31 December 2014

The Mad Prophet's Bottom 10 Films of 2014

If I've done well at any of my 2014 resolutions, I have generally gotten better at avoiding shit movies. When putting together a list of older films you really want to watch, you realise that it becomes easier to make time to watch films like All About Eve, The Night of the Hunter and When Harry Met Sally when you don't waste time on new releases like Keith Lemon: The Film.

Some would say that proper film reviewers go to see everything new, but in the last few years, that's become the best way to become an expert in mediocrity. By the end of this list of the worst stuff I saw in cinemas this year, you'll see why I've decided to get a bit more selective with my time.

That means there's some stuff on the list that might never have deserved to be here if I'd watched Postman Pat, Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie or Grace of Monaco, but in a year that's generally been very good, these ones hurt.

10. Men, Women & Children
Dir. Jason Reitman // Cert. 15 // 119 mins // USA
Having really enjoyed Reitman's other maligned effort this year, Labour Day, I was totally ready to enjoy this more than the critics. But Men, Women & Children is one of two films on this list that feels woefully out of touch in its scrambling attempts to explore sex in the age of the internet. Which is a shame, because look how good the poster was!

It starts out with the year's worst voiceover (perhaps the only time Emma Thompson has ever phoned it in) and persists in bludgeoning the viewer over the head with suburban sexual confusion, never happy to make the point about desensitisation through porn once, when another five times would do just as well.

The superb cast (including Dean Norris, JK Simmons and Judy Greer) are routinely pretty good and this film would have no business being on this list, were it not for that fact that it has so much good going for it and still turned out as boring and condescending as it is. I'd still call myself a Jason Reitman fan, but this is the most disappointing film of the year.

9. Delivery Man
Dir. Ken Scott // Cert. 12 // 105 mins // USA
Before Chris Pratt leapt into the ranks of the A-list, he had to take his knocks as the funniest part of another godawful Vince Vaughn movie. At the time, I finally realised that the only thing Vince Vaughn's worse movies have in common is Vince Vaughn, and even if the super-bland Delivery Man is the least terrible I've seen in years, it's still rubbish.

Ken Scott remakes his own French-Canadian film Starbuck with Vaughn in the role of a former sperm donor who becomes the subject of a class action lawsuit when it turns out his contribution wound up siring over 500 children. His attempts to reach out to them makes for a film in search of a sitcom, and that impression is intensified by the way that Pratt and Cobie Smulders, both of whom rise above the rest of the film, are best known for their TV comedy work.

But as Vaughn gurns his way through the comedic scenes and makes borderline misogynist comments about how it's a father's role and a father's role alone to look after his offspring, there's a weird progression in which it seems like this domineering new father figure will wind up leading a cult made up of his own offspring. That slightly sinister edge is the least of its problems.

8. Love, Rosie
Dir. Christian Ditter // Cert. 15 // 102 mins // Germany/UK
Or, as I would've called it, Twat Jenga. A couple of months after seeing it, I'm still trying to get rid of the sickly saccharine aftertaste of Love, Rosie. Lily Collins and Sam Claflin play childhood friends whose romance plays out over around 12 years, like Boyhood, if they decided to make Boyhood in about 12 weeks and set it what looks like "Dublin, England."

If you don't like romantic comedies where the leads deliberately don't tell each other crucial things just in order to keep the film going, this is basically Stupid Secrets: The Movie. The obstacles between them get taken out of the way, only to be piled higher and more unstable. You know, like Jenga, but with twats.

7. The Other Woman
Dir. Nick Cassavetes // Cert. 12 // 109 mins // USA
This one is sad for a number of reasons, chief amongst which is that it made me quit being a Leslie Mann apologist. She's a terrific actress, but the time comes when I just wish she'd be in good movies instead of... well, The Other Woman. She, Cameron Diaz and Kate Upton play women who discover Nicolaj Coster-Waldau's bastardly boyfriend is cheating on all of them, and conspire to get even with him together.

