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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Summer Movie Report Card 2013

No time for a preamble, here's 2013's Summer Movie Report Card! 

Iron Man 3


A huge step above the lackluster previous film in the series and a worthy follow-up to The Avengers, I still would have liked a bit more of Iron Man himself and more nods to the shared universe. Nevertheless, there's no denying this was well-crafted and tremendously fun, largely carried by Robert Downey Jr.'s phenomenal performance.  
A

The Great Gatsby


A surprisingly-faithful adaptation of the book (one of my all time favorites), Baz Luhrmann restricted most of the changes to the inclusion of contemporary music (which wasn't nearly as distracting as I'd feared). Even his signature visual style was suitably restrained, remaining a thoroughly-Luhrmann picture without overpowering the story. I could quibble with the casting of Tobey Maguire as Nick, who does great playing wide-eyed Nick at the beginning but less so the more jaded Nick of the end, but that's really just picking nits. 
A-

Star Trek Into Darkness


Possibly the most-reviled movie of the summer (at least on the internet), I didn't dislike this nearly as much as everyone else. In fact, I quite liked it. Yes, the title is still stupid, and yes, it's far more Star Wars than classic Star Trek, but that was largely true of the much better received previous film, and this felt like a worthy follow-up to the world established in that one (and look - Star Trek: The Motion Picture is classic Trek, but I'd still rather watch this again that one, any day). Once again, everyone in the large cast received at least one moment to shine, and while I can't deny the story has some holes in it, forcing characters to make some pretty big leaps for the sake of the plot, at the end of the day, I was able to just sit back and enjoy this.   
B+

Now You See Me


I'm a sucker for both heist movies (like Ocean's Eleven and The Italian Job) and movies about stage magicians (like The Prestige or The Illusionist), especially ones where it seems like the main character(s) are done for, only to learn they've been in control of the situation the entire time, and this movie is pretty much all of that. Nothing here is groundbreaking or exceptional, but the cast is fun to watch and for every beat of the story I saw coming, there were at least a few beats of genuine surprise. It's the kind of movie I'll stop to watch when I'm flipping channels on a lazy Saturday afternoon and see it airing on TNT (and I mean that as a compliment). 
B

This is the End


Hands down the funniest film of the summer, if not one of the funniest films I've seen in years, yet also one with a surprisingly well-realized apocalyptic plot (short of a Kirk Cameron movie, I can't think of anything else that uses the Rapture, straight-up, as the trigger for its post-apocalyptic setting). All of the character work, from actors playing (theoretically) skewed versions of themselves to varying degrees, not only generates a ton of laughs but also keeps everything grounded amongst the cannibalism and demon penises. 
A

Man of Steel


Another movie I liked more than the internet, though one that still had plenty of problems. As Dr. Bitz mentioned, structurally, it feels like the movie is missing a second act (Clark basically goes from "yeah, I'll be a hero" to fighting his greatest fight ever with no beats in between; it takes away from the greatness of your fight when it's also your only one), and while I have issues with the ending, they aren't the same issues everyone else has (I don't have a problem with Superman killing Zod; there's precedent for that. The problem is that the film never establishes that killing someone is a big deal for Movie Clark and something that he'd only do as an absolute last resort. So while his anguish over killing Zod made sense to me, from what I know of the character in other media, it made no sense for the character as presented in the film). Still, the cast was really strong, and we finally got a Superman movie where he punched someone, so that's good. Really, this movie just made me hungry for a sequel, a chance to see this cast in these roles again, a chance to address some of the concerns raised by Clark's characterization in this movie. But in the meantime, unfortunately, all we have is this flawed one.   
C+

Monsters University


I've never been a huge fan of Monster's Inc. (it's a perfectly good film, just not one of my favorites), so I wasn't expecting much from this year's annual Pixar offering. Instead, I end up liking this quite a bit. While obviously a pastiche of coming-of-age, rowdy college films like Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds, with characters lifted almost whole cloth from those films (including, to Homer's delight I'm sure, a crusty, bitter old dean), the story is really about someone accepting that they're not ever going to be the hero of the story, and that that's okay, and I found that very affecting. 
 A

