As the year comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on all of the great films I’ve gotten the chance to see. It was a good, but not great year for films, though there were some gems. The amazing “Manchester by the Sea” is a must-see, so is “Hacksaw Ridge.” “Finding Dory” had an adorable story and amazing animation that adults will find more interesting than the kids. “Doctor Strange” is a head trip worth seeing for the visuals alone. There’s plenty of time and space dedicated to the art and nuance of film, but sometimes you just have to get into the gutter and talk about the bad, the boring and the filthy. That is what I get to do now.
Many times I walked out of the theater amused or amazed by what I saw. Sadly, there were just as many times I walked out shaking my head in disbelief and disappointment. Some were a failure of concept, some were poorly acted, terribly directed or just bloated nonsense. No matter how bad the bad movies I sat through were in 2016, I am comforted by the fact that there is a film called “Attack of the Lederhosen Zombies” that I did not have to sit through. So, here’s the dreck that fell short in one way or another, or failed totally.
The Fifth Wave
To paraphrase Groucho Marx, there’s nothing like good science-fiction, and this is nothing like good science-fiction. “The Fifth Wave” is supposed to be the first film in a trilogy (oh Lord, I hope it is not). The plot boils down to this: After four waves of increasingly destructive attacks, the Earth is a smoldering ruin. Lost in the new reality of fear, Cassie (Chloe Grace Moretz) is on the run, trying to rescue her kid brother and escape the inevitable and lethal fifth wave. The plucky heroine teams up with a handsome young dude who may be her final hope. Derivative at best and not even smart enough to steal plot points well, “The Fifth Wave” is dead by the end of the opening scene. Moretz phones it in and looks bad doing so. There’s plenty of special effects that are not special and a ton of violence that adds up to nothing. There’s no reason to invest in any of the characters and there is no story to get lost in to pass the time.
The latest version of “Ben-Hur” is shockingly adequate. Moderately well directed by Timur Bekmambetov, the man who brought you “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” the film is just kind of dull. It’s almost unfair to compare the latest version with the previous classics that preceded it, but the newest interpretation is disappointing. “Ben-Hur” is thin on story and fat with CGI. Morgan Freeman is great as always – seriously, that guy has amazed me since I was a kid and saw him on “The Electric Company.” Jack Huston plays Judah Ben-Hur, a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother. He returns years later to his homeland seeking revenge after years at sea but finds redemption instead. He looks kind of lost on screen. The thing that left me the most wanting was the cinematography. Robert Surtees gave the 1959 version a sense of sweeping grandeur. The backgrounds and angles were all so well thought out it seemed like every grain of sand from the Holy Land to Rome was in focus and awesome. The 1925 version had a team of five photographers working with limited technology to make something visually interesting, inviting and foreboding at the same time. The latest version seems to have been conceived on a computer screen. This is not to say CGI can’t be used to delightful results, just not here.
Melissa McCarthy can be very funny sometimes, not this time. “The Boss” was written by McCarthy and directed by her husband Ben Falcone, and so you would assume the pair would come up with something more engaging than this one-note caricature. McCarthy plays a big deal business woman who gets sent to jail for insider trading. When released, she recruits a bunch of not-so-Girl-Scouts to sell not-so-Girl-Scout cookies while teaching the growing girls business skills. Any potential comedy is left on the table, and the film even wastes Peter Dinklage in the role of the detestable villain. The jokes are thin and miss most of the time. Most of the movie looks as if it was filmed as a three camera sit-com, which is fine for television, but leaves plenty to be desired on a big screen.
Ratchet & Clank
Based on a video game that left the zeitgeist a while back, “Ratchet & Clank” may have been a better idea a decade ago. In 2016, it’s just a bad script and bad animation with some solid voice-over talent being wasted. John Goodman, Paul Giamatti and Rosario Dawson must have soaked up all of the budget. What money was left over was certainly not used on a script of this 90-minute advertisement for Playstation.
Independence Day: Resurgence
I really loved the original “Independence Day.” Not that it was grand cinema, but it had action, aliens, snarky one-liners, star power and the world was saved by a slack-jawed yokel bent on revenge. The CGI was solid, Will Smith and Bill Pullman suited their roles. Jeff Goldblum was nerdy and tekkie in the right ways, Margaret Colin was a great part of the cast that helped move the plot forward and Roland Emmerich directed the film without too much fuss. But that was 1996. The sequel “Independence Day: Resurgence” is a bloated mess. The aliens are back, but this time the ship is bigger, so that implies the danger level is higher. It just doesn’t feel that way. There is not much to get emotionally invested in, or interesting to watch. As the former president from the original film, Bill Pullman looks as if he is channeling Gabby Hayes. The first thing I noticed was the lack of a coherent script. There’s something about an Earth Defense Shield, which I can only imagine is the realization of Former President Reagan’s “Star Wars” defense with moons and planets securing the Earth from invasion from the tentacled bad guys, should they return. No surprise, they do. There comedy is rather lowbrow, seeing someone urinate on an alien ship while flying the middle finger is supposed to make an audience laugh? Okay, maybe if the audience is collectively 12 years-old. There is also the fact that the acting seems phoned in. Liam Hemsworth may be a decent actor, but not here. Vivica Fox looks lost. Judd Hirsch is wasted in his reprised role. A sequel is already announced. God help us all, the aliens may actually figure out how to exterminate Earthlings next time. Or perhaps just kill Sci-fi movies for the next generation.
