Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, December 31, 2012

Zack Clopton's 2012 Movie Retrospective

“47 percent of…

ZACK CLOPTON’S 2012 MOVIE RETROSPECTIVE!!!

…will vote for the president no matter what.”

2012 was a year of emotional ups-and-downs. We survived the apocalypse. The presidential election turned out just the way it should have. The Internet defeated SOPA while Pussy Riot was less successful in defeating patriarchal bullshit. Egypt got an election. Lots of people enjoyed the Olympics. Not to mention Grumpy Cat bringing joy to millions.

Sadly, it looks like 2012 will be a year defined by tragedy and violence. Hurricane Sandy wrecked the East Coast’s shit, including my own. Civil war broke out in Syria. A dude ate another dude’s face, starting off a flurry of zombie panic. Some asshole shot an unarmed kid. Some asshole flipped a cruise liner. Earthquakes and tornadoes leveled buildings. Most tragically, not a month passed without a mass shooting. Words can’t describe how upsetting this is.

On a lighter, though still sad note, way too many cool people died this year. I haven’t done a Taps section since 2008 but 2012 truly earned it. Ray Bradbury, Ernest Borgnine, William Finley, and Richard Lynch hit me the hardest. The world is a less interesting place without Charles Durning, Maurice Sendak, Herbert Lom, Tony Scott, Bill Hinzman, Jonathan Frid, Jack Klugman, Michael Clark Duncan, Sherman Hemsley, Carlo Rambaldi, Zalman King, Phyllis Diller, Joel Goldsmith, Don Cornelius, Dick Tufeld, Dick Clark, and even Andy Griffith. Perhaps the biggest compliment we can pay them all is that they filled the lives of complete strangers with hours of joy and entertainment.

Now that we’re all horribly depressed, let’s talk about movies. For film, 2012 was a year of expectations being met. Very few films disappointed me, living up to exactly what I wanted. This might not sound super-duper cool but, at the end of the year, it adds up to a fairly exceptional list. In toto, I saw 79 new releases, meeting my yearly average, which I am hugely happy about, of course. I saw pretty much everything I wanted, except for The Master. Paul Thomas Anderson always manages to slip through my net.

I present you with THE LIST, completely unedited and un-proof read. Read and enjoy. Or don’t. But I’d like it if you did.

FOUR STARS:

1. Cloud Atlas
Each of the segments are very different from the other but each are extremely good. Themes reoccur through time like musical motifs, weaving these divergent stories together. The incredible cast, splendid visuals, and accomplish direction unites a big squishy heart. It’s all about love, guys. A beautifully composed film.

2. The Avengers
Basically, a series of amazingly awesome set-pieces. Something incredible will happen and you’ll think, “There’s no way the movie will top that.” And then it totally does, ten-folds. I don’t think any film has had this much hype beforehand and managed to exceed it. All superheroes movies from here on will be pointless, except for maybe “The Avengers 2.”

3. Django Unchained
Tarrantino’s most entertaining film since “Kill Bill.” The action is intense and glorious, making this the bloodiest western I’ve ever seen. The director’s heaviest dialogue finds a fine resting place in Christoph Waltz’ mouth. When it comes to the racial commentary, it’s hard to say exactly what the filmmaker is getting at, but the results are nothing short of cathartic.

4. The Dark Knight Rises
Possibly the best Batman movie we’ll ever get. The plot is tight and the pacing is fantastic. Anne Hathaway is a perfect Catwoman and Bane is actually a creditable threat. The ending blew my mind. Christopher Nolan wrapped up his trilogy in impressive fashion.

5. Redline
Without question, one of the most beautifully animated films I’ve ever seen. Every frame is like a painting, alive with detail. The racing sequences are insanely energetic, so much so that the rest of the movie kind of has to pale in comparison. Either way, the film is still incredibly fun and a breathtaking piece of art, the kind of film that births fandoms.

6. Moonrise Kingdom
With this story of young love, Wes Anderson injects a lot of creativity and energy into his traditional style. Featuring two fantastic lead performances, typically hilarious deadpan dialogue, energetic direction, and enough absurdity to keep it all interesting, this is one of the filmmaker’s best.

