The Best and Worst of 2012

The Best and Worst of 2012

By Danny Minton

The Best:

1) Les Misérables.  Rated PG-13.  I had a tough time this year picking my number one.  For me, the top three here are almost at a dead heat.  I guess it all came down to the emotional connection I have with the material.  Victor Hugo’s Les Mis is my favorite book and subsequently the stage production is my favorite Broadway show.  There’s something about the story and the music that speaks to me and fills me with pure over-flowing happiness and joy.  The movie is not perfect but its imperfections didn’t bother me in the least.  Each of the performances were absolutely amazing, aside from Russell Crowe’s Javert, and I can easily see myself enjoying this masterpiece by King’s Speech director Tom Hooper for years to come.  Almost everything about this movie is thrilling including the lush cinematography, wonderful singing, intense production design and most importantly the renovated musical score which drives the musical along to its sad and touching conclusion.  I am awed by the sense of vision seen on screen here and am very thankful they waited until the right time to bring this to theaters.  (Opens Christmas Day)

2) Lincoln.  Rated PG-13.  Perhaps Spielberg’s best film since 1998’s Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln, brilliantly portrayed by the legendary Daniel Day Lewis, brings to vibrant life the legacy of one of America’s most important presidents.  The screenplay by Angels in America’s Tony Kushner tells the story of our 14th Amendment in a way that is both historically accurate and extremely relevant to today.  Sure to be the Oscar frontrunner, this spectacular film shows what the best in the industry are capable of doing when all are working at a high level.  (In theaters now)

3) Life of Pi.  Rated PG.  Simply beautiful is my best description of this movie which mainly focuses on a boy trapped on a life boat in the middle of the ocean with a ferocious tiger.  Even a year or two ago, this film would not have been possible to make, or at the very least couldn’t have looked like this.  It is the pinnacle of our visual arts capabilities and you get the sense that it belongs in a museum rather than a movie theater.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you must attend a 3D viewing as this is, for now, the height of 3D technology and very much worth the extra dollars.  It’s a spectacular event film that will leave you exhausted and amazed.  (In theaters now)

4) Django Unchained.  Rated R.  Everything you might expect from a Quentin Tarantino western and more is delivered in this terrific film about a slave (Jamie Fox) who is freed by a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) who later helps him find his wife, held by a vicious slave owner (Leonardo DiCaprio).  It’s violent, offensive, hilarious and many other adjectives commonly used to describe Tarantino’s infamous films.  But more importantly, its insanely entertaining from start to finish.  While certainly not a film for everyone, if you are a fan of the eclectic filmmaker, his newest creation will put a huge smile on your face.  (Opens Christmas Day)

5) Zero Dark Thirty.  Rated R.  While director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal hit a huge home run with their Oscar-winning Hurt Locker in 2008, the film everyone was talking about even then was this project about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.  But then in 2010 Bin Laden was killed and the scope of the entire project changed.  While there are many politicians trying to question the accuracy of the interrogation methods used in the film, the movie feels authentic.  If you’ve ever seen Errol Morris’s Abu Ghraib documentary Standard Operating Procedure, you won’t have too tough of a time believing what you see.  Jessica Chastain leads the talented cast as a young CIA agent who spends a decade of her life connecting the dots to Bin Laden and the payoff is a thrilling recreation of the compound raid that led to the terrorist’s demise.  This is one folks will be talking about for years to come.  (In theaters January 11, 2013)

6) Goon.  Rated R.  At the very top of my comedy list is this indie about a bar bouncer (Seann William Scott) who is discovered by a local hockey team and in spite of his inability to skate, is hired to fight on the ice.  Normally this would be just a violent and silly comedy but Scott’s very under-appreciated performance brings a sweet side to the film that ironically gives it its edge.  I laughed almost from start to finish and must enthusiastically recommend this little gem.  (Now available on DVD and Blu-ray)

7) Searching for Sugar Man.  Rated PG-13.  If I told you there was a wannabe rock star in the early 70s who quit making music after two albums because of poor sales, but 3 decades later discovered his music is one of the most popular in South African history and partially responsible for the end of apartheid – well I’d expect you to tell me that is an interesting piece of fiction.  But this is a documentary.  The singer Rodriguez was a poor construction worker in the Detroit area when he discovered his legacy.  It’s one of those amazing true life stories that is almost out of the realm of possibility.  (On Blu-ray and DVD January 22, 2013)

