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Video-games are an experience that’s precious to many of us, but they’re not the only entertainment that brings a sense of magic to ‘em. Though an avid gamer for most of my life, I can recall being a film fanatic for nearly as long. The 2013 movie season has been abuzz with films as much for theater-goers as it has for me and it’s only right that I pay tribute to them somewhere for anyone who’ll read, and I thought Game Informer no better a place to find a few movie buffs who can appreciate my musings. Movies have been as prestigious of a retreat for me for just as long as video-games have, and it’s unfortunate that I often don’t have the time/money to see enough of them. For that reason, a majority of my films are older ones delivered from my friend Netflix or Walmart DVD sales, but I always love squeezing in a few of the latest hot blockbusters. You’ll find both in this list and I hope you can find them just a little interesting.
As many movies as I’ve seen already this year, it would be an exhausting, even premature feat, to number them all now. With Thor: The Dark World, Catching Fire, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smog, I’m far from done with this year just yet. Therefore, none of the films listed here will be numbered on in any way ranked and probably won’t be until closer to year’s end. For now, I’ll do the list the justice of being named Phase 1 of my 2013 picks, (so aptly inspired by Marvel’s pre-Avengers movie lineup) until I’ve full exhausted my viewing pleasure for the year. Check back around December and you’ll no doubt find my official top ten and honorable mentions in their completed form.
It's not too long ago that many people on the site have been asking how The Wolverine was, and click to page 2 to see it along with the summer's other big superhero flicks. Otherwise, enjoy reading my own home selections from earlier this year. See you at the movies!
Note: As I try to do with all of my game reviews and otherwise game-related blogs, there are no spoilers included in the various films I review below.
Star Trek: Nemesis
While I owe much of my passion for film to George Lucas's Star Wars saga, Star Trek, especially The Next Generation, has been a series just as close to my heart. It was shameful then that I had missed Captain Picard and crew's last voyage in 2002‘s Star Trek: Nemesis. Popping it into the Netflix que early this year, I can say that I was both glad and sad I did. At its start, Nemesis begins like that of a Star Wars film. The Romulan Senate is hit by a terrorist attack, killing its heads of state and leaving the Tom Hardy’s creepy, enigmatic Praetor Shinzon, to seize power and wage an impending war against the Federation. The crew of the Enterprise inevitably step in and the typical political intrigue and sci-fi tropes ensue. I initially enjoyed Nemesis’s promises of a more character-driven, action story even if short on Trek-style exploration, but after the first half-hour the film seemed to lose its way in what it wanted to do with its cast. Full of shallow characterization and randomized twists, Nemesis stumbles over itself trying to tell its story and generally fails to develop its star people. Shinzon progressively lost my interest as he crossed into the territory of the most stereotypical, mustache-twirling villain. His complexities fall short of feeling deep, particularly his lackluster secret origin, with his “dark mirror of Picard” only proving how being the opposite of Patrick Stewart awesome is something uncool to be. Data’s separate story-arc with his android brother of B4 was the closest to feeling personal, even if rehashing the old territory of “Do robots have souls?” we’ve all heard before. It’s unfortunate that B4 was only as poor comparably to Data as Shinzon was to Picard, for what potential it had and the same can be said for Data’s final scenes. The near saving grace of the film is that it’s pretty to watch even for 2002 CGi and the spectacular ship battle and ensuing crash at its end is worth seeing. Still, such effects are short from winning me over entirely and I would say I was generally disappointed in the Enterprise E’s last outing, even for all the potential it had and ‘tis a shame that TNG’s chances at another try.
