Film Reviews : 2012

Quartet  Very Good
December 27, 2012

50 years ago, Tom Courtenay starred in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) as a gaunt-cheeked, anti-Establishment rebel. Courtenay was one of the major, intriguing faces of the "Angry Young Men" of British film.

< ... more
Not Fade Away  Better than average
December 26, 2012

Not Fade Away is one of those films that really depend on what you bring to it.

It's a personal experience - both for the writer/director David Chase and maybe for scattered audience members. It may leave the average audienc ... more

Zero Dark Thirty  Very Good
December 21, 2012

Zero Dark Thirty is a skillful - and somewhat cautious - look at military bureaucracy and power.

It's both hampered and elevated by its dependence on authenticity.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark ... more

The Impossible  Watchable
December 18, 2012

The Impossible is like a big budget Lifetime saga. It's a mixture of screams and violins.

The movie is relentless punishment and relentless music. You'd better have a tolerance for both. One might leave the theater wondering ... more

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey  Better than average
December 13, 2012

Seeing The Hobbit is like going to a timeshare presentation. First you have to sit through the boring stuff before you can take advantage of the spectacular benefits.

"This is the shire here. Please sign on the dotted line, and ... more

Les Misérables  Watchable
December 11, 2012

Les Misérables is a long, slow, musical slog. It's a dreary piece of work. It has its moments, but it seldom if ever takes flight.

The stage play soared.

The movie has a mostly appealing cast, but the director spars ... more

The Long Green Line  Better than average
December 10, 2012

The Long Green Line is a high-spirited celebration of life on a high school cross country team in Illinois.

It's not your average cross country team. It's the York Dukes in Elmhurst, Illinois, who had won 24 state titles, an ... more

Silver Linings Playbook  Very Good
November 26, 2012

Philadelphians are a breed apart. Nobody understands us.

Most people think we booed Santa Claus. We didn't boo Santa Claus.

We booed a 19-year old, 5' 6" kid with a fake beard who subbed, when the real Santa was str ... more

Life of Pi  Very Good
November 23, 2012

A film's ending matters.

A lot of movies sputter or fade at the end, but occasionally a surprising denouement raises a movie to another level. It reverberates back through the work and lifts it to a new sensibility.

Life of ... more

Lincoln  Better than average
November 18, 2012

Lincoln is like a course taught by a competent teacher. It's informative, but it's neither inspiring nor fascinating.

Director Steven Spielberg as teacher is glib. He's stagy. His is not a course that soars; it stays gro ... more

The Sessions  Better than average
November 13, 2012

The Sessions is another movie about a man on a journey. Destination: Ejaculation Junction.

In 1990 Mark O'Brien, journalist and poet, had his article, "On Seeing a Sexual Surrogate" published in Sun Magazine.

... more

Hitchcock  Exemplary
November 8, 2012

Hitchcock is a film for which I am very grateful.

It restores Hitchcock's humanity.

In the wake of HBO's atrocious The Girl, which portrays Hitchcock as a creep, his reputation seemed at risk. He was being tra ... more

Flight  Better than average
November 4, 2012

Flight is a bumpy ride. It swoops and sputters.

Denzel Washington has to hold it together as it dives and spirals. The one constant in the film is the provocative performance of Denzel as pilot Whip Whitaker, who is severely addicte ... more

Skyfall  Watchable
October 26, 2012

Here I go again.

Wanting better and unwilling to settle for less. It's a curse. Why can't I just sit on the edge of my seat or stand up and cheer?

At the end of the screening of Skyfall for critics and reviewers, the ... more

Shifty  Very Good
October 18, 2012

Shifty is low-key, low budget, but high grade. It's a film about sitting and talking. And drug dealing.

It builds slowly - some may want more action, but it has a surprisingly satisfying conclusion.

Shifty is ... more

Argo  Better than average
October 13, 2012

Argo is a skillful, dramatic entertainment. It's slick.

Argo will be very popular. Why wouldn't it be? It hits all the right harmonious notes, without any dissonance, It's Ben Affleck channeling Hallmark. Greeting ... more

End of Watch  Better than average
September 29, 2012

If you leave before the end of End of Watch - about 3/4 of the way through - you'll see a much better movie.

For much of its length, End of Watch is one of the stronger movies of the year. It's a taut, human d ... more

The Master  Watchable
September 26, 2012

Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master baits the audience.

One notable reviewer, in a major magazine, ended his rave: "He [Anderson] clarifies nothing, but leaves us brooding on our own confusion."

WTF ... more

Looper  Watchable
September 25, 2012

Looper is stylish mayhem.

It careens along the edge of silliness. It stalls and starts and spins out. It's a spastic attack on its audience's suspension of disbelief.

