Happy New Year, everybody!
One of my favorite things to do each January is look back at the movies of the previous year. I’m gonna do that every Wednesday for the rest of the month, starting with my least favorite and working my way up to a Top 10, but I realize that ranking movies that way is a flawed process. I can only talk about movies I’ve seen. There were a bunch that I had no interest in this year, but I also didn’t get to see everything I wanted to.
So, by way of clearing the floor for my lists, here are 22 movies that I wish could have been on them. I have no idea how I might have ranked them, but I’m sorry I wasn’t able to find out by Year End.
In the order they were released:
1. The Raven
I love Edgar Allan Poe and John Cusack. Not entirely confident about the plot that seems ripped off from the series premiere of Castle, but I’m willing to find out.
I have no idea how I missed a pirate movie starring Hugh Grant by the creators of Wallace and Gromit. That should’ve been something I saw opening night.
Audrey Plaza is very funny and I also dig Jake Johnson from New Girl. The plot also sounded intriguing with its focus on loneliness and whether or not the time travel aspect is real or just a metaphor for regret.
Full disclosure: I actually saw this movie about half-an-hour before writing this post, so maybe it shouldn’t be on this list. I saw it on DVD though and the rest of my lists are all movies I saw in the theater, so I’m keeping it here.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed by Safety Not Guaranteed. It’s a funny movie and worthwhile for the performances, but the story doesn’t have much to say other than “loneliness sucks” and that it’s better to have someone in your life. That’s a fine start to a theme, but I wanted more. There’s a huge, missed opportunity in a choice Plaza makes late in the film and Johnson’s subplot is only halfway done when the final credits roll.
4. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
If there’s anyone I find more charming than Keira Knightley, it’s Steve Carell.
5. Magic Mike
No, wait. It’s Matthew McConaughey and he’s hilarious in the trailer for this.
6. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days
My son turned me on to the Wimpy Kid movies and I love them. They’re hilarious. I’m not watching one without him though and he’d just as soon see them on DVD.
Actually, not a big fan of seeing movies in the theater, my son. He’ll go if everyone’s going, but he’d prefer to be at home (and we don’t even have a decent TV). I don’t know if that’s typical of other kids, but it makes me curious about the future of the movie industry. Not about whether there is a future (of course there is), but just about what it will look like. Will future generations value having control over the presentation more than the less convenient spectacle of the big screen and giant sound?
7. Chicken With Plums
I loved the graphic novel this is based on.
My only exposure to Judge Dredd is a) those Dredd/Batman crossovers they did in the ’90s and b) the horrible Sylvester Stallone/Rob Schneider movie from the same time period. None of that stuff made me a fan, but I’m as fond of second chances as I am of anything Karl Urban signs up for. Judge Dredd has a lot of fans, so there must be something to him. I’m interested in seeing the character’s film potential redeemed.
9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Like me a teenage comedy/romance. Also curious to see what Emma Watson can do post-Potter.
10. Solomon Kane
I don’t know if it’s accurate to call this a 2012 movie, because they’ve been announcing it for about three years now and I’m not real up on why it was just now released this year to a very limited number of theaters. Probably because it’s not very good, but it’s such a solid concept and a Robert E. Howard character, so I’ll take my chances.
11. The Oranges
Hugh Laurie and Oliver Platt. Hoping this’ll take the edge off my House withdrawal.
12. Cloud Atlas
I don’t have high hopes that Cloud Atlas‘ execution is equal to its ambition (the makeup isn’t at all convincing, for starters, and that seems like a big deal), but it looks like a magnificent spectacle and I’m a sucker for these stories about how we’re all connected.
13. Fun Size
A Halloween comedy with Jane Levy from Suburgatory. That’s all I need to know.
14. Wreck-It Ralph
I’m not enough of a gamer to be super excited by the cameos and in-jokes, but I like a good Disney animated movie and by all accounts, this is one.
Torn between loving Daniel Day Lewis on the one hand, and not liking Spielberg’s sentimental side on the other. Curiosity wins out though.
16. Anna Karenina
Another one I’m conflicted about. Adultery stories usually push me away, but Keira Knightley has the opposite effect.
17. Silver Linings Playbook
Another one I was wishy-washy about. Love Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Pretty tired of uninspired romantic comedies and Robert DeNiro’s being in them. I’ve heard this is anything but uninspired though, and it also features Chris Tucker’s return to acting in something other than a Rush Hour movie. Honestly, it’s that less element that finally draws me in.