1998's Les Miserables
Many of you may immediately think of Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe's singing tirades of 2012 when recalling adaptations of Victor Hugo's 19th century French classic, but make no mistake: I'm reviewing one of its lesser known films, namely Liam Neeson's 1998 version of the same name. In a stark, even refreshing contrast to Les Miserables’ musical adaptations, Neeson’s Jean Val Jean is exposed to no singing or broadway showboating at all but nevertheless carries a great emotional weight to it that does the story’s sobering plot justice. In an abridged version to the original tale, Jean is a petty thief on the run after having violated parole and being imprisoned for 19 terrible yrs. for stealing a mere loaf of bread to survive on. Pirates of the Caribbean’s Geoffrey Rush then plays the psychotically obsessive inspector Javier intent on catching him. From there the film chronicles the two’s life struggles over the years as Jean evolves from a selfish, broken man into a noble surrogate father to the daughter of a woman he took upon himself to protect. Both Neeson and Rush’s performances are spectacular as they clearly show you how each has transformed themselves into opposites of what they had been at the start and, as in the 19th century novel, presents its own subtle ways of using its included events of the French July Revolution to further ask its audience how far the law trumps moral codes in all of us. Is it slow at parts? Yes, it can still seem to drag with the occasionally long monologues, but as long as they’re said by either Liam Neeson or Geoffrey Rush, you’ll find yourself engaged in them. I’ll probably never be interested in 2012’s musical short of rewatching Anne Hathaway’s stellar performance on YouTube. For me, 1998’s Les Miserables is my Les Miserables and a high point for my viewings this year.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
After seeing Forest Gump this year, it was both ironic and appropriate that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button soon followed, as much as it can be touted as the great character journey of the 2000s. Unlike Forest Gump, it was a bitter-sweet mixture of elation and frustration that’s made it one of the hardest movies for me to discuss. On one hand, Benjamin Button is probably the most beautifully made film of the last decade to watch as a piece of art. The period-pieces, historical wardrobes, and combo of makeup and CG effects capture Benjamin’s aging flawlessly. In the other, you have miscast characters and poor pacing that put a wrench in the movie’s otherwise terrific plot. Like Tom Hanks’ film, Benjamin Button does an admirable job at setting up an epic story covering a man’s life from one end to the other. The peculiar, or should I say, “curious” element of aging backwards is treated as brilliantly of a device for alienating Brad Pitt’s Benjamin Button from a normal life as it did for F. Scott Fitz Gerald’s original story. Throughout Benjamin’s life you get to see and feel his pain of living a life he can’t share with people he’ll always be doomed to be younger or older than and wonderfully feel the personal demons of circumstance he deals with. It’s most unfortunate that Cate Blanchet’s striking lass of Daisy outshines Brad Pitt’s decidedly dull performance and it’s that gap of quality that, for me, made them a terribly awkward couple. While the film further opened and ended on a deeply captivating note, the middle dragged considerably was they stayed far too long on Benjamin’s middle-aged years without the continual evolution that made him interesting. It’s then difficult to weigh such pluses and minuses for what’s still a fundamentally intriguing film. I’d no doubt have to put Benjamin Button somewhere in the middle thanks to a few missteps, but regretfully so for all it still accomplishes and still could have if it only went farther.
I Am Legend
The Last of Us this year has invigorated the post-apocalyptic genre for many gamers this year and it’s hard not to take at least a few notes from Will Smith’s fascinating version of it. Unlike its contemporaries in the genre, the initial set-up of I Am Legend isn’t a bullet-ridden story of zombie-slaying or government conspiracy theories, but rather the greater terror of being left alone in an empty world of. . . nothing. It’s that unique element that makes I Am Legend a startling contrast and an addictive sight to see. Opening with the foreboding image of a silent, wasteland of New York City, Will Smith’s Robert Neville’s life is introduced as a lonely existence with no one but his faithful dog as a friend, surviving day to day hunting for food in the middle of Brooklyn against wild animals and the city’s few mutated, savage humans. The clever use of flashbacks further fill in the gaps about the origins of the apocalypse and Nevill’s own role in it and are thrilling to piece together the truth once all presented to the viewer. From moment to moment, the film is riddled with the half-sobering humor of being able to have a whole city to play with yet no one to talk to about it, making I am Legend a film with “What If?” questions that are interesting to digest. It’s only complemented with equally intense scares by the mutants akin to the Last of Us that give the movie a great mixture of sci-fi thriller/mild survival horror. It’s too bad that the Neville’s ultimate end in the film is quite disenfranchising compared to the movie’s start. Oddly, the more Neville battled mutants the more it seemed like the movie got progressively less engaging than its quite moments of isolation. Both the original or director’s cut failed to satisfy my desire to see Neville meet a worthwhile end, even if it was indeed an inevitable one, but I can’t help feeling that something more definitively hopeful would’ve been written in even if it would’ve been cheesy. I liked I Am Legend for a long, long time and I may still give it a high score at the end of the year, even in spite of its latter half.
