2013 - The Year that Was by Krista Boivie

Even though I consume a lot of entertainment (books, music, sports, tv and movies), my year is usually defined by my experience at the theatre. As far as 2013 is concerned, I felt like there were 3 themes that dominated the big screen this year:

1. This was the year that sequels were better than the originals:

Whether it was the superheroes (Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, The Wolverine), the animated fare (Monsters University, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2), the book adaptations (Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) or the blockbuster franchises (Fast and Furious 6, Star Trek Into Darkness) filmmakers and actors discovered new ways to evolve characters and tell stories that took us to unexpected places. For years it seemed like sequels were a crass grab at more money with recycled material, but the initial success of the first films in these series established an audience and allowed the directors, writers and actors more creative license to explore the places that these stories can go. Passionate people like J.J. AbramsFrancis LawrenceJames Mangold and Justin Lin can do incredible things when given resources and freedom.

2. This was the year that the big stars reminded us of why they are who they are:

Sometimes when someone has been famous and successful for so long we can start to take them for granted. You see an actress in a few rom-coms in a row or an actor playing a handsome cad for the umpteenth time and you feel like you have seen all that there is for them to show you. A lot of established, big-time movie stars gave us performances that were so unexpected, resonant and fresh that they hit us like a slap to the face. The first stunner this year for me was Matthew McConaughey in Mud. The vulnerability and realness of his performance made a movie that I almost decided to ignore, the best movie I saw all year, and if I had an Oscar ballot, his name would be at the top of it. Gravity was a technical masterpiece as far as the visual effects are concerned, but without Sandra Bullock’s ability to convey the shattering terror and loneliness of space, it wouldn’t have managed to keep it’s grip on the audience after the novelty wore off. Tom Hankscarries Captain Phillips on his shoulders and eschews his comfortable everyman charm to play a man trying keep his fear at bay while scrambling for a way to convince his captors to keep him alive. The moment at the end of the film when Hank’s Phillips finally succumbs to the horrors of his ordeal and goes catatonic will be etched in my mind forever. Harrison Ford in 42Oprah Winfrey in Lee Daniel’s The ButlerBrad Pitt in World War Z, and Ben Kingsley in both Iron Man 3 and Ender’s Game all gave us clear reminders of why they are among the best the business has to offer, and movies are better when the truly great are asked to push themselves.

3. This was the year that directors didn’t know when enough was enough:

If you have read many of my reviews or seen some of our YouTube videos you probably already know that one of my constant criticisms this year was that many of the movies I saw were too long. It became all too common for big budget movies to end up bloated and lumbering towards the 2 and a half hour mark. I enjoyed many of these movie, but they would have benefitted greatly from a critical eye willing to trim the fat. It is just too hard to maintain storytelling tension and plot pacing once a movie crosses the 2 hour 15 minute threshold. It should be telling that none of the movies in my top 5 for 2013 were longer than that. There were too many instances when a story would stall and completely lose its momentum as it got tangled up in unnecessary exposition or action sequences that just seemed to go on forever. I can understand wanting to put all of the money you sunk into a production on the screen, but the goal is to make the best movie possible, not to justify your budget.

Grudge Match by Krista Boivie

Running Time: 1 hour 53 minutes

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis:

During their primes, Henry “Razor” Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy “The Kid” McDonnen (Robert DeNiro) were the two best Light Heavyweight fighters in the world and bitter rivals. After splitting their first two fights, they were poised for a lucrative 3rd fight when Sharp suddenly retired, walking away from millions of dollars and leaving the rivalry unsettled. 30 years later Sharp and McDonnen find themselves in disparate circumstances, with Sharp broke and working on the docks, while McDonnen is a wealthy business owner and local hero. Even with his success, McDonnen has never stopped dreaming of a chance to settle things between himself and Sharp.  After a video of the two of them brawling in a recording studio goes viral, interest in a third fight between them starts to rekindle and Sharp’s dire financial situation finally lures him back into the ring for a Grudge Match.

Scott’s Review:

This movie was a surprising amount of fun and it had a lot more warmth than I was expecting. The relationship between Stallone and Alan Arkin is very caring and tender, but full of ball busting humor. Kevin Hart kept things light and generated laughs every time he was on screen without getting shrill like he has in movies in the past. DeNiro looked like he was having a great time and had a good rapport with Jon Bernthal, who plays his estranged son. Everyone involved understood the kind of movie this needed to be and it worked.

