These films will never live like the common people.
Welcome back to the countdown of My Bottom 10 Films of 2016, one last relentless gush of negativity before we finally dispose of that worthless year – metaphorically, anyway, we’re gonna be dealing with its aftereffects for the rest of our likely-short miserable lives, unfortunately. If you missed the first half of the list, or just want a refresher on the kind of luminaries that make up this year’s rogue’s gallery, then you can go here to get all that. As for everyone else, I know something’s very wrong…
There may be spoilers. Proceed with caution.
05] Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Dir: David Yates
Star: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterson, Dan Fogler
Nothing can be allowed to just die anymore. Series and stories that captured the zeitgeist and influenced a generation cannot be allowed to just ride off into the sunset anymore. Oh, no, they need to be wrung for every last possible drop, no matter how irrelevant or how much it undercuts the finality and satisfaction of a good ending. What’s worse is that it is almost never done with good intentions, either. As I went off on in the previous part, there was absolutely no reason to bring back Jason Bourne. That series was finished, told a complete story with a final twist that put a thematic full-stop on proceedings, yet Universal, Paul Greengrass, and Matt Damon brought it back anyway because all of them wanted nice fat paycheques from “nostalgic” audiences – let alone the fact that 9 years between instalments is not enough time for any kind of actual nostalgia, but whatever.
J. K. Rowling has been the absolute, indisputable, fucking worst at this. I may not “get” the Harry Potter series, but I do get the appeal it held and continues to hold for a generation of fans. If it had just ridden off into the sunset, both in 2007 with the Deathly Hallows book and again in 2011 with the second Deathly Hallows movie, then I would have respected it for what it was: a titan of popular culture, a pivotal part of most children’s exposure to literature, and a series of awful-to-pretty-decent movies that mostly skated by on admittedly-wonderful visual ambition and near-perfect casting. Unfortunately, J. K. Rowling just could not leave the fuck alone, and has spent the last decade (decade) flogging the dead horse for every last scrap of money and relevancy that she can manage. Pottermore, The Cursed Child, endless goddamn Twitter diatribes where she tries to claim that Dumbledore was gay or that certain characters were never White or other such desperate grabs for attention. It’s not just that Rowling can’t leave Potter alone, it’s that she’s trying to rewrite her own history to make it seem like she’s always been this paragon of progressive virtue when, in reality, she made her millions off of a specifically White British upper-class semi-nostalgic escapist fantasy series that, like so many other YA series, filled its Oppression metaphors with scores of White straight people.
And it’s that refusal to just leave the fuck alone that rankles me so, and turns me into the kind of bitter joy-killer that you see before you today. Harry Potter told its story, it finished 5 years ago, it’s technically never left our lives in the years since, and yet here comes Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to try and mine some more money from this exhausted well. The first of an apparent 5 film series based on a 128-page supplementary guidebook created for Comic Relief, Fantastic Beasts bumbles onto cinema screens and proceeds to chew up just over 2 hours of one’s life that you’ll never ever get back. There isn’t so much a plot to Fantastic Beasts as there are a series of random disconnected vignettes that the film lurches between, and about 45 different subplots and character arcs that are left in stasis, or just dropped altogether, because all of that hard work is being saved for one of any number of sequels. But whereas the early Potters sort of got away with this same narrative muddlement by having the “School Year” backbone to drive momentum, Beasts has nothing but the decidedly-nowhere-near-as-magical-as-it-thinks-it-is nostalgic vision of 1930s America – as envisioned by an upper-class British person who has never set foot in America.
David Yates is undoubtedly the worst director working today who still, inexplicably, is given 9 figure budgets and the reins of blockbuster franchises. If you hadn’t gotten that by watching the disastrous The Legend of Tarzan, you will by the fourth time that the otherwise deathly self-serious and dreary tone has suddenly careened into a wacky sequence of sub-CBBC slapstick comedy, like the suits at Warner Bros. (who just had The Worst Year) were terrified that younger children (which begs the question of why children today would be in the slightest bit interested in Harry Potter) might start begging to go off and do anything else. The script by Rowling, meanwhile, the first time that she’s penned a movie script, is a complete car wreck. There are no characters beyond Eddie Redmayne’s insufferably awful Doctor Who-wannabe schtick, nobody acts with any consistency, the persecution metaphors in addition to being staffed entirely by White people end up spectacularly bungled – as is what happens when you try to lump together Prohibition, racism, anti-mixed relationships, and elements of sexism under one general “Oppression” banner – and one of the biggest, most blatant, and most insulting Deus ex Machinas I have seen in a long-ass time.
