Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Movie Review: Robocop (PG13 – 108 minutes)

The first Robocop was released in July of 1987 and was directed by Paul Verhoeven, who also did Total Recall, Starship Troopers and Hollow Man.   His movies are ultra-violent, and on the surface, insanely dumb action movies.  However, if you look a little deeper, there is usually some level of campy satire thinly veiled.  The first one was set in future Detroit, which is on the verge of financial ruin and rampant crime (this was in 1987, before Detroit went through that -- eerie).  

The mayor signs a deal with Omni Consumer Products to allow them to run the police force – and build a high-end residential area called “Delta City” that they can run as a practically independent city-state (like ‘Elysium’, just in downtown Detroit).  The cops threaten to strike, but OCP offers them support – first in the form of the ED-209.  The failed demo of the ED-209 in the boardroom remains one of my favorite scenes in movie history.  

OCP president Dick Jones (played masterfully by Ronny Cox) gets upset, but OCP Chairman, played by Dan O’Herlihy gives designer Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) the go-ahead to create his cybernetic option, RoboCop.  They need a cop to put in the suit, so OCP shifts officers to more dangerous areas, setting up officer Alex Murphy to be killed while on patrol with his partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen).  They are chasing a ruthless gang run by Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith, yes, that Kurtwood Smith).  Once Murphy is dead, Morton turns him into Robocop, and while he singlehandedly removes crime from Detroit, he has to follow three guidelines: Serve the public trust, Protect the innocent, and Uphold the law.  

Morton gains praise for the success of the project, which upsets Dick Jones, who hires Boddicker to kill Morton.  Lewis realizes that Robocop is Murphy, and Robocop slowly starts to realize who he was.  He goes back to his house to find that his wife and son moved, thinking him dead.  Robocop tracks down Boddicker and arrests him, attempts to go after Jones, but has an ED-209 sent after him, which is defeated by stairs - seriously.  Lewis helps him escape, Boddicker and crew come after them.  Lewis gets injured, but survives, and Robocop heads after Jones, who made sure there was a programming code to prevent RoboCop from killing an OCP executive.  Robocop shows his confession to the rest of the board, the president of the company promptly fires him, and Robocop is able to kill him.

The movie was widely regarded as one of the best of that year, and has a huge cult following.  Of all the over-the-top action movies of the 80s, this one had the right understory to be rebooted now.  The debate of automating law enforcement and war is very current as more and more drones are being used in different areas of life (Amazon wants to send you stuff with drones).  Incidentally – the other over-the-top action movie with a theme that needs to be re-done is Running Man, based solely on the ‘reality-TV’ commentary.   

This version of Robocop is similar, with some major differences.  Omnicorp is supplying the military with automated robots and ED-209s (they look basically the same as the 1987 ones), which are successfully helping the army in the middle east.  In order to up their profitability, the company wants to put automated law-enforcement devices on domestic soil.  There is a law in place preventing using robots as police, but the company decides to put a man inside a machine, thereby skirting the law, but still accomplishing their goal.  Omnicorp boss Sellars commissions Dr. Norton to find a subject.  Meanwile, Alex Murphy is a Detroit cop doing his job, tracking down a crime boss with his partner, and then getting blown up.  Conveniently, his wife is coerced by Omnicorp to sign off to put Murphy in a machine.  He then has to clean up the streets of Detroit, all while trying to still be himself, go back to his wife and son, and deal with Omnicorp fiddling with his memories and personality.

No one in this version gets melted by toxic ooze, which is one of my most vivid memories of the original, but it’s still pretty good.  It doesn’t have the sense of camp and fun that the first one managed to work in while dealing with fairly serious subject matter.  This movie takes itself more seriously, and is a straightforward action movie.  This is Brazilian director Jose Padhila’s first American action flick, though he has made several Brazilian action movies prior to this.  He does a good job, the movie is fast paced, and the action is great, but so are the performances that string it together.  Also – once of the best ideas ever, Sam Jackson talking head bits to tie it together.
  • Joel Kinnaman is a Swedish actor, who has been on The Killing, and does a really convincing American accent.  He’s great in this, tender and human when necessary, and menacing and robotic when necessary.  Since the family was pretty removed in the original, Peter Weller never had to do a ton of acting while in the suit, but Kinnaman does a great job of showing the anguish that Murphy feels when going back to his family, and especially when seeing what has become of his body for the first time.  The updated suit looks great - even though that red line on the visor is very Cylon-y.

  • Gary Oldman is always fantastic, but is particularly great in this movie as Dr. Dennett Norton, the man who puts Murphy in the new body.  He wants to do the right thing, but is held on a very short leash by Omnicorp.  He tries to help Murphy find the balance between who he was and who he has become.  And how is it that he looks like a different person in almost every movie – and is he reverse aging?

  • It’s so fantastic to see Michael Keaton in this (in almost anything), and he does a spectacular job of being the profit-driven head of Omnicorp.  I wasn’t sure anyone could compare to Cox’s job in the original, but Keaton is just so perfect as the guy you want to trust, but you know you cannot.  His final turn during the climax where he finally stops hiding his true personality is great.

