10. “Turning Red”
I had a strong negative reaction to Pixar’s “Turning Red,” which actually surprised me. This film has the gold standard animation and technical proficiency audiences have come to expect from the studio, but the story and characters leave much to be desired. Just because a film should be commended for featuring more diverse representation and attempting to shatter what many consider a taboo topic doesn’t automatically make it good. The end result is a film that’s trying too hard, feels like it’s aimed solely at giggling preteen girls, and features a very lazy metaphor for puberty and womanhood.
The film gets off to a shockingly rough start and if not for the quality of the visuals, it would quickly be indistinguishable from the garbage pile of other inferior animated movies. The script is thin, with screenwriters Julia Cho and Domee Shi telling the story of a dorky 13-year-old girl named Meilin (Rosalie Chiang) who is just starting to navigate the chaotic era of adolescence. Her protective mother Ming (Sandra Oh) is nosy, constantly hovering over her daughter. One night, Meilin discovers that whenever she gets too excited, she morphs into a giant red panda — and she gets excited a lot. It’s later revealed that this condition has plagued all women in her family, and the trick is being able to control it.
This thing is just plain weird. First, it features unexpected topics and themes for a Disney / Pixar movie. It may be startling for some to hear such frank conversations about menstruation and becoming a woman. This may be the first mainstream animated movie to feature feminine hygiene products. Kids too young won’t understand, but it may open the door to questions that some parents may not be ready to answer. It’s terrific that the film attempts to shatter taboos about women’s periods, but this is a bit of a surprising topic to see in an animated family movie. (I realize this may make me sound uptight and like a prude, but I assure you I am neither of those things; but I feel like parents should be aware).
I remember what it was like to be a 13 year old girl, and the film doesn’t accurately capture that age group. Meilin’s small group of friends are her ride-or-die besties, and all they dream of is going to see the hottest boy band on the planet. They sit around and swoon over photos of their celebrity crushes. This part of the story feels real, but so much of it does not.
The hardest thing for the movie to overcome (and sadly, it never does) is how extremely annoying Meilin’s character turns out to be. Not only does she have throwaway, groan-worthy lines like “my panda, my choice, mom!” (yes, really), but she is not a likeable little girl. Meilin may have an enviable confidence, but it’s not a good thing when your leading lady is super irritating. I couldn’t wait for “Turning Red” to end just so I didn’t have to spend time with her anymore.
“Amsterdam” left me with just one question: “How?”
How could a film with an accomplished writer and director (David O. Russell), a compelling true story, a stellar ensemble cast, and an elite list of talent behind the camera as well as in front of it be such a complete and utter mess? It has everything going for it, so why doesn’t the movie work?
Set in 1933, the period film tells the story of three friends, doctor Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale), nurse Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie), and attorney Harold Woodman (John David Washington), from their original meeting in Amsterdam in the 1910s to their present day situation: being falsely accused of murder. After making a pact decades earlier to stick together no matter what, the trio decide to investigate the crime and seek the real truth. In the process, they uncover a (mostly) true scheme that is ripped straight from American history books.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the movie goes wrong, but it does so swiftly and thoroughly. I suppose you could say the first compelling scene of the film is the opening title card that reads, “A lot of this really happened.” It’s a great hook, but it’s mostly downhill from there.
The story is absorbing with its twists and turns, but Russell can’t seem to focus on the better part of his script. The story is a tale of friendship, a murder mystery, a political story with in-your-face social commentary, and a goofy caper all at once. There’s too much going on, so everything gets lost among the commotion.
Here’s just how overstuffed this project is: there are at least a dozen supporting cameos. By doing this, Russell created a situation where it became more fun to be on the lookout for the next famous person to show up onscreen than it was to become absorbed in the actual plot or artistry of the film.
The actors aren’t the problem here. Robbie, Washington, and Bale carry the film on their shoulders, doing the best they can with weakly-written characters. Regardless of how you feel about this particular performance, Bale further proves that he’s a versatile actor and can do anything. While sure to be divisive, you can’t say he doesn’t thoroughly become his character.
