SUMMER MAY BE A MEMORY, BUT ITS BIG BLOCKBUSTERS HAVE JUST STARTED TO HIT DVD AND BLU-RAY SHELVES.  HERE ARE MY HIGHS AND LOWS FROM THE SUMMER OF 2013

Pacific Rim Locandina

Pacific Rim Locandina (Photo credit: Debris2008)

Depending on the calendar on your wall or the time zone where you live, you probably said farewell to the summer of 2013 a few weeks ago (but here in the Nations’ Capital, Mother Nature seems to be suffering a mild case of weather dyslexia and you’d be forgiven for feeling a bit confused for having wished summer a bon voyage lately).  The end of summer is a bittersweet time for movie fans because it usually means the year’s supply of big blockbusters is almost exhausted, although 2013 still has a handful of interesting titles for all movie fans up its sleeve (and don’t forget, we’re entering awards season-when studios like to showcase their Oscar worthy efforts without having to compete with the noise of the billion dollar franchises and popcorn spectacles).  But the fact remains that as far as most movie fans are concerned, from the beginning of May to the end of August is when we spend most of our movie going dollars.  So I thought I’d take this opportunity to sum up my favorite movies from this past summer, as well as a few forgettable ones.  I wrote reviews on most of them, and while time has a habit of altering perspectives, it didn’t really change my views on most of these titles.  I still plan on adding some to my home collection while avoiding others like Miley Cyrus’ inevitable collection of STDs (that poor, poor foam finger).

Favourite Animated Movie:  Despicable Me 2

I’m a huge fan of the first and while I went into the theatre worried that the sequel may prove inferior, I came out more in love with the franchise then before.  Watching a domesticated Gru wrestle with the challenges of raising three girls (including one whose just discovered boys) while becoming a villain hunting spy and navigating his own romantic waters was entertaining in its own right.  Watching him cope with all of that WHILE dealing with the antics of his minions was much better.  It’s common knowledge that the real stars of the franchise are the little yellow agents of mischievous comedy and you can bet that Gru’s minions get some special treatment in Despicable Me 2’s DVD/Blu-Ray release (the little yellow rascals have already snagged themselves a spinoff movie starring Hollywood’s sweet heart Sandra Bullock tentatively scheduled for summer of 2015).

Blu-Ray/DVD Release:  December 10th, 2013

 Favourite Comedy:  The Heat

Fair warning-if you have sensitive ears or are offended by swearing, DO NOT see this movie.  This profanity laced girl buddy cop movie makes shameless use of just about every dirty word in the book (and makes up some new ones along the way).  That being said, the chemistry between stars Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy was hilarious and it isn’t tough to imagine director Paul Feig simply setting up the shot and letting his two female leads improvise each and every scene.  The movie was a financial hit and was so popular Twentieth Century Fox green lit an unexpected sequel shortly after The Heat’s release.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  October 15th, 2013

Favourite Comic Book Movie:  Red 2

Sorry Man of Steel and Iron Man 3, Red 2 gets the nod as my favorite comic book movie of the summer of 2013.  Based on the Dark Horse comic of the same name, this sequel to the 2010 sleeper hit reunites Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary Louise Parker and the rest of the surviving gang of Retired yet Extremely Dangerous CIA operatives from the original.  Framed and one the run, the Red group travel the globe in an attempt to prove their innocence while saving the world.  Like The Heat, it’s the chemistry between the film’s stars, most of them established screen legends, that makes this movie work.  And if there was an Oscar for Best Scene Stealer, Malkovich would walk away with it hands down for his portrayal of the deadly yet hilariously unstable Martin.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  November 26th, 2013

Favourite Popcorn Movie:  Pacific Rim

The plot is fairly simple, enormous alien monsters called the Kaiju are invading the Earth through an inter-dimensional portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.  Mankind defends itself with giant 250 foot tall robots called Jaegers.  It’s giant Monsters vs. giant Robots.  Got it?  Good, because Pacific Rim doesn’t take itself seriously and it doesn’t expect you to either.  Watching Idris Elba chew up the screen as the gruff Stacker Pentecost is a nice little sidebar, but after that, Pacific Rim is sheer spectacle on an epic scale (during one momentous battle scene, a Jaeger uses an entire train as a baseball bat, knocking a Kaiju the size of a mountain flying).  If there was one movie where you could comfortably check your brain at the door and kick back with a giant size bag of popcorn this summer, it was Pacific Rim.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  October 15th, 2013

