10- World War Z:
World War Z belongs more in the bafflingly overrated category than outright bad or incompetent. As summer action fare, it’s executed with an expected level of professionalism. But as a genre effort, it’s too timid and safe. For the generic Brad Pitt fan who thinks George Romero is the name of that pervy Italian prime minister, it will offer some genuine shocks and thrills. But if you’re a giant horror fan like me, or even have certain standards when it comes to zombie films, bring your pillow and prepare for naptime. The zombies are interchangeable generic monsters, could have been a horde of Lockness Monster clones for all we cared. The cowardly PG-13 violence doesn’t help matters much. World War Z proves that zombie films as a genre do not work as wide mainstream entertainment.
9- Fast & Furious 6:
I know, bad timing due to Paul Walker’s death, but I still don’t understand why anyone loves these overblown action set piece demoreels. I’m not just talking about these films’ intended demographic; petrosexuals with the IQ of a special needs ladle (At least the writers know who they cater to. A scene shows the bad guys escaping from London to Spain and a character actually says "Spain, that’s a different country"). I mean people whose intelligence I actually respect waits anxiously for the next installment in this surprisingly long-lasting franchise. We know what everyone cares about: Cars and breasts and explosion and muscles and action and all that good stuff! Well, there’s an extremely forced race scene, which is far from spectacular. The breasts are all covered in perfect PG-13 fashion so why do you care about that in a world where bare boobs doing unspeakable things is only a couple of clicks away?
8- To The Wonder:
To The Wonder might be the first art-house Lifetime Channel movie of the week. As someone who loves all of Terence Malick’s work (Including The New World), I’m sad to report that he’s produced his first mediocre film. I would have preferred it if it was an outright failure of grand proportions, an abstract mess that reached for the stars yet plummets into the obscure void of pretentiousness, the way some felt about his masterpiece The Tree of Life. To The Wonder feels like ectoplasmic remnants of The Tree of Life were reconstructed haphazardly into an abstract study on the nature of love. With sweeping glamour shots of attractive couples drifting along giant Oklahoman fields and Parisian landscapes and a large chunk of the dialogue being delivered via seductively whispered voice-over, it feels more like someone putting together an SNL Terence Malick parody as opposed to an actual Malick film. Perhaps it’s not a good idea for Malick to go all Woody Allen and crank out a film every year.
7- The Purge:
The biggest detractors of The Purge criticize it for not taking advantage of its intriguing premise and delivering a mediocre home invasion thriller instead of milking the satirical and socially relevant angle that could surely come from the premise where the government allows every crime, including murder, for one day out of every year in order to "purge" people off their violent tendencies. I’ll bid you one further and declare that the premise was extremely dumb to begin with. In a world where most of the crime is either related to money or perpetrated through the passion of the moment, The Purge assumes ALL CRIME can be extinguished if psychopaths were allowed free reign one night a year. Yeah, I’m sure the dude who resorts to robbing liquor stores is economically satisfied the other 364 days of the year.
6- After Earth:
Some fathers get their sons bikes, or PS4s, some get them major motion picture careers. It’s very sweet that Will Smith shows his son Jaden how much he loves him by giving him a gift no other father can bestow on their offspring, but why do we have to suffer as the audience? Of course it doesn’t help that he’s directed by M. Night Shyamalan, whose films are where child stars go to die. After Earth is the movie equivalent of preachy new-age self-help books hidden inside a breezy sci-fi summer action package. It’s basically the closest adaptation to Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now you’re ever going to get, hopefully. Shyamalan’s shameless spiritual and new age pandering kick started by the wildly overrated Signs hits new unprecedented lows with After Earth, which is all about conquering your fears through The Power of Now. Laaaaame!
