Monday, January 06, 2014

10 movies I liked just fine in 2013

Counting down the 2013 movies I saw, from worst to best. These are the ones I'd grade in the C to B- range.

30. G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Dumps the over-the-top fun of the first G.I. Joe movie in favor of gravitas, which is something I didn't feel I needed. But having said that, there are some amazing action sequences and I liked all the good guys. It's pretty much G.I. Joe in name only, but still a fine action movie.

29. Riddick

The way Riddick is structured, it's more like three, interconnected shorts than a single film. There's a survival story, then an action thriller, and finally a monster movie. It works - and Katee Sackhoff gets to be tough and kick booty, which is great - but the story gets more and more predictable as it progresses.

28. Escape Plan

Schwarzenegger's not in the Expendables movies enough for me to consider them his first real team-up with Sylvester Stallone. That's this movie and it's worth seeing if only for that. The story was just interesting enough to keep me engaged, but most of my enjoyment came from seeing these two icons working together.

27. Oz the Great and Powerful

There's a line in Frank L. Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that really bothers me. The Wizard says something like, "I'm really a very good man, but I'm a very bad wizard." Frankly, I agree with Dorothy's first assessment that he's actually a bad man and that becomes more obvious the more Baum reveals about his time in Oz. So, I was curious to see what Oz the Great and Powerful would make of him and ended up quite liking the story of the flawed, selfish charlatan who is somehow able to come around and do something good. Sadly, I absolutely hated the origin story of the Wicked Witch of the West, which is why this movie isn't higher on my list.

26. Much Ado About Nothing

I agree with the quote on the poster that Joss Whedon's presentation of Much Ado is an awful lot of fun. "Utter joy" is going a bit far, but I always enjoy seeing new adaptations of Shakespeare and there are some thought-provoking performances. Reed Diamond and Sean Maher are particularly good as Dons Pedro and John, and Amy Acker makes some nice choices as Beatrice. I also quite like how Whedon made Conrade a woman who's in a sexual relationship with Don John, and her partner-in-crime Borachio is secretly in love with Hero, which gives him an extra interest in splitting up her and Claudio. Of course Nathan Fillion is wonderful as Dogberry, and I also have to mention the music, especially the beautiful version of "Sigh No More" by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen.

What kept me from falling in love with it is that I'm already in love with Kenneth Branagh's definitive version. It's not fair - Whedon's really deserves to stand on it's own - but I can't help it. I do feel justified  a little though when I compare Alexis Denisof's bland performance as Benedick with Branagh's lively one.

25. The World's End

Not as funny as Sean of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, but I appreciated what Edgar Wright was trying to say about not being able to go home again. He says it imperfectly and I have big problems with the end, but the movie still raises some good questions and is a lot of fun.

24. This Is the End

I laughed out loud a lot. It's cruder than I typically go for, but there's no arguing with the results and I like what it has to say about not being a selfish jerk.

23. Red 2

A great sequel in that it's more of what I liked about the first one. Not at all revolutionary, but everyone in it seems to be having a good time and that's contagious.

22. 2 Guns

A fine action movie with a sense of humor and a clever twist that I won't spoil (even though it's in the trailer). This is Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg doing what they do best in a plot that gives them plenty to work with. Like Red 2, it's nothing ground-breaking, but I have no complaints.

21. Homefront

I was surprised by how much I liked Homefront. Jason Statham isn't the pickiest actor when it comes to what he'll be in, so I never know what I'm going to get in one of his movies. I like James Franco though and was looking forward to seeing Winona Ryder, and I was deeply interested in the setting of a small town in Louisiana bayou country.

Franco ends up being a great villain in that he's never supposed to be Statham's equal physically, but is instead a cold-hearted - though oddly charming - catalyst for bringing in a more deadly threat. Ryder plays a drug-addicted prostitute instead of her usual type of character and Kate Bosworth is amazing as an awful local woman used to bullying people so that she can get her way. I absolutely hated her at first (as the movie wanted me to), then warmed up to her as I got to know her better. Clancy Brown is also excellent as the local sheriff, who's a far more complicated character than this type of movie usually asks of that role.

My only beef with the film is that Statham withholds important information from his daughter. One could argue that he's doing it to protect her, but he actually gets her in more trouble and damages his relationship with her, so he's either a bad parent in that regard or the script is simply cheating a little to push the story in a particular direction. Still, that's a minor complaint in a remarkably good action movie.


Paxton said...

Interesting. I agree with most of what you say on these movies.

I was surprised how much I liked 2 Guns. Very good and fun action movie.

GI Joe Retaliation was good, even if it sorta wasted Bruce Willis...oh, and RZA was the blind master?! Seriously?

Escape Plan. What can I say about Escape Plan? The movie, first off, is f**king ridiculous. However, seeing Sly and Arnie together was worth the price of admission. And the movie was so bad it was fun making fun of the terrible, terrible dialogue throughout. So bad it was kinda good.

Riddick was good. I enjoyed the last half. The first half moved a little slow.

I loved Oz the Great and Powerful. I thought it brought a little something fresh that sort of merged the mythology of both the Baum books and the 1939 movie. There are a few things I didn't like, but overall I thought Raimi did a good job.

I disagree though that Oz is a bad man. Baum specifically wrote him as a misguided good man. When he shows up in the fourth book, he becomes Ozma's apprentice and closest advisor and is one of only 2 people in Oz who is legally allowed to practice magic. He is most definitely a good guy in the books.

Great list. I'm working on mine as I type this.

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

"I liked just fine" Yeah. That sounds about right. Very few of these titles really grabbed me when they were in theaters, so its no surprise that they're not making much of an impression afterward either.

Oz, really left me wanting. I kept thinking they were going to go all sorts of places, but never did. In the balloon Oscar calls upon a divine power to save him and then thanks the sky when he lands in Oz. I thought this was a hint at some greater power or magical character who binds the two worlds together that pulled him there for some purpose. No.

He gives Theodora the music box and asks her to dance and she said, "No one's ever asked me to dance". I thought, "oh, she hurt someone with her latent magic powers before and now everyone is afraid of her, setting up the fall to the dark side. Nope.

I thought we might at least learn the backstory of the music box and learn something Oscar's character in revealing how he came to start using it in his con. Alas, no.

While I didn't hate it, it just left me wanting more from the characters.

Siskoid said...

The only ones I saw on here were Much Ado (of course) and The World's End. Your thoughts mirror mine almost exactly.

Kal said...

I like these year ends because it's a catch all for films that I missed out seeing. Since you turned me on to the terrific Michael Shannon Tornado movie I am sold. Homefront looks interesting if only for the cast. I have become one of those guys who can't miss a Clancy Brown movie.

Michael May said...

Pax: I haven't read the fourth Oz book yet, so my reading of the Wizard is based just on the first two. I questioned his view of himself as a good person in the first one, because of his willful deception of pretty much everyone, but tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. The second book makes hims seem more like an usurper than a liberator, but maybe I'm not remembering correctly. Clearly, I need to get back to the series and finish it.

Kal: I'd love to hear what you think of Homefront once you've seen it. I don't think you'll be disappointed.


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