My Favorite Films of 2012 Part Six: 11-15

Published January 8, 2013 by allanmelody

15-Dark Shadows-Before I say a few words about this film I have to confess it. I love each and every one of Tim Burton’s films from his most revered to his most reviled. Dark Shadows was a critical and commercial flop and I loved every single minute of it. As with all of Burton’s work, the movie looks great, has an incredible ensemble cast, and exists in its very own special universe. The five-minute prologue alone establishing the origin of Barnabas Collins was worth the price of admission alone. For those who don’t know, Dark Shadows is based on an old soap opera where vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and the undead show up all around. Burton understands these roots and gives us a comic take on the soap opera formula without sacrificing the dignity of the characters. Depp’s vampire is sympathetic but also totally devoid of pity when he needs to feed. The rest of the cast is made up of amusing grotesques. A real discovery is newcomer Bella Heathcote who plays a mysterious girl named Victoria who comes to the Collins family to work as a nanny. I also can’t help a twilight comparison. The issue of whether to become a vampire takes up about 10 hours of screen time in those films. The same issue is settled in 10 seconds of screen time in Dark Shadows. The ending (mistakenly seen as setting up a sequel by some critics) follows the soap opera model perfectly, setting up a new dilemma for the characters just as other problems are solved. Weird, witty, and wonderful, Tim Burton hit all the right notes for me (if no one else) once again.

Rotten Tomatoes: 38% (86-139)

IMDB: 6.4

14-Seven Psychopaths– I have to start by telling you how this movie begins. A couple of hitman are in a park talking about murder and the upcoming assassination they are about to perform. I’m thinking to myself that I am looking at two of the seven psychopaths we’ve been promised. However, as they speak a man in a ski mask comes up behind them and shoots them dead and leaves a couple of playing cards on the corpses. A sign pops up on the screen announcing “psychopath number one”. Right then, I knew I was in for a wild, joyous, entertaining ride. In this regard I was not let down, because each introduction to each new psychopath was filled with the same kind of energy and imagination promised by the extraordinary opening sequence. This was flat-out the most fun I had at the movies in 2012, and it’s easy to see why this kind of film won the midnight madness award at this year’s Toronto Film Festival. The movie invokes comparisons with Spike Jonze’s Adaptation but quite honestly doesn’t have the same serious issues on its mind as that film. For some critics, that seemed to be a problem. For my part, when I am as entertained as this, I don’t need depth. The fantastic ensemble cast is perfectly suited to this material, particularly Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, and Christopher Walken. For every sequence that doesn’t work, there are five that do. My favorite moments: The origin story of the Amish psychopath and Sam Rockwell’s script revision for the finale of the movie. You’ll have to see the film to understand what I’m talking about. If you like crazy material, you won’t regret it.

Rotten Tomatoes: 84% (132-26)

IMDB: 7.9

13-Looper- With Looper,I can finally climb on the bandwagon of director Riann Johnson. His first feature Brick left me cold, and his second The Brothers Bloom seemed like a Wes Anderson knockoff to me. I really wanted to embrace them both but found I just couldn’t so I went in to see this time travel fantasy with a great deal of trepidation. I needn’t have worried. Looper is a complex, thrilling roller coaster ride filled with inventive touches and unpredictable twists. Despite that, it is always perfectly clear what is going on and where we are in the story and it manages to avoid the plot holes which sink many fantasy films that deal with time travel. It’s the kind of movie that has so much to offer that it practically demands multiple viewings. The two leads are pitch perfect. Time travel films (think 12 Monkeys) seem to be good look for Bruce Willis as he gives his best performance in a long time while Joseph Gordon Levitt shows once again why he is on his way to being a major star. All the technical areas are top-notch, the pacing is superb, the action sequences are well executed, and the result is a near-perfect sci-fi effort. To Riann Johnson, all I can say is that you can now consider me a convert. I look forward to whatever you come up with next.

Rotten Tomatoes: 94% (216-15)

IMDB: 7.9

12-Lincoln-Lincoln is a collaboration of two of the most important figures in modern cinema, director Steven Spielberg and actor Daniel Day-Lewis. Uniting for the first time, they are both in top form. There is nothing more difficult than trying to win a third Academy award for best actor, but even with stellar competition this year it’s hard to see anyone beating out Day-Lewis after knocking his interpretation of the 16th president out of the park. Spielberg is shooting for his third Oscar as well, and this examination of the difficult effort to pass the amendment to ban slavery certainly puts him in the running. The film is really about the political process as much as anything, and the most fascinating thing when observing the machinations that Lincoln must undergo to achieve his goal is how little things have really changed. There was the same greed and compromise on every issue that seems to permeate both houses of Congress today. Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner deserve a great deal of credit for taking the minutiae of trying to get a bill passed and turning it into a fascinating filmgoing experience. The rest of the credit goes to Day-Lewis who really gets to the beating heart of what made Lincoln the near legend he is today while still showing all the foibles of an ordinary man. A history lesson and a great entertainment all wrapped into one perfect package.

