2016 IN REVIEW – The Films I Didn’t See (January – July)
Normally, I break down the year into three 4-month long pieces, but I actually saw so many films this year, the early half was pretty lopsided, resulting in a very small list of films from January through April and then an increasingly longer list of films for the other two parts. As a result, I have chosen to instead divide the year by the number of films, roughly 40 – 50 each period. That means that the first part will be from January through July, encompassing a large part of the dumpster ground that is late winter and into the first half of the summer blockbuster season.
So, yeah, here are the films I managed to avoid or just missed out on entirely, organized by release date and along with their Rotten Tomatoes score. Some of them look worthwhile and, as a result, may end up on my list of films I actually watched, as per usual, while others look absolutely terrible… and may also show up on a later list of films I saw, depending on my mood. The purpose of this, however, is to just reflect on the year that was and acknowledge that, even as an amateur film critic, I still don’t manage to see everything, despite what people I know may think.
The Masked Saint 1/08/2016 14%
Superheroes continue to rake in the cash at the box office, and so it was only a matter of time before the faith-based film industry took a few queues from this. Adapted from the semi-autobiographical book by Chris Whaley, the film follows Chris Samuels, a Southern Baptist pastor and former pro wrestler who finds himself called into action again when he witnesses one too many crimes in his neighborhood. Returning to his former wrestling persona, he becomes a vigilante known as the Masked Saint. While he sets out to do good, however, he struggles to reconcile his two vocations, worried he may be crossing too many lines. While I do understand that Whaley based his creation on his own experience as a former wrestler who felt drawn to the pulpit, the character he created seems to be incredibly derivative of a certain red-clad Catholic Marvel hero. The film failed to garner much support from critics, and, given how often I hear about these types of movies, the fact that I had never heard about this movie before writing about it just now speaks to its lack of reach and appeal.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi 1/15/2016 50%
I actually have this film readily accessible in my Vudu account, but I just can’t bring myself to watch Michael Bay’s attempt at seriously tackling the whole Benghazi situation. Perhaps it was the political climate that kept drawing me away from it? I guess now that the election’s over, however, I should probably give this one a shot. You’ll probably see this movie appearing again somewhere before this 2016 series is done.
Boonie Bears III 1/16/2016 (China) N/A
An animated film hailing from China, this third in a series (after 2015’s previous installment, itself released just a year after the first film) based on the TV series follows series mainstay Briar as he’s whisked into the life of a circus performer, while his friends try to track him down and bring him back home. I accidentally ended up watching the trailer for the second movie before this one, and I gotta say – that movie’s mystical, flying, horned bears looked a lot more epic than this one. For a series that started with the bears trying to stop an evil logger, however, I guess you could say that this one’s a more down-to-earth return to form? … Yeah, as if I know what I’m talking about here.
Exposed 1/22/2016 5%
Wow, does this look generic. Keanu Reeves, Mira Sorvino, and Ana de Armas star in this film about a police detective investigating the murder of his partner and uncovering the truth behind it, which apparently involves a conspiracy from within the police department and a young woman with a connection to it all. Everything about this movie looks phoned in, and not in a hilarious way, either.
Mojave 1/22/2016 31%
This movie looks like some kind of high budget knock off of Face/Off that they’d center an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 around. Garrett Hedlund plays Thomas, a troubled artist who goes into the desert to find himself and encounters Jack, who follows Thomas back home and proceeds to make his life a living hell. Oscar Isaac plays Jack and seems to be having a ball vamping it up, and it comes from The Departed screenwriter William Monahan, but I can’t honestly say that this looks any good.
Monster Hunt 1/22/2016 61%
Originally released in China and Hong Kong back in 2015, this fantasy comedy from DreamWorks animator Raman Hui follows two humans, one the mayor of a village and the other an aspiring monster hunter, helping to keep a baby monster safe from the other warring humans and monsters. Oh, and by the way, the mayor – a human man – gave birth to the baby monster after being impregnated with the Monster Queen’s baby. Alright… The film looks like a wacky combination of wuxia fantasy spectacle and fittingly DreamWorks-like comedy and was apparently successful enough to warrant a sequel, due out in 2018.
