10 Wondrous Vantage Points That Make Western New York A Worthy Rival Of New York City


Waterfalls, striking state parks, and an eternal flame – I’ll bet the house that New York would be the last state you’d look to find gems like these. Sure, I’m used to hearing the cliches of people assuming New York State is a continuation of The Big Apple – one gigantic metropolis. Well, dear reader, I introduce you to Buffalo, New York, and the Western New York region. No, no, NO! It’s not Upstate New York. Wikipedia is lying to you. Don’t get me started.

Let’s go for a walk – or a scroll down this webpage – and discover why New York is so great to look at.

1. Niagara Falls



You may have heard of this one. Wedged between New York and Ontario, this North American natural wonder is truly special to behold. Locals will tell you it’s nothing more than falling water that is over-advertised to draw tourist revenue. And while that’s partially true, the Falls must be seen to be believed. Millions of gallons of water plummet at its base every minute, and can be witnessed from various vantage points. The Maid of the Mist tour takes visitors for a close-in look, while the perspective from the Skylon Tower on the Canadian side supplies a perfect panoramic view of the sensation. Niagara Falls State Park – the oldest state park in the country – makes the trip even more worthwhile.

2. Eternal Flame Falls


One of the more quirky attractions to visit is the Eternal Flame Falls, a 30-foot waterfall with a small grotto at its base that emits natural gas. Use your lighter or old-school match to ignite the flame, and get out your marshmallows and sticks (note sarcasm). The flame is small, but this natural phenomenon is so uncommon it has drawn an exponential amount of visitors in recent years. The hikes to and from the flame are also fun, and will take about an hour.

3. Erie Basin Marina


I know, I know. At this point you’re wondering why Western New Yorkers like watching water so much. It’s the lovechild of hydrogen and oxygen, so what’s the big deal? The Erie Basin Marina is a waterfront that locals are proud to live by. Rent a boat and navigate Lake Erie, or pick a bench and savor the view. Many eateries flood the immediate area for local grub, drinks or ice cream. For the best possible view, visit the observation deck to soak it all in.

4. Sled Hill in Chestnut Ridge Park


Also home to the Eternal Flame, Chestnut Ridge Park is a popular sledding destination during the winter. The infamous sled hill offers great views of the park from its summit, and on clear days offers great views of the Buffalo skyline and Lake Erie. Countless hiking trails surround the area for before, during and after your sledding session, and are more reasons to embrace the sometimes arctic atmosphere of Western New York winters.

5. Glen Falls Park


Hey, guess what? New York has a lot of waterfalls. Who knew? Hidden in the depths of Williamsville, New York, roughly 20 minutes from the Buffalo city center, Glen Falls Park is a miniature slice of natural beauty surrounded by suburban life. It offers minimal walking distances, yet the views are so striking it shouldn’t be overlooked. What was once inhabited by mills and factories now presides as a quaint park with interlocking, paved walkways that lead to a 27-foot waterfall. If you’re looking for somewhere quiet to escape to near the city, Glen Falls Park is what you want.

6. Hoyt Lake/Delaware Park


After visiting the likes of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Buffalo History Museum, take a stroll alongside Hoyt Lake, one of Buffalo’s unsung wonders. Found within the confines of Delaware Park, Hoyt Lake offers photogenic scenery near the city center. Delaware Park itself is a highlight of Buffalo; it’s home to Shakespeare in the Park – an annual summer festival that has been tradition since the 1970’s. Also nearby are the Buffalo Zoo, a golf course, several baseball diamonds and tennis courts, and a replica of Michelangelo’s David.

7. Peace Bridge


The Peace Bridge, opened in 1927, is an international bridge connecting Buffalo, New York to the neighboring Fort Erie, Canada. Its name derives from the United States and Canada reaching 100 years of peace (now almost 200). Its color scheme is radiant and spills onto Lake Erie to complete the picture. The Peace Bridge is one of the lesser talked about bridges in the country, but is one of the most vital when it comes to international trade and transportation. The EZ Pass station on the Canadian side was the first to be opened outside of the Unites States. If you’re traveling to or from Canada, the Peace Bridge is the most recommended route.

8. Canalside


This is Buffalo’s Time Square. With endless views, activities and events, and Lake Erie dominating the backdrop, locals suggest that Canalside is the heart of the city. It contains a little of everything for everyone: the newly named Keybank Center hosts Buffalo’s beloved Sabres, the Erie Canal is mesmerizing, and the prevailing HarborCenter is the glue that holds it all together. The best views of this area can be experienced when the outdoor ice rink is open. One of the most Buffalonian experiences is lacing it up and skating alongside the residents of the City of Good Neighbors.

9. Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park


A main fixture in the Canalside district is the stunning Naval and Military Park, which consists of several decommissioned US Naval vessels. The main attractions are the three ships: The cruiser USS Little Rock, the destroyer USS The Sullivans, and the submarine USS Croaker. Harboring on the shore of Lake Erie, visitors can board and tour the vessels. These massive structures are a must-see when touring the Queen City, despite being tourist bait.

10. Inspiration Point Overlook


This one requires some intermediate hiking abilities, but is arguably the best view in Western New York. Located in Letchworth State Park – over an hour outside of Buffalo – the Inspiration Point Overlook is the best vantage point of Letchworth Gorge and the Genesee River. The scene is highlighted by the Middle Falls, with water descending 107 feet. Two other major waterfalls and a train trestle can be seen further upstream. Letchworth is also home to some of the best hiking trails in the state, and has amazing cliffs that rise up to 550 feet. If you are ever lucky enough to visit the park, mark the Inspiration Point Overlook as a can’t-miss.

What other views in Western New York shouldn’t be overlooked? Let us know in the comments!




The best films of 2013


This was the year for romance. Half of the films that survived into this year’s top 10 hail from the romance genre. The annual crapshoot has spoken.

So this is my second attempt at compiling a list of the 10 best films in a year. This year was far more difficult, possibly due to me haven seen more films within the year. In 2012, I accumulated a top 10 list from 136. This year, I had 180 to choose from. Knowing me, I’ll probably have more than 200 to dig through next year.

But alas, I once again am able to provide the ever so daunting task of singling out the 10 best films of the year, which is far more taxing on my mind than I wish it to be. Every film of this list is about on the same in terms of quality; in the end I had to chose my list based on which films I admired the most.

I’m also changing up the format a little this time around. Because I want to give a shout-out to more great films from the year, I have provided you with the top 20 films of the year, with 11-20 being in alphabetical order instead of ranked from best to worst.

So, here we go. Let the debates begin.

11-20 (In alphabetical order):

12 Years a Slave


Director Steve McQueen has finally received mainstream attention for his flawless work on 12 Years a Slave, and deservingly so. He has created one of the most brutal and honest slavery films. It’s currently a favorite to win Best Picture on Oscar night, perhaps to make up for Lincoln and Django Unchained not winning last year. A great deal of this film’s success is due to Chiwetel Ejiofor. You know who he is. He’s always been that one guy from that thing, most notably in 2012SaltAmerican GangsterChildren of Men, Inside Man and Four Brothers. This role will forever be his landmark in cinema, as his presence on the screen is nothing short of magnetizing. 


BLANCANIEVES Sinopsis_copy1

2012 was the year that revived the ancient tale of Snow White, with the great Snow White and the Huntsman and the amateur Mirror Mirror. Neither film stands toe-to-toe with Blancanieves, which transforms the classic children’s tale into a silent epic centered around bull-fighting. This is significantly more daring than The Artist, which won Best Picture for 2011. Blancanieves is a full-scale epic that feels like it was found in a time capsule from the 20’s. And for the record, this was the last film to be cut from the final 10, so I guess you can consider this number 11, for whatever that’s worth.

Blue Jasmine


Woody Allen shows no sign of easing into retirement by challenging us with Blue Jasmine, another one of his personal character studies on the simple quirks of everyday people. Cate Blanchett’s title character is under the main spotlight, who proves right away she is deeply disturbed. Jasmine dresses like a million dollars but has a mind so warped she can’t handle a minimum wage job or casual conversation. Something remarkable has happened in this woman’s past, and we are slowly spoonfed details via flashbacks. We learn that she was once married to rich executive played by Alec Baldwin, who proves untrustworthy in several categories. Jasmine is eventually forced to move in with her working-class sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), who is also shown to be married during the flashbacks to a hopeful entrepreneur, played by Andre Dice Clay, of all people. Allen continues to prove that he is one of the elite screenwriters of cinema history by consistently writing about people we can care about, the type of people who are hurt by tragedy and we willingly put our arms around for comfort.

Captain Phillips

Film Fall Preview

Captains Phillips is a superb, relentless thriller about Somali pirates taking an American cargo ship hostage. It’s all about character here, as most of the film is comprised of a verbal chess match between the title hero (Tom Hanks in another great transforming performance) and the pirate leader, played by Barkhad Abdi in a star making role. In a way I was reminded of another Tom Hanks movie, Apollo 13, where another group of men relied on sound teamwork to overcome daunting odds for survival. Director Paul Greengrass continues to show he can do no wrong after crafting fellow great thrillers in The Bourne Ultimatum and Green Zone. This becomes the second consecutive year that Hanks has been robbed of a sure Oscar nomination after his polarizing work in Cloud Atlas last year. But one thing is certain: he makes acting look so easy.