  • Abbie Cornish plays Clara Murphy, who – against her better judgement – lets Omnicorp ‘save’ her husband.  She doesn’t have a lot to do, but she does get a couple of key scenes where she gets to get really justifiably angry at Omnicorp and Sellars. 

  • Jackie Earle Haley plays Rick Mattox, who seems to be Sellars’s boots-on-the-ground and military trainer/contact.  He’s at no point convinced that Murphy is still Murphy, and will only refer to him as an ‘it’.  He does get some great lines, but remains an ass through the whole movie, which makes you really happy when he gets what’s coming to him.  Spoiler alert, he gets what’s coming to him.

  • Jay Baruchel plays the Omnicorp marketing whiz Tom, and he’s wonderfully disconnected from reality as he only thinks in profit for the company.  Baruchel is entertaining in just about everything (see She’s Out Of My League if you haven’t), and brings some of the only comedic moments to this.

  • Micheal K. Williams plays Murphy’s partner who helps try to keep him grounded once he’s merged with the machine.  This guy has been good in a lot of things for a long time, so I am really happy to start seeing him in bigger movies.

  • Marianne Jean-Baptist plays the police chief of Detroit – who signs off on the Robocop project and hopes to clean up Detroit.  

  • Patrick Garrow plays Antoine Vallon, who is not the pawn that Kurtwood Smith’s Boddicker was, but he’s still just the bad guy that Murphy and his partner are after when Murphy gets exploded.  There’s no connection between him and Omnicorp, at least none that I noticed…
  • Just for fun – they shot this in Canada, and if you’re a fan of SyFy’s Lost Girl (you should be, if you’re not), K.C. Collins plays another cop in the Detroit precinct who, with his partner, clashes with Murphy and his partner.

  • Samuel L. Jackson plays Pat Novak, a Bill O’Reilly type pundit who has his own show.  Clips of the show pop up during the entire movie, and help to move the narrative along.  It’s a brilliant idea, it helps clarify the story and push the audience’s opinion one way or the other.  It’s the perfect role for Jackson, and really is just allowing him to be himself in a small way.  At least there was no shark to attack him after he gives the pump-up America speech!

It’s a straightforward action movie, it’s well put together, and everyone in it does a great job.  It is glaringly a PG13 movie as opposed to the hard R of the original.  I hope they franchise it – and because they made a mention at the end of this one that Omnicorp’s parent company was very disappointed in Sellars’s performance, I couldn’t help but wish for a post-credit sequence in which Ronny Cox, seated at a boardroom table, told Jay Baruchel how disappointed he was in Sellars.  Oh well, maybe in the next one?

8 out of 10 – Gained points for  Baruchel – I just want that dude in more stuff.  Lost points for the suit – it looked cool, but Robocop is not sneaking up on anyone "clank...clank...clank".  Gained points for Keaton being awesome.  Lost points for Haley being a dick to robots, but gained points for Robocop getting to taze him.  Gained points for Sam Jackson being Sam Jackson.
Bonus Video 1:  Why, oh why, would you ever confuse Sam Jackson with Laurence Fishburne?  And God help you if you ever do it to Sam Jackson!

Bonus Video 2:  She’s Out of My League, Baruchel in a truly funny romcom.

Bonus Video 3: The Running Man – one of the two times I think a reboot is in order.  (Forbidden Planet is the other one). 

Bonus Video 4:  SDCC 2013 RoboCop Panel

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Movie Review: Ride Along (PG13 – 99 minutes)

The “buddy cop” movie is a tried and true movie trope that goes back decades.  It usually requires putting together two cops or crime-fighters that have nothing in common; and probably don’t like one another (48 Hours, Lethal Weapon, etc.).  They eventually find common ground to defeat an enemy that neither can defeat alone. 

Ride Along is that, but a little something extra as well.  Ben Barber is a security guard at a high school who is in love with a wonderful woman, Angela, and wants to be a better person for her.  He applies to the police academy, because he wants to be a cop, but he also hopes to finally win over her cop brother, James.   James is exceptionally protective of Angela (I believe it’s due to a backstory in which their dad was also a cop, and was killed on the job, so now he’s very cautious with her – although that’s never really explained all that well), and is a working a big-time case involving the mysterious ‘Omar’, who no one has ever seen.  After a botched attempt to get information, his boss warns him off the Omar case, and right at that moment, Ben lets him know he is going to the police academy, and asks for approval to marry Angela.  In the hopes of scaring off Ben, James takes him on a Ride Along for a day, taking all the annoying calls, hoping to terrify Ben into quitting, both the academy and Angela.   Hijinks ensue.

This movie was directed by Tim Story – who also did the two Fantastic Four movies.  Despite how you felt about those (I actually liked them), you can agree that Story can direct action.  Of course, he’s also directed Think Like A Man and Babershop – so he’s familiar with both these stars, and can shoot a good comedy.  Adding in the comedy element makes this watchable.  It’s not fantastic, but it is exactly what you expect from it. 

