Welcome back to my 2013 Year in Review series. We keep the pace quick as we push through another 25, not-quite-as-bad movies.

###They Had a Chance###
75. A Good Day to Die Hard
74. Ender’s Game
73. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters
72. Turbo
71. Paranoia
70. Side Effects
69. Jack the Giant-Slayer
68. The Croods
67. Man of Steel
66. The Butler

I’m a huge Bruce Willis fan.1 And yet, frankly, A Good Day to Die Hard left me exhausted. I’m okay with sequels, even if they do exist only to make more money for their star, which certainly feels like the pitch for this movie. There are even visible threads in the film that make it seem like they’ve considered a future without Willis as John McClane; Jai Courtney is featured as Jack McClane, and it sure seems like he’s being groomed to take over the franchise, much like Shia LaBeouf was with Indiana Jones. (Look how that turned out!) Despite Crystal Skull‘s absurd romp with alien life, I actually find LaBeouf’s character far more likable a presence, and a much better match spiritually for his famous pop culture dad. Jack is one-dimensionally aggressive and doesn’t seem to grow at all, other than his tepid willingness to be acknowledged as Willis’ son near the end credits. Who wouldn’t want to be John McClane’s son? Come one! Digging into that even further, John McClane has always, as a hero, fought for his family, even if he’s not the best family man. You’d think Jack could see human, frail, and protective his father is. Though maybe that’s not possible anymore; in this film, we’ve drifted into John McClane, superhero. It seems like we’re destined to get another Die Hard but McClane Sr. has officially run out of family members in peril, and long ago ran out of interesting or sympathetic family members to save.

Much better than the whole of A Good Die to Die Hard was the trailer for Man of Steel. The trailer for Man of Steel was fantastic. Visionary. Moving. The movie was none of those things, which is incredible because everything from the trailer is in the film. It wasn’t deceptive marketing like Out of the Furnace‘s lie of a trailer, but it did set certain unattainable expectations that were spectacularly not met. Henry Cavil does a decent job of playing our new Clark Kent and Amy Adams is actually wonderful as Lois Lane. But the script and Zach Snyder’s direction let them down in every way. Pieces of this movie were well done: an important scene where Pa Kent silently waves off his son, sacrificing himself so Clark can maintain his secret is one. But overall, the reckless destruction of towns and cities and the shocking final act – the seemingly avoidable killing of General Zod – proved one step too far into darkness for this Nolan-esque re-imagining of our iconic superhero, this Boy Scout and paragon of virtue.2 Indeed, the future looks as bleak as this film for DC Comics, as Charles and I have often brought up many times when discussing the success of their rival, Marvel.

###Slowly Climbing Out###
65. Runner Runner
64. Oblivion
63. Homefront
62. The Heat
61. Gangster Squad
60. Warm Bodies

I chose to speak on Gangster Squad because it really does epitomize this group of movies, none of which are flawless or particularly awful. They’re all perfectly average, perfectly flat and perfectly forgettable. Gangster Squad is a decent enough movie with solid performances from heavy-hitters like Ryan Gossling, Josh Brolin, and Emma Stone. None of them stick out as good or bad, just like this movie and this entire grouping. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t some appeal to me as a moviegoer in each of these films or that they don’t have audiences. Just that in my list of movies, if I hadn’t meticulously cataloged every movie I watched, I probably would have forgotten these existed when it came time to rank them.

###At Least Half-Decent###
59. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
58. Carrie
57. jOBS
56. August: Osage County
55. Despicable Me 2
54. 2 Guns
53. Epic
52. Kill Your Darlings
51. Spring Breakers

I know I stand pretty far apart with August: Osage County. Some of the performances were astounding, but they were often from characters I didn’t see enough of. Also, there was a lot of yelling. Probably too much yelling. I know this is a movie about a broken family being reunited by the death of the patriarch, and, within that setup, there’s grieving to be done, with several characters expressing this through shouting matches and put downs and earth-shattering reveals about surprising family history. But really, I feel like this was a average, often shrill film that didn’t truly merit the nominations it received.

