Friday, November 23, 2012

October 2012

Despite the new TV season being in full swing, I made a point to recover from last year's mediocre movie-going activity by really throwing myself into the cinema. Some of that was due to Joan making herself more available on the weekends; also, Irene invited me to a couple of screenings as well. Interestingly, I saw nothing on DVD except for The Apartment with Jay, which I had previously seen. Here were the new movies I saw in October:

LOOPER (2012)—The latest time-travel adventure stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a guy charged with assassinating people sent back in time from the future…and who must ultimately kill off his future self (Bruce Willis). If you think too much about the premise, it really makes no sense whatsoever, but it's a reasonably fun time at the movies nonetheless. Emily Blunt gives the picture a boost as the young mother of a very "special" boy. (8)

THE PAPERBOY (2012)—Pete Dexter's Florida-based novel becomes a boring mystery tale featuring Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey and John Cusack as four totally repellent people mixed up in the muddled story of a murdered policeman. Kidman pees on Efron in one of cinema's most bafflingly unnecessary beach scenes. The whole movie is unengaging; it seems crafted to show Efron in various stages of shirtlessness. Kidman tries to smolder with a Southern-fried accent and only partially succeeds. (4)

END OF WATCH (2012)—Here's a more suspenseful (and more violent) version of the TV show Cops. That doesn't sound like much of an endorsement, but this tale of two policemen (Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña) who develop a close friendship while battling gangstas is a raw, edge-of-your-seat thriller that marvelously demonstrates how ballsy and brave our men in blue are. (9)

ARGO (2012)—True-life story of how a half-dozen Americans are rescued from a revolutionary Iran during the famous hostage crisis of 1980. The filmmakers take plenty of dramatic license, but the result is a crisp and suspenseful retelling of a secret operation that barely went off. Director-star Ben Affleck proves he deserves the hyphen. (8)

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (2012)—Director Stephen Chbosky adapts his novel with a stellar cast that includes Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Paul Rudd; it's sort of bizarre cross between Fast Times and Ordinary People. Lerman is a high-school outcast who struggles to make friends after some personal setbacks…and learns how to deal with his troubled past. This excellent comedy-drama is the first major release for Chbosky; it became a sleeper hit, deservedly so. (9)

CLOUD ATLAS (2012)—A sprawling, impossible-to-categorize semi-epic mixes science fiction, historical drama and comedy in three hours of some of the most dazzling—and confounding—images and storylines ever committed to celluloid. Stars Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Halle Berry and Jim Sturgess appear in six tenuously connected tales—and playing numerous roles—that span five centuries. There's a drama involving a stowaway slave on a ship back in 1849, an investigative journalism thriller in 1973, a Blade Runner-esque sci-fi adventure in 2144, and so on. Like Love Actually, each of the stories are put in a blender, and the film's three different directors (including the Wachowskis) hit "puree." Thus, the action often flips around so fast that we'll see only a couple of lines of dialogue from one century before hurtling ahead 200 years for three lines of dialogue in the future. Fortunately, there's a kind of logic to the madness, as the stories all complement or comment on each other in some way or another. I had three gripes about the movie: first, some stories are needlessly bloated and could have benefited from some judicious editing. Second, the gimmick of Hanks and company in numerous roles proves entirely too distracting at times—too often you're taken out of a story by thinking, "Hey, that's Tom Hanks in different makeup! Third, the post-apocalyptic "distant future" episode is a bit draggy, and the conceit of having a mutated version of English will have you rolling your eyes. Still, it's a one-of-a-kind movie that kept me thinking long after the closing credits; repeated viewings can only help you appreciate all that's here. (8)

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (2012)—The first installment in this horror franchise was innovative and genuinely shocking. And it earned Paramount Pictures such a huge return on his minuscule budget that a sequel was inevitable. Lo and behold, Part 2 repeated the original's success. Now, four films in, the scares are still there, but the originality is long gone. Even so, these haunted-house movies never promise more than they deliver—we know what we're getting going in, so it's hard to complain when they keep giving us what we expect. But it sure would be cool if the upcoming Part 5 fucked with the formula, just a little. Part 4 stars uber-adorable Kathryn Newton. (8)

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (2012)—Here's an offbeat and quirky black comedy for people who enjoyed Fargo. Sam Rockwell (Moon) shines most brightly as one of several off-kilter wackos populating the story of a dognapping ring. The always fascinating Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson (as a deliciously psycho crime boss) help lift this amusing crime caper to the "must-see" circle. (9)

SINISTER (2012)—Researching his next book, true-crime writer Ethan Hawke ill-advisedly moves his wife and daughter into a house where some Very Bad Things happened...and, well, you don't have to be Nostradamus to figure out what happens next. A fairly by-the-book shocker that mostly delivers what you bought your ticket for. (8)

FRANKENWEENIE (2012)—Tim Burton's stop-motion remake of his own 1984 live-action short is designed to remind you of past successes like The Nightmare Before Christmas, but despite a terrific cast and some lovely black-and-white photography, I never really fell in love with the director's love letter to Frankenstein and other monster movies of his youth. Perhaps my expectations were too high, or maybe I just wasn't in the mood for it—many embraced it as delightful, but my mind wandered for much of the proceedings. The last 15 minutes are, admittedly, a nice payoff. (6)

BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR (2010)—Three of the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000—now known collectively as RiffTrax—once again lampoon a shitty horror movie for laughs, and once again, the laughs pile up fast and furious. Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett heckle the so-awful-it's-hilarious Birdemic, easily one of the worst films ever made. Fortunately for the audience, their live (and completely ruthless) commentaries turn a turkey into a triumph. A nice follow-up to Plan 9 From Outer Space and Jack the Giant Killer, also fed via satellite from Nashville to theaters nationwide as part of Fathom Events. (9)

FUN SIZE (2012)—Here's that rare cinematic offering: a smutty movie fill with age-inappropriate humor aimed squarely at Nickelodeon-watching kiddies. Disguised as a cute Halloween gagfest, Nickelodeon has loaded up this alleged comedy with toilet-bowls full of bathroom humor and sex and pedophile jokes, with enough lessons on How Not to Behave for a dozen movies. The problem is that very little of the aforementioned is funny, and most of it is downright unfunny, illogical and brain-numbingly awful. It must be said, however, that star Victoria Justice (of Nick's series Victorious) is cuter than any button ever made, and it's quite easy to get lost in her eyes—even when she's sniffing her kid brother's feces or dancing like a dork in the street. Joan said this was very likely the worst movie she's ever seen, but that's just because she missed Beasts of the Southern Wild. (3)

A ROYAL AFFAIR (2012)—It's hard to imagine a movie more unlike Fun Size. Filmed largely in Sweden and Czechoslovakia, it tells the true story of a young Danish king, Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) and his 15-year-old bride, Caroline (Alicia Vikander), a British import who soon comes to realize that being a queen is no walk in the park when the king turns out to be a childish jerk. Enter the King's new best friend, the handsome Dr. Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), a Liam Neeson-ish radical who the queen flips for…and who uses his friendship with the king for his own political ideals. It's all rather Shakespearean—in fact, many of the Bard's quotes are thrown around for good measure—by which I mean, it's a romantic, dramatic and tragic story. Acting, direction, costumes and locations are all first-rate. I had the good fortune to attend a screening hosted by the director and star (Alicia), both of whom I met and chatted with after the movie. The beautiful 24-year-old Alicia (a Swede) happens to be featured in both this Danish-language film as well as in the upcoming Anna Karenina, in which she plays Kitty. (9)

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