To The Wonder, Rachel McAdams

To the Wonder
I know what you may be thinking: Are you kidding me, WORST film of the year so far? Surely there are countless examples of trashier, worse movies released this year. You may be right, as I also deeply hated “Gangster Squad,” “The Great Gatsby” and “ABCs of Death.” But this is a personal decision. Calling it the worst film of 2013 so far does not mean it lacks value. Unfortunately, any value to be taken from “To The Wonder”— pretty visuals and... that’s about it— is negated by the experience of having to sit through what feels like a Terrence Malick parody. It’s also unfortunate that I’m using such a tired descriptor for the enigmatic, elusive and beloved filmmaker’s latest film, but it’s a perfect distillation of so much of what’s wrong with it. Malick is obviously a gifted and special director, but I prefer his first three films much more to the latter three, as his tendency to crawl up his own ass has gotten worse in this later period, and reaches its apex with ‘Wonder.’ There was never a point where the film took off, grabbed me as a viewer, and as open-minded as I tried to be to the film Malick was going for, the onset of unintentional humor reared its ugly head around the halfway point. After all, how anyone kept a straight face when Rachel McAdams, rope tied around her wrists, gazing at Ben Affleck, declares in a typically Malickean hushed tone, “I trust you” is beyond me. So much of what’s presented in the film left me with the thought: well, no duh Terrence, that all you got? There’s queasy exploitation of poor people front and center, to no purpose (almost as purposeless as Javier Bardem’s wondering, confused priest). Worst of all, the film renders its female leads as childlike, manic pixie crazy people who are so consumed by love, it’s apparently all they think and talk about. Affleck is such a frustrating cipher of a character that his indecision left me feeling that Malick wants us to be annoyed not with him, as we should be, but with McAdams and Olga Kurylenko (there is such a thing as unhealthy obsession, which would actually make for a better title). It’s hard to deny that the film is shallow, immature and bloated. It’s pretentious arthouse indulgence at its worst. -Erik McClanahan

I'm So Excited
“I’m So Excited!”
Pedro Almodovar is one of the world's greatest directors; he’s won an Oscar, is a Cannes regular, and his filmography covers a diverse range of genres. His often taboo breaking films are the kind that cross audience boundaries— you could almost take anyone on a movie date to an Almodovar film. His work is usually smart, funny and inspiring; they often look incredible (his fantastic use of color cannot be overstated) and the performances are almost always top-notch. So when I went to see his recently released latest film, and found myself checking my watch 45 minutes in and praying that it went no longer than 90 minutes, I knew something was wrong. “I’m So Excited!” is Almodovar’s return to the sex comedy romp, but LOLS, it's set on a plane that might crash. While this premise echoes the comedy classic “Airplane,” the comparison is misleading because "Airplane" is, well, funny. If you’ve seen the trailer for “I’m So Excited!,” you’ll have the seen a snippet of the high-larious campy cover of the Pointer Sisters classic of the same name, be warned this is the best part of the film. There's no denying the power of a good song and dance number, but sadly the rest of the film falls flat, the plot twists are obvious (and it's hard to care when the characters are so poorly drawn) and the jokes are snooze-worthy. Whatever Almodovar’s trying to say about sex (the movie is mainly about sex) is poorly communicated, and just not that incisive. Having 90% of the film set on a plane also makes it visually unappealing, repetitive and tiresome, and adds another layer to the boredom that drags the film down to the bottom of the barrel. While the characters pop pills and cocktail chasers throughout the film, it's almost painful to suffer through the film unaided. If there was ever a film that would drive you to drink, this might be it. With “I’m So Excited!” it seems Almodovar’s become a parody of himself, but joke's on him (and his fans) because this is one parody that doesn’t have a payoff. - Sam Chater