I wasn’t one of the many people to be tortured with the frequency of Celine Dione’s classic theme music, but one way or the other, I couldn’t hope to be an eventual film buff without having seen Titanic at least once. An enjoyable film from start to finish even if worthy of some legitimate criticism. Titanic easily sets itself up as the holy grail of love stories and in spite of its over-determination to be so, it ultimately worked in ways I didn’t quite think it would. Ordinarily I think little of either Leonardo DiCaprio or Kate Winslet, the two worked well enough to satisfy the goals of the touching story director James Cameron put forth in the film. DiCaprio’s Jack Dawson is the classic pauper to the high society princess that Winslet’s Rose DeBukater is modeled as and the plot very much follows those tropes: Boy meets girl, girl is amused by but can’t really allow herself to be interested in boy, has evil fiancee she’s forced to marry, girl rethinks life plans, boy and girl end up together, but not quite. I still may have an agenda to set by admitting my underwhelmed appreciation of either actors’ somewhat stilted acting, but their moments are written well-enough where I forgot about it in favor of their genuinely emotional moments. Their voyage together on the Titanic, as any of you most basic history buffs should know, is doomed and their story does not exactly end happily. Nevertheless, its utter tragedy is the saving grace of the film and sincerely made me cry. Even this many years afterwards, Cameron’s still stunning ship effects look great and film’s last, heartbreaking scenes with the ship’s other passengers instills the tragedy at the heart of the romance. The present-day segment at the end is priceless and what I’ll remember from my experience rather than Jack’s infamous “I’m the King of the World!” d!ck line. A part of me could write off Titanic as a copycat romance of so many other films, but Titanic’s special moments overrides that urge to admit it as an experience worth taking.
It’s hard not to overemphasize how much Forest Gump touches a special place in your heart. Oscar award winning and a still frequently talked about icon of the film industry’s, Tom Hanks and director Robert Zemeckis’ 1990s masterpiece has a lot of hyperbole behind it, and rightly so by my count. To describe it to a movie-watcher, or even pitch it to a movie studio back in the day, Forest Gump’s soul is a difficult sell. In truth, it’s a film about basically nothing but a person’s life. We see Tom Hanks’ character of the film’s namesake traverse the course of both is own personal journey across some of the most historic events of the 1950s and 60s not to learn about himself at all, maybe just to observe the struggles of others. While maybe a weakness, that fresh and unique grab is what makes for the film’s greatest strength. The plot flows naturally thanks to an amazing cast along with its great storytelling. Tom Hanks performs with every bit of the Oscar-winning emotion you expect of him, with a keen eye capturing Forest Gump’s mental handicaps. Supporting cast members like Sally Field, Robin Wright, and Gary Sinise only complement such great acting with their own respective roles that further help bring Forest to life. Though brilliantly plopping Forest into the middle of such big, bold events from the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, Watergate, and the like, Forest Gump is a film about quiet moments. Its emotional value resonates in the tenderest of scenes it beautifully captures just between a casual conversation with a subtle, sweet natured way that wins your heart. I’d like to believe that nothing in cinema’s ever truly perfect, but when I think of Forest Gump, I still can’t recall anything it did wrong in what it sought to achieve. If that year of 1994 netted me The Shawshank Redemption, then Forests Gump is probably the best thing I will see this year.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Monty Python’s easily one of the most culturally recognizable comedy acts of the late twentieth century that I had never up ‘til now seen in action, but that all changed with their famed debut into irreverent Arthurian legend. I can say that half of their jokes were nearly ruined for me thanks to my Python officianado parents’ constant references to them throughout my childhood years, but the ones that did surprise me did in quite the hilarious manner. Knights galloping to the sounds of coconuts, vastly random dance numbers, and sarcastic Frenchmen can’t begin to describe the tip of the film’s iceberg of comedy to a non-viewer, but rest assured that the decades can only take so much of the movie’s timeless appeal away from it. Whatever you can think of that’s off-the-wall and totally disregards all history and traditional film-making is what’s probably done in Holy Grail and all for the better as wacky and amusing as Monty Python can be. True, it doesn’t have nearly the same re-watch value after you’ve heard the jokes, but you’ll most likely repeat them to yourself long afterwards. Friendly warning: Don’t drink any liquids during this, you’ll probably be spewing it laughing all too often.
