Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Recent Watches: Argo (2012)

I have no prior experience with Ben Affleck the Filmmaker. When I think of the guy, I think of the star of esteemed classics like "Gigli," "Reindeer Games," "Daredevil," and "Good Will Hunting II: Hunting Season." Despite the critical acclaim "The Town" and "Gone Baby Gone" received, I went into "Argo" with few expectations.

I was vaguely familiar with the true story the film is based on, mostly through this Cracked article and the involvement of comic artist Jack Kirby. (Who has a cameo in the film, played by a well-cast Michael Parks.) The Iran Hostage Crisis is a bit of a historical blind spot for me, taking place before my birth during an overlooked presidency. The film sets up the historical context very quickly and succinctly, using Kirby-style storyboards and tense reenactments. Despite the entire plot revolving around six of the hostages, the movie’s not really about them. Instead, it’s about Tony Mendez, CIA agent who specializes in getting folks out of tricky situations. After shooting down all the other plans, Mendez cooks up a plot to sneak the six out with a fake movie production. And we’re off.

“Argo” isn’t quite a movie about movies, or even the magic or illusion of cinema. Instead, it’s a heist flick, about a ragtag group of heroes cooking up a wild scheme to sneak their loot out of its vault. Except in this case, the loot are six hostages and the vault is Iran in the middle of political revolution. The first half of the film revolves around setting up our master planners. Affleck plays Mendez, who is separated from his wife and beloved son, setting up the expected redemption arc. John Goodman does well as make-up legend John Chambers, who is deeply involved in the film’s plot and really was a CIA contact in real life. Alan Arkin is nominated for an Oscar for his supporting role as Lester Siegel, the Hollywood shyster who is largely responsible for the rest of the world believing “Argo” is a real film project. The nomination is kind of surprising. Arkin isn’t bad, he’s quite entertaining actually, but he doesn’t step outside of his grouchy, crusty older man wheelhouse.

The first half is largely the film’s most entertaining. Watching Arkin and Goodman bitch through crappy screenplays, looking for the perfect crappy screenplay, establishes the film as part of the long line of Hollywood dramas, looking at the cynicism and artifice behind the Dream Factory. My favorite scene is a thrown-together press conference, in which in-costume actors read from the script. It probably says a lot about me that I would probably rather watch the fake-movie this real one is about. (Also says a lot about me: I immediately recognized the cheap robot costume as Interrodroid 3000 from “The Middleman.”) Arkin is at his best when telling young entertainment journalist to fuck off and bitching about his ex-wife. While the scenes of scrambling politics in the CIA office are less entertaining, they do feature a highly-strung Bryan Cranston, which is always welcomed.

What really breaks up the early parts of the film are the scenes in Iran. None of the six are developed beyond basic ideas. We get quick bio readings of each near the beginning which is all that defines them throughout the entire film. There’s grumpy mustache guy, nervous dude, his wife, and some other people. We can’t even associate each character with an established actors as, besides from a barely recognizable Clea DuVall, there aren’t any known actors among the parts. The hostages are strictly plot devices. Later moments that show Iranian extremist breaking into the embassy lack tension.

Their plot device status is all the more apparent in the latter half of the film, when “Argo” becomes a full-blown thriller. After a tense walk through the crowded bazaar, the movie barrels towards its climax. Our hero has to get his half-dozen MacGuffins through the airport and out of Iran. Naturally, the plot shoves every inconvenience in the way. An overzealous military guard at the airport yells at the group, aggravating an all-ready nervous situation. When he goes to call the fake set-up Hollywood studio for confirmation of the supposed story, the producers are kept from answering the ringing phone by an intruding film shoot. Once they get on the plane, there are pursued by angry Iranian soldiers, just seconds away from catching up and ruining the entire plan. These are blatantly constructed thriller set-pieces. Despite the obvious seams showing and lack of investment in the characters, the sequences still work. The combination of pacing and acting makes the scenes intense. Affleck really should have gotten a Best Director nomination.

The subplot about Mendez, his estranged wife, and son are obvious appeals to emotion. None of it is convincing, especially since the kid is in two scenes and the wife even fewer. I stand by my opinion of the score, as its largely bland dramatic pounding and quivering strings. Unlike a lot of bloated Oscar-bait, “Argo” is well paced at a comparatively short two-hour runtime. Those Jack Kirby storyboards get a lot of screen time and provide two of the film’s most charming moments. “Argo” is hardly a masterpiece. It’s shockingly thin in some regards but undeniably effective in others. From the sounds of his previous two flicks, Affleck the Director sounds like a strong genre worksmith, which is nothing to be ashamed of. How a thriller like this gets award season buzz and others just as good, even stronger, are ignored, is a testament to the “seriousness” historical, politic content can lend a story. [7/10]

Monday, January 21, 2013

Director Report Card: David O. Russell (2012)

7. Silver Linings Playbook

While watching “Silver Linings Playbook,” a very obvious fact occurred to me for the first time. The majority of David O. Russell’s films, with maybe the exception of “Three Kings” and possibly “I Heart Huckabees,” are about family. (And you can make the case for those two.) In retrospect, this is fairly obvious. More over, the director seems particularly obsessed with dysfunctional families. Whither it be the incestuous angst of “Spanking the Monkey,” the desperate desire for familial acceptance in “Flirting with Disaster,” or the petty in-fighting, guilt, complication, and ultimate acceptance of “The Fighter,” David O. Russell is singularly focused on how mentally unbalanced people are stringed together by their blood. “Silver Linings Playbook” is about a bunch of different stuff but family looms large over the majority of the story.

It’s also about mental health. Pat has just ended a stint in a mental hospital after brutally beating his philandering wife’s lover. It’s been eight months but he is convinced the marriage isn’t over, obsesses over his ex-wife despite a restraining order, and is determined to win her back. He starts the movie out on a hugely positive streak, running, smiling, constantly talking about how every situation has a silver lining, repeating his catch phrase of “Excelsior!” That night the first crack in his façade of mental health show when throws a copy of "A Farewell to Arms" out the window and wakes his parents up at four o’clock in the morning, swearing and screaming about the downer ending. Pat is bipolar and the film portrays the condition accurately, with the character fluctuating between high highs and low lows, living much of his life in a mildly depressed medium. He’s constantly trying to improve his life but numerous freak-outs over the course of the film show that he was let out of the institution much too early.

Mental illness hardly makes Pat stand out among his friends and families. His father, played by Robert DeNiro displaying some passion and interest for the first time in decades, is slightly OCD and deeply superstitious, displaying a number of quirks while watching football games, his primary passion. Ronny, a close friend of Pat’s, puts on a happy face for his wife but the stress of a new baby, refurnishing his home, and his marriage in general is secretly shaking him apart. Most important to the film is Tiffany, Ronnie’s sister-in-law, played by Jennifer Lawrence. A recent widow, Tiffany has worked through a period of depression and promiscuity, and like Pat, is working hard to get her life back together.

Tiffany is indicative of the film’s strengths and weaknesses. She is prone to launching into somewhat long-winded speeches that spell out other character’s flaws. She has a quirky streak especially when ambushing Pat on his runs on a daily basis. She seems awfully preoccupied with bringing an unhealthy man out of his shell, in this case by involving him in a dance contest. It’s tempting to shout “Manic Pixie Dream Girl!” Truthfully, the character doesn’t totally resist the label, especially in scenes later in the film where she pulls obscure facts out of thin air. Yet, at the same time, the movie is frank about her flaws. Her quirks aren’t overly precious or meant just to endear her to the audience. Like pretty much everyone in the film, she’s got problems. Lawrence commits fully to the material, filling her role believably, frequently being quite funny, even if she can’t sell some of her dialogue. And, for the record, the tights she wears during the dance sequences don’t do her any disservice.

