Entries in mockingjay (1)

Tuesday
Dec302014

The Worst Films of 2014

I’ll admit, I missed a lot of films this year for a variety of reasons, but 2014 nevertheless seemed like an unusually good year for movies. Struggling to find 10 movies to put on a “worst of” list is a good problem to have and I had it this year. Even the bad movies I saw, including, but not limited to, the movies on this list, all managed to avoid the dreaded score of zero out of five. Still, the movies below are nothing to be proud of, with comedies faring the worst, nabbing four not-so-coveted spots. While none of these films can rightfully be classified as one of the worst movies of all time (though, to be fair, I didn’t see Kirk Cameron’s “Saving Christmas”), neither can any rightfully be considered something worth watching. A controversial pick or two there may be here, but these are the movies that I consider to be the worst of 2014.

10) Into the Storm—Too often, a fundamental flaw pervades “natural disaster” movies: the focus tends to be on the destruction and chaos rather than the characters. Recent years have shown the physical and emotional devastation such events can cause to neighborhoods and families, so a movie about one of these events is ripe for hard hitting drama, but the characters that could bring that drama forth are usually relegated to supporting characters in relation to the storm, human fodder for its carnage. “Into the Storm” is no different. To its credit, it at least tries to create interesting characters, even if it doesn’t know how to construct its narrative around them. An example comes from the relationship between Allison, played by Sarah Wayne Callies, and her daughter hundreds of miles away, whom she talks and Skypes with on the phone. This mother/daughter angle is forced in to try to manufacture drama out of thin material, a cheap way to build characterization and trick the audience into caring about the person onscreen. It doesn’t work. A later scene around the midway point shows her clutching to the door of a tank-like weather car as the winds threaten to pull her into the tornado. The unified feeling of apathy from the audience at my screening couldn’t have been more noticeable if we all simultaneously started yawning. Ultimately, these are stupid characters making stupid decisions while poorly delivering badly written dialogue. Even worse, “Into the Storm” ends on a cheesy, message heavy and, more offensively, slightly happy note—sure, communities were destroyed and thousands of people just died, but hey, we recognize that person’s face from the beginning of the film! If 2012’s “The Impossible” serves as an example of how to explore similar territory well, “Into the Storm” exemplifies its opposite.

9) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1—As I mentioned, due to an unusually busy year, I missed many of the movies that could potentially land a spot on a “worst of the year” list, as other things took precedent over watching a likely terrible movie. But even so, I feel like “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” would still land a spot here. By splitting this final installment into two movies, as has been the case with other young adult novel adaptations like Harry Potter, “Mockingjay Part 1” feels like a cash grab through and through, taking about 30-45 minutes of dramatic narrative and lengthening it to a plodding two hours. But whereas “Harry Potter” had some meat to it and could justify the split, this doesn’t, and believe it or not, that’s the least of its problems. Its story shoehorns in certain themes, particularly in its exploration of totalitarianism, but they fail to resonate. While a story about government intrusion and control over its people is not a bad one, it’s one that has been explored to death, especially in recent years when the US government arguably overextended its rights after 9/11. And “Mockingjay” doesn’t do or say anything particularly different (or even well) to set it apart, instead opting to be what amounts to a rather basic “corrupt government vs. righteous rebellion” story. Even the action isn’t up to snuff. Much of it happens at a distance, Katniss merely hearing about it or seeing it after the fact and subsequently expressing her frustration on camera, which the rebels use to create propaganda films. The fear, the thrill, the mystery, the intrigue; they’re all gone, replaced with unenticing answers, a glacial narrative pace and pseudo-intellectualism. Unfortunately, its visuals don’t do much to pick up the slack. The colorful eye candy from the two previous films is muted to drab grays and browns here; count yourself lucky if you pick out the fleeting moments of actual color. Though the aesthetic switch compliments the darker tone of the film, it nevertheless makes the movie a visual bore. It is possible to make a tonally dark movie with a dark, muted color palette without compromising its actual beauty. The later “Harry Potter” entries are great examples of those films. “Mockingjay Part 1” is not. Worse yet, the dialogue is full of some of the most heavy handed ramblings you’ll hear all year, as Katniss and her cohorts proselytize incessantly like loudmouthed doomsayers on a college campus. There’s not much going on for the majority of this film, but just when the story finally begins to gain some momentum, it abruptly ends. Though it sets the stage for a hopefully more exciting final installment, as a standalone product, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” is a monumental dud, a huge nosedive in quality that is unprecedented in other major franchises. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” fails to deliver in nearly every regard.

