Saturday, January 18, 2014

Listomania: Thomas' Tormented Tales of 2013

Holy crap! Is it 2014 already? '13 lived up to its numeral for me personally, but on the movie front, there was a lot of good stuff. Mostly because I lived quite a bit of it in the past. Yep, I am that guy. The one who cranks Deep Purple, drives a 1970 Superbird, has an Olympia Beer sign in his home and still thinks that MAGNUM FORCE (1973) is one of the best cop movies ever made. Ok, so I don't actually really own a Superbird, but the rest of it is sadly true.

This was the "Year of the Re-Visit" for me. I binge-watched virtual careers and entire series' of films (or at least most of them). Part of this due to the discovery that older films, even the production-starved ones, when treated with care can look absolutely breathtaking in HD on a giant flat-panel TV. Films that are intensely visual like say, an old Argento film, have that intensity magnified almost like seeing it in the theater. Sometimes new things are pretty awesome.

Total Movies Watched:
413 (for those keeping score at home, that is a whopping 110 more movies than last year)

Total Theatrical Movies:
4 (one more than last year! Clearly Hollywood is making progress... or their marketing departments are.)

WORLD WAR Z (2013): Utterly monotonous, plotless tripe that barely qualifies as a zombie movie in spite of a few scenes with hundreds of zombies on screen at once. It certainly isn't a horror movie, it's not even remotely an action movie, it's laughably undramatic and obvious, so what is this? It's a mess, that's what it is. The much publicized production difficulties and a script that was torn apart during production much like Captain Rhodes at the end of a legit zombie flick, makes this the most uninspired, overhyped and relentlessly apologized-for snoozefest in recent memory. Brad Pitt runs from continent to continent acting worried and pining for his sad family (awwwwww!)... oh yeah, and he escapes from zombies once or twice. The entire film boils down to the final scenes in which a bunch of white guys are terrorized by a single black woman in an empty building. If you've seen the trailer, you have literally seen everything this movie has to offer. To add insult to injury, the hasty, post production 3D conversion was, of course, only a ploy to sucker in people who have never seen a real 3D movie and don't know they are getting completely ripped off. Come to think of it, they've probably never seen a real zombie movie either.

IRON MAN 3 (2013): If asked which movie of 2013 I hated more than WORLD WAR Z, it would have to be IRON MAN 3. WWZ was like unflavored jello. Completely bland, but not too difficult to choke down. IM3 on the other hand was like chewing on dogshit flavored thumbtacks. This is the first IRON MAN film I've bothered to see in the theater and I'd say it was a complete waste of $20 and two and a half hours of my life, except for the fact that I do enjoy movie theater popcorn. While I found the first one enjoyable in a pandering jingoistic sort of way, part 2 wasted the talents of one of Hollywood's most entertaining loons and went the ALIENS (1986) route of "if we make it louder, bigger and dumber, it will be better!" So what do we have this time out?
Let's go over the cliche check-list to make sure we have everything:
Witty married-couple arguments? Check!
Precocious kid? Check!
Trite, canned drama? Check!
Longest, most painfully unfunny "fanboy" scene ever? Check!
Lots of poorly executed terrorist drama? Check!
Lots of comic "acting" from Favreau? Check!
No action for interminable stretches at a time? Check!
Minimal action, minimal Iron Man, maximum cringing comedy? Check and double check!
My reaction to IM3
I think it's obvious Shane Black didn't really want to make an Iron Man movie, but apparently it was the only job he could get. His apathy towards the title character even has him executing the majority of the movie, including the final (haven't we seen this before?) action scene without Iron Man! Just Downey and Cheadle running around with 9 mils like they saw LAST BOYSCOUT one too many times. The whole Mandarin thing is played for laughs, having nothing to do with the comics, and Ben Kingsley's performance is, I guess fine, but the character is awful. We have the inspired casting of Bill Sadler and Miguel Ferrer as the President and Vice President, but they have literally nothing to do other than stand around looking like guppies at feeding time. There were several points during the first hour where I almost walked out, but kept thinking "we gotta get some action here soon". Then they have a quick, weak action scene with some villains in suits and it's back to plodding through grating comedy and drama that would touch the hearts of the kind of people who re-post sparkly gifs on Facebook.
Add crap 2D to 3D conversion and this was a miserable waste of over 2 hours and $20.