There are classics, there are complete duds, and then there are movies like Independence Day. While I could easily write it off as yet another example of Roland Emmerich and Hollywood's addiction for explosions, gunfire, and macho swagger (and I still just might), I stuck through all 2 and a half hours of it for a reason. On one hand, there's at least half of Independence Day that I'd write off as utter annoyances. All the while there's something about this film that strangely engaged me, whether through its hilariously bad dialogue to its ludicrous characterization. Like many Roland Emmerich films, the heart of the film is dedicated to overblown, crazy big special effects coated over with a slim commitment to a few outlandish characters who participate while not feeling necessary. Aliens attack in their most traditional fashion of launching saucer-shaped UFOs all over the earth (but namely America as always) and proceed to blow the crap out of us humans for reasons only known to hostile aliens. Jeff Goldblum is your classic geek with all the answers and none of the charisma. Will Smith is the hip and happen’in fresh prince of, uhh, the Air Force, and an alien-punch’in bad-ass to boot. The two make for the oddest yet amusing pair and they most certainly represent the irreverent tone of the rest of the film. Bill Pullman’s non-chalant most cheesily quotable speech to the bombardment of special effects everywhere, Independence Day makes no mistake in trying to create a serious undertone, and maybe that’s forgivable given how comedically fun the movie can be. That is, when it’s not boring you with pointless character development in comparison to the explosions and wisecracks it's obviously is better at. In the end, I can’t defend Independence Day as a good film, but it is a good time for patriotism and a grand ‘ole dose of alien squashing. (^ Above: Eat your heart out Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx.)
Harrison Ford’s been a staple of my childhood ever since George Lucas’ series introduced me to him, but it was about time I explored more of his library of films outside of rolling boulders and lightsabers. My first step in that endeavor has been The Fugitive, a film I can say is simply good from start to finish. Exactly the movie its title advertises it to be, Harrison Ford’s Dr. Richard Kimble is the classic man on the run for the crime he didn’t commit and carries with him all of Ford’s typical every man charm. He’s smart, clever, and quick witted when it comes to a fight or a banter contest with Tommy Lee Jones’ U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard. All business and a perfect strategist, Gerard is a perfect foil to Kimble and the cat-and-mouse game played between them is the device that the movie sets itself around to entertain. The Fugitive doesn’t bat an eye about shoe-horning in satisfying chase sequences and a cool train-crashes, but that’s not to deny it’s talent at delivering a nice plot twist regarding the real culprit at the heart of Kimble’s alleged crime. The Fugitive’s an action-packed, character-driven thriller that certainly pleases, but it’s undeniably simpler than most perhaps due in part to its devotion to entertaining with the simple joy of cops and robbers. If you utterly enjoy watching Harrison Ford play anybody for two hours of a good ‘ole Chicago manhunt, you’re still in for a treat.
In many ways, The Avengers seemed like Iron Man 2.5 with how much Tony Stark we got throughout the film, so as I thought earlier this summer, was Iron Man 3 a waste of time? Thankfully it wasn’t and despite its divisive twists and turns, it’s arguably the best Iron Man film to date. In light of the Avengers, Tony’s devolved into a moody, paranoid version of himself from the carefree playboy inventor we last saw him since his near death experience with Loki's alien army. He’s as much a victim of his hubris as we’ve seen him and all the while he’s more committed to his suits than the people he cares about. It’s an interesting position to put Tony in and its refreshingly sobering element pays off in balancing the film’s still present humor. The typical amount of Stark wisecracks abound while feeling less blatant than less entries and this time more people seem to share in it. Rhodey and Pepper’s roles, even if still bitterly small, are nevertheless granted better screen-time than they have before and getting their hands on Ironman tech are probably some of their neatest moments thus far. Down to Tony’s Disney-esque sort-of kid sidekick, Ironman 3 does an admirable job of making even the most naturally campy scenes feel entertaining, mostly thanks to Robert Downey Jr.’s always awesome skill at improving a situation. The film’s true test comes down to the villain that it bets all its money on: The Mandarin. It’s one of the most divisive issues at the heart of this otherwise good flick and though I understand those who cannot forgive its (*ahem*) “non-canon” twist, I found it to amusing and appropriate for the world the film was setting. That said, Guy Pierce’s side-villain of Aldrich Killian indeed feels stale and short of a winning personality, and it’s sad that his greater, fire-breathing presence towards the film’s end doesn’t improve it. (Yes, I said that right.) Ironman 3 hits enough right notes to be a fun ride and if you’re watching the calendar ready for Avengers 2 to come out, Tony won’t let you down with this appetizer.