Jane Got a Gun 1/29/2016 40%
Where was Jane during the events of Age of Ultron? Apparently displaced in time in the Old West. Surely the work of Loki! … Alright, fine, it’s not set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And it’s not based on the Aerosmith song, either. (That’s Janie, not Jane!) This movie went through quite a time getting released, at various times co-starring Michael Fassbender, Jude Law, Bradley Cooper, and even final cas member Joel Edgerton in the role Jude Law would take before himself leaving. The director and cinematographers also changed before the film began filming all the way back in 2013. Natalie Portman plays Jane Hammond, who faces off against a band of outlaws called the Bishop Boys after they seriously injure her husband. The movie looks… alright, but Lord only knows why it took so long for something so seemingly simple to finally get released.
Dad’s Army 2/05/2016 31%
Based on the BBC sitcom of the same name, Dad’s Army is a comedy series centered on elderly men who, during World War II, join the Home Guard, an organization for those who were ineligible for military service for various reasons, including advanced age. Assembling a cast of notable talent that includes Toby Jones, Bill Nighy, Tom Courtenay, Michael Gambon, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, the film adaptation sees the men going about their usual business until it’s revealed that a German spy has infiltrated their otherwise quiet town – and it could be any one of them! … Including a character so obvious that, upon checking the synopsis, I was proven correct without ever having to see the film or be familiar with the original series. Dad’s Army was not received well, and, as with a lot of TV-to-film adaptations, was declared a facile attempt to recreate the magic of the beloved series, despite the talented cast. At least you can get some enjoyment out of feeling so clever to figure out the mystery of the plot just by looking at it, though.
Misconduct 2/05/2016 7%
I’m stunned that there’s no scenery chewing going on in the trailer for a film that stars both Anthony Hopkins and Al Pacino. Josh Duhamel leads a cast that also includes Malin Akerman, Alice Eve, and Julia Stiles in a film about a young lawyer who… something about pharmaceuticals, an affair, and murder? It looks like a film heavy on attempted style and lacking in compelling substance. Pass.
The Choice 2/05/2016 12%
This year was the year I decided to not give Nicholas Sparks my attention. This is the one where one of the romantic partners has to decide whether or not to pull the plug on the other, who is now in a coma. Prior to that, it’s all a will-they-won’t-they deal where one of them is a womanizer and the other is already engaged. Naturally, true love wins, but then at what cost? I think? I don’t know. As the old saying goes, don’t expect me to think about this harder than the creator of it did.
The Monkey King 2 2/05/2016 100%
Journey to the West gets another adaptation, this one a sequel to the 2014 film starring Donnie Yen, who is here replaced by Aaron Kwok – who played the villain the previous time around, which seems… like a strange decision. It seems like this and other changes worked, however, as the second film was much better received than its predecessor, and the film went on to be successful enough to warrant another sequel – with Kwok retaining his role as the lead, Sun Wukong.
The Perfect Match 3/11/2016 27%
A rich playboy who regularly discards women after having sex with them gets some advice from his therapist sister to settle down and find a woman to spend the rest of his life with. Naturally, he finds a beautiful one just in time for her wedding, but complications arise when it turns out that the woman of his dreams treats men the same way he treats women. Judging by its 27% rating, this twist wasn’t enough to win over critics, either.
Creative Control 3/14/2016 62%
This partially Kickstarter-funded film looks to be trying to tap into the same sort of audience as Spike Jonze’s Her, only with a bit more of a satirical edge where Her was surprisingly nonjudgmental. Here, augmented reality has become all the rage, and an ad executive, tired of his life and relationships, uses the technology to have an affair with his fashion photographer friend’s girlfriend. Naturally, the line between reality and fantasy begins to blur as a result of this. The film honestly looks like it takes a heavy hand, which I know is likely the point, but… I dunno. I’m beginning to understand complaints about privileged people problems being examined in these types of films, even though I totally acknowledge that the grass is always greener and rich people have problems, too, and all that. I’m sure the film’s fine, though.
My Beautiful Broken Brain 3/18/2016 N/A
Netflix’s documentary follows a woman named Lotje Sodderland, who also co-directed the film, recounting the 2011 stroke that left her incapable of reading and writing, but also left her with a completely unusual way of perceiving the world, both literally and figuratively. Co-executive produced by David Lynch, the film features video diaries Sodderland herself filmed post-stroke, as well as interviews from those in her life who knew the kind of person she was and how this experience has changed her. The film, from all accounts, is a hopeful one, particularly for those who have experienced such an affliction or know someone who has, so probably a worthwhile time investment.