Rotten Tomatoes: 90% (158-17)

IMDB: 8.4

11-Skyfall- When Casino Royale came out in 2006, I put it in the same class as my favorite three Bond films, Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger. After the disappointing follow-up Quantum of Solace which resembled an attempt to rip off the fast-paced editing of the Jason Bourne films, Skyfall puts the series back on track with an installment worthy of being classified with the four classics mentioned above. There is much to admire here. Each major set piece is different so that they don’t blend into one another as is the case in many of the lesser Bond films. The brilliant Javier Bardem gives us perhaps the most unusual Bond villain ever, both in regards to his attitude and motivations. His conversation with Bond when he has him tied up certainly is something we have never seen before from this franchise. Bond also goes back to his roots here which is something I felt was lacking in the last few entries. There is a nod given to old characters and even the crazy contraptions from the older Bond films. I really like to see movies embrace their roots. Best of all, this movie is effective because despite its global scale it deals with the pasts of M and Bond, giving all the proceedings added depth. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the title Skyfall actually has important meaning to the overall film and to Bond himself. I credit director Sam Mendes with really focusing on bringing the lives and pasts of the main characters more into the forefront. I hope this approach continues and that the franchise gives us more installments that provide sheer entertainment while growing the characters. Oh, by the way, Daniel Craig is superb as always.

Rotten Tomatoes: 925 (253-23)

IMDB: 8.1

Advertisements

My Favorite Films of 2012 Part Five: 16-20

Published January 6, 2013 by allanmelody

20-Moonrise Kingdom- With his films Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and the Royal Tennenbaum’s, Wes Anderson has directed perhaps my favorite trio of comedies of all time. He really has created a universe all his own and Moonrise Kingdom continues this tradition. In some ways, this coming of age story about two youngsters running away on an island to be together is practically a fantasy film. The humor comes from the efforts of the fantastic ensemble cast (which includes Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, and Edward Norton) to track down the elusive duo. The heart of the film comes from the two children who have decided to leave the disturbing realities of their lives behind and make their own way by finding a utopia. I’m anxious to see this film again because I find Wes Anderson’s films grow better and better on multiple viewings and tend to make me adore the characters more and more. It’s easy to notice the wonderful framing and continuous long takes on the first viewing. It’s all the little subtleties that he includes that make his films comic classics. Funny, bittersweet, and full of memorable performances, Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson at the top of his game.

Rotten Tomatoes: 94% (190-12)

IMDB: 8.0

19-Brave- There’s no getting around it. For me, Brave represents one of Pixar’s weakest and most conventional films, rating just slightly ahead of the first Cars movie and well ahead of the second. However, the rest of Pixar’s efforts are so superior and original that being near the bottom of their list still equals one of the best animated efforts of the year. While it doesn’t have the pure originality of an 80-year-old hero, a robot who can’t talk, or a rat who can cook, it does give us our first Disney type heroine from Pixar and she is a more than worthy addition. The animation is beautiful, clever comic touches abound, and as usual the Pixar magicians make even the least significant characters come alive with just a few gestures and words of dialogue. And as the film moves along it veers off from a purely basic action adventure mode into something more interesting and innovative. Medira must be brave not only physically but mentally which is always more interesting. When she passes the test, it makes for a satisfying conclusion to another well told tale from Pixar. On a personal note, I must confess that I saw this film in a theater filled with unruly patrons so I’m looking forward to seeing it again shortly in a more relaxing environment.

Rotten Tomatoes: 78% (165-47)

IMDB: 7.4

18-The Perks of Being a Wallflower- A funny, heartfelt coming-of-age story with real soul and depth. Much of the credit for its success must go to the trio of young performers who make up the cast. Ezra Miller shows incredible range after his turn as an evil mass murdering teen in We Need to Talk About Kevin by playing an extroverted gay rebel with a flair for life. Emma Watson proves that she is going to have a long career beyond Hogwarts after her likable turn as a free spirit trying to live down past mistakes. The biggest revelation of all is Logan Lerman who failed to impress me much in previous roles but who comes up huge as the troubled loner who finds friendship and love for the first time in his life. The three have marvelous chemistry which helps the characters pull through some very rough situations. The film feels real and alive in a way few movies about teens do, and navigates a difficult landscape triumphantly.

Rotten Tomatoes: 86% (111-18)

IMDB: 8.5

17-Chronicle– This found footage film is a triumphant debut for 25-year-old director Adam Trank. The premise is simple and straightforward. A trio of high school boys attending a rave stumble upon a mysterious tunnel which leads them to have direct contact with what appears to be an alien artifact. The next thing they know they have been gifted with telekinetic abilities which begin to seem newly limitless. As the film moves on, it has the feeling of a superhero comic with concurrent stories showing the birth of a hero and villain simultaneously. The special effects are inventive and original. My favorite might be where the budding villain uses his powers to float an ordinary house spider through the air before finally breaking it into pieces. There are a number of triumphant set pieces. A scene at the local mall with the kids gleefully experiment with their powers is hilarious. The flying sequence involving a football and an airplane is thrilling and electrifying. And the way things start to fall apart for the three of them in the final act gives the film a horror like quality leading to the inevitable confrontation in the finale. It’s crystal clear why this director has already planted the job of rebooting the Fantastic Four franchise. There is enough talent here to have real hope that we are looking at a future Chris Nolan, Tim Burton, or James Cameron. The debut is that good. Only time will tell if Trank delivers on this very promising beginning.

