best, and insufferable at worst, from admittedly cute cutaways to cheap movie recreations that quickly wear out their welcome, to random trips and diversions that the film would be better off without, all of which Rejon uses to make the film feel more original, and failing miserably to pull the rug out from under the viewer.

It certainly doesn't help that it's supporting cast are stereotyped cut-outs, but those players are Oscar worthy compared to Thomas Mann, whose lead character may be the most punchable and hateful audience surrogate in years, with him looking even more and more like an idiot every time he opens his mouth, acting like a bitterly precocious sociopath who lacks basic human empathy, and despite learning valuable lessons in the end, hardly seems to take any of it to heart. He's so vile that it makes you wonder how low Olivia Cooke's titular Dying Girl's self-esteem is that she'd even want to be associated with this twerp? As far as I'm concerned, this is the year's most overrated movie.

Number 9
Terminator Genisys
Dir. Alan Taylor
It saddens me to include this among the year's worst, given that T2 is one of my favorite films of all time, but it just goes to show you that if James Cameron didn't want to dwell on it any longer, perhaps other studios should have let it stay in his possession. An attempt to reinvigorate the long-flailing franchise in a style reminiscent to X-Men: Days of Future Past, the nonsensical and sloppy script tries to introduce the concept of multiple timelines merging into one, but has neither the smarts nor the entertainment value to make it work, resulting in a migraine inducing series of contradictions and ridiculous twists, one of which the studio, perhaps fearful that the movie would flop (which it did), spoiled in its atrocious marketing campaign.

Worst still, instead of trying to survive based on its own merits, it has to shoehorn in fan service and callbacks to the original, toying around with the timeline like someone's internet fan-fiction. Even for dumb action standards, the action is as preposterous as it is boring, with key action scenes feeling like an attempt to one-up other, better action movies. Likewise, its acting is completely charmless and empty, and in spite of the always welcome presence of Arnold Schwarzeneger, he's not enough to make up for Jason Clarke's ham of a John Connor, or Emilia Clarke's badly miscast Sarah Connor.

And just to conclude my thoughts on this one, I pose this question to Hollywood: Can we PLEASE stop trying to make Jai Courtney happen?

Number 8
Dir. Susanne Bier
WHAT EVEN HAPPENED HERE?! Originally intended to be released in late 2013, but delayed because of a rocky post-production schedule and obvious studio interference, the end result was a painful disappointment of all the potential it promised. It suffers from the Dream House effect in that, with all the talent on board, there had to be something powerful in the script that drew everyone in, but none of it shows on the screen. The film is clumsily strung together and clearly missing key scenes, cutting to months forward with little to no warning and no chance to become engaged with the characters, skimping out the viewer on important details like Serena's personal history, and only delivering what small bits of history there are in out of place non-sequiturs.

The obvious re-editing from the studio also goes to show in the performances, for despite the fact that Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are two of the best performers in recent memory, the film loses impact due to how little chemistry they actually share. They made for a spectacular and charismatic double act in Silver Linings Playbook, but in this film there's no passion and no connection between them. It makes it look like the two are coasting their way through the film to a pay check, and I don't think that was the case at all. I just think it's sloppy editing. There had to be something overwhelming in the original script to get all these players onboard, but as it is now, it completely falls apart almost the moment it begins.

Number 7
Dir. David Koepp
When I first saw the trailer for Mortdecai, I admit I thought it looked like a harmless little caper, but never did I imagine that the movie would be such a catastrophic error of judgment. While he had Black Mass to his credit, Johnny Depp yet again plays a cartoonish buffoon in silly facial cosmetics, except this one is not only the year's worst performance, but the worst performance of the man's career. His mugging is more incessant than ever, caricaturing himself to the point of pathetic self-parody, and saddled with not one, but two grating recurring gags in a desperate attempt to make the viewer chuckle even once. He's not helped by his insufferably posh accent, which is even more irritating serving as our narrator, and the fact that he obviously wants to rush through the project so badly, that he mumbles his dialogue at a rate so brisk that whole sentences of his are unintelligible.

