If you subscribe to our podcast, you undoubtedly know we did our year-end wrap up for 2017 last week, but for those that want a little more (or don’t want to have to sit through it all), I’ve done a write-up that expands on the best, the worst, and the rest of 2017. Why not start with the ones that did less than impress.
I’M NOT MAD, JUST DISAPPOINTED
Before we get to the dregs, however, let’s start with the most disappointing movies of the year for me. The ones I had high hopes for, but did not deliver.
3. A GHOST STORY- There are some truly interesting ideas in A Ghost Story. It’s too bad that director David Lowery is more interested in filming every second of Rooney Mara grief-eating a pie. An exercise in self-indulgence, it would have probably made a great short film. Instead, it feels overlong to the breaking point, punctuated by inspired moments. To mangle an old quote, “I may not know art, but I know what puts me to sleep.”
2. THE GREAT WALL- A big-budget adventure movie with monsters set in a mythical version of Chinese history? Sign me up! Except that one of the biggest issues with modern filmmaking is the cold calculation involved in attempting to appeal to the Chinese market. Sometimes it results in appealing to neither culture with movies which are just plain bad, with studios hoping their visuals will appeal through some lowest-common denominator filmmaking. The Great Wall seems like it should side-step the issue by doing a couple of things that are actually pretty bright: they actually set the film in China (along the Great Wall, at that) and they got an American to be in the film as a European that is trying to bring gunpowder back to the West. (Similar things were done back in the 60s, where you’ll notice a white guy/girl running around in Japanese kaiju films.) So far, so good, I suppose. Unfortunately, the film came out half-baked anyway thanks to a limp script. The entire film is pretty much condescending towards Matt Damon’s character (maybe because he’s Matt Damon, maybe because they wanted to avoid a “white savior” situation that the movie was being criticized for before anyone had even seen it), and a sizable portion of the themes feel like they were pulled out of Mao’s Little Red Cook Book. This would be forgivable if the action were special, but it is simply CGI-serviceable. The whole thing ends up being the cinematic equivalent of plain oatmeal.
1. BATMAN AND HARLEY QUINN- The idea of artist/director/animator/producer Bruce Timm returning to the DC Animated Universe that birthed Harley Quinn for a story about her partnering with Batman seems like an automatic slam dunk. Unfortunately, this thinly stretched remake of the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Harlequinade” is anything but. Even at 74 minutes, it’s full of more filler than a grade-school cafeteria hamburger. The animation is pretty dodgy in many places, especially on Harley herself, as she looks off-model a good portion of the time. (One wonders why it was released in the 4K format when some of the more consistent films they have made recently were not.) After being spoiled by the layered performances of Arleen Sorkin and Tara Strong, the new voice of Harley, Melissa Rauch of The Big Bang Theory, is so one-note and terrible that it somehow feels less like the “real” Harley than the be-hotpantsed Margot Robbie in Suicide Squad. The tone is just odd, featuring a lot of awful “adult” gags and a thinly-veiled sex scene designed to push the feature to an unneeded PG-13 rating. DC Animation made some enjoyable films this year (you’ll even find one of them in my top 20), but this one should have been the best. Instead, it was the worst kind of middling.
OH, THE PAIN! THE PAIN!
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to the stuff that I just did not enjoy at all. (With exceptions that are singled out along the way.)
7. BRIGHT- What would Zootopia be like if it was made by less talented people? Probably about like Bright, which is just as messy, but lacking all of the charm the animated film managed to scrape together. David Ayer shows he wasn’t made for big-budget crowd pleasers (especially with questionable scripts), as this urban fantasy exhibits a lot of the same problems that Suicide Squad did. Half the blame can certainly rest on the oddly busy Max Landis, who wrote the script and is apparently still coasting on his name and the moderate success of Chronicle. But then Will Smith also feels like he’s on cruise control here, with his “Training Day Lite” performance. Joel Edgerton and Noomi Rapace, a couple of dependable actors, simply don’t have anything worthwhile to do. The best thing I can say about it is, at least it didn’t cost me $10 to see it in a theater.
6. THE MUMMY- We’ve seen how good Tom Cruise’s movies can be when they succeed in spite of him. People like Brad Bird, JJ Abrams and Doug Liman have done a great job of making wonderful entertainment with him. Unfortunately, when he is not reigned in and is allowed to take over a movie, we get films like Mission: Impossible 2 and The Mummy, Universal’s single entry into their suddenly defunct Dark Universe. The most entertaining part of the film is when Russell Crowe refers to Cruise as a “young man,” allowing the audience to laugh at the complete lack of self-awareness involved. Perhaps if there had been a little bit more attention paid to the title character, it would have been better. Maybe if they’d paid more attention to any of the characters besides Tom Cruise’s. Or if they’d worried about making Cruise’s character something other than a completely unlikable ass, who we’re just supposed to like anyway, because he’s Tom Cruise. Maybe if they’d seemed a bit more concerned with the story at hand instead of setting up Dr. Jekyll and his monster hunters for franchise glory. But sadly, none of those things came to pass. The Mummy is, at best, an important parable that chickens should not be counted before they hatch.
