Top 10 of 2012


2012 Top 10

It is almost a given that any film critic worth their salt is going to do a year-end list of the best films of the year. It’s de rigueur; it’s expected; it’s standard; you don’t get to wear the film critics t-shirt unless you do one. As I’m particularly fond of mine, I guess I’d better go ahead and give it a shot.

Some critics have a kind of scientific method that they use to determine their list. Me, I’m much less formal. I look back over my ratings and choose the movies I gave 10s to at the top, ranking them basically by how I’m feeling about them now. Next comes the 9s, then the 8s if it comes to that (and this year it didn’t). I ignore the half points, so you might see a 9 ranked above a 9.5. I don’t stand on ceremony as you can see.

The story of 2012 is that there were three movies that were at the top of my charts basically the entire second half of the year – nothing that came out in the fall really challenged the top three. The thing is, none of the three really stood out head and shoulders among the others; you could say it’s a three way tie for first. I have ranked them from one to three for the purposes of this list but throughout the year I’ve generally waffled as to what order that I’ve placed them in. I’ve shuffled, re-shuffled and changed my mind a million times. Each one of them has been my favorite movie of the year at various times throughout the year.

In fact, the list (as most lists do) has a highly fluid quality to it. For the most part, I’m pretty satisfied with the ten movies on the list and I don’t think I’d change any of the movies on it, but you never know. For now, these are the top ten movies of 2012, although ask me again tomorrow and the order might change completely but I think you’d find all ten of these movies on the list.

Some of these movies remain in general release even as we speak; you can head right out to a theater and see them the way they were meant to be seen. Some are already out on DVD/Blu-Ray and you can enjoy them in the comfort of your own home – or they soon will be. Lag time between theatrical release and home video release has been shrinking of late plus many films are being released on VOD concurrently to their limited theatrical release, although none of those are on the top ten at the moment. For those whose interests are piqued about the movies from the snippets I publish here, click on the movie’s title to see my original review and if you’d like to find out more, click on the picture above the review to be taken to the film’s official website when available.

As with any list, I guarantee mine will differ with yours significantly. Although I don’t think anyone has ever taken issue (at least publically) with my list, feel free to leave a comment as to why I know nothing about movies and which movies should have been on it, or not on it. Why make a list after all if you’re not going to disagree with it?

HONORABLE MENTION

There are a number of movies that didn’t quite make the cut of the top ten. I thought I’d add them here so you can get an idea of which ones came close, were considered and ultimately not chosen. Again, I will stress that all of these are quality films worth seeking out if you’re looking for entertainment, enlightenment or insight. I didn’t include links here but if you want to read my reviews of any of these, simply type in the title into the search field and have at it. So,  in no particular order;

Craigslist Joe, Renee, Arbitrage, Argo, Headhunters, Turn Me On Dammit, Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, Bully, Thin Ice, God Bless America, Brave, Safety Not Guaranteed, Frankenweenie, The Salt of Life, Skyfall, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, Bernie, The Secret World of Arrietty, The Avengers, Girl Model, Moonrise Kingdom, ParaNorman, A Late Quartet, Sleepwalk With Me, Goon, Life of Pi, The Sessions, A Bag of Hammers, Paul Williams: Still Alive, Chely Wright: Wish Me Away, Seven Psychopaths, Ted, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey10. THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

(New Line) Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee and a cast of thousands. Directed by Peter Jackson

Released December 16, 2012 After years of being held up by MGM’s financial issues, the classic novel by J.R.R. Tolkien finally made it to the screen and in typical Hollywood fashion, the shortest of his novels will now be three films by itself. Still, the Lord of the Rings trilogy was a license to print money for WB so you know it was inevitable that they’d milk it for all it’s worth. We’ll be seeing another Hobbit movie every year through 2015. After that, Silmarillion anyone?
WHY IT IS HERE: An epic adventure on a grand scale. Jackson has made Middle Earth come to life, living and breathing and he does so once again here. Using high frame rate technology, the Shire never looked so beautiful or Rivendell so serene. While it didn’t impress me at the level of the first trilogy, this is still a very good movie.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: At Rivendell, Gandalf and Galadriel communicate telepathically, both revealing hidden secrets as they discuss the dwarf mission to Erebor and the presence of the Hobbit. Two great actors do almost the entire scene with just their eyes and body language while the dialogue is read voice over. Magnificent.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $267.9 million domestic (as of 1/11/13), $830.7 million total.
BUDGET: Not available.
STATUS: Still in wide release.

