Even though Dungeons and Dragons doesn’t have the adventurous spirit of the role-playing game it’s named after, there’s one curious way they can be compared. In the role-playing game, players are encouraged to be as creative as possible, which makes for a varied and exciting gaming experience. This movie strangely has the feeling of several different people going away and coming up with their own campaigns, before they’re mashed together in an attempt to make a single cohesive storyline. Unfortunately, the attempt fails. The empress of a fantasy land wants to grant equal rights to all people, commoner or mage, but is opposed by the evil Profion (Jeremy Irons, having all the fun in the world as a deranged, trembling, screaming megalomaniac). Two common thieves are embroiled in the epic struggle and find themselves embarking on a quest to retrieve a magical sceptre which can control red dragons. They’re accompanied by a librarian-mage, a dwarf and an elf, all of whom pop in and out of the storyline arbitrarily. Everything seems so randomly put together that it’s easy to blink and miss the current thread of the plot. The one common thread among our rag-tag band of heroes, though, is that every single character is more irritating and over-acted than the last, from the smirking hero to the wide-eyed love interest. The script is an absolute joke, with evil henchmen muttering the most bafflingly idiotic lines: “Just like you thieves – always taking things that don’t belong to you.” Even worse is the hideous CGI, with the dungeons and the dragons alike looking like the stilted renderings of a mid-90s CD-ROM game – though that’s arguably better than the cheap plastic props used for important ancient relics. Dungeons and Dragons is certainly an entertaining experience, but it has none of the grand scale or compelling narrative it’s supposed to.
It’s about Munchausen’s. That’s not even a spoiler – or it shouldn’t be, because Diane’s (Sarah Paulson) systematic abuse of her chronically ill daughter Chloe (Kiera Allen) is obvious about four minutes into the movie. Yet Run draws this out for an incredibly long time. It starts getting baffling pretty quickly, from implausible phone conversations to spontaneous shootings, but nothing of substance truly happens. Run has a habit of setting up a potential point of intrigue and then defusing it almost immediately (for example, Chloe is locked in her room and then breaks out straightaway), so nothing is allowed to simmer or build. Kiera Allen puts in a genuinely good performance, but she’s not enough to salvage the idiotic plot, which culminates in a twist so boring and irrelevant that it might as well not be in the film at all. Run is worth staying far away from.
In a remote village, seemingly circa 19th century, inhabitants are terrorised by violent creatures dwelling in the surrounding woods. When it’s necessary to get medicine for an injured resident, Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) ventures out to find it. The fact she’s blind is handled extremely poorly – she seems to see everything she needs to, with no use of her walking stick at all most of the time. But as she veers closer to the truth about the woods’ creatures, the plot veers entirely off the rails. A Shyamalan film from the 2000s was all but guaranteed to contain some kind of twist ending, and this habit is arguably at its worst in The Village, where shock value was quite obviously prized over plotting or credibility. Yet even before this, the stereotyped characters, stilted dialogue and formulaic camera movements suck any intrigue out of The Village. It is hard to have an effective twist when the world is so mundane in the first place.
Dear Evan Hansen might well be the best ever example of a film trying so hard to be seen saying something that it says nothing at all. Its musings on teen drama, suicide, mental health, love, family, and maturity are completely undermined by its tick-box approach to each of these concepts. Our high school protagonist Evan (played distractingly by an actor quite obviously in his mid-to-late twenties) cuts an infuriating figure, whose deceit and manipulation are supposed to be excused by his depression and social awkwardness. He lies about a dead person, objectifies his love interest, abandons his friends, and is hideously rude to his mother; his singing bland songs with wide-eyed angst does not mitigate his toxic behaviour, no matter what the movie might think. Of course, Evan’s not the only one with bland songs – with a glaring sole exception (which actually dares to use humour), every single song is a cut-and-paste of typical modern ballad fare. None of this even touches on the film’s strange approach to LGBTQ+ issues; where the connotations of a gay relationship could very obviously have been established and explored, the movie instead shies away and sticks to firmly heterosexual ground. The stage musical it’s based on can’t be much better, but at least that starred a lead actor of an appropriate age. Largely pathetic, and often disturbing, Dear Evan Hansen is about as performative as a film can get.
Horrendous. It is just horrendous. The Magic Pudding is based on a beloved Australian children’s classic book, and one can only hope the source material isn’t as horrendous as the adaptation. The story is horrendous: a koala bear goes in search of his lost parents, only to encounter a magical pudding which can morph and regenerate, thereby potentially solving world hunger, although of course the koala and his new pirate and penguin friends don’t consider this for a second. The animation is horrendous: the pudding has a perpetual red-eyed frowny expression conveying either fury or chronic alcoholism, but he does match the generally shoddy look of everything else in the movie. The characterisation is horrendous: everyone changes motivation constantly, and no one does anything for a discernible reason. The songs are horrendous: tuneless shrieking and nonsensical lyrics, with respite only being offered when songs finish as abruptly as they begin (“It’s Worse than Weevils” is a particularly grating song which only clocks in at a total of 38 seconds, although 38 seconds of silence would have been far preferable). The resolution is horrendous: the koala and his parents don’t even recognise each other, until they spontaneously do – it truly makes no sense. There is no other word for it. The Magic Pudding is horrendous, horrendous, horrendous.
Dream Horse is an absolutely confounding film. Based on a true story, it tells the tale of Dream Alliance, a racehorse bred in a village who beat the odds to become a champion. The film swiftly loses appeal for anyone who is not very, very interested in horseracing, because the attempts to convey universal concepts – determination, belief, care, pride – are all utterly hollow. It is astounding that Toni Collette chose to take on this role, as her character Jan genuinely displays significantly less character than the voiceless horse she raises. The portrayal of a kooky band of Welsh villagers is irritating at best, and alarming at worst. One of the villagers has a crippling alcohol problem which is played for laughs when it really shouldn’t be; meanwhile an accountant’s chronic gambling dependency is downplayed, because apparently believing in Dream Alliance is all that matters. It is highly likely the true story contains more interesting moments and fewer abhorrent characters, but as it stands, Dream Horse veers close to being the stuff of nightmares.
While being somewhat based on the Dungeon Siege video games, a more egregious attempt to rip off The Lord of the Rings than In the Name of the King is hard to come by. A king returning to claim his throne, hulking orc rip-offs, and ethereal wood-dwellers are but some of the obvious Tolkien tropes. Yet In the Name of the King doesn’t even manage to be interesting, despite trying to mimic one of the greatest cinematic triumphs ever made. The story follows a typically wooden Jason Statham, whose facial expression does not alter whether he’s living his happy farming life, grieving his murdered son, or fighting a grim battle. The world, known as Ehb, is so thinly drawn it’s hard to care whether it’s saved or not. The tone shifts are erratic, with no semblance of balance – one moment John Rhys-Davies is grimly pontificating, the next Matthew Lillard is goofily prancing around. Battle after battle (all of which, again, very obviously mirror particular battle sequences from The Lord of the Rings), there are no stakes, no decent action, and thus no investment from the audience whatsoever. At over two hours long, not a single minute of In the Name of the King is worth remembering.
Watching this Christmas television movie is genuinely one of the most bizarre viewing experiences possible. Based on the irritating novelty song of the same name, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer manages to fit an unprecedented amount of insanity in less than an hour. When young Jake sees his grandma hit by Santa’s sleigh he goes on a quest to prove it; this quest involves confusing timelines (Jake ostensibly waits several months before deciding to find his grandma), the shoddiest animation of all time (during a dance motion, one character’s legs actually switch places), confounding character choices (from an ostensibly Jewish Santa Claus to an evil attorney named I. M. Slime), awkward pacing (the movie often freezes in place for several seconds after an attempted punchline), and arguably the worst Christmas special songs ever written (usually introduced by an utterly contrived segue, if there is a segue at all). From cop banter to courtroom bickering, this film contains a lot. Incredibly not a single iota of it makes any sense.
Luc Besson wrote a series of fantasy novels for children, featuring young boy protagonist Arthur and his adventures with the miniature creatures named Minimoys. If the first film adaptation – naturally helmed by Besson himself – is anything to go by, these books simply cannot be any good. Blending live action and animation, the film veers from the perplexing to the downright disturbing. The plot is a mess; if the story solely focused on Arthur trying to save his grandmother’s farm, it might have worked. But unfortunately it’s closely accompanied by: tiny creatures living in the garden who are terrorised by a villain who’s been corrupted by a weevil (this is never really explained); members of a vague African tribe who randomly materialise in Arthur’s garden through no discernible method to dispense advice; an extremely forced and possibly age-inappropriate romance; and some of the most downright terrifying animation that has ever been created. Astoundingly, Besson continued making further films and a TV series, perhaps proving that abundant passion is not enough to justify any project.
A young boy joins a school for magical people and makes swift friends with an awkward ginger boy and an over-achieving smart girl. Their obstacles include a troll, a forbidden library, a chamber of magical puzzles, and bullying from their snide blonde classmate and his two hulking cronies. The extent to which The Magic Kids tries to mimic the Harry Potter series is so egregious it’s almost not even funny (almost). Of course, it contains none of the charm of that series, and instead its bland, forgettable characters meander from plot hole to plot hole like they’re painting by numbers. Throwing in vampires and werewolves and fairies does nothing to bulk up this Hogwarts Lite.
The 1970s weren’t exactly a prolific time for animation, meaning audiences were looking for the next big thing in the medium. The Lord of the Rings was not it. Based on the Tolkien trilogy – though only going as far as part-way through the second book, with its planned sequel never coming to light – it’s hard to find a single aspect which works consistently. Some of the backdrops are animated beautifully, while others look like archival footage shoved in at the last minute. The rotoscoping style used for the characters renders their movements awkward, lumbering, and erratic, made even more jarring by the constantly changing style of animation over the top, practically jolting between flat 2D and flat-out live action. The voice acting is dismal, with moaning, creaking Nazgûl and stilted reads from every single person. It’s hard to focus on any of this, though, seeing as endless distractions come in the form of the background characters, who either jerk around bizarrely or stay completely, eerily stock still. Though a reasonably limited budget excuses some of the issues, many of the problems could have been entirely avoided with a bit more creativity and care. It’s said The Lord of the Rings was a labour of love; in the end product, the laziness and irregularities belie that there was any labour or love at all.
Watching Pottersville is, quite frankly, a dizzying experience. The plot is utterly off the rails, beginning with the owner of a general store in idyllic Pottersville discovering his wife is a furry, part of a “furry sex club” along with the town sheriff and many other locals. As this wasn’t already bizarre enough, said store owner then drunkenly decides to run around town in a gorilla suit by way of response. Then, after he’s mistaken for Bigfoot, he (soberly) decides to just keep on doing it. For no discernible reason at all. The film tries to suggest it’s some warm-hearted attempt to “help the town” – how this is supposed to work is not remotely clear. Meanwhile a celebrity monster-hunter comes to town to hunt down Bigfoot, and mostly struts around shouting lazy one-liners over and over again in the worst Australian accent ever known to man. In fact, almost every single attempted joke in Pottersville is inexplicably repeated several times over, as though the makers believed insipid observations somehow get funnier if they’re said five or six times. All of this is made even more insane, even more alarming, by the calibre of the cast involved. Michael Shannon, Ian McShane, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman and Judy Greer must have all accrued some devastating gambling debts in 2017, because there is no other conceivable reason they’d willingly be involved in such a deranged mess as Pottersville.
Amsterdam is an absolutely inexplicable film, in that it’s very difficult to understand what on earth is going on at any given moment. The twisting, turning plot somehow manages to be convoluted and completely boring at the same time. The characters are so thinly drawn that it’s impossible to care what’s happening, whether Taylor Swift’s getting shoved in front of a car or Christian Bale’s spending the entire movie at a bizarre sideways neck bend as though it’s a personality trait. It is absolutely stunning that so many otherwise talented actors are in this film, because no one turns in a decent performance. Everyone’s acting has the melodramatic quality of a telenovela, except Amsterdam is supposed to be taken as a wry, witty take on a serious matter, the Business Plot conspiracy theory. If you knew nothing about the Business Plot before, you are guaranteed to leave Amsterdam somehow knowing even less.
Soul Man follows Mark, a graduate applying to Harvard Law School who takes skin-tanning pills in order to black up and falsely claim a scholarship for African American students. The film is exactly as horrendous, as unbelievable, as obscene as that sounds. None of the comedy lands, not even for a moment, not even as people stand and stare blankly at each other after every ill-conceived one-liner quite obviously waiting for the audience to laugh. None of the emotional parts land, with the insufferably entitled Mark apparently only beginning to consider the plights of ethnic minorities when he goes through a teeny tiny fraction of them personally. It is hideous to look at, with Mark’s blackface provoking utter shock and contempt from any vaguely sane audience member. The fact that comedy and acting legends show up in this – James Earl Jones! Leslie Nielsen! Julia Louis Dreyfus! Melora Hardin! – just adds to the burgeoning sense of disbelief. Soul Man is a frankly disgusting movie, to the extent it feels offensive to the very institution of cinema to refer to it as a movie at all.
There are many films which revolve around a close-knit group of friends – it’s a fairly typical set-up. We Are Your Friends sets itself apart by containing quite possibly the most obnoxious, brash, self-entitled group of friends ever depicted in a movie before. At the centre is Cole (Zac Efron), intent on becoming a successful DJ, even though his musical skills are questionable at best. The film is scene after scene of everyone getting drunk and high and jumping around to generic beats, with essentially no development for the majority of the story until there’s a sudden attempt at a dramatic twist. It, predictably, falls flat, and then the rest of the movie essentially continues on as before. Although We Are Your Friends clearly wants to be a searing portrait of youth culture, drugs and partying, it’s simply a grating, repetitive, headache-inducing pulsating from beginning to end. Trainspotting, it ain’t.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is pretty much identical to Paul Blart: Mall Cop, except this time he’s in a Vegas hotel instead of mall. There’s also a brief, bizarre moment of respite featuring a pianist smiling in a garden, playing serene music while Kevin James is attacked by a bird, but besides this arbitrary inclusion, the sequel is pretty much indistinguishable from the first one. No further time or thought needs to be spent on Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 – which is why it’s thoroughly depressing and terrifying that there are rumours of a Paul Blart: Mall Cop 3 in the works. What a terrible time we live in.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop is 90 minutes of Kevin James rolling around on a Segway, saving a mall from bad guys in between making fat jokes and being generally useless. It is extremely bad. Nothing is funny, and no one is likeable. There is nothing else to be said about Paul Blart: Mall Cop, because fundamentally, Paul Blart: Mall Cop is exactly what one would think a movie called Paul Blart: Mall Cop would be, and no more. No further time or thought needs to be spent on Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
Considering that Disney’s 2007 fairy-tale send-up Enchanted is a genuinely clever, charming film, it’s even more disappointing that its sequel is so rushed, lazy and uninspired. Set ten years after the original, fairy-tale protagonist Giselle (Amy Adams) lives happily with her family in New York, but soon after moving to suburbia, she finds she longs for the dreamlike spark of her old home. After making a wish – through a type of magic which very suddenly, very conveniently exists – she renders her world a fairy-tale, and quickly realises it was a mistake as she’s forced to embrace the wicked stepmother trope. Though the idea is genuinely a good one, its execution is so boring and unoriginal that it’s difficult to believe this film has anything to do with Enchanted. The performances are earnest, but the plot points are by rote. The songs are completely forgettable: Idina Menzel shrieks the words “love power” like they’re supposed to be meaningful, and the film’s signature song repeatedly belts out the words “even more enchanted” as though that’ll somehow mean the original film’s essence is recaptured. The stark difference in impact between Enchanted and Disenchanted can be pretty accurately summed up by the titles themselves.
Iron Sky is about as depressingly on-the-nose as a self-aware pastiche can get. With a premise that essentially boils down to “Nazis on the moon”, it’s obvious how much it’s trying to fit into the “so bad it’s good” genre. But with its coarse attempts at edginess (the Nazis white up a black man!), social commentary (“All presidents who start a war in their first term get re-elected!” barks the Sarah Palin lookalike), and downright zaniness (after all, the core theme is “Nazis on the moon”, and there is essentially no plot or hook beyond this), Iron Sky largely comes across as boring and uninspired. Nothing is remotely as funny as it thinks it is, and it makes the entire film feel about ten times longer than it truly is. Iron Sky‘s desperate attempts to be so bad it’s good result in it simply being so bad, full stop.
It is genuinely embarrassing to see how much The Cell is trying versus how little it actually achieves. The story follows child psychologist Catherine (Jennifer Lopez, about as ineffectual as you can imagine) who uses special technology to delve into her patients’ minds through a realm akin to virtual reality. Her skills are required when notorious serial killer Carl (Vincent D’Onofrio) is caught but is in a coma, meaning the only way to find the location of his current, live victim is by examining his psyche. While the premise of exploring a serial killer’s mind is intriguing, The Cell just indulges in the most basic, obvious imagery and tropes: torture, child abuse, dismembered dolls, the whole thing almost feels perfunctory, to the extent there’s no real impact. This is also done through a distinct but oozingly pretentious aesthetic, with bizarre colours and sets and costumes which look stylish, but add absolutely no substance. The real kick in the teeth is the plot is fundamentally pointless – saving Carl’s victim winds up having nothing to do with the secrets in his subconscious, while his final confrontation with Catherine leads to far, far more questions than answers. Though it’s obvious The Cell is trying to be deep and gritty, it’s fundamentally just empty.
This should be a fairly simple, straightforward romance about a man becoming reacquainted with his lost love, but Wicker Park turns its central premise into a dizzying rollercoaster ride of insane plot twists, confusing character motivations and terrible direction. A non-linear timeline structure reveals Matt (Josh Harnett) and Lisa (Diane Kruger) broke up some years prior, for reasons so stupid and nonsensical that even the movie seems unable to acknowledge them for long. There’s also the reveal that a jealous neighbour, Alex (Rose Byrne), harbours an obsession with Matt, which manifests in ways both nefarious and benevolent. Alex is an especially egregious example of a character whose desires, beliefs, and fundamental personality seem to alter from minute to minute, meaning none of her choices make a shred of sense. The whole movie is buoyed along by choppy camera work, strange zoom-ins and freezes, and obnoxiously lurid colour saturation. It’s obvious Wicker Park thinks it’s telling a much grander, more sweeping story than it really is.
