Hey everyone. *In my best Aaron Lewis impression* It’s been a while…
Yeah, it has been a bit since I’ve trenched into the netherworld of The Watching World. From the looks of it, I haven’t posted anything here since July, and while that feels just like yesterday to me, I must admit that it’s been a good six or so months since pen has gone to paper here. Or fingers have gone to keyboard…..you get the idea.
I’ve been busy with a few things. I apologize for leaving without saying goodbye. But I’m back now, and I’m hoping to be a little more active here in 2016. But we’ll see. I don’t want to make any promises, but I do want to get down to business. More specifically, I finally want to get the most putrid, horrid, disgustingly awful, no good, very bad films I had the displeasure of sitting through in-or-from 2015 out of my system. I want to live a healthier life. I want to get some happiness where these movies denied me pleasure. I want to talk about the real bad movies of the previous year.
That’s right. You can complain about Fifty Shades of Grey, Pixels, Chappie, Mortdecai, Jupiter Ascending, Pan and Minions all you like. But I’ve truly seen the worst of the worst, the most vile of vile, and the kind of films that question whether sane judgment actually exists in a world where they co-exist inside. I’ve sat through films that make Aloha actually look like a Hawaiian vacation. I’ve seen through these eyes movies that make the rest of my body recoil at the very thought of them. I’ve seen films that question why I even watch movies in the first place. There was some internal yelling involved. There was excessive drinking when alcohol was in reach. There was internal contemplation to found — but that may have come whether I saw these movies or not. It wasn’t pretty. But it’s over; well, it’s almost over. And I couldn’t be happier to get these movies out of my life for good.
Of course, I can’t see everything. And until the doctors diagnose me as the robot I truly am, I will have to rest knowing I’m merely human, and that the likes of Burnt, Rock the Kasbah, United Passions, The Last Witch Hunter, Grace of Morocco, Sinister 2, Point Break, Knock Knock, The Green Inferno, Old Fashioned and Secret in Their Eyes all escaped my sight — whether they deserved to be mentioned here or not. Sure, I guess I could have stuck it out and snuck them in later, I suppose. But sometimes, you just got to put your foot down and tell yourself it’s time to make a worst of the year list. I mean, it’s almost February already. I think I’ve waited long enough.
So without further ado, here are my picks for the worst films of 2015.
There’s never a real sure-thing in Hollywood. With that said, though, Serena looked as close to a sure-thing as the picture business could make today. A period piece based on Ron Rash’s acclaimed novel of the same name? Check. Reuniting Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, the powerhouse couple who electrified the screen together in both Silver Linings Playbook (another adaptation) and American Hustle? Boom Goes the Dynamite! You got Susanne Bier, the Danish filmmaker behind the Oscar-winning In a Better World and Brothers, the 2004 one where Tobey Maguire doesn’t yell a lot or destroys a kitchen, to direct? Sold. What could go wrong?
Well, apparently everything. The hush-hush details leading up to its consistently delayed debut were a bad, worrisome sign from the start. I mean, at that time, you could have a movie of Lawrence and Cooper reading the phone book back to each other still make $40 million, at least. What could possibly compel the filmmakers to hold this one back? Well, the answers were fairly evident when Serena did, eventually, get a (very quiet) limited release/VOD debut early last year. For one, the chemistry between our leads was completely evaporated, lost likely in the wooden dialogue and over-editing found throughout. Second, the characters never developed naturally, producing wildly outrageous moments without sound or reason. Third, the melodrama created was more irksome than charming, and it never gained that old school Hollywood feel with a mild mix of modern realism that he wanted to obtain. It was, in all honesty, an embarrassment for everyone involved, a spectacle of a disaster not often seen today. And not a fun one either. It was actually a dull, pandering one at that, and one that proved Lawrence wasn’t as unstoppable as we once predicted. It’s a damn shame, really. Serena is surrounded by trees throughout, literally, and yet it can’t find the forest around it. Perhaps earlier on, someone should have yelled “TIMBER” loud enough for everyone to hear, especially before it collapsed as mightily as it did.
9. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip
I don’t get it. I just don’t get it anymore. Who honestly still cares about these Alvin and the Chipmunks movies? What kids are even that interested in these anymore? They are all the same at this point. They all hit the same cues, the same juvenile jokes and expected checkpoints, and they become more insultingly lazy as they go along. They exemplify everything that we’ve come to expect from boardroom family films these days. It’s clear their inception is defined solely by the best pun an executive can deliver for a title, and that their existence is solely to get as much easy cash as they can grab before its curtains are shut to a close. It’s careless and pathetic, and never has it been more so than with its fourth (!) installment, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip.
I’ve never been especially mad about this franchise before this sequel. I get their objective. I know 20th Century Fox has marketing goals to meet, and I’ve always found them fairly watchable and forgettable — if not much else. Maybe it had to do with David Cross no longer being around, replaced by a sadly gung-ho fellow Arrested Development cast member Tony Hale? Maybe I’m just getting more restless as I get older and these movies appeal to my demographic less-and-less? Maybe, after seeing such wonderful family movies like Inside Out and genuinely good-natured ones like The Peanuts Movie prior, it just seems even more degrading? It could be a varied of these things, but one thing is for certain: The Road Chip is not only the worst of these live-action write-offs to date, but it’s a bewilderingly maddening, insistently careless piece of scat, and there’s nothing here that deserves you going one second on this road trip. Not even an all-too-brief cameo from John Waters can make any of this bearable, and if you can’t make me enjoy the warm presence of a national treasure like Mr. Waters, you’ve clearly done something terribly, horribly wrong. And that’s nothing to sing about.
Speaking of singing……
8. Pitch Perfect 2
I will never understand the appeal of Pitch Perfect, and I’m okay with this. Though it may seem like it at times, not every movie is made for a white, 22-year-old American boy like me, and nor should they be. Movies are meant to reach across multiple audiences, multiple generations and to the hearts of many different personalities, and I don’t really think the filmmakers had a guy like me specifically in mind for this initial film. That’s alright. I’ve made my peace with not understand the phenomenon that is Pitch Perfect. I wish Anna Kendrick would be spending her time doing something more justified to your natural talents, but if she gets a good paycheck and more fans every day from it, then I’m happy enough.
And while I can’t get with Jason Moore’s 2012 film, I can almost form an idea as to why people like it. But I have no idea what made people like its follow-up, the Elizabeth Banks’ helmed Pitch Perfect 2. A flavorless, meandering, clumsily presented and terribly shot sequel without any of the mild wit, occasional charms and sometimes likable supporting characters from the first, the comedy sequel is not only a bland, sterile and pointless affair aping on the goodwill of the first go-around, but this terrible also-ran is also consistently aimless, boringly dull and weirdly more mean-spirited than ever. Add in some often horrifically broad racial stereotypes as spice, and you get a new comedy that’s as tone-deaf as could be.
7. The DUFF
When endlessly quoting Mean Girls and watching it over-and-over again to revisit their favorite parts, kids today tend to forget that the big components to the 2004 comedy’s success (beyond being massively funny) are its unabashedly large heart and its wonderful beating, always astute brain. With every clever diss and witty put-down the characters give to one another, there comes a genuine love for these characters, a rich understanding of who they represent and a sincere appreciation for the genre they’re also lampooning. Much like Clueless the generation before, the catchy one-liners and bouncy pacing are all just pink and fetch-as-all-hell icing on top of its delicious cake. It’s a genuinely sweet-hearted movie, with just the right amount of edge and cleverness to pull off something special and essential.
