Archive | December, 2013

The Honorable Mention Movies of 2013

29 Dec

I’m pulling a list together for SOWP, but this isn’t a best or worst of list. I tried to a make a list of movies that were better than expected and deserved more attention than they got but not movies that were solely independent or underground films. I also tried to include a range of genres so there’s something for everybody. The term “Honorable Mention” seems to fit best, so in no particular order here’s my Honorable Mention movies of 2013.

The conjuring

The Conjuring – Mostly I think scary movies are junk, they never scare me and are just stupid, predictable, formulaic, and boring. But if you ignore the “true story” bullshit that The Conjuring wants us to believe it’s the best scary movie of the year. It builds suspenseful, genuine creepy moments without CGI or other big budget toys. The best of these moments simply involve clapping hands (shudder) I never want to hear clapping while my eyes are closed after that. Now toward the end it went over the top but I was surprised by how good The Conjuring was. The eerie moments during the build up to the third act,  along with Vera Formiga’s performance make it well worth viewing.

Oblivion – I’m not a big Tom Cruise fan but he’s at his best when he does Sci-fi and despite this movie using just about every sci-fi trope there is it doesn’t feel like a cliché but more like a highlight reel. It has everything you want from sci-fi; post-apocalyptic setting, lasers, robots, bubble-ships, gorgeous computer readouts, aliens, clones, and at the end I was like “Well hello there Hal”. Just accept that there’s always something stupid in sci-fi, it’s part of what makes the genre. Instead focus on the stark beauty of the Icelandic locations, the cool looking special effects, and the other cast members like Oscar winners Melissa Leo and freaking Morgan Freeman.

This Is The End – I was getting pretty tired of seeing Seth Rogan and Jonah Hill everywhere. When I heard this movie was just that whole crew of people playing themselves, I half expected self-indulgent ass kissing. But they were making fun of themselves a little in the previews, so hoping to see more insult based humor I watched it. It was really funny at attacking the celebrity culture and making fun of the World Ending scenario that’s so popular now. Highlights include Danny McBride being who I think he is in real life, a coked up Michael Cera, a dominated Channing Tatum, and the biggest dick joke ever. I do think it is weird that grown ass straight men equate The Backstreet Boys with heavenly paradise, but whatever.

Black Fish

BlackFish – This isn’t a Hippie-dippey save the Whales documentary. I actually learned some stuff about the Orca’s biology, social structure, and how smart they really are. I was also fascinated at how these traits are exploited to train these animals for aquatic parks. This story isn’t presented by extreme animal rights activists but rather by the former employees of Sea World and even the guy that captured the whales from the ocean in the first place. This documentary is important, but why people should watch it is that we all remember Sea World and Shamu when we were younger and have recently heard about the death of a Sea World employee caused by the Orca she’d trained. This is an in depth journalistic investigation of what you haven’t heard about that story.

Grabbers – A small town in Ireland develops a slight problem with bloodsucking alien parasites, so logically the thing to do is poison your blood so they won’t attack you. Bottom’s up, turns out the aliens are less tolerant of low blood-alcohol levels than M.A.D.D. (I exaggerate M.A.D.D. is worse, and more frightening). Grabbers has a couple funny moments but really it is a throwback to those monster movies from the 70’s and 80’s. It is a little U.K. movie with Irish charm and a seriously designed horrifying monster. A perfect movie to drink to if you’re like me, because just like the characters in the movie, I have to drink to survive.

Rapture-Palooza – Another comedy about the apocalypse but the reason I liked this one is because it’s as if the movie about the end of the world went on a diet, it’s like “Apocalypse Lite”. The characters treat Armageddon like they’re stuck at a bad job “And now it is raining blood… gross.” Craig Robinson plays The Beast / Anti Christ as a man who knows he has power but doesn’t know what to do with it, he sings songs about how sexy he is and talks about going to the bathroom to seduce women. The best performance might be Tom Lennon as the only guy to fulfill the prophecy that says the dead shall rise again, he comes back from death to mow his lawn. I like how this movie is original and toned down, it almost makes the apocalypse cute.

Europa Report

Europa Report – I hate found footage movies but this one works because it all takes place in a confined disconnected setting, a space capsule bound for the Jupiter moon Europa. The astronauts cope with technical difficulties that get worse and worse but they’re determined to find evidence of microbial life on the surface despite the mysterious blue lights that flare up now and then. I think this movie suffered from it’s weird distribution; first it was only online for months, then pay per view, then a few theaters carried it for like 2 weeks. Anyway check it out if you like sci-fi horror movies.