This is a great example of what can happen when a popular director, Garry Marshall, and a popular cast get together and make a poorly thought out film. Let me say upfront, I have always hated the term “chick flick.” A good movie with romance and comedy and drama and other elements can attract members of either gender to the theater. There are plenty of films geared for a female audience that are worthy of viewing. This is not one of them. Marshall directed this movie, which covers the lives of different mothers on Mother’s Day. And what a turgid mess it comes across as on screen. There was a time when Jennifer Aniston was comic gold. Her timing on “Friends” was nothing short of amazing. Those days appear to be long gone. Aniston is on screen giving off the impression that she knows she’s an attractive woman with a decent-sized fan base and the less work she can do to keep that status, the better. Kate Hudson gives off a similar vibe when on camera, too. Julia Roberts won an Academy Award once and does great things for UNICEF. I have no idea what she was doing here. Perhaps she enjoys working with Marshall, perhaps she needed the work. What all the above-mentioned have in common is they took part in a failed attempt to make a holiday film that deserves better than this swing and a miss.
“Special Correspondents” is based on a French film. Ricky Gervais’ adaptation takes a grand idea and removes humor, nuance and novelty. Then he throws in a pair of detestable twits who have the sole job of antagonizing Gervais. The basic idea was solid: two journalists faking battlefield reports only to hang out in New York. The story could have had plenty of resonance in the very recent election season, one that was filled with fake news reports, if it had been done well. Pity it was poorly written, badly acted and just dull.
Well, it could have been worse. Set near sacred Mt. Fuji in the Aokigahara Forest, “The Forest” is a place where families would leave their sick, disabled and dying loved ones during harsh times of war or famine. These days, it is the place to go for those that wish to commit suicide. Enter Sara Price (Natalie Dormer, who has never been more lost or wooden) who gets the tragic news that her twin sister is dead. Sara flies halfway around the world to prove her sister is still alive. Several people complained that Dormer was cast in the lead role when an Asian actor would have made more sense, considering the setting, the myths and story. The internet can be a harsh place full of people who criticize without even bothering to see the film and at least make an educated opinion. Well, having seen the film, I can say firsthand that Dormer, who is usually a capable actor, comes across as clueless, befuddled and annoying. It may have been the script that lacked nuance and originality. It may have been the hauntingly beautiful setting that distracted the actors. It may have been the vast opportunity missed. “The Forest” is Jason Zada’s first feature-length film and perhaps he will improve. The fact that Dormer is not an Asian was the least of this film’s worries.
Alice Through the Looking Glass
Johnny Depp split-up with Amber Heard just as “Alice Through The Looking Glass” was hitting theaters. The bad press did a bad film no favors. The sequel was a foregone conclusion once the original made hundreds of millions of dollars for the gang at Disney. Many people loved the first film (I was not one of them) but just as many disliked the follow-up. Director James Bobin was hideously out of his depth and the costumes and makeup overshadowed the cast. The CGI was a constant barrage of primary colors pounding across the screen like a Keith Moon drum solo, only less musical and more hideous. Where “Alice in Wonderland” had a somewhat whimsical quality, “Through the Looking Glass” is a darker story from Lewis Carroll and not nearly as easy to transfer to film. So difficult, apparently, Bobin and producer Tim Burton used the characters from the book and crafted a new story about time travel. A story that even Helena Bonham Carter, Depp and Anne Hathaway could not save.
There was a time when I thought Ben Stiller was funny. “The Ben Stiller Show” was a laugh out loud funny T.V. show that did not last long enough. It was an oddball, off-kilter sketch comedy show that left the party too soon. Pity that “Zoolander 2” had to show up to the party at all. Coming 15 years after the original, “Zoolander 2” is filled with flat jokes, too much mugging for the camera and far too many celebrity cameos. After more than a decade away from modeling and each other, Derek and Hansel come back to the fashion world in Rome. They get humiliated and quit again until a retired swimsuit model convinces them that… wow, even typing that felt moronic. I lost actual brain cells watching the film. I feel myself losing more writing about it too.
Gods of Egypt
There is so much wrong with “Gods of Egypt” it is difficult to know where to start. First, there is Set, the pitiless god of darkness. Set has taken the throne of Egypt by force and plunged the empire headlong into the bleak reality of chaos. None dare defy Set. Well, not none, but most. There is a young thief who does. His love has been taken captive by evil old Set, and our thief wants her back. He’ll need help, so he enlists the aid of Horus, a powerful god in his own right. There is a thinness to how this film looks and feels. The costumes seem as if they were left over from a Cleopatra play at the local community college, the acting is on par with that too. The cinematography leans on CGI and sand. The film has almost 200 members of the cast from “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Pity the raw, adrenal, power of that movie did not translate over to this one. It has been published that when he read the script, Gerard Butler hired a trainer so he would look like a god once filming began. Butler should have hired an acting coach.