7. The Secret World of Arrietty
As with many Studio Ghibli films, this is a coming of age story in a fantasy setting, centered on a strong young girl, learning about love and how to make her own way. The animation is, naturally, gorgeous and the musical score is enchanting. It invites us into a world full of detail and creativity, while a gentle, soulful heart beats beneath.

8. Ruby Sparks
If you’re a writer or a lovelorn nerd (or both), you should definitely see this perfectly acted, exceedingly smart indie. The film is all about subverting the Manic Pixie Dream Girl concept. The magic-realism premise provides laughs but the movie fully embraces the darker implications. The ambiguous ending is bound to start conversation.

THREE AND A HALF STARS:

9. Excision
Director Richard Bates can’t quite stick the ending, which is shame because otherwise “Excision” is brilliant. AnnaLynne McCord’s totally glamour-free performance is incredible. The visuals are fresh. The script cuts back and forth between hilarious and sick. The supporting cast is loaded with cult icons. Being inside the head of a sociopathic teen has never been this entertaining.

10. Killer Joe
Matthew McCanaughhey repurposes his swarthy charm to play a calculating, sadistic psychopath. Who knew he had it in him? Beneath the bone-crunching violence and redneck depravity is a streak of jet black humor, intense thrills, and a brutal deconstruction of the patriarchal atomic family model. You’re not going to look at fried chicken the same after this.

11. The Raid: Redemption
The fight choreography is extraordinary, bone crushing and fierce without being incoherent. The action is smartly paced with slower moments, even if this is still almost non-stop violence. Sure, the plot is just a step above a video game but simple themes like brotherhood and betrayal resonate deeply. You’re here for the action and this is thrilling, heart-pumping action at its best.

12. Twixt
Things I like that are in this movie: Gothic atmosphere, nightmares, writer’s angst, horror fiction, Edgar Allen Poe, beautiful young dead girls, guilt, bloody murders, lyrical sequences that maybe don’t add much to the story but sure are nice to watch, visual tricks, irony. I’m not sure if it makes much sense in the end but I sure did like it a lot.

13. Dark Horse
Todd Solondz’ latest tragi-comedy deconstructs the “manchild + love = maturity” premise. Jordon Gelber’s fearless performance is hilarious, cringe-inducing, and heart-breaking, much like the film. The bubblegum soundtrack underlines the themes of loneliness and self-delusion. The increasingly puzzling second half plays like a sad, sweet piece of music… Even if it raises more questions then it answers.

14. The Bay
Barry Levinsten adapts to the horror genre well, making a movie that’s frequently disturbing and quite scary. The gore and disease make-up is shockingly life-like. It knows when to go for the jump scare and when to let your mind fill the gaps. It’s all the scarier because it could actually happen. The lead actress could be better and the documentary style is overdone a few times.

15. V/H/S
Smart, scary stuff. This indie-anthology uses the found footage style in witty, exciting ways. All six of the segments are good to extremely good, with Glen McQuaid’s hugely clever riff on slasher films being my personal favorite. The anthology format forces the directors to cut all the fat, leaving only the spookiest, most effective prime cuts.

16. God Bless America
A cultural satire that’s about more then just shooting annoying people. (Though it’s about that too.) It’s about a culture that supports being an asshole over being considerate. It’s about two extraordinary lead performances. It jokingly asks immoral questions before following those ideas to their darkest conclusions, even if that risks making the audience uncomfortable. You should know in the first two minutes if this movie is for you or not.  

17. Kill List
This British thriller is a little hard to get into. The characters aren’t exactly cuddly. However, the story twists and turns fantastically. I love the way it slowly becomes a genuinely freaky horror film, if the startling burst of extreme violence don’t clue you in first. The last act is surprisingly intense, even if the ending is purposely vague.

18. The Innkeepers
Few modern horror filmmakers are as good at atmosphere as Ti West and none of them are as patient. He introduces us to a cozy world and effortlessly charming lead Sara Paxton, before slowly turning the screws and ramping up the tension. The ending isn’t as scary as it could’ve been but this is a treat for horror fans who like deliberate pacing.

19. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Apocalyptic romantic comedy is often very funny, especially with its frequent indie comedy cameos. I love how some aspects of society keep ticking along right up to the end. Both leads do a good job. The love story shouldn’t work but is so yearningly earnest, you buy into it anyway.