Look Both Ways is but the latest take on the Sliding Doors concept of a person’s life branching off in different potential directions. The movie follows college graduate Natalie across two potential realities: one where she has a baby, and one where she doesn’t. Her life with her baby-daddy is more domestic, while the timeline where she doesn’t have a baby is more glamorous but unstable. Of course the movie states that she winds up happy either way, and actually even takes a rare step of letting Natalie find different love interests rather than indicating one particular person is her soulmate. But this vague good work is momentously undone when the very premise of the film is so infuriating. Because it’s not that Natalie chooses whether or not to have a baby, it’s that she simply is pregnant in one timeline and isn’t in the other. So it’s not about free will or the choices you make – it’s more that life happens to you and you have to go along with it, which is an utterly absurd message to send to any young woman who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. Along with the banal characters, idiotic dialogue, and frankly unbelievable conceit that Natalie’s incredibly shoddy art could lend her professional success in any imaginable universe, Look Both Ways is far better not looked at at all.
The Final Alchemy, in a way, achieves something absolutely spectacular. Because Fullmetal Alchemist already had very bad CGI. The Revenge of Scarcontinued that tradition and boasted similarly terrible CGI. But despite the bar already being so low it’s being melted by the Earth’s core, The Final Alchemy impressively manages to contain even worse CGI than its predecessors. It’s sort of stunning, just how unrealistic the Homunculi and monsters look. The visuals do serve to distract from the simultaneously confusing and insipid storytelling, though, which somehow manages to take the epic complexity of the manga and anime and turn it into dull, paint-by-numbers box-ticking: “This happens, then this happens, then this happens.” By the story’s climax there is absolutely no reason to care about a single character, and therefore there’s no reason to care about anything which happens to them. The only good thing about The Final Alchemy is the relief that it is, in fact, the final one.
Unbelievably, despite the 2017 live-action Fullmetal Alchemist adaptation being horrendously subpar, somehow it was decided that the saga would continue. The Revenge of Scar continues its predecessor’s penchant for bad wigs, underwhelming action and shoddy CGI. In this instalment we’re following the supposedly epic journey of our villain-turned-ally Scar, whose ceaseless rage our protagonists Ed and Al come to understand is somewhat justifiable. This is a hard existential journey to follow when the creators thought it would be a good idea to daub orange-looking fake tan on Scar’s face in an embarrassing attempt to make the actor look like he’s a different race. The lack of emotional nuance and understanding only worsens with each passing scene: bereavements and massacres are conveyed with all the emotional heft of a splinter. Depressingly, they didn’t stop here – The Revenge of Scar precedes yet another tacky adaptation inThe Final Alchemy.
If it weren’t for the fact that it genuinely did happen in real life, this story of two men chasing down a runaway freight train full of toxic chemicals would be too absurd to take seriously. Credit where it’s due, the core story is told pretty faithfully, and it’s a pretty remarkable tale of bravery conquering ineptitude and unfortunate circumstance. However, reluctant to let the story speak for itself, Unstoppable really lays on the melodrama thick. Our two heroes have to wax lyrical about the woes and tribulations of their lives, to really hit home how determined and courageous they are. Every single character is painted as either good or bad, competent or useless, eager to save lives or eager to save profits – there is no room for any nuance in this film. Most of all, the direction and editing of Unstoppable are absolutely obnoxious. Not a single shot lasts for more than five seconds; jerky zooms and panning create the illusion that nothing pauses for a mere moment. This would make more sense if limited to the action scenes chasing the train, but quiet conversations in rooms and even the simple act of a man getting off a sofa are subjected to abrupt cuts and wild camera work. Unstoppable may have been a decent film if it bothered to, just occasionally, stop.
Quite unbelievably, After Ever Happy is the fourth installment in the miserable After series, following After, After We Collided, and After We Fell. Even more unbelievably, the worst thing about After Ever Happy is not its asinine title, but the movie that comes with it, during which our star-crossed duo Tessa and Hardin continue their toxic dynamic full of yelling, stalking, sexual manipulation, and in one particularly disturbing scene, arson. More unbelievable still, After Ever Happy continues the series’ insistence that these two deranged and destructive characters are in fact destined to be together; when Tessa insists they need some time apart, Hardin’s refusal to listen is not meant to be sinister or inappropriate but, instead, romantic. Most unbelievable of all, despite initial reports to the contrary and the implication of its own ludicrous title, After Ever Happy is not in fact the final part of the series, and ends with yet another “To be continued” title card, as though any of us really needed to see more of this unhealthy, unhinged relationship. Unbelievable.
A possessed pair of jeans begins a bloody crusade to murder the staff of a clothing store. From the premise alone, it’s obvious Slaxx is not meant to be taken seriously. Instead it’s one of those nudge-nudge, wink-wink, ostensibly self-aware films which revels in its own insanity. To an extent, it works. Images of the jeans forming a sharp-toothed mouth, or dancing around when distracted by music, are pretty funny. But Slaxx unfortunately banks on the assumption that this premise can be stretched out for seventy-seven minutes. However, it cannot. The acting is all so over-the-top as to become irritating very quickly, while the humour inherent in “some jeans kill a person” is quickly diluted with every victim claimed. There’s also an uncomfortable portrayal of Indian culture, including the jeans sliding themselves onto a mannequin which has a dot on its head supposedly representing a bindi, not to mention conversations conducted in technically shaky Hindi. By the time the bindi-adorned mannequin is dancing around to Bollywood music, it just feels a bit racist. It’s clear what Slaxx was trying to do, but unfortunately it doesn’t succeed for very long at all.
It’s almost impressive just how little of The Boy Next Door works. Recently separated Claire (a woefully underwhelming Jennifer Lopez) finds herself seduced, then stalked, by the eponymous young lad Noah (a hilariously terrible Ryan Guzman). Calling Ryan a “boy” is laughable considering the actor is quite obviously in his late twenties; scenes where he hangs out with Claire’s teenage son are more uncomfortable than his dalliance with Claire herself. The sex scenes are depressingly devoid of passion, and Ryan’s obsession is founded on so little of substance (the less said about the baffling moment where he gifts classics expert Claire a “first edition” of The Iliad, the better) that it’s all but impossible to accept the alleged intensity of the pair’s relationship. Claire’s resolute refusal to do anything sensible like ask for help or call the police gets more frustrating with every passing minute. In addition, this is hopefully the first and last movie to employ the “epipen used as a weapon” trope, or at least the only one where it’s supposed to be taken seriously. The Boy Next Door obviously thinks of itself as a beguiling erotic thriller, but it plays much more like a parody of one.
The set-up of Just Like Heaven shouldn’t, theoretically, be all that complicated. The movie certainly ticks a few boxes in its opening scenes: we meet our frazzled workaholic Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon), whose life revolves around her job as a doctor. Despite supposedly being an incredibly accomplished physician, she is ostensibly completely useless at such tasks requiring basic hand-eye coordination as changing her car radio’s volume, to the extent that it results in a serious road crash. David (Mark Ruffalo) is then shown moving into Elizabeth’s conveniently vacated apartment, but it’s not long before he’s experiencing strange visions and movements that no one else can see. That, along with the word “heaven” being in the film’s very title, should surely indicate some sense of what comes next – but Just Like Heaven manages to surprise, and not in a good way. It seems the film wanted to do a story with a ghostly romance, but also wanted a happy ending with two live, breathing characters. So it elected to do both. It’s a poor film with an almost offensively contrived storyline, and it leaves you wishing there truly was at least as much death in the movie as the title implies.
North already hinges on a stupid premise: a kid named North (Elijah Wood) is fed-up of being underappreciated by his parents, so he legally “divorces” them. Nevermind that the parents demonstrably lavish all sorts of attention and affection on North – the film’s opening credits are set to a montage of his many many toys, for God’s sake, plus he clearly is given resources to pursue all manner of hobbies, and he always has food to eat and a warm, giant home to live in. Yet apparently, because the parents sometimes argue and ignore North, their egregious negligence must be punished. So off North goes, in search of new parents to live with. This all leads to a bizarrely diabolical child-journalist to lead a kind of fascist uprising of children divorcing their parents, with North as the movement’s figurehead – but this isn’t actually the focus of the film. No, North‘s focus seems to be on stereotyping and insulting as many cultures as humanly possible. The Texans love to eat food and get fat. The Hawaiians have low self-esteem (which somehow also takes the form of horrible jokes about infertility and paedophilia). The Alaskans send their elderly out to sea to die. The Amish all have the same names and don’t use electricity. In former Zaire, no one wears clothes. In China, North is immediately worshipped as a lord. In Paris, everyone drinks wine and watches 24/7 Jerry Lewis. All throughout, Bruce Willis pops up as North’s pseudo-guardian angel, making trite observations and narrating North’s winding journey to realising, even when he’s with a seemingly perfect (white and conservative) family in New York, that there’s no place like home. Why there needed to be such a series of shockingly offensive caricatures to get North to this point is anyone’s guess. It’s hard to understand what the ultimate point is really supposed to be – “There’s no place like home”, sure, but is the result that your home is where your biological family is? Is North fundamentally anti-adoption? Regardless, the film manages to do the ultimate cop-out with an “it was all a dream” shtick, which boosts the general, overwhelming feeling that this film would be better off had it never happened at all.
There’s a lot of really obvious stuff to despise about Norm of the North, a film about the eponymous polar bear’s wacky adventures in the course of finding his true self. There’s the lazy animation, in which characters’ textures often look stiff and rubbery, and the same boring, flailing polar bear dance sequence is repeated no fewer than five times. There’s the grating voice acting, which granted isn’t a surprise when the main character is played by Rob Schneider. There’s the stupid puerile jokes, which revolve around farting and pissing way, way, way more than even the most idiotic kids’ films usually do. There’s the uncomfortable stereotypes, including a cackling supervillain who seems to embody Chinese tropes for no discernible reason. All of these are very, very good reasons to despite Norm of the North, but to add insult to injury, even the barest bones of the film’s plot manage to make no sense. It should be easy to do a coming-of-age children’s story about a polar bear, no matter how generic or clichéd, but Norm of the North doesn’t even muster up a film that makes sense. Does Norm hate humans or like them? Are polar bears’ language and English always mutually intelligible or only sometimes? Do polar bears need to become more like humans, or less like them? Also, what is the point of doing an obvious fake-out about Norm’s mentor-grandpa dying, twice? It’s a genuine struggle to understand what’s going on in this film most of the time, which fundamentally means there is not a single remnant of a saving grace in the entire thing.
The whole point of Dr Seuss’ stories was to use simple imagery and engaging language to tell a profound moral. Sadly, this adaptation of The Lorax instead uses garbage imagery and garbage language to tell a garbage moral. The songs are loud and basic and annoying; the characters are loud and basic and annoying; the animation is loud and basic and annoying. From the painfully obvious Minions rip-offs to the tired hipster references and clichés, there’s nothing remotely resembling subtlety in this. The original talks about how there’s no real easy answer to saving the planet, and how much of the balance between industrialism and environmentalism is a grey area. However, in this there’s just a simple portrayal of good vs evil, no room for nuance or ambiguity – and thus no room for the audience themselves to remotely consider that they could, however inadvertently, be contributing to the problem. The original tale is about not succumbing to consumerism, yet this version of The Lorax is, arguably, consumerism defined.
In Fatal Affair, a successful woman named Ellie meets an old college friend, David. They engage in a very brief amorous encounter before Ellie resists and returns to her life with her husband and daughter. However, David is instantly obsessed, and begins stalking Ellie, basically pursuing every available avenue to get her back. Fatal Affair is about as predictable as a film like this gets. Of course our protagonist is painted as completely good and moral, while our antagonist is irredeemably twisted and evil. Perhaps this could have been more interesting if either of them had a shred of personality beyond the stereotypical roles they’ve been cast in, but alas and alack, Fatal Affair forgoes character in favour of over-the-top murders and silly tension sequences (there’s a particularly stupid moment where David somehow doesn’t see Ellie despite her being directly in front of him). There are no surprises or twists at all; the whole thing is a paint-by-numbers domestic thriller, indistinguishable from the rest of them.
The Switch is quite frankly a disgusting film. Disgusting in a moral sense, disgusting in a physical sense – just an all-round nauseating experience. Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) is in her late thirties and keen to have a child, so she decides to search for a sperm donor. Her best friend and ex Wally (Jason Bateman) objects to this vehemently. Clearly this is because he still harbours romantic feelings for her, and seems to believe this therefore makes Kassie his property. Yet, apparently, the audience is supposed to like and support him. We’re supposed to like and support him while he drunkenly spills Kassie’s existing sperm donation into the toilet (why she just has it lying around in her bathroom in the first place is anyone’s guess). We’re supposed to like and support him as he decides to replace the sperm with his own sample instead. We’re supposed to like and support him as the film fast-forwards several years – Wally’s knowledge of his own paternity supposedly blotted out by his inebriation at the time – to Kassie raising a son whose progeny is a complete lie. We’re supposed to like and support him as he blunders around, seeing the kid’s similarities to himself, and alternately eschews responsibility and barges in where he’s not wanted. All this means that when Wally finally gets the girl, it’s supposed to be a happy ending. But instead, it just feels hollow and unpleasant. The Switch apparently took all possible charm, joy and affection, and switched it for sheer ugliness.
There is very little to be said about Love Actually‘s many glaring flaws that hasn’t all been said before, but considering this vapid, cloying, frankly harmful film’s still-enduring popularity, much of it bears repeating. Love Actually is almost entirely hinged on the idea of self-deluded men being chronically arrogant, selfish, and shallow, and practically being gifted a woman as a result. There’s the foppish prime minister who stares at his employee, eschewing all problems of a power dynamic and instead manipulating her career as he sees fit (and the less said about the ridiculous fat jokes against this perfectly healthy woman, the better). There’s the company boss who has to do absolutely nothing at all in order to get his secretary leering at him every chance she gets. There’s the little boy who’s encouraged to learn an instrument just to get a girl he’s never spoken to to like him – and it works. There’s the creepy stalker man who’s obsessed with his best friend’s wife, and is for some reason rewarded with affection and sympathy. There’s the obnoxious, sexist, random annoying guy who whines that British girls are too stuck-up to like him, so he jets off for merry threesomes in the US instead. Perhaps most egregiously of all, there’s the husband who’s cheated on and finds refuge abroad, only to fall for his Portuguese maid. The fact they don’t understand each other at all is deemed totally irrelevant, as love apparently has nothing to do with conversation or communication. Then they get married. They don’t even go on a date – they just instantly get married, and it’s supposed to be a happy ending. In reality, the ending is about as far from happy as you can get. From start to finish, Love Actually is one of the all-time worst representations of love, sex, or relationships ever put to film.
Deep Water is just a thoroughly unpleasant film. The story follows Vic (Ben Affleck), the wealthy husband of the alluring and mysterious Melinda (Ana de Armas). They have a young daughter (and they also adopt a dog, who is very cute but contributes nothing to the film at all except making it longer). The movie is never entirely clear, but it seems as though Vic and Melinda have a marital deal which means Melinda is permitted to have as many extra-marital affairs as she wants, but she can never leave the family. Why has this deal been made? It’s not particularly clear. Between Vic’s dead-eyed staring and Melinda’s habitual screaming fits, no one seems particularly happy with the status quo. There’s also a big question around why Melinda doesn’t simply leave, then sleep with whoever she wants. Deep Water is stuffed with totally irrelevant details which are focused on for inordinate amounts of time (the aforementioned dog; the source of Vic’s wealth being drone technology; Vic’s bizarre obsession with snails), presumably all in an effort to distract the audience from the fact that the core plot, despite its many supposed jealousy-driven murders, actually has nothing of substance to offer at all. Right down to the casting of Ben Affleck, Deep Water feels like the Gone Girl fanfic sequel that absolutely no one asked for.
17-year-old Rain is suffering from early on-set schizophrenia. A new boy at school seems to develop a spontaneous interest in her, but while she’s suffering with chronic delusions, how can Rain know whether he exists or not? This is the premise of an insufferably predictive movie which is far, far less clever than it thinks it is. The movie’s central “twist” can be seen coming off several miles away, so when it finally lands, it causes no impact whatsoever. In addition, Rain is obsessed with the idea that her next-door neighbour has kidnapped a child; this particular storyline involves such coarse stereotyping and demonising of an older single woman that it’s a wonder any self-respecting actor chose to take the role on. All the acting, writing, and directing are so phoned-in, yet so bizarrely smug in their execution, that it’s obvious Castille Landon believed this was the world’s next great psychological thriller phenomenon. Instead, this film will deservedly be lost in time, like tears in rain.
High school student Brooks Rattigan is absolutely obsessed with the idea of going to Yale University, but is worried he can’t afford it. He therefore gets his geeky best friend to set up an app, essentially pimping Brooks out as an escort (but a nicely sanitised, teen movie-friendly one who’s never once targeted by a pervert or rapist, and simply goes on wholesome home-before-midnight sojourns). Of course, there’s a whole thing around how the woman he truly wanted to spend time with was there all along. So far, so standard teen rom-com, and really that’s all The Perfect Date is. One remarkable feature, though, is just how much Brooks talks about money. He seems to work a strange bitterness into every single conversation he has, pointing out affluence at every opportunity, while still living in obvious comfort himself. It lends a slightly awkward edge to the whole movie – but granted, it would never have been a good film anyway.
It is genuinely difficult to sum up The Dish & the Spoon in mere words, but some options would include: hideous; disgusting; offensive; baffling; infuriating. The story – far too kind a word – follows late-twenty-something Rose, played by mumblecore darling Greta Gerwig, who’s just discovered her husband has been having an affair. The film pretty quickly establishes Rose as entirely unhinged, as she screams and wails down the phone incoherently and makes frequent threats of violence. Then she discovers an English boy (Olly Alexander), clarified to be definitely over 18 but definitely under 21, and sort of pseudo-adopts him as a plaything. The boy, who’s been jilted by a girlfriend, clearly has no money or any real options at all, and is helpless as he goes along with dressing up, fishing, participating in fake wedding photos, and lying in a burial plot, all at Rose’s absolutely catastrophic whims. If the audience is meant to relate to Rose as a meandering millennial heroine then this doesn’t work at all, as she’s so detestable from start to finish. The age and power difference between the two characters makes any attempt at charm or affection an utter, utter failure. Case in point: the boy in the lighthouse never even gets a name in this film. If the audience is actually supposed to hate Rose, then mission swiftly accomplished, but there’s no joy to be had in sitting through ninety minutes of her relentless garbage. This film should quite frankly never have been made,
The Librarian might well be one of the all-time oddest franchises to ever exist. The so-called “Librarian” is actually a retriever and keeper of a series of magical historic artifacts – in this inaugural feature these are revealed to include Pandora’s Box, Excalibur, and the Golden Fleece, among many others. Our newly initiated Librarian Flynn – apparently hired into the role because he has an irritatingly exaggerated Sherlock Holmes-type ability to glance at a person and immediately recite their entire history – is charged with hunting down the three pieces of the Spear of Destiny. Cue a story so obviously trying to be Indiana Jones that it’s almost adorable. Almost. Unfortunately, The Librarian trips itself up with ludicrous plot twists and turns, including story beats around the language of the birds and Shangri-La. It’s as though The Librarian was so preoccupied with stuffing in as many references as possible, it forgot that good characters are integral to a story too. Instead, this features a frankly insufferable protagonist who never shuts up about his own awkwardness, a femme fatale love interest completely lacking in any personality, and a villain so suffused by bad intentions he does little but smirk and prance around. Yet, this pathetic excuse for an adventure film managed to spawn an entire franchise of related material, including sequels, comics, and a TV show. Apparently a heavily diluted Indiana Jones is a more popular idea than one would’ve hoped.
