Book Review: ‘Undisputed Truth’ by Mike Tyson

September 19, 2014 in Best Of, Book Reviews, Boxing, Reviews, Sport by pacejmiller

undisputed-truth-my-autobiography

Love him or loathe him, Mike Tyson’s Undisputed Truth is not just one of the best sports-themed books I’ve ever read. It’s not even just one of the best autobiographies I’ve ever read. It’s one of the best books I’ve read, period.

That’s a big call for a book written by a convicted rapist, notorious ear-biter and school drop-out with arguably the most renowned lisp in the world, but I’m sticking with it. Undisputed Truth is fascinating, it’s explosive, it’s horrifying and it’s downright hilarious. In fact, I’m fairly certain I have laughed out loud from reading this book more times than any other book I’ve ever read.

I don’t know if this is a comparison anyone has made, but Undisputed Truth reminds me of another one of my favourite books, Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries. Both are about the real-life wild and wacky adventures of athletes who love girls and drugs, told with an unflinching honesty and often veering into extremely dark territory.

However, while The Basketball Diaries is a short book traverses only a portion of Carroll’s adolescence, Undisputed Truth is a monster (but swift) 592 pages covering Tyson’s entire life up to last year. And while Carroll was a pretty good basketball player and womanizer, he was never the “baddest man alive” or a world class sex machine like Tyson (who would have given Wilt Chamberlain a run for his money as he was notoriously undiscriminating when it came to his partners).

So what makes Undisputed Truth an all-time read? Well for starters, Tyson does not hold back at all. He absolutely pours his heart out, infusing every page with his damaged soul. The unique voice is pure raw emotion and distinctively Tyson, and you can almost picture Tyson spewing the words out as they are recorded by his co-writer Larry Sloman (best known for Howard Stern’s Private Parts). The narrative is fluid, albeit occasionally rambling and often contradictory (for instance, Tyson goes on about turning into a devout Muslim, only to say on the next page that he doesn’t believe in an afterlife), but at the same time it is always coherent and sharp. Besides, Tyson is so messed up, even right now, that a little craziness is expected.

I don’t want to give away too many golden nuggets from the book, so I’ll just give a very brief overview to provide an idea of what’s in store. The autobiography begins with an introduction that describes one of the most pivotal moments in Tyson’s life — the sentencing for his rape charge — before taking readers right back to the beginning of his troubled and dysfunctional childhood in Brownsville, one of the toughest neighbourhoods in the Bronx. And it’s an unimaginable childhood for most of us, one completely devoid of love and hope. Those early portions of the book are difficult to swallow, but they are also essential to understanding the man Tyson would become.

tyson cus

Tyson and the man who changed his life, Cus D’Amato

Tyson’s life makes a dramatic turn when he meets Cus D’Amato, the hard-nosed trainer who would transform Tyson from a scared little punk kid into the heavyweight champion of the world. Cus was far from perfect, but Tyson loved him unlike anyone else he has loved in his entire life, and you can truly feel that love flow through the pages as Tyson describes their relationship and what the old man means to him. One can only imagine how Mike Tyson’s legacy would have turned out — both in and out of the ring — had D’Amato not died as Tyson zoned in on the heavyweight title.

Tyson’s rise through the ranks, from amateur to professional, is one of the most exciting aspects of the book. People tend to take his success for granted and attribute it to his natural gifts, but Tyson was one of the hardest, most obsessive workers I have ever seen in any sport, shadowboxing literally for hours, devouring classic fight tapes and reading everything he could get his hands on about the all-time greats.

I had not expected this, but Tyson literally describes every single one of his professional bouts (and many of his key amateur bouts too), including the lead-up, the fight itself and how it ended — and what was going through his mind the whole time. I loved this about the book and the insights it provided into the psyche of a Hall-of-Fame boxer, and it also shed light on a lot of Tyson’s performances because he admittedly wasn’t in shape or motivated for many of them, especially later in his career when all he wanted was another paycheck. For me, the best part about his detailed analysis of the bouts is being able to go straight to YouTube to watch the spectacular fights right after reading his take on them.

tyson-embed-1-1384183905

Mike Tyson with Evander Holyfield, back in the day when both ears were in tact

Tyson’s later decline and bad losses may tarnish his legacy, but there’s no doubt in my mind that he was unbeatable in his prime if he was motivated and had his head on straight (two very big IFs). He was just so ferocious, so quick and so powerful that he often beat opponents psychologically even before stepping into the ring. But the loss of Cus to keep him in line and the introduction of Don King to his life, not to mention all the money and the women and the drugs, eventually took their toll on his mind and body, and he was simply never the same again.

