Monthly Archives: January 2013

Trouble With the Curve — 2/10

TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (2012, Robert Lorenz): 2/10

The reason I didn’t walk out on this movie is that I was on an airplane. But believe me, even at 35,000 feet, it was tempting.

There’s no way Eastwood read this script before signing on to produce and star, right? No way. Granted, I haven’t seen THE VOW or THAT’S MY BOY or anything, but this has to be one of the worst screenplays produced by Hollywood in a year or two. It has to. It’s rare you actually see dialogue that literally spells out all of the subtext and goes so far as to summarize the plot as it’s going along. Paraphrasing:

“Gus is getting old and his job is at stake, so you need to go on this trip to take care of him.”

“But I’m a very important attorney and I have a presentation in three days! I don’t have time for a vacation!”

“It’s not a vacation, it’s your father.”

 

“Hey team, this is a big game we’re about to play as soon as we get off this bus. There is a lot at stake so pay attention.”

 

“Honey, you’re my daughter and it’s been difficult for me to raise you ever since your mother died when you were young. Remember that tragedy from our past that we still have unresolved issues about?”

“Dad, all I ever wanted was for you to love me and respect me, so my life is in shambles now because I only did what I thought you wanted me to do! My boyfriend who I never loved has left me and I’m getting passed over for that big promotion at the firm. I need to realize that what I really love is baseball! And you!”

“We can’t talk about this right now, this isn’t the time and place!”

“There never is a right time! When IS the time and the place?”

“Don’t storm out of here like that stubborn tempestuous girl that you are, that reminds me so much of your mother!”

 

Seriously. This is what every single goddam conversation is like. It’s insulting. It’s painful. And it’s extremely sad to see one of cinema’s most enduring, talented, and consistently good screen icons get reduced to a caricature in a shitty melodrama that would have been rejected from a community college creative writing class. Director Robert Lorenz, Eastwood’s longtime assistant, barely cobbles together enough footage to cut together, but he has no sense of artistry, framing, or tone. It’s a series of medium shots so stilted and awkward that it makes Ang Lee’s domestic dramas look like Scorsese. And poor Justin Timberlake, often so charming in romcoms like FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS and smartly-directed pizazz like THE SOCIAL NETWORK, but when stranded with a repulsively bad script he can’t bring anything to the table. The only actor with her head above water here is Amy Adams, veteran of subpar bullshit like LEAP YEAR and THE WEDDING DATE (so she knows how to be a total pro when the material is beneath her). I just wish she didn’t keep adding stains to her resume, because she’s so good in THE MASTER, THE FIGHTER, DOUBT, and other non-embarrassing movies.

But the real shame here is Eastwood, who has directed some of the greatest films of the past 25 years, acted in classics dating back 50 years, and always shown a keen presence. Finally, in his first film post-Empty Chair, you can see his judgment failing. Not in his character (who’s designed to do that; and Gus’s aging body is clearly what drew Eastwood to the role) but in his decision to let this thing see the light of day. When Eastwood sits in a cemetery reciting the entire lyrics to “You are my sunshine,” it’s far more humiliating than anything he could have ever done at the RNC.

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Ted — 6/10

TED (2012, Seth MacFarlane): 6/10

About what you’d expect from a live-action Family Guy episode: solid performances from MacFarlane and Kunis, with Warburton and Borstein in support; strangely specific pop culture references; over-the-top raunch humor, and lots of fart jokes. Wahlberg guest stars with a game comic performance (matching his energy from THE OTHER GUYS) and the white-trash-name scene is an absolute riot. Also, I’ve been a huge FLASH GORDON fan since childhood and I still watch my DVD of that amazing camp classic – so to see it featured so heavily here was a treat. I’m not convinced it was necessarily good for the movie, but I selfishly coveted it.

But for some reason MacFarlane spends most of the third act mired in a ridiculous “thriller” subplot involving an uncharacteristically bored Giovanni Ribisi (who was far more effective as Wahlberg’s nemesis in their other 2012 effort, CONTRABAND) and a boring chase sequence.

I assume by now everyone has noticed this movie also had pretty much the same plot as THE MUPPETS (overgrown man child with talking stuffed animal is urged by girlfriend to grow up and propose to her). It’s a lame premise but THE MUPPETS handled it with a lot more heart and a little more cleverness.

BTW, has anyone made the “Ted talks!” joke? Okay just making sure.

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2012 Year in Review

[Note: As of March 8, 2013, I’ve now added THE IMPOSTER to this list at the #6 spot, fittingly right next to COMPLIANCE, which means ZERO DARK THIRTY has now been kicked off to be an honorable mention].

 

Time to do a quick wrap-up of 2012, with the requisite top 10 list, some awards, some notable things, etc. I should say though that I only saw about 75 releases from 2012. So this isn’t some definitive “Best of 2012” list, because how can I know unless I’ve seen what 2012 has to offer? I haven’t. These will be my personal favorites from what I did manage to see, and I think I saw more than a typical amateur filmgoer, but less than a respectable critic. And that’s pretty much what I am as a person — more than an amateur, less than respectable.

What haven’t I seen? You name it — COSMOPOLIS, THE COLOR WHEEL, ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA, THIS IS NOT A FILM, TABU, OSLO AUGUST 31, THE LONELIEST PLANET… there’s just a lot I didn’t quite catch up with (a few of those I have little excuse for, since they’re streaming on Netflix). I didn’t even see TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN PT. 2!

2012 TOP TEN

1. AMOUR — Michael Haneke has made one of my top 20 films of all time in 1997’s FUNNY GAMES, but I didn’t expect this latest one (based on the logline) to contend with the likes of that and CODE UNKNOWN as some of his finest work. This is just brilliant craftsmanship on every level, and while I have no wish to watch it again, its emotional impact was extraordinary.

