It can be fun ripping really bad movies to shreds, but I hate that I wasted so much time watching these, the ten I most disliked in the last twelve months. My capsule reviews are below, and you can read my full reviews by clicking on the title of each movie.
#1) “Mafia Mamma” What a waste of Toni Collette’s considerable talent. She plays an American woman who discovers that, upon the death of her Italian grandfather, she has become the boss of a mob family made up of every stereotypical mafia character you’ve ever seen. This could have been a fun fish-out-of-water comedy, but instead it’s an overplayed farce in which every single performer overacts — including Collette. For that, I blame director Catherine Hardwicke, who must have seen the 1984 Michael Keaton/Joe Piscopo satire, “Johnny Dangerously,” and decided to make a movie that’s even less funny.
#2) “Asteroid City” I fell into the Wes Anderson trap again. I’ve not been a fan of most of his movies, but each time he releases a new one, I look at the amazing cast and fool myself into believing this will be different. Who wouldn’t want to see a movie featuring Scarlett Johansson, Steve Carrell, Tom Hanks, Jason Schwartzman, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Liev Schreiber, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Hope Davis, Matt Dillon, Hong Chau, Willem Dafoe, and Margot Robbie? Unfortunately, the whole thing is an absolute mess which wastes the talents of so many people. At the end, I shook my head in shame at allowing myself to once again be bamboozled by the Anderson hype.
#3) “The Good Mother” I can’t recall ever seeing a movie in which the lead character never changes her expression. But that’s how Hilary Swank plays Marissa, a newspaper editor whose son is murdered, in “The Good Mother.” When she’s told the news by her other son, a police officer, there’s no shock on her face, only the furrowed brow she wears through every minute of the film. The dead guy’s pregnant girlfriend goes to Marissa with a clue about who the killer might be, and the two women team up to track down the truth. But Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, who directed and co-wrote the script, couldn’t decide whether he was making a movie about grief or a murder mystery. Sadly, he doesn’t do either very well.
#4) “The Son” Sometimes it’s fun when a movie’s audience knows more about what’s going on than the characters on screen. It can make drama more intense and comedy funnier. But there are times when we can’t believe that the people we’re watching don’t recognize what’s obviously going on. Like if someone walked around with an extra arm jutting out of their chest and nobody said anything. Thus it’s off-putting that none of the adults around him recognize that Nicholas — the central character of this movie — is clinically depressed. In fact, no one comes to that conclusion until very late in the movie. Writer/director Florian Zeller hit a home run with the Alzheimer’s story, “The Father.” But he strikes out with clinical depression.
#5) “A Man Called Otto” Otto is a gruff guy who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. You park on his gated street, he writes down your license number. Your dog urinates on his lawn, he finds and scolds you. You want to make him pay for six feet of rope in a hardware store when he only wants five, he wants to talk to your manager. Even with that hard exterior, it will turn out Otto has a heart of gold and is capable of being nice. In between, nothing will happen that you don’t see coming. Thank you for watching the Hallmark Channel. There are elements of “A Man Called Otto” that might have been better if they’d been played for laughs, but director Mark Forster and screenwriter David Magee smoothed out too many of Otto’s rough edges, turning what could have been a comedy into a bland, formulaic story of redemption. You’d be better off seeing the original Swedish film, “A Man Called Uve,” which was nominated for two Oscars.
#6) “A Good Person” Florence Pugh plays Allison, who’s happily engaged to Nathan. But that relationship ends when she’s distracted by her phone while driving and hits a construction vehicle backing into her lane. Her passengers, Nathan’s sister and brother-in-law, are both killed. Allison survives, but becomes addicted to painkillers that send her life into a downward spiral. At the urging of her alcoholic mother (Molly Shannon), Allison goes to a twelve-step meeting and runs into Daniel (Morgan Freeman), the forty-years-sober father of her ex-fiancé and his dead sister. Rather than rejecting her, he embraces her and tries to steer her back to sobriety while he tries to raise the teenage granddaughter who became an orphan after the crash. Zach Braff, who also directed the execrable 2017 remake of “Going In Style” (which I reviewed here), does nothing interesting with his characters or camera, and the result is a below-average Lifetime movie. If not for the presence of Pugh and Freeman, it wouldn’t even be worth writing about.