The cast is what mostly carries the film. The part of Pat was obviously written for Mark Wahlberg. When you can so clearly hear the dialogue coming out of his mouth, I don’t know why Russell cast someone else. (Maybe Wahlberg’s Boston accent would have been too distracting in the Philadelphia setting.) Bradley Cooper does well in the part, successfully expanding past his pretty bog image. He’s actually overdressed for most of the movie. The handful of scenes of him loosing it allow Cooper to show some depth as an actor. He doesn’t overplay it. (The movie doesn’t earn any points for just kind of brushing over the character’s sexism though.) His best scene comes when the character quietly, kindly dissuades one of Tiffany's would-be beaus from her doorstep. The chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence, what the movie is really built on, generally works. Those early going scenes are a bit rough but, as you watch the film, you start to feel a connection between them.

After so many years of forgettable tough-guy parts, it’s nice to see DeNiro indulge in his neurotic side. The best scene for Bob comes at the end of the second act, when the emotional, upset father starts to cruelly berate his son. The scenes of family bickering reminded me a lot of “The Fighter,” though they’re less shrill. I’m not sure why Jacki Weaver got a best supporting actress nod. She doesn’t have very much to do, mostly sticks to “worried mom” mode, and only varies from that a few times. I much preferred John Ortiz as Ronnie, who sells his much more quiet mental breakdown with a huge amount of humor and subtly. In maybe the most unexpected performances of the year, a visibly older Chris Tucker has a small though strong supporting part as a frequently escaping sanitarium patient. I’ve only previous known Tucker for broad schtick so to see him give such a down-to-earth, relaxed, honest performance is kind of mind-blowing.

It took some time for me to warm up to the film. The first act, with its expected scenes of Pat readjusting to life with his parents and visiting a shrink, feel very constructed. It’s no fault of the performers, who mostly elevated the somewhat routine material. As I said earlier, the romance between Pat and Tiffany at first seems unconvincing. It’s not until their first “date,” a frank scene where Tiffany openly discusses her sexual history, that the movie started to pull me in. After that, the various montages of their dance sessions together, though totally cliched, are effortlessly charming and likable. You really start rooting for these kids somewhere around the hour mark. Simple scenes of Cooper and Lawrence dancing together are the highlight of the movie.

Even then, I’ve got some complaints. The big dramatic plot moment at the end of the second act, a fight outside a football stadium, feels badly contrived. It’s pops out of nowhere and disappears just as quickly, an obvious plot mechanism if I’ve seen one. The drama of the finale similarly feels somewhat engineered. In-between a major plot reveal concerning Pat’s parents being brushed aside and Tiffany’s sad-sack attempts to fall back into bad habits, it’s so obvious the screenwriters were raising the stakes for the climax. A plot twist concerning a letter is obvious from the beginning. The movie not-too blatantly rips off “Lost in Translation” by leaving a whispered message unheard. The resolution is perhaps too clean cut, especially considering the character’s known mental problems. Despite the super happy ending, you can foresee issues arising for the characters in the future.

And yet… It almost doesn’t matter. The big dance-off climax is so fucking joyous, so infectiously fun. The actors and the screenplay meet half-way, creating lovable characters that you want to see succeed and be happy. Despite a few obvious contrivances, the movie feels surprisingly life-like, without any of the surreal exaggeration or over-the-top melodrama of the director’s previous films. Russell’s direction is stylish without being intrusive. I especially like a POV shot during a key flashback. Danny Elfman contributes one of his best scores in a while, totally devoid of jaunty tubas or Burton-esque woodwinds. I liked “Silver Linings Playbook” and it might be one of the most agreeable crowd-pleaser in recent memory. Taking that into account, it’s numerous Oscar nominations aren’t surprising at all. [Grade: B+]

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bangers n' Mash: The 2012 Phantom Awards

What with it being Oscar season and all that, Mr. Mash and I decided to get in on the action with our own award show, one catering towards genre cinema: The Phantom Awards! In truth, the award show is something I've been doing strictly for my own amusement since 2002. In the latter portion of the show, we discuss the films we're looking forward to in 2013. Blog readers feel free to skip that, since I repeat quite a bit from my 2013 Film Preview.

I got a copyright notice for one of the songs I used. Which is why there's forty seconds of silence around forty minutes into the episode. Sorry about that. I'll be avoiding using commercial music in future episodes.

I'm also working on an RSS feed at the moment, so this show can become a real podcast. Look for that in the future.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Oscar 2013: Nominations and Predictions

 At this point, I don’t feel the need to defend my love of the Academy Awards, since I’ve used the opening paragraphs in the last three years’ write-ups to do that. If I haven’t made the point that the Oscars are important, even if they’re not, I should really pack up this whole writer thing and give a real career a shot.

(Break for snide comments and snarky asides.) The real importance of the Oscars is historical. It shows less what films were actually important in any given year but rather what films we (and by we, I mean a council of old, white people) thought were important. If the list of nominations is anything to go by, 2012 was a year primarily concerned with politics, children surviving without adults, and mental health. Which is… Kind of right on the money. Huh. Maybe I’m on to something with this.

This year’s bucket of nominations is both surprising and utterly traditional. Yes, there were some notable snubs, lock-outs, and several surprises. However, all the movies we expected to get nominations got nominations. “Lincoln,” a project staffed with a boatload of prestige and Academy appeal, gained the most nominations, something I could have told you back in September. Let’s get on with the bitching and wildly inaccurate predictions.


The Academy has stuck with the nine film selection for the biggest category, once again arbitrarily excluding another obvious Best Picture pick. Surprisingly, that exclusion wasn’t for “Django Unchained” or “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” a blood-soaked controversial genre riff and a scrappy indie flick respectively, but instead for “The Master,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s new by-all-accounts masterpiece. Maybe there are too many Scientologists in the voting pool. Anderson’s lost is Tarrantino’s and Hushpuppy’s gain.

“Amour,” which seems to be provocateur Michael Haneke’s move into slightly less depressing territory, made a much stronger showing then expected, breaking into major categories. Despite the divisive critical reaction, it’s not surprising that “Les Miserables” placed. After all, there’s nothing the Academy loves more then a big costume-drama musical. The Weinstein’s latest multi-million dollar campaign push seems to have paid off for “Silver Linings Playbook,” which dominated the acting category and naturally earned a placement here. “Life of Pi” is blatant Oscar bait, so it’s not surprising it placed, even if it has a relative lack of buzz.

That leaves the nominations that were fully expected. “Lincoln” had Best Picture written on it from the moment it was announced. “Argo” was my earliest pick for best picture, considering it’s a movie about movies, the Academy’s favorite subject. After topping numerous year-end lists, “Zero Dark Thirty” moved ahead as a possible favorite to win the night’s top prize. Either way, disregarding a possible Weinstein-bought win for “The Silver Linings Playbook” (They’ve done it before), it’s coming down to these three.

