These are some things that I hate.

And some things I don't.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Let’s just get this out of the way, in case you don’t feel like reading the full review:

The Amazing Spider-Man was a terrible film. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a better film. It is not as good as Spider-Man 3, which I liked, and will defend far longer than is probably wise to do so.

Now then.  In some ways, I find it difficult to consider The Amazing Spider-Man 2 a movie at all. The more I think about it, the more it feels like an extended trailer for the rest of the Spider-Man franchise Sony has plotted out. Sony’s ambitious plan to pack in the Sinister Six (a group of supervillains comprised of Kraven the Hunter, Doc Ock, Vulture, Green Goblin, Rhino, and potentially Mysterio), Venom, and who knows what else into their next four films has put a significant amount of pressure on this installment to set everything up. And it shows. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is packed to the brim with teasers for the expanded universe, and yet there is almost no payoff, feeling closer to Batman Forever or Iron Man 2 than it is to its Raimi-era counterpart.

Now, onto the finer details:

*********WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND*********

The Good

Webswinging – If there is anything that Webb’s Amazing series has improved from the Raimi films of the 2000s, it is the acrobatic ability of Spider-Man as he moves throughout the city. In terms of physicality, going from Spider-Man 2 to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is like moving from the Xbox to the Xbox One. Movement is crisper, camerawork is more dynamic, and Andrew Garfield’s digitized body moves in ways that Tobey Maguire’s never did, especially while flying high above the city.

Special Effects – The CGI in this movie is beautiful. Electro’s energy attacks are vibrant and crisp, the destruction of the city is brutally explosive, and the sound design behind the action sequences is top-notch. Some people weren’t too high on the dubstep soundtrack that accompanied Electro, I was pretty into it throughout.

Dane DeHaan – All aboard the Dane Train! Dane DeHaan kills it in his first major studio film, despite being given a paper-thin arc. DeHaan’s Harry Osborne is devilishly slick yet with a constant hint of something sinister underneath, a perfect fit for the universe being established by Webb and co. If only his script had been better, he could have been an instant classic. Bold prediction: Dane DeHaan will win an Oscar before Leonardo DiCaprio.

Humor – Outside a few cringeworthy one-liners that sounded like they were quickly ADR’d in after-the-fact, the humor of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is legitimately entertaining. Spider-Man’s carefree encounters with the random thugs on the streets of New York are some of the highlights of the year, and the film manages to capture a bit more of the bungling mannerisms that Peter is known and loved for in the comics.

The Death of Gwen Stacy – I saw it coming. Everyone in the theater, assuming they were paying attention to the entire film (what kind of high school valedictorian gives a graduation speech all about death? One whose about to die, that’s who) saw it coming. And still, some part of me thought that they would hold back and keep her alive for one more movie. Not that I necessarily wanted that to happen, but it was a choice I could definitely see a studio making. And even given my distaste for Emma Stone, the scene works. It is beautifully shot, expertly paced, and brutally scripted (maybe too much so). While the majority of the film schizophrenically bounces between sappy teen drama and cheesy action comedy, this sequence had a laser focus and an emotional resonance far above anything else around it. It was a great scene, and it belongs in a better movie.

The Bad

 Villains - Leading up to the release of this film, many critics were speculating that the number of villains would bring down the film. And they were right…sort of. Now, the number of villains in a film does not necessarily dictate its quality; Batman Begins crammed in Ra’s al Ghul, Ducard, Scarecrow, Falcone, and some lesser thugs in, and it in no way detracted from the pacing or structure. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, really, only features two villains: Electro, and Green Goblin.  Yes, Rhino is thrown in at the end, but he offers no real impact on the narrative. Norman Osborne, Gustav Fliers, Donald Menken and Ashley Kafka, the poor man’s Dr. Strangelove, are more quirky bit-players than anything else.

And still, with only two main villains, Webb & Co. still couldn’t pull off either a compelling arc or a coherent structure. Electro is a woefully flat character, whose origin is uninspired and whose resolution is virtually nonexistent. Goblin, on the other hand, is undoubtedly the stronger of the two but still lacks anything resembling a satisfying payoff. Spider-Man 3, while no masterpiece itself, is a far tighter film in regards to its villains. In retrospect, a version of the film that eliminated Electro altogether and simply put the Harry/Goblin subplot on a slow-burn while Peter tried to balance crimefighting with his relationship with Gwen could have turned The Amazing Spider-Man 2 into a fantastic film.

Andrew Garfield – Two films in now, and I am in no way convinced that Andrew Garfield is a better Peter Parker OR Spider-Man than Tobey Maguire. His portrayal of Peter is less timid everyman and more Edward Cullen. His Spider-Man is appropriately witty and aloof, but still holds no candle to Maguire. Yes, Garfield is funnier and arguably fits the costume better, but unless you’re a Tumblr fanatic, you have no good reason to think he’s an improvement.

Subplots – This movie is 142 minutes long. Regardless of its “summer blockbuster” status, that is just unacceptable. On the first pass, I noted at least half a dozen scenes that should have been excised completely and left on the cutting room floor, and several others that could have been reduced to a fraction of their final length. Dr. Kafka’s theatrical introduction was lame and totally irrelevant to the rest of the film. Andrew Garfield’s tedious dialogue with Gwen Stacey dragged out the runtime excessively; we needed far better dialogue, and far less of them eye-fucking the shit out of each other in a maintenance closet. Which brings me to:

The Plane Sequence(s) – I am, of course, referring to the air-traffic control sequence during the citywide power outage, although you could make the case that Richard Parker’s opening heroics during the most tedious fight sequence of all time is equally unnecessary (you know a movie is in trouble when someone mentions that the 5-minute airplane action sequence should be cut from the film, and you have to ask “which one?”). I will admit, at this point in the film, when Electro had drained the city dry and was looking like an unstoppable force, I was buying into it. Dialogue and pacing aside, the film had done a decent job of at least setting up engaging fight sequences that I looked forward to. And we got exactly that in the power grid battle, intercut with…air traffic control drama? In the middle of a vibrant, engrossing fight, we are forced to watch what could amount to B-roll footage from Flight? I couldn’t stop myself from repeatedly thinking, “why are we watching this?!”

It has no bearing on the main narrative thread. It introduces characters that we never see again in the film, and it has no effect on any existing ones. The planes in question (which should NEVER be on an intersecting course like that regardless of power loss in the tower) are not carrying any relevant characters or are in danger of crashing into the city in a way that Spider-Man or Gwen Stacy could consciously prevent. Nobody involved in either story is even remotely aware of the circumstances of the characters in the other. It BAFFLES me that any sane person, much less the dozens who had to have seen this film before it was shipped to theaters with their names on it, could watch this sequence and not think, “You know what this two and a half hour film about a superhero whose powers literally limit him to the area of New York City under skyscraper level could use LESS of? High-altitude plane drama.” God forbid we get a little more time explaining why the hell anyone is doing what they’re doing. We need more planes!

Sally Field – Someone really needs to tell Sally Field to tone it down a bit, and if someone has already they should tell her again because she clearly isn’t listening. Every word out of Aunt May’s mouth is overwrought with melodrama and ringing with a spine-chilling timbre that makes me want to throw her off a roof and see if she can still fly.

Spider-Man’s Origins - This is the thing I think is most troubling about the new interpretation of the character. Part of Spider-Man’s appeal is the fact that he’s just a normal kid who, by pure chance, is granted extraordinary powers and must find a way to deal with those challenges on top of everything else a normal kid would have to. There is nothing special about him, there’s nothing that sets him apart from the others. He’s just like us. If we were on that class trip instead of him, we would have gotten bitten by that spider and become Spider-Man or Spider-Woman instead. And The Amazing Spider-Man series erases that crucial aspect from Peter Parker’s canon in favor of a bland, uninspiring “chosen one” trope. By doing this, they are fundamentally changing the character in a way that is far more impactful than altering his ethnicity or gender. By making Peter the only person destined to become Spider-Man, they are stripping away the thing that makes him so relatable to every young boy and girl who falls in love with the character.

