My December Movies Round-Up

Please excuse my extreme tardiness for getting this entry completed, January has gone by in the blink of an eye for me.

Well, I made my goal of 300 movies in 2012 and even squeaked in an additional two films. It wasn’t easy but it sure was fun! I’ll have my 2012 statistics up soon (hopefully) in a separate post, so this entry is slightly shorter than the rest have been. Also, this month marked another new method of viewing, my Apple TV, a Christmas present.

Here are the films I watched in December:

  1. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
  2. Bad Ass
  3. The Mummy
  4. Safety Not Guaranteed
  5. Christmas Vacation
  6. Beneath the Planet of the Apes
  7. The Game
  8. Assassination
  9. Captain Slickpants
  10. The Queen of Versailles
  11. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  12. Elf
  13. King Kong
  14. Home Alone – Nostalgiathon guest post by my wife, Rachel
  15. Love Actually
  16. Alien
  17. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  18. A Christmas Story
  19. The Lady Vanishes
  20. Highlander
  21. City of God
  22. A Christmas Story
  23. Django Unchained
  24. Lake Mungo
  25. Planes, Trains & Automobiles
  26. Boogie Nights
  27. Wanderlust
  28. Looper

Head past the break to see the rest of my December 2012 stats!

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Looper (12/31/12)

LooperMovie Three Hundred Two

In Looper, time travel is used by the mafia to dispose of people and a young hitman soon finds his future self his target.

In 2074, time travel is illegal and used only on the black market by criminals looking to dispose of bodies. They send the victims back 30 years, strapped with cash where a hitman known as a “looper” on the other end finishes the job and collects the payment from the body with the only condition being that the victims do not escape. When a looper’s time is finished, his future self is sent back for the younger looper to kill; this is known as closing the loop.  Joseph Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper whose future self, Old Joe (Bruce Willis), as his hit but Old Joe escapes. Old Joe and Young Joe meet at a diner and Old Joe says is looking to stop a mysterious figure in the future known only as The Rainmaker who is the one closing all the loops. Young Joe finds some coordinates from Old Joe and heads to an isolated farm where Sara (Emily Blunt) lives with her young son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon), who Old Joe believes may be The Rainmaker.

I went into Looper with very lofty expectations. Though I missed the theatrical run, I have seen nothing but glowing praise for the film since its release. I’m afraid that my expectations were not quite met by Looper though I did thoroughly enjoy most of it. Time travel is both Looper’s biggest asset and point of contention for me. Looper is a bit of a refreshing take on time travel and it gets away from many of the quirks of telling a time travel story, but it also kind of crudely pushes aside the belief that Old Joe can exist.

Let me explain, and I assure you this is not a spoiler – For Old Joe to exist in the future, Young Joe would have to kill him in the past. The same scene with Old Joe escaping plays out in the film with Old Joe getting killed, thus allowing Young Joe to grow old and live his life to become Old Joe. I was able to suspend my disbelief for the sake of the rest of the film, but while talking in the diner, Young Joe asks about time travel and Old Joe gruffly talks about how it’s too difficult to explain and then they move on. I understand that time travel is a difficult concept to portray but something about this didn’t jibe with me. Also, don’t try to figure out if anyone else in 2034 is from the future, I did and it was futile and may even hinder your enjoyment of the story.

Time travel quibbles aside, I found Looper to be extremely well made. Joseph Gordon-Levitt with his makeup on looks remarkably like Bruce Willis. Gordon-Levitt even has most of Willis’ mannerisms down pat, it’s a lot of fun to watch. Pierce Gagnon, the youngest actor in Looper by about 20 years, possibly gives the best performance of the film. Writer/director Rian Johnson creates a very believable setting, all things considered, and makes Looper a smart action film, a combination that unfortunately doesn’t seem to come along very often.

I give it 4 completely awesome Mondo posters out of 5.

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Wanderlust (12/31/12)

WanderlustMovie Three Hundred One

After losing both their jobs and expensive New York City condo, a couple gets Wanderlust and decides to live in a rural commune.

George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) are buying a very expensive micro-loft in New York City but after Paul loses his job and Linda’s documentary about penguin testicular cancer doesn’t get picked up by HBO, the couple is forced to leave. At first they decide to stay with George’s brother, Rick (Ken Marino), in Atlanta, but on the trip down they stumble on a strange commune in the middle of nowhere. After flipping their car over, they spend the night and are greeted with open arms by the members and their leader, Seth (Justin Theroux). With no prospects back in New York or Georgia, George and Linda decide to stay but the lifestyle takes some adjustment for them.

