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A Look Back: 2012 in Film (Part II)

Ruby Sparks

There’s an odd connection between actual aspiring writers and movies centered on writers that’s tough to pinpoint.  Ruby Sparks is like a vision coming into physical reality for writers, with a character transforming into something anyone else can see, touch and feel.  The initial promise of such a premise is taken in the directions you’d expect, before taking some surprisingly dark turns.  But fellow fictional writers will know that sometimes to truly understand your characters, you’ll have to put them through the worst possible hell.  It is, to borrow from another certain 2012 release, “a necessary evil.”  Ruby Sparks is, at the very least, compelling and leaves a relatively strong impression.  Things do end up a little to conveniently resolved, but given the road taken, such an ending can feel all the more rewarding.

The Expendables 2

Times at the cinema would be so much better if films like The Expendables 2 were easier to pick out.  Like its predecessor, this is a perfect break and escape from reality.  No, the film isn’t fantastical, but it’s a hell of a great time, suspending you amidst ridiculous action and one-linters.  While other cheap, campy B-grade action movies do little but bore, The Expendables 2 entertains and entertains and entertains.  There’s little serious merit here, but the fact you have so fun watching it the first time around makes everything else irrelevant.

Lawless

Lawless didn’t fear showing a generally grisly side to Prohibition-era America, which is showcased in a scene that makes me queasy upon the slightest recollection.  There are a number of ways to generically label Lawless, ranging from Tom Hardy’s Post-Bane Role to Wait, Shia LaBeouf Has Acting Capabilities?  Being one of the few non-haters of the latter actor, even I think he’s outclassed and generally unfit for such a role.  Thankfully, he’s not misplaced to the point of say, Josh Hutcherson in The Hunger Games, while every other performance from Tom Hardy to Jessica Chastain and Guy Pearce is spot-on.  It’s just a shame we only get two scenes with Gary Oldman, who completely owns both and shows us a side to Jim Gordon we might’ve forgotten after The Dark Knight Rises.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

It’s not every day–or even every year–I can call a film truly resonant with how I generally feel, but The Perks of Being a Wallflower managed to be such a film.  Shame it was a bit of a sleeper, though.  This is a film equally earnest and honest, working better than it probably should thanks to how relatable and irresistible the characters are.  Even Paul Rudd, amounting to a simply sympathetic teacher, manages to bring us into the film more because his scenes with Logan Lerman work so well.  Sometimes comedic, other times seriously dramatic, but always enthralling, The Perks of Being a Wallflower more than earns a personal favorite mark from yours truly.

Looper

Looper was definitely one of the more highly touted films of 2012.  Many people seemed to think it would be the next “it” thing for science fiction action thrillers, with big comparisons being made to Inception.  The film met with almost universal acclaim but seems to have become little more than a dud on the windshield.  While this is a bit of a shame, the film does have, at its core, some very potential shortcomings.  To be fair, like Philip K. Dick’s works, most of these issues stem from the film’s deliberate approach to pose ideas without completely fleshing them out.  It becomes a bit of a backdrop to the story, rather than a consistently integral part.  Some say this works to the film’s strength, I say this is a story that belongs in novel form rather than on the big screen.  Don’t get me wrong, Looper is a very solid film in its own regards, it’s just many of the paths taken are unexpected in a way that necessarily fit.  For much of the second half I forgot we were in the future, or even an alternate reality.  This isn’t a movie you watch for spectacle or visions of another world, it’s a movie you watch for its surprisingly down-to-earth story with alternating thrills and drama.

Argo

In my original review of Argo, I mentioned that while a good piece of filmmaking, it’s not one I’d have honored with several Oscar nominations.  It seems the Academy felt surprisingly similar notions, except they got a couple things mixed up.  Give Ben Affleck the Best Director nom and possibly retract its Best Picture nomination, along with Alan Arkin, despite being one of the best parts of the film.  But I digress.  Argo had a lot to live up to in my books since I’m a huge fan of The Town.  Ben Affleck has a thing about surprising many of us, which is very welcoming.  For a film with so many characters and a rather forgiving runtime, Argo feels surprisingly whole and complete.  Outside of Victor Garber, I think everyone was sufficiently developed.  The plot is expansive in some ways, but the actual story at-hand is very focused.  Not to mention we get possibly the more intense final act of any film from 2012 in Argo, which isn’t in, how do you say, a bang-bang boom-boom kind of way.  Far from my top pick of the year, but definitely one of the most well made releases.

