Worst Movies of 2016

1

And here’s a look at my Top 10 List for the worst movies I saw in 2016:

10. HAIL CAESAR!

Coming in at #10 it’s HAIL CAESAR!, a misfire from the Coen brothers.  Don’t get me wrong, this period piece depicting 1950s Hollywood looks terrific.  But the script doesn’t really work.  It has the makings of a screwball comedy, but the Coen brothers opt to play up the drama instead, and so the main character is straight man Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) who goes around getting actors and actresses out of the various messes they’ve gotten themselves into, all in the name of protecting the studio’s image.  And so the screwball tale of lead actor Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) being kidnapped is pushed into the background, downplaying Clooney’s considerable comedic talents. The film is basically a bunch of unfunny vignettes with a serious but dull wraparound story featuring Brolin’s Eddie Mannix.  Should have been much better.

 

9. BATMAN V SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE

batman_v_superman

Easily my pick for the worst superhero movie of the year.  Batman and Superman lock horns in a story that never makes much sense.   The two superheroes hate each other in the first place, which weakens the plot point of villain Lex Luthor’s plan to pit them against each other, and later the moment when the two future superfriends make amends simply doesn’t ring true.  Best part:  Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.  Worst part:  Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.

 

8. THE CONJURING 2

conjuring 2

A major disappointment.  This sequel to the excellent horror movie THE CONJURING (2013) is a bust, even with the return of original director James Wan, and lead stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.  Film offers nothing new.

 

7. THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY

Horribly unfunny comedy by Sacha Baron Cohen about two brothers, one an assassin, the other a full-fledged loser, who team up to take on the bad guys.  This one had a hilarious trailer, but that’s all.

 

6.THE DARKNESS

Another lame horror movie, this one about a demon which haunts a family after they take a trip to the Grand Canyon.  Stars Kevin Bacon.

 

5. MECHANIC:  RESURRECTION

mechanic-resurrection-poster

One of the worst sequels I’ve seen in a long while.  This sequel to one of Jason Statham’s earlier hits, THE MECHANIC (2011), itself a remake of a 1970s Charles Bronson movie, makes no sense and is simply an excuse to have Jason Statham in some action scenes.  I’m a big Statham fan, but not even his presence here could save this turkey.

 

4. THE FOREST

Yet another terrible horror movie.  There are simply too many of these.  This one takes a real place, Japan’s Suicide Forest, with lots of real potential, and reduces it to a mere setting for a silly story about an American woman searching for her missing sister.  This is one forest not worth visiting.

 

3. BLAIR WITCH

Yup, another horror movie, another pointless sequel.  This sequel to the classic THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) drops the ball as its story about the younger brother of the main protagonist in the original film offers nothing new.  Yup, you won’t find any neat revelations here regarding the mysterious events in the first film.  A huge waste of time.

 

2. HARDCORE HENRY

This actioner deployed the gimmick of being shot entirely from the first person perspective of the main character, who we never see since the story unfolds through his eyes.  The result is a movie which plays like a video game, but of course, the viewer isn’t playing this game, so unless you like watching other people play video games, you might want to skip this one.  Not even the presence of the talented Sharlto Copley can save this shallow flick.

 

1. INCARNATE

incarnate

My pick for the Worst Movie of 2016 is a no brainer.  Easily the worst horror movie of the year and the worst movie of the  year, INCARNATE wastes the talents of a fine actor like Aaron Eckhart and sticks him in a ridiculous story about demonic possession.  The gimmick here is Eckhart’s character approaches demonic possession from the psychological standpoint, and enters the victims’ dreams to expel the demons.  Kinda like a heroic version of Freddy Kruger, only without the wit.  A mess from start to finish, this one makes little sense, nor does it try to.

And there you have it, my picks for the Worst Movies of 2016.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Thanksgiving Movie Turkeys 2016

0

turkey

Welcome to a special THANKSGIVING column!  Happy Turkey Day!

On that note, I know that I don’t usually post my BEST OF  and WORST OF movie lists till after December 31, but all this turkey has got me to thinking about— well, turkeys!  As in the worst movies of the year so far.

