We’ve said it before, notably as a lead-in to our recent Best Films Of The Year So Far feature, but 2014 is looking to be a pretty good year for the movies, with a lot more to celebrate than commiserate being unveiled this past six months. And if we can say that the week that “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is the big release, you know we must really mean it. However, as the song goes, along with all the sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain sometimes, and how would we even know how great some of our high points were if we didn’t periodically experience the lows? Even in the best years, there’ll be a few films that stick in our various craws, and so in our bi-annual attempt to exorcize those demons, here’s a rundown of the films our staff members most disliked this year, thus far.
A word on our format this time around, though. When we’ve run these brief wallows in cinematic ordure before, there’s often a degree of confusion around whether the picks are subjective or objective, and whether they’re consensus agreements or the unshakable impression of one single Playlister whose opinion the rest of us would like to sidle away from quietly. So to try and minimize that this year, we’re going with personal choices, but in two categories—each has chosen the film that we believe belongs in the realm of the empirical, objective, worst (i.e. with the fewest redeeming features) and also, with more up-front subjectivity, a film that personally disappointed us due to whatever peculiar cocktail of expectation we felt going in. It’s not a perfect system, and no doubt you’ll all find a lot to disagree with, which is what the comments section is for, but hopefully this way you get some context for our choices.
Not only that, but, as borne out by our “best of” being much, much longer, the fact is that it’s far more likely that a majority of us will have gone to see a film we hear good stuff about than bad, with the result that oftentimes achieving a consensus around the worst films of the year is difficult, because few of us seek out films that those we respect strongly caution us away from; no one but the worst masochist goes around trying desperately to see films they believe they’re going to dislike in advance, unless they really have to. There are more than enough great movies to occupy anyone’s time. As a result, all the below are eclectic and highly personal choices reflecting the dodgy end of our individual experiences of 2014 at the movies so far. Enjoy, or be appalled, as you will.
Worst: “Walk of Shame”
I was suspicious of “Walk of Shame” when it was announced, purely on premise alone. A plucky news reporter gets stranded in downtown LA without a car or phone? Quelle horreur! Whatever shall she do? As an Angeleno, this premise sounded preposterous and somewhat classist/racist. And guess what? It is! The film, written and directed by Steven Brill, manages to stereotype and offend in order: prostitutes, taxi drivers, Middle Easterners, drug dealers, black people, bus drivers, homeless people, Latinos, Jews, massage therapists and Asians, but above all, white women, because they are ultimately the biggest dummies in this film. The entire movie is premised upon the cognitive dissonance of an attractive, upper middle class white woman like Elizabeth Banks traipsing about lower class ethnic neighborhoods, inappropriately dressed. FUNNY, RIGHT?! So hilarious, ‘cause like, why would she ever be in a crack house? Banks is clearly game for the pursuit, but it’s only in service of situations that are racist, classist and terribly unfunny. The rest of the cast are just along for the ride, with Gillian Jacobs as her particularly mean best friend, completely uncharming playing cold and bitchy, instead of her dizzy, fizzy “Community” character. As much as the film tries, it just never gets there, with stilted timing and five-year-old regional jokes. If there’s anything more pathetic than a trying-to-be-raucous wild film that just comes off as hideously boring as “Walk of Shame,” I’m really glad I don’t know what that is.
