Review Roundup


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Minute reviews of more films I saw, but never reviewed this year

Sometimes I don’t get the chance to review every new film I see during the year. That’s the price of being a college student. Before I come out with my list for my favorite films of 2012, here are brief synopses of more of the films I saw in theaters this year that I never got a chance to write about. Enjoy!

Chronicle

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The “found footage” genre is a choppy style that usually consists of supernatural content that shakes and flips because the person whose holding the camera is always running from something. Chronicle, the latest feature from ­­­Josh Trank is a nice change-up because in this case, the main character has the ability to levitate his video camera and keep it still in midair.

The story takes place in a city suburb of Seattle, focusing on three friends Andrew, Matt, and Steve, who mysteriously are given telekinetic powers the night they head down a dark hole in an open field. They go below- some as high school hotshots and others, namely Andrew, as social pariahs- and come back connected in a very unique way.

That connection is their mind-controlling ability, an origin story unexplained in the movie but irrelevant to our logical stability. The point is, these kids have something pretty cool going on- talents that start as trivially as building lego towers without hands and munching on Pringles 5 at a time in the air. But they soon realize that their power is like a muscle, and the more they work it out, the stronger it becomes.

Their telekinesis incrementally becomes more powerful, and Andrew, played forcefully by Dane DeHaan becomes more daring with it. His father is abusive and mother is dying. No one pays him attention at school. His domestic rage builds and begins to mold his power into its destructive capabilities. What starts off as an innocent ability quickly transforms into a potentially disastrous weapon that if not controlled could be deadly. 4/5

Safety Not Guaranteed

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This summer’s indie film takes its title from the newspaper notice from its main character Kenneth (Mark Duplass). It reads: WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.

You can get a feeling for who this guy is, but then he appears on screen and your premonitions stay only somewhat true. He is taken up on his request for fun by a team of magazine writers, led by Jeff (Jake Johnson), but actually pursued by Darius (Aubrey Plaza). She, in her cynicism, becomes curiously attached to his scheming, and while Time Travel is their goal, the film’s trajectory is relational, not attached to Sci-fi truths, which gives the film so much life. Does time travel exist? It’s a question dealt with handily, with a lovely ending, that answers some questions and doesn’t all together. Duplass’s loving psychosis matches Plaza’s deadpan sarcasm and becomes one of this summer’s best tandems. 4/5

The Master

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Much has been made over Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, shot in beautiful 70mm, vaguely in reference to scientology, to cults, to confusion. It is hard to grasp, it is amazingly enticing, and at certain times is incomprehensible, which is why it is all together a masterful work of art. In its most simplistic form, the film follows a naval veteran Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix) back from war who falls under the spell of Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymore Hoffman), a cult leader in charge of The Cause, a self-professed religious movement.

Anderson, who also wrote the story, creates a film with such intimate characters. There may not be a scene in film this year more mesmerizing than the one between Lancaster and Freddie during their “processing,” an organic polygraph of sorts in which Lancaster inquires Freddie about his life. Phoenix is a caged animal, pacing back and forth, smashing objects in his personal cells. Lancaster is his master, but their relationship is more egalitarian, and Hoffman makes his bloated severity explode into fits of rage, thick overall, but fragile in his arguing. His wife (Amy Adams) is the secretive master of Lancaster, taking his prose as canon and holding him to it later. Its ambiguity is something worth the struggle. Sometimes a meditation does not have identifiable pieces. You can feel it more than understand it. 4/5

Looper

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Set in the year 2044, Joseph Gordon- Levitt stars as main character Joe, part of a select fraternity known as Loopers. They are assasins  with highly explosive short range guns hired by the mob from thirty years in the future. They dispose of the mob’s “waste,” people with bags over their heads sent back through time where a looper is waiting to blow them away.

Here’s the catch. Sometimes, the person being sent back in time is the older version of the looper himself. The punishment: they kill their future self, collect their pay, and live freely, knowing well aware they have exactly thirty years left to live.

Bruce Willis is Gordon Levitt’s older self and is sent back by the mob, ready to be killed by young Joe. But old Joe doesn’t have a bag over his head, looks his younger self straight in the eye, and escapes. This is a no-no in the looper world and both Joe’s are pursued by the mob’s middlemen. It’s an epic cat and mouse and characters weave throughout the Kansas City metropolis and country corn fields. This contrast is exemplified through the narrative as well, in which the second half of the film introduces us to Emily Blunt’s character and her mysterious son on her private farm house. They act as young Joe’s safe haven but have darker secrets that build to an unexpected climax.

What I love about this film is its ingenuity even with older sci-fi themes. Johnson creates a unique future, one in which class structures have polarized to extremes, where a highly stylized, clean and shiny galactic city is still an illusion. In this world, certain enhancements have developed technologically with hovering motorcycles, and physically, as certain humans have developed telekinetic powers, at a minimal level however. There is a lot of darkness and destruction, but also an ending that is sure to cause discussion long after its end. 4.5/5

 Seven Psychopaths

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Black comedy is a touchy subject and walks a precarious line of dark perversity or hollow violence. The latter is the case for Martin McDonough’s latest feature, which is somewhat surprising because his In Bruges tiptoed that line with such twisted heart.  This time, aside from a few nice performances, there is disconnect from the bloody irony attempted and the wincing brutality actualized.

Collin Farrell is McDonagh’s main man again, a struggling screenwriter who enlists a friend, played by Sam Rockwell, to help him. It’s a script based upon seven psychopaths that he writes subconsciously inspired by his friends and stories handed down, passing them as original characters and work. Christopher Walken cares for his ailing girlfriend while snatching dogs in order to get their owner’s money rewards. The plot thickens when he nabs the pooch of a crime boss (Woody Harrelson). It’s an odd collection of men, especially Rockwell who is tough to get a hold on. I tried to find the amusement of this sarcastic violence, but the sting never really wore away. 2/5

The Sessions

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Aside from Helen Hunt’s Boston accent, there isn’t a thing to dislike in this completely daring film. The Sessions, inspired by a true story, tells the tale of Mark O’Brien, who from a young age must live with an iron lung. At 36, he decides its time he lose his virginity and in between counseling with his priest, meets with a professional sex surrogate Cheryl to initiate his bodily longings. Only able to lie on a portable bed, Mark is a new challenge for her, but she sees him like all her patients, a man with a need.

This is a quirky, spiritual film. John Hawkes takes a risky role and turns it into something special, a man hampered by disability but not by soul. William H. Macy plays the kind listening priest, providing a moral blessing for his decision to engage in sexual activity and Hunt bares all as Cheryl, a woman struggling with motherly and wifely duties in between her weekly meetings with Mark.  It has brought up renewed conversation about the line between surrogate work and prostitution, but Hunt at least displays why there is a distinction in the first place. This is not a job, it’s a project, treated intimately and compassionately.

I appreciate the truth and realism explored by director Ben Lewin. He uncovers a world many people fleetingly often wonder about but then quickly erase from their heads. The Sessions gets up close and personal, but caringly so. 4.5/5

 Skyfall

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The James Bond film series has prided itself on world intrigue and the survival of humanity all thanks to a dapper Brit. Sam Mendez takes over the Bond franchise and like his previous films of relational struggles, turns the third Daniel Craig installment into an intimate and humbling portrayal of a man challenged with his own fragility. Back at MI6 after a profoundly surreal opening sequence featuring a velvety Adele song, Bond returns older and grisly, out of shape after suspected dead.

This time M (Judi Dench) and the whole organization is in trouble thanks to a personal vendetta with an former agent. He is a fully realized villain that consumes the film from his emergence. Javier Bardem has that power, kindly menacing, calmly powerful, he hacks computers in a ruthless attempt to kill M for their past disagreements and promptly uses fire power and the art of illusion. It’s classic Bond in new territory, humbled and fatigued, resilient and motivated.

One of the pleasures of this particular film is the direct motivations of characters and comprehensible plot lines. The actions and fights never become pointless features, and our antagonists aren’t blindly supporting other regimes. It’s one against the other, and Bond must take them down.

It’s also a very cultured Bond, featuring famous paintings and poetry. A younger Q who has special GPS smarts supplies Bond with a unique pistol, and we learn something of Bond’s past, never explored before. One of the themes of the film is Bond’s own resurrection. It’s nice to see the franchise has followed suit. 4/5

Hyde Park on Hudson

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I’m not sure it’s possible to have a less scandalous account of an extramarital Presidential affair than the one depicted in Hyde Park on Hudson. The film directed by Roger Michell chronicles Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s adulteress and distant cousin Margaret Suckley (a bland Laura Linney), most prominently during a weekend in 1939. Of course, that weekend was largely important for western alliance, a retreat for King George and the Queen of England and their first trip to America. They visit FDR’s (Bill Murray) upstate New York home, a sort-of sequel to the King’s Speech as the stuttering George and quaint Queen must hunker down into family dysfunction.

This few day encounter is far more entertaining than FDR’s romances, but in both aspects, Murray plays one of the nation’s most important Presidents in such relaxed, confident and carefree ways. He somewhat disassembles the iconic voice of the fireside chat in a way that makes him a flawed old man, But the best scenes are his moments with King George, imbuing confidence into his quavering speech and country. The film connected with me more because I had recently visited Hyde Park. You can imagine the family’s banquets, Roosevelt’s bickering mother, Eleanor’s independent nature but public duties. The film is pleasant, nice, and occasionally garners a chuckle, very similar to a guided tour of his home. 3/5

Others:

The Grey  (3.5/5)  An existential and profound examination of man and nature. Liam Neeson and Wolves.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home (3/5) Another strong Duplass brother deposit about kids in grown-up bodies.

The Hunger Games (4/5)  A gritty adaptation with another strong performance from Jennifer Lawrence.

21 Jump Street (3.5/5) One of the few strong comedies this year that captures the changing tide of high school.

The Dictator (2/5) Sacha Baron Cohen should probably stick with his mockumentary style films.

The Amazing Spiderman (2.5/5) Another reboot that doesn’t fully reinvent Peter Parker or the spectacle of Spiderman.

Killer Joe (3/5) A twisted tale that pits Matthew McConaughy in a vivid, villainous role and will never let you look at fried chicken the same way again.

Bourne Legacy (3/5) The continuation of the highly innovative Bourne franchise that keeps the intensity, but not entirely the mysteriousness of its predecessors.

Pitch Perfect (3.5/5) A lovable a capella version of Bring it On, Anna Kendrick brings life to a fun song-filled competition…just too much vomit.

The Hobbit (2.5/5) 48 Frames per second is visually enhancing but creates a video game aesthetic full of orcs and goblins and a sense of “here we go again.”

Les Miserables (4.5/5) A beautiful adaptation from Tom Hooper who panders to the closeup shot that evokes almost too much emotion, especially from Anne Hathaway’s show stopping “I Dreamed a Dream.”

The Impossible (3/5) The incredible physical and emotional struggle of a family torn apart by the 2004 Tsunami and their tireless journey to reunite.

My Best Films of 2012 soon to come!

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