I'm not what you could call an expert on the spy genre, but what I saw of last year's latest Bond outing impressed me on a level I never expected. Though already established in the series with his two preceding movies, Daniel Craig’s Bond never made me raise an eyebrow until now. Like that of Batman, Ironman, and Wolverine, Craig’s Bond is a man seeking to rebuild himself from the comfort zone he’s wasted away in. He’s older, he’s slower, and in dire need of reinvention in the face of more terrifying enemies than before and he get just that with a grander bout of action and intrigue than I imagined myself enjoying. The movie opens with as big of a bang as you could want out of a spy film. The motorcycle chase through Istanbul and an ensuing train fight straight out of Uncharted 2 makes for a spectacular introduction to Bond’s soon departure from MI6’s services, seemingly forever. It’s Javier Bardem’s creepy, fascinating menace that brings him back into action and in quite the brilliant way. Many bullets, subway crashes, and fisticuffs of awesome later showed how much older Hollywood actors, namely Daniel Craig, should not be underestimated. For all the terrific action sequences of director Sam Mendes’s, it was the quieter, more subtle moments of Skyfall that impressed me. I at last got to care about a Bond movie’s supporting cast for a change, liking the fresh, contemporary takes on Miss Moneypenny and Q, with Judy Dench’s M as a commanding leader. Most of all I liked getting so see a different side of 007. He kicks butt as hard as men half his age but manages to keep a more telling sense of vulnerability to him than spies often show and Skyfall takes him into ponderings that reflect where our societies of secrecy and extra-judiciary ethics can lead. I won’t say that I was entirely in love with a few typical spy cliches of the random love scenes and a bit too stony-faced moments from Bond, but Skyfall has convinced me that Bond movies of this formula are more than worth seeing.
From Inception to Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s arguably the most trustworthy director for telling the mystery and psychological thrillers I’ve grown to love, and The Prestige is generally no exception to that high bar. Alongside its all enveloping story of revenge, lies, and the seeming supernatural, it pits two of my favorite superhero actors to tell it, namely Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. Both play their respective turn-of-the-century magicians to a T and it’s all for the better as much as their lives carry the film. A classic twice told tale, the movie does a remarkable job at setting up both the two’s obsessive rivalry of becoming the best at what they do. Bale’s Alfred Borden and Jackman’s Robert Angier equally draw your sympathies and it’s a dangerous yet enthralling game of chess they play to outmaneuver the other, even at the often tragic cost of their families’ devotion. The Prestige goes the extra mile to throw in the real-world theories of Nikola Tesla as a platform for exploring the pair’s race to discover Borden’s secret to “real magic” and it’s those ideas that brings an addictive complexity to the film, perhaps to a fault. The movie continued at such a brilliant pace for so long I never wanted it to end, yet when it did, I fear that it nearly lost me. The final revelation of Borden’s is, in short, a startling and utterly strange one I neither saw coming or even truly understood. Maybe the film demands multiple viewings to key myself in on the clues I’m sure The Prestige laid out for me without knowing it. Regardless, I still have great respect for story and characters that Nolan set up and after a 2nd viewing sometime, who knows? Maybe there’s another curtain of magic I never knew was there.