Even with all this talent, nothing ever comes together in a cohesive way. It’s truly surprising that none of this works, and “Amsterdam” is a highly pedigreed film that’s a floundering misfire.
8. “I Love My Dad”
“I Love My Dad” is a cringey film about an estranged father (Patton Oswalt) who willingly catfishes his depressed adult son (James Morosini) in an attempt to reconnect. I know the story is highly personal (it’s based on writer / director / actor Morosini’s true life experience), but it doesn’t make for a good movie. In fact, this is one of the most off-putting films I have ever seen.
Franklin is fresh out of rehab after an attempted suicide, and he wants nothing to do with his loser dad, Chuck. He blocks his old man on social media, but Chuck is concerned about his son and doesn’t like being left in the dark as to what’s going on in his life. So he finds the profile of his favorite diner waitress (Claudia Sulewski) and impersonates her on social media.
Chuck takes this deception so far that Franklin begins to fall in love with this imaginary girl. Yikes. The eventual big face to face confrontation in the diner is extremely uncomfortable and disturbing, and it’s something I never, ever want to watch again.
It’s hard to get over the fact that Chuck is an awful human being. You can’t convince me otherwise. His son is suicidal and fresh out of rehab, and this is not an okay thing for a dad to do to his son, regardless of his mental state. It’s not even understandable. I would never talk to this man again if he did this to me or to anyone I knew, for that matter. This is why the sentimentality doesn’t work in the story.
The story is serious, and it’s so sad because it’s played straight. Maybe if this had been a comedy, it would’ve worked better. The tone of the film is at odds with itself, as it’s sometimes presented as a rom-com but then as a serious family drama.
Just because the movie has a couple of recognizable names attached doesn’t automatically equate it with quality. It’s just too much of a hurdle to get over what an unlikable man and terrible father Chuck is. The finale drives home the fact that none of these people care at all about who they hurt or how they hurt them. What a shitty family indeed.
Stephen King is one of the greatest horror storytellers in the world, and it’s no surprise that filmmakers would clamor to adapt his novels for the screen. With “Firestarter,” a bland retelling of the 1980 book and the 1984 film, director Keith Thomas and screenwriter Scott Teems fail mightily in making a decent movie. Nothing is firing on all cylinders, and it’s an absolute disaster in every way.
Andy (Zac Efron) and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon), a couple with special powers, have been on the run from the government as a desperate attempt to keep their daughter Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) hidden and safe. The shadowy federal agency wants to capture the young girl to harness her ability to start fire and turn her into a weapon of mass destruction. Charlie cannot control her powers, and they come out in a deadly fashion whenever she gets upset. Eventually they go on the run, trying to stay one step ahead of the enemy.
In an age where superheroes have powers like this, it makes the story feel much less horrific than it did decades ago. Charlie can burst into flames — so what? She’s not a good hero nor villain, and the entire family is unlikable and irritating. Charlie is someone that it’s nearly impossible to root for. I was never in her corner. I never cared what happened to her.
There’s some mean-spirited gore that matches the story, but it feels more odious than unsettling. The dialogue is so disastrous that we get gems like “liar, liar, pants on fire” before Charlie shoots fireballs at the enemy, or a cringey “good job” from dad after she burns a suffering cat to death. Yuck.
The casting is adequate, but the performances are dreadful. I had to suppress my laughter at times, because the only real horror in the film comes from the acting.
Sometimes movies that are just plain bad can find an audience that will appreciate its many flaws in an ironic way. No way that will happen with this one. Aside from the throwback original score (from John Carpenter,) there isn’t one redeeming quality here. “Firestarter” fizzles.
6. “Thor: Love and Thunder”
I love superhero movies. The characters are larger than life, the comic book stories on which they are based are iconic, and they usually offer the perfect vehicle for a little summer escapism. Usually. “Thor: Love and Thunder” is not only a disappointment, but it’s a bland, repetitive, and tedious action-adventure. I could sum up this review in just three little words: save your money.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is enjoying his semi-retirement. He’s called back into action when the murderous Gorr the Butcher (Christian Bale) is determined to exterminate every single god in the universe. The God of Thunder can’t do it alone, so Thor calls on his friends King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (Taika Waititi) to aid him in battle. What gives Thor the biggest surprise is when his ex-girlfriend Jane (Natalie Portman) shows up — and she’s wielding his magical hammer, Mjölnir. The group of brave warriors travel into the shadow realm to save the village’s children and snuff out Gorr for good.
