2012 Year End Movie Review: Jason Zingale

2012 wasn’t exactly an unforgettable year at the movies – I know that, you know that – but it can hardly be described as a disappointment, because while there weren’t many films that will be remembered 20 years from now, there was still plenty of quality to be found if you looked hard enough. As is usually the case with these year-end features, my Top 10 deviates a little from the typical crop of movies that you’d expect to find on most critics’ lists (some that I didn’t love as much as others, and some that I never had the chance to see), but it’s nothing that will surprise anyone who’s read my past work.

Best Movies of 2012

1. “THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER

It’s not every day that the author of a critically acclaimed novel gets the chance to adapt their book for the big screen, let alone direct it, but after watching Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing a better job. After all, Chbosky knows the material inside and out, and it definitely shows in this modest but heartwarming tale about finding your place in the world. It’s your typical coming-of-age story, but one that’s handled with a certain level of maturity rarely found in high school films, and though the comparisons to “The Breakfast Club” may not be completely warranted, it’s one of the few movies about high school that actually gets it right. Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller all deliver excellent performances in their respective roles (especially Miller as the openly gay senior that takes Lerman’s freshman under his wing), and Chbosky’s deft script earns every emotional moment. It’s just a shame that “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” will probably get lost in the shuffle come awards time, because it has everything you could possibly want in a film.

2. “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Leave it to David O. Russell to create a romantic comedy as quirky, dark, funny and surprisingly touching as “Silver Linings Playbook,” because the movie is almost as crazy as its two leads. One minute a fiercely honest character study about a man coping with bipolar disorder, and the next minute a charming rom-com revolving around an amateur dancing competition, the film performs such an amazing tightrope act that it’s really to Russell’s credit that it doesn’t come crashing down like a house of cards. Of course, the movie wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if it weren’t for the risks that it takes thematically, but none of that would matter without its outstanding cast. Bradley Cooper finally gets the chance to show what he’s fully capable of in the best role of his career, and Robert De Niro has some great moments as Cooper’s superstitious father, but it’s Jennifer Lawrence (already so good at such a young age) who steals the show with a phenomenal performance that all but guarantees she’ll win the Oscar for Best Actress.

3. “ARGO

Ben Affleck may have proved that he was more than just a one-hit wonder with “The Town,” but for his next project, the Boston-born multihyphenate moved away from the comforts of his hometown to a much larger stage, delivering arguably his best film in the process. A politically charged thriller that felt eerily timely in the wake of the U.S. embassy attacks in Libya, “Argo” is unique in that it also juggles a lighter Hollywood insider subplot in addition to its main story. By all accounts, it shouldn’t work, but Affleck makes the blending of the contrasting tones appear almost effortless. The comedy provided by Alan Arkin’s veteran producer and John Goodman’s makeup artist never undercuts the seriousness of the action in Tehran, and yet the strategically placed laughs help break up the tension that mounts over the course of the film. It’s been a while since a movie literally had me on the edge of my seat, but “Argo” is extremely taut and suspenseful, topped off by a fantastic nail-biter ending and one of the year’s best ensembles. The fact that it’s also based on a true story is simply the icing on the cake.

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Blu Tuesday: Dexter Gets Biblical and More

It’s been awhile since Blu-ray fans have had one of those weeks where you could drop an entire paycheck on new releases, so hopefully you’ve been saving up since then, because there are several must-own titles on tap this week, including the new season of Showtime’s flagship series, the Blu-ray debut of the original summer blockbuster, and one of the best action movies of the last decade. And let’s not forget about “The Hunger Games” or Criterion’s release of “The Royal Tenenbaums,” neither of which were available for review, but are definitely films that would complement any collection.

“Dexter: The Sixth Season”

By the time that most TV series reach their sixth season, it’s only inevitable that a few cracks begin to show, and that’s certainly the case with Showtime’s flagship drama “Dexter,” which would be wise to start planning its swan song sooner than later. Though the show’s latest season isn’t bad by any means, it does mark a considerable drop in quality compared to previous years. Certain characters get a lot less face time (although I wish LaGuerta was written off the show entirely), while others don’t act like themselves – especially Dexter, who’s surprisingly reckless for someone that lives by such a strict set of rules. Even the guest stars aren’t as great as usual. Mos Def turns in a solid performance in a multi-episode arc as a reformed criminal who becomes a religious mentor of sorts to Dexter, but the season’s main antagonists (played by Colin Hanks and Edward James Olmos) fail to make a lasting impression. The religion angle is interesting, though not quite enough to drive an entire season, and the finale’s many cliffhangers show promise, but it’s hard to deny that while “Dexter” isn’t running on fumes just yet, it’s the beginning of the end.

Blu-ray Highlight: The sole bonus material on the three-disc box set is a collection of interviews with the cast, but because it can only be accessed via BD-Live (a stupid system that plagues most Showtime series), they weren’t available in time for review.

