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A Look Back: 2012 in Film (Part I)

I’ve been contemplating just how and when to provide my thoughts on the films of 2012.  This is the year I saw more new releases than any other, with the current count topping 30.  I thought about doing the usual Top 10 list with a few honorable mentions, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized this has been a very comprehensive year for me.  And with pondering came the idea to make this an equally comprehensive look back.  This is why I’ll be going through 2012’s releases over the course of a three part blog.  The first part will feature the first half of the movies I saw, according to release.  The second part will cover the remaining half and the third will provide my ranking of every film, along with the movies I wanted to see but missed out on for whatever reason.  With that, let us begin my look back at the movies of 2012.

Haywire

First up on the calendar is Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, one of the few films I actually held off on until it hit home video.  Let’s just say I’m glad I didn’t pay a penny to see this shoddy mess.  If you look up “haywire” in the dictionary, you’ll find it means “erratic” or “out of control,” which is exactly what this felt like.  Except it’s erratic in a disjointed, juvenile and amateurishly handled way, as opposed to being genuinely gripping.  The plot is cluttered, the characters aren’t worth investing in, the acting borders on atrocious and the low budget production style lends nothing to a film that, in turn, lends nothing to us.

Wanderlust

Next we have Wanderlust, a film that seemed to divide audiences with both its content and humor.  I’m open to most any style of film so long as its done right, something Wanderlust doesn’t grasp.  Like Haywire, I caught Wanderlust after its home video release, and it was a weary reminder as to why I like to trust my sagging gut.  This movie commits a huge crime that so many comedies are guilty of: lacking laughs.  Hell, forget laughs, entertainment is an even more criminal absence.  Were it not for the fact this was one of the few films of 2012 I disliked, Wanderlust would likely remain in my forgotten bin.  So bravo, Wanderlust, you achieved memorability for being that much closer to sheer atrocity.

Project X

I enjoy a good time as much as the next person, with or without drinking.  Parties can be a fun break from reality, though they seldom are.  Project X looked about as promising as that gigantic end of the semester party littered with everyone you hate from middle school.  I just knew that if I got the chance to see it, I’d utter nothing but the most disparaging remarks.  Then the film itself caught my interest and before long, my attention was sustained.  Much of the key events in Project X are genuinely eye catching which, combined with its proper amount of exposure, makes for a far more engaging watch than I ever conceived.  Now, I can’t take things out of proportion and say this was a good movie, but it was surprisingly enjoyable.  What makes it even more so is that this came out when so few films could even achieve any form of entertainment.  As such, it was the perfect break from a long, lethargic slumber.

21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street is yet another film I didn’t catch in theaters, primarily thanks to the unappealing trailers.  My gut impressions weren’t far from those for 2010’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which appeared dead, pointless and unconvincing.  But as you probably know, Rise was a very good film, remaining one of the greatest surprises I can recount.  In some ways, 21 Jump Street was also a pleasant surprise.  It’s definitely not on the same level as Rise, but what amazed me was that the film worked at all.  Laughs aren’t necessarily a constant, but entertainment was in sufficient supply, allowing my attention to actually go somewhere.  The film is very self-aware of its silliness, which is used to its advantage.  Is it a favorite?  Absolutely not.  Is it a good time regardless?  Very much so.

The Hunger Games

Not counting re-releases, The Hunger Games was my first theatrical viewing for 2012.  I went into this film almost completely blind, knowing only that it was similar in premise to Battle Royale.  Ultimately, it proved to be a fulfilling watch, remaining a memorable piece despite losing some of its edge after subsequent viewings.  The marketing was surprisingly well done, since very little of the actual Hunger Games were shown.  Lawrence puts on another solid performance alongside Woody Harrelson and, to my surprise, Lenny Kravitz.  We get a lot of brief looks into the depicted world, which is visionary without being self-indulgent.  This helps avoid overexposure, but I can’t help but want more, even with a nearly 2 1/2 hour runtime.  I’m actually about halfway through the first book, and have to say what I’ve read is adapted rather faithfully.  Both the book and film are solid works; neither are the top players of their respective styles, but there isn’t too much I can complain about.

