The Movie Scab: The Best & Worst Movies of 2015!
"The scab you're picking at is called execution."
--American film producer Scott Rudin.
Monkey Boy and I have been a way for a little while. We could blame it on a variety of things, from the crappy economy to political correctness, the fascism of our times that's spreading like the worst breakout of genital warts in American history (especially on our college campuses) to having my Common Bile Duct squeezed shut by an infected diverticulitis pouch so that my skin and even my eyeballs turned yellow. But none of the excuses matter because Monkey Boy and I are ready to lay out the best and the worst movies of 2015 right now, right here, boom, done.
So, OK. It's 2016 already. Damn. Times flies when you’re in the hospital.
But, hey. Better late than never. And I tell you something, when you're in the hospital with a Common Bile Duct that's closed for business and the doctor whispers to the nurse that it might be fatal, well, it kind of levels the playing field. It makes you think about stuff that matters like family, friends, God, life in general and how awesome it is to be alive, food, movies and why they called it the Common Bile Duct anyway? Why didn’t they call it the Uncommon Bile Duct? Just what’s so common about it anyway? Truth is, though, I didn't even know I had a Common Bile Duct, so there you go.
And now, without further ado (and excuses), let's get this party started.
The Best Movies of 2015
Kingsman: The Secret Service: Ack! Ack! Ack! Ack!
Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass), who co-wrote the screenplay with Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass), this was one of the most consistently funny, original, entertaining, poignant, unpredictable and politically incorrect movies of the year. And yes, you read that right, I used the word “poignant”—if your eyes didn’t mist up a little when Hary Hart (Colin Firth) took a bullet to the brain, there’s nothing Monkey Boy and I can do to help you. Your heart is made of stone. When it comes to satire, Kingsman spared no one, and it even had the huevos to mock the Four Things You Cannot Mock: President Obama, the Man Made Global Warming Movement, celebrities (whose heads explode!) and pugs. It stayed true to the spy genre even as it broke the rules within the spy genre, i.e., Vaughn is not afraid to kill main characters. Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong and Samuel L. Jackson, in his best performance since Black Snake Moan (2006), kept it real and helped make the movie just shy of freakin’ brilliant. And the scene when “Eggsy” is told by Michael Cane to shoot his pet pug or fail the final test? Hands down, the funniest scene on film in 2015.
Chappie: Ack! Ack! Ack! Ack!
South African director Neill Blomkamp's robot sci-fi movie about family, love and what it means to be alive, co-written by awesome (because she's Canadian) screenwriter Terri Tatchell (District-9). Together, they turned screenwriting-Save-the-Cat formula on its head. What starts as a predictable Frankenstein reboot morphs into a heart-and-gut wrenching story about family, love, loyalty and meaning. It's funny and brutal, inspiring hope even as it lays the ugly truth out: humanity is monstrous. It also gives us a fascinating glimpse into a unique subset of South African culture, reinforced by the performances of South African rap-rave musicians Ninja and Yolandi Visser (Die Antwoord). Dev Patel gives a solid performance as the mad doctor/scientist with heart and soul and Sharlto Copely (voice of CGI Chappie) gives a truly moving performance as the robot that just wants to be loved.
Mad Max: Fury Road: Ack! Ack! Ack! Ack!
