Sunday, February 17, 2013


Rare is the film adaptation of the first book in a young adult series that tells a full and complete story in and of itself. Rarer still is the Hollywood spectacle that’s about a young woman realizing her potential to make her own destiny and take charge of her own powers. That Beautiful Creatures is a good example of both is some kind of minor miracle of popcorn filmmaking. In broad strokes the film about a mysterious new girl (Alice Englert) and the good-natured local boy (Alden Ehrenreich) who is drawn in by what makes her different is like many teen paranormal romances that have popped up in recent years drifting off of the success of all kinds of roughly congruent hits and fads. But in the specifics, this film sets itself apart by being full of local color, fizzles of real danger and a romance that works all the better for how relaxed and casual it feels. It’s not burdened by haphazard world building or overpowered by a flimsy urgency derived from True Love. It’s a pop horror fantasy, a piece of Southern Gothic that devours the Twilight template for the better.

It’s sharper and more literary than you’d think with flashes of wit and an embrace of the concept’s creepiness. The movie tips its hand with an early shot of a Vonnegut novel in the male lead’s hands. (I’m not saying it’s as good as Vonnegut, just that it’s in the ballpark.) He’s Ethan, a smart high school kid who is mourning the death of his mother. He’s interested in good books – or at least all the ones banned by the moralizing busybodies in this small South Carolina backwoods town. (Nice details of the production design are the empty Amazon envelopes sitting next to the stacks of books in his room.) He’s also interested in getting out of town as soon as he can by applying to any and every college that’s at least 1000 miles away. “Go to hell,” a local goody goody girl snaps at him, meaning every word of it. “I’d like to stop off at New York first,” is his smirking reply. But soon he has reason to stay, at least for a little while, as he tries to get to know Lena Duchannes, a sullen, pretty girl who arrives to live in the town’s biggest, most secretive house with her uncle, the reclusive Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), a man the town gossips about freely since he’s never around to disprove their conjectures.

The leads here are fun, charismatic, likable young performers. Ehrenreich, so good in Francis Ford Coppola’s Tetro, has a looseness to his affable screen presence here. He’s easy to like and root for. He has a good match in Englert, daughter of the great director Jane Campion. She seems otherworldly; her dark eyes look out of a pale face as if possessed with a secret. That sense of mystery is what leads the boy, and by extension the audience, to want to learn more about her. They haven’t known each other for very long when Lena’s family arrives from out of town, including a sashaying, bewitching Emmy Rossum and a flashily bewigged flibbertigibbet Margo Martindale, ready to perform some of kind of secret ritual. As the full extent of the family’s cursed history and paranormal powers come into play as writer-director Richard LaGravenese’s script (from Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s novel) springs mostly satisfying supernatural surprises, the movie becomes pleasantly complicated with stakes that matter.

As Philipe Rousselot's fine cinematography captures a stormy, puzzling battle of forces both good and bad as it clouds the skies behind the humble downtown, the swaying weeping willows and creepy gated manors, the film never loses sight or shies away from the fact that it’s also a solid chunk of cheese on which veteran performers can chew. There are darkly murky, occasionally unconvincing, special effects that are whipped up whenever the beautiful creatures begin threatening each other, but the best effect of all is the sight of Jeremy Irons gravely scratching out ominous monologues and heavy pronouncements of exposition. The town also has a sharp-tongued Bible thumper played by Emma Thompson, who plays up her down-to-earth antagonism with real relish, a pure actorly delight that really ramps up after her character goes through a devilish transformation of sorts. Also on hand is a wise librarian played by Viola Davis, who gets a few juicy scenes of her own, although she plays it in a lower register than the scene chewers dancing around her.

LaGravenese, whose work on such films as Freedom Writers and P.S., I Love You didn’t prepare me for how good this picture is, finds an appealing genre groove, making the metaphors work for him as he plays out a darkly simmering story of young adult fiction in an uncommonly compelling way. What’s most satisfying is how it starts as the story of a local boy intrigued by an outsider girl that slowly shifts to being her story. It’s a shift in perspective that’s welcome, especially as the movie starts with his narration and, by the end, includes a voice over from her, taking charge and finishing her part of the story herself. Though it’s largely a fun, mildly goofy, effects-embellished, teen-centric, small-town horror fantasy with a sizable dose of low-key romance, it’s also a movie about how society claims and labels certain types of women as good or bad and what it takes for young women to take charge and make their own decisions about who they want to be. That it manages to be all things at once and for the most part get away with it too is something worth noting, even celebrating.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Safe to a Fault: SAFE HAVEN

