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The Films of 2016, In 100 Words or Less Each: Part I

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hardcore-henry_mondo-art-by-cesar-moreno

An ugly, incoherent, joyless experience…but a pretty damn good poster. (Source)

I’m catching up on these reviews, dammit. And I’m gonna do it by giving myself some guidelines.

Each film must be summed up in 100 words or less. Good or bad, complex or straightforward, doesn’t matter a damn. (I’m excluding, of course, any films which I’ve already reviewed in full.)

I’m proceeding from worst to best. This list comprises all the films which I ranked **½ or lower. The next list will be all the films I ranked ***. Then, ***½. Finally, the **** films. And once I’ve closed the door on seeing new films for my film awards (which will probably be at the end of January), I’ll add in the reviews of any films I missed.

So let’s get down to it.

  • Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party

Dinesh D’Souza, after acting out his personal persecution narrative, explores the ugliest depths of the Democratic Party’s history that only he or the most rudimentary research could uncover. Using melodramatic flashbacks, interviews with experts who agree with everything he says, and a hearty helping of ominous warnings about what should happen if Hillary wins the election (namely, the Democrats somehow stealing America), he fails to make even those cases against her which could be supported by reason or factual evidence. Even the bad laughs subside after 107 minutes. (19 – *)

  • Gods of Egypt

A few notes I took whilst watching this:

  • These people deliver dialogue for a living.
  • These people write dialogue for a living.
  • “Be my slave or be enslaved!”
  • These characters would be whitewashed if they were fucking…what? (In a Norman Rockwell painting.)
  • If you’re going to look this fake just use rear projection.
  • “How do you kill the desert?”
  • This is some Jupiter Ascending shit.
  • FLAT EARTH!
  • SPACE LAMPREY!
  • I legit like Thoth.
  • Fuckin’ deus ex machina.

I’ll add one more:

This is the same director who made Dark City. (28 – *½)

  • Hardcore Henry

Setting aside the inherent problems in making a film which is basically just a FPS play-through, there are the inherent problems in making a film without a real protagonist, and in making a film which makes no sense at all. The insistence on total POV filmmaking, which would be nauseating under the best of circumstances, is undermined by the shitty cameras used, making the whole thing almost totally unwatchable. The lack of a protagonist is compounded by the mean-spirited, misogynistic tone of the whole thing, and again – it makes no damn sense. Sharlto Copley is the only bright spot. (38 – *½)

suicide_squad_ver24_xlg

To hell with this movie…but I do like the poster. (Source)

  • Suicide Squad

One of the worst edited, worst-structured films I’ve seen in a long while, and as tentpole blockbusters go, among the worst I’ve ever seen – the first act verges on total incoherence. The characters are drastically underdeveloped into the bargain, aside from Harley Quinn and Killshot (who are merely seriously underdeveloped), making the moment when the Squad declares their surrogate-family-hood all the more arbitrary. . It’s also moderately racist and misogynistic, and the villains are so generic as to lack any sense of threat. Jared Leto’s much-ballyhooed Joker is simply underwhelming, which in my eyes can be counted a triumph. (42 – **)

  • Collateral Beauty

What a year for Will Smith, huh? This at least has an interesting premise – a man being confronted by what he believes are the embodiments of Love, Time, and Death – but it takes a sentimental, “inspirational” approach rather than the more thoughtful, cerebral approach which might have made it work. It’s mostly just mediocre until the final minutes, when it drops two separate twists on us, one merely stupid and unnecessary, the other stupid, unnecessary, and incredibly damaging, reframing its protagonist as either seriously disturbed or well-nigh sadistic.

And just how did they manage to get that cast? (45 – **)

  • The Legend of Tarzan®

Inglourious Basterd-style revisionist-revenge thrills and Hollywood escapism don’t really mix, especially when you bring in the Congo Free State (which was so much more horrific than this film could get across). And when you’re building on a property with increasingly hard-to-ignore white-savior overtones, such tonal miscalculations weight all the more heavily on you.