I won’t make any final picks until the 2016 calendar year comes to a close, but in the meantime, here’s a look at some nominees for the Worst Movies of 2016 so far.  Happy reading, and while you’re at it, please pass the stuffing!

THE FOREST- This weak horror movie wastes a potential frightening setting:  Japan’s Suicide Forest, a real place with real history, but this movie is about as far away from real as you can get.  Contrived and dull.

HAIL CAESAR! – A misfire from the Coen brothers.  This period piece about 1950s Hollywood looks great but the story is not cohesive nor are the laughs.  George Clooney’s comic timing is not taken advantage of, and Josh Brolin’s lead role is that of the straight man, so he doesn’t add to the laughs either.  Best scene features Scarlett Johansson and Jonah Hill.

THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY – Terribly unfunny comedy by Sacha Baron Cohen.  Nuff said about this turkey.

BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE –  That’s right.  This big budget DC superhero romp is one of the worst movies of the year. Neither the conflict between Batman and Superman nor its resolution ever become believable.  A very forced contrived story.  Best part:  Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.  Worst part:  Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.

HARDCORE HENRY – Gimmick sci fi actioner with the entire film shot from the protagonists point of view just doesn’t work.  Ulitmately a very boring movie.

THE DARKNESS – Horror film starring Kevin Bacon just isn’t very dark.  Yet another demonic entity proving bothersome to a once happy family.  This demon showed up when the family was on vacation at the Grand Canyon!

THE CONJURING 2 – Sadly, this sequel to THE CONJURING doesn’t come close to the original, in spite of the presence of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.  A particularly awful script. Director James Wan needs to move on to some new material.

MECHANIC:  RESURRECTION – pointless sequel to the Jason Statham actioner.  Statham returns as hitman Arthur Bishop, wasted in a completely ridiculous story.

BLAIR WITCH – Awful, awful sequel to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999). The less said about this one the better.

SHUT IN – Despite a terrific performance by Naomi Watts, this wannabe thriller is marred by a ridiculous story with one of the least satisfying and most unbelievable twists I’ve seen in a while.

Okie-dokie, that about does it so far.  Will any of these movies make my pick for the Worst Movie of 2016?  Or are there Worse Turkeys yet to come?

For the answer to that question, you’ll have to check back in January 2017.

Thanks for reading!

Gobble, gobble!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAFE SOCIETY (2016), Woody Allen’s Latest, Low Key Affair

0

cafe society poster

CAFE SOCIETY (2016), the latest film by Woody Allen, is a bittersweet love story set in Hollywood in the 1930s.

Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) leaves his family in the Bronx and sets out to make a name for himself, or at the very least, get a job, in Hollywood.  His mother  Rose (Jeannie Berlin) arranges for him to meet with his uncle Phil Stern (Steve Carell), who’s a successful Hollywood agent.  Phil hires Bobby as his personal errand boy, and he also introduces him to his secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart).  Phil asks Vonnie to show Bobby around town, which she happily does.

It doesn’t take long before Bobby falls for Vonnie, but she’s up front with him and tells him that although she likes him, she has a boyfriend.  As Bobby’s confidence grows, and as he receives a promotion at work where he’s now reading scripts, he vows not to give up on Vonnie, and it’s clear that Vonnie has feelings for him, too.  Things get more complicated when it’s revealed just who it is who Vonnie is seeing, and suddenly a rather uncomfortable triangle is formed.

CAFE SOCIETY presents us with three rather real and sympathetic characters, Bobby, Vonnie, and Phil, who are all likable enough so that you want all three of them to get what they want, yet they can’t. This part of the story works, and works well.

I’m not the biggest Jesse Eisenberg fan, but I enjoyed his performances in ZOMBIELAND (2009), NOW YOU SEE ME (2013), and AMERICAN ULTRA (2015).  On the other hand, he did little for me as Lex Luthor in BATMAN V SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016).  He’s OK here as Bobby, but in a role that Woody Allen himself may have played had this been written back in the 1960s, he’s much too subdued to make Bobby all that exciting.  Bobby clearly comes off as a nice guy, but not much else.  He’s nowhere near as manic or depressed as he needs to be, and for most of the film it’s a one note performance.

