Monthly Archives: December 2012

2012: The Year in Film

2012 was a fantastic year for film. So much so that I wrote a Top 40 list instead of last year’s 20, and pretty much everything from 25 and up could easily be in a top 10 had they come out any other, less crowded year. That good. So let’s not beat around the bush and get straight to it. These are the top 40 movies I saw all year plus the best performances, worst and most overrated films, and more:

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Recent Movie Round-Up 12/18/2012

On today’s entry of Recent Movie Round-Up, it’s the end of the world as we know it, a Duplass double-feature, and Marion Cotillard being very sexy as usual. Mini-reviews galore!

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (Lorene Scafaria, 2012)
For those of you who don’t pay too much attention to the box-office scene, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World was something of a bomb, with a small budget of $10 million and a domestic gross of $6 mil. Ouch. In hindsight, it’s a little easy to see why. The film deals with an impending apocalypse and instead focuses on the melancholy drudgery of how normal folks in the world are coping with it. And it’s a comedy. Somewhat.

The first act of this film is pretty exceptional, with a sense of world-building that is interesting and hilarious all at once as it looks at how apocalyptic events can alter social taboos (One memorable scene in particular involves a typical suburbanite house party being broken up by one of the members shouting “SOMEONE’S BROUGHT HEROIN! WOOOO!” Lorene Scafaria, the writer of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist making her directorial debut here, nails the tone of these scenes just right, acknowledging the melancholy while also finding dark amusement with it.

Sadly, the second act rolls around and the film kind of meanders, transforming from an original, droll comedy to a romantic road-trip comedy with all that apocalypse stuff just hanging around in the background. There are a few amusing moments, one of them involving Community‘s Gillian Jacobs and Cloverfield‘s TJ Miller, but it’s mostly just padding. The chemistry between Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley is surprisingly warm and sweet, but their dialogue together is unfortunately pretty stale.

The movie saves itself big time with a surprisingly affecting and emotional third act that worked solely because of the aforementioned chemistry between the two leads. Scafaria certainly has chops as a director, but she just needs to nail some kinks in the pacing before she could land something truly great. Still, I’d like to see what she does next.

Humpday (Lynn Shelton, 2009)
Two straight men attempting to have sex with each other for a porn contest? HIGH-LARITY ENSUES, RIGHT?! Despite sounding like the premise of a bad Adam Sandler film, Humpday manages to wring as much truth out of its outlandish premise as humanly possible. Surprisingly enough, Humpday is one of the most observant examinations of the “bromance” I have ever seen, and its conversations about homophobia, gender expectations, and sexual taboos feel genuine and intimate. It takes a while to get to that point, but when it does, it sticks with you. The performances by Joshua Leonard and Mark Duplass certainly help lend it some truth. Speaking of Duplasses…

The Do-Deca Pentathlon (Mark and Jay Duplass, 2012)
The Duplass brothers’ latest film is about brothers in a feud who attempt to wrestle away their problems by participating in a sporting event of 25 different games, the winner being the best brother. And that’s how you segue, folks.

The only Duplass Bros. film that I genuinely loved was Cyrus, while the rest I found just okay, including The Puffy Chair and Jeff, Who Lives at Home (Though I haven’t seen Baghead yet). The Do-Deca Pentathlon, meanwhile, may be their most fun and enjoyable film that they’ve ever made. It’s light, for sure, but it also has a layer of empathy that makes this light material really hit home with the laughs and pathos. The two leads, Steve Zissis and Mark Kelly are really fun as well. Speaking of movies with two leads…

Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard, 2012)
Okay, maybe that segue was a bit out of hand. Nevertheless, Rust and Bone stars Matthieu Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard as a fighter and a SeaWorld-style whale trainer respectively. When one of them gets into a life-changing accident, it’s up to the other to bring them back up on their feet.

It’s a solid French drama, nothing more, but it’s worth seeing because of how good Schoenaerts and Cotillard are together. They depict their damages without making it the one thing that defines them, exhibiting many layers in their relationship that genuine and brave; especially when they show the not-so-sympathetic sides of themselves, refusing to hide the harsh truths of their characters. If any of you were annoyed by how Silver Linings Playbook dealt with damaged characters helping each other out by way of tired romantic comedy cliches, Rust and Bone will serve a much more realistic, reserved countermeasure. The final 10-15 minutes are especially emotionally satisfying.

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Movie Review

[The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McShane, and Richard Armitage
MPAA: PG-13 – For Extended Sequences of Intense Fantasy Action Violence, and Frightening Images]

I recently had the chance of seeing the Extended Cuts of The Lord of the Rings trilogy on the big screen, played back-to-back for 12 straight hours of the day. It was an exhausting experience, but there was surprisingly never a moment where I was bored, nor was there a moment that felt completely unnecessary (Even the scene of Merry and Pippin preparing to get stoned was at least fun). Yet, like most people, I kind of cringed when I heard The Hobbit, the prequel novel, was going to be expanded into a trilogy of its own, despite being shorter than any of the individual Lord of the Rings books.

So let’s get a few things out of the way first: An Unexpected Journey is good. It’s fun, enjoyable, visually stunning, filled with good-to-great performances, and some knock-you-on-your-ass action sequences that reaffirm Peter Jackson’s natural talent as a visual filmmaker. That being said, those expecting something on the caliber of the original trilogy should lower their expectations.

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Recent Movie Round-Up 12/14/2012

Today in Recent Movie Round-Up: Hobbits, orcs, and wizards, oh my! Also: A prank call leads to very nasty results, Truffaut makes his final film, and the Dardenne Brothers create a sweet, loving portrait of childhood.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Extended Cuts) (Peter Jackson, 2001-2003)
Perhaps the best trilogy of this generation and pretty much the best set of fantasy movies of all time next to Harry Potter. What Jackson did with Lord of the Rings still feels like it was made today (even in spite of a few minor yet dated effects). It’s also one of the rare blockbusters that doesn’t sacrifice complexity for scope. Despite having familiar elements, the character arcs and relationships all have depth and nuance that is rare for a mainstream epic of this stature. The relationship/conflict between Frodo, Sam, and Gollum/Smeagol especially aged terrifically. The extended cuts don’t add much other than world-building, but that’s not a bad thing either.

Plus, I had the pleasure of seeing the trilogy as a theater marathon, seeing all three extended cuts back to back. It was exhausting (12 straight hours of LOTR), but very much worth it, and I wouldn’t mind having a similar experience again. I liked the LOTR trilogy before, but seeing it again gave me a renewed appreciation.

Compliance (Craig Zobel, 2012)
How far can the phrase “Based on a True Story” take you? Apparently, it is able to forgive even the strangest lapses in logic, surprisingly. Compliance is a, claustrophobic, disturbing true-crime thriller that manages not to feel overly exploitative while still managing to bring shock and discomfort to just about any viewer who lays eyes upon it.

The premise, that of a prank phone call leading to a sexual assault in a fast-food restaurant, is ridiculous, but believe it or not, knowing that this kind of incident has actually happened over 70 times in over 30 states (The first frame of the film is a huge title card in big bold letter saying “INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS” in all caps) actually managed to make the more unbelievable stuff that much more terrifying. It doesn’t always work. There were two instances that felt far-fetched even for this type of story. But damn is this an effective film. Elegantly directed, terrifically acted, and insanely suspenseful, not to mention disturbing on numerous levels.

Also, Ann Dowd kills it. She single-handedly elevates the material as the fast-food restaurant manager. Her performance remains completely natural even amidst the insanity that unfolds on screen. She alone makes it worth seeing, even if the subject matter may turn you away.

Confidentially Yours (Francois Truffaut, 1983)
Truffaut’s last film may be very light in comparison to his other masterpieces The 400 Blows, Jules et Jim, Day for Night, and Bed and Board, but it’s just as masterfully crafted. Essentially just a noir homage shot in black and white (not typical for a 1983 film), it features the typical mainstays of the genre: femme fatales, conspiracies, and gorgeous chiaroscuro lighting and set design. It’s all pretty basic, but it’s incredibly well-done for what it is; terrifically acted and immensely entertaining.

Also, it’s oddly fitting as Truffaut’s final film because of how cyclical it is when compared to the rest of his filmography. He started out with The 400 Blows, a deeply personal autobiography, then went on to make movies that celebrated cinema and art such as Day for Night and The Last Metro. Then, for his final film, he makes a homage to a cinematic mainstay shot in black and white instead of color. Even more poignant to this claim is the final shot, which I won’t give away, but let’s just say that Truffaut’s fascination of children comes back in a beautiful way.

The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2011)
Premiering at the Cannes film festival last year, coming to America this year, The Kid with a Bike is a gorgeous depiction of pre-adolescent angst that perfectly captures small, heart-rending disappointments of childhood, along with the small acts of kindness that go a long way. Elevated by a terrific performance by Thomas Doret, who doesn’t contain a single ounce of falseness in his performance, the film is lovely, poignant, and sweet in all the right places.

However, it is pretty flawed. Running at 87 minutes, it doesn’t give enough time to develop the core relationship between the titular kid and his foster mother. The only thing that made this relationship work in the long run was another wonderful performance by Cecile De France, but it could’ve worked much more with a bit more scenes between just the two of them. Plus, there’s a major character that serves only to be the “bad influence” that feels like he’s lifted straight out of a corny after-school special about not trusting drug dealers.

Aside from those gripes, I found this film to linger in the mind much more than I thought it would much later from when I first saw it. That’s a sign that it pretty much worked on the levels that it needed to, but I wish that it was a bit longer. Still, though, this is coming-of-age done right. Plus, it’s certainly worth seeing just for being able to witness one of the most stirring, gorgeous uses of Beethoven in recent memory.

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Giant Mech Punches Out Cthulu in Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim Trailer

Guillermo Del Toro has been dealing with some rough stuff. Between being kicked out of The Hobbit and losing At The Mountains of Madness, he just can’t catch a break when it comes to his directing duties (As a producer of horror films, he’s been doing better with). It’s gotten to the point that Del Toro’s safest bet was to do a full-blown giant monster/giant robot movie in the vein of previous money-makers like Transformers and other films of that ilk. Click the jump below for the trailer and my personal thoughts on it…

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Man of Steel Trailer is Epic, Beautifully Shot, Generally Awesome

I find myself to be a Zack Snyder apologist, I guess. I still have yet to see the Dawn of the Dead remake but I sorta like 300 and honestly love Watchmen. The owl movie was…not terrible. Just strange, is all; but it did have great visuals. And then there’s the wild card of the catalogue: Sucker Punch. I don’t love it, nor do I hate it, and I respect what Snyder was trying to do with that movie while understanding that it doesn’t quite stick the landing.

Regardless, the new Man of Steel trailer is up and, let me tell you, it gave me the chills. Regardless of your feelings towards Snyder, you have to admit that this looks fairly impressive. Full trailer and some personal thoughts after the jump…

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Recent Movie Round-Up 12/7/12

Today on Recent Movie Round-Up: Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen 2gether 4eva, dead people being impersonated, missing children being impersonated, and another Truffaut masterwork.

Take This Waltz (Sarah Polley, 2012)
Sarah Polley’s follow-up to Away From Her (Which I talked about last time) takes an interesting twist on the typical movie about infidelity: It’s not even really about infidelity so much as it is about constantly being tempted by it. Michelle Williams plays Margot, a woman who is happily married to her husband Lou (Seth Rogen) until a desire starts flaring up between her and their neighbor right across the street. Played by Luke Kirby, he is an expertly, slow, and patient seducer who ropes Margot in with his clear passion. He seems to be a nice, steamy alternative to Lou, who is the nicest guy in the world but doesn’t have that same sensual passion (Their marriage almost creepily feels more like a brother/sister relationship).

Take This Waltz is one of the best films of the year. I wouldn’t put it in my top 10 (It just goes to show how much amazing stuff came out this year) but it’s certainly a worthy, honorable mention. On paper, this shouldn’t work. If you think about it, the character of Margot is inherently unlikable. A well-off white woman with a loving husband who has to choose between him and another amazing man? Oh, the drama, right? In actuality, the movie feels very authentic because it uses this conceit to explore whether a loving relationship really is enough to satisfy an individual, and because it is anchored by terrific performances by Michelle Williams and a surprisingly warm, sometimes dramatic turn from Seth Rogen.

Hell, Michelle Williams may just be the main reason why this whole movie works. Again, this isn’t a “likable” character by definition, but we sympathize with her because, well, Michelle Williams is literally one of the most lovable actresses in history, alive or dead. Her work here is, dare I say it, Oscar-worthy in how it captures the nuance and emotional turmoil of such a situation without making it feel insufferable or like a soap-opera. Seth Rogen is likable as always, but what makes this different from his other roles is its understatement and quiet kindness compared to his usual lewd, bombastic nature. Hell, when it comes time for him to show off his dramatic chops, he impresses. The biggest surprise is Luke Kirby, who just comes out of nowhere with a performance so insanely charismatic that you can buy him being able to seduce Michelle Williams. His character is pretty hard to swallow (His job is as a rickshaw driver and he manages to have a nice, moderately expensive house), but in terms of his personality, Kirby nails it.

All in all, this is another win for writer/director Sarah Polley, who continues to make lovely, understated, elegant dramas about authentic relationships in turmoil. I’m definitely in for seeing what she does next…

Alps (Giorgos Lanthimos, 2012)
Wanna know how much I love Giorgos Lanthimos’s absurdist pitch-black comedyDogtooth which came out in 2010? It was in my top 5 of that year and my favorite foreign feature as well. Everything about its oddness raised deeply unsettling questions about nature vs. nurture, the extent of control, and the psychological mindset of children in an incredibly disturbing fashion. Yet, unlike most disturbing films, I’ve actually seen it twice and enjoyed myself each time thanks to the wickedly dark comedy.

So expectations were high for Lanthimos’s next film Alps, which had a killer premise: An underground company offers the service of impersonating dead loved ones in order to help coping grievers. Considering how Dogtooth handled similarly strange material, I was excited to see how Lanthimos would go crazy this time. However, I was surprised by how much more restrained this film is compared to Dogtooth. It’s not nearly as weird or insane (Though it certainly has its stand-out moments) but it’s just as psychologically complex, really examining the effects of grief, identity, and death in a strange and unique fashion.

If there’s a flaw, it’s that it doesn’t have the emotional punch that Dogtooth had. Alps is a very cold film that treats its characters as guinea pigs in a sadistic psychological experiment. It only examines, and is completely objective, and never for a single second puts us in the shoes of its characters nor does it allow us to sympathize with them. This is definitely what Lanthimos is going for, but considering the subject matter, a slightly more humanistic approach would’ve been better. Still though, this is an offbeat film that intrigues just as much as it entertains with is weirdness. Not quite Dogtooth, but certainly stands on its own.

The Imposter (Bart Layton, 2012)
Bart Layton’s The Imposter is one of the most unbelievably fascinating documentaries I’ve ever seen. The true story behind it is so bizarre that it really has to be true: A young boy goes missing, the family grieves, is discovered again in Spain after three years of absence, and soon the family discovers that this kid they have picked up may not even be their son at all.

What transpires is a hell of a story that unfolds with an incredibly amount of precision. The use of reenactments is brilliantly done, looking just as professionally made as a slick Hollywood production without masking the real truth of the story as it weaves in the talking-head interviews.

But perhaps the most incredible feat of this movie, it’s the only documentary I’ve ever seen that has an unreliable narrator. I won’t give away how this works, but let’s just say that it’s vital to the film’s message that the movie ends up cheating the viewer, because it truly does allow us to understand what it was this family had to go through. See it and be surprised for yourself.

The Last Metro (Francois Truffaut, 1980)
As far as depictions of the Nazi occupation go, don’t be expecting something overly bleak. Despite being the director of The 400 Blows, the majority of Truffaut’s latter films were all very light in tone and The Last Metro is no different. While it doesn’t have the depth of his masterpieces, you can always count on Truffaut to make an incredibly lovable, entertaining film. And The Last Metro is rife with great characters, well-meaning humor, and a simple yet well-done story. To top it all off, Catherine Deneuve’s performance elevates it to a whole ‘nother level, creating an incredible female character who is genuinely strong-willed and fascinating to watch.

Tune in next time on Recent Movie Round-Up, for I will be going through the entire Extended Lord of the Rings trilogy to prepare or The Hobbit. Get excited!

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Star Trek Into Darkness Gets a Teaser…For Its Teaser

I’m against the mere concept of a “teaser for a teaser”. It’s essentially just extraneous hype-building. I mean, it can work well if it actually succeeds in building hype, but that doesn’t make the concept of an “Announcement Trailer” any less ridiculous.

Thankfully for Star Trek Into Darkness (Yeah, that’s our title, folks), it succeeds in general hype-building. In fact, it works pretty damn excellently. Full announcement trailer and general thoughts after the jump…

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Recent Movie Round-Up 12/3/2012

In today’s Recent Movie Round-Up: Mini-reviews for a Turkish film, Truffaut’s final Antoine Doinel films, and a depressing movie about Alzheimer’s. FUN ALL AROUND.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011)
It’s one thing for a movie to be long. It’s something else for a movie to be incredibly slow-paced. And then there are those movies that are both stupendously long and almost punishingly slow, which belong into a category all to their own. Yet despite the pace and length, there’s something oddly compelling about the Turkish film Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes 2011 (It was released in the US in 2012, so it technically counts as a 2012 release here), and perhaps the main reason why is because that deliberate pace is there to allow us to really live with the characters and their situation, which ends up feeling very authentic. Every scene in which the cops were wandering the desolate wilderness for a dead body was immensely well done, especially when the cinematography highlighted the gorgeous landscapes. However, that’s not the whole movie. The movie takes a break in a nearby village which isn’t quite as interesting as the searching segments, but still has a life unto its own. But where the movie really drops in interest is when the search ends and we experience the aftermath. At that point in this already long film, it feels like its outstayed its welcome.

