2012 in Cinema: From Best to Worst
"You can't build cover stories around a movie that doesn't exist. You need a script, you need a producer. "
Gone Baby Gone and The Town were enough to establish Ben Affleck as a superlative director, but Argo verifies that he's a filmmaking force to be reckoned with. What we have here is a godsend of a motion picture; a smart, riveting old-fashioned thriller which conveys a fascinating true story in a spellbinding fashion. Maintaining a remarkable tonal balance, Argo is a relevant history lesson, a nail-biting suspense movie, a knowing satirical send-up of the Hollywood movie business, and a celebration of what's possible in the unlikely event of incredible governmental cooperation. While Argo may ostensibly look to be a boring, talky political drama, it's far more skilful. The movie's biggest success is that it's never boring; Affleck tells this tale in an undeniably engrossing fashion, through great screenwriting and filmmaking, and with great actors.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3201230">here
"Lucas, look at this place. They're so busy in here. You get to go and do something. Go help people. You're good at it."
Due to the efforts of Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay, cinema-goers are accustomed to seeing images of mass disaster, to the point that we have become desensitised to destruction and perceive it as innocuous entertainment. But prepare yourselves, because director Juan Antonio Bayona's The Impossible will scare the living daylights out of you. A horrifyingly vivid dramatisation of the Boxing Day 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami disaster, the movie is a harrowing reminder of the reality of real-life disasters. This is only Bayona's second feature film after 2007's The Orphanage, but the filmmaker has hit it out of the park, working with a perfectly balanced script courtesy of Sergio G. Sánchez who based the film on an amazing true-life story of one family who survived the tragedy. It's a tale ripe for motion picture treatment, as it's almost too unbelievable to be true and it reinforces the determination of the human spirit.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3728561">here
"Ma-Ma is not the law... I am the law."
Created in 1977 by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, Brit cult comic book character Judge Dredd was last seen on the big screen in 1995 for the Disney-produced, campy Sylvester Stallone vehicle simply titled Judge Dredd. Although the Stallone picture is fun in a "so bad it's good" way, it was a total misfire, flopping at the box office and earning disdain from Dredd's comic book creators. It took a while, but a group of filmmakers have finally endeavoured to try again, and it's a different beast entirely. Written by Alex Garland, 2012's Dredd sticks closer to its source material, aiming for a grittier, darker depiction of Mega-City One and its most infamous Judge. Dredd is supremely entertaining and skilful, a kinetic action fiesta which manages to properly introduce Judge Dredd and his world in cinematic terms. This is 2012's premiere action film - it's easily on the same level as classic sci-fi masterpieces like The Terminator and RoboCop.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3195988">here
"My dear Frodo, you asked me once if I had told you everything there was to know about my adventures. Well, I can honestly say I've told you the truth, I may not have told you all of it."
Following up Peter Jackson's groundbreaking The Lord of the Rings trilogy with a film adaptation of The Hobbit was always going to be a tricky proposition. Whereas The Lord of the Rings is a dense, dark and mature fantasy epic, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit is a children's book with a light tone and a simplistic narrative. Hence, any fans of Jackson's trilogy expecting The Hobbit to be similarly gritty and expansive will be disappointed. Plus, you will need to accept the fact that The Hobbit was never going to be as good as LOTR - Jackson's Rings was a once-in-a-lifetime achievement that can never be equalled or topped in terms of sheer excellence, charm or emotional impact. If you can suitably adjust your expectations, however, 2012's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a solid return to Middle-earth; a damn good fantasy adventure that's funny, fun and visually succulent.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3477005">here
"Once more into the fray. Into the last good fight I'll ever know. Live and die on this day. Live and die on this day."
The Grey is a far better, more thoughtful movie than its misleading marketing campaign promised. With Liam Neeson in the lead and trailers promising a roller-coaster action ride, it looked as if we were essentially in for Taken with wolves in Alaska. However, The Grey is of a different ballpark of action movie - it's a film concerned with character and tension, sturdily fusing drama and nail-biting thrills to terrific effect. It's also gritty and grounded; a chilling study of survival which spends its time examining the behaviour of distressed people thrown into extraordinary circumstances. Director Joe Carnahan may have failed with 2010's misfire The A-Team, but we've clearly been underestimating this guy, as the level of maturity and skill he displays here promises Carnahan a spot among Hollywood's elite.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/2087365">here
"I'm drawing a line in the fucking sand. Do NOT read the Latin!"
The Cabin in the Woods is an exceptionally hard motion picture to review. Audaciously unique, it's highly recommended that you seek to watch this movie at the earliest opportunity...but I can't tell you the exact reasons why. When you watch Cabin, you should be completely oblivious and without any idea about what to expect. This review will be very light on spoilers, but I recommend you watch the movie before reading the rest of what I have to say. Trust me, you need to get The Cabin in the Woods in front of your eyes as quickly as humanly possible. The directorial debut for Drew Goddard (Cloverfield scribe) who penned the screenplay with Joss Whedon, this is a smart film which reinvigorates stale slasher archetypes whilst always remaining engaging and amusing.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/2906627">here
"There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people, so when we needed them, they could fight the battles that we never could..."
