I was on the fence about whether to do a Top 10 worst films of the year, a) because I haven’t seen “Point Break” yet and b) because it felt like taking one last, mean-spirited kick at some films that had already taken plenty of abuse. But then friends on social media essentially began chanting “Kick! Kick!” so I decided to give the people what they wanted.
There are some very bad movies on this list. Just very bad and wrong and not good. But there are also some movies that, while not technically horrible, were just such massive disappointments, such wastes of potential, that in some ways I find them worse than the actual bad movies.
Anyway, let’s cleanse ourselves of these stinkers and leave them behind in 2015. Maybe 2016 will be nothing but great movies! Maybe.
Pick of the week: “Selma” (Amazon Prime) — My full review is here. Instead of a tidy history-class lesson on the civil rights movement, Ava Duvernay presents the messiness of history in all its forms, focusing in on the three-month period where Martin Luther King, Jr. (a masterful David Oyelowo) leads a savvy protest movement to sway public opinion behind his cause. The images of violence against the protesters are immediate and horrible, and one comes away with a profound sense that history does not just have to happen, but has to be worked for, step by step.
If you’re a Netflix subscriber who loves great movies, by all means, spend Christmas with your family. But on Dec. 26, shut yourself off in the den with some pre-packaged meals and a jug of water — you’ve got some serious streaming to do between now and the end of the year.
Each month the “Gone in an Instant” column highlights five movies that are leaving Netflix at the end of the month, as partnerships with studios dissolve or the streaming site swaps out content to make room for new films and TV shows.
And there’s just no way to sugarcoat this — January 2016 is going to be brutal.
Eskil Vogt’s “Blind” is about a writer who goes blind while in her mid-30s. But don’t think for a moment this is your standard drama about a character dealing with her disability, her human spirit triumphant. Instead, it’s a playful and knotty puzzle of a film about what can happen inside an imaginative mind, one that’s suddenly had one of its key links to the outside world cut off. The film premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and is now out on DVD from Zeitgeist Films.
“Applesauce” contains some potentially interesting things in a movie — New York, infidelity and severed body parts. And yet writer-director Onur Tukel throws elements of comedy, drama and horror haphazardly into an unsweetened mash of genres that’s very unsatisfying. The movie is now out on DVD from Dark Sky Films.
From the outset, you think you know what sort of independent movie John Magary’s “The Mend” is going to be. Two brothers, one a straight-arrow, the other a ne’er-do-well rebel type, have been estranged for years, but manage to bond over one crazy weekend in New York City. The rebel learns to be a little responsible and, hey, maybe that stuffy straight arrow learns to loosen his tie and be a little more spontaneous, right? Maybe one of them could be played by Josh Lucas, the blandly handsome actor from the NBC version of “The Firm” and doing voice over ads for Home Depot.
“The Mend” does have many of those elements in place, including Lucas. But it is a bracingly different sort of film, a funny and scabrous look at family dysfunction that lives many loose ends both narrative and visual untied. Magary always wants to show rather than tell, suggest rather than show, and it makes for a film that gets its hooks in more deeply than you might anticipate.
Pick of the week: “Interstellar” (Amazon Prime) — My full review is here. Christopher Nolan’s latest film comes so close to greatness and just can’t quite grab it. The first third of the film is a plausibly realized version of a dystopian Earth, with humans just getting by as the planet seems to be shutting down all around us. It’s when a mission to save the planet takes flight that the film finds its most breathtaking outer-space visuals, but also its most misbegotten ideas, and the attempt to build an emotional father-daughter through line never quite materializes. Still, it’s a terrific attempt.
“In the Heart of the Sea” opens Friday at Point, Palace, AMC Fitchburg and Sundance. PG-13, 2:02, two stars out of four.
“If I don’t write it, I fear I shall never write again. If I do write it, I fear it won’t be good enough.”
That’s a young Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) agonizing over writing the novel that will be “Moby Dick,” but I wonder if director Ron Howard and screenwriter Charles Leavitt had similar misgivings about making “In the Heart of the Sea.” Technically the film isn’t a straight adaptation of Melville’s novel, but based on the real-life events that supposedly inspired it (made into a nonfiction book of the same name by Nathaniel Philbrick). But the shadow of the whale and of the Great American Novel loom large over a weak screenplay and some stock seafaring characters.
Movies about cults are difficult to pull off well. At some point, we have to understand how right-thinking people would so completely give themselves over to another person’s control. If done well, in a movie like “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” the effect can be insidious and unsettling, making us question if we’d be strong enough to resist under the same circumstances. If not does well, such as in Jonestown-esque “The Sacrament,” you wonder just how these rubes could so willingly march to their own destruction.
Falling somewhere in between is “One-Eyed Girl,” an Australian thriller that’s being released on DVD in the United States under the Dark Sky Films imprint. Dark Sky usually releases straight-up horror films, but “One-Eyed” is psychological horror if anything, a war of wills between two fallen healers. It looks terrific (first-time director Nick Matthews is a former cinematographer) and has some strong performances, but is narratively shaky.
“Oh, come on! How can it be American and International?” — Joel Robinson
The seeming geographical contradiction at the heart of the B-movie kingpin studio known as American International Pictures seems only a minor flaw, especially comparing it against the studio’s long and rich history of getting teenage audiences in the ’50s and ’60s to part with their money by any means necessary. In other words, movies like “Earth Vs. The Spider” and “The Beginning of the End” were perfect fodder for Joel and the ‘bots to riff on on “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
So, it’s only fair that AIP gets its due on the latest DVD boxed set from Shout! Factory, “Vol. XXXIV.” Not only are all four movies in the set all black-and-white cheesy classics from American International — “Viking Women Vs. The Sea Serpent,” “War of the Colossal Beast,” “The Undead” and “The Sea Creature” — but the primary bonus feature on the set is a full-length 90-minute documentary on the studio called “It Was A Colossal Teenage Movie Machine!”