GRAVITY (2013): This movie has so much hype behind it that any praise I give it will ring hollow, but this is the perfect Hollywood film. Ironically, it was made so remotely that Hollywood wasn't able to WORLD WAR Z it (my new euphemism for wrecking a movie by committee). It's a full 90 minutes of nail-biting tension that jumps into the fray where most Hollywood movies would be after 45 minutes of dry, hackneyed character set-up. Like many great movies of the '70s, it takes a few minutes for the car to get cranked up to the top of the hill before sending the audience flying down the first drop on the roller-coaster. As much as I've hated movies made with far less than 90% CG, this is CG done right. Never did I actually feel like I was watching a CG movie, matter of fact I was quite shocked to see that damn near everything except the actors was made in a computer. The movie worked so well that I even forgave it for being a 3D conversion. To be fair, since it was all done in a computer, you couldn't really shoot legit 3D anyway. Easily the best Hollywood film I've seen in years and definitely the best thing I've seen in the cinema in recent memory. I love a good space thriller, hopefully this paves the way for some solid imitators. Oh, Bruno Mattei, if only you were still with us.

RIDDICK (2013): First off, I am not a fan of Vin Diesel by any means. I find him annoying and cheesy and I don't like his movies. That said, I saw PITCH BLACK (2000) in the theater with one Jon "Correctly" Kitley and got a kick out of it. Was it a masterpiece? No, but it was fun for what it was and Vin Diesel's aping of Clint Eastwood is tolerable at worst. CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK (2004) was an odd, misfired sequel that decided the stoic survivalist should play second-fiddle to a tedious '80s-ish sci-fi Dungeons & Dragons plot about a bunch of whispery goth dudes in armor that worship a religion about death. Oh and it's a halfway decent prison break movie too. David Twohy will always have points in my book for CRITTERS 2 (1988), and I was itching to go to the movies and get out of the heat, so RIDDICK it was. Damned if this wasn't the most entertaining genre flick I've seen in the theater in years (GRAVITY doesn't count since it's a mainstream film).
As much as Twohy was vocal about not wanting to rehash the first film, he found himself compelled to do it after everyone on the planet rightfully bitched about part 2. Once again, he inserts the character of Riddick into an '80s throwback, but this time it works. Essentially a throwing the mostly metaphorical "spaghetti western on a parched alien planet" theme of the first film into sharp relief, Riddick must survive in a Harry Harrison-esqe Death World, while attempting to cut a band of bounty hunters off at the knees, before they do the same to him. The bounty hunters are holed up in a small outpost and are not even aware of the deadly storm that is about to rain down on them all. ...And I don't mean Riddick. This impending doom device works to add a sense of urgency to the stand-off and keeps things from dragging. Occasionally feeling like it was pulled straight out of an '80s Charles Band film, RIDDICK sports some excellent art direction with western visuals and Twohy's fantastic eye for detailed, lived-in sets, props and vehicles. Even if the movie is let down by a rather by-the-numbers finale, it's still way more fun than it has any right to be.

The First Film of 2013:
HAMILTON 2 - BUT NOT IF IT COMES TO YOUR DAUGHTER (2012): As the (unintentional) tradition dictates, the new year must be started off with a highly anticipated sequel. Unfortunately this hasty follow-up to the previous year's surprisingly good original turned out to be stunningly bad. How bad? It had the world-class super spy rescuing a cat who is stuck in a tree. Damn near chewed my finger nails to the bone over that excitement.

The Last Film of 2013:
NINJA II (2013): A full four years after Issac Florentine absolutely gutted us with the hotly anticipated non-action film NINJA (2009), he returns to amend his wrongs with one of the most action-packed fight-fests this side of DRUNKEN MASTER II (1994). Florentine serves up a bubbling fondue pot of fromage with nearly every martial arts cliche imaginable skewered for dipping. Sure the scriptwriting is staggeringly bone-headed even for a Florentine film, but honestly, how many times have you sat through a '70s kung fu movie for the plot? Absolutely loaded to the breaking point with ridiculous excuses for eye-poppingly choreographed fight scenes that could go toe to toe with an HK production, we also get Kane Kosugi, son of the legendary Sho, showing off his father's legacy. My only gripe is that Florentine, aside from a fantastic opening sequence, still doesn't seem to want to put ninjas in his ninja movie. I realize that Scott Atkins is going to need his face time, but how about some evil ninjas for him to decimate? I don't think that's too much to ask. I'll be expecting that in part 3, Florentine, just so you know.

