Category Archives: Sucks ass

Matt says: seriously, don’t even bother.

The Last Word

the last word 2So, Harriet (Shirley MacLaine) likes things done a certain way. She gets so impatient with those who can’t follow her instructions that she often winds up having to do everything herself as she frequently pushes her gardener, cook, and hairdresser aside. So it should come as not surprise that she would want final say on her own obituary.

Enter Anne (Amanda Seyfried), the aspiring writer who Harriet hires to write her obituary. It’s not an easy job. Not just because Harriet is a demanding micro-manager. Despite all her considerable success, everyone Anne interviews about her-even her priest- hates her. So an 81 year-old who’s spent her life being nasty to people sets out to use the time she has left to rewrite her own history, dragging the almost-always exasperated Anne along for the ride.

If you’ve heard of this movie at all, by now you’ve probably heard that it’s pretty bad. And it really kind of is. But I honestly think there is a really good idea for a movie hidden somewhere within this unapologetically trite screenplay. One of the movie’s better scenes features a hilariously confident Harriet barging in on an independent radio station making a shockingly effective case for why she should be hired as a DJ. They give her a chance and it’s kind of awesome.

the last wordIn the right hands, a dramedy featuring the 82 year-old MacLaine playing an unlikely host of a radio show for hipsters could be a lot of fun, which The Last Word generally isn’t. More importantly though, making this subplot the actual plot might have given the movie some much-needed focus. Because for a movie about making every moment count, The Last Word has an astonishing number of throwaway scenes and uninspired subplots.

So in a comedy with no real focus except that Life is Precious So Don’t Waste It, it falls on its stars to keep it watchable. And although “watchable” may be a strong word for a movie like this, MacLaine’s still got it. Actually, to carry any movie in your 80s is pretty impressive and I give her full credit for finding a way to breathe some life into a character that would otherwise have been too vaguely written to be interesting. Seyfried isn’t exactly bad so much as she just doesn’t do anything to really help make Anne stand out from any of the other Millennials who have learnt valuable and unexpected life lessons from seniors in the movies lately.

MacLaine does impressive wok but neither the script or her co-stars are there to back her up.

 

 

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Passengers

passengersImagine being stranded on a deserted island. Would you wish for company, even though you knew that that person would then be stranded too? What if you discovered that you had the power to make that dream come true?

Jim (Chris Pratt) faces a futuristic version of this very dilemma in Passengers, director Morten Tyldum’s follow-up to The Imitation Game. Jim, along with 5,000 others, has chosen to leave his life on Earth to start fresh by colonizing a distant planet. When his hibernation pod malfunctions, Jim finds that he has somehow woken up 90 years before the ship is scheduled to reach its destination. Meaning that he will almost certainly die of old age long before he’ll get the chance to even speak to another person.

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The loneliness is palpable but becomes downright excruciating once he discovers that he’s figured out how to wake another passenger. One sleeping beauty in particular has caught his eye. Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), as Jim discovers through extensive research of the ship’s files, is smart, pretty, and funny and seems like the perfect companion for this 90 year voyage.

It’s quite an interesting predicament. What if Tom Hanks had gotten so lonely in Cast Away that he was able to magically sentence Helen Hunt to life on the island with him? Or if James Franco had been able to trap his buddy Seth Rogen under that rock so that he would have some company? Obviously, it’s a pretty shitty thing to do to someone and Jim knows it. He doesn’t take the decision lightly and it’s a tribute to Pratt’s talent that we can feel his struggle enough to forgive him.

Passengers begins to unravel though once Aurora wakes up. A brief meditation on what isolation can do to a person quickly becomes a typical romantic comedy with an atypical setting. Boy meets girl based on a lie. Everything seems to be going great until girl discovers lie. Girl makes up with boy. If you think the fact that Jim’s deception is somewhat more serious than a How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days article (“He murdered me,” as Aurora puts it) would alter this formula in any way, unfortunately you’d be disappointed.

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It’s also worth commenting that Jim chooses Aurora for her looks and charm. Yes, she’s actually quite bright but she’s a journalist. Out of 5,000 passengers, you’d think he could have found someone more qualified to help maintain a spaceship for 90 years and maybe even help him figure out how to get back to sleep. She’s clever and tough but still pretty useless once the ships starts to fall apart and Jim the mechanic needs to figure out how to save her and everyone else on board, thus winning back her heart. The cop-out is downright insulting.  Besides, as cinema, watching someone fix a broken spaceship is neither as suspenseful or exciting as you might think.

What many critics panning Passengers won’t tell you is that the first 20-30 minutes are actually quite gripping. From there on it’s pretty much as bad as they say.