Disconnect – Let’s face it we all spend a fair amount of time alone in a room staring at a computer screen ( I Bet you’re doing it right now) but you never see that portrayed in a movie. Disconnect explores how we’re using the internet to effect each other and what sort of consequences that may have. This movie is not anti-technology or anti-internet, it just shows how this new form of human interaction creates consequences that didn’t even exist a decade or 2 ago and how these characters are struggling to adapt to a wired world.

So long 2013 it was kind of a disappointing year for movies but that just means we have to look a little harder to find them.

Carl Wells

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More False Idols of Pop Culture

14 Dec

There’s been some discussion of which current icons of pop culture could represent the old gods. That post inspired a retort which pointed out some celebrities who don’t deserve the idolatry current pop culture bestows upon them. Really it’s just an excuse for me to rant, but I felt better after doing so. Well I need another cathartic release so it’s time for me to once again remove some false gods from their alters, exposing their fallibility and making them unworthy of any public praise.

Chris Hardwick

Chris Hardwick:

The pedestal he’s perched on:  He hosts a Comedy Central show about the internet (because that’s never been done before) and AMC’s Talking Dead. Additionally he makes TV appearances often talking about how cool geeky things are.

Why his pedestal should topple: He’s the perfect embodiment of how someone can get famous for doing absolutely zilch. He’s created nothing and achieved status using the shtick “I like the same things you like so you should like me too.” He leaches off material produced by other talented people that already has a mass audience and jumps on the band wagon for a free ride. First I saw him on Late night TV hyping Dr. Who, thanks for telling us about a show that’s been on for 50 years. Then Walking Dead blew up and he got a show called Talking Dead where all he does is talk about Walking Dead. What’s next? Talking Talking Dead, a show where he talks about what happened on Talking Dead? When I finally get around to watching Wreck-It Ralph, I paused the Blu-Ray and Chris Hardlick pops up “Hey did you notice this video game Easter Egg in the background?…” You’re a nonentity in this movie. Get off my screen you fucking Nothing! The final straw came with his show Talking Bad. I’ve been watching Breaking Bad since episode 1 aired 5 years ago, now with only 6 shows left in the series this imp shows up to tell ME what Breaking Bad’s about. Try taking a risk and making something unique or get banished back to the wasteland of MTV where your types belong.

Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson:

The pedestal he’s perched on: The movies he’s directed are known for having great casts and being arty, and funny. His next movie The Grand Budapest Hotel is already getting great press and it’s 3 months from being released.

Why his pedestal should topple: Think about the first 2 movies you saw that were directed by Wes Anderson. Mine were Royal Tenenbaums, then Rushmore, those are my favorite movies he’s directed. I’ll bet dollars to donuts you follow the same pattern, no matter which of his movies you saw first then second, they are your favorites. Wes Anderson has only made 2 good movies and those 2 movies happen to be whichever 2 movies you see first. His style is unique when compared with other films but against themselves they’re repetitive and predictable. Examples include how they’re all mostly set a in confined space; a house, submarine, train, an underground den. Every movie will have at least one shot where a bunch of characters all stare into a static camera with deadpan expressions. All movies feature a male protagonist who gets involved with a woman that he’ll never be able to keep. These, along with his other tropes leave me so bored all I can see are stupid plot elements. Am I really supposed to accept a train has gotten lost? When that kid in Moonrise Kingdom got struck by lightning then gets up and says “I’m fine” it marked the first time I walked out on a movie I’d rented. As for Fantastic Mr. Fox that stop motion looked so shitty, everything seemed lifeless. As if someone was trying to put on some macabre puppet show using taxidermy (which I would watch if done correctly, meaning not for kids). Go see Grand Budapest Hotel if it’s your first Wes Anderson movie. I’m skipping it.

Vampires:

The pedestal they’re perched on: By my calculations there’s about 8.13 x 10^42 movies, books, and TV shows dealing with vampires and it shows no signs of stopping.