18. Life of Pi
Didn’t think I wanted to see a movie about a kid adrift on a lifeboat for two hours, no matter how pretty it is, who directed it, or how many CGI tigers are involved. Ironically, it took having the end spoiled for me to make me want to check it out. I wish now that I’d been willing to see it before and been surprised, but oh well. I’d like to see it so that I can talk with people about it. Sounds like there’s a lot of discussion to be had around this one.
19. This is 40
Because I’ll watch any Paul Rudd comedy. That rule has bitten me in the past, but most of the time it’s trustworthy.
20. Zero Dark Thirty
Didn’t have much interest in a docudrama about the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, but the trailer sucked me in with its focus on Jessica Chastain’s character and her team. Also, the mission itself looks absolutely haunting. Should’ve trusted Kathryn Bigelow to do this right.
21. Jack Reacher
Looks like a mediocre Tom Cruise action flick, but I still tend to enjoy those.
22. Django Unchained
I’m not as in love with the indulgent, alternate reality of Inglorious Basterds as most people, so I’m not all thrilled at the possibility of seeing it repeated against the backdrop of the Antebellum South. I’d prefer to examine history as it really was and learn from that instead of seeing Quentin Tarantino play out his fantasies onscreen. On the other hand, I love pretty much everyone in this movie and want to judge it on its own merits instead of on my fears about it.
The awesome Children’s Theatre Company always picks great plays to produce, but they’ve outdone themselves with this one. From now through October 21, they’re doing Buccaneers by Liz Duffy Adams and Ellen Maddow. There’s a fun YouTube video below with the cast and crew explaining the story, but it’s basically about a girl who runs away from home to be a pirate:
When Enid Arabella learns of her downtrodden parents’ plan to send her away, she takes to the high seas, only to be captured by the tyrannical pirate Johnny Johné. Enid must summon her wit and gumption to save herself and the rest of the children of Johné’s crew. Under the most threatening of circumstances, the dragooned team of reluctant young sailors learns to form a democracy and ultimately to forgive the adults that have repressed them. This raucous world premiere pirate musical, with a score drawn from sea shanties and music from around the world, is a thrilling tale of empowerment, leadership, and justice.
I started reading Michael Crichton’s last book, Pirate Latitudes last week. The title’s not very romantic or inspiring, but I was extremely curious to see how the renowned science fiction writer would handle a straight-up pirate story. At least, I assume that it’s a straight-up pirate story. If there’s some kind of sci-fi twist at the end, don’t tell me. I’ll probably hate it, but I’d rather be surprised I guess.
The few things I’ve heard about Pirate Latitudes weren’t very positive. The story goes that Crichton’s assistant found it on the writer’s computer after Crichton died and the book got a bad rap for maybe being not quite ready for publication yet. Since I’m not even halfway done, I don’t know. And since this is the first Crichton novel I’ve ever read, I’m not even sure how it compares to his other stuff. All I do know is that – so far – I like it.
It opens on Sir James Almont, Governor of Jamaica with a gouty foot. It’s been a while since I’ve read Captain Blood, but I was reminded of the gout-suffering governor that Peter Blood waited on in that book and enjoyed imagining for a while that he and Almont were the same character. But then I went and checked and Blood‘s governor watches over Barbados, not Jamaica. I got confused because the Errol Flynn adaptation moves the location to Jamaica, but in both versions, the governor’s last name is Steed. Still: fun coincidence.
When Almont hears tell of a Spanish treasure ship sitting by itself in a bay, but guarded by the impenetrable fortress of Matanceros and its blood-thirsty commander, he commissions privateer Charles Hunter to put together a motley crew and go get it. The novel then follows Hunter and his pals with occasional cuts back to Almont and the intrigue in Port Royal as Almont’s secretary attempts to undermine the king’s confidence in the governor. There’s also a sub-plot about a pretty, but under-aged slave of Almont who may or may not be a witch. Mostly though: pirates. And great ones.
As you’d expect, Crichton’s put a ton of research into this thing and it reads as authentic. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t also daring escapes, roguish romances, and the most colorful cast of pirates since ever. I’ve also laughed aloud several times. I don’t want to read full reviews for fear of spoilers, but I wonder if the book’s negative reputation is because it’s so atypical of Crichton’s other work. As it’s own thing, it’s totally working for me.
Last Saturday was a pirate-filled day. I took David to karate and read Polly and the Pirates while he practiced. Then we rushed home to pick up Diane and head out to Pippi Longstocking (who’s father is a pirate) at the Children’s Theatre Company. That night we watched Blackbeard’s Ghost and started a game of Sword and Skull.
After the play though, we went to the Science Museum of Minnesota to check out the Real Pirates exhibit. I’ve uploaded the photos to Flickr, so you can get an overview of the show there. They don’t allow flash photography, so I apologize for the graininess of the pictures. I figure I can go into more detail here though than I can in the brief descriptions Flickr allows, so here are my impressions of the exhibit.
