2012 Movie Reviews
Happy New Year! I thought I’d start out the first week of 2013 by reviving my Starpulse Weekend Movie Preview column.
The flicks I’m going to discuss have already received limited release in theaters, but they’re opening in Boston this weekend, which means I’m allowed to talk about them now. This column contains my reviews of Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” and Gus Van Sant’s “Promised Land.”
This is 40
“This is 40,” is so depressing and irredeemably unfunny that I couldn’t even finish it, and I almost NEVER turn off movies. For a comedy, there are few laughs to be found, aside from some scant one-liners from Paul Rudd. If this is actually what 40 looks like, I’d like a gun and a single bullet to end it all. That way I could avoid experiencing the sad, miserable life that Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) have in this film. At least I wouldn’t have to suffer the same embarrassingly moronic spats or have a marriage suffocate from having spoiled children like theirs.
HOWEVER, I’m not going to bother with the gun because I don’t think this is what turning 40 would really be like. Not only are Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s characters way more immature than the average person, but their upper-middle class financial problems are idiotic and self-inflicted. You don’t need an iEverything or a $30,000 neon sign in your office. You also shouldn’t be giving your father $80,000 to finance his ill-conceived second family. After a certain point I just didn’t care enough to see how the movie ended since all of these people suck so damn much.
My Grade: F (Because I had to turn it off)
This kid who can see dead people is way cooler than the one in that M. Night Shyamalan movie. His gift is amusing without being scary, but it does cause him to be stereotypically misunderstood. His family doesn’t get him and neither do the kids at school so the poor guy gets picked on a lot. You better believe everyone will count on him though when a horde of zombies and spirits takes over their sleepy town.
As I watched “ParaNoman” I could tell the filmmakers just had a really good time making this silly film. There are great nods to low-budget horror movies and amusing jokes about zombies, witches, and ghosts littered throughout. The claymation style animation is crazy impressive given the tremendous detail poured into the characters and their tiny props. It’s well-blended with CG to produce an immersive adventure. Another strong point to the film is its tremendous voice work by talented actors with colorful personalities like Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, John Goodman, and Casey Affleck. If I have one complaint it’s that the story and dialogue are too heavy-handed with their messages about accepting others. I’m all for tolerance in real life and I think it’s a great message to teach kids who will see the movie, it just doesn’t need to be so spelled out.
My Grade: B
Even as a Wes Anderson fan, I had a difficult time getting emotionally invested in “Moonrise Kingdom.” Anderson magnificently crafts the fictional New England island community where this tale takes place and painstakingly recreates the mood the 1960s. His aesthetic is unrivaled and his camerawork is superb. He uses smooth sweeping motions and takes his camera to unusual, yet entertaining places inside houses and on the roofs of cars.
Anderson’s breathtaking art direction and cinematography, are wasted however on a mediocre story and bad acting. This tale about two oddball kids who are star-crossed lovers failed to hook me. Neither the characters nor the conflict have enough substance. Plus, you know something is wrong when the finest performance comes from an action star like Bruce Willis and not from Bill Murray or Frances McDormand. Edward Norton isn’t turning in his finest work, though at least he’s amusing. “Moonrise Kingdom” kept me at a frustrating distance like a beautiful diorama that I could look at, but wasn’t allowed to touch.
My Grade: C
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” landed in my top 10 films for 2012 immediately after I watched it because it’s a well-made, uplifting story. For a movie about old people it moves unexpectedly fast in the beginning, and continues to remain well-paced throughout. There’s sharp dialogue, heartfelt performances, and poignant statements about the challenges and opportunities of old age.
I dug the music and the editing quite a bit, however my favorite part about this flick was the amazing ensemble cast of British actors. Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, and Judi Dench all act their hearts out, giving nuanced performances in this picture. The only thing that comes off a bit forced is the nontraditional Indian romance between the hotel’s young owner (Dev Patel) and his girlfriend who works in a call center. His mother tries to meddle in his affairs and as you might suspect he needs the team of older, wiser British folks to come to his rescue.
As Patel’s character says though,”Everything will be all right in the end, and if it’s not all right, it’s not the end.”
My Grade: A
Hello I Must Be Going
Initially I was very fond of the sentiment for “Hello I Must Be Going.” I liked the premise of Amy (Melanie Lynskey), a middle-aged woman whose life is in disarray, meeting a younger person who gets her to come out of her shell. The theme of a young lover teaching an older woman things about herself and helping her get everything back on track was appealing because usually it would be the other way around. Once I started watching the film I realized that the plot is pretty meandering and has other elements to it that distract from that main idea.
All of the terrible nagging and passive aggressive behavior from Amy’s status obsessed mother (Blythe Danner), and arrogant judgement by her brother just made me realize how much status-obsessed family members suck. Their mean behavior really started to wear on me as did the incredibly stilted dialogue spoken by all of the characters. Lynskey anchors the movie, with a heartbreaking performance that perfectly embodies the crushing despair of a divorcee with nothing left. However I found myself frustrated at the end by her inability to fully learn from her mistakes and to move forward with her life in a more positive manner.
My Grade: C
Before my review of Tom Hooper’s film “Les Miserables,” I just want to preempt a few nastygrams by saying that I have tremendous respect for this musical. I studied it in school growing up, I’ve watched several performances of it over the years, and I know some of the songs well enough to sing along. Although I’m not exactly a diehard “Les Mis” devotee, I can appreciate the skill with which the story and the music are crafted. Both are woven together in a way that is compelling and enthralling.