Why this Pedestal should topple: See Above, also there’s nowhere else to go with vampires, every idea about vampires has been had and manifested in some form. Vampires are the most overused cliché ever. We’re saturated with every permutation of vampires that any attention grabbing hack can pull out of their ass. As for this current trend to make vampires young, hip, tormented fashion models we can mostly thank Twilight for. I’ll just say that in my day Vampires sucked blood, not cock. But I’m not going to hate on Twilight because it’s too easy, plus the problem existed long before that. Take the popular origin myth of the classic vampire, Dracula. Typing “Dracula” into an Amazon search will yield 22,990 results. Do we really need that many Draculas? (But I can’t find my favorite one “Dracula: Done to Death” Bonus points for anyone who gets that reference). Ever read the old Bram Stoker book? I fucking dare you! Cause it can’t be done, the thing is unreadable, it’s so awful. I wish I knew why people are so fascinated with Vampires. I just don’t get it and never will.

Felt good letting that out, I could use a drink.

Carl Wells

How To Catch A Book Thief

6 Dec

I saw Geoffrey Rush on the talk show circuit about a month ago promoting his new movie The Book Thief. I enjoyed that book and Geoffrey Rush is pretty entertaining in anything he’s in so I wanted to see the movie. The thing is when it was supposed to open I couldn’t find a theater playing it anywhere. After a week had passed it was playing in like two theaters that were both pretty far away. Now I had become suspicious that the reason it wasn’t being shown anywhere was because it must have not been a very good movie and theaters didn’t want to carry it. So should I make the long trip across town just too be disappointed at how another great book became a poor screen adaptation? I decided it was worth the risk and went out of my way to watch The Book Thief. It was well worth the effort.

If you have the opportunity to watch The Book Thief, even if it means going to the obscure independent theater, go see it. But be warned the trailers accompanying this movie were the worst set of trailers I’ve seen in 6 months so it might be advantageous to be a little late. That is unless you want to see an immortal, love sicken Colin Farrell with amnesia stumble through a teaser for Winter’s Tale, “Bleh”. For those who don’t know The Book Thief takes place in WWII Germany (more on that later). But to really get me in the mood I now have a much better sense of what Germans  must’ve felt while being forced to watch Nazi propaganda films, thanks to the trailer for Heaven Is For Real. Based on a “True Story” about a 4 year old boy who took a trip to Heaven and returned then wrote a 163 page book. This has got to be the worst Hallmark movie of the week ever, which is why the Hallmark channel probably rejected it and it is now on its way to a theater near you, unless the rapture happens before then. Once you survive the previews that’s when it all pays off.

Book Thief

Being born four decades after WWII I had a very limited idea of what Germany must have been like during that period, like many people I thought it was all full of evil Nazis goose-stepping everywhere all the time. The Book Thief reveals that Germany was actually a place where everyone wasn’t brain washed into barbarism, there was an internal resistance to Hitler, and even blonde pure bred Germans were terrified and victimized by the Nazi Party. This sets The Book Thief apart from your typical WWII movie, there’s no action packed battle scenes, no political drama, no bloody violence. The “Book Thief” is a little girl named Liesel who is adopted by a poor married couple, scraping by to make ends meet in a small German town. Liesel has to cope with her new parents, new home, and new school while adhering to Nazi regulations and on top of all this  she’s also illiterate. Knowing the family can’t afford to buy any books, she steals them occasionally so her father can help teach her to read. Things become more complicated when the family takes in a Jewish Refugee to hide in their basement because “it was the right thing to do”.

The acting in this movie is superb Geoffrey Rush is exactly the character of the father. He is loving, honest, playful, and unsure of the future but tries to not let it show. Emily Watson is someone I associate with British period pieces, she’s beautiful and proper, the exact opposite of what I pictured the mother character to be in the book. Impressively she nails the overweight, worn-out, thick-skinned Mother who has a strict dose of tough love for everyone. It is damn impossible to find a young actress who can actually, you know… act, but newcomer Sophie Neliesse is the right combination stubborn tom-boy and vulnerable little girl that makes Liesel such a touching character. Also her best friend Rudy is just so much fun to watch every time he’s on screen.

I love how they portrayed the little things, like leaving in the uniquely German curse words of Saumensch and Saukerl. The dialog is English but hearing people shout “Be Quiet Saumensch!” made me smile. There are a couple parts that may be over done like the montages of Liesel falling in love with reading but in a movie called “The Book Thief” you gotta expect that. Finally every WWII movie has to have some sad moments so don’t anticipate fairy tale endings for everybody. At its core this movie shows how a family finds the strength to stay together while struggling with the precariousness of life under a Nazi regime. Try and catch The Book Thief if you can.

Carl Wells

Is Catching Fire The Hunger Games We Wanted?

