Sunday, March 1, 2020

Sunday Worst: Worst Movies of the Decade (Popular) - #10-#1

And now, the 10 Worst Films of the Decade:

10.  Sisters (2015)
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I am big fan of Parks and Recreation, so I recognize the comedic talent of Amy Poehler.  And Tina Fey had some great delivery when she was on SNL, though I've never enjoyed any of her other shows or movies.  It is clear that these two have chemistry.  But instead of finding something explosive, it feels more like a noxious combination that fills the room with rancid fumes.

The movie is about two sisters with arrested development like Step Brothers.  But there is something horribly off about this female version.  Both of the characters are so horribly unlikeable, that all of their humor seems to come from a place of malice.  And this is a movie that only works if the jokes work.  The humor should be the oil that makes the movie machine run smoothly.  But because all of the jokes fall flat, the gears grind to a halt and the film becomes a complete and utter chore to sit through.

The film ends with the sisters doing a silly dance number.  If the movie had built up any good will for these characters, we would enjoy this cheery goodbye.  But instead, you feel like you are being held hostage as the cast takes its third encore bow while you sit there waiting for the light to come up.

9.  Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)
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I have been a fairly devoted fan of this series.  I have always said that I cannot say that any of the Transformers movies are good.  But I have found most of them entertaining enough to warrant multiple viewings.  This was especially true of the last film, Transformers: Age of Extinction.  I thought the addition of Mark Wahlberg and the subtraction of Shia LeBeouf added some fresh and more mature air to the series.

That isn't to say I was blind to the series' flaws.  They all have terrible writing, flat characters, and action scenes that go on so long that they become fatiguing.  But there was enough creative spectacle to keep me entertained, especially any scene with Optimus Prime.  Those things were like the spoon full of sugar to help the putridness go down.  

But none of that helps The Last Knight.

The movie begins in the Dark Ages.  King Arthur (Liam Garrigan) is at war and he needs Merlin's (Stanley Tucci) help.  Tucci plays Merlin like a drunk fraud for stupid jokes.  As an aside, many people rip on the DCEU movies like Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman for not being "fun" enough.  I resist this because to many in Hollywood, fun = stupid, as evidenced by the lame attempt at humor.  Anyway, Merlin finds a Transformer ship and asks for aid.  They give him a staff that will help him control the 3-headed dragon that the twelve Transformer "knights" turn in to.

Let me pause here for the movie's first inanity.  Why would the Transformers need to give Merlin the staff?  If they are helping, why would they need to give him something to control them?  That would be like agreeing to help my buddy move and then have him put a shock collar on me to keep me working.

After an exciting battle scene, the movie shifts to the present day.  Optimus Prime (the always amazing Peter Cullen) is in space flying towards the Transformers' maker Quintessa (Gemma Chan).  She brainwashes him and turns him into Nemesis Prime.  This will be the last time we will see Prime until the last act of the movie.

I cannot stress how amazingly stupid of a move this is on the part of the film-makers.  One of the reasons I was such a fan of the last Transformers was because it felt like Prime had a real character arc.  He is the real hero of the franchise.  He is the one that figures most prominently in all of the advertising.  And every scene that doesn't use him is a waste.  

This means that most of the film is pointless.

Michael Bay, I maintain, is an incredibly talented director.  Give him the right script and he will churn out a great movie like 13 Hours.  But give him a bad script and he will churn out a big, bold, bad movie.

I honestly couldn't follow what was happening.  Apparently the plot involved Cybertron coming to Earth to destroy it.  But I thought Cybertron was destroyed in Transformers: Dark of the Moon?

Very few of the characters actions make any sense.  Towards the end, Anthony Hopkins single-handedly confronts Megatron.  Why?  I have no idea!

They introduce fan favorite Hot Rod and give him a French accent.  Why?  Who knows!

Wouldn't a giant planet coming close to Earth's atmosphere cause havoc to our gravity?  Forget physics!

And the constant Bay-hem by the end of the movie was fatiguing.  Rather than being more amped, I kept waiting for it to end.

There were some moments that attempted to provide some real heart.  But the tonal silliness prevented this from happening.

