I like to give back to our readers here, so I thought I’d give you the gift of 20 mini reviews of all of the movies from 2015 that I’ve seen over the last few months, but haven’t reviewed yet. I got majorly backlogged with movies to write reviews for, and if I don’t do it now all at once, I know I’ll never do it.
So if your Uncle Tony starts to get a little *too* opinionated on Muslim refugees while you’re waiting for Christmas dinner; pull out this list, zone out, and ignore the (now) screaming match that he and your dad have surely gotten into while your grandma begs them to “Stop it, boys! It’s Christmaaaaaaas!“.
First, I’ll start with the three (non-Star Wars) movies I’ve seen in theaters over the past couple of weeks.
Give me a brief synopsis: In the early 2000’s, The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team investigated the child molestation scandal/phenomenon occurring in the Catholic church, uncovering what turned out to be a huge coverup at the top of the power chain, and exposed the world to the ghastly high number of cases that got swept under the rug.
Dude, even briefer: Catholic priests were molesting kids, and a newspaper figured it out.
Was it good? Yeah, it’s riveting, yet disturbing information to take in. But here’s where my conflict comes in about how great this movie really is… It’s more of an impressive recreation of a Wikipedia article than it is something truly cinematic. It’s a movie where you could read the script of it, and probably get the same impact as watching it. Not that the great cast doesn’t try (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, and so on), but it’s more of a presentation of the facts than anything else. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go see it though, it’s probably going to be a heavy awards contender.
Here’s a fun fact: No actual spotlights are seen in the film.
Score: 8 out of 10 yams.
Give me a brief synopsis: Set in a violent Chicago backdrop, a sassy lady named Lysistrata tries to bring peace to all the gang warfare by having all the women in Chicago deny all the men any sex until they get rid of their guns. It’s based off the Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes. Literally all of the dialogue in the film rhymes.
Dude, even briefer: Spike Lee makes a return to wacky filmmaking again.
Was it good? I actually really liked it. But before I continue, I have to say I didn’t like it as something that offers up any kind of answer to Chicago’s violence problem. If anything, it barely even addresses the specific nature of Chicago’s problems. I liked it because it is an absolutely insane movie. It’s a bit all over the place, and story lines & tone come and go as they please, but it never lingers on one scene long enough for you to get angry about it when it fails. Some of it is serious, some of it is as juvenile as it gets, but it’s hard to deny wanting to see Wesley Snipes in a bedazzled eyepatch. This seems like the kind of movie I would have really enjoyed had I seen it in my early 20s. Kind of a return to form for Lee. It has the kind of “who cares?” ‘tude I liked about Do the Right Thing in its willingness to do whatever it wants stylistically.
Here’s a fun fact: Even in a good movie, you will still hate Nick Cannon.
Score: 8.5 out of 10 yams.
Give me a brief synopsis: After learning that their parents are selling their childhood Orlando home, two sisters who are now in their 30s/40s (played by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) head back there and throw one last party with all of their (now old) high school friends, and trash the house and stuff. Except this time, Tina Fey is the wacky one!
Dude, even briefer: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler work together again.
Was it good? Yeah, it was ok. It has some good laughs throughout, and a lot of the side players have funny roles (like Bobby Moynihan and Maya Rudolf). It even has a little heart towards the end, as expected. If you’ve ever had your parents sell your childhood home (I have), I guess it kind of makes you feel for the characters a little more. But mostly, you watch this for the funny visual gags and good one-liners, and the usual great chemistry between Fey and Poehler. “MAAAOOOWRHA”
Here’s a fun fact: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are not actually sisters. This was a work of fiction.
Score: 7.5 out of 10 yams.
And now I’ll get into the films I was able to check out at home from the comfort of my own chair, bed, or toilet.
THE WEDDING RINGER
Give me a brief synopsis: Josh Gad and Kevin Hart team up in this HILARIOUS comedy I watched in the background while I worked one day, where Gad has no friends to be his groomsmen at his wedding, so he goes to a “Professional Best Man” service run by Kevin Hart to get help. It’s kind of like I Love You, Man mixed with Hitch. Are those two things you were hoping to get mashed together? Oh, well, here you go then.