During maybe the fourth sequence of Obviously Evil Colin Farrell mumbling in an abysmally-lit alleyway to Hundred-Yard Stare Ezra Miller about stuff of zero consequence, I found myself asking to no-one in particular: “who is Fantastic Beasts even for?” Again, with Harry Potter, I can at least see why people connected with it so much: it’s a well-constructed and detailed world that leaves just enough to the imagination for you to be able to visualise yourself in it regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or whatever, with strongly-defined characters backing you up along the way. I personally may not be a fan, but I get the appeal. With Fantastic Beasts, though… the world’s not interesting or constructed well enough, there’s no decent structure in place to carry things through, and there are no characters at all beyond Eddie Redmayne’s stupid punchable face GOD I HATE HIM SO MUCH! It’s not that I can see the appeal but just cannot connect with it, it’s that I can’t see any appeal in here at all. Why are we supposed to care about the next 4 instalments of this beyond the nebulous promise of More Potter Stuff, which is hardly a rare commodity anyway? Why does this exist?
The answer, of course, is because Warner Bros. and J. K. Rowling just cannot leave the damn thing alone and let it die, already. They don’t want a legacy, they just want fresh reserves of money, and damn letting little things like “artistic reasons for existing” get in the way of that. I’ll see you back here in 2 years to do this all again, yeah?
Dir: Louis Leterrier
Star: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, a complete lack of any dignity or self-respect
Remember at the outset of this countdown when I mentioned that the year in Film bottomed out at the end of February and, thankfully, failed to sink much lower than that for the rest of the year, hence my general lack of real venom in any of these entries up to now. Credit Sacha Baron Cohen with that. Back in February, he set out to intentionally create the worst film in human existence, perhaps because he finally saw Nativity! 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey?! and proclaimed, “I can make something far worse than that, piece of piss!” And, by God, did he manage it. I want to make it clear, here, that the films that surpass Grimsby on this countdown aren’t worse films than Grimsby, I just found them somehow more insufferable. Because, believe me, Grimsby is the worst film I have ever sat through from beginning to end, in terms of quality and content.
The back-to-back sequences of elephant rape – wherein Cohen and a weirdly-committed Mark Strong hide inside of an elephant’s anus, before having to jerk off another elephant lest its giant dick beat them to death, twice, across 5 minutes of screen time – have obviously crowded out the conversation somewhat, being as they are expressly designed as nothing more than empty shock value designed to get people talking about the film without actually talking about the film in its own right. But the “fun” doesn’t stop there, no sir! How about a 5 minute sequence of Cohen having to suck poison out of Strong’s giant prosthetic balls, despite them being on-screen brothers, in one of the most disturbing gay-panic “jokes” I have ever witnessed, which is followed up with imagery that makes it look like Cohen was raped because HA HA JOKES! How about two separate instances of poorly-composited celebrities, who clearly did not give their permission to be involved in this movie, being infected with AIDS blood because HA HA JOKES! How about a mid-credits sequence where Cohen indiscriminately murders a whole bunch of foreigners only to find out afterwards that, whoopsie, they were his teammates because HA HA JOKES!
Grimsby is a film without any point or even any story to tell, so it relies solely on the laziest, grossest possible shock humour imaginable in the hopes that that is somehow enough to justify $35 million and 83 minutes of film. Nobby is the least-specified, least-defined, thinnest sketch of a character that Cohen has ever come up with. There’s no satirical point to him, there are specific no jokes to him beyond general dumbness and Cohen’s pathetic attempt at a Mancunian accent despite the character hailing from Grimsby, and the most thought that appeared to go into his character was whether to make him look more like Liam Gallagher or Ian Brown. You could barely get a 6 second Vine out of him, let alone a full-length movie. Cohen’s best characters – and there really was a time where he was an intelligent and insightful comedian – are all about reflecting our bigotries and prejudices back at us in a gentle, kind-hearted way that makes us examine them and understand why they’re not ok. Nobby, by contrast, is just a vehicle for 200 played-out unfunny “Working Classes are SCUM!” stereotypes with an insultingly tacked-on, and immediately reneged, “maybe Working Classes are alright and useful after all!” message at the end in a pitiful attempt to disguise the fact that Cohen had just spent 75 minutes being blatantly hateful to the very audience he’s trying to court. Grimsby is the movie equivalent of Channel 5 programming.
So I sat there, back in late February, in a mostly empty cinema screen, suffering through such alleged gags as Cohen calling one of his children “Django Unchained,” when I was struck by a question that cut right to the very core of me: “Why the fuck am I still doing this?” It was a question that became ever more prevalent as the film rolled on, with its second gag involving explosive substances getting stuck up Cohen’s arse – because this film only came up with maybe 4 scenarios for comedy sequences, and, dammit, they needed to stretch this thing out to feature-length somehow – and one I seriously entertained as the end drew ever mercifully nearer. Why was I still doing this? Why was I voluntarily subjecting myself to this kind of artless, irredeemable dogshit? Why was I still actively attending every single film, regardless of how obviously terrible it looked? I’m not a professional film critic, and likely never will be, I am under no obligation to waste my semi-valuable life on stuff like this that just makes me miserable. Why should I?
