Saturday, July 06, 2013

Top 10 Movies of 2013 That I’ve Seen So Far

Just like last year, I am now listing my picks for the ten best movies released in the first half of the year that I have been able to watch (while at year end, I will be listing those that I would have watched during the second half – regardless of being released in the first or second half). 

Yes, there could be several first-half movies that I might have liked if I had been able to watch them.  There’s the Great Gatsby, which I refused to see since I always want to read the book first before watching a movie adaptation of it, and I haven’t read that classic yet (that’s the reason I haven’t watch a single episode of Game of Thrones yet; I want to read the books first.  And this might also become the case with Ender’s Game, which is coming out later this year.  I am desperately trying to find a copy of it.  But it’s different with World War Z though, which was merely an “adaptation” in name only.  I can watch it since it has not much semblance with the book anyway, but I still haven’t got the chance as of writing).  I haven’t seen Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing  – a movie I have been looking forward to ever since last year – yet, since it hasn’t been shown in the theaters here and it’s not yet available in the Net.  There’s still a lack of Sundance movies of 2013 that are available for general viewing.  I’ve been meaning to watch Olympus Has Fallen, The Purge, This is the End, and Now You See Me, but haven’t been able to yet.  Will make room for these movies – along with the many fascinating movies set for release in the second half of the year – in my movie watching for this second half.          

But, for now, let us concentrate on the top 10 movies of 2013 that I got to watch from January to June 2013:


Though it had its charms, there was nothing exceptional about this movie’s concept – normal guy was magically sent to a magic land, became its champion, and saved the day.  This trope has been done too many times already – and in more superior ways.  Still, it was a solid and fun fantasy story.  Character developments on some characters, especially the lead character’s, are fascinating enough.  And the dazzling visuals alone – being the strongest point of the movie – should keep you entertained and in wonder.  The visuals were fantastic enough to keep you on your sit even when the narrative starts to lose your interest. 


I’m a movie fan who doesn’t care about what the majority of critics and movie goers think of a particular movie.  If I sincerely liked a movie, even if others didn’t, I would state the fact that I liked it and won’t be embarrassed of it (heck, I liked Battleship, even if it was ridiculed and hated by many).  This applies with this movie.  Critics gave this movie a ton of bad reviews.  I, however, liked it.  I found it ridiculous but in a good way.  For me, the silliness of the premise, plot, and script totally worked.  I was greatly entertained by the badassery and wackiness of the action and violence featured in this movie.  Also, Gemma Arterton is kind of hot, isn’t she?


This movie simultaneously served as a remake and a loose sequel of the original Evil Dead trilogy.  It has several elements that were throwbacks or homage to the original movie series.  Just the same with the original Evil Dead movie, it was an effective combination of horror and dark comedy. 

Evil Dead was a gory and brutal thriller, but it wasn’t that nightmarishly terrifying.  You will probably be doing more laughing than screaming from the over-the-top violence in this movie.    


You should get the idea of this being merely another godawful Twilight rip-off (capitalizing with zombies as Twilight had capitalized with vampires) out of your head.  That perception is completely wrong.  Warm Bodies is infinitely superior to Twilight

The humor of Warm Bodies was not hilarious, but it was clever and funny.  I was surprised when I learned that this was actually based on a book, and according to those who have read it, the book was wittier than the movie.  This observation is not surprising at all, since a book has more room to explore the internal monologues in the mind of the lead male character/narrator – a zombie.    

The premise was quirky but justified, and the romance was vindicated, important, and not corny (again, it’s not Twilight).  The action, however, was not so much – just enough to push the story, which is actually a good thing.  And I can forgive the meh CGI.   

Initially, I had doubts and ridiculed this movie.  But after watching a trailer, I saw something promising about it.  I gave it a chance, enjoyed it, and become glad I did.        

6.) EPIC                                                                                                                                                 

To be honest, aside from Epic, I haven’t seen any other animated movies released in the first half of 2013.  I haven’t seen Monsters U or The Croods (which has the highest IMDb score among 2013 animated movies so far) yet.  I haven’t seen any direct-to-video animated movies released this 2013.  I haven’t seen the new Dragon Ball Z movie and Hunter X Hunter movie, which I am excitedly looking forward to see (as soon as they’re available in the Net. LOL).  So the lack of choices helped Epic a lot in securing a spot in my list.        

Overall, I’ve enjoyed Epic.  However, Epic hasn’t lived up to its name.  Seriously, if you name a movie “epic”, you are setting a very high standard for yourself.  And if you fail to meet that standard, that’s already, in a sense, a disappointment, right?  Anyway, I did my best to evaluate this movie as it is, and not based on the high expectations it had forced on itself.  

Most of the time, it was engaging, but it has never overwhelmingly won me over.  The animation was beautiful but it was not so stunning.   And while the story was fairly appealing, the narrative totally lacked originality and magnetism.  Nonetheless, Epic is a solid, entertaining animated movie.  But it’s far from becoming a classic.       


