No top ten this week. I don’t go out of my way to watch bad movies. I’d rather avoid them.
But, sometimes, they find me.
So this is just six movies that I stumbled upon from 2019.
What makes them among my worst?
There are obvious symptoms: poor plotting, terrible story, one-dimensional characters, etc.
But there’s also another symptom – a symptom I experience: feeling physically ill.
Some might consider that an exaggeration. It’s not.
When I sit down to watch a movie or television show, I come into it totally open. I expect the story to connect with me and take me some place. I expect to be engaged. I expect to be thrilled and moved and entertained.
Now, obviously, that’s not always going to happen.
We all have different tastes. So, sometimes, a story mightn’t be for me (although I’m happy to watching anything if it has a STORY!).
But let’s say it’s a genre I enjoy, like sci fi. If there are plotting issues, that analytical part of my mind might intrude on my openness. The first time, it might spark into an alert. The second time it’s awakened to shit patrol. Then I’ll be vigilant to everything wrong with the story.
These movies, though, drowned the shit patrol.
Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn are excellent as two cops who plan to follow an ultra-violent gang who’s going to commit a robbery, and then steal the proceeds from them. The robbery itself turns into a clusterfuck, involving hostages being murdered and maimed. You’d think it should then become about the morality of the cops’ decision. Well, it does for about twenty-three seconds. Then it becomes about an overlong gunfight between the cops and the robbers.
Dragged Across Concrete is one of these noir interpretations of the crime genre that’s meant to be innovative – and it’ll fool you into believing it’s been that, if you let it.
The most objectionable scene is when Jennifer Carpenter is introduced mid-movie as a new mother who’s taken all her maternity leave and her holidays to be with her newborn baby. Her husband almost forces her back to work. And guess where she works?
(See if you know where this is going.)
So she’s at the store the robbers hit. A workmate is about to hit a key on the computer to signal the cops. Jennifer Carpenter tries to warn him off. He goes for it. She reaches out to stop him. Startled, a robber turns and shoots. One of Jennifer Carpenter‘s hands is shot off, as are most of the fingers from her other hand. She collapses to the floor. With her two remaining fingers she takes a baby booty out of her pocket and asks that her baby get it. “His name is Jackson,” she tells the robber.
The robber shoots her in the head.
I understand it’s trying to show us that victims aren’t faceless, but this had the subtlety of Dead Meat (William O’Leary) introducing himself to Topper Harley (Charlie Sheen) in a scene from Hot Shots! (1991) that spoofed this sort of foreshadowing.
And it really just seemed gratuitous.
But most of this movie is.
What a boring, predictable, unadventurous story.
During an X-Men mission that goes wrong, Jean Gray, aka Phoenix (Sophie Turner), is infused with dark matter. She gradually turns evil, because the dark matter gives her lots of power, and lots of power corrupts apparently. The other X-Men fight her. And then she’s redeemed because they meet a bigger bad guy at the end.
There is so much going wrong throughout this story that it’s hard to keep track of it all. The biggest problem is that despite all the conflict that should be generated, it’s just boring and bereft of any tension.
I haven’t been a fan of the rebooted X-Men universe. While James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender have been excellent successors to Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, I don’t think any of the other replacement cast have been anywhere near as good as their predecessors.
Famke Janssen, who’d originally played Jean Grey, would’ve been brilliant in this story. Sophie Turner (like much of the cast) comes across as too callow, and doesn’t have the depth to give her darker persona menace and threat.
I do have to qualify that I expected nothing from this, because I thought Chapter One (2017) was just an assembly of jump scares, striking chords that blared at you the way a truck might blast its horn if you stepped out in front of it, and illogical plotting to condense the book and expedite the story.
Chapter Two is worse, and wastes a strong cast with more of the same.
Stephen King’s novel is almost 400,000 words. It alternates between the characters as kids and as adults, with interludes that chronicle some part of It’s history. The kids’ and the adults’ journeys run parallel, as well as complement and appreciate one another. They engage you (as the reader) to remain invested in each timeline.
While I appreciate the logic of splitting the book into two separate movies – one for the kids’ story, and the other for the adults – it doesn’t work, because Chapter Two becomes a rehash, rather than a complement.
I will credit the movie with a great interpretation of the final triumph (which I think is the book’s weakness), but that’s about all that works.
John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) now owns a farm. In his spare time, he digs tunnels under the property. Gee, I wonder if they might come in handy at some point.
Living with him are his Mexican housekeeper and her teenage daughter. The daughter wants to track down her father, who’s a disreputable prick. She goes to Mexico. Her father spurns her. Upset, the daughter goes to hang out with a friend. The friend betrays the daughter to a Mexican cartel who addict her to drugs and turn her into a prostitute. Rambo goes to rescue her, and kills a lot of Cartel people. The daughter dies from the drug use. Rambo’s angry. The cartel track Rambo back to his farm. Rambo then kills everybody, playing cat and mouse with them in his tunnels.
