Richard sits in with CP24BREAKFAST host George Lagogianes to talk about the worst movies of 2018. Watch the whole thing HERE!
THE POISON PEN TEN: THE BOTTOM TEN MOVIES OF 2018 (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER):
7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE: An international cast, including Daniel Brühl and Rosamund Pike as the German reactionaries and Eddie Marsan as Israeli Minister of Defense Shimon Peres, tell the story of what would become the Entebbe rescue operation. On July 27, 1976 an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris via Athens was hijacked and forced to land in Entebbe, Uganda. On the ground the Jewish passengers were singled out and held hostage. The hijackers, two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and two Germans affiliated with the left-wing extremist group Revolutionary Cells, demanded a ransom of $5 million and the release of prisoners from Israeli jails. If their conditions weren’t met by the deadline of Sunday, July 5 the terrorists would start executing hostages one by one. In response the Israeli government ordered a daring counter-terrorist hostage rescue operation.
It’s sometimes difficult to find a new spin on an old story. The raid on Entebbe has been told many times on the big screen, on TV, on the stage and even in videogames. There’s probably something left to say but “7 Days in Entebbe” doesn’t say it. It talks and talks and talks an endless stream of words, many right out of “Revolutionaries for Dummies.” “I want to throw bombs into the consciousness of the masses,” intones terrorist Wilfried Böse (Daniel Brühl) when, realistically, we would have been better served if that bomb had been better thrown at the slack-jawed script. Every time the movie finds some momentum the story’s forward movement is stymied by speechifying. Add to that dubious artistic choices and you’re left with a Mulligan Stew of political ideology with no strong point of view. In what maybe one of the silliest flourishes in a film this year, and the director cuts back-and-forth between a dance performance and the military operation. “I fight so you could dance,” says a commando to his ballerina girlfriend. It’s meant to illustrate the art of war brought to life I suppose but I’m sure Chuck Norris—who starred in “Delta Force,” one of the better movies inspired by Entebbe—would approve. “7 Days in Entebbe” takes a significant world event and reduces it to melodramatic pap and speechifying. And the dance. Don’t forget the dance.
ALLURE: Evan Rachel Wood plays Laura Drake, a troubled 30-year-old woman who works for her father’s cleaning service. On one of her house calls she meets 16-year-old unhappy musical prodigy Eva (Julia Sarah Stone). As Eva’s mom (Maxim Roy) makes plans for them to move in with her boyfriend Laura befriends the girl, introducing her to pot and lending an understanding ear. When Eva explains why she is so unhappy—she doesn’t like the boyfriend and doesn’t want to move—Laura comes on strong. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do,” she says. “You don’t have to let your mother control your life!” Seeing Eva’s tears Laura suggests a way out. “Come live with me.” Eva readily agrees and they leave without a word to anyone, including Eva’s mom. What begins as a break from Eva’s turbulent home life turns into a hostage situation when the police start poking around. “I’ll go to jail if they find out what I did to help you,” Laura says as she locks her young charge in a basement room, away from prying eyes. She is now an illegal guardian, kind of like a cool aunt, only with bad intentions. When the furor over Eva’s disappearance dies down the two return to their version of normal life. Laura, an expert manipulator controls Eva physically and emotionally. “I say what you can and cannot do,” she hisses. As time goes on, whether it is Stockholm Syndrome or true emotion, they become a romantic couple as Laura spirals further out of control.“Allure” is relentless in its downbeat look at life and relationships. A minor chord score underlines the overwrought drama, offering no relief from the deeply unpleasant story. Unpleasant is OK if it reveals inner truths about the characters but “Allure” rarely really gets under the skin of Laura or Eva. They make inexplicable choices and most importantly, there are few moments that feel truthful.
