Ruk Ranks Every Movie He Saw in 2017 (80-76)

80. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

A more appropriate title would’ve been Dead Franchises Tell no Tales. Dohohohoho.

Seriously though, I don’t think any movie this year has felt more fatigued of its own franchise than this one. For all the many flaws of Alien Covenant, Transformers and the Mummy, they all felt like they were at least somewhat trying. Trying and faceplanting into the ground, mind, but trying nonetheless. This movie, on the other hand, just felt tired. Tired of the same old schtick, the same old characters, the same old ideas, all just tired.

It’s especially irritated because I actually fought this movie started off on a relatively high note. The bank vault chase was relatively fun and there was a lot of potential with the new characters and their potential arcs and storylines, be it Henry’s goal to free his father’s curse, Carina’s goal to be taken seriously as a scientist (and not hanged for witchcraft) and Salazar’s very personal hate of Jack Sparrow. And then, like an anchor around the neck of the franchise, the tired old tropes and characters came crashing down to drag the movie to the depths. Depp obviously could care less about the franchise and even Geoffrey Rush, usually able to be counted upon to deliver a fun time, feels like he’s just trying to rush through it fast enough to get that paycheck at the end.

As a result, all these potentially interesting plotlines and characters get swamped and overwhelmed by the bland and tired and shitty. Henry becomes a useless joke, Carina’s character gets overtaken by daddy issues, Salazar becomes just a generic leering villain and all of the interesting plotlines get replaced by a treasure hunt for a generic McGuffin. Hell, we didn’t even get a battle between Salazar and the flying Dutchman. Why makes such an emphasis on Orlando Bloom returning if you’re not even going to bother with that?

So to sum up, this franchise really needs to be scuttled. Or shipwrecked. Or whatever seafaring pun takes your fancy, I don’t care.

 

79. Pokemon the Movie 20: I Choose You

Or, as I like to call it, how not to do a nostalgic callback movie. Seriously, I stopped watching the Pokemon anime quite a long time ago and, while I’ve dabbled in the movies here and there (favourites being 2, 3, 5 and 8), I kinda accept that most of them aren’t very good. Especially the newer ones. That said I was intrigued to hear about this project, a nostalgic retelling of the early Pokemon anime, aka when the show was actually fairly good. So I decided to give it a try and check it out in theatres.

Turned out it was all a big lie. The movie spends maybe 15 minutes covering old material before immediately transforming into one of the shittier newer movies.

Seriously, what the hell movie? You spend all this time selling me on rewatching the best moments of the old anime with a new coat of paint, only to pull the rug out from under us entirely? Misty and Brock and Gary ‘Muthafucking’ Oak all get replaced with nobodies,  you barely cover a handful of the great anime moments, the main focus is almost entirely on new Pokemon and new legendaries and the story is generic as sin when it’s not being absolutely stupid and nonsensical instead. And I don’t necessarily dislike the newer generations, hell, I’ve spent the last couple of months enjoying Pokemon Ultra Sun, but when the main selling point of your movie is Kanto/Gen 1 nostalgia, you don’t just turn around and say ’Surprise! Marshadow is the main villain the whole time!’

That said, even taken on its own, the movie is not very good. Yeah, it’s written for kids, but it’s also mostly generic and banal and suffers from trying to cram way too much in and failing to properly set up and/or give its emotional moments time to breath. Just because it’s for kids doesn’t necessarily excuse it being crap. And it certainly doesn’t forgive it for betraying its main premise.

That said, I’m probably just sore that there was no Squirtle Squad.

Shame on you, movie. Shame.

 

78. The Book of Henry

Hoo boy. This movie was certainly something.

Okay, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year (not that I can blame you considering mind), you’ve probably heard of this sweet ‘heartwarming’ movie from the director of Jurassic World about a genius kid who wants to assassinate his neighbour’s step-dad and the legendary tonal shifts that lie within. And yeah, that stuff is all ridiculous. It’s the sort of story that could actually be fairly entertaining as a deliberate black comedy, but the movie tries to take itself entirely seriously and fucking faceplants right into the ground. But that wasn’t even my biggest issue with the film.

No, my biggest issue with this movie is Henry. Who is the most punchably smug and unlikeable character in almost any movie this year.

Seriously fuck this kid. He’s the worst kind of smug know-it-all character, one who clearly thinks he’s so much better than everyone around him, in spite of the fact that he’s a massive dick. He claims he sticks around in a normal high-school class to ‘foster his psycho-social development with an appropriate age group’ in spite of the fact that he’s never shown even attempting to befriend classmates and instead belittles them at every opportunity. And while this, again, could’ve been great if it was a deliberate black comedy, the filmmakers are clearly on Henry’s side. This is what they consider smart. A smug, condescending know-it-all brat who looks down on everyone and ticks every cliche genius box right down to informing the doctor about his own illness.

And don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of other terrible things about the movie too, be it the muddled story-telling arcs, some downright awkward dialogue (Goddamn it, Janice!) and Christina being the most insultingly cardboard trophy ‘needs to be rescued’ character, etc etc. But other people have covered that better than I ever will. So I’ll just say that this was awful and leave it at that.