So, I decided not to and, on that week’s episode of Screen 1, I announced that I would quit film criticism for good if I saw 10 worse films than Grimsby that year. Life was just too short, otherwise. Unfortunately for us all, that only ended up happening 4 more times, so I’m still here for at least another year. Christ, Grimsby set out to accomplish one thing, and it was so bad that it couldn’t even pull that off.
03] Why Him?
Dir: John Hamburg
Star: Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Zoey Deutch
One of the most recurrent problems with the film industry that I point to on this site is that American comedy movies don’t appear to have scripts anymore, so much as they just have a vague outline and hope that the cast can fill in the blanks for themselves. Hell, I just handed out The Alison Pill Award to the cast of Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates for being stuck in a movie that couldn’t be arsed to craft together an actual script. Of course, though, having a script is no guarantee that your comedy film is going to be inherently worthwhile, either. One need only look at British comedy films this year, including our next entry, for evidence that scripting everything rather than relying on improv is not a fast-track to guaranteed fun times. Essentially, I keep inadvertently dirtying improv in comedies nowadays, but indulging in the practice does not automatically make your film worthless, in much the same way that a heavily-written screenplay does not automatically make a crap film genius brilliance.
With those observations laid out, then, allow me to pose a hypothetical nightmare scenario to you, dear reader: what if there were an American comedy film that came to you with both the densely-overwritten script and complete lack of quality gags of a more-obviously scripted bad comedy, and the lifeless staging and total refusal to edit any passage of film down in any way of a more-obviously improv-based bad comedy? Well, friends, you don’t have to pontificate on the possibilities of such a hellish experience, for it already exists; shunted out of the door at Christmastime in the hopes that every critic on the Earth would be too hungover from all the eggnog and cocaine to bother seeking it out for their Worst lists. But I did, loyal reader. I did. So may I present to you Why Him?, the latest film from Meet the Parents/Fockers/Little Fockers scribe John Hamburg who pitched forward this brave concept: what if Meet the Parents but from the perspective of the unreasonable father figure, with every third line of dialogue being “fuck,” none of the jokes, and almost 2 solid, endless hours long?
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Callum, how bad is Why Him? that you could possibly feel justified in ranking it above Grimsby in your Bottom 10?” The answer to your question is that it’s not. Not really. Unlike Grimsby, there is an actual point to Why Him?, characters who sort of go on things resembling arcs if you squint really hard, and themes that are explored. Said themes are the same ones that nearly all comedies made by middle-aged men are about – why does Daddy’s Little Girl have to go off and get with another man, why is the world moving forward with these new-fangled technological doohickeys, why does everybody treat me like the bad guy – and comes with a nice side-order of poorly set-up brick jokes (KISS are mentioned in the first 5 minutes so you’d better believe that they’re gonna have an extended cameo in the finale), forced exposition, painful topical references that are instantly dated and cause immediate pained groaning (“Netflix and chill” is mentioned at least 3 times in the first 2 minutes), and some good old-fashioned “battling over a woman like she’s property,” but there’s nothing intolerable in there. So, when’s the other shoe going to drop? What’s the trump card?
The trump card, you sweet naïve waif, is that Why Him? appears to have been edited by the same people who edited The Beatles back in the day. That is to say: not at all. Why Him? is close to 2 hours long and the only reason that it is so is because every single scene and every single exchange goes on for at least 30 seconds longer than it needs to. This is not an exaggeration. It’s never enough for this film to just deliver the “gag,” which is never funny anyway but that’s beside the point, and move on. Oh, no, it has to stop dead, every single time, to run through 14 mildly different variations of the exact same gag before moving on, like Hamburg and co-screenwriter Ian Helfer just forgot to delete all of their rejected drafts of said gag before going to shooting and were determined to never deviate from the script in hand in any way. This happens every single time, I am not making this up, and the effect is the equivalent of being locked in a room with an inept comic who feels the need to explain the step-by-step process to every single one of his failed jokes to make absolutely certain that you understood it.
The effect it creates is interminable, with every scene and the film at large dragging on and on forever and ever with no semblance of direction and no end in sight because we just need to sit through 5 full cocking minutes of Bryan Cranston trying to operate a Japanese toilet. At least Grimsby mercifully ended after 80-odd minutes. Experiencing Why Him? is tantamount to discovering what purgatory feels like, with the slowly-encroaching horror that maybe this is all that is left for the rest of your eternity – watching Bryan Cranston try and explain to a clueless James Franco that the joke we just experienced was ripped wholesale from The Pink Panther for what feels like an endless loop. I immediately followed up my viewing of Why Him? by going and seeing Rogue One again, both because I needed to be reminded of what great films are like and because Why Him? is legitimately the death of all good things.