Remember how I said it came down to “Lincoln,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” and “Argo?” Well, two of those were snubbed in other major categories, leaving one probable winner: “Lincoln,” likely to be the night’s most unsurprising win.

We all know the Best Picture nominations were expanded to ten to make room for movies audience have actually heard of. In the past, this has meant some summer blockbusters sneaking in. So the total lack of love for “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises” surprised me a little. Just a little. Oscar has made it clear, unless someone died, superheroes are of no interest to them. In other news, a snub for “Moonrise Kingdom” is depressing but unsurprising.


The appeal of Bradley Cooper escapes me. He emerged fully form out of the Hollywood Leading Man Generator, with a smug sense of satisfaction, lack of range, and bland good looks, causing him to fall somewhere between Dane Cook and a pre-“Killer Joe” Matthew McConaughey. He seems destined for a career full of forgettable romantic comedies. His nomination isn’t shocking, considering “The Silver Linings Playbook” gathered a great deal of hype. Considering his previous credits include “The A-Team” and “The Words,” a win seems a little unlikely… Assuming Weinstein money doesn’t win the statue for him.

There weren’t any big surprises in the category. The Academy’s general ambivalence towards “The Master” made Joaquin Phoenix less then a lock, even if the general consensus is it’s one of the best performances of 2012. (In a year without a Spielberg film, he’d be the clear winner.) Denzel Washington, in-between indistinguishable crime thrillers, found time to earn critical raves for “Flight.” Oscar loves Denzel and alcoholics so a nod was obvious. Almost as obvious as Daniel Day-Lewis’ turn as Abraham Lincoln, possibly the most Oscar-ly actor/film combination ever. Hugh Jackman mostly seem to sneak in on account of Academy good-will. They clearly like the guy, at least when he’s singing and dancing.

Joaquin probably deserves it, and might still win, but it’s pretty clear to me Daniel Day-Lewis will continue to horde Oscars, even if he’s the last person who needs them.

I mentioned “Killer Joe” and Matthew McConaughey earlier. The dude never had a chance, considering the movie’s limited release and brutal content. I was still rooting for him, as he managed to turn my entire opinion of his acting ability around in a few minutes.

John Hawkes was definitely at his Oscar bait-est in “The Sessions” and, despite a previous nomination for “Winter’s Bone,” the Academy didn’t bite. The same goes for Ben Affleck and “Argo,” a movie Oscar apparently liked way less then expected.


Is Quvenzhane Wallis’ nomination really a surprise? That the Academy even remembered a tiny independent film like that existed is surprising, despite it’s presence on numerous top ten list. However, Wallis probably gave the break-out performance of the year. The movie’s placement in any other category is a shock, but not this one. None of that really matters because she’s not going to win. They don’t give Oscars to little kids. (Tatum O’Neil and Anna Paquin were both technically teenagers.)

Especially not when there are way friendlier choices. Jessica Chastain earned a crap load of hype at last year’s ceremony, some of it actually deserved. Unless the voters are totally polarized by the film’s political content, I’d say she’s the clear winner for “Zero Dark Thirty.” She’s actually the main character of the film, which works in her favor.

Jennifer Lawrence, who should have won two years ago, broke into the mainstream with a bow-and-arrow boom this year. Her nod here is representative of that. (And of the pre-oft-mentioned Weinsteins influence.) If the torture controversy of “Zero Dark Thirty” proves too much, Lawrence is the likely winner. I guess I’m rooting for her, even if her post-“Winter’s Bone” career choices have underwhelmed me.

Some were surprised by Emmanuelle Riva’s nomination. Honestly, I wasn’t. Oscar loves dying old ladies. She actually has about a 50/50 shot of winning too. The politics of “Zero Dark Thirty” and the light(er) tone of “Silver Linings Playbook” are likely to split the voting between Chastain and Lawrence, allowing a runner-up like Riva to sneak off with the award, similar to what happen with Marion Cotillard in 2008. Riva is my official dark horse choice. Also, Naomi Watts was in some movie called “The Impossible,” which I think is about a flood or something?

OFFICIAL PREDICTION: I’m sticking with Jessica Chastain, though I’m prepared for an upset in Riva or Lawrence’s favor.

Speaking of Marion Cotillard, she made some movie about a lady getting her leg bitten off by a killer whale. I guess Oscar deemed that too hilarious. I can’t pretend to be upset about Keira Knightly/“Anna Kerina,” Helen Mirren/“Hitchcock,” and whichever old British lady was in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” being ignored, because all of those are fucking boring. I am upset about Kara Hayward not receiving a nod for “Moonrise Kingdom.” The odds were low but if that movie had a shot in any category, it would be this one.


Welcome to the most boring category of the night! Every single one of these guys has an Oscar all ready and, out of the five, there isn’t one stand-out. Alan Arkin and Robert DeNiro both got in because of their film’s overall momentum, I suspect. Christoph Waltz, despite probably giving the best performance out of the group, won’t win again this soon.

In my opinion, it comes down to Philip Seymour Hoffman for “The Master” and Tommy Lee Jones for “Lincoln.” Both are important supporting roles and both played historical figures. (Thinly-veiled in Hoffman’s case.) Of the two, I’d bet on Jones. He already has a statue but it’s for “The Fugitive,” a crowd-pleasing thriller and adaptation of an old TV show… Which means it barely counts in Oscar’s opinion. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the Academy wants to legitimize Jones’ Oscar-winning status with an award for a glitzier project.

OFFICIAL PREDICTION: Tommy Lee Jones, unless Robert DeNiro gets an old-favorite, “look how much his career sucks these days” pity win.

I was pissed off that Christoph Waltz got nominated for “Django Unchained.” Not because he isn’t a great actor or didn’t give a great performance, but because it excluded two actors that had much better chances of winning. I was really rooting for Samuel L. Jackson, who made up for a career full of awful movies with a fan-fucking-tastic performance as the film’s real villain. Similarly, I figured an eye-catching part like Calvin Candie made Leo a shoo-in. Last year, I guessed this was his chance at finally getting a little gold man. By intentionally ignoring the two performances that actually had a shot at winning, the Academy has lowered “Django’s” odds of winning anything all the way down to zero. I’m sure they think it’s where an inflammatory, exploitation movie variation probably belongs.

Though McConaughey deserved a nomination for “Killer Joe,” “Magic Mike” or “Bernie” were friendlier, more-likely nods. Goose egg. It’s weird the voters were able to ignore Bradley Cooper’s resume full of terrible movies, but not the Shirtless One’s.


Here’s a category were everyone’s all ready been nominated, with few wins, leaving the field pretty open. Oscar really liked “Silver Linings Playbook,” didn’t they? I didn’t even know Jacki Weaver was in the goddamn movie. Helen Hunt in “The Sessions” seemed like an early favorite but the movie’s otherwise lukewarm response with the voters makes a win unlikely.

Amy Adams could win since Oscar likes her and have passed her over a few times. I hope Sally Field doesn’t win since, of course, Sally Field sucks. It is a come-back role for a previous winner in a movie that’s going to dominate the night, so she’s still a possibility. Anne Hathaway seems the likeliest choice though. She has the most buzz of the five, which is, let’s face it, what wins awards. Her turn in “Les Mis” is by all accounts the best thing about the movie. Perhaps more importantly, she’s a good actress. As far as I’m concerned, her nomination is a stand-in for her clearly superior turn as the best Catwoman ever.

OFFICIAL PREDICTION: Going with Anne Hathaway though any of these ladies could get it.