Disappointing: “They Came Together”
I didn’t even watch the trailer for “They Came Together,” so sure I was that I’d like the spoof take on the rom com from the team behind the classic “Wet Hot American Summer.” I was certainly not expecting to hate this movie with every fiber of my being within five minutes, and have to talk myself out of walking out several times, in order to write this piece. While the “film” (I am loathe to use that term as this is basically a Funny or Die short bloated to a torturous 80 minutes) has myriad problems, most of them all go back to the sheer contempt that this film has for the romantic comedy genre, and the Nora Ephrons that have governed and cultivated said genre. David Wain and co. didn’t bother writing a single joke, because “yuk yuk isn’t it funny that we’re making fun of romantic comedies and this particular woman’s work; poop, fart, penis, butt, boobs, cynical smirk, repeat.” That’s literally the only joke—romantic comedies are like this, am I right??—for the entire movie. Every supporting character delivers their lines with a derisive, sneering irony, while even the one-two punch of likability that is Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd portray their characters as if they are suffering traumatic brain injuries. What made something like ‘Wet Hot’ work as a spoof was that it clearly came from a place of love for ’70s summer camp movies, and the giddy joy at making an entry of their own. This is just a mean, nasty takedown of rom-coms, which feels inherently sexist, because the message is that media tailored to a female audience is inferior, and needs more completely random poop references to be funny. And the fact that it’s so terribly, cringingly unfunny is the ultimate rub, because despite the nonsensical, sexual and scatological content, so effortfully shoehorned in, “They Came Together” contains not one truly funny moment, and that’s probably the greatest insult to this group, and biggest disappointment to their fans.
Worst: “A Million Ways to Die in the West“
The western comedy is a notoriously difficult genre hybrid, one that takes a certain amount of finesse and delicateness to successfully pull off. So it should have come as no surprise that Seth MacFarlane, a proven enemy of subtlety, would bungle his widescreen western comedy “A Million Ways to Die in the West.” Part of this has to do with MacFarlane’s seemingly boundless ego—not only did he co-write and direct this overlong, unfunny slog, but he also had the gall to star in it too. (As a testament to his narcissism, MacFarlane cast Amanda Seyfried and Charlize Theron, two of the smartest, most talented, and, of course, most gorgeous, actresses around, to play characters who spend the whole movie fighting over him.) Everything about “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is a wrong-headed miscalculation: from the distractingly awful cameos from Bill Maher and Christopher Lloyd (reprising his “Back to the Future” role) and Jamie Foxx (as Django, no less) to the fact that MacFarlane plays a character with contemporary neuroses with zero explanation as to why he’s this crazy modern man trapped in the west. It’s just exhausting. Not that it will matter much to MacFarlane. He’s got “Ted 2” lined up next. And we all know how much the kids love a foul-mouthed bear. At the very least we can take heart in knowing that MacFarlane won’t actually appear on screen. Thank god.
This was supposed to be it: a bold live action retelling of Walt Disney‘s immortal animated “Sleeping Beauty,” except this time told from the point-of-view of its unforgettable evil sorceress, Maleficent (embodied, with devilish glee, by Angelina Jolie). The original animated film’s lush widescreen look (it was projected on 70 mm, in the super-stretchy 2.55:1 aspect ratio) and Mary Blair and Eyvind Earle‘s medieval-meets-modern artistic aesthetic would be updated with state-of-the-art visual effects and 3D photography. And even better: like their similar “Alice in Wonderland,” the entire movie would be suffused with at least a volatile, subversive dose of rah-rah feminism. But none of this would come to pass. Instead, the movie, uneasily and artlessly directed by former production designer Robert Stromberg, was a witless blur, turning the iconic villainess into an easily malleable wimp, largely defined by her relationship to various male characters. The attempt at depicting a meaningful relationship between Maleficent and future Sleeping Beauty Aurora (Elle Fanning) meant absolutely nothing, and the feminist subtext was non-existent. Maleficent is basically a rape victim, and spends the rest of the story plotting her revenge in all sorts of really flimsy ways (yawn). Worst of all: Maleficent’s coolest power, the ability to turn into a fearsome dragon, was robbed of her and given to a male character. So much of the movie is concerned with how a character had robbed Maleficent of her beautiful wings. But it was the dopey filmmakers behind this oddly structured bore that really took away Maleficent’s magnificence. For a Disney freak like myself, “Maleficent” was absolutely crushing.
