Monday, January 08, 2018

5 Movies I Didn't Like from 2017

Today, we start counting down all the 2017 movies I watched from worst to best. Here's the bottom of the barrel.

39. Going In Style

I had low expectations, but wanted to see it anyway. I especially like Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Ann-Margret. I also dig heist movies and I'm generally patient with movies about aging and friendship. And then it's directed by Zach Braff, who still gets a lot of goodwill from me for Scrubs (and I liked Garden State just fine, too).

That's a lot of faint praise, but even without high hopes, I wound up disappointed. There are better heist movies, better movies with these actors, and better movies about these themes. Nothing about it is extraordinary in any way.

38. Baywatch

I love The Rock and Zac Efron enough that I really wanted to see them in a movie together, in spite of the horrible reviews this got. I did find parts funny, but noticed that they all involved Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. He's the MVP of the film and I laughed out loud every time he got to do or say something. I'm eager to see him in Aquaman now (he's gonna play Black Mantis).

The rest of the movie is just silly. It's main joke is how ridiculous the TV show's premise was and it keeps hammering away at that hoping that it'll eventually make someone laugh. Ditto the barfing and penis humor.

37. Literally, Right Before Aaron

This got my attention, because what an awesome cast. In addition to Justin Long, Cobie Smulders, and John Cho, there are also cameos by Lea Thompson, Dana Delany, Peter Gallagher, Charlyne Yi (one of my favorite actors on House), and Luis Guzmán.

The film is about Adam's (Long) agreeing to attend the wedding of his ex-girlfriend, Allison (Smulders), whom he dated for eight years. Aaron is the groom's name, so Adam is the boyfriend "literally, right before" him. On the positive side, the movie does a great job of capturing the bittersweetness of remembering good times with a former love. Adam spends a lot of time wallowing in it and I could relate to that.

Unfortunately, Adam himself is a thoroughly dislikable person and while I could empathize with his heartbreak, I never sympathized with him or wanted him and Allison to get back together. I don't know what's harder to swallow: that the movie doesn't care to explain what made her finally dump him after eight years, or that she stuck with him for that long to begin with.

36. The Circle

I'm going to spoil some things, but you shouldn't watch The Circle, so feel free to keep reading. This movie is so disappointing.

I love the cast and the concept is intriguing, but The Circle does a lousy job of making whatever point it's trying to communicate. There's one good scene that raises worthwhile questions about a) the relationship between truth and transparency, and b) the tension between those things and privacy. But I don't know what the rest of the movie is about.

It's not the thriller that Marketing wanted you to think it is. Mae (Emma Watson) is never in any physical danger and the only stakes are that if she leaves her job then she also loses the awesome health insurance that's finally getting her dad (Bill Paxton) some help with his MS. That's okay, though. It's enough that the movie puts her in an interesting quandary. Should she stay with an employer that has a ridiculous lack of boundaries when it comes to employees' personal lives (and apparently no HR department at all)? The movie could have explored that more fully and I wouldn't have missed the lack of fights and chases. But it's not really about that, either.

I can't tell if Mae is ever skeptical about the Circle's participation policies. I assumed that she was and that her "yeah, yeah, no problem" attitude towards them was simply an attempt not to make waves in her cool, new job. But she never really puts up a fight; not even when senior employee Ty Kalden (John Boyega) decides to entrust her with some concerning information. And after that she's just one bad evening and a pep talk from Tom Hanks away from completely buying what the Circle is selling.

She says some truly stupid things in that section, too. She calls watching videos of other people's experiences "a basic human right," for instance. And says that it's selfish not to post experiences online for everyone to see. She hasn't just swallowed Eamon Bailey's (Tom Hanks) Kool-Aid; she's swallowed the pitcher itself and the entire soft drink aisle. I kept expecting that at some point she would reveal that she was faking it and was really working with Kalden the whole time, but that moment never came.

There's of course a confrontation between Mae and Bailey by the end, but there are two huge problems with it. First, the movie never reveals what it is exactly that Bailey is doing wrong. He's full of terrible, harmful ideas, but there's no explicit indication that he's actually planning to use his collected data for evil purposes. The potential is certainly there and I wanted to see him stopped, but his final unmasking is nothing more than a revelation that he has secrets just like everyone else. Nor does the movie care about telling what those are. So the climactic showdown between him and Mae doesn't have any punch, because it's never clear what would happen if Bailey won.