Scariest Movie:  The Conjuring

There wasn’t exactly a lot of horror fare this summer, but trust me when I say The Conjuring made up for the absence of other scary flicks.  Loosely based on a true story, the Conjuring follows infamous paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren as they investigate a haunted house in Rhode Island.  The would be ghost hunters quickly discover that this house is unlike anything they’ve ever seen and soon, the supernatural gloves come off in a no holds barred battle royal.  Take the “real story” bit with a strong helping of salt; despite the movie’s ending, the house’s real life residents claim that the Warrens’ attempts to clean the house made the haunting worse (yet they continued to live there for years afterwards).  But be that as it may, I consider myself a bit of a jaded horror movie vet and I jumped at least once.  The Conjuring is perhaps the most efficient horror movie in years.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  October 22, 2013

Worst Movie:  The Lone Ranger and R.I.P.D

We have a tie.  The Lone Ranger and R.I.P.D. were both really, really, REALLY bad.  Having seen the two of them back to back, I honestly can’t say which one was worse, so they get to share this honour.

Disney gambled that simply duplicating the formula of their Pirates of the Caribbean franchise would also duplicate it’s box office numbers as well.  So they reunited star Johnny Depp, director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, replaced the ships with trains and the pirates with cowboys and stuck the whole shebang in the American Old West.  What they got was the biggest bomb of the year.  Plagued with problems when it began production years ago, The Lone Ranger was immediately reviled by critics and audiences alike.  Outside of a few memorable comedic moments by Depp (whose casting as Tonto, the most famous First Nations warrior in movie history, was an early source of controversy and bad press), the Lone Ranger was a failure on every level.  The action was uninspired (not the best sign for an action movie), the hero a stumbling putz (making his transformation into a man of action an even tougher sell) and the plot pedestrian and predictable.  Depp and co-star Armie Hammer blamed the movie’s catastrophic performance on critics who gave the movie bad reviews before they even saw it.   Fair enough.  But they didn’t have too much to say about the numerous critics who gave it terrible reviews after they saw it.  While that particular question may have been left unanswered by the movie’s stars and producers, summer movie-goers answered it with their collective absence.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  December 17th, 2013

            And as far as R.I.P.D. goes, I’m pretty sure that everyone involved in this disaster of a movie was asleep during every step of production.  R.I.P.D. couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a supernatural Men in Black or an updated twist on Ghostbusters and in the end it failed to hold even a candle to either.  Ryan Reynolds played a recently deceased Boston police officer recruited into the Rest In Peace Department, an organization of supernatural peacekeepers keeping the world of the living safe from the world of the dead (earning some much needed karma points along the way).  It was actually a pretty neat little concept and should have made for a decent flick, but unlikeable characters, a thin plot that went MIA at times, absolutely no chemistry between the leads, recycled special effects and clumsy dialogue conspired to make this a memorable piece of pure cinematic manure.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  October 29th, 2013

Most Disappointing Movie: Kick Ass 2

The original Kick Ass performed humbly at the box office back in 2010, but it’s strong performance on DVD and cable convinced producers to make the graphic novel’s sequel into a movie as well.  Now, those same producers are wishing they had a Delorien to travel back in time and face palm themselves.  The movie performed poorly at the box office despite facing lukewarm competition, and there were no shortage of excuses why it failed to connect with audiences, including fans of the original.  Director Jeff Wadlow didn’t share the same affection for the source material as Kick Ass director Matt Vaughn, Jim Carrey’s refusal to support the movie following a recent barrage of mass shootings (particularly Newtown, Conn.), Chloe-Grace Moretz’s absence from the movie’s panel at Comic Con, etc., etc.  But what it really boiled down is that Kick Ass 2 lacked the same heart as its predecessor.  Vigilante heroes Kick-Ass and Hit Girl returned (sans Big Daddy) to face a villain that was a mere shadow of Mark Strong’s mob boss from the first movie (it’s often said that a hero is defined by the villains he fights; the villain in Kick Ass 2 was a whiny little rich kid who masturbated too much).  There was no excitement of discovery in their characters, and watching hit Girl spend most of the movie trying to overcome high school angst got pretty thin, pretty quick (although the cafeteria scene will more than satisfy anyone’s high school revenge fantasies).  Kick Ass 2 wasn’t a bad movie per se, but it was a big steaming pile of meh.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  To Be Determined

