Friday, 5 January 2018

Top 11 Biggest Disappointments (2017)



2017 was a very disappointing year. It revealed how much genuinely heinous behaviour was being kept under wraps, how desperate people were to excuse those actions (the double-team of Kevin Spacey and Australia’s own Don Burke was particularly gross in that regard), and how a person’s past actions can come back to bite them in the arse in a major way. 2017 wasn’t just disappointing because it fell below the median; it created disappointment in individual people, people that up until that point the general public gave the benefit of the doubt. It’s rather fitting then that, along with some surprising successes, the year’s cinema would turn out some unbelievable letdowns. Seriously, this is the year that created some of the biggest cinematic nosedives I’ve ever covered, and the legendarily weak box office receipts show that audiences definitely noticed.

However, we’re not talking about the obvious suspects. As bad as films like Fifty Shades Darker, Collateral Beauty and even The Emoji Movie are, it was a given that they weren’t going to turn so well in the first place. No, this list is dedicated to the films that showed a lot of initial promise… and then proceeded to spoil it in increasingly disastrous ways. Let’s test how much worse the phrase “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed” can be to blind rage and go over the Top 11 Biggest Disappointments of 2017… and oh boy, I had to do some serious trimming down to fit in only 11 this year.

With the PureFlix production line well and truly in the popular consciousness, bringing such “gems” as the God’s Not Dead films to our screens, it’s safe to say that Christians are getting a lot more representation than atheists at the moment. Well, positive representation at least, given the Christiansploitation trope of always painting any non-Christian as literal spawns of Satan like with The Case For Christ. So, when news reached me that there was a biopic about a rather prominent atheist on Netflix, I decided to check it out. Unfortunately, instead of a rewarding look at the life and times of a rather polemic figure, we instead got a combination of monetary fixation and an embarrassing lack of story detail that made the titular person Madalyn Murray O’Hair out to be the worst kind of person and nothing else. It’s dishonest, to put it sickeningly mildly, and aside from wasting very ripe source material, it gives the impression that there is no place for atheist representation in this new age of religious cinema. As an agnostic, I cannot conceivably be okay with this, especially with how underhanded this film turned out.

This kind of situation was inevitable: After two very impressive offerings with the first LEGO Movie and the LEGO Batman Movie, there was no way that this franchise would be able to keep that level of quality control indefinitely. And sure enough, we get that very drop-off here with a complete abesence of the clever subversion or even unabashed fun that those two films offered. Not only that, it seemed to be actively working against what made those films work in the first place, given the complete 180 this did concerning the larger bits of subtext. I can only hope that this isn’t going to set a new standard, given how this franchise is still pushing ahead with two more films scheduled for 2019, but honestly, we’ve all seen promising franchises fall under these same circumstances before. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

This is a bit of a weird entry, considering I wasn’t all that massive on the original film in the first place. However, as much as that film’s sense of humour didn’t always gel with me, I at least got what it was going for: Another instance of Stephen Chow combining philosophy with slapstick, something he’s very friggin’ good at, and that allowed the film to end on a satisfying note. This film, by contrast? Considering this was also written by Chow, it is astounding how surface-level this all is. It’s decent enough as a comedy, but the way it takes four very compelling characters and just grind them all into the dirt is rather disheartening. We went from muddled but still poignant bits of Buddhist philosophy to a painfully generic take on overcoming lost love; no thanks!

Sci-fi seems to be becoming a foreign language for a lot of filmmakers out there. A growing methodology I keep seeing is the notion that all good science-fiction requires is good ideas; not good use of those ideas, just enough of them to make the production seem full. One of the bigger victims of this mindset is this particular Netflix feature, a film that drew me right the hell in with its initial premise about the scientific proof of an afterlife and the fallout from that announcement. However, in record time, it becomes clear that the filmmakers don’t know how to properly utilize that idea, bolstering it with so many wildly varying concepts that the film feels less like a complete story and more a slurry of discarded ideas not thought through enough to be their own stories. I got into Rick & Morty hardcore earlier in the year, so I know what good high-concept storytelling is supposed to look like. Here’s a hint: It’s not this, and this isn’t even the biggest offender.

Well, there goes any shred of credibility I had as a film critic(!) Okay, in all seriousness, I really was expecting great things from this. The original Blade Runner has been growing on me slowly but surely with each consecutive viewing, and director Denis Villeneuve just came off of a major sci-fi success with Arrival; what could go wrong? Well, technically, nothing did: It still looks gorgeous and it implants itself into that same universe that so captivates audiences to this day quite well. However, instead of a natural progression and expansion of the original premise, or even anything all that ground-breaking in terms of theme overall, what we get here is basically a reheated version of the original. This really isn’t that bad of a movie, but as a follow-up to both a classic piece of pop culture and the proceeding production from a director behind one of my new all-time favourite films? Sorry, but this really doesn’t hold up.

Just thinking about this movie is enough to make me seriously pissed off. Right from the trailer, this film looks like very few horror films we’ve been getting recently and for good reason: The visuals for this are among the most striking of any film in 2017. However, once I looked past the coat of gloss and saw the actual wilting heart of the story, things became far less groovy. So much of the film is comprised of elements from other horror films, some of which are lifted in their entirety, and whatever is left over is so thin and undeveloped that you’ll start to wonder why a man is openly masturbating to a topless nurse while Dane DeHaan is being attacked by magic eels in the next room. You know, besides the fact that that actually exists as a moment on-screen. It’s bad enough when taken on its own merits, but when put in proximity to my love for psychological horror? This is shockingly under-par.