2. THE KID WITH A BIKE — For some reason many critics downgraded the Dardennes’ latest film because it’s merely great and they expect greatness from the Dardennes. Sorry, that doesn’t cut it. This may be their best film — or at least just below L’ENFANT — with great performances, delicately natural direction, and keenly specific insights about human nature.

3. MOONRISE KINGDOM — Finally, not a French arthouse film! But it may as well be, given Wes Anderson’s existentialist dramedy and its mature look at tweens discovering the cruel ways of the world. I’m interested to see what a second viewing will unpack, because THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (with  which this film shares a lot) revealed quite a bit more upon further inspection.

4. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS — Good game, horror movies. It’s hard to take the genre seriously after director Drew Goddard and writer/producer Joss Whedon’s hilarious send-up peeled the curtain back. This thing has some bravura scenes in its first half, when it’s just aping a typical programmer, but finishes with an original, wildly imaginative bang. One of the most entertaining and intelligent films of the year.

5. COMPLIANCE — A divisive and provocative look at the ways our actions are motivated by factors outside our conscious control. It’s like a filmed version of David McRaney’s excellent psychology book You Are Not So Smart. Both a small-scale look at cognitive manipulation and a large-scale expose on American culture, Craig Zobel’s intense drama is unforgettable.

6. KILLING THEM SOFTLY — An endlessly interesting crime thriller is made even richer by its loud and confident parallels to capitalism. A lot of memorable sequences and performances in Andrew Dominik’s streamlined new noir, but the lingering effect is one of sadness and pessimism. I can always get behind that!

7. DJANGO UNCHAINED — No film in 2012, aside from AMOUR, had such a strong display of sheer craftsmanship, and I give a lot of credit to directors who can simply make a film like a filmmaker. There are many ways to argue that the strengths of this movie go deeper than its surface pleasures, but even if they didn’t — those pleasures are vast. Watching Tarantino at work puts the rest of Hollywood to shame.

8. THE MASTER — The one film on this list I want to see again with great urgency. As soon as it’s available for purchase on Blu-ray I’ll be there (I have all of PTA’s other films at the ready) and chances are it could climb steeply up this list. Its jagged structure and dense narrative pacing made for a troubling first viewing, but one which left a lot to chew on. And holy shit — Joaquin Phoenix!

9. TAKE THIS WALTZ — I haven’t seen AWAY FROM HER, Sarah Polley’s debut, but her sophomore film is so breezy, assured, and seductive that I instantly put it on my queue. Few scenes from 2012 are as memorable as the “What would you do to me?” scene, and that’s due in large part to Michelle Williams’s peerless work.

10. ZERO DARK  THIRTY — I’ve heard stories from people who worked on the set that it was a difficult shoot for the crew, mostly because Bigelow never knew what she wanted, which made for extra stress and confusion. Coulda fooled me — this is a tightly wound thriller with enough weight to sink an aircraft carrier. What it lacks in character development it makes up for in visceral power.

Didn’t Quite Make The Cut — But See Them Anyway: KILLER JOE, FRIENDS WITH KIDS, IT’S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY, MISS BALA

Flawed, But Underrated or Underseen — Give These Films a Chance: ROCK OF AGES, DARK HORSE, WANDERLUST, THE RAID: REDEMPTION, HOLY MOTORS, THIS IS 40, JACK REACHER

And now for my personal Oscars. I have no name for these awards. The Jokers? The PJH awards? The Zachs? Now taking suggestions…

Best Director — Michael Haneke, AMOUR

Best Actor — Joaquin Phoenix, THE MASTER

Best Actress — Michelle Williams, TAKE THIS WALTZ

Best Supporting Actor — Phil Hoffman, THE MASTER

Best Supporting Actress — Cody Horn, MAGIC MIKE

Best Screenplay — Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS

You won’t see any Worst list from me for several reasons. I didn’t see most of the crap that came out because I don’t have to and I don’t want to. So aside from some pieces of dogshit I happened to see for one reason or another, my 10 Worst List would be the list of 10 movies I hoped or thought would be good enough for me to spend time watching the whole thing. Also, why be a hater. Also, why devote time to that stuff. Also, why rain on other people’s parades. If you liked LINCOLN, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, or THE DEEP BLUE SEA (and almost everyone did), then that’s great — we go to the movies to enjoy them, so who am I to tell you not to enjoy them (even if they suck, haha).

So that’s that; please add comments to the comment section with anything I forgot, overlooked, got wrong, or otherwise. Or you can always find me on Twitter (@TwinCinema). Thanks for reading the inaugural year of the second life of Private Joker’s Head. Let’s see what 2013 brings us…

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Sleepwalk With Me — 4/10

SLEEPWALK WITH ME (2012, Mike Birbiglia & Seth Barrish): 4/10

There’s a reason Birbiglia is so good at telling stories on stage. From The Moth to This American Life to guest spots all over the place, I love listening to him spin a yarn — especially because it comes from such an honest place. And whatever that reason is, whatever is making him so affecting as a tale-teller, it’s exactly what makes him a bad filmmaker. Turning his life story into a movie is akin to those horrible animated shows on HBO that turn Ricky Gervais’s podcast into a cartoon — there’s absolutely no reason to watch something that’s better off being heard. Or more accurately, it’s like watching a drunk on a dance floor acting out the lyrics to a song. So my piece of advice to the very talented Birbiglia is this: tell, don’t show.

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Ruby Sparks — 5/10

RUBY SPARKS (2012, Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris): 5/10 

Yeah, whatever.

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