2013 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst, Grand Totals

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My my my, how time flies!  It’s hard to believe I’m just finished up my second year of reviewing movies for this blog.  I think I’ll look back on this year as the truly terrible twos as I found it difficult to carve out time in my schedule to write as many reviews as I wanted and didn’t tackle as many older reviews as I planned.  Thanks to some creative shuffling all of that will change in 2014 so you can look forward to 365 days of consistent reviews and information on upcoming releases. 

But hey…wait a second…we still need to wrap up 2013, right?  Below I’ve compiled my list of the best and worst of 2013.  At first I was going to do a Top 10 for both because I absolutely had candidates to fill all the slots, but then I decided to stick with five each to truly highlight the best of the best and worst of the worst.

As always, I’ve appreciated your feedback, your patronage, and your general presence in my blog. Even if you read this everyday but have never commented or made contact I can still tell you’ve been here and that means a lot.  My readership and subscriptions continue to increase every month and it’s all thanks to your word of mouth, likes, and shares.  If you haven’t already, make sure to follow this blog, follow me on Twitter, and like my new Facebook page so you can help me continue spreading the news about The MN Movie Man.

Best Wishes to you and yours for a most Happy New Year!

~Joe (The MN Movie Man)

 

Best of

5. Gravity I’m a total sucker for films set in space so the concept of Gravity had me hooked from the start and I tracked each step of its journey from casting to early buzz to the eventual release of one of the best made films, well, ever when you look at it from a cinematic standpoint.  Director Alfonso Cuarón fashioned a breathtaking look at both the solemnity of outer space and the strength of inner human emotion in a taut 90 minutes that delivers astounding technical prowess and dynamite performances from stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.  Bullock especially flexes impressive acting muscles here, reminding us again that she’s more than a romantic comedy sweetheart and silencing all the naysayers jawing that her Oscar for The Blind Side wasn’t deserved. 

4. Stoker – This film came and went pretty quickly but it’s still very much on my mind all these months later.  If you missed this dark family drama in theaters do yourself a favor and seek it out pronto if you’re in the mood for a black as night tale with no real heroes and several sly twists that keep you off balance.  The first US film from Korean director Chan-wook Park was sleek and sophisticated with bursts of violence that delivered a wicked jolt…like Alfred Hitchcock meets David Lynch.  Nicole Kidman (Far and Away) was especially good in this one as jealous widow living in a creepy mansion with her troubled teenage daughter.  When a mysterious relative appears soon after her husband dies under shady circumstances, the bodies start to pile up and no one is quite safe from vengeance.

3. Prisoners – About halfway through Prisoners I realized just how starved I’d been for an edge of your seat crime drama.  This is an A-List film from top to bottom with a starry cast of Oscar nominees doing impressive work with very heavy material.  Special mention must be made to cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall) who finds terrifying ways to frame the action and star Jake Gyllenhaal (End of Watch – a top film of mine for 2012) who brings a gritty sophistication to a cop tracking the disappearance of two little girls.  Though a long affair, Prisoners earns/deserves every minute of your attention as it makes its way through a mystery that gets deeper and more horrifying as it goes on.

2. Her – Though it hasn’t been released in all markets yet, trust me when I say that Her is one of the best and most original romantic films you’re likely to see.  I was originally unsure of how much I’d like this one, not being a huge fan of Joaquin Phoenix (The Master, Parenthood) and finding director Spike Jonze’s work to be admirable but generally over praised.  Add to that a concept (man falls in love with a computer operating system) and you have a film that on paper probably shouldn’t work.  But work it does and fairly brilliantly under the collaboration of Jonze, Phoenix, and the voice of Scarlett Johansson (Don Jon).  Without ever being in the same room (or even seeing one frame of Johansson) the two actors form a believable romance involving two personalities that find each other and connect in a most special way.  And say what you will about American Hustle but Amy Adams does her best work of the year here as a friend of Phoenix that has her own journey and observations on life.  An appealing and (more importantly) different film that winds up being just what the 2013 doctor ordered.