Skyfall

I can already hear the boos coming on this one: I’m not a James Bond fan.  The whole spy movie genre is a bit elusive to me, but I can set things aside to enjoy them if I so desire.  Daniel Craig’s first outing as 007 in Casino Royale does hold up as what you could call a good movie that just happened to be associated with James Bond.  Quantum of Solace, on the other hand, was about as solid as the T-1000 at the end of Terminator 2.  Thankfully, Skyfall brought integrity back and offered a few eye-catching surprises along the way.  This is still very much a Bond film with some hard-boiled action/thriller elements pushing their way in for the final act.  Skyfall doesn’t transcend or turn its back on its faith, which means fans of the series will still get the most out of it.

Flight

I’m trying to remember if Denzel Washington has ever given a subpar performance, much less been in a bad film.  He’s able to easily outclass the best actors Hollywood has to offer and, go figure, his only Academy Award isn’t for one of his top-notch performances.  We can now add Flight to his almost intimidating resume, in which his character goes through so much in its accurate portrayal that it could be labeled synonymous with gripping tragedy.  Without giving anything away, the ending is a bit of a buzzkill and makes what comes off as a long, hard journey abruptly hit some sort of a roundabout.  Still, even for such a good year, you’re not going find many films with a lead performances that commands and demands as much Denzel does here.

Wreck-It Ralph

I can remember seeing the trailers for Wreck-It Ralph and thinking “whatever, just get Pixar out of their slump already!”  Then the film’s style brought comparisons to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and I suddenly grew intrigued.  Said film is among my favorites and one that I enjoy even more with subsequent viewings.  I can’t see Wreck-It Ralph achieving the same effect, but it was surprisingly fun, enjoyable and one I’d be all for seeing again and again.

Lincoln

We had quite a few Oscar bait films this year and Lincoln shamelessly abides the criteria.  If there’s any surprise we’re thrown it’s the amount of comedy, usually courtesy of Tommy Lee Jones.  Obviously an actor like Daniel Day Lewis brings the iconic personality we think of when we imagine Lincoln, though it can definitely become overbearing.  I must reiterate that this performance is literally 50% elaborate storytelling.  No, this is hardly a deal-breaker and, in the hands of Steven Spielberg, we have a nicely handled and borderline immaculate film.  The only downside is it isn’t the year’s most compelling release since it takes about as much chances as I do with the ladies.

Silving Linings Playbook

This is the movie that actually drove me to travel nearly an hour away just to see what the hype was about.  I’m a bit of a sucker for rom-com/dramedies since, when handled well, they strike me like few others.  Two hours of watching and cumulative driving later and I can easily say that it was a wait and trip well spent.  Silver Linings Playbook hits the dysfunctional character note like so few movies and the results are pure bliss.  Comedy and drama run equally high and effectively with no weak links.  Silver Linings Playbook is tough to describe and justify, but if I had to sum it up, I’d say go see the movie and experience it yourself.  Even if it doesn’t crack your top movies of the year, it’s guaranteed to be among the most entertaining and rewarding.

Life of Pi

A scene from Life of Pi showed before a screening of Prometheus and my reaction was, to quote my friend, “so confused.”  That scene was literally all I caught of the film before deciding to eventually see a 3D screening.  I always feel uneasy when thinking Ang Lee since I just can’t separate that name from 2003’s Hulk, a film that continues to leave a repugnant taste in my mouth.  But rest assured, Life of Pi is no Hulk.  Life of Pi is one of the most beautiful, fascinating, well directed and edited films of 2012, bringing an odd story to light that keeps us riveted, regardless of whatever crazy direction it might take.  One pleasant surprise is the ending, which avoids the happy Hollywood archetype but doesn’t take the slummy road either.  Simply put, Life of Pi is a wondrous piece of work and a movie I can’t wait to experience again from the moment it comes out on Blu-ray.

Killing Them Softly

I had my eye on Killing Them Softly for a few months, though shortly after I saw the summertime trailer it drifted off and became but a distant memory.  It’s fitting then, that the film itself will likely suffer the same fate as its previews.  Killing Them Softly certainly isn’t a bad film, it’s just a bit of a drag and feels too incomplete for its own good.  This is really a film that I thought was good for killing time, it’s just I wish it had been done with a better, more investible and worthwhile piece.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The whole idea of splitting film adaptations into multiple releases is just weird.  Monetary reasons aside, it kind of defeats the point of having an adaptation in the first place.  Typically a film adaptation is used to give us the short, sweet and entertaining version of a story.  If we’re lucky, we’ll occasionally get some good twists, but it’s often just the motion picture equivalent to spark notes.  So the fact we’re getting nearly 10 hours for a book that’s less than 400 pages is really just overkill.  Now, taken in its own regards, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a conflicted and inconsistent film.  It’s tough for me to tell whether the film wants to be a comedy or fantasy drama.  Even during its most serious moments, I kept thinking “is anyone on our side going do die?”  Granted, that’s probably the way the book is, but it cut back on the sense of urgency that The Lord of the Rings had.  That, I think, is a key reason this semi-adaptation of The Hobbit falters, in spite of retaining some laughs, entertainment and occasional majesty.