The Biggest Surprise of 2013:
It's a tie between GRAVITY (2013) and RIDDICK (2013). The edge goes to RIDDICK as I was not even remotely expecting to like it as much as I did, but at the same time I was expecting a lot of plasticine Hollywood drama out of GRAVITY and was rather shocked to find it absent. Two big surprises in one year out of my local multiplex. Pretty amazing.

The Biggest Disappointment of 2013:
THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR (2013): Just in case you live off the grid, this special is a feature-length psuedo-wrap-up of Matt Smith's tenure and a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the show. I figured for the milestone of 50 years they'd do something impressive on an epic scale. Unfortunately it was just more of Steven Moffat's non-event writing with lackluster 3D. Moffat has seemed absent minded over the last couple of years, probably due to having his hand in just about every damn show on the BBC. His scripts have been about characters who talk really intensely about how really, very, extremely important everything thing is accompanied by a lot of running around, ultimately leading to absolutely nothing. As if that wasn't annoying enough, every single episode has his painfully artificial "poignant" moments that make 12 year old girls cry.
This special is more of the same and sports a completely wasted bit part for Tom Baker, who has been my hero since childbirth. Even worse, websites like Twitch.com run gushing articles about how profound and touching it was. Ugh! It was a jumbled, cliched mess with no real plotline that Moffat scrached out on the back of a bar napkin while on break from his gruelingly insipid series SHERLOCK (in which a young metro-sexual Holmes solves crimes via his cellphone - really).
I don't know if you know who Maffat is, but he's a BBC writer who used to write episodes for various genre shows. His single episodes used to be really good, until he did a groundbreakingly fantastic episode for David Tenant's "Doctor Who" titled "Blink". That was the episode that turned DW into this giant juggernaut here in the US.
The BBC was so happy with him for the breakthrough success of the new doctor that they decided to simply hand the show over to him and greenlit pretty much any other projects that his grubby little heart desired. So he took over producing and scripting every single episode of DW and it was cool at first, but suddenly he decided that since he had complete control, he could have the doctor making left-wing political speeches and defending the rights of homosexual aliens (not even kidding). DW doesn't need political soapboxing. If you want to insert a subtle message, great. Club us over the head with it and then skip out on any real plot? Hell no. He also decided that there had to be a completely manufactured "sad" moment in every episode where someone dies (slowly) and all of the cast members gather around and sob for a bare minimum of 10 minutes. Then he started producing and writing SHERLOCK and other shows and his writing got sloppy to the point of having episodes that made no sense and had nothing happening in them, but were pretending to be setting up future episodes in which he would figure out some sort of half-assed explanation. This last season, other writers stepped in which made it better, but he clearly is no longer interested in DW and needs to go away. Or as Bernard Brook-Partridge said of The Sex Pistols "I would like to see somebody dig a very, very large, exceedingly deep hole and drop the whole bloody lot down it." *ahem* Ok, I'm better now.

The Best TV Show Watched for the First Time in 2013:
This wasn't much of a challenge, but there were a lot of good nominees in this category. The British cop classic "Sweeney" spin-off "Minder" and the British quasi-adaptation of Douglas Adams' "Dirk Gentley's Holistic Detective Agency" were strong runner's up, but there is one thing to rule them all...
EERIE INDIANA (1991-92): Big props out to Will for recommending this show. When this came out I was so busy watching HK action movies and offending every eligible single woman in the pathetic San Jose bar scene, that I didn't really have any time for a TV show. Much less a kid's TV show. What a mistake that was.
Sort of like BILL & TED meets "The X-Files"... sort of. The family is hyper-normal, but the town is weird, and nobody notices the weirdness except for two boys, Marshall Teller (Omri Katz) and Simon Holmes (Justin Shenkarow). As Teller narrates in the opening credits, "Elvis lives on my paper-route... Bigfoot eats out of my trash..." it's just not like New Jersey.
Boasting an amazingly eclectic sense of humor (particularly for a kid's show) the series features the likes of John Astin, Henry Gibson, Dick Miller, Ray Walston, Julius Harris, Archie Hahn, Matt Frewer, Joe Dante, Claude Akins, Michael J. Pollard, Mark Blankfield, Tom Everett, Paul Sand, and Danielle Harris (look out for pre-fame Denise Richards, Nikki Cox and Tobey Maguire as well)! All of this awesomeness packed into 19 22-minute incredibly creative segments. In one episode the original owner (John Astin) of the local diner/store, The World of Stuff, agrees to help the guys with a little problem, saying "ok boys, let's go bag this werewolf... then I'm going to take a shot at this 'Warren Commission' thing." No 11 year old kid is going to get that joke, which makes it even funnier. It's sad that it only lasted one season, it was just too cool to live. Oh yeah, there's a second season that got made titled "Eerie Indiana: The Other Dimension", but the new cast and lack of cool celeb bit roles are definitely a let-down.