Dallas Buyers Club


Tom Hanks may have handed in another solid performance, but the Transformation of the Year awards go to Matthew McConaughey and Lared Leto for their contributions to The Dallas Buyers Club, which tells a true story of Ron Woodroof – a man diagnosed with AIDs in 1985 Dallas. He has the heart and determination of a lion, boldly working around the system to transport medications from around the world and sell them by any means, including smuggling, bribing or loudly disrupting town meetings. It’s essentially a parable to never trusting Big Brother and solely believing in your survival instincts. McConaughey and Leto are the front runners to win their respective acting nominations on Oscar night for assuming their characters so flawlessly.



Disconnect is a film that offers its own opinions on social networking, questioning just how much it connects or disconnects relationships between people. This is a horror film in the traditional sense that it thrives on the audience’s fears, playing our emotions like a piano, as Hitchcock would say. Disconnect uses the Crash format of telling multiple stories between interconnecting characters. The most memorable is when a couple of teenage boys create a fake Facebook account, masking themselves as an attractive girl, and message their wallflower classmate, Ben (Jonah Bobo). Ben’s the long-haired loner in middle school, his ears often pacified by ear phones and his eyes often fixed downward to avoid human interaction as much as possible. My younger self relates to Ben in so many ways, so maybe my rating is a little biased, but isn’t that the point of films: to find ways to connect with and touch audiences? Disconnect made me so concerned for its characters, I’ve rarely ever felt so connected during a film.

Pacific Rim


It must be fun to live in Guillermo del Toro’s mind. His ever-expanding imagination is so unlike most other filmmakers, I always look forward to escape into his films, most notably the Hellboy series and Pan’s LabrynthPacific Rim is somewhat of a crossover between Reel Steel and Cloverfield, although very superior to both films. In the near future, Earth becomes infested with giant reptilian monsters called The Kaiju. In response, humans built giant, mechanical fighting robots to defend their last hopes of survival. I know, I know, this plot seems simplistic and something borrowed from the Michael Bay Screenplay Factory, but del Toro does right by putting characters first instead of focusing on stuff being blowed up real good. I was further engrossed by the fun science involved, mostly communicated by Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day), which backed up the story and gives the film purpose. The prime special effects and action sequences provide the perfect backdrop to the adventure, and what you’ve got here is a first-rate action thriller that makes Optimus Prime looks like a ukulele pick.


Judi Dench in Philomena

Philomena is one of the funniest, most charming films about a serious subject I’ve seen. Judi Dench is the title character — an shorter woman in her 60’s or 70’s, often blabbering about whatever is on her mind. We learn that she grew up in a Catholic convent in Ireland, and conceived a child who was taken away from her. She tracks down and hires narcissistic journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan, who also wrote the screenplay) to aid her in looking for her long lost boy. What looks like a setup for another odd couple roadtrip picture turns out to be a sweet yet brutally honest portrait of how beliefs have changed in the past 50 years. Dench and Coogan are hilarious together, working off each other’s talents flawlessly, particularly Dench who plays a character who doesn’t realize she’s funny, which is how comedy works. None of the dialogue seems forced, providing one of the most enriching experiences in a theater of the year.



If Prisoners deserves anything, it’s an award for Best Ensemble. This is a relentlessly daunting thriller that immediately gives off a Hitchcockian aroma of a simple yet horrifying situation. Two families meet for a cozy dinner. A daughter from each family wanders off and don’t return. Hugh Jackman plays one of the fathers and knocks his Oscar nominated performance from Les Miserables out of the theater, portraying a ferocious, clueless man who just wants to know the answers. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the detective assigned to investigate, and hands in a third great performance in a row after Source Code and End of Watch. He embodies a darker version of his character from Zodiac, who also became obsessed with finding the culprit of horrible acts. This will be an entertainment to be remembered and cherished for years to come.

The Wolf of Wall Street


Martin Scorsese returns to his roots of telling self-destructing tragedies about a once innocent man who eventually becomes corrupt and loses everything, much like his other great films GoodfellasCasino and The Aviator. He uses Leonardo DiCaprio as his centerpiece for the fifth time, and is their best collaboration since The Departed, most of the credit going to DiCaprio’s animated performance. He plays Jordan Belfort, who climbed his way up the Wall Street ladder and founded his own stockbroking company. He rewards his employees with so much drugs and hookers he is like a darker version of Jay Gatsby. Scorsese purposely edits the stoned scenes loosely, brilliantly replicating the world that Belfort believed to be his. I felt Scorsese took less risks on his picture than pasts ones, but that still doesn’t diminish the overall quality.


Now I shall list the 10 best pictures of the year, according to me, starting with number 10.

10. Fruitvale Station


Fruitvale Station is based on the true life of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), a young father on parole who wakes up one morning and senses something isn’t right. We assume he regrets all of the time he rotted away in prison instead of being there for his wife, daughter and mother. And so he lives this particular day to the best of his abilities, encountering strangers who become friends, enemies and victims of bad decisions, which is how we normally characterize the people we meet. Jordan provides a career-defining role, portraying Grant as a man still struggling to assume his adulthood and the responsibility attached to it. Jordan gives a virtuoso performance as someone who grins like a saint to his friends and transforms into a destructive monsters when he makes enemies. This film is a testament against stereotypes of ghetto residents, telling a heart-breaking story in the most honest way possible.

9. Rush


What I felt was the most forgotten about great film of the year was Ron Howard’s eye-opening Rush, which recalls the true story of a catastrophic rivalry between Formula 1 racers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl). These guys don’t mess around. Sports fans often refer to football and hockey as the most dangerous contact sports, but Formula 1 racing is on another level. Those who participated fully understood and accepted that they might die on the track, but they went anyway, because what else would they do? Lauda was obsessive over winning his races, upgrading every gizmo in his car to the best of his abilities, spending too many hours on studying his car and how it drives. Hunt was the pretty boy marquee of the sport, preferring to be a womanizer than focus too much on his gameplan. The film uses Lauda’s fueled hatred toward’s hunt to portray determination so unlike most other films.

8. Before Midnight


The third and best entry to Richard Linklater’s “Before” series is Before Midnight, revisiting Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) nine years after they reconnected in Paris in Before Sunset, and 18 years after they first naturally crossed paths on the train in Before Sunrise. Each film seemingly raises the stakes for these characters and their relationship, because that’s just how lives go as they age. The first film promised no commitments or consequences, with Jesse and Celine seeming so free and anxious. Now they have twin daughters, and Jesse lives in France with Celine. Before Midnight follows the family’s vacation to Greece, just another day in the lives of two people destined to be interconnected. Linklater utilized more long-shots this time, naturally watching Jesse and Celine talk in the car or while walking in the streets of Greece. It’s special how Hawke and Delpy effortlessly embrace their roles every nine years, like they were always destined to be interconnected themselves. Maybe they were.

7. Frances H

Mickey Sumner and Greta Gerwig in Franes Ha

I like Greta Gerwig. I just plain like her. When it comes to screen presence, boy, she’s just got it. Much like her awkward, eccentric character in Greenberg, Gerwig plays Frances as a bright but unconfident Frances who struggles to survive in the bowels of New York City. She doesn’t really live anywhere or have a prosperous career, but her dreams are as big as her heart. She camps on her friends’ couches and apprentices at a dance studio, praying to eventually catch her big break. Isn’t that what most post-graduate college students are doing these days? Greta Gerwig is one of the funniest new actresses working her way to the top. She isn’t Sarah Silverman raunchy funny, more like Zooey Deschanel only not as blunt funny. The decision to film in black and white is genius, keeping us from being distracted from the noisy, annoying New York City and allowing Gerwig to glow despite the absence of color. Being black  and white will stir people away from this film, which is a crime because the style allows us to see these people at their core. It especially speaks well to people of my generation, who feel lost in an unorganized America, and have to fight to even feel happy on a daily basis. I’m going to remember Frances for a very long time.

6. Blue is the Warmest Colour (La vie d’Adèle)


Coincidentally, I had a foreign film in my number six spot on last year’s list, Amour. That was a story of a long-seasoned love between an old French couple. Blue is the Warmest Color centers around a young French girl who finally discovers and interpret love for the first time. We meet Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) during her high school days, when girls and boys meet separately in groups to giggle and gossip about their crushes and who lost their virginity to who. I never contributed to those discussions in high school, but I know they happened everyday. Adele is asked out by a boy in her class. They date. They have sex, on screen. Adele looks dazed during it, as if something is still missing. Exacrhopoulos’s performance is spot-on throughout this picture, as she finds love in the rebellious woman, Emma (Lea Seydoux), with blue hair, and finally blossoms into the woman she was meant to be. While with the boy, Adele appears emotionless and conflicted. But with Emma, she discovers herself. This is the truest film about homosexuality I’ve ever seen. I don’t doubt gay people strife through similar predicaments every day. Then again, everyone goes through this regardless of sexuality, don’t they?