Django Unchained

Tarantino is a very inconsistent director with me.  I liked but didn’t care much for Reservoir Dogs; Pulp Fiction is, as we all know, a classic; Inglourious Basterds did what I thought no Tarantino movie would do in boring me; and Kill Bill just never appealed to me, hence why I haven’t bothered with them.  While I figured I’d enjoy Django Unchained based on the trailers, I was completely unprepared for the unrivaled level of entertainment I got out of it.  If Django Unchained is simply entertaining, then Silver Linings Playbook is a snorefest.  Now, if we break the film apart there are points that can be criticized, but there’s so much fun and enjoyment to be had that any shortcomings quickly become irrelevant.  A true crowd pleaser, Django Unchained can definitely earn more than a couple wholesome theatrical viewings.

Les Miserables

And finally we have 2012’s last impression according to release date (and alphabetical order): Les Miserables.  I’ve gone on to call Les Miserables the most frustrating film of 2012 because of how much I wanted to enjoy and be soaked into its story, only to be let down at almost every corner.  Detachment, spontaneity and weariness are how I’d describe the adaptation we’re afforded, which only accomplishes the visual class of Hooper’s previous effort, The King’s Speech.  I’d want to give the film another chance down the line, but one sitting was laborious enough.

 
 

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Lincoln (2012) Review

It’s tough to say what we have more of: Movies that Steven Spielberg attaches his name to, or the number of reviews for Steven Spielberg movies.  Maybe Mr. Spielberg should take his name and endorse my reviews so views and comments will finally pop up.

The hype surrounding Daniel Day-Lewis as President Lincoln has swelled so much that it seems to have left Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock in the dust.  Does anyone else find it creepy how close Anthony Hopkins name is to Anthony Perkins from Psycho?

But enough digressing, we’re here to talk about a movie guaranteed to sweep up Oscars simply for being the cinematic equivalent of a typecast.  And if you think Oscar bait can only work so many times, need we remember the eye-rolling predictability of The King’s Speech winning Best Picture two years ago?  The very premise of Lincoln is a catalyst for what the senile blokes at the Academy are suckers for: Lincoln’s strives to pass the thirteenth Amendment.  Some have even taken the film’s plot as reason to stake claims that it really isn’t about Lincoln, that the film deserves–get this–a different title.

This type of claim only then begs the argument: Just where does the focus lie?  Is it really on Lincoln or the days leading up (and in) to the abolishment of slavery?  Or is it really about the role Lincoln played in the closing days of the Civil War, leading to one of history’s greatest landmarks?  It’s ultimately one of those cases where what you bring and expect from the film is going to directly impact how you react.  What must be made clear is that this is far from a character study, since the naysayers do have a point in that Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t have much to work with.  In fact, I can’t even point to an arc in the Lincoln we’re given on-screen.  What’s at his disposal is less a character and more a role, a piece of history.  The man is literally a walking speech, a story waiting to happen (which the film pokes fun at).  We get so much of this that I actually wanted less talking and more silent emoting or brief responses between characters.  Our first scene with Lincoln actually accomplishes this in a proper way, making the President seem more human and less like a piece of theater.  It’s just a shame this doesn’t define his other key moments and might leave you constantly disillusioned.

If Lewis isn’t convincing us with his make-up and testing us with his speeches, then it’s Tommy Lee Jones who sweeps up our attention and laughing strings.  As Thaddeus Stevens, Jones is the political embodiment of a riot–and then some.  The man practically steals what short scene him and Lewis share as he proves to be that scumbag character you’d disparage in real life but want to elect as a character.

Even for a slow, two and a half hour movie, there are still points of Lincoln that feel tragically abandoned.  One key area is with Joseph Gordon Levitt as Lincoln’s son, who’s only given so much time and doesn’t leave much of an impression, save one bitter scene.  The film seems to subtly hint at the development of a relationship or dynamic between the two, yet this is never truly realized.  Granted, this asks another whole plotline, and all the while the focus is stuck on the 13th Amendment.  Still, we definitely could have had a few minutes more with Lincoln Jr. so as to get a plate without room for sides.  Most of the interactions take place between our political characters and, if not them, then Lincoln and Sally Field as his wife.  The two have a rough passion in both their roles and between each other, which makes the realization they’re married simultaneously convincing and shocking.

