Hey, Chewers! As we wrap up this year, we’d like to highlight the films we felt didn’t deserve the critical reaction they got, be it positive or negative. We’re talking blockbusters and indie hits alike. Beware of (mild) spoilers.
Travis Newton on Insidious: Chapter 3
In this prequel, writer/director Leigh Whannell took the franchise reins with a firm grip. He may not be the visual stylist that James Wan is, but Whannell’s got chops and he damn sure proved it. After the awful and goofy Chapter 2, this prequel is a welcome course correction, carried by a solid performance from Lin Shaye. The reviews were mixed, but I think this is one of the best PG-13 horror movies in recent memory. It’s scary, it’s funny, it’s got a strong thematic core, and it really follows through with its concept. The movie also looks really lovely, with lighting that evokes Refn’s last two movies. I sincerely hope this one will be held in higher regard when people look back at this franchise, because it’s more than just a good third entry — it’s good, period.
Travis Newton on Tangerine
Director Sean Baker’s Sundance darling (96% on RT with 108 reviews) was something I was dying to see — an odd microbudget dramedy shot solely an iPhone 5S with an inexpensive anamorphic lens attachment (that I bought and love). When the film finally became available for rental on iTunes, I eagerly paid up… for one of the most unpleasant viewing experiences I’ve had this year. I wondered, was everyone at Sundance fuckin’ high? Did they show a different cut? The film I saw was a disaster: full of bad improv, hideous shot compositions, aimless pacing, nauseating faux-Michael Bay color grading, and a shrill soundtrack. It’s a string of poorly connected and unpleasant scenes that climaxes with an interminable deafening screaming match between two transgender prostitutes, a cracked-out pimp and his “fish” girlfriend, an Armenian family, an Asian clerk, and a crying baby. It has its moments (the final scene is admittedly touching), but they are adrift in an ugly and cacophonous film.
Movie Curiosities’ WilliamB on Brooklyn
Brooklyn is two solid hours of white noise. Every line of dialogue is bland and every character is boring. Everything our main character could ever need is simply handed to her, and every decision is made on her behalf by someone else. Everybody loves her, she’s pretty and kind to a fault, she’s naturally perfect at everything she does, and we’re somehow supposed to sympathize with her. There is no plot, no conflict, no themes, no original ideas, and no point. And this bland piece of shit somehow scored a 98 percent Tomatometer? KISS MY ASS.
Movie Curiosities’ WilliamB on A Girl Like Her
This one has a 64 percent Tomatometer, but only 22 reviews listed. It doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, and its box office take was apparently too low to register anywhere. But very few movies this year stuck with me the way A Girl Like Her did. I found it to be a deeply compelling examination of why teenagers bully each other, how they justify it, and how those actions can be deeply harmful to an entire community. And all without any artifice or condescension. We needed a movie like this, and I’d strongly encourage any high schoolers and their parents to go seek it out.
Ryan Covey on Jurassic World
Not a lot of people I know liked Jurassic World. Just about every colleague, critic I follow, and even my own wife blasted this movie. I guess I get it — Jurassic World doesn’t do much to build on the world established in Jurassic Park. It’s not as well shot, written, or visually inspiring as the first movie. But it is one thing: a sequel to Jurassic Park that isn’t awful. I have love for both versions of The Lost World, but both Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg failed to make a good follow-up and then died (Crichton literally, Spielberg is merely dead inside). I don’t even want to talk about Jurassic Park III. Jurassic World is a big goofy fan movie, but it’s an entertaining one and its ridiculous over-the-top finale was brazen and insane in a way I can’t help but admire. It’s a mess, and a big step down from Jurassic Park, but still way ahead of its other predecessors and a fun movie in its own right.
Drew Dietsch on The Martian
Here’s the thing: I don’t really have any hardcore beef with The Martian. My contrarian viewpoint comes from the fact that I don’t think The Martian is anything more than disposable fluff. Well-made disposable fluff, but disposable fluff nonetheless. While Matt Damon gives an enjoyable performance, it’s nothing awards-worthy, and I’m hard pressed to remember any standout acting from anyone else in the ensemble. Mark Watney’s solitary adventure and Damon’s amiable portrayal are elevated by the fact that no one else in the movie is doing anything noteworthy. It does feel kind of bad to diss a movie that’s so optimistic and pro-science, but all I can say is that when I left the theater, I knew I would never have any inkling to watch The Martian ever again. With the film getting bandied about for a multitude of Oscars and currently sitting atop Rotten Tomatoes’ Top Ten films of the year, I feel pretty against the grain when it comes to calling The Martian an utterly forgettable piece of popcorn fun.
Drew Dietsch on American Ultra
Though screenwriter Max Landis has gone on a somewhat annoying self-aggrandizing post-release tour in order to help American Ultra‘s critical reappraisal, it still doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of this dark little throwback to small-scale action films of the ’80s and ’90s. As I said in my review, the movie isn’t the comedy it was sold as, but that’s okay. It has moments of levity interspersed throughout, but what resonated with me was the surprising (and joyous) violence that should be an easy sell to viewers of this site. I also think both Eisenberg and Stewart (two of our most idiosyncratic actors currently working) are actually used in a way that accentuates their very particular thespian quirks. And it’s a legitimate crime that Walton Goggins’ Laugher isn’t being talked about as one of the best villains of 2015. It’s by no means a unheralded classic, but it’s a deviant little gem that will earn the tiny cult following it’ll inevitably spawn. Now, how about an Apollo Ape cartoon?
Andrew Hawkins on Spring
Since the middle of summer this year, the new creature horror film Spring from directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead had been praised by critics and fans alike for being one of the best independent genre films in recent memory. The plot concerns a young American expat who leaves his stateside home after his mother’s funeral to travel abroad and escape his troubles. While in a small coastal town in Italy, our main character crosses paths with a seductive woman who is revealed to be an ancient creature that preys on humans to rebirth itself over time. The mythology of the creature is taken from vampire lore and mixed with Lovecraftian elements. The character herself deals with the emotional struggles of becoming too attached to her victim while trying to maintain a pre-established lifecycle. In concept this all sounds like a worthy foundation for a profound horror drama or a bold character study set in a beautiful backdrop, but in execution the finished product falls short. The poor dialogue and direction make the film drag, and the simple narrative leaves much to be desired. Many scenes are well shot, but are unmemorable even after a short amount of time. The performances are decent and the creature effects are adequate, but nothing really adds up to being anything more than average. In the end, Spring isn’t quite the fantastic work some say it is, and for a day when nothing else is on, it’s still not even really worth seeking out.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more year-end content!