THREE STARS:

20. Wreck-It Ralph
Once again you’ve got a Disney Animated Feature that might not do anything different or new but is still marvelously entertaining because of a hilarious script, whip-smart performances, great chemistry between actors, and visual beauty. What this one also has in its favor are funny video game in-jokes and a surprising willingness not to cop out.

21. Skyfall
Certainly takes its time setting the story up. The first half is a bit slow. Things get much better at the midpoint, leading up to an absolutely fantastic last act. I love the call-backs, references, and reinventions of classic Bond concepts, injecting a little old-school silliness into the gritty Craig-verse, even if I didn’t totally buy Bardem’s supervillain. If nothing else, the movie is beautifully photographed.

22. Prometheus
Despite only being a partial prequel to “Alien,” it does carry that film’s fear of bodily invasion, sexual assault, motherhood, and man discovering things he’s not prepare to handle. A wonderful cast is well suited to some startling sequences, most notable the grotesque and intense cesarean scene. Ridley Scott’s direction mostly overcomes a sloppy, frustrating script.

23. Chronicle
Ostensibly the most realistic take on the “realistic superhero” sub-subgenre, this feels closer to a thriller at times. The found footage angle brings an exciting quality to the action scenes. The strong performances and character-centric screenplay further roots the sci-fi premise in effective reality.

24. Haywire
Gina Carano kicks a lot of ass and proves she’s as strong an actor as any male action star. The grossly overqualified supporting cast helps too. The fight scenes are brutal and nicely acrobatic. Soderberg’s direction is sparse, collected, totally free of any annoying action conventions. The eclectic score confirms this as the indie version of a superspy movie.

25. The Expendables 2
The movie I expected the first one to be. The shaky-cam is (mostly) gone, the ensemble cast is handled better, there’s more humor, and the action scenes still kick ass. I even liked the new, younger characters. My only complaint is that there could have been more: More Van Damme, more Dolph, more over-the-hill action heroes. We shouldn’t ask for too much, I suppose.

26. The Cabin in the Woods
The last thirty minutes are awesome. It’s so awesome that I wish the rest of the movie had used the creativity and energy seen there instead of intentionally giving us a competent, but kind of bland slasher flick. The cast is appealing enough even if the characters aren’t all that developed. The movie is certainly ambitious, creative, and funny, even if it really needed to be more so.

27. Looper
It’s not easy to get pass the hacky premise, the overdone sci-fi/noir slang, or the killer kid but… The whole movie takes stupid things and makes them smart. It’s a shoot-em-up with a heart. It’s a time travel flick that never scientifically considers time travel. It’s not super well written so much as it’s extremely well paced and exciting. A good cast and intriguing direction helps too.

28. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The decision to expand “The Hobbit” into three films is still a questionable one. This first movie is about an hour longer then it needs to be and it’s really easy to tell what stuff was added to pad out the runtime. Jackson still films Middleearth with an astonishing scope, the entire Goblin City sequence at the end is awesome, and Martin Freeman is perfect as Bilbo.

29. Sound of My Voice
Ambiguity is the word of the day here, as this cult mindset/time travel thriller leaves most everything up to the viewer. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the strong acting and decent writing keeps the audience involved to care, even if the questions are unanswered and in service of a ultimately kind of thin script.

30. Brave
Not exactly what I expected. The first half is a rowdy, slapstick comedy before the mother/daughter drama and Scottish mythology takes center stage in the latter half. It’s pretty damn funny, is incredibly beautiful to look at, and features a singularly strong group of characters, even if it’s destined to be remembered as one of Pixar’s lesser efforts.

31. Lockout
Guy Pearce’s sarcastic, frequently hilarious, action-hero turn enlivens routine material. (The story is basically “Escape from New York” IN SPACE!) He has good chemistry with his co-star and the goofy premise is occasionally exploited for its full fun factor. All of this makes the sometimes shaky action scenes, intermittently stagey special effects, and plodding resolution easy to forgive.

32. Compliance
The most unpleasant viewing experience you’re likely to have this year. The filmmaker handles the true story as tastefully as possible, to the point of underselling the intensity. The direction, actors, and music prove just how easily people cave to authority. It never looks down on those involved and the realism quickly has the audience feeling queasy. You’re left hoping you wouldn’t react the same way but secretly dreading you might.