If I said that the most memorable thing about Safe Haven is its literally last minute, out-of-nowhere twist ending, that wouldn’t be true. That’s the only memorable thing about Safe Haven. Before that, the only thing that got close to being memorable was how short Julianne Hough’s shorts are in nearly every scene. She’s playing a troubled young woman who flees a half-revealed something in the opening Boston-set scenes, ending up living in a fixer upper on the outskirts of a small southern town. This is an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, so you know that said small town has miles of sun-dappled Carolina coastline, a hunky single guy looking for love, some cute kids, passionate embraces in the rain, rowboats, and a person who is dead and/or dying of a terminal illness. It’s true that you know what you’re going to get with a picture like this. And hey, sometimes it works. Not here where it’s predictable and unconvincing in every detail, right up to and including that twist.

The thing about the movie is that there’s exactly nothing else worth talking about other than its final sixty seconds and I dare not give it away. But I don’t think I want to say even that much because it has the potential to give you the false impression that the movie’s worth talking about at all. The twist isn’t that crazy. It’s simply the only entirely unexpected jolt – shameless and sudden – in this otherwise lifeless dullness that played out across the screen before my eyes without ever once getting into my head or heart. To say it left me cold would be an understatement. It left me catatonic. I could only stare at it as it failed to come alive and become convincing in any way. Hough’s troubled young woman soon enough meets a widowered single father (Josh Duhamel) who takes a liking to her and their love is often professed and demonstrated without ever crackling with the chemistry you’d expect. They’re good looking and troubled so of course they’d be drawn together, the movie seems to say.

It’s all directed so dispassionately and disinterestedly by Lasse Hallström, who has made more than his fair share of bland, boring movies. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, anyone? But he’s still capable of surprising from time to time. Just a few years ago he directed an adaptation of Sparks’s Dear John, which isn’t great by any means, but is one that I’m quite fond of. It feels engaged, has winning performances from Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, and Richard Jenkins, and arrives at a place somewhat unexpected and naturally satisfying. That’s not the case with Safe Haven, which plods along at an agonizing pace as it dawdles its way through the story of two people who fall in love because this is a romance and that’s what the plot needs them to do. Oh, but it’s also a little bit of a thriller, because remember how the young woman was fleeing something in the opening scene? We cut back to Boston from time to time to watch David Lyons play the least believable police detective to hit the big screen in quite some time. He’s suppose to be dangerous, mainly because the music and color timing changes when he appears, but I sure never bought it.

This is the kind of movie that contains not a single line of dialogue that’s anything but strictly necessary to keep the plot moving. There’s no wit or imagination, just a sad march to an inevitable conclusion with a final minute that features a reveal about a character so big, you wonder why a movie so depressingly literal minded about everything else would fail to foreshadow it, let alone rush through and cut away to credits before it even sinks in. The script by Leslie Bohem and Dana Stevens (no, not that Dana Stevens) uses Sparks’s scenario to whip up situations with mystery and emotion and then proceeds to let them flatline, as if the vague notion of mystery were enough to carry it along. But I can’t be bothered to care about the mere idea of a mystery. Tell me a story; give me characters to know; get me involved. The filmmakers assume a great deal of audience buy-in that simply isn’t earned and the results for those who aren’t on board before the movie even starts are excruciating and empty. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Here Comes the Boom: A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s probably time to stop wishing for a truly satisfying Die Hard sequel. Oh, sure, Die Hard 2 and especially Die Hard with a Vengeance and Live Free or Die Hard are solid action movies with some fun sequences, nice special effects, and a sense of relaxed tension slowly escalating, but none of them match the elegant simplicity of the 1988 original, which matches a wry Bruce Willis performance with an airtight plot of ever rising suspense. It’s an impeccably timed nail-biter that holds up remarkably well, largely because of a smoothly unfolding plot in which every scene has a purpose and every scrap of characterization contains a sliver of setup that leads to big payoffs.  