The Girl on the Train

I felt such an affinity for Rachel, the main character in The Girl on a Train, that it was easy for me to love Paula Hawkins’ novel. Partly, it’s because I’ve woken up with a hangover more times than I’d care to admit with an instinct to immediately check my email, text, and call history to see if I need to apologizing to anyone. But, just as important, I love people watching and especially enjoy speculating about the lives of strangers.

So Rachel (played in the film by Emily Blunt) wakes up from a night of drinking to find that her favourite stranger to watch (Haley Bennett) has gone missing and she may have seen something that could help find her. If only she can remember what it is. As the story unfolds, her behavior is frequently frustrating and not always easy to empathize with but I’d be lying if I said that she didn’t feel completely real to me. A great protagonist is really all you need to make even the simplest murder mystery seem gripping and, told from Rachel’s point of view, I found this one nearly impossible to put down.

The best film adaptations are able to identify what worked best from their source material and build a story around those elements that suits the medium. Because the film version of The Girl on the Train is a shitty adaptation, director Tate Taylor and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson try to pack in as many of the events of the book as possible without seeming to give any thought to how well the structure would play on screen. Neither seem interested in Rachel’s state of mind.

These may seem like the typical “the book was better” complaints but I can’t imagine the movie would impress anyone who hasn’t read the book either. Considering the popularity of the novel, the roll that Emily Blunt has been on lately, and the fact that just two movies ago Tate Taylor directed a Best Picture nominee (The Help), The Girl on the Train feels surprisingly TV-movieish. For a book that was marketed as an edge-of-your-seat thriller, its film is curiously boring, talky, and whiny.

The good news, as you may have heard, is that Blunt is terrific. She makes Rachel a lot easier to sympathize with even when her actions risk making her unlikeable. She plays the various levels of drunkenness quite well. But her efforts are wasted in a boring, lazily structured movie.

Familyhood

Go Ju-yeon (extremely well-played by Kim Hye-soo) is pushing 40 and running out of ways to feel young. Despite plastic surgery, affairs with younger men, and a faithful and well-meaning entourage that protect her from unflattering headlines, Ju-yeon has finally reached the point where she has to admit that the public just doesn’t adore her anymore.

It’s a tough pill for any actress to swallow but it’s even worse for someone so needy and self-absorbed. Not ready to be forgotten just yet, Ji-yeon makes one last desperate attempt at being loved. She’s going to have a baby. Or, more accurately, buy a random middle-schooler’s baby and try and pass it off as her own.

It’s actually quite terrible and, as her stylist reminds her more than once, illegal. Dan-ji (Kim Hyeon-soo) has nowhere to go except live with her neglectful big sister and sure could use some money for art school, a fact that Ju-yeon is quick to take advantage of. Dar-ji is quickly hidden away in a stranger’s house during the most confusing nine months of her life.

This movie really didn’t work for me. The comedy comes, as you’d expect, mostly from Ju-yeon’s lack of self-awareness and the outrageous misunderstandings that her charade inevitably brings. It just isn’t very funny. I found it very broad and, worse, obvious. Director Kim Tae-gon excuses the implausiibilities and all the selfish behavior as “satire” of celebrity, “the cult of youth and beauty”, and the hypocrisy and double standards surround teen pregnancy. When it comes to Familyhood’s satire of celebrity and youth, its target is too easy and its tone not nearly subtle enough for it to be effective as satire. Tae-gon does, however, have some interesting and worthwhile things to say about the shaming of pregnant teen girls. It was a nice surprise but seems to show up out of nowhere towards the end of a film that seems to have realized that it wasn’t really about anything and just blurted out “teen pregnancy” in a panic.

I just didn’t like it. I’m not sure why. The crowd at the International Premiere at this year’s Fantasia Festival responded with delight to every tired joke. So maybe I was just having an off day and you’d enjoy it as much as they did. But I can’t help thinking that Familyhood seriously missed its mark.

X-Men: Apocalypse

When I first saw X-Men: First Class in the theater, I was frustrated by Hugh Jackman’s cameo as Wolverine. “That’s so stupid,” I told my friends. “How can he show up in the 60s and look the same  as he does in the present?”.

Okay, so clearly I don’t know much about the X-Men universe. But I have since seen all the movies and tend to enjoy them. After Days of Future Past, which I thought was the strongest entry in the series by far, I had pretty high hopes for Apocalypse.

Nine films in a series can start to blend into one so I can’t always remember what happened in which but I am pretty sure that Apocalypse is my submission for the worst- certainly most boring- X-Men movie so far. What could have gone wrong since Bryan Singer’s triumphant return to the franchise two summers ago?

I can’t help feeling that Wolverine is the most important element of Future Past that is missing from Apocalypse. Sure, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is one of the best performances that I can think of in any comic book character ever but that’s not even what I’m missing. Future Past was told mostly from the perspective of Wolverine so we were introduced (or, in many cases, reintroduced) to most characters as they became relevant to Wolverine’s mission.