Ann Dowd, with her self-financed campaign for the hugely unpleasant “Compliance,” never had a chance. That’s a bummer because the movie really deserves the attention and Dowd did a good job with the most difficult part in a difficult movie.


I’m going to just condense this part with the SNUBS section because that’s what everyone’s talking about anyway. The two most likely choices for winning this category, Katheryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck, weren’t even nominated. It’s clear the torture controversy is what forced Bigelow out but I’m not sure why Oscar decided it didn’t like Affleck all of a sudden.

Without those two, this category is without a strong contender. Michael Haneke is probably too mean, Ang Lee is probably too boring, and Benh Zeitlin should be happy they even let him in the fucking building. Considering the lack of competition, that Weinstein money will help David O. Russell out a whole bunch. However, “Silver Linings Playbook” is almost definitely not winning Best Picture and we all know Best Director goes where Best Picture goes. And Best Picture is going to “Lincoln,” so…

OFFICIAL PREDICTION: Steven Spielberg. There’s pretty much no other choice. I’m hoping for an upset though just because that would be more interesting.


These two categories are almost entirely filled with best picture nominations. Writing is the one category were indie scrappiness actually helps, since Academy likes to stick smaller, better movies with an award here, since they have no chance of sneaking into the big league.

Tarantino’s writing is always a good bet but I suspect “Django” is too action-y, racist-y to win, especially since the Academy doesn’t give a shit about his direction. Nobody gives a shit about “Flight” and “Amour” has better odds in other categories. Controversy is somewhat unlikely to affect “Zero Dark Thirty” in this category, were ripped-from-the-headlines freshness is beneficial. In its sole showing, “Moonrise Kingdom” is the clear winner in my eyes. The Academy will probably go somewhere else.

As for adapted screenplay, ignore “Life of Pi” and “Lincoln.” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” being the indiest of these, has the most hype. “Argo” and, assuming it doesn’t sweep the acting categories, “Silver Lining Playbook” are more Oscar-friendly and one of them will get it, in all likelihood.

OFFICIAL PREDICTION: “Moonrise Kingdom,” even if “Zero Dark Thirty” has better odds, and “Silver Lining Playbook.”


In the Animated Film category, “Brave,” “Frankenweenie,” “ParaNorman,” and “Wreck-It Ralph” were all shoo-ins. That the Academy remembered “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” at all really shocked me, considering nobody else remembered. They have shown love for Aardman before, so it’s not without precedence. “Brave” will probably win, even if “Wreck-it Ralph” and “ParaNorman” are better movies. The video game jokes of the former and the edgy humor of the latter will probably polarize Academy voters.

“Pirates” took the fifth slot that should have gone to “The Secret World of Arrietty” (Oscar obviously doesn’t give a shit about anime unless it’s Miyazaki. This is probably Disney’s fault) or some indie faire like “The Rabbi’s Cat” or “Consuming Spirits.” Good for them for ignoring “Hotel Transylvania” and whatever crap Fox Animation and DreamWorks vomited up this year.

I’ll admit ignorance in the Foreign Language category. The spread of nominations across bigger categories can both help and hurt “Amour.” Help in that it’s unlikely to win in any other category and is the nominated film here people are most aware of. Hurt in that voters might steer towards one of the other titles because it is so well known. It’s easy to see why the political content of “War Witch,” “No,” and the epic scope of “A Royal Family” and “Kon-Tiki” would appeal to Oscar. The movie about the old people is still my bet.

Ignorance crops up again in Documentary Feature, as it usually does. “Searching for Sugar Man” definitely has the most hype of any of them, but Oscar doesn’t always like small, character-oriented docs. “The Invisible War” seems a little more in tune with Oscar’s sensibilities. But, honestly, so do the other three nominations.


I honestly don’t think the Academy knows what makes a good score, since they inevitably just gather up a bunch of generic shit from the other, more important categories. “Argo” is a typical thriller score with lots of straining strings, thundering drums, and occasional moments of world music dopiness. John Williams score for “Lincoln” is a… John Williams score for a historical drama. In other words, it’s as blandly listenable as everything else he’s done recently, without being powerful or interesting. Only when Williams is humping Copeland’s corpse does it come alive. Thomas Newman’s work on “Skyfall” is okay but lacks the strong identity an action movie score needs. That’s a genre were most of the music sounds the same. Dario Mariannelli’s “Anna Karenia” mostly made me go “Eh,” though it’s at least sort of jaunty. Mychael Danna’s “Life of Pi is kind of pretty, actually a little fun, even if I'll admit all that world music blooping and blopping just puts me to sleep. It’ll probably win.

Original Song is a little better. “Suddenly,” from “Les Miserables,” is what you’d expect from the movie-exclusive song from a Broadway musical adaptation. It’s an overwrought love song but with a smidge of legit emotion. Presumably “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from “Ted” got nominated so Seth MacFarlane wouldn’t storm out of the show halfway through. What’s good about that one comes strictly from Norah Jones sunshine-and-roses delivery and less from MacFarlane’s route, big band music. “Pi’s Lullaby” from “Life of Pi” has pretty orchestration even if the Bollywood style singing puts me off and it only has, like, six lyrics. “Before My Time,” from climate change documentary “Chasing Ice,” is obviously the best song. Clearly sang by Scarlett Johansson of all people, with simple music that underlines the emotional frankness of the lyrics, it’s touching and quietly sad. It won’t win though because Adele’s big, brassy “Skyfall” theme has got the right mix of commercial viability and over-the-top theatrics that Oscar drops its pants for. It’s a good modern pop song while also sounding like a classic James Bond film.

All my favorite scores of the year, like Alan Silvestri’s kick-ass powering “Avengers” theme, the elegant beauty of “Cloud Atlas’” score, the Celtic mist of Patrick Doyle’s “Brave,” or the retro-synth fun of “ParaNorman,” were disqualified for having melodies you can actually hum, presumably. I’m really shocked “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which actually had a decent score, didn’t earn a nod in this category since it made tracks in so many others.

As for songs, I guess “Touch the Sky” from “Brave” and the adorable “Strange Love” from “Frankenweenie” sounded too much like actual pop songs for Oscar. It would have been awesome to hear the over-the-top parody of “Casa de mi Padre” at the ceremony but it wasn’t meant to be. Tarrantino courted this category for the first time with “Ancora Qui” and “Who Did That to You?” One is haunting, the other is funky, and both are perfectly placed within the film. The Academy was unimpressed. Assholes.


There’s little too talk about in the technical categories. I hope “The Avengers” or “Prometheus” win in Best Visual Effects, since both of those films had seamless effects. “Skyfall” had gorgeous cinematography but Oscar will probably give it to “Life of Pi,” because Oscar is boring. Speaking of boring, expect a stuffy costume drama to sweep Production Design and Costume Design. (I don’t know how to feel about “Mirror Mirror” getting a nod in costumes. Sure, the movie was awful, but the costumes were impressive. Ornate and ridiculous, but impressive.) The practical monster make-up in “The Hobbit” probably deserves to win in Make-Up. Since “Cloud Atlas,” which beautifully balanced six different stories, isn’t nominated, I don’t give a shit who wins Best Editing. The overall shut-out for “Cloud Atlas” and “The Avengers,” my two favorite films of the year, just makes me sort of sourly grumpy.