8) Bernie.  Rated R.  Another example of too crazy for fiction is this comedy about a grizzly murder in Carthage, TX where a funeral home director (Jack Black) killed his friend and live-in employer (Shirley McClain) after she drove him over the cliff.  Using many of the real citizens of Carthage, director Richard Linklater creates one of the most accurate pictures of Texas I’ve ever seen on screen.  (Now available on Blu-ray and DVD)

9) Jiro Dreams of Sushi.  Rated PG.  If you are a foodie like me, you must check out this Japanese documentary about an eighty-five-year-old sushi master who runs a 10 seat restaurant in a Tokyo subway station, largely considered to be one of the greatest sushi restaurants in the world.  How does he do it?  He reinvents his craft daily, dreaming up new creations and improving constantly.  It’s a truly inspirational film that will leave you salivating.  (Now available on Blu-ray and DVD)

10) Silver Linings Playbook.  Rated R.  David O. Russell’s touching and entertaining adult comedy about mental health, romance, and professional football is a must-see that hardly anyone, apparently, is seeing right now.  I can’t think of a better date movie that will have you grinning for two hours with a tear in your eye.  (In theaters now)

Honorable Mention: 21 Jump Street, Argo, The Campaign, Flight, Head Games, The House I Live In, Looper, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, A Royal Affair, The Sessions, West of Memphis   

The Worst of 2012:

1) 2016: Obama’s America.
  Rated PG.  Filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza’s failed attempt at losing the white house for Obama was highly successful at brainwashing a very large percentage of the American public.  It’s amazing how far pure unadulterated hate surrounded by lies can still get you in this day and age.

2) Rock of Ages.  Rated PG-13.  A disaster from start to finish, Rock of Ages was a great Broadway show but a miserable excuse for a movie. 

3) Battleship.  Rated PG-13.  Hasbro’s board game turned alien invasion movie proved that sometimes Hollywood has jack squat for ideas.  The fact that they put over $200 million into proves that they sometimes have jack squat for brains also.

4) Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.  Rated PG.  I’m still shocked that this horrific excuse for a sequel made so much money.  The only thing I can think of is that maybe release date is an important player and that parents were desperate for a kid’s movie. 

5) What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
  Rated PG-13.  Dear Hollywood, the Love Actually formula has only worked once and that’s in Love Actually.  Please stop sending us these monumental wastes of time.        

New in Home Entertainment – December 18, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

December 18, 2012

Total Recall
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity, and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

I’ll admit that I skipped this one in theaters simply because the trailers made it look like a very lame ripoff of the original 1990 Schwarzenegger sci-fi classic.  I’m a big fan of the campy original and didn’t want to see an unnecessary modern remake.  Since this new one was a dud at the box office, I can assume that many others felt the same way.  I was shocked then to see that this new re-imagining of the Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” is a completely different, almost unrecognizable story that really only relates to the 1990 version through character names and very basic ideas.  I was impressed with the huge set pieces and the futuristic creations.  I was unimpressed with Kate Beckinsale’s character (originally played by Sharon Stone) who has this uncontrollable urge to kill Colin Farrell (the film’s hero).  The motive seems weak and plot holes abound with this misstep.  Also, the film lacks any of the fun and perverse sense of humor of the original, which is one of the main reasons people loved it so much to begin with.  C+

Killer Joe: Unrated Director’s Cut
Unrated – contains strong and disturbing violence, sexuality, graphic nudity, drug use and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Based on the play by Tracy Letts, “Killer Joe” (Matthew McConaughey) is a Dallas detective who makes some extra money on the side as a hit man.  When Emile Hirsch hires him to take out his mother in order to collect her life insurance, a chain reaction of twisted bad luck ensues.  Directed by William Friedkin (The Exorcist), the film is a demented and sick journey that is hard to take your eyes off of.  McConaughey is especially great in the title role and plays it to his over-the-top best.  B+

Rated R for language, brief violent images and drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When a wealthy hedge-fund magnate (Richard Gere) finds himself in a car accident which leaves his mistress dead, he runs away from the scene, afraid of what the events could do to his personal and professional life.  This little indie proves to be a riveting drama, giving Gere perhaps his best performance ever.  The well-written script by writer/director Nicholas Jarecki drives you to mixed emotions.  Gere is a detestable human being, but yet you can’t help but be fascinated at the lengths he will go to in order to clear himself from the crime.  B+