The Ugly

How can Spider-Man get sick? Wasn’t Goblin’s entire motivation centered around the fact that Spider-Man’s blood could cure his diseases? The filmmakers very clearly disregarded any internal logic in favor of a cheap gag

What exactly is the issue with Harry’s disease? Norman very clearly lived a full life and was able to found and run a multi-billion dollar empire before succumbing to the disease in his bed, as an old man. So what’s the rush with Harry?

Why did Richard Parker hide ordinary subway tokens in his calculator instead of just carrying them around like a normal person?

Had Gwen Stacey done any sort of preparation before trying to leave for England? You know, packing/saying goodbye to loved ones/quitting her job?

How does the power to all of New York City come on so quickly and easily after Spider-Man and Electro had destroyed half of it during their fight? And for that matter, why aren’t the hospitals and airports on backup generators?

How did Oscorp not know about Richard Parker’s secret subway lab, which they presumably funded? And why does it look like a train car, when it is glaringly obvious what it actually is (considering, you know, it has windows)?

Why are the cops at the end of the film simply standing around casually guarding the roadblocks as if the civilians are watching a parade? And why doesn’t Rhino just shoot Spider-Man with his machine guns while he’s busy talking to that dumb kid?

 After all this, I still have to admit that I enjoyed watching The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It contains an energy that the first one simply lacked, and on a purely visual, popcorn-movie level the film passes with flying colors. But it also cements in my mind the fact that Webb’s franchise has no hope of reaching the heights that Raimi’s trilogy attained even considering the latter’s lackluster third act.

Word of the Day

Zugzwang (noun, German, commonly used in regards to chess)

A situation in which any choice will result in a disadvantage. When in “zugzwang”, the only winning move is not to play.

word   language   chess  

Will/Should Wins: The 86th Annual Academy Awards

Bolded nominees WILL win

Italicized nominees SHOULD win

Best Picture

-          American Hustle

-          Captain Phillips

-          Dallas Buyers Club

-          Gravity

-          Her

-          Nebraska

-          Philomena

-          12 Years a Slave

-          The Wolf of Wall Street

This is a real toss-up: On the one hand, I don’t believe American Hustle, Nebraska, Philomena or The Wolf of Wall Street deserve a Best Picture nomination. However, the remaining nominees could definitely go home with the award. 12 Years a Slave has all the makings of a Best Picture film, but in terms of advancement of the art of filmmaking, Gravity is leagues ahead of all other contenders. Technically and visually, it is simply the best film ever made. Captain Phillips is a tense, thrilling ride but is still behind Gravity, Dallas Buyers Club and 12 Years a Slave. And while I was not in love with Her (which was far too ambitious for its own good), it is an undeniably important film.

Notable Omissions: Blue is the Warmest Color, The Place Beyond the Pines, Before Midnight, Short Term 12 

Best Actor in a Leading Role

-          Christian Bale (American Hustle)

-          Bruce Dern (Nebraska)

-          Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)

-          Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)

-          Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

While nothing is set in stone, it would be very surprising if Leonardo DiCaprio walked away with an Oscar. Between Ejiofor’s performance, which was one of the most powerful in recent memory, and the McConnaissance at its peak, there is just not enough momentum behind DiCaprio to result in an Oscar. This is not to say his performance was not great, or that he doesn’t deserve one. His portrayal of Jordan Belfort was a brilliant mix of physical comedy, manic rage and unbridled energy, and anyone doubting Leo’s range should have been silenced if they  hadn’t been already. But was it the best performance of the year? Simply put, no.

Notable Omissions: Joaquin Phoenix (Her), Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips)

Best Actress in a Leading Role

-          Amy Adams (American Hustle)

-          Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

-          Sandra Bullock (Gravity)

-          Judi Dench (Philomena)

-          Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Despite the talent present in this nominee pool, this category should be one of the easiest locks of the year. Cate Blanchett has swept the awards season (winning 30 of 35 nominations, with 2 still pending) with her portrayal of the titular Blue Jasmine, and while Amy Adams and Sandra Bullock were great, they didn’t do anything on the same level. Dench and Streep’s performances were good as well (although my problems with Streep’s acting style were quite visible within August: Osage County), but their nominations are likely due more to prestige than performance.

Notable Omissions: Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Color),Julie Delpy (Before Midnight), Brie Larson (Short Term 12)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role        

-          Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)

-          Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)

-          Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)

-          Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street)

-          Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Before seeing Dallas Buyers Club, I would have put Michael Fassbender as the uncontested winner of this category, as Abdi, Cooper and Hill’s performances left much to be desired (and can we take a minute to mention that the guy who played a character who got comedically raped by a demon is now a two-time Oscar nominee? What a crazy world we live in). However, Leto’s work as the AIDS-stricken transvestite Rayon nearly broke me. It was a phenomenal transformation. Leto has always impressed with his ability to take difficult roles and nail them, but this performance was truly amazing to watch. He nearly steals the spotlight from McConaughey, and he lights up every scene with a brilliant energy. This is not to take away from Fassbender, of course; his role of sadistic plantation owner Edwin Epps included one of the best scenes of 2013 and deserves every award it wins.

Notable Omission: Daniel Brühl (Rush)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

-          Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)

-          Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)

-          Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

-          Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)

-          June Squibb (Nebraska)

It is frankly baffling that American Hustle has joined the sickeningly-overrated Silver Linings Playbook as the only film since 1981’s Reds to garner nominations in all four acting categories. David O. Russell is known as an “actor’s director”, but nothing in either of these films convinced me that all four primaries deserved nominations. Jennifer Lawrence is a good actress, undoubtedly, but the possibility of her joining Katherine Hepburn and Luise Rainer as one of three actresses to win two Best Actress awards in a row is just unbelievable. With that said, the only person who truly deserves this award is Lupita Nyong’o. Behind her, the best performance is actually June Squibb or Sally Hawkins. Nebraska was underwhelming overall, but her small role was a nice surprise amongst the drudgery. Hawkin’s performance was overshadowed by Blanchett’s, but she still held her own and had a great chemistry with everyone around her.  

Best Animated Feature

-          The Croods (Chris Sanders, Kirk DeMicco, Kristine Belson)

-          Despicable Me 2 (Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin, Chris Meledandri)

-          Ernest & Celestine (Benjamin Renner, Didier Brunner)

-          Frozen (Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Peter Del Vecho)

-          The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki)

Blegh. 2013 has been one of the least impressive years for animated films in a long while (thanks in large part to the slow and steady decline of Pixar). I have not yet seen Ernesy & Celestine or Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, but Oscar-favorite Frozen left much to be desired in many ways. Nevertheless, since it was the only one I saw, I guess it should win. Whatever.

Best Cinematography

-          The Grandmaster (Philippe Le Sourd)

-          Gravity (Emmanuel Lubezki)

-          Inside Llewyn Davis (Bruno Delbonnel)

-          Nebraska (Phedon Papamichael)

-          Prisoners (Roger A. Deakins)

Sorry, but Deakins is most likely going 0 for 11. Prisoners was a beautifully shot film, but there is just no competing with the work Lubezki did on Gravity. Surprisingly, neither of these two cinematographers has never won despite having 17 nominations between them, and this is the first year they have both been in the running.