Worst: “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”
From “Godzilla” to “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes” by way of “22 Jump Street” and “Edge Of Tomorrow,” it’s actually been a pretty solid summer for blockbusters, with a few very notable exceptions (“Maleficent” and “Transformers: Age Of Extinction”). And that’s doubly relieving, because we couldn’t have possibly gotten off to a worse start to the summer season than we did with “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” I didn’t hate Marc Webb’s 2012 reboot: it was a total mess, and botched the actual superheroics pretty badly, but it did get a couple of elements right—the central relationship and a quippy sense of humor—that Sam Raimi’s films never quite managed to pull off. But the hastily put-together sequel (released less than two years after the first arrived, and it fucking shows) took even the few vaguely promising foundations from the first film and knocked them down. Even more bafflingly structured and tonally wonky than the first, the movie managed to take multiple villains (Jamie Foxx’s Electro, who spends half the film in a dunk tank, and Dane DeHaan’s Goblin, who should have) and do nothing resonant with their motivations, or even give them particularly cool action sequences. But at least we were used to that from the first film: Webb’s second outing also fails to get Peter and Gwen right either. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone were as charming as ever, but “I like to watch people who are really in a relationship flirt with each other” is not enough to hang a franchise on, and the Kurtzman and Orci script drives the pair, the best thing about the first film, apart almost immediately, before killing off Gwen and then having Peter get over her in five minutes, instantly cheapening the death. Ugly to look at, featuring almost unlistenable music, entirely hollow inside, and more concerned with setting up sequels than telling an actual goddamn story, it’s essentially a textbook on how not to make a superhero movie.
Disappointing: “Dom Hemingway”
In general, I’ve been pleasantly surprised in 2014 more often than I’ve been disappointed (although I echo Katie’s thoughts above about “They Came Together,” which I wanted to love, and found terribly flat). But the biggest sting came with gangster comedy “Dom Hemingway.” I was excited for the film: I like Jude Law, especially when he gets to play against type, I’ve been a big fan of writer-director Richard Shepard’s work on unsung gem “The Matador” and on “Girls,” it had been a while since we’ve had a decent British gangster picture, and I’d heard good things from colleagues at TIFF, including our own Kevin. Which meant that I was all the more crushed when I saw the thing. There’s an admirable swagger to the film from its opening scene (which sees Law’s longtime jailbird on the verge of release deliver a sweary monologue about how great his cock is), but as Hemingway—and is there a more eye-rolling surname to give your bastion-of-masculinity main character than Hemingway?—gets out of the joint and heads to Europe with best pal Richard E. Grant to collect his reward for not ratting, it becomes clear that the film doesn’t have much more than swagger to offer. Crude and charmless in its sub-Pinter rants and FHM Magazine looks, it’s reminiscent less of the classic British gangster tales that Shepard seems to be aiming for, and more of the stream of ‘Lock Stock’ rip-offs that plagued U.K. theaters in the early ’00s, and there simply isn’t a compelling enough story to be told here. Especially when the film tries to introduce unearned, treacly sentiment in the third act with Dom’s relationship with his daughter (Emilia Clarke). Shepard is a talent who deserves his own showcase, but I’m not sure what he was trying to say with this, except, “I really enjoyed ‘Sexy Beast,’ but I didn’t understand it.”
