My 10 Least Favorite Movies of 2016

You should never take negativity into the new year. So before the calendar turns, let’s get the countdown of the worst movies in 2016 out of the way. As always, I don’t get a chance to catch every movie, and the bad flicks slip through the cracks way more than the good ones do. So there are plenty of movies that won’t make this list because I never got around to wasting my time watching them. Also, full disclosure: If you’re looking for movies like Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, or Passengers, there’s a difference between disappointing and virtually unwatchable so those 2-hour balls of depression managed to miss the cut. Click on the title to get the full review. And of course, have a happy and safe New Year everyone.

  1. OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY

Office Christmas Party seems to inefficiently operate with the idea that loud and outrageous always equals funny. It doesn’t”

  1. ANGRY BIRDS

everything… about the film, from its relatively flat sight gags and slapstick humor to the overly kinetic plot, is an absolute mess. The story flows like a concept being pitched by an imaginative 4th grader who’s making it all up as he’s playing the game for the first time”

  1. WARCRAFT

a bland script and a plot void of any real surprises gives us a cast of generic characters that lack the charm or unique qualities to make them stand out as memorable. The result is a movie that struggles to make anyone care who, like me, never played the games.”

  1. RIDE ALONG 2

“Ride Along 2 just isn’t funny and like its predecessor, relies on the same tricks to try and justify its existence.”

  1. KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES

“It almost feels like a Saturday Night Live parody of something more interesting. The plot has no twists or unexpected turns making it feel like something written in a day”

  1. THE DIVERGENT SERIES: ALLEGIANT

“Allegiant isn’t quite as droll as Insurgent, but it is bad for entirely new, avoidable reasons. Shoddy CGI and a few segments of noticeable green screen make the movie look cringe worthy in certain spots”

  1. GODS OF EGYPT

“this movie manages to be chocked full of as many plot holes as action sequences…  The fact that the film is poorly cast, filled with hardly relevant/unlikable characters that do idiotic things, and is about 30 minutes too long all make for an unpleasant overall experience.”

  1. WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS

“These movies usually involve stalker tendencies, blackmail, and the inevitable violent showdown at the end, but this movie does the bare minimum to even qualify as a thriller. I gave The Perfect Guy an ‘F’ last year, and this movie is significantly less watchable.”

  1. THE BOSS

“This may very well be McCarthy’s worst film. I spent the first 45 minutes waiting to laugh and even after the movie was over I had trouble recollecting a single funny moment.”

  1. INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE

“I searched myself for over 24 hours for something enjoyable about this film. Make no mistake, Independence Day: Resurgence is a loud, clumsy and hollow sequel that taints the legacy of its predecessor.”

HONORABLE MENTION: Now You See Me 2, The Legend of Tarzan, The Perfect Match

 

Passengers (Full Review)

1 + 1 = 2. Simple math. But movies don’t work that way. One great actor, plus another great actor, plus an intriguing concept should equate to a good movie. Unfortunately, sometimes even when a film has all of these factors working for it, a multitude of other things can keep it from being as triumphant as we want it to be. Passengers, is an ‘A’ movie concept, with ‘C’ level execution.

passengers_2016_film_posterThe film takes place in a distant future where space ships ferry humans off to live on different colonized worlds. These trips take decades and often centuries, so the passengers are meant to be kept in cryogenic sleep until they’re months away from their destination. Enter Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), one of over 5,000 passengers aboard the Avalon. Jim is awakened 90 years too soon from his cryogenic sleep after the Avalon collides with a meteor that triggers a slow wave of malfunctions. With an android bar tender as his only companion (Martin Sheen), Jim slowly falls into a deep depression with the realization that he cannot be put back to sleep. That is until journalist Aurora Lane (Jenifer Lawrence) is also awakened. Alone on a randomly malfunctioning ship, the two fall in love until a dark secret threatens their relationship.