The second huge problem with the final confrontation is that Mae's ideas are now just as harmful as Bailey's. She still believes in total transparency. Her problem with Bailey is just that he wants to be exempt from it. So I'm not exactly rooting for her, either.

It's not wrong that the movie ends with no clear answers. What I don't like is the way it phrases the question. It presents two, horrible solutions and asks which is preferable. There's some discussion that can be had around that, but the discussion would be so much richer if the film took its dilemma seriously and offered a couple of actually reasonable perspectives for its viewers to contemplate.

35. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

I'm a big fan of the first three Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies. We talked about them (focusing on the third) on an episode of Mystery Movie Night, so check that out if you want an explanation of why the whole series is great. With that in mind, I was skeptical about continuing the series with new actors (the original kids have aged out of their roles). Skeptical, but not overly concerned. I'm also a fan of the books and know that there's plenty of great material to make more movies out of as long as the cast doesn't blow it.

Surprisingly, the actors aren't at all the reason I don't like The Long Haul. They all do a fine job jumping into their characters, with a special shout-out for Alicia Silverstone as the mom. The problem is actually the script. The series is known for its characters' bad decision-making, but the shenanigans in this are particularly dumb and unbelievable. There's some funny stuff, but it's hard for me to feel bad for the characters when they're getting exactly the results that their actions call for.


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I'm mildly curious about The Long Haul. Seeing the trailer I wondered with GPS maps and smartphones do the "mishaps of The Great American Road Trip" even exist like they used to?
Is this a movie a fresh vision the road trip rules for this generation or is it just a kid focused remake of National Lampoon's Vacation?

Michael May said...

They get around the smart phones by having Mom declare the trip phone-free for the sake of bonding. But getting around her rule AND the car's GPS system (which is something that Greg and Rodrick need to do at one point) are important plot elements, so it's not like the movie is trying to remove the technology altogether.

Siskoid said...

First thought: Only 5. I've been saying this was a very strong year for movies, not that everything was awesome, but the lows weren't as low. Every year, I might see a movie that angers (BvS, Jurassic World), but not this year. And yet, I saw at least 15 more than the year before (like, close to 60!). I'd even say there were fewer that made me go "meh".

Of the 5 you've singled out for your own personal Golden Raspberries, I missed ALL of them. One because I've never heard of it, the rest by active choice.

It's too bad too because I'm a fan of 1) heists, 2) the humor the Rock and Zac Efron are capable of, and 3) sci-fi/futurism.

Paxton said...

As usual, Michael, we are pretty close on a lot of these.

Going in Style - I'm disappointed to hear this is...disappointing. Steph and I were excited to see it because of the cast and heists, of course. We'll probably still watch it.

Baywatch - Overall, I thought this was funny. But I was disappointed that it wasn't funnier. The Rock and Zac Efron are great and I should have *loved* this movie but I didn't. And the shoe-horned cameos of The Hoff and Pamela Anderson were eye rolling. They didn't even let Pamela speak! Now, a TV show parody movie that caught me off guard and was *really* funny was CHIPS. Steph and I both enjoyed that movie despite our initial doubts.

The Circle - We have similar ideas about this movie, but I came out more intrigued than you did it seems like. I felt it presented a lot of interesting ideas, good and bad, about digital privacy. I felt like Hanks was awesome. Watson was awesome too. Boyega's character seemed shoe horned in and out of place but I really liked seeing him in there. I felt Mae wasn't "all in" at first, but after her friend's death, instead of going "all against", she interestingly enough went the opposite way and went "even more in". Essentially creating the saying, "if you remove the head someone worse will take his place". It was shocking to see she became an even more fanatical version of Hanks' character. I didn't know how to take it. At first I thought I didn't like it, but ultimately I felt it made me think a lot about what it was trying to do. Now, am I thinking because it was thought provoking or because they didn't bother answering any of their own questions? I don't think I care, the performances were good and I thought the intrigue was good. I liked the world, but honestly, I'm still totally undecided about the movie. I'm leaning towards that I liked it.

Michael May said...

Siskoid, it's true. It's been a good year. I usually have a movie or two on my hate list, but there's nothing like that from this year.

Michael May said...

Pax, I missed CHIPS, but someone else told me that they enjoyed it, too. I should check that out.

I hear what you're saying about The Circle. There's some thought-provoking stuff in there, but ultimately I don't think that the movie's that interested in exploring the questions it raises. It just sort of puts it on the table and says, "I don't know; YOU figure it out." I was looking for more than that.


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