Now we’ve arrived at a fourth sequel, A Good Day to Die Hard, which one could argue fails the least of any Die Hard sequel, but only because it tries the least. I’m not one to reward aiming low, so I’m more than ready to declare it the weakest of the bunch. It’s the shortest of the franchise by nearly half an hour, but is nonetheless a nearly instantly exhausting experience that starts with the gas pedal pushed all the way to the floor and the sound effects cranked up to eleven. It’s a barrage of noise failing to distract from the movie’s essential blankness, a void of purpose and pleasure from which only competently ground out setpieces emerge.

This is the kind of action movie so relentless and breathless that the more it explains itself, the more I wondered why I cared and why the filmmakers bothered. The simple plot quickly and dumbly told follows John McClane (Willis, of course) to Moscow, after he’s told his estranged son (Jai Courtney) was arrested there. When he arrives, he finds himself pulled into a plot in which some glowering Russians want to get a MacGuffin from some other glowering Russians, a process that involves a bunch of bombs, crunchy car chases, seemingly limitless supplies of human targets and endlessly expelled projectiles. It turns out McClane, Jr. is not in trouble for the shady reasons his father assumes. He’s a C.I.A. operative trying to sneak one of the good Russians out of the country before something bad happens. What that Bad Thing is, I’m still not sure. I’d tell you more but A.) I don’t need to spoil it and B.) I don’t quite know what’s going on with this plot that thins as it goes, springing twists with all the sad inevitability of a magician who is insufficiently hiding his slight of hand. The whole thing drones along, shedding complications as it goes.

The first car chase of the film happens more or less right away and is an overheated, nearly cartoonish thing of pinwheeling debris, endless rounds of ammunition, cars driving on top of other cars, trucks crashing down to the road from off of concrete overpasses. John McClane just saw his son rescue a good Russian from an assassination attempt while fleeing from heavily armed bad guys and decides to steal a car to chase after the chase. It’s such a strange character moment for a man whose defining characteristic over four previous films has been his reluctance, his smirking, can-you-believe-this-is-happening-to-me attitude of stepping up only because he’s the only one in a position to do so. Here he throws himself into a collateral-damage-catastrophe simply because he wants to. Later, he’ll gleefully talk about “shooting bad guys” and smirking at his son as they bond over their constant stream of action related incidents.

It’s directed by John Moore, who keeps the slam-bang action coming nonstop. He has spent the bulk of his career making serviceable B-pictures for 20th Century Fox, movies like Behind Enemy Lines (okay), a remake of The Omen (fine), and Max Payne (dull). When viewing this movie as simply another modest action effort, without considering the franchise baggage, it’s a bit better. That opening car chase that’s a mess of characterization is satisfactorily crusty and goofy and a climactic fulmination at an abandoned nuclear power plant has some CG-assisted stunt work that goes so far over the top, it provides us with a long, sustained bird’s-eye-view of the top as it sits way down below. But what’s inescapably strange and off-putting about this movie of intermittently minor pleasures is the way it just doesn’t feel like a Die Hard movie. Its thinly written script by Skip Woods is papered over in superficial plot complications that fade away so that, by the film’s improbable action climax and sappy Hallmark dénouement, it’s all too clear how empty it all is. It’s as fleeting and unpleasant as the acrid smoke that quickly drifts away from all the carnage the characters leave behind.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Take it On the Run: IDENTITY THIEF

Melissa McCarthy is a talented performer, a funny, versatile woman who brings a full commitment to each and every part she plays. She deserves every bit of success that her breakout Oscar-nominated role in Bridesmaids is bringing her, but hopefully that success includes better roles than the one she has in Identity Thief. She co-stars in the title role as a woman who hijacks identities, wrings out all their financial potential, and then leaves her unknown-to-her victims to sort out the mess that’s left of their livelihoods. The movie wants to get big laughs out of her repulsive antagonistic sociopathic behaviors and then draw the audience in with sympathy for her simply through affection for the actress underneath. It’s not only a step too far for the film’s emotional journey, but it’s unfair to the character and the audience as well.

It’s a movie held together by one of those only-in-the-movies plots that exists only as an excuse to force two actors through an episodic series of run-ins with eccentric caricatures. Jason Bateman finds that his credit cards are maxed out, his credit rating just hit rock bottom, and he’s wanted for assault in Florida. As he’s in Colorado and definitely not the woman in the mug shot on file, he’s let go. The police tell him that unless the criminal who stole his identity showed up in their office, it could take a year or more to get his finances back in order. This is unacceptable to him, what with the pending promotion and a pregnant wife, so he heads off to find the thief and trick her into going back to Denver with him and confessing. It’s the kind of premise that invites far more questions than the script has any interest in answering.

