Lazy sequels, uninspired adaptations, and Matt Damon. Noah and Brian count down the worst films of 2017.
How can a 95 minute film feel so bloated? The Dark Tower is not only an insipid franchise starter. Not only is it completely lifeless. Not only is it nonsensical and muddled to the highest degree. NOT ONLY is it dreadfully dull and monotone in every aspect of its filmmaking. But The Dark Tower wastes giving Idris Elba a proper blockbuster to lead. That might be its greatest sin of all.
Unlike many of the films on this list, there might be reason to have another King Arthur film. The story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is ripe for cinematic adventure. And there wasn’t any reason Legend of the Sword had to be awful. I mean, Guy Richie’s take on Sherlock Holmes was very well received (even if I didn’t care for it). But his take on King Arthur feels like a mash-up of Guy Richie’s sensibilities, a generic blockbuster formula, and a traditional medieval story. But instead of trying to work together, a hallmark of the Knights of the Round Table, each aspect seems to be fighting each other for dominance. The outcome is a film that doesn’t care about its comprehension, being coherence, or its audience.
Boy, what a group of people this movie has. The cast, the writers, the director, it’s all there. And yet something felt off. Even from the trailers you could help but wonder; “Why does this look stupid?” And we marched on with hope against hope that all these lovely, talented people could pull it out in the end. But no, The Circle is a lazy, wanna-be sociopolitical thriller. Possibly it’s most shocking issue is how misguided it seems to be about the horrors of its premise. Technology companies can track you, listen to you, and see you, all through the various platforms and devices we use. Yeah. We know. It would be the equivalent to a film being about a group of people who stumble onto what happens when you poison yourself and the shocking outcome is you die. The Circle is a film about how much we allow technology into our lives and how dangerous that can be. It’s a noble goal. It’s just 10 years too late.
As a lover of the first film and a staunch defender of its trilogy completing sequels (they are visually and thematically ambitious storytelling that strived to be more than cash-in sequels) I completely ignored the clear cash-in fourth film. When I did watch it months later I completely forgot about it as soon as the credits rolled (there were mermaids and Penelope Cruz, I think). So why did I think this would be any different? Maybe the directors (indie filmmakers coming off the critically acclaimed Kon-Tiki? Maybe the okay cast (Javier Bardem is great and I like Kaya Scodelario fine)? Maybe the prospect of a cameo from Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan? Was I just in the mood for a pirate movie? Chances are it was just the fun to be had with the ridiculously long title. But some amusing set pieces aside, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (See, FUN!) is bland and uninspired. It’s boring and lacks any real humor. It is missing a sense of adventure. The very things that made the first film a phenomenon 14 years ago.
Why waste an actress as talented as Scarlett Johansson? I haven’t seen the original Ghost in the Shell but I could certainly feel the pain of its die hard fans. Remaking a classic isn’t as easy as remaking a classic. Remakes provide the opportunity for expansion, for a deep dive into a story. When you don’t do that and you move your story at a sluggish pace, use seemingly recycled visuals, and have some odd Hollywood racial undertones, well, you lose your audience. Whether they’ve seen the original or not.
Complete emptiness is all that can be found in Return of Xander Cage. And listen, it wasn’t going to be exactly hard to top 2002’s xXx. This really should have been a no-brainer since they essentially copied the winning format of Ludacris’ Fast and Furious franchise. I mean, you got a globe-trotting adventure, exotic locals, and side characters who immediately outshine the film’s star. But there is no fun here. Terrible dialogue, shoddy direction, simply average action sequences. And while the Fast and Furious franchise took it’s time to build its characters and their relationships to its current electric chemistry; xXx iIi forces the situation. The cast trades jokes, insults, camaraderie, and love with such force and desperation that it’s almost depressing to watch. So here we have a film that is no fun to watch and, at times, even depressing. Not the welcome back party Xander was hoping for.
What happened here? On paper this is a top 10 film of the year. Suburbicon is a misfire on all accounts. It’s a terribly plotted and paced thriller, a seemingly weird film trapped in a convention bubble. Oscar Isaac, in his roughly 5 minutes of screen time, is the only thing that pops. A cruelty resides over the picture which only illuminates the fact this film wants to be a comedy. But there are too few jokes and so many set pieces played very straight. All this, plus a horrendously misguided subplot about a black family being terrorized by their white neighbors. Seemingly included to show the irony of “white people problem,” in the end, it just comes off as an inhumanity on the film’s part. Suburbicon even outright plays against it attempt at a social message when you realize the film is loosely based on a true story of a black family moving to a white neighborhood, being terrorized for days, and standing their ground. Yet THAT was the subplot of a movie about a white family murdering each other. I mean….
