Winners & Losers Of 2013 (Part Four)

Winner:  Zombies

The horror genre was very kind to Hollywood studios this year.  Ditto the undead.

45 years after the release of the influential Night Of The Living Dead, zombies continue to play a major role in American pop culture.  In fact, you could argue that they might be bigger now than the genre itself.

In February, Nicholas Hoult, the kid who melted the hearts of Hugh Grant, critics and movie fans in the very funny About A Boy, became a not-so-cannibalistic adult zombie in Warm Bodies, the critically acclaimed dramedy about his unlikely romance with a human.  Co-starring John Malkovich, the film took in a surprising 120 million in international box office receipts.

In June, Brad Pitt found himself in the middle of a worldwide zombie invasion in the summer blockbuster World War Z.  It received mostly respectable reviews and ended up being the most commercially successful horror film of the year.

Which brings us to The Walking Dead.  The cable Television series has exploded in popularity since its third season which began in October 2012.  Averaging more than 10 million viewers a week, the third season finale that aired in March 2013 was seen by almost 13 million alone.  (In its abbreviated first year, it averaged a little more than 5 million every week.)  Season four began nearly a year later and the ratings have continued to climb.  The premiere was watched by slightly more than 16 million fans, an unheard of number for a cable program.  To put this in perspective, it’s generating almost as much interest as The Big Bang Theory, the very funny CBS sitcom often found near or at the top of the weekly Neilsen ratings.

Beloved by fans, critics are just as enamoured with its plotlines.  Season four wraps up this coming March while season five commences next fall.

Until the public grows completely disenchanted with these lumbering, demonic connoisseurs of human flesh, the undead’s pop culture invasion will live on in the foreseeable future.

Loser:  San Diego Mayor Bob Filner & New York Mayoral Candidate Anthony Weiner

Can you judge a man by his creepy smile?  In Bob Filner’s case:  yes.

Back in the summer, the Democratic Mayor of San Diego found himself embroiled in a scandal of his own making when he was accused of sexual harassment by not one, not two but almost 20 different women, some of whom were at one time part of his staff.  (And that was just one of his ethical dilemmas this year.)  Despite a flimsy attempt at an apology (I’m sorry but I did nothing wrong), Filner repeatedly declared his innocence and his intention to remain Mayor.

As more and more victims came forward with sordid tales of inappropriate comments, unwanted touching, groping & kissing, and sleazy voicemail messages, the calls for him to resign grew louder and stronger, especially from members of his own Democratic Party.  Filner’s solution was to seek help from a sex therapist, a transparently phony gesture that lasted less than a week.

Inevitably, the city negotiated a settlement with Filner, in connection with a lawsuit filed by one of his victims, so he could bow out somewhat gracefully.  Then, he gave his contradictory, self-serving resignation speech which prevented any chance of that happening.  Facing the possibility of several years in prison for his actions against three unidentified victims, the twice-divorced 71-year-old (who was actually engaged at the height of this scandal; his ex-fiancé, unsurprisingly, called it off) settled for a plea deal that keeps him out of jail, places him on three years of probation, keeps him under house arrest for three months and bans him from political life forever.

When they make the inevitable movie, give Dennis Quaid a call.  He needs the work.

Meanwhile, former Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner was hoping to mount a major political comeback in New York.  What he got instead was an even more embarrassing scandal than the one that turfed him from his office two years ago.

To recap, in 2011, the newlywed Weiner was trying to send a private picture of his bulging member to another woman on Twitter that accidentally went public.  The story immediately caught the attention of the conservative press.  The then-Congressman claimed that he was hacked and that wasn’t his dong.

Wrong.  In an embarrassing, teary-eyed press conference shortly thereafter where he announced his resignation, he admitted he lied to avoid being humiliated.  The silly cover-up made his dilemma that much more embarrassing.

But all of that was just a prelude to this year’s race for the New York Mayoralty.

As Weiner started rising in the polls (he was actually an early frontrunner), more pics of his pole surfaced online.  This time, it was free from its cotton prison.  Early on in his campaign, Weiner warned that this was going to happen.  What he didn’t say was that he didn’t learn his lesson from two years ago.

It turns out that he never did stop sexting women he’s not married to on the Internet, even after getting caught the first time.  One such online playmate, Sydney Leathers, later spilled the beans to Howard Stern claiming that Weiner was insatiable and just wouldn’t leave her alone.  She went on to make a porno.