Notable Omission: Sofian El Fani (Blue is the Warmest Color)

Best Costume Design

-          American Hustle (Michael Wilkinson)

-          The Grandmaster (William Chang Suk Ping)

-          The Great Gatsby (Catherine Martin)

-          The Invisible Woman (Michael O’Connor)

-          12 Years a Slave (Patricia Norris)

If there is anything Oscar-worthy about Baz Luhrmann’s lavishly shallow rendition of The Great Gatsby, it’s the set and costume design. Everything looked amazing, but the compliments really stop there. American Hustle, The Grandmaster and 12 Years a Slave’s costumes were respectable but ultimately forgettable (save for Amy Adam’s open-heart surgery dress). And nobody cares about The Invisible Woman.

Best Director

-          American Hustle (David O. Russell)

-          Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)

-          Nebraska (Alexander Payne)

-          12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)

-          The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)

If you have seen all of these films, it would be quite a feat if you could adequately explain why anyone but Cuarón should win the Best Director award for his work in Gravity. Yes, Steve McQueen’s relationship with his actors was extraordinary and his unyielding focus on the events that unfold was heartbreaking, but on a technical level Gravity is the most impressive movie ever made. I lost count of how many times I thought to myself “how in the world did he do this?” (I meant that figuratively and literally), and that was only in the opening 13-minute take. Cuarón’s mastery of camera movement and spatial logistics were a sight to behold, and the work he put in made Gravity one of the few films that I wanted to see again immediately without even digesting it the first time.

Notable Omissions: Spike Jonze (Her), Derek Cianfrance (The Place Beyond the Pines)

Best Documentary Feature

-          The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, Signe Byrge Sørensen)

-          Cutie and the Boxer (Zachary Heinzerling, Lydia Dean Pilcher)

-          Dirty Wars (Richard Rowley, Jeremy Scahill)

-          The Square (Jehane Noujaim, Karim Amer)

-          20 Feet from Stardom (Nominees to be determined)

I have only heard of two of these films (and between 20 Feet from Stardom and The Act of Killing I have only seen the latter), but since 20 Feet from Stardom has Weinstein backing I would have to give it the advantage.

Best Film Editing

-          American Hustle (Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, Alan Baumgarten)

-          Captain Phillips (Christopher Rouse)

-          Dallas Buyers Club (John Mac McMurphy, Martin Pensa)

-          Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger)

-          12 Years a Slave (Joe Walker)

Dallas Buyers Club is arguably the Academy favorite candidate for this award, but the digital transitions within Gravity (which Cuarón also utilized heavily in 2006’s Children of Men) are a bold step forward in the craft.

Notable Omissions: Jim Helton, Ron Patane (The Place Beyond the Pines)

Best Foreign Language Film

-          The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium)

-          The Great Beauty (Italy)

-          The Hunt (Denmark)

-          The Missing Picture (Cambodia)

-          Omar (Palestine)

Having only seen Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt, I have to give my support to it, and since it was one of my favorite films of the year it deserves it. However, The Great Beauty seems to have an unstoppable momentum behind it among the aging Academy members. The absence of Blue is the Warmest Color is a travesty, and had it been included it should have won.

Notable Omissions: Blue is the Warmest Color

Best Makeup and Hairstyling    

-          Dallas Buyers Club (Adruitha Lee, Robin Mathews)

-          Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (Stephen Prouty)

-          The Lone Ranger (Joel Harlow, Gloria Pasqua-Casny)

Oscar-nominee Bad Grandpa. Let that sink in. Oscar nominee. Bad Grandpa. Nobody saw that one coming.

Best Original Score

-          The Book Thief (John Williams)

-          Gravity (Steven Price)

-          Her (William Butler, Owen Pallett)

-          Philomena (Alexandre Desplat)

-          Saving Mr. Banks (Thomas Newman)

This is one of the most unstable categories of the year, but the edge goes to Her since its score was one of the few that are actually memorable after the film. Due to its impact on the experience, however, Gravity takes the cake.

Best Original Song

-          “Alone Yet Not Alone” (Alone Yet Not Alone)

-          “Happy” (Despicable Me 2)

-          "Let It Go" (Frozen)

-          “The Moon Song” (Her)

-          “Ordinary Love” (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom)

Frozen was a disappointment of a film, but there is no denying that Idina Menzel’s performance of “Let It Go” is just stellar.

Best Production Design

-          American Hustle (Judy Becker, Heather Loeffler)

-          Gravity (Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin, Joanne Woollard)

-          The Great Gatsby (Catherine Martin, Beverley Dunn)

-          Her (K.K. Barrett, Gene Serdena)

-          12 Years a Slave (Adam Stockhausen, Alice Baker)

After seeing the film twice (hopefully a third time this week), I am still convinced that Gravity was shot in space. Everything looked and felt so authentic

Notable Omission: Andrew Neskorommy, Carol Spier (Pacific Rim)


Best Sound Editing

-          All Is Lost (Steve Boeddeker, Richard Hymns)

-          Captain Phillips (Oliver Tarney)

-          Gravity (Glenn Freemantle)

-          The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Brent Burge, Chris Ward)

-          Lone Survivor (Wylie Stateman)

I don’t know much about sound design, but what I heard in Gravity sounded better than anything else on the list so congratulations!

Notable Omission: Franke Kruse (Rush)

Best Sound Mixing

-          Captain Phillips (Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith, Chris Munro)

-          Gravity (Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, Chris Munro)

-          The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick, Tony Johnson)

-          Inside Llewyn Davis (Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland)

-          Lone Survivor (Andy Koyama, Beau Borders, David Brownlow)

See above. Captain Phillips actually did sound very good, so perhaps it will steal one technical award away .

Notable Omissions: Damian Elias Canelos (The Place Beyond the Pines), Danny Hambrook (Rush)

Best Visual Effects

-          Gravity (Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk, Neil Corbould)

-          The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, Eric Reynolds)

-          Iron Man 3 (Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash, Dan Sudick)

-          The Lone Ranger (Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams, John Frazier)

-          Star Trek Into Darkness (Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann, Burt Dalton)

Did you know Gravity wasn’t actually filmed in space? Because you sure as hell could have fooled me. The other four films on this list look like oversaturated cartoons compared to the work in Gravity, which has set the bar in visual effects for years to come.

Notable Omission: John Knoll, Hal T. Hickel (Pacific Rim)

Best Adapted Screenplay

-          Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke)

-          Captain Phillips (Billy Ray)

-          Philomena (Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope)

-          12 Years a Slave (John Ridley)

-          The Wolf of Wall Street (Terence Winter)

There’s really no contest here; 12 Years a Slave had one of the strongest scripts of the past few years, faithfully adapted and tightly structured (if a bit theatrical in its presentation). Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy deserves recognition and a Best Adapted Screenplay would be well-deserved, but it is not likely.

Notable Omission: Short Term 12 (Destin Daniel Cretton)

Best Original Screenplay

-          American Hustle (Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell)

-          Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen)

-          Dallas Buyers Club (Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack)

-          Her (Spike Jonze)

-          Nebraska (Bob Nelson)

In production for over two decades, Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack’s script for Dallas Buyers Club has taken the scenic route to the screen but arrived with universal acclaim. It expertly handles the complex, emotional subject and refuses to treat it with kid gloves. That being said, I think Her is one of the most important screenplays of this generation. Its ability to generate a character out of nothing more than a voice is marvelous, and while I didn’t think Her was all it could have been, Jonze truly brought his idea to life in a way only he could.

Notable Omission: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder (The Place Beyond the Pines)

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The Worst Films of 2013

Here is a list of the best movies of 2013.

