Monday, January 28, 2013

Movie 43

It's terrifying to contemplate that there may be a worse movie this year than the unspeakable "Movie 43," a dozen disconnected gross-out sketches in search of a brain cell. I beg you to peruse the cast list of this picture and imagine if you can conceive of a comedy with so much talent that never comes close to generating a laugh.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Perhaps the hardest film to describe since “The Turin Horse” is Miguel Gomes’ allusive, languorous and entrancing “Tabu,” filmed in 16mm black-and-white and told in two halves, the first in contemporary Lisbon and the second in colonial Mozambique. We first meet Dona Aurora late in life, an ornery woman given to gambling sprees who believes her lifelong maid, Santa, secretly practices witchcraft against her. (Slow-acting curse.) Her kindly neighbor, Dona Pilar, wants to help her, but doesn’t know how, until Aurora asks her to summon a man, Gian Luca Ventura, whose name she’s never before mentioned.


“Parker” is a straightforward if exceptionally bloody action flick, with Jason Statham’s Parker a bank robber content to pull off million-dollar heists such as the one that opens the picture, in which he and his crew, using more masks and wigs than a quick-change act, steal the weekend take at the Ohio state fair. Parker balks when the rest of the crew wants to apply their haul to a bigger job – stealing $75 million of jewelry from a Palm Beach matron’s upcoming estate auction – and they shoot him and leave him for dead on the roadside.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

56 Up, Let My People Go!

56 Up
Let My People Go!

Every seven years, I can tell you the best documentary of the year before I see it. Michael Apted's "Up" series, which began with a public television program interviewing fourteen British seven-year-olds in 1964 and has followed up with them every seven years since, finds our friends at age 56, and has by now become one of the handful of most important projects in film history, an endlessly fascinating (and I must say delightful) exploration of life, aging, hope, fear, ambition, achievement, love, contentment and heartache.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Last Stand

Boy, I enjoyed "The Last Stand" much less than I expected to. In the past, the Governator has been able to ease through low-aiming pictures such as "The Last Action Hero" and "The 6th Day" with winky appeal. I was surprised how earnest "The Last Stand" is about its plot, and judged on that level it fails to generate or sustain much forward momentum. At times during its 106-minute length, I was bored.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Broken City

Of all the movies I've ever seen, "Broken City" is one of them. There's just nothing distinctive or memorable about this chop-shop amalgam of stock characters, overdetermined plot points, and empty political rhetoric - which is disappointing, given the solid cast.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Haunted House, I Am Not a Hipster

A Haunter House
I Am Not a Hipster

There are a few scattered laughs in Marlon Wayans' "Paranormal Activity" spoof "A Haunted House," along with buckets of unfunny scatological humor and several good comic ideas (a white neighbor couple into swinging) overplayed into oblivion.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Gangster Squad

The new year starts with a bang – zillions of ‘em – in “Zombieland” director Ruben Fleischer’s postwar-L.A. “Gangster Squad,” an unexpectedly pleasurable entertainment made with copious amounts of humor and a lightness of spirit never hinted at in the trailers.

In Another Country

What an odd little movie is Hong Sang-soo’s English/French/Korean hybrid “In Another Country,” which offers only the sparest of intellectual pleasures. A nonsensical two-minute framing device leads into three half-hour stories about a Frenchwoman named Anne staying at a small seaside inn several hours outside of Seoul. In the first, Anne is a successful film director; in the second, a philandering spouse; in the third, a divorcée whose husband has left her for a Korean woman. Isabelle Huppert plays all three Annes, and if it were Eddie Murphy, he’d have demanded they list his name thrice in the credits.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Complete List of Star Ratings to 2012 Films

Below are my star ratings for films (listed in alphabetical order) that debuted in Los Angeles theaters in 2012. Documentaries are listed with the notation (D).

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Best Films of 2012: #1

I'm delighted to note that all of my top six films are both artistically meritorious and a lot of fun, each with a great deal of humor. That's certainly true of my choice for the best film of 2012.