At long last, Marvel have pulled it off. Four years after Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk entered cinemas to signal the beginning of an effort to establish a connected cinematic universe of Marvel superheroes, The Avengers - the ultimate endpoint that Marvel was working towards all along - is finally upon us. It arrived with the burden of a number of excellent movies signposting its eventual arrival on top of the decades of comic book history, yet the film was in safe hands with self-professed geek Joss Whedon serving as writer-director. Bringing his unparalleled talent for witty dialogue and character dynamics to the project, Whedon has defied the odds and delivered the ultimate summer spectacle. With more smarts than the Transformers franchise and some of the most breathtaking action sequences in years, fanboys can rest assured that The Avengers is worth both the wait and the hype.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/2339872">here
"Time travel has not yet been invented. But thirty years from now, it will have been."
Following in the footsteps of Source Code and The Adjustment Bureau, 2012's Looper is a science fiction film with welcome intelligence and originality, more concerned with conceptual innovation and clean storytelling than CGI or action overload. With Rian Johnson (Brick) behind the film, this is exactly the type of sci-fi production we always hope for, but have learned to stop expecting after so many years of soulless sci-fi drivel. In short, Looper is a masterpiece; a popcorn film with brains, an indie sensibility, a top-tier cast, and some great action set-pieces. Released in the same year that begat the abominable Total Recall remake, this powerfully brilliant production is a goddamn miracle.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3068607">here
"Three months ago, you lost the drive containing the identity of every agent embedded in terrorist organizations across the globe."
In the case of Daniel Craig's James Bond adventures, third time really is a charm. After 2006's Casino Royale and the dismal misfire that was Quantum of Solace, the producers behind the 007 franchise have finally got it right for 2012's Skyfall. This is a sensational return to form for the long-running series, an extremely satisfying Bond-buster which reincorporates traditional James Bond attributes while updating the character for the 21st Century. Skyfall is the movie that the Craig reboot has been building to since the beginning, at last developing a new identity for the series that mixes the old and the new in an agreeable fashion. Directed by the Oscar-winning Sam Mendes, the picture is rousing fun as well; it's visually gorgeously, exciting, and has a great story. Added to this, Skyfall is surprisingly deep and thoughtful.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3264889">here
"A king has his reign, and then he dies. It's inevitable."
In the hands of any other filmmakers, a prequel to Alien would have likely yielded a stale rehash of the franchise's established elements within a generic PG-13 action-adventure. But director Ridley Scott had other plans, and the result is 2012's Prometheus: an invigoratingly original story set within the Alien universe. To merely call Prometheus an Alien prequel is very misleading, as writers Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts (with input from Scott) have created a majestic science fiction epic which stands alone as an independent entity while further contributing to the mythology behind the Alien series. Added to this, Prometheus is refreshingly dark and adult sci-fi with more on its mind than cheap thrills. This is a cerebral blockbuster; it's unafraid to pose thought-provoking questions about mankind's origins while also finding time for visceral horror.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/2547796">here
"Right now we are alive and in this moment I swear we are infinite."
When The Perks of Being a Wallflower was first being planned for the big screen, John Hughes was to mastermind the adaptation of Stephen Chbosky's best-selling book, and make his triumphant filmmaking comeback. It's easy to see why Hughes was attracted to the material, as Chbosky himself was inspired by movies like The Breakfast Club while writing the source novel. Rather than an American high school sex comedy, this is a poignant dramedy through-and-through, with relatable characters and heavy thematic undercurrents. It's funny, but it's also hugely touching, and doesn't play out exactly as you might expect.
It's unfortunate that Hughes passed before helming the project, but Chbosky's big-screen treatment of his novel is nevertheless a home run. It's very rare to see the author of a book not only script but also direct, and it's a gamble which pays off. Occasionally his inexperience is obvious in a few rough edges, but for the most part Wallflower is a competent effort, moving at a satisfyingly brisk pace and backed by a delightful soundtrack of great songs. Chbosky stages a number of great set-pieces here, including a few scenes spotlighting the main characters acting out moments of The Rocky Horror Picture Show as the movie plays behind them. Any fans of Rocky Horror (this reviewer included) will get an extra special kick out of it.
Young actor Logan Lerman shows he has genuine chops here, and he's surrounded by a magnificent supporting cast. Ezra Miller is a particular standout as the flamboyant Patrick, while Emma Watson brings beauty, vulnerability and believability to her critical role. Also of note is Paul Rudd, who's good in anything. It's such a fantastic cast, and they drive the story with skill. Wallflower is mostly a coming-of-age tale, but it leads in unexpected directions into its second half, and though it deals with romance, the relationships seen here are turbulent and unpredictable, which is very relatable. John Hughes would be proud.
"Master Bruce. You set off the alarm, sir. This somnambulism is becoming a problem especially for those of us with a penchant for sleeping at night."
For over twenty years, comic fans have yearned for a film adaptation of Frank Miller's 1986 four-issue miniseries The Dark Knight Returns, which has long been considered a vital, iconic part of comic book history. Although a live-action adaptation is yet to be produced, it's hard to complain about the quality of 2012's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1, a straight-to-video animated production from Warner Bros. Animation. A constituent of the long-running DC Comics animated universe, this is an impressive, lavishly-produced feature which manages to do the groundbreaking comic book justice. While there are a few issues here and there, Part 1 is a satisfying rendering of Miller's celebrated work, with impressively stylised animation, a superb voice cast, brutal fight scenes, and an enthrallingly dark atmosphere.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/5128700">here
"in theory, if bin Laden isn't there, you can sneak away and no one will be the wiser. But bin Laden is there. And you're going to kill him for me."
