Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013 Recap: The Bottom of the Barrel

 Folks, we've come around full circle again; 2013 has left us and 2014 began just a day ago. I'm not really sure where the year went, and there were a lot of things I meant to do that didn't happen, so hopefully the Cap'n can pick up where I left off. In the meantime, there's a year's worth of movies to recap, and as I do every year, we'll start at the bottom and work our way up.

 I lost count of how many new movies I saw in 2013 (it's somewhere north of 40, but the list I put together is eluding me, so we'll stick with that estimate), and thankfully most of them were very good to really good. Some even great, but we're not here to talk about those today. Nope. Today is about the small, but vocal minority of true garbage that assaulted my ears and eyes in 2013. Some I've already forgotten most everything about, some I regret even considering sitting down to watch. At the race to the bottom, First Place is an unenviable position, and I really struggled deciding which of the following nine films sucked the hardest. Every time I think "yeah, that's the one I hated the most," I see another one on the list and change my mind. So this year, there will be no numbering - they're all the worst.

 And I watched them So You Won't Have To.

 Movie 43 - There's an old adage that the more recognizable names you see on a movie you've never heard of, the worse the movie is. Most of the time this pertains to direct to video releases on already clogged shelves, and usually to indie dramas, but every now and again comedies. For something like Movie 43 to make it to theatres, even in the "dumping ground" time of the year, is a testament to the inexplicable star power willing to blemish their resumes with this shit.

 When either of the "haven't been funny in a decade and a half" Farrelly brothers are involved (Peter, in this case), that should set off alarm bells, but with so many talented people directing segments of this Kentucky Fried Movie wannabe, I remember that we rationalized it would at least have something worth seeing. We were clearly not paying attention to the warning signs, and nothing about the lazily titled Movie 43 was worth seeing. Not Hugh Jackman with testicles on his throat; not Chris Pratt shitting all over a taxi to impress Anna Faris; not Jason Sudekis and Justin Long as Batman and Robin at Superhero Speed Dating (spoiler - one of the women was a dude! Hilarity!). Let's not forget about the wacky game of Truth or Dare that turns Stephen Merchant into an Asian caricature with a penis tattooed on his cheek! Or Halle Berry making guacamole with her boob!

 I had to look some of these up because, to be perfectly honest with you, we'd already forgotten about most of Movie 43 by the next day. Looking at IMDB, I thought "oh yeah, that was in the movie, wasn't it?" and then I remembered that it wasn't funny and that's why I forgot about it. And before long, I'll forget about it again, and hopefully you will too. Don't let the list of names on the cover lure you into a blind rental or Netflix streaming - it's not worth it unless you desperately need to lose and hour and a half of your life. You'll remember as much of Movie 43 by not watching it as you will by enduring it, so why bother?

 Kick-Ass 2 - I'll keep this brief. I hated Kick-Ass when I saw it in 2010, and that position hasn't softened at all. I was vaguely curious about Jim Carrey as Colonel Stars and Stripes based on the trailer and it seemed like expanding the world of "real life" heroes and villains might maybe be worth looking into. And it wasn't. Kick-Ass 2 is more of the same stupid swill that I didn't like at all three years ago, and apparently not even fans of the first movie could choke this one down. I already didn't care about Hit Girl, but her adventures as "Mindy the normal girl in high school" that ended up as a stupid retread of Mean Girls really made me miss Nicolas Cage's Big Daddy. Nothing about Kick-Ass 2 is worth mentioning, so I'm just going to move on...

 R.I.P.D. - Speaking of movies with nothing worth mentioning, here's a transparent remake of Men in Black that substitutes ghosts for aliens and stars Ryan Reynolds from Blade Trinity and Rooster Cogburn from the Coen brothers' True Grit. Oh sure, it's Jeff Bridges, but he's playing Rooster Cogburn without the eye-patch. Also Mary Louise Parker and Kevin Bacon is the bad guy (SPOILER for the first three minutes of the movie) blah blah blah lousy special effects blah blah blah lazy jokes blah blah blah lots of shooting and yelling end of the world etc. R.I.P.D. is neither bad enough to hate nor good enough to give much more attention to. It simply limps along, reminding you of better movies that you could be watching instead of this. In fact, I watched a MUCH better movie before this (more on that when we get to the Best of 2013) and was so excited by it that I decided to use R.I.P.D. as a kind of "palette cleanser," which may be exactly what it's good for. If mediocre is your thing, this is the movie for you.

 Bullet to the Head - I don't really have anything to add to this beyond what I said in the original review. I only bothered to review three of the nine movies on this list, and in both instances I'll just include the links. There's a much better Stallone movie that came out in 2013 (Escape Plan) that you should see instead, because Walter Hill's un-buddy cop / revenge film is somebody's cup of tea, but not mine.

 Evil Dead - I get that people like that the remake of The Evil Dead is really violent. Like non-stop, unpleasant, close-up on the gore violent for most of the movie. Got it. I 100% don't believe the continued insistence that the effects are practical and that there's "almost no digital effects" in the movie. Sorry, I've seen it twice and you can see the digital effects, even during parts of the commentary where the director claims there aren't. But that is another argument for another day. The problem with Evil Dead isn't that it exists - there can and are good remakes of horror films out there, so I'm willing to put aside my affection for the original and let this exist in its own right.

