Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Ten Worst Movies Of 2013

Should I be taking pride in my so-called ability to better sniff out "bad" movies?  I skipped a lot of films this year that I figured simply wouldn't be very interesting, be they predictable (from the trailer) family dramas, or blockbuster summer action shoot-'em-ups or various other wastes of my time and money.  Judging by most reviews, I probably wasn't wrong in not watching these movies, but how can I be so sure?  All I'm doing is judging books by their cover.  Maybe I missed a few would-be stinkers that I would've ended up secretly loving or considerably vastly underrated…or, maybe my list of the year's worst films would've been even longer than ten pictures.   

There were a number of allegedly bad movies that I saw this year that ended up being…well, okay, bad, but at least enjoyable in a dumb way.  Stuff like the Sly/Arnie "Escape Plan," which was the kind of goofy 80's style action movie that they simply don't make many of these days --- by all measures a bad movie but dammit, I had fun.  I bledit* my buddy Dave, a living connoisseur of terrible action movies, for honing my taste in such films.

* = a combination of blame and credit

Picking on stuff like "Escape Plan" is low-hanging fruit anyway.  It's a movie that knows it's bad.  My bottom 10 worst movies of 2013 were those truly unlikable films that either thought they were legitimately making an artistic statement, or thought they were being purposefully tongue-in-cheek, or (in a couple of cases) it seemed like the cast and filmmakers knew they were in a shitty movie and just went along with it anyway.

Behold, the real turds of 2013.

10. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Almost escaped the list due to Jim Carrey doing some passable Jim Carrey-style physical comedy and a genuinely amusing Steve Buscemi subplot about trying to help the children of Cambodia by distributing magic kits (instead of, y'know, food or medical supplies).  But really, when a movie has this much notable comic talent involved and I have to scrape to find things to like, it deserves a spot on the list on principle alone.  Big disappointment here given that I like almost everyone in the cast.  On the bright side for Olivia Wilde, she officially shed her Eric Bana Award albatross by appearing in Drinking Buddies, Rush and Her last year, all of which I liked-to-loved.  Congratulations, Olivia!

9. GI Joe: Retaliation
I almost held off placing this one on the list since it clearly had no illusions about being anything more than a dumb summer action movie.  I just needed *something*, you know?  Any spark of wit or any sign that this was anything but a glorified toy commercial?  Anything?  At all?  Oh well.  (Also, while all of these movies were good enough to escape my shitlist, there were a lot of pretty weak action sequels this year.  Star Trek Into Darkness, Machete Kills, Iron Man 3?  No reason you couldn't have been a lot better, gang.)

8. Man Of Steel
And hey, speaking of underwhelming superhero movies!  Part of me thinks that it's because I love Superman so much and have such a distinct image of the character in my head that I'm being too hard on any film that deviates from my narrow vision.  Or, since I've got taste, maybe it's my love of Superman that makes me roll my eyes at overwrought nonsense like Man Of Steel.  "Superman II" came out in 1980 and I was born in 1981, so there literally hasn't been a good Superman movie made in my lifetime.  Just one, Hollywood.  That's all I ask.  One movie where Superman's persona isn't buried under Christ imagery, or does dumb out-of-character stuff like let thousands die in ruin around him or let his father die 10 metres away from him.  Or geez, I can even get on board with Superman being forced to kill Zod (he does it in the comics, after all) but at least make him distraught about it.  In the movie it's just well, Zod's dead, cue the happy ending!

6. (tie) Out Of The Furnace, A Single Shot
I couldn't separate these two in my mind since they're both would-be action thrillers that are really predictable, and they're both a little too up their own asses about hard men going through hard times and being forced to do bad things to protect themselves and their families.  If a single word describes both movies, it's DREARY.  Rural, rusted-out settings under grey and rainy skies with nary an interesting or semi-likeable character to be found.  (And even the ones that are likeable are just the token love interests.)  What a waste of good actors like Sam Rockwell, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson….you can tell from these casts that I was expecting good things from these movies, eh?  Winter's Bone eats these two movies for lunch.

