Friday, August 30, 2013

A Fistful of Summer 2013! (Brad's Picks)

That's it folks.  Summer's over.  Back to school.  So what grade do we give 2013's Blockbuster Season?  I'm thinking a big, dud of a C.  As always, when April pushed into May, my heart was filled with joyous anticipation for the titanic tent poles Hollywood was churning down their production line.  I like all kinds of films, from the smallest micro budgets to the embarrassingly corpulent Baytrocities.  I vote YES on Proposition Transformers 4!  And with 2013 offering Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, Fast & Furious 6, Pacific Rim, The Lone Ranger, Man of Steel, and The Wolverine my fanboy hard-on was throbbing with an intensity not felt since...well, last Summer when The Avengers & The Dark Knight Rises ruled my soul.  And frankly the films leading into these Blockbusters only ranged from the "Ok" to the "Pretty good."  I needed a great crop of Extravaganza to feel solid about this cinema year.  Oh well.  Of the bloated behemoths listed above, only one movie makes my Fistful of Summer list.  They weren't all bad - heck, some were pretty good - but, nearly every flick this year has left that bitter taste of disappointment on my tongue.  None more vile than...

Star Trek Into Darkness.  It's been nearly three months since my last viewing, and JJ Abrams's So-Damn-Dumb sequel still manages to enrage this Trekkie.  And that's just annoying.  I hate being that asshole.  Rereading my angry, incoherent review of the film all I can do is shake my head at the fanboy cliche Into Darkness brought out of me.  I'm actually looking forward to rewatching the film so that maybe, just maybe, I can find something positive to say about that mess.  Is it truly the worst Star Trek film as voted by Trekkies?  I don't know about that...Star Trek Nemesis has to be the nadir of the franchise, but it's nice to know that I'm not alone in the disappointment.   Does it's lackluster display at the box office mean the end of this lens-flared crew?  Probably not, but I smell new director and budget cuts in the Enterprise's future.  And that's a good thing.

I think the biggest shock this summer was how much I enjoyed The Lone Ranger.  *crickets*  Have I lost you?  Did you immediately click away at the very idea of a positive word thrown Jerry Bruckheimer's way?  Of course not, you're still reading just to see what insanely idiotic thing I'll type next.  After all, how could I possibly hate so hard on Star Trek Into Darkness when I had so much damn fun watching The Lone Ranger?  I don't have a good answer for you.  The Lone Ranger is an absolute train wreck, but I found myself riotously laughing as men had their hearts eaten from their chests, and bandits squealed in joy at the possibility of duck foot rape.  What the hell was Disney thinking with this one?  It's a horror show, but it's also so damn weird that I found it utterly compelling. If you want to read more of my absurd Lone Ranger praise than click on over to my Daily Grindhouse review.  If it wasn't for this past weekend, The Lone Ranger would have certainly made this Fistful of Summer.

Finally, before we get to the Top 5, I just wanted to reiterate how the Blockbuster failed to excite this year.  Again, I enjoyed Pacific Rim, Elysium, Furious 6, & Man of Steel to a degree, but all fell short of their source material.  Cinema is failing too often to reach beyond simple nostalgia, and that's worrisome.  There are going to be fewer and fewer billion dollar returns like The Avengers.  The bubble will burst.  Wishful thinking?  Summer 2015 will bring us Star Wars - Episode VII, Avengers 2, Batman vs Superman, James Bond 24, Pirates of the Caribbean 5, Jurassic Park 4, Independence Day 2, Warcraft, Assassins Creed, The Fantastic Four reboot, and a new Terminator.  Will the world show up, or are there gonna be a lot of unhappy suits in Hollywood?  I sense some duds, or at least a batch of films that cost too much and make too little.  Or maybe that's all bullshit.  Maybe, after 34 years, I'm just finally hitting blockbuster fatigue.  

I certainly needed more protein in my diet, and this year I made more of an effort to hit the art theaters for those hipster, indie darlings.  Richard Linklater's Before Midnight, Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing, Jim Rash & Nat Faxon's The Way Way Back, Quentin Dupieux's Wrong, and a slew of VOD offerings gave some much needed respite from the Summer drought.  Still, I'm not an art house goon, and none of these tiny pictures could quite crack my Top 5.  So, shall we get on with it - 

5.  You're Next:  Possibly one of the most twisting cinematic experiences I had this year.  I just watched it this past Tuesday in a completely empty movie theater, and it took me from an exhausted seen-it-all horror aficionado to a hand clapping, seat jumping, school boy.  You're Next has been languishing on the Lionsgate shelf for a couple of years now, and I was sick of hearing about it six months ago.  Not to mention that the marketing for the film makes You're Next look like just another home invasion flick a la The Strangers or Funny Games.  And for the first twenty minutes, it's just that.  The Animals creep along the woods, the kills are fairly ordinary...then Sharni Vinson gets her hands on a meat tenderizer.  You're Next shifts a bit; the plot opens up, and suddenly the film is a whole lotta fun.  This is not some brooding slasher, it's a very 80s, kick-ass chick movie.  Not too many of those around anymore, and I can't help but feel that You're Next gets everything right that the Evil Dead remake gets wrong.