It would be wrong, however, to be under the impression that Undisputed Truth is only about boxing. Many of my favourite parts of the book are about Tyson’s life outside of the ring. He was just an insane spender who had no idea what to do with the millions and millions of dollars he was raking in (and this excludes the millions and millions others ripped off  him without his knowledge). The fleets of luxury cars, sports cars, the custom-made bling and outfits, the entire house adorned with Versace, and even keeping real tigers as pets. He was literally giving away money to poor people left and right, and that’s not even taking into account all the real and bogus legal claims he has had to settle (often just random strangers coming up to his house with fake injuries or people off the street trying to bait him into a fight) and the millions he has spent on lawyer fees. It’s no surprise that despite all the money he has made in his career, Tyson still ended up being dead broke.

Tyson threw away all his money, sometimes literally

Tyson threw away all his money, sometimes literally

Tyson’s brushes with celebrities are also a highlight of the book. There are so many priceless celebrity anecdotes littered throughout the book, including classic stories about Naomi Campbell, Prince and Eddie Murphy as well as crazy brushes with guys like Rick James, Wesley Snipes, and of course, the infamous encounter with Brad Pitt. They tend to be short, but they are always pure gold, and reminds us just how famous Tyson was back in his heyday, and that shockingly, it wasn’t until his cameo in The Hangover that completely turned his life around. Funnily enough, despite working with a convicted rapist like Tyson, the cast and crew of the sequel collectively vetoed the decision to do the same with anti-Semite Mel Gibson.

Another inescapable part of Tyson’s life was the women. My god, the women. After not knowing how to even approach a girl as a teen, Tyson was propositioned by thousands and thousands of women after becoming rich and famous, and he never quite figured out how to say no. A lot of this stuff is extremely crude, but it’s also extremely funny because of how low Tyson would stoop. Oldies, fatties, uglies — it didn’t matter to him. He speaks of those days of debauchery with shame — including all the STDs he picked up along the way – but the way he describes his way of thinking and his actions at the time is gut-bustingly funny stuff. At one stage he even apologizes to his readers for having to put up with his antics.

When it comes to women and Tyson, however, it’s impossible not to mention two names — his first wife Robin Givens, who accused him of domestic violence, and beauty pageant contestant Desiree Washington, whose allegations of rape sent Tyson to prison for three years. Tyson is a little coy when it comes to Givens, the actress he says he fell head over heels for but believed she was a manipulative gold digger along with her mother Ruth, whom he affectionately calls “Ruthless”. He never directly denies the domestic violence allegations but says multiple times that her claims are all BS. 

As for Washington, Tyson says he is prohibited from discussing his case in detail due to British laws, though he strongly insinuates that he is innocent and insists that he will maintain his innocence to his grave. Everyone will have their own views on this case, but based on my readings of Undisputed Truth and other sources I followed up on, I think there is no doubt Tyson got screwed in court.

Now, I’m not saying for one second that I believe Tyson is innocent — only he and Washington know what happened — but I do find it shocking that he was convicted based on the lacklustre evidence that was available and adduced at court. The truth is, if the accused was not someone as universally loathed as Mike Tyson, he probably would have walked away. But all the stars aligned at the wrong time for him: (1) Don King used his prudish tax lawyer to represent Tyson in a rape case, and the dimwit probably did the worst job imaginable, including not using the lack of physical evidence to their advantage; (2)  an admitted Tyson-hater somehow slipped through the cracks to not only get on the jury, but become the jury foreman; (3) rape shield laws prevented evidence of Washington’s earlier false rape allegation made against a former boyfriend and witnesses who could have shattered the innocent and naive image she created by detailing her sordid sexual past; and (4) the fact that she signed secret book and movie deals around the same time she made her accusations public was not enough to earn Tyson an appeal.

mike tyson prison

Having said all that, my personal guess is that Tyson probably was guilty under the legal definition of rape, because no matter how much Washington pursued Tyson and bragged about spending his money as “Mrs Tyson”, all she had to do was say “No” at any time during the ordeal for consent to be taken away. It didn’t matter that she obviously lied about having no idea that Tyson wanted sex when he invited her up to his room in the middle of the night, or that she curiously went into the bathroom to remove a liner from her underwear before the incident took place. She may have initially wanted to go through with it and changed her mind at the last moment, but Tyson was too much of a reckless animal to hear or sense her terrified opposition.