BIRTHMARKED: The action in the film begins with a simple, timeless question, “Could we have been anyone other than who we are?” Married scientists Ben (Matthew Goode) and Catherine (Toni Collette) attempt to answer the question by staging a social experiment that they hope will once and for all determine what is more important in shaping young lives, nature or nurture. In a remote cabin under very controlled circumstances Ben and Catherine, with the help of sex-starved Russian assistant Samsonov (Andreas Apergis), condition their kids to defy expectations. Their son Luke (Jordan Poole), their biological child is be raised as an artist. Two adopted children, daughter Maya (Megan O’Kelly), from a “long line of dimwitted people,” is trained as an intellectual while son Maurice (Anton Gillis-Adelman), adopted from a family with angry, aggressive ancestors, is taught the ways of peace and love. The artist. The brain. The pacifist. “No one is a prisoner of their genetic heritage,” says Ben, who “teaches” his kids unorthodox classes like Stimulated Self Expression. Their carefully documented experiment takes a turn when their patron (Michael Smiley) demands results. “Remember our deal,” he says. “If this fails you owe me every cent I put into this.” “Birthmarked” has the kind of low-key quirk that Wes Anderson has mastered. Unfortunately it eludes Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais. Example: “The use of a narrator is weak dramaturgy,” Ben says by way of criticism of his son’s play, in a movie with loads of narration. You can imagine “Birthmarked” being given a freshening up by someone who looks past the character’s idiosyncrasies instead of embracing them. A little less cleverness might have left room for whatever humanity these characters possess. As it is the film never lifts off because Ben, Catherine and Company don’t feel like real people. They feel like characters thrown into an odd situation and not like people living in, and dealing with, a strange state of affairs.
FIFTY SHADES FREED: Things get underway when Christian (Jamie Dornan) and Ana (Dakota Johnson) tie the knot; on an altar this time, not in the bedroom. Their glamorous French honeymoon is disturbed when Ana wants to go topless on the beach while Christian, that blushing flower, wants her covered up, for his eyes only. “Do you want to be ogled by every guy on the beach?” he whines. That speed bump aside, things are mostly status quo for the newlyweds. I said mostly. This is a “Fifty Shades” movie, so it’s not all happily ever after. Bedroom bondage soon leads to a pregnancy that leaves Christian upset. (The least I think he’s upset. It’s hard to tell with Dornan.) “You’re going to take her from me aren’t you?” he whispers to her pregnant belly. Looks like he’s not ready to turn the Red Room of Pain into a nursery just yet. Sparks fly as she tries to assert herself. Meanwhile Ana’s former-boss-turned-stalker Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) ups his game as Christian discovers a dark secret from his past. There’s more, but nobody really goes to the “Fifty Shades” movies for the plot so let’s move on. The sexiest thing about “Fifty Shades Freed” is the way Ana handles the Audi in a high-ish speed chase through the streets of Seattle. Sure clothes are doffed and handcuffed snapped shut but there is so little fusion between these two allegedly steamy lovers it’s as though they have never met in real life and are acting to green screen versions of each other. “Fifty Shades Freed” comes at an interesting time. The story of a rich, powerful man who tries to control every situation with only minor pushback from the woman in his life seems like yesterday’s tale in the post-Harvey Weinstein era. The movies, I think, are meant to be sexy romps, a bit of fun, but at the end of the series have proven themselves to be ten pounds of sex toys in a five pound bag.
THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS: Set in a Los Angeles where humans and puppets co-exist—imagine “Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s” Toontown with hand puppets—“The Happytime Murders” is an R-rated comedy that sees the felt cast members of ’80s children’s TV show “The Happytime Gang” systematically murdered by a mysterious killer. Next on the hit list is Jenny (Elizabeth Banks), a burlesque dancer who was the “The Happytime Gang’s” sole human cast member. She’s also the ex-girlfriend of Phil Philips (Bill Barretta), the first puppet to join the LAPD. After a scandal pushed him off the force he became a private investigator but when his older brother and “The Happytime Gang” actor, Larry (Victor Yerrid), is offed, and with Jenny in danger, he teams up with his former partner Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) to find the puppet serial killer. “If it gets crazy,” he says, “I’m going to get crazy.” Repeat after me, “The Happytime Murders” is not a movie for kids. With the first F- bomb less than thirty seconds in, the tone is set early. By the time we get to the puppet porn shoot and McCarthy snorting ecstasy with down-on their-luck puppets it’s abundantly clear this isn’t your father’s Muppet movie. Trouble is, I’m not sure who it is for. The idea of a raunchy puppet flick isn’t new, “Meet the Feebles,” “Team America” and others have put the ‘R’ in marionette with great success but they did it with wit as well as in-your-face vulgarity. In “The Happytime Murders,” easily the least funny comedy to hit screens this year, the laugh lines mostly get laughs because we’re not used to seeing puppets in… er… ahhh… compromising positions. Watching McCarthy and Maya Rudolph, who plays Phil’s love struck secretary Bubbles, flounder in a sea of felt and unfunny “gags,” is almost as sad as seeing the vaunted Henson name in the opening credits. You know when someone constantly swears just for the sake of swearing? That’s shock value. “The Happytime Murders” is all shock, very little value.