World War Z


Not a bad film, in and of itself: Brad Pitt brings a steely weariness to the main character, and there's some enjoyable and well-executed set pieces throughout. But this is not the movie promised by the title, with the closest thing to a world war against zombies (it's right there in the title!) coming via a brief montage at the end. That's the movie I wanted to see, and was implicitly promised by the title: a macro-level look at the aftermath of a zombie outbreak, instead of the micro-level take used by every single other zombie movie and TV show ever. I was promised something a little bit different than the norm, but what I got was more of the same. Enjoyable and well done, but still the same. 
C-

Pacific Rim


Deeply disappointing. It's hard to screw up a concept as golden as "giant robots punch giant monsters", but somehow this did. Putting aside my nitpicks (like the co-pilot of a mech who shares his mind with the other pilot somehow not knowing that their mech still had a sword when hope seemed lost, and also, them not using that sword before all hope seemed lost), there were larger issues: the world building seemed incomplete (why was it such a big deal all the Kaiju were clones?), most of the performances were lackluster (Idris Elba did his best to elevate some pretty routine material, and Charlie Day managed to make a funny part funny, but everyone else was pretty awful and wooden, especially Charlie Hunnam), there was lots of telling instead of showing (we're told how awesome the remaining mechs are, yet the first time we see them in action, they're quickly destroyed. In fact, as a whole, the mechs seemed really flimsy, and I wondered how they'd lasted this long), and the way the actual fights were shot left me wanting (most of them were done in extreme closeup, which made things more visceral and intense but also harder to tell what the hell was going on, so I couldn't even just enjoy the fights). I really, really wanted to like this, but in the end, the execution didn't live up to the premise.   
D

The Wolverine


It's both kinda cool and a little sad that the current movie market place is such that a Wolverine solo film can be released and it's almost an afterthought. Once upon a time, that would have seemed like a mindblowingly huge thing; now I pretty much said, "oh yeah, there's a Wolverine movie out. I should probably see that". In the end, this was much better than the previous Wolverine movie (though it doesn't take much to clear that particular hurdle), though not without faults of its own, mainly little nitpicky stuff (like Wolverine healing when his power was taxed, or his claws not cutting things they should have cut) and a severe lack of Wolverine vs. ninja action. Wolverine's relationship with Mariko felt very routine, but I did enjoy his relationship with Yukio, here rejiggered into a Wolverine/Kitty Pryde, mentor/mentee kind of thing. 
B

Elysium


I probably went into this with too high of expectations. A big fan of District 9, which managed to hit that sci-fi sweet spot of thinly-veiled social commentary and cool action sequences, I was hoping for more of the same from Elysium. And hey, Matt Damon and Jodie Foster can only make things better, right? Unfortunately, while the action was still top notch, a lot of it (including the climatic fight between Damon and Sharlto Copley's bad guy) was filmed in that annoying hyper-realistic closeup manner that obscures most of the details of the action (it'd be like watching a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers dance number where they only filmed their left arm and shoulder), while the social commentary seemed to take a back seat once the rather obvious point of "this is where our world is headed in terms of social and economic inequality" was made. And Jodie Foster was pretty much a dud, a bizarrely-accented one-dimensional that even she couldn't elevate. So yeah, not a terrible movie, but like World War Z, a disappointing one. Then again, unlike World War Z, I might have brought that on myself this time by expecting too much. 
B-

Kick-Ass 2


A far-from-perfect but perfectly suitable follow-up to the first film, it suffered any time it wasn't making jokes or featuring an action sequence. Also, way, way too much time was spent on Hit Girl trying to blend in at school and be normal and not nearly enough time was spent on her being, you know, Hit Girl.  
B-

The World's End


In any other summer, this would have been the funniest movie about the apocalypse, but this year it has to settle for second, after This is the End. Still, this is a worthy conclusion to the Wright/Pegg/Frost Cornetto Trilogy. More sly and wittier than the more over-the-top and laugh-out-loud Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, this is also a much more grounded film (despite the presence of alien robots), built around a surprisingly-poignant core relationship and the struggle with the unending passage of time and un-achieved potential that struck a chord in me. 
A

11 comments:

  1. I only saw "Iron Man 3" and "Man of Steel."

    Agreed on all counts for "MOS," but couldn't disagree more with "IM3." I was extremely disappointed by the AIM and Mandarin reveals. (Though I'll give them credit for keeping the Mandarin shocker under wraps.)