Apocalypse holy freakin’ cow! George Miller, director and co-writer (along with Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris) brought Mad Max back to the big screen 20 years after the last Max movie, Beyond Thunderdome (1985). Miller's genius is his ability to bring the Max mythology back to life by recreating the world he made back in the '80s. When you see the movie, you are convinced it's the same mad world that Max is stuck in. But Miller doesn't stop there, settling for a perfectly mirrored Mad Max universe. He reinvents it. (Something director J.J. Abrams failed to do with the new Star Wars movie.) I'm talking about new ideas that expand the mythology. They give it a sense of originality. It’s perfectly recognizable. But new. Familiar. But different. That’s brilliant movie-making and storytelling. And visually? Mind blown. The action is jaw dropping, relentless, and the stunts leave you wondering how the heck they did it. And, most amazing of all, Miller somehow makes your heart connect with these mad people so that you care. Casting Tom Hardy as the new Max was also brilliant (and maybe a little mad) and South African Charlize Theron did a solid job as the lead—and this brings me to why Monkey Boy did not give Fury Road five Acks! He wanted to, but couldn't because Fury Road is not Max's story. In fact, Max plays second fiddle to Furiosa—because it's her story. Max is a part of it, true enough. But make no mistake, Mad Max 4 is Furiosa's story. Even at the movie’s midpoint, I worried Max wasn't going to matter and the movie was going to degenerate into a man-hating PC tract on second and third wave feminism. (Maleficent anyone?). Imagine how relieved Monkey Boy and I were when Miller threw the girl-power, go! out the War Rig’s window and showed us that, yes, Max mattered—and saved the movie. Now, that decision might have pissed off Gloria Steinem, but for me, Monkey Boy and almost every other Mad Max fan out there, regardless of gender, we were happy as hello Miller did that. But he walked a very fine line, a dangerous balancing act, that could have killed the movie dead had he made the wrong choice. Thankfully, he didn’t and pulled it off. No. He went far beyond pulling it off. He succeeded in making a satisfying sequel, a Max movie so well made, emotionally powerful and entertaining, it’s comparable to the greatest Mad Max movie of all, 1981’s Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. To do that requires genius. Let’s see if it wins 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture.
The Revenant : Ack! Ack! Ack! Ack!
Director Alejandro G. Inarritu raises the movie-making bar by getting down and dirty in northern Canada (Alberta). Stories have been told that filming was so tough some of the crew bowed out before the movie wrapped, complaining (insert “whining”) that it was just too hard. Let’s be honest, I’m not sure what that means. They didn’t have fancy, warm hotels to sleep in and had to suffer inside fancy, warm trailers? Whatever the case may be, the result is a visually stunning and emotionally knock-your-socks off survival and revenge movie with an unexpected amount of heart at its center. (Inspired by the true story about 1823 mountain man Hugh Glass who was mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his compatriots.) Leonardo DiCaprio delivers a raw, grunt-worthy performance and Tom Hardy (Mad Max) gives us one of the best on screen bad guys (you love to hate) in 2015. But more than anything, it’s the spiritual nature of the movie that surprises. Despite the movie’s sudden and graphic (and constant) brutality, it’s balanced by a mystical spiritual yearning that breaks the heart even as it gives us hope. To be able to show horror and hope, ugliness and beauty, flesh and spirit, is close to George Miller genius. Like Fury Road, let’s see if it wins 12 Academy Awards including Best Picture.
The Hateful Eight: Ack! Ack! Ack! Ack!
That director Quentin Tarantino used film instead of going digital was more than enough reason to give it 4. Filming in 70 mm, Ultra Panavision 70 format, which provided a wider and more detailed on-screen image, could have taken it to 5 Acks! easy. And the Special Roadshow Engagement with the program, overture and intermission made it one of the coolest movie experiences of the year. The cinematography was dazzling—digital wishes it could look that good, and of course there’s no ultra high-def insanity going on so the movie looks like a movie and not like something shot on some stupid kid’s video camera in the backyard. (Monkey Boy and I hate, hate, hate high-def.) The dialogue was extraordinary, witty, clever, the story fascinating, and the tension never let up. Kurt Russell’s performance is so solid and believable it carries the movie even after his character is dead. All the supporting actors aim high and succeed. It’s Samuel L. Jackson, as the lead, who doesn’t quite succeed as well as the others. It’s a respectable performance, don’t get me wrong, but it’s one we’ve seen before. I talked with my nephew about Jackson’s acting in the movie. He hadn’t seen The Hateful Eight yet, so he asked a question: “Does Samuel L. Jackson shout?” And I said, yes. And my nephew replied, “That’s all I need to know.” But it’s great, even epic filmmaking, and everything we’ve come to expect from Tarantino. And that’s the problem. It’s original, no doubt about it, but it’s so Tarantino it’s as predictable as Samuel L. Jackson shouting. Monkey Boy and I knew there’d be gratuitous violence at the end of the movie. We knew Tarantino would take us to the bad place and then take us even further. And we knew he’d make an appearance somewhere because he seems unable to resist the temptation. And even though I loved the way he put himself in the movie—again, amusing, clever, all that—I knew he was going to do it. It’s one of Tarantino’s best movies, pulling in under Inglorious Basterds and Pulp Fiction—so it’s very, very good. But it’s not Inglorious Basterds.