It's William Friedkin's "Killer Joe," a loaded gun of a movie that fires itself straight into the collective American conscious, with a final sequence so iconic and indelible it instantly enters the pantheon of great moments in cinema. It's the kind of picture that - had its NC-17 rating not kept it from a wider audience - all of America might have been talking about (the kind Time used to run cover stories on).

Working from a screenplay by Tony-winning playwright Tracy Letts ("August: Osage County"), Friedkin - who also topped my 1985 list with the all-time great "To Live and Die in L.A." - constructs his picture primarily as a series of elaborate set pieces, each of which lasts 20 to 30 minutes. By the end of the first, I knew I was on "Killer Joe's" wavelength. This establishing sequence introduces Chris (Emile Hirsch), a small-time Texas coke dealer who's into some bad men for 6 G's and whose mom, with whom he's been living, just found and stole all his blow.

His cute little ass on the line, Chris hightails it to the trailer park where his laconic, resigned, dim-bulb dad Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) and va-va-voom stepmother Sharla (Gina Gershon) maintain custody of his younger sister, Dottie (Juno Temple). Dottie's ethereal and otherworldly and not quite right in the head - she sees everything, including visions - but understands more than you might think. Chris gets nowhere with Ansel ("I've never had a thousand dollars in my whole life"), and, desperate for quick cash, hits on a murder-for-hire plot aimed at the $50,000 insurance policy on his mom's life.

In one of the first signs the movie is seriously fucked up, Ansel and Sharla quickly agree to the plan and turn their attention to divvying up the booty. They intend to keep it from Dottie, but needn't bother. "I heard you talking about killing Momma," she walks out of her room and intones. "I think it's a good idea." With that, they make the call to "Killer" Joe Cooper, a Dallas police detective who "does a little business on the side."

Killer Joe is one of the great, mythic characters in recent film, a man of menace both overt and under-the-surface, who in his tight blue shirt, black cowboy hat, and leather cop paraphernalia insists on gentlemanly conduct and language even while effecting acts of inhuman brutality. As Joe, Matthew McConaughey gives the defining performance of his career, the capstone of a marvelous movie year that also included good work in "Bernie" and "Magic Mike."

Letts' screenplay surely deserves the Academy Award. At times it's almost painfully witty. Even the insults exchanged among Chris, Ansel, Sharla and Joe - tossed off matter-of-factly rather than with evident malice - had me sitting up in bed at night laughing. (Think how simple and elegant a put-down it is when Chris tells Ansel, "Dad, you can't tell time.") Hirsch makes a highly likable lead, often bug-eyed at what's happening around him. Gershon and especially Church richly deserve Oscar nominations. Church's Ansel is a weak-willed man to begin with, happy - almost relieved - to concede his husbandly duties to Joe.

I walked out of the theater so juiced I wanted to walk right back in and see it again. Alive with the thrilling sensation of the new, "Killer Joe" - along with "Django Unchained" (and at this level we're truly splitting hairs) - is one that film lovers will still be talking about a decade from now.

The Best Films of 2012: #2

Quentin Tarantino gives the lie to such sanctimonious Oscar bait as the staid, stale, lumbering "Lincoln" with his own sprawling slavery saga, the thrillingly fresh and hilariously funny "Django Unchained," a joyous jolt from the moribund complacency of would-be prestige pictures that all but choke on their piety. The contrast is nothing short of embarrassing.

The Best Films of 2012: #3

Ben Affleck's "Argo," about the government's top-secret efforts to exfiltrate six American embassy employees from Tehran in 1979, is the rare crowd-pleaser that seems to please every single person in the crowd. (It received an average CinemaScore grade of A+.) Like Affleck's second film, "The Town" (which made my top-ten list in 2010) , it's a consummate entertainment, deeply knowledgeable of its subject matter, smart and focused. Affleck's juggling act - including half a dozen interwoven plot threads and a reported 120+ speaking parts - is worthy of any directing luminary.

