When the history of Summer 2013 is written, the biggest story won’t be the return of legitimate terror or the wealth of off the radar gems one can uncover outside the standard Cineplex experience. No, everyone will go overboard discussing the various flops, from The Lone Ranger (which we liked, so sue us) to White House Down (we preferred Olympus Has Fallen for our sampling of faux Die Hard cheese). They will try and decipher why certain known quantities—Johnny Depp, family films ala Turbo—failed to inspire while adding their own bits of baseless schadenfreuda. For us, the answer is always a question of connection. A movie can be smart and savvy, or poorly conceived and cobbled together, and if audiences don’t agree with your particular approach or aesthetic, the effort will fail, no matter what we critics think or say.
So working through the films from the last four months is a bit of a pickle. There were several excellent movies that didn’t make the final Best of cut - The Grandmaster, Elysium, Only God Forgives, Pacific Rim, This is the End - simply because there were titles we liked better. On the other hand, awful entries like The Killing Season, R.I.P.D. , The Purge, and Aftershock don’t demand additional discussion. In fact, the only way to look at this list is to accept the fact that everyone is entitled to their learned opinion (thanks, Uncle Harlan) and, in this case, we think ours is pretty erudite. In only one situation will we go, cinematically speaking, where no other compilation has gone before. The result is our Top Five Best and Worst Films of Summer 2013, and there is horror in both the bad (a lot of it, actually) and the good (you’ll see why). In fact, it was a season of fear, be it at the subject matter being explored, or in the case of the bad, the end results offered up.
Someone has to counsel Will Smith on his parenting choices. Not only does he allow his daughter to make ridiculously atonal music that no one except a multimillionaire papa would be proud of, but he forces his otherwise talentless son into becoming an actor when the kid can’t carry a character, let alone an entire film. This latest M. Night Shyamalan effort is proof of this fact. While Big Willie was heavily featured in the ad campaign, he’s actually barely in the film, sitting behind a wrecked spaceship counsel and looking perturbed as Jaden does all the heavy lifting. As a result, everyone drops the ball here.
Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are Generation Y icons based solely on a single laugher - Wedding Crashers - and that rude, crude comedy is a masterpiece compared to this piece of junk. Oh course, whenever you put that faux filmmaker Shawn Levy behind the lens, something middling and mediocre is bound to come out. Don’t think so? Why not sit down to a Levy Film Festival this weekend (including mandatory entries Just Married, The Pink Panther and Cheaper by the Dozen remakes, Date Night, and Real Steel) and argue otherwise - and we aren’t even including the cloying Night at the Museum movies.
Disney knows how to do one thing very, very well - capitalize, commercially, on a parent’s faith in their family filmmaking qualities. Who cares if the end result sucks significant amounts of carbon monoxide (we’re looking at you, Cars 2), Mom and Dad (and their various step incarnations) will gladly plunk their wee ones down for another heaping helping of Walt worthlessness. In this case, another revenue stream recycled from everyone’s least favorite Pixar franchise is force fed to the ankle biters, the better to drive sales at your local Wal-Mart. Everything here is subpar and slack, prepackaged and preplanned for maximum seasonal shopping.
Really? Was someone really clamoring for another installment of this otherwise likeable comic adaptation except the aging actors in line for a big fat paycheck? And did you really have to bring along that cinematic kryptonite Mary-Louise Parker with you? Not only did she do her best to make R.I.P.D. even more unbearable, but her turn here as a novice spy wannabe remains the height of onscreen annoyance. Add in that fact that the story makes no sense, everyone chews the scenery, and the payoffs don’t validate the set-ups and you’ve got all the makings of a real stinker - and the odor coming off this is horrendous.
Ethan Hawke had a good run in 2013 - up until this tired turkey. Before Midnight reestablished his indie cred while The Purge was a surprise sleeper hit. And then - bombs away! Granted, the real problem with this movie doesn’t lie with the actor or his less than able co-star, Selena Gomez. No, director Courtney Solomon apparently drank a double dose of the Sergie Eisenstein Kool-Aid and decided that no shot during the action scenes should last longer than a nanosecond. The result is a kinetic confusion in which you’re never quite sure what you are watching. On home video, it might work. On the big screen, it’s baffling.
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