  • Kevin Hart plays Ben and while he seems to be a suddenly rising star, the truth is he has been rising for several years.  His stand-up is really funny, and he’s a great improv comedian.  If it had been anyone else in this movie, it would be far less watchable, as it is not original, and not really all that great.  I almost wish they had let him go a little more.  You can tell the scenes that he is improv-ing, and really, those are the best ones.  The movie would have benefitted from a few more.  He is only going to keep getting better, and I cannot wait to see what else he will do.

  • Ice Cube continues to play Ice Cube in movies.  James is not a stretch for him, and really his job in this is just to play the straight man to Hart’s funnyman.  He’s capable, and I certainly respect the career he has built for himself.  As long as he stays in his box, he’s great.

  • Tika Sumpter plays Angela, and really she has almost nothing to do – she’s just there to play the guys off one another.  She does get put in some danger by the end of the movie, so it was fun to see that as the daughter of a cop she was capable.

  • John Leguizamo plays Santiago – another cop that James has been working with.  Leguizamo is another accomplished stand-up, and I was desperately wishing for a scene in which he and Hart got to play off one another.  That never really happens, and seems like a loss.  Go watch Spawn again and try to figure out what he’s doing inside that clown suit.

  • Former MadTV pool boy (and also stand-up) Bryan Callen plays Miggs, Santiago’s partner.  He and Leguizamo get a couple of scenes to work their humor; and have fun, but again, not enough.
  • Bruce McGill plays Lt. Brooks, the cop boss.  Honestly, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him as that character multiple times before.  Although, I am not sure I’ve ever been able to see him as anything other than MacGyver’s buddy.  He and his mustache did a great job.

  • Laurence Fishburne reaches back into his Boyz in the Hood memories to play Omar.  He’s got just a couple of scenes, but he’s a serviceable bad guy – in case you forgot, or haven’t seen Predators.  Hey, you should see Predators.

Like I said, it’s not great, it could have been better – but it’s exactly what you thought it would be, and delivers what it promised.   It’s just over an hour and a half, which is the right amount of time for a movie like this.  It probably could have even been about 10 minutes shorter.  And, as the sequel has been announced, there will be more of the same.

6 out of 10.  Gained points for Hart yelling at that child, and for him yelling at that stripper.  Lost points for not properly using all of it’s stand-up comedians.  Gained points for Fisburne’s entrance, and for Hart pretending to be Omar. 
Bonus Video 1:  Tim Story’s Think Like A Man – see this just for Hart in the basketball scene

Bonus Video 2:  Tim Story’s  Barbershop – in case you haven’t seen it – which would be insane.

Bonus Video 3:  Predators, there’s a bunch of reasons to see this, Topher Grace creeping you out, Danny Trejo being awesome, Adrian Brody pretending to be tough, but first and foremost - Laurence Fishburne being completely crazy.

Bonus Video 4:  Ice Cube and Kevin Hart with Conan O'Brien.

Monday, February 17, 2014

2013 Year in Review

For some reason, Entertainment Weekly hasn’t posted their traditional “25 movies to see before Oscar Night” article.  No worries, I have taken the nominees and listed them below based on number of nominations (I’m good at Excel, just like the Dean on Community).  So I have created a list based on quantity of Oscar nominations of 20 movies you should see before the Oscars – according to the Academy!  The blurbs in quotes are from IMBD, sometimes they sum up a movie in a few sentences better than I do.  I will follow with my favorites of last year, then my worst of last year.

1.  American Hustle (10 nominations).  “A Con man, Irving Rosenfeld, along with his seductive some-time British partner, Sydney Prosser, is forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso.  DiMaso pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.”  This is David O’ Russell’s latest entry for this year’s awards season after cleaning up with Silver Linings Playbook.  While I hated Silver Linings, I didn’t mind American Hustle.  It was interesting, it kept you guessing, the wigs and costuming were impressive – and Jennifer Lawrence was incredible.  Plus, I’ll probably never look at a “science oven” without giggling again.  It’s still a little pretentious and a little over-hyped.  It’s not the amazing thing that the critics say, but the performances were good.

2.       Gravity (10 nominations).  “A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.”  Yep – that description covers it.  There is really nothing else to this movie, which is what makes it remarkable, because it’s still a hell of a watch.  Directed by Alfonso Cuaron (who I still refuse to forgive for Children of Men – which is in my top five of most hated movies of all time), this movie is really all about the stunning visuals and the stunning performance from Sandra Bullock.  There is really no one else.  Clooney is there briefly, until he misunderstands physics and disappears.  The movie sounds crazy when trying to explain it – but seriously, if you haven’t seen it yet, see it.  It’s not the most enjoyable movie of the year, but it is quality-wise, the best I saw, as long as you turn off your science-brain.
3.       12 Years A Slave (9 nominations).  “In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.”  Directed by the british Steve McQueen, this was produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B company.  For the record, my eye doctor’s son, John Ridley wrote the screenplay for this based off Northup’s own writing of his story, so I’m pulling for him to win.  The movie is widely stated to be amazing and painful to watch.  Ejiofor has been amazing for a really long time (go watch Serenity again, or even Salt, or the movie version of Kinky Boots), and he deserves the best actor award for this one.

