My Top Ten Films of 2013

1. 12 Years a Slave

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2. Nebraska

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3. Gravity

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4. Short Term 12

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5. The Act of Killing

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6. Inside Llewyn Davis

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7. We Are What We Are

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8. Computer Chess

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9. American Hustle

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10. Frozen

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Birdseed, Greased or Ungreased? I Miss Bill Schulman (1926-2013)

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The Ritz closed in 1990, and for three years the neglected marquee of the one-screen theater in Crockett, TX was perpetually showing Gremlins 2 and Fire Birds (a rare Nic Cage action film that actually precedes The Rock). I think every one in town assumed the place was closed up for good, though there were always rumors that it was going to suddenly throw open its doors and start playing movies again. It took until May of 1993, with a double-bill of Aladdin and Groundhog Day, before it started its current run, under the management of Bill and Christine Schulman.

CountryLifeOnline.com has a history of the Schulman Theatres, and it’s mostly stuff I’ve heard first-hand from Mr. Schulman himself. Right when I got out of high school, I went to work for the Schulmans for that grand re-opening, and continued to work for them right up until I moved to Austin, Texas in 1998. Mr. Schulman trusted me with a key to the place, and even after I quit, I held on to that key for posterity, not letting it go until my wedding in 2002 – a wedding that took place in the Schulman’s Ritz auditorium.

That key allowed me to go in and make up and break down the films that would arrive, but also (with Mr. Schulman’s permission, of course) allow me and a guest or two to sit up in the formerly “coloreds’ only” balcony of the old place on weekends and watch trash cinema (biker flick The Devil Riders, faux-documentary Forbidden Sexuality and Texas-made stag cheapie Common-Law Wife) and Woody Woodpecker reels that he’d collected over his many years of theater operation. I can draw a direct line backward from my current job as a movie critic and blogger to the days when I was a teenager with my own access to a movie theater any time I wanted.

I worked for the Schulmans at the Ritz, and for a short stint at the Palestine Twin (to help out with overwhelming crowds for The Lion King) which set the stage for my job as assistant manager at the Dogwood 6. I met my best friend and current “boss” at the Ritz. I met my ex-wife at the Dogwood 6. I made friendships that have lasted forever and life choices that continue to influence me, all because of the ripple effect caused by Bill Schulman.

Bill Schulman liked me, and I liked him. He was quick with a laugh and a smile and a strong squeeze of the shoulder; he was short, but compact and muscular, even into old age. He had his own made-up slang for concession items, like “birdseed” for popcorn, “carbonated lemonade” for Mountain Dew, and “expectant’s delight” for pickles. The one that always got the laugh from customers was whether they wanted their M&Ms “male or female.” The difference? Males have nuts.

I would gladly listen to his stories dozens of times over – about his victory in an exhibitor bidding war for Dune, or the box office employee who was shot in College Station, or the rescuing of old 35mm prints from being destroyed. I’m tempted to call the recording at the Ritz right now, just to see if his voice is still there, loudly announcing showtimes and mangling the names of fly-by-night fad celebrities. I know it’s not though, and any other voice would disappoint me.

I loved Mr. Schulman, though I never told him as much. When I would come into town for any extended period of time, I would stop by and say hello. The last time I saw him was in 2008. Looking for comfort in my old digs, I took in a double-feature of Leatherheads and The Ruins. Mr. Schulman was still going strong, running the entire operation by tooth and nail. He was happy to see me, and we hugged and chatted like we always did – as if no time had passed at all and I was still my eager 17-year old self.

We all get old and pass on, and I knew this day would eventually come, but I was really kinda hoping he would outlive me so that I wouldn’t have to think about a world without him. Bill Schulman was important to me.