It’s an impressive display. I wasn’t convinced that I was going to love it before we went in. Back in January, we took a trip to North Carolina to see some of Blackbeard’s old haunts (which reminds me that I need to get those pictures uploaded too) and visited the museum where the remains of the Queen Anne’s Revenge are displayed. After seeing that, I didn’t think I could get excited about the Whydah Gally, a ship I’ve never heard of. What the exhibit lacks in notoriety though, it more than makes up for in completeness.
The traveling exhibits that come to the Science Museum are always well-organized and tell a story. The exhibit begins with a short, but mandatory film that outlines the history of the Whydah, a slave ship named after the British colony in Africa from which it got its cargo, and ends by recounting its sinking and eventual discovery. As the narrator is still talking about the surviving bell that marked the wreck, the movie screen slides up dramatically to reveal the bell – still submerged in salt water – and the first room.
From there, Real Pirates has a couple of rooms devoted to the slave trade. It covers the African chiefs who sold members of their rival tribes to the European coastal colonies. It talks about the conditions on the famous Middle Passage between Africa and the Caribbean, even showing some of the manacles used in that journey. It was a harrowing part of the exhibit. They also explain why slave ships converted into perfect pirate ships when captured. They were fast, well-armed, and had lots of cargo space to hold treasure and crew.
From there, the exhibit moves to the Caribbean and a brief history of piracy in general. It talks about the economic, political, and social conditions that made piracy attractive to so many people. There’s a brief mention of women like Anne Bonny and Mary Read, but more focus is given to children and racial diversity, since those groups were actually represented on the Whydah.
Next, Real Pirates outlines the early career of Sam Bellamy, the captain of the Whydah and then goes into detail about pirate raids and the process of taking a ship. There are even role-players who roam the exhibit and stay in character as they talk about what it’s like to be a pirate.
After that, the exhibit turns to the Whydah itself, with a model of the ship and portraits of some of the crew members. Then there are interactive displays that let visitors spot worthy prizes through telescopes, practice knot-tying, and hoist the Jolly Roger.
There’s a life-size (or close to it) replica of the Whydah to roam through before you come to the treasure room, where you can touch coins raised from the wreck and see an impressive treasure chest filled with actual pirate loot. There are separate displays for gold, silver, and other jewelry and coins.
The exhibit then turns to the wreck of the Whydah in a storm and the deaths of most of its crew, but that’s not the end of the show. It talks about the trial of the survivors and then goes into detail about the discovery of the wreck and the experiences of the people who raised it. By the end, my mind was filled with information, so I admit that I was skimming past everything after the trial. (I’d already gotten a primer on wreck exploration at the Queen Anne exhibit anyway.) I did learn about a couple of Blackbeard connections though.
After the trial, Blackbeard protested the survivors’ death sentence by threatening to burn Boston to the ground. He never did, of course, but he did sink some ships around there. There was also an earlier link in Sam Bellamy’s career when he disagreed with a captain he’d teamed up with. Bellamy had no qualms about attacking English vessels, but the other captain did and severed the partnership. Edward Teach was one of the men who left with the other captain, but apparently (and surprisingly) he didn’t hold a grudge.
I learned a lot more than I thought I would. I’m no expert on pirates, but I know quite a bit and was surprised at how much I didn’t understand about how crews were organized or how boarding parties worked. But even if I hadn’t learned a single, new fact, it would be worth the visit for the treasure room alone, much less the other highlights like the life-size pirate ship and the knot-tying. It’s a great exhibit no matter what your level of expertise is.
Because Port Royal, Pyrates, and The Republic of Pirates aren’t enough, there are two more pirate TV shows on the horizon. First, Michael Bay is working on Black Sails, a Treasure Island prequel for Starz. There are a couple of troublesome ingredients in that recipe, but okay.
Meanwhile, NBC has ordered ten episodes of a show called Crossbones. According to the AV Club, it’s about “Blackbeard and the undercover assassin who was sent to bring him to justice, only to discover that pirates are actually kind of fun.” Even without Michael Bay, it seems.
Hmm. Cross-referencing this news with the earlier announcements, I notice that The Republic of Pirates was also being developed for NBC and would feature Blackbeard as well as other historical pirates like Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Without having any inside information, I’m guessing that someone figured out they could develop their own pirate show without paying royalties for the Republic of Pirates name. Sort of like Once Upon a Time did with Fables. I’m okay with that (Crossbones is a cooler name, for starters), but it probably does mean that – if they all make it to TV – we’re looking at four pirate shows and not five. I’m okay with that too so long as Bonny and Read make it into one of them.