8) Labor Day—Jason Reitman has always excelled as a director by finding the extraordinary in the mundane. “Juno,” for example, was a simple story about a young, pregnant girl who used sarcasm to hide her insecurities and was forced to grow up before she was ready. “Up in the Air” was about a businessman who flew all over the world trying to hit the elusive 10 million mile mark only to discover that he had been chasing a meaningless dream, eventually realizing that, despite being surrounded by hundreds of people every day, he was just as lonely around them as he was back home by himself. However, in his latest film, “Labor Day,” Reitman attempts the opposite: to find the mundane in an extraordinary situation. As talented as he and his cast are, they can’t make this approach work. Its story is slow, hard-to-swallow, heavy handed and more worthy of eye rolls than tears. “Labor Day” takes place in 1987. Young Henry (Gattlin Griffith) lives with his mother, Adele (Kate Winslet). She has been depressed and lonely ever since her husband left her. One day while out shopping, she and Henry are abducted by Frank (Josh Brolin), a recently escaped convict who was serving an 18 year sentence for murder. While at the hospital to get his appendix taken out, he jumped out of the second floor window while the cops were out for a smoke, resulting in a damaged leg. Since he has nowhere to go and can’t move well, he demands Adele drive him to her home where he shacks up for a few days. While there, he cleans, cooks and even fixes broken appliances, which slowly causes Adele to fall in love with him. Shockingly, the way these moments are handled actually downplays the kidnapping. Never mind the fact that prior to these moments, he was gripping her son’s neck in a violent and threatening way. Or that he tied her up while Henry sat helplessly. Or that he used Henry as his guinea pig to shoo visitors away while he kept Adele from squealing nearby. Sure, Frank apparently killed someone and could potentially kill her and Henry, but boy, can that man make a pie! Granted, things may not be as clear cut as they seem, as evidenced by numerous flashbacks that are edited in so randomly as to be initially confusing, but the characters don’t know that, making for unexcusable decisions by Adele. The film tries to make her a sympathetic character too and, to an extent, she is—she’s clearly heartbroken and longs for some type of affection from someone other than her son—but as Henry puts it, it wasn’t losing his father that broke her heart, but the idea of losing love itself. She’s so desperate for that affection that she quickly looks past the threatening nature of Frank, which could potentially put her own son in harm’s way, for a quick and selfish emotional fix. Adapted from the 2009 novel of the same name, “Labor Day” is awkwardly paced, tonally inconsistent and narratively absurd. One could joke that the movie came either too late or really early in relation to the actual day the title alludes to, but I’ll say in all seriousness that I wish it had never come at all.

