Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Movie 43 [2013]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  Chicago Sun-Times (0 Stars)  AVClub (D-)  Fr. Dennis (1 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Chicago Sun-Times (R. Roeper) review
AVClub (N. Rabin) review

Movie 43 is actually a series of shorts each written, directed and acted by different people.  Coherence, such that it is, to the film is given by narrative featuring a writer/director named Charlie Wessler (played by Dennis Quaid) pitching the idea of a film composed of a series of shorts to a mid-level studio exec named Griffen Schraeder (played by Greg Kinnaer).  The central joke in the film is that Charlie Wessler is, of course, completely insane and the film that he's proposing is, except as a joke..., utterly unmakeable.  But then even as he's talking about these series of really stupid, generally over-the-top ridiculously offensive shorts, the viewers get to see these really stupid, often obscene shorts (often acted-out by some of Hollywood's top actors/actors) play out.  So we see an "utterly unmakeable" movie being "made" even as it is being simply "discussed as a hypothetical..."

The result is a really, really stupid R-rated with a huge capital R film.  Honestly parents, there's no reason at all to take a minor to this film and plenty of reasons not to.

That said, I do have to say that a number of the shorts, if borderline unspeakable, are very very funny.

Consider a couple of the vignettes:

(1) Kate Winslet plays Beth, a busy Manhattan executive being set-up to go on a blind date.  As the short begins, she's listing to her friend all the concerns that she has as she approaches this blind date.  Is he an unemployed "loser"? (No, he made senior partner at his law firm at 28).  Is he therefore "all business"?  (No, he's volunteered weekly at a homeless shelter for years and is on the board of numerous philantropic boards across the city).  Is he therefore fat, out of shape?  (No he's "run triathlons" or whatever...).  So they meet by the restaurant, Kate's character is impressed.  "Davis" (played by Hugh Jackman) is the good looking, benevolent, witty lawyer that she's been told that he is, EXCEPT when he takes off his scarf as they enter the restaurant, he's shown to have ONE utterly UNSPEAKABLE (and, indeed, obscene...) "defect" on his neck ;-).  The rest of the short proceeds from there ...

(2) Samantha (played by Naomi Watts) and Sean (played by Alex Crammer) share "the joys" of "homeschooling" their teenage son Kevin (played by Jeremy Allen White) to their new neighbors (played by Liev Schriver and Julie Ann Emery) telling them that they've wanted their son to have "the whole experience of high school" even if he was studying at home.  So Samantha (Kevin's mom) repeatedly knocks Kevin's books down as he carries them around the house (presumably to go to different classes) calling him a "loser."  His dad has him performing exhausting and humiliating drills on their drive way as part of after school "sports practice."  They even wanted him to have the "awkward experience having his first kiss."  So _both_ of Kevin's parents, Samantha and Sean, "hit on him." Sean (dad) in particular sitting next to Kevin tells him ever so awkwardly, "I'm not like into guys, but if I was, you'd be like totally who I'd be into..." (Insanely "Yuck" ... but also, honestly IMHO very funny.  What a nightmare THAT would be...!)

(3) Vanessa (played by Anna Faris) and Jason (played by Chris Pratt) have been dating for 16 months.  Both want to "take it to the next level."  Jason wants to propose, but before he can get the words out, Vanessa confides to him that she wants him to "poop" on her ... leaving him both disgusted and suddenly wondering if he really wanted to go out with her at all ... ;-).

And the other vignettes are all basically of the same vein, all both almost unspeakably disgusting and yet ... most actually "with a point."

Once again, parents, clearly this film is _not_ for your "young ones" and FILM MAKERS TAKE NOTE that it's REALLY HARD for potential viewers to justify paying anything near "full price" to see this gross-out fest.  Still, I suppose I found the film to be funnier than I expected.  Did this film "need to be made?" certainly not.  But it is (or can be) quite funny :-)

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Parker [2013]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  Chicago Sun Times (1 1/2 Stars)  AV Club (C+)  Fr. Dennis (1 Star)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
Chicago Sun-Times (P. Sobczynski) review
AV Club (J. Modell) review

Parker (directed by Taylor Hackford, screenplay by John. J. McLaughlin based on the character by the same name from Donald E. Westlake's crime novels) is another of several rather poorly produced films that were released this past weekend.