    After Mandarin was debunked, all you're left with is Killian -- an evil billionaire genius, aka Obadiah Stane aka Justin Hammer. It was tired the second time around and totally uninteresting the third time.

    What's more, the stupid Iron Man remote system completely undercuts the purpose of making suits in the first place. Remember in the first movie, where Rhodey says the future is drones -- "a plane without a pilot" -- and Stark asks "Why not a pilot without a plane?"

    And then removing the shrapnel from his heart... If it was that easy -- why didn't he do it in the first movie?

    Somehow worse than "Iron Man 2," and that movie had to suffer through Scarlet Johansen as Black Widow.

    Also, no more Retro Reviews?

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  2. God, you saw way more movies than i did and i'm totally jealous. Especially since i planned on seeing all of these in theaters and just...didn't.

    But the ones i did see i pretty much agreed with you one.

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  3. My only disagreement is re: ST:ID. I just didn't enjoy it. It's just loud nonsense with a pacing that never slows down to let the audience realize "wait, why is anyone doing anything?" because if they did, everything would crumble. The female cast didn't get a "moment to shine," either. That lady scientist was a character in Wrath of Khan, here she's just taking her clothes off for the trailer.

    Michael, I totally disagree re: IM3. Best "summer" movie of the summer, with the Wolverine probably taking a pretty surprising second.

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  4. Iron Man 3

    // I still would have liked a bit more of Iron Man himself and more nods to the shared universe. //

    Yeah.

    Jed Whedon, who's co-running Agents of SHIELD, actually said this in EW's recent cover story: "'No-one, when they saw Iron Man 3 after The Avengers, thought, 'Why isn't he calling his friends?'. You stop caring about that if you get invested in the story being told." I saved the quote because I'm thinking of using it in a post.

    The second part of that, or some variation of it, is arguably true. The first part is disingenuous and/or severely blinders-on, however. 'Cause we did — a lot of us. Not just the comics geeks, either, who actually understand that certain power players have to be conveniently unavailable, but our parents and friends who are new to this kind of shared-universe thing.

    RDJ was great as Tony again, though, and it was much better than Iron Man 2. I give 3 a B+, not an A, but outside of some of the nitpicks we discussed when our full reviews went up earlier it was a great ride.

    The Great Gatsby

    I didn't get to see it and really did want to — on the big screen, maybe even in 3D. Just didn't happen.

    Star Trek into Darkness

    This was a lot more fun in the theater than it was when I started thinking about it afterward. And even then, I found myself rolling my eyes at some of the stuff they did — particularly in how much it directly referenced Wrath of Khan. Like Man of Steel, although that's less of a proper Superman movie to me in the end than this is of a Star Trek movie, it's hard to quibble with a big, new, flashy, crowd-pleasing iteration of a favorite even though it has its problems.

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  5. Now You See Me

    I missed this — honestly, it barely registered with me. If it's a decent cross between The Italian Job and The Prestige, though, man, I'm gonna add it to my Netflix queue right away.

    This Is the End

    I didn't get to see this and wanted to. Happens a lot.

    Man of Steel

    Oy.

    As much as I was fine with Henry Cavill in the role, I wish that Superman as a "property" could withstand another brief fallow period and reboot at the hands of a new creative team in the hive-mind of the industry and Internetterati, because for me the way Zod was killed and the insane amount of destruction perpetrated by Kal-El during the battles can never be properly addressed in a follow-up and the attempt to excuse or explain it will probably only frustrate me further. Of course there was stuff I liked in Man of Steel that I want to see explored more in terms of the cast, and of course there was stuff I didn't like in the Reeve films that got a pass because I was 8 years old when the first one came out and it wasn't aiming to be as adult as this thing was anyway. Superman deserves better.

    It's great to have Superman punching things, but I'm really tired of Zod and the whole other-Kryptonians schtick in general, and this is just about the worst introduction to Kal-El's existence on Earth he could've had. Even more than hating how the filmmakers pulled the strings such that he basically had to break Zod's neck when he did (which you could still frankly write your way out of), I hate that he couldn't introduce himself to the world on his own terms, even coaxed by Lois, but had to be called out by a big bad, and a big bad of his own race, and a big bad who made it necessarily for him to wreak so much havoc.

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  6. Monsters University

    I didn't even try to see this, as I never saw the first one (which is rare but not singular in terms of the Pixar films; I never saw Cars or its sequels either).