G.I. Joe: Retaliation was another movie that the critics generally panned while I, on the other hand, had adored.  Yes, it was a dumb action movie.  But it was a kickass and pleasurable dumb action movie. If you are a fan of the comics and the animated series, you would find that this movie totally captured the essence of G.I. Joe.  So who cares if Retaliation had a weak and dumb script?  G.I. Joe never pretended to be “smart” anyway.  It has always been a “stupid, over-the-top ridiculousness in characters, action, and plot” brand of cool, enjoyable entertainment.  What matters to me is it did deliver that.   

The movie oozed a lot of badass and entertaining moments: Every scene that featured Snake Eyes and/or Storm Shadow; the epic ninja battle on the snowy mountain; The Rock and Channing Tatum’s comedic chemistry; the badassery of The Rock’s character, Roadblock (especially when he clashed with Firefly); Cobra’s insanely ridiculous plot for world domination (which is actually something you would expect from them); etc.  The movie is far from brilliant, but it certainly succeeded in providing the elements for having a pretty good time.    


Odd Thomas, written by Dean Koontz, is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read.  And Odd Thomas, the character, is one of the most layered, most fascinating, and most empathic fictional characters I’ve ever encountered.  After reading the book, I easily became a great fan and fondly followed the series (so far, I have the first four books and a graphic novel in my collection).  That’s why I was really surprised and thrilled when I’ve learned that an Odd Thomas movie was made – something I’ve only become aware of sometime this year.  Major movie news sites haven’t hyped it (because it was not really meant to be a major blockbuster film this year).  I’ve only learned of it when I saw the trailer; I even actually thought the trailer was fake (great was my excitement when I saw it was legit). 

Here are my thoughts after watching it:  It sacrificed plenty of important details, especially Odd’s friendship with the novelist Ozzie and the ghost of Elvis.  Still, the movie was generally loyal to the main plot of the novel.  It also successfully captured the feel, the wit, and the emotion of the novel.  It almost moved me as much as the book.  Almost.    

I really liked the movie, but it could have been better.   

Lastly, as the ending implied, in which (spoiler) Odd walked across the desert and then looked over Las Vegas at the distance, the direction of this movie might be actually different with the book series’.  The sequel – if any – might not follow the events and plot of Forever Odd, the second book in the series.  If the next movie sets Odd’s next adventure in Las Vegas, maybe this is where he will encounter the ghost of Elvis for the first time.  Which is something to look forward to in the next Odd Thomas movie installment.       


If you are going to evaluate Man of Steel as a Superman movie, then the verdict is it has utterly failed in understanding and interpreting what Superman is all about.  But if you choose to look at it with fresh perspective, in which you would merely treat the character as the protagonist of this particular movie, and watch the movie as you would watch any fantastical movie that isn’t an adaptation of any literary (or comicbook) material – ignoring the essence, premise, philosophy, mythos, and characterization established about Superman in the comics – you will have an enjoyably great time watching it.  However, if you watch this movie through the eyes of a serious comicbook fan, or worse, as a big Superman fan, you would find several aspects and developments in this movie that will drive you crazy.   Just treat Man of Steel as merely an Elseworld reinvention so you can enjoy it immensely.  That’s what I did.     
Man of Steel has been given the “Dark Knight” treatment. Meaning it was dark, gritty, and “realistic”.  Superman was Batman-esque in portrayal – angst-y, lost, tormented, and troubled.  Again, if you would evaluate it as a Superman movie, this portrayal doesn’t work.  It doesn’t work because Superman is no Batman.  Superman has always been the anti-thesis of Batman as a superhero.  Being gloomy, cynical, and gritty works for Batman because he represents the “dark” kind of superhero; while Superman represents the “light” kind of superhero – hopeful, optimistic, and idealistic.

Even if a comicbook fan (like me) looks at this movie through the advised “Elseworld” lens, to refer to his Superman presuppositions can’t be helped.  Thus, there are several instances in this movie that made me cringe.  There was Pa Kent’s reply of “Maybe” when young Clark asked if he should have just let the other kids die when they were trapped underwater, for the sake of protecting his secret because it was not yet the “proper time” to reveal himself (the Jonathan Kent I know would never think like that).  There was Superman’s apathy for collateral damage while he was fighting the Krytonians (Superman always holds back).  But worst of all, there was the part Superman had to kill Zod.

Now, Superman doesn’t kill!  He never chooses “the lesser evil” option.  When given two impossible choices, he still manages to go around them to save the day.  He always finds a way to win without killing.  He can do this because he is Superman!  Batman might vow not to kill, but because he is human and, thus, limited by humanness, he can’t enforce this vow when facing an impossible dilemma.  Superman, however, can enforce his vow of not killing even in the face of an impossible dilemma because his godlike qualities should allow him to do so.  That is what’s being SUPERman is all about.  He is better than us.  He is better than Man. (Of course, there were rare times when Superman had found himself in situations where killing was unavoidable. But, again, these instances are rare.  These instances are merely exceptions to the rule.  And such exceptions are not what defines Superman, and thus should not be used on an origin movie that would define Superman.)