The best thing the film has going for it is Chris Pratt. Pratt has the charisma to carry a movie on his own and manages to personify all of the most emotional moments in the movie much better than his co-star. Lawrence isn’t bad by any stretch and the two have wonderful chemistry that makes their love story seem genuine, which is important considering there aren’t many other characters ever on screen. But, Jennifer Lawrence’s Aurora seems a bit boring and the movie could almost be more interesting without her. Her presence and the montage that depicts the happier moments of their romance, actually manage to undermine the more enjoyable Cast Away-like tone that the movie establishes when it’s just Pratt onscreen.

But the most significant reason Passengers disappoints revolves around the film’s latter half. The philosophically intriguing twist that engulfs the movie’s middle is barely explored and seemingly tossed aside in the end to make things feel happier, but much more formulaic. The feelings and moral complexities conjured between the characters as a result of the twist could’ve and should’ve been the focal point of the movie. Instead, it feels like a footnote on a film that is essentially Space Titanic.

The climax is filled with action sequences as the two try to fix the ship in ways that seem preposterous even for a science fiction film. Then there’s Laurence FIshburne’s wasted character Gus, the ship’s captain. The character is a commanding, yet calming presence, but isn’t onscreen long enough to be anything other than a plot device meant to forward the arc of the main actors.

The effects are solid and there are plenty of exciting moments to go along with the solid performances. But Passengers could’ve been a film as psychologically stimulating as Arrival. Instead it settles for being a Nicolas Sparks movie with a generic blockbuster ending. And while that may be entertaining for some, it’s disappointing for anyone who hoped to see something unique.

FINAL GRADE: C

La La Land (Full Review)

There’s something about old Hollywood films that feels wholesome and fun. These nostalgic films are what birthed the modern film industry, and although musicals are still relatively prevalent, films like Singin’ In the Rain (or any film starring Gene Kelly) have essentially died off. La La Land, directed and written by Damien Chazelle, is a gorgeous modern day throw back to those vibrant musicals of old.

la_la_landThe film follows a pair of struggling artists in Los Angeles; Mia (Emma Stone) a barista who is an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a pianist who dreams of opening his own jazz bar. After a few chance meetings, the two begin a fun and exciting romance that is tested as they chase their lofty career goals.

There is so much to not just like, but love about La La Land. For starters, any musical needs to have good music. And the music in this film is energetic and infused with soulful jazz and wonderful choreography. This should come as no surprise if you’ve ever seen Damien Chazelle’s directorial debut, Whiplash. The wonderful array of music is aided by colorful scenery and well maneuvered cinematography that make the film feel like a Broadway show.

The two lead actors are both sensational. Emma Stone is loveable and earnest throughout while Ryan Gosling’s signature passion and charisma shines through every scene. The two are so good and their chemistry so electric, that you can easily forgive their descent, but not great vocal performances.

The movie’s biggest flaw, a relatively cliché love story, is even rectified with a beautifully crafted ending that feels both happy and heartbreakingly real. With liveliness and magnetic performances, La La Land manages to be an homage and a revitalization of Old Hollywood filmmaking. Flowing with romance, comedy and soulful music from start to finish, it is a triumph and one of the most enjoyable films of the year.

FINAL GRADE: A

 

 

Sing (Full Review)

It’s been quite the year for animated movies. Disney set the bar high with three fantastic films in Zootopia, Finding Dory, and Moana. But Illumination (the folks behind the Despicable Me franchise) showed that they could create a fun film without minions with this summer’s Secret Life of Pets. Now they close out the year with Sing, an exciting concept aided by a stellar voice cast.

sing_2016_film_posterSing is the simple story of Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), a down on his luck koala bear whose rundown theater is about to be taken due to bankruptcy. His last ditch effort is to have a singing competition with a collection of vocally talented locals. There’s Johnny (Taron Egerton), the gorilla son of an unsupportive gangster father, Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) a stressed pig housewife with 25 kids, Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a teenage porcupine who is chosen for the competition over her jealous guitar playing boyfriend, Mike (Seth McFarlane) a rude crooning street rat, Meena (Tori Kelly), an elephant with a massive case of stage fright, and a confidently flamboyant German pig named Gunter (Nick Kroll). With a talented group, Buster is poised to prove his sheep best friend (John C. Reilly) wrong, if only his elderly iguana secretary (Garth Jennings) hadn’t accidentally put a $100,000 reward on the audition flyers.