Who knew the future could contain so much hokum? ... more

Trouble with the Curve  Badly flawed
September 24, 2012

Trouble with the Curve should be titled Trouble with the Cliche.

It was not written by a hitter; it was written by a hacker.

It's depressing to think that Clint Eastwood's final screen appearance may be in thi ... more

Arbitrage  Better than average
September 16, 2012

Arbitrage is the latest in a long line of movies with touches of Alfred Hitchcock's DNA.

Nicholas Jarecki, the 33-year old writer/director of Arbitrage, is a graduate of the New York University Film School, so he knows hi ... more

Robot & Frank  Very Good
September 8, 2012

Robot & Frank is an airy, engaging flight of fancy.

It's also part caper film, part character study, and part allegory about aging. Robot & Frank shouldn't work, but it does.

It has the potential to be ... more

Cosmopolis  Watchable
September 2, 2012

It's rare to have a good movie made from a novel by an artistic American author. Extremely rare.

For every successful No Country for Old Men (2007), there are legions of duds, e.g., Updike's Rabbit, Run (1970), Mailer ... more

Lawless  Better than average
August 28, 2012

Where has the western gone?

It's gone to Virginia.

Lawless is about bootleggers during Prohibition in the early 1930s, but it has all the staples of a western. Instead of the five Earp brothers, Lawless is about t ... more

Side by Side  Very Good
August 26, 2012

In Side by Side, editor Walter Murch states, "In a way, film was the church of the 20th century."

But the church of film is shutting its doors. Stained glass is being replaced by digital imagery. A new religion is on its rel ... more

Ruby Sparks  Very Good
August 16, 2012

Most men have been bewitched by a female in their lives.

Many of these intoxicating vixens have been created in their imaginations - or at least idealized and romanticized.

Until we woke up.

Gidget is gone. Desdemona is ... more

The Bourne Legacy  Very Good
August 12, 2012

When a very successful movie franchise makes some major changes, it is likely that it will face a deluge of rejection and preconception.

"They changed it. OMG, they made changes!"

The Bourne Legacy comes with a lot o ... more

Neil Young Journeys  Exemplary
August 9, 2012

Neil Young shambles across the dim stage. He's garbed in black t-shirt, jeans, whitish jacket and wearing a straw hat that has seen better days.

The man's gotten old. He's grizzled and jowly. He's no longer the yearning you ... more

The Deep Blue Sea  Exemplary
July 30, 2012

The Deep Blue Sea is a fitful, poignant film about failed love. It's a movie that casts a harrowing spell.

Adapted from the play written by Terence Rattigan, The Deep Blue (1952) is set "around 1950."

It focus ... more

The Monitor  Watchable
July 28, 2012

The Monitor [originally titled Babycall] is a morose sturdy of morose behavior with an actress giving a morose performance. It's all pretty morose.

The Monitor is the story of Anna (Noomi Rapace) who has come to Os ... more

The Dark Knight Rises  Great
July 18, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises is a brawl of a movie.

In IMAX, it's a magnificent brawl of a movie. At times it careens into unwieldy mayhem, but at other, crucial times, it's brilliantly thrilling.

The Dark Knight Rises ... more

Stella Days  Better than average
July 17, 2012

Move over Scientologists.

Who says there aren't movies for 60-year old Roman Catholics? Stella Days is making room for a pewful of moviegoers.

Stella Days - set in Tipperary, Ireland - in 1956 and 1957, is ... more

Beasts of the Southern Wild  Watchable
July 11, 2012

The contemporary world is smitten with "Reality Shows."

The new indie movie phenomenon Beasts of the Southern Wild should fit right in. It could be called "Louisiana Shore." It has a crowd of noisy people, who swill ... more

The Amazing Spider-Man  Very Good
July 6, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man shouldn't work. It's a reprise of a movie that was released only ten years ago. Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst couldn't be replaced, could they? There was a lasting charm to their relationship. And Maguir ... more

Monsieur Lazhar  Very Good
July 5, 2012

Maybe the best thing about Monsieur Lazhar is that the school children in it really seem to care about education.

Of course, it's in Canada.

Set in a middle school in Montreal, the French-language Canadian film is the st ... more

Ted  Very Good
July 2, 2012

I'm taking over for Macklin - he can't handle the truth about bears.

But I can. I'm a bear named Teddy. I live with Tony and his honeypot Judy. They named me - clever name, huh?

So this review of Ted is a ... more

Rock of Ages  Watchable
June 26, 2012

Were Ken and Barbie rockers?

Rock of Ages seems to think so. Its version doesn't have a speck of dirt or an iota of grit. It makes the dancing gangs in West Side Story (1961) authentic in comparison.

