The Guilty Pleasure Films of 2013

by PopMatters Staff

14 January 2014


10 - 6

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The Last Stand

Director: Kim Ji-woon
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro, Luis Guzmán, Jaimie Alexander, Eduardo Noriega, Peter Stormare, Zach Gilford, Génesis Rodríguez


The Last Stand

In The Last Stand, directed by Kim Jee-Woon, Forest Whitaker appears in the thankless role of FBI Agent John Bannister and provides a sort of pitch for the movie itself. He exclaims, “I’ve got a psychopath in a Batmobile. How do I stop that?” The answer, of course, is Arnold Schwarzenegger in his return to a lead role in an action film. Here he’s Sherriff Ray Owens, who has settled in a small Arizona town after experiencing hard-core law enforcement feats in Los Angeles. The structure of the screenplay is predictable, as the figure of peaceful retirement is called back into action. But as an action film, The Last Stand is quite clever, referring to classics such as Vanishing Point, The Gauntlet, and other 1970s precedents that influenced Schwarzenegger’s original decade of action star supremacy in the 1980s.

With Johnny Knoxville and Luis Guzman around for comic relief, The Last Stand primes the viewer for any number of showdown scenarios between the forces of good and the unambiguously evil villain played by Eduardo Noriega in a Corvette ZR1. The late second act features the most memorable town square shootout this side of Hot Fuzz. But in the end, it is Sherriff Owens alone—no comic sidekicks, and no band of Expendables—who must stop the psychopath. As he delivers his best line in the film, “My honor is not for sale,” Schwarzenegger and Sherriff Owens become one. He is the hero we need, redeemed from near-retirement to defend the American (Action Movie) way. Thomas Britt


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This Is the End

Director: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Cast: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, Emma Watson


This Is the End
Columbia Pictures

Like all other collaborations between Seth Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg (who also directed, this time around), This Is the End is more than what it seems. Just like Superbad was more than a teen comedy and Pineapple Express was more than a stoner farce, this undeniably funny film is really an examination of fame and the audience’s preconceived notions over the particulars of personal celebrity—with a little bit of Revelations mixed it for added anarchy. Well made and constantly on target, Rogen and Goldberg want to take down the entire Brat Pack/Next Big Thing ideal and filter it through the standard array of dick and fart jokes. Yes, this is another example of how penises and poop become instant one liners, but because of the premise, and how it is presented, we don’t mind the descent into toilet humor. As a matter of fact, we relish it. Bill Gibron


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Olympus Has Fallen

Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Cole Hauser, Finley Jacobsen, Ashley Judd


Olympus Had Fallen

There is a 15-minute sequence in Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen that features an air attack, a ground attack, an invasion of the White House, and acts of terror in a supposedly secure bunker. It’s a sequence that stokes the “imagination of disaster” by rendering each act of violence as a moment of life-altering destruction. Much of what follows is entertaining in generic action movie terms: Gerard Butler steps gamely into the John McClane template, children are saved, bad guys are vanquished, and national security is restored. Yet nothing else in the film has the staying power of the attack sequence. The guilty pleasure in this film comes from the incongruity of being entertained and achieving escapism within a film that has created palpable dread. Thomas Britt


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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Director: Ben Stiller
Cast: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Sean Penn


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
20th Century Fox

For those fans of the Danny Kaye adaptation of James Thurber’s beloved short story, there is no need to worry. This take on the material is nothing like the wistful whimsy showcased in either effort. Instead, Ben Stiller has crafted a bellwether for the blasé, a hipster Gospel screed explaining that life doesn’t have to be about unfilled career, a lacking love life, or an insular world view. Instead, with a little courage, and a lot of Red Bull inspired music montages, you too can become a citizen of the globe and capture the girl of your dreams. If I was 20 years younger, this movie would have been my Bible. Today, it’s merely a means of living vicariously through a life I never had and never will.  Bill Gibron


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Safe Haven

Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Cast: Julianne Hough, Josh Duhamel, David Lyons, Cobie Smulders


Safe Haven

If anyone embodies the phrase “guilty pleasure”, it’s Nicholas Sparks. The man’s been behind some of the all time great guilty pleasure books and their subsequent film interpretations, especially if you’re a sucker for romance. Well, movie romance. Ok, ok. Fake, schmaltzy, twist-heavy movie romance. If he didn’t write them, odds are someone was trying to copy his angle (coughTheVowcough). But I digress. This year’s Sparks entry is perhaps his most ridiculous melodrama yet, and thusly the one carrying the most guilt for those who dare admit to enjoying it. What makes it appealing? Like most Sparks’ work, Safe Haven is made for two kinds of people: love-hungry imbeciles and snarky joke-makers. Lucky for some us, we’re one and the same. Ben Travers


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