Rotten Tomatoes: 86% (137-23)

IMDB: 7.1

16-Les Miserables-Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s I saw the musical that this film was based on nearly 10 times on Broadway, so I was eagerly anticipating this first ever adaptation of the play to see if it could live up to my memories. Overall, it was a monumental success. The movie is very faithful to the play (nearly all the songs from the show remain intact) which can sometimes be a bad idea (see The Producers as an example) but in this case works quite well. The performances by all the major players are outstanding. Russell Crowe is not a natural singer but his performance wins you over as the film goes on. Standouts include Samantha Barks as Eponine, and Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen as the villainous Thernardier’s who provide some comic relief. Most of all, however, there is Anne Hathaway’s performance as Fantine which is likely going to result in her getting some Oscar gold come February. Sometimes the quick scene cuts which works so well in the play come across as a bit distracting, but this is forgivable because the emotion and the music from the play come through loud and clear. Director Tom Hooper also expands the boundaries of the play with some impressive set pieces including the opening where Jean Valjean and other prisoners are forced to pull giant ships into port and the rousing finale. One of my favorite movie musicals of the past 10 years.

Rotten Tomatoes: 71% (114-46)

IMDB: 8.2

Rotten Tomatoes: 71% (114-46)

IMDB: 8.2

My Favorite Films of 2012 Part Four: 21-25

Published January 6, 2013 by allanmelody

25-John Carter- A critical and commercial flop and already on several critics worst 10 lists, John Carter seems to be receiving more than its share of animosity. Honestly, it is a mystery to me. While there are definitely problems with the film such as pacing and a lack of chemistry between the two leads, there is a ton to admire. The two sequences that bookend the film truly serve the story and give it added depth. Taylor Kitsch imbues the title character with the proper amount of despair over his past to make his actions unpredictable and intriguing. Most important of all, John Carter creates a new universe with settings, creatures, and characters that we have never seen before. My favorite is a strange doglike pet that can follow John Carter all around the planet with such speed that it almost looks like it is teleporting. There are also some impressive set pieces that include John Carter taking on an entire army and slaughtering them with ease and the gladiator scene that pits John Carter against giant monsters known as white apes. To use baseball parlance, John Carter may not be a homerun but it is far from a strikeout. I want to see filmmakers swing for the fences, even if it only turns into a double. I’ll take a movie only a tenth as good as this over the average by the numbers romantic comedy or talking animal computer animated feature that we are subjected to nearly every week

Rotten Tomatoes: 51% (111-105)

IMDB: 6.9

24-Wreck-it-Ralph- This is easily Disney’s best effort with computer animation to date. While it doesn’t have the pure originality of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it is deserving of many of the comparisons to that classic film. Just as we never thought we would see Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse together, Wreck-It-Ralph allows us to see videogame characters from different companies on the screen together for the first time. It also doesn’t make the mistake of letting those characters dominate the storyline. It uses them as an opening to create wholly original videogame characters to tell a funny and enjoyable tale of a villain who wants to become a hero. The voice work here is superb but I want to say a special word about the contribution of Sarah Silverman. What impresses me about her role is that unlike so many movie star voice actors she doesn’t rely on her regular voice to do all the work. Instead she comes up with a totally different voice and style than her own, invoking the work of voice artists of the past instead of the effective but somewhat lazy style that we see in most animated films today. Also, besides being very funny, she also makes her character sympathetic and moving. The relationship between her and Ralph gives the movie some real heart amidst all the pell-mell action taking place all around. I liked this a lot on the first viewing and feel it might ultimately end up even higher on my favorite film list after multiple viewings.

Rotten Tomatoes: 86% (101-16)

IMDB: 8.3

23-Sinister- I found this film to be the scariest of 2012. In fact, the film’s title aptly describes my feelings about the overall experience. It is sinister. The tale is really a mystery as much as a horror film initially. Ethan Hawke plays a true crime novelist who is down on his luck who takes his family to a town where a terrible serial murder took place. He neglects to tell them that he moved them into the house where the crime occurred. While investigating the case, he stumbles on a box of super eight tapes which when played reveal a series of horrific mass murders all carried out by an unidentified assailant. As he investigates, mysterious and disturbing events begin to take place, many involving his own children. Slowly he begins to believe that some terrible creature is behind it all. This is not a fun house horror movie. It is one designed to disturb and scare you, and the atmospherics worked for me all the way through to the nightmarish conclusion.One example of these ghoulish touches are just the names the unknown killer applies to the super eight tapes. One tape which shows an entire family being drowned in a swimming pool is labeled Pool Party. Another in which a family is burned alive is labeled Barbecue. Simple touches like that unnerve me a great deal and Sinister is resplendent with them. The film got mixed reviews but those who liked it seemed to feel much as I did.

Rotten Tomatoes: 62% (75-46)

IMDB: 7.0

22-Killing Them Softly- Well received critically, Killing Them Softly was a flop with audiences and was only the second non-horror film to ever receive an F Cinemascore. I found it to be an offbeat no holds barred look at the way small-town hoodlums conduct their business. Brad Pitt is superb as an indifferent hitman who is alternately polite and ruthless. The supporting cast led by Richard Jenkins and James Gandolfini shine as well. Amidst the brutality, the film also has an enjoyable black humor to it that is quite inventive. One scene shows just how difficult it can be to have a conversation with a heroin addict. Another might be my favorite sight gag of the year which illustrates the dangers of blowing up a car by setting it on fire. The title comes from some of the clever dialogue in the film. When explaining his methods for murder, Brad Pitt says he hates to get up close to the victims and hear them cry for mercy. He likes to do it from a distance and kill them softly. He also has a monologue right at the end of the film which finishes things off on just the right sardonic note. Incidentally, the only other non-horror film to receive an F Cinemascore was Solaris. I enjoyed that as well.

