31 December 2013

The Mad Prophet's Bottom 10 Films of 2013

I didn't get to see quite as many films in the cinema in 2013, mostly due to time constraints, but at least partly due to doing a much better job of swerving the ones that looked like stinkers. As I run through my annual list of the worst films I saw this year, there might be some films that are absent that you feel are much worse than my choices.

Well, firstly, it's subjective, but mostly, it's unlikely I've seen them. Especially Grown Ups 2- I'm still blissfully ignorant of the whole Grown-Ups saga thus far. On top of that, this is the year where Michael Bay made a movie that was good enough to stay off this list, so that's something.

All positivity aside, this year still had its fair share of bad'uns. If I had to give a couple of dishonourable mentions before we get going, they'd go to 47 Ronin, a lifeless samurai tale that should've been so much better; 21 And Over, a Muppet Babies style rendition of The Hangover; and The Host, une film de Stephanie Meyer, whose clownshoes storytelling was only saved from this list by the might of Saiorse Ronan in the lead role. But there are worse films out there...

Dir. John Luessenhop // 92 mins // USA

Disgracefully, I still haven't seen any of the other Leatherface movies at the time of writing, but perhaps I'd have thought worse of this if I had. It makes the list, albeit quite low/high on it, because it's an indefensibly bad movie that really gave me a lot of entertainment from laughing at how ridiculous it was.

Overlooking the fact that it follows on directly from the 1974 movie and takes place in the present day, making ingénue Alexandra Daddario's character the fittest 40 year old woman I have ever seen, it's a film with an interesting concept that can't wriggle free of cabin-in-the-woods slasher formula, even post-Cabin in the Woods.

The idea of making the tortured townsfolk into the antagonists was done much better in Eli Craig's underrated horror-comedy Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil, but this has its fair share of unintentional hilarity, to hold its own against Craig's film. Best of all, it has an ending with shades of "He's not the serial killer we need, but the serial killer we deserve" for Leatherface- I LOL'd.

Dir. David Twohy // 119 mins // USA/UK

Sadly, "fuckin' Riddick" is not an addition to the TOWIE lexicon, (dead amaze!) but it was arguably this year's most disappointing sequel. After The Chronicles of Riddick failed to set the imagination of the paying viewers alight with its energetic sci-fi pablum, this became Vin Diesel's passion project, made independently of the studio system, and sold back to Universal for distribution, fait accompli.

The result is ostensibly bold, but generally a fairly hollow and uninspired follow-up to Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick. It takes a long time to get to a potentially brilliant second act, because it's re-enacting Life Of Pi with Diesel's narration and a CGI wolf in the first act. By the time it becomes a survival horror, in which Riddick is the monster, you're already tired of it.

By the same token, the third act reverts back to Pitch Black, just as you're starting to enjoy it. Plus, it's altogether more nasty, as opposed to being more grown-up, and there's a streak of rampant misogyny that leads to some of the year's most icky "romantic" moments. While I admire Diesel's passion for the character, you can help but feel that it might be misplaced, three films in to a flat-lining franchise.

Dir. M. Night Shyamalan // 100 mins // USA

I am still disturbed by the way that the field of leg medicine has vanished into obscurity, in the future posited by After Earth. This is principally remembered as a film in which Fresh Prince spawn Jaden Smith was the only human on screen for 90% of the running time, and still managed to be less charismatic than most of the CGI beasties that were trying to kill him.

But thanks to some disingenuous marketing, fewer remember that it was a Shyamalan joint, which immediately goes to explain the humourless tone, the shonky script, and the utterly baffling decision to cast Will Smith as a character with the emotional range of Spock.

On a purely qualitative level, I had to admit that this is probably a better film than he's made since The Village, but I still prefer a howling, hilarious failure like The Happening, to a film which only looks like it has an imagination, and instead takes the dullest route through a sci-fi dystopia, which looks preposterous next to the seriousness of its delivery.

Dir. Tommy Wirkola // 88 mins // USA/Germany

Here's a movie that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay produced, but Wirkola seems to find himself caught between a po-faced fairytale reimagining, and a spoof of that same kind of film. It's neither serious, nor funny, and sticks in the memory only as one of the most misjudged films of the year.

Oh, it does have more instances of women being smacked around and then rescued by men than any other film that I saw this year, but they don't really give out awards for that kind of thing. This has the air of a half-decent TV pilot about it, but even with a relatively short running time, this feels drawn out beyond endurance at feature-length.

To correct a point I made in my original review, Edward the troll was not computer generated, but a very impressive animatronic. That should go in the film's favour, but instead, it further illustrates how it had all of its pieces in the right place, but its execution was violent, clueless and bland.

Dir. Brad Furman // 91 mins // USA

I swear, Gemma Arterton was in some good movies this year too- you should definitely check out both Song For Marion and Byzantium, to see her on her best form. While Hansel & Gretel hardly makes the best use of her talents, this one practically regresses her back to the type of eye candy/damsel character she was stuck with five years ago, and to no real purpose.

While I disliked most of the other films on this list, this is a film that I feel utterly indifferent about- I don't have a positive thing to say about it, except that Ben Affleck probably got to phone in a few hours' practice at playing Bruce Wayne. For one thing, it should finally convince studios that Justin Timberlake is no leading man, and he's much better suited to supporting roles in films like The Social Network and (so I hear) the upcoming Inside Llewyn Davies.

It's a film that felt like it should already be playing in hard rotation on one of Five's digital channel- an overly-slick and forgettable patchwork that probably came out in 2003, and we're somehow only just noticing. If it had the good grace to be interestingly bad, I might have something nicer to say about it.