The Dark Knight Rises9. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

(Warner Brothers) Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman. Directed by Christopher Nolan

Released July 20, 2012 We knew in advance this would be Christopher Nolan’s last foray into Gotham and probably Christian Bale’s as well. After the major success that was The Dark Knight there was a great deal of anticipation although the inevitable backlash that comes after that kind of success was certainly lurking. The box office surely didn’t disappoint although one wonders if the competition from The Avengers didn’t keep this one from going a bit higher.
WHY IT IS HERE: A fitting end to the Dark Knight trilogy, Nolan pulls out all the stops with multiple villains, new gadgets and potential nuclear holocaust. The action was as good if not better than The Avengers and we get to see Batman at his most heroic.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Joseph Gordon-Levitt faces down a group of cops on a bridge with the lives of a bus load of kids hanging in the balance.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $448.1 million domestic (as of 1/11/13), $1.1 billion total.
BUDGET: $250 million.
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon/Blockbuster. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Stream from Amazon/Blockbuster.

The Intouchables8. THE INTOUCHABLES

(Weinstein) Omar Sy, Francois Cluzet, Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot, Clotilde Mollet, Alba Gaia Bellugi, Cyril Mendy, Christian Ameri, Gregoire Oestermann, Josephine de Meaux, Dominique Daguier, Francois Caron, Thomas Soliveres. Directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano

Released May 25, 2012 This was a box office record setter in France, capturing the imagination of French audiences as well as critical acclaim and major awards (including a Cleo for Sy as best actor). While overly sensitive politically correct American critics took pot shots at the relationship between Driss and Phillippe (white paraplegic employer, black attendant) it was based on an inspirational true story.
WHY IT IS HERE: I dare anyone to watch this all the way through and not feel better about life and the universe we live in. Da Queen will tell you I was in a terrible mood when I went to see this; when we left the theater I was a decent human being again. This should be mandatory viewing for depressives.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: When Driss gets to drive Philippe’s Mazerati for the first time. Priceless.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $10.2 million domestic (as of 1/17/13), $420.8M total.
BUDGET: Not available.
STATUS: Scheduled for home video release on March 5.

Monsieur Lazhar7. MONSIEUR LAZHAR

(Music Box) Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nelisse, Emilien Neron, Danielle Proulx, Brigitte Poupart, Jules Philip, Daniel Gadouas, Seddik Benslimane, Marie-Eve Beauregard, Louis Champagne, Andre Robitaille, Francine Ruel, Helena Laliberte. Directed by Philippe Falardeau

Released April 13, 2012 As with the last feature on the top ten list, this was presented here in Orlando at the Florida Film Festival. It was, like the previous film, Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language film. The similarity stops there however; this is a much darker and dramatic film than the uplifting Intouchables.
WHY IT IS HERE: This deals with grief in several different ways, from the grief of children to the grief of adults. The snowy white Montreal backdrop gives the film a sense of insulation that is both warm and cold at once; it is no accident that the action begins in the winter and concludes in the spring. Fellag gives the kind of performance which would have attracted much more notice had he been working for a major distributor or for an American-made film. It’s a hard, hard film to watch at times but by the time it’s over chances are you’ll have learned something about yourself.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The courtroom scene in which Lazhar relives the tragic incident that drove him to Canada.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $2 million domestic (as of 1/17/13), $6.6M total..
BUDGET: Not available.
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Stream from Amazon/Netflix/iTunes.

Cloud Atlas6. CLOUD ATLAS

(Warner Brothers) Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Keith David, Xun Zhou, David Gyasi, Brody Nicholas Lee, Raevan Lee Hanan, Alistair Petrie. Directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski

Released October 26, 2012 This is based on the David Mitchell novel that was widely thought to be unfilmable. The Wachowskis engaged their close friend Tykwer with each directing half of the sequences. Despite the all-star cast, marketing this epic work turned out to be nearly impossible and the movie made almost no box office impact whatsoever here in the States.
WHY IT IS HERE: This is a movie that talks about repression and personal responsibility in ways that we’re often not used to it. It shows that the ability of one human to force another to end to their will is timeless; so is the ability of one human to stand up and say no. There is an epic scope in each of the different segments – each set in a different era in history, three in the past, one in the present and two in the future. Cerebral science fiction, when done well can be as stimulating as any genre of movie extant but sadly, it isn’t generally cost-effective. This was overlooked by a lot of critics and granted, there were some flaws but such was its ambition that one can overlook them when admiring the whole.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Timothy Cavendish’ s break-out from the nuthatch in the 2012 sequence.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $27.1 million domestic (as of 1/19/13), $71.2 million total.
BUDGET: $102 million
STATUS: Scheduled for home video release in May 2013. It may still be seen in second-run theaters.