As history started repeating itself, Weiner, famously ill-tempered and clearly worn out from all the bad press, started to lash out and act like a total dick to reporters.  His favourability ratings plummeting, Weiner ultimately finished 5th out of 9 candidates in the Democratic primary.  He achieved less than 5% of the popular vote.  Democratic nominee Bill de Blasio, who got more than 40%, would go on to become NYC’s next Mayor in an enormous landslide.

Once again, the undistinguished, compulsive Congressman was rejected by the electorate for all the wrong reasons.

Winner:  John Oliver

In the history of The Daily Show, there have only been two full-time hosts – Craig Kilborn and Jon Stewart – and no substitutes.  That all changed this past Spring when Stewart, who has anchored the news parody program for almost 15 straight years, announced a three-month summer sabbatical to make a movie in the Middle East.

Instead of weeks and weeks of reruns, however, someone else would steer the comedic ship in new episodes.  Longtime British comedian John Oliver, who has been an affably cheeky Daily Show correspondent for the past seven years, would be the temporary new captain.

Fortunately, the return of Anthony Weiner’s penis, Bob Filner’s creepy behaviour, Paula Deen’s racism, the endless NSA scandal and all that peculiar fuss over the British Royal Baby gave Oliver, his writing team and fellow correspondents plenty of inspiration for some of the funniest segments on the show this year.  I was particularly amused by his occasionally recurrent homage to John Cena’s “You Can’t See Me” hand gesture and the Carlos Danger theme song the show came up with for Weiner’s nom de horndog.

Both the media and the public agreed that Oliver was so good, maybe Stewart could take his time making that movie overseas.  In the end, the American neophyte director returned to the anchor chair the day after Labour Day and the British ex-pat went back to his usual tomfoolery like excessive air humping and sharp, sly, satirical questioning during his pre-taped reports.  During the final show of 2013, Stewart paid tribute to his departing colleague (Oliver will be hosting his own show on HBO in the new year besides continuing his weekly Comedy Central stand-up series) with an unusual mixture of sweet sincerity and highlight-packaged hilarity.  By the end of the final clip, Oliver was an apologetic puddle of tears.

No need to be sorry, Mr. Oliver.  The Daily Show won’t be the same without your smart, silly antics.

Loser:  Sylvester Stallone & Arnold Schwarzenegger

Two 80s action icons well into their 60s learned a valuable lesson from the American moviegoing public in 2013:  stick with The Expendables franchise.

In January, the highly controversial former Governor of Calleefornya played a sheriff preparing to take out fleeing drug runners in The Last Stand.  Despite receiving mostly good reviews, North American audiences were completely disinterested.  The next month, the man who gave us Rocky Balboa appeared in Bullet To The Head.  Directed by Walter Hill, this anti-buddy crime thriller stars the former Rambo as an aging, tattooed hitman out for revenge after the murder of his longtime partner.

Helping him in his thirst for violent retaliation is a by-the-book Korean detective (Sung Kang) who’s investigating the murder of a corrupt ex-cop, someone the Stallone character bumps off in the film’s opening scene.  A miscast Christian Slater plays a sleazy attorney in alliance with a shady African national (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) over some uninteresting real estate plans.

Confusing, unpersuasive, uninvolving and witless (although my dad was deeply amused by one of the supporting villains being named after him), it’s no wonder the film divided critics and scared off filmgoers.  The idea that Stallone could ever kick the ass of Jason Mimoa (Conan The Barbarian), a ripped giant of a man decades his junior, is only one of the film’s many problems.

In October, Stallone & Schwarzenegger joined forces for the prison thriller, Escape Plan.  Co-starring Jesus himself (Jim Caviezel from The Passion Of The Christ), critics were mixed.  Although the film found a receptive audience overseas, North Americans could care less.

Stallone has one last chance for a domestic hit this year.  On Christmas Day, he boxes Robert De Niro in the action comedy Grudge Match.  If the early critical pans are any indication, he shouldn’t get his hopes up.  Plus, the film will be facing stiff competition that day.  (JANUARY 1, 2014 UPDATE:  It had a terrible first week.  It will be lucky to recoup its entire budget, let alone make a profit.  More critics have panned it now.)

Is it any wonder Schwarzenegger is prepping sequels to Conan, Twins and Terminator while both men will appear in the third Expendables movie next year?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
2:36 p.m.

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Published in: on December 24, 2013 at 2:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

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