There is little doubt that the story behind the killing of Osama bin Laden will be told and retold across multiple motion pictures in the years to come. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, 2012's Zero Dark Thirty is the first cinematic retelling of the event, and it's such an enthralling and well-made feature film that there's probably no point making another movie covering the same ground. Zero Dark Thirty - which is a reference to the military term for half past midnight, when bin Laden's compound was stormed - is an absorbing account of the meticulous investigation to find the suspected terrorist, and it will prove to be a gratifying watch for anyone with the patience to stick with it. The real strength of Bigelow's film is its plausibility; without exaggerating the truth, Bigelow has created one hell of a potboiler, a classy, gritty, dense and sumptuous thriller welcomely free of melodrama.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3815789">here
"I am the president of the United States of America, clothed in immense power! You will procure me those votes!"
A restrained historical drama, 2012's Lincoln is a motion picture that reawakens old-school Steven Spielberg, finding the veteran filmmaker treading similar thematic ground to 1997's Amistad. The movie was actually a long time coming, with Spielberg expressing interest in an Abraham Lincoln feature in the 1990s and with DreamWorks securing the rights to Doris Kearns Goodwin's popular novel Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln in 2001. Working from a script by Munich screenwriter and acclaimed playwright Tony Kushner, Lincoln is a refreshing piece of work, one of the most accessible yet sophisticated political films in recent memory. It's an intimate yet majestic film about the towering historical figure, and it manages to be respectful but not maudlin or adoring. In short, it's a fine film, directed with a sure hand by Spielberg and superbly written by Kushner, and it features Daniel Day-Lewis who's a heroically enthralling Lincoln.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3782569">here
"Nobody could've landed that plane like I did."
Though Robert Zemeckis has spent the last decade dabbling in motion-capture and animation, his skills as a live-action director have not diminished in the slightest. Returning to live-action for the first time since Cast Away, 2012's Flight is one of Zemeckis' most thematically heavy, dark and outright dramatic picture in years, dabbling in R-rated territory (an area very rarely explored by the filmmaker) as he deals with addiction and the grim side of humanity in an uncompromising fashion. Due to this, Flight is not an especially pleasurable viewing experience, and movie-goers expecting fluffy entertainment should look elsewhere. Nonetheless, this is a competently-produced and superbly acted motion picture which deserves to be seen by a wide audience.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3824211">here
"Track 'em, find 'em, kill 'em."
Though this reviewer was a fan of Sylvester Stallone's 2010 film The Expendables, it was a rough-around-the-edges experiment which failed to take full advantage of its potential. Looking back, it's best perceived as a warm-up. The Expendables 2 is the real deal: the sequel we wanted and the Expendables film we deserved. At last, Stallone hath delivered on the original promise of a cheesy, over-the-top tongue-in-cheek action picture which revives the macho spirit of the '80s for an hour-and-a-half of awesome mayhem. It's a hare-brained blockbuster to be sure, but its infectious sense of fun never wanes, and you'll be grinning from ear to ear for the entire film. The Expendables 2 is junk food cinema done correctly.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/2893836">here
"What the hell...I'm gonna enjoy what's left of the summer."
Now this is how you make a proper action-thriller! Get the Gringo (a.k.a. How I Spent My Summer Vacation) is one hell of a film; a stripped-down, gritty actioner reminiscent of the kind of dark, no-nonsense thrillers we saw back in the '70s and '80s. With so many glossy, CGI-laden blockbusters hitting screens these days, it's invigorating to see Mel Gibson - who grows more badass with each passing year - doing what he does best in his first true action-thriller since 1998's Payback. Gibson may be controversial, but those who are open-minded enough to watch Get the Gringo will be rewarded with a visceral, lively motion picture featuring Gibson back at the top of his game.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/2543926">here
"Pulling a trigger is like ordering takeout."
Directed by the Welsh-born Gareth Evans, The Raid is an elegantly simple, pared-down, back-to-basics action movie. And it's awesome. A vicious showcase of shootouts and severe bodily trauma from Indonesia, The Raid is a pure adrenaline rush destined to become a manly action classic with its insane battles and jaw-dropping moments of violence. The movie has received a lot of hype and attention since hitting film festivals in 2011, and it's easy to see why - it's one of the most insane and inventive action flicks in years, with its straightforward storyline providing an effective excuse for an ultraviolent joyride the likes of which we rarely see.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3237971">here
"It is our job to protect the children of the world. For as long as they believe in us, we will guard them with our lives..."