4.       Dallas Buyers Club (6 nominations) “In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is himself diagnosed with the disease.”  More entertaining than you expect, with the best performance from Matthew McConaughey that I have ever seen, Jean-Marc Vallee’s directed piece will probably result in an Oscar for Jared Leto – who completely disappeared into the role of Rayon.  The crazy weight loss made both of the actors difficult to look at – but it’s not nearly as depressing as it could have been.  It’s a downer of a story, but the movie is able to find some light moments.
5.       Nebraska (6 nominations).   “An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing Prize.”  I was really surprised by this Alexander Payne directed black and white story.  It does a lot of work with non-verbals and visuals.  The cinematography was very pretty, and many shots looked like paintings.  I was very impressed by Will Forte, and I have to say that on the whole I was surprised by all the funny bits, and touched by the sentimental bits. 

6.       Captain Phillips (6 nominations).  “The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years.”  Director Paul Greengrass uses his typical edge-of-your seat tense style to bring this story to the screen.  Tom Hanks is great, Barkhad Abdi is amazing, and it’s really worth a watch, just so you can understand how four dudes in a speedboat can take over a freighter.  Also – Hanks’s performance in the last 15 minutes proves why he’s one of the best working today.
7.       Her (5 nominations).  “A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need.”  Like everything Spike Jonze does, this is just a little weird, but also interesting.  It’s well done, with great performances from Phoenix and Johanssen, but just a little too strange and quirky for my taste.  And what was with the high-waisted pants – is that really what the future will look like?

8.       Wolf of Wall Street (5 nominations).  “Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.”  I haven’t seen this, and I won’t, but from what I hear, it’s Scorsese revamping other Scorsese, mixing together Goodfellas and Casino and the Departed, and some of his other works.  I did hear someone refer to it as a three hour (it’s three hours long!) advertisement for cocaine – and it did set a new record for the use of the F word.  Of course, if you have three hours to fill, you have to fill it with something, so why not cocaine and F-bombs? 
9.       Philomena (4 nominations).  “A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman’s search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.”  Another based-on-a-true-story movie directed by Stephen Frears that I actually enjoyed.  It’s a fantastic performance from Judi Dench, but that’s no longer a surprise, it’s more like an expectation.  It’s an interesting story, and I’m glad it is getting told.  Those nuns sure were evil!
10.   Blue Jasmine (3 nominations).  “A New York socialite; deeply troubled and in denial, arrives in San Francisco to impose upon her sister.  She looks a million, but isn’t bringing money, peace, or love…”  What?  Woody Allen’s annual movie has gotten rave reviews for Blanchett’s performance.  Apparently it has Andrew Dice Clay in it – so if that works for you, there you go.  I have never seen a Woody Allen movie that I liked, the closest was Midnight in Paris, and the best I can give that is ‘interesting’, but not ‘enjoyable.’

11.   Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (3 nominations).  “The dwarves, along with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim Erebor, their homeland, from Smaug the dragon.  Bilbo Baggins is in possession of a mysterious and magical ring.”  Peter Jackson’s latest Hobbit piece is just over two and a half hours long; and at least with this one, you didn’t feel the length.  Far more happens in this one, and the story moves quicker.  I am hoping the third installment is better still.  I am shocked that Ed Sheeran’s song was not nominated for best song.

12.   August: Osage County (2 nominations).  “A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them.”  Directed by John Wells, I have to admit, I have no interest whatsoever in this.  It makes me bored just reading that blurb.  I get that it was a play first, but honestly, it just seems like an Oscar-bait piece to be as actor-y as possible and garner nominations.  I must be wrong, because if that was the goal, it didn’t succeed. 
13.   Despicable Me 2 (2 nominations).  “Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help deal with a powerful new super criminal”.  This was almost as fun as the first one, and honestly, I could watch those minions for hours.  Even when in the background, they are doing something entertaining.  Super entertaining.

14.   Frozen (2 nominations).  “Fearless optimist Anna teams up with Kristoff in an epic journey, encountering Everest-like conditions, and a hilarious snowman named Olaf in a race to find Anna’s sister, Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom in eternal winter.”  Loosely based on “the Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen, this was Disney’s big entry for last summer.  It was well received by everyone and a huge hit by all those who love Disney princesses.  I haven’t seen it.
15.   Great Gatsby (2 nominations).  “A Midwestern war veteran finds himself drawn to the past and lifestyle of his millionaire neighbor.”  Baz Luhrmann is all about visuals, so I’m sure this looked great, especially in the 3D, but I figured I was required to read the book in school (I hated it so much I never finished it), and I had seen part of the Redford version, so the reality was I had no interest in this.
16.   Inside Llewyn Davis (2 nominations).  “A week in the life of a young folk singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.”  Wow, does that sound boring or what?  Look, if you love the other Coen brothers movies, chances are you will love this too.  As for me, I just have no interest.  It sounds like nothing happens - I'll just watch A Mighty Wind again if I want a movie about folk music.  At least that one will make me laugh.
17.   The GrandMaster (2 nominations).  “The story of martial-arts master Ip Man, the man who trained Bruce Lee.”  Directed by Kar Wai Wong, the visuals are sure to be stunning.