The movie breaks no new narrative ground, but that isn’t the purpose of Sing. Instead, it’s a thoroughly wonderful experience because of the different characters and their arcs. They are all interesting, funny, and loveable. And the music is sensational. If you aren’t familiar with the vocal splendor of Tori Kelly, then you’ll be in for a marvelous surprise. Her voice is angelic and her shy, wholesome character is the heart and soul of a film filled with soulful characters.

The holidays should be about family and fun, and for that reason Sing manages to be a triumph without any fresh twists or turns. It delivers what it promises and gives some hefty laughs and heartwarming moments along the way. So while it might not be Academy award worthy, anyone who comes out of Sing without a smile on their face went in for the wrong reasons.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Holiday Quick Reviews

trolls_film_logoTROLLS One of the most popular children’s toys of the 90’s becomes a kids movie, ‘cause why not? Anna Kendrick stars as Poppie, princess of the happy-go lucky singing trolls who must team up with surly troll Branch (Justin Timberlake) to rescue her friends from big goblins who believe that eating the trolls are the only way to be happy. The movie is filled with covers of popular songs and a message about true happiness being something that comes from within not from what you put into your body or what you materially gain.

Filled with bright colors and enough pep to make even the most whimsical person gag a little, Trolls can be a bit much to any viewer over the age of five. Most of it I found downright annoying (the Trolls literally hug every hour). The plot, which feels almost exactly like the Smurfs, doesn’t take very many risks and none of the supporting characters do anything of significance. So while it may be a movie to take your kids to, if you don’t have any little ones, you might want to pass. FINAL GRADE: C

allied_filmALLIED Brad Pitt stars as Max, a Canadian spy who infiltrates Casablanca with a French spy (Marian Cotillard) named Marianne on a mission to assassinate a Nazi general. While posing as husband and wife, the two fall in love and once their mission is over, they marry in London and give birth to a baby girl in the midst of World War II. A year later, Max’s superiors suspect that his wife is actually a German spy and give him orders to kill her if their suspicions turn out to be true.

The film is intriguing throughout and carries a mysterious tone that makes it a worthy thriller. The problems stem from the relationship between Pitt and Cotillard’s characters. The two are great actors with solid chemistry, but the romance never truly has time to develop. Everything seems rushed in the beginning so it takes Pitt’s amicably desperate performance to even make us care whether Marianne lives or dies. Things wrap up well in the climax, but a better conceived construction of the romance would’ve made the film stand out much more. FINAL GRADE: B

nocturnal_animals_posterNOCTURNAL ANIMALS This dark and gritty film stars Amy Adams as Susan Morrow, an art gallery owner who’s marriage to a wealthy businessman (Armie Hammer) is slowly fading. One day, Susan receives an early copy of her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal)’s novel, Nocturnal Animals. In the story within a story, a husband (Gyllenhaal) on a road trip encounters thugs (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who kidnap his wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter, forcing him to get the help of a local sheriff (Michael Shannon) to find them. As Susan reads the violently grim story, she begins to notice the undertones that hearken to her past relationship.