Dishonorable Mentions: A Good Day to Die Hard, Oz the Great and Powerful, Star Trek Into Darkness, Oblivion, John Dies at the End, The Wolf of Wall Street

10. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Ludicrously fast-paced and yet relentlessly boring, Peter Jackson’s second film in his newest Middle-Earth trilogy plays more like a Star Wars prequel than anything else. The Hobbit 2: The Search for Thorin’s Gold drowns the audience in over-indulgent action sequences, cartoonishly bad CGI, uninteresting characters, and useless padding. I actually had faith in Jackson’s three film vision after seeing the slightly-less-disappointing An Unexpected Journey, but now it seems these additions are nothing more than fanfiction that have no place in the same world as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Jackson’s biggest problem seems that there is nobody next to him that has the courage to say “no”. The novel’s barrel-riding sequence can’t just be a barrel-riding sequence; it has to be expanded to include one of the dumbest and most unnecessary action sequences ever put to film. The confrontation with Smaug can’t just be that; it has to include a tedious chase sequence and twenty minutes of extra footage. This time last year, I anticipated that the Hobbit trilogy would feel like a rich expansion of Jackson’s visual history of Middle-Earth; now, it just feels like butter scraped over too much bread.

9. Frozen

Severely underdeveloped in its characters, plot and setting, Frozen feels like the result of either a hurried first draft or a desperate 50th. And while it has one good musical number (Let It Go, which is admittedly fantastically performed), it is overshadowed by half a dozen horrifically shallow songs (two of which should have been left on the cutting room floor). The turn of events in the third act is somewhat clever, but was executed in such an obvious and insulting way that it felt as if Disney was rubbing it in our face by saying “Oh, you thought we were doing this? No, we’re SO MUCH smarter than that.” Outside of a couple lines from the quirky snowman Olaf, it is devoid of anything resembling humor. I can understand why an 8-year-old might enjoy it, but anyone older than that is beyond me.

8. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

There really isn’t much to say about this one. The Hunger Games was one of the worst films last year, and while Francis Lawrence is an objectively better director than Gary Ross, Catching Fire continues with the bland characters, abysmal world-building and laughable storylines that prevented the first film from being anything other than sub-par. There may be 2-3 minutes of footage worth complimenting, but other than that this is a completely uninteresting film that proves a faithful adaptation of a shit story still makes for a shit movie.

7. Iron Man 3

Put one more nail into The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s coffin for me: Iron Man 3 is one of the biggest disappointments of the year, despite the slew of mediocre MCU films that followed Tony Stark’s 2008 debut that should have foreshadowed it. It is totally devoid of any meaningful stakes or themes, instead going with the trend of “superhero action-comedies” that have been so diluting the box office in recent years. The fight scenes are uninspired and uninteresting, the villains are caricatures of what they should be, and the third act begins with the most heinous bastardization of a character since Yoda began jumping around in Attack of the Clones. The only bright spot in Marvel’s lineup remains to be Captain America: The Winter Soldier; if that fails, I’d urge Disney to initiate a Clean Slate Protocol of its own.

6. Gangster Squad

I thought Gangster Squad was actually pretty good until I realized it wasn’t supposed to be a comedy. Swerving so recklessly between gritty. hyperviolent crime drama and “slick, stylish” buddy cop picture, this film just doesn’t know what it wants to be. Stilted dialogue and generally bland characters arcs don’t help either, and Sean Penn gives such a melodramatic, cartoonish performance that it didn’t even seem like he was in the same movie as Josh Brolin and the others. Tack on a hilariously stupid climax and cookie-cutter resolution, and you get one of the least interesting movies of the year.

5. Trance

This movie makes no goddamn sense. It drags you through disjointed scene after disjointed scene, hoping you’ll scrape together enough interest to continue on, and then delivers a rude sucker punch in the final few minutes that leave you just as clueless as you began. Even after I put the pieces together and learned what was happening, I hated it even more since what was actually going on wasn’t nearly as interesting as what the movie wanted us to think was happening. And if this paragraph doesn’t make any sense to you, don’t even try to watch Trance since you’ll probably want to blow your brains out.

4. Elysium

I was honestly looking forward to Elysium more than almost every other movie on this list (believe it or not, I actually go into just about ever movie hoping to like it), but it wound up being one of the biggest pieces of garbage released this year. Despite the immense talent between Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley (who was so bad in this I’m beginning to think District 9 was just a fluke), and William Fichtner, none of the characters do anything other than shout and shoot at each other. There is no subtlety to the world or the events that transpire, and the film repeatedly bashes our head in with its geopolitical message to the point where I had a headache after finishing. Even the beautifully done CGI couldn’t save this; I had to force myself to finish it, and once it was over I promptly forgot everything I had just seen.

3. The Kings of Summer

The Kings of Summer tells the tale of Joe, an unapologetic douche who attempts to ruin the lives of those around him with selfish acts and near-psycopathic behavior. Never before has a film so quickly turned me against its main character, and what’s worse is that he is played as a wholly sympathetic figure throughout the entire thing. Moises Arias and Nick Offerman actually put in decent performances, but a glittery turd is still a turd.

2. The To Do List

This is a stupid, disgusting movie made by people who think they are pioneering. Aubrey Plaza eats shit in this movie, literally and figuratively, and I can’t help but think everyone else involved in it was eating shit all the way through production as well. The only other thing to say is *makes fart noises with mouth*.

1. Frances Ha

Frances Ha is one of the worst characters I have ever had the displeasure of watching in a film. She, like the film she is named after, is clueless, thoughtless, hopeless, aimless, useless. Greta Gerwig puts in a cringeworthy performance, crammed full of boring dialogue, unfunny jokes, and behavior that borders on mentally challenged. If I thought for a second we were supposed to feel anything other than sympathy and affection for Frances, I would praise this movie. But much like Lena Dunham’s character in Tiny Furniture, I not only disliked her ; I actively rooted against her, in the hopes that the film would end with her failing miserably and hopefully being hit by a bus or something. If I knew anyone who acted even remotely like Frances does, I would slap them hard across the face without thinking twice. Do not see this movie. It is post-grad “hipster crisis” trash, and it might very well give you an STD.

The Best Films of 2013

Here are the worst films of 2013.

Honorable Mentions: Captain Phillips, Furious 6, The Wolverine, Drinking Buddies, Behind the Candelabra, Blue Jasmine, Spring Breakers/Pain & Gain

10. Prisoners

Incredibly tense and masterfully directed, Denis Villenueve’s Prisoners is a moody film that delves into the darkest places people can go when pushed to their emotional limits. Despite one of the most laughably absurd third acts ever put to film, the story and performances (namely Jackman, who in one 3-minute scene earns his inevitable Oscar nomination better than anyone short of Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks this year) carry the film to a level only films like Zodiac and Memento can achieve.

9. Twelve Years a Slave

After three major films, one thing is clear about Steve McQueen: he loves to put his actors through hell. Hunger and Shame both saw Michael Fassbender beaten, starved, bullied, and drained both mentally and physically, and with 12 Years a Slave that duty has been passed onto Chiwetel Ejiofor. And he handles it amazingly. The film follows Solomon Northrup, a free black man who is unjustly captured and sold back into slavery under the control of the sadistic Paul Dano, the oddly gracious Benedict Cumberbatch, and the monstrous Michael Fassbender (who gives what is possibly the best performance of his already prestigious career). Just about every actor in this film puts forth an award-worthy performance, and McQueen as usual manages to expertly mix the ugliness of the time with an odd beauty, vice versa. This is not an easy film by any means, and it must have taken more courage than I can imagine to complete.

8. Mr. Nobody

Technically, this film was finished in 2009 but was not given a U.S. release until November of this year. Rivaling last year’s Cloud Atlas in scope, Jaco Van Dormael’s sprawling look at love and its consequences is one of the most original and touching films of the year. Jared Leto puts in a stellar performance as does Sarah Polley, Diane Kruger, Rhys Ifans, Juno Temple and Natasha Little. It’s honestly quite hard to describe the film without giving too much away, but trust me when I say this is a film that I recommend going into without knowing anything. I was pleasantly surprised and extraordinarily moved.

