Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild (PG-13) - Runtime: 93 minutes
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry
Director: Benh Zeitlin
Writer: Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin 

This movie is supposed to be a triumph. And uplifting joyous celebration of life in which all of humanity can unanimously agree how wonderful and life-affirming this movie is. Let me tell you this: it is not. This is one of the most depressing and boring movies I've seen all year. And this movie is in my wheel house - post-apocalyptic movies with an underdog protagonist trying to survive (Children of Men, 12 Monkeys). I'd compare this movie thematically to Spirited Away or Pan's Labyrinth, two movies I love. So I was expecting at least to enjoy this movie - but the movie lost me only twenty minutes in and it only got worse as the movie went on.

The movie is set in the future where rising ocean water has flooded most of the coastline. There is an island known as The Bathtub in the southern U.S. that is cut off from the rest of the country. It's a backwoods civilization where people live in shacks and just live day to day. They have no cares except for the rising tides that will eventually consume the island. Hushpuppy is the main character and she's a very stubborn and adventurous girl who lives with her dad. After a fight she sets her house on fire and runs away. I can't really explain much more of the plot without explaining everything so suffice to say, stuff happens and of course the island gets more flooded.

I just could not connect with this movie. I tried really, really hard. The premise was alright, but I hated certain messages in the movie. The film celebrates these people who live in the bathtub because they rejected the mainland's way of life - with technology and fancy living (I'm assuming stuff like Ketchup and bicycles are chief symbols of wealth in this age). But in my opinion, these people are stupid and stubborn. They refuse outside help when it's needed (like medical aid) and they throw parties every night just celebrating their life like there's no care in the world. Of course it bites them in the ass when a storm arrives, but the movie really seems to uphold these Bathtub people like a revelation to modern society.

The other big problem with the movie is its logic. If you're going to introduce us to a future world where most of the United States' coast has been flooded, then I'm assuming you've at least laid out some sort of background information. It doesn't have to show up in the movie, but I assume there's a logical, real world nestled in the background of the movie. One case where this logic is upended is the levee built around the mainland. Hushpuppy's father, Wink (some of the worst names I've come across in all of moviedom) decides after the big storm flooded the island to throw a bomb at the levee wall and that will drain the island. I'm pretty sure that's not how it works, but hey! This movie isn't about real things, it's all about symbolism! But lo and behold - his bomb works and the island is thus freed of the shackles of reality and is no longer flooded.

Plus there's some other such nonsense about these mythological beasts being trapped in the ice that are now freed to roam the earth, pursuing god knows what. And pretty much the only reason they're in the story is to show us SYMBOLISM and METAPHORS. It beats you over the head that you're practically suffocating by all this MEANING. It's really not entertaining and if this is supposed to represent a slice of Americana, then I must be living in the wrong America.

I have no idea how this movie got nominated for Best Picture. There are about half a dozen other movies that were infinitely better than this that got just as much critical acclaim (The Avengers? Hello?). I guess if you're really curious to see this check it out. Otherwise, it's an awful waste of 90 minutes. I was excited to see this movie but it was a complete disappointment.

Rating: Avoid Like the Plague!

2012's Most Anticipated: The Bourne Legacy

12. The Bourne Legacy (PG-13) - Runtime: 135 minutes
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Edward Norton, Rachel Weisz
Director: Tony Gilroy
Writer: Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy

I was super, super excited to see this movie. Then the reviews came out and a lot of people I heard left the theaters disappointed. So I avoided this in the theaters - I just couldn't bear to be let down in the theaters - better to save that shame for home. But I don't know what the big deal was - this movie is straight up another Bourne movie - just with a new character not named Bourne (an ironic fact that's not lost on me). While this probably won't be considered the best entry (it's clearly inferior to the original trilogy), it's a decent start to turning Bourne into a more sour and grim Bond franchise.

The movie starts at the tail end of The Bourne Ultimatum. Basically the events that played out in the last part of that movie are constantly in the background of Legacy. Aaron Cross is another agent in the field - however he's part of a different program, called Outcome, which relies on each agent to take blue and green pills to enhance their physical and mental capacities. Of course, because of the shit that went down with Bourne, the project director, Eric Byer (Norton) decides to shut it all down which means everyone is expendable. Luckily for us, Cross survives and is on a mission to right wrongs with the help of drug tester Dr. Marta Shearing (Weisz). The only real problem with this movie is you really have to remember and know what went down in the first three. You really can't just jump into this installment without knowing about Treadstone and Jason Bourne.

And really, that's the only big misstep in this movie - I found myself enjoying the whole experience. A lot of people complained there wasn't enough "Bourne" in this movie - that there wasn't a whole lot of action. Which is fair - the movie never really explodes into full-on adrenaline tilt and I understand people's complaints. I just thought the rest of the movie was compelling enough for me (and most definitely not for Maggie - she pretty much picked up her phone halfway through to look at Facebook) that I wanted more after the credits started to roll. In fact, I think the movie sets up a pretty cool way forward for the franchise: if they can get Damon on board (he might want to after his past few leading roles have seen diminishing returns at the box office), it would be awesome to see Renner's idea of Cross and Bourne teaming up to take down the bastards who keep trying to ruin their lives.

