2013-09-03

The Movies of 2013*: One-paragraph reviews
*second third only
*feature-length only



.

In theaters:
The Great Gatsby (2013): This movie was just not as cool as Romeo + Juliet or Moulin Rouge. This is a grave disappointment. The music was jazzier than I expected but not jazzy enough. The emotional action was stella; not everyone was as good at being cool, though. The visuals were too digital---the car scenes were too much like a video game to be emotionally involving. In the end, the movie took too dang long to find its feet. Once the party was over it got much stronger, but the best I can say is I liked it; good movie.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012): Prepare to be impressed. Even though we missed this movie last summer, we just saw it in theaters having almost no idea what was going to happen. It was a pretty good movie though probably the weakest of the three. Still. Mostly solid stuff. A few complaints, but hey---it's all over now. Let's not complain.

R.I.P.D. (2013): I was hoping for the second coming of Men in Black. Instead I got a stupidfest. What a disappointment. A couple clever set pieces does not a screenplay make. Jeff Daniels does not a screenplay save. We can't blame the actors on this one. This is 100% script failure. Watch the trailer. It's waaaay better.

This Is the End (2013): To get the stink of RIPD out of our minds, we turned right back around and bought more movie tickets. The only thing starting we had the least bit interest in was this. (Blame Terry Gross.) And it was really really funny. So much better than I'd expected. But I cannot in good conscioius recommend it to you. I'm not sure I've ever seen a movie with so much---how to put this delicately---penis in it. But I will say that it was a great pleasure to jump and scream at a screen knowing a huge laugh was following a millisecond behind. But perhaps I should also add that Lady Steed is worried about nightmares tonight. So there is (may be) that.

Monsters University (2013): All I almost dared to hope for was an emotional impact that the original film delivered in its final moment. While this one couldn't reach those heights (what movie can?), it did tear me up in the opening sequence and had some great moments throughout. Sure, I have some issues with it (mostly sequelish problems), but the movie is undoubtedly a success. Good work, Pixar.

Pacific Rim (2013): The flick is well made enough that it's easy to forget its inherent dumbness (until it forces you to confront it by bringing up dinosaurs or making us wonder why they didn't think of swords earlier). That said, as giant-robots-fighting-giant-monsters movies go, it's the best I've ever seen. And while the movie is overfilled with interchangeable square-jawed blond guys, the bulk of the casting was excellent. Probably, in fact, the film's greatest strength was its casting. Plus, the song in the closing credits was just what I would have loved fifteen years ago---because of the girl, not the rapper, though props to him for dropping John Donne references in a kaiju movie.


At home:
Bellflower (2011): Not often I want to see a movie because of it's genesis, but a fellow who writes, produces, directs, stars in, and builds the cameras and flamethrower? Interesting. I don't really quite know what to make of the film after just one viewing, but it's certainly cool and it certainly has something to say. But what is it saying? No idea. Something about modern masculinity? Anyway, sure did feature a lot of alcohol. Like: so much. I hope this aimless hedonism isn't an accurate description of us.

Snatch (2000): Geez. Two crazy violent movies in a row? Whoops. So this movie wasn't quite what I'd hoped but about what I'd expected. Brad Pitt is great. Benicio Del Toro was too but died awful fast. In all, I just can't enjoy these movies about the violence in the seedy underbelly of ye society anymore. Even when it's supercool and stylized. Just ain't my thing. Also, I didn't think the cool was quite as successful as it's been in, say, Ocean's 11. Soderbergh learned well from Ritchie and improved upon him, it would seem.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984): No, it's not as epic/mythic as the manga. Fewer characters, fewer nations, fewer cultures, fewer religions, fewer battles, less intrigue, less myth. Just less. If ever there were a time to whip out "the book was better" then this is it. Of course, Miyazaki set out to make an unfilmable epic when he started Nausicaä. So congrats, Miyazaki! You did it! All that said, it's still an enjoyable movie and still pretty epic. I would like to see the twelve-hour version though . . . .