Rotten Tomatoes: 77% (126-34)

IMDB: 7.1

21-Flight-Robert Zemeckis return to live-action filmmaking after three straight motion capture efforts is quite a success. I will confess that based on his previous work I was surprised just how strong an R-rated film this is. Indeed it must’ve pushed the boundaries of the rating to its very limits. The trailer gives a good indication of the basic plot in which an airline pilot saves a plane from a horrific mechanical failure through ingenuity and guts and then faces possible criminal charges because he failed a drug test. What isn’t shown is just how disturbed and out-of-control Denzel Washington’s character really is throughout the entire film. This is not an admirable man by any means and Washington really captures this. He manipulates and lies throughout the film to protect himself from trouble. In fact, until the end, as entertained as I was, I was wondering if this was going to finish on a morally indefensible note. However, Zemeckis stuck the landing by finding the right note to the finish. Denzel Washington gives one of the best performances of the year, Robert Zemeckis provides one of the best set pieces of the year, and John Goodman provides invaluable comic relief as a lowlife drug dealer. A solid drama from beginning to end.

Rotten Tomatoes: 77% (128-38)

IMDB: 7.6

Jacob Burns Film Center: An oasis in the desert-Blast from the past article + Poll

Published January 4, 2013 by allanmelody

            From time to time,I’m going to be including some older articles that I’ve written in the past for other websites but that I feel still have relevance. To indicate any of those articles, I will refer to it as a blast from the past article. This one was an article I wrote about the Jacob Burns Film Center. I wanted to include it on my blog because I feel the theatrical experience is so lacking today and the exceptions are so rare that they deserve mention as often as possible. While the specific events I speak of happened a year or more ago the current programming still reflects this level of excellence. Down the road, I plan on writing more articles about the Jacob Burns Film Center that are more up-to-date. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this, and that you consider attending this wonderful place if you are ever in the area. Also, I would love to get articles from any readers about theaters in their area that go beyond the experience of the everyday multiplex.                                  

Jacob Burns Film Center: An oasis in the desert

            Where can you

            -Attend special events of advance screenings with guest Q & A’s 3 or 4 times a week featuring old classics, independent films, and even huge releases like Hugo and The Adventures of Tintin.

            -See edgy midnight movie style cinema every other Friday night featuring recent films like Enter the Void, Hobo with a Shotgun, and 13 Assassins plus older classics like Takashi Miike’s Audition.

            -Attend a continuing series featuring Jonathan Demme’s favorite underrated films- with the Oscar-winning-director there in person for a Q & A afterward.

            -See films in advance of their release dates with major stars and directors in attendance including Peter Weir, Tim Burton, Woody Allen, and many more.

            -Attend a special event of 24 straight hours of film unspooling on three different screens including older classics and a bushel of surprise premiere presentations with a special prize of a year of free movie passes given to anyone who could negotiate the whole marathon.

            If you answered the Alamo theatres in Austin, I’m quite sure you’re right. I was lucky enough to attend the Fantastic Fest in 2006, and can say with assurance that the film-going experience there is exactly as advertised.

            But in this case, your answer would be wrong. All of the experiences described above can be found in the small town of Pleasantville, New York located about an hour north of New York City.

            Before I go into a brief description of the facility, its history, and some of my own experiences there, let me start by explaining why I’m writing in the first place and why a theatre like this should qualify as news.

            It’s a tough time to be a filmgoer. I love movies but the current cinema experience is flat out lousy. You have to endure an hour of commercials and trailers before the feature. The surround sound (or sometimes any sound) is not working properly. There is nearly always a lack of selection. I’ve got a multiplex near me with 20 screens, but they are only showing 5 different films on 3 to 5 screens each. The same 7 or 8 movies can be found everywhere to the detriment of almost everything else. And then there are our fellow patrons. You know, the ones who are supposed to make the cinema experience truly special. Well, if truly special includes cellphones, crying babies, glowing screens, and incessant talking, I guess it’s true.  Anyway, you get the picture. I’ve seen it discussed many times on this website.

            My home theatre and collection of DVD’s and Blu-rays flat out blows away the average theatrical experience. For me, going to the movies has become almost a preview ritual of sorts to decide which movies I want to own permanently where I can finally enjoy them properly.

            The experiences I’ve had the past few years at the Jacob Burns Film Center are the one exception to this. They have been memorable often one-of- a-kind experiences that nothing else can touch. And with all the movies I’ve seen, not one time has there been a problem with the sound, picture, or fellow audience members. People are there to see movies, period.

            The JBFC opened in 2001. It has 3 theatres ranging from 70 to 250 seats. In describing its overall programming, I would say it’s akin to the Toronto Film Festival, which to me is the highest compliment I can give. Toronto doesn’t just stick to traditional art-house fare, but offers stuff for kids, mainstream audiences, and midnight crowds. The lineup at the JBFC caters to all the above, and is also akin to Toronto in the sheer number of guests, premieres, and special events they feature all the time. It truly is like having a year round film festival in your own backyard.

            To go over all the programming the JBFC offers would go on indefinitely, so I’ll just point out a few highlights.

            -It does offer regular features. In the past year it has run The Kings Speech, Black Swan, The Illusionist, Midnight in Paris, Another Earth, The Descendants, and Take Shelter among many others.

            -Fridays at 9:30 they run their After Dark series of midnight movies. Nothing is too bloody or edgy for this series, and no less a gore-fest than Peter Jackson’s unrated cut of Dead Alive was shown a few years back.