Movie-goers have understandably grown weary of holiday-themed motion pictures released during the lead-up to Christmas, a time when studios believe that audiences are in the mood for cheap and nasty festive distractions aimed at the lowest common denominator. Rise of the Guardians, however, is a completely different beast, as indicated by the fact that it's executive produced by Guillermo del Toro. Based on the Guardians of Childhood book series by William Joyce, Rise of the Guardians boasts a premise bound to make every screenwriter in Hollywood wonder how they didn't think of it first: uniting holiday icons and childhood folklore figures for an Avengers-style team-up movie. The resultant picture is a magnificent fantasy experience permeated with imagination which reworks familiar icons in a satisfying fashion. It carries a harder edge than expected, yet it's entirely suitable for children, with its adventurous plot giving rise to excitement aplenty. The flick could have been a numbing kiddie fare, but it's much more audacious.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3378771">here
"Although I am but one man, I have thousands of brothers and sisters who are the same as me. They will lay down their lives for me and I them. We stand watch together. The thin-blue-line, protecting the prey from the predators, the good from the bad. We are the police."
End of Watch was written and directed by David Ayer, who has spent his entire filmmaking career exhibiting a keen interest in exploring the inner workings of the Los Angeles police department. In the past, Ayer wrote such films as SWAT, Training Day and Dark Blue, and directed Street Kings and Harsh Times. However, End of Watch is arguably Ayer's greatest achievement to date. Using the popular found footage aesthetic, the film provides a realistic, gritty portrayal of both the danger and tedium of police work.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3390475">here
"Nikki's waiting for me to get in shape and get my life back together. Then we're going to be together."
Although it's a tad overrated in some circles, Silver Linings Playbook is a fine piece of filmmaking engineered by acclaimed director David O. Russell, whose 2010 feature The Fighter earned him a few Oscars and a truckload of box office dollars. Here, Russell fundamentally melds the screwball comedy of I Heart Huckabees with the dramatics and the uplifting disposition of The Fighter, and it's a concoction that works. Written by Russell himself, Silver Linings Playbook is an adaptation of Matthew Quick's novel of the same name. It's a story which deals with the delicate subject of mental illness in a respectful fashion, and it manages to alternate between poignant and light-hearted with a sure hand. Best of all, it's not a pretentious art-house production but rather an accessible motion picture with heart and laughs.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3927871">here
"We've gotta get this dog off the street 'cause it's kidnapped from a maniac."
Although trailers have tried to portray Seven Psychopaths as an oddball mainstream comedy with a large all-star cast, the actual movie is a violent, uniquely peculiar black comedy that rejects mainstream sensibilities. Irish playwright Martin McDonagh's second feature film after his 2008 masterpiece In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths is more in the vein of a Coen Brothers flick, with razor-sharp, witty dialogue and vicious violence buttressing a story about criminals and killers in a hectic world. With most every major studio release these days being a remake, a sequel, a prequel or an adaptation of a pre-existing source, it's refreshing to witness something like Seven Psychopaths; an audaciously original motion picture which plays with genre conventions and conveys a creative, multilayered narrative. It's not quite as good as In Bruges, but it's a remarkable sophomore effort for McDonagh.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3282765">here
"If you wanna perform for the brothers in Vietnam, you gotta give 'em soul!"
In the tradition of films like Red Dog, 2012's The Sapphires is a sweet, entertaining Aussie feature destined to win the hearts and minds of the Australian movie-going public. On a basic level, the film is best described as an amalgam of Cool Runnings and Dreamgirls with an ocker twist, all set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. Directed by Aboriginal actor Wayne Blair, the movie is an adaptation of the stage show of the same name by Tony Briggs (which actually starred Blair). Briggs based his show on the experiences of his mother, who was part of an all-Aboriginal singing group which toured Vietnam to entertain the soldiers during the late 1960s. What's so great about The Sapphires is that it's not afraid to touch upon the racial issues of the turbulent period within a dramatic story, yet the film possesses a marvellous sense of fun; it's sassy, breezy and frequently side-splitting. Not to mention, the soundtrack is outstanding.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/2854487">here
"Everything will be all right in the end... if it's not all right then it's not the end."
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is an utter delight. Here is a satisfying comedy unafraid to have a heart and a brain, and it has no interest in toilet humour or cheap gags. It's one for the mature crowd, as it earns lots of belly-laughs through genuine wit and doesn't shy away from the inherent dramatic elements of its story. Based on Deborah Moggach's novel These Foolish Things, director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) has given this picture a warm tea-and-biscuits type of charm, rendering it suitable for older, more cynical moviegoers probably disenchanted with today's filmic landscape. Add to this an all-star British cast including the likes of Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a film you cannot miss. Anyone of any age will have fun with it.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/2218572">here
"Thunder buddies for life, right, Johnny?"
Ted is the feature film debut of writer/director/star Seth MacFarlane, who's best known for his hit television show Family Guy. It's hardly surprising, then, that the film bears a notable resemblance to long-running cartoon series, as MacFarlane retained his proclivity for toilet humour, non-sequiturs, one-liners, obscure movie references and pop culture shout-outs. Luckily, Ted is also sharper and wittier than most recent Family Guy episodes, resulting in a comedy that's, for lack of better word, fucking hilarious. Furthermore, the film is based around an inventive central premise. Calling upon his incisive writing instincts, MacFarlane here deconstructs one of the most tiresome comedy plots of recent years - the "decent young guy held back from maturity by a churlish best friend or a cherished toy from his childhood" plot - by taking it to its logical symbolic extreme: the boorish best friend is actually the beloved childhood toy. By doing this, MacFarlane snarkily addresses the "What happens next" question of every "boy and his magical buddy" movie ranging from E.T. to Pete's Dragon.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/2645531">here
"The symbol is associated with a Pagan deity named Baghuul... He consumes the souls of the human children."