Reviews of some of the above films will probably crop up between now and February 24th. On the 24th you better be here reading my bitching, moaning, screaming, and drunken blabbering during my fourth annual live-blog of the ceremony. I’m sure watching Seth MacFarlane try to put a leash on his vulgar sense of humor while singing lots of big band standards will be deeeeeeelightful. Be there or have something better to do with your night.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Director Report Card: Peter Jackson (2012)

12. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I’ve made it known in the past that I’m not the biggest fan of the “Lord of the Rings” movies. I’m not audacious enough to say they’re bad films. Wizards and elves just aren’t so much my thing. I don’t besmirch the people who love these things. Having said that, I’ve always preferred “The Hobbit” to Tolken’s more epic trilogy, reading the book as the kid and frequently watching the Rankin/Bass animated adaptation. I like Bilbo as a character, which is more then I can say for Frodo or Aragon or any of those guys. Plus it’s got ugly goblins and a badass dragon, appealing to this monster fan. After the massive success of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films, an adaptation of “The Hobbit” was inevitable. For a while, Guillermo del Toro was going to direct it, threatening to turn this project into something really interesting. However, following a number of set-backs better chronicled elsewhere on the internet, del Toro left and Jackson stepped in, to the pattering of many a fanboy’s heart. In the end, I think that was for the best. Not only does it add a consistent visual style and approach to the entire cinematic Tolken universe, it prevented del Toro from getting roped into a single 300-paged novel getting bloated to three, excessively long films.

Which isn’t to say that “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” the first part of the unexpected trilogy, isn’t a good film. I might even enjoy it more then any of the previous “Ring” pictures. But it is undeniably bloated. Jackson seems committed to adapting every miscellaneous bit of Tolken-ilia to the screen. Commerce no doubt is the primary motivator there but the director is obviously just that invested in the material. The relatively simple story of Bilbo’s recruitment and the dwarves eventual encounter with the goblins is padded out extensively. There are two very long prologues. The first of which illustrates all the business about the Arkstone and Smaug, which probably would have been necessary anyway. The second is a lengthy scene of Old Bilbo and Frodo talking and hanging out, taking place before the story proper. An entire subplot is invented about a band of vengeful orcs following the heroes, determined to settle a score with Prince Thorin, obviously added to provide a proper villain to this extended first act. These elements don’t distract too much from the story, unlike an unresolved subplot about Gandolf investigating a necromancer and the growing dark powers in Middleearth. When the quest to slay the dragon is interrupted by a long scene of a goofy wizard trying to save a hedgehog, the pacing starts to suffer. At the very least, it gives them an excuse to put Christopher Lee in the movie, which is always appreciated. And I haven’t even mentioned the rock giants yet!

(I’m not even going to address the controversy surrounding the 45 frames-per-minute decisions, as I didn’t see the movie in that speed. Sorry.)

Easily the most likable thing about the film is Martin Freeman as Bilbo. Freeman’s established persona of an Englishman exasperated and baffled by the crazy circumstances around him has been used before in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” movie and “Sherlock” TV show. This ends up being perfect for the character. Bilbo’s initial reaction to Gandolf and dwarves barging into his home and setting up the pieces for this epic quest is frustration. That little wishing part of his brain can’t turn down the adventure, however. Freeman’s comical aggravation starts out very funny but ends up informing the best character arc in the “Rings” universe. Bilbo really doesn’t belong on this trip, does he? He doubts himself at every turn. The film naturally proves why he is so intrinsic to the quest by the end but spends far more time then expected focusing on the hobbit’s doubts and second-guessing. Bilbo’s own self-realization is much more satisfying then the well-done if obvious conclusion of the dwarves recognizing his strength and importance. Beyond being hilarious, Freeman delivers two stirring monologues, one wracked with self-doubt, the other quietly, gingerly illustrating his decision to stay. It’s the most captivating stuff in the movie. Freeman’s performance is the backbone this entire overlong saga is built on and probably what will get me into the theaters again in 2013 and 2014.

It’s a good thing Freeman’s performance is so central to the film, since the rest of the cast is somewhat unimportant. There’s not much development for them is what I'm saying. I don’t think even Tolken kept track of all the dwarves. (Who am I kidding? That dude had his own Lonely Mountain of notebooks filled with obscure family history and shit.) There’s a fat one, an old one, the brothers, a grumpy one, a young one, on and on. None of them are developed beyond trademark characteristics. Instead of just loading the movie with unrelated bits of Tolken writing, maybe the right way to expand on this story would have been to develop the rest of the cast? Of course, the make-up is all great and I’m sure a massive amount of work was put into costume and design. There are occasional moments of character shining through for a few of them. No, I don’t remember the names or which one did what. Perhaps the next two films will work on that. I hope.

Beyond Bilbo, the characters with actual personalities are Gandolf and Thorin. Ian McKellen brings the gravitas to the character that he naturally carries. “The Hobbit” allows Gandolf’s quiet humor and whimsy to take center-stage more then the grave-intoning that made up “Fellowship of the Rings.” There’s some of that too. The newly hung-on subplots allowed Gandolf to furrow his brow about the growing evil in MiddleEarth. However, the general good humor is a nice touch. It also helps deflect the fact that McKellen obviously looks a lot older now. That’s what you get for making the prequel ten years after the originals. McKellen’s best moments are his interaction with Cate Blanchette, which drips with romantic chemistry and sexual tension. Another thing I like is that McKellen, or more accurately his stunt double and CGI replica, kicks so much ass. Gandolf kills a lot of goblins and actually piles up a surprising bodycount. It’s good to know that the old wizard still has some swashbuckling in him.

Richard Armitage is the film’s second lead, Thorin the Dwarf King. It reminded me a lot of the inflated self-seriousness that defined so many of the characters in “Rings.” Oh, it’s not a bad performance. Armitage imbues the part with a lot of intensity and passion. He’s obviously a very proud character and his family history means a lot to him. Once again, the entire subplot about his battle with the orcs was so obviously added to make this movie more action-y, to please the fans of the first trilogy’s combat. At the very least, Armitage makes the character’s development natural and unintrusive.

The first act is a little longer then it needs to be. At least all that sitting around and talking in the shire actually serves a purpose, as opposed to the other padding. It gives us a good idea of Bilbo as a character and lays out some of the story’s more convoluted exposition in a gentle, handy way. There’s a lot of humor, which adds plenty of levity. The troll sequence, which is pretty perfectly realized from the source material, is a good example of this. You certainly can’t imagine goofy stuff like troll snot sight gags happening in any of the “Rings” movies. For the record, I like the songs. “Misty Mountain Cold” is particularly haunting and is repeatedly reprised throughout the rest of the score. I could bitch about how the stuff about the map only working on a specific night, which just happens to be this night, is contrived. I suppose that’s normal fantasy plot device stuff. It comes with the territory. You just have to go with it, I guess. These moments, and there are several, remind you that you’re watching a genre film.

Naturally, the special effects and cinematography are spell-binding. These movies are in many ways three-hour long tourist advertisements for New Zealand. The landscapes that aren’t just the natural, gorgeous green rolling hills of the islands, in other words the ones made in a computer, look nice too. Riverdell, in particular, is beautiful and I like the way the camera winds through the secret pass in the rocks. The movie’s mastery of special effects is most evident in Gollem. He looks even more real then he did in “Rings,” which was impressive to begin with. You can see the pores of his skin and the translucence of his eyeballs. Clearly, the special effects guys earn their paychecks. It’s a good thing that work done on Gollem is so exemplary because the camera spends a lot of time focusing on his big, expressive eyes and face. It’s cute and funny. Andy Serkis is as fantastic as ever.