            -The great thing about the Jonathan Demme selections is you never know what the guy might pick. Last year he embraced the little seen horror flick The Ruins. More recently, he picked Spielberg’s robot fairy tale A.I. for the series. Demme is the most frequent celebrity guest, sometimes even hosting events of his own creation. A recent example was December 13 when he hosted a discussion of the Occupy Wall Street Movement which included several short documentaries (including one by Demme himself) about it

            -I’ve seen tons of guests over the years. Julie Taymor with Across the Universe. Peter Weir with The Road Home. Tim Burton with Big Fish. My all-time favorite was with Woody Allen who rarely does Q & A’s. The movie he was previewing (Scoop) was one of his weakest but his comments afterwards were hilarious. Most memorable of all was when he slammed fellow director Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby, calling it ridiculous and laughable. Another memorable experience was sharing a Halloween screening of Cujo with the legendary master himself, Stephen King.

            There are always wonderful special events featuring classic cinema presented in unique fashion. One example was a showing of James Whale’s original Frankenstein. Not only did it feature a top notch print, but also a specially created musical score for the classic (the original had no soundtrack) performed in person by a live orchestra.

            -The special events can go mainstream as well. Last year they hosted a special 3-D screening of Avatar with actor Steven Lang in attendance.

            -The JBFC has a year-end tradition during the last two weeks of December when they showcase a dozen or so critically acclaimed films from that calendar year that they didn’t get a chance to ssreen. Almost all the selections are movies that are difficult to find theatrically outside major cities. This year’s selection featured one of my personal favorites of 2011, the hypnotic, dreamlike Drive.

            -Every year right before the Oscars they run a compilation featuring all the hard to find nominees in the animated and live action short subject competitions. Last year, they hosted a special pre-Oscar event that discussed the whole academy process from nominations to campaigning to the awards themselves. And for good measure they threw in a screening of then Oscar favorite The Social Network.

            -More and more they are getting into live broadcasts of plays, operas, and other events from all over the world including live presentations from the Royal Shakespeare Company.

            -The 24 hour movie marathon I mentioned earlier took place this past June and was a celebration of the Burn’s 10 year anniversary. This was an event my job schedule wouldn’t allow me to attend, but it featured a bushel of advance previews of forthcoming films as well as remastered classic films; many of them eclectic choices like the offbeat 1990 crime flick Miami Blues.

            -For anyone who likes advance previews on a regular basis there is a film club. You sign up for a six film series and each time you get to see a film that hasn’t hit theatres yet, usually with a discussion to follow. This is similar to surprise sneak previews, but the difference is that it is at the same time and place with the same group of people in attendance.

            As good as the lineup at the JBFC always is, they really outdid themselves in the last six weeks of 2011. Here is a sample of their triumphs.

            -Add Steven Spielberg to the list of guests as he visited to receive an honorary award.  Even better, in honor of his visit, there was a series honoring his favorite films. The past few months have included screenings of North by Northwest, The Maltese Falcon, Lawrence of Arabia, The Searchers, It’s a Wonderful Life, Rebecca, Casablanca, The Seven Samurai, and The Godfather among others. A pretty good selection of classics on the big screen, all in the span of a month. 

            -At an October screening of the documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteers Journey the famous muppeteer Kevin Clash was there in person with his alter-ego to take questions along with the director of the film.

            -Recent Fridays after dark fare has featured the old and the new. You have your choice of Tucker and Dale of Evil, a brand new horror comedy in the vein of Shaun of the Dead, Ridley Scott’s classic Alien, George Miller’s seminal Mad Max movie, The Road Warrior, or Hark Tsui’s screwy fantasy concoction Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame.

            -The Movies for kids Saturday matinee series has recently featured Innerspace, Back to the Future, E.T, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and The Iron Giant. Admission to all these shows is only one dollar for all kids.

            –November 3rd featured one of the few opportunities to see the amazing Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory outside of film festivals before it debuts on HBO in January. The film was followed up by a fascinating Q&A with director Joe Berlinger. (As an aside, I have to mention that if there is anyone unfamiliar with this series of films about a horrible triple homicide and its aftermath, you need to find them and see them now.  Just Google West Memphis Three and you can get a nice update on the whole case and miscarriage of justice that has been going on for nearly twenty years.)          

            -In the past month, there have been advance screenings of Margin Call, My Week with Marilyn, and Young Adult, all with their directors in attendance. Director Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You for Smoking, Up in the Air) even skipped the Toronto Film Festival for the first time ever, but this small theatre in Pleasantville managed to land him.

            -Actors have not been neglected either. On November 15, Ellen Barkin did a Q&A with a preview of her Sundance award winning dysfunctional family film Another Happy Day. On November 9th, Elizabeth Olsen was there with the stunning Martha Marcy May Marlene. If you’ve missed this film about a young girl trying to leave a cult behind, I urge you to seek it out. For me, the benchmark for disturbing films has always been Requiem for a Dream. Just as that film puts you in the mind of a drug abuser, Martha puts you in the disturbed mind of a young cult member in such a way that you feel you’ve been indoctrinated yourself. Elizabeth Olsen has deservedly received awards buzz for this role which in its fearlessness is reminiscent of some of Jennifer Connelly’s best work.