Let's not mince words here: Sinister scared the fucking shit out of me, and that is not an accolade I hand out lightly. It's rare to stumble upon a truly scary movie in this day and age; the horror genre has grown stale of late, with filmmakers constantly wasting our time with predictable jump scares and poor attempts at tension. 2012's Sinister is a diamond in the rough, an authentically terrifying low-budget horror gem that puts to shame 99% of horror movies released in the last decade. Directed in the classical style by Scott Derrickson - who made a huge impression in 2005 with his breakthrough chiller The Exorcism of Emily Rose - the film is of a rare breed that burrows under the skin and haunts you for days.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3321437">here
"We've gotta find some proof that Madeline O'Malley really exists before this place closes down..."
Ti West made a splash on the horror scene with the release of his 2009 shocker House of the Devil; a retro throwback to '80s horror pictures. West is recognised for his "slow burn" approach to the genre, though the style did not work so well for The House of the Devil, which ultimately ended up being uneventful and forgettable. Thankfully, West has improved tremendously since his earlier effort, and The Innkeepers is one of the most chilling and memorable horror movies of the year. Whereas The House of the Devil was an '80s horror movie homage, The Innkeepers harkens back to films like The Shining and Rosemary's Baby, though the film feels fresh and unique rather than derivative. A spooky ghost story, West's picture is engrossing and insanely atmospheric, mixing old-fashioned slow-burning horror cues with thrills that grow more intense as time goes by. Add to this a few likeable protagonists, and The Innkeepers is a home run.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3226561">here
"I will never find a Hitchcock blonde as beautiful as you."
Any cinema lover worth their salt has watched Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho more than once, but it's doubtful that many are actually aware of the story behind its creation. Based on Stephen Rebello's non-fiction book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, director Sacha Gervasi's Hitchcock is an engrossing biopic which delves into the professional and personal life of the Master of Suspense with colourful zest. Although it contains a few re-enactments of on-set activities, Gervasi's flick is predominantly focused on Hitchcock's relationships with the people around him. It's not quite the masterpiece it had the potential to be, but Hitchcock is an acutely enjoyable film and a treat for anyone who loves movies.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3602222">here
"You ever hear of Joe Cooper? He's a cop. A detective actually. He's got a little business on the side."
It's been forty years since filmmaker William Friedkin tested the boundaries of what's acceptable in modern cinema with his 1973 horror opus The Exorcist. Friedkin's Killer Joe (finished in 2011 but released last year) finds the director back in this territory, mounting a controversial NC-17-rated thriller which shows that the director still has a talent for the lurid. Killer Joe was written by Tracy Letts, who adapted his own stage play for the screen and who worked with Friedkin on 2006's polarising Bug. Sleazy and engaging, this is more or less a contemporary film noir in the vein of Double Indemnity, yet it's also something of a black comedy, though Friedkin's own descriptor "black hole comedy" is perhaps more apt. Full of vile moments and repulsive characters, the film is a punishing viewing experience from time to time, but it benefits from exemplary technical credits and sublime acting, with Matthew McConaughey front and centre delivering his best performance in years.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3655471">here
"It's hard to love your job when no one else seems to like you for doing it..."
The marketing campaign for Wreck-It Ralph painted this Disney animated flick as one big party for aging video game nerds, a story brimming with references and inside jokes that outsiders won't understand. Luckily, the resultant picture will appeal to wide audiences, as it strikes a great balance between fan service and highly satisfying moviemaking. The reason why Wreck-It Ralph works is because it's a lively movie which tells a wonderful story with well-realised characters, not because Q*Bert cameos here. What's notable about Wreck-It Ralph is that it may be perceived as just another video game flick, but it's more about the world of video game characters as a whole. And the movie is imbued with so much creativity and visual wit that one could be fooled into believing this to be a Pixar production.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3677374">here
"I'm the one who's going to make your life real difficult if you don't tow the line, country boy."
Screenwriter Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat collaborated for the exceptional Aussie western The Proposition back in 2005, and Lawless reunites these two boundlessly talented professionals for another historical drama drenched in violence. Similar to The Proposition in terms of tone and brutality, Lawless is an adaptation of Matt Bondurant's historical novel about the illegal bootlegging activities carried out by Bondurant's grandfather and granduncles in Franklin County during the Great Depression. Bondurant's novel was entitled The Wettest County in the World, referring to Franklin County's Prohibition-era nickname which was given due to the substantial amount of illegal alcohol production that occurred despite the Volstead Act.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3131162">here
"They cry, they plead, they beg, they piss themselves, they cry for their mothers. It gets embarrassing. I like to kill 'em softly. From a distance."
