The Ten Worst Movies of 2016

2016 was a huge clusterfuck of a year, and I was beyond thrilled when the clock struck midnight on December 31st. For me, it started off with a carjacking, left me with a totaled vehicle, far too many people were met by the Grim Reaper, and it all ended with the wrong person being elected President of the United States. Even when I tried to find solace and relief at the movie theater, I was let down way too many times. Granted, the year did make a comeback towards the very end with cinematic masterpieces like “Manchester by the Sea,” “La La Land” and “Silence,” but it did little to cover up just how much Hollywood let us down.

I did manage to skip seeing some of the bigger bombs of the year like “Warcraft” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” and others like “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” look to have found some salvation through longer cuts on DVD and Blu-ray. Still, 2016 left some awful movies in its wake, and the stench of them gnaw at me months after I sat through them. So, let’s take another swing at these 10 films which had me staring at the screen in sheer disbelief.

  1. Now You See Me 2

Now You See Me 2 poster

“Now You See Me” was both fun and clever, but its sequel tries to outdo the original to such a ridiculous effect to where I came out of it with a massive headache. While it helps to suspend disbelief during movies like these, it quickly became impossible to do so as the magic tricks constantly defied all reasonable logic. By the end, I had long since given up trying to make sense of everything and anything, and not even a talented cast which includes Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson and Daniel Radcliffe among others could use their charisma to make “Now You See Me 2” seem cleverer than it could ever hope to be.

  1. Blair Witch

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Here’s another sequel, but this was one I really looked forward to seeing. With it being directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett, the same two who gave us “You’re Next” and “The Guest,” I figured they would bring a freshness to this franchise which quickly took a nosedive after the abysmal “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.” Alas, despite some strong reviews which were plastered all over the movie’s poster before its release, “Blair Witch” proved to be the same old thing and terribly unsatisfying. The characters were not the least bit memorable, and after a while it felt more like a bad “Paranormal Activity” sequel than anything else. By the time we reached the movie’s conclusion, I wondered why anyone bothered to make another sequel to “The Blair Witch Project” in the first place.

  1. The 5th Wave

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I am now officially burned out on young adult movies which yearn to be profitable franchises as they all look the same. “The 5th Wave” wants to be a “Hunger Games” for the next generation, but instead it feels like recycled material designed to appeal to a demographic which is now on the lookout for something more adult. Despite some strong turns from Chloe Grace Moretz and Maika Monroe, this young adult adventure feels very uninspired as it borrows elements from other movies far superior to it.

  1. Marauders

MARAUDERS final poster

Here’s another movie which tried to stay one step ahead of the audience, and it ended up losing me long before the halfway point. Steven C. Miller’s action thriller has some clever robbery sequences, but the story became so convoluted to where I was surprised I didn’t walk out of it when I had the chance. The plot involves a murder conspiracy which is ridiculously impossible to decipher, and it strands actors like Christopher Meloni, Dave Bautista and Adam Grenier in an infinitely grim motion picture which tried my patience all the way up to the last frame. But worst of all is Bruce Willis who looks like he doesn’t want to be there. While he gets top billing, he’s barely in “Marauders” to where I couldn’t help but think they paid him an obscene amount of money just to show up for a few days’ work. Is this really the kind of crap he has resigned himself to being in on a regular basis?

  1. The Whole Truth

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It is very depressing to realize this is Courtney Hunt’s first directorial effort since her excellent movie “Frozen River” as she gives us nothing more than a routine and banal courtroom drama which wastes the time and talent of Keanu Reeves, Renee Zellweger, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Jim Belushi. As soon as we see the snake slithering across the highway at the movie’s start, we know exactly what to expect to where there nothing can surprise us in the slightest, and the case at hand takes turns which baffle even those audience members who never went to law school. Daniel Craig was originally set to play Reeves’ role but dropped out before filming began. Smart move.