            -November 9 gave us “a Night with Susan Orlean.” Many of you may remember the name from Meryl Streep’s portrayal of her in Adaptation.  On this evening, she came to discussher new book about the old canine star Rin Tin Tin. Along with the discussion, an old silent Rin Tin Tin film Clash of the Wolves was screened.  It was just one of many opportunities this past year to see silent films at the JBFC.

            -December 6 offered the opportunity to see Steven Spielberg’s epic War Horse on the big screen a full three weeks in advance. A few days later director Gore Verbinski was in town for a screening and Q&A for his wild animated romp Rango, no doubt in hopes of keeping it fresh in voter’s minds as award season rolls around for the animated features.

            -But all of this pales next to the back to back events that the JBFC put together on November 22nd. At 4 PM there was a screening in 3-D of Martin Scorsese’s brilliant ode to silent film Hugo. Following the movie was a Q&A with Scorsese’s longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker.  Next up at 7:30 was a 3-D screening one full month in advance of its release of Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin withyet another Q&A featuring lead animator on the film Jamie Beard.  Is it even possible to put together a doubleheader that is any more nirvana for film fans than that?

            Incidentally, both of those Q&A’s along with many of the others were moderated by Janet Maslin, former head film critic of the New York Times, so even the hosts at these events have top notch film credentials.

            So there it is. The above represents just the tip of the iceberg of the varied experiences the JBFC affords. I haven’t even touched on the huge number of educational classes they have available which would be another story entirely. This information and much more can be found on the JBFC website burnsfilmcente.org. It is truly an oasis in the desert of the current arid theatrical landscape. This will be the first of more reports on first rate cinemas that still exist and need to be reported. A series of reports about theatres that still care about film and want to offer something more to their audience. I’ll be following this up with more reports on theJBFC and their more recent programming. I also invite readers to write in with reports about theatres that go beyond the run-of-the-mill multiplex. I hope to hear about them… and go to them if at all possible.

My Favorite Films of 2012 Part Three: 26-30

Published January 3, 2013 by allanmelody

30-ParaNorman- I adore stop motion films and I’m glad they’re making such a great comeback. In 2009, we got the classics Coraline and Fantastic Mr. Fox. This year brings us to more stop motion classics. The first on my list is Paranorman. This is about a kid who can see dead people, which is used not only to showcase entertaining encounters with ghosts and corpses, but to set up a story about outsiders and misunderstood individuals which gives the whole project a soul. I love that not only is Norman misunderstood, but that the motivations of the undead that start to take over his town are not all that they appear to be to the townsfolk and the viewer. In the end, nearly everyone is sympathetic to one degree or another once their point of view is understood. ParaNorman has a point to make, but don’t misunderstand. This film is also a lot of fun, filled with sight gags and witty dialogue, and understands the appeal of things that go bump in the night. Almost all the stop motion films made so far (with the exception of fantastic Mr. Fox) seem to deal with corpses, ghosts, and monsters. If they all continue to be as innovative as this one and the other film that appears on my list, all I can say is keep them coming.

Rotten Tomatoes: 86% (126-20)

IMDB: 7.3

29-Safety Not Guaranteed– One of the more original and offbeat comedies of the year. The story follows a group of journalists as they track down the author of a very unusual newspaper ad. The ad is from a man who claims to have time traveled and is seeking a partner to travel along with him. The movie does an effective job of keeping us guessing about whether we are watching a movie about a disturbed individual or an outright science fiction film. On the path to finding out, we get a wonderfully quirky romantic comedy featuring two leads with outstanding chemistry who play their parts to perfection. Safety Not Guaranteed is a funny, heartfelt gem that most people missed in theatres that is definitely worth checking out.

Rotten Tomatoes: 94% (106-7)

IMDB: 7.1

28-The Grey- While this film is ostensibly a survival story about a group of people stranded after a plane crash and being pursued by wolves, it is also a dark tale about the search for meaning in life itself. Liam Neeson leads the group of survivors as they try to outwit the gang of wolves and battle themselves and their own inner demons at the same time. In between the skirmishes of man and beast, we get conversations about family, God, and the purpose of existence. The film is effective on both fronts. At first, I was indifferent to the fate of this group of semi-misanthropes, but as I got to know them and their humanity shone through, I found I had grown fond of each and every one of them despite their many flaws. The set pieces involving the wolves are terrifying, realistic, and appropriately metaphorical. My favorite moment is an encounter in the dead of night where only the bright yellow eyes of the wolves are visible. The uncompromising ending fits this jet black movie perfectly. Overall, a brutal but rewarding experience.

Rotten Tomatoes: 79% (144-39)

IMDB: 6.9

27-Sound of My Voice- if anyone had told me a few months ago that my favorite film about a cult leader would not be The Master but this low-budget, possibly sci-fi film, I would never have believed it. The plot involves a couple of would-be reporters who infiltrate a cult run by a mysterious woman who claims to be from the future. Brit Marling is brilliant as this leader, believably conveying the manner in which these types of individuals control their flocks. In the way she speaks, she alternates between a kind, nurturing leader and a manipulative one who demands total obedience and confidence from her subjects. I can almost see how real-life individuals fall susceptible to people like this no matter how crazy what they spout actually is. Sound of My Voice is full of interesting twists that take the story in unexpected directions. The most intriguing is a bizarre ritualistic greetng at the beginning of each cult meeting. When the meaning behind it is exposed, it makes you realize you might’ve been watching a fantasy film after all. Overall, a disturbing gem of a movie.