If she did falsely accuse him, I believe the intent came not before but after, when she furiously realized that she was just another piece of meat that Tyson was tossing away after he was done with it. That’s why I also don’t doubt at all that Tyson honestly believes he is innocent, which is why he turned down an opportunity at an early release because he simply refused to apologize to her — just an apology, not even an admission of guilt. In any case, the rape case is a fascinating part of the book, and I would recommend everyone to read up about it as much as they can before making their own judgment.

That was heavy.

The book slows down towards the end and becomes more contemplative, as Tyson’s drug and alcohol abuse, sex addiction, accumulated boxing injuries and uncontrollable fury prevent him from having any semblance of a real life. In the end, it’s his love for his current wife and the loss of one of his children in a tragic accident that keep him from completely falling off the wagon, though as he concedes in the book’s postscript it’s still an ongoing battle he’s taking one day at a time. Just as I was finishing the book I read elsewhere about Tyson’s latest implosion on Canadian television during an interview, confirming that no matter how much therapy he receives his demons will likely follow him until the day he dies.

It’s strange, because despite wasting all his talent and hard work and throwing away all the fruits of his success, I can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. On the other hand, even Tyson’s staunchest defenders would concede that he is a destructive individual with loathsome qualities — and that’s even if you believe he is innocent of rape. You can defend his actions to some extent because of his horrific upbringing, the toxic environment and people he grew up with, and the constant bullying and abuse he suffered as a child, but apologizing for Mike Tyson can only go so far because there are some things he has done — things he readily admits to in the book — that are simply inexcusable at any level of human decency.

Tyson understands this himself and appears genuinely remorseful at times (though at other times he remains defensive), attributing his insanity to the combustible combination of a massive ego and extremely low self-esteem. He was born in the gutter, and no matter how much success and money he achieved throughout his career, he still believed that he belonged in the gutter, which is why he could never put an end to his self-destructive tendencies.

That’s why I say you cannot treat Tyson like a real person if you want to truly enjoy this book. It’s a strange comparison, but I like to think of him as Homer Simpson — a character you find endearing in spite of, and maybe even because of, his anti-social qualities, but would hate if you knew such a person in real life. Everyone probably has an opinion on Tyson, both as a boxer and as a man, and neither might be flattering. But don’t let your prejudices get in the way of one of the best books you might ever read.

5/5

Movie Review: Boyhood (2014)

September 9, 2014 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

boyhood

I admit I had heard some good things about Boyhood — Richard Linklater’s epic experiment featuring the same actors over an actual 12-year period — but never did I expect it to be such a wonderful, profound viewing experience. Despite fears that the film would boil down to that one gimmick, once the awe stemming from the audacity to make such a crazy project subsides, Boyhood settles down into a beautiful, poignant coming-of-age story about life and love that’s as emotionally affecting as anything I’ve seen on the silver screen.

The film, which is a “proper” drama as opposed to a documentary, centers on Mason Evans Jr (played throughout by Ellar Coltrane) as he grows from a six year old in 2002 until he goes off to college at the age of 18. He leads what I suppose can be called a “regular” life by American standards these days, living with his single Olivia mother (Patricia Arquette) and older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s real-life daughter), while his biological father (Ethan Hawke) slips in and out of his life over the years.

That’s about as much as I need to say about the plot, which is actually very structured but never feels that way because we’re just going along with these characters lives as they pursue their passions, fall in and out of love, and endure countless conflicts over the course of 12 remarkable years. We watch them grow, age, mature and change — and it’s happening all the time, in a way that is subtle yet undeniable.