    World War Z

    I didn't get to see this and don't care. Not that I'm dismissing your review; I appreciate it.

    Pacific Rim

    This was seriously disappointing for me too, because while I don't have more than a passing interest in mech a and kaiju as part of a general fantastic-fiction diet I do expect great things from Guillermo del Toro. C or C+ to me just for the giant-robot fighting, though. What's a shame is that it's one of those Cs that's not because the film is average across the board but because it's splitting the difference between stuff that was B+/A material (the concept and visuals) and stuff that utterly failed (the vast majority of the dialogue and delivery of that dialogue). Actually that kind of failed promise I'm usually even harsher on; maybe you're right on with the D.

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  7. The Wolverine

    // It's both kinda cool and a little sad that the current movie market place is such that a Wolverine solo film can be released and it's almost an afterthought. //

    Definitely.

    The strangest thing about this one for me is that when family asks me "How did you like it and was it like the comics?" I'm usually explaining how of course things have to be different not just for the sake of a live-action movie but because making one film based on comics that have spanned decades is like basing a movie on, say, General Hospital: You can't boil that many characters and plotlines (forget that much revisionist history) down to one closed two-hour drama and have it be anything like a direct adaptation, outside of maybe possibly an origin story but even then the origin is usually part of a larger first adventure that's cobbled together new for the film. In this case The Wolverine actually was based largely on one specific story and it suffered from the deviations.

    Plus, like I've said before, it suffers immediately in retrospect from how electric that tease for Days of Future Past was.

    Elysium

    I didn't get to see this and wanted to given how good District 9 was. Nice observation about the close-ups obscuring what's actually happening, by the way, trying to bring us immediacy and chaos but losing the spectacle and comprehension of what's actually going on.

    Kick-Ass 2

    I didn't even try to see this. The first one was interesting until it went off the rails with the huge climactic super-weapon, engaging in exactly the kind of larger-than-life "comicbookiness" that it was trying to subvert. Hit Girl was hilarious and I wouldn't have minded seeing more of just that but Mark Millar's brand of misanthropy and gleeful crapping on heroism is not generally for me.

    The World's End

    I haven't got to see this yet, but there may still be time, which is, unbelievably, not meant as apocalypse humor.

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  8. Other stuff I didn't get to see but wanted to: The Butler, In a World, and The Spectacular Now, all still playing; 20 Feet from Stardom, Evil Dead, Fruitvale Station, The Lone Ranger (just 'cause I feel like I should), and Sound City, all hopefully to catch on DVD or streaming even though the fall TV season and onslaught of end-of-year films makes that difficult.

    A quartet of movies I did see that you didn't cover: 42, somewhat by-the-numbers (no pun intended) but still affecting; Blue Jasmine, good, maybe not as great as some of the hosannahs but certainly better than I expected given how mannered Cate Blanchett was in the clip I kept seeing, as I have a real love/hate relationship with mannered Woody Allen or David Mamet dialogue; Much Ado about Nothing, really nicely done and well worth experiencing; The Way, Way Back, expertly written and acted, obviously a labor of love, still not anything I really needed to see given that in broad strokes it's something I've seen plenty of times before (and lived a little bit as well, so I really don't need to work through someone's else's experiences, thanks).

    I was hoping to get a summer-movie-roundup post of my own up soon, so more on these flicks there if that happens. You said in a comment on my Much Ado review back in July that you were looking forward to it. Didn't happen?

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  9. I just saw Pacific Rim at a dollar theater, and you're wrong about that one, too, Teebore. I give it a solid B. Fun action and the comedy worked for me. I especially like that the Kaiju were actually able to win significant victories. One of my biggest pet peeves about a summer film like Thor is it tells you "ooh, watch out for Frost Giants," and then Thor and company beat a hundred frost giants without even sustaining an injury.

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  10. @Michael: I was extremely disappointed by the AIM and Mandarin reveals.

    I have a feeling this won't be the last we see of AIM. As for the Mandarin reveal, I enjoyed the way they subverted expectations (and some of the dodgy racial issues of the character), but was a little wunderwhelmed by Killian. Also, as I mentioned in my full review, I was bummed at how Killian-as-the-Mandarin seemed to throw out the Mandarin hint in the first film.

