SAVAGE SCORECARD 2016-THE DISAPPOINTMENTS
1. "THE BFG" Directed by Steven Spielberg
When I first learned that Steven Spielberg would be the filmmaker to bring Roald Dahl's classic novel to vivid life, it just felt to be absolutely perfect. However, when I saw the finished result, I was surprised to witness a film that was not only unmemorable, it was one that was sadly toothless, a film that extracted every bit of wicked wit and macabre terror from Dahl's novel in favor of a sanitized, generic effort that suffered from a wooden leading young actress (Ruby Barnhill) and the overly scrubbed clean CGI motion capture performance by Mark Rylance. The last thing a film about a 24 foot tall giant and plucky human best friend out to save the world from a band of ravenous children eating giants is boring and that is precisely what "The BFG" was, a yawn inducing fantasy that should have kept many of Roald Dahl's darker, rougher, more frightening edges.
(Originally reviewed July 2016)
2. "THE BIRTH OF A NATION" Directed by Nate Parker
The story of Nat Turner and the slave uprising he began and further planted the seeds for the emancipation of Black Americans as envisioned by Writer/Producer/Director/Actor Nate Parker was certainly a passion project, but when passion overtakes the truth, then what you end up with is not necessarily a bad film but one that is more than irresponsible and ultimately, ineffective.
Despite a strong leading performance by Parker and some striking imagery, themes and sequences throughout, what troubled me greatly about Parker's film was all of the unnecessary "dramatic license" he took within a story that possesses nothing but masses of inherent drama. Fabricating characters and key events, most notably the rape of Nat Turner's wife and its role in the birth of the rebellion, which historians have proclaimed no evidence exists, diluted an experience that should've been incendiary into something that was disingenuous with its manipulation. The legacy of Nat Turner and all of us who wish to know more about him, and therefore our nation and ourselves deserved much, MUCH better.
(Originally reviewed October 2016)
3. "FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM" Directed by David Yates
J.K. Rowling's cinematic return to the wizard universe she created with the Harry Potter series was something I was most certainly looking forward to, especially as David Yates, who helmed the final four films of the Harry Potter" film series to such a graceful, artful degree, would take the filmmaking reins once again for this first installment of a planned five film series. Unfortunately, I again left the theater quite underwhelmed, not because what I saw was necessarily bad, for it was not. It was all just so undercooked, despite all of the hefty storytelling place setting Rowling obviously devised.
The film felt as if we truly were receiving a "Chapter One" but instead of simply turning a page, as you would do for a novel, we have to wait years for "Chapter Two" and that is the film;s biggest problem. That in a novel, the first chapter doesn't need to be completely satisfying but a film, on the other hand, certainly requires a sense of completeness, even if it is a serialized one. Yes, I'll be there for the second film and Rowling is, of course, getting her feet wet and I am certain she has a master plan firmly in place. But that said, all of the proceedings will have to add up to something more substantive than what was on display in this debut episode.
(Originally reviewed November 2016)
4. "GHOSTBUSTERS" Directed by Paul Feig
An enormous amount of talent, in front of and behind the camera, was ultimately wasted in this completely unnecessary film that was, again, not necessarily bad but one that was empty of originality and suffered greatly from its own identity crisis.This sort of sequel/kind of remake but not quite essentially served up the same story from Ivan Reitman's original 1984 film of the same name but without any elements that would have made this 2016 film stand strongly on its own cinematic feet. It stunned me to see Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones so comedically defanged and as much as I LOVE LOVE, LOVE Kate McKinnon on "Saturday Night Live," I am still utterly confused at whatever it was she was possibly doing throughout this film, a bizarre, Andy Kaufman-esque imitation of a socially awkward Science whiz. It just didn't connect at all, the laughs were few and far between and when the CGI overkill of the extended climax lumbered on and on, I had all but checked out.
(Originally reviewed July 2016)
5. "LA LA LAND" Directed by Damien Chazelle
Yes, I know you all LOVED it to the moon and back. Yes, it is winning all of the industry awards and I still believe that it will sweep the Academy Awards as well, winning Best Picture, Director, Actress and Song. It IS a gorgeous film. It is a visually resplendent ode to the Hollywood movie musicals of days long gone and I commend Damien Chazalle for directing a film that is worlds away from his searing, outstanding "Whiplash" (2014). But when it was all over, I simply felt, "Meh."
Again, and overall, I was unmoved, still as much of a surprise to me as I am certain it is to you, especially after I was so amazed with the film's bravura opening sequence on that traffic jam filled highway. Even so, "La La Land" was a musical that left me not singing even one song in my head since seeing it--that is a major detraction in my book. And furthermore, the character portrayed by Ryan Gosling, just face it, folks--is an insufferable hipster jerk fueling a "White Man Saves Jazz" narrative that was more than disconcerting, often leaving more than its share of sour notes for me. I know that so many of you will be cheering the films inevitable victory on Oscar night and I am honestly happy for you, as it is always a wonderful thing to embrace a film so tightly. I wish that I loved it as well...but, I just didn't.