The feel of the film is very natural, with conversations and interactions that you or I might have every day. They might talk about family, about ambitions or politics (the family is very liberal and the film does make fun of Republicans to some extent), though Linklater knows how to pick and choose so that the small snippets of daily lives will usually provide fascinating insights into the characters, human nature and simply the world around us. The understated tone is somewhat similar to the Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight trilogy Linklater is perhaps best known for, so there is an air of familiarity for fans of those films, especially since Ethan Hawke plays quite a similar character.

Ellar Coltrane through the years in Boyhood

Ellar Coltrane through the years in Boyhood

Initially I wondered whether having the same actors throughout the years would make much of a difference. After all, we’ve seen so many films where they just cast different actors for different ages that it’s become a cinematic norm. Now, after having seen the movie, I can categorically say YES, it does matter. You might not lose anything from using different actors, but you certainly gain something, even if its just subconsciously, when you see real people growing older right in front of your eyes. As the film progresses chronologically, most of the physical changes in the adults are subtle, though for Mason Jr and Samantha it’s quite an amazing transformation. Even more amazing than the constantly shifting appearances, however, is seeing how their personalities develop over time as they turn from bratty little kids into young adults.

The film may be called Boyhood but it’s not just about the boy, as all the major characters in the family play irreplaceable roles. It’s about all of them. In some ways, I found the Olivia (Arquette) story the most fascinating (and heartbreaking) as she is forced to deal with challenging changes not just in her children but in herself.

Boyhood is a fairly long movie at 164 minutes, though when you consider how much time and ground it covers — at a leisurely pace, mind you – it almost feels short (and it makes Transformers: Age of Extinction‘s 165-minute running time even more incomprehensible). That said, I thought the length was perfect, as was the ending, which, like what the rest of the film does so well, captures just another one of life’s many precious moments.

Boyhood is a groundbreaking film because of Linklater’s ambitious filming technique, though it is so so so much more than that. This is not a film that will blow you away from the outset or titillate you with fancy special effects or intense action scenes. To be honest, I didn’t think much about anything when I first joined these characters on their respective life journeys, but then at some stage towards the end I realised, shit, this is a five-star film. Go watch it. It’s one of the most remarkable things you’ll ever see.

5 stars out of 5

PS: The fact that Linklater managed to complete the project is a minor miracle in itself. Realistically, the film could have collapsed for so many reasons — funding, studio issues, and most likely an actor falling off the rails, quitting, or even dying.

Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

July 17, 2014 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

dawn

Those who have read an article or two on this blog might have noticed that I have what you might call a bit of a Planet of the Apes infatuation. I declared the franchise reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the best film of 2011. I declared its long awaited sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, my most anticipated movie of 2014. I’m not quite sure what it is, but there’s just something about the story, the franchise, that has me going all ape.

This time around, the story takes place about a decade after the end of the previous film, when the so-called Simian flu — the same virus that gave the apes their intelligence — has wiped out the vast majority of the human population. All that remains, as far as we know, is a group of naturally immune survivors living in San Francisco led by a man named Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). Desperate for a source of power, a band of humans led by Malcolm (Aussie Jason Clarke) venture into the woods, where they run into the protagonist of the Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar (Andy Serkis), and his growing tribe of smart apes.

Just like its predecessor, the humans in Dawn take a back seat to the apes, who are far more interesting and dominate the narrative. It was a necessary decision to abandon the human cast from the first film, in particular James Franco’s Dr Will Rodman, the man responsible for creating the Simian flu in the first place (Franco is too busy posting nude photos of himself on the internet anyway). This is because, as an ape film, it’s important to see Caesar’s continued growth into the great revolutionary leader he’s destined to be. In Dawn, he has established societal order in his ape tribe, built a home, and started a family. He is compassionate, loyal and intelligent — but he can still be a total badass when he needs to be.

Key returning ape characters include Maurice (Karin Konoval), the big, clever orangutan who acts as third in command and the apes’ voice of reason, as well as Koba (Toby Kebbell), the tortured, mutilated ape Caesar liberated in the first film who understandably has trouble containing his distrust for humans and his violent temper. The most important new additions are Cornelia (Judy Greer), Caesar’s partner, and Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston), their rebellious son.