Much like The Discovery, this suffers from a lack of real development of its own high-concept aspirations. Unlike The Discovery, and the reason why this ranks even higher on this list, is that it actually starts out rather promising. For a good 40-ish minute stretch at the beginning, this film looks like it will be a rather salient, if needlessly kitsch, look at modern class structures. But then the film completely loses its marbles, devolving into another instance of the writers just throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. And barely any of it does. Writer/director Alexander Payne is capable of some seriously poignant cinema, like with the previously-covered Nebraska, but something this large in scale and scope feels too far outside of his capabilities to get the same result. Then again, the only other experience he and co-writer Jim Taylor have with science-fiction is writing for Jurassic Park III. Suddenly, this level of incompetence is starting to make a bit more sense, innit?

If there’s anything I love in this world as much or possibly even more so than film, it’s hip-hop. I grew up listening to it, it was one of the first real communities I got into alongside film discussions, and the artists I have listened to have gotten me through some pretty dire situations. One of those artists is the Midwest indie legend Eyedea, whose music I can immediately point to as something that helped pull me out of some darker pits I found myself in. Knowing the micro-budget of the production itself, I wasn’t expecting anything lavish or bombastic; just something that did justice to the man’s place in the culture. What I got instead was a lot of dismally static interview footage, seriously amateur-hour editing and audio mixing, and attempts at stylization that comes across a lot creepier than they were likely intended. I won’t pretend to be the definitive scholar on the man’s life and/or body of work, but knowing how much I adore his music and the impact he left on the underground hip-hop community, I just have to imagine that there was more to him than just this.

As much as the #MeToo movement has led to some seriously good things, and likely will continue to, this film is unfortunately the representative of everything on the other side of that coin. The hideous actions, the insulting attempts to excuse them, the idea of twisting one’s own failings into a position of advantage; that’s basically this entire film down to a T. I’ll admit that I never really gave much thought to writer/director Woody Allen’s own sexual allegations when looking at his recent films, but with the way this film’s narrative is arranged, I was pretty much had to compare it with the filmmaker’s own history… and the comparison is anything but flattering. Employing tried-and-true hallmarks of his filmography, he creates a story that essentially forces the audience to realize how broken the person telling it really is. I said in my review for this that, after this shit, I wasn’t going to give Woody Allen another second of my time and I am absolutely standing by that. No review for A Rainy Day In New York when that comes out, or any Woody Allen film after that. Because I am really not in the fucking mood to help fund this kind of self-aggrandizement. Oh, and the acting is terrible and the visuals are irritating; there’s that too, I suppose.

I don’t have any real love for the DC Extended Universe. At all. I’ll still argue that Suicide Squad isn’t nearly as bad as everyone keeps insisting that it is, and Wonder Woman is un-goddamn-touchable as a piece of superhero fiction, but the franchise’s storytelling as a whole is incredibly samey and it still started off with Man Of Steel and Dawn Of Justice, the kind of one-two punch that would kill a franchise dead; just look at The Mummy for an example of franchise aspirations meeting the cold brick wall of reality from the same year. With all that in mind, this film being as crushingly underwhelming as it is shouldn’t be much of a surprise. That. Said. This is still the conclusion of a good four years’ worth of build-up, with the studio trying to make this a genuine competitor to Marvel’s own cinematic universe, and the result in no way feels like it was worth the wait. It’s like scaling a mountain during a snowstorm and, rather than a feeling of accomplishment, you just feel like you wasted the vast amount of time it took to make it that far. This is how much it takes to make me hate a superhero movie nowadays: Blind fucking apathy.

If I was going to redo my movie list for 2017, I would probably put this film right at the very bottom of the list. Not because it’s as wholesale offensive as something like The Shack or Collateral Beauty, but because it commits the greatest sin that any reinterpretation of a classic story can do: It makes the original look bad just from sheer proximity to itself. I watched the 1991 version for the first time in preparation for this remake, and without a word of a lie, it became one of my favourite films far quicker than any other older film I’ve watched. This film, because of how it re-arranges the story structure and fills out some of the background characters, brings some potentially unsettling subtext of the original film right to the surface. Subtext like kidnapping, Stockholm Syndrome, unhealthy relationships, and a bunch of other things that fans of the original have been annoyingly debunking for years. This is what happens when you get the co-writer of The Huntsman: Winter’s War and the director of Twilight: Breaking Dawn to retell a story that didn’t really need to be retold, in a way that actively diminishes the story as a whole. As bad as the other films on this list are, none of them take other perfectly fine features down with them. This pretty much grabs the 1991 version by the throat and buries in a sea of Scotch tape used to patch up a story that didn’t fucking need patching up in the first place!  I can only hope that the next live-action Disney remake isn’t this painful or this much of an insult to its source material… even if it is Aladdin directed by Guy Ritchie.

And that is that. I wash my hands of this skulking behemoth of a year and press on into the new dawn. Thank you to everyone who has stuck with me during all of this, particularly my critical onslaught in December, and here’s to better things to come in 2018.

Speaking of which, what is the first film I’ll be looking at this year?

*looks at cinema release schedule*

Oh… well then… seems like the disappointments have only just begun.

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