The story in this film centers on Parker [IMDb] (played by Jason Statham) who is conceived in Westlake's novels as a "criminal with a code."  Indeed, he first appears on the screen in this film dressed as a Catholic priest (even as he leads a raid on the central bank at the Ohio State Fair...) telling the money counters there (even as he asks them to lie down on the floor while his cohorts tie their hands behind their backs...) that "I don't steal from anyone who can't afford it, and I don't hurt anyone who doesn't deserve it."  

No doubt the hope is that movie goers see in Parker a modern-day Robin Hood [IMDb].  That Parker be  introduced in the film in this way -- dressed as a Catholic priest -- is, of course, rather jarring (to be kind) or appalling (to call it for what most, especially older, Catholics watching the film would see it as).  One of course remembers that Friar Tuck [IMDb] was a member of Robin Hood's "Merry Men."  One even remembers that the recent film For Greater Glory [2012] portrays a gun-toting (and arguably mass murdering...) Catholic priest as a "hero" (one who led a raid that blew-up a train killing several hundred innocent passengers ... But apparently his cause was deemed by the film-makers to be "good" so it was "okay" while priests merely suspected of sympathizing with left-wing guerrillas fighting appalling social and economic inequalities in Latin America during the 1980s were routinely investigated by the Vatican and often defrocked...).  Finally, one remembers that during the infamous crime wave that hit the United States in the early 1930s during the early years of the Great Depression, many common people, including many common Catholics considered bank-robbers like John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde to be Robin Hood like heroes as well.  All this said, however, the film makers here have chosen to make their product so needlessly bloody/violent that it's honestly difficult find any sympathy for Parker or whatever "code" that he chose "to live by."

And beyond the blood and the gore of this film of which there is plenty (Parents take note that this film features definitely an R-rated bloodbath of violence, which in the context of the recent real-life massacres in Aurora, CO and Newtown, CT has become all the more difficult to watch), critical aspects of the film appear to have been left on the "cutting room" (editor's) floor.  For instance, the primary usefulness to Parker of the "Palm Beach, FL real estate agent" Leslie Rogers (played by Jennifer Lopez) was that she could help him escape Palm Beach island after a second, climactic heist near the end of the film, without detection.  She had told Parker, in effect, "The people of Palm Beach are smart, they all know each other, they are all well connected with the local authorities and you won't know how to get off their island (after your heist) without someone like me."  Yet, after the heist and the police as a matter of course lift all the draw bridges leading from the island, we're _not_ shown how the two get off the island effectively reducing Lopez' character in the film to simply eye candy.  And frankly both Lopez and the audience deserved better.

So between the blood and the poor execution of the film one's left with a really disappointing product which given the allusions to past folklore and history mentioned above could have been far more intriguing than the film turned out to be. 

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters [2013]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  Roger Moore (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C-)  Fr. Dennis (1 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Roger Moore's review
AVClub's review

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (directed and cowritten by Tommy Wirkola along with Dante Harper) is IMHO one of several surprisingly poor films released this past weekend.

To be fair, I do think that some aspects of this film were certainly fun/creative.  For instance, the film plays with, indeed, glories in an aesthetic that resembles that of the recent Sherlock Holmes movies (with lots of grudgingly "plausible" if generally "over the top" anachronistic gadgets and time altered action scenes) the SH films themselves no doubt influenced by earlier sci-fi The Matrix movies.  Thus the Hansel and Gretel of Grimm's fairy tales, the children who were abandoned in the woods by their parents and who escaped from the clutches from an evil witch who wanted to cook/eat them, triumphantly emerge in this story from the forest as confident young-adults, Hansel (played by Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (played by Gemma Arterton), toting semi-automatic cross-bows and Gatling-gun style shot-guns (one can't really make a musket into a Gatling gun ...) setting themselves on a crusade to rid Europe of witches with news of their exploits spreading via "press clippings" made possible by, well, the then "recently invented" Gutenberg press.

I'm in awe with the amusing take on the story.  However, the film deteriorates into a needless Matrix style bloodbath as the two splatter their way through a CGI medieval Germany ridding it of some really grotesque looking and generally Evil, child-eating witches.  Further there is a truly (in our day) surprising nude scene in the film in which an inevitably good witch slowly strips in front of Hansel (and the viewers) and takes a slow leisurely dip in a magical mountain spring giving us all a truly _leisurely opportunity_ to take in the view of far more of her (up down, pretty much all around) than could possibly be justified by the plot's demands.  Don't get me wrong, the actress was drop-dead beautiful, but other than for the sake of "getting to see her naked" (and then from a fair number of angles ...) there's really no justification for the way that scene was filmed. 