Director Andrew Dominik's third feature film after Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 2012's Killing Them Softly is a brutal tale of mob politics based on George V. Higgins' 1974 novel Cogan's Trade. On top of being a gritty gangster picture, the film provides a thoughtful commentary on America's current political and economical climate. Indeed, Dominik highlights that the mob and the government are in fact very similar, though neither party is prepared to admit it. For those unwilling to pay full attention and engage their brain, Killing Them Softly may be ultimately unsatisfying, as it asks more of you than a routine shoot-'em-up. While the film is maddening from time to time, it does contain a number of inspired moments, and it's rich with atmosphere and nuance.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3120449">here
"We're in love. We just want to be together. What's wrong with that?"
Yet another remarkable feather in Wes Anderson's cinematic hat, 2012's Moonrise Kingdom is an enormously lovely adventure which pays homage to classic children's books. This is the director's second screenplay co-written by Roman Coppola (after 2007's The Darjeeling Limited), and it fervidly incorporates Anderson's key idiosyncrasies. Of course, some viewers will never find themselves able to embrace Anderson's distinctively quirky moviemaking style, but his fans will undoubtedly find Moonrise Kingdom to be enrapturing. Furthermore, Anderson proves he's not a one-trick pony by bringing something new to table with this film; a mainstream accessibility achieved not through dumbing down his vision, but through refining it. Moonrise Kingdom is possibly the perfect Wes Anderson movie, as it encapsulates his values and exhibits his gift for visual flair.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3310186">here
"I am an Apex Predator. Does the lion feel bad killing the gazelle? Do people feel remorse when they kill a fly?"
Chronicle is yet another addition to the "found footage" subgenre, following on in the tradition of The Blair Witch Project and the Paranormal Activity series whereby movies claim to be authentic footage captured by real people. We've seen horror films and monster movies done in such a style, so Chronicle does something different: it presents a trademark found footage spin on the superhero genre. Produced for a scant $12 million, this is a creative, well-made little gem which doesn't overlook the importance of storytelling and character. See, more than just a brainless blockbuster about superheroes, Chronicle is a story about the fragile nature of teenage minds and the friendships we form during high school years. Freshman director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis demonstrate an astute understanding of these issues, giving the film a tremendous emotional boost not often seen in superhero movies.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/2078404">here
"What the hell did you do, kid?"
2012's Safe is a Jason Statham action vehicle in the truest sense, and in no way is that a bad thing. It delivers all the elements we've come to expect from The Stath's movies - including shootouts, fisticuffs, and cheesy one-liners - but what's surprising about Safe is how genuinely skilful it is. It falls short of revolutionising the genre, yet this material fits Statham's limited acting range like a glove, resulting in a proficient blast of thrilling action mayhem which deftly energises its standard-order plot constituents. It's a barebones B-movie, but writer-director Boaz Yakin refused to fall victim to the pitfalls of similar efforts, showing a clear understanding in how to excel in the art of cinematic junk food without denying his target audience the simple pleasures that they demand. For action junkies looking for something to satiate their desire for brutal beat downs and exhilarating gun battles, Safe is the cup of manic machismo they'll go gaga for.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/2470708">here
"You are here because you some Justin Beaver, Miley Cirus lookin' motherfuckers."
Are you a fan of the old 21 Jump Street television show expecting this new film to be a respectful revamp? If so, stay far, far away from 2012's 21 Jump Street. Outside of the title and the basic premise of cops going undercover in a high school, this film has nothing in common with the old TV series as it adopts a completely different tone and spirit. The film exists in the same continuity as its predecessor, but it's a vehemently R-rated affair with a new slate of profane characters and a modern comedic sensibility. And surprisingly, it actually works, especially with the film evoking meta undertones as it raises some hilarious hell. See, the picture may seem like a flimsy excuse for filmmakers to steal ideas behind an old brand in lieu of original thinking, but 21 Jump Street subverts this by actually acknowledging its own derivative nature.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/2252896">here
"Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future."
Cloud Atlas has been one of the most polarising motion pictures of recent years, and it's easy to see why. Running at nearly three hours in length, the word "ambitious" is an understatement when it comes to describing the movie, which is the result of a collaboration between Andy and Lana Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer. It's overlong and flawed in ways difficult to ignore, yet it's a compelling sit benefitting from powerhouse visuals and a solid selection of actors, not to mention its multitude of stories keeps the picture feeling fresh and interesting across its mammoth duration. It's definitely a challenging movie though, as we're asked to pay careful attention to the various plot-lines which are meticulously interwoven. It is definitely difficult to follow, but this makes repeat viewings more gratifying.
The picture is based on the acclaimed, best-selling 2004 novel by David Mitchell, which is often described as unfilmable. Perhaps it is, but Cloud Atlas is a valiant effort nevertheless, particularly excelling with its visual design. The elegant $100 million budget yields a gorgeous-looking picture, with each different story given its own aesthetic with heroically detailed sets and costumes. The make-up is often astounding as well, though some of the make-up effects look a tad hammy. Although it does feel rather long, there's something rewarding about seeing a movie with this much integrity, working to build lived-in worlds and fully-rounded characters, and retain an R-rating that's true to the material.