But even with all of that aside, this movie would still be a waste of time. Paul Bettany does get some occasional laughs as Mortdecai's bodyguard and punching bag, but Gwenyth Paltrow's snarky love interest, Ewan McGregor's smug detective, and Olivia Munn's femme fatale with a pointless sex addiction character trait are all wasted, leaving a wasteland of untapped potential, and fail to make the audience laugh once. That's when the film even remembers to have jokes, as it moves into an aggressively convoluted third act with real threat and violence, and is burdened by twists so ill-advised that they feel like they were conceived on the spot. It's more gag inducing than the title character's garish mustache.

Number 6
Dir. Neill Blomkamp
More so than any other entry on this list, Chappie was more than just a bad movie to me. It was a disappointment. Neill Blomkamp showed great promise with District 9, clearly showing no lack of thematic ambition ever since, but has gotten lazier and lazier to the point that his debut feels like a fluke victory.

Chappie has a lot of fascinating ideas under the surface, tapping into the fears of progressive AI and likening it to violent racism, how children are formed into either icons or pariahs based on the teaching of their parental figures, and mankind's frustration with God allowing his children to die. The problem is not that one is more interesting than the other, but that Blomkamp and his wife Terri Tatchell have absolutely no idea which concept they want to be the defining theme, stumbling into each of them at pure randomness, and treating them all with heavy handed symbolism.

What's insulting about the film, however, is more its writing. By the film's logic, right now in Johannesburg, scientists have created fully mobile police robots, and the human consciousness has been cracked as well. This much too modern setting already dates the film horrendously, but that's nothing compared to the idiocy of its characters and world building. The company behind Chappie's creation has the worst security procedures of any in cinematic history, with workers constantly pulling actions that would have them fired, arrested, or sued (probably all three) in the real world, but have no consequences here. Chappie himself may be endearing at times, but his insufferable parental figures played by the Die Antwoord duo, and Dev Patel's rehashed Newsroom character are deeply uninteresting.

Granted, those people are fantastic compared to a cartoonish Hugh Jackman, who's so blatantly evil and unsubtle that the film may as well name him Evilman McMoustacheTwirler, and in the film's third act, goes into hilariously over the top, bloodthirsty Jim Carrey Riddler mode, and makes Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending look good by comparison. In short, this is no WALL-E.

Number 5
The Cobbler
Dir. Tom McCarthy
It's astonishing how Tom McCarthy both made one of the best reviewed movies of the year, and one of its biggest flops. When it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival it was scathed beyond recognition, and it's not hard to see why during the final product. The screenplay is awful, with its ridiculous and overly fantastical logic holding no consistency, and its humor feeling at once mean-spirited and dry, as well as being burdened by offensive stereotypes, a shocking step back for a normally progressive mind like McCarthy's. Not only that, but it's full of creepy moments like the main character rekindling his mother's relationship with his father by playing him, and trying to have sex with a woman in a shower disguised as Dan Stevens.

But worst of all, it's simply another blow for Adam Sandler. He's clearly trying his hardest and is the best thing in the whole movie, as was the case with previous dud Men, Women & Children, but everything around him is too awful to comprehend. The only reason I can think why is because it was done on purpose to further discourage Sandler from more dramatic work. Think about it. McCarthy had Spotlight coming out later that year, and even though The Cobbler would be a disaster, he'd have a safety net to win everyone back. Sandler had no such safety net, given that all he had was Pixels and The Ridiculous Six. It's dubious, I tell you.

All conspiracy theories aside, it's sad that Sandler worked with the director of The Vistor, and wound up starring in a film with a comedic murder scene. Why can't the poor guy catch a break?

Number 4
Taken 3
Dir. Olivier Megaton
Not just a contender for worst movie of the year, but one of the worst action movies I have ever seen, this third entry in Liam Neeson's ongoing star franchise is an absolute failure, making Non-Stop look good by comparison. A lazy rehash of The Fugitive, Even the title makes absolutely no sense, as nobody is actually taken for Neeson to rescue, and the twists and coincidences build up so quickly and artificially that the viewer can actively feel brain cells dying, insulting our intelligence with sequences that have had no thought or passion put into them, and gets stupider as it moves along.

Even Liam Neeson's grisly action hero can't elevate the material any more, with his interactions with family feeling so over the top and contrived that they begin to feel more like a soap opera than an action showcase, and Forrest Whitaker as the FBI agent tasked with hunting him down being more interested in his wooden chess piece than anything. Worst of all is its deplorable staging of the action, with the camera being shaken so hard that you wish the camera man would take his Ritalin, and the editing being the worst I've ever seen in any movie, with the cuts being so rapid that it actually gave me a migraine, and so incompetent and incomprehensible that it creates its own plot holes. Let's pray that the "See you in Taken 4" dialogue at the end never comes to pass.

