Happy New Year everybody! 2013 has been and gone, long live 2014. I think it’s safe to say that, for Life Vs Film (or LVF, as I’ve pretentiously begun referring to it), 2013 kind of sucked. I had so much going on elsewhere – moving house, beng stuck at my parents for 4 months, podcasts, other writing – that my own site got a bit neglected. In fact, in the last 6 months I’ve only written 22 posts for this site, which even for me is a massive disappointment. I can only apologise for this lack of content, and also for my lack of networking on other sites, and I pledge, as part of a new year’s resolution, to up my game considerably for 2014. I have plans, but they’re to be discussed on another day.
On the bright side, I did watch far more new movies last year than in recent times. In 2012, my end-of-year review consisted of a selection of 14 films released that year. This year, that number has almost been multiplied by four, so hurrah for both me and my LoveFilm subscription. Now, many of these haven’t had reviews written for them, so instead of doing a standard Top 10 of the year I’ve ranked every film I’ve seen from this year and written a little bit about them all. To break it up from being one ginormous post this is just part one, and parts two and three will be dispatched tomorrow and Friday. Saturday will see my Top 10 new-to-me films from the year that weren’t released in 2013. Also, I’m fully aware that there’s some pretty huge films from this year I’ve not seen yet. There’s nothing I can do about that now, but I’m planning to retro-actively add them in at a later date. Oh, and one last caveat, as I live in the UK, and we don’t necessarily receive films at the same time as the rest of the world, I’m listing here all the films that were released in the UK in 2013. I’ll pick them out when I get to them. So, without further ado here is my 2013, in movies:
55. Movie 43
And of course, after saying I didn’t review many of these films, the worst film of the year happens to be one that I did review. Nuts. I watched and reviewed Movie 43, a collaborative sketch-comedy with a cavalcade of stars all either under contract or being blackmailed into appearing in this diabolical turd of a film. This has to be the worst film on the filmography of literally every single person involved, and considering this film features the likes of Halle Berry (Catwoman), Anna Faris (Scary Movie 4), Justin Long (Alvin and the Chipmunks), Uma Thurman (Batman & Robin), Gerard Butler (The Ugly Truth), Johnny Knoxville (Men in Black 2) and Josh Duhamel (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), that makes it a pretty terrible film. Possibly the only redeeming part is Bobby Cannavale’s split second turn as Superman, but that is by no means reason to watch this. The only reason I saw this abomination unto entertainment is because Kate Winslet’s in it, and thus as a Winslet completist it had to be seen. I still haven’t forgiven her.
54. Oz the Great and Powerful
OK, full disclosure, I bottled it about a third of the way through this film, because a) I was tired, and b) I just didn’t care about it whatsoever. I’d seen The Wizard of Oz for the first time mere weeks prior to catching this on DVD, but about 45 minutes in I’d found nothing at all to grasp onto, other than James Franco’s fairly bland portrayal of Oz. It just goes to show how damn terrible Movie 43 is that less than a third of Oz the Great and Powerful is still better than it.
A Good Day to Die Hard suffers the expectation and and legacy that those last two title words bring with them, swinging through a window attached to a fire hose. Regardless of how many bad reviews you’ve heard, there’s still that voice at the back of your head whispering “…. but it could be as good as Die Hard….” Hell, even on a par with Die Hard 4.0 would be acceptable, as if you ignore the more ridicilous facets of the plot and Timothy Olyphant’s wussy villain, that film’s not half bad. When compared to this garbage though, it’s Citizen frickin’ Kane. Bruce Willis makes no attempt to hide his boredom, whilst his onscreen son, Jai Courtenay, is bland and deserves no place on my cinema screens. Add to this no standout villain, a confusing plot and a wasted Peter Mullan, and you get utter crap. There are serious problems when the best element of your film is the tagline, Yippee-ki-yay Mother Russia (which, admittedly, still makes me smile).