Now, why his credit card company didn’t immediately flag the Florida charges as potentially fraudulent, I’m not sure. Why, as a reasonably intelligent character who works in finance, would we see him in the first scene giving his social security number over the phone to a person who called him claiming to be from a fraud detection agency? Who knows? It all exists simply to get the plot rolling, which in turn only exists to keep itself rolling. It falls apart not only if you think about it, but also even if you don’t. No matter. Bateman’s a fine straight man, especially when he gets the chance to show that deep down he’s just as crazy as all the other characters. He’s just better at hiding it. (See: Arrested Development. No seriously. See it if you haven’t. It’s great.) Here he doesn’t get that chance as he’s understandably upset that he ends up driving cross country with McCarthy as she’s chased by a bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) and a couple of gun-toting underlings (Genesis Rodriguez and T.I.) answering to a tough-as-nails drug dealer (Jonathan Banks, drifting off of his Breaking Bad menace).

The slack one-thing-after-another plot is filled with thoroughly unfunny car crashes and shootouts interspersed between cameos (Jon Favreau, John Cho, Eric Stonestreet, etc.) and long sequences of forced bonding between the charming-despite-the-writing leads. Director Seth Gordon, whose debut film The King of Kong has earned him perhaps too much good will from me, and whose tepidly dark comedy Horrible Bosses seems much better by comparison to Identity Thief, just can’t make this movie work. Craig Mazin’s screenplay is built around the kind of deeply psychologically damaged character that’s difficult to laugh at and hard to see a way to laugh with. By the end, it just gets sad. Of course, by then the filmmakers have expected us to be liking the thief for no other reason than because she’s pathetic, has a sad backstory, and because McCarthy’s so likable. It’s an emotional turn on which the entirety of the climax hinges and it just doesn’t work. Bateman tries his hardest to sell it, and it’s never going to be easy to dismiss the formidable McCarthy, but the material is just not there. It’s a lazy farce that could’ve used some tightening up, but even then would still be built on the unsteady foundation of miscalculated characterizations that fine actors could hardly save. As it is, they’re good enough to get close, but that’s not quite close enough.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


Emily (Rooney Mara) is depressed. Her husband (Channing Tatum) is getting out of prison after serving a four year sentence for insider trading, but she’s wearing a frown, her eyes turned downwards, her pale skin still and pensive. It’s shortly after he returns home that she deliberately drives her car into the wall of a parking garage. At the hospital, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), a psychiatrist, comes to check on her. She knows the drill. She’s been in therapy before. She asks that he let her go home on the condition that she meets with him regularly for consultations. She says she feels hopeful that the right medication will help her feel better. This is just the start of Side Effects, a twisty thriller that starts out as one kind of darkly psychological movie and is thrown by a single moment of unexpected violence into a second kind of thriller, one with a shift in protagonist, with knotty mysteries that slowly simmer and bring into focus clues that lead towards a series of climactic revelations that reveal it all to be, perhaps, in the end, a bit too predictable.

But through it all, masterful director Steven Soderbergh, in what he claims is his penultimate film before retirement, views with startling specificity and smooth digital surfaces the tensions and foibles that the characters find themselves trapped within, slowly, selfishly jockeying for their best possible outcome in an increasingly disreputable series of events. It’s the kind of story about sharply dressed young professionals crossing paths, interrogating their feelings, and turning their problems into the stuff of pulp fictions that would’ve been perfectly at home as one of those mid-budget 90’s thrillers. You know the kind, the ones that would probably star Ashley Judd or Michael Douglas. Here, though, Scott Z. Burns (who also wrote Soderbergh’s even better films The Informant! and Contagion) has written a script that goes down smoothly with psychological twists that are given pleasingly sleek textures with Soderbergh’s keen sense of framing visual spaces in evocative ways and using jazzy, syncopated editing to methodically keep things moving. It’s a typical thriller elevated by the committed talents of all involved.