It’s a lame story that’s poorly executed. The one-liners meant to offer a bit of comic relief plummet with a crashing thud. Waititi is a distraction both as a voice actor and as a director. He penned the script along with co-writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, and it’s an absolute mess. First, their take on Thor is a god who is brawny and dumb, and it’s not amusing in the least. Second, the plot is virtually nonexistent and the storytelling is lazy. When you have to rely on the nostalgia of “Guns N’ Roses” songs (and subsequent hidden Easter Eggs) to keep folks interested, you’re doing something wrong.
The action sequences are fast-paced yet not at all exciting. The superhero fights are sapped of all energy and spark. Most feel pointless and tiresome, and it holds the movie back from being truly fun.
It’s sort of cool to see Jane as a “lady Thor,” as one character puts it, but there’s a scene where children are given the same powers. It’s like Oprah was visiting Asgard, screaming with the same enthusiasm as she had when giving away free cars to her audience: “you get godlike powers, and you get godlike powers, and even you get godlike powers!” When everyone can be as strong as Thor, it makes him less special.
The story goes into warm and fuzzy territory, with an awkward “she loves me, she loves me not” romantic tangle between Thor and Jane. The supporting characters discuss their relationships, too. Perhaps this was an attempt by Waititi to make them all seem more human, but I found these scenes to slow down an already plodding story.
It’s never a good sign when a highly anticipated, mega-budget summer movie is so dull that you’d rather take a nap, but that’s how I felt during “Thor Love and Thunder.” He’s one of my favorite Marvel characters of all time, but this is one of his worst outings in the MCU.
5. “The Man From Toronto”
“The Man From Toronto” is just so pointless and forgettable that I would hate for anyone to waste their time watching it. With a terrible script and mismatched leading men duo Kevin Hart and Woody Harrelson, this unfunny, stale movie gets trapped at a dead end before it ever gets up to speed.
Teddy (Hart) is quite possibly the biggest screw up in all of New York. He’s not having much success in his career or at home, so he plans a romantic lakeside getaway with his wife Lori (Jasmine Mathews) and rents an Airbnb cabin. While checking into his rental, Teddy walks in on an uncomfortable situation where he is mistaken for the world’s deadliest assassin known only as The Man From Toronto (Harrelson). His day quickly goes from bad to worse. The bumbling, clumsy man must team up with the notorious hitman if he wants the best chance at staying alive.
The premise is based on a misunderstanding, which is funny at face value. I’m grasping at straws to find something positive to say, so I guess there’s that. Hart and Harrelson are appealing, but they don’t fit together at all. Their scenes are awkward and uncomfortable, and they lack any natural rapport. They simply do not work as an onscreen duo.
Even worse, the terrible script doesn’t do the two leads any favors and try as they might, the jokes are lame and are good for only a few weak laughs. The action and fight scenes are just as anemic, and Patrick Hughes‘ direction suggests he eventually just shrugged his shoulders and gave up. A movie this passive doesn’t deserve an audience.
I didn’t find anything enjoyable about “The Man From Toronto.” It’s a huge, unexciting misstep and a truly terrible buddy action comedy.
4. “The Munsters”
I appreciate what director and co-writer Rob Zombie is trying to do with “The Munsters,” his film reboot of the corny 1960s show that followed a family of monsters who moved from Transylvania to the suburbs of America. The series was kitschy and developed a cult following long after its cancellation in 1966, and it has plenty of current-day fans too. Zombie’s movie plays like a bad Saturday morning kid’s show and seems aimed at the younger set, and there is very little for grown-ups to enjoy.
Creating an origin story for the family, the film begins with the vampire Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie) seeking her ideal man. She’s been searching for over 100 years and the dating scene is crawling with monsters that aren’t exactly husband material. After a series of failed blind dates, Lily meets the big, green Frankenstein-esque monster Herman (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and it’s love at first sight. The happy couple are over the moon and ready to wed until Lily’s grumpy father The Count (Daniel Roebuck) interferes. He has other plans for her future, and he’s no fan of Herman.