5- Oz The Great and Powerful:
Oz the Great and Powerful is a shamelessly cynical attempt at a quick cash grab that tries to hide itself as imaginative escapist entertainment. How ironic is it that a movie that tells the tale of a carnival magician who specializes in making himself look grander and more inventive than he actually is happens to look like a money-burning experiment concocted by a bunch of studio heads and focus groups, hiding under the illusion that this is an innocent and playful throwback to one of the most beloved fantasy films of all time. This is an empty-headed, painfully generic product that was plopped out by a movie studio factory machine. It picks up every element from Oz and sticks it into a new movie haphazardly without any wit, creativity or charm.
4- Kick-Ass 2:
Kick-Ass 2 suffers from the same obvious tonal issues Kick-Ass did, minus Matthew Vaughn’s manic energy and Nicholas Cage’s insane performance. On one hand it’s chock full of preachy monologues about how the story takes place in "the real world" and how in "the real world" real violent choices have real violent consequences. Yet when it comes to action scenes it cannot possibly present a more careless, tasteless, unnecessarily ultra-violent cartoon action constructed for nothing but pure shock value. It tries to meld the real-life consequences of Watchmen and an über-violent version of the campy 60s Adam West Batman show. It’s as if the screenplays for these films are the results of the collaboration between a high school ethics teacher and a psychotic 12-year-old.
3- The Great Gatsby:
Fortunately Leonardo DiCaprio ended the year by making up for his dull performance in The Great Gatsby by delivering his best performance yet in The Wolf of Wall Street. If you can only see one extravagant rich a-hole performance from Leo, may Wolf be your choice. After five unsuccessful attempts over the last eighty-odd years, perhaps it’s time to give up on a movie adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great American novel The Great Gatsby. If we were to look for a final nail in that cinematic coffin, Baz Luhrmann’s subtlety-raping wank-fest should provide one big enough to bury it for generations to come, and in unnecessary 3D no less. This is a migraine-inducing, tone-deaf attempt at telling this glorious story so rich in character and detail, composed by a director who can’t even begin to spell those two words. It’s so baffling that this story about revealing the shallowness of the roaring 20s and the substantial emptiness of the pointless noise and color signifying nothing becoming a passion project for Baz Luhrmann, whose entire scam revolves around making the audience confuse visual exuberance for genuine talent.
2- Grown-Ups 2:
More of an elaborate con job than a feature film, Adam Sandler and his cohorts keep finding ways to take long vacations together while embezzling their gullible working-class fans’ hard-earned cash. With a reported budget of $80 MILLION, it looks like Grown Ups 2 was shot by a twelve-year-old on an iPhone 5c. There isn’t a story or even a single constructed joke. It looks like the gang remembered after a long day of doing nothing that they’re supposed to be acting in a major motion picture and took twenty minutes off every day in order to make up some lame catch phrase and get back to nap time. The only true effort was spent by the poor computer animation artists (Probably underpaid and overworked since a lot of visual effects companies are declaring bankruptcy these days) who were tasked with creating the face-pissing deer for the grand opening of this magnum opus.
1- Spring Breakers:
A single paragraph summary of my intense hatred for this vapid, self-indulgent and narcissistic POS doesn’t do it justice, so here’s my entire review. Enjoy:
There's a short sketch in an episode of the comedy show Key & Peele that I think explains why Spring Breakers colossally failed in its mission. A Mos Def-like socially conscious rapper stoically rhymes on the tough streets pointing out the social injustices and ugliness in our society through a black woman struggling in the ghetto.
A Lil Wayne-like clownish and sexist rapper interrupts him and grabs the woman's breasts as she gleefully shakes them at the camera, yelling "Titties in my mouth, titties in my mouth, I got tig ole bitties from a buncha different cities!"
Of course the joke is that these two approaches never mix, and the socially conscious rapper decides to leave. However, if it was up to Harmony Korine, he'd find a way to bring those two together in a trippy cool video because shucks, he's just so darn creative and inventive and awesome and cool like that.