5. I'm So Excited!
No, I wasn't!  Here's a real letdown from Pedro Almodovar, who's generally one of my favourite directors.  What I like most about Almodovar's movies is that a) I never have any idea where the plot is going and it often goes in wholly unexpected directions and b) things are always teetering just on the edge of outright farce, but they're kept just straight enough.  The problem with this film, however, is that despite actually being a farce, it's weirdly straight-forward.  What kind of self-respecting farce just sticks its characters on a plane and lets the plot meander like this?  This is easily the worst film I've seen from a director I expect much more from.

4. White House Down
This is one of those "thought they were being tongue-in-cheek" movies I was talking about, when they think they're being clever but you really just want to rub your temple  in quiet disgust.  I think all I need to say is that Roland Emmerich directed this one and he's a master of this craptacular style.  Impossibly, this was one of two "terrorists take over the White House" movies this year, and while i never saw Olympus Has Fallen, I can only presume it was a D to this one's D-minus.

3. Spring Breakers
I'm risking some of my film student cred here, as Spring Breakers is seen by some critics as a clever satire and an avant-garde look at Hollywood stereotypes.  It even showed up on several critics' ten-best lists for 2013 and James Franco won a couple of supporting actor trophies at critics' awards.  Anyway, with all that being said, this movie was atrociously bad and I literally can't understand how anyone could like it.  What's there to like?  This is every pretentious student film you've ever seen, stretched to 90 minutes and starring James Franco, whose body composition is 80% water and 20% pretentious student film.  Franco's performance *seems* pretty good in this movie but it's actually an illusion on the Piven/Dillon scale of optical trickery, which charts how it's easy for good actors to appear great if they're the only good actors in a scene.  It's not hard to imagine Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez and Ashley Benson all showing up in the Entourage movie, so imagine those anti-Streeps against the brutal acting law firm of Grenier, Connolly and Ferrara.  Wow, I just spent five minutes trying to figure out who'd be the best actor of those six and I'm legitimately stumped.

2. To The Wonder
Aha, now I'm REALLY risking my film student cred, since while opinion on Harmony Korine is split 50-50 between underground genius and living joke, Terrence Malick is widely hailed as a filmmaking savant.  Let me begin by saying something nice….To The Wonder, like all of Malick's films, is has absolutely gorgeous cinematography.  Emmanuel Lubezki is (finally) going to win a long overdue Oscar for shooting Gravity this year, yet without hesitation I would say that his work on To The Wonder is better.  Then again, Lubezki's camerawork could make a pile of cow dung look good, so you can see where I'm going with this.  To The Wonder is another one of Malick's films that is "beyond narrative," which is an artsy-fartsy way of saying there's no plot.  The camera just flies around the characters and you can pick out fragments of a story in a few places but, yeah, this link wins my award for the most baffling five paragraphs of 2013.  THAT's what was happening?  It all seems so straight-forward.  I at least could pick out the 90 minutes of family drama within The Tree Of Life (y'know, the part that didn't involve the fucking dinosaurs and the Big Bang) but yeah, To The Wonder was a complete mystery to me.  Given how good this movie looked and its total lack of substance, watching To The Wonder must've been like talking to INSERT REFERENCE HERE.  Oh, what's that?  You expected me to actually fill in that punchline?  Sorry, my jokes go beyond humour.  #YouJustGotMalicked

