Serenity was one of the first movies which came out in 2019, and was directed by Steven Knight who has been involved with some of the most successful outings of the last decade, including Peaky Blinders. Why Knight would helm something this unironically ridiculous and caricaturish is not clear. The movie also released at a time where people are just trying to get back to work after the holidays and the lull in good cinema doesn’t really matter as long there’s good popcorn.
The $8.5 million it made in the US could just be the disoriented working crowd trying to make the most of the last dregs of the holiday season. Matthew McConaughey stars as a captain of a fishing boat who is hired by hin ex-wife (a very, very odd Anne Hathaway) to kill her abusive husband. A very strange train of events follow, and then there’s a twist so bizarre and off-the-wall it almost makes the movie worth your while.
The performances are parody-ish, no one knows why Succession star Jeremy Strong is wearing a suit on a beach town or who he is, for that matter. During a promotional interview for the film, Knight calls McConaughey the Robert Mitchum of this generation, for his ‘unavailable’ charm and the more you think about this comparison the more you realise how astute Knight’s observation skills are.
For someone as gifted as Knight to make this movie is one of the most inexplicable things to have happened in Hollywood in 2019. Did he think after seeing the final cut that this would be taken seriously? Aviron Pictures, the company in charge of distributing the film, invested very little in the film’s promotions following a series of poorly-received test screenings.
4. The Hustle
The Hustle is a polished female-led remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and is on many counts the perfect in-flight movie. It’s lively, fun and quite predictable as in the characters never develop or even show any real depth of emotion but it’s not so bad that you can’t watch it over a cold plate of airline caesar salad. In fact, Anne Hathaway”s British accent is surprisingly the only insufferable thing about the movie, which is disappointing since the actor’s Cockney accent is decidedly flawless. Hathaway is a posh, high-end Brit scammer who fleeces very rich men while Wilson is basically a petty swindler.
There is a potent subtextual feminist stance in taking advantage of men’s inability to evaluate female intelligence (Hathaway actually spells it out as she reveals she swindles men because they think no woman is smarter than them). But the usage of the word sugar babe is quite confusing and offensive to people who pursue the lifestyle as there is nothing fraudulent about that kind of a relationship. Nevertheless, after a few debacles Hathaway’s It Girl scammer takes Wilson under her wing, post which the film goes further downhill. The screenplay is uninspired and is a poor almost a sequential play-by-play copy of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
3. Charlie’s Angels
No one asked for a Charlie’s Angels reboot in 2019 but Hollywood has never rooted for any movie harder. And to be honest, the film is a carefully concocted mix of every Twitter-approved ingredient there is, a diverse cast, Elizabeth Banks in the director’s chair, a gender fluid protagonist, Noah Centineo. For all its well-intended efforts to prove that it’s made for the millennial age, the film still clings to some tropes which female spy movies often fall into.
It’s important to remember that the treatment of Charlie’s Angels has been deeply sexist, and it’s narrative has relied on a women-first-spies-later formula; the male gaze being the issue obviously which complied with every heteronormative male fantasy you can possibly fit into a jet-setting international spy movie. The 2019 version works better – but only on paper. Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and the surprising Ella Balinska are the Charlie’s Angels, although the trio is a little wonkily balanced on the spectrum of celebrity; Stewart needed another at least semi-famous face alongside her to balance things out.
The film was a certified flop and only made $8 million on a $50 million budget and Banks called out the sexism which is not usually faced by women-led superhero movies as it’s a male genre, which implies that it is made for men. Although the film is incredibly gratifying visually, and quite original and self-possessed in its humour, the cast does not seem very well-directed at all. That’s not to say that Banks doesn’t know what she is doing, but her brand of offbeat filmmaking does not translate well on camera – it’s just not the right kind of subversive.
2. X-Men: Dark Phoenix
One of the bumpiest films made in the X-Men universe the film should ideally have been the clarion call to rehaul the franchise altogether; it had become distinctly hard time care about the franchise especially after Apocalypse, and Dark Phoenix does very little to affirm the relevance of the mutants. Plus the trope of the woman struggling to come to terms with her own power makes for lazy screenwriting.
A huge chunk of the film is just Jean struggling to get a hold on her power and while it does unravel like a loyal origin story it’s just not enough. Turner’s stint as Jean Grey, the super empath with telekinetic powers lacks spontaneity, gumption and she’s not having a very good time even when she says she does.
This is screenwriter and producer Simon Kenberg’s directorial debut and sadly falls back on the same formula that most X-Men movies have used till date, thus stunting the evolution of the comic’s altogether. A powerful mutant goes rogue, more often than not it’s a woman who’s the one with unbridled power and has to be bought to check by the other mutants. The story leans into dramatising Jean’s struggle and it does not work. The film lost the studio something between $100 and $120 million, and proved that the X-Men universe desperately needs to take a vacation, look around and maybe retire?
Nothing was too strange for Hollywood until Cats happened – there’s nothing we can say about this film which hasn’t been said before. The Andrew Lloyd Webber creation which has been inspired by T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, has been running on stage for two decades now. And for obvious reasons the same staggering whimsicality does not translate on-screen, especially when you can’t figure out why feline Taylor Swift shares some parts of the female anatomy and what exactly is supernatural cat pimp Idris Elba’s deal.
Director Tom Hooper (King’s Speech, The Danish Girl!) and team obviously made a major blunder while evaluating the film’s visual impact and scale; you just can’t unleash furry James Corden and Judi Dench on people without warning. For those who say the trailer was warning enough, rest assured it wasn’t.
The grotesque character design and the wayward screenplay by Hooper and Lee Hall hurt the movie the most; the film reportedly lost something between $71 and $100 million. The film begins when the ballerina kitten Victoria (Francesca Hayward) is dumped in a London alley. She is adopted by a tribe called Jellicles; they frolic around and meet Old Deuteronomy (Dame Judi Dench), the matriarch who gets to decide which cat gets to be born again. But Idris Elba’s there too and he has some mutant cat ninja superpower, and he’s scary we guess (seriously, no clue what his job is).
Cats is a cultural milestone, but the film robs it of the show-stopping element, the choreographed wonder, the high moments, and most importantly, the humour. There are moments in the film which feel so badly planned, you’d think the director was just directing it for stage and not for big screen.