Most Controversial:  Man of Steel

Man of Steel has made a lot of money (just shy of 663 million worldwide to date), yet for every dollar it’s raked in, it’s been spat on at least twice.  I enjoyed Man of Steel for one big reason, I finally got my over the top, climactic fight scene where the battle between Superman and the movie’s villain (in this case, a genocidal General Zod) was so epic it leveled an entire city.  But the rampant destruction of a fictional Metropolis was just one of many reasons countless Superman fans despised the movie.  For months, movie message boards and online forums were filled with venom and contempt and shameless verbal cancer and Man of Steel could easily qualify for the Most Hated Successful Movie of all time, let alone 2013.  The best compliment I heard from one of Big Blue’s fans was that Man of Steel was a good action movie, but a horrible Superman one.  That seemed to sum up the best many fans had to say about the movie.  And don’t think for a second that studio heads didn’t notice the furious fan backlash.  A theory currently making the rounds is that the contempt from many corners of comic fandom was what convinced Warner Brothers to include a re-booted Batman in the next Superman movie, using the established Bat property like a crutch.  The theory has some serious merit; there were legions of fans so turned off by Man of Steel that they vowed never to see the inevitable sequel, but you can bet every human being with access to a Cineplex will be going to see the Batman/Superman movie in 2015.   Now the question is, will Batman fans be just as equally pissed off in two years time?  The entire internet practically lost its mind when it was announced that Ben Affleck had been cast as the next Batman; which is either brilliant marketing to keep people talking about the movie a full two years before it’s release, or the first step in a full cinematic meltdown.  Time will tell.

Blu-Ray/DVD Release Date:  November 12th, 2013.

Shayne Kempton

SUMMER REWIND

DISNEY’S GAMBLE THAT THE PLAYERS BEHIND THE PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN WILL LAUNCH ANOTHER CASH COW LOSES  AS THE LONE RANGER TURN OUTS TO BE AN UNINSPIRED LET DOWN 

Director:  Gore Verbinski

Starring:  Johnnie Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter and Tom Wilkinson

Studio:  Walt Disney

Length:  2 Hrs 29 Min

Rated:  PG

John Reid accepts the word of law as gospel, despises violence and detests guns.  He believes that justice should only ever be meted out in a courtroom and is returning to Texas to be his hometown’s new district attorney.  Clumsy, prim and greener than Kermit the Frog, John is completely unprepared for what waits for him in Texas’ share of the shrinking American West, where all four corners of the fledgling United States are being united by the railroad and an uneasy peace exists between white settlers and what remains of the Comanche First Nation.  John’s older brother Dan is a Texas Ranger and the two share a relationship complicated by more than just their difference in job and personality; John and Dan’s wife Rebecca were seriously involved before she married Dan.  The two still share deep feelings for one another, despite Rebecca’s marriage and son.  Following an ambush, John witnesses Dan’s grisly death at the hands of a bloodthirsty psychotic and is left for dead.  Miraculously surviving and joined by Wendigo hunting Comanche Tonto, John Reid becomes the Lone Ranger to avenge his brother and bring those responsible to justice.  The Lone Ranger is this summer’s big budget live action summer offering from Disney Studios and represents a huge gamble for the House of the Mouse, one they hope pays off big over the Fourth of July holiday and perhaps launches a lucrative new franchise for them a la Pirates of the Caribbean.  Unfortunately for Disney though, The Lone Ranger has bomb written all over it.

