FILM REVIEWS

FILM REVIEWS

PACIFIC RIM (2013)

Though an impressive technical achievement, I would not trade a single moment of Guillermo del Toro's better films for the entirety of this bloated, bone-shaking monstrosity.

FILM REVIEWS

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (2013)

Funny, insightful, and genuinely romantic, Much Ado About Nothing is one of the best movies of the year, and one of the best Shakespeare adaptations ever captured on film.

FILM REVIEWS

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)

The legacy of STAR TREK should be that there are always strange new worlds to explore, new life and new civilizations to discover. Instead, Into Darkness goes competently, but disappointingly, where all of us have gone before.

FILM REVIEWS

THE GREAT GATSBY (2013)

Baz Luhrmann has used one of the true gems of American literature as an excuse to make a vapid, candy-colored monstrosity.

FILM REVIEWS

IRON MAN 3 (2013)

Iron Man 3 is shiny enough, but it turns out to be something of an empty shell.

FILM REVIEWS

SIDE EFFECTS (2013)

If the slick, competent, painfully derivative thriller Side Effects does indeed turn out to be Soderbergh's swan song, it will be the sadly appropriate capstone to a career that promised so much brilliance, and delivered so little originality.

FILM REVIEWS

WARM BODIES (2013)

After a few weeks of silent cinematic masterpieces, preceded by several months of austere Oscar-bait movies, one does get the urge to watch a deeply silly popcorn movie—preferably, if possible, a teen-age-romantic-comedy-action-adventure-with-zombies. Thankfully, there happens to be one out.

MOVIE LISTS & ROUNDUPS

THE BEST FILMS OF 2012

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

MOVIE LISTS & ROUNDUPS

THE MOST OVERRATED FILMS OF 2012

They are not, necessarily, bad films; some of them may even be good films. They are films, however, that deserve to be brought down a peg or two, and I'm just the unlicensed internet hack to do it.

FILM REVIEWS

DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)

Though Django Unchained is problematic in about a dozen different ways, my chief objections are not political, historical, moral, ethical, or linguistic: they're aesthetic. It just isn't a very good movie.

FILM REVIEWS

LES MISÉRABLES (2012)

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

FILM REVIEWS

THE IMPOSSIBLE (2012)

It's estimated that a quarter of a million people lost their lives in the South Asian Tsunami: so why the fuck do I care about a family of wealthy European tourists who survived?

FILM REVIEWS

AMOUR (2012)

With a spare, ruthlessly precise screenplay, powerful and devastating performances, and a rigorous, uncompromising eye, Amour is a nearly flawless piece of filmmaking.

FILM REVIEWS

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (2012)

Hyde Park on Hudson is not an exposé, a love story, or a history lesson: it is too shallow, too flimsy, too cynically and dishonestly sleazy to be any of these things. And so I am left to believe that its sole purpose is to be a light and frothy comedy, divorced from reality, dressed up in period clothing, designed merely to provide some laughs and pass the time pleasantly. Unfortunately, by even these very minimal standards, it also fails horribly…

FILM REVIEWS

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012)

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

FILM REVIEWS

KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012)

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. The talent involved in this film might have produced a modern classic, but Killing Them Softly ultimately amounts to little more than a minor diversion.

FILM REVIEWS

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012)

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.

FILM REVIEWS

HITCHCOCK (2012)

Ultimately, there is not a single moment in the tame, tepid Hitchcock that would not be better spent watching a single moment—any moment—of one of Hitchcock's films.

FILM REVIEWS

LIFE OF PI (2012)

Life of PI is a beautiful, moving film that restores our faith in stories even as it reminds us that any good story is, itself, an act of faith.

FILM REVIEWS

ANNA KARENINA (2012)

It's not Tolstoy's sprawling, staggering epic: no film version could be. What Wright has made instead—from a fabulously concise screenplay by Tom Stoppard— is something clever, creative, and often breathtakingly beautiful: it's not perfect, and it might offend the literary purists, but it can stand proudly on its own as one of the best films of the year.