  1. I Saw the Light

I Saw the Light movie poster

After a year which saw fantastic biopics like “Straight Outta Compton” and “Love & Mercy,” 2016 gave us this giant lump of coal which attempted to dramatize the life of country music legend Hank Williams. In all fairness, Tom Hiddleston does an impressive job of singing Williams’ songs which are not at all easy to pull off, and he got strong support from Elizabeth Olsen who portrayed his first wife, Audrey Williams. But writer and director Marc Abraham does such a poor job here as the movie goes in directions which leave us wondering as to what point we are at in Hank’s life, and he does little to nothing in terms of digging into the singer’s life to see what made his work so unforgettable. I came out of “I Saw the Light” feeling like I learned nothing about Hank Williams. He may have been a great singer, but the movie portrays him as nothing more than a jerk you wouldn’t want to spend time with.

  1. Cell

Cell movie poster

Far and away one of the worst adaptations ever of a Stephen King novel, and that’s saying a lot. What could have been a gleefully twisted satire on our obsession with cell phones turned out to be nothing more than a typical zombie movie, and the fact the studio dumped it in a few theaters upon its release should give you an idea of the confidence they had in it. Director Tod Williams gives us nothing more than a glum motion picture which reminds us of so many others like it which were so much better, and the cast which includes John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson look so bored to where you wonder why they bothered to show up on set. It all culminates in a very badly lit finale which makes you wonder why no one bothered to reshoot it in the hopes it might save such a lifeless motion picture.

  1. Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad poster

For me, this was the single most disappointing movie of 2016. This should have salvaged a summer movie season where even the best offerings only left so much of an impression, but instead it proved to be the final nail in its beat-up coffin. This should have been a motion picture which exhilarated us with the exploits of villains and bad guys, but even with the talented David Ayer at the helm, “Suicide Squad” proved to be a real waste as the characters were largely defanged to where you want to yell at all those Warner Brothers executives, “THESE ARE BAD GUYS! LET THEM BE BAD GUYS!” This movie played it way too safe, suffers from bad cinematography, and Jared Leto’s Joker was a major letdown. Only Viola Davis seems alive onscreen as her character, who is one of the movie’s good guys, proves to be the most threatening one of all. Such a disappointment, I was expecting it to be one of the most entertaining movies of the year.

  1. Mother’s Day

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Watching this movie made me feel physically ill. My body hurt all over as I endured the shameless manipulation and offensiveness of what sadly turned out to be Garry Marshall’s last film before his death. Yes, the man gave us a wealth of great entertainment which included the show “Happy Days” and the movie “Pretty Woman” which made a star out of Julia Roberts, but “Mother’s Day” shows him at his worst as he puts together a terribly contrived story involving a group of unconnected people who somehow come together on yet another holiday (remember, this is from the man who gave us “Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve”). Did Marshall even realize how insulting to the intelligence this motion picture would be? Everything about it felt so artificial to where I could never stop cringing from start to finish. Marshall may have been old-fashioned in his approach, but it doesn’t excuse the fact this movie was so incredibly awful.

And now for the worst of the worst, and this is a movie I just love to hate with a passion:

  1. Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party

Hillary's America poster

Look, Dinesh D’Souza can hate on Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party all he wants; that’s his right. If I have to sit through one of his movies, I will. But his latest political screed proved to be one of the worst documentaries ever made, and that’s considering if you want to call this a documentary. D’Souza doesn’t even deal with Hillary until the movie’s last half hour, and he instead goes over the racist past of the Democratic Party in an attempt to link it to the Democratic Party of today. In the process, he gives an unintentionally hilarious film which treats all democrats as if they were one-dimensional villains from an 80’s slasher flick, and I eagerly await him to make one of his own called “Democrat the 13th.” Like many filmmakers, D’Souza cherry picks facts and presents them in a way which speaks more to his infinite paranoia and burning desire to rewrite history to his heart’s content. “Hillary’s America” presents us with an endless number of re-enactments, each one worse than the next, a look at D’Souza’s time spent in a halfway house which I’m convinced was co-directed by Tommy Wiseau, and acting which redefines the terms “flat” and “one-dimensional.” When D’Souza does finally get around to dealing with Hillary, my jaw just dropped as his portrayal of her as shrew needing to be tamed spoke more of his anti-feminist views than anything else. D’Souza still wants to prove to the world he was a political martyr, but instead he shows us how cut off from reality he is, and the realization of this is far more frightening than anything he shows us here.