Like Days of Future Past, Apocalypse has A LOT of characters. Even by superhero movie standards. But without picking a single character’s perspective to focus on, it jumps around a lot. In fact, it probably spends a good half hour on each character’s separate introduction. Like Batman v. Superman, Apocalypse has a habit of cutting away to an unrelated scene just when it’s feeling like it’s starting to get good.

X-Men: Apocalypse is disappointing but does manage to benefit from both the past and future films in the series. Professor X and Magneto, both in their respective story arcs and in their relationship with each other, coast on their strong starts in their last two films and continue to captivate thanks to strong performances by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. Everyone else is fine- even good- but these two are clear standouts in a crowded cast where you need to be great to even be noticed.

Having so many new characters necessitate a lot of scenes that feel more like obligatory preamble than part of the story. But just as the returning characters benefit from the smart choices made in previous installments, the new characters (Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Jean Gray) benefit from the promise of better movies in the future. They’re well-cast and likeable, giving hope that they’ll be better utilized next time.

Jenny’s Wedding

This movie is awful in its way, trite and plodding. It’s a piece of antiquity, not in any charming retro way, but in a flat-out has no reason being in 2016 kind of way.

Jenny (Katharine Heigl) has been hiding a secret from her family, and it’s kind of a biggie. She’s gay. They might stop setting up with guys if only she’d tell them, but while they’re gently prodding her to settle down, she’s surreptitiously planning a wedding with her “roommate” Kitty (Alexis Bledel).

And it turns out she was right to keep this part of herself hidden because when the truth does come out, it doesn’t go well. I’ve never been so disappointed in Tom Wilkinson in my life. That’s not as out of the blue as it sounds – he plays her dad in the movie. And upon reflection, I have indeed been more disappointed in him.  Remember that train wreck Unfinished Business? That was a pretty dark period in our relationship.

Anyhow, back to the movie, which is already 20 years out of date before you even drive it off the Netflix lot. But the embarrassing truth is that this movie still made me cry. Twice. Because even though we should have moved on from this story by now, the reality is that not everyone is as cool with these kinds of revelations as they should be. It’s 2016 people: get with the program!

And there’s never an excuse for such a reductionist, trite piece of work. The lesson in tolerance is a little tone deaf. The script sounds like it came from a faded pamphlet shoved through the mail slot by one of their conservative church friends. It’s gross. It’s a washed out version of a movie that came and went at the turn of the century. This one is entirely missable.

 

Everybody Wants Some !!

I was totally fucking bored by this movie. Nothing happened. To call it meandering is to try to put a positive spin on something that was downright pointless. I didn’t crack a smile once, and my only reaction to the film was to cringe at the various combinations of knee socks and wispy mustaches.

Maybe I was just watching this with my vagina, ie: Richard Linklater has made yet another testament to boyhood, with only gross caricatures of women adorning the periphery of his movie. No, not women. The boys aren’t chasing women. They’re chasing pussy. The woman is incidental to the hole she can provide for a moment’s worth of pleasure. Is this something to glorify? Be nostalgic about?

And I’m not just offended on behalf of women. I’m offended on behalf of men, the many men in my life who are not gross or one-dimensional. Who manage to like sex  AND treat women with respect. Who think beyond the tips of their penises. They deserve better than this.

And mostly I’m offended on behalf of my $12 and 2 hours. Those I will never get back. I thanks-but-no-thx-300x192could have spent those on a dime bag and a make-out sesh in the backseat of my car to a rockin 80s soundtrack and had a much better time.

The Bronze

 

In 2004, Hope Ann Greggory (Melissa Rauch) made her small Ohio town proud by bringing home the coveted Olympic Bronze Medal in women’s gymnastics. With her career cut short by a minor injury, Hope has been costing on that accomplishment ever since.

Rauch, who co-wrote this script with her husband, is best known for a show that I don’t watch. She insists though that Hope is a huge departure from her Big Bang Theory character and I’m willing to take her word for it. Unless CBS is willing to let her masturbate to footage of her glory days or say things like “absence makes the dick grow harder”, Chuck Lorre fans may be in for a side of the third most famous female BBT actress that they made not be ready for.

Hope is an obnoxious mess. Living with, mooching off of, and verbally abusing her sweet mailman dad (very well-played by Gary Cole), she makes a living off of stealing cash from his route. She also has a habit of going on a spoiled brat tirade of obscenities every time she hears something she doesn’t like, giving the sentenced-to-network-television actress a chance to do her best Melissa McCarthy (but somehow sounding a lot like Reese Witherspoon in Election).