33. ParaNorman
Visually arresting, edgy and funny without being obnoxious, with a lot of horror in-jokes kids are unlikely to catch, a fantastic score, solid voice cast, and a surprising mid-film plot twist. I agree with the message of tolerance but the movie gets overly preachy and didactic with it, while some of the supporting characters are a little broad.

34. Frankenweenie
Mixing classic horror with a “boy and his dog” story hits two large sweet spots for me. The plentiful horror references, gorgeous visuals, and funny gags make up for the film not tackling potentially heavy themes or padding out its short film premise to feature length. Generally speaking though, this is pretty adorable.

35. Men in Black III
A lot better then part two, even if it starts off kind of slow. Tommy Lee Jones is obviously bored out of his mind. As soon as Jay gets back to the sixties, things pick up considerably. Josh Brolin is good, I liked the Grif character, Boris is a good villain, and the final set piece on the space shuttle is exciting.

36. Silent Night
Mostly unrelated “remake” of the classic Christmas slasher flick. Honestly, the scenes that are direct shout-outs to the original are the weakest moments. The main selling point is the over-the-top, very brutal and very bloody murder scenes. There’s an enough campy humor and good old fashion sleaze to get you through the rest. A simple seasonal slasher snack.

37. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Interesting documentary about the greatest sushi chef in the world. The film mostly focuses on the 82-year old’s indomitable work ethic and how his two sons live in his shadows. The preparation of sushi is frequently filmed like a ballet. There’s not quite enough material here for a feature, as the movie wanders in spots at only 82 minutes.

38. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Little Quvenzhane Wallis’ fierce performance is the main reason to check this one out. The movie certainly creates its own world, full of detail, texture, and odd little nuances. I liked the giant prehistoric pigs. However, the pacing falters and the way the film seemingly glorifies poverty gives me pause.

39. The Amazing Spider-Man
It’s a shame that every Spider-Man origin story has to do the Uncle Ben thing. It’s the only element that doesn’t work in this movie. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have great chemistry and their romance forms the emotional backbone of the film. The action scenes are inspired, with lots of creative web slinging, and we finally get a smartass Spidey on-screen.

40. Casa de mi Padre
Telenovelas are full of overheated melodrama. All a parody has to do is ramp up the absurdity. Some gags, like the talking tiger/vision-quest or characters hanging onto their cigarettes and booze even while dying, are inspired. Others, like an extended guitar session or reoccurring stock footage, are less so. Still, enough laughs are packed into the brisk runtime to make it worth it.

41. Bernie
Dark comedy that intercuts documentary-style interviews with scripted portions, leading to some folksy, genuine small-town charm. Jack Black gives one of his best performances and the movie gets some decent laughs out of juxtaposing his super-nice demeanor with his murderous act, not to mention the town’s complete willingness to forgive him.

42. Some Guy Who Kills People
Horror-tinged character study with a sharp, funny script and a primo cast. Karen Black and Barry Bosworth get some of the best lines. The murders are an afterthought. This is more of a story about a depressed, disaffected guy befriending his daughter and getting back into life. The ending totally cops-out.

43. The Devil’s Carnival
With a visual aesthetic somewhere between goth, harlequin, Victorian, steampunk, and hobo, this follow up to “Repo! The Genetic Opera” has surprisingly high production values for such a low budget. The music is excellent, save a song or two. Even with an intentionally fable-like story, the soup is a little thin. It’s only an hour long so a feature probably would have been more rounded. Still, I’d recommend it for the soundtrack. “Repo!” fans will obviously eat it up.

44. Safety Not Guaranteed
In many ways, this is a typical indie-comedy, with its snarky female lead, quirky characters, fey soundtrack, and the uncertainty about the dorky main character. The second act turn is horribly predictable. However, you slowly warm up to Audrey Plaza, the movie is quite funny at times, its time travel premise is rooted in real emotions of regret, and the ending is actually kind of perfect.

45. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Stephen Chbosky has learned a lot about writing. The film of the book dials back Charlie’s Mary Sue-ness, while maintaining the few kernel of truth, even managing to make the last minute twist sort of work. The questionably overqualified cast helps a lot, Emma Watson’s shaky American accent aside. Expect this to be the favorite wish-fulfillment fantasy of future outcast.