The Martian: Ack! Ack! Ack!
Ridley Scott’s best directed movie in years. A great survival story (Robinson Crusoe on Mars), well acted, well filmed, funny, dramatic. Outstanding special effects and the physics in space were nigh on believable—until they killed it at the end by turning astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) into Iron Man in space. It is such a glaringly dumb moment that it pulled me right out of the movie. I laughed out loud and Monkey Boy choked on his popcorn and we shook our heads in shame, knowing that a great movie had been brought down low.
My rating for the Best Movies of 2015: A couple of shots of Alquimia Reserva de Don Adolfo Extra Anejo Tequila (some of the best tequila in the world, just so's you know) is all you need to get you where you need to be to thoroughly enjoy these movies, except for The Martian. To get through The Martian you'll need a Martian Martini (Midori melon liqueur and gin) --no, make that three--then two Martian Hard Ons (Creme de Cacao, melon liqueur and Baily's Irish Cream on the rocks) and, finally, a can of ice cold PBR so that you're brain will freeze solid as if you were in outer space. Once you drink those, back to back, go and see The Martian and enjoy.
HONORABLE MENTION DVDs (two movies from 2014)
The Voices: Ack! Ack! Ack! A...!
Starring the awesome Canadian Ryan Reynolds, directed by Iranian-born Marjane Satrapi and written by Michael J. Perry, this is one of the best dark horror comedies to hit the screen since 2012's Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. (And if you didn't think that movie was dark, watch it again and pay close attention to the scene where Steve Carell, playing Dodge Peterson, knocks back a bottle of window cleaner called "Windose" and commits suicide--in the movie's first act.) The Voices is about a psychotic serial killer whose pets talk to him (Bosco the dog and Mr. Whiskers the cat), as well as the severed heads of the women he's killed (the very funny Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick and Ellen Smith). It's bleak, hopeless, sad, violent, grotesque and consistently funny, and played absolutely straight, which is the only successful way to play dark comedy. It's sick and twisted in all the best ways sick and twisted can be, but it's got heart and Ryan Reynolds rock solid performance is the reason why its heart and comedy work so well. Dark comedy at its best. Sing a happy song and sing along!
The Homesman: Ack! Ack! Ack! Ack! Ack!
Directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones, this is a five Ack! movie, a rare and beautiful thing. It also stars Hilary Swank and has a strong, solid supporting cast. But it's the three screenwriters, Tommy Lee Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald and Wesley Oliver, who get most of the credit for making this movie shine above almost every other recent movie made. Based on a book by Glendon Swarthout, it follows the journey of a lonely woman (Swank) who volunteers to take three women who have lost their minds back to their families in Iowa. Along the way, she rescues an untrustworthy stranger named George Briggs (Jones) from a lynching and together they make the perilous journey across the American plains. This is some of the best storytelling Monkey Boy and I have seen in years. It's unpredictable, heart-and-gut-wrenching, brutal, funny, hopeful and hopeless, and about as honest and realistic as you can get. One of the most original westerns, or any movie, for that matter, we have seen in years.
The Worst Movies of 2015
Monkey Boy considered each of these movies to be a Golden Calf of Mediocrity. My rating involved copious amount of booze so you would not be able to go and see any of them.
Avengers: Age of Ultron: 0 Acks!
What can I say other than absolute failure? This movie was so bad I can’t even remember what it was about. What I do remember, I’m trying hard to forget: Unending superhero fights, lots of things that went boom and bang, I thought I was playing a video game, and oh and… uh, what else? I think we learned more about some of the minor superhero characters, and I guess that was OK, and oh, yes, James Spader as the bad guy Ultron was the only interesting character in the entire movie. And didn’t Superman Returns have a similar finale? Oh, I think so! Superman pulled a big chunk of the earth out of the ground and took it up into the sky. My brother-in-law fell asleep twice. That’s all you need to know.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens: 0 Acks!