18.   All is Lost  (1 nomination).  “After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face.”  I have had the hardest time getting the title for this one correct, I keep calling it Lone Survivor, which of course is the Mark Whalberg based-on-a-true-story soldiering tale.  If you’ve always wanted an hour and a half of Redford in a boat – you’re in luck!
19.   Saving Mister Banks (1 nomination).  “Author P.L. Travers reflects on her childhood while reluctantly meeting with Walt Disney, who seeks to adapt her Mary Poppins books for the big screen.”  Directed by John Lee Hancock, this was very entertaining and touching, especially if you had any kind of soft spot for Mary Poppins when you were younger.  Tom Hanks is great once again, and Emma Thompson is wonderfully bitchy as P.L. Travers.  Colin Farrell steals some of the flashback scenes as the Mr. Banks in question. 

20.   The Act Of Killing (1 nomination).  “A documentary that challenges former Indonesian death squad leaders to reenact their real-life mass-killings in whichever cinematic  genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers.”  What?  Well, there has to be one insane documentary on the list, so there you go.

And now - here's my list:  My personal Best of the year – again, not the best quality-wise (really, really not the best quality-wise), just my favorites - sometimes I love stuff that is not 'quality', but if you've read this blog at all before, that is not a surprise to you!

1.       Thor: The Dark World (10 out of 10).  “When Jane Foster is possessed by a great power, Thor must protect her from a new threat of old times:  The Dark Elves.”  This is what a big comic-book movie should be (talking to you Zack Synder).  Directed by Alan Taylor instead of Kenneth Branagh this time around, Thor is a little less Shakespearean, but a little more action packed.  Eccleston’s Malekith is a worthy opponent who is looking to eliminate the universe, you know, no big deal.  Marvel continues to demonstrate what it takes to make a successfully comic-based movie by finding the perfect tone.  It requires a balance between humor and action, with plenty of light moments in between fun battle scenes.  The final fight in which the characters blip between worlds was fantastic.  Tom Hiddleston once again proves to be the most charismatic character in the Marvel Universe, and he and Hemsworth have found the perfect repartee between their bickering siblings.  This movie was so fun to watch – so entertaining – and really just made me excited for the next Marvel movie. 

2.       Fast and Furious 6 (9 out of 10).  “Hobbs has Dom and Brian re-assemble their crew in order to take down a mastermind who commands an organization of mercenary drivers across 12 countries.  Payment?  Full pardons for them all.”  There are several reasons this franchise has become one of the most popular across the globe.  One is the multicultural cast, which you simply do not see in other giant summer tent-pole flicks.  Another is the pure sense of over-the-top action and fun.  The movie is by no means a quality film – but it is absolutely a fun movie.  There is almost no logic involved as the team of what used to be street racers but now seem to be international ‘bon vivants’, assemble to take out a military trained super-crew of thieves.  It doesn’t matter that there is no logic, because it is just so fun to watch.  The mid-credits sequence was epic and I cannot wait for number 7.  It was due this coming summer, but was pushed back to next year after the tragic loss of Paul Walker.  Honestly, I think the series has enough footage of him and Diesel’s character shaking hands, that you show that; then have Dom explain that Brian has a family now, and has to sit this one out.  It’s simple, it’s clean, and it gives Walker a happy ending.   

3.       Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (9 out of 10).  “Hansel & Gretel are bounty hunters who track and kill witches all over the world.  As the fabled Blood Moon approaches, the siblings encounter a new form of evil that might hold a secret to their past.”  Directed by Tommy Wirkola, this was also my biggest surprise of last year.  Again – certainly not a quality film, but holy crap was it a whole pile of stupid fun.  I loved the practical make-ups on the witches, the absurdity of the setting, and the obvious tongue-in-cheek tone.  That started with the first scene, in which sketches of missing children were tied to a farmer’s bottles of fresh milk.  Every once in a while you need a dumb, brainless piece of fluff entertainment – I felt that this delivered. 

4.       Pacific Rim (9 out of 10).  “As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures wages on, a former pilot and trainee are paired up to drive a seemingly obsolete special weapon in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse.”  Directed by Guillermo del Toro, this delivered on everything it promised.  Giant CGI robots fighting giant CGI monsters.  I was perplexed by anyone who argued that the story was unoriginal and the acting wasn’t great (those are both true points).  Who cares about the acting?  This movie was about robots and monsters, period.  And Ron Perlman, chewing the scenery in the very best way possible in the fanciest shoes he could find.

5.       Wolverine (8 out of 10).  “When Wolverine is summoned to Japan by an old acquaintance, he is embroiled in a conflict that forces him to confront his own demons.”  Directed by James Mangold, this is actually a fairly small movie that tells a very tight little story.  It’s far longer than it needs to be, but the huge advantage is Hugh Jackman, who at this point is phenomenal as Wolverine.  His regeneration powers go on the fritz as he bumbles around Japan, letting go of some old demons, and hooking up with new ladies.  The giant silver samurai at the end was cool, if not perfect.
6.       Iron Man 3 (8 out of 10).  “When Tony Stark’s world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution.”  Directed by Shane Black, this was another great Marvel movie, if you let go of how they completely ruined the Mandarin, and how there’s really about 20 minutes of actual Iron Man in this Iron Man movie (it’s more of a Tony Stark movie), and how he destroys all his really awesome suits, and how the post credits sequence didn’t lead into the next movie at all, and that once again – there was no Fing Fang Foom, you realize it was pretty entertaining!  Listen, Iron Patriot was pretty awesome, Guy Pearce was actually a pretty fantastic villain, and once again, Robert Downey Jr. is charming as hell.  Again, the tone is just perfect, equal parts fun and action – and RDJ’s interaction with  the kid was just fabulous.