The performances are second-rate and the script feels too much like a dumb sitcom, but both are upstaged by the glorious makeup, costumes, and detailed production design. The film is a visual representation of a candy shop that’s been decorated for Halloween, with a color palate of green, orange, purple, and black. It seems like a majority of the budget was spent on smoke and fog, but it all adds to the atmosphere. This is a great looking movie from top to bottom.
For fans of Zombie’s previous work, it’s important to note that this is not a horror film and is likely quite different than what you may be expecting. There’s no disturbing violence, blood, or gore. Instead, he has made a corny homage to the original television show. Everything is exaggerated, and nothing is frightening.
The film has a very silly tone and children’s cartoon humor that will make the kiddos laugh, but overall it isn’t very good. “The Munsters” is, however, a fair enough Halloween movie for family night for those with extremely low standards — if you can suffer through its over-the-top goofiness.
Animation powerhouse Pixar doesn’t swing and miss often, but “Lightyear” is a dud. It’s not as bad as “Cars 2,” but this uninspired standalone story about the beloved “Toy Story” character Buzz Lightyear never finds its footing. This one is guaranteed to cause fidgety kids and adults, because a space adventure should never be this boring.
Legendary space ranger Buzz Lightyear (voice of Chris Evans) is determined to break his speed record. Working with new recruits Izzy (Keke Palmer), Mo (Taika Waititi), Darby (Dale Soules) and his robot kitty cat companion Sox (Peter Sohn), they travel through the universe (and time). When the crew attracts the attention of the evil Zurg, they must find a way to escape his powerful robot army.
Attempting to tie this one in with the “Toy Story” universe, this is presented as a film within a film. “Lightyear” is supposedly Andy’s favorite movie, and the reason he was gifted his Buzz toy back in 1995. It’s an unusual idea, and it doesn’t work when you start to dissect the bits and pieces.
As a Disney fan, I hated the reveal of who is behind Zurg (James Brolin). Not only is the villain’s motivation lame, but it doesn’t fit in with the established “Toy Story” canon. Zurg changes the dynamics of the heroes and villains, and it makes zero sense when considering the previous “Toy Story” films.
Everything about the film is inconsistent, or at least at odds with itself. The technically perfect animation is wasted with a palate of drab colors. Only a couple of the action sequences are exciting, and the majority simply don’t work at all. The newly introduced characters are one-dimensional and uninteresting (the attempts that aim to make the film more inclusive are commendable, however, including an openly lesbian woman and a multicultural cast). The ending sets up the film for a series of sequels, but I doubt many will be clamoring for more of these people or their story.
The plot is a yawner, and the story just isn’t very interesting. I never became invested in the characters or the film at all, even when it went full-on sci-fi and explored alternate timelines. The real problem is that Buzz is not a strong enough character to carry a film by himself. What’s so good about the “Toy Story” films is how the characters interact with one another. Admittedly, Buzz is one of the most boring (and the toy version is a bit of a jerk). I’d rather see a movie about Woody because at least he has Bullseye and Jessie to keep him grounded.
In the end, “Lightyear” lacks one of the most important trademarks of a Pixar film: imagination. The artistry is there, but it doesn’t have an inspired vision.
2. “Mack & Rita”
“Mack and Rita” is a really bad movie. It’s so horrible that I cannot think of one positive thing to say about it. The film features uninteresting characters, actors who give a bare minimum effort, pointless dialogue, and a stale body switching premise. There is no reason to subject yourself to this pathetic excuse for a comedy. None.
Successful 30-year-old author and social media influencer Mack (Elizabeth Lail) is a homebody. Her group of gal pals are the partying type, but she’d rather just stay inside her apartment. When her best friend Carla (Taylour Paige) plans a bachelorette trip to Palm Springs, Mack feels obligated to tag along. When the ladies go out in search of a wild night, Mack wanders into a strange tent and meets a guru who promises to help her reveal her true self. When she emerges, Mack find that she has been transported into the body of a 70-year-old (Diane Keaton).