Jason Bateman, playing a man named Sandy Patterson, has his identity stolen by Melissa McCarthy’s serial identity thief. Due to plot contrivances, the only way Sandy can keep his job is to head across America, track down McCarthy and bring her back. It’s the kind of premise that you immediately say “Wait, no, the police would actually sort that out, this is ridiculous,” and that’s exactly what I did, but of course the characters in the film don’t quite realise the hokey premise they’re living out, so instead they ricochet from one implausible scenario to another, along the way barely raising anything other than an occasional smirk from me. Obviously it doesn’t help that I’m not a Melissa McCarthy fan, and in fact her nomination for Bridesmaids may have been when I lost all faith in the Oscar establishment, but I love Bateman, and there’s a decent supporting cast here that’s almost entirely wasted too. Next time, please give me more John Cho, more Jon Favreau, much more Robert Patrick and absolutely no Genesis Rodriguez. Also, I find the worst kind of film is one that ruins something else you genuinely love, that has little relation to this. So blame gets lauded upon Identity Thief for ruining Modern Family for me, with what they make poor Eric Stonestreet go through here.
The trend of gritty re-tellings of classic fairy tales continued with this lacklustre interpretation of how Hansel and Gretel, last seen as children pushing an evil witch into her own oven, might have turned out when they grew up – into witch hunters wandering from town to town, dismissing any demonic presences they encounter. It isn’t necessarily a bad film, it’s just lacking in anything remotely interesting or entertaining. I did appreciate how Hansel (Jeremy Renner) – having been forcefed a large quantity of sugary treats in his youth – grew up to be diabetic. Also, Gemma Arterton in tight clothing. Enough said.
I’m normally a fan of Baz Luhrmann’s films – other than Australia, which is a half-decent film with a very annoying protagonist (Nicole Kidman’s insufferable Lady Ashley) and an entirely unnecessary hour at the end. His take on The Great Gatsby, however, is overlong, dull and empty. I quite liked the book, which I mistakenly read for the first time mere months before seeing the film, but the best part was the language used, which never translates well onto screen, regardless of whether it’s literally displayed on the screen or not (which it was here, which was stupid). I wasn’t a fan of the anachronistic soundtrack (not because of the anachronism, I’m just not a Jay-Z fan), the bookends of Tobey Maguire’s Nick Carraway attending a sanitorium to treat his alcoholism were neither welcome nor necessary, and some great actors, such as Jason Clarke and Isla Fisher, were sidelined in favour of Carey Mulligan’s simpering. Leonardo DiCaprio is great as the eponymous Gatsby, however, and Joel Edgerton is awesome as Tom Buchanan.
On paper this sounded decent enough – James McAvoy plays a London cop and Mark Strong is the criminal boss he’s been chasing, but the two must work together to settle personal vendettas – but in practice it really didn’t work for me. The story was incredibly predictable, the dialogue spelled out obvious plot points scenes in advance, then played off said plot points as though they were unexpected, the dialogue was beyond blunt, and the choice of actor for the good guy that’s secretly evil is the most obvious in the world. There’s a dozen films like this made every year, and the only reason this cropped up on my radar was the cast – who I genuinely appreciate in other films, particularly the two leads – but I can’t see why either of them signed on for this run-of-the-mill yawn-fest.
The best animated films are those that appeal to both children and adults, ones that have a decent story, with some over-the-kiddies’-heads humour and endearing, well-designed characters. Unfortunately Epic has none of this, and is very much just for children, with disinterested teenager MK (Amanda Seyfried) being shrunk down amongst a race of tiny leaf-people in her father’s garden. There she must assist in protecting a bud that must bloom that evening in a specific place, in order for the leaf-people to gain a new queen with the ability to make plants grow with her mind. Also, slugs, snails, caterpillars and frogs can all talk, and they have no regard as to what their scale should be in relation to everything else. And there’s a race of tiny rot-people out to make everything decayed and barren, because why not? Christoph Waltz makes a good villain, and Aziz Ansari and Chris O’Dowd are decent as a slug/snail combo, but everything else is by-the numbers. Beyonce seems to have been cast as the leaf-queen purely so she can sing the closing credits song.
Good design and cinematography are not the only ingredients for a good film, and alas that’s all this Tom Cruise vehicle has available. I guessed the majority of the plot, concerning Cruise’s last man on Earth, maintaining the machinery harvesting the planet’s water for a human colony in space, fairly early on – to be honest, there’s only really a couple of directions it could have taken – and after that there wasn’t a lot left to care about. That being said, the visuals are stunning, Cruise is good in a pretty demanding role, and had a few other recent science fiction movies not existed yet, this would have fared a great deal better against my plot-guessing.