46. Dredd
Count this as something of a surprise. The plot owes a lot to “The Raid” and, while the gritty dystopian aspects of the original comic are properly captured, the satire is totally overlooked. Still, the cast is far better then expected, the action is solid if not always pulse-pounding, and there’s one oddly poetic moment. I would, honestly!, go see a (unlikely) sequel.

47. The Tall Man
Pascal Laugier’s newest movie is full of twists and isn’t what I expected at all. Mainly, it isn’t a horror film. It’s beautifully shot, very moody, and has a solid cast, including an unusually good performance from Jessica Biel. However, I can’t help but feel that the supernatural premise it sets up, and then totally subverts, would have made a creepier, if potentially less interesting, movie.

48. John Carter
Burrough’s Mars comes with a fully-formed universe and the movie doesn’t care if you’re not familiar with it. There’s way too much story here but I kind of admire the ambition and its go-for-broke ridiculousness. The special effects are pretty awesome, the cast is capable, and there are some stand-out moments, like the crawling city or John’s battle with the Green Men.

49. The Man with the Iron Fists
RZA holds his own film back at times. He’s not much of an actor, the script is intentionally convoluted, and the action sometimes feels overly self-aware. Once the story gets going, it leads to some awesomely stylized fight scenes plus a fun, campy performance or two.

50. ATM
Clever variation on the slasher formula. The characters are likable, full-grown adults that go the whole film without making any egregiously stupid mistakes. This is focused more on suspense then gore, which there’s relatively little of. Sure, the premise falls apart if you think about it for more then a minute and the ending’s something of a letdown. Still, this is a solid little thriller.

51. Silent House
The dreaded shaky-cam shows up a few times and the ending is a bummer. The cramped location and fantastic sound design lends some verisimilitude, making effective shocks and occasional actual tension. Elisabeth Olsen’s portrayal of a girl shaken apart by nerves also prevents this from being your typical Hollywood boo-show. Or, at least, an above average one.

52. The Whisperer in Darkness
Probably plays like an extended in-joke to non-Lovecraft nerds. Nicely adapts the author’s tricky prose to the screen, gets the mythology out there without being bogged down by exposition, and keeps the pace running along too. The faux-40s style is appreciated if never wholly convincing.

TWO AND A HALF STARS:

53. The Day
Post-apocalyptic survivors vs. cannibals siege flick has a decent cast, including a very good Ashley Bell, and some diverting action in its last half. The grimy and sometimes overly sadistic visuals are fairly nondistinct though, reminiscent of any other number of films. The profanity-laden dialogue rings false and the characters make dumb decisions for no reason.

54. Intruders
It’s a shame that the lame twist midway through totally undermines what otherwise could have been a really creepy, original horror film. It’s not the fault of the uniformly excellent cast but rather of a screenwriter, once again, being afraid to play a horror premise straight.

55. Detention
Heavy on pop culture references, this oddball horror-comedy (More comedy then horror) is occasionally hilarious, sometimes obnoxious, and has a cute female lead. In addition to murders, it features time travel, UFOs, body swapping, magnetic bears, animals exploding, a fly creature with a TV hand, and the end of the world.

56. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
The jokey premise is played totally straight, which is the main problem. Bekmambetov’s melodramatic direction plays along with this, despite producing at least two stand-out action scenes. The performances and music are all fine but the script, which provides a routine, typical superhero origin story for the unlikeliest of subjects, is what really drags this down.

57. The Watch
Another would-be “Ghostbusters,” this one gets some decent laughs out of its cast’s back-and-forth. Everyone is playing their typical types, especially Vince Vaughn’s vulgar frat boy. Richard Ayoade’s dead-pan delivery helps a lot. The movie is really uninteresting on a scripting level, as the story feels both totally by-the-numbers but also sloppily thrown-together.

58. Jack & Diane
Odd lesbian love story that’s also occasionally a werewolf movie. While both actresses are decent, the overall low-key style makes them hard to read. The movie is a little too leisurely. Surprisingly, the rare times it goes for scares, it actually works quite well. The strange visual cutaways are truly memorable, even if the movie can’t get you as emotionally invested as it clearly wants you to be.

