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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>> 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

Some Thoughts on SHAME

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(This piece contains “spoilers.”)

The critical response to SHAME has been slightly baffling to me. The movie has a brave performance by Michael Fassbender and a couple of scenes that feel remarkably true (Brandon’s attempt at a real date is the movie’s most insightful moment), but the film also displays a clumsy misunderstanding of its subject that can’t be ignored.  That particular discussion seems to have been disregarded in exchange for an embarrassingly wide pre-occupation with Fassbender’s sexiness — a weird thing to walk away from SHAME talking about, to be sure. It’s the equivalent of fixating on Jennifer Connelly’s degrading dildo scene in REQUIEM FOR A DREAM over its harrowing themes of addiction. Yeah, it’s sexual, but it’s not supposed to be sexy, guys.

SHAME hit its first truly sour note with me during a lingering shot of Brandon viewing his distorted reflection on the side of a bus. The shot is a cliched visual shorthand that says “On the inside, this person is not who they appear to be.” It’s the kind of weak somebody-already-thought-of-that trick that most filmmakers leave behind at film school. But, it’s in here, and it sucks — not enough to ruin the movie, but enough to act as a warning for what’s to come.

After an extended orgy (shot with the inappropriately titillating gusto of an episode of HBO’s REAL SEX), Brandon ends up trolling for sex at a gay club (shot like a horror film). The implications are ambiguous; we don’t know if this is something Brandon has done before or not. It shouldn’t really matter, since all of Brandon’s sex is an empty experience, sexual orientation is irrelevant, but in director Steve McQueen’s eyes this homosexual act is the end-all-be-all of sexual lows. It’s the scariest thing a (homophobic) straight male can think of — finding themselves so horny that they might let another dude touch them. Just conceptually, it’s an offensive way to portray a sex addict’s low point.

McQueen, who also wrote SHAME, flounders with this. It’s not dramatic enough to get Brandon to rock bottom, and he knows it’s not enough, but McQueen doesn’t understand why. So, he has Brandon come home after some anonymous gay sex to discover that his sister has attempted suicide in his own apartment. Besides the hilariously puritanical message (“While you were out getting your rocks off, your sister almost DIED!”), Brandon’s rock bottom is now his sister’s rock bottom. Brandon hits no rock bottom of his own, but the film would have you believe that this is it.

The attempted suicide has some shock value, but it’s also something that student filmmakers have a preoccupation with, because it’s an easy cinematic go-to to show that a personal situation is in dire shape. McQueen makes the mistake of tying Brandon to this moment as if it somehow would make him less compulsive and horny, and suddenly ready to love and commit. Though his sister is alive, he has a wailing catharsis on a pier, spurred on partly because he’d been incredibly crappy to her and partly because he was having empty sex while she bled out.

I’m still not sure how her personal rock bottom translates into being his rock bottom. Her suicide is something that could’ve happened if Brandon were attending church or out grocery shopping; it has nothing to do with his addiction to sex. Her lowest point can’t be his lowest point, because it’s happening only to her, and it’s happening to her in a way that he doesn’t have any empathy for. Do I believe that Brandon would be sad that his sister almost died? Yes. Do I believe this event is a turning point in his life? Not one bit.

A more satisfying ending would’ve taken more work from McQueen, getting to Brandon’s emotionally darkest place and exposing him in such a wholly naked, vulnerable way that he has no choice but to change. Instead SHAME goes easy, with a finale that makes the whole film inauthentic and immature. It’s a damned SHAME.

>> Review Round-Up

Here are all of the links to my reviews from the past week, from PEARL JAM TWENTY through my Movies.com Fantastic Fest coverage…

Pearl Jam Twenty – “The bottom line is that Pearl Jam Twenty is a product.  Not just as a commercial film, but as one-third of an overall push that includes a two-disc soundtrack and a coffee table book.  It’s okay to recognize this, however, and still enjoy the film as an incredibly polished, loving product.”

The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) – “Someone should let Tom Six know that exploitation cinema is just about the worst possible place for finger-wagging.”

Livid – “Bustillo and Maury seem to be channelling the wicked energy of Guillermo Del Toro, without any of that director’s substance.”

Melancholia – “Melancholia is certainly worthwhile, but disappoints by never digging any deeper into the subject matter than a thin performance and an on-the-nose metaphor.”

A Lonely Place to Die – “It’s simply too good to label it a misfire, but the film starts from the gate with such a confident, breathless level of suspense that it’s a shame that it can’t be maintained.”

The Innkeepers – “It’s really a perfect chiller for the scaredy-cat in your life.”

The Day – “The Day’s cannibalization of other, better films is its downfall; there’s just not enough unique material here to nourish.  If you can overlook that, you’ll find a standard bleak post-apoc action film with some thought-provoking character beats.”

My Adventures in the Tallyteers Pt. 1: The First 100 Films

“You must watch movies all the time?”  I guess?  Sort of?  Do I?  It doesn’t seem like I do.  Maybe more than most people, but not nearly as much as a lot of other people.

And it was that namby-pamby bit of soul-searching that caused me to participate in the Tallyteers, a group of Twitter users who obsessively track every single movie they watch.  Some write whole posts about each film, while others just keep adding films to ever-expanding lists.  In my namby-pambiness, I’ve chosen a method that straddles the line, and have decided to write about my viewing choices every time I hit the century mark.