Worst: “I, Frankenstein”
In strict honesty, “I, Frankenstein” isn’t the worst thing I’ve seen this year, which would probably be “A Winter’s Tale”—nothing will ever be as spectacularly bad as that film (hopefully), but let’s not forget 2014’s other bizarre jumble of poorly exposited Gothica, “I, Frankenstein,” a film as completely unmemorable as “A Winter’s Tale” is infuriatingly unforgettable. The worst product of the current fashion for fairy-tale retreads (“Maleficent” abuse in this piece notwithstanding), “I, Frankenstein” seems to have been completely forgotten by unspoken global treaty only six months after it came out—a treaty I am now breaching. Stuart Beattie’s film threw many things out the window—numerous supernatural entities in slow motion with much shattering of glass and clutching at air—but the chief one was the classic story of humanity and pathos evident in many previous films, which was replaced with something about gargoyles and Filipino martial arts and also Bill Nighy is Satan, maybe, and Frankenstein is Adam, who is a demon hunter, but, like, a reluctant one, because fighting the literal embodiments of evil is something to get conflicted about? You’ll forgive me if I haven’t rewatched it, but I promise you it made no sense the first time around either. Sludgy, jerky and half-assed, “I, Frankenstein” does have one thing in common with Wollstonecraft’s novel: it’s synapse-shreddingly dull, with no sense of plotting or pace. It even fucks with know-it-all audiences by appearing to acknowledge that the monster’s name isn’t Frankenstein…before making the emotional climax of the film the moment where the monster does indeed adopt that name, for closure, or something. You could make a clever comparison between the career of the monster and that of old craggy-face Aaron Eckhart—desperately wanting to be loved by humankind as a hero when the only satisfaction we get from him is by casting him as the villain—but why bother? Now let’s all go back to forgetting this thing ever happened.
Disappointing: “Only Lovers Left Alive”
Jim Jarmusch does vampires! “Only Lovers Left Alive” played festivals in 2013 to some acclaim—including from one of our own—but had its main release earlier this year, and once again most people seemed to be pretty pleased with it. Certainly there are things to like here: the constantly beautiful lighting, the equally beautiful cast, Mia Wasikowska’s performance, the intoxicatingly gradual pace which manages to keep you engaged with a film in which not much happens. Really, “Only Lovers Left Alive” is not a bad film as such: but it is a film that so obviously thinks it is so much better. In fact, it clearly thinks it is full of really radical ideas about vampires: like, what if they were really bored with being immortal, man? And what if they didn’t live in, like, castles, but in, like, Detroit? Because of all the decay and stuff. And what if a bunch of famous people in history had secretly been vampires? And what if they collect vintage guitars? Awesome. Anyone who has bothered to watch a vampire movie in the last twenty years knows that none of this is new (well, the guitars thing is, but no-one needed that): angsty vampires hanging out in decaying corners of America is literally the hook for “Twilight,” and the idea that the children of the night might be dead and not loving it is at least as old as “Interview with the Vampire,” which also birthed the vampire-as-tragic-but-sexy-rock-star trope. It is still possible to make groundbreaking vampire films—witness “Let The Right One In”—but Jarmusch’s hipster foray makes it painfully obvious that his understanding of the genre hasn’t punctured the skin. Ideas that might seem mind-blowingly dark and intriguing to a 12-year-old (hey, aren’t vampires just like drug addicts?) are presented with an artful, self-satisfied flourish, and you can almost hear Jarmusch’s amazement that no one before him has realised this stuff. It’s a beautiful film with an excellent cast, but “Only Lovers Left Alive” could have been so much more if its director had spent less time establishing his cool credentials (did we really need to see Jack White’s childhood home?) and more time getting to know the tradition he thought he was revolutionising.