Lockout

The title of this movie is Lockout.  I’d call it Guy Pearce’s One Liners.  Beforehand, I figured this would at least be a fair sci-fi romp.  Not long into the movie, I was ready to call it a night.  There’s a distinct lack of personality here, aside from how ineffective everything is.  The premise?  Tired and occasionally sporadic.  Main character?  Schwarzenegger would be proud.  Our villain?  A poorly handled maniac.  Investment?  Minimal to the very degree.  Lockout did little beyond slowly tiring and annoying me, only to become a film I’m happy to push out of memory.

The Avengers

Now we have The Avengers, the big money-maker of 2012.  There’s really no hiding the fact few films even touch The Avengers for sheer entertainment value.  The nerd and geek spectacle here is Category 7.  If nothing else, the final act warrants the price of admission alone.  Comical and awe-inducing moments run a constant, with just enough drama to remind us this isn’t merely a playful simulation.  Most will probably agree when I say this is a film you watch simply for fun at its most pristine level.  Anyone who actually doesn’t want that should stay away.  Those same people should also get their priorities straightened out.

The Dictator

Hopes for fun times ran high after The Avengers, something The Dictator couldn’t deliver enough of.  Crudely offensive and gratuitous material is what Sacha Baron Cohen is all about.  While it worked in a movie like Borat to wonderful degrees, here the comedic effects began to feel increasingly forced, leading to less and less fulfilling moments.  I can recall a considerable number of scenes from Borat, having seen it only a couple times.  The Dictator?  I’d be lucky to recollect half a dozen.  To say The Dictator was completely lacking is a harsh exaggeration, but I wouldn’t enthusiastically sit through it again.  It’s a load of heavy-handed offense, sprinkled with sparingly (but crassly) enjoyable moments.

Men in Black 3

Once again, we have a film I skipped out on seeing in theaters.  Almost nothing in Men in Black 3’s previews grabbed me, and despite not feeling so negative about the second film, I couldn’t justify spending primetime money on a stale-looking threequel.  Skip ahead one at-a-friend’s home viewing later and I’ll say it’s actually worthwhile in some regards.  The emotional arc, though debatably inconsistent, does make for a good way to help things come full circle.  Laughs are far from frequent, the villain is beyond weak and entertainment is in the so-so to relaxing range.  But our characters are colorful, usually fleshed out and when all is said and done, we could’ve certainly had a worse conclusion.

Moonrise Kingdom

The journey to Moonrise Kingdom was one ripe of frustration for yours truly.  I say this since no theater around me showed it, which mixes horribly with high anticipation.  Thankfully, by the time I did see this strange, unorthodox product, I had little to complain about.  Moonrise Kingdom definitely gets a nod for most unique feature of the year, as well as the most quirkily charming.  The ensemble cast is in terrific form, with the younger actors proving to be among the best in my entire memory.  These aren’t easy characters to play, especially considering their age, but they fit the roles wonderfully.  Even when deadpan and alarmingly stoic, you can’t help but be brought in.  Moonrise Kingdom is just like opening an odd yet colorful children’s book, one that withstands repeat readings through adolescence and into adulthood.

Snow White and the Huntsman

I have a sneaky suspicion that Snow White and the Huntsman’s relationship with me isn’t far from how everybody’s first special someone turns out.  The more I saw leading up to it, the more interested and hopeful I grew.  Then the film came out and I was left feeling…stumped.  A number of things definitely worked, namely the look and atmosphere.  Charlize Theron generally made for an effective villain, but she wasn’t as fully realized as I longed for.  Something that truly crippled the film was Snow White herself, who hardly says or does anything.  Aside from “you should know, you’re the one hunting me,” I can’t remember a single line she spoke.  Kristen Stewart isn’t a bad actress, but she isn’t up to par for silent emoting, which is an improper direction to take with Snow White’s character.  There’s a great movie here, but it’s buried underneath a slumbering mud pile which we endure for too much of the runtime.

Prometheus

Even with the likes of Bully and Zero Dark Thirty, I don’t think any film has or will top the controversy of Prometheus for some time.  Outrage has followed and literally ravaged this film from every angle.  I suppose I can consider my shield null and void when I reaffirm my praise for the film.  I’ve always been fascinated by the universe and lore of the Alien franchise from a conceptual standpoint.  The ideas and glimpses we’re afforded are always enjoyable and, if nothing else, visually interesting.  Call it a tease, bait and switch or complete and utter ploy if you must, Prometheus at least maintained my attention.  Do tired cliches of its genre(s) make their way into the current cut?  Yes.  Does the idea of waiting even longer for more answers frustrate me?  To a degree, but that’s part of the point.  A few questions are answered while more are posed, and just because we have questions doesn’t mean each will (or should) be resolved.  This is something the film poses at its very core during at least one scene, which rings true with the very beginning of the Alien plotline, as well as our own impulses as human beings.  It’s the kind of film that gets you thinking more and more the deeper you dig down, which in itself is something I personally admire.  An arbitrary compliment, perhaps, but someone or something has to ignite further discussions for us.

Rock of Ages

I once described Scott Pilgrim vs. the World as an excellent case for the legalization of select substances.  Subsequently, Rock of Ages is a film that I urge adults (of age) to see with drinks lined up for sips and shots aplenty.  Oh, and they might want to have 9-1-1 on standby.  Here we have a movie cheesy enough to make cholesterol levels spike to terminal levels.  Let’s just say it’s a miracle people weren’t diagnosed upon leaving their theater.

Brave

Two things kept me from watching Brave in theaters: audience and reception.  Disney and Pixar cater to kids, which oftentimes translate to some of the worst possible moviegoing experiences.  That and despite a generally positive recommendation, some people really picked the film apart.  It wasn’t until the end of my recent Pixar wrap-up that I decided to sit down and watch the film.  The first and most obvious part to address is that Brave looks incredible.  Several scenes and shots are convincingly life-like.  People make arguments that animation still has a ways to go before it can make a convincing case for reality.  To them I say watch Brave on Blu-ray.  For me, Brave was what you could call a tease.  The set up and setting promise something big, bold and interesting.  In a way that’s what we get, if by big we mean big to a child, bold referring to the sheer concept of the film’s catalyst, and interesting in regards to what’s suggested throughout.  The film seems to promise more than it delivers, and when there’s so much at the studio’s disposal, it comes off as underwhelming.  Now if we take the film for what it is, at face value, it’s not bad at all.  It is rather silly, I’ll admit, but if you go along with it the story can maintain your interest, providing a good dynamic between two of the characters.  To say it’s better than Cars 2 is a given, but the same can’t be said for it returning Pixar to their former glory.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

It seems to have become a pattern for the worst movies I experienced this year to be utterly forgettable.  If not that, then they fail to make much of an impression for much of the runtime.  Seeking a Friend for the End of the World sadly fits the latter category, since this is a film I really wanted to enjoy.  It simply never managed to grab me.  Much of what we need is in place: an impending scenario, decent character types, motivation to keep at least one of them going, moments aiming for comedic and dramatic effect, etc.  Yet none of it ever pulled me in.  Much of the movie falls on its characters who, in some ways, are different from what we typically get.  This would be great if I had a care in the soon-to-end world for them, which I didn’t.  And a film that fails to make me care fails to get more than a shrugged mention.