1. The Way Way Back – I caught this one before 2013 was half over and I knew right away that the film would wind up pretty high on my best of the year list.  Reflecting back on 2013 I can’t say that I saw a film that moved me more than this true treasure of a film.  Following an awkward teen during a summer vacation with his mom and her new boyfriend, our young hero finds his voice that had been held at bay by adults that don’t understand him.  When he forms a bond with a carefree worker at a local waterpark, he discovers his own worth and a transformation occurs that we can only see a small part of because it happens from within.  Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, the Oscar winning screenwriters of The Descendants, make their directorial debut with an even hand that allows for equal parts laughs and tears.  Sam Rockwell (Iron Man 2) deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance as a Peter Pan-ish guy that finds himself the mentor to a boy that just needs a friend and someone to listen to him.  Steve Carrell (Despicable Me 2) gets to show his non-comedic side to stellar results and there’s rich supporting work from Allison Janney and especially Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding).  Rash and Faxon steer clear of the pitfalls of most of these types of coming-of-age films by not heaping new problems onto our lead character but dealing with the baggage he came in with.  I saw the film three times in theaters and told everyone I knew about it and I’ve yet to meet someone that hasn’t loved it as much as I did.  Winners don’t come in a better package than The Way Way Back and though it doesn’t look like the film is getting the type of end of the year awards it deserves, this gets my vote for Best Picture of the year.

Honorable Mentions: The Conjuring, Nebraska, Saving Mr. Banks, 12 Years a Slave, 20 Feet From Stardom, About Time, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Hunt,

Worst of

5. The Heat – I remember the first preview I saw for The Heat and was stunned that a purported comedy from Bridesmaids director Paul Feig and starring Melissa McCarthy had exactly zero laughs in it.  That’s when I started to get worried that this rushed into production film that paired McCarthy with Sandra Bullock would be a comedy in name only and I’d be stuck for two hours of ham fisted attempts to pummel me into laughter submission. Turns out my gut was right because The Heat was a debacle to watch and a pain in the ass to sit through.  As a fan of Feig, McCarthy (who was better in the worse reviewed Identity Thief), and Bullock I wanted this film to be one hundred times funnier and twenty minutes shorter.  The supporting players are embarrassing and the wasted potential of the movie is one of the honest tragedies of 2013.

4. Side Effects – Though I sorta liked what Steven Soderbergh did with Haywire in 2012 I put his other effort from last year, Magic Mike, on my worst of the year wrap-up and sadly 2013 finds another Soderbergh film earning a spot on the naughty list.  Widely rumored to be Soderbergh’s last film as a director, Side Effects sends the Oscar winning director out with a whimper thanks to a ripped from Law & Order: SVU plotline and a lack of logical construction that left cast members like Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Jude Law (Hugo), Channing Tatum (21 Jump Street), and Catherine Zeta-Jones (Red 2) out in the cold.  The true side effect from the film is ambivalence to Soderbergh’s future efforts.

3. Now You See Me – I’ve always had a problem with films that deal with magicians because the suspension of disbelief isn’t the same as seeing someone perform a trick live.  So the deck was slightly stacked against Now You See Me, which doesn’t excuse the fact that the film is pretty lame and barely eeks by with its flimsy heist plot.  The worst thing about the film is that it winds up cheating the audience and pretty blatantly so with its revisionist plot twists that don’t make sense no matter how many rabbits the filmmakers try to pull out of their cinematic hat.  The ending for the film feels tacked on, an obvious product of reshoots due to poor reaction to early preview screenings.  Despite a nice roster of watchable actors like Marc Ruffalo (Marvel’s The Avengers), Michael Caine (Batman Begins), and Morgan Freeman (The Dark Knight) this was a summer bummer.  Now You See Me is one you shouldn’t.

2. Austenland – Listen, I love a “chick flick” as much as the next guy but there’s got to be a point where you say enough is enough and stop shelling out money to see what amounts to over produced television movies that somehow have found their way into your local cinema.  Austenland is a trip you’ll fire your travel agent (or movie critic) for recommending to you thanks to a general absurdity and bland leading performance from Keri Russell (Dark Skies) that turns what may have been a pleasant enough Lifetime movie to a Montezuma’s Revenge affair you’ll be thankful you don’t have to visit ever again.  Skip it, rent a hotel room and watch any other Jane Austen adaptation if you desire to be transported to another place in the company of characters from the Austen canon.