I will say this off the bat: The Book of Henry gets points for chutzpah. This is an original, possibly kid friendly, live action feature. That’s something we don’t really get anymore. Add that to the fact that the plot and sequences of events in this film are insane, and I gotta say: it’s nice they tried. Having said that, The Book of Henry is completely nuts. We have tired clichés of the family drama and supposedly arresting suspense and intense moral quandaries and children’s comedy and nearly STRAIGHT UP MURDER. There is so much that happens in The Book of Henry and so fast that it would almost make so much more sense if this film was 3 hours long. We need time to breathe. This film is all over the place. This is a nonsensical experience. Henry knows his mom is so stupid that when he tells her to turn right on his recording he knows to correct her ‘cause she’ll go left? What was he going to do if he didn’t see the gun shop owner get bullied by the mobster? Why was Lee Pace’s doctor character a thing? She was really about to murder that guy? Were there no other options to bring him to justice? That revealing dance! Was Sarah Silverman in love with Henry? Is Naomi Watts going to murder her next? Shouldn’t they move by the end? If Henry was so smart, how come he’s dead? I could go on and on, and I do want to point out how much fun this movie is to watch with someone who’s in on the joke too. But make no mistake this is a disaster. And yes it’s bad, and yes, it’s one of the worst movies of the year, but by god, did these people have the guts to make it. Good for them, ultimately, bad for us.
I have seen maybe 3 of the six Resident Evil films. I’m not even really sure. And I only point this out to stress the fact that this film doesn’t rank of my worst of list because I haven’t seen the entire Resident Evil story unfold. And normally I might just brush this film off as an “Eh, whatever, it’s for the fans” entry, but the decisions made by these characters are so stupid that it’s almost maddening. The dialogue, performances, pace, twists, and nearly everything else wrong with this film aside; the actions taken by the characters are absurd. How can I root for the heroes when I am consistently yelling “WHAT?” and “WHY?” and “COME ON!” I can’t. And if nothing else for a film like Resident Evil: The Final Chapter you have to least be on the side of its main characters. I wasn’t.
What makes The Snowman the worst film of 2017 is simply that it does not seem to care. This isn’t to say the actors and artists who made the film didn’t. But what’s on that screen seems to be a total indifference to its audience. The fact that the director, himself, said that 10%-15% of this story wasn’t even filmed due to time restraints is quite telling. The filmmakers must have known, sitting in the editing room, that the film is incoherent, that the story doesn’t make sense. Why show it to us? Why release the film and create trailers to entice an audience that you know will leave unsatisfied and confused? There are other grave problems with The Snowman; a lack of suspense, the treatment of its women characters, the insane high-tech tablet that keeps showing up but is essentially a laptop from 1989. But to shoot, edit, market, and release a film that is not done and does not make sense is insulting to the audience. And as a lover of film and a member of said audience I take offense.
Wow, a downright terrible Matt Damon movie. It happens to the best of ‘em, I guess. Downsizing is an egregious waste of potential. A good cast, good director, and good concept came together to amount to exactly nothing at all. There’s a joke to be made about Downsizing taking its potential and downsizing it, but I refuse to spend more time workshopping it than the movie did on integrating its novel concept into the plot, so it will remain untold. There is no reason the people had to be made really little. None. Every single element of the plot could have been told just as (in)effectively had Matt Damon remained Matt Damon-sized. Matt Damon and Kristin Wiig move to a fancy new house. She divorces him, he moves to shitty apartment. He befriends a weird smuggler upstairs. He meets one of the smuggler’s maids. Recognizing her from the news, he befriends her and helps her. The world starts to end. He retreats to a bunker. None of it had to be small. All we wanted was that scene with the cracker where the cracker was really big now, but as a movie. Is that too much to ask?
Man, seriously, fuck origin stories.
Stop. Stop. It’s already dead. Regardless of how one feels about them, the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films were a bona fide achievement. The Curse of the Black Pearl was a masterpiece of blockbuster moviemaking. Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End, while uneven, were a part of a greater whole. Disney made a grand trilogy, if also a very messy one, and that deserves commendation. But sleeping dogs may never lie. Rather than ride the laurels of their success into a new project, the Powers That Be gave us On Stranger Tides, which was a competent facsimile of the first three movies. It checked all the boxes: adventure was sought, buckles were swashed, and Jack Sparrow flailed about more than ever. But the heart of it all was missing, perhaps buried in a jar in the sand somewhere far away. An ok time was had by some, and the dogs once again said, “Let us sleep. We are tired.” But alas. Then came Dead Men Tell No Tales, which is less a misguided recreation than it is a Pet Cemetery style resurrection. The fun is gone. The humor is gone. The heart has been dug out of its jar and stabbed. Jack Sparrow completes his transition from film’s most exciting character to its most looney and obnoxious. Even the title is a joke. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is so clumsy and cumbersome that it’s hard to know what to say. It’s a parody of a parody, but instead of being funny, it’s dead inside.
The Dark Tower feels like an exercise in bad faith. It is next to impossible to believe anybody involved thought the story they were trying to tell could even approach coherent, let alone compelling, in ~90 minutes. Everything about this movie exists entirely at surface level. What was the intention here? A quality film? An entry point into a new Cinematic Universe? It feels more like a movie made at gunpoint.
Jeez, rough year for Matt Damon. The promise of The Great Wall was certainly intriguing. A big budget blockbuster from China? Surely they have a slightly different take on popcorn entertainment than we have in America. If nothing else, it will certainly be refreshing. However, this was not to be. The reality, as is so often the case, is that none of us are all that different. In The Great Wall, the Chinese method of busting blocks is just as bland, dull, and uninteresting as the American one.