Dir. Todd Phillips // 100 mins // USA

I don't subscribe to the idea that a sequel can ruin the original film, but The Hangover Part III has forced me to re-assess that. When a sequel makes you go back to what has come before, and wonder why you ever liked it in the first place, then it's a particularly stinky kind of bad.

The disillusion of Part III comes from Phillips leading a misanthropic charge with significantly less jokes than either of the previous instalments. He miscalculates in thinking that we care enough about these characters that we'd follow them through an altogether darker storyline, when even the cast look less engaged with new developments than ever before, with the notable but annoying exception of Ken Jeong.

It doesn't even have the aura of a cash-grab sequel, although I'm sure everyone's pockets were filled by the time all was said and done. Instead, there's an active disdain for the audience who supported the first two films, and the "Fuck you" cynicism about it is both unwelcome and unforgivable.

Dir. Ridley Scott // 117 mins // USA/UK

In the interests of trying to direct my energy more positively in the last month or so, I haven't gotten around to a full review of The Counsellor yet. No matter how celebrated and accomplished he is as an author, Cormac McCarthy's first screenplay is subject to the same problems as any first-time script, and it is, if anything, worse for being directed by Ridley Scott.

The cynical tone of McCarthy's writing, which, in this instance, takes the form of cod-philosophical monologues and oblique criminal plots, doesn't match with Scott's style at all, and the result feels about as three times as pretentious if it had had a co-writer, or a more suitable director. It plays much like a CSI episode in which it turns out that human nature did it, and everyone has to put down their forensic equipment and think about how terrible they are as people.

Despite an incredible cast, that also makes it a very difficult film to be good in, (Brad Pitt comes closest) and the whole thing amounts to a two-hour exercise in Michael Fassbender being told repeatedly that he has fucked up, without coming any closer to any sense of motivation or urgency. I like films that don't spoon-feed the viewer, but having seen and followed this film perfectly well, it feels like the emperor is flopping his dick on the windscreen of Javier Bardem's car.

Dir. Barry Cook & Neil Nightingale // 87 mins // USA

I only reviewed this one yesterday- but fuck, it still hurts. Even my pick for the worst of the year didn't annoy me as consistently as this empty exercise in brand-exploitation. The film seldom, if ever, goes five seconds without a barrage of shit dialogue, including narration by two characters who either talk over each other or reiterate what's going on in the insultingly basic plot.

It's quite a short film, mercifully, but the most telling thing about it is the similarly awful live action framing device, which sees Karl Urban as a palaentologist whose nephew must be reminded of the excitement of studying dinosaurs. The main story is then narrated to the kid, and- spoiler alert- he's interested in dinosaurs again. The irony is that it's tough to imagine this story capturing any young imaginations like the original series did.

Besides which, for as long as Walking With Dinosaurs is still running acclaimed arena spectaculars, which entertain a live audience without straying too far from the original idea of a nature documentary about dinosaurs, why would anyone enjoy its condescending sub-Disney spin-off? The story badly lets down the visuals too, but other than the digital craftwork, this is supremely lazy all around.

Dir. John Moore // 98 mins // USA

In another year, this would have been the worst of the worst, but one festering turd trumped it to the bottom spot. Bruce Willis had a hell of a year in 2012, between Looper and Moonrise Kingdom, but old habits... well, you know. In 2013, he decided to play up the "arrogant, lazy, aging action star" side of things, and megaplex cinema was the poorer for it.

If Willis has half the authority of what goes for John McClane that his directors and co-stars have claimed, then he really doesn't know much about what we like about John McClane. We don't like him tooling around with his less charismatic son, telling people "he's on vacation", or, actually, going to Russia at all- especially when he winds up in that suddenly vogue-ish movie location, Chernobyl.

The thing is, Willis can only really say what doesn't work for the character, and if this is what he thought was the best of the material he was given by serial shit-writer Skip Woods, the blame can't solely be laid on him. The imminent prospect of Die Hardest ("What if Die Hard went to Tokyo?" "I don't think the character is called 'Die Hard'.") brings a disappointed chill to my bones. Part five was bad enough, thank you. Still, it had an amazing trailer.

1. MOVIE 43
Dir. Peter Farrelly et al // 90 mins // USA

As a matter of tradition, my selection for the absolute worst film of each year is so much worse than anything on the list. This year's ringer is a film whose principal director gleefully talks about how he essentially guilted and blackmailed its stellar cast into taking part in this vulgar, laugh-free series of skits.

I'm not an expert on sketch comedy, but I do like writing, performing and watching it, and in my experience, and the evidence provided by Movie 43, these working conditions weren't the best to bring out people's comic talents. That's OK though, because nobody ever aims higher than the lowest common denominator, never firing off a funny line or escalating the humour, when a tasteless reference or sight gag will do.

Sometimes there's a danger of movies that are released early in the year being forgotten when awards season rolls around, but here's a January release that fully deserves to be forgotten. This is a fucking calamity of cinematic comedy- go watch some Funny Or Die videos instead, and please, forget I even mentioned it.
There we are then- the grouching is done for another year. On one last negative note, I can tell you that the films I'm least looking forward to next year are I, Frankenstein, Transformers: Age of Extinction and The Amazing Spider-Man 2- I don't think they'll all make my bottom 10 of next year, but hey, with my expectations so low, they can only surprise me with goodness, right? Right?!

But to finish with, I wish everyone who reads the blog a Happy New Year, and promise I'll run through my favourites of 2013 in the next couple of days.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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