On top of that, it’s rather poorly made, with dodgy cinematography, bad editing, and a decent cast largely wasted. Samuel L. Jackson at least has some campy fun with his role (“Tarzan! Tarzan!“), but the film as whole is short of it. (50 – **)

  • Nine Lives

I’ll say this: it could’ve been worse. I expected this to be on the level of something like Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 in terms of being as embarrassing to watch as it was to make. But, if I may be honest, it wasn’t that bad. It starts off pretty sketchily, but once Kevin Spacey’s workaholic would-be family man gets trapped in the body of a cat, it settles into a blandly inoffensive groove. There’s a message, of course, about What Really Matters, and a rather dubious ticking clock for the sake of “suspense”, but hey…the cat is cute. (53 – **)

  • Klown Forever

Maybe if I’d seen the first Klown film, or watched the TV series on which it was based, I might have a better opinion of it. As it is, this is basically the same type of bro-comedy you can find in spades over here, just in Danish. (And part of it takes place in America for good measure.) There are some good dark chuckles to be had, but it’s utterly predictable, only occasionally funny, and at times crosses the line from bad taste to distastefulness. It has its audience. I am not of it. (54 – **)

  • The Sea of Trees

Frankly, this has been unfairly shat upon. It’s not as bad as some of the reviews might lead you to believe. Matthew McConaughey actually does a fairly good job here, there’s some lovely cinematography, and the scenes of his troubled marriage to Naomi Watts have an authentic toxicity to them. But her character, and Ken Watanabe’s, for that matter, exist mostly as props to propel his emotional journey, which goes off the rails in the third act with a pair of silly revelations which bring to mind the worst of Thomas Hardy and Nicholas Sparks, respectively. (56 – **½)

Too Late poster

Not a great film, but a hell of a lead performance.

  • Too Late

John Hawkes’ performance is tremendous, encompassing the shifting tones of this non-linear neo-noir without missing a beat. He’s witty, tough, moving, sly; he’s everything the film asks him to be. But outside of him, the film feels like a Tarantino knock-off 15 years (at the least) too late (pun not intended…fuck it, intended), with some fairly indigestible would-be hip dialogue and a rather thin story underneath all the narrative gimmickry. The 35mm cinematography looks fairly nice and it’s not without its moments, but for me, Hawkes is the main reason to see it. (58 – **½)

  • Money Monster

Even if you took out the male-enhancement ointment subplot, this would still be a problematic film. The script is fairly terrible, ham-fisted and clichéd, and the acting is highly variable; George Clooney and Julia Roberts are solid, but Jack O’Connell (who’s yet to really impress me) is saddled with a bad New York accent and a character who’s basically a pathetic prop for the film’s obvious message. On the whole, it’s just a preachier version of The Big Short (in every way a superior film), but it does have a really good end-credits song featuring Del the Funky Homosapien. (59 – **½)

  • Sausage Party

The opening musical number, “The Great Beyond” should determine if this is the film for you. If it had you busting out laughing, and has you singing your favorite snatches long after the film is over, then the rest of it should delight you. If you found it a heavy-handed attempt at edginess that was altogether too satisfied with itself, then let me say: welcome to the club. I did enjoy parts of it (especially the hyper-intelligent piece of gum), but on the whole I found it tiresome, and the attempt at a message falls rather flat. (60 – **½)

  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

How much money do you think this lost because of the difficulties people had in pronouncing “Peregrine”? I would think more was lost to the convoluted and poorly-deployed mythology, generic story and characters (not peculiar enough, frankly), borderline-incoherent denouement, and dubious premise (the whole time-loop concept just doesn’t sound like a good or sustainable idea). There are redeeming factors, to be sure, especially Terence Stamp as a most grandfatherly grandfather (and Asa Butterfield is, to be fair, a bit livelier than usual), but Tim Burton really did no one a favor by making this. (63 – **½)

  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk 

It’s astonishing to me just how big of a bomb this was – $1.7 million to date, and it seems to have all but vanished from theaters after just five weeks. Coming from a director whose last film won him his second Oscar, it’s a rather startling fate. But it’s not a great film, with a fairly potent indictment of American culture, and the way we tend to lionize the troops while simultaneously dehumanizing them, being submerged beneath uneven writing and an excess of gimmickry (like the now-notorious 120 fps cinematography). Let’s at least hope Joe Alwyn’s career survives it. (64 – **½)

midnight-special-poster

Is he not like us because of his nature, or because he’s basically just a walking plot device?

  • Midnight Special

Ambiguity can work greatly in a film’s favor. But in the case of Midnight Special, it feels like a lot of ambiguity for ambiguity’s sake – and ambiguity without substance behind it gets pretty tedious pretty quickly. Many people loved this film, but for me, there was just nothing to latch onto; Michael Shannon’s heartfelt performance was the only part of it which truly impressed me. Jeff Nichols is a talented filmmaker, but he’s very fond of the spare, low-key mode of storytelling, and in this instance he took it too far. Too far for me. (64 – **½)

 

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