Hope gets a second chance at life when her former coach dies and, for implausibly selfish reasons, she decides to take over coaching a promising sixteen year-old (Haley Lu Richardson) with dreams of Olympic gold. Richardson plays Maggie as naïve, hard-working, and loveable and Hope comes very close to ruining her. When Maggie beings to make the mistake of believing her own hype, The Bronze judges her way too harshly for the same attitude that it is so ready to forgive the 30 year-old Hope for.

The supporting cast of characters that Hope treats like shit- her dad, her pupil, and her sweet love interest (Tom Middleditch)- are all easy to like and make the film itself much more enjoyable to watch. The real problem is Rauch. As much fun as it must have been for her to unleash her inner Apatow, she’s more annoying than charmingly outspoken and her eventual redemption is too little-too late. And the ending, without giving too much away, is unforgiveable.

The Divergent Series: Allegiant

About a year ago, Wandering Through the Shelves had us binge-watching Movies Based on Young Adult Novels. The first two films in the Divergent series were neither the best or the worst things I watched that week. They’re not great- even “good” would be a stretch- but I was won over by the decency and unlikely strength of Tris (Shailene Woodley). I also couldn’t have done without the effortless charisma of Miles Teller as Peter, who brings much-needed personality to a series that takes itself way too seriously whenever he’s not on screen.

In the first two films in the series, the citizens (prisoners?) of Chicago have been assigned factions based on their defining trait (athletic, honest, kind, smart, and selfless). I’ve always found this basic premise to be a little lazy and a pretty adolescent view of the world but, hey, it’s young adult fiction. Besides, it’s what makes Divergent Divergent. To do away with these factions would be like the Twilight series continuing without any vampires or werewolves of the Fifty Shades series going straight edge. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what this series does.

Allegiant picks up where Insurgent left off, immediately after the fall of the faction system. Without it, not only does Chicago lose control over its population but the story loses its focus and coherence. Fearing that Evelyn, (Naomi Watts) is becoming as oppressive a leader as Kate Winslet’s character had been, five young adults venture over the walls. What follows is sillier than the other two films combined, exposition-heavy, and impossible to follow. Tris, the heroic non-conformist of the story, somehow starts towing the party line. Woodley does her best to keep her interest but it’s tough not to be frustrated with her when everyone onscreen and in the audience thinks it’s obvious that she’s being played. Even Miles Teller’s shtick is getting old. Pick a side, buddy!

The Divergent series isn’t really made for adults and for all I know may please its target audience. Because most 16 year-olds wouldn’t be interested in our site and most of our readers wouldn’t be interested in this series, you might wonder why I’d even bother reviewing it. To that, I can only say “Jeff Daniels”. Daniels, joining Winslet, Watts, Octavia Spencer, and Ray Stevenson, becomes the latest good actor over 40 to have his talents wasted by this trite material. How so many good actors got involved in this series, I have no idea. But judging by their performances, I can tell it’s not because they wanted to be there. By the third film, their talents are no longer just wasted. They’re giving bad performances.

What’s happening in Hollywood that the likes of Naomi Watts and Jeff Daniels need a job this badly? Or that any filmmaker could become so distracted by their pretty but mostly boring young stars that they would forget to give Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer even a single key scene?

This is why I care enough about this series to write about it.

London Has Fallen

Unfortunately, a lot has changed in 3 years.

2013’s Olympus Has Fallen opens with a friendly boxing match followed by a tragic car accident that explains why Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) and President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) aren’t boxing buddies anymore. It’s neither the most interesting or most original opening but at least we know what we’re in for. Olympus Has Fallen was harmless and predictable fun,just not especially interesting or original.

Three years later, London Has Fallen opens with a montage of news footage covering recent terrorist attacks, making it clear that the Olympus sequel takes place in a more dangerous world. Where the first thing we hear about every seemingly random shooting is whether it’s being investigated as “an act of terrorism”. Now that Islamophobia has such an influential and dangerous spokesman as Donald Trump, some have even questioned whether we really need a movie like London Has Fallen right now.

I could have overlooked London Has Fallen’s social and political irresponsibility if the film itself had been more gripping. Well, yes and no. Banning telling a terrorist to go back to “Fucheadistan or wherever the hell you come from” might have been taking it a little far. Same for Morgan Freeman (who should really retire) and his final speech which shamelessly defended America’s foreign policy. Other than that, London’s worst offence is not being any good.

As in Olympus, Banning doesn’t have any great kills or great stunts. And even if he did, director Babak Najafi doesn’t understand the genre enough to showcase them properly if he did. Way too many fights and chases are obstructed by sloppy editing.

And way too many questions are left unanswered. How did terrorists manage to attack “the most protected event in the world”? Why does Banning leave POTUS alone so often when he knows the bad guys are after him? WHERE IS EVERYBODY?  Would the streets of London really be that bare, even after such a devastating attack? And, most importantly, how does Gerard Butler still get work?