Obviously the plot is a little farfetched and the boxing scenes don’t hold up to Raging Bull or Rocky, but they don’t linger too long on those scenes. The worst part of Grudge Match for me was when the movie stalled on Stallone’s sad-sack storyline. You want to cheer for your protagonist, not pity him. Grudge Match is clearly a flawed movie, but it gets an awful lot right. B

UFC 168 Preview by Krista Boivie

With one well-placed left hook Chris Weidman did the impossible: he shattered Anderson Silva’s aura of invincibility and ended the most dominant run in the history of the UFC. What has yet to be decided is whether or not Weidman’s victory was an aberration or if we have seen a true passing of the torch from the last of the UFC’s old guard of Champions. With Georges St. Pierre’s recent vacating of his title, the group of elite fighters whose immense popularity helped elevate the UFC from fringe organization to the dominant combat sports property on the planet is no more. Chuck Liddell, Randy CoutureMatt HughesRich Franklin, and BJ Penn are either gone or on their way out the door. But each departure was accompanied by the ascension of a new star. Jon JonesCain Velasquez and Jose Aldo have risen to the challenge and filled the vacuum those stars left behind. Anderson Silva enters his re-match with Chris Weidman intent on quieting the voices that are saying he is no longer the fighter he was and showing that he has not been supplanted by the young, hungry lion.

With another win over SilvaChris Weidman will show that he belongs among the biggest names in the sport. Weidman shares many similarities with both Jones and Velasquez in that they are all collegiate wrestlers who have taken to MMA like a duck to water. Each of these three has made quantum leaps in skill and technique in their relatively short careers with any deficiencies in their game disappearing quickly. Weidman has always possessed punishing ground and pound and nasty submissions but his boxing has gone from weakness to weapon faster than anyone thought possible. It is a testament to Weidman’s ability that Anderson Silva lured him into a brawl with his showboating and taunting and still lost. The UFC roster is deeper, more competitive and more dynamic than it has ever been which means that the truly incandescent talents shine even brighter. Chris Weidman has long felt that it was his time to shine and UFC 168 is his chance to prove it to everyone, especially Anderson Silva.

UFC 168 Preview and Predictions

Dustin Poirier vs Diego Brandao - Featherweight (145 lbs)

The aggressiveness of both fighters will set a furious pace but Poirier needs to keep his composure and try to create space with his jab and his kicks so that the more powerful Brandao doesn’t damage him in the exchanges. If the fight hits the ground, I give a slight edge to the longer-limbed Poirier who has a clever array of chokes that he can lock in from the top or bottom but Brandao excels in scrambles, and can quickly seize on the smallest of openings.

Brandao wins via TKO.

Jim Miller vs Fabricio Camoes - Lightweight (155 lbs)

After alternating wins and losses in his last 5 fights, Miller needs to start a winning streak if he ever wants a shot at the Lightweight title. Camoes is an ideal opponent for Miller; not dangerous on the feet and not a dynamic athlete. Camoes will want to work from top position for submissions, but Miller’s wrestling will allow him to control positioning and he will punish Camoes with his ground and pound.

Miller wins via Unanimous Decision

Travis Browne vs Josh Barnett -  Heavyweight (206 lbs and up)

The winner of this fight will be able to make a very convincing argument that they should get the next shot at the HW title. Barnett is the best grappler that Browne has ever fought, but Browne is great at creating distance with push kicks and jabs so that grapplers can’t get ahold of him. Barnett’s game plan will be to rush Browne early and pin him against the cage and after softening him up with elbows and knees, drag him to the ground. If Barnett can’t get inside of Browne’s reach he will get knocked out, but if he gets Browneon the ground he will force him to tap.

Barnett wins via Submission.

Ronda Rousey vs Miesha Tate - Women’s Bantamweight Championship (135 lbs)

It is hard not to assume that the result of this fight is a foregone conclusion. Rousey has won every fight by 1st round submission and she broke Tate’s arm in their last encounter. Tate may be a slightly better striker, but she doesn’t have the type of KO power that can change the fight with a single punch. She will have to spend multiple rounds avoiding the single most devastating and effective technique in the sport to damage Rousey enough to finish the fight. Rousey only needs Tate to make one mistake to end things. Miesha will make that mistake.

Rousey wins via Submission.

Chris Weidman vs Anderson Silva - Middleweight Championship (185 lbs)

Weidman’s victory was no fluke, but it is difficult to believe that anyone can beat Silva twice in a row. I expect to see Silva constantly chop away at Weidman’s base with leg kicks in an effort to neutralize Weidman’s wrestling while Weidman will try to stay away from prolonged striking exchanges and go to his takedowns more often than he did in the first fight. Ultimately, I think that Silva has slowed just enough that he won’t be able to spend the fight on his heels being purely reactionary, counter-striking and avoiding Weidman’s takedowns. He must fight aggressively and look to damage Weidman early on or Silva will be worn down to his breaking point by the younger man. Silva’s steadfast insistence that he doesn’t need to change his style worries me, because in this sport you either evolve or you lose.

Weidman wins via Unanimous Decision.