Number 3
Dir. Leo Gabriadze
The found footage sub-genre is one of the most annoyingly ubiquitous trends in modern cinema, so how do you make an already gimmicky style of filmmaking even more gimmicky? You make an 80 minute Skype ad, of course.

Originally intended to be aired on MTV, the film was instead shifted to a full theatrical release. I get what Gabriadze is trying to do here, creating a scathing analysis of the pathetic online trolls that thrive off of negativity and hurtful retaliations. A noble intention, but did he have to make every single one of these characters into the most obvious and outdated stereotypes imaginable? Not a single one of them feels like a fully dimensional person, with the scares not working because, though I'm not against the idea of deeply unlikable characters, scares like that don't really work for me unless I have some reason to care about the characters, something that the film never once gives me.

But beyond all of that, the script just becomes stupid and bitter, reading like an angry YouTube commenter's vengeful fantasies. When the film reaches an increasingly hurtful and revealing game of Never Have I Ever (which one character laughably has never heard of, as well as what the word troll means), the already douchey characters become even more grating than before by tossing insults around like knives, and don't seem to know how to prioritize, always forgetting everything that's at stake, leading to unintentionally hilarious deaths. The style itself is also, like I said, a gimmick, with the cluttered desktop being a consistent nuisance, and audio always conveniently cutting out whenever leaving the Skype chat. Even it's own themes don't hold up to any scrutiny, and despite the ending having potential to be a thoughtful meditation on living with the consequences of your horrible actions, is quickly brushed aside for one final, cheap jump scare, which the film is also chock full of.

Enjoy whatever novelty this movie has for now before numerous cash ins and sequels come to wear it out.

Number 2
Dir. Chris Columbus
Based on a 2010 short film of the same name, the premise of the movie was simple, but inspired. Aliens mistake human culture as a declaration of war, and invade the planet to destroy us. It has all the ingredients to be great dumb fun... but then Adam Sandler's Happy Madison company got a hold of it, and squandered it all in one fell swoop.

Sandler plays his usual entitled, bitter, man-child self, generally possessing no charisma or endearment, and is so disgusting that a main arc in the movie is him learning to brush his teeth. The role just feels like self-serving smugness to show Sandler as a hip guy for his retro pop culture knowledge, and makes the fact that he's romantically linked to Michelle Monaghan even worse. Sandler even makes not so subtle jabs at those who criticize him for sticking to his tired and predictable ways, as evidenced by a scene where he laments the loss of simplistic arcade game patterns, and blasts technological improvements in games while watching Monaghan's son play The Last of Us. It's like Sandler's nudging the critics and saying "That's right. That's about you, you snobs."

And before the easy argument is made that "Well, you're just blindly hating it because of Adam Sandler", No! I desperately wanted him to make a comeback the last two years, and in the two movies of his that made this list, he is the least of their concerns. Even if you took his name out, the movie would still be a train wreck. Director Chris Columbus doesn't seem to have any passion for the action sequences, which do have some admittedly nostalgic imagery, but nostalgia alone can't mask the lack of engagement and glaring holes. The game battles themselves are based around the logic and gameplay rules of the games they originated from, yet with no consistency as the gamer heroes enter in cheat codes (HOW DOES THAT EVEN WORK?!), and although the aliens are right for calling their cheating out, even THEY constantly break their own rules.

The jokes have a lot of potential to be hysterical, but nearly every single one is a dud. I laughed once in this entire movie, and that was it, because the jokes all appear with no rhyme or reason at random, and seem to mistake something being funny by simply appearing for all of a few seconds. It's even worse given the talent of the all star cast on display, including a wasted Josh Gad and a too-good-for-this Peter Dinklage embarrassing themselves. But more importantly, why would anyone appoint Kevin James as President of the United States?

It's such an awful movie that, when I initially reviewed it, I went so far as to call it the worst film I'd ever paid to see in a cinema. What a difference two weeks made...