Chasing Ice5. CHASING ICE

(Submarine Deluxe) James Balog, Svavar Jonatansson, Louie Psihoyos, Adam LeWinter, Kitty Boone, Jeff Orlowski, Tad Pfeffer, Suzanne Balog, Dennis Dimick, Emily Balog, Simone Balog, Sylvia Earle, Jason Box, Synte Peacock. Directed by Jeff Orlowski

Released November 16, 2012 The growing climate change has become an issue everywhere else in the world, but here in the United States there is oddly no dialogue, unless it is to ridicule Al Gore for his attempts to bring it to the attention of Americans. This movie was an attempt by one of the world’s most passionate and respected nature photographers to document the erosion of the world’s glaciers. It received an Oscar nomination for Best Song but oddly, not for Best Documentary Feature.
WHY IT IS HERE: This documentary shows graphically the importance of glaciers to the global eco-system, the potentially catastrophic consequences of their continued erosion and shows measurably that it is happening right now. The movie is eerily beautiful as it terrifies.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scenes near the end of the film where the erosion of the glaciers is graphically shown. It’s beautiful and terrifying.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $970,721 domestic (as of 1/19/13), $970,721 worldwide.
BUDGET: Not available
STATUS: Scheduled for home video release in April 2013.

Lincoln4. LINCOLN

(DreamWorks) Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson, Jared Harris, Lee Pace, Peter McRobbie, Gloria Reuben. Directed by Steven Spielberg

Released November 9, 2012 This biography of America’s 16th (and perhaps best) president had long been in gestation as Spielberg meticulously researched his life and times, recreating his office down to the wallpaper. It has been something of a surprise hit, with Day-Lewis up to his usual standards of performance, garnering an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe win to add to his trophy collection.
WHY IT IS HERE: This really gives you a sense of the man behind the majesty, a man who has carried the weight of a bloody civil war on his broad shoulders and is beginning to buckle. This Honest Abe is not above political chicanery and is not above shouting at his subordinates to get this vote done. And the great Mr. Lincoln drove the people around him crazy with his stories, like the long-winded uncle everyone avoids at family reunions. Not that I have a long-winded uncle.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The vote on the floor of the House of Representatives is gripping even though most Americans who know their history know how it turns out.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $156.6 million domestic (as of 1/18/13), $156.6 million total.
BUDGET: $65 million.
STATUS: Still in wide release.

Cabin in the Woods3. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS

(Lionsgate) Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Sigourney Weaver, Brian White, Amy Acker, Tim De Zarn, Tom Lenk, Dan Payne, Jodelle Ferland, Dan Shea, Maya Massar, Matt Drake. Directed by Drew Goddard

Released April 13, 2012 This was a pretty good year for Joss Whedon who not only directed the biggest blockbuster of the year but produced this film as well. The movie actually had been languishing in the vaults of MGM during its bankruptcy woes and was picked up by Lionsgate who were sadly never really able to get across to the public what a great ride this movie is.
WHY IT IS HERE: Those who love Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead (which itself is being remade later this year) are going to love this. Part horror spoof, part action flick, part Lovecraftian gorefest, part conspiracy flick and all of it fun, we get a solid cast, put them in a playground and watch them get mind raped. It has been a rare thing that I’ve had this much fun at a movie and although it starts off a bit slow, when it gets going it REALLY takes off! Just keep asking yourself this: Am I on speaker phone?
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The elevator ride down into the bowels of the complex.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $42.1 million domestic (as of 1/20/13), $66.5 million total.
BUDGET: $30 million.
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Stream from Amazon/iTunes/Blockbuster.