So that’s it for this installment. Another 25 movies sealed into their rankings.


  1. Despite my adoration for Willis, up until the release of a A Good Day to Die Hard, I’d only see Die Hard 2 in its entirety. Several of my friends rightfully berated me, and my girlfriend sat down to watch all of the series with me. She’s a good person. 
  2. One might even go as far as saying the iconic superhero and the symbol of justice. 

Over the next few posts, I’ll rank every film that was released in theaters in 2013 and that I saw. In total, this was 100 movies. Some of them were great, some were awful and a bunch were mediocre. I’ll highlight some films that stuck with me.

In this post we tackle the bottom quarter and it’s pretty awful.

###Terrible Movies###
100. The Lone Ranger
99. Movie 43
98. This Is The End
97. Grown Ups 2
96. 47 Ronin
95. Oldboy
94. Hours
93. Olympus Has Fallen
92. The Bling Ring
91. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

It is fairly easy to peg all of these movies as awful. Movie 43 somehow blackmailed very many, very good actors into an awful parody? Satire? It certainly wasn’t very funny. Hours was a tedious waiting game with Paul Walker sitting beside a cradle. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones managed to butcher a not awful but certainly not good book while being adapted to the screen. All these fail to hold a match to just how awful The Lone Ranger was. There was a lot of possibility and even glimpses of a better plot and yet it really does feel as if the cut up two movies and smashed them together like a child who’s not quite ready to try a jigsaw puzzle. Perhaps they’ll find a way to release a better cut for home release one day. So for that, The Lone Ranger gets the coveted #100 spot.

###Not My Cup of Tea###
90. Blackfish
89. Upstream Color
88. Escape from Tomorrow

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these movies, they just don’t fit well in my expected grading scale. So they end up here, towards the bottom of my list. It’s far more apt to strike them from the rankings completely but that would leave me at an awkward 97 movies. Blackfish feels a bit too one-sided, even when that’s exactly what I expected. Upstream Color and Escape from Tomorrow are just too far out there for me to enjoy.

###Pretty Bad###
87. Out of the Furnace
86. Closed Circuit
85. After Earth
84. Rest in Peace Department
83. The Family
82. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
81. Oz the Great and Powerful
80. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
79. The Great Gatsby
78. Home Run
77. The Best Man Holiday
76. GI Joe: Retaliation

All these movies had fleeting peaks that stood out from their general badness. Two movies from this group really stand out though. Out of the Furnace wins the award for Most Deceptive Movie Trailer but at least I understood that Christian Bale was going to be looking for his brother, played by Casey Affleck, after the latter got into some trouble with some bad guys. Other than that, nothing from the trailer really lined up with the movie. Affleck’s character is actually dead most of the movie and Bale is arrested during the first half. Bale doesn’t actually beat very many people up and he gets some (probably bad) people killed indirectly.

After Earth shows us more of how great an actor Will Smith really is, here he plays a bit of an asshole, disconnected father. This movie was meant to help usher Jayden Smith further into the spotlight as an actor. And yet, Jayden really can’t act. Or at least he’s too uptight and robotic in this movie to demonstrate he has any of the skill or charisma his father possesses. We catch a glimpse of good Jayden in one of the final scenes where it doesn’t seem like he’s acting which is entirely possible since it is a touching moment with his father (the actor and the character).

Well at least we got those movies out of the way. We’ll continue our climb through the ranks as we tackle another 25 movies in the next post.

Considering what I ventured forth to see this week, it’s probably not fair to call it a “disappointment” (I kind of saw some poor quality coming my way), but it’s one of those lesser weeks, let’s just say.

Draft Day

Kevin Costner (see, I told you, having a “moment”) returns to the big screen as Sonny Weaver Jr., General Manager of the Cleveland Browns (oof) who has a very long Draft Day in store or him. Costner is joined by Jennifer Gardner who plays his secret girlfriend, an executive on the team (she manages the salary cap and, as she makes clear many times, knows football very well, because girls can like football too!) who has revealed the prior evening that she is pregnant. Sonny is tasked with drafting the college athlete who can help turn his franchise around while contending with his girlfriend’s disappointment that the draft (and his overall surliness) has distracted him from engaging with the baby news. The film follows Weaver as he struggles with a multitude of pressures, both football-related (to trade or not to trade) and not (Weaver is the scion of a football family and has, in the eyes of his mother and his city, not lived up to that legacy); we are in his shadow as he hems and haws and ultimately receives validation in the form of a miraculous draft that heals his families woes, reassures his girlfriend, and even makes a nice young man with adorable nephews a very rich man.