There is a scene in xXx: Return of Xander Cage that serves as a microcosm of everything wrong with the movie. Xander needs help with a problem, so he visits his sexy hacker friend. He needs her to track somebody, or to find a hidden warehouse, or possibly to teach him how to use Google Maps. The details of the help are unimportant. After making sexy eyes at him, as all women on the set of xXx: Return of Xander Cage were apparently contractually obligated to do, she agrees to help him make a playlist on his iPod, and sets her team of young, sexy hackers on the case. Once they have finished changing the background picture on his cell phone, Xander’s sexy hacker friend reminds her harem of other sexy hackers that they must fulfill their contractual obligation, and they set upon Xander, remove every item of his clothing other than his colossal fur coat and, presumably, take turns sleeping with him. Once satisfied, Xander emerges from the pile of sexy hackers and says, still well within earshot of everybody involved, “The things I do for my country.” In this case, he’s using “do” in the colloquial, sexual sense. The “things” are, of course, the many young women just behind him. End scene.
Goddamn, Matt. Suburbicon wasn’t your fault, but just, maybe lay low for a bit. Let somebody else take the heat for how impossibly lifeless this movie is. Since so much energy is required just to stay awake and attentive while watching it, it’s easy to not even realize how insane Suburbicon’s plot is. A man puts a hit on his wife so that he and his wife’s twin sister, who he is in love with, can collect on her life insurance. The plan is so bungled that everybody involved, including both hitmen, the twin sister, the wife’s other sibling, the insurance agent, and Matt Damon end up dead, leaving only Matt Damon’s young son. Matt Damon’s character is the last to die, killed by a poisoned peanut butter sandwich he eats while threatening his son with death if he doesn’t go along with the plan. The sandwich was initially poisoned by the twin sister as an unrelated plan to kill the boy. How the hell is that movie boring? Bad? Sure, anything can be bad. But boring? That takes effort. None of this is to say anything of the subplot of the racist town going insane and rioting after an African-American family moves in that bookends the movie and is prominently featured throughout, but otherwise feels entirely disconnected from everything happening around it.
The Circle is a laughably bad movie, rooted so deeply in nonsense that a team of workers with shovels would start to earn overtime before they reach the source. The entire thing serves as a preposterously generic and outdated warning. Did you know that social media might be spying on us? That’s it. That’s the message. Maybe they made this movie with the intent of sending it back in time to 2006 and, upon realizing that that’s impossible, thought, “Well, shit, it’s still good.” But even if they had the foresight to make it 11 years ago, it would still be terrible. To describe its characters as “ill-defined” would be generosity on the level of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. People frequently act for no reason at all other than that they are compelled to do so by the script. Entire plotline start and end off screen. Emma Watson and John Boyega are once again hamstrung by capable-but-forced American accents, which are made even more noticeable when compared to Karen Gillan’s natural Scottish brogue. The ending is as abrupt as it is inexplicable. As a whole, The Circle is a spectacle in how bad it is, like watching an Olympic skier trip out of the gate and somersault all the way down the hill. It’s something to behold, to be sure, but no points are awarded.
What even is The Snowman? What’s happening here, exactly? What’s going on with those tablet computer things? Why, in a movie that by all indications is set in present day, are people walking around with the iPad equivalent of those old, first generation portable phones that had a shoulder strap and were the size of a novelty burrito? Why do we spend so much time on J.K. Simmons’ quest to bring the Winter Games to Oslo? Could that subplot have had less to do with the movie? Is any red herring worth that much of our attention? Was anybody concerned that the name Harry Hole might not work as well when said aloud as it does in print? Is Rebecca Ferguson’s character really dead? She’s just dead in a car? What the fuck? Would any of these problems have been solved if they had shot the entire movie instead of skipping 10-15% of it? How do you even forget to shoot 15% of your movie and not realize until you’re editing it? How is that even possible? I just have so many questions.
The Book of Henry is a coward of a movie, too afraid to commit to meaningful interaction with any of the overwhelmingly serious subject matter it purports to deal with. It’s a film that features the death of one child and the rape of another, but it’s not about those things. Goodness no. They merely serve as motivation for Naomi Watts – starring as the world’s most inept grown up – to almost enact a revenge scheme Charles Bronson would be proud of. While watching her get drunk, play video games late into the night while her genius son does her taxes, and react with a genuine bewilderment at the idea of direct deposit, one can’t help but wonder how she survived in the world for the 10ish years she spent on her own before Henry. It is next to impossible to imagine her confronting even the slightest adversity on her own and living to tell about it. The rest of the characters don’t fare much better. As Watts’ rough-around-the-edges best friend, Sarah Silverman is at times both too antagonistic and too…erm, loving…toward Henry. Dean Norris’ villain exists primarily in muffled longshot. The message of the movie is, to put it kindly, unclear. The best I can do is this: The capacity for ordinary people to solve problems is as great as the capacity of the magazines on the rifles with which they solve them.