The Lady2. THE LADY

(Cohen Media Group) Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis, Jonathan Raggett, Jonathan Woodhouse, Susan Wooldridge, Benedict Wong, Flint Bangkok, William Hope, Victoria Sanvalli, Danny Toeng, Nay Myo Thant. Directed by Luc Besson

Released April 11, 2012 This biopic of Burmese freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi was my favorite film from last year’s Florida Film Festival and a very real contender for my favorite of the year period. Oddly, it got extremely disappointing reviews which I found incomprehensible – but the box office figures were far more disappointing than the reviews.
WHY IT IS HERE: This is a movie that shows how resilient the human spirit is. Suu Kyi is one of the most courageous people of our time and yet her story is largely unknown in the West. Michelle Yeoh gives a performance that in a just world would have been considered for an Oscar – it’s at least on par with favorite Jessica Chastain’s. However because of the almost non-existent theatrical release and the critical shellacking it received, most people will never get a chance to see it.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene in which Aung proudly listens to her son Alexander give the acceptance speech for her Nobel Peace Prize, the ceremony for which she was unable to attend.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: Domestic box office figures unavailable (as of 1/23/12), $3.4 million total.
BUDGET: $29.4 million.
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Stream from Amazon/iTunes/Blockbuster.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel1. THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL

(Fox Searchlight) Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Dev Patel, Tena Desae, Lillette Dubey, Sid Makkar, Seema Azmi, Diana Hardcastle, Lucy Robinson, Paul Bhattacharjee. Directed by John Madden

Released May 4, 2012 General movie audiences notoriously find movies about the elderly to be anathema. It’s not hard to figure out why – moviegoers are mostly teens and young adults; that demographic doesn’t really care about the elderly and their issues because they simply aren’t there yet. This one, however, struck a chord with audiences of all age groups.
WHY IT IS HERE: I have to admit I wasn’t particularly interested in visiting India for most of my life. I’d heard about the noise, the smell, the crowded conditions and the heat – it didn’t sound like my particular cup of tea. That all changed after I saw this movie and saw India from a completely different viewpoint. Besides that, this is a movie about aging and living as an “old person.” You might look at aging differently when you see this.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Tom Wilkinson’s strolls through town were always full of joy.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $46.4 million domestic (as of 1/23/12), $134.4 million total.
BUDGET: $10 million.
STATUS: Currently available on home video. Download from iTunes/Amazon. Rent DVD/Blu-Ray from Netflix/Blockbuster. Stream from Amazon/iTunes.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (Ichimei)


 

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

Why do Japanese swordfights look so much better in the snow?

(2011) Samurai (Tribeca) Koji Yakusho, Naoto Takenaka, Hikari Mitsushima, Eita, Ebizo Ichikawa, Kazuki Namioka, Hirofumi Arai, Munetaki Aoki, Ayumu Saito, Takashi Sasano, Takehiro Hira, Baijaku Nakamura, Goro Daimon, Yoshihisa Amano, Ippei Takahashi. Directed by Takashi Miike

 

Honor is a word whose meaning varies from culture to culture. For some, honor means keeping one’s word – when it suits them. For others, honor is all about the written word. If it’s on paper, the it’s binder. If not, a verbal agreement is worth the paper it’s written on.

For the Japanese honor has a much more stringent connotation, particularly among the samurai – their warrior class. Honor is the be-all and end-all to life for them; without it, they couldn’t exist, much less function. The samurai have always been an object of fascination, even to the modern Japanese. Of late, there has been a revival in the samurai film, the genre of film that is perhaps as uniquely Japanese, a signature to their entire national film identity as Bollywood is to India.

Hanshiro (Ichikawa), a ronin (masterless samurai) shows up at the castle of Lord Kageyu (Yakusho) asking leave to commit hara-kiri – ritual suicide by disembowling himself with his own sword – in the castle courtyard. Kageyu is willing but regales him with a story – of a young samurai who had recently come to his door asking the same thing. There had been a rash of false suicides – ronin who came to their door asking to commit hara-kiri but not intending to go through with it, instead using the ritual as a means of getting money or employment. The lord and his samurai made sure, however, that the young samurai followed through. He begged that three ryu be sent to his family to pay for treatment of his sick wife and son, then he committed the ritual disembowelment – although he only had a bamboo sword, adding to the agony of the act.

Hanshiro also has a tale to tell; one of his daughter Miho (Mitsushima)  who had fallen in love with the gentle, bookish Motome (Eita), her childhood friend. They got married and had a baby, but the clan both Motome and Hanshiro served had displeased the shogun. He ordered that their castle be dismantled so that a new clan might build their own, the samurai dispersed. Samurai have no skills other than those they’d been previously using; finding work was next to impossible for them.