02] David Brent: Life on the Road
Dir: Ricky Gervais
Star: Ricky Gervais
It is taking every last fibre of my being to not make this entry solely consist of the words “FUCK YOU” in 72pt Impact font before moving on without wasting any further energy. Look, Ricky Gervais in the year 2017 (which is the year we are now in) is not worth anyone’s time of day or night. His entire career, for the past decade since Extras went off the air, has been a desperate attempt to cling onto or regain a spotlight that has long since departed him. He rode the Karl Pilkington bandwagon as far as it would take him and that was fun for a short while until, unlike both The Office and Extras, Gervais failed to realise that Pilkington had long since worn out his welcome. He tried to transition into the realm of dramedy where he played A Serious Character and nobody bit because Derek was garbage. He convinced Warwick Davis and the otherwise-great Stephen Merchant to go on sleepwalking autopilot with the lifeless Life’s Too Short. He “controversially” hosted the Golden Globes four times to diminishing returns, each one feeling more desperate and pitiful than the last.
Really, talking about Ricky Gervais in any great detail in 2017 is just giving him the attention that he so desperately craves. Why else would he revive the character of David Brent now of all times? Because he’s tried everything else to stay relevant, including writing and directing and starring in a dire straight-to-Netflix movie last year as well, so why not bring back your most famous creation for one last roll of the dice? Save for going back into stand-up – which, likely surprising none of you, is exactly what he’s trying next, since this movie underperformed spectacularly – there’s nothing else he can do. So wasting time, effort, words, vowels, consonants, and punctuation on David Brent: Life on the Road feels like giving him exactly what he wants, even if those very things are being used to tear the film to shreds. There are so many better films that those aforementioned things could be better spent talking about and providing much-needed exposure to.
But, no, I am here talking about David Brent: Life on the Road again, despite having said everything I really needed to say about it back in my venomous review of it from August. Because, folks, at least Sacha Baron Cohen didn’t spend 96 insufferable minutes yelling about how nobody likes him anymore, how he’s not allowed to say offensive things anymore, and how he is a genius visionary deserving of praise and adoration because, at least unlike those meany-boo-beeny critics who enjoy tearing down other’s hard work, he’s out there dreaming and making stuff! That’s what Life on the Road is. It’s not a film, it’s a 98 minute temper-tantrum by a man with an ego so large and so impenetrable to anyone on the outside world that he really does believe that people will voluntarily pay to watch this. Gervais and Brent effectively subsume into each other, with the film being precision-calibrated to make you feel sorry for Brent – despite offering him no redemptive qualities, no selfless moments, or really any reason to not find him a deserving tossbag, beyond a briefly-tossed in mention that he’s dealing with clinical depression – and to make him the pole around which the whole movie gravitates. Every single scene is about Brent, every single joke is delivered by or targeted at Brent, every dramatic beat is for Brent; it’s rampant unchecked masculine narcissism disguised as watchable entertainment.
In that respect, Life on the Road makes the perfect companion piece with London Has Fallen as the Film for 2016. This year has been characterised by old, out-of-touch/actively-regressive straight White men, terrified that the world is leaving them behind, lashing out at everyone and everything in a desperate attempt to hog the spotlight and keep themselves in power, regardless of how many other people’s lives will be irreparably ruined as a result. They see themselves being “forgotten,” are upset and frightened at the change happening around them, and see it all as a personal attack on themselves. They want to go back to the self-described “Good Old Days” where people were forced to listen to what they had to say, where they could be as offensive as they wanted and nobody could or would call them out on it, and where everything revolved around them. London Has Fallen is the blatant power-fantasy, in this regard, but David Brent: Life on the Road is the more insidious version of that. It’s the version that attempts to steadily crowd out all other possible conversation in whatever way possible so that all roads eventually lead back to Brent. It’s the version that saturates every last available outlet with so much bullshit – the film, the soundtrack, chat show appearances, ad tie-ins, live tour dates, adverts everywhere – that it becomes impossible to avoid and we end up having to talk about it one way or another.
David Brent: Life on the Road is the film equivalent of Donald Trump getting the American news media to act as part of an advertisement for his hotel, because he doesn’t care what people say about him as long as they are still talking about him and giving him the time of day. That’s what Gervais has done. He disguised a desperate and unwatchable cry for attention as a film that people would want to voluntarily see, because he just wants people to talk about him again. What’s most annoying of all, is that it worked exactly as intended. Well, on me, at any rate.
Tomorrow: The Bottom Film of 2016. Yes, I really do need that much time and space to talk about it.