So, those are my picks for the worst movies of 2016. Here’s hoping 2017 is a better year for us all on a personal and professional level.

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Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party

Hillary's America poster

This movie has some of the funniest scenes of any I have seen in 2016, but there’s one slight problem; it was not intended to be a comedy. “Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party” is the latest political screed from Dinesh D’Souza which has him, along with co-director Bruce Schooley, trying to tie the Democrats’ racist past with Hillary Clinton’s campaign for President. In short, he attempts to show how the principles of the Democratic Party have never changed, and instead succeeds in making an even worse documentary (if you want to call this a documentary) than “America: Imagine the World Without Her.

Now while Hillary’s name and face are featured prominently in this film’s poster, D’Souza doesn’t really bother with her until the last half hour. Instead, he gives us a bunch of re-enactments (and this movie is overflowing with them) which chronicle his criminal conviction, the time he spent in a halfway house, the America of the 1800’s and the 1900’s, and of Hillary while she was in college. Perhaps a better name for this would have been “Dinesh’s America” as we are looking at history through his point of view, and his POV combines a selective sprinkling of facts with an overabundance of deluded paranoia.

D’Souza re-enacts his time in a halfway house as a way to continue his ridiculous claim of being made a political martyr. He also portrays himself as a white collar criminal surrounded by vicious street criminals whose actions make his crime pale in comparison. Was this really the kind of halfway house he was sentenced to? Maybe, but he presents the inmates in such a stereotypical way that it’s hard to take much of what he shows us seriously. Plus, there’s a sequence where he befriends a fellow inmate who tells him about an insurance scam he and his friends pulled off. The re-enactment of this scam is so ridiculously directed and poorly acted that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud to where I thought I might get kicked out of the theater.

We later see D’Souza visiting the Democratic Headquarters, and when no one is looking he sneaks into an off-limits room which contains the Democrats version of Pandora’s Box. This allows him to uncover the party’s racist past which had them defending slavery instead of trying to abolish it. Seeing D’Souza, a Republican, infiltrating this “secret” room in the Democratic Headquarters brings to mind another alternate name for this movie: “50 Shades of Watergate.”

It is no secret that the Democratic Party of the 1800’s was much more KKK friendly and were never quick to pass the Thirteenth Amendment which abolished slavery. This was even shown to be the case in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” where Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner never hid the fact that the Republicans were the real heroes when it came to ending this barbaric practice. This gives “Hillary’s America” some weight as this is a part of history worth paying attention to as the Democratic Party of today is much different than the one of the past. But it doesn’t take long for D’Souza to shoot himself in the foot as he bombards us with historical re-enactments so one-sided to where they quickly become boring and cruelly exploitive.

These historical re-enactments are further complicated by D’Souza treating Democrats like Andrew Jackson as one-dimensional villains in a bad 80’s action movie or a supervillain from a James Bond film, albeit ones completely lacking in charisma. It doesn’t matter which era is being re-enacted, he treats every Democrat as being drunk with power or as a vampire on a day pass. D’Souza even includes an especially ludicrous scene where Woodrow Wilson is watching D. W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” at the White House when a KKK member on a ghost horse comes galloping out of the movie screen. Wilson is made to look like he is transfixed by this sudden emergence, but it’s really just a bizarre fantasy.