J.J. Abrams got half of it right. The Star Wars universe he created is attached to the original universe, and not just because original actors/characters returned. Abrams successfully made me believe we were in the same universe, just like George Miller.
But that’s where the similarities stop.
J.J. Abrams didn’t just recreate the Star Wars universe, he stole from the original Star Wars stories, i.e., there is nothing original in The Force Awakens. It's a perfectly mirrored reflection of a couple of great movies. (A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.)
He did the same thing with the sequel to the Star Trek reboot. That disaster was called Into Darkness and like The Force Awakens, it was a shameless rip-off of an old Star Trek classic called The Wrath of Khan. All he did was modernize it and switch some plot points and characters (literally). I found that absurd because he gave himself a handy new-story-creating-device in the reboot: A black hole. The storytellers erased all Star Trek history and could tell new stories. And what's he go and do for the sequel? Remakes Wrath of Khan.
Oh. My. Ack!
He's done the same thing with The Force Awakens.
So, if they're going to shamelessly rip-off the original Star Wars movies, in the very least, J.J. Abrams and crew could have come up with a couple of new ideas. For example, how about a new way to blow up planets? Do we really need another, bigger Death Star? (If you saw the trailer to Independence Day 2, you'll see they're encountering the same problem. Bigger isn’t always better.) Do we need another Darth Vader, a dude in a mask? Do we need to see scenes that so closely resemble the original scenes you could almost call it plagiarism?
For The Force Awakens to rise above my expectations, they needed to not only succeed at taking me back and putting me in the Star Wars universe--which they indeed did do--they needed to reinvent the mythology—like George Miller reinvented Mad Max mythology. And that they did not do--worse yet, they didn't even try. And—the end of the rope for Monkey Boy and me—they dumbed it down. In the original, it was hard to blow up the Death Star. In the new one, it’s easy! They just say what they need to do and then do it and boom, it’s all blowd up. And Rey, the new Luke Skywalker, is so girl-power go! she’s perfect. She doesn’t make any mistakes. She’s infallible. She’s the Pope! In the original, Luke Skywalker was a whiner, a sulky boy who needed to grow up. He made many mistakes. He was fallible. And he ended up saving the universe and getting the girl (even though she was his sister) anyway. That’s a hero you can root for. When they’re perfect? Not so much.
I have to assume that they knew there was a lot of good will going into this movie and that sort of gave them a free ride. Now, it's true J.J. Abrams created an emotional connection with the characters and the universe--and that's all good--but I kept on thinking while I watched the movie, "OK, that's nice, it's good see these characters again, it's good to be in this universe again, but I’ve seen all this before and there has to be... more."
Nope. And that's too bad.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2: 0 Acks!
This movie was so awful, it's kind of unfair of me to list it above It Follows and Truth. Why? Because it visually suggests that maybe Mockingjay, Part 2 was a little better than those two steaming piles of crap. It Follows and Truth are awful movies, two of the worst movies of the year, but Mockingjay, Part 2 is so awful it earned a place at the very bottom of the pile. If I were to compare It Follows and Truth to Mockingjay, Part 2, I would have to admit--reluctantly, after smashing my fingers with a hammer--that they were--this is so hard for me to say--better movies. Geez, I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.
I placed it here because it was a Big Blockbuster movie, similar to the two movies listed above, and I felt it needed to be read before small, little movies that no one saw like It Follows and Truth.
Mockingjay, Part 2 is boring. Uninteresting. Banal. Self-righteous. Boring. Smug. Self-absorbed. Did I say boring? I didn't care about any of the characters, didn't care who lived, who died, who had to wear a butt-plug, the story didn't matter, nothing about it mattered, and I can go on and on. The entire movie was blah, blah, blah, what? What happened? Who cares?