4.  Iron Man 3:  The First Mega Movie of the Summer is also the only Blockbuster to land on my top five.  Forget Avengers - Age of Ultron, Iron Man 3 is the real sequel to last year's Marvel Masterpiece, and even if it doesn't quite reach the heights of that Super Group, director Shane Black still delivers the finest entry in Shellhead's trilogy.  The intergalactic destruction brought down on New York City had lasting effects on Tony Stark; his panic attacks deliver a level of humanity to the character in the same fashion his alcoholism did in the comic books (we'll just have to settle on this PG-13, family friendly affliction).  Black manages to bring his wit & banter with him, a mean feat not yet accomplished by any of the Marvel Studios henchmen.  It's not Lethal Weapon, but there is enough of that flavor to invigorate the franchise.  Ben Kingsley's The Mandarin also happens to be the most surprisingly entertaining villain of the Super Hero genre, even if Guy Pearce's wronged scientist is a bit of a dullard and the film's revelations leave ignorant geeks to rage on the message boards.  Marvel continues to build its universe, and I'm still giddy for more.  Thor, Cap, The Guardians of the Galaxy - I'm all in.

3.  This Is The End:  The first film this year that left me 100% satisfied was this silly, stoner deconstruction of celebrity.  "Deconstruction."  That's probably giving the film too much credit.  This Is The End is just too damn funny to ignore.  Seth Rogen & Jay Baruchel play themselves, a couple of dimwits who use their good fortune to gorge upon Carl's Jr, video games & pot.  When Rogen drags Baruchel to James Franco's party the sky opens up and Revelation hits - the good get zapped up to heaven, and the bad are left behind to battle demon dogs as well as each other.  This film is bananas.  The entire cast has a blast destroying their personas; Danny McBride is exceptionally reprehensible, taking to the new rules of Thunderdome like a cannibal duck to water.  This Is The End is dumb, gross, and ignorant.  And I loved every second of it.

2.  The World's End:  And now for something completely different.  Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, & Nick Frost reteam to take on the Apocalypse but from a very British perspective.  The World's End still has plenty of silly, but whereas This Is The End often succeeds with stupidity, Wright's screenplay wins on childish wit.  There is a difference, a small one maybe, but it's enough to push one film over the other.  Several themes and in-jokes are carried throughout the Cornetto Trilogy, but the key ingredient has to be plutonic love.  I might still prefer both Shaun of the Dead & Hot Fuzz, but after a second viewing I think The World's End displays the strongest on-screen friendship yet.  It's a broken relationship, five friends that drifted apart years ago, but when Simon Pegg reaches a breaking point, the draw of his high school memory pulls the more successful chums back together.  A high school reunion involving an epic pub crawl through their home town.  Of course, as movies have taught us over and over, you can't go home again.  Especially when the body snatchers have set up shop.

1.  Only God Forgives:  Before the Summer started I postulated that at year's end this film was going to land on top, and as I write this, I seriously doubt any other film of 2013 will topple this beast from super stylist Nicholas Winding Refn.  Self-fullfilling prophecy?  Naw.  Refn just makes the slick & awful kind of films I love.  But don't confuse this Shakespearean battle between Heaven & Hell as another Drive.  Those looking for a recreation of 2011's cool zen Michael Mann'er will be sorely disappointed.  Only God Forgives is a deeply painful exploration of self-hate mixed with heavy handed gobs of MacBeth & Oedipus Rex that nearly ruptures from symbolism overload.  It's easy to see why some dared to Boo at the Cannes Film Festival, or why those craving more dreamy Ryan Gosling would reel back in disgust. Thai Boxing, Karaoke, Uzis, Samurai Swords.  A lot of nifty elements can be found within the frame, but the film is more concerned with terrible redemption than video game versus combat.  Certainly not for everybody, but Only God Forgives left this viewer completely satiated in a Summer season doused in mediocrity.


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