The Amazing Spider-Man

I’ve already mentioned that a couple films took me by surprise in 2012.  But if I had to pick one which completely exceeded my expectations and became a true favorite, it’d be The Amazing Spider-Man.  Not every promise made from the previews and trailers was kept, but at the very least we got a more grounded and realistic origin story.  Granted, this means a lot of familiar ground is covered, but the film shows it’s less the content and more the execution that matters.  The characters, especially Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, respectively, are tough to not get behind.  Their interactions and dynamics, among others, are why I felt so gripped and transported.  Not many films get me hoping for them to go on for double their runtime (or more), but The Amazing Spider-Man achieved just this.  I don’t care if we’re seeing much of the same stuff or if our villain is less than remarkable, there’s so much more that I managed to cling to and joyously savor.  For that, it effortlessly holds up as one of my favorite movies from 2012.

The Dark Knight Rises

Now the big guns are coming out.  As of my initial viewing(s), The Dark Knight Rises stormed onto the top of my favorite movies of the year, looking down at the competition with disdain.  Here we had a re-envisioned character coming full circle in a tour de force, featuring another great villain, visual/audio marvels and strong emotional payoff throughout.  By the time I saw the film a third or fourth time, however, things began to look gloomy for what is, in itself, a gloomy movie.  The Dark Knight Rises is a tough film to get into on that level without exposing certain details, the least of which is its ending.  What I’ll leave this brief recap at is that the film remains enthralling, if inconsistent.  Scenes with a scene-commanding Bane and scene-stealing Catwoman are among the film’s best moments, while parts getting into the nitty-gritty plot are, much like The Dark Knight, less engaging.  Subsequent viewings have only made its cracks all the more apparent, which might not cripple it the way they do Bruce Wayne, but they’re not doing it any favors either.

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Man of Steel Trailer 2 Impressions

You know you’re on the internet when you yourself begin jumping on multiple bandwagons (yes, “you”).  Hardly a day after a new movie trailer hits the net and half my film oriented subscriptions have their impressions up.  But I have something worth talking about with the first full-blown (and widely available) trailer for Man of Steel.  Although I’m hesitant to call this a trailer, simply because it feels like an extended teaser trailer.  Outside of the fact we have a more–you guessed it–realistic, grounded origin story, we’re not exactly handed a whole lot of plot points.  Obsessed viewers might be able to piece stuff together from the end montage, but many of us less discerning viewers take at face value.  A lot of it almost boils down to action, action, conflict and action.

But hey, that last minute sure looks nice.  This is one potential advantage to a more realistic reboot: by the time everything has been set up, we as the viewers are all the more invested when things finally liven up.  I hope this is the case because, frankly, Superman has never been that interesting to me.  Might as well throw out that I’ve only seen Superman Returns from start to finish while I’m at it.  Heck, I’ve been so sheltered from the original movies that when someone brings up the popular score I either nod, shrug or think “which score was that?”

Point is, I’ve never felt motivated to watch Superman; yet Man of Steel is at least doing a better job grabbing my attention.  Early on we see Clark in a disagreement with Kevin Costner over what I assume is the fact he saved a bus full of children.  Clark feels he should do the right thing while Costner essentially tells him it might have been best to let them die (no joke).  At least now I know who not to trust my kids with when disaster strikes.  With that in mind, I’m wondering how they’re going to handle Clark’s identity as Superman.  I don’t recall any shots in which he’s wearing glasses, so will he be completely open and public about it?  Could make for an interesting dynamic, especially since Green Lantern took a similar approach but didn’t take it very far.

Yet the real question on my mind is how Henry Cavill can handle being the Man of Steel.  Cavill is still a bit of a no-name in Hollywood, and the only film I’ve seen him in is Immortals.  Let’s just say neither him nor the film itself left me craving more.  I haven’t heard anyone mention a great previous performance by him which, combined with the horrible response to this year’s Cold Light of Day, still leaves me skeptical.  Not to mention Cavill gets maybe two lines in the trailer, both of which are narrated.

As you can probably tell, Man of Steel continues to leave me with more questions than it does answers.  I’m not sure it even answered anything after the first trailer, since I got a similar feel from that one.  I am enticed to see how this movie will play out and will likely catch it opening weekend.  This is a tough trailer for me to judge since so much of it is visual with very little of our lead star showing or saying anything.  For now, I just hope I don’t end up feeling like the kids on that bus prior to being saved.

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2012 in Blog, Impressions

 

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The Dark Knight Rises: Full, Spoiler-Free Review

Christopher Nolan’s Batman films are among the few you can get away with coming to a verdict on before even seeing.  The big reason is that, regardless of what we’re given, it’s going to be quality work.  At this point it’s, well, pointless to talk about Batman Begins and The Dark Knight since they both live up to said pedigree.  And just like the initial skepticisms for those two films, concerns are beyond cast aside in The Dark Knight Rises.

Not many films get the idea of effective marketing, but The Dark Knight Rises really has it down.  The trailers often showed similar footage and, beyond the limited release of the prologue, all we had to work with were fragments.  As such, this is less a movie to spoil and more one to discuss in limited detail.

The film is set eight years after The Dark Knight, with Gotham’s criminal activity apparently at an all-time low.  During that time, the city has thrived off of a lie which has taken its toll on those who know the truth.  Much of the film’s first half reacquaints us with just what consequences have followed, which is played off as the more immediate threat ensues.

Enter Bane, who we all know from the trailers as the man who’ll become “Gotham’s reckoning.”  In a recent behind-the-scenes video, actor Tom Hardy said “The Joker wanted to watch the world burn.  Bane’s here to pull the pin on the grenade.”  There’s really no other way to say it, as Bane is pretty much the embodiment of a Batman villain in the form of a terrorist.  It gets to the point that you almost forget this is based on a graphic novel.  That is, until one or two tiny parts creep up and remind you that nothing is quite off limits, even under Nolan’s direction.  The presence and role Bane has is infrequent but significant.  It’s just a shame that his lines are still tough to make out, despite addressing the concerns of many fans (including myself).  Eventually it comes down to actions speaking louder than words, but it’s still tough to get a first impression when much of what you hear sounds like sheer distortion, bass and accent.

The villains from the Dark Knight films have been perhaps the most memorable.  And while Bane does more than enough to leave an impression (or two), we thankfully get a bit more of our heroes a la Batman Begins.  Superb as The Dark Knight was, the film was really about the Joker; his show-stealing scenes almost took away from our actual hero.  Not so much the case here.  Christian Bale puts on his best performance as Bruce Wayne and Batman, with the rest of the main cast matching his commitment.  In fact, while we’re on that subject, Michael Caine deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance.  He has hardly three or four scenes, but those moments really count and stick with you.

It’s a good thing we have these characters to enjoy and invest ourselves in, because without them, the story would definitely cripple.  Plot points almost come off like small details at first, but quickly play bigger and even pivotal roles.  To the more indifferent viewer, these are bound to be potential problems, but to the film’s credit, it’s at least trying to take itself and its audience seriously.  If you can’t get the entire picture, you’ll at least get the gist of things.

What The Dark Knight Rises manages to be, more than anything, is an effective concoction.  For a while it brews and swells with set ups and potential before utilizing the last hour to build the intensity with more than a few gripping, boiling points.  It leaves you panting, losing breath but still wanting to be subjected.  The universe is deeply grounded with characters pulling you in while the action and tension leave you immobilized.  It’s a fine, worthy conclusion that shows it’s less about matching or outdoing its predecessors, but more about ending the series on a proper note.

 
 

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Quote Review: Inception (2010)

“You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.”

The very least that can be said about Inception is that it’s one heck of a discussion spawner.  Nolan really offers us something to think and speculate, resulting in something that a less attentive viewer might not get at first, but remains fulfilling for multiple viewings.  We’re also given action sequences as they should be handled in that they’re gripping but don’t leave us wondering just what the heck is going on.  This is truly one of the best all-encompassing films you’ll find.

 
 

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