The main reason I felt this way was because of super talented Superstar Jennifer Lawrence, She Who Must Be Worshiped. Talk about phoning it in. She looked stoned through most of the movie. (She must be hanging with the unfunny stoner boys who made This Is The End.) There's a scene that sums it up: She and some supporting actors I can't remember run from a big wave of black goo that could kill them and, I swear, she's jogging up the steps. Why? Because the $15 million dollar paycheck cleared after Mockingjay, Part 1, so she didn't have to do diddlysquat for Part 2. And since she's so bitter about her pay scale these days, yeah, might as well jog. What, is that her way of standing up against pay inequality and those crazy Christians in Kentucky with pitchforks? I dunno. Nor do I care. When she does try to act (instead of phoning it in), she shouts. She shouts a lot. And when she doesn't shout, she sulks. That's her emotional range in this movie: Shout. Sulk. Shout. Sulk. Shout. Sulk.
Oh. My. Ack!
The rest of the blame falls on director Francis Lawrence, who should know better. He made Constantine (2005), after all, and that's a pretty darn cool movie. Now, it's true that the third book in The Hunger Games series is lousy. It didn't give the director or the screenwriters much to work with, but come on. It's a screenplay. You can change whatever you want. You can add stuff. You can take stuff out. You can make it better, more interesting, in the very least, more fun and entertaining. They do it to movies based on books all the time. You can do it too, Peter Craig and Daniel Strong (screenwriters). I believe in you guys. You're smarter than the material you had to work with, so work it.
And before I let this go, I have to point out that it's more than a little ironic that everything the central character stands for in the first three movies and in the books--Katniss or Catnip or whatever the hell her name is--this movie became. If you don't believe me, just check out the movie posters, which turned Jennifer Lawrence/Katniss/Catnip into a religious/political icon of absolute purity and power, a thing to be revered, worshiped, sacrificed to, an all powerful Queen--and that's one thing, had depressed, old Katniss learned about it, that would have made her leave the fight, give up and go hang herself. What blatant, boring hypocrisy.
It Follows: 0 Acks!
All the teenagers had to do was keep having sex and the monster would have given up. Problem solved. What a dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb movie.
Truth: 0 Acks!
The sad thing about this movie is that director/writer James Vanderbilt and all those producers, as well as Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett, believed all they had to do was call it Truth and then everyone would believe them--like magic, the lie would become the truth. Either that's just plain ideology driven naivete or their egos are so huge they actually thought it would work. The truth is, disgraced CBS anchorman Dan Rather and 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes were busted for fabricating a news story about President Bush back in 2004, arguing that he was treated extra-special-nice when he was in the Texas National Guard, i.e., even though he failed to meet the basic requirements, they said, the National Guard let him off the hook. Now, I have no problem believing that stuff like this happens in the real world of political dynasties, politics and power, but when the documents Rather and Mapes used to authenticate their case turned out to be likely fabricated, well, soon thereafter, Rather and Mapes were fired from CBS news for crappy journalism. To this day, a weepy-eyed Dan Rather continues to claim he was set up, he's innocent and his story got to the truth, whatever the hell that means--and the movie backs him up with a tantalizing, gigantic, complicated, ridiculous governmental conspiracy story. But everyone knows the truth, from The New York Times to The Washington Post, as well as other reliable news sources, and they all reached the same conclusion: As a journalist, Dan Rather screwed the pooch hard. It doesn't matter how much Rather denies it and it doesn't matter how much the people who made this movie say it's the truth, the truth is the truth. Calling it the truth doesn't change the truth whatsoever. They could say it over and over and over forever, hoping that just by saying it over and over and over people would begin to believe it's the truth, but that is not going to happen. Why? Because Dan Rather got hit by a bus. He can call it a pillow all he wants, but it won't change the fact that he was hit by a bus and they're still scraping what's left of his broken-up body, not to mention career and reputation, from the asphalt. And to prove it, as well as add insult to injury, CBS news wrote a letter that summed up the movie, saying “…it’s astounding how little truth there is in Truth.” Shameless, embarrassing, crappy movie-making. Everyone involved should quit the movie business and become janitors at a porno theatre.
The list goes on, but we'll stop here, take a breather. And after listing the worst movies of 2015, well, I need to take a shower.
Until next time, Blue Phillips and Monkey Boy will be watching.