5. BAYWATCH- Baywatch is a movie that simply can’t decide what it wants to be. Sometimes it’s a raunchy R-rated comedy. Sometimes it’s supposed to be a loving and accurate tribute to the original TV show, a family drama about lifeguards that peddled T&A. There are even a handful of times it’s trying to be a Farrelly Bros. film. Sadly, it misses on all counts. It’s not funny. It’s not a particularly good tribute. It’s, frankly, a waste of the talents of nearly everyone involved. Dwayne Johnson and Alexandra Daddario definitely deserve better than the poor characterization and whiplash tone that it foists upon them.
BEST OF THE WORST-
CJ in BAYWATCH
We must be in the Upside Down. How else can you explain how someone as charismatic as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson laid such an egg in Baywatch, while a relative newcomer, model-turned-actress Kelly Rohrbach, stole the film right out from under him, providing one of the few bright spots in the whole exercise simply by managing to be likable and charming.
4. GHOST IN THE SHELL- What a waste. In a year where we actually got an outstanding Blade Runner sequel, it becomes even harder to justify this remake, whose most-noted positive attribute was its aping of Blade Runner’s visual style. While the Scarlett Johansson whitewashing controversy was overblown, the idea that the film couldn’t address it by capitalizing on its own themes about identity in a plot involving a Japanese woman’s brain being put into a cybernetic Caucasian-looking body is just unforgivable. The biggest issue, however, is the fact that it’s in the same general vicinity as Tommy Wiseau’s The Room at depicting realistic human behavior (and, in a wonderful irony, much, much worse than its animated source material, which was built around the philosophical question of what it was to be human.) It’s a shame they were more focused on recreating key iconic visuals from the anime than the context in which they appeared.
BEST OF THE WORST-
Beat Takeshi in GHOST IN THE SHELL-
He almost makes this awful mess worth seeing. Because as bad as the stinker is, it can’t hide just how cool the man from Battle Royale is.
3. MONSTER TRUCKS- Sadly more Mac and Me than ET, Monster Trucks seems like it has good intentions to be a throwback, Amblin-style family adventure. Unfortunately, it fails on literally every single level. The story, in which oil companies are vilified as environmental fable villains while the truck culture that relies on them is advertised for an hour and a half, makes absolutely no sense. The “teenage” hero looks less like a high schooler than about anyone this side of Steve McQueen in The Blob, leading one to wonder just how many times this dope has had to repeat a grade. One also wonders how talented people like Rob Lowe, Frank Whaley, Barry Pepper, and Amy Ryan managed to get wrangled into this mess for thankless, and oftentimes pointless, roles. I feel sorry for any parent whose kids latch onto this one for repeated viewings.
2. TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT- It’s better than the last one because it hurt a little less and was easier to laugh at. That’s the nicest thing that can be said about Bay’s fifth trip to the dry well on this franchise. The story… who am I kidding? There’s no story. There’s a mélange of other movies cobbled together into something resembling a screenplay written in crayon. As angry and confused as ever, Mark Wahlberg stars again as Texas inventor Cade Yeager, who starts the movie hanging out in a junkyard in one of the Dakotas, that looks suspiciously like his home in Texas from the last movie. Before things are done, we have been introduced to the British Megan Fox, Sir Anthony Hopkins has had a blast giving the worst performance of his career, and the entire continuity of this enterprise has begun to make the X-Men’s look sensical in comparison. I’m still trying to figure out how Stanley Tucci’s drunken Merlin ties into this, seeing as how he played the minor antagonist of the fourth one, but that seems to be putting far more thought into this movie than anyone did when they filmed it.
BEST OF THE WORST-
The Shia LaBeouf cameo in TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT-
The only purposeful laugh this movie managed to cajole from me.
1. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST- It’s been a long time since I have hated a movie as much as this one. I basically sat in the theater getting more angry with every single bad choice made on the screen that took an animated masterpiece and turned it into a bloated, ugly abomination. The updates to the plot make no sense. The new songs show why they weren’t included the first time around. I hated to even look at the garish production design that feels like a whole movie put together by the person who puked up the Mad Hatter from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Great actors are wasted. Josh Gad is also in it, and that certainly doesn’t help. It is the worst-case scenario for the unnecessary remake factory that Disney has become, despite now owning half the intellectual properties on the planet. The fact that it made over a billion dollars at the box office is just as big of an indictment of popular tastes as the success of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies.