With appropriate gratitude to Time Warner Cable's "On Demand" service, we give you six movies we wanted to see in theaters last year but could not due to the Li'l Frys.
1 Battleship is Pearl Harbor meets Transformers, which we intend as the worst possible insult imaginable. A loud, stupid, formulaic train wreck of a movie that never met a cliche it didn't want to run right into the ground. We were shocked by how boring and tedious so much of it truly was given the multi-million-dollar visual effects. Even if it's empty-headed, shouldn't it be fun? Not even Liam Neeson escapes unscathed. Up to now, we'd been big fans of director Peter Berg. He'll have to win us back over now.
2 End of Watch strings together visceral, gritty moments of life as an LAPD street cop working the worst neighborhoods. There's no doubt the movie is doing an expert job of showing us what it's really like out there. Writer-director David Ayer has practically made a career out of making movies about urban cops (if you haven't seen Training Day, what are you waiting for?). The problem is that you keep waiting for a plot that never arrives. Things start to unravel towards the end as it becomes clear our heroes have stumbled onto some kind of cartel operation and things end in a predictably bloody climax. But up until then, mostly it's just a this-happed, then-this-happened episodic sort of story. It's well-made, sure. It just doesn't add up to anything. What was the point?
3 Looper reminds us how hard it is to tell a good time-travel story. Filmmakers can easily get completely sidetracked by endless paradoxes and distracting plot holes. But when it's done right, there's something weirdly primal about the ability to go back and change the past (or keep it from being changed by some nefarious future). It's why The Terminator and Back to the Future are such beloved classics. Looper doesn't hit those highs, but it comes close, mostly because it doesn't spend a whole lot of time on time travel mechanics. Instead, the movie puts two versions of the same character together and then watches the fallout: a young man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) faces his future, an older man (Bruce Willis) faces his past. Both can only survive if the other is destroyed. It's more drama than sci-fi. There's a lot here that's quite genius. People have quibbled about the "impossible" ending, but as catharsis, it's perfect.
4 Magic Mike is probably one of the very best melodramas you'll ever see about ambition. How much are you willing to pay for fame and fortune? When do youthful dreams give way to more adult realities? At what point do you cut your losses and accept your fate? Director Steven Soderbergh is our very favorite filmmaker and so it's no surprise that he's cranked out - in our eyes - another mini-masterpiece of mood, character, and style. The camera angles, the pacing, the performances, all top notch. We're finally starting to understand what all the fuss is about over Channing Tatum. Did we mention this is a movie about male strippers in Tampa, Florida and features Matthew McConaughey in full-on shirtless self-parody? Without question, this should be a laughable Lifetime TV movie clunker. And yet it is not.
5 Pitch Perfect may be a rip-off Fox's "Glee" in that both are about misfits who find identity, love, and purpose through school singing groups. But the movie improves on the Fox recipe. "Glee" can be frustratingly inconsistent, silly, and implausible, often turning itself in knots to hit big moments whether it all makes sense or not. Pitch Perfect doesn't have those problems, perhaps in part because it's happy to embrace the romantic comedy/misfit college comedy formula (uptight girl learns to let go, introverted angry chick opens up and finds love, underdogs triumph over the favorites, etc), rather than work so hard trying to upend them like "Glee." Sometimes, cliches work because they're tried and true. Anna Kendrick seems to be an acquired taste we haven't yet fully acquired, but the real standout is Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy.
6 Seeking a Friend for the End of the World wins points for fully committing to its apocalyptic premise, though the low-budget, indie-sensibility does sometimes undermine the film's realism, like when it's clear the producers couldn't afford a jet plane and had to settle for a prop plane. The movie mostly succeeds at walking a shaky line between two kinds of comedies: the dry black kind and the whimsical romantic kind. Keira Knightley (ridiculously pretty) plays the role of the Quirky Artsy Girl you've seen countless times before, while Steve Carrell does his usual sad-sack-with-a-mean-streak routine. Nothing new, really. But it's mixed together well. Lots of amusing cameos and detours.