Ari Sandel’s latest, The DUFF, wants so very desperately to be the Mean Girls/Clueless of this half-finished decade. Based on the relatively popular (and, from what I’ve heard, pretty good) YA novel of the same name by Kody Keplinger, it observes all the little beats, pays close attention to the lingo it bounces around on the regular, and tries to capture that feverishly snappy energy for its own good. But it fails, horribly, in doing so. There’s almost nothing to attach onto in this film. Every character is practically as broad and wacky as could be, lacking any real insight or depth into our current culture as it says all the familiar terms or throws out the names of every popular social media site it can recall. The writing is all over the board, never consistently grounding the characters, developing them in any interesting ways or giving them anything funny or interesting to do. Worse of all, though, it wastes absolutely every second it has rising talents Mae Whitman and Bella Throne (also briefly starring in the aforementioned The Road Chip), as well as seasoned vet Allison Janney, on the screen. It’s a nauseating, painfully unfunny comedy with all the beats but none of the flair, and definitely lacking any heart or brains to make it work.
What results, then, is a high school comedy that often feels like homework, and an assignment you know you’re bound to be a big, fat D on by the time before it’s done. It might be clueless all right, but not exactly in the way it hoped.
6. Accidental Love
It wasn’t exactly David O. Russell’s year in 2015. While I’ll defend Joy more than most, it definitely didn’t live up to the high standards of The Fighter, American Hustle or Silver Linings Playbook before it, and the infectiously likable chemistry he helped ignite on-screen between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence proved to not be as infallible as we hoped with the aforementioned Serena. But no blow came harder to the Three Kings filmmaker than the shameless release of his undead remains of his unfinished 2008 political farce Nailed — which the producers decided to distribute under-the-radar this past year under its horrifically generic new title, Accidental Love.
I should stress that this wasn’t Russell’s final vision, nor should he take the full blame for its failure. Credited under the non-existent Stephen Greene (which may just become this new generation’s Alan Smithee), Accidental Love was meant to become a cheeky intellectual high-brow comedy based on Kristin Gore’s (daughter of Al) decently-received novel Sammy’s Hill. It would have served as his transition from indie darling to mainstream favorite, featuring career-defining work from Jessica Biel and show Jake Gyllenhaal as the wonderful actor we now recognize him as today. But this did not happen, for something went afoul and caused it go down in a blaze of furry unlike any failure I’ve seen in the past some years. Everything goes wrong here. The tone is wholly inept, and suggests that this would have never quite worked even if Russell didn’t jump ship in 2010. The characters are all far too broad to pull off something this wannabe-intellectual. The film constantly meanders its plot and tone to the point where it’s an frustratingly uncomfortable experience to endear, and proves downright embarrassing work for Gyllenhaal, Catherine Keener and James Marsden. It’s a horrendous failure, and one that doesn’t show a lick of the talent and intelligence found in Russell’s other pictures. It’s a healthcare stare that never had a pulse to begin with, and to know that the producers dug this poor reject out of the grave for a quick buck is beneath the most deplorable actions of Washington D.C.’s most detestable.
5. Any Day
I feel genuine pity for Rustam Branaman’s Any Day. Unlike many films on this list — and not unlike its central protagonist, played with as much diligence as he can muster by Sean Bean — there’s a honest-to-goodness desire to make this thing great. With every fiber of its being, it wants to become a modern masterpiece. Every scene is itching to become something profound, sweeping and elegantly moving. It wants to make something beautifully tragic, and tragically beautiful, but all it can do is live up to one part of that equation.
For Any Day is a baffling-to-no-end nightmare, the kind of ham-fisted melodrama that you kinda need to see to really understand how terrible it is. Every ill-conceived moment hinges on being more incompetent than the next. Every line of dialogue appears more confused than the one delivered before, and every actor on-board flounders to make the best of this ill-gotten Christian-morale demon from hell. Branaman comes as earnest as could be, and having interviewed him around the film’s poorly-received release, I think he believes he made some special. I didn’t have the heart to make him feel otherwise. For he does as well as he can, I think. He knows his limitations (he wants to make an exceedingly adult film, but can’t use harsh language, extreme violence, strong sexuality, etc.), but Any Day is, nevertheless, a disaster on every level. Seriously, I can’t even really begin to describe how bad this movie ends up. It gives God’s Not Dead a run for its money any day of the week.