There’s a scene early on when Emily, suddenly appearing distraught at a cocktail party, the first social event she and her newly freed husband have gone to since their reunion, steps away from the group and slides up to the corner of the bar to silently weep. The frame is entirely blurry until she learns closer, the camera pulling the picture into focus. This trick is repeated to various degrees through the film. Through scene after scene shot with shallow depth of focus, perhaps the foreground is blurred, or maybe a character leans into the range of focus. These images serve to underline that these characters are people who feel fuzzy emotionally, legally, and professionally. They aren’t seeing clearly or are operating without all the information, doing the best they can under the circumstances to advance selfish goals and come out on top.

The doctor, having commiserated with his patient’s former psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta-Jones) at a conference, prescribes anti-depressants to Emily. The side effects end up snowballing into a high-stakes legal dispute that calls into question the motives of everyone involved. Questions of power, who has it, who needs it, and who really has the upper hand, become important, the difference between imprisonment and freedom, riches and poverty. I’m being deliberately vague here. The pleasures of the film come from the brisk, involving way Soderbergh, relaxed, twists the knife of the screenplay, effortlessly making the plot turns sharply and without losing sight of the big picture.

In observant close ups, the actors are given a chance to reveal their characters’ true intentions – or are they? – with the glance of an eye or the twitch of a cheek. Key flashbacks and montages fill in perceptive details that reveal shadings to incidents and environments that change the meanings of previously held beliefs about what happened, what the characters want, who is helping and who is hurting the goals of the others. Thomas Newman’s needling score joins forces with the crisp cuts to keep it all off-kilter, teetering on the brink of greater dangers. Only disappointing in the way it concludes with less of a flourish than it begins, Side Effects is a fine work of thriller craftsmanship from all involved, and a typically expert genre bauble that’s as sensible an auteurist signifier as anything Soderbergh has done. In its twists, it finds reason to nod towards nearly every theme and preoccupation he’s dealt with throughout his career. If we’re really nearing a goodbye, he’ll be missed, but he’ll also be leaving behind a wonderful collection of films worth revisiting.

Monday, February 4, 2013


A trigger-happy shoot-‘em-up that also happens to be casually racist towards its second lead and boring as all get-out, Bullet to the Head represents a sad attempt at recapturing former action star glory for star Sylvester Stallone. The pieces are here for a fine R-rated actioner with often dependable B-movie stylist Walter Hill in the director’s chair and a good enough premise involving an evil developer (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) who wants to bulldoze a slum to put up condominiums and somehow that involves hiring a hit man (Stallone) and then a second hit man (Jason Momoa) to double cross the first one and then a semi-rogue cop (Sung Kang) from out of town shows up to investigate and Christian Slater’s hanging around the villains for some reason. But hold on. I’m already getting ahead of myself by plunging right into the simplistic confusion of the plot. What you really want to know right off the bat is if it’s worth trudging to your nearest multiplex, through a blizzard in all likelihood, simply to catch a glimpse of Stallone’s action movie presence in a non-Expendables form. The answer is no.

When I showed up for a matinee over the weekend, the only other people in the theater were two older guys sitting in the back row. While I sat near the front, waiting for the trailers to start, I heard them talking.

Guy 1: I wonder why there aren’t more people here?
Guy 2: It’s ‘cause Stallone isn’t too popular anymore. Now it’s all about The Rock.
Guy 1: The Rock?
Guy 2: Yeah, Dwayne Johnson.
Guy 1: Oh, the Rock!
Guy 2: Yeah, and Jason Statham, too.

So, there you have it. That’s the state of the modern action star in a nutshell. There are the younger guys (relatively speaking) who get by on their charisma and the occasional good script. And then there’s the old guys trying to make movies that comment ever so slightly on their age while still allowing them to go around kicking just as much butt as they used to. Just a couple weeks ago there was 65-year-old Schwarzenegger as the nearly retired sheriff in The Last Stand who, when kicked through the glass door of a bar, answered a “How are you?” with “Old.” Now in Bullet to the Head, 66-year-old Stallone holds a gun on a man and asks to settle their disagreement quickly because “my arm’s getting tired.” It’s a nice wink to reality, I suppose, as is the scene where the interloping cop ogles a tattoo artist (Sarah Shahi) and mentions her looks to the old man who responds, “She’s my daughter.”