In trying to show how the Democratic Party has not changed from its sordid past, D’Souza completely fails to prove this without a shadow of a doubt. He doesn’t so much cherry pick facts as whitewashes and manipulates them to form a thesis which defies all reasonable logic. Anyone with half a brain can see that the Democratic and Republican parties of today are so radically different from what they once were. D’Souza even tries to convince us the big switch between the two parties in terms of their views on civil rights was a flat out lie, and he presents his evidence of this in a way which requires the use of a microscope to fully discover what he is talking about.

When D’Souza finally gets around to dealing with Hillary Clinton, he portrays her as a self-centered and snobby bitch interested in her own ambitions more than anything else. In an article, Alex Shephard described D’Souza’s portrayal of a teenage Hillary as being like Reese Witherspoon’s character of Tracy Flick from “Election” if Tracy “liked to murder small animals,” and that is spot on. D’Souza shows her laughing at one of President Richard Nixon’s speeches on television as if it were a bad thing. But the most jaw-dropping moment comes when D’Souza flat out blames Hillary for her husband Bill’s numerous infidelities. This doesn’t really speak much of Hillary as it does of D’Souza’s criticisms of feminism.

D’Souza presents himself throughout “Hillary’s America” as a truth teller no one should dare question, but he rarely backs up his arguments with much in the way of convincing evidence. In fact, he even dredges up the Benghazi attack which has been beyond thoroughly investigated, Hillary’s emails which just about everyone is sick of hearing about, and he even includes a scene from those completely debunked videos from the Center for Medical Progress. Bringing these subjects up only weakens an already deeply flawed thesis to where it feels like D’Souza is just grasping for anything which might, and I strongly stress the word might, work in his favor. Oh yeah, he also throws in Saul Alinsky for good measure, but Alinsky comes across as a caricature more than anything else.

While there are many unintentionally hilarious scenes to be found here, there are others which are simply infuriating. D’Souza portrays Margaret Sanger, the mother of Planned Parenthood, as an emotionless sociopath. Granted, there is evidence she was a proponent of eugenics, but showing her as wanting to exterminate all black people is a flat out lie. His portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson as openly racist to where he only agrees to civil rights legislation just to quell his political opponents feels deeply insulting. And in portraying America of the past, D’Souza piles on scenes of slaves being whipped and tortured which soon feel cruelly exploitive of a national tragedy.

It’s tempting to call D’Souza stupid after watching “Hillary’s America,” but that may not be altogether fair. As a director, however, he makes one stupid mistake after another as he shamelessly manipulates the audience’s emotions while bashing their heads in with information based more on his distorted worldview than reality. He employs an overly dramatic music score by Stephen Limbaugh which becomes ridiculously bombastic in no time at all. And he concludes the movie with renditions of patriotic songs to show his undying love for America. I do not doubt his fervent patriotism of the United States, but it feels truly annoying that he needs to constantly remind us of this.

It doesn’t bother me that D’Souza has made an anti-Democrat movie as no political party is beyond reproach. What bothers me is how much he believes in what he is telling us as his view of history is more revisionist than it is accurate. Watching him in “Hillary’s America” reminded me of Bill Pullman’s dialogue in “Lost Highway:”

“I like to remember things my own way. How I remembered them. Not necessarily the way they happened.”

In D’Souza’s mind, Republicans have been and still are the heroes of justice and racial equality, but if Lincoln saw the state of the party today, there’s no doubt he would be crying a river over it and not just because Donald Trump (who is barely mentioned in this movie) is their presidential nominee.

Now, this review might be greeted by various internet trolls who claim I am deeply biased or a “libertard” among other things. I’m not going to go into who I am voting for this November here. Instead, I want to leave you with a couple of things to think about. Does it make more sense to base your views on a political party on what it was like when it began or how they treat the American people in the present day? If D’Souza loves being a citizen of America so much, why did he willfully break the law? Did he even realize before committing his crime that it would cost him a right which American citizens should cherish, the right to vote? Say what you will and believe what you want, but nothing will change the fact that “Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party” is one of the worst documentaries ever made.

½* out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.

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