(Originally reviewed December 2016)
SAVAGE SCORECARD 2016-FROM BAD TO ABSOLUTELY AWFUL (in descending order)
5. "FINDING DORY" Directed by Andrew Stanton Co-Directed by Angus MacLane
Right!! I just gave negative marks to the beloved "La La Land," and now I am placing the latest excursion from Pixar as one of my least favorite films of the entire year. No, I am not heartless but "Finding Dory," the unneeded sequel to the outstanding "Finding Nemo" (2003), was yet another Pixar deep dive back into the well where they fished not for the art but solely for the commerce making yet another "lunchbox movie" that was bloated, padded, intermittently entertaining yet still a diversion where the original was enchanting. Yes, there is something compelling about a story that is essentially about a lost special needs child (again beautifully voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) searching for her parents and the community that helps her achieve her goals. But when it is all said and done, I would watch "Finding Nemo" again today and I have no need to ever sit through "Finding Dory" again.
(Originally reviewed June 2016)
4. "MAGGIE'S PLAN" Directed by Rebecca Miller
Oh, the excruciating pain of an independent film so in love with its own voice and yet has truly nothing to say. Rebecca Miller's so-called romantic comedy "Maggie's Plan" starring the inexplicably popular with critics and independent film audiences, Ms. Greta Gerwig as the titular Maggie. But instead of being pelted by another round of self-congratulatory quirkiness, the film was unforgivably bland, dry, and lifeless featuring a collective of painfully self-absorbed characters (including Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore sporting a silly accent) caught in a shallow love triangle all the while living in yet another blindingly lily White New York City. If the film had possibly been about supporting characters Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph's interracial relationships and parenthood to their little ones, that would have been a plan much more worth pursuing.
(Originally reviewed June 2016)
3. "MONEY MONSTER" Directed by Jodie Foster
So forgettable that I actually had to remember that I even saw this movie, Jodie Foster's "Money Monster" is a would-be hostage thriller that happens to be fueled by a socio/political/economic critique pitting a completely fed up and gun wielding member of the 99% (wildly overplayed by Jack O'Connell) against his captive 1% television financial huckster (George Clooney). Despite the overall professionalism in front of and behind the camera, as well as the potential for creating a powerfully effective film of moral outrage, "Money Monster" felt to be more like a lazy throwback to the tepid popcorn thrillers of the late 1980's. It is just a film where none of the participants felt to be remotely inspired to do...well, anything...and so in turn, I was completely uninspired as a viewer.
(Originally reviewed May 2016)
2. "BATMAN v. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE" Directed by Zack Snyder
I still contend that this widely maligned comic book epic is not the full on disaster most would have you believe. In fact, I did like Ben Affleck's take on the character of Batman as an older, angrier, more unrepentantly violent vigilante. Additionally, Director Zack Snyder certainly did create one image after another that was indeed quite haunting and possessed with an almost dream logic. That being said, Snyder is not much of a storyteller and his skills as a visual stylist certainly got the better of him again with this bloated, bludgeoning, ear shattering, mind numbing and painfully overlong film.
"Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice" entirely felt to be a film that is just beside itself trying to create the extended film universe for DC Comics that Marvel achieved for its own collective of heroes and villains, over the past 8 years no less, and the strains of the efforts are blindingly apparent. Snyder's storytelling is downright sloppy, the character motivations and plot situations are often arbitrary at best and just as with Snyder's "Man Of Steel" (2012), the film suffers tremendously from another shamelessly extended climax that is nothing but cacophonous and gratuitous. Basically, the greatest problem of this film is that none of it is any fun whatsoever, where even the sequence depicting the film's title is a big, giant bore starring two supposed heroes who only exist as men of extreme carnage but love their Mothers desperately. Again, not a disaster but a tremendously flawed and utterly joyless affair.
(Originally reviewed March 2016)
THE WORST FILM OF 2016
1. "SUICIDE SQUAD" Directed by David Ayer
Now, this was a disaster!
Big, loud and dumb, the DC movie universe flopped around to the point of becoming wholly irrelevant with David Ayer's worthless, stupid, inexcusably steaming pile of mega-excess. Being presented as the villainous underbelly to the DC heroes, this supposed "Dirty Dozen" styled excursion was dead on arrival with a collection of anti-heroes that were not remotely villainous, they're just "misunderstood" outcasts, gentle psychopaths and actually, not terribly far removed from what we already saw within the heroes of "Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice" and all saddled with bargain basement psychological underpinnings.
With Jared Leto's much hyped version of The Joker clearly excised and abandoned upon the cutting room floor, he never registered at all. And frankly, none of the so-called characters (two of whom portrayed by Will Smith and Margot Robbie) were worth giving a damn about, least of all the film's primary villain, the hip-swiveling Enchantress who serves no purpose other than to re-create the vortex from the original "Ghostbusters" (1984) and have the titular squadron battle endless whack-a-mole minions for the bulk of the film's two hour running time.
Dear readers, I absolutely HATED this movie because what I just described is the movie. The whole damn movie--a big budget, big screen video game that you are forced to watch but never allowed to play.
(Originally reviewed August 2016)
COMING UP: MY TOP TEN FAVORITE FILMS OF 2016!!!