Kristen Stewart continues to grow on me as an actor.  Forgetting the TWILIGHT movies which I try as hard as I can to forget each and every day, Stewart has made good impressions in STILL ALICE (2014) which is my personal favorite Stewart performance, where she played the daughter of Julianne Moore’s alzheimer’s stricken Alice, and in AMERICAN ULTRA (2015) in which she also co-starred with Jesse Eisenberg.

She’s very good here in CAFE SOCIETY as Vonnie, and it’s easy to see why Bobby falls in love with her so quickly. In a Hollywood society filled with egos and pretensions, Vonnie is down to earth and practical, and she’s a breath of fresh air for Bobby in this strange land so far away from his New York home.  And so when she makes choices that don’t go in Bobby’s favor, he not only feels disappointed but betrayed, because her decisions stray so far from what she had led him to believe she was all about.

cafe-society-kiss

Bobby (Jesse Eisennberg) and Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) share a tender moment in CAFE SOCIETY (2016)

And yet it’s not hard to understand her decision.  She makes a choice which few women in her position in this time and place would be able to resist- to be with someone who had made it to the top in Hollywood and who would be able to give her a life she always dreamed of.

Stewart is also incredibly beautiful here, and the way Woody Allen photographed her throughout this movie, she has never looked more attractive.

cafe society kristen stewart

Kristen Stewart in CAFE SOCIETY (2016)

 

Steve Carell also plays it low key, delivering a much more subdued peformance than he did in last year’s THE BIG SHORT (2015).  But like Eisenberg and Stewart, he makes his character Phil Stern a genuine person.  Better yet, as Phil he rises above the standard Hollywood agent cliche.

Most of the laughs come from Bobby’s family back in the Bronx.  His very Jewish parents Rose (Jeannie Berlin) and Marty (Ken Stott) have some of the liveliest conversations in the movie, like when Marty tells his wife that she’s wrong, that he’s not clueless about death, that he won’t go quietly but that he’ll protest death, to which she says, “Protest to who?”  She also has a great line when their other son, a gangster, is facing the death penalty and as a result converts to Catholicism because it has an afterlife.  She laments “My son is going to the electric chair and he’s become a Christian.  I don’t know which is worse!”

Corey Stoll, nearly unrecognizable with a full head of hair, plays their gangster son Ben, and he too enjoys some of the movie’s more lively moments.  Then there’s Bobby’s caring Aunt Evelyn (Sari Lennick) and her philosophizing husband Leonard (Stephen Kunken) who sums up the theme of the movie when he paraphrases Socrates saying an unexamined life is not worth living but an examined life offers no assurances.

The characters in CAFE SOCIETY make decisions, some good and some questionable, but they go forward and deal with the ramifications of these decisions, even when these choices make their lives more difficult.  As expected, it’s a smart script by Woody Allen.

Blake Lively is also in the cast, and she’s quite enjoyable as the “other” Veronica who Bobby meets when he returns to New York.

CAFE SOCIETY looks great.  As a period piece, the film is perfect.  Woody Allen captures the look and feel of 1930s Hollywood to a T.

As such, the script works best as a period piece love story rather than a comedy.  There are certainly funny moments in the movie, but they mostly serve as comic relief to the love triangle drama.  The funniest bits, as you would expect in a Woody Allen movie, come in the convesations about death.

I liked CAFE SOCIETY, as I like most of Woody Allen’s movies.  That being said, it doesn’t rank with his best films, as it is a low key affair, but it still makes for a relaxing and diverting 90 minutes at the movies.

—END—

 

AMERICAN ULTRA (2015) Is A One-Joke Movie, But It’s a Good Joke

0

Here’s my review of AMERICAN ULTRA (2015) published at cinemaknifefight.com this past weekend.

—Michael

 

MOVIE REVIEW:  AMERICAN ULTRA (2015)

By Michael ArrudaAmerican Ultra poster

 What do you get when you cross THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002) with ZOMBIELAND (2009) or any other Jesse Eisenberg movie for that matter?

