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The Absolute Worst Films of 2014

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As the year comes to a close, most critics hover around their keyboards blasting out lists on this or that – Top Tens, Best Performances, Coolest Stunt Involving a Bunny Rabbit – and cutting through all the praise is the purely gleeful opportunity to take aim at the worst of the worst – those films that left us shuttering, that inspired us to reach out to friends and family and warn them off, that wouldn’t just melt away with time but rather forced us to remember their terribleness throughout the entire year. And though many may expect the likes of Haunted House 2, Tammy, Heaven is for Real, Blended, God’s Not Dead, The Identical, The Best of Me, etc. to make an appearance here, they won’t make the list because I didn’t subject myself to their nominal abject horror.

Last year, our Absolute Worst of 2013 List included Getaway, Oz, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, Movie 43, The Hangover: Part 3, The Fifth Estate, After Earth, The Mortal Instruments, The Canyons and The Host and though this year’s worst weren’t quite as bad as last’s year putrid bunch, they were still some bad, bad mommas. So before we get to the worst of the worst, let’s blast through a quick list of films that were quite thoroughly offputting but not quite enough to crack the top ten. Nonetheless, avoid these trash piles whole-heartedly.

Dishonorable Mentions:

Annie
The Foxy Merkins
Ping Pong Summer
Leading Lady
The Purge: Anarchy
Into the Storm
About Last Night
Labor Day
The Better Angels
Annabelle
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Bad Words
Decoding Annie Parker
300: Rise of an Empire
Stage Fright
Pompeii
Exodus: Gods and Kings

10. GIMME SHELTER

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Vanessa Hudgen‘s scrubby mop and her horrendous Jersey accent aren’t really to blame for the emotional wash-out that is Gimme Shelter. Nor is Brendan Fraser and his Brendan Fraser-iness. Director Ron Krauss, on the other hand, is. Coming off a human trafficking billing, Krauss wrings the welts of abused children for every weepy sentiment he can and in doing so makes a despicable and entirely ugly product. Miles from the brilliant Rolling Stones song from which it takes its name, Gimme Shelter paints the wholly wrong picture of child abuse with boorish abandon, mixing ice-cream parlor super-88 montages with a cracked out, stanky skanky Rosario Dawson.

9. BRICK MANSIONS

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Were it not for the untimely passing of star Paul Walker, I’m convinced Brick Mansions would have been a straight-to-DVD release. It’s a parkour movie that edits out the parkour, an action thriller without any octane, a remake of a French film that keeps its French star inexplicably intact, supplanting him in a racially divided Detroit. There is literally a moment where the two leads simultaneously backflip over the bad guys. This actually happened. In an actual movie. Not to mention the entire plot is one big borrowed MacGuffin from other Walker franchise, the wholly more enjoyable Fast and Furious. The whole thing is frustratingly scrubbed of life and energy, mistakenly betting on the starring power of Walker and a red-pepper-slicin’ RZA.

8. THAT AWKWARD MOMENT

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In terms of chemistry gone wrong, none can top That Awkward Moment. With 3/4 of its cast entirely likable (Miles Teller, Imogen Poots, Michael B. Jordan), this rank “comedy” supports a borderline violent, totalitarian anti-feminist worldview in which woman are doormats to be treated as such. I can’t think of another film this year that so actively tried to disarm womankind and did so with such gross snarkiness. I found the film distasteful to say the least and even borderline damaging for those unfortunate enough to mistake its message for reality. That Awkward Moment presents a backwards zeitgeist that needs to be put in the rear view as a prize to be won. Zac Efron has never stooped so low.  

7. THEY CAME TOGETHER

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I make a point of avoiding movies that will too easily make its way onto this year end list of worsts. I don’t see Sandler nut-kicking vehicles. I don’t watch Seltzer-Friedberg spoofs, I don’t bathe in Nicholas Sparks waters. I won’t bother with Christian-pandering flickolas. I go into movies fully expecting some modicum of entertainment and if I know that I’m going to be sighing and watch-checking for a number of hours, I just don’t bother. Then came They Came Together, a well-disguised trap; a nut-twisting landmine that reels you in with promises of satire only to deliver brain-crushing wallops of stupidity. Even the oddball charm of Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd couldn’t wash away the stench of absolute failure in this Larry the Cable Guy-level spoof. The amazing thing is some people actually liked this. Critics recommended it. I don’t know if I watched the film in an alternate universe or if some critics were getting paid off to hand out passes but there was nothing in this movie that made me even think about cracking a smile.