59. Big Miracle
One of the most inoffensive movies I’ve ever seen. The tone is so gentle that the film can’t really sell the one dramatic, potentially very sad moment it has. The cast is wildly overqualified and I like that there aren’t any real bad guys in the script. Turns out everybody really does love whales.

60. The Woman in Black
Despite its classic horror heritage; respected source material, presented under the Hammer banner, Victorian setting, gothic manor, foggy nights; the movie is unwilling to commit to the style. There are far too many shrieking jump-scares and little interest in building atmosphere. I kind of liked the ending and Daniel Radcliffe successfully expands pass his Harry Potter roots. 

61. Dark Shadows
Burton’s adaptation of the campy cult classic can’t balance its wacky parody, darker humor, special effects action, or even simple subplots. It particularly can’t handle its morally ambiguous protagonists. Still, some of the cast does okay, especially Eva Green, and the sets sure are nice.

62. Area 407
“Blair Witch,” with DINOSAURS!, is a dynamite premise but this one can’t escape the typical Found Footage traps. Why don’t the characters put down the camera? We don’t see much. A lot of the runtime is composed of people walking around. Still, it’s not a total wash. The cast is likable enough and there’s a few successful moments, like a great shock-ending.

63. Iron Sky
The most impressive thing about this is that it looks like a big budget Hollywood blockbuster on a fraction of the money. Beyond the great premise (Moon Nazis!), the script doesn’t really have anything insightful to say, instead making fun of obvious targets and limp Bush-era parody. The last minute spin into earnestness is incredibly off-putting.

TWO STARS:

64. Sinister
After a strong first act, featuring a creepy opening and low-key sound design, this succumbs to typical studio horror clich├ęs: Unthreatening “creepy” kids, obnoxious jump scares, jagged editing, characters yelling at each other for no reason, a general lack of subtly. Shit, it even ends on a dark and stormy night! It’s a shame because there is some potentially interesting mythology here.

65. Ghost Rider: The Spirit of Vengeance
Neveldine/Taylor certainly bring some wacked-out hilarity to the fight scenes and Nic Cage is at his maximum level of Cage-ness. However, a budget-saving story device in the last quarter removes the action from the film, leading to a dragging mid-section. There’s a sense of staleness here that even Flaming-Piss and Hell-Jeeps can’t totally shake.

66. Smiley
I’m not sure how terrible the premise, a slasher set in the world of 4chan, is. There are some clever ideas but it’s very hard to take the movie seriously. The two lead girls are cute but once the “is it all in her head or real?” angle shows up, it becomes a bore. The constant jump scares don’t help any, nor does the stupid ending. The killer’s mask is pretty cool.

67. Hick
Rambling drama about Chloe Moretz, far too wiling to embrace her Lolita-image, running away from home and having some fucked-up adventures with white trash nut-jobs. It’s not awful and has a handful of effective moments but the movie never builds any sort of momentum. The filmmakers are hopelessly unsure of what to do with the uncomfortable material.

68. The Sleeper
I appreciate the eighties sensibility, especially the synth score and inexplicable dance scene, but this throw-back slasher is never suspenseful or scary. The gore is light and the focus is on atmosphere, an atmosphere the movie can’t maintain or use properly. The killer is seriously un-threatening. The filmmakers have potential but should focus on an original idea next time.

69. Don’t Go in the Woods
After an hour of decent-but-mostly-forgettable indie-rock and a pissy lead character, this horror-musical remembers the horror part and begins slashing through its cast with abandon. Technically a better made film then the mostly-unrelated 1980 trash-slasher of the same name but I enjoy that one way more. Actor-turned-director Vincent D'Onofrio shouldn’t quit his day job.

70. Chernobyl Diaries
Uninspired “spam in a van” horror flick. When the unlikable or indistinct characters aren’t making bad decisions, they’re wandering around identical, dimly-lit corridors breathing heavily. Even the jump scares lack any potency or energy. The movie wastes real life locations that could’ve been spooky. At least the CGI bear is unexpected.

71. Mirror, Mirror
Buried deep, deep beneath the awful fairy tale puns, lame broad comedy, Julia Robert’s shrill performance, and sleep-inducing pace are some of director Tarsem’s trademark breath-taking visuals and over-the-top costume design. Beyond that and Lily Collin’s general prettiness, there’s nothing to recommend here.