7) Ride Along—On my way to a screening for “Ride Along” all the way back in January, I heard a radio spot that spoke quite highly of it, in which it called star Kevin Hart the funniest man in America and the film itself “the first great comedy of the year.” “Who said these things?” I wondered, before realizing that the quotes weren’t actually attributed to anyone. And how could they be? As this is one of the unfunniest and messiest films of the year. Upon first impression, it’s clear that “Ride Along” is going to be a visually ugly movie. Its drab colors, no doubt increased by the desire to be satirical of “gritty” buddy cop crime dramas, pervade the screen. Its shot composition is equally unpleasing to the eye, with close-ups even extreme close-ups would consider a bit much and framing so bad it’s hard to actually read the narratively important letter the film lingers on. But these issues are minor when in a comedy. A weak story and poor visuals don’t carry much weight when you’re laughing hysterically, but “Ride Along” barely musters up much more than a couple minor chuckles. Hart, while okay in small bursts or as a supporting character, is grating in long stretches. Like a miniaturized Chris Tucker, he equates comedy to spastic mannerisms and furiously fast talking. When not restrained, he overdoes it and “Ride Along” is anything but restrained. When he’s called on for physical comedy, he’s equally bad and overacts to an absurd degree, like when his character is blown back by the recoil of a shotgun about the size of one of his legs. In a sense, Kevin Hart is treated like a reverse Kevin James, the latter always abused because of his large weight and the former treated like a feather in the wind. The story also lacks the satirical bite it occasionally tries to capture, often succumbing to the very “buddy cop” clichés it attempts to mock. It was the first film I reviewed this year and what a turd it turned out to be.

6) Ouija—At the risk of sounding condescending, I have a tendency to mock those that believe in silly things. When I was younger, I was the one who would move the Ouija board slider to mess with my more gullible friends, as my cynical nature quickly took over as soon as we gathered around it. I simply couldn’t help myself; it was just too easy. If anything, my cynicism regarding the so called “spirit world” has increased as I’ve grown older. That’s not to say I can’t enjoy a good ghost movie, but “Ouija” was more than I could handle. It was hard not to roll my eyes when the skeptic characters, 15 seconds after huddling around the Ouija board, were all of a sudden believers. Where are the logical ones, the ones who refuse to believe such nonsense? Although horror movie rules dictate that they will ultimately be wrong for being non-believers, a decent representation would have been nice. At a short 89 minutes, however, I suppose such narrative and character arcs are too much to ask for. But even with my cynicism removed from the rest of the product, “Ouija” just doesn’t cut it. It’s not scary or interesting, the make-up and effects are subpar and the dialogue ridiculous, as it succumbs to a bland story and unending horror clichés. The spirits here, like so many that came before, spend more time with mild trickery than actually getting the job done. One must wonder what the mentality is behind turning the oven on when, if they can already manipulate real world objects, they could easily do something much more effective. A gas leak explosion, perhaps? Where “Ouija” ultimately falters, though, isn’t in its narrative absurdities, but in its abundance of jump scares, the kind where someone in the other room inexplicably and unintentionally sneaks up behind their friend with ninja-like stealth skills, a scare intended only for an audience dumb enough to fall for such lazy tricks. But I suppose the filmmakers had to try to spice things up somehow. If it weren’t for those occasional loud jump scares, I’m pretty sure I would have fallen asleep. “Ouija” is ill-conceived from top to bottom, rarely showing that it has any idea what makes a good horror movie. It’s very easy to make fun of those who think a mass manufactured Hasbro game has any supernatural properties to it, but you can’t blame those people for looking for some cheap thrills. The movie based on it wishes it could muster as much.