Dude, even briefer: JOSH GAD KEVIN HART JOSH GAD KEVIN HART JOSH GAD KEVIN HART
Was it good? Short answer… No. Long answer… No, it was not. …This movie was so blandly unmemorable that I’m getting a headache just trying to think of specific jokes from it. I remember there was a guy with a stutter. And an inappropriate Asian guy. And an inappropriate guy who worked at airport security. And three or four other inappropriate guys. Spoiler alert, they eventually become real friends at the end.
Here’s a fun fact: Josh Gad actually signed the same deal with the devil that Robert Johnson did.
Score: 3.5 out of 10 yams.
Give me a brief synopsis: Two punk kids run away from home, and along their journey they steal an “abandoned” cop car, which actually belongs to police officer Kevin Bacon. It might have something in the trunk and I don’t want to give away what it is.
Dude, even briefer: Kevin Bacon hunts down car thieves.
Was it good? Yeah, I liked it plenty. It goes in between the innocence of the two kids who don’t understand the danger of the situation they put themselves in, and the panic mode of a fully grown adult who realizes he may be in deeper water than he wants to be. It’s a very simple, minimalist movie. You can tell it was made on the cheap, but I mean, it’s not trying to be anything fancy.
Here’s a fun fact: There is now a 2009 Hyundai Sonata that is four degrees from Bacon; as it worked with a car that worked with a car that worked with the cop car in this film.
Score: 8 out of 10 yams.
BEASTS OF NO NATION
Give me a brief synopsis: Idris Elba stars as an African warlord in an unnamed country (I think?), where he seduces young children with the power of guns and drugs and violence into joining his personal army. It’s directed by Cary Fukunaga, who directed the good season of True Detective.
Dude, even briefer: Netflix produced a decent movie about Africa.
Was it good? It’s certainly off-putting. There’s an extended sequence where our young protagonist has to kill a guy with a machete that’s particularly hard to watch. But overall, it’s somewhat sloppy. Other than maybe two key plot points, it’s sort of just a hodgepodge of people wandering around with chaos happening around them. A lot of times because they’re causing the chaos. It will make you appreciate ever more that you were born in a nice American suburb, as opposed to a war zone. Idris Elba is deserving of the acting praise he’s getting for it, too.
Here’s a fun fact: This is not a sequel to the film Congo. That had gorillas. This has guerillas.
Score: 7.5 out of 10 yams.
ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL
Give me a brief synopsis: A high school dude chooses to keep a social balance that draws no attention to himself, until he meets a classmate who is dying of cancer, and he realizes there are more important things in life than just skating by. Not that I saw A Fault In Our Stars, but I think it’s like a better version of The Fault In Our Stars?
Dude, even briefer: Guy copes with his friend dying, in a comedy.
Was it good? Maybe I was just feeling exceptionally emotional the day I watched this, but this movie *almost* brought me to tears. And I was definitely not expecting it to. In fact, I kind of watched it on a whim, and I thought the trailer looked kind of stupid. But I ended up loving how it didn’t focus on any kind of romantic relationship between the two leads, but instead really made you feel what it would be like if you were losing a very good friend of yours. The restraint to not inject romance into a semi-sappy movie about teens is something to be touted. Also, it has plenty of funny parts. Probably the most genuinely heartfelt movie about cancer I’ve seen since 50/50.
Here’s a fun fact: In sticking with traditional Hollywood casting rules that have been in place for centuries, all the teenagers in this movie are actually in their 20s.
Score: 8.5 out of 10 yams.
Give me a brief synopsis: Some guy (Raul Garcia?) created five different Edgar Allen Poe stories in a different “style” of animation for each one. He got a few “big” names to participate in the voice acting (Christopher Lee, Guillermo del Toro, Roger Corman, an old recording from Bela Legosi), and it had a brief theatrical run in downtown Chicago. It was… interesting?
Dude, even briefer: Computer animated Edgar Allen Poe.
Was it good? It had mixed results. Some of them were way better than others. The computer animation was not very good, and the change in “styles” was just changing the color filter on the same animation. The Tell Tale Heart and House of Usher were not very good. The Pit and the Pendulum and Mr. Valdemar were good. The Masque of the Red Death was basically a story about Death showing up to an orgy and killing everyone and eating all the catering. Death is a cruel mistress.
Here’s a fun fact: Animating your movie like a crappy video game won’t look that good in the end.
Score: 6.5 out of 10 yams.
Give me a brief synopsis: VINNY IS BACK, ALONG WITH TURTLE, DRAMA, AND E! DON’T FORGET ABOUT ARI AND LLOYD! AND WOMEN! CAN’T FORGET ABOUT THE WOMEN! AND SUCCESS! SUCCESS LEADS TO WOMEN! RONDA ROUSEY! CALIFORNIA! SUNGLASSES! GRONK!
Dude, even briefer: It’s just a longer episode of the show.
Was it good? What do you think? I’ve seen every dumb episode of that show (eventually it just became a habitual hate watch), and this movie followed the same terrible formula of a happy ending falling into these guy’s laps no matter what. Vince directs a post-apocalyptic movie about a Jekyll and Hyde DJ that looks worse than Victor Frankenstein, and it ends up getting nominated for five Golden Globes. Does Doug Ellin even have the slightest amount of restraint? Couldn’t Vince just have made a movie and it was like, decently successful in the box office, and his life just continues being really good, like it already was? No. His stupid DJ movie has to be awards worthy… God. I wish at the end of this movie it was finally revealed that the entire series was just a dream sequence inside the head of semi-ugly Jersey Mike’s employee Vincent Chase, as he wakes up and continues his standard day of mediocrity.
Here’s a fun fact: This set the Guinness World Record for most terrible cameo appearances in a single film.
Score: 4 out of 10 yams.
PITCH PERFECT 2
Give me a brief synopsis: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, uhhhh, and the others (?) are back as the a capella group that is only kind of good, really. This time they go to camp, or something. And have another competition. And then ZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…
Dude, even briefer: THE BELLAS ARE BACK, YOU GUYS!
Was it good? No. It’s boring. I was watching this while drinking and I still got bored. I couldn’t even make fun of it after a while. It’s too long. It loses all the good will it created in the first act with two more acts of long, boring stuff. This was Elizabeth Banks’ directorial debut. It was not a good debut. If you really want to see anything from this movie, just watch the David Cross showdown scene. It’s the only scene that truly had the fun of the first Pitch Perfect, which I’ll admit is a dumb guilty pleasure movie of mine.
Here’s a fun fact: This is the second movie on this list to feature Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews (he’s also in Entourage). What an offseason!
Score: 5 out of 10 yams.
THE LEISURE CLASS
Give me a brief synopsis: This is the film created at the end of this year’s Project Greenlight, about a British con artist infiltrating a rich American family by marrying one of the daughters. But then his WACKY, SCREW-UP BROTHER shows up and ruins EVERYTHING! The director/contest winner (Jason Mann) made a big deal about shooting this personal, original script for the show, and it ended up being a highly impersonal story that we’ve all seen a million times before. But he shot it on film!
Dude, even briefer: A pile of crap you shouldn’t watch on HBO.
Was it good? No. No. NO. It’s hard to even get into how bad the movie even is without watching it, but the journey to get there as chronicled on Project Greenlight makes the terrible final product almost worth making. Seriously, it’s a great season of TV. But just to name a few problems with the film itself: the brother character looks like a drowned dog, he also isn’t charming but all the characters around him have to act like he is, the main actor has a punchable face, the dad character is cartoonish, the daughter character is seriously underdeveloped, and well, I can keep going on and on and on. It’s a bad movie. Possibly the worst of the year.
Here’s a fun fact: Jason Mann may or may not be Jack Skellington. He never implicitly said he *wasn’t*.
Score: 2 out of 10 yams.
Give me a brief synopsis: I have to look this up on IMDb, because I don’t think I could relay the plot to you accurately off the top of my head… “A single mother is swept into a dark underworld, while her teenage son discovers a road that leads him to a secret underwater town.” Wow. I don’t remember the movie being as interesting as that sentence.
Dude, even briefer: Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut is bad.
Was it good? It was almost unwatchable. I started out giving it my full attention. But by the halfway point, I slowly began checking my phone, and then I went on my laptop, and it even managed to become droll as background noise. It’s a shame that a good cast was wasted (Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan, Ben Mendelsohn, and to a lesser extent Eva Mendes and the Dr Who guy with no eyebrows), but it wasn’t good. It seemed like Baby Goose was trying to recreate the weird atmosphere’s of his frequent collaborator Nicholas Winding Refn, but fell flat on his face. I don’t know what more to say about this movie other than I don’t recommend it to anybody ever.
Here’s a fun fact: Ryan Gosling still went home and slept on a pile of money after he made this.
Score: 3 out of 10 yams.
END OF THE TOUR
Give me a brief synopsis: An interviewer (Jesse Eisenberg) goes to spend a few days with critically lauded author of Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel). We get a little in-depth about who Wallace is, and possibly why he likes to keep to himself, or why he eventually kills himself (not a spoiler, it happens years after the events of this film)
Dude, even briefer: Jason Segel plays a popular 90’s book author.
Was it good? Ya know, I think it *could* have been good had I known literally anything about David Foster Wallace or Infinite Jest. But since I hadn’t, it was just sort of… …neat? It was a good display of acting. It was a good character study. I suppose if I took anything away from it, it was compelling to look at how the success of being the top author in America almost overnight isn’t really as glamorous as you might potentially think it would be. Especially if you are kind of a hermit.
Here’s a fun fact: I watched this on an airplane.
Score: 7.5 out of 10 yams.
Give me a brief synopsis: A woman gets kidnapped in old western frontier, and a group of townsfolk have to try to rescue her. Oh, did I mention that she gets kidnapped by a tribe of cannibalistic native americans with bone flutes in their necks?
Dude, even briefer: A western with cannibals.
Was it good? It was, in fact. I also must mention that a good cast was involved (Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins), who you’d think would be above a horror western, but they actually fit in really well. Probably because the whole film is given a pretty good treatment. This movie kind of came out of nowhere, and wasn’t even really advertised as far as I know, but it was more well-made than you’d expect. It really showed how terrible it would be to live in the wild west. And THEN the cannibals show up. I must also mention, this movie is *super* gory. It doesn’t hold back much.
Here’s a fun fact: If you’re in Australia, it’s actually the Wild East.
Score: 8.5 out of 10 yams.
Give me a brief synopsis: Set in an alternate 1997, this is about a kid named Kid growing up in “the Wasteland”, where everything is littered with nostalgic joke references like NES power gloves & BMX bikes. I believe this was an adaptation of a short from one of the ABCs of Death movies…?
Dude, even briefer: Kung Fury, but longer and less funny.
Was it good? It was entertaining. I liked the two leads, Turbo Kid and Apple. They had entertaining chemistry. The bad guy was played by notable 80s/90s villain actor Michael Ironside. The movie was supposed to look like it was poorly made, and in that way it was kind of fun as a tribute to when you used to make dumb movies with your friends as teenagers (if you did). But it’s like, uh, kind of a played out genre to do the post-apocalyptic nostalgia thing set in the future, though. It’s just not really clever to do anymore. Turbo Kid is good for the moments, but I’m not sure it’s great as a whole.
Here’s a fun fact: People in the 1990s played machines called video game consoles.
Score: 7.5 out of 10 yams.
Give me a brief synopsis: A look into the life of Bessie Smith, a blues singer from the 1920s who became one of the best-selling music artists of her era. She was also sort of a total badass, and didn’t take crap from anybody. I knew nothing about her before this movie, and I came away thinking she’s someone I wouldn’t have messed with.
Dude, even briefer: Queen Latifah in a music biopic.
Was it good? I’m not sure good is the right word, but I watched the whole thing and enjoyed it. And I’ll never watch it again. It’s a pretty standard biopic in terms of structure (albeit it has more nudity than most biopics), so it’s hard to really praise it for anything more than a decent informational film. Inside Llewyn Davis and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story kind of ruined me for music biopics, in two different ways, and now I think these things are kind of “bleh.” So… interesting lady, bland execution. I wouldn’t be surprised if HBO made this movie with leftover costumes and sets from Boardwalk Empire.
Here’s a fun fact: Bessie was my birth name until I changed it in 2005.
Score: 7 out of 10 yams.
Give me a brief synopsis: Vince Vaughn plays an overworked family man, who is trying to close a big business deal in Europe with his two employees. One of them is too old (Tom Wilkinson) and one of them is too young and possibly has a mental handicap (Dave Franco). Comedy and lots of gratuitous nudity abound!
Dude, even briefer: Vince Vaughn in a new situation!
Was it good? I watched this as a joke to myself on HBO, and it actually ended up being better than I thought it would be. Granted, it’s not good. It has all the dumb jokes you’d expect it to. But you know what I liked about it? Vince Vaughn plays a real human being in it. He plays a guy who never judges anyone, from the naked old lady he sees, to the gay nightclub glory hole scene he stumbles into, to his own son’s social ineptitude. This movie had *every* opportunity to be mean-spirited, and it kind of never does. In that regard, I will give it the minimal possible grade to not have it be a failure.
Here’s a fun fact: Vince Vaughn is better in this than he is in True Detective.
Score: 6 out of 10 yams.
MAPS TO THE STARS
Give me a brief synopsis: It’s an ensemble piece about a bunch of Hollywood celebrity types, from a no-longer-relevant actress (Julianne Moore), to a drug addicted bratty child star, to an aspiring actor limo driver guy (Robert Pattinson), and all the miserable people who know them (Mia Wasikowski, John Cusack, Olivia Williams).
Dude, even briefer: Overlong, jaded look at Hollywood celebrity family type stuff.
Was it good? It’s definitely not good. But it remains compelling enough to keep you hanging around. BARELY. Like, there was a point in the middle when I turned it off and considered not coming back to it, but then I did two days later for whatever reason. Almost all of the characters are at least a little unappealing, but the child star character played by Evan Bird (?) was the worst, by far. Not just the character was terrible (and supposed to be), but the actor himself was incredibly wooden and one of the worst actors I’ve seen in a while. It’s a bad acting job right up there with Eddie Redmayne as Balem Abrasax from Jupiter Ascending. This movie as a whole was David Cronenberg trying to be Robert Altman and failing, but the movie all around wasn’t a total failure. Stick to making pulsing mutants that seep bile from their pores, Cronenberg!
Here’s a fun fact: Hollywood has terrible people in it.
Score: 6 out of 10 yams.
VERY SEMI SERIOUS
Give me a brief synopsis: New Yorker cartoon documentary.
Dude, even briefer: New Yorker cartoon doc.
Was it good? Yes, it is very interesting, and I don’t even care about the New Yorker. The process that goes into getting the cartoons into the magazine was fascinating. It dives into the weekly open submission process, the minds of a few of the artists, and gives a good slice of life into the guy who picks all the cartoons. I was expecting this to be pretentious all around, but a lot of the cartoons were actually pretty funny, right up there with those Far Side cartoons I used to read all the time when I was a kid. The only drawback (maybe) is that the doc is populated with a special breed of intellectual (possibly mentally ill and *definitely* strange), who seem so smart that it feels like they could belittle me to my core, yet bizarre enough that I still feel slightly sorry for them. Weird people.
Here’s a fun fact: Cartoons are like gossamer, and one doesn’t dissect gossamer.
Score: 8 out of 10 yams.
I SMILE BACK
Give me a brief synopsis: A middle class housewife has a seemingly good life, until it’s revealed that she is possibly crazy and kinda sorta addicted to drugs and lying and stuff.
Dude, even briefer: Sarah Silverman doing dramatic acting.
Was it good? I wanted to like it at first, but as it went on, I started to slowly care less and less about it. It has such a boring presentation. The pacing is dull, and the story itself is somewhat flat. It relies mostly on good performances. By the time it got to the end, I just didn’t really care anymore. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood to watch such a depressing movie? Maybe I kind of don’t like these depressing suburban movies in general much anymore?
Here’s a fun fact: This is the last movie I’m reviewing for this post.
Score: 6 out of 10 yams.