ONE AND A HALF STARS:

72. Breaking the Girls
Agnes Bruckner is probably better then this routine, dull “stalker with a crush” thriller, which seems like an exile from the late nineties, with the way it cribs so much from “Cruel Intentions” and its ilk. The story turns pointlessly from meaningless plot twist to dumb reveal. The movie can’t even deliver on the blatant exploitation it obviously desires.

73. Monster Brawl
As a series of 10-minute internet vignettes, this probably would have worked fine. As a feature? There’s far too much filler and watching actors in sometimes-okay/usually subpar monster make-up throw each other around quickly looses its dubious thrill.

74. Wrath of the Titans
Less a movie and more a series of boss fights. Really lazy writing, bland direction, surprisingly inconsistent special effects. Ares is an incredibly annoying villain. This is about as uninspired as you’d expect a sequel to a bad remake to be. Even the usually shameless Liam Neeson seems embarrassed to be in this.

75. The Moth Diaries
Uniformly dull. The main actresses give flat performances. The story is a jumbled mess, throwing out subplots that never pay off. Strange events and images are treated in such a stale manner that it’s never provocative and frequently almost funny. A totally phoned-in effort from a (formally?) talented filmmaker.

76. Keyhole
Guy Maden lathers the old dark house genre in his typical weirdness. Instead of being a genre experiment, this is boring, irritating art shenanigans. The constant nudity and other attempts at shock are eye-rolling while the senseless story rambles from one pointless sequence to another. Worse yet, you never give a single damn about any of the interchangeable, faceless characters. 

77. The Hunger Games
Takes “Battle Royale” and removes anything interesting. Zero suspense: Focuses on one character that definitely won’t die. No ambiguity: Cast is separated into “good guys” and cartoonish psychopaths. Realism is gone: Its set in a future were everyone dresses like a drag queen or has a dumb name. There’s obvious social commentary (Rich people don’t care about poor people?!), horrible shaky-cam, and a love story so contrived the movie even tells you so.

ONE STAR:

78. Piranha 3DD
John Gulager is a hack. He replaces the original’s chaotic humor with hateful vulgarity and undermines any possible tension with lame jokes, without upping the gore or fun any. The characters are all paper thin and the music is obnoxious. I can’t undersell how gross, stupid, lame, and mirthless this movie is. I hate David Hosselhoff.

79. Mother’s Day
Home invasions are so 2008. No, the characters being stressed doesn’t excuse them doing dramatic stuff because the plot demands it. One asinine twist follows another, as the unlikable cast is forced to do mindless shit. The story splinters in three directions at one point and the ending drags on forever. This is hopelessly dreary, generic remake trash.

-

And that was the year that was. Hope 2012 turned out okay for you guys and, if it didn't, let's hope 2013 is better, huh? I'll be back tomorrow with my most anticipated films of 2013. Until then, enjoy the night!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Bangers n' Mash 9: Monster Mashes!

Here's a belated Christmas present. The latest episode of The Bangers n' Mash Show was recorded back in October, where it was much more seasonally appropriate. But we have our own irregular schedule here! JD and I talk about the subgenre we dub Monster Mashes! Those films that take a bunch of unrelated horror characters and concepts and mash 'em all together. We spend most of the show nerding out over "The Monster Squad." We also spoil the shit out of "The Cabin in the Woods" so, if you haven't seen that one, you might want to skip this one.



We spent the last half-hour talking about the conventions we did earlier in the year. (Once again, when we recorded this, that was a lot more recent.) Blog-readers might as well skip that part, since I blatantly rehash everything I said during my two conventions reports here.

I don't know when the next episode will be out but it will hopefully be soon. Expect a flurry of end-of-the-year updates here at Film Thoughts very soon.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Series Report Card: Disney Animated Features (2012)

51. Wreck-It Ralph

It took me a while to warm up to “Wreck-It Ralph” in two different ways. When I first heard the premise of a Disney movie set inside the world of video games, about a villain trying to prove himself a hero, I couldn’t help but sigh a little bit. Didn’t sound particularly inspired. Trailers began to hit and, with its cameos of established game characters and absurd sense of humor, this was revealed as something of the video game-version of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” As the critical praise and immediate fan love started to pour in, I actually found myself getting excited for “Wreck-It Ralph.”