At some point in the development process, the studio obviously decided to parachute in a third character for Upton to play, with both the looks and acting skills of an underwear model, over-balancing what's actually half-decent buddy dynamic between Mann and Diaz as heartbroken wife and wily straight-woman.

This imbalance sinks the whole film, playing deceptively coy for most of the running time before enacting more violence on the conniving Mark than Coster-Waldau usually endures in a whole season of Game of Thrones. The film is tentative when it counts, and over-compensates drastically whenever it livens up, but most of all, it's not funny.

6. The Legend of Hercules
Dir. Renny Harlin // Cert.  12 // 99 mins // USA
[On Boxing Day...]
Uncle: "I watched that new Hercules film on Sky last week."
Me: "With The Rock? I liked that!"
Uncle: "No, it was a different one."
Me: "Oh. Sorry."

Like that Snow White movie and that asteroid movie before it, Harlin's The Legend of Hercules came out ahead of the surprisingly good Brett Ratner version and basically made that re-imagining's bar-clearing look all the more effortless. It's a low comparison when this version counters Dwayne Johnson with the charisma-free Ken doll that is Kellan Lutz.

These clashes of subject matter seldom pans out well for either of the movies involved, but this one really screwed the pooch. Harlin borrows from swords and sandal movies and monomyths left, right and centre, but brings it in cheaper and nastier than any of them. With little coherent storytelling and loads of patronising 3D, this one can only leave viewers feeling one way- "DISAPPOINTEEEED!"

5. Divergent
Dir. Neil Burger // Cert. 12 // 139 mins // USA
About 20 minutes into watching Divergent on DVD, I caught myself asking "there's gonna be HOW MANY of these movies?!" With The Hunger Games currently working through its two part finale, Veronica Roth's young adult novel seems to have stumped a studio in search of the next teen dystopia franchise with its confounding premise. Tris is a young woman who dares to be both brave AND selfless, making her an obvious danger to a society flimsily built upon high school cliques.

Shailene Woodley and Theo James are amongst the players who are meant to stand out from the walking Zimbio quiz results that populate the supporting cast, but she's reduced to frowny exposition and he basically defines his own divergence by looking like more than one Franco brother at once without ever being as watchable as either. The sheer sexlessness of their non-chemistry together makes Twilight look like Nymphomaniac.

It amounts to more than two hours of drab world-building, for which the franchise model is more distinctive than the actual setting of the story. In the wake of more successful forebears, we've got Insurgent coming out in March, and then a multi-part adaptation of the final novel. Quite how it's going to take that long for this society to collapse, I'm not so sure.

4.  Sex Tape
Dir. Jake Kasdan // Cert. 15 // 94 mins // USA
Or, That Syncing Feeling, the second film on this list to take on sex and the internet, but Sex Tape doesn't have even the thoughtful intentions of our #10. Instead, it's a flaccid sex comedy about a couple that over-react to their sex video being uploaded to the iCloud, merely by the act of leaving the house, let alone the stupidity that ensues.

It's also the second Cameron Diaz vehicle, though she's entirely not to blame for this one either. I try my very hardest to like Jason Segel in anything, but he's never had to soldier through anything quite this bad before now. He's the best thing about the film, but he co-wrote the film and he's rewarded with the lion's share of the cringe-making product placement lines, designed to keep Apple on side with a film about how their tablets might share private info without permission.

It protests its own raunchiness desperately, but it's also weirdly and almost regressively coy- this is a film in which people who enjoy sex are outright embarrassed by that fact. The premise is enacted with such self-loathing on the characters' part that you get to the end and feel that the mayhem would only have exacerbated their marital problems. In short, it's the least sexy film imaginable from this premise.

3. 3 Days To Kill
Dir. McG // Cert. 12 // 117 mins // USA/France/Greece/Russia
With this film, I was reminded of the Futurama gag where Fry believes his ramshackle script for an Ally McBeal style legal drama will fill an hour slot because it took an hour to write. Unfortunately, even if 3 Days To Kill only took 3 days to write or 3 days to make, the film itself feels like it lasts about that long too.