HENCHMEN: “Silicon Valley’s” Thomas Middleditch is Lester a self described comic book nerd and orphan. On his sixteenth birthday he auditions at the Union of Evil—“The best of the worst!”—only to be assigned Henchman Third Class. A janitor. His dream of one day making his super villain persona, The Orphan,” a reality will have to wait. He’s assigned to Hank (Marsden), a disgraced former First Class henchman (he was too nice a guy to be bad), now pushing a mop. On a visit to the Vault of Villainy Lester accidentally winds up wearing an old super villain suit. Taking advantage of Lester’s newfound powers Hank sees a way to change his life. Using Lester’s ray gun hands he tries to free a chip of What-ifium—a substance that can change the past—from a giant crystal block. Before he can go back in time mega-baddie Baron Blackout (Alfred Molina), who put me in the mind of Kate McKinnon’s Jeff Sessions impersonation, asserts his intention to take over Super Villain City. Will the What-ifium save the world and make all their dreams come true? There’s more—a team of superheroes called the Friendly Force Five, and a goopy gangster called Gluttonator who wants to use radioactive cheese to bring his foes to their knees and shouts “What the feta??!!” when his plan goes south—but why prolong this any more than I have to? Set to a soundtrack of sound-alike classic rock songs “Henchmen” is about as imaginative as you can expect from a movie where all the criminals live in a place called Super Villain City. From the uninspired voice work to animation that looks like next wave cheapo Hanna-Barbera style animation without any of the organic charm, “Henchmen” is little more than a collection of cartoon clichés. Very small children might find distraction in the colourful design or the bullet proof underpants or the ‘Bad guys always lose’ moral but all others beware. I took no joy in writing this review but then again I could find no joy in “Henchmen” either.
LIFE ITSELF: Divided into chapters, “This is Us” guru and “Life Itself” director Fogelman goes multigenerational, guiding us through the lives of a handful of people on a couple of continents. Anxious New Yorker Will (Oscar Isaac) bends his therapist’s (Annette Bening) ear, droning on about his failed marriage to Abby (Olivia Wilde) and Bob Dylan. Cut to the future. There’s Will and Abby’s daughter Dylan (Olivia Cooke), an angry punk chanteuse who specializes in, SURPRISE, Bob Dylan songs. Jump across the pond to Spain. There the wealthy Mr. Saccione (Antonio Banderas) promotes one of his workers, Javier (Sergio Peris-Mencheta). With the extra money is able to marry his girlfriend Isabel (Laia Costa), but later a tragedy, witnessed by their son Rodrigo (Àlex Monner), traumatizes the boy. Saccione pays for therapy and later, after some turmoil, pays for Rodrigo to go to school in New York, which co-incidentally is where the story comes full circle. See how everything connects in the grand soap opera of life? There’s more. Mandy Patinkin pops up as Will’s father, a cancer diagnosis rocks a family and don’t forget molestation. It’s a litany of tragedy—suicide, mental health issues, abandonment and family dysfunction—that feels like a sappy Afterschool Special written by Nikolai Gogol, coated in a fine dusting of schmaltz. It longs to be a rich, complex look at life, love, loss and olive oil but is instead a metaphorical Crock-Pot—a slow burn of the story that never comes to a boil—that, unlike the one on Fogelman’s TV show, never actually catches fire.