They’re Watching 3/25/2016 40%
Filmed like a behind-the-scenes episode of an HGTV home improvement show, this found-footage-style horror comedy follows an American TV crew as they make a trip to Moldova for a special episode of their show and instead find themselves entangled with the superstitious locals, who it turns out are busy trying to keep a witch from rising from the dead to seek vengeance for her execution. The trailer proudly states that it’s from the writers who brought us SpongeBob SquarePants and… Call of Duty: Black Ops II, so you know it has its tongue firmly in cheek. Still, the jokes look to be kind of tired, including one about the villagers going “Deliverance on our asses” and oh-so-clever jokes about privileged Americans overtly expecting special treatment while overseas. Meh.
11 Minutes 4/08/2016 67%
Hailing from Poland, 11 Minutes is an experimental film covering the same 11 action-filled minutes in the lives of variously interconnected people living in Warsaw, building up our understanding of the narrative with each retelling. From the trailer, the dialogue looks a bit overwrought, but it got decent enough reviews, so perhaps it’s worth a watch?
Demolition 4/08/2016 52%
I kept thinking this was something more along the lines of Nightcrawler or Enemy for some reason, but I suppose all good streaks must end. That’s not to say that Demolition looks awful, but the film, about an investment banker who struggles to rebuild his life after the loss of his wife, looks a bit too much like one of those smug films that tells you to just feel better dammit in the face of grief. I’m probably being a tad unfair, though, and the director, Jean-Marc Vallée, previously directed some fine films, including Dallas Buyers Club and Wild, so… rental?
Criminal 4/15/2016 30%
A CIA agent played by Ryan Reynolds finds his mind transferred into the body of a criminal played by Kevin Costner in order to help stop a terrorist threat, but somehow his wife and kid also get involved, and it’s a matter of national security and reuniting with and saving his family, even if they may not recognize who he is from the outside. The movie looks… fine. I actually have rented this once before and never gotten around to watching it, so count on it being on one of my final lists.
Louder Than Bombs 4/18/2016 72%
In the wake of family matriarch and renowned war photographer Isabelle Reed’s death, her husband, Gene, and two sons, Conrad and Jonah, struggle to move on with their own lives while dealing with her public and private legacy. The film looks well-made and was generally well-received, with praise going towards the cast, which includes Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert, Jesse Eisenberg, and Devin Druid.
Elvis & Nixon 4/22/2016 77%
The story behind the iconic photo of Elvis shaking hands with President Nixon. Kevin Spacey plays Nixon while Michael Shannon plays Elvis Presley. I really don’t see the resemblance in Shannon to Presley, but considering that the film plays up the unlikely meeting for lots of laughs, I’m sure that’s not the only liberty taken with the story, so probably best to just enjoy it for what it is.
Team Foxcatcher 4/29/2016 100%
Netflix’s documentary charts the tumultuous relationship between John DuPont and the wrestling team he sponsored, particularly Dave Schultz, who may describe as being DuPont’s closest friend before things went downhill. The story was also notably also retold in the film Foxcatcher, though with notable dramatic embellishments. Here it’s retold through previously unseen home videos and interviews with those who knew the two men more intimately.
Term Life 4/29/2016 0%
Vince Vaughn, Bill Paxton, and Hailee Steinfeld star in this film about a criminal on the run from the mob with his estranged daughter in tow. The film also features Terrence Howard, Jon Favreau, Mike Epps, and Jonathan Banks, but is probably more notable for being directed by Peter Billingsley, who previously helmed another failed Vince Vaughn comedy, Couples Retreat. That one at least registered enough reviews to get an 11% on Rotten Tomatoes. Term Life, on the other hand, only has seven reviews, and none of them are positive. I’m also fairly certain this was a Kevin Costner film not long ago… and I think Steinfeld was also in that one. [looks it up] Yup. It was called 3 Days to Kill. Not quite the same, but similar.
Love & Friendship 5/13/2016 98%
Whit Stillman reunites with his Last Days of Disco stars Kate Beckinsale and Chloë Sevigny for this Jane Austen adaptation that managed to win over critics with its quick wit and affection for the material. Perhaps that affection will transfer over to my own viewing? I have noted before my aversion to Austen, but this is mostly because I couldn’t stand reading her back in high school, so…
Money Monster 5/13/2016 57%
A desperate young man takes over a news studio with a bomb and a gun after having lost all his money in the stock market crash some time ago. Directed by Jodie Foster and starring George Clooney, Julia Roberts, and Jack O’Connell, the film aimed for prestige and ended up coming off as condescending fantasy to many. The trailers really did nothing for me, and I didn’t feel particularly moved to rent it, either.