The Best Films of 2012: #4

Director Lynn Shelton allowed the cast of "Your Sister's Sister" to improvise much of their dialogue. The result was an unexpected treasure that delighted me with its emotional acuity and pitch-perfect humor.

The Best Films of 2012: #5

After the mediocre, name-dropping "Midnight in Paris" (which the masses loved because it let them feel sophisticated for picking up on literary references from high school English), Woody Allen returned triumphantly to form with "To Rome With Love," his richest work since "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," brimming with great ideas cleverly realized and chock full of outsize laughs.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Best Films of 2012: #6

I'm always excited to see Richard Linklater's name attached to a new film. I know I'll never see the same thing twice from this protean director, who's had his share of dogs (such as the experimental film adaptation of the play "Tape") but has also made my top-ten list three times: with 2001's "Waking Life," 2004's "Before Sunset," and this year's "Bernie," the true-life story of Bernie Tiede, a beloved assistant funeral director in Carthage, Texas.

The Best Films of 2012: #7

"A Prophet" director Jacques Audiard returns to my top ten with his new film "Rust and Bone," a major achievement featuring four or five of the most powerful scenes of the movie year. Marion Cotillard, in her strongest and most feeling performance since "La Vie en Rose," plays the tough and scrappy Stephanie, an orca trainer at a French Marineland, who loses both her legs in an accident during a routine set to Katy Perry's incongruously upbeat "Firework." I will never forget the scene in which Stephanie awakens from her long sleep, alone in a hospital bed very late at night, and discovers for the first time that she has no legs. The scene is a living nightmare, pierced only by Stephanie's otherworldly wail.

The Best Films of 2012: #8

"Maria Full of Grace" director Joshua Marston returned with another potent, immersive look at a world culture, the fascinating "The Forgiveness of Blood," about the Albanian tradition of blood feuds, an extralegal form of homegrown justice in which the family of a murdered man has the right to avenge his honor by killing the murderer or another man in his family. Because the family home is considered sacrosanct, however, hundreds of Albanian families live in virtual house arrest, the sins of the fathers visited mercilessly on the sons, their lives on indefinite hold until, years later if ever, the feuds are resolved through a ritualized process of mediation.

The Best Films of 2012: #9

Director Christian Petzold's quiet, astutely observed drama "Barbara" is set in the Stasi-controlled East Germany of 1980. As the film begins, Berlin-educated Dr. Barbara Wolff (Nina Hoss) arrives at her new post, a hospital in the provinces, where she's been reassigned after serving a prison term for having applied for an exit visa. Barbara is as collegial as she has to be, not a bit more. The presiding physician, Andre (appealing Ronald Zehrfeld), takes a liking to her and attempts to engage her professionally and loosen her guard, but she knows he's been groomed by Jörg, the Stasi agent (Mark Waschke) assigned to keep tabs on her.

The Best Films of 1012: #10

Rachel Weisz delivered her most feeling performance to date in Terence Davies' "The Deep Blue Sea," an exceedingly simple yet powerfully poignant postwar story of romantic love so intense and obsessive it becomes the undoing of an intelligent and well-provided-for woman. Weisz’s Hester Collyer is the wife of a respected judge (Simon Russell Beale), but passion has escaped the marriage. He’s sober and undemonstrative; she’s headstrong and ahead of her time, and in need of an outlet for her pent-up sexuality. When that outlet arrives in the form of Freddie, a handsome young RAF pilot, and their affair is inevitably discovered, Hester leaves her uncomprehending husband, explaining without any cruelty that her love for this new man encompasses nothing less than the whole of her. As her world narrows down to him, though, Freddie begins to suffocate, turning to drink and nights out with friends to escape.

The Best Films of 2012: Honorable Mentions

Before we get to my top ten, here (listed in alphabetical order) are eight honorable mentions.