So while the underlying concept is rather cool, the execution is needlessly violent/crude.  Tone down the violence and rewrite "magical mountain spring scene" and this could have been a 3 1/2 star PG-13 winner.  Instead, it's a 1 1/2 star R-rated groaner/disappointment.

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Broken City [2013]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L)  Michael Philkips (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Michael Phillips' review
AVClub's review

Broken City (directed by Allen Hughes, screenplay by Brian Tucker) is IMHO a very well written and well acted exploration of life/corruption and political life/corruption in a large contemporary American City.  Set in New York, it centers, above all, on two life long New Yorkers who could have been neighbors when they were young.  One, Billy Taggart (played by Mark Wahlberg) has lived his life pretty much on street level, the other Mayor Hostetler (played by Russell Crowe) has risen clearly to greater heights.  Yet a good part of the mayor's his political appeal seems to have been that he has remained comfortable at least speaking the language of the street.

As such, it's not really a surprise that when at the beginning of the film Billy Taggart then a NYPD officer is standing trial for effectively murdering a street thug (who had beaten the rap on a technicality for the brutal rape/murder of a 16 year old girl from his old neighborhood), he finds in Hostetler an ally.  Since a gun was found on the thug -- after Taggart had shot him dead -- Taggart himself gets acquitted.  But the circumstances of the shooting are such that the Police Commissioner, Carl Fairbanks (played by Jeffrey Wright) recommends Taggart's (quiet) dismissal from the force anyway.  But the mayor wants to get a look at Taggart before he goes.  So he invites him to his office, and in the presence of the Police Commissioner breaks Taggart the news:  "There are some wars you fight and some you walk away from.  This is the kind you walk away from ... but in my book, you're a hero."  As such, the Mayor does what needs to be done, but does so in a manner that Taggart himself must have felt that, despite being fired (by the Mayor) the Mayor actually "liked him" / "had his back."  Wow, that's smooth ... ;-)

So what does Billy Taggart do after being unceremoniously dumped from the force?  He becomes a private investigator, not a particularly financially successful one, and eventually shacks-up with the sister of the rape victim whose rape he had avenged (Apparently Taggart had known the rape victim's family from his youth.  As such, his flirtation with vigilantism was neither random nor driven by particularly high ideals.  He simply avenged the brutal rape and killing of a family friend).  His live-in girlfriend Natalie (played by Natalie Martinez) thus is also "of the old neighborhood" and while she, like the mayor, also has "higher aspirations" (seeing herself as a "struggling actress") as long as she remains "struggling" she doesn't mind hanging around a "struggling private investigator" like Taggart, who seems to end-up being beaten up as often as he is paid.  And this goes on for some years ...

Finally both Billy and Natalie get their big breaks at roughly the same time.  Natalie gets a "starring role" in an "Indie production," Billy gets a call from the Mayor ...  While it soon becomes rather clear what Natalie's willing to do to become a star ... Billy has a tougher time of it.  Billy's given the job by the mayor, involved in a hair-thin tight race for re-election, to follow the mayor's wife (played by Catherine Zeta Jones) who the mayor tells him he's convinced is cheating on him. ("New Yorkers will elect all kinds of people as mayor, but not someone who's own wife is cheating on him" he tells Taggart).  Taggart takes the job, especially when he's given his advance ($25K wow! he can pay his bills for once ... ;-)  But as Taggart begins to tail the mayor's wife, he enters into a looking glass world of corruption and intrigue far beyond that which he would have ever imagined from his previous "street level" perspective.  Much ensues ...

I liked this movie.  I liked the diversity of characters -- Black, White, Hispanic, new-rich, old-rich, working class, poor, even gang-banger, artsy, blue-collar, Harvard educated, night-school educated, gay, straight, everybody -- kinda like what you'd find in a big American city like New York today ;-).  And I thought that the film-makers did a great job weaving a tale out of a canvas as big as that.

Finally, reviewing this film from Chicago, I would say that the "conspiracy" that the film finally settles on is one that Chicagoans would certainly understand.  Cities across the country have struggled to find ways to "balance budgets" in recent years.  The approach proposed in this film is one that Chicagoans will know quite well. Great film!

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Friday, January 18, 2013

The Last Stand [2013]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L)  Richard Roeper (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B) Fr. Dennis (1 Star)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Richard Roeper's review
AVClub's review

The Last Stand (directed by Jee-woon Kim, story and original screenplay by Andrew Knauer, rewrite by Jeffrey Nachmanoff supervised by George Nolfi) is I suppose what one could expect of an Arnold Schwarzenegger starring action movie.  There's, of course, a heck of a lot of gun play.  There's also a bit of "Ahnold" Schwarzenegger charm, some self deprecating jokes about his age (He's over sixty now, and playing here in his first full-length action movie since serving 2 terms as Governor of California).

All this said, the film is definitely problematic on two fronts.  First, it is needlessly graphic.  Yes, that a lot of bullets are spent and a lot of glass is broken is standard fare in Hollywood "shoot em up" action movies.  But only some of these movies make it a point of lingering or even focusing on the gore.  This is one of those films.  Yes, we see an evil lieutenant of a drug kingpin kill a troublesome local (American) farmer near the border of Arizona and Mexico.  But did we really need to see him blow his head off with bits of head flying all over the place?   And this choice of showing the blood / gore is made repeatedly in the film.  And as far as I can see the choice is made to no particular purpose except perhaps to shock.

The second problem, is to be found in the appalling racial messaging in this film, this despite the film's apparently significant rewrite:  Blacks are shown as incompetent. The hapless FBI agent John Bannister (played by Forest Whitaker) first loses and then is repeatedly unable to recapture a Mexican drug kingpin named "Gabriel Cortez" (played by Eduardo Noriega) who he was responsible for.  There's also a black "swat commander" who's shown only long enough to register that he's black and completely out of his depth because _seconds_ after receiving an order from said Agent Banister he and his unit are completely put out of commission by said escaping Mexican drug kingpin).  Hispanics are shown as alternatively cowardly to a "minstrel show level" as portrayed by Luis Guzman playing the silly, comic-relief affording deputy named Mike Figuerola to the strong (and über-white) Sheriff Ray Owens (played, of course, by Arnold Schwarzenegger) or criminal as exemplified by the escaping drug-king pin "Cortez" and even a turncoat woman Hispanic FBI agent played by Genesis Rodriguez who helps Cortez escape in the first place.  Even "the white women" while "dependable under fire" as exemplified by Sheriff's deputy Sarah Torrance (played by Jaimee Alexander) seem to prefer to be "led by a strong (and white) man" if only one would step up ... which Ahnold, of course, does as does (eventually ...) poor Sarah's "boys will be boys" ex-and-future boyfriend.

All this is somewhat sad because Schwarzenegger has played his share of GERMAN accented (or otherwise FOREIGN accented) villains in his day.  But perhaps he's back to taking the roles that he can get.

In any case, perhaps the best way to see a film like this is to see it as a double feature with Robert Rodriguez' Machete [2010] (which inverts just about every one of these stereotypes) and then wonder why these blood-soaked films are made at all.

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Mama [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  Richard Roeper (3 Stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Richard Roeper's review
AVClub's review

Truth be told, I didn't expect to like Mama (directed and cowritten by Andrés Muschetti along with Barbara Muschetti and Neil Cross, executive produced by Guillermo del Toro) as much as I did.  While at times intriguing -- I liked the first Paranormal Activity [2007] movie as well as last year's The Cabin in the Woods [2012] -- I generally go to these films because I know a lot of young people are going to see them (I've been responsible in overseeing the youth group at Annunciata during the whole of my time here) and I do see part of the "mission" of my blog here to give parents a "heads-up" as to films that their teens may be talking about.

Indeed the run-up to the release of Mama had captured the imagination of the family of one of our secretaries here at the parish.  She has five children, all girls and apparently the 4th and 6th graders have taught their baby sister, 4 years old, to go around the house and reach out with her hand while saying "Mama" in the same creepy fashion as the little girls do in the film (to the amusement of all, including the 4 year old who, smiling from ear to ear apparently really enjoys the attention she gets by doing this ;-).  So part of my mission in seeing this movie was to see if this film would "work" (be appropriate and not scare the daylights out of the 4th and 6th grader girls who've put their little sister up to this ;-).

In answer to that question, Parents, honestly ... while the film has no nudity and as far as I can remember little to no profanity (I work in an ethnic (generally Slavic/Hispanic) parish in Chicago, so I honestly tend to have a "tin ear" for the latter) ... it's quite a scary movie.  There are scenes where there are "ugly/creepy insects" and all kinds of things "jumping out at you" that honestly may be too intense for the pre-teen crowd.