Football-wise, this film is far out of the realm of possibility. To trade up and draft a mid-first round prospect should have rendered Sonny an immediate laughingstock, no matter how much the kid needed first pick money, and that Sonny rescues it by convincing Seattle to go along with an absurd trade proves that this film is not for people who know football; it’s an attempt to help people who don’t know it well delve into some of the humanity behind it. And as human drama that tries to explain an unfamiliar process to non-sports fan, it works really well. It’s certainly not great or a must-see, but it is a perfectly approachable sports trifle meant for everyone but the die hard sports fans a film called Draft Day might actually attract.

Grade: C+

Jinn

At last, The Legend of Hercules is dethroned. Jinn, my new least favorite film of 2014, is a film that wraps itself in the myth of the Abrahamic faiths. It introduces angels and demons (jinn), supernatural beings that sway things on Earth. The movie starts with some background (what are Jinn, what happened in India a century ago) before getting to its protagonist, a typical Michigan dude who has no idea what he’s about to be dragged into. From there it follows a pretty standard narrative arc, if that narrative arc were fingerpainted by a toddler. It’s all pretty nonsensical, and in its kookiness, it isn’t particularly entertaining. The main character lacks any charisma and though Ray Park (Darth Maul) finally speaks in his own voice for a role, the actor’s main asset, his martial arts skill, get underutilized. The best part (are you ready for this?) is that this movie expected to be part of a trilogy. Ha! That is not going to work out so well for them.

Grade: F

I had a feeling this week would be bad, and I was, er, right, but I got a decent surprise in that Draft Day is at least engaging. Next week is shaping up to be a lot like last week: crowded and varying wildly in quality.

The cineplex is getting crowded as we kick off the summer movie season (which gets farther from the actual start of summer every year) with a truly great superhero movie and some not-as-great sidekicks.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: The Winter Soldier was on my Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2014, and that level of anticipation had me worried I was setting myself up for a disappointment. This Cap film picks up after the Battle of New York; in Washington DC with Steve Rogers is running laps around war veteran Sam Wilson. The two bro-bond until Black Widow swings by, informing Cap of a mission to re-take a S.H.I.E.L.D. ship carrying “weapons.” (Hint: not weapons… something much more sinister…) Cap and Widow kick some pirate ass, rescue everyone on board, and head back to headquarters (the Triskellion), where Steve learns about Project Insight. Our hero from another time is none too pleased with the idea of three helicarriers circling the globe with the firepower and the mission to kill tens of thousands based on predictive profiling. When Nick Fury, spurred by Steve’s doubts, begins to panic, the Winter Soldier neutralizes him, framing Steve for the job. As Cap and Widow flee from S.H.I.E.L.D., they enter a world where no one can be trusted, one very different from the paternalistic “Trust In Coulson” Marvel films we’ve seen in the past.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a great follow-up to Joe Johnston’s Rocketeer-like nostalgia trip and it continues to push the Marvel Cinematic Universe forward in fascinating directions. On the whole, the plot is decent but the cacophonous ending needed some work. The cast is good and the obvious tie-ins with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. were nice call-outs to that shows (dwindling) audience and not harmful to the film if you didn’t catch them. I was ever-so-slightly disappointed with the film’s treatment of Falcon (the alter-ego of Wilson) who respects his lap-running partner so much that he sort of sublimates his identity so he can fit comfortably beneath Cap’s red, white, and blue shield. But they made some good revisions to the character and he never needs to be saved by the hero. He’s not just some sidekick the filmmakers can imperil to up the hero’s cred, which is markedly a good thing. Hopefully, his high-profile in this film, and Anthony Mackie’s great work, pushes Marvel to continue to diversify their super-powered lineup.