I don't understand why we can't have a simple Prime vs. Megatron movie.   The human parts of the film are always the weakest.  Wahlberg does what he can with his lines, but they feel like they were written by a 5-year-old.  Haddock has little to do but be less vapid Megan Fox.  Hopkins looks like he's having fun, but he may be the only person who is.

8.  Young Adult (2011)
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When Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody made Juno, their small, quirky, independent film struck a chord with a good portion of the movie-going audience, myself included.  They took something that could have been overt-the-top melodrama and made it surprisingly sweet with moments that felt wholesome.  Here's the thing I've discovered about the independent film community: they don't like it when us normies like their movies on our terms.

What I mean by that is that a lot of regular people saw in Juno a young girl who came to understand the humanity of her unborn baby and decided that it needed a chance to live and be happy, even when the ideal circumstances broke down.  That is a very heart-warming theme.  But independent film-makers tend to desire irony over sincerity.  Cody herself has gone on record as being furious that people would see a pro-life message in Juno.  I am not saying that Juno is a movie that is moral template for how to live, but there is much in their that is cathartic and sentimental, which is anathema to most independent films.

Young Adult is the anti-Juno.  It feels like Reitman's and Cody's apology for making a movie so popular and likable.  The movie stars Charlize Theron as an author of young adult novels.  She is at the bottom of her career.  She has no life, no friends, no romantic partner.  She is mean, envious, and selfish.  She returns to her hometown to try to steal her ex-boyfriend away from his wife.  She is a shot of tequila in a glass of whole milk.  Everything she touches feels spoiled and rancid by her presence.  It culminates when she ruins her the Christening party for her ex's child.  It is there she gives a very public tirade about how her ex got her pregnant when they were younger but they broke up after she had a miscarriage at 3 months.  I couldn't help but see the metaphor Cody was pushing here, trying to buy back her independent film cred over Juno with a dead unborn baby.

Now, all of this would have been acceptable, though not enjoyable, if the character came to some kind of enlightenment.  But in an inexplicably bad scene at the end, just as Theron is realizing she needs to change her life, another character tells her how awesome her life is now and that she shouldn't change.  Theron's character listens to this demonic advice and ends the film right where she started, making the whole film incredibly pointless.

Which means the independent film community loved this film more than Juno.

7.  A Simple Favor (2018)
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 Some movies fail because they lack the required artistic talent and skill.  Some movies fail because their thematic and moral content is so horrible as to be completely noxious.

Both are true for Paul Feig's A Simple Favor.

I hated this movie.

I hated, hated, hated this movie.

I am going to let spoilers fly in this film because it would be impossible to ruin this absolute piece-of-trash film.

It is one thing to make flawed characters that reveal layers over time.  But writers Jessica Sharzer and Darcy Bell have created characters so repugnant that I wonder if they have ever had actual contact with real human beings before.  And this would not be as bad if the showing of their moral turpitude was slowly revealed in the last act.  Instead, they decide to throw you into the deep end of their perversions right from the beginning.  The weirdest part is that they think they are making their characters more attractive to their audience.  Again, I really wonder what kind of sick company they are keeping to think that any of their ideas work.

I can tell you the exact moment I have up on the movie and it was in the middle of the first act.  Stephanie and Emily are drinking while their children are in another room playing.  Emily is teasing Stephanie for not being bad.  So Stephanie tells her a story.  I apologize in advance for the grossness of what I am about to write, but you need to understand depths of depravity of this film.  And this story is accompanied by visual flashbacks, so you have that element as well.

Stephanie says that her father died when she was a senior in high school.  At his funeral, a mysterious young man who looked like her father arrived.  It turns out that her dad had a secret child before he married Stephanie's mom.  The young man decides to stay the night.  Stephanie sets up a bed for him in the basement.  Stephanie is hurting at the loss of her father.  And in their mutual grief, they have sex with each other. 

Let me repeat, the main character of the movie as sex with her brother.  Emily's reaction to this is admiration at Stephanie's perversion.  She even constantly gives her the joking nickname "Brother-F'er" (but said with the full vulgarity).  To make matters even worse, it is implied that Stephanie continue the affair with her brother for years.

Again, this is in the first act and Stephanie is our main character.  We are supposed to root for her and empathize with her.