Clearly, Lincoln seems to be filmed and released for the sake of being a showcase for its talented cast.  This is all some of us really need in order to become immersed and, if your theater is anything like mine (people three to four times my age) then an applause is only inevitable.  But something tells me the reasons for such a reaction will vary from person to person.

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2012 in Blog, Film, Film Review, Movie Review, Movies, Review

 

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Looper Review

If you’re looking for convention and routine, Looper isn’t going to be your most fulfilling catch.  Here we have a film that incorporates time travel but doesn’t go balls out with showing off technology or advances.  Normally the two go hand-in-hand, but we’re shown stuff that’s as subtle as it is familiar, aesthetically.  The focus instead rests on the story and characters, one of which is normally compromised for the other in other sci-fi films.  But since we have less blunt distractions in our way, the focus remains where many will argue it should be.

Speaking of the story, quite a bit goes on here and, without spoiling anything, let’s just say that ties and lines are twisted and strained.  We’re given a modest future, to say the least, where people from even later on are sent back to be killed and literally eliminated–no traces or fingerprints to find.  It’s a premise that will either fascinate or frustrate you (or both) the more you dig into it, which you can argue as being part of the fun here.

Actually, that might be the only fun you’ll get, as the film doesn’t tread lightly.  Save two or three chuckles, you’re really left with a serious face during the film’s runtime.  Thankfully, this is an engaging watch with hardly a slow or dragging moment.  That said, there were points I was saying to myself “man, I wish this movie was a lot longer so we could get and see more.”  On one hand it’s great that I’m being sucked in, but on the other I feel like since more sci-fi films stretch well past the 2 hour mark, why not Looper?

This is also to say that you shouldn’t expect a building climax that builds to epic proportions.  Looper is, at its core, a fairly personal story that brings several characters into play, but doesn’t show or build things to a grand, awe-inspiring scale.  Think of it like The Terminator with less indication of the war in the future.

Shape and spectacle are not what you should look for in Looper; but instead thought and personal investment.  The idea and premise is less original and more innovative, but it’s nice to get a little something different.  And with a year already full of solid films, it should have no problem fitting comfortably on most viewer’s top releases of the year.

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Blog, Film, Film Review, Movie Review, Movies, Review

 

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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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Upcoming Stars Worth Looking At

Some might share my predicament in having an email on AT&T, leading an instinctual curiosity of the often embarrassing articles courtesy of Yahoo.  One that caught my eye in particular was on the upcoming, breakout stars in film this year.  For those who aren’t aware, Yahoo don’t exactly do their homework for articles; what else can explain the inclusion of Rihanna on the aforementioned list?  But there were one or two worth mentioning, such as Noomi Rapace of the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo adaptations and Prometheus.  So this got me thinking: How about the stars who are on the rise, might make a real breakout and are actually promising?  Well, let’s waste little more time and get on with it!

Tom Hardy

Let’s get the obvious culprit out of the way: Bane himself.  For some (including myself), Tom Hardy has already made a bigger splash than what other actors do for their entire career.  Sure, he’s not quite a household name, but the man is gradually working his way up the (good) Hollywood ladder.  Even without the anticipation of The Dark Knight Rises, Hardy would likely be on his way as an admirable star between staring in Warrior, Inception and the upcoming Depression-era film Lawless.  Though the British actor feels that his portrayal of Bane won’t make him a household name, I think it’ll at least open even more roles for him.  He’s already well on his way, and I can’t see his solid selections heading downhill any time soon.

Joel Edgerton

Okay, I might be giving a bit too much credit to Mr. Edgerton since most people don’t know him beyond co-staring with Hardy in Warrior.  But the man has shown talent and promise.  Some might not remember, but he played Owen Lars in two of the Star Wars prequels.  He’s also playing Tom Buchanan in the upcoming remake of The Great Gatsby alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire.  No, he might not hit it big this year, but there’s a chance he could prove to be a competent performer sometime in the future.

Tom Hiddleston

Hiddleston is already been making a bit of a name for himself despite the fact he’s only really known for being Loki.  2011 was a pretty big year him, including roles in Thor, Midnight in Paris and War Horse.  He’s also set to reprise his role as Loki in Thor 2 and is even signed up for three TV movies (the two-parter Henry IV and the title role in Henry V).  Right now most people just know him as the guy Hulk slammed around in a classic Avengers scene, but given his upcoming roster, chances are he might become one of the next go-to actors.