They were getting desperate; Motome was selling off the few possessions he had to get food but Miho, who had always been sickly, is having trouble taking care of the home and the baby. As winter arrives, their struggle becomes life or death but Motome has a plan.

Miike is best known for his cult classic Ichi the Killer and more recently the samurai epic 13 Assassins. He has a reputation as a director who doesn’t let convention get in the way of telling a good story. He constantly pushes the edge, with varying degrees of success. He certainly is prolific; something like 54 films already under his belt and he’s just barely passed 50 and his pace is picking up. Most of his films don’t make it to America – about one in five do.

The ones that do are always interesting. They don’t always connect with me but they always have something that grabs my imagination. This one is no different and in many ways actually exceeds expectations. It’s not my favorite of his movies but it’s right up there.

The cinematography, like many Japanese movies, is superb. The landscapes lend itself to beautiful images. Even the impoverished village where Motome lives with his family has a kind of serene beauty. I think one of Miike’s conceits is that beneath the beautiful veneer are ugly things – like Motome dropping an egg he’d purchased with a book he’d sold and licking the yolk from the ground because he was starving.

The performances here are quite restrained. Ichikawa is at times the concerned father, the proud father-in-law, the wise sage and the fearsome warrior. Each co-exists within the other within Hanshiro and each appears as needed. Yakusho captures the essence of a powerful man; by his own rigid code of honor he has done nothing wrong and is convinced that he has acted properly. The conflict between Kageyu and Hanshiro is inevitable but also understandable. Hanshiro has learned through grim experience the fearsome cost of the rigid code of the samurai.

The hara-kiri scene is excruciating. The young samurai is forced to kill himself with a bamboo sword which bends and splinters while he is exhorted to twist the blade by a sadistic second. It is one of the few scenes in the movie that have any gore involved (Miike is well-known for showing realistic carnage in his films) and it is hard to watch at times. The more sensitive readers might want to give some thought before seeing the movie.

But the rest of the movie is much more character driven rather than action driven, which makes that scene all the more jarring – and all the more intense. I think by doing that, Miike made the scene far more powerful because it’s not just one stomach-turning scene among many. It’s unforgettable but again, I must stress that it’s not for the weak-stomached.

The nature of honor is a powerful question, but particularly in Japanese society so it’s no wonder that these sorts of film appeal to them as a nationality. For me, this is a compelling look into the samurai culture which shows the darker elements of the samurai code, which sets it apart from the many films that celebrate it.

REASONS TO GO: Subdued performances make for a subtle character study rather than a typical bloodbath. Well-choreographed action sequences as well.

REASONS TO STAY: The hara-kiri scene is brutal and hard to watch. The pacing is slow and it’s possible that the middle section could have been trimmed some.

FAMILY VALUES: Not a lot of gore but when it’s there it’s quite intense. Definitely not for small children although teens who aren’t too squeamish might enjoy it.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although there was another movie of that name from 1962 with a similar theme, this isn’t a direct remake.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/2/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 78/100. The reviews are very good in general.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Lone Wolf and Cub

SWORD LOVERS: The swords used in the film are modeled on genuine samurai swords of the period. Motome’s bamboo sword was not uncommon in the era either.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Four-Warned: July 2012


July 2012Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (1.0)
2. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (1.2)
3. THE WATCH (1.8)
4. SAVAGES (2.0)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI (1.4)
2. RUBY SPARKS (1.5)
3. PLANET OF SNAIL (1.6)
TIE. SACRIFICE (1.6)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

JULY 3, 2012

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (Columbia) Genre: Superhero. A young man searches for clues to his parents disappearance while dealing with his own nascent superpowers and a lizard-like creature terrorizing New York. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.2 One wonders if this reboot of the franchise will live up to the previous trilogy but I have faith in director Marc Webb.

JULY 5, 2012

KATE PERRY: PART OF ME (Paramount Insurge) Genre: Concert. Follows the quirky pop chanteuse on her 2011 California Dreams tour. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.8 While I admire her personally for her perseverance and her determination to be who she is, her music just isn’t my personal cup of tea.