You get AMERICAN ULTRA (2015), an action comedy that puts Eisenberg and his now recognizable shtick- the super smart socially awkward yet likable guy who can charm women and flip off men in the same sentence and be eloquent about it— into a Jason Bourne plot.  Now, I like Eisenberg and his style of humor, and so for the most part I liked this movie.  It’s held back only by a story that isn’t good enough for its two main characters.

AMERICAN ULTRA stars Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart as a young couple in love, seemingly held back from getting anywhere in life because Eisenberg’s character is a stoner who spends most of his life getting high, but Stewart’s character loves him all the same.

Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) works at a small grocery store and that’s about as good as it gets for him.  He does have a beautiful girlfriend Phoebe Larson (Kristen Stewart) who loves him to a fault, and she seems content and happy to love him just the way he is.  Mike wants to propose to Phoebe, but he never seems to find the right time or place.  He also spends his free time doodling, sketching and writing a comic about a superhero monkey.

And that’s his life, until one day two men show up at his store and try to kill him, but before they do, he jumps into assassin mode and quickly makes short work of them.  Confused and frightened, he calls Phoebe, and she rushes to his aid, only to be arrested with him once the police arrive at the scene. But their time in a jail cell is short-lived as more hitmen show up and storm the police station, wiping out everyone except for Mike and Phoebe who manage to escape once again.

While Mike has no idea what is going on or why he can suddenly morph into a deadly assassin— he fears he’s a robot— we the audience do know because we’ve already met the hot shot CIA department head Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) who’s decided that Mike is a liability to the agency and must be eliminated, a decision which doesn’t sit well with Mike’s handler Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton).  Feeling responsible for Mike, since she’s the woman behind the program which created him, Victoria decides to cross her boss and help Mike elude the CIA assassins assigned to eliminate him.

The rest of the movie follows Mike and Phoebe’s efforts to evade their killers while Mike tries to learn who he is and why he is a killing machine.

The best part of AMERICAN ULTRA is the performances by the two leads, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart.  They work really well together, and they are very believable as young lovers caught in a deadly situation.

If you don’t like Eisenberg and his brand of humor, you might not enjoy him as much as I did, but I found him funny throughout.  Of course, we’ve seen him do this same shtick in films like ZOMBIELAND and NOW YOU SEE ME (2013), but I like it.  He’s also believable when he breaks into assassin mode.  As Mike Howell, he’s basically Jason Bourne with a conscience and a sense of humor.

Kristen Stewart is also excellent as Phoebe.  This is the second film in a row in which she impressed me, as I saw her in the Julianne Moore Oscar winning movie STILL ALICE (2014) on Blu-ray recently, where she played Moore’s daughter.  I’m just very happy she’s finally done with the TWILIGHT movies.  She’s so much better when she’s not in those films.

I really enjoyed her here, as she really nails the role of a woman so in love with a guy that she could give a care about his shortcomings.  It was a nice performance to watch, and an easy character to like.  I think of all us would like to have someone like that in our lives, someone who stands by us no matter what.  Stewart also enjoys some memorable comic moments, like when she chastises Mike for some bone-headed moves like pointing out to the man chasing them that he dropped his gun, and also for stopping when one of the assassins pursuing them called his name.

But the high praise for AMERICAN ULTRA stops here, because other than Eisenberg and Stewart, the rest of the film just isn’t as good.  Mind you, it’s not bad, but it’s definitely several notches below where it should be.

For starters, the single biggest thing holding AMERICAN ULTRA back is its story, which unlike the character of Mike Howell, isn’t creative or imaginative.  Mike Howell realizes he’s secretly an assassin, but doesn’t know how or why, and there are dangerous people trying to kill him while he tries to find answers to his situation.  This is basically the same plot as THE BOURNE IDENTITY.

But at least the plot in THE BOURNE IDENTITY was solid.  Here, the answers to Mike’s questions make little sense.  The reason that Mike is being hunted is because CIA agent Adrian Yates played by Topher Grace has decided on his own that Mike is a liability, based only on the fact that Mike is supposed to remain in town yet he constantly tries to leave.  But trying and doing are two separate things, and Mike never leaves, so I don’t see the problem. Anyway Yates basically sends in an entire military unit when his first assassins fail, in effect blowing up whole sections of the town.  He eventually has to quarantine the entire place and come up with a cover story about a pandemic to satisfy the media and the public.  So much for a quiet covert operation.  The whole thing just isn’t credible, and Yates comes off as a complete moron.