Few people can do testosterone-fuelled nonsensical violence like Zack Snyder. 300, his very loose retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, is filled with all the classic Snyder tropes. Unnecessarily saturated colour! Going slow-motion then fast-motion then slow-motion again! Men yelling about blood and honour! A single woman given a shred of character at all, and even then she’s mostly a vacuous waste of space! A moral system based on ugly people being bad and attractive people being good! General pervasive racist and xenophobic tones throughout! 300 is so bad that its obvious ambition and near-imposing scale don’t do much to excuse its existence. It’s a shame so many otherwise talented people were involved – 300 shot Gerard Butler and Lena Headey to A-list prominence, but also features the likes of Dominic West, Rodrigo Santoro, David Wenham, and even the film debut of Michael friggin’ Fassbender. All this potential talent, squandered on a film so utterly devoid of substance it’s a wonder it didn’t float up into the heavens – but that is quite clearly where Snyder believes this purported masterpiece belongs.
The fact that Dominator even exists is an absolute mind-bend. It’s based on what is purported to be the first British manga (a questionable claim in itself), which revolves around Dominator, a demonic entity who is unleashed from hell when a trio of unsuspecting hot girls play a forbidden chord on their guitars. Dominator has stolen the key to hell, and decides to use his newfound power and freedom to essentially bum around London having sex and playing metal concerts. The story, what little there is, is beyond ludicrous, and it’s genuinely difficult to discern what’s supposed to be going on at any one time. All that’s unquestionably clear is that every single female character can’t help but swoon in fits of desire whenever Dominator’s around. That said, in Dominator’s defence, it occasionally hints that it knows what it’s doing. The odd genuinely funny line or overtly exaggerated vocal performance seem to suggest the whole thing is a joke on us, sometimes. Just sometimes. But it doesn’t matter, because Dominator‘s animation is so eye-wateringly bad that it’s beyond anything which could be excused as parody. Blank staring eyes, stiff limbs, utterly inscrutable backgrounds – every single individual frame hurts the eyes. Whatever Dominator is or isn’t trying to be, there is no realm on Earth or in hell in which it could be classified as anything but insanely bad.
Unless they’re willing to put in a lot of thought, research and effort, scriptwriters should generally stay away from time travel. Unfortunately, it does not seem as though the writers of Press Play put in even the barest amount of time, research or effort. Some years after Laura’s boyfriend has died, she finds an old mixtape they made; listening to a particular song takes her back in time to when they first heard the song together, giving Laura a chance to potentially save his life. The time travel stuff unravels extremely quickly – does Laura remember her universe-altering forays or not? Is she jumping universe when she does it? Just how many Lauras are there supposed to be? – but the film also suffers from a tepid love story, and aged tropes like “two-dimensional best friend” and “mystical black advisor”. The film’s overall moral is also very confusing, as it seems the movie is fundamentally saying you truly can change the past, if you just go far back enough. Not a particularly helpful message for those grieving loved ones. There is no good reason whatsoever to bother pressing play on Press Play.
Imagine Home Alone, but with all the charm and intelligence removed, and replaced instead with an orangutan running around a hotel. That’s, essentially, Dunston Checks In. Two boys live with their father in the hotel he runs, but oh no, a jewel thief and his sidekick orangutan arrive to cause mischief and mayhem. The score, direction and acting all scream “zany antics” throughout, but the movie’s hijinks are so perfunctory, so underwhelming, that it’s hard to imagine even very young children being entertained. The main little boy is obnoxious, and most of the adult performances aren’t much more bearable. Granted, the orangutan’s acting is genuinely impressive, but it’s massively undermined by the thought of what this poor thing had to go through in captivity, during training, and on set. There can surely be no worse fate for an endangered creature than being a part of Dunston Checks In.
A professional assassin wants a new life, and so he finds refuge by pretending to be a baker in a rural Welsh village. He’s got another assassin hot on his trail, and a bunch of murderous neighbours who’ve discovered his past and want to entail his services to kill their friends and family. The Baker is billed as a black comedy, sure, but the comedy is sorely lacking in this truly baffling film. Ostensibly, it’s supposed to be hilarious when our main character starts having sex with his love interest in a pile of food, rubbing butter all over each other because apparently that’s their fetish, but for the several arduous minutes this goes on for it’s never once funny, it’s just gross. Every single villager is an exaggerated caricature, so it’s hard to imagine any Welsh person finding these portrayals affectionate or insightful (which could again be forgiven if they elicited but one laugh). And some of the attempts at going “dark” are quite disturbing; The Baker proves that few films besides Four Lions can make exploding livestock funny. There are some valiant attempts at good acting – Damian Lewis is clearly doing his writer-director brother a massive favour here – but no amount of acting talent or enthusiasm can make this weird little film actually work.
It’s relatively easy to accept the premise of Stuart Little – a mouse gets adopted by a human family – because so much else of the movie is so nuts. The original book it’s based on is supposed to be pretty off-kilter too, but surely it’s not as weird as this. Why is it that all the mice talk and interact with humans, but the cats seem to keep their speaking abilities a secret? So mice are adopted, but cats are pets? Meanwhile, why does a mouse couple pretend to be Stuart’s biological parents and spirit him away, only to just amicably let him go again? Why did Stuart listlessly go with them in the first place? And why is everyone in this community so preoccupied with a mini boat racing contest? Of course Stuart Little requires some suspension of disbelief, and in its defence it’s a perfectly harmless family movie. But the bizarre situations and ensuing questions seem almost inevitable, considering this adaptation was co-written by M. Night Shyamalan. What a twist!
This imagining of Alvin and the Chipmunks came to the fore during a peak period for terrible children’s films. In this one, our vacuous protagonist Dave meets Alvin, Simon and Theodore – our titular chipmunks, digitally added in so badly that it’s regularly extremely obvious the live action actors are speaking to thin air – and they do the usual things of trashing his house, sabotaging his job and generally being a nuisance. But of course, they warm his heart along the way. This movie follows every last lazy cliché, takes every lowest possible road, squeezes every last potential drop of imagination from the story, and is simply an irritating bore to sit through. The chipmunks’ sped up squeaky voices wind up barely making an impact, and are somehow the least annoying part of the movie. Instead, you’re too busy wondering whether on earth talking chipmunks are meant to be a novelty or not, seeing as everyone accepts the trio as their new popstar overlords pretty quickly. The emotional impact is supposed to be around whether or not Dave accepts the chipmunks as his sons – except he does vocally call them his sons, very early on, yet they subsequently go on and on about whether he’s willing to do it. This was always going to be a stupid film, but it’s somehow even more stupid than it seems.
Pentagram is about as paint-by-numbers as it’s possible for a budget horror film to be. A group of wayward teens – none of whom, incidentally, look remotely as though they’re played by actual teenagers – stumble upon a cursed pentagram in an abandoned house. Once they’ve entered the pentagram, they cannot leave without being killed and devoured by an unknown demonic entity (which is manifest by some of the worst, clip art-like special effects imaginable). Or, much like The Ring, they have to perform a sacrifice of someone else before they can be freed. But there’s no real horror or intrigue here. We have to sit and watch the characters try to loop together their garments in order to lasso themselves some candles, for an arduously long time. None of the characters is likeable or relatable, so it’s hard to get invested. The climax at the end of the movie is for a character so lifeless, so vapid, that it’s hard to feel anything at all. Making this pathetic movie was probably faster and easier than scribbling a pentagram on a piece of paper and simply shoving that in front of a camera for eighty minutes.
What an utterly bizarre idea for a story. Cindy (Jennifer Garner) and Jim (Joel Edgerton) are unable to conceive, and in their grief, they write a bunch of notes describing their dream child and bury them in the garden. Soon, an unfamiliar boy with leaves growing on his legs has popped up in their home, embodying all the traits they wished for. Rather than calling the police, or an exorcist at the very least, Cindy and Jim decide to simply claim ownership of the boy, Timothy. They then spend the rest of the movie being the absolute worst parents imaginable – holding an entirely unjustified grudge against his crush, pushing him to play sport and music when he doesn’t want to, and never asking him a single question about himself – and for some reason, the movie seems to believe they are showing their growth by never learning a thing. The film is preoccupied with forced quirkiness, too. The entire town is obsessed with pencils, a detail which adds little to the film beyond a contrived plot point about manufacturing sustainable pencils, which also tragically serves as the story’s exciting climax. At one point, a character declares, in all seriousness and solemnity: “If this boy can have a leaf on his ankle, then we can make a pencil out of leaves.” The Odd Life of Timothy Green eschewed the sane stance that no movie in the history of the universe should ever have this line in it, and instead decided to base an entire story around it. Awful story, awful parenting, awful film.
It’s seldom a good sign when a movie can’t even decide on its own name, but Psycho Stripper is still pretty straightforward. It’s exactly what its title(s) say it is. Our sweet boring protagonist Amber meets a stripper on her bachelorette party who winds up harbouring a dangerous obsession with her. There’s some murder and some sex and some screaming, but it’s all heavily sanitised for a cosy Hallmark-type audience. There’s a bit of bizarre twisting and turning around the stripper’s past, linking him back to Amber, but it’s rendered next-to-useless as the insight doesn’t actually change anything about the plot. He goes after our heroes, and they run and fight. It doesn’t matter whether he’s pursuing vengeance, or really is just some psycho stripper – it’s still obvious how it’s going to end. Pretty typical Lifetime made-for-TV fare.
The Sky Princess is, frankly, a shame. There are some real glimmers of potential in it, here and there. Parts of the animation, like a patterned headdress here or a gleaming jewel earring there, look incredible. Some of the mythological concepts seem interesting, including the interplay of the sun and moon tribes, and the movie almost lets itself foray into some genuinely dark concepts around captivity and depression. There’s even the odd well-written, funny line of dialogue. Unfortunately, these rare diamonds are lost in a colossal, overwhelming haze of rough. So much of the movie quite simply makes no sense whatsoever. Our eighteen-year-old protagonist dreams of being a princess and sits on a bench, so she’s now subject to the whims of a mystical owl. What? There’s also an incredible lack of focus, with the movie resolutely still continuing for quite a while even after all the main story is concluded. And most of all, most obviously of all, the majority of the animation is truly hideous. Heads rock about on spindly necks, eyes go akimbo, the backgrounds are frequently one untextured colour at a time: the weird angles and bulges all come together to make something very very ugly. Perhaps, in another universe, The Sky Princess is a masterpiece – but in this one, it’s a catastrophe.
A princess (Joey King) wakes up at the top of a tower and has to use her martial arts skills to battle herself to freedom and save her family. There’s a whole lot of confusion around the story itself – a nobleman is trying to force the princess to marry him so he can gain power, but he also has no qualms about holding the royal family captive? Why not just kill them and take the throne, then? But to The Princess’ credit, it’s not really trying to be anything intelligent or profound. It’s just mindless fight sequences with a bit of a “girl power” undercurrent clumsily thrown in. The action sequences aren’t terrible, but they’re pretty perfunctory. The acting isn’t terrible, but it’s pretty perfunctory. The set design isn’t – actually, it often is quite terrible, betraying the medieval setting and instead being obviously designed and built in contemporary times. The feminism angle is handled very amateurishly (is it really a victory if a woman has to fight and cheat death a hundred times over before she’s granted agency over her own life?), but hey, at least it’s there. The Princess is loud and dumb, but it knows it, so it’s hard to get agitated over it.
With contenders like American Beauty, Green Book and CODA, it’s hard to say with absolute certainty what the all-time worst winner of the Oscar for Best Picture is. But there is a very, very strong argument to be made for Crash earning that title. Loosely interconnecting stories bring concepts of bigotry and prejudice to the surface; with the cloying sentimentality, on-the-nose script, and incredibly unsubtle direction, it might as well be called Racism Actually. It’s hard to tell what the fundamental point of Crash is even supposed to be. That we should give sexual abusers and racists a pass if they’re acting as a carer for their infirm parent? That you should completely forgive a man who assaulted you if he, later and separately, saves your life? Parts of the story seem to suggest that anyone is susceptible to becoming a racially-motivated murderer, which isn’t necessarily untrue, but then Crash also seems to conclude that there’s barely any point fighting injustice at all. The only (adult) character in the entire movie who doesn’t come across as selfish, manipulative or hypocritical is the one man who never loses his temper or lashes out, and also conveniently has a cute little daughter to look after. So is the moral of the story that everyone is either perfect all the time, or part of the problem? It seems more likely that sanctimonious, pretentious and shallow productions like Crash are truly part of the problem.
What can possibly be said about Morbius that hasn’t already been said? This adaptation of a Marvel superhero who tries to cure a blood disease and turns himself into a vampire instead has already been lambasted on every corner of the internet, and rightfully so. It is nonsensical – what plot there is is so insipid, so basic, that you regularly forget what’s happened minutes after it has. It is poorly acted, with every single performance either so overdone or underdone, it’s difficult to accept these are actual living human beings turning in professional performances. It is confusing, with the rules and abilities of the vampire creatures changing according to whatever best serves our protagonist at that time. It is, often, boring, with no action sequence holding any attention or interest. It is also bizarrely dark – not in tone (try though it might) but in actual colour, begging the audience to squint to see anything at all half the time. But there is nothing, absolutely nothing, in Morbius worth seeing. No wonder it bombed at the box office, twice.
Presumably the 1962 novel by Madeleine L’Engle A Wrinkle in Time has some real merit to it, especially considering it spawned a big budget adaptation in 2018. Before that, there was this 2003 made-for-TV version. But whatever impressive features the novel may have, it’s difficult to imagine considering the poor quality of both these adaptations. Like the 2018 version, 2003’s A Wrinkle in Time suffers from a convoluted plot, cloyingly twee supernatural figures, and utterly unimaginative worlds. The characters are still so simple and boring, it’s hard to work out what the moral of the story is supposed to be. This 2003 version is arguably the worse adaptation, though, bogged down as it is by a terrible score (for a few scenes, the music is simply the same staccato note over and over and over), shoddy acting (the protagonist’s facial expression scarcely changes throughout), and some of the all-time worst CGI ever committed to film (what is this human-equine monstrosity with no torso, and how was something that looks like this released in the same year as The Return of the King?!). While it’s understandable that a limited budget probably impacted some choices, it still doesn’t excuse A Wrinkle of Time’slack of creativity.
This sequel to the abominable 365 Days is, quite frankly, remarkable. Not because of its central toxic relationship, in which abuse, coercion and manipulation are cast as sexy and desirable. Not because of the silly mobster antics in the background which sometimes seem more like kids play-acting at gangsters than a legitimate threat. Not because of the totally absurd plot, which actually relies on the “secret identical twin” trope more suited to Bollywood or telenovelas than to a purported erotic thriller that’s meant to be taken seriously. No, the remarkable thing about This Day is the fact that it’s not a movie, not really. It’s more like a jukebox musical – at least, you’d think so, considering just how often a generic autotuned pop song starts playing, accompanying a montage of characters sailing or having sex or doing anything else which prevents them from needing to actually share dialogue. A boring, breath song like this starts playing in This Day, in lieu of an actual script, no fewer than 25 times. 25! In less than two hours! Not that a 365 Days script would be any good, but at least it would show some vague semblance of actually trying. This Day is genuinely shocking in terms of just how obviously it’s just not trying at all.
Exactly how and why two sequels to The Kissing Booth got made is anyone’s guess, but this third film is probably the worst of the lot. What little story there is once more revolves around Elle (Joey King), her creepy whiny incel best friend Lee (Joel Courtney), and his brother who’s also Elle’s boyfriend Noah (Jacob Elordi). The brothers’ parents are selling their old holiday beach house, and in a profoundly pathetic bout of selfishness and entitlement, the kids decide this simply won’t do. The sentiment of their beach house memories may have carried more weight had said beach house been even vaguely alluded to in an earlier movie; alas, it’s simply written it to give them something to complain about. The ensuing story is the same as the previous movies: Elle trying to placate Lee and Noah whilst developing no personality of her own; stupid vignettes of people dressing up in costumes and doing dumb stuff to use up runtime; and the random insertion of a kissing booth at the end of the movie (although this one does also incorporate an awkward time skip). At least The Kissing Booth 2 had the ridiculous dancing competition as a focal point – the worst thing about The Kissing Booth 3 is how utterly forgettable it is.
In xXx‘s defence, it doesn’t exactly purport to be highbrow fare. Xander Cage (an almost giddily happy and invested Vin Diesel) is some kind of extreme sports professional-slash-protester (it’s not fully clear), who’s recruited to become a National Security Agency spy. Like in many spy films before it and since, xXx‘s chief peril comes courtesy of generically evil Russians doing generically evil things, this time wanting to set off a biochemical weapon. Cage fights on the roads, in snow, and in water to save the day, and also strikes up a romance with Russian spy Yelena (Asia Argento). Because what spy movie would be complete without a hot femme fatale on the sidelines? The plot honestly doesn’t make much sense, with Cage basically moving from location to location and getting embroiled in conflicts that don’t obviously further the story at all. The action also beggars belief sometimes – no matter how strong and agile Cage is, he definitely should die about ten times at least in this movie, most notably by the avalanche he deliberately causes to come cascading down on himself. xXx is basically what you’d expect: loud, dumb, and relentless.
It makes no sense. It just makes no sense. A Wrinkle in Time is based on a children’s book which spawned an entire series, so you have to hope it makes more sense than this inscrutable film. The story follows Meg, a young girl whose scientist father has been missing for four years. Meg, her younger brother and her best friend are soon visited by three magical beings: Mrs Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), who is cloyingly whimsical and can transform into a hideous flying cabbage dragon; Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling), who speaks in quotations from other people at the height of her powers but resorts to normal speech when she is weak, but then also uses normal speech at times when she’s strong again; and Mrs Which, who is Oprah Winfrey but giant. There’s a lot of incredibly vague talk about Meg’s father being lost “in the universe”, so our young heroes are transported from world to world in their quest to find him. The fantasy worlds are disappointingly uninventive – one is a just a big meadow, while another is just Stepford – and the CGI is pretty poor overall (see the aforementioned hideous flying cabbage dragon). The conflict between good and evil is extremely difficult to understand, and it’s hard to grasp what Meg is really fighting for at any given moment. It’s a pretty idiotic movie which obviously banks on children being easily distracted by bright colours and a hero complex. Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely A Wrinkle in Time captivates many people at all, young or old.