The action scenes are, at times, surprisingly shaky. When our fellowship are ambushed by the orcs at the secret pass, there are a few times when it’s difficult to tell which character is shooting arrows and swinging swords. The big flashback scene that sets up the mutual grudge between Thorin and the Azog feels kind of dreary, as it’s filled with a lot of slow-motion, melodramatic shouting to the heavens. Characters clang swords and shields, dismember limbs, none of it meaning much to the audience.

If the action drags for most of the movie, it makes up for a lot in the last act. All of the Goblin City scenes are uniformly awesome. First off, the goblins look great. They are much more visually interesting then the orcs, with their asymmetrical limbs and gnarled, warty faces. The Goblin King, played with hilarious relish by Barry "The Dame Edna Guy" Humphries, is nicely grotesque. Don’t tell me all that fat hanging off his chin doesn’t intentionally look like a ball sack. Moments like these remind us that Peter Jackson once made over-the-top horror indulgences.

The best action also steams from this sequence. Characters leaping from one level of bridges to the other, dispatching enemies along the way, always racing forward, is the movie’s violence at it’s most poetic, creative, and thrillingly constructed. The flaming tree sequence that follows it the movie’s proper climax. While it feels one-hundred percent engineered, some suspense is built. At the very least, Jackson manages to fit a defining moment for Bilbo into yet another scene of fantasy characters yelling at each other and narrowly avoiding blows. It’s a good thing too that we get some character resolution here, since there’s very little actual story resolution in that moment.

My opinion of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” seems to fit most critic’s opinion: Good, but too long. The cliffhanger ending admittedly gets me pumped for seeing Smaug the dragon fully realized in the next film. I mean, when was the last time we got a truly bad ass dragon in a movie? “Reign of Fire?” It’s fairly easy to see how the next two films will dissect and build on the established story. Part two will clearly be everything to do with the dragon and the elves while part three will be the Battle of the Five Armies, I suppose? Despite the fact that these future films will almost assuredly have the same problems as this one, I’ll be there. “The Hobbit” has, undeniably, hooked me in a way “Lords of the Rings’ didn’t. See you in 2013, MiddleEarth. [Grade: B]

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013 Film Preview

Honestly, a part of me is surprised we made it to 2013. No, I never seriously believed in the 2012 Mayan Apocalypse. The logical part of my brain would point out that there was zero scientific evidence that anything was going to happen. Still, that little, frequently ignored part of my brain that still believes in Bigfoot, Mothman, and ghosts, that always pinches me a little when I don’t forward a chain letter, couldn’t help but wonder. What if there was something to it? I didn’t stop me from paying my bills but there was a slight bit of apprehension. Of course 2013 came. Of course we’re still here.

None of that has much to do with the movies coming out this year. It's just another reason to be glad that the world didn’t end. While 2013 couldn’t hope to live up to the massive amounts of hype riding on 2012’s summer, there is a diverse number of exciting films hitting this year. Let’s be optimistic and look forward to the future.

Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2013:

1. Pacific Rim
Has Guillermo del Toro ever directed a bad movie? Sure, some of his films are better then others. "Pan’s Labyrinth" is doubtlessly a more sophisticated film then “Blade II.” (And “Mimic” wasn’t really his fault…) Wither he is making a deeply personal, foreign language fable or a special effects filled, action-heavy crowd pleaser, the guy delivers.

So that’s reason enough to get excited about “Pacific Rim.” But you know what else this movie has got? Giant robots, which I like a lot, and giant monsters, which I like even more. It’s got giant robots rocket punching giant monsters in the face. Giant monsters that owe just as much to H.P. Lovecraft as they do to Toho. Giant robots piloted by awesome people like Idris Elba, Charlie Day, and, naturally, Ron Perlman. And, holy shit, are those shout-outs to “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” “Gigantor,” and “Portal?” Looks like “Pacific Rim” has taken almost every thing I love about Japanese sci-fi and mash it all together. Awesome of that magnitude trumps just about everything.

2. The World’s End
I would make the case that Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost are the modern equivalent of Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese’s mid-70s/early 80s pairing. Different genres, of course, but the comparison is apt when you consider both teams consistently pumped out excellent films together. Maybe the Wright/Pegg/Frost trio is even more vital, since all three collaborate on the screenplay. “The World’s End,” the last part of their Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy has been cooking for a while and is quite mysterious. While zombie movies and cop flicks are distinct genres with established rules and conventions, the apocalypse genre is a little mistier. This film seems to be just as much about booze and pub-crawling as it is the end of the world. Somehow, the mystery just gets me more excited. If this is even a fraction of the film that “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead” were, it’s still going to be great.

3. The Last Stand
Arnold is back, bitches! The nostalgia-driven eighties action revival we’ve been going through for the last few years comes few circle with the undisputed king of the genre returning to leading man roles. Not one, not two, but three!, Arnie-starring vehicles will grace us this year. While “The Tomb,” another team-up with the other king of eighties action, and gritty-crime flick “Ten” are both exciting in their own right, “The Last Stand” lords over the rest for me.

Why? Not only does “The Last Stand” have Arnie making a one man stand against a horde of crooks while sporting an Eastwood-inspired haggard demeanor, it’s also directed by Korean madman Jee-woon Kim, the director of “I Saw the Devil,” one of my favorite films of 2011. Just imagining Schwarzenegger's quipping mixed with Kim’s gore-strewn, hyper-kinetic style has got me super-pumped.

4. Freezing People is Easy
I don’t think I’ve talked about it much here but I like Errol Morris quite a bit. He’s the master of the documentary, in my opinion, with his “interesting person talks directly into the camera” style being deeply involving. The filmmaker attempted to break into fictional films before but this project is not only more exciting, but far more aligned with his comic sensibility. Honestly, the true story about the troubles of starting a cryonics business would probably make an awesome Errol Morris documentary. A screenplay from “Stranger then Fiction’s” Zack Helm and a cast headlined by Paul Rudd and Christopher Walken has this shaping up into a delightfully dead-pan, quirky comedy. This one is a bit of a long-shot, since IMDb still listed it in pre-production and will probably not get made until 2014 but, what the hell, I’m optimistic. 

5. Machete Kills
Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarrantino get compared a lot, mainly because the two are buddies, emerged into the indie world around the same time, and both specialize in exploitation movie throw-backs. The big difference is that Rodriguez is far more prolific, pumping a film out about once a year. (He actually has two coming out this year, this one and the about-three-years-too-late “Sin City” sequel.) This work ethic has led to a much more uneven filmography, with several of Rodriguez’ projects being forgettable at best and downright bad at worse.

However, there’s plenty of reasons to get excited about “Machete Kills.” The first one was pretty entertaining and, unlike some of the director’s other would-be exploitation films, actually struck a decent balance between blood, guts, sex, drugs, nudity, and audacity. Not to mention being the perfect leading man vehicle for the Bronson-esque charm of Danny Trejo. While the wacky plot for the sequel, involving drug lords and satellite technology, might be another case of trying too hard, the cast is hard to ignore: Mel Gibson as an insane bad guy, possibly villainous turns from William Sadler and Cuba Gooding Jr., an Antonio Banderas cameo, Sofia Vergara in leather, additional sex appeal from Amber Heard, all-grown-up Alexa Vega, and the returning Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez. Even the addition of Lady Gaga and Charlie Sheen (As the President of the United States of America) are odd-ball enough to add to the overall appeal.