“Jaws”

It seems fitting that Universal planned the release of its digitally remastered and fully restored version of “Jaws” for the summer of the studio’s 100th anniversary, because the film is not only worthy of the celebration, but it’s widely considered to be the original summer blockbuster. The movie also holds up really well, and that’s largely thanks to the fact that director Steven Spielberg was unable to show as much of his man-eating shark – which he referred to as the “great white turd” due to the constant mechanical breakdowns throughout production – as originally planned. That shark prop looks pretty cheesy by today’s standards, so it was a bit of a blessing in disguise that he was forced to leave so much to the audience’s imagination, because it only intensified the suspense. But while the shark got most of the attention when it scared an entire generation of moviegoers out of the water back in 1975, the film’s legacy owes a lot to the performances of its stars – Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw – who turned what could have been a standard monster movie into the funny and thrilling classic that everyone remembers so well.

Blu-ray Highlight: In addition to Laurent Bouzereau’s excellent 1995 documentary on the making of “Jaws,” the disc contains a brand new documentary titled “The Shark is Still Working” about the impact and legacy of the film. Narrated by Roy Scheider and featuring interviews with the cast, crew and other filmmakers, the documentary is divided into sections on the production (including casting, shooting on the open sea and ad-libbing on set), the marketing campaign and theatrical release, its international success, merchandising, John Williams’ theme, and of course, the mechanical shark.

“The Raid: Redemption”

There had already been a lot of praise heaped upon director Gareth Evans’ Indonesian action film “The Raid: Redemption” before I’d even had the chance to see it at this year’s SXSW, but it deserved every word, because movies don’t get much cooler or more exhilarating than this. A bone-crunching, testosterone-pumping freight train of destruction that barely lets the audience catch its breath once it gets going, “The Raid” delivers the closest thing to non-stop, wall-to-wall action that I’ve ever seen, and a big part of what makes it so jaw-droppingly awesome is the amazing fight choreography, including what is easily some of the best close-quarters combat committed to film. Every fight is more inventive, more complex and more intense than the last, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, Evans launches into yet another bloody battle. Being exposed to this much action would normally get tiresome after a while, but the director shoots each sequence with such visual flair (with the camera itself becoming a part of the choreography) that it’s like watching a ballet being performed – only, you know, with machine guns and machetes.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s a lot of great stuff on the disc (including a funny Claymation short parodying the film), but the audio commentary by Gareth Evans is entertaining and extremely informative, with the writer/director talking about the movie’s inception, its various influences, and the challenges in filming many of the action sequences.

  

2012 SXSW Film Festival Recap

If you’ve never been down to Austin, Texas for South by Southwest (whether it’s for the music and film festivals or the interactive conference), it’s something that you need to experience at least once, because the city exudes a vibrant and welcoming energy that makes it very hard not to have a good time. This year marked my third consecutive trip to the SXSW film festival, and though my virgin voyage was a bit of a baptism by fire, I was practically oozing the confidence of a grizzled veteran this time around. I knew exactly what to pack, how to plan and what to expect when I got there.

At least, that’s what I thought, but Mother Nature has a funny way of messing up your plans. From airline-wide delays that had me sprinting across Dallas-Fort Worth airport to catch connecting flights, to the miserable weather that I was greeted with when I arrived, it wasn’t exactly the greatest start to my trip. Apart from the almost non-stop rainstorms that put a damper on the opening weekend festivities, the only thing that could have made it any worse was if the movies I had chosen to see weren’t very good. And sure as the rain continued to fall (from Thursday night to Sunday afternoon, with hardly a break in between), there were more duds than normal at this year’s event.

It’s not that I expected to love every movie that I saw at the festival (you’d have better luck winning the lottery), but some of them – including star-studded comedies like “Nature Calls,” “Frankie Goes Boom” and “Small Apartments” – were so terrible that even a direct-to-DVD release would be more than they deserve. “Nature Calls,” in particular, is so egregious that I almost left before the first act was even over, and I’ve never walked out of a movie in my life.

Fortunately, I was able to catch a number of really good films as well. In addition to the long-delayed horror comedy “The Cabin in the Woods” and director William Friedkin’s controversial crime thriller “Killer Joe,” there were three movies that I enjoyed so much that they’ll likely end up on my Top 10 list by year’s end. Below are highlights from my reviews of those films:

1. “Sleepwalk with Me”

Most stand-up comics probably only dream about making a movie as funny and honest as Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk with Me,” let alone one that marks their directorial debut. Reminiscent of Woody Allen’s films in a lot of ways… if you weren’t a fan of Birbiglia beforehand, you will be afterwards.

2. “Safety Not Guaranteed”

A character-driven dramedy with equal parts humor and heart, “Safety Not Guaranteed” is a beautiful film about the human spirit that is impossible to ignore. [It’s] original, humorous, heartfelt and, perhaps most importantly, filled with immense hope.

3. “The Raid: Redemption”

“The Raid” is an unrelenting, action-packed can of whoop-ass that delivers one of the most crowd-pleasing moviegoing experiences of the past decade. This is about as close to non-stop, wall-to-wall action that I’ve ever seen… including what is easily some of the best close-quarters combat ever committed to film.