There’s a way to be poignant and powerful without being overtly graphic. And here, director Tom Ford (yes the fashion designer) doesn’t seem to know whether he’s making a drama, a thriller, or a horror film. The overall narrative is void of subtlety and he seems hell bent on beating you over the head with blunt imagery that horrifies more than intrigues culminating in an equally depressing, albeit fitting, climax. The performances are strong, and sure, not all movie need to have a happy message, but watching a film should never feel as uncomfortable as it does here. FINAL GRADE: C-

office_christmas_partyOFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY It isn’t the holidays without a Rated-R holiday comedy. This year’s designated film in the genre unites an all-star cast  (Jenifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, Kate McKinnon, T.J. Miller, and Courtney B. Vance) in an outrageous twist on a holiday tradition. In the film, a failing software company seeks to avoid the closing of their branch by wooing a high end client with a Project X style party in their New York office building.

But, this isn’t remotely as charismatic or fun as Project X. None of the characters seem to have chemistry and most of them aren’t effective in this style of comedy. The ones that are (specifically Miller and McKinnon) seem bogged down by a script that doesn’t know how to flesh out characters. Even the party scenes that are supposed to be hilarious, seem recycled or forced. Last year’s The Night Before was a goofy, but fun romp that gave each of it’s leads time to be funny in their own way, but Office Christmas Party seems to inefficiently operate with the idea that loud and outrageous always equals funny. It doesn’t. FINAL GRADE: D

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Full Review)

Even if you like the Star Wars prequel trilogy, it’s hard to ignore why many don’t. The characters were never as charismatic or likeable as the ones from the original films and the overkill on CGI made the universe feel less tangible. But never fear prequel haters, now Disney is in charge of Lucasfilm and their here to right the wrongs in the form of spinoff films like Rogue One.

rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_posterRogue One focuses on the events leading up to the very first Star Wars film (Episode IV: A New Hope). The Evil Empire has just finished their planet destroying super weapon known as The Death Star with the forced aid of a brilliant engineer named Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). Little do they know, Galen has created a weakness in the Death Star and has sent message to his long lost daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones), on how to access it. Now, the rebellion’s only hope lies in Jyn and a motley crew of rebels to steal the schematics before an Imperial General (Ben Mendelsohn) can track them down.

Rogue One does in two hours what the prequels failed to do in three movies. It perfectly molds an intricate yet acutely focused plot seamlessly into the overall Star Wars mythos while also delivering characters that are memorable and endearing. The evenly paced story is perhaps the most well written since The Empire Strikes Back. From a blind warrior fateful to the force (Donnie Yen) to a rebel assassin (Diego Luna), to an Imperial deserter looking for redemption (Riz Ahmed), each character is well rounded and poignant. Alan Tudyk’s performance as K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial droid, brings excellent comedic timing and a dry wit that rivals only R2-D2 in loveable Star Wars lore.

There is plenty of fan service to go around too. The film is packed with several cameos and easter eggs as well as a brief but memorable scene that exemplifies why Darth Vader is such an imposing character. But most importantly, despite piggy backing on the original Star Wars several times, it manages to feels like it’s own film. If the primary films are considered a space opera, then Rogue One puts the ‘War’ in Star Wars. The thrilling final act feels like Saving Private Ryan in a galaxy far far away.

I enjoyed The Force Awakens, but even I had to admit that it’s story arc felt too much like a retread. But Rogue One delivers  something original and gripping while still feeling like a missing piece of a larger whole. With a fantastic cast of characters, gorgeous scenery, and riveting action sequences in droves, Rogue One succeeds in being the prequel Star Wars film diehard fans have been waiting for as well as an entertaining ride for anyone who enjoys a good war epic.

FINAL GRADE: A

Ranking The STAR WARS Films

Disney is in full Star Wars mode for the next five years or so. So it seems like a good time to officially rank all of the films in the saga as I see fit just before the release of Rogue One. So, here it is… the definitive (and by definitive, I mean completely my opinion) rank of the Star Wars films.