The Darkness 5/13/2016 4%
Scary shit happens when a kid on the autistic spectrum seems to bring home some ancient spirits who are clearly not happy. Darkness follows. Dark handprints, dark wolves, dark shadows, and dark goo coming from the kid’s mouth and… Yeah, this movie looks like crap.
Maggie’s Plan 5/20/2016 85%
Maggie, a young woman who’s feeling the pressures of moving on with her life, falls in love with and begins an affair with an older but married man. Unfortunately for her, however, she realizes after some time that he’s not what she actually wants out of a relationship, and so she hatches an unusual plan to get him back together with his wife. Greta Gerwig stars alongside Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Maya Rudolph, and Bill Hader, and, from all the reviews, it’s apparently a great time. I should probably check this one out, too.
Hitler’s Folly 6/03/2016 N/A
What if Hitler was an animator? That’s the basic and seemingly only premise behind famed cartoonist and animator Bill Plympton’s mockumentary, which takes its title from “Disney’s folly” – an unflattering term that was thrown out regarding Walt Disney’s unprecedented production of the first animated feature length film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, of which Hitler was purportedly a fan. The mockumentary has almost no reviews, but the trailer for the film makes no apologies about driving the joke into the ground and expecting us to laugh throughout. It’s not that the premise isn’t potentially funny – it’s just not funny when that’s the singular joke you have to run a full movie on.
The Fits 6/03/2016 97%
Now this is an interesting looking film. Toni is a young girl who has never quite fit in with all the other girls. She joins her local rec center’s dance troupe and, even though she’s part of a team, she still finds herself alienated. Strangely, however, the center is then overtaken by an outbreak of seizures. I don’t know what the connection is there, but I’m sure that’s all part of the intrigue. It worked on me. I should rent this.
Genius 6/10/2016 51%
Jude Law, Colin Firth, and Nicole Kidman headline this film about editor Maxwell Perkins, the man who discovered F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe, who clashed with Perkins over the editing of his book Look Homeward, Angel, feeling as though his artistic integrity had been tarnished by Perkins’ extensive cuts. An interesting enough premise, though hardly the most intriguing, particularly given that Genius looks like your typical biographical period film.
Right Now, Wrong Then 6/24/2016 92%
A filmmaker and a local artist have a chance meeting when the director arrives a day early, before the lecture he’s supposed to be giving. She’s never heard of him nor his films, but they nonetheless strike up a quick bond and spend the day together, potentially falling in love. The film then takes an unexpected turn by beginning again and telling the same story, only somewhat different from the first time around. Director Sang-soo Hong has a fantastic track record, including the well-received 2016 release Yourself and Yours, which has yet to have an official US wide release outside of film festivals, so this is likely one to check out.
The Neon Demon 6/24/2016 56%
“Divisive” is a good term to use in regards to Drive and Only God Forgives director Nicolas Winding Refn’s most recent film, a story about a young woman who pursues a prestigious modeling job in Los Angeles, frustrating the other women, jealous of her success. The film reportedly takes a turn for the absurdly dark, so it’s understandable that the apparently aptly named The Neon Demon is so divisive. It’s been on Amazon Prime for a while now, so I’ll probably check it out. Probably…
Wiener-Dog 6/24/2016 77%
A rare indie spin-off film, Wiener-Dog is a follow-up to director Todd Solondz’s 1995 film Welcome to the Dollhouse, which featured the teenage Dawn Wiener navigating the perils of high school. Now a grown-up and veterinarian (and played by Greta Gerwig, taking over after Heather Matarazzo), Dawn is one of several people who encounters a dachshund named Wiener-Dog, who starts off her life as a gift for a little boy before later also transferring to a screenwriting professor and an elderly woman who has some relational issues with her granddaughter. The film sounds like an extremely treacly late ‘90s/early 2000s family film, but in the world of indie cinema, the premise apparently also makes for a solid R-rated dark comedy, too.