Worst: “The Other Woman”
“Huh,” thought I in a self-congratulating mood,” I really haven’t seen so many truly bad films this year (aside from “Grace of Monaco” and “That Lovely Girl” in Cannes, which have not been released yet and therefore are ineligible).” Turns out I had blotted from my mind the weekend spent watching “Walk of Shame” (Katie’s worthy pick) and “The Other Woman” for a piece on the post-”Bridesmaids” state of the female-led comedy which I was then too depressed to write. The Nick Cassavetes-directed “The Other Woman,” filmed from the feature screenplay debut of writer Melissa Stack, represents, as far as I can see, a new low in the subgenre, because while many before have been as unfunny, poorly plotted and thinly characterized, “The Other Woman” has the sheer gall to dress itself up as some sort of female empowerment comedy. Cameron Diaz is Carly, the high-powered, sexually voracious lawyer who discovers the guy who’s been romancing her is actually married. Leslie Mann is the cheated-on wife, who is so entirely defined by her husband that that discovery he’s serially unfaithful leaves her with no one to turn to except Carly, whom she essentially stalks until the two of them discover there’s another other woman. She comes in the shapely shape of Kate Upton, who is actually referred to, to her face, by Carly, as “the boobs,” to which she laughs bouncily and maybe delivers one of her three lines, I can’t remember. Littered with the most astoundingly on-the-nose music choices, (the girls have fun to the strains of guess which Cyndi Lauper track?), not to mention one moment when the “Mission: Impossible” theme tune rings out over a mission so clearly not impossible that it may be the first time I’ve noticed a film’s presumed heroes actually be patronized by a soundtrack cue, the movie basically espouses the notion that it takes more or less 100% of the time and effort of three different women to avenge the transgressions of a single, worthless man. So far from being progressive, the plot and its gender politics could have been lifted from a 1940s comedy or an early episode of “I Love Lucy,” the only difference being back then it probably would have had some charm.
Disappointing: “A Long Way Down”
OK, let me clarify here: unlike “Godzilla” which could well have been my pick here, but it was taken, it’s not like I ever had high expectations for “A Long Way Down,” (review here) which is currently available on digital platforms prior to a theatrical release in July. Which should give you some idea of just how far it had to fall beneath that very low bar to qualify as a major disappointment—all I had it pegged as in advance was a maybe-amiable, at worst bland dramedy featuring a few faces that I’ve seen and enjoyed before: Toni Collette, Pierce Brosnan, Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots. But it’s an absolute shocker, treating its central subject of suicidal depression as though it’s a wacky ailment, like an ingrown toenail or a recurrent sneezing fit, that—silver lining!—also functions as a fun ‘n’ kooky way to engineer a meet-cute with some totes adorbz fellow misfits! Based on a Nick Hornby novel (widely acknowledged to not be among the author’s best) directed with inappropriate cheery, “Mamma Mia!“-style gloss by Pascal Chaumeil (Romain Duris/Vanessa Paradis vehicle “Heartbreaker”), what’s so disappointing about it is that a relationship comedy about suicide does sound kind of daring, until you realize the suicide part is purely there as a narrative contrivance to get these people together. If they all tried to climb into the same cab, or if they all happened to end up trapped in an elevator then fine, but that’s not the case, they meet because they are all supposedly about to end their fucking lives, and you simply don’t get to use that as your set-up and then bat it about like a kitten playing with a bauble. Yet this film puts forth the noxious, cloying idea of suicidal tendencies as an adorable quirk like a lop-sided smile or a strand of hair that, darn it, just won’t stop falling in your eye. It is possible to be very funny and deeply irreverent about this very serious subject (the line “Deciding whether or not to kill yourself is one of the most important decisions a teenager can make” from “Heathers” is a case in point) but you need insight and intelligence and modicum of sensitivity to the complexity of the issue you’re making your playground. Without that, you get “A Long Way Down,” the inane filmic equivalent of trying to talk someone down off a ledge with the phrase: “Cheer up, love, it might never happen.”
Worst: I’ve thankfully avoided the truly dire films this year so far.