4. Smosh: The Movie
I’ve never been especially kind to YouTubers making their transitions to the silver screen. This time last year, I ranked Shane Dawson’s Not Cool as 2014’s worst film (and it may also very well be the worst I’ve seen this decade so far, for it’s definitely one of the worst comedies I’ve ever had the displeasure to watch). I’ve never even given Smiley or the Fred movies the time of day. Nor really should I ever, I think. And I don’t have any kind words to say about Smosh: The Movie — the first (and hopefully the very, very last) film from the Internet-craze-of-14-year-old tweens sensations Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla — either, really.
To the mildest of credit to Hecox and Padilla, the Internet personalities had no role writing or directing their shitstorm of a big-screen debut, a dimension which far exceeds the dimensional boundaries these two should have ever reached. Those duties went to Eric Falconer & Steve Marmel (Fairly Oddparents) and Alex Winter, respectively and unfortunately. And I cannot — for the life of me — figure out how anyone with genuine talent like these men could have been just mildly responsible such an atrociously sluggish and indistinguishably bland slap of laughless childish garbage as this. As boring a Bill & Ted rip-off as you could possibly imagine (which makes the involvement of Bill himself, Winter, all the more disheartening), Smosh: The Movie would go through the motions if it had any motions to go through. As one would expect from two people who made their living on fastly-edited four-minute videos, they display no range, style or flair in their feature debut. They throw and wag their arms in the air at every minute and hope the audience applaud them for doing things “good enough” when it comes to generic bathroom jokes and bad shtick, as well as some half-assed romances to boot.
It made me long to watch Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure for a number of reasons, one of which being that I could actually get some real laughs. But also so that possibly, just maybe I could discover time travel for my own and erase a timeline where I saw this movie in the first place — and maybe even one where these two dingbats had a career in the first place. Oh thanks, Smosh: The Movie. You’re making me sound like an old man now. Unsubscribe.
3. Just Before I Go
Dark comedy is an art form unlike any other. It takes a deft sense of timing, and a rich understanding of world the filmmaker is trying to create and what characters live inside it. It takes a perception that’s both morose and inviting, letting you glimpse into a place that may not be kind, but comes from a keen awareness of life’s bitter ironies and it’s sweetly ironic tendencies. It’s a balance few can really, truly master. Often times, those who do tend to lose their stride over time. Compare the works of filmmakers of Danny DeVito and Todd Solondz in the ’90s to their last couple films behind the camera. It doesn’t come gracefully, and it lives-or-dies from the right vision in the director’s chair.
Now, Courteney Cox is probably a lovely-enough woman. I’ve never been a huge fan of hers, but I always think actors have the benefit of the doubt when it comes to becoming directors in their due time — especially when it comes to dark dramedies like this. Actors inherently know people well. They study them, they become them. They know about diverse perspectives and different points-of-view. And maybe Cox knows what it’s like to be a man who lost everything and wants to end it all, but life and its little quirky ideas won’t quite make it happen the way he’d like. But if she does, then she sure as hell didn’t prove it with her feature directorial debut, Just Before I Go. The Friends alum’s history as a director before this film comes squarely from the world of sitcoms — having helmed several episodes of the recently-concluded Cougar Town, which she also headlined — and, boy oh boy, does it show. Every supporting character comes like the wacky best friend from your least-favorite half-hour in ABC’s comedy block. Every scene is shot without static or friction. Every line of dialogue feels like it’s waiting for the laugh-track to finally cue up. And this doesn’t produce the sensitivity, heart or wit needed to make David Flebotte’s sullen screenplay resonate on any level. It’s a mesh of personalities that don’t match, resulting in a horribly clumsy, awkwardly painful mess of a dramedy, and in that regard, it makes a pretty convincing case for why Seann William Scott’s character wants to kill himself throughout the movie. And there’s nothing to laugh about in the process.