Michael Fassbender

Many people consider Michael Fassbender to be THE underrated star to keep an eye on.  Haywire may not have been the best of his recent selections, but between playing a young Magneto in X-Men: First Class, the lead role in Shame and, like the aforementioned Noomi Rapace, holding a role in Prometheus, the man is building some serious momentum.  Not just that, but he’s proven to be a great player in almost all of his films, earning the most praise for Shame.  Hopefully his lack of other films coming out this year won’t deter his rise.

Andrew Garfield

Among the younger-looking inclusions on this list, Andrew Garfield was, until recently, only known for playing Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network.  If people weren’t sympathizing with Eisenberg’s egocentric Zuckerberg, they were likely rooting for Garfield’s character.  And now he’s playing Peter Parker in the soon-to-be-released Spider-Man reboot, which has quickly dispelled much skepticism.  If the film manages to be a big hit (which looks very likely), then it’s guaranteed to open even more for the young, talented actor.

Cillian Murphy

When you see Cillian Murphy, you likely think of him as “that guy who’s been in half of Nolan’s recent films.”  And it’s true that, outside of playing Scarecrow and having a supporting role in Inception, there hasn’t been much to credit him with.  But this doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a shot at being another potential player in the near future.  The upcoming film Red Lights holds some promise, which features Murphy alongside Sigourney Weaver.  It might not impact the box office, but there’s potential for studios to take notice.  Also, if it means anything, Nolan actually thought of casting Murphy as Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins before being handed to Christian Bale.  If those two were in the running, then it has to be a good sign!

Jeremy Renner

It’s really surprising how Jeremy Renner still hasn’t become a household name, given his filmography and (well deserved) accolades.  He’s received two Oscar nominations, has proven to be incredible versatile between roles in The Town, The Hurt Locker and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.  He’s even taking Damon’s place in the fourth, upcoming Bourne film.  The man is very talented and is just barely into his 30’s; so why don’t more people seem to know about him?  For those who might have looked this actor over, I suggest watching the movies he’s in again and taking note: Renner has a lot of promise and is someone I think more directors would be wise in considering.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Of all the listed actors, this is the one that’s closest to being widely recognized.  It seems that right when 50/50 hit theaters, everyone was all ablaze about Joseph Gordon-Levitt, claiming him the next truly big actor to look out for.  Most of us know by now that he’ll be playing young cop John Blake in The Dark Knight Rises as well as a lead role in Looper.  But why stop there?  We’ll also be seeing him in the upcoming action/thriller Premium Rush and the much-anticipated Lincoln as Robert Todd Lincoln.  Sounds like our boy has his resume booked and ready for just about anything.

Carey Mulligan

What?  You thought I was going to leave the female demographic unrecognized?  Actresses like Carey Mulligan are further solidifying themselves in a crowded field, but it’s a good thing they’re around for us to enjoy.  Sure, Carey might have been part of a less-than solid piece in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, but with other works such as Drive, Brothers, Shame and Public Enemies, I think we can let one stinker slide.  For some reason I associate her with Michelle Williams (another young and promising actress), even though they hardly look alike.  Either way, we’re talking great talent at a young age, and things should be going uphill for Carey.

Anna Kendrick

So Carey Mulligan has the lackluster Wall Street sequel to potentially complain about.  Anna Kendrick, on the other hand, has been involved in each Twilight film to date.  How can someone featured in those films make this list?  Much like Carey, it’s her good selections and roles that got her on this list.  Between Up in the Air, an earnest performance in 50/50 and a small but fun role in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, she’s certainly not one to simply shrug aside (like many of us foolishly did when the latter came out).  Those combined with roles in ParaNorman, The Company You Keep and the seemingly relevant 2013 film Get a Job are enough proof to convince me that she’s more than just a sweet, pretty face.

Marion Cotillard

Most of us probably recognized Marion as Cobb’s wife from Inception.  Yet what many probably don’t realize is that she won an Oscar three years earlier for the French film La vie en rose.  Some have already noted her very briefly as Miranda Tate in The Dark Knight Rises as well.  Similar to other French actress Audrey Tautou of Amelie, Marion might not become an actress of Hollywood fame (any time soon), but this shouldn’t deter people from keeping their eyes peeled for whatever else either star might be in.

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2012 in Film, Movies

 

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