#7) “Elemental” When it comes to reviewing Pixar movies, one word I have never used is boring. Sadly, I have to use it to describe “Elemental.” It takes place in a city where the four elements — fire, water, land, and air — live near each other. But the fire characters aren’t assimilated with the others, living instead in their own run-down section of town. Bernie and Cinder own and run a convenience store, The Fireplace. Because they’re all fire people, their natural enemy is water. But that doesn’t stop a romance from budding between their daughter, Ember, and Wade, a city inspector who gets sucked through the pipes into the basement of the store, then cites the family for several code violations. So, she hates him — until they develop a friendship and fall in love, despite the fact that touching each other could extinguish her and evaporate him. The writers also tried a little bit too hard with every fire and water pun they could think of, but while a few are clever, most don’t work. “Elemenental” is not as horrible as “The Good Dinosaur,” but it’s down near the bottom of the Pixar quality list.
#8) “No Hard Feelings” Jennifer Lawrence plays Maddie, who lives in the house her mother left her, but because she’s behind on property taxes, she’s at risk of losing it. Then she sees a Craiglist ad placed by wealthy helicopter parents (Laura Benanti and Matthew Broderick) looking to hire a young woman to date their son, Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman). He has just graduated high school but is so introverted they’re afraid he’s not ready for the experiences he’ll encounter in college (i.e. he’s a virgin). As a reward, they’ll give her a car, which Maddie needs because she’s an Uber driver and hers has been repossessed. I’m not sure whether “No Hard Feelings” is supposed to be a callback to the wacky sex comedies of the 1980s or 1990s (e.g. “American Pie,” “Hardbodies,” “Spring Break”) or a warm coming-of-age story, but it doesn’t work on either level. It does have some amusing sequences, but most are cringeworthy, including a scene in which the completely nude Lawrence fights three people on a beach. The screenplay drips with lame double entendres, starting with the title, “No Hard Feelings.” Hard, get it? When Maddie first meets his parents at their home, she asks, “Do you mean date him, or date him?” To which they reply, “Yes! Date him hard!” Yuck.
#9) “Napoleon” Few directors do bombast as well as Ridley Scott, and when it comes to the endless battle scenes in “Napoleon,” he doesn’t hold back one iota. There are several bloody shots of mens’ heads (and at least one horse’s) being blown off. It must have taken Scott as long to plan the huge battlefield scenes, with hundreds of extras, as it did for Napoleon (Joaquin Phoenix) to figure out his strategies. They both pay off, though I found it a bit repetitive seeing soldiers fighting with swords, bayonets, and muskets again and again. Unfortunately, Scott tries to combine the big and the small, with the battlefield scenes competing for screen time against the warring French emperor’s relationship with Josephine (Vanessa Kirby). Kirby is fine in the role, but Phoenix mumbles his way through the movie, and seems constantly dissatisfied with nearly everything. So was I while watching the movie.
#10) “The Burial” Jamie Foxx plays a high-powered lawyer and Tommy Lee Jones is his client. But don’t be fooled by the presence of those two great actors. While Foxx plays a showy lawyer known for his theatrics, his over-the-top performance is too much. I don’t know if director Maggie Betts encouraged him to do it that way or she couldn’t hold him back. Regardless, he comes off as cartoonish — and Foxx has proven himself many times over to be a better actor than that. As for Tommy Lee Jones, he’s wildly miscast. Throughout his career, he’s played strong characters who were always the smartest men in the room. Here, he plays a weak dishrag of a victim with very little to do.
Tomorrow, I’ll recommend seven great documentaries I saw this year.