I will admit that Wanderlust looked pretty awful from the trailers (and the completely awful cover art pictured above) but the film kind of surprised me in that I didn’t completely hate it. Paul Rudd has been one of my favorite comedic actors for some time and I’m usually keen to see whatever movie he’s starring in, with varying degrees of success. Wanderlust is a pretty dismal film, most of the humor falls completely flat, but it’s better than I expected.

For the most part, Wanderlust kind of reminds me a lot of the animated TV show King of the Hill. The humor is kind of the same low-key, easy to miss dry wit that doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to single sittings. Much of Wanderlust feels like it was written scene by scene and then pasted together, but it’s not like the comedy genre usually asks much in terms of plot. There is one scene near the end that is completely out of place and goes on far too long, with Rudd talking to himself in a mirror. To be honest, I was embarrassed for the poor guy by the end of that scene.

The other thing that kind of works against Wanderlust is that there are no characters I connected with. We all get restless and want change in our lives, but Rudd and Aniston seem a bit too old to be pulling the kinds of things their characters do. I will say that, as a comedic actress, Aniston always surprises me with her timing. She is better than a lot of people give her credit for. While I would likely never watch Wanderlust again, it’s not the complete mess I was expecting. I laughed at a fair amount of the jokes and the film kept me entertained enough not to turn it off.

I give it 3 “money literally buys nothing” out of 5.

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Boogie Nights (12/30/12)

Boogie NightsMovie Three Hundred!!!

In Boogie Nights,  young man equipped with a special gift makes it big in the porn industry.

*sorry I couldn’t resist the pun*

In 1977 in an LA night club, young Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is discovered by star adult film director, Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) and due to his tremendous talent, begins a new life in the porn world as “Dirk Diggler”. Dirk quickly becomes friends with fellow adult film actor Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly) and together, they create a very successful series of adult films about two secret agents named Brock Landers and Chest Rockwell. When Dirk gets started on drugs things begin to falter in his porn career and things get rough for Horner when his main financier goes to jail for child pornography charges. As times change, the rise and fall of the industry and the individuals involved are all laid out.

Boogie Nights fulfilled my goal of watching 300 movies in 2012!  I wanted movie #300 to be something special, something I maybe hadn’t seen in awhile and/or also tied into New Year’s Eve. Boogie Nights fit the bill on both counts. Paul Thomas Anderson has crafted some wonderful movies but Boogie Nights may very well be my favorite film of his. It literally has everything: sex, drama, laughs, incredible long shots, great characters, bell bottoms, etc.

The main thing that grabs me about Boogie Nights is the frequent and numerous long shots. Boogie Nights has more than a few and as the film progresses and the tone shifts, the cuts get quicker and then finally start getting longer again. I didn’t notice this when I watched the film several years ago, but this time around I almost wanted to time each shot to see what exactly is happening with the camera. The scenes aren’t just long, though, they are amazingly crafted and shot. Even if the action on screen was dull, which it usually is not, the way Boogie Nights is shot would still be impressive.

Due to the somewhat touchy subject matter at hand, Boogie Nights skirts much of what could make the film completely gratuitous. There are definitely some exceptions, including the final scene, but for the most part, PT Anderson is almost making a spoof of the industry for the audience. The cast in Boogie Nights is so varied and everyone has their story and everyone has their place in the film. The movie is not about the porn industry itself, but the characters.

Boogie Nights is not just a technically well-crafted film, it is a film that truly has purpose and heart.

I give it 5 Brock Landers and Chest Rockwells out of 5.

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Lake Mungo (12/26/12)

Lake MungoMovie Two Hundred Ninety Eight

In Lake Mungo, after their daughter drowns, a family begins experiencing strange happenings and investigate.

Sixteen year old Alice Palmer (Talia Zucker) drowns and after her death her family feels an eerie presence in their house. After catching several ghostly images on video, they hire a psychic to investigate further. Their son confesses to staging the whole thing but the odd occurrences continue. The family then finds that Alice had kept several secrets from them and during their investigation after her death, they learn more about their daughter than they expected.