Feig fails at every level to tell a good story.  He wants to say something about powerful, empowered women, but it comes off as so completely uninspired.  When Stephanie first enters Emily's house there is a nude painting of Emily hanging that thrusts her genitals towards the viewer's face as if Feig is trying to make some super awkward "girl power" statement.

Feig also fails at making anything out of the mystery of Emily's disappearance.  In fact, he reveals the truth way too early.  The denouement tries to copy the movie Gone Girl, but fails at that too.  The final confrontation is intent on making shocking twists and turns that it defies all logic.  If you ever watched the show Community, they did an episode where characters kept pulling out guns in a parody of twists on top of twists.  It worked on the show because they were doing comedy.  It fails in the movie because you are supposed to take it seriously.  And the ultimate take down of the villain is something out of a Will Ferrel movie and has no place in anything we've seen before.

Nothing in this movie makes sense, logically or morally.  The only thing that helps is Lively's performance.  She does her best with the awful script and actually projects the coolness of the character with great charisma.  I have been a fan of Kendrick for a long time, but she feels much more like she is doing caricature rather than character.  Golding is fine as the husband, but he also doesn't have much to work with.

This film is a cesspool.  When people talk about how Hollywood creates moral rot, this is Exibit A.  Rather than saying something universal about women or relationship, all this film does is show us the jaundiced moral world-view of people like Paul Feig and all you can do is thank God that you do not live in his morally messed up world.

6.  Foxcatcher (2014)
Three men standing shoulder to shoulder. In the background, a painted eagle.

It is difficult to describe what a terrible movie this is.  In fact, it is difficult to describe the movie in general.  It is so empty and devoid of anything resembling drama or entertainment that I have a hard time keeping any of it in focus.  The story is about John du Pont, who funds a private training facility for Olympic wreslters.  He becomes close to Mark Schultz, but John wants Mark's brother Dave to come and help coach. 

There is a lot of innuendo and hinting as to John's true motives.  This movie is an example of being too obtuse about your point.  Because the entire movie lacks a point.  John is vain, selfish, and paranoid (probably from the mountains of cocaine he does).  The whole experience of watching the movie is thoroughly unpleasant.  The performances are some of the worst of any of the actors.  Channing Tatum isn't the greatest actor, but all he does is mug a stupid caveman expression the entire film like "Simple Jack" from Tropic Thunder.  Carrel is awful, and I say this as a huge fan of his.  Behind his odd makeup, there is no character.  He is an empty shell that barely registers your attention on screen.

The script is also a horrible time-waster.  None of the characters actions or motivations makes any sense.  The movie is filmed in drab lighting and colors so that you feel like you just stepped into an 1800's London workhouse.  I don't mind movies that are dark, either in tone or color.  But you have to give me SOMETHING to watch in that darkness.  Foxcatcher does not.
5.  Booksmart (2019)
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Booksmart is one of the most vulgar and vile movies I have seen in a long time.  If this is an accurate representation of all of America's youth, I would be tempted to ask God to burn the country down and start over.

This movie has a lot in common with a much superior film: Can't Hardly Wait.  Both movies are about graduated or soon-to-be-graduated seniors who go on journeys of discoveries at a big party.  Both movies have drinking, partying, and a bathroom hook-up.  But whereas Can't Hardly Wait feels like a night of youthful excess to be played for comedy, Booksmart feels like an empty and vulgar screed of existential emptiness.

It is hard for me to describe how ugly this movie is.  The characters lack any kind of redeeming qualities.  The impetus for the quest is Molly's insane envy.  She is completely filled with an inflated pride and it shakes her to the core that anyone could be as smart as her without working as hard.  Their success takes nothing away from her own achievements, but she is so enraged by their good fortune.  The only reason that you feel even a little sympathetic with her is that all of her other classmates are portrayed as horrid.  They are mean, selfish, sexually promiscuous, intoxicated, vulgarians.

The thing is that Molly and Amy are really no different.  They talk explicitly about their own sexual indulgences, look at pornography together, and they rip apart all those they see as different than them.  The only thing that separates our heroes from their perceived antagonists is that they don't publicly display their sins.  For example, the two look down on a girl with slutty reputation called "Triple A" (Molly Gordon).  And yet, Molly and Amy are open to engaging in random sexual encounters too.  Also in a particularly mean spirited scene, Molly decides to mess with Amy's Christian parents (Will Forte and Lisa Kudrow).  They are obviously struggling with their faith and how Amy's sexuality affects their family dynamic.  The scene is meant to gently rib them for their discomfort with their "homophobia," but it comes off as very hurtful.