Kevin Costner evidently has no desire to tread on the turf of Liam Neeson's violent father characters (i.e. all of Europe) in this sub-Taken Europa Corp effort, but manfully Grumpy Cats his way through the role of dying hitman Ethan Renner. Even when given a Crank-style experimental drug to keep him alive, it incapacitates him every time his heart rate goes up, not that there's much danger of that for either Ethan or the audience.

The action, which focuses on G.I. Joe calibre villains with names like The Albino and The Wolf, is intercut with limp comedy regarding Ethan's daughter, played by Hailee Steinfeld, wherein his violent jollies around Paris are interrupted by her teenage issues. The laughs never stop, but then they never really start- even for McG, this is low, hacky stuff.

2. Let's Be Cops
Dir. Luke Greenfield // Cert. 15 // 104 mins // USA
If the secret to comedy is timing, there was no poorer joke than releasing Let's Be Cops, a film where two man-children dress up as cops and abuse the authority that comes with the uniform, at the height of the controversy about the police department in Ferguson, Missouri. In fairness, it's tough to imagine a time when this ever would have been funny.

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr, who are apparently great together on New Girl, struggle to enliven a comedy from the fiend behind Something Borrowed and Rob Schneider's The Animal, but then after the initial idea of putting two losers in uniform, it converts right into a rote buddy cop comedy. But there's not a single funny joke here, and Greenfield proceeds to run every non-laugh into the ground before the sweet release of the closing credits.

Most importantly, Let's Be Cops was released in the same week as Sin City 2- you have to be truly rank to have a more questionable representation of women than a Frank Miller movie, but this one is just low enough to earn special mention with the worst of the worst of the year.

1. Transformers: Age of Extinction
Dir. Michael Bay // Cert. 12 // 165 mins // USA/China

"It's big, but never clever, packed to bursting with all of the director's old tricks. It's juvenile rubbish, packaged in such a way that it just about passes muster as a guilty pleasure for some. Whether the inevitable reboot will be any better remains to be seen, but as trashy popcorn entertainment, this one is no more and no less than what's expected. I'm glad to see the back of it, but I'm not going to waste any more time being angry about it."
- Me, reviewing Transformers: Dark of the Moonthree years ago.


Fuck.

Readers, I've been promising you a full review of this since it came out in June, but what can I say that wasn't already abundantly clear when Michael Bay was asked to sell the movie without the aid of an autocue? This is genuinely the kind of film that makes me sick of writing about films and sure enough, thanks to some international salesmanship, it wound up being the most successful film of the year at the global box office.

So, this is as close to a full Transformers: Age of Extinction review as you'll get from me. Bay's fourth Transformers flick is a soft reboot- so soft that it's squidgy, even, because it has the same director dispensing with characters we never really cared about anyway, for another round of the same incoherent carnage. Instead of Shia LaBeouf, the albatross of your childhood favourites, we now have a multi-million dollar version of Mark Wahlberg Talks To Robots, except that's not nearly as fun as it sounds. There's never been a robot dinosaur movie quite so boring as this one.

Given that Bay's recent personal project was a film as wilfully misanthropic as the decently indecent Pain & Gain, of course he approached this contractual obligation with redoubled disdain for the audience. There are unprecedented levels of "don't give a fuck" on display here- the film reaches bottom when a character explains Texas' statutory rape laws to his under-age girlfriend's father, and It. Just, Keeps. Digging.

At the end of a year as generally good as this one, where the highest-grossing film happens to be this bad, it's not hard to see why some critics have re-thunk the Transformers movies as deliberate affronts to good taste that are accidentally popular, like Springtime For Hitler but with robotic clusterfucks. If Bay was simply masturbating into a pool of children's tears with a $100 bill wrapped around his cock, that would at least make sense. However, I would just like to conclude...

Let's see if I cave and wind up seeing the inevitable fifth one.

But that's enough hate-fucking for one year- come back in 2015 (or tomorrow) to send off this year in style, as I run down my ten favourite films of the last 12 months. It's all gonna be happier from here on out...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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