1 Dec

The Hunger Games Francise is a blatant rip off of so many things, the only reason it is popular is because it’s marketed toward teenage girls who don’t know any better. The Hunger Games themselves are a copy of a myth from Ancient Greece (or The Capitol) about the tyrant King Minos (President Snow) who regularly would send in 7 young boys and 7 young girls (tributes) into his Labyrinth (Arena) to be devoured (killed) by a Minotaur (The Game Makers). The Capitol is even full of characters with names derived from Greece and Rome; Octavia, Flavius, Caesar, Claudius, and Plutarch, even Peeta comes from “petra” which is  Greek for stone. That’s not all, Hunger Games also has an awful lot in common with Ender’s Game. Both are sci-fi books with protagonists who’re young, very close to their sister’s, and are growing up in a dystopian future. Both stories are about how adults exploit children through lying  and manipulation so that the adults can maintain positions of power. Both have children killing children and spend a lot of time telling the story in first person perspective. Finally, both protagonists are the saviors of a rigid and constraining society. Oh yeah, there’s this book that was also made into a movie called Battle Royale, about high school kids killing each other in a government run competition, the last survivor returns home a celebrity, sound familiar?…

Hunger Games Books

It should come as no surprise that me, a grown-ass man, thought the Hunger Games books were FREAKING AWESOME! Don’t believe the bad hype, it doesn’t matter if similarities can be found to earlier sources. Hunger Games builds a unique and interesting world, filled with characters in conflict; with their enemies, their allies, and themselves. These books aren’t perfection, All I’m saying is they’re fun quick reads that touch on topics ranging from “the one percenters” to media manipulation and government control. They might spend a little too much time talking about kissing, other than that I didn’t find them particularly girly.

The first movie was okay but not awesome, like it should’ve been. I love Jennifer Lawrence, she’s a perfect Katniss but the other great casting choices were underused. I wanted more drunk Woody Harrelson, more menacing Donald Sutherland, more Elizabeth Banks, I don’t think they even let the audience know who Effie Trinket was or what role she was there to fill. The secondary characters were just flat. Panem the world where the story takes place was underdeveloped, except for The Capitol. Overall a lot of little stupid things that were so close to being right added up to an underwhelming movie. So when I heard they’d changed directors while still making Catching Fire under a tight deadline. I wasn’t optimistic that my favorite book in the series would get the proper on screen portrayal it deserved. I was wrong.

hungar games

Catching Fire is the movie you want it to be, whether you’ve read the book or not. The main story is true to the book but more attention is paid to making sure the little things are right. Katniss and Peeta start back in District 12, but it’s winter now and that makes it look very different. This is just the beginning of how Catching Fire opens up the country of Panem to the audience, building this dystopian world into a more complex place. Some of the other districts are shown via a giant train tour celebrating our victors and we find out more about the people who come from other districts as the movie chugs along. The Capitol is a place where people dress to get the most attention possible, fashion is over-the-top, flashy, ridiculous, and unintentionally funny to outsiders. The first movie didn’t quite capture it, everybody looked like they were wearing doll clothes or shopped at a cartoon mall. Catching Fire takes their look into a more grown-up, extravagant, absurd level, that’s somehow more real and more funny. Katniss and Peeta’s flaming costumes finally look right too.

The use of the cast is much better the second time around, there’s enough frustrated, inebriated Haymitch, and overly enthusiastic Effie to make their roles memorable. Katniss and President Snow only have one scene together but Donald Sutherland is chilling in it. Since the books are all Katniss’s perspective I appreciated the movie taking the opportunity to branch out and show Snow interacting with his granddaughter (I predict we see her later, as a surrogate for another character) and scheming with Game Maker Plutarch Heavensbee played subtly by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Also Stanley Tucci is not someone I generally like, however he goes above and beyond as Caesar Flickerman, the super fake, 100% tool, of an entertainment show host. Additional characters from previous Hunger Games connect with the audience, so knowing people are going to die when they’re in The Arena cameras rolling, this time you care. Especially because this arena is a shit-storm compared to the previous one. I remember the book when they figure out the Arena’s pattern, thinking “that is so fucked-up. . . and cool”, I hope people who haven’t read the book get that feeling. Now, there’s stuff that’s corny, like the “Mocking Jay” at the very end but that’s part of Y.A. sci-fi movie genre, just be glad there’s no shaky-cam, I HATE shaky camera shots.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Carl Wells