1. Girl Most Likely – It’s almost ironic that Kristen Wiig is starring in a movie called Girl Most Likely because her potential is fairly unlimited…but not if she keeps making garbage like this would-be comedy that winds up at the very top of my Worst of the Year list.  Unfunny, ungainly, and filled with heinously unappealing performances from the majority of the cast, I can’t imagine Wiig (Friends with Kids) is very proud of this one nor should she be.  Her sad sack playwright is the worst kind of anti-hero…the one the film wants you to root for but who has their head so far up their ass you simply cannot get behind them.  Wiig does what she can with the material but gives up about fifteen minutes in, which is more than I can say for Darren Criss, Matt Dillon and Annette Bening, all ghastly bad in their supporting roles that are less supporting and more sabotaging.  When the film changes tone for the ninth time near the conclusion you’ll be numb in both the mind and butt.  Painful to sit through, this is one turkey viewers should earn a medal for sitting through.

(Dis)Honorable Mentions: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Trance, The Hangover Part III, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Don Jon, This Is the End, Olympus Has Fallen, Thanks for Sharing

Special mentions

Most Misunderstood

Oblivion – Seems like Tom Cruise just can’t catch a break.  Though Oblivion fared better at the box office than his 2012 misses Rock of Ages (which deserved to tank) and Jack Reacher (which didn’t) there seemed to be this lingering animosity to Cruise that people (aka critics) just can’t get over.  That’s too bad because Oblivion was an exciting sci-fi film with excellent visuals, a powerful score, and strong performances (especially Andrea Riseborough, Disconnect) that kept me hooked.  Some fuddy duddy people aped on the Twilight Zone-y plot but they probably should have checked their logic sheets at the door because in sci-fi all rules are off.  Cruise has another futuristic film coming out way in 2014 and we’ll see if Edge of Tomorrow gets shirked in the same way Oblivion did.

Honorable Mention: Beautiful Creatures

Joe’s Humble Pie Award of 2014

The CallIf you had asked me my thoughts on The Call based simply on the trailer I would have told you that Halle Berry’s losing streak was going to continue.  So it was with a special kind of eating my words type of glee that I was happy to report the film was much better than its trailer would suggest.  The movie had thrills and chills and even if the twists felt a bit stale it didn’t matter much because the action moves like a locomotive.  Berry (Cloud Atlas) has struggled with headlining a film but the decent box office of The Call shows that she may be finding her footing in choosing her projects.  Definitely worth a look for fans of tightly wound thrillers. 

Honorable Mention: We’re The Millers

Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen But Should:

Indian Summer

The Changeling

Smooth Talk

Ghost Light

The Grandmaster (Yi dai zong shi)

The Spectacular Now

Blackfish

The East

Kon-Tiki

The Silence (Das letzte Schweigen)

Click HERE for a full listing of films seen in 2013

Total Movies Seen in the Theater: 138

Total Movies Seen at Home: 225

Grand Total for 2013 (not counting films seen multiple times): 363

Where I Saw the Most MoviesShowplace ICON (51!)

Movie Review ~ The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When a street magician’s stunt begins to make their show look stale, superstar magicians Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton look to salvage on their act – and their friendship – by staging their own daring stunt

Stars: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, James Gandolfini, Jim Carrey, Jay Mohr, Michael Bully Herbig

Director: Don Scardino

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 110 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  It’s debatable but I’d argue that the best sleight of hand that The Incredible Burt Wonderstone performs is making laughs vanish for 110 minutes.  In my review of the trailer for the comedy, I predicted that the film was “either going to soar to great heights or crash and burn in terrible fashion” and while the movie isn’t a total write-off thanks to a few decent performances, it’s a largely forgettable film that vanishes from memory before you reach your car.

