Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Worst of 2015

With just five days left to go in the calendar year, I've got a lot of catching up to do before coming up with my list of the 10 best movies I saw in 2015.  It's been a stellar year for movies, and narrowing down the list to just 10 will be more difficult this year than it's been in a long, long time.

But the worst?  That's a different story.  There have been some clunkers, for sure.  Tomorrowland was an intense disappointment, a movie that wandered around within its beautifully rendered world until it finally just shrugged its shoulders and gave up.  Kingsmen: The Secret Service was a weird film.  I hated it.  Except the parts I loved, which made up about 60 percent of the schizophrenic movie. The Peanuts Movie was distressingly, disturbingly depressing in the way it heaved so much ignominy on Charlie Brown, but it wasn't a bad movie.

There were four movies that stood out to me, though, as truly terrible -- three from calendar 2015 and a fourth that merits being on this list by virtue of its tricky release pattern.

They're movies so bad they deserve to be singled out, lest you, one gloomy winter's day, while browsing the on-demand selections, think, "Oh, I never saw that one, I should watch it."  No, please. Don't.  Rarely are films so bad that they need to come with warning labels, but these are.  Looking back, 2015 had more than its share of exemplary films ... and then there were these:

This one makes it on the list by a technicality.  Officially, it was released in the waning days of 2014, but the curious hacking of Sony Pictures, apparently by North Korea, led to the film's release being canceled.  Perhaps that was all just coincidentally timed, but Sony essentially was able to pull the plug on the wide release of one of the worst movies of 2014 and 2015.  The Interview is a moronic, aggressively unfunny comedy that seems to have been made exclusively for the amusement of its own creators, because no one else would get the jokes.  There is not a single laugh in the movie, not even a grin; it's clueless about comedy, and knows even less about politics.  The story of a certifiably moronic talk-show host being granted the world's first interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is spectacularly stupid.  After it was effectively "banned" from theaters, it received a wide release through digital on-demand systems, and millions of people couldn't wait to see what was so incendiary.  Turns out, nothing.  If North Korea was truly so offended by this movie that it wanted to seek revenge on the studio that made it, then North Korean leaders a) are stunningly thin-skinned and b) have remarkably good taste.  Take their word for it: No one should see The Interview.


In the laborious San Andreas, it's not enough to destroy San Francisco for the 1,457th time since the advent of digital visual effects technology.  Los Angeles has to get it, too.  The destruction of each looks entirely unconvincing.  But, there might be bright side to the world that San Andreas envisions: With both of these entertainment megalopolises gone, no more movies like San Andreas could ever get made. San Andreas stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as a guy.  I don't remember who he is or what he does that makes him special.  He might have been a firefighter or a paramedic or a 911 operator or something along those lines.  And there's a really big earthquake and then a really big tsunami, and I remember Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson being in a boat with his estranged wife as they sailed down the flooded streets of San Francisco looking for his daughter.  That much I remember.  I also remember that the visual effects proved that just because you can imagine something doesn't mean it will look realistic on film.  And I remember thinking that the whole thing would have been a lot better if Victoria Principal showed up in that big Afro wig from Earthquake and found Ava Gardner still wandering around.  That would have been entertaining.  San Andreas is big and loud, but it is not entertaining, it's just really, really bad.


Something weird happened while I watched Aloha: I didn't understand what I was experiencing.  The very attractive actors were up there on screen, and they were saying words that sounded like they were being spoken in the English language, but nothing made sense.  Watching Aloha felt as surreal as watching a David Lynch film dubbed into Polish and played backward, except I'm guessing that the backward Polish Lynch film would make some emotional sense and have some pretty amazing images.  Aloha doesn't have any of that.  It doesn't go together.  It's like someone took out every other scene and then put together what remained and hoped audiences might think Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams and Emma Stone were so pretty that no one would notice the film stunk.  They were wrong.  In Hawaiian, "aloha" famously has a number of meanings.  It just got a new one: "lousy movie."

Now, all these films were stinkers, but in 2015, one film stood out among the rest as genuinely risible, a movie so awful, so cynical, so rotten in every possible way that it needs to be separated from the rest.  The three movies listed above are bad movies.  They contain nothing to recommend them.  So, imagine a film worse, even, than that.  Imagine a film so bad that it makes you, at least momentarily, feel a sense of despair.  That film is ...


The 1982 Poltergeist is a happy ghost story on steroids.  It takes the quintessentially Spielbergian concept of suburban idyll and gleefully tears it apart, until there is nothing left except the most basic unit of happiness: the family.  The 2015 Poltergeist hates the idea of family.  It hates the idea of happiness.  It eschews fun and merriment.  It is a dark, gloomy, lumbering, plodding glop of a film, a movie that does not have a single fresh idea.  It is a filmed deal, a movie designed to ensure the studio keeps the rights to the underlying intellectual property by churning out an execrable movie that is deeply unhappy and cynical.  In this Poltergeist, the family members despise one another, they blame each other for their unhappy lives, and when the mother finally goes after Carole Anne (renamed Maddy here, to no purpose), you almost sense she is heaving a sigh, hoping that maybe the other kids will get eaten up by ghosts, too.  All of the plot points are given away up front, and sweet and daffy Tangina is turned into a money-grubbing reality star.  This Poltergeist hits many of the same plot points as the 1982 movie, replicating them with the faithfulness of a paint-by-numbers version of the Sistine Chapel.  In theory, it looks more or less the same, but in reality it is a disastrous attempt at replicating something that can't be replicated.  It's a dirty, squalid movie.  Fair warning: Once seen, it can't be unseen.  Should you stumble across it sometime while channel flipping, remember the sage advice of Diane Freeling in the original: "Don't go near it!  Don't even look at it!"

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