Disney changed The Lone Ranger’s release date a number of times before settling on July 3rd, hoping to minimize competition for coveted holiday crowds (originally Disney wanted Ranger in theatres for May 2011).  While changing release dates isn’t uncommon, changing them four or five times like Disney did rarely bodes well for a tent pole release.  They reunited Depp with director Gore Verbinski and producer Gerry Bruckheimer in hopes to duplicate the wild success of the Pirates franchise (and Disney isn’t shy about using their Pirates credentials to promote Ranger).  And make no mistake, they cram plenty of explosions, gun fights and Depp’s trademark quirkiness into The Lone Ranger’s two plus hours, including a climactic fight scene aboard a pair of moving trains that would have been a little more impressive if parts of it weren’t so over the top, some even bordering on ludicrous.  Unfortunately, I doubt Ranger’s formula will share anywhere near the same level of success as Pirates.

The western genre is no longer the box office staple it once was.  Gone are the days where any flick staring John Wayne in a cowboy hat could bring moviegoers out en masse.  Even when it’s mashed up with other genres like sci-fi (Cowboys and Aliens, Serenity) the western fails to find appeal with wider audiences.  Another thing working against Ranger is American audiences rarely like being confronted by their country’s bloody past (it’s why films, even critically acclaimed ones, about the 2003 invasion of Iraq are panned), and, to their credit, Disney doesn’t shy away from how brutally the Comanche and all indigenous peoples were treated by nineteenth century America.  A film where one of the lead characters is a Comanche warrior looking to avenge the murder of his tribe (even one played by a Caucasian actor, more on that later) is bound to convince some Americans to give it a pass, especially on a holiday celebrating American independence and glory.  A lot of the action feels formulaic-never a good sign for an action movie-and what little humour there is without Depp feels forced.  Relative unknown Armie Hammer plays John Reid/the Lone Ranger but he lacks the screen presence to convincingly lead such a big budget action movie.  His Ranger spends too much of the time bumbling around, depending on Tonto to save his life about three dozen times before he seemingly mans up.  Ruth Wilson’s Rebecca is a strong independent woman forged in the American frontier.  That is until the plot calls for her to become a screaming damsel in distress desperate for rescue.  And while Fichtner does his absolute best, his portrayal of the villainous Butch Cavendish doesn’t exactly send chills up your spine (but even his lukewarm portrayal as one of Ranger’s chief bad guys overshadows Hammer’s tepid hero).

And then there’s Depp.  Make no mistake, one of Ranger’s few highlights is watching Depp’s portrayal of Tonto, and he constructs the character much the same way he constructed Captain Jack Sparrow (his mimicking of Keith Richards had Disney execs running scared until Pirates of the Caribbean became an instant box office success), and he shoots to make Tonto an equal, not a sidekick or subordinate.  And in truth, Tonto spends a large part of Ranger rescuing John Reid from his own stupidity and isn’t afraid to get in anyone’s face, whether it be lawman, outlaw, cavalry soldier or the Ranger’s himself.  But there’s a lot of sensitivity surrounding casting a white actor to play a Native American character, especially given Hollywood’s history treating natives.  For decades, “Indians” were the bad guys; blood thirsty savages who killed women and children in the night, eating their flesh raw for pure enjoyment.  And even then, moviemakers used Hawaiian actors to play native characters.  In a stroke of irony, one of the first actual natives to play an aboriginal character was Canadian actor Jay Silverheels, playing Tonto on The Lone Ranger TV show that aired on ABC in the 50’s.  Still, could you imagine a white actor playing Django in Django Unchained?  You get the idea.

What it all boils down to is The Lone Ranger is a vanilla, overlong action movie where a lot of the action itself is bland (but loud).  Outside of Depp’s somewhat controversial caricature of the Comanche Tonto, the screen performances generally lack weight and conviction, though that isn’t always the actors fault since the script seems to want to leap from one train wreck to the next.  And while you knew they were going to get the classic Lone Ranger theme in there at some point, it comes off as cheesy and trite.  Disney gambled a lot on The Lone Ranger, but it doesn’t look like this time the Mouse’s House is going to win.

 

Shayne Kempton

NO NEED TO KNOW WHO THE MASKED MAN IS