1. The Hangover Part III
The phrase "phoning it in" doesn't even apply here.  I'd watch two hours of Bradley Cooper chatting to someone on the phone, he seems like an interesting dude.  Same with Ed Helms.  I'd definitely watch two hours of Galifianakis chatting it up, he's hilarious.  Also, you'd figure that if any of these guys were in a two-hour long phone conversation, they'd have to be interested in what was going on and generally giving a crap, right?  None of that is apparently in Hangover 3, the worst movie of the year by a fair margin and quite possibly the most blatant paycheque cash grab in recent memory.  All three lead actors might as well have been wearing t-shirts that read 'Contractual Obligation' written on it.  Maybe this whole movie was the filmmakers' revenge for pointing out that the second Hangover film just stole the plot of the original.  They were like, "oh, you want a different plot, do you?  Well try THIS shit!"  and then served up this nonsense.  Heck, maybe they just grabbed a rejected script from a late-90's gangster movie and just inserted their characters' names since it's not like there are any actual jokes in here.  This is one of the most baffling comedies of all time since it seem like they're not even TRYING to do anything funny.  On the bright side (for everyone except maybe Justin Bartha), this trilogy is finally over. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

RIP Harold Ramis

As documented before on this blog, Ghostbusters was an enormous part of my childhood and it's still one of my all-time favourite movies.  Then you have Groundhog Day, one of the true comedy classics of the last two decades and (pound-for-pound) one of the most thoroughly satisfying, interesting and underrated movies ever made.  THEN you have Caddyshack, Animal House and Stripes, and while it seems like I'm minimizing them by lumping them all together into one category, I'll point out that all three were released in a mere four-year span, which must've been like manna from heaven for late 70's/early 80's comedy fans.  THEN you have SCTV, which was quite possibly a) the greatest sketch comedy show of all time, and b) the greatest cast in television history.  THEN you have the slightly lesser credits of Back To School, the Analyze This/That movies, National Lampoon's Vacation and geez, these "lesser" credits are still pretty impressive.

Add it all up and you have one of the greatest careers in comedy history.  Harold Ramis will be missed.  The seven-year-old in me is sad that we're not going to see a Ghostbusters III, and the adult me is sad that the world has lost a great comic mind.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The 45 Best Who Songs

The Who!  Basically everyone likes the Who.  They've achieved that unique level of virtual universal respect music-wise, which is probably what you'd expect to happen when your band contains The Best Bassist Ever, The Best Drummer Ever*, a guy in the conversation for Best Frontman Ever and one of the all-timer innovative rock songwriters in Pete Townshend.

* = ok, well, John Bonham fans have a point.

These are my 45 favourite Who songs, so, not necessarily the best of the bunch, but just one man's opinion.  It gets even more subjective when you consider that I haven't heard many of the band's B-sides, and I've listened to the "It's Hard" and "Who Are You" albums exactly once each, I believe.  (The Who's quality falls off a cliff pretty quickly.)  I didn't even bother with "Face Dances" or "Endless Wire" since post-Keith Moon, it's just not the same.  The latter disc is lacking both Entwistle AND Moon and, get this, it came out in 2006.  Who knew the Who had released something new in this millennium?  Who knew indeed?

Anyway, if you're a diehard Who fan who's scoffing at this list since I'm overlooking some obvious hidden gem deep cuts, well, I'll probably sleep just fine anyways.  And if your favourite Who song isn't on my list, just assume it was 46th and I really hemmed and hawed before cutting it with tears in my eyes.

List time!

45. We're Not Gonna Take It
44. I Don't Even Know Myself
43. Rael
42. Love Reign O'er Me
41. I'm A Boy
40. Sensation
39. Who Are You
38. Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand
37. Let's See Action
36. Out In The Street
35. Someone's Coming
34. Too Much Of Anything
33. Eminence Front
32. I Can't Reach You
31. Pure And Easy
30. Doctor Doctor
29. I'm One
28. Disguises
27. Behind Blue Eyes
26. Sally Simpson
25. Pictures Of Lily
24. The Seeker
23. Love Ain't For Keeping
22. Run Run Run
21. Christmas
20. I Can See For Miles
19. Getting In Tune
18. Going Mobile
17. Sea And Sand
16. Our Love Was
15. Magic Bus
14. My Generation
13. Blue, Red And Grey
12. Pinball Wizard
11. Drowned
10. 5:15
9. I Can't Explain
8. It's Not True
7. The Real Me
6. The Kids Are Alright
5. Baba O'Riley
4. My Wife
3. Won't Get Fooled Again
2. Squeeze Box
1. Substitute