 

77. Justice League Dark/Teen Titans: Judas Contract/Batman and Harley Quinn

Okay, kinda cheating with this one, but I don’t really care. While the live action side of DC improved by leaps and bounds this year, the same cannot exactly be said of its animation department. Much like last year, there was only one animated DC movie I saw that I actually enjoyed (and it’ll come up later) and three that I decisively didn’t. Honestly, I’m grouping them together because I don’t care enough to write entries on all three or seperate them, but here are a few brief thoughts on each.

Justice League Dark: Boring. The idea of exploring the more twisted magical side of the DC Universe is a great one, but the reason this adaptation fails is down to the same reason that I was so excited that Guillermo Del Toro was originally working on a live-action Justice League Dark. Imagination. You could come up with some really twisted or cool visuals or concepts while working on the magic side, but instead this movie sticks to same boring laser beams and superpowers and banal stories and it’s all just a slog. Doesn’t help that the character animation is stiff and awkward.

Teen Titans Judas Contract: This was… a thing? Probably the least bad of the three, but still kinda awkward and filled with out-of-place sexual content. Plus the climax doesn’t really feel like it comes together either. And also Damian is still the fucking worst, but he gets the shit beaten out of him so… positive?

Batman and Harley Quinn: Oh, Paul Dini why. I already thought this was kind of a dumb idea to begin with and the final product wasn’t any better. Hell, it didn’t even bother to have an actual ending, so why should I give a crap?

76. A Ghost Story

You know, watching this movie reminded me of a few years back, when I was taking my screenwriting degree and, for one of our classes, we all got together to watch ‘Salo, or 180 days of Sodom’. (For those not in the know, Salo is basically an art movie about depravity and/or an excuse to show two hours of torturing teenagers, nudity and shit-eating.) The reception for that screening was, unsurprisingly, mixed. But after the movie, we had an interesting discussion about where exactly that line was between ‘meaningful art about depravity/abuse of power’ and ‘torture porn/fetish film’. Some considered Salo art, others considered it torture porn, and that mindset tended to line up with how much they liked the movie itself. And I think that A Ghost Story is very much the same, in that regard. Either you understand its purpose as art and really get into its poetic atmosphere of grief and mourning… or you just think it’s two hours of the filmmakers fucking with you and Casey Affleck in a bedsheet staring solemnly at stuff.

Unfortunately, I fell into the latter category. Because I fucking hated this movie. A lot.

Now, I’ll admit I probably wasn’t the best fit for this movie, since I tend to drift easily during long boring moments and this film feels like more-or-less 80% long boring moments. But a good director can make silences and nothings every bit as engaging as dialogue or action. That did not happen here. (Hell, I ended up turning on my ipod and listening to a podcast partway through and never felt like I missed a thing.) Don’t get me wrong, I know what it was trying to do, build a drawn-out, melancholy atmosphere. And I’ve seen that done before and to great effect. But there were a few issues with its execution here with stopped it from working for me.

First of all, the movie makes a mistake by starting out with the same drawn-out, boring atmosphere instead of utilising it when appropriate. Seriously, I’d probably (maybe) be perfectly happy if it moved at a normal pace and waited until Affleck died before moving onto the slow, drawn-out crap. But no. We get shots of houses and hallways and etc that felt like they went on for like five minutes and all before Affleck bites the dust. And there’s no real emotion for us to feel, so we don’t and simply end up getting bored. Then, when Affleck finally does die and the drawn-out atmosphere feels more appropriate… it still doesn’t work because I was already bored senseless by it and disengaged as a result.

Secondly, for much of the first two thirds or so, it really feels like the movie, like its titular protagonist, meanders a lot. Floating around with no purpose or drive or really anything. Just wandering around staring solemnly at stuff. Now, I’m certain people could argue that that was the point, that it reflects the protagonists own ennui and lack of purpose/drive as a ghost. And that’s a perfectly understandable point. But just because something has a purpose doesn’t necessarily mean it works. And, if you’re not engaged with the movie, not in tune with the atmosphere it’s going for, then this meandering attitude only makes it seem even worse. And this brings me onto my third and possibly most important point…

I don’t give a crap about the characters. Seriously, not one crap is given before or after death. We get a handful of scenes with mumbly Casey Affleck and generic love interest Rooney Mara before Affleck bites it and neither of them make any kind of lasting impression. Thus the atmosphere of grief rings hollow because I don’t care about either these characters. I don’t feel especially sad about Affleck‘s accident, I just feel numb and bored. I didn’t give a crap about Rooney Mara listening to dull music and it feels like the only meaningful exploration of her own grief we get is 9 minutes of her eating pie.* They feel every bit as lifeless as the actual ghosts, if not less.

It’s annoying because there really are a lot interesting ideas and themes in A Ghost Story, especially towards the final third. But by the time the movie actually gets to them, it’s already frittered away your patience with long, meaningless shots of hospital beds or Rooney Mara eating pie. And, as a result, you really can’t get that invested even when seemingly interesting stuff is happening. It tries to be a poetic meditation of death and grief but, for me at least, it overestimated the audience’s tolerance for its own bullshit and just ends being a bore.

In conclusion, my advice for seeing this movie is to wait until the pie-eating scene. If you’re really feeling invested then by all means stick with it. If you’re feeling bored senseless, then just walk out. It doesn’t really get all that much better. Or maybe just skip to the final third where shit actually starts happening. For me thought, this was just a disappointment.

 

 

*Seriously though, no amount of reasoned arguments about deeper meaning and resonance can convince me that the pie scene was anything other than the director fucking with the audience.

 

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