6. Stoker
2013 is the year that Korean filmmakers invade Hollywood. Aside from Jee-woon Kim’s “The Last Stand” and Joon-ho Bong’s “Snowpiercer, “ discussed below, we have this project from Chan-wook Park. Park is perhaps the most critically beloved of the three filmmakers, with “Oldboy” being an established modern classic.

While the director’s involvement gives me faith, it’s the premise of “Stoker” that gets me excited. Described as a twisted psychological thriller that slides into horror, the film is about a teenage girl (Played by the very talented but generally underutilized Mia Wasikowska) developing an obsession, equal parts sexual and neurotic, with her uncle, all while dealing with her emotionally disturbed mother, played by Nicole Kidman in glassy-eyed crazy-mode. Ah, a film after my own heart. Even the charisma-lacking Wentworth Miller co-writing the screenplay isn’t enough to dampen my buzz for this one.

7. Her
Speaking of consistently good filmmaker! While Spike Jonze is responsible for some good goddamn movies, his involvement isn’t enough to get me enthusiastic about this one. (Especially after the emotionally-rending but uneven “Where the Wild Things Are”) Once again, it’s the story that really caught my eye: A lonely writer falls in love with his operator system. So wait, writer’s appeal and odd romance? Possibly discussion of gender relations? You could say those things directly appeal to me. Honestly, it’s surprising to see that Jonze penned this one by himself, since the premise is rather Charlie Kaufman-esque. And, hey, the seriously talented cast includes Amy Adams, Jauquen Phoenix, and Rooney Mara.

8. Magic Magic
Definitely the most uncertain item on this list. Last year, “Silent House” was sold to me as “Repulsion” for the twenty-teens. Needless to say it, uh, wasn’t. This, however, might just fit the bill. The story revolves a young girl slowly loosing her grip on sanity while trapped in the Chilean jungle. The leading lady is the talented up-and-comer Juno Temple and Michael Cera, remember Michael Cera?, has a rare, dramatic supporting role. All promotional material definitely seems to be focusing on the fact that this is a horror film, not a thrills-tinged drama.

That is enough to get the film on this list but the project is still a bit of a question mark for me. I’m not familiar with director Sebastian Silva at all. While “The Maid,” which I haven't seen, was critically well-received, he’s still mostly unproven, particularly in the horror genre. So I don’t know how this one will turn out, even if the premise seriously has me hooked.

9. Haunter
Vincenzo Natali never exploded, like some of the other indie-horror start-ups of his era. “Cube” is well-known and well-liked, “Cypher” and “Nothing” were mostly ignored, and “Splice,” while I personally thought it was good, received a somewhat chilly critical and public reception. I’m still convinced the guy has it in him to be the next David Cronenberg, the original Canadian horror auteur.

“Haunter” has a damn catchy concept. It’s a ghost story, told from the perspective of the ghost, a switcheroo so obvious and intriguing I’m surprised it’s never been tried before. (Unless it has and I’m just unaware of it.) Similar to Natali, star Abigail Breslin never took off like we expected her too but a dark project like this might be what’s needed to reinvent her career. Of course, Stephen McHattie, another reliable Canadian talent, is also in the cast. All of this sounds good to me.

10. Iron Man 3
It’s not that I’m tired of superhero movies. Obviously I’m not, because I’m a huge nerd. The real reason “Iron Man 3” has placed so low on this list is primarily because I honestly don’t know how Marvel is going to follow “The Avengers.” Not to mention “Iron Man 2” is easily the weakest of the Cinematic Universe. Robert Downey Jr. is also dangerously close to becoming overexposed.

Still, there are two main factors making “Iron Man 3” exciting to me. Mainly, we will finally see Shellhead’s arch-enemy, the Mandarin, on-screen, something we’ve been promised since the end of the first movie. While I have my reservations about the presumably low-tech, magic-less reinvention of the character and the possibly phoned-in performance from the frequently phoned-in Ben Kingsley, it’ll still be awesome to see the two dueling on-screen. Secondly, Shane Black, the man responsible for writing many of the eighties’ awesome-est moments, is directing. White is a perfect fit for the character. The trailer, with its dark tone, promise to challenge its hero like never before, and gravelly-voiced terrorist adversary, seems to intentionally recall “The Dark Knight Rises,” a move I’m still not sure how to interpret. I’ve never been a huge fan of the “Extermis” storyline either, the basis for the film. Basically, I’m hoping this one will be great, even if I’m uncertain it will be.

Other movies worth discussing this year:

After Earth
Apocalypse movies were big last year, predictably. Following suit, there are several post-apocalyptic flicks coming this year, like “Oblivion,” which I’m uncertain of, and “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which I hope will be good even if I’m unsure if George Miller still has in him. And, of course this one, which seems to boil down to Will Smith and Will Smith Jr. surviving in a world where everything is trying to kill them. Decent premise, okay cast, but the most interesting aspect about the trailer?: That M. Night Shymalan’s name is nowhere to be seen. Seeing the once promising, currently completely discredited auteur in work-for-hire mode raises its own questions.

There shouldn’t be any reason to be excited about this second remake/third adaptation of Stephen King’s seminal novel. (Third/fourth if “The Rage: Carrie 2” counts, which it does.) It falls back on the typical remake byline these day of hewing closer to the source material, while similarly modern-ing up the story. Throwing cyber-bullying aspect into "Carrie" is a terrible idea, says I.

Defying all odds, several forces have conspired to make this interesting. Chloe Moretz is the premier young actress currently and Julianne Moore will assuredly ham it up fantastically as Carrie’s mom. More intriguing is that this femme-centric horror story is actually being directed by a woman, promising to bring a new perspective to the material.

Child of God
Jesus Christ. My favorite Cormac McCarthey novel is being adapted by James Franco, an obnoxiously pretentious wanna-be artistese that I care for none at all, no thank you. Franco is naturally forcing himself into the cast but at least he isn’t playing the lead character. That falls to some guy named Scott Haze, an unproven bit player that looks almost as douchey as Franco does. I never would have expected this novel to get filmed, but if it had, there would have been literally dozens of other filmmakers better suited.

Corpus Christi
Richard Kelly moving into serious character drama territory is a double-edged sword. On the plus, a grounded story could potentially rein in Kelly’s insistence on forcing incoherence, obnoxiously ambiguous cosmic nonsense into otherwise interesting material. It might force him to actually make a movie that makes sense for once. On the negative side, this might be going too far in the opposite direction. The story seems to revolve around politics and a supermarket chain. This sounds really fucking boring and could crush everything interesting and likable about the guy’s work.

In many ways, this is the big sci-fi film of 2013. I liked Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9” but, despite an A-list cast including Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, I’m getting a serious case of been-there, done-that with this one. There have been so many stories that have reframed our current economic downturn in science-fiction terms; this one has the rich living in domes in space while the poor suffer on polluted Earth; that it’s hard to get excited. However, an early preview described it as the biggest budget Italian post-apoc, "Mad Max" rip-off ever made, including killer robots, exploding ninja stars, and laser shields. The schlock I can get in to, the social commentary less so.