On the human side, the central character is Jason Clarke’s Malcolm, but apart from him everyone else is underdeveloped. There’s his second wife, Ellie (Kerri Russell), and his teenage son, Alexander (fellow Aussie Kodi Smit-McPhee), plus a stereotypical human a-hole named Carver (Kirk Acevedo from Fringe), but none of the supporting human characters get to do much, not even the legendary Gary Oldman.

dawn-of-planet-of-the-apes-malcolm

To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the film is driven by the characters and their relationships. Apart from the bond between Caesar and Malcolm, which forms the heart of the film, there’s also well-executed conflicts between Caesar and his son Blue Eyes and with his second-in-command Koba. This could have very easily been a big, dumb action flick with lots of loud explosions, pointless violence and flashy effects (in the vein of Michael Bay), but director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), who took over the reins from Rupert Wyatt, managed to keep his focus on the things that truly matter.

Dawn is not just a humans vs apes story — it’s a tale of survival that traverses universal themes such as ingrained discrimination, tribal loyalties, political complexities and familial bonds. It’s Reeves’ ability to craft these themes amid the chaos and action that enable the emotions to resonate, and it’s also what makes Dawn more memorable than your average sci-fi.

There were perhaps some missed opportunities to explore relationships on the human side (in particular Malcolm and his son), and some audiences might be disappointed with the lack of prominent female roles (Cornelia, in particular, felt like a wasted character), though on the whole I felt like the script by returning writers Amanda Silver, Rick Jaffa and new addition Mark Bomback (who has s chequered history with Die Hard 4 and the crap Total Recall remake but also the underrated Unstoppable and last year’s The Wolverine on his resume), was more than adequate.

Part of the reason the ape characters are so compelling to watch is because they come across as real people (even more so than the humans), but at the same time we are constantly reminded of how different they are and how dangerous they can be. All wonderful ape performances are again done by motion capture, and the technology is even more impressive than it was last time as the apes have a more expansive vocabulary and hence more facial movements and expressions. I’m sure real apes don’t look quite like the apes in the film, but what matters is that they look incredibly realistic, not only in their physical appearance but also in the way their bodies move and interact with their surroundings. There was not a second during the film when I thought anything looked unnatural or out of place, and full credit must go to the special effects team and the understated performance capture of the actors.

And it is thanks in large part to the special effects that Dawn contains some of the most epic battle sequences and fight scenes you’ll see this year. As the number of apes have increased dramatically, the scale of the action dwarfs that in Rise, with several sublimely choreographed scenes that had me staring in awe from the edge of my seat. Further, the violence was never without reason or purpose, so unlike some action flicks (cough, Michael Bay) I never felt like I was getting numb from it all. Apes against humans, humans against humans, apes against apes. It’s pure, satisfying, mindblowing entertainment.

dawn-planet-apes

Having set myself up for disappointment by living in ape hype for the last three years, Dawn actually lived up to my unrealistic expectations. Yes, I admit I am partial to the franchise, but how rare does a blockbuster of this magnitude turn out to be as good as you predicted? While the film was different to what I thought it would be, it was still bloody freaking sensational. As tense, emotional and exciting as I had envisioned. As visually stunning as I had imagined. As epic as I had hoped. Sure, if you want to you can nitpick all day, about the weakness in the script, the lack of development of the human characters (especially the females), the Hollywood stereotypes and cliches, the too-obvious exposition in the dialogue, the untied loose ends, and so forth.

Ultimately, however, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is about as close as you can get to the perfect summer blockbuster. This goes beyond just living up to its excellent predecessor — Dawn is to Rise what The Empire Strikes Back is to Star Wars, what The Godfather: Part II is to The Godfather. It might not be as intelligent as it wanted to be, but it’s still undeniably thought-provoking. It might not be as emotionally involving as it could have been, but it still tugs at the heart strings. There could have potentially been more action sequences earlier on or a more climatic ending, but you can hardly complain about what’s already there. When you factor in everything the film got right and the complete-package experience that it provides, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is simply the most flat-out awesome movie of the year.

5 stars out of 5!

PS: Now it’s another 2-year wait until the next instalment in the series, currently scheduled for July 26, 2016 release date.

Top 10 films of 2013!

July 15, 2014 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

This is probably the best year for cinema in the three years I’ve been doing best and worst lists. Of the 131 films I watched, most were in the middle of the pack, but there were also an incredible 18 that I rated above 4 stars (not including 4-star films) and 12 that I rated 4.5 stars, making it very difficult for compile this list. Fortunately, there was only one 5-star film, so the top spot was never in doubt.