Don't you see that the man's an artist? He pushes the general public's cultural boundaries to their very limits and then some, all the while wearing a giant rubbery pink dildo on his face and defecating into a Taco Bell doggie bag while filming the whole thing on retrograde VHS because, well, why the hell not?
The trailers for Spring Breakers are already dividing audiences before they even see the film. There are horny men who can't wait to salivate over shots of barely legal starlets' ample derrières bouncing up and down in slo-mo. There are people who love slick, artsy action films expecting a sexy and daring heist movie of sorts.
Then there are those who had the misfortune of laying eyes on Harmony Korine's work and know for a fact that more than likely nothing remotely coherent, enjoyable or thought provoking can come out of a weirdo who loves shooting feature films on VHS about degenerates in bad Halloween masks humping trash cans (This is not an exaggeration).
That being said, the decent reviews for Spring Breakers, as opposed to the rightfully abysmal ones for Trash Humpers, raised my hopes up just a little. After watching the Girls Gone Wild on Speed opening, where a bunch of typical spring breakers flash their goods in slow motion set to soul-crushing dub step music, I thought maybe this time Korine has something to say about anything. The opening sequence is so over the top that it manages to disgust us via its sheer exuberance. Was Korine actually trying to show us how shallow our youth culture is by turning everything up to 11?
But then the rest of the film happened. We meet four college girls so stupid and shallow, they make the kids from Kids (Written by Korine) look like charitable MIT students. All they want is some penis in their mouths (I'm not kidding) and to party until they puke or die, whichever comes first.
There is a monologue by a religious girl played by Selena Gomez (Her name is Faith. GET IT!? FAITH! BECAUSE SHE'S THE RELIGIOUS ONE!) about how they all need new experiences in life, but it stinks of trying desperately to add depth to these caricatures as opposed to finding real motivation within them.
Yes, I know they also talk about how they're going to treat spring break as if it's a movie or a video game and go about things in the most irresponsible and carefree way possible. I guess this is another heavy-handed way for Korine to comment on today's youth. After the girls rob a restaurant at gunpoint to pay for their vacation, it's easy to mumble to oneself "Look at the sorry state of our kids". However, the same could be said about the characters in Kids, and that film is almost 20 years old.
Where Kids succeeded was in its grim direction and cinematography. As envelope pushing as it was in its depiction of sex and rape between minors, it never looked appealing or attractive. In the case of Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine's F-you style fueled by his gigantic ego betrays him in the worst way possible. He winks and tries to convince us that his message is to condemn the rampant materialism of millennials as the wannabe gangster rapper Alien keeps repeating "Look at all my s—t!" while he dances over a bed made out of money and guns (literally).
However, Korine's MTV-style slick and bright videography and his editing that's way too enamored with slow-motion close-ups of jail bait butts and breasts create the kind of narrative schizophrenia seldom seen even in pretentious art-house films. Any social and artistic depth the film tries to create is shattered by endless pornographic shots of naked girls as Korine expects to rake in the cash from the horny male audience who should drool into their seats. One cancels the other one out and we are left with a giant zero, a complete and utter waste of time and energy for everyone involved, the equivalent of watching a blank screen for an hour and a half while repeatedly hitting ourselves on the head with pots and pans for absolutely no reason.
Speaking of James Franco, Dave Chapelle's portrayal of Lil John was more subtle and understated than his performance as Alien. I guess after people complained about how lifeless he looks in mainstream films, he decided to try out the other end of the believability spectrum. The film is obviously mostly improvised and at least fifty percent of Franco's dialogue consists of "Look at my s—t!" and "Spring breeeeaaaak!" I wish I was joking.
So where does that leave you, the audience? If you're really clamoring to see college girls showing off their goods and having sex in public, I don't know if you know this, but there are tons of web sites on the interwebs that focus entirely on showing you exactly what you're looking for. Why waste your time and money on this? And if you're looking for a creative and artistic examination of the shallowness of today's youth told in an entertaining and clever way? Move along folks, there's nothing to see here.