Then, with ticket prices the way they are, it would be a shame to shell out $50 to take the family to the movies only to have one's 8-10 year old (or their 8-10 year old friend) starting to cry and wanting to go home.   So my recommendation to FAMILIES would be this: If you have relatively small kids (8-10 years old) who'd want to see this movie, DON'T "invest" a lot of money in going to see this movie in the theater.  The more kids you'd be taking of that age group, the more likely it'll be that one or two of the kids would start crying and want to go home.  Instead, if that's the age group of your kids then wait for the film to come out on DVD and watch it at home.

All that being said, I do think that the movie tells a very good "family oriented" "scary story" ... the kind that a good uncle would tell his nephews/nieces in the evening during a summer family get-together somewhere.

So what then is the setup of the story?   In the immediate aftermath of some financial crash, the father of two small girls (the father played by Nikolaj Coster Waldau) having shot his wife and his accountant (apparently the father had been some sort of an investment banker or was otherwise a fairly rich man) returns home (in suburban Richmond, VA) and hurriedly puts the girls in his car driving off with them "into the mountains" apparently to flee.

But as they get up into the mountains, there's snow and he's driving too erratically and too fast.  Inevitably they slip off the road with the car rolling down a fairly long slope into the forest before it crashes into some tree.  The airbags work, so no one's hurt, but now they find themselves far from the road.  No matter, the father (remember he's fleeing) gets the two kids out of the car and together they hobble down further into the forest until they happen upon a rickety, old, apparently abandoned cabin.  There the father sets the girls, the older named Victoria (played by Megan Charpentier) the younger named Lily (at this point just a toddler played by Isabelle Nélisse), in front of a fire, and now with for the first time in a while having "some time to think" he becomes very distraught.  In his despair, he decides to shoot the kids and then himself.  However, before he could pull the trigger on the first child, something very strange happens that saves her and her sister (and prevents him from causing them further harm...)

FIVE YEARS LATER, searchers, hired by Jeffrey, the father's rather "bohemian/artistic" brother (also played by Nikolaj Coster Waldau) who apparently had no other use for his richer and "until he snapped" more responsible brother's money other than putting it to use to find out what happened to him and his children, finally stumble upon the rickety-abandoned cabin and discover the two girls, alive (!). However, the two girls are found in a very feral state, scampering around on all fours, covered in mud, barely communicative in a human sense and having apparently kept themselves alive eating huts, twigs and berries.

The two girls are promptly taken back to Richmond, VA and placed in a special psychiatric unit presumably at some state university/medical center there.

Eventually a custody hearing is held.  Jeffrey, the girls' uncle (and their father's brother) would like to take custody of them.  But there is a dispute.  Their mother's family would like to take custody of the children as well (After all, the two little girls' father murdered their mother...).  But they live across the country and Jeffrey is actually closer kin and lives in Richmond.  However Jeffrey's life is kind of a mess.  Again, he's been an artist, living in a small, cluttered apartment with his rather intimidating, dyed-short raven haired, tattoo-down-the-length-of-her-arm "rocker" girlfriend named Annabel (played marvelously by Jessica Chastain, OMG what a talent she is!  She's up for the Oscar, of course, for her role in Zero Dark Thirty [2012]!) who's actually not at all excited by the prospect of becoming an "adoptive mother" of two very troubled wilder-kids. (Talking a bit about the situation with one of the other women in her punk-rock group, the friend just tells her: "Dump him...").  Still she doesn't want to "dump" Jeffrey and decides to give it a shot...

However, there's still the hurdle of Jeffrey and Annabel's apartment.  It's way too small and cluttered to pass any serious adoption inspection.  Dr. Dreyfuss (played by Daniel Kash), the state's psychologist on the case of these two little girl's would really like to see the girls stay in Virginia as well (so that he could continue "to study" them...).  So he comes up with an idea.  There was a house near the University that his department uses for "case studies."  Jeffrey and Annabel could be given the house, "rent free," for them and the girls while the girls were still in need of psychiatric supervision.  Eyes-rolling, raven-haired/punk rocker Annabel now being asked to "become a suburbanite..." goes along with this as well ... even if she does not like it.

And actually neither do the girls.  Victoria, who is older and still does remember human speech is a little more accepting of the move.  Lily, the younger one, who largely speaks in gibberish and continues to sleep under her bed with a leafy twig in her hand rather than sleep on a far more comfortable mattress, clearly hates it. 