Lake Mungo is a hard film to classify. It’s easy to write it off as a horror film or a found-footage type film but it’s neither, at least not completely. Lake Mungo is filmed like a documentary with all of Alice’s family and friends being interviewed and then showing various pictures or video clips. It’s a very effective method of storytelling but the story itself is kind of meandering and at times lacking. Lake Mungo also isn’t a scary film, though it had some moments that caused the hairs on the back of my neck to prick up.

Where Lake Mungo succeeds is its very low-key approach to telling the story of Alice Palmer. The way that the film plays out is done incredibly well and the story probably wouldn’t work if done in a traditional way. If you came into a room that was playing Lake Mungo it would be easy to mistake it for an actual documentary. It feels so real that, at times, I was kind of thinking this was an actual event that had some ghost parts added to it, almost like a dramatization. For a tiny film crew out of Australia, I was actually quite impressed.

However, when Lake Mungo is wrapping up I wasn’t fulfilled by the story. I’m not sure if the horror elements that were added aided the film or held it back. In the end, it’s not so much a ghost story as it is a story of a family trying to deal with the premature loss of their daughter. It’s an interesting film, but Lake Mungo will probably not stand out from the sea (or lake…) of similar films, especially considering its dull title.

I give it 3 actual Lake Mungo scenery out of 5.

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Django Unchained (12/25/12)

Django UnchainedMovie Two Hundred Ninety Seven

A slave becomes a bounty hunter and seeks to free his wife from a brutal plantation owner in Django Unchained.

A pair of slave traders traveling through Texas with a handful of slaves is stopped by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Schultz is looking for Django (Jamie Foxx) regarding the identities of the Brittle brothers for a bounty he is after. After a scuffle that leaves one slave trader dead, Django is bought by Schultz, who despises slavery and trains a newly free man, Django, as a fellow bounty hunter. After dealing with the Brittle brothers, Django tells Schultz about his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), and Schultz vows to help Django track her down and free her from slavery. They discover she is working at a plantation owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) but they have a plan to ensure Broomhilda’s freedom.

Quentin Tarantino has made quite a name for himself in the last twenty years and his films are widely praised for good reason. He makes films that are amalgamations of all the best parts of various genre films but instead of feeling cobbled together or copied, they feel fresh and raw. His craft has certainly been refined as of late, and Django Unchained may be his most refined film to date. The production feels immense and maybe even more polished than any of Tarantino’s previous works. That is, if you aren’t afraid of erupting wounds, unflinching violence, and lots of course language, it’s one of his finest films.

Django Unchained is one of the better movies to come out of 2012 and it’s one of my favorites of the year. The only thing that really held it back is its length; at 165 minutes it feels long and it drags a bit near the middle. Had the film been closer to two hours I think it would have been lean and mean, without losing much of its charm. Django Unchained constantly tries to keep things interesting, but it’s tough when a film is approaching three hours. After a while, I just wanted less talking and more shooting.

The length of Django Unchained is really my only complaint against the film. I think Leonardo DiCaprio gives one of his best performances of his career, something I was kind of surprised by. Christoph Waltz is, of course, fantastic, as is Jamie Foxx. Kerry Washington doesn’t really do much for me, but she does a good job as well. Unsurprisingly, Samuel L. Jackson gives a great performance that truly only he could give.

I’m concerned that Tarantino’s visions are getting larger and larger and the Weinstein’s are willing to let him run free. Normally this would be a good thing, but I think Tarantino’s movies are technically getting more refined, but there is also a trend of them getting long. If his next film is even longer than Django Unchained, it’s going to need to be something incredibly special, which it likely will be. Django Unchained has been dubbed a Spaghetti Southern, a riff on the Spaghetti Western genre, and I kind of wish more filmmakers took up and made films for this new genre to match Django Unchained.

I give it 5 Samuel Jacksons out of 5.

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City of God (12/23/12)

City of GodMovie Two Hundred Ninety Five

The City of God is an autobiographical tale about crime and growing up in the poor suburb of Rio de Janeiro.

Narrated by Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) from the 1960s through the 1980s in the impoverished and crime-ridden neighborhood he grew up in. It started with three older boys doing simple stick-ups and then a young kid, maybe around eight, named Li’l Dice (Douglas Silva) gets his start as a hoodlum and his eventual rise to power as one of two of the neighborhood’s most powerful drug lords, changing his moniker to Li’l Zé (Leandro Firmino). Somehow Rocket is able to avoid a life of time and pursue photography and tells the interweaving tale of the City of God.