Though star Carell has done fairly well so far in his film career, he’s not known for taking on any roles that offer any real stretch opportunities.  I enjoyed his work in Dan in Real Life and Crazy, Stupid, Love but his work here falls into the Evan Almighty and Get Smart area…that is to say buffoonery.  In Wonderstone he’s one half of a Las Vegas magic act that seems to be sending up Siegfried and Roy grandiosity and David Copperfield (who also cameos) illusion. 

When we meet the younger Wonderstone in an enjoyable prologue, he’s a bullied child with an absentee mother who has him bake his own birthday cake.  After he receives a Rance Howard Magic Kit, he finds his passion and a partner in Anton – soon they are headlining their own show in Vegas and over the next decade they rake in the audiences along with the dough.  Trouble is, their act is stale and with a new generation wanting more bang for their buck their show becomes old hat.  It doesn’t help that Burt has become a misogynistic d-bag and Anton (a woefully untapped Buscemi) his punching bag.

For a boy that was bullied so much as a child, it’s an odd transition to have Burt become so unloving and harsh to his friends that support him.  It’s also not very fun to watch as Carell spends the first half of the movie with a put-upon snooty-toot accent and an array of sequined costumes.  When Burt and Anton find themselves without a show and not on speaking terms, Burt takes a job at a senior center for retired Las Vegas performers and that’s where he meets his idol since childhood…Rance Howard. 

As Rance, Arkin pretty much walks away with the movie as he is prone to do (and get Oscar nominated like he did in Argo) when given a character he can do something with.  Though thinly written, Arkin puts a nice shine on the grizzled magician to provide the film with its most dependable laughs.  The same can’t be said for Carrey as a Criss Angel/David Blaine style street magician whose tricks/stunts become more grotesque and dangerous as the movie progresses.  On complete auto-pilot, Carrey resurrects his Ace Ventura mannerisms to decidedly ho-hum results. 

Wilde is so shoe-horned into this film I’m wondering if her entire character wasn’t added after the film was completed to give Carell a ludicrous love interest.  Only called upon to say some of the more straight-forward dialogue that other characters couldn’t say, Wilde is totally lost at sea and knows it.  Gandolfini’s meatball head has nearly been swallowed by his shoulders and Mohr turns in one of the least funny performances in a comedy ever.

I have a quick note about the magic in the film.  I still hold to the belief that magic in movies is incredibly hard to pull off because most of us deal with a suspension of disbelief that prevents us from really buying into the magic we’re seeing on screen.  Though the film really isn’t about magic tricks, the few that are there are staged in such a way that indicates the filmmakers want us to think they’ve pulled off a great trick…when they really just positioned the camera in such a way that we can’t see what’s really happening. 

Director Scardino is known for directing television series and hasn’t made a feature film in over a decade, made painfully obvious by a dramatic lack of any sort of pacing beyond half hour increments.  The film is probably twenty minutes too long and strains to reach an ending so unbelievable I kept waiting for it to be some elaborate dream sequence.  The script by John Francis Daley/Jonathan Goldstein feels a tad selfish…giving too much to Carell and ignoring some nice comedic opportunities (a senior center for retired Las Vegas performers has so much potential that is totally wasted…where are the old ladies in showgirl costumes??)

If you’re a Carell or Carrey fan chances are you’re looking forward to this one and I say more power to you.  You’ll probably get what you came for but nothing more…sometimes that’s enough.  For this reviewer, I wish the filmmakers could hvae Zim Zala-Bim-ed their way into a better movie.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

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Synopsis: Magician Burt Wonderstone splits from his longtime stage partner after a guerrilla street magician steals their thunder. By spending some time with his boyhood idol, Burt looks to remember what made him love magic in the first place.

Release Date:  March 15, 2013

Thoughts: Here’s an example of a movie that’s either going to soar to great heights or crash and burn in terrible fashion.  Judging from the preview, the jury’s still out on which direction it will go.  It certainly has a game cast that has the combined talents to make this iffy material work.  Speaking of the material, is it just me or does this seem like a rejected idea from a sketch on Saturday Night Live?  A director who hasn’t helmed a major motion picture guiding A-list stars always makes me pause – so here’s hoping that the screenplay by John Francis Daley/Jonathan Goldstein (Horrible Bosses) has the laughs in it that the trailer promises.