A horror reinvention of the 1970s TV show, Fantasy Island operates on the basic, very well-trodden premise of “Be careful what you wish for”. A group of strangers arrive on the eponymous island, having been promised it has the power to make their deepest dream come true. Of course, everything winds up twisted, with tinges of death and torment coming to the surface pretty quickly. Fantasy Island is so predictable in a lot of ways, with many story beats being obvious a mile off. But it gets even worse when it tries to engineer a “twist” (perhaps these strangers… aren’t exactly strangers after all?!) and seriously jumps the shark in its closing moments as the true antagonist is revealed. The scares and gore are entirely underwhelming (which isn’t a massive surprise, considering one of the key fantastical villains they’re running from is called something as inventive as “Dr Torture”), and the whole monkey’s paw idea has already been done to death – if you will – anyway. Absolutely nothing to see here on Fantasy Island.
A day in the life of London (Machine Gun Kelly), an actor and stoner who gets a very slightly odd text from his girlfriend one morning and subsequently goes into a tailspin complete with wacky adventures. The big conflict of Good Mourning is London deciding whether to go to his girlfriend’s house or to a professional meeting. Any halfway-functioning human being could probably work something out here, but London and his idiotic friends are so childish and goofy that everything seems to culminate in a giant spliff and/or imprisonment. Utterly banal ideas are focused on for minute after arduous minute: someone confused oat milk for goat milk! Someone keeps actual gloves in their car’s glove compartment! Here’s Danny Trejo briefly, for some reason! The movie is stuffed with such random asides and non-sequiturs, but they’re largely forgotten the second they’re over, they’re that boring and inconsequential. It’s all supposed to be funny, of course, but Good Mourning is so awkward and contrived that in the end it’s difficult to laugh either with or at it. There is no good to be found in Good Mourning, and the only mourning is for the death of laughter.
A group of thieves infiltrate a highly secured underground vault, expecting to find valuables. Instead, they discover a coffin. Dracula has been restrained here, but now he’s been unleashed upon the world again. So far, so Dracula – but Dracula 2000 takes the story of the famous vampires to absolutely ludicrous places. There’s Van Helsing using leeches to consume Dracula’s blood and become ageless. There’s Van Helsing’s daughter, who Dracula is compelled to because she shares his blood (but apparently Van Helsing himself doesn’t, even though he… literally shares his blood?). There’s a bunch of specific rules and guidelines regarding what Dracula and his ilk can and can’t do. Dracula can apparently turn into a wolf, and also into bats. He can’t stand sunlight, or silver. He also despises Christianity – but Christian things make him angry rather than weak. This last rule is explained in the film’s climax with a twist so insane, so unbelievable, it’s near-impossible to fathom how someone came up with it. But it’s all so much fun – Gerard Butler is quite obviously having a blast as Dracula, prancing around making manic vampire faces. Dracula 2000 is a serious trip for the audience as well.
Like so many horror sequels before and since, Rings hinges on the idea that the essence of a good horror film (like The Ring) can be emulated and exploited by trying to squeeze every single conceivable plot spin-off from it that can possibly be dreamt up. In Rings, college student Julia and her boyfriend are embroiled in Samara’s vengeance. They watch her infamous video, although this time there are small changes which supposedly suggest that Samara’s after something else this time. Julia’s search takes her to all manner of creepy people, including an obsessive college professor who somehow believes Samara’s curse can prove the existence of the soul, and a blind ex-priest who for all the subtlety he possesses might as well spend his scenes shouting “I’m not a very nice guy”. Julia’s desperate search for answers might hold somewhat more weight did Julia herself not seem just as devoid of life as the abused girl she’s trying to save. As it stands, Rings is probably much better regarded as fan fiction rather than a legitimate Ring sequel.
In Love and Gelato, high school graduate Lina grants her deceased mother’s wishes by visiting Italy the summer before she starts college. Cue a clichéd, cloying adventure in which she finds herself, and quite possibly true love too. Lina is the absolute peak the of frazzled rom-com “every girl” heroine archetype: she bumps into people, spouts off idiotic rambles, spontaneously falls down, and even at one point yelps out “I’m too awkward for this!”, just in case anyone in the audience still hasn’t gleaned the single note of her character. Her love interests are both pretty unappealing, while Lina’s search for her mystery father has no stakes whatsoever because the audience has no idea what impact his absence has left on Lina’s life. So why should anyone care about his presence, either? All this against the backdrop of Italy, a wonderful land where people swan about doing nothing but eating, drinking, and generally being utterly carefree. It’s all secret bakeries, magical gelato and giddy romance in Italy, it turns out. Thank you for the cultural teachings, Love and Gelato.
Fifty Shades of Greyreally does have a lot to answer for. Had it never existed, perhaps we wouldn’t be saddled with the likes of 365 Days, a movie based around the idea that kidnapping, abuse and coercion aren’t immoral, abhorrent, or harmful – they’re sexy! Our protagonist Laura is bored with her boyfriend, so naturally when she’s abducted by obsessive crime lord, human trafficker and general all-round monster Massimo, the audience is ostensibly compelled to say, “Well, at least she’s not bored.” The sex scenes are downright uncomfortable; besides the inherent unease of watching a captive woman claiming to enjoy sex with her captor, the visuals of dead-eyed women jerking their heads around towards the bottom of the screen while Massimo grunts and gasps above them are cringeworthy at best, nauseating at worst. Of course there’s such a thing as a healthy sub-dom sexual relationship, but 365 Days has no idea what that looks like. It also doesn’t seem to know what basic character or plotting look like. It’s pretty much devoid of character – Laura’s boring boyfriend is a good match for her vacant personality, in all honesty – while the ‘story’, what little there is, abruptly ends in one of the most unclear depictions of tragedy ever committed to film. It’s less than two hours long, but the excruciating 365 Days certainly feels like it lasts a year.
The Purge managed to achieve almost instant fame when it came out. To its vague credit, it’s a memorable premise. In the America of the future (as far away as 2022, no less), all crime has been eradicated except for one legally mandated night a year, during which violence and murder are permitted without punishment. Of course, the vague credit crumbles when the premise is thought about for more than a split-second. Is all human aggression seriously tempered if we’re promised one night a year to let loose? What about white collar crimes? What about stealing bread to feed your starving family, does that simply not happen anymore because of the Purge? If the relatively stupid starting point is accepted, though, The Purge still doesn’t work. The central family consists of idiots making stupid decision after stupid decision. The band of youths terrorising them are so gleefully performative with their giggles and masks and strutting around that they’re less threatening and more hilarious. One has to wonder why these wannabe criminals spend their entire night waiting around for one family instead of running riot and targeting literally anyone else. By the end of the movie, nothing has changed, no lessons have been learned – ninety minutes have simply been lost. How this total misfire managed to spawn a whole movie series is anyone’s guess, but The Purge is a complete joke of a horror movie.
Roland Emmerich, king of unhinged disaster movies like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, has inexplicably managed to outdo even himself with Moonfall. The plot is centred around the moon going off orbit and falling towards the Earth, causing all manner of disasters like tsunamis, comets – and a gravitational aberration which is especially hilariously manifest by characters skipping around like they’re playing a nursery game. This premise alone would have been ridiculous enough, but Moonfall is accompanied by such delightful inclusions as: an irritating conspiracy theorist who waxes lyrical about the moon being an artificial construct; sentient nanotechnology which operates on bizarre rules of only being able to identify organic life if it is near certain types of technology; and of course, the standard simpering “left behind” civilians who struggle through snow and flame to achieve very little until they’re reunited with the heroes journeying to the moon. The icing on the cake is when the supposedly deluded conspiracy theorist is revealed to have been more right all along than anyone could have thought. Whether Emmerich is trying to say that he believes the moon is fake, or that we’re simply in constant danger from superior life-forms lightyears away (who incidentally were able to eradicate all war, but not control their own computers), Moonfall fundamentally doesn’t really say anything coherent at all.
How 1994’s underwhelming animated movie The Swan Princess became a fully-fledged franchise is a mystery lost to the ages. Regardless, with A Royal Wedding they made it to the tenth instalment. The original film’s central couple, Princess Odette and Price Derek, are now having adventures in historic China alongside their talking animal friends. The film gets some credit for occasional glimpses of authentic Chinese inspiration – meticulously designed hair ornaments, a song sung in Mandarin – but fundamentally the standard white saviour tropes settle in as expected. Most of the story refuses to just make basic sense. The young and beautiful Princess Mei Li is transformed into an old woman by a sorceress; why would Odette and Derek, whose original story was based on Odette being transformed into a swan, have any hesitation in believing Mei Li’s story? Especially when the sorceress is prone to loudly shouting about her diabolical deeds at whim, providing a uniquely grating kind of comic relief. This is a harmless movie which is quite obviously for small children, but it’s hard not to laugh at the inclusion of magical tears, jerky animation, and one character’s especially dumb decision to simply take the evil, conniving sorceress at her word instead of shutting down her powers. This tenth iteration of an already-basic children’s movie is exactly what one would expect.
The mere existence of Scottish Mussel beggars belief. Talulah Riley, star of St Trinian’s and twice ex-wife of Elon Musk, decided to write, direct, and star in a romantic comedy about a Glaswegian slacker and his zany sidekicks who enter the high-stakes world of illegal mussel pearl theft. Our protagonist falls hopelessly in love with Riley’s English upper-class conservationist when he sees her in a bikini – in fairness, she has so little personality that it would be difficult to build an attraction based on actual compatibility or chemistry. Humour is provided courtesy of dimwitted homophobia – a man wearing pink, how novel! – while mild peril is contributed by Glaswegian thugs and Ukrainian gangsters embroiled in the aforementioned high-stakes world of illegal mussel pearl theft. The amount of excruciatingly poor Scottish accents is keenly balanced by the amount of absurd side plots, including the schoolteacher and librarian who confess their love for one another, demanding serious audience investment after about two dilute scenes together. Why Riley believed anyone would root for the bumbling main characters, who seem to feel they’re owed vast riches and comforts whilst putting in no effort whatsoever, and also seem to think it’s acceptable to hang around a school playground for extended periods of time, is anyone’s guess. Why Scottish Mussel exists is anyone’s guess.
The USA English-language dub of Pinocchio: A True Story achieved online fame when the trailer was widely shared by disbelieving viewers. “Father,” intones Pauly Shore in a robotic monotone, before culminating in a lilting whinge with “when can I leave to be on my ooowwwn? I’ve got the whole worrrld to see.” The voice acting is certainly a notably baffling part of the movie – Shore frequently sounds like he’s only just learned how to speak, to the extent where it’s easier to believe he’s trolling the film on purpose – but it’s full of other confusing choices. The dubbing doesn’t remotely make an effort to match the animation, but it’s hard to be fussed when the animation itself is so awkward and amateur that it feels twenty years older than it is; underserving the Pinocchio story’s key novelty factor, Pinocchio the wooden boy looks identical to all the human characters. Meanwhile his bland love interest sings two bland songs within the space of ten minutes, then there are no other songs until the finale. So does Pinocchio: A True Story qualify as a musical? Well, it barely qualifies as a story full-stop. At one point Pinocchio’s equine companion Tybalt boldly announces he must depart to complete an important errand, yet it’s never confirmed what he does. Characters routinely shift personalities and motivations. One person’s tragic backstory of a long-lost daughter is only hurriedly revealed in the last ten minutes yet provides a crucial plot pivot. So many weird decisions, inconsistencies, unbelievable moments – the whole film is like a giant question mark incarnate.
Emanuel (Kaya Scodelario) is a supposedly edgy – indicated by how much she likes to roll her eyes and yell about jerking off – teenager, who has never truly dealt with her feelings of guilt over her birth coinciding with her mother’s death. When Linda (Jessica Biel) moves in next-door with her infant daughter, Emanuel agrees to babysit, promptly discovering that Linda’s baby is actually a lifeless doll. Cue essentially the entirety of the rest of the movie being comprised of people making the absolute worst decision possible in any given situation. Rather than trying to get Linda the professional help she needs, Emanuel chooses to hide the situation from all responsible adults – and can’t even do that effectively for long. It’s implied that there’s some cosmic connection between Emanuel’s mother and Linda’s actual deceased daughter, though this is so shoehorned in it’s hard to feel any investment, despite the manufactured sentimentality such as when Emanuel’s imagining herself and the doll swimming alongside a bunch of fish (why, is anyone’s guess). It’s blatant The Truth About Emanuel is meant to be a hard-hitting psychological exploration, but it just uses generic tropes to tell a generic message which leaves no memorable impact.
The strange thing about The Water Man isn’t that somewhere in there, there’s a half-decent film. It’s more that somewhere in there, there are several different half-decent films. There’s a half-decent coming-of-age movie about a boy facing his understanding of mortality. There’s a half-decent movie about the boy exploring his life and emotions through his burgeoning love of designing graphic novels. There’s a half-decent fantasy romp where an outcast boy meets an outcast girl and they embark on an adventure fueled by their collective imagination. There’s a half-decent exploration of the much-whispered about Water Man, and whether he is a myth or a reality. There’s a half-decent domestic family drama as a couple struggles to keep their family together in the face of tragedy. The problem is, all these elements do not come together to make a half-decent film, with The Water Man’s tone and focus shifting so often and so erratically that it’s never possible to feel immersed. Nothing is really explained or justified, it’s simply a series of vaguely connected events which go on for a while then just stop. With acting, producing and directing credits, all signs point to this having been a passion project for David Oyelowo, except the final product doesn’t contain much discernible passion at all.
M. Night Shyamalan was having a half-decent run in his partnership with Universal Pictures, releasing the likes of The Visit, Split, and Glass – hardly groundbreaking, but generally well-received. No wonder Old had to come along to mess it all up. The premise is peak Shyamalan madness: a beach makes people old. That is, tragically, the crux of it. An assortment of merry holidaymakers go to a beach, and start ageing rapidly. They cannot just leave the beach, because something something something. There’s a trademark final-act Shyamalan twist, but the reveal’s impact is somewhat hindered by a) it being heavily indicated at several points through the movie, entirely removing the surprise of it, and b) it making no sense whatsoever to begin with. A lot of Old makes no sense whatsoever – one character dies due to the time quickly passing, and them receiving no nurturing, food or attention in the few minutes equating several years, in order to sustain their life. Why doesn’t this lack of care affect the other characters, who are ageing at the same rate, and also not eating, drinking, or resting? No idea, it’s never explained. This is all quite aside from the abject weirdness of certain parts, like toddlers growing into horny teenagers and acting on their hormone-driven impulses, despite still only technically being toddlers. Old is an entertaining explosion of Shyamalan mayhem, and predictably contains none of the gravitas or incisive social commentary its creator seems to think it does.
The King’s Daughter is ostensibly based on beloved 1997 fantasy novel The Moon and the Sun, but it’s extremely difficult to place the two in the same regard. The book, for example, delved into immersive plotlines to forage meaningful character arcs and relationships. Meanwhile, the film portrays the extent of our heroine Marie-Josèphe’s (Kaya Scodelario) complexity by letting her clumsily fall into a fountain, in between her general dead-eyed staring. The book portrays its mysterious sea creature as intelligent and sympathetic; the film slaps some atrocious CGI on Fan Bingbing and shows her zipping round and round in the water. In the book, the setting and details feel true to 17th century France, while the movie’s patchy special effects, eye-wateringly bright cinematography, and shoddy fragmented costuming make it feel like it’s set in the future. Most tellingly, in the book, Marie-Josèphe isn’t even the king’s daughter – the film layered on this detail, granting it title-worthy importance, even though it adds precisely nothing except confusion and, sometimes, unease. Like moments of dancing or pseudo-flirting when Marie-Josèphe’s relationship with the king seems a little too close. How this film garnered a high profile cast including the likes of Pierce Brosnan, Pablo Schreiber and Rachel Griffiths is anyone’s guess, but the eight year gap between production and release shows a deeply flawed process yields a deeply flawed result.
When an American rom-com musical elects to call itself Basmati Blues, there’s no pretending it’s going to be anything other than insipid racist garbage. Perhaps there’s a noble intent somewhere in there to emulate the spectacle and glamour of Bollywood, but Basmati Blues trades in any mere hope of spectacle or glamour for relentless mundanity and unpleasantness. Our heroine Linda (Brie Larson, for some reason) is journeying to India to sell a new type of self-propagating rice on behalf of her corporate overlords, completely damning the local farmers in the process. It’s assumed that poor Linda is but an unwitting pawn in a bigger, crueler game – until it’s made abundantly clear that she knows she’s eviscerating a community and she’s absolutely fine with it. Her burgeoning love story with local man Rajit (Utkarsh Ambudkar) is consequently founded on little but deceit, manipulation, and general abrasive bickering. Basmati Blues is supposed to be a musical, but the songs are unbelievably tuneless and uninspired. “But love is blind / And I don’t mind / If we fumble in the dark / Two love songs / One big foolish heart”, bleats one particularly idiotic duet. Of course, the movie’s portrayal of India is condescending at best, irredeemably offensive at worst; the same idiotic duet croons “If I had a hundred arms…” because the movie enjoys doubling down on its fundamental premise that Indians are weird and their gods are weird. No wonder Linda merrily subscribes to the Emily in Paris model of not bothering to learn any shred of the customs or languages of the place she’s inhabiting for an extended period of time. There is no blues music in Basmati Blues, so the title is unfathomable – unless it’s supposed to be indicative of the audience’s mental state after watching such an egregious mess.
The worst thing about The Possession of Hannah Grace isn’t its cheap scares. Yes, the movie primarily deals in shrieks and underwhelming body horror more likely to provoke shouts of laughter than of terror – but this isn’t the worst thing. And the worst thing about it isn’t its ill-defined, boring characters. Our protagonist, a plucky young former policewoman who goes to work in a morgue, leaves so little an impact that her supposed pill addiction is forgotten as soon as it’s revealed – but this isn’t the worst thing. And the worst thing about it isn’t its awful performances. Some actors ostensibly put in next-to-no effort, coming across stilted and wooden, while others overact so much that you’d think their popping eyes and flailing limbs constitute the story’s possessed individual, rather than the eponymous cadaver – but this isn’t the worst thing. No, the worst thing about The Possession of Hannah Grace is its reveal of why Hannah Grace was possessed. The film is emphatic that it wasn’t mere chance or coincidence, but that Hannah was in such a depressed state that the preying demon was able to take advantage of her. In other words: don’t want to get possessed by a murderous, malignant demon? Well then, better not get depressed! It’s so insulting to sufferers of mental health conditions that it’s a wonder so many people – actors, crew, producers – read the script and gave it a pass. The worst thing about The Possession of Hannah Grace takes it from being merely bad and renders it downright offensive.