JULY 6, 2012

COLLABORATOR (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. A reunion between childhood friends goes horribly wrong. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Looks a bit like a black comedy crossed with a crime drama; could be a winner.
CRAZY EYES (Strand) Genre: Drama. An L.A. rich kid who’s smack dab in the middle of the Hollywood party scene finds the demands of real life increasing. Release Strategy: Los Angeles only. RATING: 3.3 I’m not sure I can get behind the poor little rich kid drama here.
THE DO DECA-PENTATHLON (Fox Searchlight/Red Flag) Genre: Comedy. A pair of ultra-competitive brothers engage in a twisted Olympics-style competition during a family reunion. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 From the Duplass Brothers who have done several admirable films including Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives at Home.
LAST RIDE (Music Box) Genre: Drama. A boy is bundled into the family car in the middle of the night by his dad and they take a frightening journey into the unknown. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.1 Looks extremely compelling and with Hugo Weaving in the lead, I’m all in.
THE MAGIC OF BELLE ISLE (Magnet) Genre: Dramedy. An aging writer of Western novels whose alcoholism has led to a decline in his skills finds inspiration in the family next door when he rents a lakeside vacation home for the summer. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 I love Morgan Freeman but somehow I just don’t see him as a bitter old man who’s given up on life.
THE PACT (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror. A pair of sisters staying in their mother’s old home after she passes away discovers dark secrets about her past even as unexplained things begin happening in the house. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 I just love haunted house movies and this looks like a good one.
SAVAGES (Universal) Genre: Crime Thriller. A Mexican drug cartel tries to intimidate a pair of high-end pot growers to supply them by kidnapping their woman. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Looks a bit like Oliver Stone is doing his version of Traffic.
STARRY STARRY NIGHT (China Lion) Genre: Drama. A young girl falls in love with a young boy even as her parents’ divorce and her grandfather lies dying; on a journey to her grandparents home together they embark on a journey more profound than they could imagine. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.7 Looks imaginative and visually striking; can’t wait to see this one.

JULY 11, 2012

EASY MONEY (Weinstein) Genre: Crime Drama. Three people on the fringes of the Swedish underworld collide over a stolen cocaine shipment. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 This Swedish film got universal acclaim and is already being remade by Martin Scorsese.

JULY 13, 2012

ALPS (Kino Lorber) Genre: Drama. A company specializing in playing roles of the deceased to family, friends and business colleagues begins to fall apart when one of its members goes off-script. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.5 A look at the grieving process that is certainly out of the box.
BALLPLAYER: PETOLERO (Strand) Genre: Sports Documentary. The brutally competitive world of major league baseball camps in the Dominican Republic is just the beginning of the cost of achieving baseball stardom. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Looks far from being a whitewash and sheds some light on a corrupt system.
FAMILY PORTRAIT IN BLACK AND WHITE (First Pond) Genre: Documentary. Ukrainian foster mom Olga Nenya, raising 23 foster kids as a single woman, is profiled. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.9 Looks compelling and complicated as racism – as well as how love sometimes condones it – enters the mix.
FAREWELL, MY QUEEN (Cohen) Genre: Drama. The final days of Marie Antoinette as seen by one of her ladies in waiting. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Looks sumptuous and sexy; could be worth seeking out.
ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT (20th Century Fox) Genre: Animated Feature. When the Pangaea continent splits into the seven we know today, Manny, Diego and Sid are split from their families and must find their way back. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 2.7 The franchise looks to be losing a bit of steam in its fourth installment.
THE IMPOSTOR (Indomina) Genre: Documentary. After a young boy is kidnapped from his Texas home, he is found alive and well in Southern Spain years later with an incredible tale of torture and survival, but all is not what it appears to be. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.0 Looks so bizarre and compelling it has to be true – and it is.
RED LIGHTS (Millennium) Genre: Thriller. A paranormal researcher specializing in debunking charlatans and hoaxers is determined to expose a blind psychic as a fraud – but may wind up having to re-examine his own core beliefs. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Looks pretty spooky, but something tells me it isn’t; still a cast that includes Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro and Cillian Murphy has got to have something going for it.
TRISHNA (Sundance Selects) Genre: Drama. The daughter of a poor family working at a resort falls in love with the son of the resort’s only; when they become a couple the deep schism between classes in India threatens the relationship. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 An adaptation of Tess of the D’Urbervilles set in India.
UNION SQUARE (DADA) Genre: Drama. A pair of estranged sisters collide as one is about to be married and the other is in the midst of a nervous breakdown. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Kinda looks like indie neurotic New Yorker hipster chic.