That is also one of the cardinal sins of the movie: it isn't funny.  Bad comedians replace humor with shock, hoping that the vulgarity will be so great that it will provoke laughs, like in Borat.  But that wears off quickly.  I chuckled maybe once or twice in the entire film.  Nothing was funny.  Each new adventure should have been a ludicrous laugh riot.  Instead I felt like Dante going deeper and deeper into the concentric circles of hell.

The movie tries to do an end run around their flat characters by trying to give them depth in the last act.  But this almost makes it worse.  Instead of complete caricatures engaging in deviant behavior, we had more realistic characters debasing themselves.  No one seems to have grown from the experience.

This movie died a horrible death at the box office.  And I don't think there has ever been a more just cinematic execution in movie history.

4.  Cloud Atlas (2012)
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 I knew someone in high school who knew just a little bit of Eastern philosophy.  But they thought they sounded so wise that they didn't realize how foolish the appeared.

I had that same impression with  Cloud Atlas.  To say that it is a bad movie is to miss the point.  A bad movie that knows that it is bad is like a good friend who knows he's told a bad joke.  You wink and go on enjoying their company.

But Cloud Atlas wants so much to be IMPORTANT.  It hits you over the head that this movie MATTERS.  That it is DEEP.

In fact, it SHOUTS it at you the entire time.  Rather than letting the narrative simply unfold, they fill it with unnecessary voiceovers.  Narration is a short-cut in movie story-telling.  Rarely does it work well (as it did in  The Shawshank Redemption).  But usually it is a simple cheat.  The voice overs in Cloud Atlas tell us what is happening between the characters instead of letting the characters be discovered through their dialogue and action.

And the way the voiceovers hit the themes is about a subtle as a sledgehammer.  This is not a movie that respects your intelligence.  This is a movie that takes pauses to explain things to you because it doesn't think that you can follow its DEEP, IMPORTANT MESSAGE found in the story.

Again another digression: there is a not so subtle dig at Christ in this movie with the character Somni.  The idea is that she teaches some moral lessons and stands up for what she believes.  Then the primitives of the post-apocalypse worship her as a goddess, but the smarter Precients know better.  The implication that good moral teachers will be worshipped as gods by the stupid, implying that this is the case with Christ.

But the main problem with Cloud Atlas is that most of the characters are worthless.  I couldn't find myself caring about most of them.  The lead in Story B is a self-centered, selfish idiot.  Story C hinges on a love at first sight that is as believable as a Bill Clinton denying an affair.  Story D revolves around a character who is despicable in morals and also deeply stupid (I actually turned to my wife at one point during the this storyline and asked "What the hell is he doing?").  And Story E only makes sense if the future does not have video cameras (which it does).

 One of the main themes of Cloud Atlas is that every life matters, whether it is a slave, an elderly person, a clone servant, or superstitious shepherd.  But in Story D Hanks plays a mobster author who throws his biggest critic off of a roof.  This is done not to fill you with horror or pity for the poor critic.  It is done for shocking laughs.  But you can't have respect for human life as one of your central points and then have someone horribly murder another for comedic effect.  This kind of thematic schizophrenia serves to remind us that the makers or this movie (the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer) have no idea what they are trying to say.  They are repeating empty platitudes that they don't quite understand in order to sound profound.

Cloud Atlas is cinematic sophistry.  It promises insight and wisdom and heart.  But it is all as insubstantial as the cloud in its title.

3.  Dark Shadows (2012)
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Here is the thing about Tim Burton: he swings for the fences.  His movies are distinctive in tone and style and sometimes he hits a home run as he did with Beetlejuice, Batman, and Ed Wood.  But the problem is that when he misses, he strikes out horribly.

That is what happened with Dark Shadows.