And that’s the whole story.
First Blood (1982) is a compelling exploration of a Green Beret who feels he has no place in the world unless there’s a war to fight. So he creates one.
You might think this is an action movie. It’s not. Action is the backdrop. It’s actually about a person coming to terms with who he is in a world that’s grown alien to him.
There are a lot of movies like this – essentially fish out of water stories – that work well, but then grow diluted through sequels because the sequels stop being about the person and start being about the circumstantial stuff that’s happening.
Another example is Crocodile Dundee (1986). The original movie is about this iconoclast who falls in love with a city girl but struggles to adapt to her world. This is what makes Crocodile Dundee enjoyable: first it’s Sue (Linda Kozlowski) battling with the Australian outback , and then it’s Mick Dundee (Paul Hogan) bumbling in New York. This story is about them as individuals, how they’re challenged, how they grow, and how they find one another despite their differences. The second movie is about Dundee battling bad guys. It becomes another stock action movie and loses that character exploration that made the original unique.
Similarly with Rambo. While Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) is an enjoyable bubblegum action flick, we’re now entering stock action territory. Any context offered by who the character is seems superfluous. There are always new villains, new ways to kill and all that, but that abandons what made this character so interesting.
Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) is an aging talk-show host whose ratings have been in decline for … ten years. That’s some forgiving network. She’s become safe and complacent. Her entire writing staff is comprised of white males. She wants a female on staff. Not because she’s proactively feminist or anything, and not because this particular writers’ room has kept diversity out, but just because. Her producer hires Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), who actually works in a factory, has no experience in writing, but wants to break into the industry because she’s a fledgling comic. Getting a gig in a talk show’s writers’ room is that easy, apparently. I must try this.
Let’s see if you can guess where this is going.
Because Molly’s all quirky and forthright and blah blah, she fixes everything. She injects the show with a contemporary outlook. She challenges Katherine to be true and outspoken and reinvent herself. And when the network asks Katherine to announce on-air they’ve appointed her successor, garish comic Daniel Tenant (Ike Barinholtz), Mindy encourages Katherine to not accept the transition.
The short of it is Katherine’s show enjoys newfound popularity, and the network exec, Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan), says because Katherine’s (again) shown such passion for her job she can still be host.
Newbury has a nice albeit predictable arc, and Thompson is excellent (as always).
It’s not the premise that bothers me here, but the journey. The protagonist is depicted as struggling and forlorn, like that makes them a vulnerable, flawed character, and yet everything they do is perfect. Even things that are meant to be annoying about them (e.g. Molly’s outspokenness) are an asset. How and why are these people struggling in life if they’re this good? While Molly has an arc, it’s really just an off/on switch. She’s not successful … and then she is.
As much as this story tries to be nuanced, it only succeeds in repeatedly slapping you in the face with its hand before it plays it.
Whoever would’ve thought this movie might be on my list?
I almost feel sorry for The Rise of Skywalker.
Then I remember that The Force Awakens is derivative and shallow, and that The Last Jedi is incomprehensible and stupid, and I think, Why should I care anymore about this universe? They’ve killed my favourite characters. And they’ve handed me new characters whose development is tantamount to a potato growing sprouts.
Well, that’s unfair. Those sprouts can be pretty interesting.
The Rise of Skywalker can’t continue plot threads The Force Awakens introduced because Rian Johnson slaughtered those in The Last Jedi (2017). It can’t continue The Last Jedi because of its divisiveness. It can’t be its own thing, because Disney is trying to minimize further damage to the franchise.
So this final installment in the Sequel Trilogy is about everything and about nothing. It tries to project an original story with (fleetingly) struggling characters told through a Star Wars filter. Wow. What a novel approach two movies too late.
My favourite scene is when the characters are in a high speed chase, fall on some quicksand, sink into the quicksand and fall into a cavern (so, apparently, thin air is holding up the quicksand), and land right near the MacGuffin they need, a Sith dagger.
Now there’s a stroke of luck.
What can you say, though, but …?
When the coincidences hit your eye like a plot-shit pie
When I saw the Original Trilogy decades ago it moved me and inspired me to want to tell stories – a young nobody is pitted against a powerful and vast Empire; he has many adventures along the way and meets people who help him; he fails repeatedly, picks himself up, and keeps pushing forward, growing into a formidable warrior and peacekeeper who tries to redeem his father. It meant something.
The Sequel Trilogy stands for nothing, means nothing, and yet still manages to invalidate the successes of the Original Trilogy.
Thanks, JJ. Thanks, Disney.