Renner is suitable for the role - he's a good action star and I thought he did a good job filling in Damon's shoes. The rest of the cast is good as well - Weisz is good and Norton could have had more scenes where he's throwing shit around the room, yelling at others about their failures. I love how they expanded the universe and would love to see more agents fighting each other in a battle of wits and physicality - the possibilities are numerous and I can't wait to see if they announce another movie.

Don't expect Legacy to blow you away - it's not that kind of movie. But it's not really that bad, either. I really enjoyed the manhunt going on and it was well-paced that I didn't find myself getting bored through the two hours. If you haven't seen any of the Bourne movies, do not watch this one! You will be lost throughout and it will become frustrating. However, if you enjoyed the Bourne movies, Legacy deserves a shot - it's worth checking out to see if you like it or not.

Rating: Rent It!

2012's Most Anticipated: Zero Dark Thirty

4. Zero Dark Thirty (R) - Runtime: 157 minutes
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal

I felt The Hurt Locker was the best movie from 2009 and totally deserved its Best Picture winI will admit my feeling of pride when I was calling that out way back before it was getting Oscar love. But Zero Dark Thirty is in a completely different realm as far as public awareness goes. Any movie Bigelow would have done would garner a lot of attention, but the fact she was making a movie about the hunt for Bin Laden and the fact she got the CIA involved to help out, well, that just sends the PR machine into the stratosphere. And for the most part, the hype behind the movie is justified - this is another thrilling and methodical war movie that everyone should at least watch once.

The story is centered around Maya, a no-bullshit CIA agent who's tasked with trying to find Bin Laden. The movie is very straightforward: it starts with the haunting echoes of 911 calls from the September 11th attacks and continues in linear and chronological fashion to the very end. In a lot of ways, this is a very similar movie to The Hurt Locker. You have a seeming unstoppable force (in this instance, Maya) who can't function outside of her job. And as much as these movies are about war and torture, both are more about a character study on the toll these two subjects take on people. There's one point where Jason Clarke's character decides to get out of Afghanistan and take a desk job. He just can't take anymore of the torture and surreal world these people live in. But Maya can't. She's completely confident and headstrong to the point where she finds it hard to maintain just decent relationships with co-workers.

And Chastain is absolutely amazing in this capacity - she has a couple scenes in the movie where I was blown away. There's a scene where she confronts her boss about the bullshit red tape she's trying to clear so she can follow her lead and she just unleashes all of her fury at him. If I was within earshot of this conversation in the movie, I might have peed my pants. On top of her great performance, Jason Clarke is just as good and he's not getting enough credit for his role - he's a different character but he's the man who has to torture one of the detainees and it's disgusting and riveting all at the same time.

Speaking of disgusting, much has been made about the torture in this movie and if it is saying torture was critical or not. I don't believe the movie takes an actual stance on this subject - it would have been dishonest if they didn't include these scenes of torture - but to say they played a huge role in the capture of Bin Laden - well, that's up for debate. Personally, I just think the writer, Mark Boal and Bigelow just wanted to tell a compelling story and they couldn't possibly do that without including American torture. It's ugly and brutal and the movie depicts it that way so I don't believe their advocating this practice. But like I said earlier, you can have a really good debate on whether or not the torturing in the movie led to solid information regarding Bin Laden's hideout. There's a fascinating thread on Andrew Sullivan's blog about this whole topic - a must read.

If you haven't decided if you want to see this movie, you should. It's not only a fascinating and thrilling story about the hunt for America's number one enemy, it's also a very deep and smart movie that will have you discussing with others about American ideals, torture and our foreign policy. It's certainly a movie that you'll want to at least watch once, if not twice!

Rating: See It!

2012's Most Anticipated: Life of Pi

40. Life of Pi (PG) - Runtime: 127 minutes
Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan
Director: Ang Lee
Writer: David Magee

Life of Pi was supposed to be unfilmable. The book was simply amazing - but how do you take a book that's almost entirely devoted to telling the story of a boy and a tiger living on a boat. It's one thing to write about it - books can delve off into tangents and explain in lengthy detail events, but movies have to be tightly edited and controlled - and watching a boy and a tiger on a boat seems absolutely boring. But Ang Lee and writer David Magee manage the impossible - not only is Life of Pi watchable, it's most deserving of one the best movies this year!

I'd compare this movie a lot to Cast Away - somehow tales of survival are just riveting to me and what seems like the most mundane of plots or events can be extraordinary tales in these movies (for instance the tooth infection scene in Cast Away). The story has a Titanic opening (I know, a lame reference, but this a device a lot of movies use and most everyone has seen Titanic, so it's an easy reference): a reporter goes to visit a man who claims to have an extraordinary tale that will "make him believe in God." Irrfan Khan is Piscine Molitor Patel (or Pi for short) and he begins his tale talking about his childhood. This is where I thought the movie would ruin it for me. Pi keeps talking about finding religion: he's born into a divided household: his dad's an atheist and his mom is Hindu. He soon finds other religions to embrace: Christianity and Islam. So the movie starts out literally preachy. I found this extremely off-putting because I knew what the film was getting at: faith is essential to our survival. And the first half hour of the movie is beating you over the head with this message and the antithesis of this message: having no faith is just plain wrong and evil. Seriously, his atheist dad comes off as a complete asshole who's basically responsible for his family getting on the ship. Basically his family owned a zoo and they sell off all the animals and decide to move to America to start a new life.

But once the ship wrecks, that's when the movie really starts to kick into full gear. Pi finds himself alone on a lifeboat with Richard Parker (the name of the tiger, which has a funny story by itself). After the agonizingly slow beginning, the story really never loses a beat afterwards. I don't want to spoil too much of this movie - part of the charm of this movie is the amazing visuals and surprises that come along. Seriously, this is probably the most beautifully crafted film I've seen since The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Plus the CGI is really, really good. I know for sure that the tiger was mostly animated, but I honestly couldn't tell from looking at it. Everything was just so life-like! If this film doesn't win any technical awards, that will be a shame.

What's really great about this movie is you start to feel like you're a part of it. Ang Lee does a wonderful job of making you feel a part of being on the boat.The movie is always focused on the boat and never strays away from it - and there are some intense scenes of violence that will really scare the bajeezus out of you. The movie is really well-paced and edited, too - it knows when to ratchet up the action (storms, scenes of Pi training Richard Parker to obey him) to gentle scenes of the calm waters in the night or at sunrise.

It's a white-knuckle movie that has it's fair share of calming and beautiful reflective moments. Sure the message in the beginning of the first movie will make you roll your eyes, but you'll soon forgive the beginning once you're transported onto the lifeboat with Richard Parker and Pi. A fantastic movie that you should go see now if you have the chance to see it in theaters.

Rating: See It!

Review: Butter

Butter (R) - Runtime: 90 minutes
Starring: Jennifer Garner, Yara Shahidi, Ty Burrell
Director: Jim Field Smith
Writer: Jason A. Micallef

This was a surprise of a movie. Surprsingly warm-hearted and deviously funny at the same time, Butter is a fun movie with a satisfying cast and some good laughs. I completely enjoyed every performance in this movie and found myself laughing a lot more than I expected.

The story is narrated by a little girl named Destiny who seems to find herself going from foster home to foster home. She's not a bad child, in fact, she's one of the most well-behaved little girls I've ever come across. She's landed on the front door of a couple who seem to be the most awesome people in the world. They encourage her to enter a butter sculpture contest and she has an knack for making the best sculptures. But she faces a nasty enemy: Laura Pickler, the wife of renowned butter architect Bob Pickler, who's won the contest for over fifteen years. He's decided to not enter the race and instead, Laura wants to keep pursuing fame and fortune so she decides to enter. There's a few other characters and wrinkles in the story, but it's best left to sit and watch and see how it all plays out.

While the plot sounds innocent enough, this is a very R-rated movie. Laura Pickler is most definitely modeled after Sarah Palin, in full cynical, gotcha mode. The movie makes very little attempt to show her in a positive light. Which is fine - a lot of the laughs come from her inner thoughts about the supposed injustice of her life. The movie successfully balances this devious, R-rated dialogue and material with the more heartwarming and emotional moments. It takes a good fifteen minutes into the movie to really understand and adjust to the up-and-down tone of the movie. But it gets its groove on and the rest of the story flies by.

The one big flaw in Butter is that the characters seem more two dimensional than they ought to. Destiny is almost a saint - she's never really doing anything wrong and she's always polite and doing the right thing. And so are her foster parents - they are the most understanding and fun couple that I've never met because they don't exist in reality. Plus Laura Pickler is almost too crazy and evil that she barely gets anytime for us to see why.

Aside from a few nitpicks here and there - this movie is genuinely funny and completely touching. It manages to blend some really R-rated material with family-friendly messages. It's a weird balance and tone, but it's something you get used to and you'll find yourself laughing a lot more than you expected.

Rating: Rent It!


Most Anticipated Review: Taken 2

55. Taken 2 (PG-13) - Runtime: 92 minutes
Starring: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen
Director: Olivier Megaton
Writer: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen

I really enjoyed the first Taken - it was a fun movie that didn't overstay its welcome. I don't think I'd ever go back to watching it again - it's one of those "one and done" kind of movies. The thrill is gone after the first viewing. So it's head-scratching as to why Luc Besson would want to write a sequel. It's not that head-scratching for a studio - Taken 2 made just as much money domestically as its first installment. But creatively - this movie wasn't built to be a franchise - and Taken 2 shows how basically you can kill any good will from the previous film.

The story is rather simple (and dull): the bad guys Liam Neeson took out in the first movie have a very powerful father who wants revenge. Meanwhile, Liam Neeson (I can't be bothered to remember his character's name!) is on an assignment for security detail when his ex-wife and daughter surprise him in Istanbul to take a awkward quasi-family vacation! Seriously - the movie makes no attempt to offer you any details on his family life nor what his relationship to his ex-wife or daughter are. ANY. And this is when I stopped caring because the bad guys kidnap his ex-wife and eventually they kidnap Neeson, too! And then it's up to Maggie Grace (the dumb blonde from the first movie who started this whole mess) to save the day and get her father out of this mess. But really that only means Neeson screaming directions into a hidden phone the whole time. Yeah, Maggie Grace isn't exactly gonna punch her way out of this situation.

The whole movie is completely unhinged - reality be damned! I know the first movie stretched the limit on its believability - but Taken 2 extends this logic to an absurdity. On top of the film being not aware of reality, it's really quite dull. Literally three things happen in the movie: Neeson and ex-wife get kidnapped. Maggie Grace helps her dad get free. Neeson hunts down and kills everyone and gets his wife back. That's it - I can be thankful the movie only lasted 90 minutes because it was pretty boring. There's some action in the movie, but never once did I get excited - it just seemed so pedestrian.

I'm sure there's talks of Taken 3 in the works. I highly doubt Neeson would be interested (although his next few movies would like to beg to differ), but they could crank out a few straight-to-DVD sequels that will undoubtedly star Tom Berenger as the stand-in for Neeson. This was a completely unnecessary movie and shame on me for watching it. It's a boring movie and feels like everyone stopped caring the moment they got on set. Also, can we just take a moment to recognize the somewhat amazing and truly awful name of the director - Olivier Megaton?!?!? I have no idea how this man managed to get a decent gig in Hollywood without being laughed out of the room. Seriously, change your name dude - I don't respect you as an action director any more because of that name than if your real name was Terd Finkelstein.

Rating: Avoid Like the Plague!

Review: Cabin in the Woods

Cabin in the Woods (R) - Runtime: 95 minutes
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison
Director: Drew Goddard
Writer: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard

I'm amazed I lasted this long without learning all of the spoilers for this movie. The internet absolutely loves this film and I was hesitant to watch it - I'm not a huge fan of horror movies, but the ones I do enjoy are the ones that are beloved by critics (28 Days Later, The Descent). Now I would categorize this movie more as a comedy (like Shaun of the Dead) than a horror movie. The movie follows a pattern that most horror films follow - but there's a twist! And you could call this twist gimmicky, but what it really does is turn the whole genre on its side. It's a unique (and very meta) take on the genre. While I wouldn't call this movie insanely good - it's completely different than any other ho-hum borefest that claims to be the most frightening thing this year.

The movie isn't afraid to showcase it's twist right from the beginning - Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins are two supposedly government employees in charge of killing off some teenagers during their weekend getaway to a cabin in the woods. They have all the latest technology to steer these kids to their doom. And things work out for the most part - but things take a turn for the better for the kids and a turn for the worst for the government employees halfway through the movie.

This an extreme satire of the whole genre - you're continually asking why throughout and when the actual end game is revealed you still have a lot of questions. None of it really makes sense the more you look into the story's logistics, but most horror movies don't make sense, so let's just go with that. What you have is that almost every stereotypical character is mocked and parodied in this movie to the point where it's winking at the camera. And you know what? I like that tongue-in-cheek attitude. It certainly was way more watchable and enjoyable than a Resident Evil film or Silent Hill or Last House on the Left. Like I said from the beginning, this is more of a comedy than a horror film and in that respects, this movie kills.

Let's just face facts: scary movies aren't really scary anymore. They're either about torture and gratuitous amounts of blood and guts. Or they're insanely illogical and anti-climactic. Cabin in the Woods won't scare you, but you'll have a few good laughs and enjoy yourself immensely. Just don't think about the movie too much or you'll get a headache.

Rating: Rent It!

Review: Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook (R) - Runtime: 122 minutes
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro
Director: David O. Russell
Writer: David O. Russell

I wasn't expecting to fall for this movie as much as I did. You would think that a movie about two mentally unstable people falling in love amidst dance rehearsal wouldn't exactly excite the nerves - but David O. Russell has such a good sense of writing and directing that his past two films have been simply dazzling. I completely and absolutely love this movie - it's funny, scary and emotionally rewarding. At its heart - it's a romantic comedy - a genre which I love and which seems to be waning in the past few years. It's brilliantly acted and directed and it does deserve all the accolades it's been getting this awards season.

Bradley Cooper plays Pat, an angry young man who's been recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder and who's finally getting released from an 8-month stay at a mental institution. He's married and had a breakdown when he catches his wife cheating on him with a fellow teacher. He nearly killed the man and has a restraining order placed on him after the incident. After his release he meets Tiffany, a widow who has her own problems. They both decide to help each other out - Tiffany will discretely deliver a letter to Pat's wife as long as he becomes her dance partner for a state competition. Things heat up on the dance floor and off - and they both find each other as solutions to some of their problems.

First of all - this is a brilliantly acted movie. Bradley Cooper is really, really good - he convincingly captures a character that has trust issues and is prone to violent outbreaks. He can't help himself but to say everything that's on his mind. The movie plays this thin line of heartbreak and comic relief really well. There are times when Pat's neurosis is scary and deeply tragic, but there are moments where it's just plain funny because he speaks his mind because he doesn't have the capacity to determine what's appropriate or inappropriate. Of course he meets his foil - Tiffany - who isn't afraid either to call him out on his bullshit. She has a lot of issues that seem to have been building way before her husband was killed in a car accident. Jennifer Lawrence is also insanely good in this role - she manages to be sexy and tragically broken all at the same time. The supporting cast is great - DeNiro and Jacki Weaver do a great job of playing parents who are hoping for the best but have very little control over the situation with their son.