Amour (2012): Holy smokes. How to write about this movie in a single paragraph? I've never seen a movie like this that made such excellent use of the static. Film is usually such a dynamic medium; this film relies on long shots, usually with a still camera. Nothing but incidental soundtrack (which is remarkable given the importance of music to its characters. In case you haven't heard, its the story of an elderly French couple as the wife dies. The actress was highly lauded for her frankly astonishing portrayal of the dying woman, but the actor who plays her husband is no whit less impressive. In fact, you might argue he's more impressive. He has to age greatly during the movie all the while standing next to a woman who is wasting away before us, in long static silence. And the shots aren't just long and still. They are beautifully composed and shot. I resented the subtitles because they prevented me from gazing at every perfect detail. This is as designed as a Wes Anderson movie, but much more understated and grounded in realism. One final note to those who felt the most remarkable thing about this film was its misanthropy: How in the world can a film that digs into the experience of death as most of us will experience it be less moral than Superman killing a couple hundred thousand people to find himself?

This Is 40 (2012): This was our first Judd Apatow movie (though we have seen all of Freaks and Geeks) and although it failed to blow us away, it did not disappoint. We laughed, we cried, we saw ourselves, we saw all our favorite famous people. That's what was advertised, right?

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012): My expectations were a bit confused for this film, but I liked it about as much as I like Aubrey Plaza and Jake Johnson, even if I'm still unsure what to do with the ending. At least they went for it, I suppose. At least they went for it.

Looper (2012): An astonishingly good movie. Layers of moral and emotional complexity. So few right answers or clear heroes yet balanced with a character agency that's pretty dang unusual. One of the smartest movies I've seen in a while. I felt respected by this movie.

The Graduate (1967): First time seeing it. And boy did I have the plot all wrong. Like: completely. I had the order all wrong. The biggest complement I have to give the film is Nichols's composition. The second is that for as many times as this story has been told since, this is still the best one I've seen. Even if it doesn't have any flamethrowers.

50/50 (2011): Great movie. I had pretty high expectations, but they weren't this high. I mean: cancer comedy---how good can it be? I had not idea whether Joseph Gordon-Levett would survive, but I was sure he would be good. Every movie we've seen that adult him's been in has been good. He can pick 'em. And he brings a quality to movies ala---the closest comparison I can think of is Matt Damon. He's got It. Whatever It is.

The Kids Are All Right (2010): Even with the affair being much more awful than I'd imagined it, the message of family and forgiveness survived. And while no one probably doubted that Julianne Moore and Annette Bening would nail being the parents, having only seen Mia Wasikowska in Tim Burton's crappy Alice, she was quite the discovery. That girl is amazing. Now I regret missing the new Jane Eyre all the more. Back to the movie though, loved the naturalistic dialogue and easy reality of the family. Well made picture.

Star Wars (1977): I had thought the original versions were not on DVD and so I borrowed some DVDs to finally watch the movies with my kids---machete style. So I borrowed episodes II through VI and today I pulled out the borrowed DVDs only to discover these 2006 editions, in fact, include the original theatrical releases. Granted, the transfers are intentionally bad, but I put it in to just watch the first couple scenes and it wasn't unwatchable so me and the kids just did it old school. Which means I still haven't seen the special edition. (I was on my mission when they were released theatrically and the mission president said no. Just never got around to it. Never even saw Guido shoot first until watching The People Vs George Lucas last year---and when I did I was shocked to discover that the people's upset was as justified as it was large.) Sure, the 1977 film has aged, but my kids didn't mind. I still may pop in the special edition to see the extra Jabba scene, but the movie's fine, George. The movie is fine.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980): [Note: Although it's arguable this was ALWAYS titled Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, to distinguish it from the special edition which I may also watch this third, I'm giving it the shorter title.] Stuck with the original theatrical version and holy smokes, what a movie. When I was a kid, I liked Return of the Jedi best in a near tie with the original Star Wars. And yes, I was a huge Ewok nerd. Ask me what I was for Halloween in 1983. I've always secretly believed that people say they like Empire best simply because it's Darker or Adult or Darker or whatever. But watching this the same day as the first film, I have to say I found this one superior. I found it much more emotionally moving as well as simply more exciting. But stopping here and going back to watch episodes II and III next is killing me. I don't want a cliffhanger and flashback! I want to see what happens next!