JULY 20, 2012

30 BEATS (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A summer heat wave triggers a series of sexual encounters in New York City. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 A hot, steamy, Big Apple-centric version of the French classic La Ronde.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (Warner Brothers) Genre: Superhero. Batman returns from self-imposed exile and outlaw status to once again rescue Gotham, this time from the clutches of the madman Bane. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.0 Hopefully Christopher Nolan’s final visit to the world of the Dark Knight will exit with a bang.
HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. A samurai requests an honorable suicide of his liege lord, prompting the revelation of unexpected secrets. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.4 From legendary director Takashi Miike comes this gorgeous looking samurai film.
THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (Magnolia) Genre: Documentary. Timeshare multi-millionaires set to build the largest private home in America only to fall victim to the economic crash. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Seems like a look at how divorced from reality the 1% really is.

JULY 25, 2012

PLANET OF SNAIL (Cinema Guild) Genre: Documentary. The story of a blind and deaf Chinese poet and his beautiful wife who communicate through finger Braille and have created an amazing, beautiful life for each other. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.6 Much of the film is set to his poetry; this looks like one of those movies which might sneak out of the really small indie distributor sets to make a real impact.
RUBY SPARKS (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Fantasy. A lonely young author suffering from writer’s block breaks through it by writing about a fictional girl who shows up in his apartment. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.5 Reminds me a little bit of Stranger Than Fiction.

JULY 27, 2012

AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY (Sundance Selects) Genre: Documentary. In honor of a Chinese photographer under house arrest for photographing people flipping the bird at symbols of injustice in his homeland, this film shows artists and activists around the world doing the same. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 Explores the link between art and activism and how each can bring about change.
BIG BOYS GONE BANANAS!* (WG) Genre: Documentary. A documentary about the abuse of Nicaraguan plantation workers is subjected to the bullying tactics of a multinational corporation. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles August 3). RATING: 2.2 A sobering look at how major corporations can subvert freedom of speech using the legal system.
KILLER JOE (LD Distribution) Genre: Thriller. A drug dealer whose mother steals his stash must come up with six grand or die; when he discovers his mother’s insurance policy will more than cover it he hires a hitman who will accept the dealer’s sister as sexual collateral. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Looks delightfully twisted and Matthew McConaughey is as badass as he’s ever been in the title role.
KLOWN (Drafthouse) Genre: Comedy. A man kidnaps his pregnant girlfriend’s nephew in order to prove to her that he is father material and gets caught up in the 12-year-old boy’s sexual misadventures. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 This was one of the most talked about (in a good way) movies at this year’s Florida Film Festival.
NUIT #1 (Adopt) Genre: Drama. Two seemingly mismatched people hook up after a rave and instead of going their separate ways the morning after they stay and divulge their innermost secrets to one another. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.8 An unconventional love story from the French Canadian perspective.
RITES OF SPRING (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror. The kidnapping of the daughter of a wealthy socialite sharply divides the kidnappers in the abandoned school they’re using as a hideout, paving the way for a mysterious creature that requires ritualistic sacrifices. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.2 Looks a bit cliché.
SACRIFICE (Goldwyn) Genre: Martial Arts. After a power-mad general wipes out a rivals entire family, the surviving newborn is protected and raised by the doctor that delivered him as an instrument of his own revenge. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 A powerful tale of sacrifice and vengeance from legendary Chinese director Chen Kaige.
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN (Sony Classics) Genre: Documentary. A couple of South African fans seek the true story of Rodriguez, a legendary rocker from Detroit who released one album in the 70s that bombed and disappeared into obscurity. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Looks like it can be one of those rock and roll mythologies where the truth is even better than the legend.
STEP UP REVOLUTION (Summit) Genre: Urban Dance. A well-known Miami flash mob decides to use their creativity to help thwart a greedy developer’s attempts to raze a neighborhood for a new hotel. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 4.0 Dance movies as you can tell by my rating leave me stone cold.
THE WATCH (20th Century Fox) Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy. A neighborhood watch group discovers that an alien invasion is underway and their neighborhood is ground zero. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.8 I probably should be a little more leery after the last Ben Stiller-led all-star ensemble film.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
The Amazing Spider-Man, Savages, Ice Age: Continental Drift, The Dark Knight Rises, The Queen of Versailles, The Watch.