Rotten Tomatoes: 75% (73-24)

IMDB: 6.5

26-The Raid: Redemption-This movie won the Midnight Madness award at the Toronto Film Festival and it’s easy to see why. The plot is as simple as can be. The police are conducting a raid on an apartment ruled by a drug lord and inhabited by thugs. Halfway to their objective, the police end up trapped with every person in the complex trying to finish them off. The only escape is to fight their way out. That, in a nutshell, is pretty much the whole movie. There is an attempt at character development here and there but mostly it is an all out, slam-bang, action slugfest. And I have rarely seen action done this effectively. There are fights with guns, knives, machetes, and fists and it is all done so effectively that the viewer can practically feel every blow. One of the villains is so eager for fisticuffs that when he has a police officer at gunpoint he puts his gun down so that they can slug it out hand-to-hand. Does that sound hard to believe? Not when you meet the character known as Mad dog and see the way he fights. I’m usually not a huge fan of pure action movies, but the nonstop adrenaline, brilliant editing, and incredible stunt work makes this a welcome exception.

Rotten Tomatoes: 84% (114-22)

IMDB: 7.9

My Favorite Films of 2012 Part Two: 31-35

Published January 2, 2013 by allanmelody

35-Cloud Atlas-Whatever problems people have with it, no one can say that Cloud Atlas isn’t ambitious. The film follows six separate major storylines that take place in the past present and future. Actors like Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, and Halle Berry all play multiple roles in multiple times. On first viewing, I found myself alternately entranced, frustrated, enchanted, and bored. Some of the scenes were hilarious, others were heartfelt, others were executed with immense wizardry and imagination, while others fell flat and left me cold. When I see a film that leaves me in such a schizophrenic mood, I always try to wait a few days and let it all sink in before making a judgment. In this case, I will say that while I am still conflicted I have been thinking about the film a great deal which is usually a sign that it is one I will come to love or at least admire. Amidst the messier moments, repetition of ideas, and overall pretention, there is simply too much wonder and imagination to be overlooked. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see this film on many critics best and worst films of the year. It is that divisive an experience. Finally, should you see it, do not miss the ending sequence which reveals all the parts the different actors played, some of which I didn’t spot at all during the film.

Rotten Tomatoes: 64% (120-68)

IMDB: 8.2

34-Rise of the Guardians– I am not sure what to what extent genius director Guillermo Del Toro was involved in the creation of this animated feature, but there is no question it focuses on themes that permeate his own films. For example, Del Toro is very interested in myths and legends and making sure that everything has a proper back story. He respects fantasy creations and wants to give them depth, and that’s what this film does for Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and Jack Frost. We get to see the inner workings of these characters and what makes them tick. And we also get an entertaining story, exciting set pieces, constant eye candy, and a touching subtext about the importance of belief and maintaining childlike innocence in a cynical world. The voice work is top-notch with Jude Law standing out as the villainous bogeyman. Definitely one of the stronger efforts from DreamWorks animation thus far.

Rotten Tomatoes: 75% (91-30)

IMDB: 7.5

33-The Amazing Spiderman-This movie grew on me as it went along. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing completely different takes on superheroes. I think it will actually free things up when filmmakers realize they don’t have to be tied to what was done before indefinitely. Do I like this as much as the Sam Raimi movies? No, for me it’s not even close. However, this version has a lot to offer. Like the movie, Andrew Garfield’s portrayal grows on you as the movie comes along. This is helped by a great supporting turn from Emma Stone as his love interest Gwen Stacy. It was also nice to finally see the lizard (who has been speculated to be a villain in the Spiderman movies for quite some time) finally get his day in the sun. Add in some solid action sequences, and a new mysterious back story for Peter Parker and you’ve got a solid first installment in a new series of Spiderman movies. I, for one, am interested enough to return and see more of the secrets of Peter Parker’s past revealed and how it all might be connected to a new incarnation of the Green goblin. Also, knowing Gwen Stacy’s fate in the comics, I’m curious to see if this could turn into a tragic trilogy.

Rotten Tomatoes: 73% (200-74)

IMDB: 7.3

32-The Silver Linings Playbook- This delightful quirky romantic comedy from David O Russell is about two dysfunctional people who help to bring each other back into the world. The film has much of the offbeat humor and strange situations of some of Russell’s earlier efforts such as Flirting with Disaster. The difference in this movie is that it also features a great deal of heart; an important center that seems lacking in some of Russell’s previous comedic works. A great deal of credit for that heart has to go to Bradley Cooper (who I’ve never been a fan of till this) and Jennifer Lawrence who headline the film. Although the two of them are very troubled the audience is rooting for them all the way. The supporting performances are impeccable with Robert DeNiro getting one of his best roles in a long time. One of the funniest and most original comedies of 2012.

Rotten Tomatoes: 91% (157-16)

IMDB: 8.2

31-The Impossible- A film based on the true story of a terrible tsunami disaster in 2004, The Impossible follows one family through the tragedy and its aftermath. There is one flaw in the film or it would be much higher on this list of honor. It is blatantly manipulative from start to finish in ways that were not necessary, and it’s supposedly true storytelling relies on some coincidences that strain credulity to say the least. Despite this, the movie is so well acted and directed that it overcomes these flaws and still remains a powerful work. Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts are stellar as always, but the real triumph for the three young actors who give very naturalistic performances as the children of the family. Tom Holland is a particular standout as the eldest brother who was grow up and show bravery far beyond his years. He has deservedly attracted some awards notice for his work. Beyond the actors, the real star is director JA Bayone, who delivers one amazing shot after another throughout the film. The tsunami sequence itself is one of the most realistic and terrifying disaster set pieces ever committed to film. One of the shocking things is its suddenness. One minute the family is playing in the hotel’s pool, and the next a giant wave of water washes them all away. The disaster itself and its harrowing aftermath are a technical triumph that make for an unforgettable film experience.

