As a longtime movie-buff and blogger, here's my latest installment of film reviews.
Please understand that I'm not endorsing
all of these movies. I'm not even giving a blanket endorsement of
movie-watching in general. But I watch movies with a view toward
history, culture, and spiritual worldview, so perhaps I can steer you toward
(or away) from certain films based on that point of view.
Part 2 of my 2013 list represents most of the films I watched from July through December, 2013. Part 1 is here. My ranking system and special GOC warning is as follows:
5 stars - A great movie everyone should see.
4 stars - A great movie with some qualifications.
3 stars - An okay movie that will appeal to some audiences.
2 stars - Not very good to most audiences but with some redeeming qualities.
1 star - Not a movie worth seeing.
GOC - Warning: Gratuitous Objectionable Content -- Please fast forward or, better yet, watch an edited version of the film. Used especially in reference to nudity or abusive use of vulgar content. Because I sometimes deliberately watch films edited for content, there may be GOC I don't know about.
• Lincoln (2012) - Perhaps one of the best, and most touching, political movies ever. If you have any interest in Lincoln, the Civil War, or the history of civil rights this movie is essential viewing. Extra kudos goes to the award-winning acting, the picture-perfect casting, and the best thrashing of nasty Democrats by heroic Republicans in movie history.
• The Lives of Others (2006) - Serious and shocking, this is a sobering story of the East German secret police spying on its citizens. It almost seems unreal except that the main actor, Ulrich Mühe, was famously the subject of this kind of oppression in the 80's. The film strongly evokes fear that this sort of government abuse could happen again. Warning for some strong GOC.
• Rosso Fango (Red Mud) (2002) - A fantastic short film based on a true story about an encounter in the trenches of World War 1. Very well done.
• The Debt (2011) - A sharp, tight story about spies, revenge, and telling lies behind the Iron Curtain. I was pleasantly surprised by how good this Nazi-hunting spy story was.
• The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) - The only negative a Tolkien fan can toss at this installment of the Hobbit saga is that it’s long and its narrative is the middle part of a much larger story. Every other detail is perfect in a way that only Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth can be perfect. You want to freeze-frame every character and every location, and savor every note because this is the finest possible translation of a fictional world to film (and I thought the Harry Potter films were superbly done).
• Les Misérables (2012) - If the 1934 French version is the definitive filmed version of the story, this 2012 musical-to-silver-screen version is the sentimental favorite. I thought it was extremely touching and that a lot of the criticism it received was unwarranted. My only qualm is that I'm not personally a fan of operatic singing of dialogue.
• Rocky II (1979) - I actually like the second installment better than the first, even if it is more of the same. It so effectively pulls you into rooting for Rocky that you completely overlook how this film falls back on a far more conventional underdog sports story.
• The Life of Pi (2012) - This is a beautiful film of a boy and tiger trapped together on a lifeboat and it's very well done. Philosophically, I can't get on board with the Hindu define-your-own-truth theme that runs from beginning to end. The story itself, however, is mesmerizing.
• Much Ado About Nothing (2012) - This is Joss Whedon’s special project filled with cast members of his previous television shows. It’s still Shakespeare, which can be difficult to track with for many viewers, but it’s an amusing black comedy performed by several really fun actors.
• Rocky (1976) - Watching this classic again, I'm struck by the quality of acting and writing by Sylvester Stallone. Stallone is not a dumb guy but the simpleness and awkwardness of the character he plays is almost Forrest Gump-like. You have to be really smart to play dumb and awkward that convincingly.
• The Taming of the Shrew (1967) - This is my favorite version of my favorite Shakespearean comedy. Romance by way of gas-lighting. It's silly but it's so clever.
• World War Z (2013) - Surprisingly, this is one of the better zombie movies. This movie is very well put together with lots of unique takes on an otherwise well-worn genre. As a horror movie, it’s filled with GOC in the form of violence and zombie makeup, but the film was surprisingly discreet with gore and had almost no vulgar language. Kudos on both points.
• King Kong (1933) - A classic about beauty taming the beast (or the beast's covetousness?) that just doesn't hold up well after 80 years. The film isn't bad but the effects are primitive and the acting is so cliche that it's distracting. I actually respect the 2005 Peter Jackson version more after watching this again.