I knew we wer ... more

Safety Not Guaranteed  Better than average
June 25, 2012

Safety Not Guaranteed is an indie flight of fancy.

As an indie, it might crash on the shoals of self-indulgence, but it doesn't. It's fresh and imaginative. It doesn't reach the stars (the creators obviously are fans of ... more

To Rome with Love  Watchable
June 20, 2012

In his latest endeavor, To Rome with Love, Woody Allen goes on a scooter, weaving his way through Rome on a sputtering vehicle.

His bumpy trip hits some potholes on a well-worn road. He's certainly not in the fast lane. To Ro ... more

Headhunters  Better than average
June 14, 2012

Headhunters (Hodejegerne) is a roiling Norwegian mix of Hitchcock and Wile E. Coyote, with a generous dose of feces and blood.

If that sounds like a strange, absurd concoction, it is.

Headhunters starts slowly ... more

Prometheus  Watchable
June 9, 2012

Prometheus is no odyssey. It's more a slog through space glop.

The characters are sketchy, and the plot is scrawny. It goes where a lot of filmmakers have gone before.

However, despite the lack of originality in Prome ... more

Snow White and the Huntsman  Better than average
June 7, 2012

What's next - Bambizilla?

Snow White and the Huntsman turns the once Disneyfied fairy tale upside down. In fact, in one scene, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) and the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) are literally hanging upside down ... more

Men in Black 3  Exemplary
June 2, 2012

1968 was the year both Will Smith and Josh Brolin were born.

Now Smith and Brolin get together on screen for about an hour in Men in Black 3 - set when? 1969.

It's a serendipitous uniting. Smith again plays Agent ... more

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel  Better than average
May 29, 2012

Old folks like familiarity. For most of them, familiarity breeds comfort.

Seniors are a major reason why NCIS stays #1 in the tv ratings. They're also probably the reason that NCIS recently recruited Jamie Lee Curtis as a "romantic ... more

Battleship  Badly flawed
May 21, 2012

Someone told me I'd have to suspend my disbelief when I saw Battleship.

Not true. After a while you have no brain left with which to disbelieve.

Battleship is a loud lobotomy.

Based loosely - slackly & ... more

The Pirates! Band of Misfits  Very Good
May 16, 2012

Question: When is a pirate a lark?

Answer: When he's composed by the Aardman Animations production company and voiced by Hugh Grant.

When Grant is at his best - as he was in About a Boy (2002) - there's nobod ... more

Booker's Place: A Mississippi Story  Better than average
May 12, 2012

It drives me nuts when an interviewer doesn't follow up.

If Charlie Rose on tv was interviewing someone who said, "I have the secret of life," Charlie would look at his notes and say, "I see you were born in the Midwest. ... more

The Avengers  Very Good
May 5, 2012

Although it takes a while to hit its stride, once it does Marvel's The Avengers is a razzle-dazzle, rip-roaring entertainment.

It introduces its various characters without much panache, then they bicker, and one begins to wonder ... more

Cellmates  Watchable
May 4, 2012

Cellmates is an indie film that shouldn't work. And at times it doesn't, but at other times it has an offbeat integrity that engages.

The plot is threadbare, and many of the allusions seem dated and forgotten.

Cel ... more

Marley  Great
April 28, 2012

Marley is a terrific documentary. It goes beyond one figure, and captures the essence of life itself.

Despite its wayward, checkered history - first Marty Scorsese was to direct, then Jonathan Demme - Marley seems to ... more

Unraveled  Badly flawed
April 24, 2012

Unraveled is a con job.

It has the clammy hands of its crooked main figure all over it.

Unraveled is a documentary, directed by entertainment attorney and filmmaker Marc H. Simon, about Marc Dreier, who bilked hedge f ... more

Sleepless Night  Very Good
April 20, 2012

Sleepless Night (Nuit blanche) is one frenetic French dream. It's slam-bang mayhem - with an active intelligence.

Smartly directed and stylishly composed by Frederic Jardin, it is both claustrophobic and in nearly-con ... more

We Have a Pope  Better than average
April 16, 2012

Although We Have a Pope is a heady concoction, it may not have mass appeal.

It is part romp, part pratfall, part hymn. It's difficult to get a grasp on the sensibility of We Have a Pope. Where is it going, and how is it g ... more

Goon  Very Good
April 8, 2012

Goon is based on chutzpah.

At the beginning of the movie, it says, "Based on a true story." That's usually the kiss of inauthenticity.

The movie Goon has a connection, often frayed, with the nonfiction ... more

Detachment  Badly flawed
April 1, 2012

Education is under attack. It always has been.