Endless expository dialogue like that gem makes up most of the scenes. Hill fills the New Orleans-set film with local color atmospherics, joylessly bloody violence, and executes every dull twist of Alessandro Camon’s script with sturdy professionalism that does nothing to bring any interest as it slowly and inevitably crawls from one predictable beat to the next. It is as lumbering an anachronism as Stallone himself, a gravely, stiff attempt to revive a sort of slicked back, pumped up, flippantly bombastic violence machine of a movie of a kind that was none too enjoyable in the first place. The Expendables movies manage to more or less pull off this trick by A) inviting the next generation (Statham, Hemsworth, Adkins) to join the macho 80’s reunion and B) having a decent sense of how silly the whole thing is in the first place.

Bullet to the Head is self-serious blunt force cheese that follows its lead’s lead, a character who grimly shoots down anyone and everyone who is a threat or who has wronged him, always knowing the right place to go, always a step ahead, and always acting like a jerk about it. He’s constantly firing condescending, usually racist, remarks at Kang as punchline punctuations. He’s constantly cruel and we’re supposed to cheer. After blasting away a helpless captive, Kang says that one isn’t to do stuff like that. Stallone’s response? “I just did.” It’s not funny, but also not surprising. But in a movie with so much backwards, reductive, dusty dumbness to rankle and irritate, its biggest crime is how boring and predictable it is. I went into the theater wide awake in the middle of the day and I soon felt myself wishing I could take a nap and wake up after the movie was over. It would’ve been a more productive use of my time.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Voracious Filmgoer's Top Ten Films of 2012

1. Lincoln
2. Moonrise Kingdom
3. Five Broken Cameras
4. Zero Dark Thirty
5. Bernie
6. Magic Mike
7. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
8. Haywire
9. Silver Linings Playbook
10. The Grey

11 - 20 (in alphabetical order):
Cloud Atlas, Girl Walk // All Day, Goodbye First Love, Holy Motors, John Carter, Killer Joe, Looper, Not Fade Away, ParaNorman, Prometheus

Honorable Mentions (also in alphabetical order):
Amour, Bad 25, Brave, The Cabin in the Woods, The Color Wheel, The Kid with a Bike, Life of Pi, Mirror Mirror, Premium Rush, The Queen of Versailles, Skyfall, Snow White and the Huntsman

more bests of 2012

Other 2012 Bests

Best Cinematography
            Lincoln Janusz Kaminski
            The Master Mihai Malaimare Jr.
            Moonrise Kingdom Robert Yeoman
            Prometheus Dariusz Wolski
            Skyfall Roger Deakins

Best Sound
            The Avengers
            Zero Dark Thirty

Best Special Effects
            Cloud Atlas
            John Carter
            Life of Pi
            Snow White and the Huntsman

Best Costumes
            Dark Shadows
            The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
John Carter
            Mirror Mirror
            Moonrise Kingdom
Best Makeup
            Cloud Atlas
            Dark Shadows
            John Carter
Les Misérables

Best Set/Art Direction
            John Carter
            The Master
            Moonrise Kingdom

Best Editing
            Cloud Atlas
            Magic Mike
            Moonrise Kingdom
            Zero Dark Thirty

Best Score
            Beasts of the Southern Wild Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin
Cloud Atlas Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, Reinhold Heil
Haywire David Holmes
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Howard Shore
John Carter Michael Giacchino
Lincoln John Williams
Best Song
            “Breath of Life” by Florence + the Machine Snow White and the Huntsman
“I Believe in Love” by Alan Menken and Tarsem Mirror Mirror
“Skyfall” by Adele Skyfall
“Song of the Lonely Mountain” by Neil Finn The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey
“This Gift” by Glen Hansard The Odd Life of Timothy Green
            “Who Did That to You?” by John Legend Django Unchained

Best Adapted Screenplay
            Bernie by Richard Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth
            Cloud Atlas by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski
            The Grey by Joe Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers
            John Carter by Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, and Michael Chabon
            Lincoln by Tony Kushner

Best Original Screenplay
            Looper by Rian Johnson
            Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
            Magic Mike by Reid Carolin
            Once Upon a Time in Anatolia by Ebru & Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and Ercan Kesal
            Zero Dark Thirty by Mark Boal
Best Animated Film
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
The Secret World of Arrietty
Wreck-It Ralph
Best Documentary
            Bad 25
            Five Broken Cameras
How to Survive a Plague
            The Queen of Versailles
Best Foreign Film
Five Broken Cameras
            Goodbye First Love
            The Kid with a Bike
            Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Best Supporting Actress
            Doona Bae Cloud Atlas
            Judi Dench Skyfall
Gina Gershon Killer Joe
Anne Hathaway Les Misérables
Shirley MacLaine Bernie