Cloud Atlas is a real experience, which definitely counts for something these days. It may be slow to start, but it gets better as it goes on, sliding into an agreeable groove and eventually soaring into its final act. It's a flawed endeavour, but it's magnificent to witness a movie like Cloud Atlas entering multiplexes in this day and age. Even though it was a box office flop, it's gratifying to know that this movie actually exists, and it deserves to be seen in spite of its shortcomings simply because of its integrity and ambitions. It's definitely one to watch multiple times, though if the proposition of sitting through this three-hour feature more than once seems daunting, that's a perfectly understandable reaction. All the more for me to enjoy.
"There's nothing wrong with being scared Norman, so long as you don't let it change who you are."
ParaNorman may be a PG-rated animation, but children are not the primary target audience for this motion picture. It's a stunning stop-motion effort which pays loving tribute to horror cinema, and it's surprisingly dark at times, concerning itself with zombies and witches. Indeed, it's a movie that will play best for the adults in the audience, as the kids will be unable to grasp all of the nuances of the script, and may find some of the sequences here too scarifying. All of this makes ParaNorman one of the most unexpectedly delightful animated movies in years, as it has a real sense of humour and tells an interesting story, and all without feeling the need to pander to the youngsters in the audience.
The visuals here are frankly astounding. ParaNorman was animated by Laika, the same studio who were responsible for 2009's unexpected gem Coraline, and they've improved their technique in the interim. The animation is insanely smooth and refined, with astonishing mouth and hair movement, yet it also reminds us of the charm of the stop-motion technique. Indeed, the characters have a tangible quality and seem to have a soul, and the movie feels more meticulous when bearing in mind how much effort went into every single frame. The 3-D effects are decent but wholly inessential, though they at least don't diminish the experience or make the picture too dark.
Although the subject matter is tastefully handled, the story is essentially about the lynching murder of a child, something which doesn't entirely sit right alongside the picture's other joys. While it's nice to see some smarts behind the zombies, this revelation is too harsh. Still, none of this is enough to diminish the overall experience of ParaNorman, which is bolstered by an energetic voice cast and plenty of widescreen splendour. It's a smart animated movie with heart, and that ambition alone makes this endeavour worthy of your attention.
"Remember rule number one: you are responsible for your house guest. I'm your house guest."
Safe House is a familiar-feeling action yarn about conspiracy, corruption and splintered idealism, essentially a grab-bag of elements from various recent spy thrillers. It's bolstered, though, by a strong cast and a director who has infused the clichéd narrative with immense energy and verve. With that said, though, Safe House is merely a good actioner which had the potential to achieve greatness. It's a lot of fun while locked in adrenaline-pumping mode, yet the picture grinds to a halt whenever its attention is turned to the standard-order political mumbo jumbo. Indeed, the film evidently believes that it's more intelligent than it is.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/2047493">here
"You think I'm a hero? I am not a hero. And if you're smart, that scares you. Because I have nothing to lose."
2012's Jack Reacher is not the type of film that most people will be expecting. Marketed as a pure action fiesta, movie-goers will likely watch the film anticipating an unofficial Mission: Impossible sequel featuring Tom Cruise the generic action hero. But, as those familiar with Lee Child's Jack Reacher books will be aware, the movie is in fact a mystery/thriller more concerned with intrigue and plot twists than outright violence. Though it falls short of its potential, Jack Reacher is a fun, handsomely mounted flick which delivers wholesome escapist thriller entertainment the likes of which we only occasionally see done well (it's a lot better than Alex Cross).
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3556675">here
"Science is not good or bad, Victor. But it can be used both ways. That is why you must always be careful."
t's all the more refreshing to watch 2012's Frankenweenie in the wake of the big-budget flop Dark Shadows, a soap opera adaptation which found Tim Burton at his laziest and most self-indulgent. By separating Burton from Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, and by electing a painstaking stop-motion animation approach, this is old-fashioned Burton in every sense of the word, especially since Frankenweenie is a feature-length expansion of the director's own 1984 short movie of the same name. It's not an instant classic, but it samples Burton's magic more than any of his films since Sweeney Todd, making it highly enjoyable family-friendly viewing that runs at an agreeable pace.
The artistry of Frankenweenie cannot be overstated. Animated over many, many months by an army of animators, the frame-by-frame lensing process is hugely impressive, yielding a level of effortless smoothness that surpasses all of Burton's similar endeavours. The imagery is distinctly Burton-esque, making for a beautifully surreal experience, and the use of actual puppets and models gives the visuals a tangible quality that CGI just is not able to replicate. And the 3-D is breathtaking, exhibiting magnificent depth and dimensionality in every single shot. It's easy to become wholly immersed in the experience, of which every frame bursts with visual splendour.
Screenwriter John August uses Burton's short merely as a jumping off point, reworking the premise to flesh out all story developments and give focus to an array of colourful supporting characters. It also retains the type of messages present in the original Frankenstein text regarding science, bestowing the material with welcome sophistication and thoughtfulness. Above all of this, the movie works because of the sense of love and earnestness which pervades it. There is some wonderful macabre humour here, but also plenty of sincerity -- not just sincerity for the classic horrors that are being referenced, but also for the characters and the plot. It still feels like family-friendly entertainment and it lacks the maturity of a Pixar effort, but Frankenweenie is nevertheless a joy.
"If you go looking for Deveraux, he'll find you first."