The Place Beyond The Pines

The Place Beyond The Pines
Word was getting out: allegedly, the third film by Derek Cianfrance began with an incredible unbroken shot that would set the tone for the "epic" film to come. That's when the craving began. But after experiencing this underwhelming opener (Jancsó he is not) and quickly realizing that it didn't at all gel with the style or atmosphere employed for the rest of the picture, my high hopes were positively squelched. Fair enough, at least what followed was an adequate crime-drama starring a troubled Ryan Gosling— that is until the film settles for the Sensitive Cop Story anchored by a generally uncharismatic Bradley Cooper. From this point on, the viewer is strapped in a hot automobile and sat right next to "Quality," destination unknown but heading deeper, deeper downtown. Cianfrance eventually time travels forward to a period when the kin of Gosling & Cooper meet in high school, developing and destroying a friendship in record time. This "Rugrats: All Grown Up" scenario frequently shoves hefty portions of the film's theme down our throats, praying the garbage washes down smooth with jugs full of the domineering score. If that's not bad enough, this last third seems to have never evolved from its first draft (expository dialogue abound with some truly silly plot turns) and sports a rather horrifically directed, cheese-grating performance by Emory Cohen. To be clear, there's a few effective, subtle moments to be found throughout— particularly an early shot of Gosling and a later of Dane DeHaan that is constructed similarly, displaying their connection deeper than anything else in the film— but 'Pines' spends most of its time pushing melodrama. All in all, this is one exhausting effort. - Christopher Bell

Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters
I know I’ve already had plenty of fun beating up on the truly insipid “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” so much so that it seems overkill to do it again... but it’s definitely one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, not to mention in 2013, and, it’s just too much damn fun not to do it again. I will say upfront that the two things H&G: WH has going for it (aside from an abundance of punctuation) is that it’s never boring and its ridiculousness never feels overly earnest, the death knell of other incoherent messes like “John Carter.” That, and Gemma Arterton’s leather pants. Arterton and Jeremy Renner play the blood-thirsty titular sibs, burdened with a script that makes them sound like particularly foul-mouthed mentally handicapped children. With very few exceptions, anytime you see “written and directed by” on a B action movie, there’s a very good chance it’s going to suck, and this is no exception, as clearly there was no one else around to check Tommy Wirkola’s absolutely inane sense of storytelling. There’s no sense of time or place or geography, since Hansel and Gretel appear to have been hired by this village to help with the witch problem, but oh, oopsie, it’s the town they grew up in, which they don’t figure out for two-thirds of the movie, the dumb dummies. Renner, seemingly bewildered as to what he is doing there, has all the charisma of a moss covered log, even while getting busy with a witchy lass in a forest pond. Arterton tries really hard, but she spends much of the latter half of the movie acting against a giant CGI troll named Edward and announcing out loud everything she has done, will do, and is thinking. Oh, and let us not forget the lady punching, which seems like the sole driving force of this movie. Sure, the villains are witches, and witches are ladies and villains are punched, but it’s pretty disconcerting how many times Arterton gets her pretty bell rung in this flick. By the time it climaxes in the witch showdown (led by an over-the-top campy Famke Janssen), the amount of stunt women getting punched in the face gets a little icky. Presented in what should be called Shitty-3D-o-vision, if you’d like to spend under 90 minutes having wood shards and F-bombs hurled in your face, “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is the film for you. Who ARE you? - Katie Walsh

Gangster Squad Ribisi

Gangster Squad
Once upon a time, "Gangster Squad" was a promising prospect. It had a hotly-tipped Black List-ed script, the fast-rising director of "Zombieland," and what by any reasonable method of measurement is a hell of a cast— Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Emma Stone, Sean Penn, Anthony Mackie et al. But if the experience has taught us anything, it's that when a big studio movie gets pushed into the January wasteland, there's a reason for it: in the case of "Gangster Squad," because it was incredibly terrible. Coming across as something akin to "L.A. Confidential" for people suffering from serious head injuries, it immaculately recreated post-War Los Angeles, and proceeded to reenact an overly-violent, unintentionally funny episode of some cop show you'd never watch on its expensive sets. Other than eye-piercingly ugly digital photography that makes Michael Mann's "Public Enemies" look like the goddamn "Godfather" (to DP jail with you, Dion Beebe!), there's literally not a single thing you haven't seen many times before. From Josh Brolin playing a cop so generic that he could literally just be called Lawman McPolice, to Sean Penn cos-playing as a Dick Tracy villain, to Ryan Gosling homaging Penn's performance in "I Am Sam" for some reason, to Anthony Mackie having absolutely nothing to do, there's no sense that the cast have been directed, or even really want to be on set, and you'd sympathize if you weren't resenting that they were taking up so much time. When the film finally reaches its conclusion with a ridiculous boxing match between Brolin and Penn, director Ruben Fleischer's thrown all kinds of stylistic tics at the camera, but none suggest that he should ever be allowed to watch a movie again, let alone make one. Were there worse movies so far this year? Probably (I disqualified "A Good Day To Die Hard" because it barely counts as an actual movie). But given the talent assembled, and the expenditure involved, no one should be more ashamed of themselves than the makers of "Gangster Squad." - Oliver Lyttelton