It’s as if writer Max Landis, who wrote the screenplay, decided to put Jesse Eisenberg into a Bourne-style plot without coming up with a credible storyline.  Landis also wrote the screenplay for the science fiction film CHRONICLE (2012), a film that was more of a complete package than AMERICAN ULTRA.

One of the reasons AMERICAN ULTRA isn’t a complete package is the story never moves beyond Mike trying to learn his true identity.  The film plays like an origin story, as it simply tells the story of how Mike came to be an assassin.  Forget the origin story already!  How about just throwing these two interesting lead characters into an original creative plot?  It would have been much more exciting watching Eisenberg and Stewart using their talents to do something other than just run away from hit men.

Director Nima Nourizadeh, who also directed the comedy PROJECT X (2012), a film I didn’t like at all, fares better here with AMERICAN ULTRA, although that’s not saying much.  The film is slick and nicely paced, and the action scenes all decent, but things never go as far as they should.  For example, ZOMBIELAND had a crazy frenetic visual style that matched Eisenberg’s humor, with words on the screen and other over-the-top touches.  None of that kind of thing is present here in AMERICAN ULTRA.  For a film like this it’s all rather subdued.

It tries to get violent and earn its R rating, and so there is plenty of blood spilled when bad guys are shot and stabbed, but it’s the type of blood that is CGI-created and exceedingly fake-looking.  It’s reaching the point where the bloodless violence in PG-13 films is starting to be more effective because the blood shown in these R rated movies looks like it belongs in a cartoon.  Go figure.

The rest of the cast doesn’t fare as well as Eisenberg and Stewart either.  Topher Grace plays CIA agent turned villain Adrian Yates so over-the-top he’s laughable, and not in a good way. He’s about as effective a villain as Loki in the Marvel movies.  Like Loki, he’s just not on the same level as the heroes which he’s trying to defeat.

While Connie Britton does a nice job as CIA agent Victoria Lasseter who’s sympathetic to Mike’s situation and risks her life and career to help him, she’s still stuck in a ridiculous storyline that is not very believable.  I just never bought what the CIA was doing in this movie.  Sending in a lone sniper or assassin, yeah, I could buy that, but the military?  Of course, Lasseter says pretty much the same thing, which goes back to my point that Yates is a buffoon and an inferior villain not worthy of our main characters’ time.

Bill Pullman shows up near the end as the gruff CIA head honcho who arrives to clean up the entire mess, but like the rest of the CIA plot in this one, he’s over-the-top and pretty much a caricature, and his presence in this movie does little to help it other than to reinforce its poor choice of storytelling.

Walton Goggins is on hand as one of the assassins, a killer named Laugher, because he laughs all the time, and he’s not bad, but we’ve seen him do this sort of thing before, and he’s been better at it, in films like DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) and MACHETE KILLS (2013).  For the record, Goggins was also in THE BOURNE IDENTITY.

John Leguizamo plays Mike’s drug supplier Rose, and he’s good for a few laughs, although the role never rises above cliché.  And I thought Stuart Greer was quite good as Sheriff Watts, a character grounded in reality— unlike the CIA folks in this one— who seems to genuinely care for Mike even as he tries to keep him off the streets and in a jail cell.

AMERICAN ULTRA is a one joke move. Let’s put Jesse Eisenberg into a BOURNE style plot and see what happens. Fortunately, it’s a good joke, and Eisenberg is up to the task. He also receives outstanding support from co-star Kristen Stewart who’s every bit his equal in this movie.  Unfortunately, they’re about it, as the rest of the film never quite matches what they bring to the table.

Eisenberg and Stewart play two compelling, enjoyable, and oftentimes humorous characters who deserve to be in a better movie, and if this one does well, perhaps they’ll have their chance in a sequel.  I’d be happy to see them again.  It’s just too bad that the “better movie” didn’t happen the first time.

How much you like this one probably depends on how much you like Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart.  I find myself liking them quite a bit these days, and they are the main reason I liked AMERICAN ULTRA.

—END—