Friday, March 10, 2017

Films of 2016: The Disappointing and the Divisive

I know I'm late in getting this list (Part 1 of 2, to be exact) posted on here. But, I'm a firm believer in letting time tell how a work of art, whether film or music or story, is going to hold up or not. As far as the latter is concerned, there were a few movies that disappointed me last year (largely in terms of anticipation and expectation), and a couple of others that I thought were, for various reasons, very divisive.

First things first, here are my picks for the most disappointing films of 2016.

Independence Day: Resurgence
Here's a prime example of a trailer that's better than the movie. To paraphrase it's tagline, they had twenty years to make a sequel to the 1996 blockbuster hit--of which I was a fan, and which made Will Smith a household name and Fourth of July box-office superstar, for that matter. The problem here, in spite of its wait time and the presence of returning stars Bill Pullman and Jeff Goldblum, is that everything's so uneven you don't even care how big the new spaceship is. A poorly edited, lowly acted, and forgeable mind-numbing VFX bombast. One of the rare times I actually wanted my money back from a movie theater.

Suicide Squad
DC Comics rogue's gallery also turned up exciting trailers since premiering at San Diego's ComiCon a year prior to release. And the early clips promised a much darker and riskier tone than had been seen in previous comic book adaptations, what with Margot Robbie's take on Harley Quinn and especially Jared Leto's frightening take on the Joker. The film certainly had a stellar cast and a hit Twenty-One Pilots track. The finished product, whether a result of studio interference or reshoots or lack of clear direction, disappointingly diverts from what could have been an intriguing and provocative spin on "bad" villains vs "evil" villains into a conventional "save the world from total destruction" route seen many, many times in the last decade. They didn't even make the Joker a main villain here, which they should have. Here’s hoping DC will get it right in 2017 with Wonder Woman and the Justice League.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
I've never read Ransom Riggs' young adult books that this Tim Burton film is based on, but its visual imagery certainly fit Burton's sensibilities, so I decided to give the film the benefit of the doubt. It's a question of why Burton didn't balance out time with the other characters and their quirks and decided to focus on Asa Butterfield's less-than-compelling Jake and his journey to find out who he is. Even worse, the film goes from chilling and frightening (one that will give kids nightmares) to downright silly and ridiculous. Samuel L. Jackson feels wasted in a rare miscast role. Eva Green is the one true quirky delight here, as the headmistress of the titular "Home".

X-Men: Apocalypse
The X-Men films have been hit or miss for the last decade and a half. While the first two films from (X-Men, 2000; X2: X-Men United, 2003), and well as 2014's Days of Future Past (all directed by Bryan Singer), rank high in the franchise, this frankly-rushed sequel (also directed by Singer) joins the ranks of 2006's The Last Stand and 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, in terms of quality and execution. Sure, its younger versions of fan favorites Jean Grey, Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Quicksilver are standouts, and a tragic subplot involving Magneto could have been a central driving force. But its overall story (saving the world from an unstoppable force--and a skybeam), themes (power and control), and CGI destruction (cities and, again, skybeams) have been done countless times before, and the main villain (supposedly the first ever "mutant") is such a weakness. (Sorry, Poe Dameron.) At least Logan is taking the franchise in a more unconventional direction. (Not that I'm endorsing it, mind you.)

And the one movie I regret seeing in theaters this year?

Sausage Party
Now, I'm all for how animation should not just be limited to a kids' medium, and for how it can tell different kinds of stories and represent different genres. (Some great examples include 2007's Persepolis and 2009's Fantastic Mr. Fox.) But when it comes to raunchy sex comedies in the form of unbelievably subliminal food products who discover their true fate (and have an all-out climactic orgy), really?!? The film does have some laughs (the Meatloaf and Stephen Hawking parodies, anybody?), and Seth Rogen and company certainly are funny people. But again, REALLY?!? As a whole, Sausage Party is, again, UNBELIEVABLY raunchy and offensive. Did I mention UNBELIEVABLE? (Read my review on examples of adult-oriented animation here.)

One film that's been on my watch-list from last year was Nate Parker's directorial debut The Birth of a Nation, a film about former slave and preacher Nat Turner who leads an uprising against slave owners in the early 1800s. Since it received raves at last year's Sundance Film Festival but later went under fire after allegations of a rape case in the late 90s involving Parker (which were reportedly acquitted then), this film would qualify in this next category. But otherwise, there were really two films that divided critics and audiences (and vice versa) for different reasons.

So now, here are my picks for the most divisive films of 2016.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
It's fair to say the DC Extended Universe (rival to the Marvel Cinematic Universe) has gotten off to a rough start, particularly with this critical-and-commercial divide that pits the Man of Steel against the Dark Knight for the first time. Many have argued that Batman v Superman (BvS) was just too bleak, grim, convoluted, and joyless to even praise. And there are moments that do go in different directions. (The "Ultimate Edition" has been praised more than the theatrical version.) Others, meanwhile, critiqued that not all comic-book movies have to be fun and colorful, yet can still be intriguing (read some IMDb user reviews here, or watch the 2000 film Unbreakable). While a couple of things most people agree on are the excellent performances of Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince, only time will tell if Zack Snyder's take on the genre will hold up. (Read my review on the DC Extended Universe here.)

The opposite of what happened with BvS happened here. A female version of the 1984 classic comedy starring Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, and the late Harold Ramis, was voted as the most hated movie trailer on YouTube last year. While nothing (not even a reboot) will agreeably ever top the original, I do, in a way, pity the stars and filmmakers of this new version for all the backlash they endured. Because this new version from director Paul Figg (Bridesmaids, Spy) does stand on its own and, while certainly not perfect, makes the most of what it is and what it's got. The latter involves a talented quartet of comedians in Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and scene-stealers Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. Even the original 1984 cast approved of the film, which puts a new spin on the trademark line. "Who you gonna call for approval? The original Ghostbusters." (Read my full review here.)

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