But once again, I forced myself on looking at it with the necessary point of view.  And that is, Superman’s decision to kill Zod is merely in line with the direction or mood DC is going with in establishing their shared movie universe, which is being grittier and more “realistic” compared to Marvel Studios’ take on their superhero movies (which is closer to the comic book feel).  I’m okay with that, if that’s what DC wants.  So with that put into consideration, I began to like the situation Superman was put in.  It was a “realistic” scenario.  Because in real life, moral choices are not always uncomplicated as picking between an objective, definite right and an objective, definite wrong; sometimes, one has to deal with a “trolley problem”or, worse, a “ticking time bomb scenario.”  So if this movie Superman – an Elseworld interpretation – is going to be “realistic”, then even though he has godlike qualities, there will be times he would be forced into taking a “lesser evil” option – just like with real life moral dilemmas.  And with this, applying this context of being “realistic”, all other moments in the movie that made me cringe slowly made connections and sense.

Overall, the movie has been fun and exciting.  The action scenes were terrific.  The visuals were generally awesome, though too annoyingly CGI-heavy at times.  Henry Cavill did well as (a reinvented) Superman, and Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner had powerful performances as Jor-El and Jonathan Kent respectively.  Amy Adams, though, never impressed me as Lois Lane (because the greatest live portrayal of Lois Lane ever is still Erica Durance in Smallville).  But my most favorite performance in this movie is Antje Traue as Faora – Zod’s second-in-command – who was memorably kickass.    

2.) IRON MAN 3

Marvel’s “Phase 2” got a strong start because of this movie.  Oh, it’s not perfect.  But this is arguably, for me, the best movie of the Iron Man trilogy.  I love how Tony did some sleuthing.  I love how Pepper was given a bigger role.  I love how Tony was pushed to the limits.  But the best thing about this movie was the action.  The action scenes were intense and excellent, especially the kickass climax in which Tony Stark unleashed his Iron Man army (second most awesome action scene was the Air Force One sequence).

The thing about this movie that received a lot of backlash was the treatment of the character of Mandarin.  It infuriated a lot of fans.  As for me, I’m split about the matter.  Half of me was disappointed that the actual comicbook characterization of the Mandarin has not been executed in the movie when a very capable and very fitting actor like Ben Kingsley was available to perform the role (though Kingsley was still brilliant in the movie’s interpretation of the character).  But half of me enjoyed the unexpected twist of the movie: the “Mandarin” was actually not the true main villain but was merely an actor working as a dummy front for the real villain.       

My main disappointment on this movie was its absence of appetizing elements – like a cameo of a future superhero – to preview and connect to the next Phase 2 films.  Really hoping the post-credit scene was Tony Start in a deep-space Iron Man armor rocketing upwards toward outer space (as a prelude to Guardians of the Galaxy) or a glimpse of Hank Pym.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable movie.  Though, just like Man of Steel, if you looked at Iron Man 3 as an overzealous comicbook fan who expects it to conform to everything the comics had established about Iron Man and his mythos, you will get irked.  If you would just watch the movie as it is, and would continually remind yourself that this movie is merely an alternate version of the comics’ universe, you will have a wonderful time. 


Star Trek Into Darkness had my full spellbound attention from start to finish.  It could be my most favorite Star Trek movie ever.  Primarily because this was the most visually amazing Star Trek film ever made.  This movie was so awesome that I can easily forgive the plot holes (seriously, why do they need to hide the Enterprise at the bottom of the sea at the beginning of the movie?  Why not just let it orbit the planet?  Saving Spock would have had no complications if they have done so).  The action in this movie – from the starship warp drive chase to the face off between Spock and Khan – has been quite exhilarating and the plot has been engagingly fast-paced.   

Every cast member did great with regards to portraying their respective characters and making them shine when given the exposure and opportunity.  However, it was Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan (a.k.a. John Harrison) who easily stood out from the rest.  He carried this movie from being great to epic awesomeness.  His performance has been very magnetic, layered, terrific, and interesting.  Some were annoyed of all the extreme secrecy and denials of who Benedict’s character was going to be; they said the extreme secrecy was unnecessary.  However, for me, this “unnecessary” secrecy still made it possible for a slight thrill to happen during the scene that finally confirmed “John Harrisson” as a mere alias (as expected).  A minor tingle still went up my spine once Benedict dramatically uttered, “I. AM. KHAN.”   For me, Benedict’s Khan has been more compelling and fascinating than the original depiction of the character.

The loudest criticism about the movie was its lack of originality; that this movie was merely a “greatest hits” gimmick instead of creating something new, as what the first movie (Star Trek) had promised.  But I want to argue that Star Trek Into Darkness was somewhat of an extension of the Star Trek reboot – which established this new timeline.  I want to point out that things were still being set up in Into Darkness; most notably, at the end of the movie, the starship USS Enterprise’s was only starting on with its 5-year mission “to boldly go where no man has gone before” – which is the entire premise of Star Trek.  Hence, Into Darkness was still part of the introduction or “origin” process.  So, now that the premise has just been established, the real room for originality can only really start on the next installment.  

I am excitedly looking forward for the next one.  And I hope it won’t take another four years.  

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