The movie deals with mental illness and I don't think it treats it lightly. There were moments when I thought the movie was being completely serious and still some people were laughing. That was more people's insecurity and immaturity towards the subject than the film's portrayal. Like I said earlier, this is a romantic comedy at heart - so the movie isn't going to delve too deeply into this serious issue. But I think it showed that Pat's life can be scary and painful because of his illness. And ultimately, it takes a family and professional care to maintain a fairly normal lifestyle for these individuals. The movie has a very uplifting message and you'd be hard pressed not to at least enjoy the dance performance at the end of the movie and tear up a little bit at some point during the film.

David O. Russell is becoming one of my new favorite directors - I really didn't enjoy Three Kings nor I Heart Huckabees, but The Fighter was great and so is this movie. I love what how he works the camera - the pullout at the end of the movie after Pat and Tiffany kiss is simply beautiful and poetic. He also knows the best way to blend music into a scene and there's a couple of great scenes of Pat running around town with the perfect song in tow. It's just these touches that add to an already brilliant film.

Rating: See It!

Most Anticipated Review: Brave

27. Brave (PG) - Runtime: 93 minutes
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Bill Connolly, Emma Thompson
Director: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
Writer: Mark Andres, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell, Irene Mecchi

I'm going to keep this one short - this was another fantastic Pixar movie. I keep doubting them to deliver, but even their most reviled movie to date - Cars 2 - I actually really, really enjoyed! Brave is just as fun and entertaining as all of the rest of their films.

This movie kind of surprised me - I had it on my list because I love Pixar and I knew I would at least enjoy this movie. But I couldn't gather where the story was going to take me from the trailers. Needless to say, the movie took a surprising turn a third of the way in and I really liked it. I wouldn't say the tale or story is completely original, but it was a unique tale that didn't rely on talking animals or cheap laughs.

Kelly Macdonald voices Merida, a very stubborn and independent girl who only wants to choose for herself her destiny. Of course, her overbearing mother wants her to stick with tradition and marry one of the other clansman to help strengthen the kingdom. But Merida refuses this path and stumbles upon a witch who grants her a spell - to change her mother's mind. Of course, the old saying is very much true in this story - be careful what you wish for!

The visuals are really amazing - they took the English/Scottish countryside and brought a level of mystique and ethereal quality to the landscape. It's a very colorful film and just simply beautiful. I don't think I've ever been so impressed by the setting and style of a family animated film. And the voice acting is superb (as usual) - Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting, Boardwalk Empire) is a perfect fit for Merida.

This was an easy movie to enjoy - it moves along briskly and is completely funny and touching all at the same time!

Rating: Own It!

Most Anticipated Review: Lawless

14. Lawless (R) - Runtime: 116 minutes
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke
Director: John Hillcoat
Writer: Nick Cave

I don't know why I get so excited for gangster/crime movies. Most of them end up being boring for me - I can never tell who's who and what's really happening. The dialogue and plot can get so convoluted that even with the subtitles on, I can't comprehend. But I had faith in this movie - number 14! I think the main reason was because of Nick Cave as the writer. The last time he wrote a movie was The Proposition with Guy Pearce and I thought that was a brilliant western film when I really at the time didn't care for the genre. So I was hoping that he could bring the same awesome sauce to the gangster film. While the movie has its moments, it largely ends up being a snooze fest in my opinion.

Set during the Depression in Virginia, the Bondurant brothers run a pretty successful bootlegging operation. But then Guy Pearce shuffles onto the scene as Charlie Rakes, the new sheriff, demanding a bigger cut of the profits. It's up to the brothers to make sure they take care of their own and make damn sure that Rakes gets outta town. The story is narrated by LaBeouf, who does a decent job of not being annoying Shia LaBeouf throughout the movie. But he seems to have the worst perspective to tell this story. He's the youngest brother, Jack, and can't be trusted to handle such manly business. The main problem with the movie is that it would have been much more dramatic had they not presented the story through Jack's point of view. The movie would have been much more riveting had there been no narration and more emphasis on Tom Hardy's character, Forrest.

He's the main thrust of the movie - the brother who holds a lot of respect in town and controls every aspect of the business. Plus he gets beat up and shot and stabbed a whole lot - the dude is such a badass. But here we go again - the main problem with his character is Tom Hardy's performance. I could not understand half of what he was saying. He mumbles and grumbles through most every line and if it weren't for subtitles, I wouldn't have understood half the movie! I love Tom Hardy, but he almost got too into character for this one.

As for the rest of the performances, they're okay. Guy Pearce really hams it up as the obsessed neat freak sheriff. And Gary Oldman does a fantastic job of playing a big city mob boss, but gets only 15 minutes of screen time. I don't even know why the character is in the movie - he adds very little to the narrative and offers a motivation for Jack to aspire to be a mobster - but nothing beyond that. Jessica Chastain shows up as the love interest and you do get to see her topless (bonus! With Tom Hardy!), but the sex scene is awkward and dirty (as in germs dirty, no sexy dirty! Minus! Tom Hardy is fully dressed and not sexy for all you ladies watching) - it just seems like another wasted character

While I wouldn't say you should never see this movie, it's really not worth your time unless you're really into bootlegging. Or Jessica Chastain. If you're into Tom Hardy, well, you'll probably find him a little less attractive after this movie. It's a slow story that plods along and doesn't really get interesting at any point. I'm ashamed I put this so high on my list.