5. Her


Her strips away the romance genre and strikes right for eroticism. No, it’s not what you think. There’s no nudity or sex scenes… well, at least not what you or I refer to as sex. Anyway, this is another masterpiece by director Spike Jonze, who challenges cinema more than anyone else in his field with films like Being John Malkovich and AdaptationHer takes place in the not-so-distant future, where the social media crisis seems to have won the war. Everyone can be seen connected to a device through ear plugs, their heads shrugged down towards the ground. Corporate skyscrapers are as high as the clouds and loom in the background for a darkened tone. Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix in another virtuoso role) is recently separated from his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara). He is Shakespearean with words when typing or talking to his gadgets, but is incapable of personal confrontations. This is no doubt Jonze’s slap to the face of today’s social media, particularly online dating sites. Theodore purchases the latest technology — a computer that establishes a personality based on the personalities of the user — Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. They establish a respectful relationship that eventually evolves into love, and exchange their love through their emotions and voice, as Samantha is only a voice, at least at first. The film eventually ends with one of the most outlandish endings that only Spike Jonze can concoct.

4. The Place Beyond the Pines


When I wrote my sort-of best film list for The UB Spectrum in December, I tagged The Place Beyond the Pines as the best film of the year. After a little recalculating and watching a handful of films over again, it is currently ranked at number four. I may change my mind again later in life, but this is how I feel at the current moment. This is still a perfect film from open to close, with some of the edgiest acting I’ve ever seen. Ryan Gosling, one of my favorite actors, plays a motorcycle daredevil for a touring carnival troupe. He revisits a fling he met from a previous tour, only to discover for himself that she bore his child. Romina (Eva Mendes) slaves away at her waitress job, and has found a new boyfriend. Luke (Gosling) is obliged to pay his dues and help aid his son — robbing banks, working on cars, whatever. The events that eventually unfold I dare not reveal, only that a dedicated cop played by Bradley Cooper and a teenager played by Dane DeHaan become involved. In its simplest form, The Place Beyond the Pines tell stories of determination and sacrifice about people who want what’s best for their family. But at its core, the film asks its characters the all important moral question, “Well, what should you do now?” The characters’ morals are challenged to their limits. Did these people force themselves into these predicaments? That’s a question that can be asked about people everyday. Most of the time, the answer is yes.

3. Gravity


Gravity is one of those rare gems that can only be fully experienced when seen in the theater. Like Life of PiAvatar and The Dark KnightGravity feels like a lesser film when off the big screen. Apparently Warner Bros. and Regal Cinemas agree with, since the film is still in theaters after its initial release on October 4. And like the three other films I mentioned, Gravity successfully utilizes 3-D technology to its advantage. If you are so desperate to see a 3-D film that won’t hurt your eyes or look blurry, look no further. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play two survivors stranded in space when their spaceship is shredded by satellite debris in Earth’s orbit. This scene’s elegance can’t properly be described in words, although I will say I was clutching the armrest a a little tighter than normal. Films this exciting are so rare that I cherish them. The last time a thriller gripped me like that was the opening crash scene in last year’s Flight. Bullock provides transforming work here, her best role ever bar none. She plays a woman who has since felt distant from a life of material and physical things since the death of her daughter. She spends nearly 20 hours a day in a darkened, underground lab doing research, drives around to cope with her day, and reruns the routine the next day. She is a woman detached from all emotion, but will soon learn to cherish the life she has. I would just like to take the time to also mention that in my Spectrum article I correctly predicted that director of cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki would earn an Oscar nomination for his work. She should be a shoe-in to win. Director Alfonso Cuaron has probably made the best space thriller since Kubrick’s milestone 2001: A Space Oddesey. 

2. The Spectacular Now


This film is perfect in the simplest ways. Two seniors in high school meet cute on a lawn one morning. Sutter (Miles Tenner) is a snarky, fun-loving dude from the party scene. Aimee (Shailene Woodley) is a bright, genuine girl who isn’t a loner but is quiet enough not to be noticed by the popular kids. Sutter buds up with her initially for a ride home. They click instantaneously. A ride turns into lunch at school, lunch at school turns into math tutoring, and the rest I’ll leave you to guess. This film retells the stories of so many people, I felt like I was meeting them all at once. Sutter’s dad has been out of the picture of 15 years, and when Sutter and Aimee finally meet and talk to him, it leads to one of the saddest moments I’ve ever seen on film. It’s so clear Sutter and Aimee work well together, but Sutter still has lingering feelings about his last relationship. We’ve all been there. All of my best friends call recall my numerous pathetic attempts to reconnect with my first love. They inevitably reach the sex stage of the relationship, and its as honest as any sex scene you’ll see in a movie. We aren’t focused on tits or asses, or anything in particular. We are instead neutral witnesses to natural young love defining itself. I found myself leaning forward for most of this movie, because of its refreshing atmosphere and the credibility the actors bring to their roles. You can tell this project meant a lot to them. It means a lot to me, too. I was both of these people at one point.

1. American Hustle


Now this is a movie. Somewhere about halfway into American Hustle I became convinced I was watching the best film of 2013. This will be an American film classic for decades to come. Why? Because it’s just so much damned fun. Director David O. Russell combines his main cast of The Fighter (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) with the main cast of Silver Linings Playbook (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence), and teams them up with Jeremy Renner for one of the best ensembles of the year. Each scene plays off the next in an web of deception between all of the players involved. The opening sequence says it all. Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) struggles to give himself a comb over using glue, setting the tone for the whole film in a minute. These characters con others to survive. Well, what else are they supposed to do? Go to school and start a career? This film is a great character study, like The Place Beyond the Pines, about people driven by desperation that they create themselves. Amy Adams especially shines here, deceiving several people at once. For a while I couldn’t decide if she really was British or was only using that to help Irving. I’ll let you find out for yourself. Cooper hits all the right notes as an FBI agent who diagnoses government corruption like cancer. Lawrence has a high chance to win a second consecutive Oscar, although I don’t think she deserves it as much as last year. Adams has stiff competition against Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine, but I’ll be pulling for her in March. According to Christian Bale, many scenes were altered and improvised. He told director David O. Russell, “You realize this is going to change the plot greatly down track.” Russell replies, “Christian, I hate plots. I am all about characters, that’s it.” You have no idea how happy that makes me.

The Worst Films of 2013


Being a movie critic isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. There’s no manual labor involved, but there can be a lot of pain endured while watching movies.

This list is a testament to that.

Listed here will be the 10 times during 2013 that I wanted to walk out of the theater or turn off my laptop the most. Basically, if I had to choose 10 films that I would want everyone to avoid the most, these are it. Let’s get right to it then.

10. Phantom


Probably the dullest film of 2013 was the inconceivable Phantom, another sluggish submarine thriller that tries to replicate the success of The Hunt of Red October, and missed that goal by a few nautical miles.

The great Ed Harris is cast as a captain in the Soviet Navy during the Cold War. While his performance is top-notch – to the best of his abilities with the blundering lines he’s forced to give – he never provides even a taste of a Russian accent. Ed Harris plays his usual Ed Harris persona, which is actually convincing in another archetype military role for him, but his character talks and acts like an American which leads the audience astray. It takes too long to realize that Harris and his men aren’t even American!

Demi (Harris) is given vague orders by his commander, Markov (Lance Henriksen), to helm a submarine and carry out a top-secret mission. Demi is reluctant because of past mistakes while in command, but accepts and soon sails off with the creepiest, rustiest ship available with his men and second-in-command, Alex Kozlov (William Fichtner, another great American actor without a Russian accent).

An ominous Soviet agent, Bruni (David Duchovny), also boards Demi’s ship with his own squad of soldiers who all should have “Bad Guys” spray painted in neon on their chests. As the sub sails away, Markov shoots himself seemlingly for no reason, Bruni’s men have commandeered the ship, and soon we are looking for an excuse to swim to the exits and away from this picture. The remainder of the story involves a drawn-out of men in a cramped submarine and talking, with no suspense and amateur, b-rated action towards the end. Nothing suggests that these men are trained Navy officers, Soviets, or once lived in the 1960’s. Cold War veterans would spit at this amateur project, and rightfully so. You’re far better off catching a factual documentary on the History Channel.

9. Noobz


The main characters of Noobz act like descendants of the morons from Grandma’s Boy, which was an automatic sign that I would hate this movie. These guys eat, sleep and breathe around video games, so much so that the hero, Cody (Blake Freeman), gets fired from his job and loses his wife from playing too often. How she ever had the misfortune of getting to first base with this guy is a mystery. When Cody tells his single, loser friends about his wife leaving him, they cheer and ridicule him just like so many other empty comedies I’ve seen.

So, when video games appear to be the clear sole problem in their lives, what’s their solution? Why, enter a video game competition of course. None of them appear to have jobs, yet they all can afford rent and a trip to Los Angeles.

This film is so uniquely oblivious of real life that it’s frightening people in a board room actually sat down and considered this quality entertainment. This film is physical proof that the executives and filmmakers of this project actually believe that gamers are morons with no jobs or responsibilities. I’m good friends with hardcore gamers, and all of them have either graduated college, about to finish college or have full-time jobs.