But there it is and the story goes from there...  The question that's on every adult's mind is ... of course ... how did those children survive (or even learn to survive) out there in the often snow covered woods of Virginia for five years?  The children, especially Lily, refer to someone they call "Mama."  But who is this "Mama"?  Well that's what the rest of the film's about ... ;-)

I'm not going to say much more because I think I've done my job in setting up the story.  I would repeat however that the story becomes a very good rendition of a very good "spooky story" that one could hear "around the campfire" at an "outdoor family gathering" as it gets dark on some lazy summer's eve.

Is it too scary for little kids?  I do believe that the PG-13 rating is appropriate.  And as I hint above, the difference between hearing this story (or even watching this film) "at home" and going to see it at the movie theater is that "at home" when the kids start getting "too scared" one can "tone the story down" as one tells it (or just turn off the video if one is watching it).  But in the movie theater, once one pays for admission one is stuck... 

Again, Mama is a great "spooky story" but if one's kid is 10-or-under, it really may be too much for them to see in the theater.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

2012 Denny Awards - Part 3 - Most Compelling Performances (Female)

Part 3/3 of my Annual "Denny Awards" ;-)
(Other Years' Awards)

Part I - Best Films
Part II - Most Compelling Performances / Character Roles (Male)
Part III - Most Compelling Performances / Character Roles (Female)

CHILD (female)

             Quvenzhané Wallis (P) as the 4 year old girl named Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild [2012] (PG-13 - 3 Stars)
             Sarah Silverman (V/CR) as Vanellope the cute-as-a-button tween-girl race car driver in Wreck-It Ralph [2012] (PG / A-II - 4 Stars) who all the other tween-girl race car drivers in her video game call "nothing but a glitch." ;-)
    Honorable Mentions:
             Jodelle Ferland (V/CR) as Aggie as the little girl burned at the stake as a witch 300 years back, who now has to be "appeased" (read a bedtime story) each year in ParaNorman [2012] ( PG - 3 Stars)
             Kelly Macdonald (V/CR) as the little girl Merida who'd like to change/be more in control of her destiny in Brave [2012] (PG / A-II - 4 Stars)
             Megan Charpentier (P) / Ave Merson-O'Brian (V/CR) as "the Red Queen" the avatar of the Omnipotent / Artificially Intelligent (but really, really "insecure" 10-year-old) supercomputer in  Resident Evil - Retribution [2012] (R / L - 2 Stars).

TEEN (female)
               Kristen Stewart (P/CR) as the "somewhat klutzy" but ultimately "grounded" Bella who finds the most spectacular life (amidst entire hidden subcultures of "vampires" and "werewolves") even out in the "dreary backwoods of Washington State" in Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 [2012] (PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars).
    Honorable Mentions: 
               Dulce Maria [IMDb] (CR) as the flighty but life-affirming/miracle working "Lupita" in this IMHO remarkable Mexican contemporary youth oriented take on, yes, the Blessed Virgin Mary in Have you seen Lupita? (orig. ¿Alguien ha visto a Lupita?) [2012] (UR would be PG-13/R - Mexico/subtitle 4 Stars)
               Anjela Nedyalkova as the Bulgarian teenager Avé who runs away from her dreary home in search of a happier life in Avé [2011] (UR would be R - Bulgaria/subtitled - 4 Stars)
               Chloe Grace Moretz (P) as 13 year old Luli McMullen who runs away from her deeply dysfunctional Nebraska home in Hick [2012] (R - 3 1/2 Stars)
               Cierra Ramirez (P) as the teenager named Ansiedad and Raini Rodriquez (P) playing Tativa her best friend in Girl in Progress [2012] (PG-13 - 3 Stars), who seeing little but pain in growing-up just wanted to do so as fast as possible.
               Jennifer Lawrence (CR) as the heroine Katniss Everdeen in the teenage dysopian/post-Apocalyptic drama Hunger Games [2012] (PG-13 / A-III - 2 1/2 Stars)
               Jennifer Lawrence (CR) the still optimistic/idealistic teenager Elissa who sees in the troubled boy-next-door in her new neighborhood as "someone who can be fixed" while mom just sees trouble in House at the End of the Street [2012] (PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars)