LITTLE ITALY: Leo Campo (Hayden Christensen) and Nikki Angioli (Emma Roberts) were inseparable while growing up in Toronto’s Little Italy. “To us Little Italy wasn’t just a few blocks, it was our whole world.” Their families were tight, working side by side at the Napoli Pizza Parlour until the Great Pizza War erupted, causing a split that saw the pizza place sliced down the middle, cleaved into two separate businesses. Years pass. “It’s Little Italy’s oldest food fight.” Nikki moves to England to study the culinary arts while Leo stays home, working with his father. Five years later Nikki returns home to renew her English work visa and is drawn back into the world she thought she had left behind. My Nikki is coming home today,” says mother Dora (Alyssa Milano). “Now we have to find her a husband so she’ll stay.” Will there be amore? Will the moon hit her eye like a big pizza pie or will she return to her cooking career in London? “Little Italy” is an “I’m not yelling I’m Italian” style rom com. Desperate to establish the flavour of Little Italy it parades stereotypes across the screen speaking in loud exaggerated Italian accents. It’s annoying but it is all played for laughs, tempered with the easy sentimentality of the most rote of rom coms. Director Donald Petrie, whose “Mystic Pizza” made a superstar out of Roberts’s Aunt Julia, never finds the balance between the slapstick, romance and cliché. Sometimes it feels like sketch comedy, other times like every rom com you’ve ever seen. Either way, it never feels original or particularly likeable. Top it off with a been-there-done-that run to the airport climax that would likely get everyone involved, if this is anything like real life, arrested and you have a movie that is all about love that is anything but loveable.
MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE: “Maze Runner: The Death Cure,” assumes you’re up to speed with the story I’ll save you the trouble of having to binge watch the first two movies. Here’s the catch-up: Based on a series of wildly popular YA books, 2014s “The Maze Runner” sees Thomas, played by “Teen Wolf’s” Dylan O’Brien, plopped into a community of young men surrounded by a labyrinth. The rebellious Thomas wants to see if there is a way to navigate through the ever-changing maze that stands between the boys and whatever is happening in the outside world. The following year “The Scorch Trials” saw the virtuous Thomas and his gang take on the worst people in the world, W.C.K.D., a group of evildoers that appear to use an Instagram acronym as their name. After a three-year wait Thomas is back with his stylishly dishevelled hair and chiselled face to break into The Last City, a fortified town where doctors work to find a cure for a plague that turns people into snarling zombies. The good doctors, including Thomas’s former flame Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), are experimenting on the Maze Runners who are immune to the disease. In particular Thomas wants to rescue Minho (Ki Hong Lee), a pal being mercilessly poked with needles in search of a cure. “Maze Runner: The Death Cure” features lots of ominous music, attractive stars in motion, dusty dystopian landscapes and something gets blown up or shot at every 10 minutes or so. What’s missing is the emotional content that might make you care about Thomas and Company. The movie really wants you to love the characters. The camera endlessly caresses their determined and often tearstained faces but the ham fisted big emotional moments are as empty as the jars of gel thrown in the trash after being used to poof up the cast’s hair. The characters are mannequins mouthing generic dialogue—speeches begin with, “I knew I know you have no reason to trust me,” and every few minutes someone says, “We have to get out of here!”—for two hours and twenty minutes. Think what else you could do with that time!
THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME: Kate McKinnon plays Morgan Freeman (you read that right), BFF to Audrey (Mila Kunis), a cashier still stinging from being dumped by her boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux). They both thought he worked for NPR as a jazz and political podcaster. Turns out, he’s a secret agent for the CIA. Despite dumping her on her birthday, and by text no less, he reaches out to ask her to deliver a flash drive containing the “back door to the entire internet” to Vienna. With some coaxing from Morgan—“Do you want to die never having been to Europe or do you want to die on a European trip?”—Audrey agrees and the best friends head for Europe. On their tails are squabbling MI6 spies Sebastian (Sam Heughan) and Duffer (Hasan Minhaj) the “bad people” who have been tracking Drew. “Some bad people are after me and now they are after you,” says Drew. It seems Audrey‘s video game playing experience has trained her for life in the field. On the mission the two newbie spies Jason Bourne their way through Europe, stamping their stolen passports in Prague, Paris, Berlin while fending off ice cold Eastern European assassin Nadedja (Ivanna Sakhno). Several car chases, one death by fondue and hundreds of bullets later they uncover the truth of their assignment. “The Spy Who Dumped Me” gets lost amid all its duelling genres. It’s not dark enough to be a dark comedy, not funny enough to be a full on comedy, not romantic enough to be a rom com and certainly not thrilling enough to give 007 a run for this money. Instead it’s a Frankensteined version of all the genres sewn together sitcom style.