Another not-great kids film that failed to appeal to more adult minds, The Croods saw a family of neanderthals, led by Nicolas Cage’s Grug, forced to leave the safety of their cave in search of a new home, encountering a more evolved humanoid, Guy (Ryan Reynolds) on the way, whom Grug’s adventurous daughter Eep (Emma Stone) takes a fancy towards. There are fun moments and some entertaining action beats, and some interesting creature designs combining the physicality of one animal with the colour scheme of another – leading to parrot-tigers and owl-bears – and for me the film was stolen by Guy’s living belt – named Belt – who has a penchant for dramatic music at inoppotune moments. However, overall the film remained a disappointment.
I didn’t really want to see this film as I knew full well that I wasn’t going to like it, but I was on a Lambcast episode devoted to it so I didn’t have much choice. I’m not a car guy (I’m a cyclist), and whilst I do enjoy some big dumb action movies, this franchise is not made for me. Yes, the tank chase was fun, as was the ridiculous runway climax, but I’d seen literally every beat in the trailers beforehand, so there was nothing in the films that I didn’t 100% know was coming. Honestly, the film basically exists to join the dots of the trailer, with the shortest, straightest line possible. Infuriating. This will remain the only film I’ve seen from this franchise, unless they do something amazing like bring in Michael Shannon as a villain, recreate the entire thing with Muppets (Vin Diesel = Fozzie) or somehow introduce dinosaurs into the mix.
44. Jack the Giant Slayer
Like I said with Hansel and Gretel, there’s a trend at the moment for big budget re-imaginings of classic fairy tales, and they don’t always work. This one fared slightly better in terms of action scenes, monsters – Bill Nighy plays a giant! – and a supporting cast, including Ewan McGregor, Ian McShane, Eddie Marsan and Stanley Tucci, all of whom are great, though McShane and Marsan are underused, as always. It’s great to see Nicholas Hoult get a lead role in a decent-sized picture, I just wish it had a better story that didn’t kind of fall apart at the end.
43. I Give It A Year
As romantic comedies go, this wasn’t terrible, it also just wasn’t funny. It’s an interesting premise – what happens to the couple in a typical romcom who, after getting married on a spur-of-the-moment without really knowing the other, realise that after the wedding they aren’t too well suited to one another? – but of course it’s fairly obvious what happens, especially when you throw in an alternative romantic interest for each of them. Stephen Merchant, Jason Flemyng and Minnie Driver provide the only comedy from the film, leaving leads Rafe Spall and Rose Byrne to unfortunately both play it so straight they’re either dull or annoying. I did appreciate how both the man and woman in the relationship had their faults, and seemed equally to blame for the romantic woes, as so usually it just gets chucked to one side in favour of overly glamourising one person over the other.
(Released in the UK on January 1st 2013) The problem with Quartet, a drama about an upcoming musical performance to be undertaken by four retired classical singers (Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins) is that it’s all about the set-up to the show, building and building to see whether they’ll all band together to pull it off, but then it cuts to the credits right before they actually start singing. Yes, I’m sure all the behind-the-scenes character drama should be enough, but when there’s such an obvious climax to build to and you cut right before it should occur, you can’t help feeling disappointed. I love Billy Connolly, and here he’s on fine form as a randy old codger (think Donald Sutherland in Space Cowboys), and it’s wonderful to see older actors getting a chance to shine on screen again, but I cannot understand that editing decision, other than the four leads probably couldn’t pull off the singing.
I’ve mentioned a few other films that I managed to guess the plot of fairly early on, and this could be the pick of the bunch. The cast of this bank-robbing-magicians movie is awesome – Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Mark Ruffalo, Melanie Laurent, *cough* Dave Franco – and the idea has a lot of potential, but alas it’s directed by the consistently dull Louis Leterrier, who couldn’t seem to stop himself including clues he thought would only have been picked up on a second viewing, but which in fact were painfully obvious first time around. As soon as one character yelled with mock exasperation “I’m looking for myself!” it all fell into place, regardless of whether it made any sense or not. Plus, the magical set pieces of the film seemed to have been placed in the wrong order, as they decreased in entertainment value as the film progressed. The first one was genuinely fun, but by the end it seemed everyone had run out of ideas. More angry Michael Caine, please.
So basically I just complained about the forst 15 films I saw this year. Tune in tomorrow to hear me be semi-complimentary about the middle-twenty. See you then.