7.       Riddick (8 out of 10).  “Left for dead on a sun-scorched planet, Riddick finds himself up against an alien race of predators.  Activating an emergency beacon alerts two ships:  one carrying a new breed of mercenary, the other captained by a man connected to Riddick’s past.”  Directed by David Twohy, this was a return to the Riddick of Pitch Black after taking a detour with Chronicles of Riddick, which was pretty close to unwatchable.  This was back to basics, and really allowed Vin Diesel to carry half the movie alone, then intimidate some big time mercenaries for the other half.  Another brainless bit of fun with some great action.  Oh, and apparently they have greenlit another one, which made Diesel so happy he posted a ‘thank you’ video of him dancing for 8 minutes for his fans.

8.       47 Ronin (8 out of 10).  “A band of samurai set out to avenge the death and dishonor of their master at the hands of a ruthless shogun.” Directed by Carl Rinsch, this is a purely visual feast of fancy effects.  Keanu does his best (which is still wooden), as the half-breed recruited by the ronin to join their revenge quest.  The story isn’t bad, after all it’s based on a true legend, and the super fancy 3D CGI effects on top of it are entertaining.  Another one that delivers what it promises, as long as you don’t expect too much.
9.       Star Trek Into Darkness (8 out of 10).  “After the crew of the Enterprise find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one-man weapon of mass destruction.”  Honestly, I was so furious after seeing this the first time, I wanted to punch J.J. Abrams.  I still do a little bit – he stated that the point of creating the whole “alternate time line” in his first Star Trek reboot was to tell completely new stories with characters that we were familiar with.  That’s all well and good, but then why for the sequel to a bad re-hashing of what is widely considered to be one of the best episodes of the original series, and certainly the best movie of the original movies.  If you can let that go (I can't), this was entertaining, Pine is a great new Kirk, Quinto is a great new Spock, and Urban is a wonderful new McCoy.  Cumberbatch was great as a villain, but made no sense as Kahn, and Weller was even better as the really big bad.  The addition of this suddenly british version of Carol Marcus was insulting, but hopefully that will be better next time around.  The action was good, the effects were fun, and watching Simon Pegg run is always entertaining.

10.   Best Man Holiday (8 out of 10).  “When college friends reunite after 15 years over the Christmas holidays, they discover just how easy it is for long-forgotten rivalries and romances to be reignited.”  Directed by Malcolm D. Lee, this was another huge surprise for me.  I loved the first one and all its drama 14 years ago.  This one way upped the level of drama into a whole ‘nother level of melodrama, but it definitely went from hilarious to sad to funny to depressing and back again, several times.  The end should play right into another one – but hopefully sooner than 14 years.  Plus – shirtless Morris Chestnut, which is so impressive it’s being used in the commercials for the DVD. 

11.   Gravity (8 out of 10) Last year, the Oscar movie Argo made my top list, and was actually number 2.  I can’t quite give Gravity that high, but it sure was amazing.  A lot of it was grabbing at things to prevent floating away, and when you watch it in 3D, you end up trying to grab at things too.  Aside from a long stretch in the middle where for some reason she listens to a man singing to either a baby or a dog, it’s pretty perfect in terms of what it aimed to accomplish. 
12.   Captain Phillips (8 out of 10) Wow, a second Oscar movie on my list!  Unheard of!  The reality is that this movie was pretty non-stop for something where you already know the story.  I enjoyed the pacing, the tone, and Tom Hanks’s performance enough that I had to add it.
13.   Hunger Games: Catching Fire (7 out of 10).  “Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem.”  Directed by Francis Lawrence, this is another example of the sequel being better than the first.  This one was a little faster-paced, and gave you more of a glimpse into the world these people live in, as opposed to just hanging out in the depressing District 12.  Also, Lawrence is just getting better and better, and at this rate, I cannot wait to see what she does with the next one.  I’m still upset that her reaction to the scary boil-fog was to touch it, but I suppose when you’re in the arena, trying to keep up the pretense about your fake fiancĂ©e and fake baby, and also trying to decide whether or not the people who say they are your allies are your allies, and being impressed by Jeffery Wright, it’s okay to try to touch the scary fog. 
14.   G.I.Joe Retailiation (7 out of 10). “The G.I.Joes are not only fighting their mortal enemy Cobra; they are forced to contend with threats from within the government that jeopardize their very existence.”  Directed by Jon M. Chu, this is another one that there is no way I can even begin to pretend it’s a good movie; however, I sure did enjoy it.  The Rock makes everything better, and honestly, Byun Hun Lee is fantastic in almost everything he shows up in – he really made RED2 better than it could have been.  The addition of Bruce Willis as… Bruce Willis? Just added more fun to the nonsense. 