YOUNG ADULT (female)
              Greta Gerwig (P) as the 20-something grad-student Lola who gets dumped by her similarly aged fiance' three weeks before their wedding in Lola Versus [2012] (R - 3 1/2 Stars).  What now?
              Dreama Walker (P) as the utterly "average" fast-food establishment worker Becky in Compliance [2012] (R - 3 1/2 Stars).  Becky's manager gets a phone call from someone introducing himself as a police officer telling her that someone who fits Becky's description had stolen something from a patron a half an hour earlier and asks the manager to investigate.  Based on a true story, wow, what a nightmare.  Young people PLEASE DEFEND YOURSELVES / KNOW YOUR RIGHTS.
      Honorable Mentions:
              Greta Gerwig (P) and Analeigh Tipton (P) as the leader and the "black-sheep" of a wonderfully "earnest" group of four young women attending a "small liberal arts college" somewhere "out East" in Damsels in Distress [2011] ( PG-13 but should be R - 4 Stars) who were in no way "in distress."  Indeed, they were the heart and soul of their school ;-). Honestly, just a lovely, lovely college movie ;-).
               Olga Bołądź [IMDb] [] (P) as Agata Mróz the Polish national volleyball star who found herself in a nearly impossible situation - both pregnant and diagnosed with having cancer and had to decide what to do in Lose to Win (orig. Nad Życie) [2011] (UR would be R - Poland (subtitled) - 4 Stars).
               Kisha Burgos (P) as Solimar a sad and troubled young Hispanic woman, whose name means "sun and sea" but whose horizons are limited by circumstance to the snow/ice covered streets between her home in a tenement building in the Bronx and the nail salon where she works a few blocks away in Under My Nails [2011] (UR would be R - 3 1/2 Stars).
                Neelofar Hamid (P) as Asifa a young Kashmiri graduate student who returns to her native land to do some "water quality research" (in the midst of the civil strife going on) in the Valley of Saints [2012] (UR would be PG-13 - subtitled - 4 Stars) and who finds herself becoming friends with a young water-taxi pilot who's her age who helps her take her samples. 
                Katrina Kaif (P) as the Christian London-based Indian expat Meera whose prayers always involved "hard negotiations/bargains" with God and Anushka Sharma (P) as the enterprising "Discovery Channel intern" Akira Rai who "discovers a love story" that she simply has to investigate/bring to the world in Jab Tak Hai Jaan [2012] (UR would be PG-13 - Hindi (subtitled) - 4 Stars), the last film of legendary Bollywood director Yash Chopra [IMDb] who died soon after the film's release.
               Anna Margaret Hollyman (P) as Sarah Sparks in Small, Beautifully Moving Parts [2012] (UR would be R - 3 Stars) a late-20 something young woman living in New York who freely admits that she relates better to technology than to people. 
               Leighton Meester (P) as the "wayward" mid-20-something daughter Nina who at the insistence of her parents comes back home "for Thanksgiving" one year and, ever smiling, effortlessly wrecks (smashes/destroys/breaks-in-two...) the marriage/family of her mother's best friends causing havoc to her own folks in The Oranges (R - 3 Stars).  Yes, young people you could probably do this but honestly please don't. :-/
               Elizabeth Olsen (P) as the bright-eyed/optimistic 19 year old college lit-major "Zippy" who, bored with the guys her age, briefly falls for an older, 35 year old, former lit-major (now working in a random New York publishing house) in Liberal Arts [2012] (UR would be PG-13/R - 3 Stars).  I "get" the story and thought Olsen's character was just great, but I am happy that both "nothing happened" and that she was able to quite rapidly and happily "move on." ;-)
                Samantha Barks (P) as Eponine in Les Miserables (musical) [2012] (PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars).  Yes, her parents, the Thenardiers, were really terrible people, but Eponine was a kind young person nonetheless.
                Anna Kendrick (P) in the relatively small but perfectly executed role of Janet, the girl-friend/fiance' of Jake Gyllenhaal's character, LAPD officer Brian Taylor, in End of Watch [2012] ( R / O - 4 Stars).  I've actually married couples like Janet/Brian ;-). 
               Katherine Heigl (P) at "the other" (older) edge of young-adulthood ;-) introduced as the early 30-something, recently divorced and out-of-work Stephanie Plum in One for the Money [2012] (R / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars) who crashes at her parents' home in working-class Trenton, NJ and begins to rebuild her life taking a job working for a cousin, Vinny of course, at his bail-bondsman shop.  Much, much ensues ... ;-)