Disappointing: “Nymphomaniac vols. 1 & 2”
Imagine you’re Lars von Trier. Your previous film, “Melancholia,” receives mostly positive reviews out of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. At the festival’s press conference, you get in some trouble for some dumb comments about Nazis and Hitler, even if it’s pretty clear you’re trying (way too) hard to fuck with people. So, how do you respond? By making a 4-hour, two-part art porn film called “Nymphomaniac.” So far, so von Trier. Now, imagine you’re a devoted cinephile who follows von Trier, always eager to see what he does next. You actually enjoyed (if that’s the right word for it) “Antichrist” quite a bit, and found “Melancholia” to be one of his most affecting and visually stunning films. Sadly, with “Nymphomaniac,” he ditches the more dizzying cinematic heights from those previous two works and instead veers towards a more theatrical style, somehow both under and over-written. It’s a bloated, rambling, didactic, lazily self-referential and crushingly dull film. Then, there’s that final 5 minutes or so, which not only undermine the entire bloody four hours we’ve just endured for the sake of a childish provocation/gag, but also plays out like some strange “Simpsons” joke complete with a cut to black as running footsteps are heard. It seems von Trier wanted to use the film as a mouthpiece for endless allegorical debates about racism, the fibonacci sequence, fly fishing and more as some kind of refutation to all that Cannes controversy a few years back. But why force all that into a potentially bold and fascinating exploration of female sexuality? Next time, we recommend just recording a damn podcast or something. Alas, “Nymphomaniac,” the whole (not-so) sexy affair, is a big step backward.
This is one of those movies that’s like waking up dehydrated with a major headache, and regretting every hazy, nauseous second of last night’s debauchery. “McCanick” premiered at TIFF in 2013, but got released to victimize the public in March earlier this year, and how either of those two things even happened (being at TIFF, getting released theatrically) is a mystery, regardless of any tragedies befalling the cast. Indeed, it’s unfortunate that the movie has this added aura of empathy in the form of Cory Monteith‘s final role, because that could almost persuade people to take it seriously. You can read our initial review for it here, but the film follows a no-shit-taking “old dog” cop Eugene McCanick (David Morse in a role that’s much too insulting for his underused and overlooked talent) who flips a desk when he hears that Simon Weeks (Monteith) is getting released from prison. As McCanick chases Weeks to confront him, parallel flashback sequences pop in to explain to the viewer what the beef is; and by the time we get to the climax (the kind that crickets have) nothing really prepares the patient viewer for the frustration and overbearing sense of wasted time. Oh yeah, I’m not even mentioning the gritty cop drama tropes that are stapled in “McCanick” like used post-it-notes from the genre’s garbage bin: the boss who tries to put the leash on McCanick (Ciaran Hinds, for the love of God, why?!), McCanick’s attempts at reconnecting with his son, the optimistic rookie who’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s really no saving grace with this movie; it’s a character study of a character you begin to loathe after five minutes into it, directed in an overbearing and self-conscious way that pounds your brain with stereotypes and cliches until you’re almost physically ill. It’s painful stuff, and by the time it’s all over, all you want to do is take a few aspirins to make it all go away. “Training Day” or “Narc” would do the trick.
Truth be told, I was wary of Darren Aronofsky‘s passion project from the get-go so my expectations were in check. Still, after deliberating between a few other movies that could have made it here (Oli’s choice “Dom Hemingway” is a close second for me in terms of failures, and my dissatisfaction with Bong Joon-ho‘s “Snowpiercer” is not far behind) it’s this grandly unmoving epic from one of my favorite working directors that makes the cut. (Read our review for it here, echoing my sentiments.) “Noah” has been a passion project for Aronofsky for years, and after making the unexpectedly high profits from his brilliant nightmare “Black Swan”, he was finally able to have the means and make this a reality. The more we heard about it, the more it was sounding like “The Fountain” rather than “Requiem For A Dream,” which was absolutely fine by me because I’m one of the biggest ‘Fountain’ fans out there. Then the trailer came out, and my anticipation levels went on guard like a meerkat in the wild. Aronofsky, indie roots and all, had gone all Hollywood. But, then, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, right? There’s plenty of big-budget directors out there who know exactly how to handle the mainstream, balance out the action, and lay off the cheese. The biggest disappointment in 2014 for me was finding out that Aronofksy wasn’t this kind of director, at least not yet. Plenty of moments in Noah took my breath away (the creation scene falls easily into a top 10 scene list and Noah’s decision to leave the girl behind stands out as the boldest move in any blockbuster film this year), Russell Crowe is subdued, inspired, and slightly crazy which basically means he’s fantastic, and I enjoyed that whole middle section quite a bit. But the undiluted spoon-feeding of the final act, the cheap-looking effects (for a $125 million-dollar movie, this looks sluggish), and an inconsistency in the tone of the film made the whole affair nothing more than a decent, emotionally vacant, blockbuster. “Noah” is not a bad film, Aronofsky has too much talent and experience by now for that, but a passion project that fails to evoke passion is a failed project, and coming from a talent who has been working and developing this story for so many years, that can’t feel like anything but disappointment.