7. Man of Steel

Man of Steel is, bar none, the best big-screen rendition of Superman yet. Zack Snyder’s bold and polarizing vision for the Last Son of Krypton is sincerely vulnerable yet supremely powerful; as a result, we are given a fuller spectrum of the character than we have ever seen before. Fights between superpowered beings display real force unlike anything I’ve seen, and while they’re admittedly different than their original versions, the supporting cast around Kal-El is more human than ever. Is it perfect? Definitely not. Do some of the changes scare people? Of course, and they should. This isn’t your grandfather’s Superman, and he shouldn’t be.

6. Before Midnight

The thrilling conclusion to Richard Linklater’s trilogy starting with 1995’s Before Sunrise, Midnight picks up nine years after 2004’s Before Sunset and wraps us back up into the lives of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s Jesse and Celine. There really isn’t much to say about this film that wouldn’t spoil the events, but it can certainly be stated that Before Midnight is the best of the three (which is something, considering the high bar set by the others) and the level of honesty Hawke, Delpy and Linklater bring to their characters is unrivaled. A particular scene in a bedroom near the end of the film is the film’s finest moment, capturing all the highs and lows that can go into a relationship and even making it hard for the audience to watch what is unfolding, since it seems so real and private.

5. Pacific Rim

This is the ultimate summer movie. Packed with coherent, beautiful action, memorable characters, uncanny special effects and an attention to detail only directors like Guillermo Del Toro can achieve, Pacific Rim is by far the most fun I had in the theater in 2013. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about this film is that it is truly impossible to form any arguments against it without going against the film as a whole. The cheesy dialogue, the nonsensical weaponry, the over-the-top characters, the very idea of giant robots, all of these aspects work in such a perfect harmony that the only option is to accept it and go along for the ride. Once you accept that Pacific Rim is a live-action anime, you learn to love the sincerity that lies underneath. Yes, the characters, with names as ridiculous as Stacker Pentacost and Raleigh Beckett, are nowhere near real, but you still walk out rooting for them and taking each of their blows as if it was personally striking you. Not to mention that it has one of the strongest female characters in recent memory, and one of the most devastating sequences of the year involving a flashback to Tokyo and a remarkably brave child actor. The bottom line is: if you didn’t like this film, you really didn’t get it.

4. The Hunt

The Hunt was one of the most difficult films I’ve ever had to watch, in the best way possible. Centering on Lucas, a reserved but kind teacher (Mads Mikkelsen) who gets embroiled in a scandal far worse than he could have imagined, The Hunt is packed with scenes that bring forth strong emotions both positive and negative. By the end of the film, I was visibly shaking with frustration, something that has only happened with a handful of other films. It is a film that will (and should) anger you, but at no one in particular; it is simply a tale of lies and innocence, and the hazards that they can bring to those who do not deserve it.

3. Blue is the Warmest Color

Yes, this is “that hardcore lesbian porn film” everyone has been talking about. And if you wish to dismiss it as such and never look past that, then so be it. I admit that I went into Blue is the Warmest Color primarily because I had heard so much about the controversial sexuality, but to be honest those scenes are some of the least interesting (and yet most necessary) parts of the film. Using less than a 1/3rd of one percent of the footage shot (between 700-800 hours), director Abdellatif Kechiche has managed to adapt the French graphic novel into a genuinely breathtaking look at a young girl’s struggle with her sexual identity while also finding her place in life. The two leads, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, are nothing short of perfect in their respective roles, delivering powerful performances and exhibiting a chemistry so endearing I went back to the theater for a second viewing. Despite being three hours long, this film is immensely watchable (as opposed to The Wolf of Wall Street, which clocks in at the same time but feels at least twice as long as half as interesting) and I cannot wait to revisit it in the next few months.

2. The Place Beyond the Pines

A three-act masterpiece following the acts of fathers and the outcomes of their sons, Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to 2010’s Blue Valentine is heavy, poignant and thoroughly entertaining. Featuring powerful performances by Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Dane DeHaan (who is turning out to be one of the best actors of his generation), Eva Mendes and Ben Mendelsohn, Pines follows a much different structure than most are used to but which elevates the individual stories to a whole new level. It is important to go into Pines with as little knowledge as possible, and you will leave immensely satisfied.

1. Gravity

To put it simply, Gravity is the most technically impressive film that has ever been made. And it’s not even a contest. During my IMAX 3D showing, I lost count trying to tally the number of shots I couldn’t understand without the excuse “it must have been done in space”. And that was in the first 25 minutes. Opening with an epic 17-minute long take that weaves in and around an impossibly realistic setting, Alfonso Cuarón’s “Cast Away in Space” is the ultimate disaster film. The story isn’t very complex, and it doesn’t need to be; Gravity, in both production and execution, is about the triumph of the human spirit, the lengths at which humanity will go to further their understanding of the universe around them, and the sheer power of the natural world. If you did not get the chance to see it in theaters, I am genuinely sorry. It left me speechless, and I cannot wait to watch it again.

Question of the Day

Is it illegal to masturbate to pictures of yourself as a child?

Man of Steel: Thoughts and Concerns about the Film

I love Superman. He’s been fighting for the spot of “favorite superhero” with Spider-Man for years now, and Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel might have cemented his place at the top. If you know me personally, you probably are aware that I rarely, if ever, get excited about movies (or anything). I was literally shaking in the minutes before the film started (after anxiously sitting in line outside in the hallways behind 7 other nerds for an hour and a half). I laughed, I teared up a bit, and I even let out a few genuine “holy shit”s. After the credits rolled, I turned to my friend and asked, “what did you think?” His response: “I hated it.” I was a bit shocked at that response, as while I definitely recognized that it had problems, I was still blown away by the overall presentation and handling of the character. So I drove home and looked on RottenTomates: 59% (it is currently at 56%; for reference, Superman Returns is sitting pretty at a fresh 76%). Negative reviews everywhere, for all manner of reasons both legitimate and less so. I couldn’t believe it. Was there something I didn’t see? Does everyone else really hate Zack Snyder that much after Sucker Punch? I felt I had to put my thoughts down to combat some of the vitriol that has been spewed at the film. First, the good:


  1. Henry Cavill/the suit – Fucking perfect. In every way, absolutely perfect. He looks like Superman should look (including the muscles; it’s a wonder we let Dean Cain into the suit after seeing Cavill fill it out). He talks like Superman should talk. He has an incredible range; all of his dramatic moments feel suitably downbeat and vulnerable while his charisma and physical presence make him incredibly intimidating in action sequences. Hell, he even pulled off teenage Clark. I can’t imagine a better choice for Superman than Henry Cavill, and I cannot wait to see what he does in the sequels. Sidenote: when Superman is looking up into the gravity beam of the World Engine, did anyone else see Christopher Reeves’ face for a split second? I can’t be the only one.

  2. Zod – I was actually one of the very few critics of Michael Shannon’s casting as General Zod initially, and I still don’t consider my hesitations entirely baseless. But Shannon does a stellar job bringing pathos to the character, and while his delivery is a bit flat at times, he manages to correct it with an unhinged performance in the final third act. He is truly a villain that you can sympathize with, even if you don’t agree with his actions.