Similarly, the movie itself didn’t impress me right out of the gate. The film goes a long way to establishing its world very quickly. The arcade is its own little universe. The eight-bit visuals are cool and John C. Riley’s voice-over is both regretful and amusingly bitter. The way a surge protector power strip becomes a train station struck me as uncommonly clever. It’s not that there’s any particularly egregious about the first act but parts of it definitely feel perfunctory. The Bad Guy Self-Help Group read brilliantly on paper I bet and, if all the jokes that scene hadn’t been plaster over all the trailers and TV spots, I probably would have found it brilliant too. The scenes of Ralph alienating the residents of his own game are fairly predictable, however. At this point the film feels very much like a typical kid’s flick. (Even if a certain part of my brain gets excited just seeing Robotnik and Sonic on the big screen.)

Things pick up once the plot gets really rolling, though still slowly. The Hero’s Duty set-pieces are a pretty spot-on parody of modern first person shooters. Surprising for a quote-unqoute kid’s movie, the movie is still laying down narrative tracks this late in. Important plot points are still emerging and, best of all, we’re introduced to Jane Lynch’s Col. Calhoun character. Lynch spits out hilarious, intentionally ridiculous hard boiled dialogue, biting into every line like a pro. The movie doesn’t spend much time in this setting. (I suppose even a parody of M-rated games are a little too strong for Disney.) The main arc of Ralph taking responsibility for his actions, the Sugar Rush setting, the smartly merged Felix and Col. subplots, all starts to come together.

My main problems with the opening scenes aren’t that they aren’t interesting, so much as they aren’t funny. The humor starts to come with the new setting and, mostly, with Ralph’s interaction with Vanellope. I’ve never been a huge fan of Sarah Silverman’s schtick. “Adorable girl says offensive things” can only go so far. However, her snark, adorableness, and decent delivery find a good home in the character. Silverman and Reiley have a great back and forth, so much so that it wouldn’t surprise me if their dialogue was recorded together. Naturally, the two outsiders form a friendship and each redeems the other. This is expected. What isn’t expected is that the friendship will be so touching. That friendship is inevitably challenged. While that scene arguably pitches the drama at a little too high a level, it’s still very effective. What I’m saying is the character’s relationship forms the entire emotional backbone of the film’s latter half.

Sugar Rush becomes the setting for the rest of the movie. It’s a great playground for the animators. Beyond the vivid colors, the setting is versatile enough to provide plenty of sight gags. Who knew that you could get so many laughs out of candy puns? It’s no surprise that the Sugar Rush racers have become something of a meme in of themselves, since each one is such a unique design. Once the big race starts, what a fantastic device for a finale, you really begin to appreciate how much effort went into crafting this playground. You wouldn’t expect the political dynamics of a video game to be this interesting either. Alan Tudyk, completely unrecognizable with a big queenie voice, does a great job of taking a character, the King of Candyland, who would be impossible to take seriously and turn him into an intimidating villain. The level of seriousness goes up even more for a finale you wouldn’t expect to be as exciting or dark as it is. In addition to that, I think the romance between Fix-It Felix and Col. Calhoun might be the first BDSM relationship in a kid’s movie ever. Expect those two to inspire some freaky fanficiton.

How much I like the movie is probably because my expectations weren’t exactly high. As I’ve made clear, the movie is shockingly likable despite not doing a single damn new thing. I’m not shocked that the internet loves it, given the number of classic gaming in-jokes. You’ve got cameos of Pac-Man, Bowser, practically all the most well-known “Street Fighter” characters, Kano from “Mortal Kombat,” a Dance-Dance Revolution cabinet, Frogger, the Dig Dug guy, a “House of the Dead” zombie, Q-Bert, even down to obscurities like “Battle Toads” Dark Queen and Tapper. Aerith and Sheng-Long are mentioned in blink-and-miss-it graffiti. The Contra Code is a plot point! Even if the public hasn’t quite embraced them to the degree they did in the nineties, I’ve got to say Disney has been on something of a roll with their Animated Features here of late. Let’s see the trend continue. [Grade: B+]