Best Supporting Actor
            Philip Seymour Hoffman The Master
            Samuel L. Jackson Django Unchained
Tommy Lee Jones Lincoln
            Matthew McConaughey Magic Mike
            Eddie Redmayne Les Misérables           

Best Actress
            Jessica Chastain Zero Dark Thirty
            Ann Dowd Compliance
            Emmanuelle Riva Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis Beasts of the Southern Wild
            Rachel Weisz The Deep Blue Sea
Best Actor
            Jack Black Bernie
            Daniel Day-Lewis Lincoln
Denis Lavant Holy Motors
Liam Neeson The Grey
            Joaquin Phoenix The Master
Best Director
            Wes Anderson Moonrise Kingdom
            Kathryn Bigelow Zero Dark Thirty
Richard Linklater Bernie
Steven Soderbergh Haywire/Magic Mike
Steven Spielberg Lincoln

Friday, February 1, 2013

Undying Love: WARM BODIES

When R (Nicholas Hoult) meets Julie (Teresa Palmer), he doesn’t know what to say. He’s understandably tongue-tied, and not just because she’s a smart, capable, pretty blonde in tight jeans. He’s dead. Well, he’s not dead, exactly. He’s undead. Warm Bodies, written and directed by Jonathan Levine from the novel by Isaac Marion, takes place some years after the dawn of a zombie apocalypse and R is just one of many reanimated corpses shambling about the ruins of civilization. He’s an unusual zombie since his brain seems to be rattling about with a fair amount of activity. There’s enough going on in there, at least, to provide us with a chatty narration that his rigor mortis won’t allow him to vocalize properly. We’re in his head and can tell he’s instantly in love with Julie even though she and her friends are being attacked by his kind, judging by the way the scene drops into slow motion and an 80’s pop ballad fills the soundtrack as she fires her rifle, hair blowing, cheeks rosy.

Warm Bodies would be more of a satire of the kind of paranormal romances that have flourished in these post-Twilight days if it didn’t work pretty well as a rather surprisingly charming romance itself. R protects Julie from having her brain turned into a snack, sheltering her in a crashed airplane where he keeps his record collection. (The movie has a nice soundtrack to go with those stacks of vinyl.)  She’s understandably scared at first. Her dad (John Malkovich) is the leader of their walled-off, heavily armed city of survivors. She’s been trained to shoot to kill the undead without hesitation. She’s weaponless behind zombie territory when R saves her. And he’s kind, clearly making an effort, straining to be understood through his hunched body language and groaning monosyllabic vocabulary. She decides he’s not so bad for a dead guy.

Though the resolutely PG-13 film has a fair amount of guts and gore kept just out of frame, this is a zombie movie for people who don’t like zombie movies. It’s a sweet and hopeful post apocalypse with appealing lead performances. Hoult makes for a likable monster in that he never comes across like one. Sure, he munches on brains, but our access to his inner monologue makes him seem appropriately conflicted about it. And as his relationship with Palmer grows hesitantly warmer, so too does his yearning to be free of the curse of being a zombie. This sets into motion a strangely off-handed search-for-a-cure plot that helps to move the film towards its conclusion. Along the way we meet other zombies who are starting to spark back to life, including a funny Rob Corddry, playing a likable zombie in what amounts to his most restrained performance ever, grunting out barely half a word at a time, but nonetheless getting some of the film’s biggest laughs.

Since we’re expected to like these zombies, there are also roaming packs of plague-ridden antagonists in the form of rotted out skeletons, undead too far gone, who are irredeemable and therefore suitable cannon fodder. It works to tie up the plot and force a conclusion through fairly standard action beats that are the least inspired aspect of this altogether pleasant amusement. What works best is the genuinely heartfelt chemistry at the core. Despite bordering on sappy with its insistence that true love can break through even cold, dead zombie hearts, Hoult and Palmer give appealing performances that are heartwarming enough to buy it. Levine, whose last feature was 50/50, a largely, and improbably, enjoyable comedy about a young man with cancer, knows how to find comedy out of tough scenarios and directs here with a light touch that never pushes too hard against material so pleasingly slight and likably diverting.