That being said, Hooper’s adaptation is a disappointing cinematic regurgitation of the stage show that is downright boring. The only interesting moments come from specific performances and the small deviations the film makes from tradition.
Forty-eight frames per second: a term that has the potential to live in infamy. Whether it actually does or not, depends on who is watching Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”
If you’re a Tolkien fanatic, you may consider this visual treachery a minor offense. Or you might look past it entirely, because you’re thrilled to see a beloved novel come to life. If you’re like me however, and you have just a casual interest in the fantasy genre, there’s a much greater chance that you’ll be aggravated by the film’s higher frame rate.
In a heated moment during Dan Bradley’s remake “Red Dawn,” one of the characters compares a situation to “a shit sandwich without the bread,” which is actually an accurate analogy for the entire film. The action scenes and special effects in the movie are really just loose crap without plot or character development to hold them together.
For those unfamiliar with the 1980s film this one is copying, “Red Dawn” is about a group of high school kids whose small town in Colorado is invaded by Soviet troops as part of a large scale Communist operation to take over the entire United States. The teenagers train to become soldiers, and form a militia unit they dub “The Wolverines” after their high school football team. They hide out in the woods, engaging in guerilla warfare to help take back their country. This version just swaps Colorado for Washington and the Russians with the Chinese…*cough*…North Koreans.
What’s hilarious about this remake is that it was actually shot back in 2009 with the Chinese as the villains, but the bankruptcy of MGM caused the film to sit on shelves. By the time financial woes were settled though, studio execs realized that China has become too powerful of a movie audience to alienate, so the invaders were poorly changed to North Koreans in post-production. This may account for some of the story and the dialogue’s vagueness (no character ever says the invading country’s name).
The good news is that “Red Dawn” wastes very little time getting to the excitement. After a fast-paced collection of real and fake news footage about North Korea’s aggressive foreign policies, it’s maybe 10-15 minutes into the movie when the bombs start dropping and the North Koreans are invading. During the abundant explosions and gunfights, first-time director Dan Bradley proves to be adequate in handling action sequences thanks to his background in stunts.
However the bad news about “Red Dawn” is that there is very little character or plot development. You barely get to know any of the characters, let alone have a reason to care about them, especially the two main ones played by a pre- “Thor” Chris Hemsworth and Josh Peck. Hemsworth’s Jed is the only person who gets depth, as a Marine who served tours over in Afghanistan. However you still have to infer a lot about him based on his background and his lines.
As the eldest of the group, Jed becomes the obvious father figure, training everyone how to be soldiers. What’s completely outrageous though is the teens go from snot nosed kids into hardened warriors over the course of a single montage with voiceover. Other important plot elements are given equally little attention or explanations, like why the North Koreans even want to control the U.S. and how they caught us with our pants down. You also discover that certain people are cooperating with the enemy without any reason why. You just get stupid lines like “Collaborators, it was bound to happen.”
Probably the most obnoxious thing in “Red Dawn,” is its use of macho speeches like you’d hear in “Starship Troopers.” People keep saying the same stuff over and over again, not necessarily because it’s badass, but mostly since it seems like the writers were lazy. Plus someone needs to tell them that there are more words in the English language than “hard,” to describe tough situations. Invest in a thesaurus people.
Even though I’ve never seen the original “Red Dawn” I’m willing to bet it’s better than the remake. Don’t waste your time on this pile of dung.
My Grade: D
Going into David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” I was emotionally prepared for a romantic dramedy: ready to laugh and perhaps even to get a little misty if the moment called for it. I was happily surprised however, that Russell’s film actually lands in romantic comedy territory. His movie follows romcom conventions pretty closely, but despite being lighthearted and predictable, “Silver Linings Playbook” is still pleasurable.
Like other romantic comedies, the humor in this flick relies heavily on hilarious misunderstandings. The main reason this film stands out in the romcom genre though, is the strong performances of its cast, especially its two leads, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.
James Bond films have trends you can set your Omega Seamaster by: exotic locations, expensive cars, cool gadgets, sexy women, and maniacal villains. Given their tendency to be so over-the-top, you never expect Bond movies to emphasize production value beyond their special effects budgets. That’s why “Skyfall,” Bond’s 23rd big-screen adventure, is a surprising game-changer for the 50-year-old franchise.
“A Late Quartet” seems like it should be a gripping drama. But if I hadn’t been reviewing it, I would have turned off the film halfway through; that’s how bored I was. Classical music can be dry on its own, especially to those who haven’t studied it. And unfortunately this flick makes no attempt to engage a less initiated audience.
Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph” is a fun, playful romp that lives up to its ambitious attempt to appease video game lovers of all ages. It does this by combining the aesthetics of a Pixar film, the same reverence for video games as “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” and zany characters reminiscent of ones from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”
Flight Review for Starpulse
Believe it or not, the Denzel Washington drama “Flight” is director Robert Zemeckis’s first live-action film, since 2000’s “Cast Away.” Zemeckis has worked on all types of tales, but over the past decade especially, he has truly embraced digital filmmaking, churning out three CG motion-capture flicks. So after 10 years of directing family-friendly animated movies, you would think he’d be a bit rusty when it comes to helming an intense R-rated drama. Thankfully he’s not.
“Flight” concentrates on airline pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), a man who plays harder than he works, overindulging in booze, women, and drugs. He’s a great pilot and he knows it, walking with the swagger of a man who feels indestructible. Whitaker’s fragile work/life balance is disrupted however, by an in-flight malfunction that causes his plane to crash. He miraculously lands it and saves lives, but investigation into the incident casts public light on the troubling aspects of his personal life.