Films like this are the reason why people don’t take video games seriously, and why some critics don’t consider the medium an art form. Video games, like animated films, are separate worlds with limitless boundaries. It takes articulate and innovate people to structure a good video game, just like any movie or painting. A film about the creation of the video game Skyrim, for instance, might tell an interesting story and avenge the gaming scene. But until then, films like Noobz will continue to associate video games with stupidity and insignificance.

8. Kick-Ass 2


The original Kick-Ass was simpleminded, cruel, unimaginative and one of the worst movies of 2010. Its sequel, Kick-Ass 2, is absentminded,  agonizing, brainless and somehow worse than the original, making an easy case to join the list of one of the worst movies of 2013.

I always feel I need to plead me case for hating the Kick-Ass series with extra effort, because for some reason it has a large fan-base, including all of my close friends. Let’s forget for a moment and push aside all the worthless fart and groin jokes, all the cardboard special effects, all the idiotic, brainless quotes said throughout the series and focus on one aspect: Kick-Ass himself (played by the respectable Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who was great in Savages). Kick-Ass is boring, annoying teenager with no real superpowers. He never really has a motive to drive him to do good; I think he’s just an attention-seeking crybaby who made himself ripped to impress a hot chick in his high school.

Kick-Ass, as much as I hate calling him that, unites with a band of fellow amateur superheros masked in latex. Take a gander at some of these outlandish code names: the team is led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carey),  and features Insect Man (Robert Emms) and Night Bitch (Lindy Booth). I may be guessing, but what superhero, male or female, willingly titles themselves “Night Bitch?”

I haven’t even mentioned the herculean, sweaty freakazoid Mother Russia played by Olga Kurkulina, my new least favorite character since the heroine of last year’s Lay the Favorite. She is a female, Russian version of Hulk Hogan is his prime. She wears an eye-patch, and her bathing suit-type outfit has the Russian hammer and sickle over the brazier portions. I hated every vacant, insulting sentence that left her mouth. I hated brutal depiction of this person that’s sexist towards women and overly stereotypical of Russians. Russia should sue.

7. The Baytown Outlaws 


The Baytown Outlaws only had a limited January release in America, but that’s enough to warrant it as one of the worst films released in 2013. And with a 19% on the tomatometer it appears not many would disagree with me.

This films stems from the most simple-minded part of the movie family tree; three murderous hillbillies inexplicably concern over a stranger woman and her godson, whose lives are threatened by the estranged step-dad, Carlos (Billy Bob Thornton). There’s also an empty sub-plot of the corrupt local sheriff (Andre Braugher) who is on Carlos’ books and so doesn’t arrest him for his crimes.

So let me understand this. Thronton and Braugher, two of the better character actors in today’s movies, read the script and gave it a thumbs up of approval? The budget is so obviously low, I can’t imagine how well their respective paychecks could have been. According to the-numbers.com, this film made $0 at the box office, which is probably close but not entirely accurate, but I don’t see these actors receiving decent royalty checks from this film.

So what we have here is chopped up action scenes filmed with boring car chases, ugly Mexican standoffs and piles of dead bodies shot to death with obviously fake blood overflowing from them. I can’t see this film’s fanbase reaching 100 people. Those responsible for this crime — director/writer Barry Battles and co-writer Griffin Hood, among others — should settle for an early retirement from filmmaking and find themselves desk jobs in a studio. Or someplace that doesn’t involve making movies, if possible.

6. Dark Skies


It’s all but confirmed at this point in Scott Stewart’s career that he can do no right. His third feature film directorial project, Dark Skies, is as competent as a toaster oven, and that’s an insult to the metallic kitchen appliance.

Horror films are one of he easier genres for me to critique. I ask myself, Would this scare anyone? People who are frightened by the events of Dark Skies, and I don’t doubt there are some, must also be afraid of their own shadow.

I must confess, when I first witnessed distinctly animated birds hilariously crashing into a window during the trailer for this film, I was convinced I was watching a parody. But nothing could be farther from the truth, as the characters recite their lines with empty earnestness and vacant personas. I’ve encountered fewer characters who were less interesting as the members of this family, who have issues with an invisible presence haunting their every move.

Stewart, also the culprit behind such atrocities as Legion and Priest, is still too caught up in his fanboy fantasies of late night B-movies I think to ever develop anything with substance. Good special effects don’t necessarily make a good movie, but they should at least show the filmmakers made honorable attempts at being professional. The special effects in all of Stewart’s works are nothing short of laughable. If modern movie studios cannot afford to provide decent enough budgets for the special effects department, they should halt the project altogether and save a lot of grief. Stewart’s credentials include taking part in the visual effects of great works like Sin CityIron ManBlade Runner and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, so it’s tough to decide where the blame should fall. Maybe the screenwriting department? Oh, wait…

5. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone


They thought they were in the clear. A comedy starring the likes of Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey and Alan Arkin, written by Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis — the duo who wrote great comedies Horrible Bosses and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 — sounds like a marquee team for a brilliant, outrageous comedy.

This hypothesis has been proven false. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is anything but incredible or wondrous. What’s incredible — nay, insulting — is how much brilliance this film lacks. You know you’re in trouble when the title character is most annoying person in the movie. Burt Wonderstone is infected with Fingernails On The Blackboard Syndrome; his screeching voice and adolescent mannerisms categorize him in a species foreign to this planet.

I thought Jim Carrey’s character could’ve had something going for him. He might have made a better protagonist than Wonderstone. Carrey — who had three supporting roles in three clunkers this year, inlcuding Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues which barely missed this list — doesn’t so much overact as he recites the garbage lines spoonfed to him. But I must admit, every time his character proudly levitated in the air and floated away I cracked a laugh.

But take Carrey’s character completely out of the picture, and all you have are gifted comedic talents standing around telling poo and pee jokes, all lost at sea by the horrendous script. Maybe director Don Scardino — of mostly TV sitcom fame like 30 Rock — didn’t discipline his crew well enough, and basically allowed the actors to read the lines whoever they wanted. I doubt many re-shots were taken, as I’m sure everyone wanted to pack up and get the Hell out of dodge before their friends found out they were involved in this project. Look on the bright side guys, at least you didn’t make the absolute worst comedy of the year. Just the fifth-worst.

4. Freeloaders


This is the worst movie that you’ve probably never heard of. According to IMDb.com, Freeloaders was available on Video On Demand in December 2012, and released in theaters in New York City in January 2013. I’m including this in my list however because of the degrading, nauseating, excruciating pain this film caused onto me.

A group of loafers live together in a rich musician’s pad, as he is rarely ever in town. They soon discover the musician plans on selling his pad, so they are forced to either find refuge somewhere else or raise enough money to buy the place themselves.

Those involved with this project can be familiar with comedy if they consider this material humorous. Comedy is created from what could be everyday situations that occur naturally. It’s funnier if a character isn’t aware that something is funny, rather than telling scrotum jokes. Comedy is highly about characters and situations, something that Woody Allen consistently takes advantage of. But none of these characters or situations are inspiring or believable, why would anyone care what happens to these people who have a combined IQ of 20?

I’m often pursued by my friends who wonder why I don’t consider comedies like Tommy Boy and Grandma’s Boy funny, and I always give simplistic answers. The jokes are forced and aren’t written or timed well. I don’t want to watch comedies about people I wouldn’t want to be caught dead with. I’m still convinced there are more people who think Tommy Boy is a classic comedy than there are people who have actually seen it. I want you to watch a movie like Freeloaders, by yourself, and consciously watch and listen to the movie. If you take a date to watch it, and he or she finds it funny, tell that person you’ve been thinking it over and you want to see other people.

3. Pain & Gain


Rarely have I been as stunned while watching a movie than when I was tortured through Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain. I sat there, motionless and rethinking my life decisions, and honest to God I though to myself, Well, at least I can say I wasn’t the one who made Pain & Gain.

“This film is a waste of electricity,” I wrote in my initial review for The UB Spectrum. Apparently that includes the power used to operate my laptop while typing these words.

Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Anthony Mackie star as egotistical bodybuilders who believe the sky is their limit. For being in their 30’s and 40’s, these guys act like recent high school dropouts. Wahlberg is the most obnoxious of the trio, donning is usual smartmouth tough guy charisma that made him famous in The Departed. Sorry, I can’t root for a guy who murders and robs people and then does dumbbell curls to stimulate his mind. The Rock is kinda funny, serving as the “Lenny” of the group: tall and strong, but harmless and soft. 

But no one could have saved this project from spiraling down into disaster. Apparently based on true circumstances, Pain & Gain unwisely expects its audiences to relate to obnoxious criminals who sweat and cuss their way through the most obnoxious of situations. The men are annoying jackasses, the women are demoted to sex objects. Seriously Michael Bay, shame on you. You should know better. You can, and have done better than this with The RockThe Island and the first two Transformers movies. Then you make films like Armageddon  and Pain & Gain just to torment us. Go back to your basics and work your way up if you want to be taken seriously in the industry again.

2. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters


Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters only became easier to watch after having removed my 3-D glasses and squinted at a fuzzy screen. Only then did my pain minimally subdue. And only after I chucked an apple core at the IMAX screen during the end credits did I find solace.