• Monsters University (2013) - This conceit here is that Monsters University masquerades as a conventional, paint-by-the-numbers college-underdog film for the first three-quarters of the movie. For anyone willing to give it a chance, the story redeems itself in a really clever and unconventional way.
• Oblivion (2013) - This is good example of a film which was almost entirely spoiled by its trailers. Not that the film doesn’t transparently foreshadow every twist but still the first viewing felt more like a second viewing after having seen almost every pivotal moment in the previews. The film gets high marks for being visually interesting and well done but low marks for a small amount of GOC.
• Zero Dark Thirty (2012) - I was hugely disappointed in this movie. I expected it to be one of my top films of the year, but instead it was incredibly long and slow and even in the final raid, lacked urgency or suspense of any kind. It’s not bad at all, I just expected so much more. It also alienated me with a self-aware overuse of the F-word. Bleh! GOC
• The Bourne Legacy (2012) - This spy-on-the-run flick was much better than I had heard. Sure, Matt Damon was missing, but the film stood on its own just fine in regard to action and pacing.
• Dark Shadows (2012) - Another Tim Burton dark comedy but this time it stars Johnny Depp… You’re familiar with the story, a witch loves a vampire who loves a ghost, set in the 1970's… that old trope. It's kind of good but proudly bizarre and very much an acquired taste. Probably a little too much for me.
• Iron Man 3 (2013) - More of the same from Marvel. I think this third film is supposed to be more poignant and soul searching than the first two… but seriously, it’s a comic book movie. IM3 may have been a little less objectionable than the first two films, as anti-hero Tony Stark is learning to be slightly less of a self-centered philandering jerk.
• Pacific Rim (2013) - Aside form the steady stream of mild to moderate expletives, this movie has giant robots battling giant monsters. Twelve-year-old boys everywhere just had their minds blown. Mild GOC.
• The Shining (1980) - For some reason this film is revered as one of the all-time great horror movies, based on a Stephen King novel of an isolated family at an empty haunted hotel. It certainly has the power to make your skin crawl a few times but it didn't strike me as a particularly great movie. Famously, Stephen King himself hated the adaptation and panned it as beautiful but empty, "a cadillac with no engine." GOC
• Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) - Good grief, this movie is surely designed to make classic Trek fans go apoplectic. It's not bad, perhaps a bit long, but the film compulsively regurgitates old bits of Trek lore. A steady stream of re-imagined characters, plots, scenes, lines, props, and jokes are thrown at you, probably to the confusion of new fans and the consternation of old fans. It's long past time for Star Trek to go where no Trek has gone before.
• Prometheus (2012) - For all the spectacular special effects, this story simply could not connect with me. It just didn't seem as profound as it tried to make itself out to be. It's especially rough watching a religious character conceived and written by non-religious folks who only have a vague concept of faith. Also, please don't cast a young, strong actor to play a 103-year-old man; it was the worst visual effect in the whole movie, or any movie, in a long time.
• 5 Days of War (2010) - I had this Russian-Georgian war movie recorded for a year and then it took several nights to watch it all the way through. Ugh. Mediocre acting and writing doom this low budget story, which otherwise might have had a chance to be good.
• Apollo 18 (2011) - Another unexplainable (and unfindable) "found footage" mess about moon landing conspiracies. The premise isn't awful, the execution is flawed. If the story isn't clear enough to use the "found footage" conceit, just don't do it. Pathetic.
• Elysium (2013) - Ugh, what a disappointment! For all the nuance that District 9 had, this sci-fi mess is a clumsy, two-dimensional, and simplistic metaphor for class warfare and the evils of capitalism… with bad acting. First off, all the rich people, an entire society of them, are wall-to-wall sociopaths, with not one scrap of sympathy or goodness in them. Motivation? None, they’re just evil. Second, they selfishly hoard a magical technology that heals every illness instantly. Why not share it? No reason, it’s readily available and free to use; they’re just heartless jerks. There are so many logical holes in this premise it’s hard to know what to make of it. Meanwhile, the cast is serving up a steady stream of f-words in lieu of decent dialog or actual acting. No thanks. Significant GOC.