Few movies impress me on both a technical level and also move me emotionally and City of God had me glued to the screen despite some of the horrific imagery. City of God is one of the most unflinchingly violent movies I’ve ever seen and yet very little blood is actually spilled onscreen. The brutality is clear and the story is all the more engrossing because of it.

It’s shocking to me that people actually live in a place like Rio de Janeiro and know nothing but poverty and crime. I suppose that isn’t limited just to Rio de Janiero, but for a city that has the potential to be simply breathtakingly beautiful to be so ugly is fascinating. City of God seems so visceral that it’s easy to forget you are watching a film and not a documentary, not unlike Battle of Algiers or Gomorrah. While the events in City of God are fictionalized to a point, the main players are real, you can look them up. I didn’t know this before watching City of God and it’s pretty amazing that Rocket (well, actually Paulo Lins, who wrote the novel City of God) even survived. I actually thought it may end up being a simple coming-of-age story until the story takes a dark turn.

City of God is a movie that I knew needed to be watched but I don’t think the praise I’ve heard has done the film justice. I was expecting a really great movie and somehow even my lofty expectations were not high enough. City of God is stunning and awe-inspiring but also almost too much to take in. While I loved it, it’s maybe even one of the best films I watched all year, it’s a film that I’m not sure I could watch very often. It’s not exactly depressing, but it’s close to it.

If you are like me and know that you need to see City of God but haven’t yet, I implore you to do it as soon as you get a chance. If you’ve never heard of City of God before now, please take my word for it and go watch it. If more movies like City of God came out around the world, I don’t think Hollywood would be the force it is today.

I give it 5 Rocket’s camera out of 5.

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Highlander (12/22/12)

HighlanderMovie Two Hundred Ninety Four

An immortal is being hunted by another for the ultimate prize and there can be only one, in Highlander.

In present day, an immortal named Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) is attacked in a parking garage by another immortal. Upon beheading him, MacLeod is given his powers. In the 16th century, we see clan MacLeod preparing for battle with clan Fraser, led by Kurgan (Clancy Brown), who wants the right to kill Connor. In the present again, a metallurgist named Brenda (Roxanne Hart) is looking into the identity of the immortal killed in the garage through his sword. She finds herself entwined with Connor but Kurgan is still pursuing him for the final battle to win the prize.

Don’t judge me too harshly, but somehow I had avoided watching anything related to Highlander all my life up until this viewing. There’s no good reason for it, I just never really got around to it and now here we are. I think I just kind of assumed I knew everything about the story and there was no good reason for me to watch Highlander. Turns out I knew next to nothing about Highlander and I’m really glad I finally watched it. I’ve heard very mixed things about all the sequels and spin-offs, so I’m not sure if I’ll be diving headfirst into the greater Highlander mythology, but I can finally mark ‘watch Highlander‘ off my things to do list.

I will say that the lack of any nostalgia-factor of Highlander did not detract from my reaction to the film, in fact, the so incredibly 80s appeal of it is still wholly intact. The soundtrack is synthy and awesome, there are montages, and the dialog probably wouldn’t do well if analyzed, so the film works in the same vein that all 80s action do. Highlander is definitely a film that I regret not seeing sooner but at least I finally took the time to see it.

If there is anyone else out there that has never seen Highlander, I have to ask: did you think a sword was important in any way? For some reason I did, like it gave them powers or something. Just curious.

Highlander is the type of film that you put on to turn your brain off from the distractions of real life. It’s not terribly deep, though it does have its moments, and the action is pretty great. I was definitely smiling more than rolling my eyes, a sign that I consider Highlander a success.

I give it 3 why was Sean Connery written to be Spanish when he’s clearly not? out of 5.

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A Christmas Story (12/22/12 & 12/24/12)

A Christmas StoryMovie Two Hundred Ninety Two and Two Hundred Ninety Six

A Christmas Story is about a young boy’s quest for the ultimate Christmas gift: a BB gun.

Based on a memoir by Jean Shepherd (who narrates as adult Ralphie) about growing up in the 1940s in Indiana, the story focuses on the Parker family; brother Randy (Ian Petrella), and parents (Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin) as told from the perspective of Ralphie (Peter Billingsley). Ralphie longs for an official Red Rider BB gun much to the chagrin of his worrisome mother and teacher.

