Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 in Reviews: The Worst

It's that time of year again, folks, the time when we look back on the year and ask ourselves, "Why were there so many shitty movies this year? And why did I see so many of them?"In keeping with the spirit of the season, I present my list of the ten worst films of 2013.

10) STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS. I really enjoyed J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot in 2009. It had a fast-paced, fast-talking energy that I appreciated, and (lens flares aside) presented some of the best visuals of that year. Unfortunately, Into Darkness suffers from the law of diminishing returns. I liked it well enough while I was watching it, but the more I thought about it, the less it made any sense. Here is a movie that opens with Kirk explicitly and cavalierly violating the Prime Directive for no discernible reason, followed only minutes later by a scene that's supposed to be intensely emotional because of Kirk's responsibility not to -- you guessed it -- violate the Prime Directive. The movie only really works because of the strength of the performances: Simon Pegg is delightful as Mr. Scott, and Benedict Cumberbatch's Khan is a menacing blend of intelligence, calm, and brutality. Unfortunately, the story is lackluster and full of plot holes as big as the Enterprise herself. **1/2 out of ****

9) Iron Man 3. A close runner-up in the "plot holes the size of Manhattan" category, Iron Man 3 disappointed me on a variety of levels. I actually wasn't upset about the film's tinkering with the Mandarin backstory; Ben Kingsley's half-menacing, half-drunken idiot performance was the highlight of the movie for me. But I was unable to suspend disbelief about the film's central big-bad premise, and this sense of absurdity only escalated as the film went on. The film was very flashy, but ultimately as empty as Tony Stark's one million Iron Man suits. ** out of ****

8) Oblivion. The title says it all: only a few months after I saw this movie and I remembered so little about it that I had to refer to imdb to jog my memory. Alien invasions, Tom Cruise, clones...yawn. The film has some beautiful visuals, but the story is a ludicrous mishmash of elements and never has much of an impact. ** out of ****

7) Elysium. I love Matt Damon, but I hated basically everything about this movie. The plot simply doesn't make sense, the characters are thinly sketched and act with no discernibly human motivation, and what is meant to be a huge emotional payoff at the end comes across as a hollow triumph. I enjoyed director Neill Blomkamp's District 9, but this failed to live up to that movie's promise. ** out of ****

6) Olympus Has Fallen. This is one of two DC-takeover films this year, and although this one boasts the better pedigree, with director Antoine Fuqua (of Training Day) behind the wheel, it just wasn't much fun. I don't hold disaster movies to the same standard as I expect from Quality Entertainment, but it's unforgivable for a disaster flick to be dull. The action clips along, but the plot is ludicrous and the performances surprisingly dour. The movie simmers with anger and a surprising amount of violence, but it fails to deliver any real thrills. ** out of ****

5) Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. I have a very high tolerance for the filmic absurd. I unironically enjoyed Shark Night and will watch Prince of Persia whenever it's on TNT. Nevertheless, despite its promise of goofy fantasy schlock, Hansel and Gretel felt overlong at 88 minutes. There are a few laughs -- Hansel is diabetic thanks to his childhood candy ordeal -- but the story in general takes itself too seriously, and the gory violence feels over the top. ** out of ****

4) The Host. I watched this on a transatlantic flight, and even as a captive audience I had a hard time finishing the film. The story is paper-thin, the acting melodramatic and often unintentionally hilarious. Given that Stephenie Meyer of Twilight fame is the genius behind this mess, it shouldn't surprise that it's a bloated, ponderous "love story," hyperactively handwringing over The Big Questions in Life while failing to deliver any emotional validity or genuine feeling. * out of ****

3) Safe Haven. This was another captive-audience choice, as it was the only movie played (TWICE) on a recent flight from London. I have never enjoyed Nicholas Sparks' brand of sentimental schmaltz, and this film delivers as expected. Whether it's the overwrought, melodramatic story full of incomprehensible and laughable moments (there's a dead-wife ghost!) or the banal, saccharine performances, watching this film felt like drowning in cheap "maple" syrup: too sweet, too thick, and taking way too long. * out of ****

2) After Earth. The third Big Space Adventure of 2013 also failed to deliver. I shouldn't be surprised at this, of course; I haven't enjoyed an M. Night Shyamalan movie since 2004's The Village (and even that, I hated the ending of). After Earth, for all the trailer's promises of action-packed chases and space explosions, is that worst of combinations: preachy and boring. It insists on the message of its tagline: "Danger is real. Fear is a choice." (Biological autonomic responses be damned!) I wish boredom had been a choice. * out of ****

1) NOW YOU SEE ME. I didn't have a lot of hope for this when I saw the trailer, but I enjoy watching Woody Harrelson, so I gave this a shot. This is probably the film that I felt most insulted my intelligence this year. Supposedly a movie about a group of magicians performing the ultimate con, the story is full of more holes than a lace hanky. This movie's logic asks you to accept that a group of people attending a magic show would suddenly find surprise sums of money in their bank accounts, stolen from someone present at the show, and that they would all a) accept that this had actually happened and wasn't a prank, and b) be able to keep the money. Worse still, it reveals a surprise "twist" at the end that was never hinted at at all and doesn't actually work in the logic of the story. It's the kind of tacked-on twist that makes M. Night Shyamalan's movies look subtle. When we finished this movie, my husband and I looked at each other and said we wished we had those two hours of our lives back. ZERO out of ****

And there you have it! What movies were your least favorites of 2013?
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