Here we go. 2013. 131 movies. The 10 best. In my humble opinion.

Missing the cut: Films that came very close and might have made my best-of list in most other years – World War Z (best zombie movie in years), The Conjuring (best horror of the year), Iron Man 3 (best action blockbuster of the year), Philomena (one of the most heartfelt true story of the year), Captain Phillips (one of the most thrilling true story of the year), Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen’s best in years), Blackfish (superb documentary), Nebraska (most surprisingly awesome movie of the year)

As per usual, click on the film titles for my full reviews.

 10. American Hustle

We did pretty well, didn't we?

Woo hoo! We made the top 10!

A superb “true story” script, razor sharp dialogue, skillful direction from a director in his prime (David O’Russell), sensational performances from a cast full of my favourite actors (Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner) and just a whole lot of fun. For many critics, this was the best all-round film of the year. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but American Hustle was an absolute delight, with an energy and vibrancy few other films of any year can match. The other films ranked ahead of it on this list affected me a little more emotionally or otherwise, but I can’t deny that this was a high a top-notch production deserving of all its accolades.

9. The Place Beyond the Pines

Hey girl

Hey girl

This was a really unconventional film that put me off guard with its unusual structure, but I ended up loving every minute of it. I predicted in my original review that it would make my top 10 list and it has made the cut despite there being many other more highly touted films. Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper are both electric in this ambitious epic drama that drew me in and refused to let go. I was blown away by its raw emotional power and its shocking ending. Definitely one of the most memorable films of the year.

8. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Time to go full retard

Time to go full retard

This Ben Stiller project was released to mixed reviews, though in my opinion it’s one of the most magical film experiences of the year. If you’re a dreamer with ambitions of grandeur then this is a film that will appeal to your sensibilities. It might be overambitious and overlong, but there’s something about Walter Mitty’s story that shot straight to my heart. And besides, it’s genuinely funny, with some moments of comedic brilliance sprinkled throughout. I was caught up in his magical world and didn’t want to leave.

7. Blue is the Warmest Color

Blue-Is-The-Warmest-Color-2

Hey girl, part 2

French film (ie subtitles), comic adaptation, lesbian theme, controversial sex scenes. I was sceptical when I watched Blue is the Warmest Color, believing I would come away underwhelmed despite the positive reviews. I ended up feeling like I had my heart torn out of me. Fueled by two of the most amazing performances of the year from Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux, this is possibly the best romance I’ve seen on depicted on the big screen. It’s raw, it’s realistic, it’s heartbreaking. This is a coming-of-age story anyone — irrespective of your sexuality — can relate to and fall in love with.

6. Before Midnight

Still lookin' good, 18 years later

Still lookin’ good, 18 years later

I loved Before Sunrise. I loved Before Sunset even more. And so I probably had unrealistic expectations for Before Midnight, the finale in Richard Linklater’s magnificent trilogy. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, wrinkles and all, deliver the least romantic but most grounded experience in the series, with moments of hilarity interspersed with gut-wrenching drama. It’s an absolute delight that will make you question the essence of true love and the perfect ending to one of the greatest film trilogies of all time. You don’t need to have watched the other two to enjoy it, but if you have then you can’t afford to miss out on this gem.

5. 12 Years a Slave

Haven't you seen Shame? It's bigger than that!

Haven’t you seen Shame? It’s bigger than that!

The year’s most difficult film to watch, but also undeniably one of its best. Powered by what should have been an Oscar-winning performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor (damn you, Matthew McConaughey) and the sublime, understated direction of Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave is confronting, violent and emotionally draining — but it’s also a movie experience that leaves its impression on you like no other. Combining beautiful images and the ugliest side of humanity, this is a rare motion picture experience that beats you down and lifts you up all at once.

4. Her

I'm not crazy

I’m not crazy

Spike Jonze’s sci-fi romance about the relationship between a man and a computer might be the smartest movie of the year. Not many films can be described as clever, eerie, romantic, heartbreaking and poignant, but that’s exactly how I would label Her, a modern day masterpiece where all the pieces come together in a neat little package. From Joaquin Phoenix’s pained protagonist and Scarlett Johansson’s perfect voice performance as the operating system of his dreams, to the realistic future vision of our electronics obsessed society, Her just works on so many levels. The best type of sci-fi is that which tells a compelling story of its own while also providing reflections on the life we live today. Her does that in such a moving way that it’ll be blasphemous for me to leave it off this list.