Sleepwalk with Me
Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and brief language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray 

Comedian Mike Birbiglia writes, directs and stars in this film about a young aspiring comedian who meanders in his relationship with his girlfriend (wonderfully played by Laruen Ambrose) and his career as he struggles with his dangerous sleepwalking affliction.  Funny, refreshing and reflective accurately describe this indie comedy which won the Audience Award at Sundance.  Overall it’s a light and highly enjoyable short movie that you’ll be glad you took a look at.  A-

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage
Directed by
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images

    It seems like just yesterday, but it’s been eleven years since Peter Jackson unleashed his vision of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings saga in theaters and now he is back giving us a prequel of sorts: The Hobbit.  Taking place decades before the events of Fellowship of the Rings, The Hobbit follows the story of Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) as a young halfling who is recruited by the wizard Gandalf (McKellen) to join him and a group of rowdy dwarves who wish to rescue their home from a giant dragon who has taken up residence there. 

    There is no doubt that this is an adventure that fantasy-lovers have wanted to take for some time.  I remember as a kid watching the old Warner Brothers animated version, never dreaming that a live-action Hobbit could ever become a reality.  But then after Jackson released the third Lord of the Rings film, fans started screaming for him to recreate the book that started it all. 

    So does it live up to the hype?  In ways yes, but in other ways it is disappointing. 

    The good news is that Jackson’s vision delivers a wonderfully written and directed story with the same production values everyone expects.  If you’re not familiar with the tale, you might be a little surprised at how playful the movie is, but this is with good intent.  Tolkien’s book is much, much lighter than The Lord of the Rings.  It is a fun and whimsical journey through middle earth with plenty of danger but also loads of fun. 

    As you would expect from a project like this, the special effects are magnificent.  Looking back at the trilogy, there are many moments that now look kind of fake.  Here you can tell that they’ve taken a leap forward in visual effects technology.  It looks so perfect that only your common sense tells you its not real. 

    But that’s also where the movie slips up.  Jackson was so thrilled that this would be the first theatrically released film shot and projected in 3D at 48 frames per second instead of the the traditional 24.  He has even convinced theater owners worldwide to upgrade their projection systems in order to exhibit the movie in this fashion.  I am not an expert in this field and thus I really want to trust the filmmakers and other movie experts about this new technology, but personally I found the image on screen to be unsettling and extremely distracting.  The hyper-realism this sort of image capture and projection provides might have greater clarity and smoothness, but to my initial view, it just doesn’t look right on the big screen.  It reminds me of the look of a soap opera, a look that doesn’t belong in a movie theater.  I’m not trying to sound like a purist.  I really like to see progress and want to believe there is something to the technology, but I found myself concentrating more on the strange look of the film and less on the film itself.  I feel that I’ve really missed out on a great experience that I’m hoping I can recapture when I try to see the film again in a theater that hasn’t upgraded its equipment yet. 

    Also a major distraction here is the length.  Since Lord of the Rings succeeded as three films, the studio and filmmakers decided to make the Hobbit three as well.  When you make three books into three movies, that seems reasonable.  Making one book three movies?  Not so much.  It feels greedy.  The pacing wasn’t by any means slow even though the film clocks in at two hours and forty-five minutes, but there does seem to be a lot of overkill here.  I’m trying my hardest to reserve judgment about this until I have seen all three films, but I see no evidence early on that this couldn’t have been two big films instead, which I feel would have been a more fan-pleasing scenario.  Only time will tell if Jackson’s three-film plan will work.  So far he does have a darn good record.  A-

New in Home Entertainment – December 11, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

December 11, 2012

Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

From Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane comes a terrifically outrageous comedy about a grown man (Mark Walhlberg) whose Teddy Bear came to life when he was a child and who still lives with him as an adult, drinking and partying with him every day and night.  There is nothing at all cute about this seemingly innocent movie.  The bear is more obscene than you could possibly imagine (and even worse in the unrated edition) and provides some of the funniest movie moments of the year.  Ted certainly had the potential to be a one joke wonder, but thanks to the hilarious writing and creativity of MacFarlane, who also voices the bear, the payoff is huge.  Some of the plot is fairly predictable, but it sure is a blast to watch it play out.  A-