The Infiltrator 7/13/2016 69%
I actually rented this film from the Redbox at the recommendation of a coworker, but for some reason I immediately lost interest in it. Bryan Cranston here plays Bob mazur, a U.S. Customs agent who infiltrates Pablo Escobar’s drug trafficking ring alongside his partners Emir Ebreu (John Leguizamo) and Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), in a based-on-a-true-story, 1985-set film – yet another that seems to be cashing-in on Cranston’s badass Breaking Bad persona. I think that’s what made me averse to it, perhaps unfairly. I dunno – it’s also probably the fact that it’s yet another crime thriller, which isn’t always interesting to me.
Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party 7/15/2016 4%
True story: I once had to sit in line behind a couple at a Redbox to return a movie who couldn’t make up their minds about what they wanted to rent. I sat there for a solid 10 minutes before they finally decided to skip all the movies and decided upon this one as “the best-sounding one.” They then spent another five minutes trying to check out, primarily because they couldn’t figure out how to slide the card, despite my growing frustrated and instructing them to flip the card around… which they proceeded not to do because they didn’t believe me. I then got charged another night’s rental because they took too long, despite returning it a mere 3 minutes late. So, yeah, I have my own personal beef with this movie and its intended audience. Dinesh D’Souza, director of 2016: Obama’s America and America: Imagine the World Without Her, here tries attempts to piece together the titular secret history of the Democratic party without regard to actual facts and historical contexts. I’m not myself a Democrat (nor am I Republican – I like to think of myself as pretty down the middle and equally distasteful of both sides), but I don’t like when supposed documentarians conflate information, legend, and conspiracy and present it all as fact. Nevertheless, the film was gobbled up by the kind of people who believe whatever favors their side is actual fact, and now-President Elect Donald Trump called on everyone to see it. … Man, 2016 sucked.
Rebirth 7/15/2016 N/A
Joss Whedon alum Fran Cranz stars in this Netflix production about a businessman leaving is mundane life and signing up for a “rebirth” session meant to open his mind and find what he really needs. Naturally, it’s not nearly as ideal as he expected, and, despite their mantra of not being a cult, they sure do seem to be a cult. Oops! I guess it could be alright, but it kind of reminds me of one of those small horror adventure video games where you piece together all the clues and find out the background of this group and then try to escape, no doubt with a surprise ending where you’re not going to make it out after all, but maybe you’ll make it into the sequel.
Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru 7/15/2016 44%
Gravel-voiced inspirational speaker Tony Robbins is profiled in this Netflix documentary from Joe Berlinger, who also directed the acclaimed Paradise Lost trilogy and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. I Am Not Your Guru didn’t fair nearly as well, however, with criticisms lobbed at Berlinger for losing objectivity and never going deeper than the surface level stuff when it comes to Robbins’ methods and lack of actual psychological education. New York Times critic Jeannette Catsoulis notes in her review that it feels almost like a promotional video for Robbins’ seminars, one of which Berlinger attended and was apparently inspired by to the point of wanting to share it with the world through this film. Eesh.
Captain Fantastic 7/29/2016 82%
After tragedy strikes, a father who has raised his family in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest and in isolation from the rest of the world is faced with the reality of having to reintegrate himself and his family into a society that doesn’t fully understand the reasons why he and his wife have raised their family like this. That actually kind of sounds like a troubling premise at first, but I’m sure in the context of the movie, it’s much more understandable. The film stars Viggo Mortensen, Kathryn Hahn, and Frank Langella and has gotten some solid reviews, so this is yet another film that’s probably worth a watch.
Gleason 7/29/2016 96%
Clay Tweel’s acclaimed documentary follows New Orleans Saints lineback Steve Gleason after his ALS diagnosis in 2011 and his attempt to continue living his life as fully as he possibly can, notably so that he could pass on his advice to his son, who was born just months after his diagnosis. The documentary has been acclaimed for its brutal honesty in its portrayal of Gleason’s health issues and struggles, but also serves as inspiration because of this honesty.
Tallulah 7/29/2016 84%
Ellen Page plays Tallulah, a young homeless woman who turns to her ex-boyfriend’s mother, played by Allison Janney, to help raise a baby she claims is her son’s but is, in fact, the daughter of a strung out woman who mistook Tallulah for housekeeping. The film looks pretty decent and got really solid reviews, but while it was freely available on Netflix, I struggled to find the will to watch it whenever I was reminded of its existence. It’s still in my queue, however, so…