My Top Ten Movies of 2012

Just a list, so I can have something for future reference…

10. Lincoln

9. Cloud Atlas

8. Paul Williams, Still Alive

7. The Master

6. Zero Dark Thirty

5. Looper

4. Silver Linings Playbook

3. Take This Waltz

2. Django Unchained

1. The Imposter

 

>> Marvel At the Movies: Examining DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN and INFINITY GAUNTLET

My beat at Movies.com has me covering all the Marvel movies. Joe Carnahan is circling the DAREDEVIL reboot, which will probably be based on Frank Miller’s “Born Again” storyline. I think I’ve come up with the perfect cast for it. Meanwhile, Joss Whedon has signed on to AVENGERS 2, which fans speculate will be a loose adaptation of 1991’s THE INFINITY GAUNTLET mini-series. A lot will have to change to make that storyline work on the big screen.

>> From the Web: BURKE & HARE and THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR Blu-Ray Reviews

Do you like scary movies? Well, neither one of these is scary! I know. Bummer. But just because they’re scary doesn’t mean they’re not worth watching!

Check out my reviews for both films at HorrorsNotDead.com.

>> From the Web: Bad Movies I Love

I “guested” over on Bob Freelander’s blog with a list of ten bad movies I love (part of a guest series; I strongly recommend you check them all out — lots of treats in there).

It took me a really long time to come up with some, but I’m more or less proud of my list. I was the only person with Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas. The photo Bob chose has some irony — it’s from Corruption.Gov, a bad movie I’m in!

Check out the complete list here.

>> Wrath of the Titans (5/10)

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There’s a moment in Wrath of the Titans when Zeus tells Perseus that he hopes that one day he’ll realize the strength that humans have. Only, Perseus already learned this lesson in the first film, and Zeus should know that. Heck, not even a couple of minutes before, they were discussing Perseus’s willing choice to stay human instead of embracing the god-side of his demi-god status. It’s an early sign of the overall laziness on display in Wrath of the Titans– a ninety-minute headache of exploding dirt that feels more like an obligation than an actual movie.

Sam Worthington can’t even be bothered to disguise his Australian accent this time out, because, really, who cares? Ralph Fiennes certainly doesn’t, shedding his balding, creepy, whispery Hades performance from the first film so that he can say his lines and get back to his trailer. Even Liam Neeson’s Zeus is made kindler and gentler by the toothless screenplay, a story which takes some of the malevolence that makes Greek gods so interesting and replaces those character strokes with exploding dirt.

The plot is explained through hurried expositional dialogue at the start of the film. The old gods are dying because nobody prays to them anymore. Imprisoned titan Cronus offers any god who will free him from Tartarus the opportunity to live forever under his lava-soaked rule. Also, because the gods are dying, monsters are coming out of the ground (just cuz). Perseus grabs his (god-given) things, and we’re off. Don’t stop to think about any of it; let’s get this over with.

All of this is just sort of said out loud, never explained by showing us anything (the near-total lack of gods is just one sign of the film’s overall cheapness).  As such, we start the movie off on such a clumsy foot that there will be no recovery, only stumbling. We tumble in the dirt from scene to scene – gods grow weaker, Perseus draws nearer, until the finale which manages to rip off the finale of its predecessor by having Perseus on the back of Pegasus fly around and around a giant, slow-moving, roaring monster.

The effects work is quite solid, even if director Jonathan Liebesman tends to shoot them as obscurely as possible. The camera is constantly up close and moving, reducing the monsters (and most of the action) to a series of noisy blurs. It looks like a cheap way to construct an action scene — explode some dirt, shake the camera around, cut and print. Those action sequences, the completely vacuous storyline, the oddly limited cast, and the repetitive locales all add up to something that feels startlingly cheap.

Sure, Clash of the Titans may have been a cash-in on an established name, but they worked harder to make it feel like an actual movie, perhaps knowing fans of the original would be eyeing the remake with fanboy scrutiny. Wrath is the cash-in on the cash-in. I think that’s what makes me so angry with the film. It’s a film more beholden to a limited budget and a tight schedule than a desire to entertain. It’s more concerned with getting your money one time than getting your attention a second time later. That’s a huge problem.

5 on a 1 to 10 scale

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