Grade: A

3 Days to Kill

I waited a fair bit to see 3 Days to Kill in theaters and, to be honest, I probably could have skipped the film altogether. Kevin Costner (who’s having a “moment”) plays an older, experienced CIA operative who is, after a failed mission, diagnosed with brain cancer that has spread to his lungs. Amber Heard plays the assassin who uses that diagnosis as leverage – she orders him to kill an enemy leader who has a dirty bomb for sale. If he completes his mission, there’s a cure waiting for him.

Sound simple enough? Well, the movie is all over the place. The plot is average at best. Heard’s character makes little sense and at times even loses her sex appeal (which, frankly, should not be possible). Costner is trying so so so hard to be Liam Neeson-lite and it just does not work, even though he’s teamed up here with Luc Besson, the man who, with Taken, kicked off the badass-Neeson career arc. Co-written by Besson and directed by McG, 3 Days to Kill captures none of the pure-adrenline clarity of Taken; the script, directing and editing are an absolute mess. I’m not sure what they thought they had here but, ultimately, it wasn’t much.

Grade: D-

Noah

I went into Noah expecting, based on marketing that catered to a religious audience, a pretty rote but faithful take on the biblical story. Instead, what I got was a visually stunning, very heavily “interpreted” expansion of the third chapter of Genesis. I guess I should have expected all that considering the director, Darren Aronofsky; in all his previous films that I’ve seen, I’ve noticed he’s not one to sit back and adapt, and he’s certainly going to go for some hallucinogenic spectacle. So you’ll need to excuse me if I walked out of the theater more than a little disappointed, mostly because, as dull as a faithful take on the Noah material may seem, it’s what I’d hoped to see. It took a bit but I have come around on this movie after initially feeling extremely let down. I do still have my gripes, Ham was disappointing as a character, Japheth was completely unnecessary, and Shem was present but useless. But the other four actors (Russell Crowe, Ray Winstone, Jennifer Connelly, and Emma Watson) were truly outstanding. If I examine Noah like I would a movie about Hercules or Achilles, I can admit I find Aronofsky’s questioning and his visual style thought-provoking and beautiful. But I still have difficulty separating it from my faith.

Grade: B-

Need for Speed

Need for Speed is the second genuinely awful movie I watched this week. There’s not much novel about this film. The plot is so tried and true, I recited exactly what would happen over the next forty minutes just from one conversation: a street racer goes to jail after the death of his ex-girlfriend’s brother. Upon getting out of jail, the hero racer (played by Aaron Paul) rounds up his old crew and plots his public (read: very criminal) revenge on the fiancĂ© of said ex-girlfriend, who was responsible for the accident that killed the brother.

The best thing about this movie is probably (okay definitely) the car stunts, yet I think I’d prefer to just watch any movie from the Fast and Furious franchise before returning to this film. In those films, the plot, the acting, the stunts, it’s all playing at another level from what Need for Speed (yes, based on the video game franchise) does. Really hope they weren’t planning a sequel to this one.

Grade: D-

Two good movies and two bad ones. I wish it had been a better week since I spent so much of it in a theater seat, but hey that is part of the deal when you increase the quantity of movies you see.

Fair to admit, the film I saw this week probably wasn’t meant for me.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Prior to this, I hadn’t seen any Wes Anderson films and… maybe The Grand Budapest Hotel wasn’t the best introduction to a man whose work was made for the term “acquired taste.” But an incredible, expansive cast and pieces of the funny trailer seemed appealing enough to me. Not the film. Leaving Grand Budapest, I felt like I had either missed the point or missed some incredibly important scene that held the point within it. The great actors put on a good show, but a collection of appealing performances does not a story make. A fair amount of the jokes were indeed funny, yet, by the end, I wasn’t laughing. I was slightly sad and mostly disappointed. Not much else for me to say about this one.

Grade: C-

So yeah, not the greatest week but next week is guaranteed to be really good! Or horrendously disappointing. Marvel’s first superhero movie of 2014 hits the big screen.