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1997): So I didn't like the Phantom Menace-esque physical humor in Mos Eisley and the Jabba scene was pointless. I was okay with about half of the extra "cool stuff" shots and I thought putting the meeting-Biggs scene back in added more than it detracted, and it was nice to see James Earl Jones get a credit. And, yes, having just watched the crummy print, this was waaaay cleaner. And I may be unfairly biased (aka old)---my son after all kept complimenting this version's explosions---but I like the original cut better.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002): When Lady Steed and I left the theater after this film, I was so disgusted I could barely spit. Rewatching it now, its sins seem less egregious. In fact, over all, not so bad. Hayden Christensen is as annoying as Harry Potter 5 and the age difference in our romantic leads is hard to get over (skipping Episode I should've helped this, but I'm still stuck on it---even if Wookieepiedia says they're only about five years apart). I enjoyed watching it. And Yoda vs Dooku is still crazy exciting. The other thing that's sticking out to me this time is, even with their faults, the films---new ones inclusive---do interesting things with echos and motifs and historical allusions and repetition, etc. Sure, sometimes it's clumsy, but that doesn't make it uninteresting. A rewrite or two, some tighter direction and editing---these really could've been something.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005): Another movie I only saw once and in theaters. That time I thought it was the best of the new trilogy but I was so exhausted by the whole thing that I had no drive to see it again. Seeing it now, eight years later? Hey! It's a pretty good movie! I'm not about to call it one of the pinnacles of Western civ, but good stuff. Nice tragedy. Nice use of Roman history. Nice warning against any old democracy that might be getting a bit too comfortable. And just killer action and set pieces too. All in all a bit loose and unevenly acted at times, but a good movie.

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983): Unquestionably my favorite Star Wars movie when I was a kid. Perhaps because I saw it in theaters. Perhaps because of the contrasts between heros and villains. Perhaps because Ewoks. Anyway, my kids seemed done with Star Wars at this point; the older two missed most of the movie. Too scary or something. Whatever. I've reevaluated my opinions of RotJ the last ten years, but watching it now---even in special-edition form---I'm back to liking it quite a lot. But the ending should have been recut. FIRST a bit of the Ewok party. THEN the funeral pyre. Then nothing else. No Jedis returning to smile at Luke. Be quieter, more ambiguous, more open with the ending. That would have been better.

Monsters, Inc. (2001): Still one of my favorites. This is the film that proved to me that Pixar was for real. That final shot! That's amazing digital acting. And I'll bet Donald Kaufman approves of that chase scene.


Elsewhere:
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009): I may've seen this movie more times than any other this decade---probably over a dozen---and it never loses its charm. Exquisite animation, sharp writing, you name it.

Cinderella (1950): Even though it's possible I haven't seen this movie in twenty years and even though I was only vaguely watching it, I still like it. Disney movies, at their best, are, let's face it, pretty darn good.

The Happening (2008): Although I missed the first half hour or so, the film's been on my mind enough (and Lady Steed and I have discussed it enough) that I feel like including it on this list. First, yes, it's crap. Second, I DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT PEOPLE SEE IN MARK WAHLBERG. EVERY MOVIE I HAVE SEEN HIM IN IS UTTER CRAP. Second, although The Birds is far from my favorite Hitchcock film, it still did a much better job than this movie with a similar conceit. Largely because it didn't fall to overexplaining. Third, although the conceit has its problems, it has plenty potential. Shame a better movie wasn't made to accompany it. It could have been the sort of movie that makes you buy a gas mask and afraid to go outside. And I've been needing a new gas mask.

Mr. Baseball (1992): Mash your classic fish-out-of-water story with your typical old-sports-guy tale and you get Mr. Baseball. Which isn't to say it's just a bunch of cliches (though throwing in the theme-mirroring romantic story certainly was). Actually, it's a pretty decent flick. Selleck is a pretty charismatic guy. He makes the movie, to be sure.

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