The Bourne Legacy
Rated PG-13 for violence and intense action sequences
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Unable to land Matt Damon in the starring role for the fourth film, Universal recruited Bourne series writer, Tony Gilroy, to write and direct a sort of new story with a slew of talented actors (Jeremy Renner, Ed Norton and Rachel Weisz to name a few) for this franchise extension.  I’ll give it credit for being slightly different than the first three (for which the latter two feel like remakes of the first one), but once you get past the extreme amount of mindless action, what you are left with is a bunch of senseless plot that sounds utterly ridiculous should you try to explain it aloud.  If all you are looking for is a two plus hour action escape though, it will serve its purpose.  C

Girls: The Complete First Season
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Almost everything about this freshman HBO series turns me off, and yet somehow I sat through every episode, some of them twice when my wife wanted to catch up.  Playing like an anti-Sex and the City, the girls of Girls (and the boys for that matter) are obnoxious, lazy, self-absorbed New Yorkers with a flair for the dramatic and a sense of entitlement that is staggering.  Fortunately the show is well-written and acted.  Unfortunately the show is relevant.  I hope that the next generation isn’t this, but I’m fairly certain it’s more common than not.  B

Following: The Criterion Collection
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Before Dark Knight Trilogy director Christopher Nolan blew our minds with Memento, he made this little black and white neonoir in 1999 about a young writer who follows strangers around London hoping to land inspiration for his new novel.  It’s easy in retrospect to come to the conclusion that there is a talented filmmaker at the helm here.  Try to take him out of the equation and you still have a great little indie.  Put him back in and you see the early output of a genius.  While not your typical classic fare from Criterion, this is definitely a worthy release with many special features you’ll want to check out.  B+

New in Home Entertainment – December 4, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

December 4, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Anytime a film hits a billion dollars in world-wide gross, especially without being in 3D and charging the extra 3D bucks, you know the movie has to be a crowd-pleaser.  Supposedly being the third and final film in writer/director Christopher Nolan’s highly successful Batman trilogy, Dark Knight Rises tells the story that takes place immediately following the events of The Dark Knight.  Batman has basically retired until a new villain named Bane (Tom Hardy) takes over the city of Gotham, leaving Bruce Wayne no choice but to come out of hiding and take on the super villain.  While its hard to match up to the Oscar-winning performance of Heath Ledger we saw in Dark Knight, Hardy is a very frightening bad guy and the plot he is involved with is as complex as it is dark.  My only complaints are the film feels overly long at 165 minutes and PG-13 is too light of a rating.  I know they couldn’t put out an R rate movie, but to tone the violence down to such levels makes the film seem inauthentic.  And I am fairly certain that even my novice editing skills could have improved the movie by slicing and dicing about 20-30 minutes off the run time in order to help the pacing.  But still, it is a worthy finale to the Dark Knight trilogy and should be an extremely popular stocking stuffer this holiday season.  B+

Finding Nemo

Rated G
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

Surprisingly, this immensely famous Pixar film has never seen a blu-ray release.  I’m slightly shocked that Disney didn’t put one out last year knowing they could release again after the 3D theatrical run, and get more folks waste more cash to buy the newest edition.  Thankfully they chose to just give it a huge release now and it is stuffed with great extras new and previous.  But more importantly, the film is simply gorgeous in hi-def.  Watching Marlin and Dory on their fantastic journey to find little Nemo has never looked or sounded as good at home.  And while I’m not a big fan of many of the home 3D presentations, this one does utilize its after-market 3D effects well.  A

East Bound and Down: The Complete Third Season

Available on DVD and Blu-ray

In this third and most likely final season of HBO’s hit show, former major-league pitcher Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) is now back in America pitching for the minors in Myrtle Beach.  Cocky and dumb as ever, Kenny finds himself left alone with his baby he just found out about and breaks every record possible for worst father of the year.  This last season is much stronger than the second but also much darker.  And they even saved the best episode of the show for last reaching new heights for stupidity and reckless behavior.  B+ 

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season Two
Available on Blu-ray

Comicon lovers everywhere are jonesing for this newest blu-ray release of the adventures of Captain Jean-Luc Picard and gang in their second season  aboard The Enterprise on their mission to go where no one has gone before.  The production design of the show is solid, but the difference between this hi-def presentation and the dvd isn’t overly noticeable.  Still, the new set will make many fans very happy not just because of the presentation but also because of the amount of geektastic special features included.  B