  3. Lois Lane/Pa and Ma Kent/Jor-El – All nailed it. Amy Adams brings a spunky, down-to-earth performance that nearly matches Margot Kidder’s while straying away from the ditzy “bombshell-world-class-journalist-that-can’t-tell-Clark-is-Superman-because-of-glasses” comic book rendition. Costner and Lane are both perfectly humble and understandably imperfect in their interpretations, and while he may not be an unwavering beacon of hope anymore, Jonathan Kent is still undeniably a hero. Diane Lane’s performance is sweet and affecting, and her relationship with the younger Clark Kent actors are incredibly heartwarming. Russell Crowe has redeemed himself from Les Miserables, and that’s all that really needs to be said.

  4. The origin story – Man of Steel, at its core, is the 33-year-long origin story of Clark Kent. At first, I found the switching between his adult life and his childhood to be quite jarring, as I had hoped for a more traditional, linear structure that showed him evolving into the Superman we know and love. But thinking more about it, I realized that Snyder, Goyer and Nolan were doing everything in their power to distance themselves from Donner’s Superman, including how his origins were presented. It was a surprise to say the least, but in the end it was a welcome one.

  5. The action – Holy fucking shit. Those fight scenes. I’m not usually one for claiming a film can be judged solely on one aspect such as action, but in this case it is totally true. Every single punch is bone-crushing, every burst of flight makes me want to cover my ears, every move is incredibly damaging in some way. After watching Man of Steel, I tried looking back at Superman II (my second favorite Superman film now)for comparison, and it just looks like absolute dogshit. Zack Snyder has completely spoiled me. The little details he puts into the fight sequences are what really sells it: the mini sonic booms around each of Superman’s punches, the speed at which they fly through buildings, the visible exhaustion that goes into fighting another super-powered being. It all just worked so well for me, I couldn’t get enough. It didn’t feel like a 12-year-old’s Superman fan fiction, it felt like two incredibly powerful people getting really frustrated that the other person just wouldn’t die despite getting thrown through five skyscrapers.

Since most of my reviews are from the viewpoint of a “hater”, I’m going to change things up a bit and address as many of the complaints that Man of Steel has faced since its release:

  1. Superman is a Big Blue Boy Scout, not a whiny emo bitch” – This isn’t your father’s Superman, and it was never meant to be. Snyder said several times that this was meant to be an interpretation of Superman as if he really existed in our world, and what that must to do a child growing up. Nobody’s perfect; everyone, including good old Pa Kent, has his flaws. Clark Kent doubts his ability to inspire hope in everyone, and wonders if his very existence on the planet is harmful to its inhabitants. These are the ideas that make Superman so great, and sadly they are the ones that have been cast aside in past films. Also, one thing to keep in mind while watching Man of Steel is that he’s not Superman yet. The scene at the end where he throws the drone down in front of General Swanwick is the first time we see Superman as we know him now: confident in his role and ideals and fully understanding of his powers. Everything leading up to that is what makes him that man.

  2. Superman murders Zod” – What else was he supposed to do? In that situation, the only two choices he felt he had were to kill or watch a family of four be killed. In no way was it an easy decision for him, and really it was not murder. By that point, Zod had made it quite clear that this would end with either him or Superman dying. His entire reason for living was to preserve Krypton, and he chose to do that by sacrificing an entire planet full of humans. When the only other members of his race were sucked into the black hole and the only chance of reviving his race was destroyed by Superman. He had no purpose anymore, and he went crazy, essentially asking to die. Superman’s killing of Zod was more mercy than murder. Also, for the uninformed, Superman has killed Zod before in the films and the comics, and he was shaken up about it every time. Sure, you could argue why the screenwriters would put Superman in that position at all, but that’s a slippery slope that I don’t want to get into.

  3. Jonathan Kent is a coward” – This one took a little while for me to come to terms with. Through almost all variations of Superman, Pa Kent is portrayed as a flawless human being that instills his morals and virtues into the man who would become the hope of humanity. Man of Steel turns the character on his head, making him an imperfect man with a great fear of what the world would think of Clark’s existence. And, in any other world, you would be right to think that is a bad idea. But think of it this way: Clark is his son. A boy that came from the sky, landing in a rural Christian’s backyard. He looks like us, but there is no doubt he is not one of us. Yet John raised him and loved him like he was, while knowing one day he would have to reveal his true self to others, and that doing so would rock humanity to its very core. What would you do in that situation? Would you encourage an 8-year-old boy to show off his alien nature, if you grew up in a Christian household during the age of the Red Scare? Jonathan Kent isn’t a coward; he just understands the risks of having Clark reveal himself when either he or the world wasn’t ready. Yes, this caused him to die, but he died protecting a secret. He died without compromising his beliefs.

  4. The tornado scene was awful, Clark should have saved him” – I have to agree on this one, in a way. Yes, the tornado sequence definitely had an impact that probably was not the same as Snyder intended, but I still felt very emotional because of what it represented. I absolutely do not agree that Clark should have saved his father, nor that he even could have. At this point, we have no idea what his physical abilities are like, and we don’t know if he does. Could he make it to the car and back without being revealed? Would anyone believe it even if they saw it happen? We don’t know, but you can’t say that these things aren’t risks. It should have been shot a bit differently, but on the whole the sequence worked.

  5. Lois wasn’t hot/she did too much/she wasn’t a damsel in distress” – Get the hell over it. Damsels in distress are fine and dandy for fairy tales and 70’s films, but in this day and age women need a stronger representation (ESPECIALLY in superhero films). I will admit that Amy Adams’ Lois gets a bit too deep into the action (would a newspaper journalist really be in the aircraft carrier that bombs the first alien we meet, even if she has some sort of connection to the case?), but her increased role in the narrative was incredibly refreshing and welcome.

  6. The Lois/Clark relationship was too quick/unbelievable” – Again, I have to agree on some level. While the individual scenes involving their romance were very affective (the kiss after saving her, the hug after killing Zod), in a Speed sort of way, the overall structure of their relationship happened a bit too quickly. Really, that was my biggest problem with the film; some of the necessary emotional beats (mainly, that and the firs suiting up/flying sequences) happened about 20-30 minutes too soon to pack a full punch.

  7. There was too much product placement” – I hate arguments about product placement unless they’re clearly advertising-based. This is not the case with Man of Steel. Superman lives in America, and there are products like IHOP and Sears in America. Is it out of the question to think that they would be shown in some capacity to give a sense of realism to the world? It’s not like Superman, after snapping Zod’s neck, turns to Lois and says, “boy, I could sure use a Coke right now”. Also, take this scene from Superman II.  First of all, holy shit that action looks terrible compared to Man of Steel, and secondly look at how long the shots of Marlboro and Coca Cola linger. The references in this film are nothing compared to that.

  8. Superman causes way too much destruction and doesn’t care” – This is probably the most common complaint I have heard regarding Man of Steel, and I really am baffled that people bring it up so easily without actually thinking about it. A recent article listed the damage done by Superman’s fight with the Kryptonians at around $700 billion, with overall casualties topping 1 million. Critics of this sequence shout things like “Superman should be saving people, not killing them!” and “What good is Superman if he just destroys everything?” and to that I say two things:
  • He’s not Superman yet.
  • That’s the fucking point of the movie.

 The third act of the film is exactly why Jonathan Kent was afraid to have his son reveal his true nature. The very existence of Superman, without even laying a hand on Zod, causes him to come to Earth and wreak so much havoc in the first place. When he eventually goes toe-to-toe with him, buildings fall and thousands are put in danger. What did you think would happen? Zod isn’t about to go out into a cornfield or a desert and fight Superman with no chance of casualties. Even if Superman flew out to wait for him, Zod would be perfectly fine with throwing busses into buildings and tearing the heads off babies on his own. And even if Superman tried to lure Zod and his cronies away from Metropolis, there’s no guarantee it would work. Another thing to remember is that Clark has never had to use his powers like this before. Until Zod, he has never been a fight he couldn’t win, and he knew it. Now, he’s suddenly thrust into battle with not only another super-powered being, but several of them who were all trained to kill (hell, it’s their life purpose to do so) and who are hell-bent on causing destruction and mayhem. People will die, there’s just no way around it. But if he wouldn’t have fought, billions would have died.