Evil Dead
The horror remake trend has slowed down with the few that slip through being high profile. “Evil Dead” is the most inevitable of these remakes and Raimi, Tapert, and Campbell producing is no guarantee of quality. The premise has been rejiggered to revolve around an alcoholic teen going through detox with her friends in a cabin. I already dislike this as I know the entire first act of the movie will revolve around the girl seeing freaky things and nobody believing her, one of the hackiest, most hateful horror clichés. At least it’ll be gory and R-rated. It’ll also be studio slick and overproduced, with a no-doubt thudding musical score and jump-scares a plenty.

While Pixar’s output in the last two years has been disappointing, Disney has been picking up the slack. Their animated features have been consistently awesome. This long-in-the-making adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen” seems to be shaping up into a companion piece to “Tangled.” I’m a big enough animation nerd that another Disney fairy tale gets me hyped. While I would have preferred traditional animation, you know those icy vistas are going to be gorgeous in CGI. And it’s a musical? Fuck yeah, it’s a musical!

It’s sort of cool that Daniel Radcliff is using his post-“Harry Potter” affluence to make dark, intriguing films. He’s certainly not taking the expected path. I don’t know if he is intentionally trying to dispel expectations or if subject matter like Allen Ginsberg and cannibalism are just what interest him. Anyway, Alexandre Aja, who I historically love, is handling this first adaptation of one of Joe "Stephen King Jr." Hill’s novels, which is in-and-of itself cool.

Kick-Ass 2
The first “Kick-Ass” is an admitted guilty pleasure of mine. The movie totally undermined its own premise of “superheroes in the real world” by becoming increasingly ridiculous. But Matthew Vaughn’s direction was sure and, hey, Hit-Girl and Big Daddy were awesome. Considering it looked like this wasn’t going to happen for a while, I’m excited this finally came together. Seeing a more developed Chloe back in her trademark role is great. I hope the filmmaker tossed out most of the source material, since the sequel comic was typical Mark Millar trash.

The Last Exorcism Part II
I guess we’ll find out why the last one wasn’t so last after all? The first one was actually extremely good. It seems like this sequel should have been out all ready and I fear it will be overshadowed by all the other Satanic-themed found-footage flicks. Early reports seem to suggest that the found-footage angle was going to be dropped but that apparently didn’t come to be. I do like that it’s going to revolve solely around Ashley Bell, as she is one of the most promising young genre actresses.

Man of Steel
I’m incredibly apprehensive about this. Superman shouldn’t be a hard character to get right on-screen but he is for some reason. It doesn’t help that DC itself is totally clueless on how to handle him. The realistic, cynical approach isn’t right, in my opinion. I’m certainly not looking forward to Zack Snyder’s all-style, no substance direction. Still, the cast is exciting, from the perfect Amy Adams down to Michael Shannon finally arriving as a big screen bad guy. Henry Cavill is still something of a question mark but he at least looks the part. At least the movie will have plenty of action, unlike the previous Superman outing.

How’s this for a premise: Chronicling the love-hate relationship between a man and the demon that lives in his intestines and how it complicates his life. Not that I needed further information to sell me, but the cast features Gillian Jacobs, who is everywhere this year, Patrick Warburton, and Stephen Root. This one nearly made it into my top ten.

Want to bet that Lars von Tiers has made the most depressing porno ever?

Aside from the most prominent of the extreme Korean cinema directors breaking into the English-language market this year, the trademark film of that movement is getting an English-language remake. An “Oldboy” remake has been banded about for a while and widely dreaded by fans that aren’t looking forward to the dark material being forced through the Hollywood, mass-appeal sausage grinder.

I suppose if it’s going to happen, this is the best case scenario. Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, and Sharlo Quiently are all close-to-perfectly cast in their roles as main character, love interest, and villain. I’m not sure where Samuel L. Jackson will fit in. Spike Lee is certainly an interesting choice for director. He guarantees a gritty aesthetic, which is nice, even if there’s no room in the material for his trademark inflammatory politics. I’m fairly certain the original twist ending, the dramatic crux the entire movie is built upon, will be excised. Here’s hoping it isn’t.

The Profane Exhibit
It’s the trash-cinema version of “V/H/S!” Yep, horror anthologies are a thing now in the indie scene, which is awesome. The movie shares several filmmakers with another horror-anthology, “The ABCs of Death.”  Unlike the previously mentioned films, this one has a much more diverse selection of talent in it. On the good side, we have Richard Stanley, Nacho Vigalondo, gore-comedy director Yoshihiro Nishimura, experienced Italian make-up artist Sergio Stivaletti, and motherfucking Coffin Joe! However, the rest of the directors, among them professional hack Ryan Nicholson and, Jesus Christ, Uwe Boll, seem to suggest this will mostly be dreary shock-horror nonsense. Even if it’ll probably be terrible, I’m hopelessly intrigued by this one.

It’s not the odd storyline, revolving around the last survivors of a new ice age riding through the world on an winter-proof train, that interests me. (Unsurprisingly, it’s based off a French comic book.) Instead what caught my eye is the previously mentioned director, Joon-ho Bong, the man responsible for “The Host,” which I liked a lot, and the all-star cast, including Alison Pill, Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, and John Hurt.

Star Trek Into Darkness
I don’t know about this one, guys. I should be super-excited, right? I thought J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” reboot was good, even if its flaws have become more apparent in the intervening years. (Like how it has little to do with Roddenberry’s original themes.) Yet I’m having a hard time getting into this one. I’m sick of Benedict Cumberbatch. (Thanks for that, “Sherlock” fan girls.) If he is indeed playing Khan, he’s woefully miscasted and, even if he isn’t, I don’t think he’s strong enough to go toe-to-toe with Chris Pine’s Kirk. The story, about worlds in peril and powerful villains seeking revenge, seems like a rehash of the first one. The trailer goes out of its way to disguise all the elements you actually associate with “Star Trek.” The title is hopelessly awkward. I’m apprehensive. We’ll just have to see.

Thor: The Dark World
The first ‘Thor” was good, even if the character is probably the least interesting of the Avengers. (Barring Hawkeye, of course.) I’m split on the decision to go further into Asgard’s fantasy elements. It’s a natural choice, obviously, and the more time spent away from Earth and in big, special effects filled worlds is probably for the best. On the other hand, elves and wizards aren’t really my thing and I’m disappointed that the series is heading full-steam into fantasy, after the first one went with a more interdimensional tone. Add an undistinguished TV director and a reluctantly returning leading lady and you’ve got a movie I’m obviously going to see but aren’t particularly invested in. (You can say the same thing about "The Wolverine," though I'm even less invested in that one.)

That went on way longer then I expected. Here’s some other shit I want to see but don’t feel like writing fifty words about:

Aftershock, Digging Up the Marrow, The Double, The East, Entity, The Europa Report, G. I. Joe: Retaliation, A Good Day to Die Hard, Gravity, Hatchet III, Hanukkah, The Iceman, Inside Llewyn Davis, In Your Eyes, John Dies at the End, Lords of Salem, The Lone Ranger, Magpie, Maniac, Marfa Girls, Misadventure of the Dunderheads, Monster Butler, Monsters University, Night Moves, No One Lives, Passion, Premature, R.I.P.D., S-VHS, A Single Shot, Teddy Bears, Texas Chainsaw 3D, The Wolf of Wall Street, You’re Next, and The Young and Prodigious Spivet.