My Top Five Favorite 2011 Releases (So Far)

1.  The Fighter

I’m a sucker for David O. Russell.  The man may be a complete a-hole, but he knows how to push my buttons as a movie-goer.  No big surprise then that I loved this.

2.  Super

I was surprised that I loved this!  I found it had more in common with ‘Watchmen’ than ‘Kick-Ass,’ and I think Gunn really gets to the heart of how males deal with unjust heartache.  Not that we run around and whack people on the heads with a wrench, but there’s still truth in there.

3.  Becoming Santa

I reviewed this for Cinematical:  “‘Becoming Santa’ has the goods to become an instant Holiday classic. It’s charming, informative, and, best of all, really funny. Think ‘Best Worst Movie’ for the Christmas season, and you have a pretty good idea of what (director) Myers has cooked up here.”

4.  The Green Hornet

Cue sheepish grin.  I know it’s not Top Five material, exactly, and I expect it to fall off soon, but I thought ‘The Green Hornet’ was a blast — a throwback to reckless 90’s Summer action-comedies.  It just didn’t seem to take with audiences, most of them out for blood with the very first hint that their beloved Michel Gondry might have gotten creative feedback from producer Seth Rogen or Sony.

5.  Sound of My Voice

This is the film in my top five that I’m most looking forward to revisiting.

My Top FIve Favorite Vintage (pre-1990’s) Movies I’d Never Seen Before 2011

1.  Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (’82)

This insightful youth culture satire plays Austin every now and then, but I’d halfway dismissed it as not my thing (thinking it was a pseudo-doc about a punk band).  I watched it on a lark, and it was exactly my thing, and everyone should see it right now.  It’s like ‘Network’ for disaffected teenage girls.

2.  Marjoe (’72)

This marks the first time I’d ever watched a film in its entirety on YouTube.  It’s amazing that such a unaccomplished actor (Marjoe starred in ‘Star Crash’ and ‘Food of the Gods’) can manipulate a crowd so thoroughly, and you get to see that here in this documentary covering Marjoe’s phony evangelical roots.

3.  Night and the City (’50)

I programmed this as part of Wrestlephilia, a pro wrestling movie marathon, and it was the best (and bleakest) film of the night.  It’s classic noir with a centerpiece fight scene brutal enough to hold its own with anything coming out today.

4.  Tales of Terror (’62)

I’m rationing out the Roger Corman “Poe” films.  I’d never seen a single one until last year, and I’ve loved every one of them I’ve seen.  I’m trying my best not to breeze through them, because once I’m done, there aren’t any more.

5.  The Unholy Three (’30)

Oh, man.  This is the original “midget con man disguises himself as a baby” film (well, sort of — this is a remake of the silent version with the same primary cast).  I loved every second of this movie.  There’s a modern energy to the humor, despite its age, and the sight of Lon Chaney playing an old lady (in his first, last, and only “talky”) and Harry Earles (‘Freaks’) playing a toddler is hilariously weird in a way that you can’t look away from.  Highly recommended.

My Top Five Favorite Modern Films (1990-2010) That I’d Never Seen Before 2011

1.  Fair Game

Had no idea this was based on a true story before I sat down to watch it.  Is it just me or has Naomi Watts become more and more like Nicole Kidman — brittle and icy, delivering technically “good” performances that remain at arm’s reach from performances that connect warmly with audiences?

2.  Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows

This is a somewhat outdated doc, since Vince McMahon and Bret Hart have made up, but still interesting and a great time capsule of late 90’s wrestling.  I’ve never gotten behind the idea of Hart as the victim of some heinous atrocity, especially since he was quitting WWF right away to become a millionaire someplace else (WCW).

3.  Humpday

I don’t think of myself as a big “mumblecore” fan, based on the things I’ve seen with that label (‘Mars,’ ‘Greenberg,’ ‘Silver Bullets,’ ‘Cyrus’), but if they were more like ‘Humpday,’ I would be.  I liked how natural all of the performances were (particularly Alycia Delmore), making a lot of the film feel real in the best possible way.

4.  I Am Comic

If you’re interested in stand-up comedy at all, this is a must.  Almost every major comedian is interviewed here, sharing their stories of struggle and triumph.  These (very entertaining) talking heads are intercut with the story of Ritch Shydner, once a recognizable headliner in the late 1980s, now attempting to come out of self-imposed retirement.

5.  Topsy-Turvy

I reviewed this one for Gordon and the Whale:  “It’s a lengthy journey, but not without reward. Anyone who’s had any experience in putting on a play can appreciate ‘Topsy-Turvy’s’ backstage politics and opening night jitters.”

The Five Worst Movies of My First 100 Tallied

1.  Night Train to Terror

God and Satan trade asinine stories to determine the fate of a train full of dancing teenagers.

2.  Mutant Hunt

In the future, an evil corporation turns cyborgs into mutants by pumping them full of illegal drugs.

3.  Rockula

A teen vampire becomes a rock star to save the girl he loves.

4.  R.O.T.O.R.

The prototype for a robotic cop (NOT pictured above) is accidentally activated before it’s ready, and stalks a young woman for speeding.

5.  Dracula 3000

Casper Van Dien, Coolio, Erika Eliniak, and Tony “Tiny” Lister Jr. fight Dracula on a spaceship.