Number 1
Dir. Josh Trank
Yes, I'm still calling it by that, because it still doesn't deserve the dignity of  being called by its actual title. Fnat4stic not only holds the honor of being the worst superhero movie I've ever seen, but simply as one of the all time worst period. Produced solely so 20th Century Fox could hold onto the character rights and prevent them from reverting back to Marvel, this movie has garnered infamy and mockery due to its rocky production, and upon release, faced some of the most scathing critical word since The Last Airbender. It's such a catastrophe that in an effort to distance themselves from it, the Fantastic Four creators of Marvel blew up this new film's four leads in an issue of The Punisher. I don't blame them.

The problems with the film are immediate and obvious. One of the most shocking realizations upon watching the film is how joyless of an experience it is. The very basic concept of fun always seems to elude this movie, slogging along and padding itself out to reach its running time, and the overall mood of the film always feeling dour and pretentiously self-important, detached from anything resembling realistic humanity. The characters themselves hardly resemble their comic book counterparts, and despite the viewer constantly being *told* that these people have a connection, it never once makes us *feel* like they have a connection, because it's as if these people don't even like each other.

Furthermore, the screenplay of the film is sloppy, failing to develop the supposedly smart characters who make exclusively dumb decisions anywhere beyond a single character trait (or none at all, in Victor's case), and dropping new plot threads like Tim Blake Nelson's government agent wanting to use the Four for military combat before they even have a chance to take life. The film was also meant to carry the DNA of David Cronenberg body horror movies, but all of those intentions backfire in laughable ways.

But that's not all the reasons why Fant4stic is the year's worst movie, because in an effort to salvage the initial cut of the film into something at least semi-watchable, the studio did extensive reshoots for the second half, and frankly, I still can't believe that any real, actual, competent, living people not only made this, but OK'd it for release. Seams in the production constantly begin to rear their ugly head, such as Kate Mara's painfully obvious wig, and the effects work on the Thing and Human Torch being inconsistent, not to mention Reed having an embarrassing scene where he shifts facial construct and skin tone. There's no conflict outside of Dr. Doom, but it feels like a spoiler mentioning he's in the movie, given that Victor disappears forty minutes into the film, and doesn't come back as Doom proper until the final twenty to fifteen minutes. But even when he makes his grand entrance, complete with a Scanners like ability to blow heads up that he conveniently never uses on the four, he's so pathetically easy to defeat that you begin to ask yourself "Why should I even consider him a threat?" He's so pathetic that Johnny Storm actually calls him Borat at one point. Blah, blah, blah, the ending is an obvious rip off of Age of Ultron's ending, and the movie is an utter failure.

In fact, a movie about the making of this movie would be more fascinating than what we actually got, with much controversy surrounding the childish, appalling, and unforgivable behavior of director Josh Trank, who took to immature fits on Twitter mocking fans, verbally harassed his cast and crew, missed days in a row worth of production, was always under the influence when he did show up, and posted an epic rant on 4chan that was subsequently deleted, all of which led to a snowball effect where Trank was removed from the Boba Fett Star Wars anthology film. A lot of debate has been made as to whether this film's disastrous outcome was Trank's doing, or Fox's. Frankly, both are equally to blame in my eyes (both of their ideas are ungodly boring or otherwise stupid), but I find it very funny that Trank was so insistent that this was all his vision, even going so far as to e-mail people that it was better than 99% of superhero movies, but then conveniently backpedaled once critics saw the film, essentially disowning it through Twitter. I understand a lot of blood, sweat, and tears goes into making a movie of this scale, and taking criticism is a very hard thing to come to grips with, but it still gives you no right to treat your fans, colleagues, and friends like trash, and this is something which needs to stop.

The only reason that I would recommend this movie to anyone is as an educational example of how not to approach a movie, and its mistakes should be studied and analyzed to the point that the decisions made during production become unthinkable. It doesn't matter whose fault it was for Fant4stic, because there is nothing here for anyone to be proud of. I mean, I'd rather watch this again before Vampire Academy (not by much), but it's telling how bad a movie is when Stan Lee doesn't even bother to make his obligatory cameo.

Oh, and at one point, the studio thought they were going to make a sequel! HAHAHAHAHA!!!

Anyway, sorry about the length. Those rants went on a lot longer than I thought they were going to be. So with all of those addressed, I'll be back next week to celebrate the ten best movies of the year, and I look forward to seeing you there. Ciao!

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