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is a different film to what most people will be anticipating. It may feature franchise mainstays Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, but it's a unique beast altogether, defying expectations to take the Universal Soldier series in unexpected directions. It's completely removed from the tone and intent of 1992's original Universal Soldier, replacing light-hearted summertime escapism with Heart of Darkness-style madness carrying a sinister tone. Isn't it astonishing that, after two TV movies and a terrible theatrical sequel in the 90s, the once tattered Universal Soldier franchise has now been resurrected with panache?
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3578945">here
"I believe the most rational mind can play tricks in the dark."
Based on the 1980s novel of the same name by Susan Hill, The Woman in Black is one of the most old-fashioned horror movies in recent memory. Horror filmmakers have grown distinctly lazier in the past decade or so, relying more on cheap jump scares and/or gratuitous gore in lieu of mood, atmosphere, scares and story. Thus, a movie like The Woman in Black is particularly welcome, as it focuses on these old-fashioned characteristics. Though it does have its flaws, it reminds us that, when done well, retro-style horror can effectively raise the hairs on the back of your neck. It may be a remake (the story was previously adapted into both a long-running stage play and an ITV-produced telemovie), but screenwriter Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) and director James Watkins (Eden Lake) executed the picture with genuine style and flair, two things often missing in contemporary horror.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/2699265">here
"Welcome To Hotel Transylvania!"
Although the very concept of a CGI animated feature was once considered novel and special, we've reached the point of utter over-saturation. 2012's Hotel Transylvania looked like just another unremarkable kiddie fare at first glance, but thankfully it's a lot more fun than anyone had a right to expect. Directed by TV veteran Genndy Tartakovsky (creator of The Powerpuff Girls), the picture bursts with brilliant visual inventiveness, and the inherent silliness and quirkiness of the enterprise won this reviewer over by the end. It's not the best animated movie you'll ever see as its attempts at depth come off as half-hearted and perfunctory, but I laughed consistently and never felt bored. It's also more creative than most other pictures of this ilk. It's a good fun movie which kids will love and adults will not need to simply endure. Adam Sandler should only do animated movies from now on.
Cop thrillers are a dime a dozen these days, with most relegated to the direct-to-DVD realm while only a select few are actually deemed good enough for theatrical distribution. With both TV shows and motion pictures exploring the same type of cops-and-criminals content, the genre has no more novelty to it. Which is perhaps the biggest issue facing 2012's The Sweeney, director Nick Love's modern-day adaptation of the cop show of the same name from the 1970s. However, it's not all bad. Having never seen the original show, I cannot comment on the quality of the adaptation, but Love's movie actually works as its own standalone entity. In keeping with Outlaw and The Football Factory, The Sweeney exhibits Love's penchant for big-screen machismo, with violence, action, macho posturing and profanity aplenty. As long as you're not expecting an Oscar-worthy masterpiece which breathes fresh life into its genre, there's a lot to enjoy in this stylishly produced action-thriller.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/3860270">here
"If you had a chance to change your fate, would you?"
Though a definite improvement over the bitterly disappointing Cars 2, 2012's Brave is destined to be a polarising movie. While visually majestic and fun, it lacks the innovation and sophistication that Pixar is renowned for, leaving us with an enjoyable but formulaic effort that fails to linger or resonate. It's perfectly fine at surface level, but Brave is seldom remarkable, as the filmmakers were clearly more concerned with energy and fantasy than mature thematic density or humanity. This is the cruel paradox of Pixar: because they set the bar so high and established themselves as the pinnacle of animation excellence, a merely decent movie from the studio feels like a letdown. Brave isn't terrible - it's just not as good as one might want it to be. Call it the peril of high expectations.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/2633261">here
"Somehow history has been rewritten. There has to be a reason this is happening, and K seems to be in the centre of it..."
For all intents and purposes, Men in Black III should have been an utter catastrophe. Compounding the law of diminishing returns and the fact that it has been a decade since the poorly-received Men in Black II, production on the flick was troubled: cameras began rolling without a finished script, and filming started and stopped. Hell, Sony apparently considered just killing the movie on account of all the rewrites and filming breaks. It's therefore phenomenal how cohesive the finished movie is. If you were none the wiser, you would never assume that Men in Black III's journey from page to screen was so problematic, as its storytelling is astonishingly fluid. Surprisingly, too, MIB III is far better and more energetic than we had any right to expect. While it lacks the original film's spark of witty brilliance, this fun threequel does come close to matching the exuberance of the first Men in Black.
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/2482434">here
"Don't get me wrong. It's a dream vacation. I mean, I load up. I go into space. I get inside the maximum-security nuthouse. Save the President's daughter, if she's not dead already. Get past all the psychos who've just woken up. I'm thrilled that you would think of me."
"Get back to work!"
A vicious thriller originating from Australia, Redd Inc. (aka Inhuman Resources) isn't a picture for the faint of heart. Tonally reminiscent of Saw and Hostel, it's an unforgivably bleak movie, with director Daniel Krige making the most of his limited budget by keeping things confined in order to focus on tension and gory make-up. Miraculously, it's a more skilful flick than other recent torture porn features, benefiting from strong performances and convincing make-up effects supervised by none other than horror veteran Tom Savini (who worked on the original Dawn of the Dead and too many other films to mention).
Full review http://www.listal.com/viewentry/4695081">here
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