Rating: Not Worth Paying For!


Most Anticipated: Savages

45. Savages (R) - Runtime: 131 minutes
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively
Director: Oliver Stone
Writer: Shane Salemo, Don Winslow, Oliver Stone

Boy was this movie terrible. I'm not gonna sugar coat it - this was one of the worst movies I've seen all year. From the annoying narration to the unnecessary grotesque violence to the super lame plot, this movie has absolutely nothing going for it. I'm really ashamed of putting this on my list! You have to feel bad for Kitsch - I love the dude as Tim Riggins on Friday Night Lights, but he can't catch a break - John Carter and Battleship were huge bombs at the box office and now this stinking pile of poop is on his resume as well. He might need to get a new agent.

Savages starts out on the wrong foot - Blake Lively narrates the opening scene with this awful set up: "Just because I'm telling you this story, doesn't mean I'm alive at the end." Oh! So profound! Thank you. Not only doesn't it sound absolutely stupid, but Lively is probably the worst narrator you can get - she delivers her lines like she's on the toilet and scrolling through her Twitter feed while reciting the lines. Listen, I don't expect Morgan Freeman, but c'mon, let's at least make sure there's a pulse in the room! Anyways, she's a girlfriend to both Kitsch and Taylor-Johnson (Chon and Ben - worst pothead duo names ever), the former is the hothead of the group, while Ben is the hippie-dippie free love guy. This is explained by Blake Lively as "Chon likes to fuck, Ben makes love!" Once again, profundity abounds in this movie. So they grow weed and have attracted the attention of Salma Hayek, who is having an identity crisis of her own - she doesn't know whether or not she's a good mum. First world drug lord problems! Amirite? Of course she wants a cut of Cheech and Chong's business, but they refuse. So she kidnaps Blake Lively. Which I was happy about, but then she still kept narrating the movie, which I was not happy about. Shit happens and when it's time for the climactic battle - it ends up pulling a Breaking Dawn Part 2 on us and ends on a much dumber note than before. Seriously, the ending is pure awfulness.

If you can't tell already, this movie is a mess. I never once felt Salma Hayek and her crew (led by creepy Benicio Del Toro) were menacing. Sure they decapitated heads and lit people on fire, but it seemed so unreal and fake that I couldn't really feel any terror. It didn't help either that Harold and Kumar never really seemed to freak out ever during this movie. "Oh hey man, did you see that video the drug cartel sent us of decapitated bodies?" "Yeah. Hey! Let's smoke some pot!" "Cool." Yeah, the movie was like that.

I'm disappointed in all parties involved in this movie - Oliver Stone is way better than this - I think he hit his peak in the mid-90s with Natural Born Killers and it has been a slow descent from there. And the cast? They all seemed to have missed the point that this was an action/crime movie and thought they could load up on cheese at the craft service table and forgot to bring some energy. It's a dumb movie and you will be made dumb if you watch it!

Rating: Avoid Like the Plague!

Most Anticipated Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

7. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (PG-13) - Runtime: 169 minutes
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro

I had a falling out with the LOTR trilogy a few years ago. I hadn't watched the movies since I purchased the extended editions when they originally came out. So about 2004 was the last time I had seen any of those movies. It wasn't until my brother asked me to go sit in the theater for a whole day (13 hours) to watch all three extended editions of the Lord of the Rings a couple of weeks ago that I remembered why I loved these movies so much. I can't put my finger on it, but there's just something magical (pun intended!) about these movies. It's the combination of the story, characters, music and the sprawling vistas that melt my brain. I can't help it - these are fantastic movies, despite me not enjoying the source material that much.

But I cannot say that for The Hobbit - it's a great book that I've always loved it way more than the LOTR trilogy of books. It's just more playful and adventurous than those installments. So when the movie finally got greenlit, I was super stoked to see how awesome del Toro would make these two movies. And then he dropped out of directing and Peter Jackson was on board. And then they decided to split up the book even more and make it a trilogy. I became utterly despondent - this seemed like a major cash-in for the studio and not a creative license to fill in holes in the story to connect to the LOTR trilogy.

And I was further dismayed at less than stellar reviews it was getting. My heart hang heavy. Going into the movie I expected to be bummed out for at least a third of the movie knowing that most of it was just filler and fluff. But that same Middle-Earth magic began to make its way out of the screen and into my brain again. It was so nice to come back to this world again! The music, the sprawling vistas and the delightful characters once again had me fall in love. I swooned, for sure. And I wasn't disappointed at all. Sure, there were scenes that could have been left on the cutting room floor, but it didn't bother me - I was back in Middle-Earth!

Don't get me wrong - the movie has some flaws to it, but it's just such an entertaining ride throughout. I honestly didn't get bored with this movie at all. Only afterwards, upon reflecting, did I think that a couple of action scenes could have been cut. But I didn't notice it the first time around - it may get worse upon multiple viewings. But that aside - there's a lot to love in this movie. The dwarves are all very fun, but Ian McKellen as Gandalf is once again, fantastic. He's the glue in this movie and he's the reason why this whole series goes from good to great. Martin Freeman as Bilbo is great, too! He's done the British hat trick - he's played three great British icons - Dr. Watson, Arthur Dent (from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) and now Bilbo! That's astonishing and here he's amazing.