The Best Birthday Present of 2013:
Shockingly, it's not the Xbox One that came completely out of left field. It's a copy of the now utterly unobtainable director's cut DVD of TITAN FIND (1985)! Remastered in it's correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio with the original title and even a few interviews. Sadly this release got caught up in a legal entanglement that may take years to sort out. One of these days I should send Will something nice for his birthday instead of junk food and junk movies.

The Coolest Actor That I Never Realized was Awesome in 2013:
Mr. Fugitive himself, David Janssen. How have I lived all of these years without appreciating this guy? After watching THE GOLDEN GATE MURDERS (1979) and ending up completely obsessed with bagels and lox (ok, more obsessed than usual), Will, who has been a founding member of the Janssen fanclub for decades, turned me on to the "Harry O" pilot films which are nothing short of amazing. Particularly good is the second pilot, "Such Dust as Dreams are Made of" which co-starred a young Martin Sheen as the punk who put a disabling bullet in Harry and now needs his help. Margot Kidder and Sal Mineo also show up as a far too young love interest and a drug-dealing hood, respectively.

Pumpernickel bagel with cream cheese, lox, red onion, tomato, cucumber and capers.

Most Movies Watched in One Month:
January held the record with a total of 48 movies. The highlights (and lowlights) of the month can be found here in Listomania: Thomas' January Jetsam of 2013.

Least Movies Watched in One Month:
June sported a disgraceful total of 16 films. In those 16 films, I watched both WORLD WAR Z and THIS AIN'T JAWS XXX, so maybe you can't blame me for completely giving up on cinema for a while. The highlight of that month has to be the special edition blu-ray of one of my favorite animated movies:
ROCK & RULE (1983): Essentially a post-apocalyptic amalgamation of Don Bluth and HEAVY METAL (1981) in which Earth has been re-populated by human/animal hybrid mutants. When an aging rocker named Mok seduces a young singer with the help of high-tech drugs, it's up to her boyfriend and bandmates to rescue her and put a stop to Mok's plans to summon a world-eating demon from the bowels of hell. Not only is the film startlingly original, but it is surprisingly well scripted. It may take a few viewings, but there is a point where you will realize that almost nothing in the movie would be made the same today. Then you realize that it would never even get financed in today's market.
A dark, menacing-but-funny, post-apocalyptic film in which animals have mutated with humans and an aging rock star kidnaps a young singer to help him summon a demon to destroy humanity as an act of revenge for his declining popularity? No freaking way in hell that pitch meeting would end on an up note. The amount of work that went into the film is just stunning. I mean they did enough work to make two movies over the span of five years in production and some of the tricks that they used to make many scenes work are so incredibly labor intensive that you may not even appreciate them unless you watch the outstanding extras on the disc. Plus, I love the fact that their completely fictional 1983 aging rocker looks exactly like about three different real-life 2013 aging rockers.

Check out a separate post for the De Hart Attack Awards Top 12 Best of 2013!

Moments of Clarity:

2 Reactions:

  1. Great stuff Thomas. I like Vin Diesel but was planning on skipping RIDDICK. Now, I will be checking it out.

    Consider me jealous of your TITAN FIND DVD. Boy am I kicking myself for not picking it up when I had the chance. I got fooled by the chatter that Synapse had picked it up and was planning a BD. Looks like a fun flick.

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  2. Thanks Jason! Yeah, if you are a Diesel fan, you'll probably love RIDDICK.

    I too held out for the Synapse blu-ray and then was completely gutted to find that it wasn't going to happen. You couldn't ask for a better friend than one who scores you a TITAN FIND DVD.

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