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Guardians Of The Galaxy

I've got to admit, when I heard that GotG was Marvel's next big film project, I was skeptical.  To call the Guardians even fifth-tier heroes amidst Marvel's many characters would be a stretch and yet they, of all people, were getting a movie?  The conspiracy theories started flying online that this entire film was a glorified introduction to the Avengers sequel (not the Ultron one, the next next one) and it would end with the Guardians all being summarily killed by Thanos to build him up as the biggest of the Marvel Universe's big bads.

And then I saw the trailer and just realized ohhhhhh, they're going to make a straight-up comedy out of these goofy characters.  Awesome.  Between this and the Edgar Wright/Paul Rudd/Rashida Jones "Ant Man" movie, I'm glad Marvel's second wave of superhero movies are embracing the absurdity.  We are THAT MUCH CLOSER to my dream of seeing Anna Kendrick play Squirrel Girl.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Other People's Writing

Grantland faced a lot of criticism this past month for publishing what ended up being probably the most controversial article in the site's history --- Caleb Hannan's profile/expose of putter designer Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt, which began as a look at a new golf club and ended as a public outing of a transgendered woman.  Vanderbilt committed suicide a few months before the article was published, and while you can't draw a direct line between her death and the story (Vanderbilt had a history of suicide attempts), the fact that Hannan had uncovered her past as a man and had actually revealed that fact to one of her company's investors makes the timing awfully stark.  Bill Simmons wrote a piece explaining Grantland's decision to run the piece (and apologizing for the controversy), while ESPN's Christina Kahrl, a transgendered individual herself, also explored the problems with Hannan's story.

I don't really have any original take on the issue, aside from just echoing others in feeling that Hannan and Grantland's editors made some poor decisions in their handling of this story.  Beyond the gender issues, I'd also argue that Hannan's original intent (investigating this putter) was also pretty half-assed.  His conclusion about the putter's design and whether or not it actually works is basically summed up as, "meh, it's hard to tell, putting is up to the individual."  Real in-depth analysis, champ.  I'd also love to see a follow-up with Gary McCord given his involvement with endorsing the company and the fact that he's been silent about everything since the story broke.

* Steven Hyden probably thought he had the transgender issue corner covered on Grantland last month, but oh well.  Hyden profiles Laura Jane Grace, lead singer of Against Me!, who very publicly began living as a woman within the last two years.  It's a very interesting look at a person who's going through this massive change while she and her band are also going through a tough time in their careers.  My buddy Dave, a big Against Me! fan, had good things to say about their new album, praising it almost as much as Hyden does in this piece.

* It seems like I've been posting a lot about U2 lately but screw it, they're the best.  Here's an interview Hal Espen of the Hollywood Reporter conducted with the band, discussing their management changes, their (forever delayed) new album and the Oscar-nominated "Ordinary Love."  As cool as it would be to see U2 rack up an Oscars, I'm not sure if they have even the second-best song of the bunch.  "Let It Go" seems like the big favourite and Pharrell's "Happy" could be a contender since Pharrell is just so hot right now, plus it's a terrific song.

* I was a big fan of "Her" and enjoyed the film's futuristic take on Los Angeles that was actually shot in Shanghai, though Grantland's Molly Lambert wasn't so taken with the setting.  In this great piece, Lambert details some of Los Angeles' most famous portrayals on film as both itself and various generic urban landscapes.

* Grantland's Brian Phillips looks at Oklahoma's win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and really, he had me with the opening sketch about Nick Saban having a nap and obsessing over pushpins.  I'm a sucker for anything that makes Saban looks like a micromanaging lunatic.