Maybe I got my hopes too high. Tommy Wirkola, who directed the eccentric but enjoyable Dead Snow, took no risks this time around and simply recycled used parts from the used-screenplay assembly line to mold this mess. He might have been attempting to cash in on the surprise cult success of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, unseen by me. But while Dead Snow contained clever, satirical humor towards the horror genre, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters will find itself mocked for years to come.

Notorious fairy tale siblings Hansel and Gretel (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, respectfully) have grown up and have declared themselves bounty hunters against any and all witches. This concept has potential and could be done well with a thought out, whimsical script. But all this film consists of is setups, shootings and guts followed by more setups, shootings and guts until you’d rather watch horses being rallied into the glue factory.

The special effects in this film make Dark Skies look like Avatar. The witches are so poorly designed and illustrated, I’m not convinced that this film had a final editing process. And it’s not like the witches keep their heads long enough to look convincing, anyway.

I’m writing this 36o days after seeing this film, yet it feels like yesterday when I became so angered by what I was watching I lost all faith in cinema. I tend to not use hyperboles when writing reviews, but my body literally shook from so much anger, resulting in the apple landing on the screen. Yet I wish I could have thrown a watermelon at the screen after watching the next and final entry of my list.

1. Movie 43


I don’t know how much more I can insult this movie. I’ve written two reviews of it now, one on my blog and one for The Spectrum. And now, even after a year of seeing it, I must revisit my memories of this film in an attempt to warn you away from seeing it at all cost.

The word “movie” should be stricken from the title, as no signs of cinematic strive was shown at all through this abomination. But what this… motion picture consists of is a line movie idea pitches by a skittish screenwriter (Dennis Quaid).

That’s the setup for some of the worst scenes to ever curse the screen. Take the dinner date Kate Winslet has with Hugh Jackman, who has a pair of testicles growing from his chin. Or the abusive parents who torment their home schooled child. Or the meeting between Apple executives led by Richard Gere who plan to market the iBabe: a naked chick in a box.

And when we finally think the storm has subsided and the end credits start rolling, the last and worst skit involves a poorly drawn animated cat puking and dropping feces all over Josh Duhamel and Elizabeth Olsen. It was during this skit when my body lost all function. I sat there, in the dark, my eyes aching while glaring at the screen. After it was all finally over, I silently got up from my chair and shuffled out of the theater, my head angled down in mounting gloom.

This might be the worst film I’ve ever seen. My reason is because of the apparent disregard that those involved with this film had towards the anyone willing to pay money to sit in a theater. They might as well have filmed one scene of the entire cast and crew flipping off the camera after the cat scene. If making the worst movie of all time was their goal, they succeeded wit flying colors.

Other terrible movies of the year:

Texas Chainsaw 3D, All Superheroes Must Die, A Dark Truth, Crawlspace, Officer Down, Storage 24, Parker, John Dies at the End, Knife Fight, A Good Day to Die Hard, Escape From Planet Earth, 21 and Over, The Frankenstein Theory, V/H/S 2, Turbo, Escape Plan, The Counselor, Freebirds,  You’re Next, Red,  Anchorman 2: The legend Continues

Here’s all ya need: my reviews of 2013


I know, I know. I have continuously failed to update this blog with fully-written reviews of the films I’ve seen in 2013. Part of the reason is because of my rigorous job at Darien Lake, but I don’t tend to play blame games. I’ve become exceedingly lazing in keeping up with my writing, I’ll admit it. That being the case, justice must be served. Listed here in alphabetical order will be my reviews of all releases in 2013. Each review is out of four stars as always.

56 Up — 4 stars — The eighth chapter in Michael Apted’s “Up” series catches up with the original group of orphans he has interviewed every seven years. He started this project with Seven Up! in 1964, interviewing a group of orphans in Britain how they wanted to grow up. How did they feel about marriage, about having kids of their own? What was their view of the world thus far? To everyone’s amazement, all of the original kids are still alive for the latest edition to this series. Some are recently are still marries, some were married in previous parts of the series but have since been divorced. Apted has done something revolutionary here. Every seven years he allows his viewers to peak into certain lives, subsequently allowing ourselves to peak further into our own lives. That’s Apted’s main goal: for his viewers to ask themselves how much they’ve changed the past seven years.

A Dark Truth — 1 star — I won’t lie to you. I had to read the plot synopsis of this film on IMDb to confirm I had seen it. I wish I had done so instead of actually watching this easily forgettable, sorry excuse of cinema. This is another of those films that appears randomly thrown together for the sake of being made because that’s what studios do, I guess. This is a waste of time, energy and space on this post.

A Good Day to Die Hard — 1.5 stars — During John McClane’s tenure as America’s Superman from the Bronx, he has killed so many terrorists, sometimes professionally, sometimes accidentally. He and his family should be in the Witness Protection Program by now, and be paid handsomely for nearly sacrificing himself since that daunting night at the Nakatomi Tower. But no, John still doesn’t even receive affection from his son, he says the ancient movie cliche “You were never there, Dad.” If my Dad was John McClane, and I assure you he isn’t, I would idolize him and ask him to teach me his moves in case I need to halt a global threat or two. 25 years after the first film, this time John and his son, Jack (Jai Courtney, a great villain in Jack Reacher), are the only capable men to stop a threat in Russia. I mean, it is Russia, it doesn’t have a competent military or anything. The film adds up to nothing more than a slideshow of shaky, incomprehensible bullet fests with the bad guys having Stormtrooper Syndrome, and the good guys rarely missing a target. Bruce Willis seems especially tired here, and doesn’t even pretend like he’s having fun replaying the most iconic role of his career. Unfortunately, this is the first bad film in the Die Hard series. Yet hope still shimmers for this franchise, and so I calmly brush this nonsense aside and hope they get it right next time. Hiring someone other than director John Moore, who hasn’t directed a good action film yet, would be a start.

A Haunted House — 3 stars — It seems I may be alone on giving this raunchy comedy a positive review, but so be it. I found Marlon Wayans’ screenplay careful not to tread into total ineptness. He was very knowledgeable about the handheld horror genre when writing and acting out this material. He’s charming and likable on the screen, and I look forward to his next picture.

Allegiance — 1.5 stars — An army medic learns his son back in the states is terminally ill. His Lieutenant attempts to help him go AWOL to see his son one last time. That’s all there is to this simpleminded waste of footage. None of the characters are credible enough to seem real, we don’t care about what happens to them… and here I go again, repeating myself about a similar problem in another bad movie. Maybe one day all filmmakers will think of the audience first before choosing to make a cheap dollar off of something that isn’t worth Abe’s nostril on a penny.

All Superheroes Must Die — 1 star — All Superheroes Must Die is to filmmaking as Lebron James is to basket weaving. This project exploits no imagination or inspiration from its creator Jason Trost, who directed, wrote, produced, edited and starred in the lead role. He is the leader of four superheroes who wake up to a Saw-esque situation of a man on a TV telling them to follow his instructions so no one gets hurt. The characters and their dialogue are all recycled from melodramatic monster flicks on the Sci-Fi network. Every scene is so bad it’s hysterical, yet at least these guys looked like they had fun making this mess with less than a shoestring budget. So it has that going for it.

Baytown Outlaws, The — .5 star — I would have payed good money to sit in on the conference meeting between the screenwriters and the members of the studio that funded this project. “Okay guys, so our movie will follow another band of stereotypical rednecks borrowed from Deliverance,” the writers say. “Keep going, we’re interested,” respond the studio executives. “Great! Like we were saying, our rednecks meet a beautiful woman whose godson is kidnapped by generic villains we’ve seen in the past. Then countless Mexican standoffs will ensue, the bad guys die, the redneck gets the girl, and there you have a movie.” That must have been one offer impossible to pass up.

Beautiful Creatures — 3 stars — Boy, the trailers really misguided me on this one. I avoided premiering this picture, in fear it was a defective attempt to cash in on the popularity of Twilight. While it may have been, I never felt so while watching Beautiful Creatures, which is better than any of the Twilight pictures. Most of the success stems from the two leads, Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) and Lena (Alice Englert), who aren’t overwritten with gushy dialogue. Ethan is a good ol’ boy, who feels an inexplicable connection with the new girl in town. She accepts his love, and nothing could possibly ruin it. But, oh no! She reveals she is a witch! This gimmick didn’t seem phony to me, because we learn of the witch cult that raised Lena. When she turns 16 years old, she will be overcome by either the forces of light or darkness, because what other forces could there be? The forces of grey? Of course, if she continues to love Ethan, she will be taken over by the darkness for sure. This all adds up to another metaphor for teenage chastity, much  like the Twilight saga. But this couple’s love is so sweet and involving, I couldn’t help but root for them.

Bullet to the Head — 1.5 stars — Sylvester Stallone didn’t have an acting hiatus like Schwarzenegger did, yet the latter actor had a better year in the movies. While Schwarzenegger actually portrayed a character in The Last Stand, Stallone borrows his ancient tough guy persona that hasn’t disappeared since First Blood. This film seems  to have time traveled from the 80’s with its disgusting racist puns, mostly directed towards Sung Kang’s character, and Stallone acts like he never left the 80’s. The only excitement came from watching the main villain’s right hand man, played by Jason Momoa, a martial art Swiss army knife. He held more screen presence than Stallon’s racist, tired character did throughout the picture. I wouldn’t mind seeing a movie about him next time around. Or maybe I should be careful of what I wish for.