47 Ronin by Krista Boivie

Running Time: 1 hour 59 minutes

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis:

Based loosely on a famous Japanese historical event, mixed with elements of Japanese legend like demons and magic, 47 Ronin is the tale of a group of exiled samurai bent on vengeance. Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) of Ako has built a prosperous and beautiful domain but during a visit from the Shogun (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) he is duped into attacking an unarmed guest in his palace, Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano). It is such a breach of honor that the Shogun gives Asano a choice: be hanged like a common criminal or commit seppuku(ritual suicide) to preserve the honor of his family. After taking his own life, Asano’s men are stripped of their titles and ranks by the Shogun and his lands and his daughter Mika (Ko Shibasaki) are given to Lord Kira. Aided by a powerful witch (Rinko Kikuchi), Kira plans on marrying Mika and pillaging Ako’s wealth in an attempt to topple the Shogun and rule Japan himself. 

The leader of Asano’s men (Hiroyuki Sanada) rallies his troops, who decide that even if it means their death, they must avenge their fallen master. Looking for an equalizer to Kira’s magic, the samurai must turn to an outsider with a mysterious past (Keanu Reeves). On the eve of Kira and Mika’s wedding, the 47 must launch a desperate final assault on Kira’s palace and exact justice or die trying.

Scott’s Review:

While slightly clumsy and overwrought, 47 Ronin was an entertaining telling of a classic tale. I love the style and look of Feudal Japan, and this film showcases those elements beautifully. The palaces, gardens and kimonos are almost a character on their own. I also think the natural stoicism of the Japanese actors give this film the proper tone. The fact that this is a story about honor, loyalty and sacrifice also appeals to me.

While the historical pieces work well, the fantasy additions aren’t very effective. The dragons, demons and witchcraft all feel like they are out of place and aren’t woven into the story very seamlessly. The scene on the Dutch Islands was also weird and unnecessary. I would have preferred a more straight-forward historical epic, but 47 Ronin managed to give me my money’s worth. C+

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues by Krista Boivie

Running Time: 1 hour 59 minutes

RatingPG-13

Synopsis:

Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrelland his wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegatehave settled into an idyllic life where they live in New York, co-anchor the news and raise their son, but their happiness is short-lived when Veronica is promoted to lead anchor and Ron is fired. After spiralling into depression and losing Veronica, Ron is given a chance at redemption when he is offered a job at a brand new 24 hour news network. With his News Team reassembled, Ron has to overcome new rivals in the newsroom while attempting to change the face of TV news.

Scott’s Review:

I didn’t love the first Anchorman movie, but I thought there was more good than bad about it. My hope was that they would seize on the the parts of the original that worked and abandon the parts that fell flat. My hope was in vain. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is everything I disliked about the first film. I think that setting a movie in the 70s or 80s and using it as an excuse to constantly toss out racist, sexist and homophobic material because, “that’s is how it was back then” is the lowest and laziest form of comedy. It is also about time to stop thinking that putting polyester suits and mustaches on guys is a substitute for writing jokes or funny plotlines. 

I am rapidly tiring of Will Ferrell’s go-to schtick of playing big, dumb, loud and obliviously cocky guys and with all the talent they assembled for this movie, they get very little out of it. I think David Koechner is one of the funniest guys on the planet but I can’t stand him in this movie and Paul Rudd and Steve Carell deserve better material than this. Much in the same way that Adam Sandler has lost his touch because he only makes movies with his friends and sycophants, Will Ferrell has spent too much time with his Funny or Die buddies and Judd Apatow’s gang and if he wants to be relevant again he needs to step outside of his circle and work with people who have new ideas for him.

I laughed a time or two, but aside from a boatload of surprise cameos, there wasn’t much worth mentioning about this movie. D

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug by Krista Boivie

Running Time: 2 hours 41 minutes

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis:

The HobbitThe Desolation of Smaug picks up the tale of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf the Grey (IanMcKellan) and the Dwarves of Eribor as they continue on their quest to reclaim the Dwarven kingdom stolen from them by the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). They must pass through the domain of the unwelcoming woodland Elves and strike a deal with the people of Laketown while a pack of bloodthirsty Orcs dog their every step. The reward waiting for them at the end of their journey is a showdown with the seemingly invincible Smaug.

Scott's Review:

These movies are undeniably well made. No one creates an immersive fantasy world like Peter Jackson, but the fact that they have stretched one book's worth of story into almost 9 hours of movie means that there is a lot of filler. The movie is essentially a collection of long chase scenes and though they are inventively staged, they go on and on. The actors are doing good work but there is just not enough for them to do to fill all of this screen time.

I did like the return of Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and the introduction of Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Bard (LukeEvans). Lilly was born to play an elf and the highlight of this film comes when she and Bloom go to battle against the Orcs. The fluidity of the combat is both balletic and brutal. I also enjoyed the animation of Smaug and Cumberbatch's voice has a velvety rumble that drips with playful viciousness. He toys with Bilbo Baggins like a cat with a mouse. I liked this movie, but it is hard not to think of the original Lord of the Rings films which were nearly flawless adaptations of classic fantasy literature. The HobbitThe Desolation of Smaug is just a lesser offering and it suffers in comparison. B-