It’s an absolutely ridiculous premise for a movie, and it’s poorly executed. The script (written by Madeline Walter and Paul Welsh) is particularly awful, with unfunny one-liners and clunky dialogue that sounds like it was penned by a fourth grader. There’s no explanation of how Mack switches bodies, and she eventually changes back just…you know, because. The writing is embarrassing.
Clichéd stereotypes are trotted out as if director Katie Aselton thinks her audience is so uneducated that they’d find a graceless encounter with a pilates machine to be uproarious and worthy of a lengthy montage (it’s not), or that viewers would think it’s hilarious to watch senior citizens proclaim their ignorance about technology and these newfangled iPhone contraptions (yawn). Oh, and most young people are not in a hurry to reach retirement age, either, no matter what this movie may tell you. And let’s not forget the lazy messaging about the joys of just being yourself.
At some point, I figured out why this train wreck was made: to showcase Keaton’s style by letting her play dress-up in a fashionable wardrobe. Her costumes are somehow more charming than she is, because this role sucked every last ounce of charisma right out of her. I am surprised that the clothing labels weren’t prominently plastered because the rest of the film is peppered with bizarre, overt product placements. Nothing about this movie would make me want to rush out and buy Duckhorn wine, Voodoo Ranger beer, Utz cheese balls, or dine at CPK, yet these brands were so heavily featured that it felt like one big commercial.
“Mack and Rita” is the worst film I’ve seen this year. You may be thinking, “it can’t be that awful.” Yes. Yes it can, and yes it is. There is no way everyone involved in this project didn’t know they had a certified turd on their hands.
For some reason (we all know it’s the money), Disney is determined to mine their vault for material to remake, update, or “reimagine.” The studio’s latest abomination is the live action and animated musical “Pinocchio,” a massive misfire that tarnishes the beloved 1940s classic. Director and co-writer Robert Zemeckis‘ film is unimaginative, unwelcome, and uninspired.
Geppetto (Tom Hanks) is a lonely Italian woodcarver who builds a marionette named Pinocchio (voice of Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) and treats him like his real son. With the help of a little magic from the Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo), the puppet comes to life and dreams of becoming a real boy. The film follows Pinocchio’s adventures and missteps on his quest to make this fantasy a reality, including being duped by Honest John (voice of Keegan-Michael Key), being kidnapped by a circus, getting turned into a donkey, and being swallowed by a whale. He does all of this with his conscience, Jiminy Cricket (voice of Joseph Gordon-Levitt), by his side.
The story stays mostly true to the original 1883 book and Disney animated film. It’s updated a bit with new characters and some very off-putting (and unfunny) one-liners about Hollywood and the movie industry, and the screenplay feels old fashioned as it attempts to modernize the messaging. Pinocchio exclaims, “I don’t need school!” when he decides that he wants to be famous instead of getting an education. That may be relevant to today’s social climate, yet it still feels like a reach.
Things get worse from there. The animation is ugly and disturbing, with plastic looking characters and equally ghastly voice performances. Gordon-Levitt is terrible as Jiminy Cricket, giving a whiny, strained turn as one of the story’s most cherished characters. Everyone seems to be trying too hard, although it’s puzzling as to the reason why. At least Hanks makes an excellent Geppetto.
The film includes a few original tunes that are forgettable, as well as new versions of classic songs “When You Wish Upon A Star,” “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee,” and “I’ve Got No Strings,” which do not sound much better than nails dragging across a chalkboard. The singing is atrocious, and that’s putting it politely.
The Pleasure Island scenes are fully realized and a visual delight (let’s try to ignore that the “bad” boys do such horrific things like drinking root beer), but that’s where the praise begins and ends. The best part of the film is also its most ominous, and parents should note that the film is rated PG for a reasons. It features scary scenarios that may spook young kids, especially if they have abandonment issues or are afraid of the dark.
Almost everything about “Pinocchio” is cringe-worthy, and it’s simply not a good film. Why do this to a Disney classic?
Among some of the worst of the year, these films came close to cracking the top 10: