The 2016 Half-Time Report

6 months of 2016 have provided an interesting assortment of indie horror, superhero fatigue, and the yearly round of blockbuster sequelitis.

The Round-Up

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The Best – Zootopia

It’s beautiful, it’s elaborate, with a multi-layered universe and immaculate animation. Disney has taken a film noir with animals and turned it into a shrewd racial allegory that tackles a number of issues ranging from cultural stereotypes to political corruption. Zootopia has a message and the filmmakers work it seamlessly throughout. It’s also not the least bit naive, as evidenced by a closing monologue voicing the realities of a complex, evolving society like our own. But forget the big words. Jason Bateman and Gennifer Goodwin are perfectly cast as a wily fox forced into a life of crime and a bunny with dreams who’s more than just a cute face. Together they make for a boisterous buddy cop duo, and a movie ripe with funny sight gags for the kids and sly jokes for the adults.

THE DO OVER

The Worst – The Do-Over

Billy Madison. Happy Gilmore. The Wedding Singer. Big Daddy. It’s been more than a decade since the heyday of Happy Madison productions, Adam Sandler’s rolodex of writers, directors, and actor buddies who interchangeably star in and/or support his juvenile sensibilities. This time I laughed three times over the course of nearly two hours, all three occasions involving the hilarious physical hi-jinks of a suited, sunglassed stalker played by Nick Swardson. Despite the cynical humor and crass haranguing, Sandler has a heart, so this wannabe comedy is almost a riff on the poignant cancer plot of Funny People, a much better film that benefited from Judd Apatow’s own rolodex. The similarities matter not, because The Do-Over is a dumb, unintentionally misogynist nadir for Happy Madison’s cultural cache, ever dwindling though it is.

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Most Underrated – How to Be Single

This Valentine’s Day helping of millennial angst and anti-monogamy isn’t one of the greatest rom-coms I’ve ever seen. It’s too short and too content to wallow in the difficult trappings of a girl’s life we have little reason to invest in. It’s also wonderfully snarky, even satirical at times, and somehow, some way, against all odds it makes you care. Or you think it does. You must care if you’re a grown man getting choked up fifteen minutes into a movie. The great Leslie Mann is a far more interesting character than Dakota Johnson’s lost puppy protagonist. Still, How to Be Single gave me the giggles whilst provoking an innocent kind of existential thought, so for that I will recommend it in spite of a serious bevy of negative reviews out there, many of which aren’t necessarily wrong. They’re just not right.

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Most Overrated – Love & Friendship

Jane Austen jaunts aren’t exactly my cup o’ English tea, save a Sense & Sensibility here or…well that’s about it I suppose. Regardless, I always give them a chance, and while the latest adaptation Love & Friendship is no terrible film or even something I would dissuade folks from watching, it’s also not a masterpiece as some reviews are suggesting. A sharp-tongued Kate Beckinsale surprises and a dim-witted Tom Bennett amuses while surrounded by your garden variety Austen adventure. Take the curly-cue conversations about society, propriety, and all manner of manners, or the strained relations between fathers and daughters and mothers and daughters, all conveyed with that stereotypical but no less typical stiff upper lip. Whit Stillman’s a witty writer and it shows, but he offers nothing new here.

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Biggest Surprise – Deadpool

It’s funny. Really funny. It’s not afraid to take chances, to call itself out, to thumb its nose at the genre, to utterly fire the piss out of four decades of superhero filmmaking. This version of the Merc Without a Mouth is a serious step up from the silly mute in 2009’s godawful Wolverine solo. He’s got the cancer, the tragic romance, the whip-smart mouth, and that red and black get-up that perfectly resembles Spider-man wholly in tact. Monica Baccarin adds a seductive feminine spark to these masculine proceedings as Vanessa, the woman Wade meets cute at a makeshift bar for mercenaries, long before his cells mutate for good or bad. Underneath the raunchy dialogue and risque violence Deadpool is a love story, and the two of them sell it with sexual energy and romantic chemistry in spades.

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Biggest Disappointment – X-men: Apocalypse

The X-men are no longer the grown-ups in the room. They’re more like those poser kids in college pretending to be mature and sophisticated. If you’re a long-time fan like yours truly, Apocalypse is affecting, occasionally tugging at the heartstrings of one decade-long emotional investment. Technically speaking, however, it’s something of a mess. The sublime takes a backseat to the spectacle, especially during the climax, an incoherent whirlwind of loose ends, looser editing, poor CGI, and ugly cinematography. Throughout a majority of its running time, Singer mistakes the same ole’ themes of prejudice and bigotry, human and mutant alike, that he’s trotted out in previous outings for newfound profundity. It doesn’t work this time. The angles are worn. The dialogue’s been done.

What is 2016 so far?

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The Year of Petty Politics – 13 Hours

Pearl Harbor. And now 13 Hours. Michael Bay’s forays into more dramatic fare have not been kind to him. The “secret story” of Benghazi is ripe for his brand of flag-waving artillery, but it’s also one that requires far more than such to succeed. Naturally, Bay can’t live up to those expectations. His characters are two-dimensional, and their personal lives pure lip service to the sort of character development necessary for a 2016 audience to give a shit. These are real events through the rote lens of a master manipulator and partisan patriot. Who knows what’s true? When the stakes are low, relatively speaking, the action maestro can blow up as much as he wants and nobody minds because it looks mighty pretty. However, this is history, and history deserves better.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS

The Year of Unnecessary Sequels – TMNT: Out of the Shadows

As producer, Bay had innumerable influences on 2014’s live action reboot of the famed comic-book/cartoon empire. His trigger-happy fingers were all over it, with enough bullets, bombs, and at least one babe to suggest director Jonathan Leibesman was merely a layman puppet as Bay strung up yet another patented guilty pleasure. Out of the Shadows, a sequel worse than a guilty pleasure, moves like a Saturday morning cartoon on steroids. Earth to Echo helmer Dave Green appears overwhelmed, barely introducing new characters before hurling them head-first through a chaotic grinder of garish CGI and brotherhood themes of the pattest kind. Like countless others this year, these Ninja Turtles never should have seen the light of day.

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RIP Anton Yelchin

All of It

Zootopia – A
Captain America: Civil War – A
The Nice Guys – A-
The Jungle Book – A-
Deadpool – A-
The Witch – B+
The Secret Life of Pets – B+
10 Cloverfield Lane – B
How to Be Single – B
Neighbors 2 – B
Love & Friendship – B
The Shallows – B
Green Room – B-
X-men: Apocalypse – B-
Dirty Grandpa – C+
Miracles From Heaven – C+
The Neon Demon – C
13 Hours – C
Zoolander 2 – C
Gods of Egypt – C-
TMNT: Out of the Shadows – C-
Sword of Destiny – D+
The Huntsman: Winter’s War – D
The Do-Over – D-

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