Rotten Tomatoes: 79% (69-18)

IMDB: 7.7

My Favorite Films of 2012 Part One: 36-40

Published December 31, 2012 by allanmelody

My Favorite Films Of 2012

 

      This is a multipart column I am really looking forward to. I am going to get a chance to honor my favorite films of 2012. Since this blog is new and I didn’t get to review any of these films before, this year’s list will probably be a little longer than future years will be. The list will be in eight parts counting down to my favorite film of the year which will be in the final column. To judge what I really consider my favorite films I used a simple criteria. They were films that I knew I would want to revisit again and again and films that already are or will be part of my movie collection. In other words, movies that I’m going to spend my hard-earned money on. I will say that this is been the strongest year in quite some time as far as a number of films that I am truly passionate about. All in all, I would say the top 20 on this list are outright classics for me while many of the others could prove to be as well after multiple viewings.

      To see where each of the films stood in relation to other critics and two other fans, I’m going to include their rankings on the Rotten Tomatoes and Internet Movie Database websites. That will be followed up by my thoughts on the film and a favorite performance or moment which I will try to keep spoiler free.

40-Pirates: Band of Misfits-Not nearly the masterpieces that the earlier works of Aardman Animation (specifically Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit) were but even second tier work from this remarkable studio is worth multiple viewings. In under 90 minutes, the film offers a ton of great sight gags, typical dry British humor, and some wonderfully politically incorrect moments. The top one for me was seeing the elephant man as the butt of the joke; something that the typical animated family film would never dare to do. There is little story here, but the abundance of eye candy and activity going on in all corners of the screen largely makes up for the lack of it. An excellent voice cast rounds off the experience.

Rotten Tomatoes: 86% (119-19)

IMDB: 6.7

39-Bernie-I went into this movie knowing nothing except that it was a Richard Linklater directed film starring Jack Black. My total ignorance of the subject matter (which is very rare for me) allowed me to be surprised again and again by developments all the way through to the end credits. Therefore, I’m going to give next to nothing away here. I’ll just say that it is a consistently offbeat, quirky comedy that deftly blends the line between fiction film and documentary filmmaking. Jack Black gives a complex, amusing performance as a small-town mortician, Shirley McClain is wonderful as the crotchety old woman the town can’t stand who befriends him, and Matthew McConnaughy has never been funnier than he is here as a self promoting D.A.. Best of all, however, are the many small roles portraying the people of this small town in Texas. A marvelous, entertaining surprise of a film.

Rotten Tomatoes: 92% (110-10)

IMDB: 6.7

38-The Raven- I enjoyed this critical and commercial flop as a guilty pleasure. I am someone who loves the writings of Edgar Allen Poe and while this film doesn’t come close to doing them justice, it does pay respect to some of the author’s greatest works. John Cusack is quite good as Poe, portraying him as a mixture of a misanthrope and romantic hero wrapped up in one. The killer is inspired by Poe’s novels so his grisly murders and methods are entirely appropriate. Although the finale is somewhat uninspired, the journey to get there is worthwhile. At the very least, if this film gets a few people to discover one of the great short story writers, that is a good thing.

Rotten Tomatoes: 22% (27-97)

IMDB: 6.4

 

37-The Woman in Black- A good old-fashioned ghost story anchored by a strong lead performance from Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame. Indeed, Radcliffe’s contribution is vital as the entire middle section of the film features him alone in an old house. It’s actually a bit reminiscent of Tom Hanks in Castaway and Will Smith in I Legend in the sense that it’s up to him to carry all the action by himself for long periods of time. The back story of the ghost is serviceable if unremarkable. The real strength (and always a key to any ghost story) of the movie is the sense of atmosphere provided by a disturbed town, a creepy house, and a misty swamp. They provide a great backdrop for all the real and imagined scares in the film. There are several jump out of your seat moments, and Radcliffe’s character and his back story provide some heart to the horror. It also has one of the best openings of the year, an unsettling triple suicide.

Rotten Tomatoes: 65% (112-60)

IMDB: 6.5

36-The Secret World of Arrietty-  Another work of art from the Walt Disney of Japanese animation Hiyao Miyazaki. While Miyazaki did not direct this film, he adapted the screenplay and his fingerprints can be felt all over it. All his trademarks are here including a complex and compelling heroine, a love and respect of nature, and an attention to every detail that suits the story perfectly. The movie is based on the series of books called The Borrowers about a species of miniature people who live in houses unseen by humans. Amongst the film’s many triumphs is successfully capturing the feeling of wonder that a young boy would experience upon the discovery of something so magical.  The young boy also has a tragic back story which adds even more layers to the whole proceeding. The author of the original series, Mary Norton, reveled in attention to detail in every aspect of her creation’s lives. I don’t think she could have asked for a film version that would respect that vision any more closely. Every frame is a work of art and the home of the borrowers is filled with little touches that will require multiple viewings to take in. My favorite Miyazaki film since Spirited Away.

Rotten Tomatoes: 94% (109-7)

IMDB: 7.6