My original plot overview basically covered the entire movie from start to finish so I had to hack off much of it just to keep this manageable. I have mentioned A Christmas Story as being one of my favorite movies ever and it’s a movie I have seen so many times it would be impossible to even guess the number. In fact, it’s unique that I only watched it twice this year since I usually watch it four or five times – in a row, often. It’s a tale I relate to and it’s a film I find hilarious every single time I watch it. To explain the importance A Christmas Story has to me would be impossible since I don’t wholly understand the appeal myself.

There are several Christmas movies that we usually watch during the season but to me, it’s not Christmas until A Christmas Story has been watched. Even now, more than a week after Christmas has come and gone, writing about A Christmas Story puts me back in the mood for Christmas. It’s kind of like when you drive past a BBQ restaurant and get hungry just smelling all those delicious meats (sorry, vegetarians).

Even in spite of my undying love of A Christmas Story, I would struggle to recommend it to someone that had never watched it before. I’m really not sure how much nostalgia has warped my perception of it. My wife had never really watched it before she met me and I believe she’s now a convert of the Almighty A Christmas Story, but I’m not sure if she really loves it the way I do even though she’s watched it a few dozen times by now.

To me, A Christmas Story is synonymous with the Christmas season. It’s a film I will never tire of and will force everyone around me to watch at least once a year. I even have a working replica of the Red Rider in the movie. I can hardly wait until next December rolls around so I can get a few more viewings of A Christmas Story in.

I give it 5 “stuck!”s out of 5.

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (12/21/12)

The HobbitMovie Two Hundred Ninety One

A young hobbit accompanies a group of dwarves to reclaim their mountain home from a dragon in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

On his 111th birthday, Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) decides to write his memoirs for his young nephew, Frodo (Elijah Wood). He describes how the dwarves lost their home in Lonely Mountain to a fearsome dragon named Smaug. A younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is tricked by wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to hosting dinner for thirteen dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Bilbo is enlisted for his role as the ‘thief’ although he has never stolen anything in his life. After a change in heart, Bilbo decides to make the journey to help the dwarves and the group sets out for Lonely Mountain.

There are a few things that I need to get out of the way about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – the 3D 48 frames per second treatment, the need for three movies, and how it compares to Lord of the Rings.

First, the native 3D 48 frames per second filming of The Hobbit is a first in the industry. Doubling the rate of a standard film at 24 fps, the initial reaction to The Hobbit is a bit jarring of an effect. I suspect that a few of the scenes were not actually shot in 48 fps and were sped up to this speed. I say this because early on, there are some camera pans that seem incredibly, almost comically, fast. A few of Ian Holm’s movements seem jagged and weird too. I’m not sure if my reaction is simply because I hadn’t adjusted to the speed or if I’m correct and they were artificially increase in post-production, but I will say that I was quite pleased with 48 fps about 90% of the time and it is likely the future of cinema. The use of 3D is absolutely splendid as well.

Since Peter Jackson is interjecting backstory from other Tolkien works, apparently namely from The Silmarillion, in The Hobbit. While this doesn’t bog down the story for An Unexpected Journey, it does beg the question why The Hobbit, a relatively short book, needs three movies. In my opinion so far, it doesn’t. There are a few parts that slow down the pacing and there are some scenes that seem entirely superfluous. Yes, the extensive Tolkien mythology is bolstered, but keep that stuff in special features on a blu-ray set or something. This first film alone is close to three hours long and knowing there are two more, likely equally long films coming is kind of off-putting.

The obvious comparisons to Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings trilogy are not entirely appropriate since The Hobbit is a much different source material than its successors. However, in practice, The Hobbit on film feels far too close to Lord of the Rings for its own good. The Hobbit is serious but it does have a bit of a sense of humor to it, which may rub some folks the wrong way. It’s a shame The Hobbit film(s) weren’t made first because it would set the stage for Lord of the Rings without relying on it instead of the other way around.

In the end, I quite liked The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It’s far from a perfect film on its own and I always struggle to judge a film like this as a part or as a whole. Technically, this is 1/3 of a single film and it remains to be seen if the whole thing is worthy of your time. For now, I’d recommend The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to be seen in 3D and 48 frames per second, but be warned that it’s no Lord of the Rings.

I give it 4 animated Hobbits out of 5.

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