Kent’s Worst (and Most Disappointing) Films of 2017

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.

KEEP READING FOR THE BEST OF 2017 >

 

Aisle of the Damned: 06/30/17- Robots in Disgrace

Bayformers: Robots in Disgrace

It’s finally happened. Transformers: The Last Knight is here to bludgeon you into submission with everything Michael Bay didn’t manage to say in the first 17 hours’ worth of Transformers movies. Who is still going to see these things? Well, Kent and Bryan, apparently, but mostly so you don’t have to.

Plus, we have more strange Sony tales and a stupefying Fantastic Four announcement to talk about, along with more news.

All this and less on Aisle of the Damned!

Music:
The Aquabats- Stuck in a Movie
Weird Al Yankovic- Dare to be Stupid

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Thor: The Dark World

Come to daddy. The worst thing about Thor: The Dark World is the greasy hair. Apparently, despite their civilization lasting since the dawn of time, they haven’t figured out how to make shampoo because everyone looks like they haven’t washed their coifs in weeks.

That aside, the second follow-up to The Avengers succeeds in being probably my favorite sequel produced by Marvel so far. (We’ll have to see how the second Captain America comes out as the trailer is pretty freakin’ great.)

So first things first. I saw the new film in 3D so I could see the exclusive Cap preview. Is it necessary to see Thor 2 in 3D? Not at all. If I see it again (and I just may), I will be going with the standard option. The 3D does your standard mediocre conversion job, much like Iron Man 3. (Though this is certainly better than the awful job that was done on the first Thor.)

On to the most important things: how is the movie itself? I’m giving it the same grade as Iron Man 3, but I think I like this film a smidge better. The main differences are that while I had my problems with the last Iron Man film to be sure, Shane Black’s dialogue was fantastic. While there are some great moments of dialogue in Thor, it is certainly not at the same level. However, I enjoyed the story more (it didn’t seem like as much of a retread of the previous film as the pattern the Iron Man films have followed) and overall I liked the tone of the film more despite some puzzling, but not devastating, choices with the editing.

The film borrows heavily from Walt Simonson’s run on the character for its main plot involving a race of dark elves from before our universe began. They sought to return the universe to the darkness that they knew and were put down by Bor, father of Odin. If there’s a flaw in the film’s storytelling it is this bit; while the motivations of the elves in many ways mimic those of General Zod from this summer’s Man of Steel in destroying what is to try to bring back a facsimile of what was, less attention is paid to giving the elves or their leader, Malekith, much exposition as to their motivation. It’s forgivable to me because in classic myth there is rarely clear-cut motivation. Characters of these archetypes are usually simply good or evil. Creators/keepers of the status quo or destroyers. And that’s the case with comics as well. I adore Simonson’s run as possibly the best use of the character in his long and storied history, but I don’t remember Malekith being particularly deep on the page either. I just remember his looking like a black and blue version of Frank Gorshin on Star Trek. What’s clear is that they’re bad guys, just like other one-dimensional villains that have run the gamut from the great Star Wars stormtroopers to the hilarious drug-peddling ninjas in Miami Connection. Faceless lackies meant to be menacing.

Marvel adapts the plot to fit with the more cosmic-oriented Asgard of the film universe. This is just fine with me because I have always found the myth-based and cosmic lines of Marvel to be in largely similar in their use of confusing, logic-challenged wonkiness in service of big ideas and cool concepts. The elves are going to use a floating liquid called the “Aether” to remake the universe. How does that work? Hell if I know. But I don’t particularly care because the fact is, it does. Let’s take the maguffin at face value.
And the film delves far more into the myth and history of this particular version of Asgard than the first film which was largely an Earth-based origin story. It does a pretty good job balancing the action of the marauding elves with the family drama of the Asgardian royals and the subplots involving Jane Foster and her superscience pals from the first film.

Unsurprisingly Loki gets a pretty major role following his previous popular turns and his relationship with Thor remains prickly and emotional. Most of the actors and characters that I enjoyed from the original film return intact with Anthony Hopkins and Rene Russo both in fine form as Thor’s parents. I’m one of the few defenders of Natalie Portman as Foster, feeling there’s a detectable chemistry between her and Thor. (Odd how some people seem to see it and some people don’t.) I’m also one of the people that actually really enjoyed Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgård and I, for one, loved how they were used in the film. I hate to drag other people’s opinions into my review, but I’ve seen complaining about the amount of ‘comic relief’ in the film. Some of it from the same people complaining about Man of Steel being too serious. All I can say is that the comedy worked great for me and I laughed throughout the film, never finding it to be too much for the heft of the story to bear. With the “wibbly wobbly timey wimpy” stuff in play, I don’t have any problem with being tongue in cheek. That was a big part of what I thought made The Avengers work so well. This isn’t on the same level, but it works. It doesn’t surprise me that Whedon came in to help on a few scenes.

The only characters that really get short changed are the Warriors Three. They do get their moments, but mostly they are fleeting. Here’s hoping they get further exposure in the next film.

I would have welcomed the return of Kenneth Branagh as director, but for a first feature, Dark World is a hell of a ‘debut’ for TV vet Alan Taylor. The film ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, true to its comic book roots. I can’t wait for the third chapter in the franchise and look forward to the big lunk’s return in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

(Four damns given out of five)