In Christmas is Cancelled, twenty-something-year-old Emma is appalled to discover her fifty-something-year-old widower father Jack has been dating her former neighbour, high school classmate and “frenemy”, twenty-something-year-old Brandy. Rather than treating Emma’s shock with sensitivity and patience, Jack and Brandy instead practically bludgeon her over the head with this new state of affairs, by forcing her to participate in their Christmas plans while Brandy casually does such things as blithely wearing Emma’s dead mother’s apron. The movie somehow manages to get even worse from this already grotesque premise. The humour falls flat every single time, whether it’s derived from stupid costumes or a disturbing lack thereof as Jack tears off his shirt for an awkward and entirely unnecessary bar brawl. Not a single character is likeable – certainly not the self-involved Jack or Brandy, while Emma and her best friend’s quippy, forced dialogue makes them seem less like real people and more like lazy SNL caricatures of millennials. Emma is treated like she’s worth nothing, yet it’s hard to feel bad for her when she goes ahead and treats her own love interest like a lapdog who only exists to be used and manipulated for her own gain. There is no heart or soul to Christmas is Cancelled, no loving or giving – just selfishness and bitterness galore.
Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has proved itself successful fodder for screen adaptations, from the 1963 movie The Haunting through to the 2018 TV series The Haunting of Hill House. Unfortunately, 1999’s cinematic iteration managed to produce the antithesis of these retellings: it is devoid of likeable characters, devoid of scares, and devoid of anything which makes much sense at all. In all versions, a group of people are brought together to Hill House; for some reason 1999’s The Haunting decides that paranormal investigator Dr Marrow (Liam Neeson) has bamboozled his guests into attending by claiming it’s a sleep study, and not to investigate the paranormal. This change contributes nothing, and is especially aggravating because the film clearly shows such events as pianos attacking people and ghosts emerging from net curtains; how the majority of the characters can still blindly think it’s a mere sleep study is anybody’s guess. The characters themselves never rise beyond caricature: Nell (Lili Taylor) is wan, shy and awkward; Theo (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is flamboyant and so overtly flirtatious she may as well scream “I’m bisexual!” in every scene she’s in; and Luke (Owen Wilson) primarily spends his scenes wide-eyed and slack-jawed. The terrible CGI only accentuates that The Haunting is a cheap attempt to tell a story as lazily as possible by sacrificing all hints of depth.
Classic Christmas films, from It’s a Wonderful Life to Home Alone, are centred around the joy and warmth of family. After all, Christmas is supposed to be a time of giving, goodwill, and love. So why Father Christmas is Back decided to base a Christmas film around the most obnoxious, selfish, shrill, manipulative, deceitful and downright irritating family in existence is a mystery surely lost to the ages. Kelsey Grammer, clearly slowly killing his career before it can be offed once and for all by the Frasier reboot, plays the titular father. He brings his trophy girlfriend to meet his family – four sisters, each a more poorly sketched stereotype than the last (the uptight one! The rebellious one! The shallow one! The one who talks about nothing except The Beatles!), plus their mother, the titular father’s brother, and various romantic interests and children in tow. It is as though Father Christmas is Back specifically tried to suck out any chance of liking or respecting a single character. They lie, they cheat, they steal, they fly into unwarranted rages, they lounge around their impossibly huge castle-mansion and moan about how difficult life is, and then they all sing along and pub karaoke and wish each other a merry Christmas. Apparently the most cruel and barbaric emotional treatment can be forgiven if you don a Christmas jumper and go to the school nativity play. Indeed, the only halfway-likeable character is the sweet, enthusiastic trophy girlfriend, so naturally she’s subjected to mocking and undermining at every turn. Father Christmas is Back is an insult to Christmas, an insult to comedy, and an insult to humanity in general.
The premise of The Core is so profoundly stupid that it’s hard not to laugh. The liquid outer core of the Earth has stopped spinning, so a team of hero scientists needs to drill down to the centre of the planet and set off some nuclear bombs to restore rotation. Incredibly convenient plot elements include the adverse impact of the ceased rotation to only affect a few places sometimes, while our heroes can continue their very important science unimpeded, almost as if there’s not actually an impending disaster at all. Of course our heroes are American, with no other country in The Core able to even discern what the problem is, let alone contribute to a solution. The solution is based on “unobtanium”, which in this movie signifies a material which is impervious to the heat at the centre of the Earth. So a couple of our intrepid scientists even manage to return home at the end. Even allowing for significant suspension of disbelief, The Core doesn’t even bother to do the barest research before plunging into insanity – for example, the team is logged as having travelled over 2,000 miles into the planet to reach the core, even though the distance between the Earth’s surface and its core is 1,800 miles. The Core is utterly stupid from start to finish, but with a premise like that, it was always going to be.
Ma was always advertised as a film where a group of teenagers decide to party out in a woman’s basement, only for the woman to barricade them in and torment them. As a premise, this genuinely isn’t bad. The claustrophobic setting of the basement adds to the dread, only compounded by the characters’ regret – of course they must be desperately wishing they’d never come in the basement. Except, the problem with Ma is that it’s drawn out over a much longer and frankly weirder story, over which the teenagers and their friends come and go from Ma’s abode, several times over, even returning when she’s done utterly insane things like forcing a teenager to strip at gunpoint. It is extremely difficult to sympathise with these teenagers when they keep willingly returning to spend time with a demonstrably unhinged, violent person. Despite flashbacks to her childhood where she’s bullied and sexually abused, it’s also extremely difficult to sympathise with the Ma character, considering she, you know, forces teenagers to strip at gunpoint. Not to mention the casual drugging and Munchausen by proxy. The whole story is very tired – it’s obvious from the get-go that the teenagers’ parents were Ma’s school contemporaries, so their involvement in her bullying is far from a shock. Whether the conclusion is meant to be a kind of bittersweet tragedy is up for debate, but mostly it just continues the head-scratching and shrugging shoulders provoked by the rest of the movie.
Churning out insipid rom-coms is practically a compulsion for Netflix, so the existence of Love Hard comes as no surprise. A woman on the west coast matches with a man on the east coast in a dating app, only to spontaneously visit him and learn he looks nothing like he claimed. And why shouldn’t catfishing, deceit and manipulation be the foundation of an enduring romance? As the two pretend to be a couple to fool his family, a real affection grows. Of course she finds herself slowly falling irrevocably for the man, even though he’s not the handsome heartthrob he claimed (he still looks absolutely fine, he just dresses like a teenager with a stupid haircut). Thus his lies are excused as a bumbling nerdy mistake, rather than the kind of tactics which routinely lead to abuse, rape, and murder in real life. Same old, same old, but with dating apps thrown in to make it appear modern.
Next is an extremely difficult film to discuss. Not because it’s remotely complicated, although the film oozes self-importance over its own convoluted premise. Nicolas Cage plays a magician who can see a few minutes into his own future, although he acknowledges any future he sees cannot happen because he’s seen it, and also being around his love interest played by Jessica Biel lets him see further into the future than just a few minutes, and also for some reason the FBI firmly believe this magician is their key in fighting an impending nuclear threat. No, despite this twisting and turning and self-contradicting narrative, the film itself is not remotely complicated at all. The reason Next is difficult to talk about is because its ending is so cheap, so smug, so insulting, that it’s near impossible to discuss the movie without entering a fit of blind rage. No audience could ever see this film and feel satisfied or impressed. It is the absolute peak definition of a movie where nothing of substance happens – genuinely, nothing. An infuriating experience.
Quite how this dog has managed to spawn an entire series is anyone’s guess, but thus far he has managed to save Christmas, Christmas Vacation, Halloween, Easter, and Summer, as well as simply the Holidays (which, yes, is just Christmas again). Joey Lawrence provides the whiny inner monologue of the pooch, Zeus, beloved pet of the Bannister family. The big conflict of this movie is that the Bannister family have a brand new puppy named Eve – oh no! Will our heroic Zeus learn to bond with Eve and be a good big doggie brother? Of course he will, because this is a dumb kids’ movie, replete with knock-off Home Alone villains who bumble around and are ultimately thwarted by a dog tripping them up while they try to steal Christmas decorations. It helps that the dog knows how to use the landline phone, the movie not even bothering to edit out the human hand holding his paw as he dials. Regardless, Zeus’ heroism obviously renews the love of his master, a bargain store Kevin James (played by Gary Valentine – genuinely, Kevin James’ brother). Oh, and there’s an entirely pointless background story involving the Bannister family aunt (depressingly played by Shelley Long) trying to one-up her neighbour’s Christmas lights. In summary, this idiot-fest is exactly what one would expect from a movie called The Dog Who Saved the Holidays, so you can’t really get mad at them for false advertising. At least the dogs are cute to look at.
Inexplicably, this is but the first of a series of Murder, She Baked movies. And despite the titles, chocolate chip cookies have nothing whatsoever to do with the story. Baker Hannah utilises her amateur detective skills after her friend and delivery driver is murdered outside her bakery. Of course, none of the actual police object to Hannah fumbling around rubbish bins, contaminating evidence and compromising police procedure. Indeed, the new detective in town – conveniently good-looking, appropriately aged, and widowed – doesn’t seem to bat an eye when a second body is discovered in Hannah’s proximity. Obviously, in the end our heroine’s tenacious sleuthing solves the incredibly boring mystery (an evil greedy old woman did it) and everyone is happy and eats cookies. Murder has never been so accessible and cosy, except of course on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel.
One of humanity’s greatest failures is that we live in a world where at least two musicals based on Princess Diana exist. This latest imagining manages to make Karen Sokolof Javitch’s terrible amateur theatre production seem somehow more bearable. Because that one had no budget. What this one’s excuse? Judging by the elaborate set and the Netflix release of the filmed version, Diana had enough money to actually work out in some way. Yet the staging is utterly flat (it is difficult to count the number of times members of the chorus are spotted standing lifelessly in the background), the songs are so bad as to be a downright insult to music, and the story beats are woefully twee. Barbara Cartland is featured more heavily than there is any reason for. And in its giddy rush to pay the deceased Princess Diana her due respect, Diana forgets to give her character any actual, well, character. Instead, she’s an innocent, angelic, pure and sweet soul, wronged by the world and incapable of nuance. She sings all about how she’s going to wear a dress to get her revenge, as though this stark showboating is the absolute peak of who she is at her core. It’s hard to imagine those who knew Diana best being impressed by either of the musicals based on her life, but the tragic truth is, the underfunded amateur production probably has the edge on quality.
This is a 2008 film starring Mike Myers as an Indian sex and relationships guru. Was it ever going to go well, in any conceivable reality? Even if Mike Myers himself wasn’t so corrosively irritating – lisping in a pseudo-Eastern European accent which doesn’t sound remotely Indian, and talking at the camera rather than to any actors around him because he’s so committed to showing off how funny he believes he is – none of this film’s premise was ever going to work, especially not in 2008. The guru has to help an ice hockey team win the Stanley Cup. His followers (or, more accurately, his cult) say “Mariska Hargitay” to each other instead of “Namaste”. The guru sings songs and flirts with Jessica Alba by preparing a meal for her which looks a bit like testicles. When one character asks, of his own outfit, “What’s wrong with shark skin?” our esteemed guru responds with “More like gay skin!”, a response which begs so many questions that any viewer of this film would need to seek out a genuine guru’s advice if they are ever to feel a shred of peace again. And of course, the climactic scene of the movie is two elephants having sex on an ice rink. Perhaps, perhaps, this would have been hilariously cutting-edge in the 1990s, but even that’s a stretch.
One begrudging point of credit must go to After We Fell: it’s marginally less annoying than its predecessors Afterand After We Collided. Sure, our star-crossed lovers Tessa and Hardin still don’t seem to have worked out that deceit, sexual manipulation and aggression aren’t the healthiest foundation for a relationship. And sure, the After series continues its tradition of a gamut of weak supporting characters who change their desires and motivations almost by the minute to suit the plot. And yes, After We Collided still boasts some of the most tepid, the most awkward, the most downright dispassionate sex scenes ever committed to film. Yet, there are some vague glimpses of suggestions of possibilities of a silver lining. For example, Tessa and Hardin spend much of the film apart, and actually manage to grow as human beings as a result (it’s a shame they don’t realise this and part ways permanently, but it’s a step). And for once, the crux of the movie isn’t about Tessa and Hardin bickering; while a good portion of the runtime is spent on this pattern, it’s eventually ditched in favour of Hardin’s family’s histrionics. For the first time, for a split-second, the couple actually seem honest and supportive. Sure, it doesn’t last – and it’s all but guaranteed not to last beyond the realms of convoluted plot armour in the upcoming sequel, the hideously named After Ever Happy – but even those brief moments grant some weak respite compared to the rest of this sorry franchise.
The Lady in the Water is but a simple fairy tale. It follows a water nymph Narf – in this case the almighty Madam Narf, named Story – in her quest to find the Writer, or Vessel, so that she may inspire his work of great political change (incidentally, this noble champion for the future of humanity is played by the movie’s director, writer and producer M. Night Shyamalan). Threatening her way are the nefarious Scrunts (sometimes referred to as JG Scrunts, no reason given), green wolf-like creatures who are committed to destroying her, although they only ever seem to leave shallow scratches on her legs, which are healed with the use of a magical mud named Kii. Story the Madam Narf is aided by the Tartutik, i.e. some mystical monkey-like creatures, and the great Eatlon, a big eagle who ferries her back to her home of The Blue World. But before she can make safe passage, she must be helped by the Guardian (a guy who only works out on one side of his body), the Guild (seven sisters, who aren’t all actually sisters), the Healer (a hapless janitor who has the power to attract butterflies, made evident by the fact that he saw one once), and the Interpreter (a young boy who unearths the destiny of the universe by reading the blurbs on cereal boxes). Of course, the quest to identify these great heroes is momentarily hindered by an evil film critic, who understands not the magnificent quest of the writer, and whose misguided meddling is only rectified after his own violent death, which he monotonously narrates as it unfolds. Typical of a film critic to be so detached, so soulless! All these people live in the same shoddy apartment block, where most fortunately also live a woman and her grandmother who are well-versed in the laws and prophecies of the Narf, referred to here as an “Eastern” bedtime story. Yes, just a simple, non-convoluted, humble, classic bedtime story. A typical compelling narrative and realistic characters. Not unhinged, confused, pretentious or ludicrous. Nothing to do with Shyamalan’s great big bulging ego whatsoever. Nope. Nothing to see here, move along. The Lady in the Water is just your average Shyamalan production which manages to make The Happeninglook sane and unassuming by comparison.
Jiu Jitsu is a truly baffling experience. The plot is beyond confusing: every six years, martial artists have to fight an alien race, but now a comet has appeared in the sky and made the ritual different and more dangerous for some reason, but the aliens – although we only ever actually see one alien, and defeating him is supposedly akin to total victory – are extremely polite and seem to cater to the rules of martial arts combat, even though it’s implied they’ll take over the Earth, except that’s never happened in the thousands of years this ritual has taken place, but despite the fact that humankind has apparently always defeated the aliens in the past, now no one knows how to defeat this one alien. And that’s just the start of it. Nicolas Cage’s grizzled mentor character even mumbles something vague about “alien politics” to explain away the intrinsic incomprehension of it all. Beyond that, Jiu Jitsu must have spent all its money on casting Cage and martial artist Tony Jaa, because the actual filmmaking is so rushed and amateur that a first-year filmmaking student would be ashamed of producing it. The CGI is a joke, whilst utterly odd camera choices include a fight scene where the camera is sometimes from the direct perspective of our protagonist, then tumbles to the ground for a bit to view the ensuing combat from the vantage point of his feet, then drifts off to become him again, and so on. It’s all interspersed with comic book art used as a transition tool between scenes, a nod to the comic on which the movie is based, and it’s just about as jarring and ill-conceived as every single other aspect of the film. Of course, despite everything, every single solitary second is meant to be taken completely seriously. Seemingly propelled forward by nothing but unbridled insanity, Jiu Jitsu is a bizarre delight to watch.
Victoria Justice stars as Cassie – a twenty-five-year-old woman who speaks, dresses and behaves like a girl ten years younger – whose life meets with an abrupt end after she somehow drunkenly slams her head on the toilet. She wakes up in the afterlife, is greeted by a guardian angel, and is tasked with improving the lives of her loved ones so she may accrue the brownie points required to ascend to heaven. Afterlife of the Party doesn’t even try to conceal its attempts to rip off The Good Place, but where that show had complex characters, an intriguing metaphysical model, and fizzing humour, this film has mind-numbingly boring characters, a supernatural reality that makes no sense (Cassie can simultaneously interact with the world around her and also, not), and humour mostly derived from people making goofy faces and stumbling around. The film’s excuses for emotional pathos range from dry to downright dangerous, as Cassie desperately bends over backwards in pursuit of forgiving a mother who blithely abandoned and ignored her for most of her life. Afterlife of the Party is much like the fictional singer “Koop” it randomly features front-and-centre for much of the run time: generic, entirely irrelevant, and instantly forgettable.
Time travel is extremely difficult to tell a coherent story about. Even the best attempts, like Donnie Darko, Palm Springs, Terminator, or Your Name begin to fall apart as soon as underpinning logic is thought about a bit too much. All of those movies work well, though, because of their internal consistency and a prevailing commitment to character and storytelling above all else. The Tomorrow War does not do these things. Our hero Dan (Chris Pratt) is summoned to the future to fight a war against aliens due to arrive in a few decades’ time. The film’s own script sounds embarrassed as it tries to explain people’s unfortunately inability to use this time travel power to simply spend endless years preparing to defeat the aliens, or to defend properly against the aliens, or to investigate the aliens’ origins and motive. Instead we’re lectured about parallel eras, and time flowing forward like a river, and a general sense of “it just is”. There are so many questions raised about how any of the film’s plot can actually work, and The Tomorrow War‘s boring characters and turgid pacing do not compel a suspension of disbelief. The film’s merry ending treats us to Dan’s renewed bonds with his father, daughter, and wife, and he happily takes out the garbage, a content family man once more. No matter that this conclusion chooses to ignore glaring plot holes which suggest the entirety of humankind could be doomed at any given moment. The Tomorrow War thinks it’s doing and saying a lot more than it is, which makes its idiotic storytelling even more frustrating to sit through.