What’s more, there are a few factors people aren’t really taking into consideration. First, the World Machine really did a majority of the damage to the city and its inhabitants, and we’re never told whether people were being evacuated. Secondly, while Superman may not have a complete understanding of his powers, he may have enough control to use his enhanced vision while fighting to minimize casualties. Additionally, anyone who thinks Superman was careless during the fight scene should go watch it again. Superman intentionally throws or pushes Zod into a building exactly once: during the Smallville fight, through the gas station. All other times, Zod either throws Superman into one or more buildings or they cause indirect destruction through the force of punches. Also, it’s a war! There will always be casualties in war, especially when Superman is fighting (and especially when he’s not truly Superman yet). Why doesn’t anyone bitch and moan about Batman blowing up trains and buildings, or Spider-Man ripping the walls off with his webbing, or the Avengers destroying half of New York City then going out for shawarma afterward? I will concede that the jump between the end of the fight and the final scene was a bit jarring, but maybe it was cut for time or pacing purposes. And as for the clean-up: can you say Lex Luthor.

        9.   “Superman kills babies” – No he didn’t. The Genesis Device within the scout ship had been dormant for 20,000 years; nothing had survived. Superman’s DNA held the Kryptonian Registry Codex, which could have been implanted in the device to being making new little Kryptonians, but there was no indication that any of the fetuses within were alive or even present.

        10.   “It just wasn’t funny” – Fucking good. I for one am sick of the Marvel action-comedy format. While it may be fun for a theater-going experience, it kills any sort of stakes and doesn’t make for a very compelling film after the first view. Man of Steel’s humor is subtle and rare, but it’s definitely there. What, were you expecting another Richard Donner red underwear film where Clark is a bumbling idiot? That shtick doesn’t fly in this world. What little humor is in Man of Steel works and doesn’t bring the rest of the film down with it, unlike Iron Man 3 and The Avengers.

        11.   “There was too strong of a Jesus motif” – As much as I agree with this complaint, I really don’t like that I agree with it. OK, yeah, there a lot of blatant comparisons between Superman and Jesus in Man of Steel. But that’s kind of the point of Superman. Are you just going to ignore it because it’s obvious? Clark grew up as an outcast in rural Kansas during a time of war and uncertainty; is it so unlikely that he would become a Christian and look there for some answers? Hell, it probably isn’t a stretch for him to even humbly consider himself as a sort of messiah, what with all this power and responsibility thrust into his lap. I admit that Zack Snyder is not the world’s most subtle filmmaker (understatement of the year), but the religious overtones in Man of Steel make sense both on an internal character level and external thematic one.

Make no mistake; Man of Steel has its share of flaws. Most of them are based in David Goyer’s messy dialogue and pacing. Especially after his Dark Knight trilogy, someone in Hollywood should have told the man he isn’t allowed to write a script by himself. It gets a bit tedious, especially to casual fans or people not well-versed in Superman lore. But none of them are inherent to the character of Superman, and none of them are insurmountable. Is Man of Steel a perfect film? Definitely not. Is it a good, possibly great film? I think so, but I would love to see a Director’s Cut. Did it do everything I wanted it to do? No, but it did what had to be done which is what matters. Is it the best on-screen representation of Superman? Hands down. Are all the criticisms of it unjust? No, but most of them are poorly considered. In the end, it’s just far too different from the lighthearted, nostalgic camp of the 70’s Donner films for most people to be comfortable with, and in my opinion that is a very good thing.

Zero Dark Thirty: Thoughts on the Film, Its “Agenda”, and Why Kathryn Bigelow Deserves The Oscar for Best Director

I’ll get this out of the way quickly: Zero Dark Thirty is fantastic. Fucking fantastic. And this is coming from someone who had serious reservations about the film’s concept and its timing. I can’t say it enough: Zero Dark Thirty is FANTASTIC. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading and find a way to as soon as you can. And if you don’t agree with me, I’ll do my best to convince you otherwise in this article. If you’ve been living in a cave for the past few years (joke definitely intended), ZD30 chronicles the manhunt for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden , spearheaded by headstrong CIA officer “Maya”, alias of Jessica Chastain’s character. Spoilers: we got him.

But the fact that you know what happens going in doesn’t serve as a detriment to the film. Quite the opposite, in fact. Much like 2008’s Valkyrie and last year’s Argo, ZD30 is not about the obvious destination but the thrilling journey. To me, what’s most amazing about this film is the fact that it exists in its current form at all. Production on the film began in before the Abbottabad raid and centered around the Battle of Tora Bora, but was heavily reworked when bin Laden was killed in May of 2011. This gives Zero Dark Thirty an amazing feel; it is a film that, at times, does not know its own ending. It is heavily reminiscent of David Fincher’s brilliant thriller Zodiac but lacks the frustration. Both Zero Dark Thirty and Zodiac sift through loose ends, potential leads and circumstantial evidence for answers, although only one of them knows it will never find any.

And suddenly, all the pieces fall into place. A location is found. Intel is gathered. Authorization is given. And we are given a glimpse into one of the tensest and most defining moments of our generation. The film’s rendition of the raid takes roughly 20-25 minutes, slightly shorter than the actual operation in Pakistan. And all of a sudden, it’s over. There is no music, there is no applause. There is only the cold, military efficiency of a trained unit that has just completed a mission. The killing of bin Laden is NOT viewed as a cathartic event, nor does it paint the act and events preceding it as anti-American in any sense. Yes, there are brief instances of characters celebrating, but who can blame them when they are so much closer to the situation than we are?

Which brings me to the issue of the film’s controversy (or lack thereof). I’m curious as to why so many people are frustrated by Zero Dark Thirty’s “political agenda”; throughout the film, I actively looked for hints of its message, and I was amazed at how decidedly unpolitical it is. It has no agenda. It merely presents the facts and forces the audience to draw their own conclusions. The film opens with a blank screen and a montage of 911 calls, news reports, and air traffic control recordings from September 11th, 2001. No footage is shown; Bigelow knows that such a stylistic choice would weaken the film (I’ll get to that later). The audio is more than enough to stir up at least a little something in every audience member. And what immediately follows this introduction? Surely one of the most affecting things ever put on film: the simulated torture of a prisoner in CIA black site. It is brutal; so much so, in fact, that the audience might lean in favor of a known terrorist. A terrorist who played a part in the attacks we were reminded of not five minutes prior. What does that say about the film, when we as an audience can simultaneously loathe a man we don’t know for indirectly causing the deaths of 3,000+ Americans and pity that same man when his torture could save thousands more? The results of this method are, honestly, irrelevant. The prisoner eventually divulges crucial information, but it is unclear whether this is because of his unwillingness to endure further torture or because alternative tactics were tried. ZD30 does NOT advocate the use of torture, nor does it condemn it. If you need any more confirmation of this, just look to the scene where three CIA operatives watch Obama’s remarks on torture. They don’t scoff or nod in agreement. They do NOTHING, and then continue with their previous conversation. Bigelow had the perfect opportunity to send a message and didn’t take it, because that’s not what a good film is supposed to do. What other proof do you need to know that this film does not take a stance on torture? Maybe the issue of torture is not as black and white as it seems. And maybe, just maybe Zero Dark Thirty is clever enough to realize that, smart enough to not address it, and brave enough to make us do so instead.