5) Bad Words—Jason Bateman is one of the most likable people in Hollywood. We may not know how he acts in private, but in films, interviews and other public appearances, he comes off as a charming, lovable goof. It’s that considerable charm that pulls him through some of his otherwise lackluster film and television efforts (“Identity Thief” comes to mind). With this, one can’t help but wonder what he was thinking when he agreed to do “Bad Words.” He’s not good at being bad and, with this being his feature length directorial debut, he doesn’t have the directing chops to make up for it. Not since “Bad Teacher” has a central character been so vile, so hurtful, so unnecessarily mean that he manages to kill any goodwill the film may have had otherwise. The story follows Guy Trilby (Bateman), a 40 year old man who finds a loophole in the national children’s spelling bee contest that allows him to enter as a contestant. He even has a sponsor, as all participants must, in the form of Jenny (Kathryn Hahn), a journalist for a nationally recognized online publication. She hopes to get to the root of his motivation, but he’s very reserved in that regard. He doesn’t want to reveal why he’s doing what he’s doing, but he has his reasons. It’s a fairly weak plot with a thin narrative arc and an even thinner emotional one. More than anything else, this film needed a gradual reveal. Something needed to happen to open this hateful character up and reveal the man within to help the audience feel empathy, but that wasn’t on its agenda. In fact, when it appears he may build some goodwill, he promptly negates it with his puerile antics. Worse yet, when the end rolls around, it’s shown that his actions have had zero repercussions and the closure he alludes to, which is the very reason he went on this strange journey, still appears to be out of grasp. He may take what some may consider the high road at a certain junction in the back half of the film, but it doesn’t negate the numerous low road decisions made prior. It should also be mentioned that “Bad Words” simply isn’t funny. While a chuckle or two here and there may sneak its way out of some, the vileness of the character always serves as a reminder that the person you’re watching is more worthy of pity than laughs. Guy is a sad excuse for a man and an even sadder excuse for a character that we’re supposedly meant to root for. “Bad Words” is one of the most hateful, mean spirited comedies in recent memory and has close to zero redeeming factors.

4) Need for Speed—With the popularity of franchises like “The Fast and the Furious,” it was only a matter of time before a film adaptation of the popular video game racing series “Need for Speed” blasted its way into theaters. As a series that features only the thinnest of stories (certain installments had none at all), it should come as no surprise that the film of the same name is similarly thin and meaningless. But while thin stories can be forgiven in a video game if the gameplay is solid, it’s hard to look past it here. “Need for Speed” features a capable leading actor with the former “Breaking Bad” star Aaron Paul, but the movie he’s in is near disastrous, as it does something that is very hard to do: it brings together parts that are individually very good and mashes them into something that barely functions at all. Paul, as an example, is a better actor than the typical meathead you get in these types of movies and he manages to give the emotional scenes some validity, but those scenes are so overwrought that they’re hard to take seriously. The story doesn’t fare much better, as there’s a proper narrative beginning and ending, but no arc in between. It’s essentially one long car chase. Much of this is to be expected, of course. Films like those aforementioned “Fast and Furious” films too suffered from many of the same issues, but that franchise eventually found its footing by realizing its absurdity and embracing it. Conversely, “Need for Speed” is oblivious and takes itself far too seriously. Even its score fails to realize the nature of the film it’s accompanying. It’s a sweeping, beautiful score that fits this film like an adult trying to squeeze into a baby sized onesie. Some visual trickery is the only pleasure one can derive from the film, but while the film is easy to look at, it’s not easy to watch. The things that work on their own don’t fit within the context of the film, so all it has to fall back on is fast cars, loud engines and macho posturing. Isolate certain aspects and you’ll find something worthy, but bring them all together and you end up with the absolute mess that is “Need for Speed.”

3) A Million Ways to Die in the West—There’s a moment in Seth MacFarlane’s previous film, “Ted,” where Ted the bear makes a joke, which is then told again by another character in a slightly different way. Ted then remarks in a condescending manner that the character did nothing more but repackage his own joke and deliver it again. It was an ironic moment because MacFarlane, for all of his perceived edginess, has been doing that for years. Despite a setting that, in a more flexible comedian’s hands, should prevent the same old gags from reoccurring, his latest, “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” manages to include more of the redundant, played out humor he’s known for in a shoddy looking movie with a poor story and jokes that are intended to shock or offend rather than amuse. “A Million Ways to Die in the West” starts promisingly enough. Similar to a film from the heyday of the Western genre, the credits play before the movie starts, complete with a stylized font, while sweeping shots of the majestic Western lands and a musical composition befitting of the genre set the stage for your senses. Unfortunately, any hopes for intelligent genre parody, or even homage, are dashed shortly after, the bulk of the film’s jokes coming from a mindset that believes merely hearing modern phrases and curse words in the context of the old West is somehow funny; when it’s not making racist or penis jokes, at least. What it all boils down to is that “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is lazy. Its jokes are obvious, like when it unamusingly points out that a single dollar was a lot of money back then, and many of them are in poor taste, like when Albert and Anna go to the “Runaway Slave” shooting booth at the town fair. There are a handful of deserving chuckles, usually when the film actually makes an attempt to parody the times, but those moments are few and far between and certainly aren’t plentiful enough to justify sitting through this bloated and meandering comedic disaster.