The tragedy of Space Jam: A New Legacy (and many sequels of its ilk) isn’t just that it’s an awful movie. It’s that it so entirely misses the point of what made the original a beloved classic. Gone are the wry self-referential jokes, the world-building, the clever fusion of animation and live action, the story- and action-driven pacing. Instead we have a nonsensical storyline about an AI programme hell-bent on destroying people through the inexplicable medium of a virtual basketball game. We have LeBron James finding himself in animated form and immediately, instinctively knowing cartoon logic and how to use it. We have references and cameos shoehorned in so cynically that the entire movie could be a 2-hour advert for Warner Bros media. Cringeworthy “homages” to the likes of The Matrix, Casablanca and Game of Thrones are complemented with an array of strange background cameos such as the boys from A Clockwork Orange or what appears to be Harry Potter’s Voldemort in a dressing gown. Save for a few exceptions regarding DC properties Batman and Wonder Woman, even the animation isn’t all that impressive – the 2D sequences range from impressive to underwhelming, but the classic Looney Tunes characters in 3D are downright terrifying. For it all to centre around a clichéd story of a father learning to let his son be true to himself, Space Jam: A New Legacy struggles to justify its existence as anything else but a tremendous waste of time.
A movie based on the true story of two police officers rescued from under the World Trade Center’s rubble on 9/11 needs to be handled with care, sensitivity, and a consistent commitment to realism. Yet World Trade Center doesn’t really do any of this. Half of the movie is too dark to see, fairly representing the reality of being lost in rubble, but forgetting that film is a visual medium which needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. Besides, this attempt at being true to life is swiftly undermined when the dialogue consists of such frantic yelps as “What is happening to our world?!” and “Get your mind right!” No one’s acting is believable or compelling, with usually brilliant performers like Maggie Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon being reduced to wide-eyed stereotypes gazing solemnly into middle-distance. Considering he plays one of the victims it’s probably a good thing that Nicolas Cage doesn’t bring his full Nicolas Cage game to the role, but he doesn’t bring much else either. It’s all scored with insipid soft strings and piano which rarely shut up. World Trade Center is much more melodrama than drama, and the fact it was released a mere five years after 9/11 suggests more time spent on its craft would have resulted in a film of much more substance.
With Holidate, humankind finally has a movie brave enough to acknowledge the desperate pain and shame we all fear if we don’t have a date on Cinco de Mayo. The premise – generic white woman Sloane meets generic white man Jackson, and the two agree to be each other’s dates for holidays so they won’t be needled for being single – falls apart as soon as it’s apparent the duo aren’t even pretending to be a couple. They instead outwardly tell everyone they’re performing a “holidate” ritual, ergo are still needled for being single, destroying the entire point of their actions and indeed the whole movie. Meanwhile the main characters are thoroughly objectionable from start to end, casually sailing through shoplifting, deceit, sheer cruelty, and eerily light-hearted references to sexually active 12-year-olds. The attempts at humour are obnoxious and every single character is a tired cliché, from the promiscuous aunt to the wallflower sister-in-law. Holidate is so fundamentally irritating that by its end, the audience won’t even have the energy to ask why on earth anyone would ever need a date for Mother’s Day.
Passionflix’s Wicked somehow manages to be so generic and so derivative that it becomes its own bizarre phenomenon. Tropes are shamelessly stolen from pretty much all fantasy stories ever: as our heroine Ivy battles nefarious beings in the night, it’s an obvious attempt to emulate Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her burgeoning romance with the extremely underwhelming Ren echoes the plodding, toxic, idiotic love story of Twilight (and its many, many spawned YA atrocities). Ivy’s very status as the chosen one, a hybrid of humans and a mythical race, is one of the most tired fantasy clichés there is. But somehow, Wicked is so atrocious as to not be another boring, forgettable YA fantasy. The dreadful CGI; pathetic action scenes that resemble parkour more than combat; talk of fae and ancients and brownies in a desperate attempt at world-building; all-powerful supernatural entities who eschew their magical powers to just use guns instead: Wicked is genuinely a brimming bucket of laughs, even if it wasn’t attempting to be.
Studio Ghibli has undeniably had its ups and downs. For every heart-rending masterpiece like Grave of the Fireflies, there’s also a mediocre foray into sheer silliness like The Cat Returns. There are amazing spectacles like Laputa: Castle in the Sky or The Tale of Princess Kaguya; there are also more underwhelming tales like From Up on Poppy Hill or the slog that is Tales from Earthsea. But thus far, every single Ghibli feature has had the redeeming feature of stellar animation, which works to accentuate a fantastical and immersive sense of place. Enter Earwig and the Witch, ready to annihilate everything Ghibli stands for. Not only is the story a confusing joke, with random twists and turns of magic that make no sense and culminate in a conclusion that asks so, so, so many more questions than it answers. Not only does the main character – Earwig, a supposedly precocious young girl adopted by a mysterious supernatural couple – manage to be so annoying that every moment with her on screen (i.e. most of the film) is a pain to sit through. Not only is the music, allegedly one of the key focuses of the film with Earwig’s estranged mother singing in a band, so utterly awful that it dares to defy the very conception of music itself. No, beyond all of this, Earwig‘s “innovative” 3D CG anime is so grotesque, flat, colourless and lifeless that, besides the occasional impressively detailed background, it feels less like Studio Ghibli and more like Video Brinquedo. One can only hope and pray that this rare misstep from Ghibli is the only one of its kind we’ll ever see.
That Awkward Moment follows Jason (Zac Efron), a smug chronic bachelor who has his world turned upside-down when he meets his very own manic pixie dream girl, Ellie (Imogen Poots). It’s about as clichéd as every single other male-led rom-com in the world, except That Awkward Moment‘s desperation to distinguish itself is almost palpable. Yet its focus on boorish “comedy” and a confusingly sketched bro code only make it as typical as ever. Jason’s selfish, misogynistic behaviour throughout is echoed and entrenched by his two best friends, as the movie blithely surfs through their deceit, manipulation, and lack of humanity like they’re simply adorable character quirks. Pathetic gross-out humour lands flat as it largely hinges on characters blurting out swear words like giggling adolescents, and people spending an inordinate amount of time undressed for no reason at all (Miles Teller’s character seems especially, concerningly incapable of putting trousers on). That Awkward Moment ends precisely how one would expect, shamelessly declaring that for all its diatribes against romance, everyone’s storyline needs to end in coupledom after all. The entire film is an awkward moment that has the misfortune of lasting an hour and a half.
The Silence follows a deaf girl and her family as they strive to survive an onslaught from mysterious creatures who cannot see, but navigate and hunt by sound. The comparisons to 2018’s A Quiet Place are too obvious to detail, but The Silence doesn’t stop there. The main characters’ insistence on running around making the worst possible decisions in the face of an unknown threat are akin to The Happening. There’s a contrived, confusing nod to Fargo in a scene where several of the flying beasts kamikaze themselves by zooming straight into a woodchipper. The shoddily rendered winged monstrosities themselves even manage to mimic the insanity of Birdemic. An entirely idiotic thread about a cult culminates in a home invasion not unlike The Purge – although the gaggle of fundamentalist villagers also manages to echo Troll 2. As the movie ends on our teenage heroine and her boyfriend hunting with a bow and arrow, practically ripped shot-for-shot from The Hunger Games, The Silence confidently declares itself about as derivative and unoriginal as it’s possible for a film to be.
As an animated underwater adventure with talking fish, Shark Tale was very obviously DreamWorks’ attempt at Finding Nemo. Yet to draw any further comparison between the two would be insulting to Pixar’s masterful craft. Where Finding Nemo is magnificently animated with immersive seascapes and compellingly lively characters, Shark Tale is so hideous to look at that it frequently hurts. The textures are all wrong, with the fish generally looking like they’re made of suede, whilst the character’s designs are goofy and overwrought to the point of being downright unnerving. Finding Nemo has an emotionally charged story, mixed with gentle humour and perilous stakes; Shark Tale has a squeaky Jack Black shark moaning that he wants to be vegetarian while a Will Smith fish dances around and makes contrived pop culture references. Undersea car washes and graffiti and glasses of wine, coupled with the lazy animation of a few bubbles here and there, constantly prod the audience to observe that there’s no way this story could be taking place underwater. The lazy Italian-American stereotyping and Rastafarian caricatures help Shark Tale to culminate in an overall experience which is simply uncomfortable.
Radio Rebel follows the story of shy young student Tara (Debby Ryan), who secretly runs an online radio show as Radio Rebel, using her persona to enthuse and inspire the local teenage masses. It is difficult to fathom how Radio Rebel has earned such a devoted following, seeing as Tara herself is so awkward and idiotic that she’s regularly rendered incapable of basic human abilities such as writing, walking or talking. Debby Ryan also sees fit to pull bizarrely contorted, gormless faces in lieu of her character doing anything useful. Of course, her ostensible charms win over the resident bland heartthrob. Of course, they also catch the ire of the school mean girl. Of course, there are two creepy dorks with rhyming names running around achieving nothing, constituting the movie’s attempt at comic relief. As Radio Rebel’s popularity goes to her head and she behaves ever more erratically, her antics result in prom being cancelled. Oh no! But it’s okay, because prom still happens, with all its requisite funding, chaperones and traditions – it’s just called “Morp” now instead. Oh good. Taking the same old thing that’s been done a thousand times before and trying to pass it off as something entirely different is fundamentally what Radio Rebel is all about.
After ends on our star-crossed lovers reuniting. The opening of After We Collided reveals this never actually happened after all, and the star-crossed lovers did not, actually, reunite. After We Collided then goes on to recount how the star-crossed lovers did, in fact, reunite. After We Collided and indeed the whole sorry After franchise is characterised by these meandering loops and U-turns – weak attempts at twists to try and conceal the obvious fact that these films are utterly bereft of real story, real character, or real emotion. Instead, our heroine Tessa’s descent into darkness is shown by the fact that she – gasp – starts wearing more eye make-up than before. Meanwhile, Hardin’s arc is swooped along by his long-suffering mother, who spends her scenes bemoaning how the physical abuse she’s gone through has damaged Hardin, only Hardin, no one but Hardin. Hardin has a competitor for Tessa’s affections this time around, in the form of a colleague who seems to be an all-round decent, honest, and nice man. Of course this means he’s a terrible red herring, and the audience is compelled to back the angry, violent, shallow Hardin at all costs. After We Collided merrily continues After‘s compulsion to take an abusive relationship and put it on a rose-tinted pedestal. Most unfortunately, this is not the end of things, as there are still two more After movies in the pipeline.
The tragic fact that After is adapted from a book which in turn served as Wattpad fanfiction based on Harry Styles still underserves how atrocious, insulting, and downright dangerous a film it really is. Our insipid heroine Tessa goes to college and falls for the supposedly mysterious and alluring Hardon Scott, who in turn finds his bad-boy exterior crumbling in the face of Tessa’s alleged effervescent charms. So far, so YA – except After takes these clichés to extremes while refusing to regard itself as anything except unique and rebellious. Thus, we’re supposed to like Hardin, even as he lies, whines, and buys his way into Tessa’s affections. We’re supposed to root for the sullen rebel who wears only black clothes, even as he flies into drunken rages and waxes lyrical on his casually misogynistic musings in the middle of class. We’re supposed to find it beautiful and enigmatic when he seemingly mocks Tessa for spending time learning about stars while they’re both sitting in an astronomy lecture. Fundamentally, we’re supposed to be invested in a relationship founded in nothing but toxicity, deceit, and manipulation. Even more depressing is the consideration that After‘s soft lighting, sweeping music, and lingering camera shots will make impressionable young girls and women believe a relationship like this is to be aspired to, rather than avoided at all costs. Naturally, a film this misguided and harmful could only go on to spawn After We Collided.
Even the title is way off, because this story about an aspiring pop star has very few, if any, parallels with the Cinderella fairy tale. Does our plucky heroine Elle live with her evil stepmother and stepsisters? No, she lives with a man constantly referred to as “Uncle Allen” even though the movie is careful to explicitly state that he is not actually anyone’s uncle. But there must be some form of evil stepmother and stepsisters, surely? Well, there’s a bitchy popstar trio who saunter in, call Elle names beginning with ‘E’ that aren’t her name, then saunter out again. Does Elle slave away in forced servitude? She’s an intern at Uncle Allen’s record label, so sort of, but also, not really. How about Prince Charming? A famous pop star overhears Elle singing and falls in love with her instantly; why she decides to adopt a fake British accent and temporarily pretend to be a different person is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile. the glass slipper is replaced with… nothing, there’s nothing. Instead we have classic tropes like the awkward budding romance between the geeky stereotype sidekicks, and a montage featuring our heroine dressing up in all manner of hideous sparkly outfits – all underpinned by Elle’s burning desire to go to music college. It’s not really Cinderella. It’s not really anything.
Easily the most terrifying thing about Jeepers Creepers is the notion that it’s meant to be taken even remotely seriously. Siblings Trish (a terrible Gina Philips) and Darry (an even worse Justin Long) find themselves stalked by a sinister supernatural entity which consumes its victim’s body parts. The plot is primarily propelled forward by Trish and Darry’s predilection for always making the most idiotic, ill-advised, downright suicidal decision in any given situation, whether that’s crawling into eerie rat-filled pipes, or standing and staring at their pursuer, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, for several minutes at a time instead of just fleeing for their lives. Contrived narrative elements – like how the monster emerges for twenty-three days every twenty-three years, or the simple fact of the eponymous song being shoehorned in periodically in a desperate bid to justify the movie’s title – contribute to the general sense that this is a film which has absolutely no idea what it’s doing, but hopes for the best anyway. The final product falls far short of its hopes.
Wonder Woman 1984 (WW84) doesn’t feel like it has anything even slightly to do with 2017’s Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman was a rare success for the DCEU, managing to tell a story with a compelling protagonist, strong emotional stakes, blistering action and just the right level of humour. Fundamentally, it straddled a careful balance between the fantastical world of superheroes and the grounded realm of humanity. WW84, however, ditches any notion of nuance and goes full-throttle into a completely mad mess. Horrible questions are raised, but never answered, when a key character is resurrected using another human’s body as a hapless, helpless vessel. Wonder Woman herself is instantaneously able to wield new powers, like turning things invisible and flying, with no build-up whatsoever. The film’s entire aesthetic is supposed to be ’80s-inspired, yet no one ever dresses the part. Indeed, Wonder Woman is more preoccupied by the frankly ridiculous golden suit of armour she dons for the film’s climax, which proves itself to be as useless as it is over-the-top. The film boasts two villains and yet neither is particularly impactful – while Pedro Pascal is at least enjoyable as a flamboyant businessman, Kristen Wiig’s “awkward unpopular woman” shtick is dialled up to eleven for maximum annoyance in her role as Wonder Woman’s friend-turned-enemy. Basically, neither villain can be taken seriously for any longer than about thirty seconds. Arguably the central conflict is within Wonder Woman herself, and whether she wants to favour the fate of the world or her own selfishness. Obviously this is not exactly a difficult ordeal, especially for our noble hero, and the movie trundles along exactly as any toddler would predict it to. WW84 is an utter disappointment to its predecessor, which rings serious alarm bells for the next planned instalment in the series.
Popularly referred to as “Turkish Star Wars”, Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam is a baffling experience. It lifts footage from Star Wars without batting an eye, as well as its music. Music is also blithely stolen from other movies like Ben-Hur and Flash Gordon; many action sequences are set to the main theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Then again, it’s understandable why Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam would opt to steal so much material when its original content is so utterly insane. Our two heroes – possibly humans from Earth? Possibly not? – land on a planet – possibly Earth? Possibly not? – and are soon embroiled in a struggle against an evil wizard – possibly human? Possibly not? Our heroes must find a magical sword and, disturbingly, a preserved human brain – possibly Jesus’? Possibly not? – to imbue them with the powers to conquer evil. They must endure such trials and tortures as being submerged under sand for approximately four seconds. And constantly, above all, they must deal with arguably the biggest threat of all: their own libidos, as they spend most of the movie talking about women and how much they want to have sex with them. Peppered with action scenes involving fights against evil henchmen clad in cheap fluffy bear costumes, Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam is certainly an experience. But it’s not one that anyone could ever remotely confuse with watching Star Wars.
Well, it certainly doesn’t have any of the magic of the Disney version. Which would be fine, if it retained any of the magic of Hans Christian Andersen’s original. But it does not. The Little Mermaid is an extremely confused story about a girl and her uncle encountering a mermaid being held captive at a circus. Is this mermaid the same mermaid featured in the film’s animated opening sequence, which more closely tells the original fairy tale story? It’s not really made clear. Is the little girl, suffering from an ambiguous illness but constantly referred to as having a special magic of her own, a mermaid too? Also not really ever clarified. Meanwhile, the circus fortune teller is later shown to have the ability to manipulate time and matter to her will, yet never bothered using these universe-commanding powers to escape the circus before. Towards the end of the movie, a random werewolf type character is thrown in out of nowhere. He’s also a hero now. At its core, all the The Little Mermaid really seems to have to say is “believe in things” and “swimming is nice to do”, yet its cinematic attempt to convey these messages is so contrived and confusing that by the movie’s end, the average viewer will likely wind up losing all belief in everything and never wanting to swim again.
Fox Animation Studios’ 1997 Anastasiais justifiably derided for taking a serious and significant historical event, and turning it into a dumb kids’ film complete with basic “good versus bad” dichotomy, magic spells, and animal sidekicks. But Anastasia: Once Upon a Time provides some real perspective on Fox’s efforts. The 1997 Anastasia did not, for example, think a kids’ movie is an appropriate way introduce a scheming, sneering Lenin as the big bad guy. The 1997 Anastasia did not, therefore, reveal that Lenin was secretly in cahoots with a dastardly sorceress all along. The 1997 Anastasia did not declare that Rasputin was actually a good and decent man, until turned evil by the powers of said dastardly sorceress. The 1997 Anastasia did not feature Anastasia’s escape via magical portal which transports her, for some reason, to Madison, Wisconsin. The 1997 Anastasia did not furnish this already ludicrous idea with the casual addition that our heroine is propelled forward in time to the year 1989. The 1997 Anastasia did not feature tween pop stars, singing orphans, dress-up montages, hideous costumes, monotonous bullies, and an utterly confounding 5-second detour to Disneyland. The 1997 Anastasia did not choose to set its big dramatic climax in a children’s playground, with swings and a roundabout being used to outwit the enemy. Truly, Fox’s version of the Anastasia tale is practically cinematic genius when compared to this absolutely bizarre, inexplicable mess.