Broken City — 3 stars — So this is a political thriller that worked for me. Usually, I find myself drowsy after discovering the ensemble of characters of involved, and the labyrinthine conflicts within the ensemble. Political thrillers are often too melodramatic for me, in turn melting the realism away like The Ides of March and Lions for Lambs. Instead we get a coherent and exhilarating thriller involving Detective Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) and Mayor Hostetler (Russel Crowe). The film opens to Taggart standing in the streets holding his firearm; a body lies motionless in front of him, while sirens howl in the background. We steadily get the facts, but I dare not spoil the plot as that’s where all the fun lies. Great performances by Wahlberg as a middle-class hero and Crowe as a corrupt official are refreshing for the tired genre. We believe in these characters, and what they stand for.

Crawlspace — 0 stars — According to IMDb, this role of footage referred to as a movie was only theatrically released in Australia, the UK and Japan. That fact makes me reconsidering visiting those countries.

Freeloaders — 0 stars — One of the worst comedies I’ve ever seen. The people who wrote the script act must have come from Mars. I’m not certain those involved in making this project have ever seen a movie before, or know what one is. This will have audiences sitting there stupefied, having wasted about 77 minutes they will never get back. Don’t be one of those people.

Gangster Squad — 2 stars — A once-in-a-lifetime cast is poisoned by a terrible script that’s predictable and cartoonish in its attempt to portrayal of LA cops in 1949 trying to bring down mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). This is an Unstoppables wannabe, which also had predictable faults but was realistic and hard-hitting. This project seems concocted out of the minor leagues of filmmaking, from the kinds of minds that makes action flicks that target adolescent audiences who crave explosions and gun fights.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters — 0 stars — As I previously reported on my Facebook after having witnessed this film at my beloved Regal Cinemas on Transit Road, following the closing scene of Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters I found an apple core beneath my seat and chucked it viciously at the screen. Normally I’m against using cliches in my writing, but I must report this movie literally sent chills in my skin, and every one of those chills wanted to find those involved with this project and send them to cinema purgatory for having crafted this debacle. I hated the senseless plot that only served an excuse for the audience to witness people being slaughtered on camera. I hated that Jeremy Renner, a great actor, signed up for this movie to cash in on his previous successes. I hated that director Tommy Wirkola, who made the bloody yet intelligent and hilarious Dead Snow provided me so much hope for this picture’s success from his previous film. I’ve seen some bad movies, too many probably, but I haven’t hated one so since Lay the Favorite from just last year, and that’s a compliment to Lay the Favorite. This movie will make my Worst Films list this year.

Horrid Henry: The Movie — 2.5 stars — Horrid Henry: The Movie, based on the popular British children’s program, had me pondering back in nostalgia to the days when I idolized such Nickelodeon gems as All ThatThe Amanda Show and even Rugrats, the standard childish yarn that followed kids or pre-teens who always knew how to outsmart, out-think and outmaneuver the stubborn adults who never knew any better. I could tell instantaneously that the show Horrid Henry is in this great tradition of outlandish toilet humor, herding in younger audiences in like sheep. Look, kids like this stuff, and Theo Stevenson plays the title role like a flute. He’s a gifted kid actor, holding your attention and giving you someone to root for. The film itself unleashes enough creativity to keep the gears turning, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Horrid Henry: The Movie  is harmless enough to leave on to occupy the littleluns, yet annoying enough to keep parents in the lobby and talk to each other instead.

I Am Not a Hipster — 4 stars — Here’s is an example of why I adore movie so much. I Am Not a Hipster touched me in such a way, I felt I knew its characters for years. Dominic Bogart plays indie musician Brook Hyde. We first meet him attending an interview on a talk radio show to promote his recent album, during which he acts apathetic and disturbed. He hates receiving commercialized attention for his work, and hates having to go through the standard routines of promoting his music only to be heard by a few hundred followers. This is a great performance that will certainly be overlooked for Academy season, which is a true shame. Bogart portrays a self-destructing man spiraling down into a haunting comfusion and frustration about the limits of life. This movie spoke to me on the level that personal favorites Platoon and Pulp Fiction have.

Identity Thief — 2 stars — I like Melissa McCarthy. I like Jason Bateman. Both starred in first-rate comedies, Bridesmaids and Horrible Bosses respectfully. Director Seth Gordon was the mastermind behind Horrible Bosses, which made me laugh obnoxiously nearly every scene. Gordon’s new film, Identity Thief, had me stoned faced, leaving me starving for a laugh, maybe even a chuckle. Identity Thief is so cruel in its depiction of McCarthy’s character I could hardly stand it. We are supposed to adore and root for McCarthy, like her Oscar nominated character in Bridesmaids. In that film, we met a caring, yet outlandishly blunt woman who was there for her gals when they needed her. Here, McCarthy’s character is painfully annoying, careless of anyone else’s feelings. I have no doubt there are people like this character in real life, but that isn’t a good excuse to make a movie about that person. There is one magical scene, however, when McCarthy finally opens up to Bateman and reveals her personal back story in one heartbreaking long shot. McCarthy can act damn well. I wouldn’t mind seeing her in a serious drama someday, she seems like she can do it all. At least she had the decency not to star in Movie 43.

John Dies at the End — 1.5 stars — I dunno, there was something about this movie that made me resist it. Its credibility is one of the issues. I never once felt that any of the characters involved were really in danger, or were real at all. This is another one of those randomly put together, cookie cutter quirky independent films that tries too hard to be original. Story takes a backseat to attempting being creative and groundbreaking. As much as I could tell, the human race is slowly being taken over by shadowy, alien-like beings, who body snatch people so we can never decide who is on what side. But frankly, this premise was too complex for its own good, and was not fun to sit through.

Knife Fight — 1.5 stars — Remember when I talked about bad political thrillers that have too many characters you don’t care about and that act so fake it’s unbearable? Knife Fight is a prime example. This easily forgettable waste of eyesight has cookie cutter dialogue, a throwaway title and just tells another story about some political campaign scandal that we’ve all seen from better movies. So, yeah, don’t see this one, not that you’ve ever heard of it anyways.

The Last Stand — 2.5 stars — He’s baaack. Arnold Schwarzenegger makes his starring debut since Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines 10 years ago. Since then, besides governating California, he has made awesome cameos in films like The RundownAround the World in 80 Days and the Expendables series. For a majority of the 80’s and 90’s, Schwarzenegger was the head interface of action movies. He remains capable in The Last Stand, a simplistic yet effective bullet festival that proves the Austrian native can still win our hearts, the big lug. Solid supporting performances by Forrest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville and Luis Guzman, and a cameo from Harry Dean Stanton to top it all off, The Last Stand is easily good fun. With the dress shoes finally hung up, it’ll be interesting to see Schwarzenegger dust off the cleats and hopefully provide some top-notch thrillers again.

Lore — 3 stars — One of the year’s most overrated films is Lore, a WWII film shot in Germany about a German family, but shot by an Australian director and submitted by Australia for the last Academy Awards. Abandoned by her parents near the end of WWII, a teenage German teenager must lead her four young siblings to safety after Allied Forces take over their town. Eventually they meet a man impersonating a Jewish runaway, and he swears to protect them as well as he can. I found no motivation why a stranger might do that to five kids, but hey, I didn’t live in that era. So they travel with their new companion, and nothing too special happens. This is a decent movie with heartfelt intentions and great acting all around, but the writing felt too forced for my taste, and I don’t consider this a great movie unlike most critics.

LUV — 3 stars — No coming-of-age film has ever been told like this. Vincent (Common) allows his 11-year-old nephew to skip school and takes him on a ride along to several business meetings, pitching his crab house to potential investors. Vincent doesn’t intend to raise Woody with a ghetto mindset, or does he? Common’s performance is mainly what made this movie for me, those deceptive eyes and cheeky smile prove to mask his true intentions from Woody, and the audience, too. It’s never clear if Vincent tags Woody along to really teach him about manhood or prompt the investors’ minds, which adds an odd mysteriousness to the film. And with an unexpected showdown in the final scenes with Danny Glover and Dennis Haysbert, this one will stick around in your mind for a while, even being a movie this small in the grand scheme of cinema.

Mama — 2.5 stars — A standard horror enterprise, that includes some memorable cinematography – one double-framed shot still lingers in my memory – and intense acting from Jessica Chastain that the horror genre normally doesn’t deserve. Guillermo del Toro – the brains behind the Hellboy series and Pan’s Labrynth – produced this project, and probably should have spent time editing the screenplay to make the film not so typical. But in a year that started its horror package with Texas Chainsaw 3D, you tend to give decent films like this a little slack.