3. Rush

I'll race you for it

I’ll race you for it

This will probably be the biggest surprise of the entire list. While most would agree that Rush is a superior drama, I’m not sure many would call it the third best film of the year. But hey, I’m probably as stunned as you are. For someone who knows nothing of and cares little for car racing, Formula One and all that crap, I never expected Rush to provide one of the most engaging, thrilling film experiences of the year. Featuring two outrageously effective performances by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl, the usual brilliance of director Ron Howard, and one heck of a riveting true story that even the best fiction writers would have trouble coming up with, Rush completely annihilated all expectations I had, and for that it nabs a spot in my top 3.

2. The Wolf of Wall Street

I'm the king of the world!

I’m the king of the world!

This “true” story polarized viewers with the excess it portrayed on the big screen, but for me, The Wolf of Wall Street is simply the funniest movie of the year. I love black comedies like Fargo, Pulp Fiction and American Psycho, all of which are some of my favourite movies of all time, and now this Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio collaboration will join them on my non-existent mantelpiece dedicated to dark humour. Say what you want about the inappropriate and immoral gags, sex, drugs and the record number of “F-bombs”, but if you ask me there’s no harder task than finding a film from last year that had sharper dialogue, funnier characters and more classic scenes of comedy gold. It’s a carefully planned and executed mess, one that’s too long at 3 hours but feels like it’s not long enough. While it might be far from perfect, there’s only one film I liked more than The Wolf of Wall Street last year.

1. Gravity

Why are we in such an awesome movie?

Why are we in such an awesome movie?

I’ve realized that I don’t give out five stars very often anymore, having doled out the perfect score exactly twice in the last two years out of around 240 movies. And so it follows that it takes a special film to achieve that honour. It takes a film that doesn’t just tick the right technical boxes on paper and/or appeal to my mind and my heart, but also has that extra something to elevate it to a different level. In my view, there’s only one film in 2013 that does that, and that film is Alfonso Cuaron’s sci-fi masterpiece, Gravity. This is a unique motion picture that creates new ground in terms of special effects and ventures into unchartered territory with its risky storytelling. Kudos to Cuaron for sticking to his guns in the face of pressure from studios to change his approach because everything paid off in the end, resulting in a very different, explosive, memorable and thought-provoking experience that’s unparalleled in 2013.

Worst 10 Films of 2013!

July 12, 2014 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

I don’t like to brag, but I’ve really outdone myself this (last year). I’ve finally completely reviewing my backlog of 2013 films and, according to my calculations, I’ve watched and reviewed a total of 131 movies with a release date of 2013. And out of that group, I’ve selected my 10 worse films of 2013!

The methodology is simple. I simply picked out the films with the lowest stars I gave and ranked them in accordance to rating, applying my judgment to those with identical scores to determine which one was worse. 2013 turned out to be an excellent year in cinema at the lower end of the spectrum, as I only counted exactly 10 films with a rating lower than 2 stars (not including 2-star films). There were a couple that are so bad that they would have topped the list any other year, but on the whole I was pleasantly surprised.

So here goes. As usual, click on the film title for my full review.

Dishonourable mentions: Diana, Runner Runner, Last Vegas, The Bling Ring, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, The Hangover Part III

10. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

According to this list we're the 10th worst movie of the year!

According to this awesome list we’re the 10th worst movie of the year!

I expected this re-imagining of the classic fairytale to be bad, but not quite this bad. The touches to the revamped story were uninspiring, the action was sub-par, and the dialogue was poor, resulting in a dull, uninvolving experience that felt more like an opportunistic cash grab than a genuine attempt to create a decent movie experience. I like both Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, but this was an obvious misstep for both of them.

9. After Earth

Thanks dad, I won't let you down

Thanks dad, I won’t let you down

Will Smith’s star vehicle for his precious son Jaden was widely panned by critics and deservedly so. Despite a potentially intriguing premise and a whole bunch of special effects, After Earth was a complete and utter bore, stunted by a predictable and cheesy narrative, poor acting and lameness all around. Even I, one of M Night Shyamalan’s biggest apologists, can’t defend him on this monster.

