Iron Man 3 (2013) Written by Shane Black & Drew Pearce Directed by Shane Black
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is an all-encompassing behemoth at this point, and its existence marks a transformation of corporate-owned media. It’s hard to remember individual films with such a glut of content filling up cineplexes and streaming platforms, but some movies in the mix aren’t absolute formulaic dreck. Once upon a time, Marvel was a little less cohesive, which was a good thing. Not every film needs to provide plot points & Easter eggs for future films and long-running storylines. In this space, it was possible to hand a movie over to Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys) and let him do what he wanted, with an emphasis on superhero-ing things. It was likely seen as less in the shadow of the first Avengers movie, but Iron Man 3 is a very solid, entertaining flick.
A Madea Christmas (2013) Written & Directed by Tyler Perry
There are three distinct phases to the Madeaverse that I’ve noticed. From Diary of a Mad Black Woman through Madea’s Big Happy Family, these are mostly stage adaptations featuring predominantly Black casts. Beyond Tyler Perry, there may be one or two “major” Black actors in the production. For instance, Blair Underwood in Madea’s Family Reunion or Angela Bassett in Meet the Browns. Previous to this film was Madea’s Witness Protection, one of the series’s three most financially successful pictures; a budget of $20 million turned into $67 million in box office returns. That film incorporated more white actors (Eugene Levy, Denise Richards, Doris Roberts), which led to the following strange & short era with A Madea Christmas. This was when Perry tried to make movies that would also appeal to white people.
Motivational Growth (2013) Written & Directed by Don Thacker
American independent film is a complicated industry that’s been through many transformations since movies were invented. The late 1990s to the mid-2010s were a Golden Age at the start but eventually became a time of diminishing returns. The 20th century ended with so much promise, especially with the advent of digital cameras, but by 2015 movies were being churned out that lacked a lot. Motivational Growth is one of those American indie flicks with an interesting premise, but the execution is ruined by a filmmaker who believes he’s cleverer than he actually is. He’s completely unsure of the tone, so the movie veers from body horror to dark comedy, back and forth again and again.
Justice League Volume 1: Origin (2013) Reprints Justice League v2 #1-6 Written by Geoff Johns Art by Jim Lee
Justice League Volume 2: The Villain’s Journey (2013) Reprints Justice League v2 #7-12 Written by Geoff Johns Art by Jim Lee, Gene Ha, and Ivan Reis
In 2011, DC Comics shook up its titles by returning to square one and rebooting the universe. The first book published under the moniker of the New 52 (there were 52 ongoing monthly books) was Justice League #1. In this book, we are introduced to altered versions of classic superheroes. Batman. Superman. Green Lantern. The Flash. Wonder Woman. Aquaman. Cyborg. Through this title, we were meant to see a more modern interpretation of classic characters and narrative arcs. Unfortunately, by 2016, the series would be canceled, and the Justice League title continues to struggle to find its footing. Nevertheless, the series should be a grand slam; it features some of the all-time most iconic American pop media characters. As we look at these books, I hope to figure out if there is anything from this era that should be recognized and re-explored or if this is merely a misstep in editorial decisions.
Enough Said (2013) Written & Directed by Nicole Holofcener
James Gandolfini was often typecast as a tough guy, but that wasn’t really who he was outside of The Sopranos. He was an accomplished stage actor who performed in various roles, so moviegoers never quite got to see the full extent of what Gandolfini was capable of. Enough Said was released posthumously and acts as a hint of the directions his career could have gone had he not passed away. There’s not much similar to Tony Soprano beyond the actor and the character’s relationship issues. However, they are nowhere near as volatile as what Tony got up to. Instead, this is a sensitive, nuanced, character dramedy intended for a mature audience that wants a little more out of their movies.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013) Written by Isao Takahata & Riko Sakaguchi Directed Isao Takahata
When people talk about Studio Ghibli, you will most often hear them talk about it in the context of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. That’s completely reasonable as the studio’s most prominent work started with Miyazaki before becoming a collaborative effort. However, he was only the co-founder of Studio Ghibli, with his partner being Isao Takahata. Takahata was the director behind films like Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday, Pom Poko, and My Neighbors the Yamadas. Takahata’s take on animation was quite different than Miyazaki, but both men worked to push the medium in ways it never had been, both artistically and thematically.
After Earth (2013) Written by Will Smith, Gary Whitta, and M. Night Shyamalan Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
The best movies are conceived while watching Discovery Channel docudramas. This is apparently what went through the heads of the creators involved because After Earth was inspired by a show Will Smith watched on that basic cable channel. From this humble roots came a story about a father and son lost in a remote region after a car crash with only the son able to travel out and search for help before his father died. Then Smith decided to set the story a thousand years in the future and make it a science fiction venture. Also, this was supposed to be the first of a trilogy. The basic skeleton of this film isn’t horrible, but the individual decisions made about its presentation turned it into an awful mess.
Snowpiercer (Directed by Bong Joon-ho) South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho delivers a unique take on the class struggle by putting the remainder of humanity on a train that is speeding around the globe. A climate crisis occurred resulting in an ice age but Wilford, a forward-thinking billionaire industrialist, had a train constructed that contains all the amenities needed to keep a relatively small population of humans alive. Over time, the underclass passengers in the back of the train develop a plan to break out of their ghetto and get access to the privileges of the front car passengers. What follows is a bizarre odyssey that examines a lot of contemporary social and economic issues through this filter of a visually absurd high paced action film. Captain America Chris Evans is the protagonist, but even that gets subverted by the end of the film. There’s plenty of great twists and an impressive action sequence involving masked men wielding shiny silver axes. What Snowpiercer does right is balancing the somber and relevant themes with a fast-paced plot and intriguing characters.
April and the Extraordinary World (2013) Written by Franck Ekinci & Benjamin Legrand Directed by Christian Desmares & Franck Ekinci
April Franklin is a woman living in a world where history took a markedly different turn than our own. During the reign of Napoleon III, a scientist is charged with creating animal-soldier hybrids. He creates two hyperintelligent beings that escape and soon after the world’s greatest scientists and engineers begin disappearing. This impediment to progress leads to a mid-20th century where energy is still based primarily in coal and steam power. April’s parents and grandfather vanished years ago during a government crackdown, and she has been fending for herself alongside her genetically altered cat friend Darwin. The two uncover a plot to destroy humanity and the secret solution for the ultimate formula, a serum that would make all life impervious to harm.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2013) Written & Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
In the decaying Iranian spot of Bad City, The Girl wanders through the night, a vampire clad in hijab and chador, feasting on the not so innocent denizens. Arash is a young man struggling to make ends meet, taking care of his heroin-addicted father who owes money to local drug dealer Saeed. Arash and The Girl’s paths meander around each other for a while before their fateful meeting. A connection is felt between them, and she withdraws, scared to feel connected to a human. No matter how far she runs, invisible forces are intent on bringing them together, weaving a story of comedy and tragedy.