6. OUIJA

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To me there’s a monumental difference between bad movies and lazy movies and my disdain for the later far outweighs the former. Transcendence was a bad movie – it got jumbled up, dotted the T’s and crossed the I’s and went haywire – but at least it tried something. It wasn’t a rehashed conglomerated of old parts mashed together clumsily and without regard. Oujia represents this other side of the spectrum, the side in which nothing new is attempted, where everything reeks of lethargic malaise. Entirely lacking in inertia and completely devoid of novelty, it’s the kind of film that gives horror a bad name, that has the nerve to off its hapless teenagers in the most predicable of ways, that fails to present even one reason for its existence. In a word, it’s shameful.

5. HERCULES

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Disney’s 1997 animated Hercules is a thing of magic. The gospel-fed songs are inspiring and catchy as all hell (“Herc was on a roll”), the hero’s journey is handled with a weighty, classical approach, the animation absolutely soars and Danny Devito was a half-man, half-goat. I love it. Now take Brett Ratner‘s shatner of a flick and try and describe just one thing about it. It stars a man named The Rock. He battles stuff ‘n’ things. He pulls down a pillar at one point. I’m not sure if he was a God or not. It didn’t really matter. 2014’s Hercules is so bad because it’s so nothing. There is not one single memorable thing about it. Too bloodless to revel in and too thoughtless to engage with, it’s a white-washed mash of “Who gives a shit?” I’ll tell you who, not me.

4. MALEFICENT

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Angelina Jolie‘s inhuman cheekbones stars amidst a wash of CGI in an origin story that takes a meaty dump on the beloved Sleeping Beauty fairytale lore of yore. This revisited Disney saga is a Frankenstein’s monster of blockbuster glitz that batters its audience with allusions to rape and then has trees fighting men. Utterly without a voice and any discernible perspective, Maleficent rests on the starring power of Angelina Jolie, an actress more apt to strike a pose than to, ya know, act and you feel the strain of the film’s weight upon her underfed shoulders. Yucky, grossly dull and entirely fake, Maleficent represents rock bottom for Disney’s live action re-tellings and is an absolute task to endure.

3. IF I STAY

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Chloe Grace Moretz is a darling. She is not however dramatically inclined and the wholly incompetent If I Stay is bitter proof of that. The story is tragi-porn city, with a plot that involves a coma, dead parents, a dying brother and, gasp, an on-the-rocks teenage romance. 2014 has been the year of shoehorning calamity into romance – cancer cough, Fault in Our Stars, cancer cough – but none did it worse than If I Stay. Like a battering ram trying to bust down the gateway to our tears, the film wears its cheesy intent on its sleeve and is all the worse for wear for it. There’s a threshold for how much an audience will believably endure before we just begin to snicker and If I Stay crosses that line early on and proceeds to cross it again and again and again.

2. DIVERGENT

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At 139 minutes, Divergent is the most punishing motion picture of the year – a recklessly lengthy stretch of kids jumping over shit and yelling “dauntless”. Plastered in black pleather and smeared with Jai Courtney grimaces, this popular kids book turned wannabe hit franchise is the worst derivative young adult dystopia of the (growing) lot in many parts because of its utter narrative incompetence. There’s class-based factions, shifting power structures, social uprisings – basically the makings for timely political intrigue – but it’s all handled with the good grace of a date with Bill Cosby. Did I mention Jai Courtney was in this?

1. HORNS

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Joe Hill’s novel Horns was warmly met by fans and critics, receiving a nomination for the 2010 Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel, a prize that had in the past gone to the likes of Thomas Harris and Steven King. Alexandre Aja, director of The Hills Have Eyes remake, Piranha 3D and last year’s widely panned Maniac takes Hill’s novel and bastardizes its mania into harebrained stupidity. Daniel Radcliffe sports an anaconda boa and horns that make people confess their wildest sins (like wanting to eat a whole box of donuts!), religious allegories saunter into and out of frame and I think the whole thing is supposed to be some wildly miffed commentary on puberty and masturbation. But who the fuck knows. The result feels like a vision distilled down more times than good vodka, losing parts and pieces along the way until it wound up the ugly, pointless, plodding movie it was, one that is aggressively frustrating for its absolute missed potential and even worse for supposing all the while that it does have a point, a heart and a brain.

