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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

2013 Movie Year in Review

Here is a list of the films which were both released and seen by me in 2013, in rough order of how much I would recommend them:

STRONGLY RECOMMENDED:
Gravity - In a year without a really great movie (there were at least five movies in 2012 that would have been my favorite movie of 2013 (though I haven't seen the movies which look best of 2013, including: 12 Years a Slave, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Her)), this was my favorite. It's not a good movie in the sense that there's a lot of great acting and characterization and such. But seeing this in the theater was definitely worth the money - it's beautiful to look at, and I was immediately immersed in the story. There are a couple of moments when the movie lost that, just a little; the imagery is a little heavy-handed at times, and the film is too sentimental. But then again, I am dark-hearted and cynical. And sometimes even over-the-top sentimentality is okay, in an over-the-top movie.

Pacific Rim - Look, this is a movie about robots fighting monsters. If you don't like that sort of thing, move on. I love it, this movie was awesome, and if they want to make more Robot Jox meets Godzilla movies, I will pay to go see it.

Much Ado About Nothing - IMDB says this is 2012, but Wikipedia says 2013 for its theatrical release, and I am going with that. Except for the Leo Romeo and Juliet, I always enjoy these "Shakespeare in modern day" adaptations. The most recent I'd previously seen, Coriolanus with Voldemort and 300, owned. Much Ado About Nothing is not quite as good, but it's still excellent: funny and entertaining.

GENERALLY RECOMMENDED:
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - I am glad these movies are all making trillions of dollars, because it increases the chances of a gritty two-part version of The Children of Hurin.

Iron Man 3 - I liked the second Iron Man best of the three RDJr ones. This one is a fine superhero movie, well-acted and all. It feels long, though, and I was ready, by the end of the movie, for it just to be over. There are several scenes, especially at the end, that clearly were put into the film just for trailers.

Oblivion - Pretty good! Remember when sci-fi action movies were all Real Dumb? They aren't anymore, and I like that. Oblivion doesn't do anything special, but it doesn't dick anything up, either. People are critical of Tom Cruise, and he seems like a bad person, but I almost always like the movies in which he stars. Cruise is not a great actor, but he's competent and generally seems to know his limits. This is one reason War of the Worlds worked - Cruise as a smug semi-loser who doesn't really know what's going on? Believable!
 
RECOMMENDED, WITH CAVEATS:
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - At points I found myself not really caring what happened to most of the characters, which is a bad sign, but it's overall a pretty good movie. Most of the actors in this are strong, which is surprising since it is a movie made from a series written for teens and pre-teens.

Star Trek into Darkness  - This is basically the first Star Trek reboot movie, but with Sherlock as the bad guy. Somebody (Mobute?) said that the bad guy is basically Sideshow Bob, and the movie works much better that way. It's too bad that the main actor who plays Kirk is such a weak imitation of world-crushing hero Shatner, because everyone else is pretty competent. I never quite, in terms of plot or characterization, understood why anyone in this movie did anything.

The Place Beyond the Pines - This is a not terribly compelling but generally watchable generational drama about secrets and crimes and connections. I was really excited about it, because the movie looked like Drive but with motorcycles and bank robberies. It isn't.

The Great Gatsby - This movie runs into the same problem as the next one, which is source material. Why make this movie now? If it's a portrayal of the failures of the rich and the inherent corruption of great wealth, something we had in the 1920s and today, why make that great wealth look so awesome? I have suspicions this will be the problem with The Wolf of Wall Street - allegedly an indictment of excess and criminality which ends up glorifying it. Leonardo DiCaprio does not pick movies which best suit his acting.

Man of Steel - I liked this movie, I guess, except for the Superman part. The fight scenes are cool and the actors (except for the guy who played Superman, Handsomey McStrongWhiteJawline) are all better than this movie deserves. The plot mostly makes sense, at least as far as stupid superhero movies go. Still: Why make an angsty Superman? Star Trek sort of had the same problem: if your film relies on people knowing things about the character because of previous incarnations, and not because of things which the film or its immediate predecessors explain, then you are failing. I really wish the movie had just been a space political drama starring Jor-L and Zod.

This Is the End - If you like those Pineapple Express/Superbad kind of comedies, this is an entirely competent (if self-indulgent) version.

Ender's Game - Not a terrible movie, and they do some things right I didn't expect to work (like portraying the Battle School formations in a way which makes sense), but this movie was rushed and, as a result, lacked emotional impact. Except for some parts of the fighting in Battle School, this movie looked cheap: there were about four different sets, total, plus a lot of obviously-CGI space ships. The main actors are mostly fine, but this movie had some poor casting, too: the kid who plays Bonzo was a terrible, terrible choice because he's not intimidating. Harrison Ford doesn't try acting anymore. The book Ender's Game is really a dark subject, and it's got some difficult themes that the movie can barely address.They really should have made this at least two films, and probably a trilogy (everyone loves trilogies). A trilogy would allow three films to each have a slightly different feel and address some of the larger themes the movie just misses.
  
MAYBE ON CABLE?: 
The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia - Fun to watch, but dumb. 

Elysium - I was super pumped about this movie, made by the guy who made District 9 (which I really liked). But this is the dumb version of District 9. It's absurdly heavy-handed, the plot does not make sense, and the world is not believable. It's never clear why, in an obviously post-scarcity economy, the economic and social distinctions remain. Given that it's obviously easy to land a ship on the space station thing, why not put a bunch of diesel-filled barges around it in space and hold the rich people hostage? Why don't the rich people on Elysium throw asteroids into earth, killing all the poor people? That said, the effects and action were good, mostly the acting is fine, and I actually cared what happened to a couple of people.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues - It's like the first one, but not as good.

World War Z - This is nothing like the book World War Z. It's a stupid plot. Brad Pitt is irritating in this movie (usually I think he's pretty good). The zombies are not scary or interesting (I Am Legend, another movie which entirely misses the point of its source material, had a similar problem).

NOT RECOMMENDED:
Oz the Great and Powerful - Dumb and tiresome. I am sure everyone involved made a billion dollars. You can often tell when people make a movie because it's a lot of money, and not because, say, there's a story they want to tell or a character or situation they want to explore. I will say, it was fun watching this movie in 2-D and seeing all the tossed hats and such which were clearly designed for 3-D.

Gangster Squad - This movie has a fascinating subject and a great cast. It's really terrible, though, and I can't quite put my finger on why. I think part of it is that everyone is too much, if that makes sense -- the heroes too heroic, the villains too villainous, the fights too astounding. The plot is dumb and writing lazy: The movie ends with a fist fight between the main good guy and the main bad guy. Everyone involved in this was a pro, and I wonder if there was a point when they all realized that they were working on a crap movie.

Olympus Has Fallen - Woof, what a terrible movie. The plot is ridiculous, the acting terrible, the special effects laughable. Nothing redeems this movie.