Still though, I recommend Once Upon a Time in Anatolia for the very serious of art-house types, if only for the superb acting, quiet atmosphere, well-written dialogue, and some of the most gorgeous cinematography I’ve seen this year.

Bed and Board (Francois Truffaut, 1970)
Francois Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel Saga feels like a fictional precursor to Michael Apted’s “7-up” documentary series. The series literally went through 35 years in the life of a single character as he grew up, went job-hunting, got married, divorced, found new love, and all the joys and pains of bourgeois life; all while incorporating the exact same actor in each film. And in doing so, the series was able to capture a full spectrum of emotions. The 400 Blows, of course, being the most devastating of the bunch, while Antoine and Colette and Stolen Kisses were more on the comedic side. Bed and Board is also very comedic–hell, I’d even call this the most enjoyable entry in the saga–but it also contains a pathos and observance that elevates it. Not only does it remain absolutely hysterical, it’s also a beautifully observant study in married life that, with the added bonus of us viewing Antoine Doinel’s previous years in life, contains its own depth.

Love on the Run (Francois Truffaut, 1979)
As for the final entry in the Antoine Doinel saga, Truffaut himself admitted to it being an unsatisfying ending to the series. I wouldn’t call it unsatisfying, even though it is the lightest and weakest film of the bunch. But still, it has its own poignancy and works immensely as a nostalgia piece, especially when the film incorporates flashbacks that hearken back to Bed and BoardStolen KissesAntoine and Colette, and even The 400 Blows (These flashbacks especially connected). But that’s really all it works as: Nostalgia. The story itself isn’t as particularly nuanced or observant as the previous entries (And really, there are few movies that are as good as the masterful The 400 Blows), but it of course has its charms, and it’s always fun to see Jean-Pierre Leaud in this character.

Away From Her (Sarah Polley, 2006)
I was told by many people that this is the kind of movie that will rip your heart out and curb-stomp it into oblivion. Fine, I thought. Bring it on, Away From Her! Let’s see what you got! One hour and fifty minutes later, I found my cheeks insurmountably soaked from tears and my chest aching from the aforementioned heart curb-stomp. Everything about this movie is as beautiful, sympathetic, and genuine as it is wrenching, punishing, and unbelievably sad. Just the mere concept of it is enough to send a helpless romantic hanging themselves. Alzheimer’s Disease is already an unfathomably depressing ordeal to go through, especially with a loved one, but the situation that Sarah Polley constructs is unbelievably…well, heart-breaking, for the thousandth time.

What makes the film watchable is Polley’s elegant direction, which doesn’t wallow in misery and focuses more on grace and beauty in order to make the pain of the film’s heart-ache bearable, resulting in a nuanced, emotionally rewarding portrait of the effects of Alzheimer’s and its effects not just on the victims, but of those around them. And let’s not forget Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent are a pair of fantastic performances,

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Killing Them Softly Movie Review

[Killing Them Softly
Written & Directed by Andrew Dominik
Starring: Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, and James Gandolfini
MPAA: R – For Violence, Sexual References, Pervasive Language, and some Drug Use]

My mantra for reviewing movies has always been to judge and critique something based on its own merits instead of based on expectations, source material, other films, etc. This is so I could, of course, keep a very balanced viewpoint that judges the film on its qualities and weaknesses, and those alone. This is, of course, how I view criticism for games, books, the like. So let it be said that when I end up disliking a movie that I was previously anticipating, it’s without a doubt not a form of “disappointment”. It’s just me judging the movie for what it is.

Still though, it should be said that Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is what I like to consider a modern masterpiece. A brilliant, deliberately paced, thoughtful, and gorgeous character study/western epic that packed an emotional punch. So when it was announced that Dominik would be reuniting with Brad Pitt for his next movie Killing Them Softly, I got pretty stoked. And there’s certainly a lot to like in the film; it’s just a shame that the finished project is appallingly dull, forced, and heavy-handed.

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