 

7. EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONESstar_wars_-_episode_ii_attack_of_the_clones_movie_poster

Make no mistake, this is the worst Star Wars film. Even the moments that should’ve been great (An army of Jedi in battle) are bogged down by mediocre cinematography. But what really makes Episode II the worst and almost an unwatchable film after its first viewing, is the cringeworthy romance narrative between Padme (Natlaie Portman) and Anakin (Bad acting Hayden Christenson). Throw in George Lucas’ over indulgence with CGI and Attack of the Clones (Which is also a lousy title) is easily the low note of the franchise. GRADE: D+

 

6. EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE

star_wars_phantom_menace_poster

This movie had loads of potential. Darth Maul (Ray Park) is a bad ass with a double bladed lightsaber. Liam Neeson gets to play a Jedi. John Williams’ epic score. And Pod racing. But the movie is hampered by an overly convoluted plot about trade negotiations. Darth Maul is underutilized and Jake Lloyd is a bad child actor as young Anakin Skywalker.  Oh, and there’s this guy. The worst character maybe in any sci-fi franchise. GRADE: C-

5. RETURN OF THE JEDI
returnofthejediposter1983

I have a love hate relationship with this movie. On one hand, I love the climactic battle between Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Darth Vader.  I also love every scene with Yoda (Frank Oz). But the Ewoks are awful. Tiny teddy bears defeating an army with sticks and rocks? C’mon. I’m also not a fan of the overly drawn out opening that sees Luke and the gang rescuing Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from Jaba the Hutt. It’s a part that also gives Boba Fett (a potentially awesome character that never really does anything) an anti-climactic end. The final Death Star sequence is also too much of a retread of the original ending. GRADE: B-

4. EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH
star_wars_episode_iii_revenge_of_the_sith_poster

This movie is a massive step above the other prequels but it still has some major flaws. Most of the issues I have are with Hayden Christensen’s acting. And although the film has a wonderfully dark tone, the transition from Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader happens way too suddenly. One minute he’s snitching on the evil Emperor Palpatine, the next minute he’s killing kids? Anywho… the movie did have great action sequences like the opening space battle and the final fight scene between Anakin and Obi Wan (Ewen McGregor). And Ian McDiarmid’s performance as the Emperor goes down as one of the best portrayal’s in the franchise. GRADE: B

3. THE FORCE AWAKENS

star_wars_the_force_awakens_theatrical_poster

Yes, I know. There are too many things in this movie, such as the climax where they basically have to blow up another Death Star, that are retreads from the original. But I absolutely love the characters. All of the newcomers have wonderful chemistry and the villain, Kylo Ren, is given much more weight and emotion to his character than any other villain in the Star Wars saga not named Darth Vader. Combine that with some fun nostalgic moments and J.J. Abrams adding his excellent filmmaking expertise, and The Force Awakens is arguably the most fun Star Wars film since the original. GRADE: A-

2. STAR WARS (EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE)

starwarsmovieposter1977

The original certainly gets extra credit for being the original and by all means, the first Star Wars is groundbreaking.  Although many of the effects are dated, it is a bit dull for much of the first half hour (Mainly because I hate C-3PO), and the lone lightsaber duel between Obi-Wan Kinobi and Darth Vader is also terrible in comparison to the other films, the plot is great and there are many iconic scenes such as any involving Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon. More importantly, the original film laid the foundation for an incredibly vast and interesting cinematic universe. GRADE: A-

2. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

sw_-_empire_strikes_back

Not only is this the best Star Wars film by a mile, it’s one of the best sci-fi films ever created. There is absolutely nothing to dislike about it. From the scope of Hoth and Cloud City to the drama of Luke Skywalker fighting Darth Vader for the first time, this movie is what Star Wars is meant to be; exciting and emotional. It’s paced beautifully and has a fantastic ending despite the fact that it actually ends on a somber note. It also introduces Yoda, so that’s always a plus. GRADE: A+

 

So there you have it. Hopefully Rogue One and next winter’s Episode VIII will find themselves on the high end of this list.  Feel free to comment below with your thoughts and (polite) criticisms blasting me for my blasphemous misplacement of Return of the Jedi. Until then… may the force be with you and Happy Holidays!