If the essence of education is independent thinking, it's in free fall these days.

Most homeschooling offers just a single, limited, often anti-social view; corporations don't ... more

The Hunger Games  Exemplary
March 26, 2012

The Hunger Games is nourishing entertainment. It's a riveting adaptation of the first of Suzanne Collins' trio of celebrated novels.

The plot of Collins' brilliant novel is perverse and direly fatalistic, but it has a fo ... more

21 Jump Street  Watchable
March 20, 2012

21 Jump Street is a cockamamie movie.

It's as rowdy as a dick joke. And another dick joke. And another dick joke. After the 21st dick joke, I wanted to jump off.

And after the dick jokes there's a load of excrement joke ... more

Thin Ice  Better than average
March 15, 2012

Thin Ice is in the tradition of movies that were filched from their directors, recut, changed, and then released in a different, more "commercial" version from what their creative directors intended.

Probably the most notorious case ... more

Game Change  Exemplary
March 11, 2012

Game Change, in a way, is more potent than its political sources. Based on the book by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann (who has one line of dialogue as a reporter in the movie), Game Change was adapted for HBO by Danny Strong.

... more
The Forgiveness of Blood  Very Good
March 7, 2012

The Forgiveness of Blood ends with the image of the expressionless face of a young woman. If audiences demand resolution, this does not provide it.

Is she stuck in the past or looking forward to the future? It is open to interpretat ... more

In the Land of Blood and Honey  Watchable
March 3, 2012

It's hard to recommend a movie such as In the Land of Blood and Honey. It's more than two hours of misery and despair.

In the Land of Blood and Honey is a relentless, disturbing chronicle of cruelty. It is bleak and b ... more

Roadie  Better than average
February 24, 2012

Roadie shows the gulf that at times separates critics and general viewers.

The audience User Rating of Roadie on Rotten Tomatoes is a feeble 28% positive. Critics have been much more tolerant. Amidst the movie's liabiliti ... more

Safe House  Watchable
February 18, 2012

Why would you cast Denzel Washington, and then cut his performance to ribbons?

Daniel Espinosa, director of Safe House, either has a severe, spasmodic problem or a huge ego - or both. He slices and dices like a crazed butcher. ... more

Transatlantic Coffee
February 15, 2012

The other day I was at the Doughnut Shop having a cup of coffee.

I was trying to decide what film to review. Which Hollywood conveyer belt was I going to take it from - the jerky, handheld conveyor belt of Safe House, the spongy convey ... more

A Separation  Very Good
February 13, 2012

Separation is an active international phenomenon. Cultures and societies are at war with themselves.

A Separation is about one of these cultures and societies.

A Separation was written and directed by Iranian Asghar F ... more

Haywire  Better than average
February 5, 2012

What does a director do when the star of his movie is not an accomplished actress?

Director Steven Soderbergh faces that obstacle in Haywire, which stars Gia Carano, the Mixed Martial Arts star. He goes to great lengths to protect h ... more

Coriolanus  Very Good
February 5, 2012

Ralph Fiennes has created a slashing, sprawling version of Shakespere's Coriolanus.

It's muscular Shakespeare. It's trimmed down - but has themes and a sensibility that fit into today's society and world.

... more
Undefeated  Very Good
February 4, 2012

At its best, Undefeated is a Hail Mary TD pass. It recently received an Oscar nomination as Best Documentary feature. Other times, it's a routine punt.

Undefeated is an anthem of decency and empathy. It's also about l ... more

Albert Nobbs  Better than average
January 25, 2012

2011 was the year of the actress.

At least five or six female performances perhaps were superior to any male performance last year.

These were Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn, Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia, R ... more

A Dangerous Method  Badly flawed
January 21, 2012

A Dangerous Method is a lustreless squabble.

Much of the essence of drama is conflict - often verbal. A Dangerous Method, based on actual figures was a book, then a play, and now it's a film, but somewhere in the long ... more

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows  Watchable
January 14, 2012

Dear Guy Ritchie:

My name is Robin Hood.

I desperately need your help. I need you as a director to do for me what you did for Sherlock Holmes.

I need to be brought into today's world of short attention spans, nonreading ... more

War Horse  Very Good
January 8, 2012

Every once in a while, one needs unbridled sentimentality.

Director Steven Spielberg and War Horse fill that need. War Horse is a combination of The Wizard of Oats and Gone with the Whinny.

Sentimentality is ... more

We Need to Talk About Kevin  Exemplary
January 5, 2012

Spoiler alert:

Watching the movie We Need to Talk About Kevin will make you feel like hell.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a raw, gruelling, disturbing nightmare. I dare you to try to forget it.

If one goes to ... more


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