There is truly nothing that can be said about Christmas Wonderland that hasn’t already been said about all the generic Hallmark Christmas films. Our heroine Heidi returns to her quaint little home town which she left behind to pursue her big city dreams – in this case, being an assistant at an art gallery. She becomes reacquainted with her high school boyfriend – in this case, a square-jawed, blander than bland, personality-devoid teacher. Being in such a nice homely environment reignites her own creative passion – in this case, painting pictures of festive scenes in horrible poppy colours, resulting in art that even a children’s advent calendar company would reject as too offensively terrible to use. It’s a tale as old as time, made only slightly remarkable by little quirks such as one little girl’s cringe-inducing singing, and grandparents who pop up for half a scene and do absolutely nothing before disappearing forever. All in all, it’s what Hallmark does best: frivolous, formulaic and forgettable.
This Soviet-era adaptation of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring aired on Soviet television once. Just once. Then it was considered lost, until almost thirty years later, when it was rediscovered and posted on YouTube for all the world to enjoy. With the caveat that the production is in Russian with no currently existing foreign language subtitles, it is fair to say that even notwithstanding the language barrier for non-Russian speakers, Khraniteli is pretty much an insane fever dream that makes no sense. Sure, a viewer acquainted with the story beats of Fellowship can just about work out what’s supposed to be going on. There’s Bilbo’s birthday party; there’s Tom Bombadil; there’s a Barrow-wight; there’s Bree; there’s Aragorn; there’s Rivendell; there’s Saruman; there’s Moria; there’s Lothlórien. And yet, alongside this reasonably faithful adaptation come so, so, so many baffled questions that it’s difficult to keep track. Why are everyone’s wigs and fake Hobbit feet so disconcertingly dishevelled? Why does Gandalf look less like a mighty wizard and more like the Burger King mascot? Is there a reason Tom Bombadil and Goldleaf have been superimposed to be about ten times the size of the Hobbits? Why does the Barrow-wight look like Harley Quinn went on a bender after failing her audition for clown college? How come Legolas is played, quite obviously, by a woman, and thus never allowed to speak? Any reason that the scene of the eagles rescuing Gandalf utilises a horrifying bug-eyed bird prop slowly looming towards the screen? What’s with Gollum’s giddy dancing? And why, why, why is the entire thing punctuated by appearances from a pipe-smoking narrator, who sometimes pops in to deliver narrative, but many other times is simply captured staring silently into the camera for a few seconds before the movie resumes? Whether or not the audience speaks Russian, Kraniteli is a joyful low-budget mess clearly put together by someone who adores The Lord of the Rings, even if they don’t seem to have particularly understood it.
Nest of Vampires follows Kit Valentine, an MI5 agent pursuing a human trafficking ring which has kidnapped his daughter. Said human trafficking ring thrives on selling young girls to Satanic cult members for some generic ritualistic butchering, for which there is apparently a large market yet barely any police investigation into beyond our dogged hero’s crusade. Also, some of the human traffickers are vampires. But some of the good guys are vampires, too. One man – who spends the entire film snarling and sniggering and pronouncing everything in an absurdly thick accent that is supposed to be authentic Italian but comes across more as a drunk Mario pantomime – turns out to not be a vampire and instead an allegedly normal human man. This man’s absolutely terrible acting is arguably some of the best in the film, with precisely no one able to put in an even halfway decent performance. Technically speaking, the movie is put together with the finesse of a clueless toddler: the camera sways back and forth pretty much all the time, weird lurid lighting in stark reds and greens adds nothing to proceedings except immense confusion, plus the paint-by-numbers spooky soundtrack refuses to ever shut up for more than about ten seconds. In one perplexing scene, two characters sitting on a park bench have breath vapour emanating from their mouths when they speak, because it’s cold. Fine, except it’s interspersed with shots where the breath vapour is very obviously digitally added in. So much thought and effort poured in, with such a useless result. This is the film in a microcosm. Nest of Vampires has no idea what the hell it’s doing, but it commits to everything with an almost frightening level of loving conviction.
The world is, bizarrely, saturated with live-action adaptations of The Jungle Book. This one from 1994 is technically Disney’s first live-action iteration of one of its own animated works, although it has extremely little to do with the 1967 animated adaptation. Jason Scott Lee stars as Mowgli, embarking on his very own Pygmalion as he escapes the jungle he’s been lost in for around two decades to learn how to speak almost eerily fluent English and hold spoons in the right way. His education comes courtesy of Kitty, played by Lena Headey, and Dr Plumford, played by John Cleese. Sam Neill and Cary Elwes are also hovering around, both ostensibly doing their best impressions of John Cleese the entire time in an attempt to sound oh so terribly British. Of course, it wouldn’t be The Jungle Book without a colourful cast of animal characters, so some poor trained animals are brought in to portray Bagheera, Baloo, Shere Khan, King Louis, and so on. Their performances are mostly shots of them writhing around in apparent confusion and despair, cut together to look vaguely like reaction shots to the occurrences around them. They didn’t get a live snake, though – Kaa is a mix of animatronics and CGI hanging about in an underground lake, resulting in him pretty much entirely resembling a pool noodle for the human characters to wrestle about with. Along with the typical racist stereotypes of Indians, a romance utterly devoid of chemistry, some truly terrible spoken Hindi, and a lot of really stupid posing, it’s easy to see why no one seems to talk about this movie – especially not Disney.
The standard line with respect to Stephenie Meyer, creator of The Twilight Saga, is that her work isn’t high art. It’s not exactly cerebral. There’s precisely no need for deep, hard thinking to understand the story of Twilight. But then again, play The Host, which is based on a novel by Meyer, to an audience full of society’s top geniuses – Mensa members, our greatest writers and scientists and inventors and thinkers, whoever – and it’s an absolute guarantee that they’ll struggle to make head or tail of it. Questions might include: In this world where parasitic aliens have enslaved mankind, why do the aliens go from being ruthless vicious captors to eternally benevolent pacifists, changing from scene to scene? And similarly, why do the humans of this world go from despising and killing aliens one second, to warmly embracing them and palling around with them the next? Why would a talented actor like Saoirse Ronan agree to play these annoying characters, a human body inhabited by both human and alien souls yet barely ever in any actual conflict? And if the only discernible difference between a human-hosted body and an alien-hosted body is whether their eyes sparkle like Edward Cullen’s skin or not, then why don’t more people simply take advantage of contact lenses to fool the other side? Also, why do the three bland teenage boys of the story all look exactly the same? Why do none of them seem to understand what consent is? Why is there so much wheat? Since when do mirrors work that way? Truly, with all this pondering and consternation caused by watching The Host, we can only conclude that Stephenie Meyer’s work is that of a genius we mere mortals simply cannot fathom. Either that, or it’s somehow even more stupid and inane than what we already knew to expect from her.
We’ve had the sulky YA version of Beauty and the Beast, with Beastly. We’ve had the shiny rom-com version of Beauty and the Beast, with Beauty and the Briefcase. Now, we get the preachy Christian version of Beauty and the Beast, with Beauty and the Beast: A Latter-Day Tale. In this iteration, the titular Beast isn’t so much a beast, more than just some angry guy called Eric who wears ties at home and shouts a lot. After his handyman accidentally breaks a priceless vase (which constitutes but one hideous ornament in a colossal McMansion stuffed with hideous ornaments), Eric threatens to fire him. So the handyman’s daughter Belle steps in and offers her services as an assistant to placate him. Said services seem to primarily involve carrying post-its around, and handing Eric a towel as he awkwardly clambers out of his hot tub. There’s a bug-eyed rival for Belle’s affections hovering around, but he doesn’t do much. Belle’s little sister seems to have some sort of “rebellious schoolgirl” plot going on, but she doesn’t do much. Eric himself is supposed to be hiding a dark history of bereavement and alcoholism, but even he doesn’t do much. Most of the movie is the same scene over and over again: Eric yells, and Belle gets offended. They just move from room to room as they do it. Of course, by the end they’re hopelessly in love, and loudly affirming that faith in God conquers all. But a movie as weak, lazy, formulaic and emotionally barren as Beauty and the Beast: A Latter-Day Tale only helps to support the argument that there is no God at all.
It claims to be a romantic comedy. A cursory glance at the poster, all bright colours and goofy faces, certainly makes it look like a romantic comedy. But how can a film like Over Her Dead Body truly be classed as a romantic comedy? A romantic comedy only needs two things: romance and comedy. First of all, there is no romance. When Eva Longoria’s character Kate dies (in a truly confusing incident involving an ice sculpture), a year later she’s committed to haunting Ashley (Lake Bell), a psychic who has started to date Eva Longoria’s former fiancé Henry (Paul Rudd). A love triangle is at the centre of the film, yet the lack of chemistry is frankly alarming. Kate’s commitment to Henry seems less affectionate and more possessive, while Ashley and Henry have seemingly nothing to talk about except his dead fiancée. Awkward scenes like when Kate the ghost hovers above the bed while Ashley and Henry try to have sex are just disturbing. Obviously, these kinds of scenarios are where the comedy is supposed to come in, but there is no comedy either. Painfully drawn-out fart jokes, dumb voice effects and spontaneous falls to the ground give Over Her Dead Body the air of a Happy Madison production. But even those usually have bright colours and poppy cinematography, whereas all the visuals in Over Her Dead Body look diluted and grey. The film is already so flat, so joyless, and then it has the audacity to throw in a side storyline where a trusted best friend has been lying about his entire life, for five years, in order to creep on a woman without her consent. But it’s okay, because he says it’s love, and the movie says it’s love. Over Her Dead Body doesn’t know what love is, it doesn’t know what comedy is, and it’s just a shame it wasn’t brutally killed by an ice sculpture before it was unleashed on the world.
Runaway Romance‘s whole shtick is that it’s a romance set in Amish Country. A beleaguered reality TV star runs away from LA and finds herself in a quiet rural community free from the trappings of modern life. Except they all use cars. And electricity. And the internet. They’re all sort of half-Amish at best, it would seem. The movie itself doesn’t actually seem remotely interested in the Amish community beyond vaguely adopting some of its aesthetic, like lingering shots of horses and verdant fields. For example, our heroine quickly becomes best friends with an Amish widow who’s being pressured to enter an arranged marriage. Will the young woman acquiesce, or will she escape and follow her own path? Well, the movie never actually bothers to tell us, focusing instead on our heroine getting her own back on the reality TV co-stars that tried to manipulate her, and falling in love with a bland barely-Amish “architect” who ostensibly spends most of his time hammering nails with Habitat for Humanity. Basically, this is an Amish love story – except with the “Amish” taken out, barely any chemistry or affection to constitute “love”, and tragically little in the way of “story” either.
Jupiter Jones is a janitor who nearly gets killed by aliens masquerading as hospital staff but she’s rescued by Caine Wise, an intergalactic soldier who has orders to kidnap Jupiter so Titus of the royal Abrasax family can marry her, but Titus’ sister Kalique and brother Balem also want to kidnap her, so Caine realises Jupiter is probably of great importance, so he takes her to his half-human half-honeybee friend Stinger Apini, and at his house all the bees swarm around Jupiter which proves she’s royalty, but then she gets kidnapped, so Caine rescues her, but then she gets kidnapped, so Caine rescues her, but then she gets kidnapped, so Caine rescues her… Jupiter Ascending is a sheer insult of a movie. The characters are dreadful, especially our infuriatingly helpless heroine. The plot is utterly incoherent, with the Wachowskis ostensibly believing that throwing in a bunch of made up nouns constitutes world-building. Action scenes are so obnoxiously shot with rapid cuts and swooping cameras that it’s almost impossible to discern what’s actually happening. And to really hammer home how little Jupiter Ascending understands about entertainment, there’s a lengthy scene focused solely on intergalactic bureaucracy. A Terry Gilliam cameo cannot save such a hollow, lifeless dud of a film.
The really disappointing thing about the live-action Fullmetal Alchemist is the fact that the source material is amazing. The 2000s manga and anime series told the tragic tale of brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric with beautiful visuals, complex character development, and meticulous storyline pacing. That last one is especially crucial when you look at the live-action iteration, which proudly tries to tell four manga volumes’ worth of plot in two and a quarter hours. Cue: people churning out wordy exposition at rapid-fire speed; no one spending more than about three minutes in any given location before moving on to the next scenario; characters so thinly-drawn that the villains might as well spend their time on-screen winking and cackling directly at the camera; CGI so poor and fake-looking that you can practically see the tennis balls on string; unbelievably hammy acting from a bunch of grown adults striving to convince the audience that they’re actually teenagers; and an abundance of terrible, terrible wigs. This movie’s complete lack of redeeming features simply proves that there was never any need for a live-action Fullmetal Alchemist to be made.
iBoy is just your average boy-meets-girl YA movie. You know: boy meets girl; girl gets gang raped by generic council block hoodlums; boy gets shot by said hoodlums resulting in shards of a smartphone being embedded in his brain; boy develops extremely confusing and inconsistent cyber-based powers and uses them to enact revenge; girl gets kidnapped; girl’s kidnappers do the all-time dumbest thing possible and simply let go of her, enabling her to pick up a gun for Maisie Williams’ badass promotional shots; and it all culminates in a rainy climactic scene where Rory Kinnear’s villain does a whole lot of sneering and jeering. Just your average boy-meets-girl YA movie. iBoy clearly thinks it’s a gritty, realistic delve into the trials and tribulations faced by teenagers today, but the grimness is so formulaic that there’s a yawning dearth of emotional impact. It’s hard to feel anything but disgust at the way gang rape is used as a plot point. In addition, spot the ethnic minority who isn’t evil or corrupt in some way. Oh, there isn’t one! Of course only white people can be good. To add insult to injurt, the sci-fi is just beyond stupid. Of course sci-fi as a genre generally requests the audience suspends their disbelief – but iBoy takes it to such absurd levels, carried by such a mundane hero, that’s there’s really no reward for giving it the benefit of the doubt.
Vampire Dog is about as stupid and insane as you’d expect a film called Vampire Dog to be. Twelve-year-old Ace inherits his dead grandfather’s pet dog Fang, and swiftly discovers the canine’s supernatural abilities. He can move super fast. He can hypnotise people. He talks, in the slightly pained tones of Norm Macdonald. It’s debatable whether he can go in the sun, seeing as he’s shown in daylight several times, but there’s still a contrived scene about shoving him in a strange hooded onesie to protect him from the rays. Also, Fang is obsessed with eating jelly. Perhaps blood wasn’t sufficiently PG. As if this wasn’t enough to be dealing with, Ace also has to handle his burgeoning school crush (puppy love, if you will?) and a gaggle of mean girls at school. But wait, there’s more – a duo of hapless villains are intent on stealing Fang to use his immortal DNA for their skincare company. But wait, there’s more – Ace must use his underwhelming percussion skills to save the school at the climactic battle of the bands. Vampire Dog manages to take every kids’ film trope from the ’90s and amalgamate them into one idiotic experience; sadly it does so about a couple of decades too late.
In 2001, we were given The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, followed by its sequels in 2002 and 2003. Overall, they gave audiences an epic adventure. Well, in 2018, audiences were finally given the start of what no one demanded, the Time for X to Come Home for Christmas trilogy. Followed in consecutive years by Time for You to Come Home for Christmas and Time for Us to Come Home for Christmas, this trilogy distinguishes itself by ensuring that each of its three instalments have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. Different characters, different places, different stories. One might argue they barely constitute a trilogy at all. Nevertheless, we live in a world where this series exists, and here’s where it all began. Cara is, as the movie title subtly hints, heading home for Christmas, and meets a celebrity singer on the way. At least, the film really tries to convey he’s a celebrity – he plays Madison Square Garden and gets chased by delirious fans wherever he goes. Curious, seeing as his entire act seems to be poorly singing covers of Christmas songs while fake-playing guitar. Regardless, as the two embark on a very sad Planes, Trains and Automobiles knock-off, they find themselves steadily growing closer. Sure, the movie tries to throw in some contrived conflicts, along the lines of, “You never told me you were famous!” and the even more egregious, “How dare you offer to lend me money to save my failing business?!” Will these two crazy kids ever work it out? Time to come home for Christmas and find out.
The second instalment of the trilogy no one ever asked for, preceded by Time for Me to Come Home for Christmas and followed by Time for Us to Come Home for Christmas. Again, this one has completely different characters and a completely different story. Someone cynical might even say these movies have nothing to do with each other at all. In this one, our widow protagonist and her young son journey home for Christmas, and meet a bland shell of a man on the way. Naturally our protagonist, being naught more than a bland shell herself, begins to fall in love. There’s an extremely contrived story around a trinket left behind by the dead husband, and the movie feels obliged to give the son banal stuff to do in order to justify his presence in the movie, but overall this is yet another movie about returning to your simple home town to rediscover the magic of Christmas. As saccharine and formulaic as our two main characters.
Part three of the inexplicable trilogy of Christmas films with fundamentally nothing to do with one another, preceded by Time for Me to Come Home for Christmas and Time for You to Come Home for Christmas. In this one, Lacey Chabert plays Sarah, who’s torn away from her high-flying corporate life to spend Christmas in a small town. How unusual for a Hallmark Christmas film. This time, she’s led to an inn by a mysterious invitation, alongside other guests (including an insulting “wise black man” trope, whose part was likely written for Ron Cephas Jones except he refused to take part) who seemingly have nothing in common… or do they? The central “mystery” of the movie is an absolute joke, with Sarah essentially wandering from person to person and occasionally exclaiming underwhelming discoveries about how her parents once came to the exact same inn. Of course, she also falls for the white guy with a chiselled jaw who runs the hotel. In a baffling side note, it really doesn’t even seem like anyone comes home for Christmas in this one, despite an awkward speech in the final minutes of the movie declaring that home is about people, not places. If that were the case, you’d hope the central couple’s chemistry was a bit more enticing than the complete burnout seen here.
A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting quite possibly has the most childish title of all time. Go figure – it’s a kids’ movie, following a young babysitter who goes on a magical quest to save the boy she was supposed to be looking after. He’s been kidnapped, which would pretty much render our protagonist the worst babysitter of all time; nevertheless she’s permitted to join the secret society of annoying monster-fighting babysitters. The kidnapper is the Grand Guignol, a leader in the world of monsters, played with acutely cringeworthy aplomb by a career-meandering Tom Felton, who looks like a mix of Edward Scissorhands and a Ring-seduced Sméagol. The thing with A Babysitter’s Guide is, while it’s a kids’ film, some of the imagery is genuinely terrifying, like eerie skulls floating in smoke, or monsters getting totally gutted (but their blood is blue, which ostensibly means it’s not gory to see them lying in pools of it). An expectedly stupid, but also surprisingly perturbing, experience.