The week got better as the weather improved, and although I didn’t carve out nearly as much free time to explore the city as I had originally planned, I did happen to stumble upon a cool sports park operated by Nike in support of their new FuelBand, a USB fitness bracelet that tracks your activity throughout the day. Taking up nearly an entire block, the park featured a basketball court, a miniature skate park, and a turf soccer field that allowed me to blow off a little steam in between screenings. I even spoke with one of Nike’s on-hand representatives about the new FuelBand, and was so impressed by the short demonstration that I contacted the company about getting one of the in-demand devices to review for Bullz-Eye.

It was nice to get out and kick the soccer ball around for a while, but it was one of just many small thrills during my trip. I also had the pleasures of meeting director Bobcat Goldthwait (who was at the festival with his new film “God Bless America”) during a random encounter at local hangout The Highball; I had the chance to interview Matthew McConaughey, Gina Gershon and Jamie Chung, among others; and I enjoyed the many delicacies that Austin has to offer, including personal favorites like Freebirds (think Chipotle but better), sandwich chain Schlotzsky’s, and of course, the delicious $5 milkshakes at the Alamo Drafthouse. My trip may have had some hiccups along the way, but as has always been the case with SXSW, the one-two punch of some great movies and that inescapable Austin charm made it yet another festival to remember.

  

SXSW Film Fest 2012: Day Three

This is my third year down in Austin for the South by Southwest film festival, and I think that I’ve finally figured out the science to covering the event all on my lonesome. Instead of past years, where I’ve done a mix of both full-length and shorter movie reviews, this time around, I’m going to be doing daily blogs with even shorter, capsule-style reviews of the films that I saw the previous day. I’m hoping this will make me more productive than usual, but as my schedule is constantly in flux, please bear with me. And if you can’t wait for my daily posts, be sure to follow me on Twitter @JasonZingale for more.

“Frankie Go Boom”

It’s hard to believe that a movie as terrible as “Frankie Go Boom” could boast such a great cast, but that’s what makes it so disappointing. Although there are a number of problems plaguing the film, the most detrimental one is the script itself, which fashions an idiotic plot around a rat race to track down a sex tape made by wannabe director Bruce (Chris O’Dowd) after he secretly films his brother Frankie’s (Charlie Hunnam) latest moment of humiliation in front of a cute girl named Lassie (Lizzy Caplan) that he meets while in town for Bruce’s release from drug rehab. With the exception of Frankie and Lassie, however, the rest of the characters veer dangerously close to parody by acting like complete imbeciles for the sole purpose of progressing the tale. It’s incredibly lazy storytelling on the part of writer/director Jordan Roberts, and as a result, you never really care what happens to anyone. That doesn’t stop the actors from playing along anyway – particularly Ron Perlman as Bruce’s former cellmate, who has since gotten a sex change operation (and believe me when I say that it’s every bit as disturbing as you might imagine) – but it’s all for naught, because no amount of acting prowess can change the fact that “Frankie Go Boom” never had much of a chance with a story as dull and stupid as this.

“The Raid: Redemption”

Action movies don’t get much cooler or more exciting than “The Raid: Redemption.” Whereas Welsh-born writer/director Gareth Evans’ first Indonesian feature “Merantau” had a few cool fight sequences but was an otherwise mediocre film, “The Raid” is an unrelenting, action-packed can of whoop-ass that delivers one of the most crowd-pleasing moviegoing experiences of the past decade. Iko Uwais stars once again, this time as a rookie member of a SWAT team on its way to take down a ruthless crime lord who operates out of an apartment complex populated with other low-life scum. But when the team’s cover is blown and they’re locked inside, the surviving members must shoot, stab, punch and kick their way through an army of thugs in order to get out alive. This is about as close to non-stop, wall-to-wall action that I’ve ever seen, and what makes it so jaw-droppingly awesome is the incredible fight choreography, including what is easily some of the best close-quarters combat ever committed to film. Though I was a little worried that the movie wouldn’t live up to all the hype that it’s amassed on the festival circuit over the last few months, “The Raid” is every bit as good as everyone says it is and not to be missed.

“Extracted”

Nir Paniry’s directorial debut “Extracted” is a sci-fi film in theory, but like most indie movies in the genre, it takes a distinctly low-key approach to the material that actually works in its favor. Sasha Roiz stars as Thomas Jacobs, a scientist who invents a way to revisit someone’s memories from the inside. When his secret financier demands a premature demonstration of the device on a suspected murderer to determine whether he committed the crime, Tom reluctantly agrees, despite his moral trepidations. After the device malfunctions and Tom gets trapped inside the criminal’s consciousness, however, he spends the next four years trying to find a way to escape. It’s a really interesting setup that’s clearly been influenced by a number of other high-concept films in the genre – from “Pi,” to “Source Code,” to “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” – but Paniry does just enough to differentiate it from the pack. Though the acting is spotty at times (particularly from Dominic Bogart, who plays the heroin-addicted felon) and the twist ending feels a little too cute for its own good, “Extracted” is a smart and enjoyable sci-fi thriller/crime procedural that will eventually find an audience, whether it’s in theaters or on DVD.

  

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