I'm not going to bore you with too many details about this movie. You're either going to love it or hate it. If you are a fan of the LOTR, you just have to see this movie. You may not like it as much as the other movies, but you'll still enjoy yourself. If you do not care at all about this franchise, than you're probably better off sitting this whole trilogy out as well.

Rating: See It!


Most Anticipated Review: Django Unchained

1. Django Unchained (R) - Runtime: 165 minutes
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino

I don't think I realized how big a fan of Tarantino I was until I watched Inglourious Basterds. During that film, the whole time I was completely enthralled - the real world didn't exist and I was completely beholden to the story unfolding in front of me. And then I started to look back at his film career and there really hasn't been a misstep as far as directing goes (as for slapping his name on every awful, schlocky horror/action/martial arts movie, well...). And Django Unchained is no different - this is at times, a tough film to watch, but also very rewarding in both its joyful glee at revenge fantasy (much like Basterds) and its comic timing. It's definitely one of my favorite movies this year!

It's a simple revenge story - Django gets hired by a bounty hunter named Dr. Schultz, to take down some nasty outlaws in exchange for finding his wife, whom he was separated from at a slave auction. I thought the movie was going to be all about finding these outlaw brothers and Django and Schultz becoming buddies while taking out a bunch of racist slave owners. But the movie went in a completely different direction than I thought - Django and Schultz find the brothers quite quickly and take them out within the fist half hour of the movie. The rest of the movie is all about finding his wife and what happens when they do find her at Leonardo DiCaprio's Calvin Candie's residence, Candieland.

The movie is over two and half hours long, but not once did I feel it drag. Tarantino knows how to keep a movie going and every minute of this movie was fun and exciting! The movie does slow down a bit - but it's completely terrifying during the last half of the movie when they attempt to deceive Calvin Candie into selling Django's wife to them. DiCaprio puts on his best performance since The Departed. He's a completely demented slave owner and you're never too sure what he's capable of and it's truly horrific and intense. Playing the complete opposite of DiCaprio's deranged Candie, Christoph Waltz is the most charming and well-intentioned character in the film. Never once does he stray from his moral high ground, which is a complete surprise. He's the idealistic and romantic hero that we all wish were more prevalent during this troubling time in American history. Waltz and DiCaprio deserve at least some consideration for an Oscar - they're both the driving forces behind this movie, even more so than the lead character.

Which is quite interesting to read into - even though this is a revenge fantasy about slavery, even the lead black guy cannot overcome the power of white people in this movie. This has a lot to do with the performances more than the writing, so read into that what you want. Django does have his moments and in the end he is the last man standing and gets the last laugh. Jamie Foxx is Django and completely convincing as he progresses through being a submissive slave to owning his role as a free man.

I want to take a minute about the violence in the movie. Tarantino has been getting a lot of flak for the violence in his films and it all came to a head when he got blindsided by an NPR interview (read the synopsis here). It seems like more and more people are joining this chorus of criticism of our violent culture and how films and video games, while not being linked to violent behavior, somehow has numbed us to violence and glorified bloodshed and guns. I don't understand this - anyone who has watched Django and hasn't been disgusted at most of the violence portrayed in it. It's not an easy film to watch and the glorified shootout at the end is not exactly realistic and purely fantastical for a reason (much like the completely over-the-top shootout in Basterds). When someone boils down such a complicated issue to these talking points, it ruins the conversation and drives the focus away from the real issues.

Spoiler alert! I also found the ending to be something to think about - the last person Django kills in the end is Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson plays a very loyal butler who ends up telling Candie about Django and Schultz's nefarious plan. He's as much a villain as Candie (in a different way) and it's interesting to think about what this means in the grand scheme of things. A simple interpretation is that even slaves can become part of the problem. There's even a moment where Django talks about the most despised slaves are the black slave drivers and head house slave. I think it might be more complicated than that and I can't wait to delve into the movie again to tackle this issue. End of Spoilers!

If you don't mind uncomfortable violence and a lot of verbal abuse, than you'll love Django. It's a fun film and one of Tarantino's funniest for sure. I never once lost interest and that's a testament to great filmmaking. It's surely going to be one of the most talked-about movies this year and you're doing yourself an injustice by not seeing this movie. Wonderfully cast and exceptionally directed - this is a contender for best of the year!

Rating: See It!

Most Anticipated Review: This is 40

21. This is 40 (R) - Runtime: 134 minutes
Starring: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Albert Brooks
Director: Judd Apatow
Writer: Judd Apatow

I'm a big fan of Judd Apatow. He knows comedy and has, I think, been growing as a director through each of his first three films. Unfortunately, his fourth outing is somewhat of road bump (at least I hope it's only a road bump). What could have been a stroke of genius with making a sort-of sequel to Knocked Up, This is 40 ends up being a funny mess of a movie. It has its moments - and I laughed hard in some places - but as a cohesive movie, it does not work at all.