Now, I understand that not everyone is a fan of Kathryn Bigelow. Many feel that her Best Director win for The Hurt Locker was undeserved, especially during such a tough year (ex-husband Cameron’s Avatar was a strong contender in many similar categories). I am not one of those people. And the fact that Bigelow did not get a nomination for Zero Dark Thirty is, quite frankly, one of the worst decisions the Academy has ever made. This film, in the hands of a lesser director, would have fallen flat on its face while trying to walk on eggshells instead of flying above them. There are several things that Bigelow did to make this film that few other directors would have the maturity or willpower to do:

  • The use of 9/11 audio clips instead of video, which would strike too deep a nerve with the audience, and the juxtaposition of this with torture scenes establish the topics in the film as a moral gray area.
  • The gunshots throughout the film are sparse and alarmingly loud, and every bullet sends a shiver down your spine.
  • Maya is an ambitious, stubborn and somewhat abrasive person in a very powerful position, and the film doesn’t give a shit about the fact that she’s a woman. And that’s exactly what a good film should do. Regardless of the character’s real-life identity, Maya could just as easily have been a man, and it wouldn’t have made a lick of difference. It could have dwelled on this fact and added unnecessary plot points about her facing gender-related struggles, but that doesn’t really help anybody and it only ever dulls the story’s edge. This is filmmaking, and feminism, done right.
  • The raid is raw and authentic, without needlessly cutting back and forth to Maya for dramatic effect.
  • The reluctance to show bin Laden’s face or features; not out of respect for the dead, but because Bigelow knew it wouldn’t add anything to the film.
  • The end of the film, instead of embracing either side of the argument, channels The Graduate and keeps its damn mouth shut.
  • This film cost $20 million to make. That is insane. Most other filmmakers would blow twice that one a film that would end up being half as good (films like The Kingdom and Jarhead cost $70 million; Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker only cost $15 million). For comparison, Michael Haneke’s Amour cost roughly $10 million, and that film is literally two old people in a house together. Silver Linings Playbook cost $21 million, although that film may get a pass for the significantly more expensive acting talent involved. 

In short, Zero Dark Thirty is a smart, tense thriller that deserves any nominations it received (and some that it didn’t) and none of the political hate. If you’re still not convinced, watch it again with these things in mind. And if anyone in the Academy is, for whatever reason, reading this right now: fuck you.

My Most Anticipated Films of 2013

Honorable Mentions: Iron Man 3, Elysium, Oblivion, After Earth, The World’s End, Stoker, Pacific Rim, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

10. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug


December 13

Last year, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was #2 on my list. I had many reasons for not liking it, and now its follow-up, The Desolation of Smaug, is lucky to be here instead of Iron Man 3 (which I am looking forward to, despite its unapologetic The Dark Knight Rises-ness). Peter Jackson’s second of three films exploring the world of Middle-Earth before the time of Sauron may yet save the trilogy; Smaug was excellently introduced in the first film (structurally if not visually), and many of the loose ends created by Jackson’s expansion will hopefully start to see themselves tied up with the core narrative. Plus, now that I’ve seen An Unexpected Journey, I can safely lower my expectations and enjoy the remaining films for what they are.

9. 47 Ronin


December 25

Not much has been released of this film by first-time director Carl Rinsch, besides a basic synopsis and a cast list full of established Japanese actors and motherfucking Keanu Reeves. That’s right, Johnny Utah is starring in a samurai film. That alone will make me want to see it, but something in me thinks that if anyone could pull this off, it’s him.

8. The Monuments Men


December 18

I’d bet good money that The Monuments Men, George Clooney’s fifth film as a director, will be 2013’s Argo. Set in World War II, The Monuments Men follows a group of historians and curators as they set off to save priceless works of art before Hitler destroys them. Clooney also stars, along with Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Daniel Craig, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Jean Dujardin. If the cast list doesn’t at least excite you, I don’t know what movies you’re spending your money on.

7. Cloudy 2: Revenge of the Leftovers


Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs was good. Really good. Probably better than it should have been. The same can be said of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s 21 Jump Street.And Revenge of the Leftovers may very well tip in the other direction. But with a full cast returning (save for Mr. T, who was replaced by the equally goofy Terry Crews), anda solid screenplay idea, Leftovers might be another nail in Pixar’s coffin.

6. This Is the End


As much as I love Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, I think that This Is the End will end up being the better of the two apocalypse comedies to come out in 2013 (over Pegg/Frost’s The World’s End). Directed by and starring Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, as well as Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jason Segal, Paul Rudd, Emma Watson, Michael Cera, Danny McBride, Martin Starr, Rihanna and Craig Ferguson as themselves, This Is the End has the potential to be one of the best ensemble comedies in recent memory. The story can’t get much simpler: it’s the end of the world, and all these famous people get freaked out while we watch. If you still doubt its potential, check out the red band trailer.

5. Kick-Ass 2


June 28

2010’s Kick-Ass took me totally by surprise. It snuck into theaters at the beginning of the modern superhero craze and ended up being one of the best of its genre despite not truly belonging to it. The sequel, directed by Cry Wolf and Never Back Down director Jeff Wadlow (I know, I know) could very well be an unnecessary step. Matthew Vaughn may have been the glue holding this whole thing together, but he’s moved on to bigger, brighter pastures. Nevertheless, Kick-Ass 2(originally subtitled Balls to the Wall) soliders on, with new cast members and an even more ridiculous premise. Notable additions are Jim Carrey as Colonel Stars, an ex-mafia enforcer turned vigilante, and Scrubs’ Donal Faison as Doctor Gravity, a Kick-Ass inspired hero who wields a “gravity pole”. Even if this film doesn’t work, at least we’ll get to see more Hit-Girl.

4. Only God Forgives


Release Date Unknown

Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow-up to his 2011 masterpiece Drive takes Ryan Gosling to Bangkok where, if the promotional materials are any indication, he will get the everloving shit beaten out of him. Refn has always had a flair for violence, and a film centered around boxing should fit him like a glove. Only God Forgives may not be a career booster on the same par as Drive, but it certainly looks like it will stand as tall. If you’re not familiar with Refn’s work, check out this teaser clip for a little taste.

3. Anchorman: The Legend Continues


December 20

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is one of the funniest films of all time. And now, almost a decade later, Will Ferrell and company are back to…I’m not exactly sure why they’re making this movie. Not much is known about the story yet, but rumors say that it will deal with “racial issues”. Whatever; it’s another Anchorman movie. The teaser trailer doesn’t give us much to go on, but it’s enough to get me to see it at least a few times.

2. Ender’s Game


November 1

One of my favorite books of all time is finally coming to the big screen, and I honestly couldn’t be more afraid. If taken literally, the story is simply unfilmable. There are too many abstract and tangential elements to the book to keep track of on screen, and quite frankly, it’s a difficult story to market. There are naked shower murders, complex zero-gravity action scenes, dream-like video game sequences, and intense political discourse that happen entirely through the Internet. Clearly, Ender’s Game, directed by Gavin Hood (the mastermind behind X-Men Origins: Wolverine) will be stripped down. And I’m fine with that. As long as they don’t tone down whatever they leave in, I will walk away extremely happy.

1.The Smurfs 2


Just kidding, it’s Man of Steel


June 14

Superman is, by far, my favorite superhero. Not because of his powers, but because of his story. So far, Man of Steel looks incredibly introspective and moody, with less focus on explosions and lifting heavy things. While I didn’t particularly love Nolan’s take on Batman, that atmosphere works perfectly for Superman and his presence as producer/writer is clearly felt without overshadowing director Zack Snyder’s vision. And I really want this reboot to be good. So much so, in fact, that I am willing to hinge the success of 2013 solely on this film. I don’t care about the Justice League or a Batman/Superman crossover. I just want this to work. You hear me, Snyder? This better be good.

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