 The problem with Evil Dead is that it's extremely violent, and nothing else. If you're looking for a movie where people are slowly, painfully mutilated, with long shots of the aftermath where they're half-crying and half in shock while removing needles or nails from their skin, good news - you'll find it in spades in Evil Dead. There's no humor, no characters, not much in the way of plot (that isn't abandoned, anyway), but lots of moments designed to remind you that this is a remake of The Evil Dead. Just one that's grittier and gorier and more hardcore. Because that's all horror fans care about, right? Oh, also just throwing Bruce Campbell onscreen after the credits to say "Groovy" in silhouette., because you gotta have Bruce, right?  It's no secret why the best and worst reviews of this film said the same thing: "It's REALLY violent." That's all there is to Evil Dead, and it's not enough.

 A Good Day to Die Hard - I like the theory that Red Letter Media has that each Die Hard sequel is designed to make the previous film look better by comparison. At the same time, it terrifies me to think how bad Die Hard 6 is going to have to be to make this piece of shit look good.

 G.I. Joe: Retaliation - I originally watched this as a planned week long segment called "The Rock Report," wherein I'd see every Dwayne Johnson movie released in 2013 and cover them for you. After G.I. Joe: Retaliation and another movie on this list, I decided it wasn't worth the effort to track down Snitch and Empire State. Going back to Movie 43, it's probably worth pointing out that I should have known better than to be interested in a movie with Dwayne Johnson, Ray Stevenson, Jonathan Pryce, Walton Goggins, RZA, and Channing Tatum (SPOILER briefly). Somehow (see above), it's only the second worst Bruce Willis movie I saw this year.

 True, I'd never seen the first movie and I don't plan on ever seeing it. True, it had gone extensive reshoots that delayed the film for half a year. True, it was the sequel to a G.I. Joe movie. But dammit, it had Dwayne Johnson and he made the Fast and Furious series better for two movies in a row (more on that in a later post). I now understand why Joseph Gordon Levitt and Christopher Eccleston didn't bother to come back for this (and it had nothing to do with Don Jon or Thor: The Dark World). It's a thoroughly average and mostly boring "action" movie that makes me glad I didn't watch the first one and pleased to know I don't need to see any more of them.

 Machete Kills - I'd love to believe that some day, Robert Rodriguez will start making real movies again. But with Sin City: A Dame to Kill for around the corner and the promise / threat of Machete Kills Again in Space looming, somehow that doesn't seem likely. That's too bad, but at least I know that this downward trajectory is something I can avoid from here on out, rather than risk being disappointed again.

 Pain & Gain - If there has to be a "worst of the worst," the absolute skidmark on the underpants of cinema for 2013 (that I was willing to watch), this is probably it. Machete Kills really sucks. A Good Day to Die Hard isn't even a Die Hard movie by the shaky standards of the fourth film Movie 43 barely deserves to be called a movie. But Pain & Gain not only reminded me why I stopped watching Michael Bay movies after The Island, it made me angry.

 I've been following a lot of the "controversy" surrounding Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street from people who are boycotting the movie in principle because it "glorifies" Jordan Belfort. Having not seen The Wolf of Wall Street but having seen Goodfellas and Casino, both of which are also based on real people who did horrible things and benefited in some way from the films based on their story, I have a hard time with the "outrage." This is what Scorsese does. With the exception of Hugo and Kundun, almost all of his protagonists are morally compromised to varying degrees, and some are downright unlikeable. As a storyteller, he gets you invested in them, even if you don't like them, and yes, to some degree that helps people like Henry Hill and "Whitey" Bulger (who Jack Nicholson's character in The Departed is loosely based on).

 Why people weren't comparably outraged by the glorification of the pieces of human garbage in Michael Bay's Pain & Gain boggles my mind, because when you see pictures of the real criminals who kidnapped and killed people, it's abundantly clear that turning them into Anthony Mackie, Dwayne Johnson, and Mark Wahlberg is only making them look like a million bucks for the movie version. Bay also makes the film a comedy, specifically styled after the Coen brothers, even though it's abundantly clear that Michael Bay does not understand what makes a Coen brothers movie funny. He got the "dumb criminals" part and stopped there, content to include his usual bag of tricks: hot chicks, fancy cars, oiled muscles, and rampant homophobia.

 The worst part is that, in spite of all of this, Pain & Gain is still sometimes sporadically funny, in spite of itself. Most of that comes from the very talented cast, trying hard to sell what is inherently unfunny but so unbelievable it becomes ridiculous (when Bay has to include a title card to remind you that "This is STILL a True Story" when Johnson is burning severed hands on a grill, you should get some idea how crazy it gets). But then, at the very end, when they finally do get caught, the closing credits cuts to photos of the actual perpetrators who did the things we're seeing played for laughs, and it's hard to see Pain & Gain as anything other than a glamor shots version of their lives. Michael Bay wants us to enjoy these assholes for the things they did, and laugh because of how silly it sounds. So I think I'm good going back to not watching his movies again. We seem to get along better that way, and the rest of you can wonder why I haven't and won't see a Transformers movie.

 The good news is that from here on out, things only go uphill. The next section(s) will deal with the middle ground - movies I liked but didn't love, but would recommend nonetheless. Thanks for wallowing through the worst of it with the Cap'n.

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