FILM REVIEWS

LINCOLN (2012)

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.

FILM REVIEWS

SKYFALL (2012)

There will always be an England, no matter how its power waxes and wanes, and so there will always be a Bond, who will be reborn periodically with a new face, a slightly new sensibility, and a reliable fondness for strong women and weak martinis.

FILM REVIEWS

WRECK-IT RALPH (2012)

Wreck-It Ralph builds a marvelous world, but its characters are never quite real enough, or rounded enough, to make the dream come alive.

FILM REVIEWS

THE MASTER (2012)

The Master 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.

FILM REVIEWS

LOOPER (2012)

There is little we haven't seen before in Looper, but the skill and care director Rian Johnson brings to it makes it all feel fresh and original. Appropriate for a time-travel movie, Johnson makes the old seem new again.

FILM REVIEWS

COMPLIANCE (2012)

Emotionally harrowing, thought-provoking, and never less than fascinating, Compliance nevertheless fails to make us completely believe in all the turns of this lurid tale, and never manages to offer much insight or illumination into how and why events happen.

FILM REVIEWS

KILLER JOE (2012)

Flawed, fatalistic, and foul, Killer Joe is not a film I can endorse. However—if you have a strong stomach and a prurient curiosity—it is definitely a film you will remember.

FILM REVIEWS

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)

It is now clear that Nolan has not just been making three films, but telling one story in three-acts. In retrospect, the long setup of the first film, and the unremitting darkness of the second film, were both necessary to set up this triumphant third act.

FILM REVIEWS

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012)

With The Amazing Spider-Man,, the Spider-Man franchise has only been rebooted: it has not been reconceived, and it has certainly not been reinvigorated. This is murky, paint-by-numbers movie-making, with too many stock elements, too little imagination, and far too few surprises.

FILM REVIEWS

BRAVE (2012)

After 75 years of Disney heroines who staked their happiness on finding a man, Merida may offer little girls a different definition of what "happily ever after" can look like.

FILM REVIEWS

PROMETHEUS (2012)

Visually stunning, and filled with all the promise in the world, Prometheus eventually degenerates into an incoherent assemblage of mismatched elements, and a wasted opportunity on an epic scale.

FILM REVIEWS

THE AVENGERS (2012)

The Avengers is not a Citizen Kane for the capes-and-cowls crowd, nor does it try to be a superhero film for people who hate superheroes. What it tries to be instead—and pretty much succeeds in being—is the film for which people who love superheroes have been waiting all their lives.

FILM REVIEWS

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)

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.

FILM REVIEWS

THE HUNGER GAMES (2012)

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.

FILM REVIEWS

JOHN CARTER (2012)

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.

MOVIE LISTS & ROUNDUPS

2012 OSCAR PICKS & PREDICTIONS

I hear you: the Oscars are too long, utterly predictable, scandalously commercial, culturally insignificant, and almost guaranteed to be—as they are every year—a gigantic disappointment. But you know what, Sachean Littlefeather? I could give a rat's ass: I still like 'em.

FILM REVIEWS

ALBERT NOBBS (2011)

Despite its promising questions about appearance and identity, the film never really dives beneath, nor rises above, the surface of its source material. As a result, Albert Nobbs never feels like anything more than a tepid adaptation of a minor short story.

FILM REVIEWS

EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE (2011)

Exceedingly phony and insufferably cloying, Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close begs the question: ten years after the events of September 11, 2001, are we ready as a nation to turn our collective trauma into simpering schmaltz?

FILM REVIEWS

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2011)

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a harrowing and disquieting story to experience, but it is an artistic work to celebrate, one that trusts its medium, trusts its audience, and provides no easy answers.

FILM REVIEWS

THE IRON LADY (2011)

The Iron Lady is a film that's unlikely to change anyone's opinion of Thatcher, as it has no opinions of its own: as such, it is unlikely to either offend or please a single member of its audience.

MOVIE LISTS & ROUNDUPS

THE BEST FILMS OF 2011

Let's agree to call this list what it is: a highly subjective, necessarily limited, soon-to-be-revised list of what have been, to date, my 15 best film experiences of 2011.

MOVIE LISTS & ROUNDUPS

THE MOST OVERRATED FILMS OF 2011

Every year the critics and voters embrace a few films or performances that leave me scratching my head, shaking my fist, or venting my bile, and this year is no exception. The only thing that makes 2011 different is that now I have a blog, and may therefore vent my bile at innocent readers like yourself.

FILM REVIEWS

WAR HORSE (2011)

Epic, humane, and admirably unafraid of sentiment, War Horse is pure old-school storytelling. If you'll surrender your own cynicism long enough to forgive an unavoidable movie-review cliché, it's the kind of movie they just don't make any more.

FILM REVIEWS

THE DESCENDANTS (2011)

Some movies are bad because they are badly made, while others—like this one—are bad the way people are bad: they are bad because their souls are faulty. They are bad because they are empty, or shallow, or smug, or disingenuous, or downright evil in intent or effect. The Descendants is not evil, but it's all the other adjectives and more: a faux-indy, annoyingly "quirky," middle-aged White guy angst-fest of the most manipulative and masturbatory kind.

FILM REVIEWS

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (2011)

The Adventures of Tintin—though an undeniably impressive technical achievement—is never quite as much fun as it should be…The result is a gorgeous, frenetic adventure that children might enjoy, and animation aficionados might admire, but which no one will ever really love.

FILM REVIEWS

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a stylish, cookie-cutter crime drama, but Lisbeth Salander—at least as portrayed by Rooney Mara—is something immeasurably more: fascinating, undefinable, and unforgettable, she's one of the first great film characters of the 21st century.

FILM REVIEWS

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (2011)

My Week with Marilyn is competently made, but it has the feel of a superficial TV biopic blown up large. It is notable only for its lead performance from Michelle Williams, but that one performance is well worth the price of admission.

FILM REVIEWS

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (2011)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is best approached as a study of mood, period, and character: it captures—brilliantly—a peculiar era in history and a way of life that is almost unimaginable to most of us.

FILM REVIEWS

HUGO (2011)

In the church of cinema, Scorsese is both a god and a high-priest, and he's brought both roles to bear on this magnificent, magical film. I don't know yet if I'll call Hugo the "best" film of the year—but that's an intellectual judgement, not an emotional one. In purely emotional terms, I doubt I'll see another film this decade that I love as much as Hugo.

FILM REVIEWS

MELANCHOLIA (2011)

Gorgeously filmed, and featuring amazing performances from Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, Melancholia is a powerful and effective work of art, and easily one of the best films of the year.

FILM REVIEWS

J. EDGAR (2011)

Featuring a ridiculously miscast Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, a shallow, subtlety-deaf screenplay that wants to be Brokeback Bureau, and a clunking directorial style that feels like a color-blind Douglas Sirk helming an episode of Dragnet, J. Edgar is just laughably, appallingly bad.

FILM REVIEWS

THE IDES OF MARCH (2011)

There's nothing wrong with The Ides of March but its screenplay—and, unfortunately, the screenplay is everything.

FILM REVIEWS

DRIVE (2011)

Beautifully directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, with a fascinatingly impenetrable performance by Ryan Gosling at its center, Drive has the feel of a dark fairy tale, a minimalist fable so simple that it achieves the romance and ambiguity of myth.

FILM REVIEWS

CONTAGION (2011)

A good director and a great cast can fool you for a while—and there are brief moments when Contagion rises above its mediocre script—but all the talent in the world can't rescue a film that ultimately has no heart, no insight, and no point.

FILM REVIEWS

CONAN THE BARBARIAN (2011)

True to its pulp roots, Conan the Barbarian has no pretensions of being anything more than an R-rated movie for pubescent boys who are supposed to be too young to get into R-rated movies. It is, indeed shit, but it's kind of fun shit.

FILM REVIEWS

ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011)

By dropping its monsters down in a South London council estate, and by finding its unlikely heroes in a multi-racial group of teen-age delinquents, Attack the Block achieves something remarkable: it makes what could have been a formulaic, low-budget monster movie feel like a story we've never seen before.

FILM REVIEWS

COWBOYS AND ALIENS (2011)

Mr. Favreau, Mr. Spielberg: I'm sorry to say it, but the publicity for your movie more or less spoiled my enjoyment of your movie.

FILM REVIEWS

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011)

I went into my midnight showing of Captain America: The First Avenger feeling not just exhausted but over-saturated, and feeling that if I had to endure one more superhero origin story I was going to shove a radioactive spider up my butt and let it munch me into an early, cancer-riddled grave. But then I was shocked to realize it was—for the first hour or so at least—the best superhero movie of the summer.

FILM REVIEWS

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2 (2011)

It's a challenge to review Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 on its own merits: not only because it is a continuation of the installment that began in Part 1, but because it is the valedictory lap for the most successful franchise in film history.

FILM REVIEWS

GREEN LANTERN (2011)

On this Thursday, just past midnight/I went to see Green Lantern, right?/Let those who'd do the same tonight/Beware my warning: Green Lantern's shite.

FILM REVIEWS

SUBMARINE (2010)

Submarine is a fine enough example of its genre, but it's a story we've seen a hundred times before. And all this affected, self-obsessed, WASP-y teen angst is making me want to take a big old Hollywood flamethrower to the next disaffected kid who comes along with bicycle and a bowl-cut.

FILM REVIEWS

SUPER 8 (2011)

Super 8 is both another entry in, and a fabulous tribute to, the long, unbroken legacy of big summer movies. Director J.J. Abrams and producer Steven Spielberg have made a film that openly celebrates the sheer joy of filmmaking, and the way we never really grow out of the movies—and the movie makers—that we loved as children.

FILM REVIEWS

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011)

Rescuing the series from the diminishing returns of the previous movies, Vaughn breathes new life into the X-Men franchise by taking it back to its beginnings.

FILM REVIEWS

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011)

In a film about longing for the romance of the past, I find myself wishing I myself could be magically transported back to the long-lost days when Woody Allen had more on his mind than this kind of wispy, whimsical confection.

FILM REVIEWS

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES (2011)

Okay, look—I'm not saying Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is the worst movie I've ever seen: it isn't. What I am saying is this: don't see it. For the love of God, don't see it.

FILM REVIEWS

BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK (2011)

The subject of the new documentary Bill Cunningham New York hasn't even seen the film: he's far too humble, and far too busy. The rest of us can watch Bill Cunningham New York and wish our lives were a little more like his; he's having too much fun being Bill Cunningham.

FILM REVIEWS

THE RAPTURE (1991)

With Judgment Day less than 24 hours away, I thought it was a good time to revisit Michael Tolkin's 1991 fundamentalist schlock-fest, The Rapture. And I'm so glad I did: among other things, I learned that the apocalypse will be foggy, that Mimi Rogers had very nice breasts, and that Jesus hates plaque.

FILM REVIEWS

THOR

Thor is a crushing mediocrity, a passable but forgettable entry in the Mighty Marvel Movie Franchise.

FILM REVIEWS

OF GODS AND MEN (2011)

It's hard to think of a film that better explores the question of what it would mean to truly live a Christian life than Of Gods and Men. Whether you consider yourself a believer or not—and, for the record, I do not—the result is a profoundly beautiful and powerfully gripping drama about faith, conviction, and quiet, humble courage.

FILM REVIEWS

ARTHUR

The best that can be said of director Jason Winer's 2011 remake of Arthur is that it's harmless. And it is harmless—in the same way, for example, that necrophilia is harmless.

FILM REVIEWS

SOURCE CODE (2011)

Everything Inception gets wrong, director Duncan Jones' Source Code gets right. It is undoubtedly a smaller picture, both less impressive and less anxious to impress, but for me it's the better for it.

FILM REVIEWS

HOP (2011)

In my inaugural movie review, I ask: do you hate your children? Do you want them to be stupid? Do you want them to suffer? If the answer to all three questions is "No," your kids probably deserve better than this sugary turd of a film.