I was a fan of the old TV show and the brief 1990's remake.  It is vampire melodrama that we see played out in Interview with the Vampire and Twilight.  Burton decided that instead of leaning into the deep melodrama, he would play up the camp nature of the film.  This is another classic example of a filmmaker who completely misunderstands the source material.  Burton did to Dark Shadows what Joel Schumacher did to Batman

Everyone in the film is a flat cartoon.  There are no characters, only caricatures.  If the humor had worked, this may have been forgivable.  But every joke falls completely flat.  What's worse is that with the now-simplified characters, Burton kept the soap opera level of complications and complexity that the movie simply cannot sustain.  Everything the characters do feel like a betrayal of the source material.  Every minute is agony to watch.  You can see the complete waste of time that this movie is and you will not be able to comprehend why it exists.

2.  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

A blue eyed boy, with his hands covering his mouth.

There are few movies that are as terrible as this.  It tricks you into believe there is something of substance here because it stars Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock.  And this is terrible, but the one thought that ran through my head as I watched this was that all of the problems of the movie could have been solved if the main character had been beaten more as a child.

The movie is about Oskar.  His father died at the World Trade Center during 9/11.  At his father's funeral, he wears a Karate uniform and refuses to go to the grave.  His mother has to raise him and he truly horrible to her in every conceivable way.  He finds a key in his father's closet and then spends the rest of the movie bothering anyone he can to find out what the key means.

We are meant to feel pity for Oskar.  There is nothing pitiable about him.  He is a child who has been completely indulged and so cannot handle stepping up to any responsibilities.  Throughout the film he has a secret that he harbors:

He was home when the planes hit the towers.  He father called six times, but Oskar did not answer.  Each time, his father begged someone on the other line to pick up.

Again, Oskar let his father die without speaking to him.

We are supposed to believe that he was too afraid to answer.  But nothing about in the movie will move you to this conclusion.  Instead, you will see a spoiled brat who does not want to be burdened by his father's trauma to come to his aid during his time of need.  The main character is so detestable that even as I write these words I am getting angry.  I would even go so far as to say that he is evil.  All his father wanted was to hear his son's voice before he died.  And Oskar could not pick up the freaking phone.  Even the funeral appears to be an inconvenience for him.  When I saw him in that Karate uniform I saw a child who was completely out of control and had never been taught to respect his parents.  This is a child who will grow up to be a monster of a man.  And the entire time the movie wants us to revel in his journey of self-discover.

This is a movie about terrible parents of a terrible child doing terrible things in a way that is presented like they are good and sympathetic.  The world-view on this movie is so warped that it is hard to comprehend.  And on top of all of this, to use 9/11 as the emotional backdrop for your melodrama is in such poor taste that it feels like a desecration.

1.  CATS (2019)

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They say that the deeper you enter into hell, the less and less things make sense.  It is a place where reason and logic have no meaning.

In the movie Apocalypse Now, Willard moves deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness.  Things not only become more violent, but all reason seems to have abandoned them.  The further down into the depths they go, the more everyone's hold on sanity began to slip.

That is what it felt like watching CATS in the theater.

I cannot hyperbolize how bad this movie is.  As I wrote before, it is a pure cinematic nightmare.  And I use that word, "nightmare," specifically.  Have you ever been trapped in a nightmare where reason had no hold and you felt trapped, just hoping that you could wake from the imprisonment.  CATS was a waking nightmare of a film.  There isn't a single thing in the film that makes rational sense.  The beautiful musical score only serves to reinforce how horrible the events on the screen are.

When the trailer to Sonic the Hedgehog came out, fans were horrified by the design so the studio did a fast recovery.  CATS should have done the same thing.  The CGI is horrific.  But even if they cleaned this up, it couldn't save everything else.

This is an ugly film.  There is nothing magical about this world that makes you want to spend a single second there.  I've sat through horrible high school musicals where no one could sing or dance or act and I would choose any one of them over CATS.  It feels as though the actors are debasing themselves in some sort of sick practical joke.  And since the movie doesn't really have a plot to speak of, you have no sense of where you are in the narrative and how much longer you have to endure until the end.  In fact, just when you are sure it is going to end, Judy Dench stares at you and sings at you for what feels like forever.

As I wrote earlier: You feel trapped by the story.  During the film, I turned to my wife and said, "Didn't anyone say at any time during this production, 'We're not seriously doing this, are we?'"  Everything about this film is hideous, monstrous, and alien.  Nothing close to a human emotion can be found.


So what are your thoughts?  Did I miss anything?

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