2) A Haunted House 2—When I sat down to watch “A Haunted House” last year, I fully expected an abomination. Within the last decade or so, spoof films have become so inundated with pop culture references and slapstick humor that they barely spoof the movies they’re supposed to. Cinematic abortions like “Disaster Movie,” “Date Movie” and “Meet the Spartans” quickly come to mind as examples of the downfall of the genre. However, “A Haunted House” was different. It wasn’t good, of course, but at least it delivered what it promised: it actually spoofed the “Paranormal Activity” franchise and its related genre brethren. It even had a few guilty laughs in it for good measure. “A Haunted House 2” similarly spoofs what it promises to, but laughs are few and far between, if not non-existent. In the most desperate comedy to be released since last year’s “Grown Ups 2,” Marlon Wayans spoofs his way through an odd combination of “Sinister” and “Paranormal Activity,” but mainly just has sex with a demonic doll and trades racist cracks back and forth with Gabriel Iglesias. At one point, he takes a shot at the “Scary Movie” sequels for being awful, as if this idiotic drivel is of greater quality. Even at 86 minutes—76 if you take into the account the prolonged credit sequence—“A Haunted House 2” feels about an hour too long. Turn this into a mindless half hour Halloween special on Adult Swim and maybe it could work (for the stoners who watch that late night channel, at least), but as a full length feature film, it’s a chore to watch.

1) Transformers: Age of Extinction—Prior to its release, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” was being touted as the first film shot with the IMAX 3D Digital Camera, meaning sequences shot with it would be presented in an IMAX aspect ratio that gives around 26% more image than the standard aspect ratio you would get in a normal movie theater, but it must be said: more than a new camera is needed to fix the “Transformers” franchise. A lot more. Like those that have come before it, this iteration of the “Transformers” franchise takes a small amount of time to set up what some might consider a story (thin though it may be), but it barely exists, as it comes off more like a dialogue dump than anything else. I haven’t seen a film with so much expositional dialogue in a movie with such a meaningless story in a long time. It’s one of those films where characters will ask a question about what’s going on, only for another character to go on a five minute monologue explaining every plot element up to that point. In a very real sense, “Age of Extinction” feels like it’s written by a first time screenwriter, someone who has no idea how to craft believable situations or dialogue, as it touts a screenplay that, when combined with Bay’s underwhelming direction, creates a film that has no flow and is thematically and narratively empty. If there’s one thing Michael Bay knows (and if his past filmography is any indication, it is indeed only one thing), it’s action, but even that is a letdown here. After three previous movies, each one more bombastic than the last, with the third installment upping the stakes as the end of the trilogy, this feels light in comparison and is sporting a very evident “been there, done that” feel. Only the Dinobots offer up any excitement, but they show up so late in the film’s exhausting two hour and 45 minute runtime that they still fail to make much of an impression, no doubt due to the fact that you will likely be so worn down by the endless slog that came before. Characterization here is the thinnest this franchise has ever seen, believe it or not, so the vapid action is inconsequential, as there’s approximately zero reasons to care if any of these characters succumb to the destruction around them. At 90 minutes, Bay’s brand of mindless, plotless action may be tolerable, but “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is nearly double that length, an absurd 165 minutes, the longest entry in a franchise already known for being a bloated, meandering mess. “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is, by far, the absolute worst film of 2014.