15.   Last Stand (7 out of 10). “The leader of a drug cartel busts out of a courthouse and speeds to the Mexican border, where the only thing in his path is a sheriff and his inexperienced staff.”   This is another terrible movie that I enjoyed.  By now you’re well aware that I will take a fun piece of crap that everyone in it is having a good time, over the very best quality piece of film with super talented actors who seem to be miserable.  Arnold dives fully into his age by playing the small town sheriff who battles the cartel head.  Add in the crazy that is Johnny Knoxville, the bizarreness of Peter Stomare, the awesome that is Jaimie Alexander, the Xerxes that is Rodrigo Santoro, and the unexplainable cameo that is Harry Dean Stanton – and you have a winner.

16.   Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters (7 out of 10).  “In order to restore their dying safe haven, the son of Poseidon and his friends embark on a quest to the Sea of Monsters to find the mythical Golden Fleece while trying to stop an ancient evil from rising.”  I so enjoy these movies.  Yes, they’re another series based on YA novels, but they’re so much fun, and they have that Greek mythology flair that I love.  Plus – giant Cyclops with Ron Perlman’s voice. 
17.   Olympus Has Fallen (7 out of 10).  “Disgraced former Presidential guard Mike Banning finds himself trapped inside the White House in the wake of a terrorist attack; using his inside knowledge, Banning works with national security to rescue the President from his kidnappers.”  Directed by Antoine Fuqua, a director that I love for his ability to make a great, tense action movie, this is a good action movie.  It had the advantage of being the first of the two White House movies this past summer.  Gerard Butler does a decent job pretending to be American and saving Aaron Eckhart. 

18.   Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug (7 out of 10).  Bilbo and the dwarves run into the world’s talkiest dragon.  Smaug does not shut up, but he’s so awesome that you almost don’t mind.  Also, Lee Pace is fantastic as the elf king – and Evangeline Lilly as a badass elf not from the book.  Much faster paced and more entertaining than the first one, it really made me look forward to the next one, especially as Smaug ended this one by flying off and threatening LakeTown.
19.   World War Z (7 out of 10).  “United Nations employee Gerry Lane traverses the world in a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments, and threatening to destroy humanity itself.”  Since the Walking Dead is one of the most popular shows on TV, it’s hard to make a decent zombie movie.  I know this movie differed from the book, but I still enjoyed it.  The fast zombies gave it a different flavor, as did the PG13 rating.  I really enjoyed the investigative aspect of it as Brad Pitt went from city to city to figure out where the problem originated and how to deal with it.  Plus, zombie pile!

20.   Now You See Me (7 out of 10).  “An FBI agent and an Interpol detective track a team of illusionists who pull off bank heists during their performances and reward their audiences with the money.”  This movie is directed by Louis Leterrier, who gave us the Transporter and the good Hulk movie.  It’s on this list because it surprised me.  It’s much better than I expected, and was fast-paced and entertaining.  Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine basically play themselves, and Woody Harrelson tries to deal with the irritatingness that is Jesse Eisenberg.  Isla Fisher tries to prove that she isn’t Amy Adams (did she succeed?) and Dave Franco tries to step out of his brother’s shadow.  But really – it’s a Mark Ruffalo movie.  Fun and silly – check it out if you haven’t seen it.

And finally, in my humble opinion, the worst of Last Year.  Honestly, sometimes it's more fun to put this list together than the top list!

10.  Gangster Squad (6 out of 10). “Los Angeles, 1949:  A secret crew of police officers led by two determined Sergeants work together in an effort to take down the ruthless mob king Mickey Cohen who runs the city.”  Directed by Ruben Fleischer, this movie feels like it never really gets over the ground, and at some points, it almost feels like a spoof of the whole 40s gangster movie genre.  It’s filled with local in-jokes that make no sense to anyone not from L.A. (Burbank, am I right?), and Sean Penn way over does it.  Emma Stone does her best to vamp her way through it, but if you want to see her and Ryan Gosling in a better movie, watch Crazy Stupid Love again.  Josh Brolin is good, but no one else seems to think they are in the same movie tone he is.

9.  Pain and Gain (6 out of 10). “A trio of Florida bodybuilders get caught up in an extortion ring and a kidnapping scheme that goes terribly wrong.”  I will usually defend Michael Bay movies (his movies, not him – we all know he’s an ass) because they are the best looking action movies around.  Well, this looks good, but it is based on a horrific true story, and at no point can you get on board with any of the lead characters, because they’re all so terrible.  It’s not even all the way a comedy, which would have been one way out of that.  I had high expectations, but this was just awful.
8.  Battle of the Year: The Dream Team (5 out of 10). “Battle of the Year attracts all the best teams from around the world, but the Americans haven’t won in fifteen years.  Dante enlists Blake to assemble a team of the best dancers and bring the trophy back to America where it started.”  I love terrible dance movies, but that doesn’t mean I can’t admit when they are really terrible.  This was really terrible.  At no point do you buy Josh Holloway as a b-boy, despite several people in the movie trying to tell you he used to be great.  Why did he never prove that?  Also – Chris Brown plays Chris Brown, which no one needs.  Usually in one of these, the dance sequences can help salvage the lack of everything else, but those weren’t that great in this movie.  They were okay – so I suppose you could rent it and fast forward through the majority of the movie – but that seems like a lot of effort. And yes, that is the new Black Canary.

