2012 Films

THE 85TH ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS
2013 Oscar Picks and Predictions

THE OSCARS

Last year I explained (at some length) why I still love the Oscars, even though they are pretentious, predictable, overlong, and frequently delusional in ways that make me want to kill myself. This year, I'm going to skip the preamble and get right to the wrong-minded opinions and prognostications: my choices for what films will win, what films should win, and what films must not, in the name of all that is holy, be allowed to win at the 85th Academy Awards. (The actual order of the presentations is a big secret—why, I have no idea—so I've taken an educated guess.)

Oscar Night is this Sunday, February 24th. My invitation seems to have been lost in the mail, so I'll be live-tweeting the Red Carpet and ceremony from home, alongside my partner N., The Unenthusiastic Critic (whose interest will flag noticeably after the focus turns from pretty dresses to awards). Follow me on Twitter to get all the despair, snark, curses, and detailed explanations about why host Seth Macfarlane is bad for humanity.

And now, the envelopes please… Continue reading

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THE BEST FILMS OF 2012

Clockwise from top-left: RUST AND BONE, THE AVENGERS, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, LIFE OF PI

If you'd asked me six weeks ago, I'd have told you 2012 was a mediocre year for movies. This is, of course, partially the fault of the studios—which save all of their best movies for the last few weeks of the year, so they can be fresh in the minds of award-voters (and idiots like me who write "Best of the Year" lists)—but it's mostly my own fault. In my secret identity I have the kind of job that gets really busy when things like presidential elections happen, and so for much of the year I had to let a lot of really good stuff pass me by, unviewed and unreviewed. (If you're wondering why there are so many films on this list that I didn't even bother to review when they came out: that's why.) In the past six weeks I've gone on a binge of make-up movie-watching, catching up with as many goodies as I could. I haven't seen everything, but I've now seen over 80 films from 2012, and at this point I'm prepared to say it was a very good year indeed.  Continue reading

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THE BEST FILM PERFORMANCES OF 2012

THE BEST PERFORMANCES OF 2012

Last year I didn't attempt to do a year-end round-up of performances. Ranking any artistic achievement is always an arbitrary exercise of questionable worth, and I find comparing the apples and oranges of various films difficult enough; comparing individual performances is like comparing apples and accordions, or aardvarks and oranges, or something equally nonsensical.  Continue reading

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THE MOST OVERRATED FILMS OF 2012

THE MOST OVERRATED FILMS OF 2012

I don't do a "Worst Movies of the Year" list, mostly because I do everything in my power, throughout the year, to avoid seeing the worst movies. I tend to give a wide berth to any film, for example, in which Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler, or Tyler Perry play single or multiple roles, in drag or out of drag; I avoid any film in which Nicholas Cage plays a super-hero, John Cusack plays Edgar Allen Poe, or 3D piranhas consume DD breasts. (If you're curious, I'd say the worst movies I saw all year were—in no particular order—John Carter, Hyde Park on Hudson, Hitchcock, To Rome with Love, and The Hobbit, though sheer disappointment and contempt for pretension make me want to throw Prometheus in there as well.)

So my annual delivery of year-end bile is reserved for films that—in my humble opinion—other critics and award-bestowers are valuing far beyond their worth. They are not, necessarily, bad films; some of them may even be good films. (There is nothing here as bad as, say, The Descendants or The Help, both of which made my list in 2011—and then, of course, went on to win Oscars.) These are films, however, that deserve to be brought down a peg or two, and I'm just the unlicensed internet hack to do it. Continue reading

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DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
A Conversation with The Unenthusiastic Critic

Kerry Washington in DJANGO UNCHAINED

In my review of Django Unchained, I mostly take the position that the movie doesn't really work as a movie, and that therefore the cultural debate taking place around it lends it a significance it doesn't really deserve. I still think this, but the review felt incomplete somehow. So I'm bringing in The Unenthusiastic Critic.
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DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
Movie Review

DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)

Spoiler Level: Low

Since so much controversy has sprung up around the new Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained, I want to be absolutely clear about where I'm coming from on this. Continue reading

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LES MISÉRABLES (2012)
Movie Review

Anne Hathaway as Fantine in LES MISÉRABLES

 Spoiler Level: I'm reviewing an adaptation of a 30-year-old musical based on a 150-year-old book. Nonetheless, I'll do what I can. 