* An oral history of the making of "Swingers" by Grantland's Alex French and Howie Kahn.  Here's a movie that I probably need to watch again…saw it 15-odd years ago and haven't revisited it since.  My aim is to one day be a guy who wears bowling shirts everywhere despite not being a bowler, so this film is critical to that dream.

* What better way to follow up a "Swingers" link than a breakdown of two legendary hockey video games?  Grantland's Sean McIndoe tries to determine which of NHLPA '93 and NHL '94 was the better game.  I've got to say, I'm firmly in the NHL '94 camp on this one, aside from the fact that my brother beat me 95% of the time, always by scoring those cheap wrap-arounds from behind the net and it drove me up the goddamned wall.  Not that I'm still bitter after 20 years. 

* Drake probably wants me to write something about him here, but I'm instead going to go ahead with this Philip Seymour Hoffman obituary from Grantland's Mark Harris that focuses on Hoffman's New York roots and his epic theatre career.  Just hearing about these "True West" performances or Hoffman's legendary role as Willy Loman makes me miss him all the more.

* Here's Joe Posnanski's hilarious analysis of a commercial for the Farmer's Only dating website.  I can't add anything to this aside from to say that Joe is dead-on, and this commercial is amazing.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hot! Live! Music! (w/Postmodern Jukebox)

Scott Bradlee & The Postmodern Jukebox have a simple gimmick.  They take the pop songs you're sick to ever-loving death of hearing on top-40 radio and perform them (and, btw, greatly improve them) using old-timey arrangements, ranging everywhere from 1920's swing to 40's jazz to 60's Motown.  The effect is damned awesome.  Observe...

"We Can't Stop," which helps support my theory that this is actually a decent song ruined by some of the worst lyrics in recent memory

"Thrift Shop," or the version that had Macklemore wishes he'd actually come up with, so he wouldn't have had to send apologetic texts after winning the Grammys

"Sk8er Boi," and wow, I think my IQ lowered 30 points just writing out the title like that

"Timber," and I sadly must admit that the actual version is a guilty pleasure of mine.  I'm a sucker for a good harmonica lick.

"Sweet Child O'Mine," which breaks the pattern a bit since it isn't a top-40 song (at least not from recent years).  This is also a case where the original is probably better, though I've never been a fan of how the first half of SCOM is, like, the best song ever written, and then it just degenerates into guitar licks and Axl yelling in the second half.  The song doesn't really end, it just gets swallowed by its bridge.  The New Orleans jazz version does a much better job of keeping the song on track throughout

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Invisible Video

As a follow-up to last week's review of U2's new song, here's my review of their new video: holy crow, is this awesome.  This easily goes into the top tier of every music video U2 has ever made.  I look forward to doing the "smartphone-headbang" at a live show this summer, only to accidentally toss my phone into back of someone's head.  When this person (who I'll presume will be a 300-pound, 6'7" biker) angrily turns around, I'll be wishing I was literally invisible.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

U2, "Invisible"

After a few days of reflection and listening to the song about a kajillion times, my thoughts on U2's new single, "Invisible."

* The opening guitar riff is a new sound for U2.  Didn't even know it was a guitar riff, in fact.  God bless you, Edge's effects pedals!  (Okay, upon further review, it might actually be a keyboard effect, given that in the outro, Edge's usual guitar is playing behind it.  Big part for U2's longtime behind-the-scenes keyboard guy Terry Lawless!)

* Bono's voice sounds fantastic.

* Opening melody sounds somewhat like Pearl Jam's "Future Days," the second-best song off of PJ's latest record.

* The lyrics of the chorus sound vaguely Katy Perry-ish in their high school yearbook optimism, I won't lie, but it stills taps into a universal sentiment.  I've heard the song described as being about someone leaving their hometown, about the plight of people in Africa (I feel this one's a bit lazy, as if music critics just presume Bono is always writing about Africa), or simply it's about 50-something rock stars telling the music world they're still relevant.  Ah, multiple interpretations!