7.  Ender’s Game (5 out of 10).  “Young Ender Wiggin is recruited by the International Military to lead the fight against the Formics, a genocidal alien race which nearly annihilated the human race in a previous invasion.”  Directed by Gavin Hood, this movie was just a huge bummer.  I’m not even sure I can come up with a better description.  That may be the fault of the book, which I have not read, but it seems to me that a big movie set in the future about kids being trained as soldiers could have some light moments.  No?  Okay, then maybe this was a huge success.  It’s also a bit disturbing to me that Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley spend the movie tricking the kid into committing genocide.  It reminded me of Starship troopers, but wasn’t nearly as fun, and also of that one episode of Futurama where Bender and Fry go to war to battle the Ball aliens, and win by demanding the Balls leave their own home planet.  Yep – perfect comparison.
6.  Incredible Burt Wonderstone (5 out of 10).  “When a street magician’s stunts begin to make their show look stale, superstar magicians Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton look to salvage their act – and their friendship – by staging their own daring stunt.”  Directed by Don Scardino, I felt this was such a let-down based solely on the potential it had to be great.  It had a great setting, a great cast, but just failed to take advantage of it.  There were some funny moments, but the reality is that they were all in the commercials and trailers.  The upside was Jim Carrey as a Chris Angel type shock magician.

5.  Her (5 out of 10) “Joaquin Phoenix dates a computer.”  Like I said, too weird for me.  Spike Jonze  is another director that I have never liked.   This movie is well put together, and well-acted, but I really found it annoying.  Phoenix is one of those actors who thinks he’s better than his audience, and I feel like Amy Adams is on that level as well. 
4.  Out of the Furnace (5 out of 10). “When Rodney Baze mysteriously disappears and law enforcement doesn’t follow through fast enough, his older brother, Russell, takes matters into his own hands to find justice.”  Directed by Scott Cooper, this again is just a bummer of a movie.  The first commercial I saw was not even a commercial for a movie, just a list of the actors in it and the prizes that they have been nominated for in the past.  The story, brother of guy who disappears after underground fighting in the mountains of New Jersey seeks vengeance, seems like the story of a B-level action movie.  The actors in this do their best to elevate it, but it’s still a tough watch.  Woody Harrelson is horrific (which means he did a good job), and Bale is great, but the movie is long and slow and sad.

3.  This is 40 (5 out of 10). “Pete and Debbie are both about to turn 40, their kids hate each other, both of their businesses are failing, they’re on the verge of losing their house, and their relationship is threatening to fall apart.”  Goodness, is this what I have to look forward to in 3 years? No, because I'm not the terrible person that the characters in this movie are.  Directed by Judd Apatow, I felt like this was a self-indulgent work by Apatow, and it felt like a series of loose ideas strung together rather than one unified idea.  Also – a bit of a bummer because the two leads are so mean to each other.
2.  Man of Steel (4 out of 10).  “A young itinerant worker is forced to confront his secret extra-stellar origin when Earth is invaded by members of his own race.”  Directed by Zack Synder, this was such a let-down.  Superman, who turned 75 last year, has always been a symbol of hope and justice.  He’s brightly colored and positive.  Synder and Nolan took that and darkened it and brought it down to their gritty urban reinvention.  That works for Batman, because of the nature of Batman, however, that does not work for Superman.  This movie was so depressing, not to mention, he snaps Zod’s neck at the end – so clearly not for children.  Save yourself the frustration, and watch the Dick Donner Superman 1 and 2 again, then binge watch Smallville, especially the episodes with Christopher Reeve.

1.  Lone Ranger (3 out of 10) “Native American warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice.”  Johnny Depp reteamed with his Pirates director Gore Verbinski to bring this passion project to the screen.   He stated that he’s part Native American, so he’s perfect to play Tonto.  Armie Hammer played The Lone Ranger, and this movie was almost 3 hours long and almost every single minute of it was terrible (the last 15 minutes were tolerable).  They couldn’t find the right tone, it had carnivorous jackrabbits (seriously), and the villain ate someone’s heart.  And – they marketed it as a kids movie.  Depp committed 100% to the role, the problem was that the role was essentially Captain Jack Sparrow as a native American, and that was not good.  Hammer wasn’t a bad choice for the Lone Ranger, but the movie itself was so terrible he never had a choice.  The Lone Ranger is an iconic piece of Americana, and he and Tonto deserve a great updated movie, this was just not it.  Even worse, after the huge backlash of negative word of mouth, the director and actors had the nerve to blame the press for the underperformance of the movie.  They stated that the critics had started saying it was bad prior to it coming out, and that was why it failed.  I have news for you guys – the movie sucked, that’s why it failed.

And there you are, 2013 summed up in far more words then necessary.  The Oscars are on Sunday March 2nd – we’ll see who walks away with the big prize!  Good luck to all of you in your office pools, I hope I helped you pick some winners!