Les Misérables, the new film version of the highly successful stage musical, is nearly three hours long.

It feels longer.

Victor Hugo's 1862 novel, on which the musical was based, is about 1,400 pages long.

The film feels longer.

The story covered by Les Misérables takes place over a period of roughly 17 years.

The experience of watching it all play out feels—you guessed it—even longer still.

Mere weeks ago, I dreamed a dream in which The Hobbit would be the most unendurable Hell I would face in a movie theater this year, but director Tom Hooper's overly literal, excessively bombastic, painfully tone-deaf film has killed that dream—along with three hours of my life, my love of musicals, and a good portion of my will to live.

There are dreams that cannot be, there are storms we cannot weather, and there are films—like Les Misérables—we simply cannot endure. Continue reading

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THE IMPOSSIBLE (2012)
Movie Review

THE IMPOSSIBLE (2012)

 Spoiler Level: Nothing you don't get from the trailer.

It's estimated that a quarter of a million people lost their lives when, on December 26, 2004, an earthquake off the coast of Sumatra triggered a massive tsunami that impacted 14 countries. Indonesia was the hardest hit—with upwards of 160,000 deaths—but thousands also died in Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and other nations. Millions of people across South Asia—many already living in abject poverty—lost their homes, lost their livelihoods, lost access to food and clean drinking water; hundreds of thousands more would face death from resulting infectious diseases.  Measured in lives lost, it was one of the 10 most devastating earthquakes ever recorded, and the deadliest tsunami in history.

And so—forgive me for being blunt—why do I give a fuck about one family of wealthy European tourists who survived? Continue reading

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AMOUR (2012)
Movie Review

Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva in AMOUR, directed by Michael Haneke.

In one of his stand-up routines, comedian Louis CK explains his pessimistic view of falling in love: no matter how nicely it begins, he explains, "it's going to lead to shit." You may have a couple of good dates, and then she'll stop calling you back. Or you'll date for a long time, and then someone will cheat. Or you'll get married, and it won't work out, and you'll get divorced.  "Or," he says, "you'll meet the perfect person, who you love infinitely, and you even argue well, and you grow together, and you have children, and you grow old together—and then she's going to die. That's the best-case scenario: that you're going to lose your best friend…"

Like all the best comedy, it's funny because it's true: follow every love story to its logical conclusion, and no one gets a happy ending.  This is why nearly every movie is careful to stop well before its characters reach that point, but Amour, the new film from Michael Haneke, begins there, chronicling an example of Louis CK's last, best-case scenario with unremitting precision and unflinching honesty. It should come as no surprise that the provocative director of Funny Games has delivered a film that is, at times, as harrowing as any horror film. What is remarkable is that Amour earns every emotional beat, and—without a single false step or the faintest patina of sentimentality—reminds us that each difficult moment in this end-of-life tale is the culmination, and celebration, of a long and passionate affair. Simple, succinct, and devastating, Amour is a masterpiece of filmmaking and—as its title suggests—a beautiful and haunting treatise on the nature of love. Continue reading

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HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (2012)
Movie Review

Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt in HYDE PARK ON HUDSON

Spoiler Level: High, I suppose, but there's really very little worth spoiling.

My least favorite type of movie is the one I walk out of saying, "What the hell was the point of that?" Movies that succeed in realizing their goals are preferable, of course, but there's something perfectly honorable about failure: I don't really mind any movie that tries to say something, even if it crashes and burns spectacularly in the attempt. But even the simplest full-length feature costs exorbitant amounts of money, demands months or years of effort from hundreds of talented people, and—worst of all—requires several hours of my life to watch. There should, at the very least, be some sign of why anyone thought the end result—win or lose—might turn out to be worth all that trouble.

As you've probably guessed my now, no such vision or purpose is evident in Hyde Park on Hudson, which is as pure an example of cinematic pointlessness as I've experienced all year. Continue reading

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THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
Movie Review

Spoiler Level: Safe

I should probably begin by specifying which version of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey I'm reviewing, since there are currently six options for viewing the film in theaters. Depending where you live, you can choose to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 2D (35mm); The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 3D (35 mm); The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – An IMAX Experience; The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – An IMAX 3D Experience; The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – High Frame Rate 3D; or The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – High Frame Rate IMAX 3D. (These combinations will have to last us until we get the inevitable complications of director's cuts and expanded versions.)

If you're wondering which one I saw, it was the high-frame-rate, 3D, 35mm version.

If you're wondering which one you should see, my recommendation (which I know you'll ignore) is that you don't.

Just don't. Continue reading

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KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012)

Spoiler Level: Low

Sometimes a film ends up feeling smaller than the sum of its parts, and that is the case with Killing Them Softly, the new film from Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). Finely acted, frequently funny, and stylishly directed, Killing Them Softly nonetheless ultimately fails to satisfy: its story is too slight, its characters are too familiar, and its stakes are too small.  Continue reading

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SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012)
Movie Review

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper

Spoiler Level: Low

It's not easy to make a film that is both raggedly messy and predictably formulaic, but David O. Russell has accomplished it with Silver Linings Playbook, his new film starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. With a dark, indy-drama setup that somehow resolves into a phony, crowd-pleasing romantic comedy, Silver Linings Playbook feels like a movie at war with itself. If I didn't know better, I'd say Russell had been handed this by-the-book Hollywood screenplay and decided on a lark to try to do something interesting with it: as it is, Russell wrote the screenplay too, so what we may be seeing is a director at war with himself. Whatever is going on here, however—despite some strong elements and performances—it doesn't completely work. Continue reading

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HITCHCOCK (2012) 
Movie Review

I'm going to keep this review short, in direct proportion to the importance of the work being considered. There is probably an interesting movie to be made about the making of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, and there is no doubt a far more interesting story to be told about the great director's relationship with his wife, collaborator, and muse Alma Reville. How I dearly wish Sacha Gervasi's new film Hitchcock, which tries to be both of these things, was either. Shallow, slight, and far less insightful than your average DVD extra, Hitchcock makes a dull sit-com out of potentially great material, and reduces fascinating characters to farcical caricatures.
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LIFE OF PI (2012) 
Movie Review

Spoiler Level: Low

"A story must be exceptional enough to justify its telling," Thomas Hardy once wrote. "We story-tellers are all Ancient Mariners, and none of us is justified in stopping Wedding Guests (in other words, the hurrying public) unless he has something more unusual to relate than the ordinary experience of every average man and woman."

We can take issue, of course, with Hardy's aphorism: many storytellers before and since have spun magic from the ordinary experiences of average men and women. Still, at this point in what has been, to date, a fairly unremarkable year for movies, it is a joy to encounter a truly exceptional tale, one that can make us believe extraordinary things and demonstrate to us that we still have the capacity for wonder.
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ANNA KARENINA (2012) 
Movie Review

The only (highly questionable) credential I have as a film critic—apart from having spent an inordinate amount of my life consuming and thinking about movies—is a degree in literature. One might expect, therefore, that what I'd value most in literary adaptations is faithfulness to the text—but one would be wrong. As even the most casual student of either art form knows, slavish film adaptations of great novels are almost always dull and dire things. Attempting to carefully convert greatness from one form to another never works, because the true artists in any medium are those who have figured out how to do what can only be done in that medium. You can't faithfully film a novel any more than you could faithfully paint a poem: everything that matters would be lost in the translation. Continue reading

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LINCOLN (2012) 
Movie Review

What happens when America’s most successful filmmaker, one of our greatest living playwrights, and the man whom many (though not I) consider our greatest living actor, come together to pay homage to America’s greatest president? Strangely, you get the kind of competent, perfectly honorable bit of film hagiography that is almost guaranteed to win awards, but which neither deepens our understanding of history nor advances the art of cinema. Respectful without being insightful, well-crafted but without creativity, and visually impressive without any real vision, Lincoln represents an impressive panoply of talent coming together to create the cinematic equivalent of a B+ term paper in AP History.  Continue reading

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SKYFALL (2012) 
Movie Review

Spoiler Level: Low

Early in Skyfall, the 23rd of the "official" James Bond films from Eon Productions, Bond (Daniel Craig) is undergoing a series of tests at MI6 to determine whether he is fit for duty. In one sequence, he is made to take part in a word-association game, which he treats with his trademark irony and disdain. To the word "day," Bond responds with "wasted." With the word "murder," Bond associates "occupation." To the name of his superior, M. (Judi Dench), Bond—who knows damn well she's watching—shoots back "bitch."

In all of this, only one word seems to draw a genuine, irony-free response from Bond. Offered the provocation "country," Bond quickly, and firmly, responds with "England." It's a fleeting moment, but a nice one: after all, to what else has James Bond ever exhibited any loyalty? Bond has always been rather amoral, not terribly concerned with justice and only rarely (and briefly) exhibiting any belief in friendship or love: what Bond believes in, what he has given over his life to, is Great Britain. He is a Hand of the Empire, or, as creator Ian Fleming once described him, "an anonymous blunt instrument wielded by a Government Department." Continue reading

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WRECK-IT RALPH (2012)
Movie Review

Spoiler Level: Safe

These days, I find my enthusiasm for American animated films has two levels: there's the great excitement I reserve for all Pixar movies—or at least the ones that don't feature Larry the Cable Guy as an anthropomorphic tow-truck—and then there are the comparatively low-expectations I have for most everything else. Continue reading

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THE MASTER

Movie Review

Written & Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

There is a difference between visually arresting and narratively shallow. There is a difference between intriguingly ambiguous and thematically under-developed. There is a difference—and it is all the difference—between films that succeed, despite their weaknesses, and films that do not, no matter their strengths. And it is in those maddening, frustrating, nearly imperceptible gaps that Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master resides. It is a movie in which nearly everything works, and yet, at the end of its 150 minutes, one feels that all of this excellence—the careful direction, the lovely cinematography, the fine performances—has been in the service of something vague and forgettable. It is a film that aims for importance, but fails to find meaning. It is a film that demonstrates mastery, but falls far short of beauty. Continue reading

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LOOPER (Movie Review)

Directed by Rian JohnsonJoseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis in LOOPER

Spoiler Level: Low

In Looper, a mob-boss named Abe (a scene-stealing Jeff Daniels), living in the year 2044, chastises his young protegé Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) for his retro, 20th century-style fashion sense. "Those movies you're dressing like are just copying other movies," he says. It's a self-aware line, a sly recognition that Looper, itself, is breaking little new ground in its science fiction tropes, in its dramatic set pieces, or in the redemptive arc of its cynical, tough-guy hero. Writer/director Rian Johnson (Brick) is a movie-lover's movie maker: he's neither as flashy nor as shameless a postmodern film geek as—for example—Quentin Tarantino, but Johnson is every bit as happy to be playing in the cinematic toybox, and perfectly content to make exciting new stories from the trusty old action figures and playsets he finds there.

This kind of referential, reverential filmmaking is no sin, and to do it this well is no small accomplishment: there is little we haven't seen before in Looper, but the skill and care Johnson brings to it makes it all feel fresh and original. Appropriate for a time-travel movie, Johnson makes the old seem new again. Continue reading

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COMPLIANCE (Movie Review)

Written and Directed by Craig ZobelDreama Walker in COMPLIANCE

The very first thing you see in Craig Zobel's Compliance is a huge title card reading "INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS." This turns out to be necessary information, because this story—of an 18-year-old fast-food worker who is detained, strip-searched, and sexually assaulted by her co-workers—almost completely strains credibility. Watching Compliance, one wants to assume that writer-director Zobel has invented certain elements for dramatic purposes, if only because one is hesitant to believe that real human beings could be naive, gullible, or craven enough to make the decisions the characters in this movie make. Continue reading

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THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (Movie Review)

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Spoiler Level: Safe, but contains some spoilers for the earlier films in the trilogy.

I should probably start by confessing that I went into Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises with an agenda. While I consider it part of my sacred responsibility as an unlicensed internet hack to approach every film with an open mind, I consider it another of my responsibilities to poke holes in undeservedly hyped critical and fanboy darlings to let a little hot air out. The first two entries in Nolan's Batman trilogy—Batman Begins and The Dark Knight—had struck me as good movies, and worlds above all the previous on-screen representations of the character. But they had also seemed to me overblown, overlong, overpraised, and unrelentingly joyless. (As Heath Ledger's Joker had asked in The Dark Knight, "Why so serious?") Since I'd never written about any of them, I was looking forward to this third film in the trilogy, which would provide me with my first opportunity to present a counter-argument to the legions of sycophantic critics and slavering fans.

So I went into my screening of The Dark Knight Rises cranky, critical, and slightly vindictive, with my proverbial poisoned pen poised with purpose.

And then, goddammit, I really, really liked it.
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MAGIC MIKE (Movie Review)
The Unenthusiastic Critic #11

Spoiler Level: High, so don't read unless you have already seen Magic Mike, or, like me, have already decided not to see it.

I'll be the first to admit it: life really isn't fair. For almost a year I've been arm-twisting my girlfriend, the lovely N., into watching movies with me that she didn't want to watch, just so I could write up her reactions for our occasional series, "The Unenthusiastic Critic." She's sat through off-color comedies, earnest movie musicals, and a whole week-long horror fest, with nary a complaint. (Well, okay, that's a lie: she complained a lot. A lot. Like, incessantly. But that was kind of the point.)

But when it comes to a movie she wants to see, that I really, really don't want to see? Sometimes, we compromise, but once in a while she decides to give me a break and go by herself. ("I'm a nicer person than you are," she explains, quite accurately.) Such was the case with Magic Mike, the new Steven Soderbergh-directed beefcake flick starring Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey. It's not that I'm necessarily opposed to two hours of watching my girlfriend drool over men with bodies much, much better than my own, but it didn't sound like a particularly good time to me either. I offered to go with her, but she perceptively intuited that my heart wasn't really in it and agreed to go by herself. Continue reading

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THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (Review)

Directed by Marc Webb

Spoiler Level: Low

In my brief career as a lay critic, I've discovered that there's nothing harder to discuss than mediocrity. It's a delight to describe the heights of cinematic achievement, and it's a sadistic pleasure to plumb the depths, but there are few joys to be had down the wide, dull middle of the road.

Which is to say that I'm going to keep this review short, since that flat, featureless expanse is where we find ourselves for The Amazing Spider-Man, director Marc Webb's new reboot of the wallcrawler's franchise. Boasting a top-notch cast, and state-of-the-art production values, there's nothing particularly wrong with this film: there's just nothing particularly right about it. Uninspired, underwhelming, and—most of all—unnecessary, The Amazing Spider-Man has little fun to offer and nothing at all to say. Continue reading

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BRAVE (Movie Review)

Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman

Spoiler Level: Low

"Legends are lessons: they ring with truth." The Scottish princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) says these words towards the end of Pixar's enchanting new film Brave, and of course she's right. Stories are important—especially the stories we encounter as children—and we take away many more lessons from their worlds than we ever learn in any other classroom. As a piece of filmmaking, one could argue whether the gorgeous and entertaining Brave deserves to be counted among the very best of Pixar's reliably wonderful work. (I think it does, but I also think ranking a catalog of movies this good would be an exercise in nitpickery.) As a new legend offered to the world, however, I'd argue that Brave is Pixar's most subversive work, and perhaps its most important. Continue reading

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PROMETHEUS (Movie Review)

Directed by Ridley ScottLogan Marshall-Green, Noomi Rapace, and Michael Fassbender

Spoiler Level: Low

I'm on record as saying that I think Ridley Scott's 1979 film Alien is more or less a flawless movie of its kind, and so it has not been hard to understand the incredible anticipation and hype surrounding Prometheus, Scott's return to the universe of that earlier film (and his first science-fiction film since 1982's equally seminal Blade Runner). Sir Ridley had cautioned viewers that they should not expect Alien 5: The Beginning—this is not, he insists, a prequel—but that was just fine with me. The Alien franchise is pretty played out at this point, so I was actually more excited when I heard he was simply using this shared universe to tell a new story and explore new themes. Continue reading

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THE AVENGERS (2012)
Movie Review

Spoiler Level: Safe

The expectations for Joss Whedon's The Avengers have been so high—and the early critical reception so generally positive—that I almost feel like I'm pissing on the parade if I qualify my praise in the slightest. But the buzz around The Avengers has been so good that I feel both free and obligated to temper expectations ever so slightly. So, before I get to the unbridled enthusiasm—which is coming, rest assured—let me get my very mild qualifying remarks out of the way. Continue reading

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THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)
Movie Review

This review is absolutely spoiler free—which took some doing, lemme tell ya.