In a series of choices that, looking back, were shockingly intentional, I managed to have seen a lot of bad movies in 2014. Movies I’d rather forget about like “That Awkward Moment,” “Transcendence” and of course, “Transformers: Age Of Extinction.” But nothing set my teeth on edge or made me shift in seat more than Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Pompeii.” And yes, I know, picking on the guy who is not Paul Thomas Anderson seems like an easy, soft target, and while that may be true, he doesn’t help himself by making a movie so misjudged and miscalculated as “Pompeii.” History meets $100 million dollars’ worth of special effects in this big screen account of the volcanic tragedy, with Anderson’s approach being to frame the tale within a forbidden love story that has all the depth of a junior high school kid’s notes on “Romeo & Juliet” written in the margins of a notebook. Fancying himself a storyteller, Anderson sets about exploring the world of “Pompeii” with painstaking solemnity and seriousness, while oblivious to the fact that Kiefer Sutherland’s hilarious villain is performing in a different, much hokier, but still far more entertaining movie than the one he’s in. All the dramatic stuff seems like a chore for Anderson who would rather be blowing stuff up. So when he finally does, and that volcano explodes, he’s like a kid in a VFX store. If you’ve wanted to see the numerous ways computer graphics can decimate shoddy, cheap soundstage sets, this is for you. If you’ve wondered how many times Kit Harington can evade pixelated debris, “Pompeii” rises to the occasion. But for anyone with working senses, this is tedium even beyond Michael Bay’s aggressively dull ‘Extinction,’ a slow moving field of lava leaving behind bad acting, unimaginative setpieces and the feeling you’ve been robbed of both time and money.
It all seemed so promising. Having rocked the fanboys at Comic-Con last summer with a much buzzed teaser, that didn’t excite me so much as the cast director Gareth Edwards had managed to assemble for his blockbuster debut, mixing the necessary magazine-cover young faces with serious character actor and arthouse vets, with Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe and David Strathairn in the ensemble. And add this to the evocative trailers, the director’s much-discussed vision of the franchise as one that can be smart and character driven, without resorting to becoming a monster filled CGI smashfest, and I was sold before my foot was in the door. But then the lights went down, the projector turned on, and it was a slow roll of disappointment from the first frame to the credits. Granted, the opening sequence in Tokyo is effective, pointing toward the sort of movie I would have rather have seen, but once Bryan Cranston dies, the moment isn’t one of tragedy, but instead feels like the grand hand of a studio suit coming into the frame and demanding something more conventional. And that’s what we get for the most part. Godzilla may still remain hidden, and that would be fine if the rest of the movie didn’t mostly consist of Aaron Taylor-Johnson bouncing from location to location, occasionally calling his wife (Elizabeth Olsen who spends almost the entire movie on the phone), while on a military ship somewhere, Ken Watanabe permanently looks at the horizon grimly, hoping no one hurts the monster. Weirdly, “Godzilla” almost plays like a big screen redo of Edwards’ “Monsters,” but without the awe the latter film carried with its much smaller monster and budget. Here “Godzilla” storms and stomps and breathes blue fire but never once feels like the historic cinema icon he’s been.