So there we have it, the worst flicks according to moi. On the way out the door though, we’ll take two more quick pot-shots, this time for the worst performances.

Worst Actress: Cameron Diaz “ANNIE”

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The singing. The acting. The faces. I don’t know which was worst. In a movie crammed with a brazen lack of charm, Cameron Diaz added log after log to the awful fire, hamming her way to this man’s Razzie chart-topper. As I noted in my review, there’s a very fine line between satire and mockery and it’s one that Diaz tragically misunderstood in the role. An actor’s journey is to find the humanity in their character – no matter how despicable, cold or inhuman – and from that understanding create a living, breathing human. We buy into the fact that this is not just a celebrity caked in makeup and dressed funny to be captured on camera so long as they ready themselves to convince us. It’s an unspoken contract that actors make with their audiences, one that Diaz violently violates as the ham-fisted Ms. Hannigan, a puppet of a character that’s more Oscar the Grouch than woman.

Worst Actor: Jai Courtney “DIVERGENT”

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The latest in “let’s make him a Hollywood “it” boy” (following in the footsteps of the somehow infinitely less dull Sam Worthington) Jai Courtney is the most fruitless actor working today. With a resume that includes franchise bed-pooper A Good Day to Die Hard, I, Frankenstein and Divergent, he’s got very little talent and even less pathos, set with the kind of face that invites a hearty punch. His work may not ever be aggressively bad but it’s always been aggressively careless. Maybe it’s because we got in a tiff before the premiere and I was harboring feelings of distain towards the Aussie actor but I earnestly can’t think of a performance that annoyed me more than his work in the endlessly punishing Divergent.

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SIFF Capsule Recap #10: STANDING ASIDE WATCHING, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2, LIFE FEELS GOOD, THEY CAME TOGETHER

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The cloud has lifted. SIFF 2014 is over. I’ve seen 40 films. FORTY. (*Takes deep breath, drag off inhaler*) While I grossly miscalculated just how much a marathon watching 40 films in the span of a month (on top of new wide releases) would be and how taxing on my creative spirit, to have it done and over with is like a right of passage. With this capsule review series now at a close, I can assuredly say that SIFForty has certainly had a wealth of good stuff to offer but they’re nothing if not hidden amongst a trove of unenviable watches. As always, the good is mixed in with the bad, brown-paper-bagged and drawn at random. But of course, this is why you read reviews.

Even in this final leg, I’m keeping within the rules and regs of SIFF protocol so these micro-reviews are sliced and diced down to a brief 75 words so you can read them fast, I can write them fast and the studio’s happy. So, short and sweet reading for you, much more time for movie watching for me. This is the close of a beautiful friendship.

Standing Aside Watching (Na Kathesai Kai Na Koitas)

dir. Giorgos Servetas star. Marina Symeou, Marianthi Pantelopoulou, Nikos Georgakis (Greece)

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This Greek pseudo-tragedy thinks it blends elements of feminism in a bowl of misogyny but winds up a fallen soufflĂ© of smut; a concoction of hopelessness and gray scenery that reads snuff film. Just when you think the film might barrel into a satisfying direction of minxy revenge, Servetas’ film succumbs to more violence against women and more senseless sentences carried out by the meat-headed minds of men. An unpleasant and dark experience not worthy of embarking on. (D)

How to Train Your Dragon 2

dir. Dean DuBlois star. Jay Baruchel, Gerald Butler, Cate Blanchett, Craig Robinson, Djimon Hounsou (USA)

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Soaring nearly as high as its predecessor, How to Train Your Dragon 2 represents the best that animation has to offer. With Roger Deakins serving as a visual consultant, the film looks goddamn brilliant with Dreamworks ushering in a new gold standard for animated features in era of post-Pixar brilliance. And while most (if not all) of the comic beats fall on deaf ears (and ought to have been cut entirely), Dragon’s heart is so big and worn so proudly on its sleeve that you’ll have to be a monster to not erupt in tears on multiple occasions in this undeniably excellent yarn on a man’s maturing relationship with his beast. (A)