8. Grown Ups 2

Can I take my shirt off yet?

Can I take my shirt off yet?

Adam Sandler movies these days are destined for lists like this, so it says a lot when Grown Ups 2 can’t even make the top 5. And yes, this is a horrible movie with a lot of indefensible attempts at humour, no plot and a plethora of offensive content — BUT the presence of Steve Buscemi and a pretty funny Taylor Lautner as a fratboy douche was enough to make the film suck substantially less.

7. The Counselor

I'd like to grow my hair out too

I’d like to grow my hair out too

Even going into it knowing Cormac McCarthy’s occasional off-the-wall tendencies, The Counselor still turned out to be the year’s most WTF movie. Seriously, what the heck was Ridley Scott thinking? Everyone in this production tried too hard, from McCarthy’s unnecessarily convoluted script to Scott’s direction to the overacting of Javier Bardem. Given what this could have and should have been, it’s possibly the year’s biggest disappointment.

6. The Canyons

Even your knockers can't save this movie, Lindsay

Even your knockers can’t save this movie, Lindsay

Oh poor Linsday Lohan. She has become some uninsurable that she’s resorted to this doomed super-low budget project by Brett Easton Ellis and Paul Schrader. With porn superstar James Deen as the lead, The Canyons ventures dangerously close to amateur porn territory. Better direction and acting, I grant you that, but production and plot-wise not so much. It’s hard to imagine Lindsay reviving her career from this nadir.

5. Paranoia

I'm paranoid this could be one of the worst movies of the year

I’m paranoid this could be one of the worst movies of the year

I support all Aussie actors trying to make their mark in Hollywood, but I can’t bring myself to support Liam Hemsworth’s decision to star in Paranoia, an inexplicably boring, cliched techno “thriller” that makes me wonder if Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman are having cashflow problems. While some films seem OK on paper, only to fall apart on the screen, it should have been obvious Paranoia was going to be awful from the get-go. No excuses for all involved.

4. RIPD

Who you gonna call?

Who you gonna call?

An early contender for worst film of the year, only to be nudged back to 4th place thanks to some truly grotesque efforts in the top 3. RIPD is more or less Men In Black for ghosts and demons, except it’s less exciting, less witty, less interesting, less coherent and with much worse special effects (and we’re talking about a 1997 movie here). One of the worst, if not the worst, comic book adaptations of all-time. I’m sure Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds would love to use that MIB memory wipe stick thingy on all who have seen it.

3. The Host

Let's make out

Let’s make out some more!

If you thought Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight was a shithouse love story, then you might very well die from spontaneous human combustion if you watch The Host. “Bad” is the kindest thing I can say about this pathetically laughable sci-fi romance where the protagonist alien (Saoirse Ronan) spends most of the film literally arguing with herself and finding excuses to make out with two different guys. Apart from being unintentionally hilarious, this disaster is overlong and devoid of any redeeming features. And the ending is just painful.

2. Spring Breakers

We couldn't try harder if we tried

We couldn’t try harder if we tried

I honestly thought I had seen the worst movie of 2013 when I had the misfortune of watching Spring Breakers, the most pretentious, contrived and gratuitous piece of crap I had seen for a very long time. Dull and obnoxious characters, annoying and pointless voiceovers, a moronic storyline and jumbled structure, and the most ridiculous James Franco performance you’ll ever see. The harder this film tries, the worst it gets. Fails in every way imaginable.

1. Movie 43

What the hell have we done?

What the hell have we done?

There was a time when I thought the Farrelly brothers were legends. That was back in 1998 (There’s Something About Mary). Fifteen years later, they’ve made a film so putrid that I was tempted to hand out my first 0-star rating ever (and I only held back because I believe every film deserves at least something). This is one of those films you just have to see to believe. Despite stocking up with the most A-list names you will ever see in an ensemble cast, Movie 43 rolls out one unfunny, offensive skit after another until audiences either walk out or start jabbing sharp objects into their eyes and ears. This goes far, far beyond just being a bad movie. It’s loathsome, vile and unbearable. It’s unfathomable. And it’s the worst movie of 2013.

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