I can't really explain the plot to This is 40 - basically it's a look into the life a somewhat dysfunctional family and their trials and tribulations. What bothered me the most about this movie is there's this forced conflict of money problems. Of course Paul Rudd's Pete has been losing money - his business is failing, he's lending out money to his chump father and he doesn't say a word to his wife about this! This is basically the same plot structure of the most laziest comedies/sitcoms. The whole plot hinges on this dishonesty and I cannot believe that a couple that has been together this long could be so uncommunicative with each other. The movie tries very hard to show us these are real people but this is not how real people react in real life. I found this to be a very hard pill to swallow.

The other problem with the movie is the characters themselves. As side characters in Knocked Up, they were nice comic relief. Here, everyone is a complete asshole with pretty much no likability. Almost every character, including one of the kids, are such selfish jerks that the movie made me feel no sympathy for their problems. These characters don't develop - at the end of the movie, I felt that nobody learned anything - they're all still going to be a bunch of assholes living under a different roof.

It's a movie that seems stitched together - there's no real advance in the story. It's like Apatow had a few great comedic scenes he wanted to film, but decided he could extend into a feature-length film. So there's no development of a plot whatsoever - it's extremely frustrating because the movie is OVER two hours long! There's absolutely no reason for this movie to be more than an hour and a half. It suffers from poor editing (or no editing) and a lack of progress from an actual plot. Even the acting isn't top notch - Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann defintely inhabit their roles really well, but everyone else seems like they half showed up to this movie. John Lithgow, Albert Brooks, Chris O'Dowd and Jason Segal all seem to be phoning it in; they don't seem present within the movie.

Don't get me wrong, I laughed a lot - that 's a testament to how well the jokes land in this movie and how Apatow can still make me laugh despite not making a great film. It's just a terribly plotted movie and the characters are completely unrealistic. Some of the movie is just lazy filmmaking and bad editing. I cannot recommend this movie, even as a rental - there's just nothing really memorable about it!

Rating: Not Worth Paying For!

Review: Paranorman

Paranorman (PG) - Runtime: 92 minutes
Voiced By: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Directors: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
Writer: Chris Butler

I couldn't muster up too much excitement for this movie. I love stop motion animation and thought Coraline was a brilliant movie, but everything I saw about this movie made me think "meh" and maybe I'll check it out on DVD. I'm happy I did, because this is a wonderful film that is one of the best animated movies to come out this year.

Norman can see dead people. But instead of being a family-friendly retread of The Sixth Sense, the movie is more of a homage to old school horror flicks and filled with a lot more action than any of Shyamalan's films. He's an outcast and is ridiculed, but soon finds out that his power to see dead people will be the only thing to save his small town from an evil witch. Where the film ultimately ends up is amazing - I did not see it coming and I thought it to be more fitting than some spectacular action sequence that would have been fun to watch, but less fulfilling.

The characters are charming and the voice work is excellent. I loved the side characters just as much as Norman. It has a lot of funny moments and the movie is well-paced. It has a great message along with the paying homage to horror films in a cute way. This movie hits all the right notes - it's worth watching!

Rating: Rent It!

Review: Ruby Sparks

Ruby Sparks (R) - Runtime: 104 minutes
Starring: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina
Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Writer: Zoe Kazan

I feel like I was getting a bit of deja vu while watching this movie. I remember a film called Stranger Than Fiction coming out a few years ago and completely loving that movie. It was a bit odd and off-center, but fun and heartwarming all at the same time. And here we are with Ruby Sparks - a story very much similar to Stranger Than Fiction, but it's told from the opposite viewpoint - that of the creator, not the creation.

Paul Dano plays Calvin - a once-successful writer (really a one-hit wonder) who after succumbing to a bit of writer's block, stumbles upon a brilliant story and character that viola! comes to life! Ruby is his creation and his real girlfriend, but she doesn't know it. Whereas Stranger Than Fiction mostly dealt with having no control over your life, Ruby Sparks looks at the idea of having control over someone's life and relationship. The other major difference from these two movies is that STF is more light-hearted, sometimes comedic and Ruby Sparks is simply a dramatic drag at times.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the movie, but boy does it try to hit you over the head with it's MEANING and SYMBOLISM. The problem stems from the main character - Calvin. He's an overly pompous and unlikable twat. He's so full of himself and thinks his life is so miserable even though his book is getting made into a movie and he basically doesn't have to worry about money at all so all he has to do is write every now and then. It's completely off-putting and the film is intentional with this, but to a fault. I didn't care too much if he found true love. I just felt really, really sorry for Ruby and that she had to deal with Calvin.

What surprised me the most was his family - Calvin has an awesome family. Who wouldn't want Chris Messina as a brother? And Annette Benning may be a tad to hippieish for my tastes, but she loves her sons. Antonia Banderas shows up Calvin's mother's boyfriend who's also a hippie and I totally did a double take. This isn't your typical Banderas - he has a beard and white hair! It's crazy, but I totally dug his character - he made a chair for Calvin and my heart grew ten sizes! And although the shit Calvin puts Ruby through is pretty awful, I liked the ending. It was fitting and certainly made up for all the brooding and ostentatious dialogue. It's a movie worth checking out - it doesn't overstay its welcome and you'll end up with a smile on your face at the end and what more could you ask for?

Rating: Rent It!