Life Feels Good (Chce Sie Zyc)

dir. Maciej Pieprzyca star. Dawid Ogrodnik, Dorota Kolak, Arkadiusz Jakubik, Helena Sujecka (Poland)

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Taking a page from the book of My Left Foot, Life Feels Good explores similar territory as a young man suffering from cerebral palsy tries, but fails, to communicate with the world. While Left Foot showed the immeasurable progress of a boy once thought to be a dullard, Life Feels Good is more about the institutional fallacies that circle mental disorders; the metaphysical prison that is disability juxtaposed against the physical prison that is a mental hospital. In Dawid Ogrodnik‘s stirring, wordless performance, we feel just how tortuous being trapped inside yourself would be and how damning the world around you can be. (B-)

They Came Together

dir. David Wain star. Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Cobie Smulders, Bill Hader (USA)

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Don’t get me wrong, Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd make for a charming duo. Nevertheless They Came Together is a rom-com spoof in the same witless vein of Jason Friedman and Aaron Seltzer (The Starving Games, Meet the Spartans). Accordingly, it’s somewhat shocking to see Wet Hot American Summer‘s David Wain attached as director and helmer of this jokeless torpedo. His lambasting efforts are futile, his hammy parody a complete wash. While Wain’s conceit appears to be grounded in an attempt to skewer the genre instead of merely recreating pop cultural references, it works like a montage of dead baby jokes and there’s ultimately nothing differentiating this from Scary Movie 6, Epic Movie or Vampires Suck. They Came Together joins the great American tradition of not knowing comedy from an asshole. (F)

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Click through for more recap segments and stay tuned for the next collection of four in this whopping ten part series.

Part 1: JIMI: All is By My Side, Zip Zap and the Marble Gang, Hellion, Fight Church 
Part 2: Cannibal, The Double, Time Lapse, Another
Part 3: Half of a Yellow Sun, Mirage Men, The Trip to Italy, Starred Up
Part 4: Difret, The Fault in Our Stars, The Skeleton Twins, In Order of Disappearance
Part 5: Willow Creek, Firestorm, Mystery Road, 10,000 KM
Part 6: Obvious Child, To Kill a Man, Night Moves, The Internet’s Own Boy
Part 7: Canopy, Intruders, The Babadook, Happy Christmas
Part 8: Frank, The Grand Seduction, Venus in Fur, Gold
Part 9: Leading Lady, Tom at the Farm, Grand Central, The One I Love


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2014 SIFF Offers 435 Films, I Offer 25 Must Sees

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Update June 3: More reviews added, no standing replacements.

Update May 17: Seeing that some of these didn’t live up to expectation, some prior “Must Sees” have been yanked and new additions have taken their place. After all, who doesn’t love some corrections and omissions?!

For its 40th, the Seattle International Film Festival is again raising the bar on itself, this year offering a whopping 435 films including 198 feature films, 60 documentaries, and 163 short films from 83 countries. Of those, 44 are world premieres, 29 North American premieres and 13 US premieres. All this amongst a slew of festival favorites from this year and last. Let’s just say that the odds of seeing them all just got that much slimmer. 

Kicking the festival off is Oscar-winner (12 Years a Slave) John Ridley‘s Jimi: All is By My Side, a zero frills biopic that chronicles the afro-ed classic rocker’s year in Britain leading up to his iconic Woodstock performance. And all by his side is 12 Years alum Chiwetel Ejiofor who will be in attendance May 19 (6 PM @ The Egyptian Theater) to talk about his new film Half of a Yellow Sun, an African-produced historical drama about Nigerian’s civil war through the 60s. Ejiofor will also take place in a Q&A with an audience eager to speak with the Academy Award nominee that same evening.

The festival will close June 8 at the glorious Cinerama with The One I Love starring Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men) and Mark Duplass (The League) which saw strong reviews opening at Sundance and is said to mix elements of modern romance with “Twilight Zone” twists and turns. Add it to the ever growing “To See” List.