The Man of Steel
If you don’t count Superman’s inglorious return in 2006 (I sure don’t), then the world’s still been waiting for a fitting Superman epic for over 20 years; that is, until Christopher Nolan and Zak Snyder finally took charge with Man of Steel. The result? It’s a complicated one and maybe not for the reasons you may expect. We may have already seen it done a million times, but I nevertheless desired to his origin done right on the big screen. In truth, Man of Steel tells Clark Kent’s story the same as always. It’s not a spoiler to say that the film goes through the motions in telling us the age-old tale of Clark Kent: his Kansas crash-landing, his hayseed childhood, and getting ripped biceps to save the heck out of the world. What’s more interesting this time's the brief, yet explosive snapshot of Krypton. For what little time we’re allowed to see it, Krypton’s beautifully rendered with a fully realized society not apparent in other series and some action that at last captures it’s eventual fall. Russell Crowe’s Jor-El plays a wise, sagely father figure who provides Clark the knowledge as much as Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent instills compassion. Both impressed me and it’s a shame that neither had the screen-time they deserved. It’s only further disappointing that those with face-time genuinely didn't work for me. Despite his attempts, Henry Cavill's persona came off as exciting as a log to me and while I thought marginally more of Amy Adams’ sassy Lois Lane, neither maintain any chemistry onscreen. Michael Shannon’s Zod only fell flatter, representing all the shallow complexities I saw in Bane while reflecting the almost comically bad evil that too many comic-book movie villains are demonstrating. One can still praise the action set-pieces of Man of Steel, but like some said of Lone Ranger, Zak Snyder may clearly not know when to stop them. The final battle, as entertaining as it was on paper, reminded me more of Transformers’ exhausting action montages than of a superhero movie and distracted my attention away from the characters. While l the Dark Knight Rises may have had hiccups, Man of Steel bulks those same problems up on steroids. It’s most unfortunate as much potential as our boy in blue could’ve had for this generation.
After X-Men Origins Wolverine’s slap in the face to my favorite X-man’s legacy, I was afraid that good ‘ole Logan was about to hang up the claws for good as far as solo films were concerned. That fear was erased after this year’s The Wolverine. Caught up in the kind of mid-life crisis of most superheroes by this time in his series, Mr. 6 claws is broken, alone, and very, very angry following Jean Grey’s death in X-Men: The Last Stand and hides up in the Canadian hills (as usual) with a vow to never kill again. Knowing Marvel, that’s quickly broken thanks to his ensuing journey to a long-forgotten place in his past. He’s invited back to the same Japanese shores he fought at in World War II by an old friend with the promise of being granted a chance at death to end his suffering. The tug-of-war between choosing life or death is what fuels The Wolverine as the most engaging story Logan’s been put through in a while and all for the better thanks to its look inside what makes Wolverine strive to live. The movie begins with all the grit and darkness it carries from end to end, starting with its flashback to Logan’s WWII memories to his spectacular fight aboard a Tokyo bullet-train. In spite of the amount of PG-13 impalement Logan can take in one sitting, his story isn’t without great characterization. For the first time in a long time, Logan feels vulnerable without his powers partway through the story and Hugh Jackman once again proves that he’s the best at what he does when its Wolverine you’re talk’in about. It’s equally impressive that the film champions feminine heroes like The Wolverine’s cool ninja-girl warrior Yukio and the tender romance that Mariko brings to Logan’s life once more. Pair that up with well choreographed fight scenes and you have a greatly satisfying Wolverine film that never feels as long as it is. The film’s admittedly not without a few flaws, namely a very poorly acted villainess and a disconcerting change in tone from the international action-thriller it is to the rest of the movie’s more sci-fi brand. Still, The Wolverine’s cast always seemed to carry on the story in spite of such oddities and however you feel by the film’s end, the post-credits scene will more than make up for it. Guaranteed. The Wolverine, in my mind, is the Wolverine film that Marvel could’ve hoped to pull-off and arguably my superhero pick of the summer. Maybe Wolverine’s last day ain’t here just yet.
Up Next: My Phase 2 films and more. . .
Seen any of these films yourself, or interested in them now? Or have a film from this year just have to give a shout out to? I’m all ears to your comments below and stay tuned. My 2013 film viewings are far from over, and I’ll see you next time for phase 2. I’m far from resting my eyes from the silver screen just yet. . .
P.S.: I will be seeing Pacific Rim tonight, (yes I know I'm late) so stay tuned for my review. . .