Worst: Various Artists
I’m cheating, but I’m not trying to be difficult, I just don’t really have one specific worst pick. Almost nothing I’ve seen this year has really infuriated me or made my blood boil (OK, well, relatively anyhow). Admittedly, I’ve also not seen a lot of the “worst” films of the year so far, others on the team having taken the bullet for those. And full disclosure: I watched “I, Frankenstein” last night in hopes of having something to write about. As much as that movie is worthy, it’s so holistically pitiful it’s a bit like making fun of a special needs child and of course that’s not very nice (plus it was taken). Most of the movies I truly disliked this year haven’t even been released yet; I saw them at film festivals and many haven’t received distribution yet, so singling them out in a major way also feels rather unfair (though I cannot help myself and have to link to at least these two). I don’t have much of anything good to say about the empty-headed “The Raid 2“—all incredibly orchestrated viscera with no characters, nothing to say and impressive visuals and action set pieces that quickly exhaust and wear out their welcome after pummeling you into submission. But that one doesn’t quite reach active “worst” dislike (though close). Spike Lee‘s “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” is also a head-scratching misfire, but it’s a low-budget indie, so that’s all I’ll really say (aside from my review). I’m surprised reviews of “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” weren’t worse (talk about a franchise reboot that’s DOA), as it’s definitely one of the more poor mainstream releases I’ve seen though “300: Rise Of An Empire” and “Need for Speed” come close too. Frankly, there’s just a lot more bad films that I need to catch up with… or just completely skip as life is too short.
Disappointing: “Edge Of Tomorrow”
To clarify the term “disappointing,” it’s not like I was dying for the new sci-fi Tom Cruise film. And I like Doug Liman, but I can’t say the trailers really impressed, so it’s a relative pick. Heralded as a smart, “original” sci-fi film (even though it’s based on a novel and is really just a mish-mash of different sci-fi tropes), a picture that many called the “blockbuster of the summer so far” upon its release, I definitely did not connect with this at all. The entire time, all I could see was the framework—seemingly stolen left, right and center from “Groundhog Day.” The Harold Ramis film isn’t even one I’m fanatical about (I’ve probably only ever seen it twice), but I couldn’t help but notice every emotional arc for Tom Cruise’s character is lifted straight from that movie. Perhaps, it’s just inherent problems of “timeloop” movies, but watching Cruise go through the paces was exactly like watching Bill Murray go through the 5 Stages of Time Loop Loss and Grief. At first there’s denial and isolation, then a little bit of anger and disbelief (Tom gets drunk and belligerent), there’s bargaining, depression and finally a letting go acceptance that finally helps the protagonist get through his goals (every emotional complication feels extremely familiar to the point you can time it on your wristwatch). Oh, and there’s a lot of exposition dumps. And watching Tom Cruise die over and over again isn’t exactly a bold move when there’s zero stakes because you know Tom Cruise is actually not dead. And the appropriation of video game culture aesthetics and foundations—the resetting and starting over of your goal with knowledge of how you went wrong the last time—is perhaps interesting on a brief intellectual level, but the movie doesn’t really do much with it. While “Edge Of Tomorrow” also does play with some interesting ideas about the anonymity of heroism—in the end, the once-cowardly, now-redeemed Tom Cruise saves the world and yet no one knows he’s responsible—none of this stuff lands in any real satisfying way. That’s my 10 cents, though I should also probably note that I may be the only person alive who did not think Bong Joon-Ho‘s “Snowpiercer” was a masterpiece. In fact, I was underwhelmed, you could even say, disappointed. I felt similar to “22 Jump Street” and “Neighbors,” two comedies I didn’t wholeheartedly love.
A few other worsts from our hundreds of reviews from this year were: “A Winter’s Tale” [F], which could easily have been written up by anyone who saw it for “worst” but got bizarrely lost in the shuffle, “The Legend of Hercules,”[D-], That Awkward Moment [D] (Kevin again, who’s had more than his fair share of stinkers to review), “Bad Words” [D], Transcendence [D+] and of course, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” for which Kevin’s [D] grade review was one of the more moderate out there. What stinkers have we missed? Anyone want to spring to the defense of “I, Frankenstein”? Sound off below.