    Also, no more Retro Reviews?

    They'll be back (especially since now I know someone is looking for them). I took a break to get stuff ready for the new TV season, but I'll be slotting them in again (albeit irregularly) again soon.

    @Sarah: Especially since i planned on seeing all of these in theaters and just...didn't.

    This summer especially (for whatever reason), I had to fight to make the time for a lot of these.

    @Dobson: That lady scientist was a character in Wrath of Khan, here she's just taking her clothes off for the trailer.

    Totally agree that Carol Marcus was a misstep in the film, on a few different levels. I didn't really consider her part of the main cast though (which I think of primarily as the senior officers), and I did think Uhura had a few noteworthy moments, at least on par with what Sulu and Chekov got (obviously, Kirk and Spock get the most).

    I especially like that the Kaiju were actually able to win significant victories.

    In principle, I agree with this sentiment. My problem was that Pacific Rim had the opposite problem: the kaiju seemed too powerful. We were told that the mechs had been able to fight the kaiju back, but whenever we saw an extended mech/kaiju fight, it seemed like the mech was hideously overmatched, to the point where the kaiju was barely defeated and the mech(s) sustained heavy damage or were outright destroyed.

    It made me question how humanity had even survived as long as they had, when each mech seemed so hopelessly over-matched in every fight with a kaiju. I wasn't bothered by the kaiju scoring significant victories so much as I was the fact that the mechs never scored a significant victory themselves, and any victory they did score left them so damaged it was hard to get excited for them.

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  11. @Blam: Not just the comics geeks, either, who actually understand that certain power players have to be conveniently unavailable, but our parents and friends who are new to this kind of shared-universe thing.

    In fact, I think if anything, those newbies to the shared universe asked that question even more than us diehards did.

    I saw that quote in EW as well, and the sheer wrongness of it, and the ignorance (willful or otherwise) it displayed was maddening. I almost screamed out loud to the article, "*I* asked why he didn't call his friends. A lot."

    It's especially frustrating because one simple line of dialogue would have skirted the issue entirely, and this article seems to suggest that dialogue was absent not because they never thought of adding it but because they did, then decided it wasn't important.

    This was a lot more fun in the theater than it was when I started thinking about it afterward. And even then, I found myself rolling my eyes at some of the stuff they did

    Yeah, I can't deny it has its issues, but I was ignorant to most of them while I watching it, and they didn't become clear until after the movie ended and I'd thought about it some.

    I missed this — honestly, it barely registered with me. If it's a decent cross between The Italian Job and The Prestige, though, man, I'm gonna add it to my Netflix queue right away.

    My wife was the driving force to see that one, which was why it stayed on my radar, otherwise it likely would have dropped off.

    It has the heist/revenge elements of Italian Job and the "how are they doing it?" aspect of The Prestige (and it doesn't cheat at the end like The Prestige). It's probably the perfect Netflix movie: not great, but entertaining.

    I hate that he couldn't introduce himself to the world on his own terms, even coaxed by Lois, but had to be called out by a big bad, and a big bad of his own race, and a big bad who made it necessarily for him to wreak so much havoc.

    That's a point I hadn't considered before, but now that you mention it, it is disappointing that he was "forced" to come out, so to speak.

    And for all we may quibble over the film, I totally agree about being done with Zod. I admire the desire to avoid Luthor in the first film of a franchise, but I've had enough of Zod for awhile.

    Plus, like I've said before, it suffers immediately in retrospect from how electric that tease for Days of Future Past was.

    Yeah. As much as I enjoyed the film overall, there's no denying something wasn't right when the thing I was thinking about after the movie was the teaser for the next movie. And that's definitely what captured my attention after seeing the movie.

    In terms of other films you mentioned, The Butler, Fruitvale Station and Lone Ranger (like you, just cuz) are on to-see list, as are 42 and probably The Way, Way Back and Blue Jasmine, depending on how the Oscar noms shake out and what shows up on HBO/Netflix.

    You said in a comment on my Much Ado review back in July that you were looking forward to it. Didn't happen?

    It's run in the local arthouse turned out to be shorter than I would have liked, and coincided with a period of time where I wasn't able to get to many movies, so I missed it.

    I think it's back at a different theater now, so I'm back to trying to see it, but if I miss it again, I'll probably just get it on DVD.

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