Movie 43 — 0 stars — This is the worst movie of the year. I decided that back in the January when I premiered it. This movie isn’t just hateful, it’s humanely incompetent. I’m not certain any of the studio executives who approved this project, the directors and writers who crafted it, or the actors who forever blacklisted their resumes for appearing in this soul-sucking, dreadful, forced, numbing chunk of crap. Readers, when I or anyone else from now on talk about pieces of crap, we must all hold hands and stand in awe of Movie 43, and its abiding grotesqueness. I think back to the scene from Jurassic Park, when Jeff Goldblum’s character nonchalantly removes his glasses and stares at a mountain of dino droppings. “Now that is one big pile of s**t,” he said. If only the makers of this movie could be worthy of such praise.

My Best Enemy — 2 stars — During WWII, a Jewish captive swaps identities with his friend, who happens to be a Nazi. Ha, great punchline. I am still puzzled as to why anyone with a solid brain stem would consider this premise the makings of a comedy. Perhaps director Wolfgang Murnberger might have been influenced by Tarantino’s quirky, almost cartoonish Inglorious Basterds, only the latter took the violence seriously while embracing the old-fashioned war epics that influenced him. Murnberger’s reason for making this product is unclear to me; this material made less of an impact on me than the short films from my alma mater’s media production class.

Noobz — 0 stars — Hey, Freeloaders and Movie 43, long time no see. I want to introduce you to another throwaway comedy. Guys, this is Noobz. All three of you share so many characteristics, I thought you would hit it off immediately. What characteristics, you ask? Well, for starters, all three of you were written by beings from another planet. None of you act like you’ve seen a movie before, or know what one is. After meeting all three of you, I took a scorn towards the current generation of cinema, and thought about checking myself out of watching more. All three of you should forever be ashamed of considering yourselves funny, and should consider an early retirement. Okay, well it’s been nice knowing you, gotta run and see worthy movies from now on. I’ve already given you three more attention that you deserve.

Officer Down — 1 star — This film might have suited better as an episode of Law and Order, or a made-for-TV movie at best. This is another forgettable story with a plug-in plot and title. Boxofficemojo.com says this film profited $1,463 theatrically worldwide. That could have repaved a highway or two.

Parker — .5 stars — The third movie I premiered during the weekend of Movie 43 and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters was Parker, or as refer to it to my friends, Jason Statham: The Movie. In fact, most of the films that Statham stars in can be labeled as such, since they are always assembled from the Jason Statham assembly line. Listen, the man has great screen presence; that glare makes me watch my back. But he has to be involved with better directors, writers, producers, the works. Director Hackford, who made this film, previous had grand success with such entries as RayThe Devil’s Advocate and An Officer and a Gentleman, but I think he entered the wrong genre here. If Statham can collaborate with such action experts as Sam Mendes (Skyfall), Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) or Brad Bird (Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol), then maybe the movies can take him seriously again. Apparently he is signed on to costar in the next Fast and the Furious picture, so hopefully he doesn’t butcher that series’ consistent success.

The Playroom — 3.5 stars — Once in a while, when browsing through random movie titles, you’ll stumble across a gem that catches you off your guard. The Playroom takes place during a single evening inside the home of a middle-class family in the 70’s. Every scene seems to be unfolding naturally, as if unrehearsed. The film opens to the four children of the family getting home. Maggie (Olivia Harris) is the oldest of the bunch, and meets her boyfriend Ryan (Cody Linley) in her garage to lose her virginity. “Do you love him?” Maggie’s kid sister asks later on in the film. “No,” she admits. I sincerely felt I was watching a documentary or reality television during all of this. The film is relentlessly honest about how family members treat each other. When the father gets home, played by one of my favorite actors John Hawkes, family secrets are slowly unraveled. He holds a spelling test at dinner. “Spell matrimony,” he asks his wife. This line purposely hints at the audience without informing the kids, because these types of dilemmas weren’t important during childhood. At that age, the most vital problems were getting good grades so your parents wouldn’t yell at you, have fun playing with friends and family, and so forth. This film is perfectly in tune with what what’s at stake with each age group, that many viewers will recall similar events in their own lives.

Quartet — 2 stars — Dustin Hoffman’s all but incoherent directorial debut ranks second in the list of recent films with “Quartet” in the title. Last year’s A Late Quartet was a challenging melodrama that took us backstage to witness four aging musicians clash and question each other’s morals. Hoffman’s film, on the other hand, is a watered down portrait of retired musicians roaming around a nursing home talking about the good ol’ days and old flings. Actors Maggie Smith (Professor McGonagall from Harry Potter), Billy Connolly (the Irish father from The Boondock Saints) and Michael Gambon (the second Dumbledore) are genuine in their respective performances; they seem like they’ve really known each other for ages. Well, in real life they have. Smith was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance, why I’ll never guess. But that’s not important.  What’s important is missing this film.

Safe Haven — 2.5 stars — As far as mushy rom coms go, Safe Haven is one of the more acceptable entries. This is the first Nicholas Sparks film adaptation I’ve seen, so no I haven’t tried The NotebookA Walk to Remember or Dear John, so a true comparison cannot be made by me. But, on its own terms, Safe Haven does not go over the top in the soap opera department, and focuses enough on real life struggles to recommend to Spark enthusiasts. Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel have great chemistry with each other, and they connect in a gradual, modest way. They don’t have that immediate starring contest at first glance because they know each other is The One. No, they fall for each other because each one feels half empty, and need to fill the void. Katie (Hough) and Alex (Duhamel) need to be needed.

Side Effects — 3.5 stars — This is the first great movie I remember seeing in 2013. This is reportedly the great Steven Soderbergh’s last feature film, which is an injury I don’t believe Hollywood can recover from. Emily (Rooney Mara) is finally cleared to leave jail, serving a sentence for attempting suicide. Her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), is still worried about her mental state. Dr. Banks (Jude Law) prescribes a new experimental drug called Ablixa. I’ll tread through the spoiler swamp carefully, only to reveal that this Ablixa, appears to have horrendous side effects on Emily, including sleep walking. Mara provides an Oscar-caliber performance as an empty woman who has nothing left to lose, although voters will probably forget this February release, which is a shame. This is a Hell of a thriller, with high intelligence and gradual pacing.

Spiders — 2 stars — This film was more fun than it probably intended to be. Yes, the special effects are cardboard, and the plot is simplistic and it all adds up to nothing. But this movie reminded me of another big spider movie called Eight Legged Freaks, which is far superior. This is another apocalyptic movie that centers on a divorced/separated couple, where the father wants to see the child more but the mother doesn’t think he’s responsible enough. The acting is far better than this movie deserves. I don’t exactly recommend this trashy picture, but if you crave some simpleminded fun, this is about the cut off line.

Stand Up Guys — 3.5 stars — I’ll watch any film that stars Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin. I’ll even watch a documentary involving the three of them, sitting comfortably in a diner, talking about whatever they deem worth talking about. Stand Up Guys will probably be the closest I ever get to that documentary, and it mostly consists of Pacino and Walken talking about the past, most of the time at a diner, other times roaming stranded street and alleys, and even in a graveyard. And the premise is the most fascinating thing: Walken’s character has been ordered to execute Pacino, and Pacino knows it. But he won’t run from his dear, lifelong friend. This film noir clutches onto the value of friendship like a lifeboat, showing that when you eventually reach a certain age, all that matters is who you know and who knows you.

Storage 24 — .5 star — This film contains better acting than it’s worth. Like Crawlspace, this low-budget bloodbath follows a group of people who get picked off one by one due to a monster roaming about. If the monster looked even reasonably believable, if the special effects were up to date at all, if the plot was just the bit more interesting… well I probably still wouldn’t recognize this movie. According to boxofficemojo.com, this film grossed $72 worldwide. High fives, all around.

Struck By Lightning — 2 stars — Despite the film’s quirky humor, it ultimately fails by depending too much on its hateful main character. Chris Colfer from Glee who stars and wrote the film is convincing as the elaborate, self-centered lead, but watching him for 90 minutes is unbearable to the point of walking away from the screen. The opening shot is unintentionally hilarious, but hopefully you don’t find out why for yourself.

Supporting Characters — 3 stars — It’s clear to me that screenwriters Tarik Lowe and Daniel Schechter grew up watching Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith films. Here’s a rare film that takes such great care of its dialogue and character development that each line feels like taking another bite out of the best apple pie ever made. The leads, Nick (Alex Karpovsky) and Darryl (Tarik Lowe himself), are two amateur film NYC editors who frequently talk and debate about movies and women. Nick has his beloved, committed girlfriend, Amy (Sophia Takal), and Darryl has since girlfriend of a few months, Liana (Melonie Diaz, who was also great in this year’s Fruitvale Station). Many of the problems that Nick and Darryl are circumstantial and natural. Amy wants to get married, Liana does not. Nick doesn’t want to get married, Darryl does. Nick is an especially great character, because I can think back to so many people I’ve met who act just as he does. So on top of everything and sarcastic, but is careful not to boss anyone around. He loves the joy of making movies, and is willing to fill in all the small voids to make each scene perfect. I wish more people would be like Nick in Hollywood.

Texas Chainsaw 3D — 1.5 stars — This is the seventh installment of the Leatherface franchise, and you can bet your next paycheck it won’t be the last. The first 1974 cult classic was ripe with quirky authenticity, the rest are worth less than nothing. Texas Chainsaw 3D isn’t the worst installment, but that still doesn’t make it worthy of an audience.