2. Hot Pursuit
There’s nothing worse than a bad comedy. And as it may have become evident at this point, there’s nothing I can stand less than a yuck-fest that can’t produce a single smile on my face. Where other genres can suck, at least they can find little, unintentional pleasures. A bad drama can become a stitch. A bad horror film can produce the same results. A bad action movie can provide some ironic fun. A bad mystery can be a joy to cackle. But a bad comedy does nothing for you. It gives you no pleasure, intentionally or not. It gives you no sanctification. It only brings you misery, boredom and agony. It gives you nothing.
Hot Pursuit is a nothing of a movie in many, many ways. It’s a road trip buddy cop movie with no new ideas. It’s a female bonding film with no chemistry or sexiness between our leads, Reese Witherspoon and Sofía Vergara. It has no spark in its engine, no ambition in its drive. It has no funny one-liners, snappy moments or fun action beats. It’s a slog and a bore, an embarrassment and a bother. It doesn’t do anyone any favors, and in a time where it’s more important than ever to have women prove themselves in the comedy business (Hot Pursuit was also written, directed and produced by women, including EP Vergara and producer Witherspoon), this is a horrifying step-back, and the lowest of the low marks in Warner Bros.’ weakest year in history. It’s the kind of comedy that is so inactive in its pursuits that it never ever gets mildly warm. To even suggest there’s anything “hot” about this lifeless corpse is an egregious insult altogether.
1. Human Centipede III (Final Sequence)
Human Centipede III (Full Sequence) is a movie designed for nobody to like. Any pleasure it derives is getting people to be as disgusted by its very existence as much as possible. Where writer/director Tom Six shot for goofy fun with 2009’s First Sequence, and went for at least some artistic merit with 2011’s Full Sequence, Final Sequence (and I’ve never wanted a title to live up to its title more in my life) is made squarely to see how fucked up it can be —with no reward for its actions and nothing to justify its extremities. It’s putrid for the sake of being putrid, but not just in the horrible ways it aims to be. Every single awful attempt at humor falls flat — with returning lead Dieter Laser destroying any goodwill he earned the first time playing a new character and giving the year’s single worse performance as a prison guard who rapes his secretary constantly, tortures his prisoners by cutting open their ballsacks or waterboarding them with boiling hot water for kicks and eats dried up clitorises on the regular. Every character is more despicable than the last. And then Six has the gull to cast himself as himself, stopping the movie to have everyone on screen praise and adore him as if he’s practically the second coming of Christ. That may be more disgusting than the 100 + human centipede he creates before this insufferable bore comes to a close.
Worse than anything else, Human Centipede III is so terribly offensive that it doesn’t become offensive at all. It fails to be the one thing it’s trying actively to do to make us hate it, and that ultimately makes you hate it even more. I defy one person (besides Six and the filmmakers) to stand up and say this movie is made for them and entertained them. I can’t imagine anyone who could possible sit through one scene of this dreck and be entertained — and this is from someone who had to debate with himself whether-or-not the first movie was actually kinda genius. To say Six’s latest is a disgrace to good taste and proper filmmaking would be to suggest that Six had any sense of decency to begin with. And knowing Six from these three movies now, he probably gets off on such extreme schadenfreude. So let me throw one last piece of salt on your wounds, Mr. Six: You’ll never be a real filmmaker, and you don’t deserve to be called one. So I won’t ever call you one ever again. And I don’t want to see you make another picture-to-sound in this business for as long as I live. After watching this one, though, I don’t think I’ll have to worry about that too much.
That’s all for now. I’ll have my best of the year list later this week. Thanks for reading, and I hope you give the next list a look too!