* It doesn't kick into the so-called usual U2 sound until the bridge, which is interesting.  The obvious comparison is to "Beautiful Day," which doesn't count like a U2 song until it hits the chorus.  Also, in the big-picture sense, BD was U2's semi-comeback song, and "Invisible" could similarly be U2's bid to break back into the public consciousness. 

* It's here that I point out that "Invisible" isn't *really* U2's big comeback single, it's just the one they chose to feature for this special Super Bowl/Bank Of America/(RED) tie-in.  Their new album might not actually be out until June, so I'd guess that the proper lead single will be out in a couple of months.  Let's also take a moment to note how ridiculous it is that U2's album is AGAIN delayed, since almost all recent reports had it coming out in the spring.  If nothing else, at least, "Invisible" and the Oscar-nominated "Ordinary Love" at least whet my appetite for new U2 music while I wait for this album to finally see the light of day. 

* The "There is no end…" lyrics are interesting given that the song doesn't really have a big ending, it just kind of stops.  If I was being ungenerous, I'd say the song peters out, which is probably another reason why it isn't THE big single the band has planned from this disc.  Given how "Get On Your Boots" basically torpedoed No Line On The Horizon from the outset, I'm not surprised that U2 is taking a more measured approach to choosing their lead single.  Or, perhaps, the staggered song releases are a way of taking the pressure away from having just one BIG single to introduce the record to the public.

* Anyway, the song's ending just makes me feel that, when "Invisible" is played in concert, it's a natural fit to lead into some other U2 classic.  For instance, Edge's jamming at the end could be suddenly sped up into the riff from "I Will Follow," and the crowd would go nuts.  Or, it could go before "Beautiful Day" for thematic purposes.  Or, it would lead into some new song just perfectly and create another iconic U2 live moment.

* Overall, I like it.  The tune fits with what I was hoping from the band's collaboration with Danger Mouse --- it still sounds like U2, but in a modern context.  It's not hard to imagine this exact same song having a few electronic bells and whistles added to it, Bono subbed out for Cee-Lo Green, and boom, you have a new Gnarls Barkley track.  "Invisible" just makes me all the more eager for this new album, so GOOD LORD JUST RELEASE THE THING ALREADY.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Sherlock Street

Benedict Cumberbatch!  Also, is that the music from "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia?"  Also, wow, the classic Sesame Street Muppets have it ALL OVER the newer Muppets.  Just look at the Count's understated elegance compared to Murray, whose only gimmick is that he's loud and obnoxious.  I don't want to say that this slide in the quality of Muppets is responsible for all of modern society's problems, except yeah, that's totally the case.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Super Blowout

Well, I don't think anyone saw THAT coming.  If you told me before the game that the Super Bowl was going to be a blowout, I would've suspected that the Broncos' offense would've just been too much for Seattle to handle....not that the Seahawks would dominate in every way possible and Denver would look like it was the first time any of them had played football before.  Frankly, even a blowout was hard to predict, given that both teams seemed so evenly matched.  I went in expecting a potential classic, and all I got was was the worst loss in Broncos history.  Or, no, wait, I guess that was their 55-10 loss in Super Bowl 24. 

Fun fact: the Broncos have now lost five Super Bowls, the most of any team.  The five losses have come by final scores of 55-10, 43-8, 42-10, 39-20 and 27-10.  That's right, a 17-point deficit was the CLOSEST of the five defeats.  Sure, they have their two Super Bowl wins from the late 90's to hang their hat on, but yikes, it's been some hard times as a Denver fan. 

On the bright side, the city of Seattle has its first Super Bowl title, and its first sports title of any kind since the 1979 NBA Championship (won a team that is currently playing in Oklahoma City).  Kudos to the S'Hawks and it's hard to argue they weren't an elite unit.  And on another bright side, this was the first Super Bowl blowout of the social media age, so we got some very funny stuff on the interwebs all night.  To wit....

 And finally, one that didn't specifically relate to the Seahawks' big win, but very funny nonetheless....