I expect this to be the shortest review I ever write, since almost anything I could tell you about The Cabin in the Woods would risk robbing you of some of its considerable pleasures. You can read this review in total safety (I promise), but don't read other reviews. Don't even watch the trailer. Just see the movie. It isn't perfect, and it probably isn't for everyone, but it's smart and witty and a hell of a lot of fun.

Here are seven things I can say about it, without ruining anything: Continue reading

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THE HUNGER GAMES (Movie Review)

Directed by Gary RossSpoiler Level: Low

Confession: my girlfriend and I recently sat down to watch the Twilight movies for an ill-planned special edition of our series "The Unenthusiastic Critic" (in which I cajole her into watching films that she really doesn't want to watch). Neither of us had ever seen the Twilight movies—or read the books—so I thought it would be a fun experiment to plunge into this worldwide phenomenon together. Whether we loved them or hated them—and I was fairly certain she, at least, would hate them—it would surely result in an interesting and entertaining post, right?

Wrong. During the first movie we were bored, during the second we were stuporous with depression, and by the third movie we realized we really, really should have given up after the first movie. The films were dull and lifeless, the sexual politics were appalling, the acting was terrible and wooden, and the writing was joyless, cliché-ridden, and featured a never-ending barrage of unforgivable insults to the art of dialogue. We both hated every second of the entire experience, and not in a movies-we-love-to-hate kind of way. Irredeemably awful in a way that only a franchise with a built-in audience would dare to be, those movies didn't inspire conversation, they inspired lethargy and weltschmerz. It was a silent, seven-hour descent into the gray, soul-deadening abyss of film mediocrity: one for which my girlfriend has yet to forgive me, and one from which I was unable to salvage a single paragraph of usable commentary. (Mea culpa, N.)

And so it was with some hesitation that we ventured down to the local multiplex, where something like eight of the twelve screens were showing The Hunger Games.  I knew virtually nothing about the movie except that it was—like Twilight—based on a phenomenally successful series of young-adult novels with a teenage heroine and a legion of rabid fans (young and old alike). I had decided not to read the first book in Suzanne Collins's best-selling trilogy—so as to give the film the best possible opportunity to impress—but I have to confess that my expectations were not high. I worried that this franchise might very well send me into another spiral of despair over what the kids were reading these days.

And that just goes to show what I know: The Hunger Games is terrific. Directed by Gary Ross (Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) from a screenplay by Ross, Collins, and Billy Ray (Shattered Glass), The Hunger Games is what all such franchise blockbusters should aspire to be, but what so few ever are: a real, proper movie, with brains, heart, and soul. Forget those dingy Twilight movies: as a piece of stand-alone entertainment, I'd send this one into combat with the best of the Harry Potter franchise and expect it to emerge from the arena triumphant.

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JOHN CARTER (Movie Review)

Directed by Andrew Stanton

I've taken a bit of a break from reviewing for the last couple of weeks, and for a few months before that I was on a steady diet of staid and solemn Oscar bait. So I was actually excited to head back to the IMAX, don my 3D glasses, and watch $250 million worth of sword-wielding heroes, snarling villains, and six-limbed aliens beating the holy hell out of each other for a couple of hours. (Serious films have their place, but let's face it: there is nothing about Albert Nobbs that could not have been improved by handing Glenn Close a sword and throwing her into an arena with a couple of giant, furry gorilla monsters.)

But as the inaugural blockbuster of the season, John Carter is a bit of a disappointment. It's not horrible: it's just dull, cheesy, and deeply, deeply silly.

Directed by Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E), and based on a series of pulp novels by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter stars Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights) as the eponymous hero, a Confederate cavalry officer turned treasure hunter who accidentally stumbles upon a gateway to the planet we call Mars, and which the natives call Barsoom. Just as Earth empowered his literary descendant Superman, Carter discovers that the lighter gravity on Mars grants him super-strength and the ability to leap ridiculous distances in a single bound. These skills come in handy when he becomes involved in a planetary conflict between the peaceful city-state of Helium, the conquering warlords of Zodanga, and the green-skinned, six-armed nomadic tribes of the Tharks.

(And, as I complete that description, I sense a great disturbance in the force, as though millions of women—and hundreds of thousands of men over the age of 15—had suddenly cried out that they don't have any intention of seeing John Carter, thank you very much.)

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