Warm Bodies — 3 stars — I’ve been waiting for a movie like this for some time now. After countless movies, good and bad, about zombies engulfing intestines and so forth, I’ve always been curious about the possibility of a film that peers through the zombie point of view. Jonathan Levine, who also directed the magnificent 50/50, knows to tread carefully with his characters and shows compassion towards them. We meet a zombie, R (Nicholas Hoult), who only remembers the first letter of his name before he joined the undead. He meets Julie (Teresa Palmer). Hmm, R and Julie? Sounds familiar. Soon, the couple admits they have fallen deep into gushy, Twilight-like love for each other, and wouldn’t ya know, R’s undeadness slowly starts to melt away. Despite the film’s corny message, I felt it was expressing how dead people are nowadays towards each other. A bad economy has forced people to exclude others from their concern, and slowly their love for the fellow human being dwindles into nonexistence. Warm Bodies is about the importance of human feeling, passion being the main subject. It’s sweet, cornball, and shows more regard towards the human race than most other films do.

Yossi — 4 stars — It took some extra time after having seen this film to appreciate it as much as I do now. This is a plain as day film, with its centerpiece a gay Israeli man, Yossi (Ohad Knoller). Unlike most films, this film doesn’t automatically clue you in to his sexuality, and I found that brilliant and refreshing. First, we see a normal day in the life of Yossi, with no hint that he’s gay. He gets hit on by the secretary at the clinic he works at. He does physicals on patients. We learn he is a former soldier in the Israeli army. Then the film cuts to Yossi masturbating from gay porn. This fact is surprising, shocking us isn’t the film’s plan. We are supposed to take Yossi’s sexuality matter-of-factly and just role with it. This is one of the best films I’ve seen about gay people, because it doesn’t speak its opinion frankly to the camera. We are instead meant to sit and observe Yossi, who is still coping from the loss of his gay lover a decade ago in the prequel Yossi & Jagger, of which I only discovered after watching this film and quickly watched to compare with this film. Yossi is better, because it only deals with Yossi instead of wasting time with too many other characters like the first film.

Dear Mr. Basden,

I must admit right away that you have a meaningful voice in your writing, which every writer must possess when critiquing films. I enjoyed your voice, because you took the time what was really on your mind, instead of short-changing us with generic, unfulfilling synopsis of the films, like many other people in the class are guilty of.

I also liked how you separated each film response separately by individual works, instead of by week, like myself and most other did. I never even thought about doing that. I like you method of making different posts about each film, because then I can respond to one particular film at a time, instead of having to summarize all of the films we had to view in a week.

You do, however, need to clean up your writing mechanics and grammar. I do too, so don’t feel like I’m trying to kick you while your down, haha. Sometimes you need to capitalize a letter, sometimes you need to add a period. Nothing major, but I just wanted to bring that to your attention.

Again, you have great potential as a writer, because you don’t provide us with empty responses that don’t have heart. You show your heart in your writing, this coming from a guy who has written for The Spectrum for two years. I can tell the difference between when someone writes with passion, and when somebody doesn’t. You do.

Film Theory — Response #10


This film is poetry for the senses, smoothly correlating a guitar soundtrack and stunning clips of nature at its finest. Steiner gives the outdoors its own soundtrack, almost like letting nature speak for itself onto us. Rain falls and rivers flow at natural speeds; water appears to act as a communicator for the audience, pacing along with the music in a rhythm. Much like written poetry, this film aims to evoke emotions without dialogue or much movement, instead focusing on the details of everyday events that occur outdoors.


Unlike H20Waving speaks its poetry to us through voiceover. Most of the film contains a single scene — a girl, seemingly drowning in a pool of water. We later learn that this girl is the storyteller’s sister, who died from drowning. By utilizing the voiceover here, this film allows us to become more personal with the film, and sympathize with the person speaking. We feel we are having a conversation with the storyteller, listening to her tell us one-on-one her personal tragedy.

Infinity Kisses

This film as the authenticity of a dusty, old family album. How remarkable, this portrait of the long, lovable relationship portrayed here. It goes without saying that this film works as poetry without words or spoken dialogue, but I must mention the film’s effortless ability to translate the meaning of love extracted and laid out in front of us. As we watch this film and travel the journey it has created for us, we feel ourselves aging alongside it, growing older and wiser about life’s natural laws about organism interaction. We, the viewers, watch this woman and her cat live their lives, without seeing anything else but one aspect — them kissing. This one type of photo tells us all we need to know about their relationship, without showing or telling us anything else. This is 1000 times better than the love story in Twilight.

Commingled Containers

I didn’t get it. I refuse to pretend otherwise. Perhaps the video quality of the version I watched wasn’t up to par enough, but I felt everything about Brakhage’s film is incomprehensible, random and meaningless. I see nothing of avant-garde-worthy quality here. This film tells me nothing. This film told me nothing. This film is nothing. Granted, this is my opinion, my perspective. I’m not right, nor wrong. There are no facts involved. That’s that.

The Reflecting Pool

This film, on the other hand, is a masterpiece. In the beginning, I began to question its existence, But then “it” happened, and I was startled. Genius, I thought. In the most thought-provoking way, Viola has managed to narrate the universal phenomena of time in this short clip. It raises harsh questions about how our world activates. How does time work? How do we, as living things, perceive time? What is time? Are there multiple dynamics or universes with various times at work here? The Reflecting Pool mirrors two possible worlds onto each other in one, amazing shot, without really defining what time is on its own.

Lost Avenues

I had to watch this one twice. I think what we’re getting here is a film that doesn’t pull any punches, and makes us look through its filter to view the dark, scary side of water. Like the other films, Lost Avenues opens by showing water as a bright, blue, peaceful occurrence. Then, the film switches gears to showing the water moving fast and dark. I wasn’t able to interpret and significant meanings from this switch, but it provided an interesting contrast between how nature looks and how it actually might be. Maybe that was the point.

Painful is putting it mildly




Film review — Pain & Gain

Release Date — April 26, 2013

By: Jake Knott


This film is a waste of electricity.

Pain & Gain – director Michael Bay’s first non-Transformers entry since 2005 – is a brainless exercise of barbaric violence and tasteless humor so surreally awful, it must be seen to be believed.

Exhibit A: Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg, Broken City) has just crushed a man to death. Lugo then proceeds to the victim’s personal exercise room and rapidly lifts dumbbells to cheer himself up. Ha, ha.

Exhibit B: Lugo finds himself playing street basketball with a posse of neighborhood youngsters, remarking to one of them, “I see your mother driving up and down the street looking at me; I’ll be your stepfather by the weekend.” Ho, ho.

If an audience of moviegoers were given a quiz about the plot of Pain & Gain a week after viewing it, they would fail every question. This film tells the impossible, supposedly true, story of three muscle men who plan to rob and kill a sleazy entrepreneur, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub, Movie 43).

Lugo, Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete) and Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson, G. I. Joe: Retaliation) are the three criminals. Wahlberg, Mackie and Johnson are all likeable actors who can possess great presence on the screen, but not here. They each play irritating morons constantly blabbing about their immense pectorals. This is a horrible sin because moviegoers wantto like Wahlberg, Mackie and Johnson, but they are so excessively obnoxious throughout the film, rooting for them is never an option.

Why should anyone sympathize with these murderers? In Goodfellas, Henry Hill worked as a likeable criminal because he was forcibly spoon-fed that life. He was an innocent man at heart who swam too far with the sharks, evolving into a corrupt drug lord. But the supposed heroes of Pain & Gain act like adolescents on vacation, killing and stealing for the “American dream,” tossing the concept around like it’s a high school fad.

Bay continues to show disregard for women in his films, continuing this distasteful streak by making the only female lead a ditzy stripper with perfect curves and huge lips, Sorina Luminita (Bar Paly, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III). He obviously wasn’t concerned with acting dynamics when casting this role. The stripper from the real-life story was reportedly clueless about the criminals, believing they were CIA agents. But why portray her as absolutely clueless about every aspect of life, instead of as a regular, innocent person trapped in a terrible situation?

The editing works in that old-fashioned, Michael Bay-esque dreariness of quick cuts that works like a face-paced highlight reel. Each scene is sliced up by quickly changing angles, as if shooting a single smooth scene would be sacrilege. This film shows no comprehension of time and space between the characters or locations, leading the audience astray.

Bay (Transformers: Dark of the Moon) proves he is lost at sea with this grotesque material. He has proven to be an action thriller expert with such entries as The RockThe Island and the first two Transformers movies, but then he makes clunkers like this that show no filmmaking zest or human quality. He really needs to buckle down and choose smarter scripts that stimulate the audience with suspense, instead of always targeting the adolescent male audience.

What’s most disturbing is that this film aims to inspire its viewers to be “doers,” like Lugo and his team – to not let life waste by without striving for better.

Take this advice earnestly: Strive for better by disregarding this movie because watching this trash is the equivalent of deleting two hours for your life and never getting it back.

Life is too short and precious for this film to be a part of it.