For a people to think it was a good idea to take a currently unfolding tragedy, Michael Bay-ify it and present it as a legitimate film is a complete insult to everything humanity is living through. In Songbird, we’re a few years into the future and COVID-19 has mutated into COVID-23. KJ Apa plays a courier, helpfully totally immune to the disease and all its mutations, trying to save his girlfriend whose grandmother has just contracted it. There’s also some random tangents about drones, veterans, and a strange subplot regarding a black market dealer having an affair with a social media singer. All of this is extremely hard to follow seeing as the movie is seldom capable of focusing on a shot for more than two seconds before cutting to the same thing at a different angle. Supposedly this makes the film more urgent and exciting. It just makes it even more obnoxious than it already was. Songbird is a truly exasperating experience, made even more difficult by the fact that real people are still suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic. A total mess all around.
The Late Bloomer is, frankly, nothing short of disturbing. The movie makes a big song and dance about how it’s based on a true story, but the parallels to reality are so loose that it completely undermines its own claim within seconds. The story follows Pete (Johnny Simmons), a sex therapist in his late twenties who discovers he’s had a benign tumour pressing up against his pituitary gland which has resulted in him never going through puberty. For the audience, countless questions ensue. Never gone through puberty? But he has a broken voice, an Adam’s apple, a man’s height, countless other indications that he is, in fact, a fully grown man. In fairness, seeing as the film is saturated with coarse sex jokes and pathetic physical comedy, the movie at least did the small mercy of not casting a child in the role – but then it’d still raise questions. How did Pete get so old with no one questioning his alleged lack of puberty? Did his parents never take him to the doctor? Other questions include why Pete’s best friends seem genuinely incapable of talking about anything but sex; why Pete’s hot neighbour (Brittany Snow) seems totally infatuated with him, despite him behaving like a child at best and a selfish incel at worst; and why J. K. Simmons deigned to go anywhere near this movie.
Wild Mountain Thyme got a lot of bad publicity before its release, primarily due to its performers’ terrible Irish accents as showcased in the movie trailer. The accents are certainly bad, but they’re probably the least egregious part of the entire film. This love story between neighbours Rosemary (Emily Blunt) and Anthony (Jamie Dornan) in rural Ireland has absolutely no idea what it’s doing, at any point. The dialogue is laboured and nonsensical. The story is peppered with spontaneous deaths, purely to propel the plot forward. Rosemary is an absolute horror: cold, possessive, obsessive, and yet somehow devoid of any shred of real character that might make an audience warm to her even a little. Anthony has his own bouts of madness to attend to, with a final act reveal about his psyche which is so bewildering that there’s simply nothing anyone can say to make it make sense. The same level of bafflement applies to the entire film, honestly.
Finally! The spin-off for The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D that absolutely no one in the world ever asked for. This one manages to, inexplicably, be even worse. The movie is unabashed about its attempt to be like the Avengers, but for children – so for the majority of it, all the kids just run about with their super powers (including such compelling skills as singing, and making silly faces) and do dramatic poses. At one point, the kids uncover that one of their own is secretly an alien – and proudly announce that they found this out because, basically, the alien already told them. Said alien sounds surprised to hear this news. This is the level of conflict We Can Be Heroes is willing to present; any real sense of peril or danger simply doesn’t exist. Even the central “save the world” adventure turns out to be a giant farce. It’s all total nonsense, especially considering the “lore” of the original film isn’t remotely upheld. Is this all still the dreams of the kid in the first film? Because he doesn’t even show up. Neither does Taylor Lautner, which means poor Sharkboy is relegated to having his face hidden and remaining mute for the whole movie. He probably comes across the best of the lot of them.
Anyone going into this film would assume it’s a modern take on the Jane Austen classic novel, with a Christmas twist. They would be wrong. Pride, Prejudice, and Mistletoe, aside from calling its protagonist “Darcy”, has basically nothing to do with Pride and Prejudice. It doesn’t even really involve very much mistletoe. Darcy (Lacey Chabert, AKA Gretchen Wieners) takes a break from her high-flying city job to return to her home town for Christmas, obviously rekindling her spark with her childhood sweetheart and realising there’s more to life than her fast-paced corporate life. So far, so Christmas movie. Pride, Prejudice, and Mistletoe adds on a few extra layers of confusion, though – such as the fact that Darcy’s utterly colossal family home is quite obviously a hotel, but no one ever mentions it. Or the fact that the fundamental moral of the story seems to be that nepotism is good. There’s not even any mistletoe present for the end-of-movie kiss. Way to fail at the title on pretty much all fronts.
A geologist discovers the world is falling apart, due to some random nonsense that’s never explained in any way a scientist would deem valid. A novelist battles to save his family, as natural disaster after natural disaster threatens humankind with extinction. All very grave, as the movie’s ominous tagline “We were warned” impresses upon us. But while 2012 looks decent in terms of its cataclysmic visual effects, the atmosphere is quickly sullied by boring characters, stupid plot, and improbability after improbability. The audience is already going along with the highfalutin disaster scenario – the movie would have done better to just roll with it rather than try to explain it all away with monks and prophecies and other such convenient yet idiotic devices. For a running time of more than two and a half hours, it’s just not worth it.
Freddy Got Fingered is very much one of those movies that loudly, smugly, claims to be in on the joke. But there’s a problem with this claim. To be in on the joke, there has to be a joke. And generally where there’s a joke, there is laughter. But there is no laughter to be found in Freddy Got Fingered. Tom Green’s bewildering passion project sees him play an aspiring cartoonist. Cue zany antics, goofy faces, silly voices, and relentless gross-out gags. Ha, ha, horse penis! Ha, ha, elephant penis! Ha, ha, penis! No, unfortunately, there is no laughter to be had at all. No jokes. No anything. Just Tom Green screaming endlessly, irritatingly, into the void.
The title is all about the protagonist’s shoe addiction, yet they seem to forget about it for massive stretches of the film. And when they remember it, the shoes she wears are so hideous that it’s hard to fathom why she’s so keen on them. In this movie, the shoes are magical and bestowed to her by some mysterious shoe angel, so when she wears them she’s popped back to a time in her past. It’s confusing to say the least – do her decisions back in time alter the present day? They don’t seem to. Yet there doesn’t seem to be any other real point to the flashbacks. The final one is the most confusing of all, where it’s implied she’s actually been in a relationship with her new love interest for many years. Or… has she? We just don’t know.
The title(s) make it sound like a hit reality TV show where bland people flirt with each other on a beach, but it’s actually a fictional rom-com film where bland people flirt with each other on a beach. Amanda Bynes and Meadow Soprano vie for the attentions of a generic pop-rock superstar. Bynes gets the edge when she manages to convince him that the two of them are stranded on a desert island and need to depend on each other to survive. Fortunately for her, he’s too dense to wander one hundred metres in the opposite direction, so he doesn’t discover they’re actually just around the corner from the hotel they both checked in at. Were it not her for guilty conscience, there’s a good chance he’d have never found out. Idiot character for an idiot premise for an idiot movie.
Mamaboy is a horror. It’s not presented as a horror, but it really should be. Mamaboy is supposed to be your average teen comedy – adolescents navigating high school, discovering sex, and getting into routine hijinks on the way. That’s the kind of tone it tries to hit throughout. Unfortunately, it also hinges on the premise that a boy has a medical procedure done so he can carry his girlfriend’s baby for her. So the laidback, just-your-average-teen vibes are dashed pretty quickly.The hero wanders around with his distressingly fake-looking pregnant belly and sighs and shakes his head a lot, while his peers glower over how fat he’s become. The viewer is supposed to just take it all on the chin, and find it relatable and charming. But it’s just unsettling. Really, really unsettling.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone was clamouring for a sequel to Mirrors, but they churned one out anyway. It’s a standalone, so no need to worry about needing to see the first one – they’re basically the same movie. Nick Stahl steps in as our traumatised tough guy, grappling with the memory of a car accident which killed his fiancée. His feelings of grief and guilt are pretty rapidly skipped over in order to focus on the much more compelling idea that he foresees people’s deaths in mirrors. Hooray, back to the never-failing formula of evil mirrors! It’s difficult to get particularly scared whilst watching the hero get frightened by a scary face in a puddle. But Mirrors 2 really does give it a go.
The central premise of Mirrors is that mirrors are scary. That’s pretty much all there is to go on. Malevolent forces live on the other side of the glass. Kiefer Sutherland’s ex-detective does his utmost to battle them, but he does little to battle his stock ex-detective character tropes of “tormented”, “paranoid”, and “always frowning”. Of course, there’s the classic horror shtick of a character’s schizophrenia or personality disorder actually being the work of terrible terrible demons – because a film where mirrors are scary was never going to delve deep into the psychology of the human mind. Why explore trauma or psychosis when you can blame it on that most evil of entities: mirrors?
Three gal pals run around Monte Carlo pretending to be wealthy socialites, after it’s discovered that the generic heroine played Selena Gomez bears an uncanny likeness to a spoiled British heiress played by Selena Gomez. Inevitable hijinks ensue. It throws in a prince, because teen rom coms like to have a prince. But instead of speaking in clipped Queen’s English tones, he’s given the general designation of “foreign”, and the accompanying pseudo-European accent to go with it, so you know he can’t be a real love interest. One of those films that claims to be against vapid materialism, and conveys its message by spending every single solitary second of its running time indulging in the most vapid materialism imaginable.
The Adventurer is unbelievable. It simply cannot be believed. Starring the likes of Michael Sheen, Lena Headey, Sam Neill, Keeley Hawes and Ioan Gruffudd, in 2013 it was heralded as the next Harry Potter. A heroic young man discovering magical objects and fighting nefarious forces. Based on the first of a trilogy of young adult fantasy books, so scope for a franchise. It was received so positively by test audiences that the producers confidently announced a sequel before it was even released. This sequel never got made. The Adventurer was a spectacular failure at the box office, most likely because it’s less a film and more a giddy mess of insanity. The “plot” is complete nonsense. The “hero” is utterly useless. Most story developments are based on the convenient location of a nearby secret passage. Michael Sheen spends half the movie in an obvious disguise even a three-year-old could see past, yet the audience is supposed to be stunned to discover that it was Michael Sheen the whole time. How did so many famous and talented people agree to be a part of this?
Big shock that they had to cancel the cinematic sequels they’d planned for this one. Maybe the original book series works, but this movie has absolutely no idea what it’s doing. It tries to incorporate every YA trope in the book: magic, vampires, werewolves, witches, warlocks, demons… It’s difficult to believe there was established source material to rely on here, because it feels like they made up every stupid twist and contrived turn as they went. It’s a headache to even try and keep up, which the movie insists you do for over two hours, but it’s honestly not worth it. There’s not a single memorable character or original idea here. The cinematography and sets look kind of nice, at least?
dir. Steven Brill, Peter Farrelly, Will Graham, Steve Carr, Griffin Dunne, James Duffy, Jonathan van Tulleken, Elizabeth Banks, Patrik Forsberg, Brett Ratner, Rusty Cundieff, James Gunn, Bob Odenkirk, Steve Baker, Damon Escott
Movie 43 is an absolute marvel. This anthology “comedy” is a genuine contender for being the worst film of all time, and not in a fun way. Sometimes it’s argued that Movie 43 is doing what it does on purpose, but even trying to watch it with that in mind, there’s still not an iota of enjoyment to get from it. And so many celebrities! It’s impossible to understand what drew actors of this calibre to such a mess. Did Naomi Watts think she might get an Oscar nomination out of it? Probably not, seeing as she spends her part in the film playing a woman who tries to seduce her own son. Did Anna Faris and Chris Pratt think their scatological storyline would strengthen their real-life marriage? Outlook: not so good. Did Kate Winslet think she’d have fun going on a date with a man who has balls on his chin? She sure doesn’t look like she’s having fun. Nobody does. The story goes that most actors signed on for this production before actually reading the script. A lesson learned if there ever was one.
Groundhog Day, but starring a naked Wayans brother. That’s the entire movie, although “movie” is a strong word for this one. In essence, this time it’s about a man who’s got cold feet over his wedding, but reliving his wedding day repeatedly makes him realise just how much he wants to commit. Honestly it’s more like “Groundhog Hour” – because it’s the same hour we see Marlon Wayans live through over and over, allowing for very little variation. The one vaguely interesting idea – the fact that the reason Wayans is naked at all is because he went on a drunken bender of denial – is completely undercut by a confusing sabotage plot involving an evil maid of honour and a prostitute. We could have delved into a complicated psyche, but instead, it’s just some naked guy. But what more did we really expect?
Kevin Spacey gets turned into a cat. That’s the whole movie. It’s the only remotely noteworthy aspect, anyway. Nine Lives follows the most basic kids’ movie beats ever – he’s a workaholic father, his big work project is a symbol of his corruption and soullessness, but his time spent as a cat slowly manages to imbue a sense of decency and love into him. Same formula as every other family film about an uptight guy learning to relax – see Beethoven, or Cats & Dogs. It’s just that this time, the guy doesn’t just bond with his pet, he actually becomes it. Neat? The film takes an unprecedented dark turn, lightly flirting with such topics as suicide and euthanasia, all while seemingly forgetting it’s a PG movie whose main character is a cat. Throughout, not a single actor looks or sounds happy to be there, not even the cat. It’s not hard to know why.
A Godfrey Ho masterclass. Like Ninja Terminator and a bunch of his other productions, Ho took his own film and a pre-existing film, then mashed them together and pretended there was a coherent story to be told. In trademark Ho style, the dubbing is absolutely hideous, for the English and non-English speakers alike. Despite the cast and crews love of martial arts, the choreography just isn’t much good – it primarily consists of awkward men flailing around, with the occasional jump cut to try and convey agility. You can try and differentiate the films of Godfrey Ho by their plots, but there’s not much plot to speak of in any of them. But this is the one with the cop in Hong Kong, and drugs, and revenge. There you go.
All of Godfrey Ho’s films, including Ninja Terminator and Ninja: Silent Assassin, are a mad delight. His MO was to film original scenes, then take an existing martial arts film, dub over the top, and cut the two together. In other words, his “movies” are hybrids of two entirely different films. Half of Ninja Terminator is taken from a Korean production called The Uninvited Guest Of The Star Ferry; it doesn’t take a genius to discern that the clipped British accents over the top weren’t part of the original audio. The bits Ho filmed himself include a teeny-tiny threat-delivering robot and a Garfield telephone. Throw in pieces of a magic statue, a couple of extremely tepid sex scenes, and hostages tied to bombs. All put together it creates an inscrutable but hilarious mess.
Obsessed should honestly be appealing by default – plot aside, the leads are played by Idris Elba and Beyoncé, who almost certainly embody the most good-looking couple ever seen on screen. It’s also totally believable that Idris Elba’s colleague would be so infatuated with him to the point of – title drop – obsession. Unfortunately, although all the individual pieces seem perfect, the sum of the parts falls well short. It’s totally predictable and generic. The characters are given no complexity; the heroes are simply good and the villain is simply bad. You don’t get to find out anything about the stalker’s motivations or past. She’s just some psycho. Also weirdly unsettling about the film is the way Elba and Beyoncé suddenly swap importance – the former leads the second half, but by the end the focus is so squarely on Beyoncé that it’s easy to forget Elba was even in it. But it’s easy to forget most things about Obsessed.
There is only one word that really sums up The Open House, and that is “infuriating”. There are plenty of shoddy horror films in the world, but this one takes it to another level. The premise? Open houses – yes, the sorts run by estate agents – are scary. Okay, well, what about the execution? Well, there isn’t one, really. The Open House wanders from scene to scene with no real idea what it’s doing, introducing characters and concepts for no reason at all. Who’s that old lady, what happened to her husband? Who cares?! The Open House doesn’t! Now let’s never mention it again. It honestly doesn’t really even end, so much as just stop. Nothing is explained and nothing is made to make sense. Just a series of random scenes. In a way, it’s the scariest horror film every made – it’s truly frightening to consider that something this terrible and pointless actually got made.
The Oxford Murders doesn’t just think it’s smart. It thinks it’s the smartest movie ever known to humankind. It thinks no one can handle just how smart it is. Unfortunately, no matter what The Oxford Murders thinks of itself, the truth is it might be one of the stupidest films ever conceived of. As Elijah Wood and John Hurt wander about Oxford trying to hunt down a killer, they don’t really speak in English so much as in unnecessarily obtuse phrases. From “I believe in the number pi” to “As sure as today is Wednesday,” not a single line sounds like an actual human being would ever say it. The murders make no sense and the motivations make no sense. The final reveal of the true killer is so resoundingly idiotic that it’s hard to do anything except gape and babble in disbelief, although the movie would probably take that as proof that it’s simply too smart for everyone who watches it. It’s all offset by a truly ridiculous third act explosion, though. So there’s that.
Prime is ostensibly a rom-com but it’s very low on humour. The premise alluded to in the title is the fact that the main character Rafi, played by Uma Thurman, is 37 – past her prime, so to speak, because everyone knows life ends at 30 – and begins dating a 23-year-old. In addition, Rafi doesn’t know that the therapist she spills her heart out to is actually her new boyfriend’s mother. Oh my! A lot of it’s played for laughs, with Meryl Streep pulling goofy faces and everything hinging on each other’s misunderstandings like a comedy of errors. But all the comedy is sucked out by the sheer mean-spiritedness and selfishness of the movie. Everyone is super quick to judge everyone else; there is barely any compassion or perspective. One point to the movie for not neatly wrapping up all the strands in a bow at the end like most rom-coms do, but it’s so devoid of heart that it doesn’t really matter.
A short 3D animated feature about the magic of Christmas, introducing a brand new gang of adorable kids, and starring voice acting legends such as Paige O’Hara, Jodi Benson, Nancy Cartwright and Mark Hamill. Released seven years after Toy Story, so the world’s already aware of the wonders 3D animation can achieve. Surely a new and exciting franchise in the making, right? A new children’s classic? Well, Rapsittie Street Kids’ first issue is obvious from the get-go. It looks like a two-year-old designed it all on an Etch A Sketch then vomited crayon onto it to get the colour. They just look scary. The plot and character are non-existent – the biggest conflict is the protagonist giving away a teddy bear to a recipient who doesn’t really want it. Ooh. And it’s just straightforwardly unfinished. For entire scenes when the grandmother character is speaking, it seems they accidentally released her audio in rewind. Apparently none of the crew even wanted to watch it back – they just wanted to get it out of their lives as soon as possible. It’s only 40 minutes long but the nightmarish memories last a lifetime. A haunted, haunted movie.