But likely the most exciting and anticipated film of the festival will be found in SIFF’s Centerpiece Gala in Richard Linklater‘s Boyhood on Saturday, May 31 @ 5 PM. I had the great fortune of being amongst the first audience to see this at Sundance and it did nothing short of blow me away. Though I don’t want to be greedy and steal away the seats of those yet uninitiated to Boyhood, I look forward to experiencing it again and may not be able to resist a second viewing.

Since it’s all but impossible to see everything at SIFF, I have a list of 25 must sees that should put you on the right track for this year’s festivities.

The 25 Must Sees of SIFF 2014

Boyhood
Obviously Boyhood is gonna be on the list. I absolutely loved it and could wax said love over this page all day but I’ll spare the gushing and just tell you that of the 80+ films I’ve reviewed this year (!!!) this is the only to have yet received an A+. Sundance review here.

Mood Indigo
Michael Gondry returns to the realm of the weird, this time in his native French language, in what should be equal measures charming, bittersweet, and esoteric. The incredibly alluring Audrey Tatou is Chloe, who becomes wrapped up with a quirky inventor, even though she’s dying (because she has flowers growing in her lungs.)

Grand Central
Blue is the Warmest Color star Lea Seydoux puts in her second turn against A Prophet‘s Tahar Rahim in this French/Austrian production about a risky love affair set at the nuclear power plant where they both work.

Venus in Furs
Carnage wasn’t exactly the prodigal return for Roman Polanski we might have hoped for but it was anything but bad. Polanski continues his recent tradition of adapting lauded plays with Venus in Furs which stars Mathiew Amalric (Quantum of Solace) and is filmed in Polanski’s native French. Venus focuses on a playwright’s battle with his creative side. SIFF review here.

Cannibal
The chilling promo image alone gets me thinking Psycho and added to the fact that this production is in part Spanish, Romanian, Russian and French, gives it the taste of “something new.” Hopefully it brings the scares to the table in a SIFF surprisingly short on them. No longer considered must see, read our SIFF review here.

The Double (new addition)
Jesse Eisenberg stars as two polar opposites in this Orson Welles inspired black comedy. Wickedly weird but quietly potent, The Double might not be the best doppleganger film of the year (that award goes to Enemy) but it’s certainly compelling viewing that’ll leave you oddly fulfilled. SIFF review here.


Wetlands
A brilliantly told German satirical sexploitation/black comedy based on the popular and controversial German novel from Charlotte Roche. Wetlands is ooey, gooey fun that’ll make the hardest of stomachs churn every now and again but fully worth it for anyone up to the task. Sundance review here.

Lucky Them
What better to symbolize Seattle than the Sub Pop music scene? Megan Griffiths, who directed last year’s critically acclaimed Eden, takes on an entirely different subject right here in the rainy city and feel aided by performances from Toni Collette, Thomas Haden Church, and Oliver Platt.

They Came Together
Although the trailer shown seems to suggest a movie so deep in meta that it didn’t know which way was up, They Came Together found loads of fans when it played at this year’s Sundance. The ingredients alone – Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, David Waine (director of Wet Hot American Summer) in a doubly farcical, heavily tongue-in-cheek rom-com – seems primed for success.

How to Train Your Dragon 2
This is a tricky one to really anticipate as sequels are as much of a toss up as one can plan for but if the quality boast of Toy Story 3 and the wild success of the first How to Train Your Dragon are any indication, this could be the best widely-released animated feature of the year.

Time Lapse
Bradley King‘s directoral debut follows a group of three friends who discover a camera that shows events in the future, and looks to combine elements of sci-fi and horror into a thrilling narrative ride. Set for it’s North American premiere at SIFF, Time Lapse looks more promising than most within its field. Not gushing SIFF review here.

The Trip To Italy (new addition)
Four years after The Trip, Steve Coogan may be more clean cut than the shaggy Brit we once was but his and Rob Brydon’s chemistry is as flammable as ever. “Their old-as-they-are relationship paves the way for improvisation prowess so organic its feels more like second natural than performance. More impressions, absolutely stunning vistas, Alanis Morissette’s croon, lazily waxing on life and pasta, pasta, pasta gives intrepid life to The Trip to Italy.” SIFF review here.