ADULT (female)
               Jessica Chastain (P) as the CIA operative Maya who found/"got" Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty [2012] (R / L - 4 Stars) 
    Honorable Mentions:                
               Eva Mendez (P) as Altagracia, a single mother who both "never grew up" and never really had a childhood in Girl in Progress [2012] (PG-13 - 3 Stars)
               Leila Hatami (P) as Leila in Meeting Leila (orig. Ashnaee ba Leila) [2011] (UR would be PG-13 - Iran/Subtitled - 3 1/2 Stars) as the quiet 40-something nurse preparing to get married and trying to get her husband-to-be to "just quit smoking."
               Elizabeth Shue (P) as Sarah, a divorced mother who's had therefore some life experience but has had some trouble all her life in asserting herself in House at the End of the Street [2012] (PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars).
               Scarlett Johannson (P) as the actress Janet Leigh in Hitchcock [2012] (R - 2 1/2 Stars) 
               Anne Hathaway (P) as Fantine, the young widow who had to sell her hair and then herself to support her daughter Cosette in Les Miserables (musical) [2012] (PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars)
               Nicole Kidman (P) as Charlotte Bless a woman who's both had some life experience and yet continues to choose truly the worst possible men to go for in The Paper Boy [2012] (R - 3 1/2 Stars)
               Patricia Arquette (P) as Mrs Armstrong the teacher in Girl in Progress [2012] (PG-13 - 3 Stars) who repeatedly finds that one of her students, Hispanic, though born here and fluent in English repeatedly misunderstands the intent of her lesson plans with increasingly dangerous results.
               Naomi Watts (P) as Maria the mother in the film The Impossible [2012] (R - 4 Stars) who both needs to help (and to be helped) by her 10 year old son in the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami in Thailand.
               Abigail Spencer (P) as Brenda, mother with two kids and married to a roofer/surfer, who was the only real adult (and respected as such) in Chasing Mavericks [2012] (PG / A-II - 2 1/2 Stars).

               Marisa Tomei (P) as Alice the grown but still somewhat resentful daughter now with her own husband and family in Parental Guidance [2012] (PG / A-I - 3 Stars)
ELDER (female)
               The elder women, both Christian and Muslim, of a small mountain village in Lebanon in the film  Where do we go now? (orig. Et maintenant on va où?) [2011] (PG-13 - Lebanon / subtitled - 4 Stars) who with the blessing of both local priest and imam conspire to prevent their husbands and sons from starting to kill each other again.
    Honorable Mentions:
                Besedka Johnson (P) the elderly widow named Sadie who befriends an amiable if aimless young woman even if she suspects that she is a hooker of some sort in Starlet [2012] (UR would be R - 3 Stars).
                Judi Dench (P) as the motherly "M" head of MI-6 in the James Bond film Skyfall [2007] (PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars).
                Bette Midler (P) as the grandma, who understands both her husband and her grown daughter and is able to bring them to a reconciliation in Parental Guidance [2012] (PG / A-I - 3 Stars).
                Barbara Straisand (P) as The Guilt Trip [2012] (PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars) as the ma' who'll always love you but is not to be underestimated.  She's both had a life and knows/can piece together more about you than you'd think (but still loves you anyway ...).  

HERO / VILLAIN (female)
                Kate Beckinsale (P) as Selene, a futuristic "vampire," lurking ever in the dark / sewers dressed in a black rubber suit and armed with 2 AK-47s and a seemingly infinite supply of silver bullets "wasting" untold numbers of "lychens" (basically werewolves) in Underworld: Awakening [2012] (R / A-III - 1 1/2 Stars).  Selene is probably the clearest expression of the "Jungian Anima out to play" in cinema today.  She is one scary but compelling character, honestly more interesting than either Silvester Stalone or Arnold Schwarzenegger.  
    Honorable Mentions:
                Anne Hatheway (P) as Cat Woman in Dark Knight Rises [2012] (PG-13 - 1 Star) again really, really sexy but definitely her own woman.  You'd be pretty stupid to just blindly trust her ;-)
                Greta Gerwig (P) as the ever optimistic Violet who conquers by sheer force of Will and "Earnestness" in Damsels in Distress [2011] ( PG-13 but should be R - 4 Stars).  Honestly, if you're scared by Kate Beckinsale's character above, Greta Gerwig's character here is fascinating (and kinder) as well.
                Leighton Meester (P) as the ever-smiling but homewrecking Nina from The Oranges (R - 3 Stars).  Again, there is power there, but power that really (I'm not kidding) "ought not to be used."
               Kristen Stewart (P/CR) the simple/awkward teen from "nowhere's ville" who nonetheless chooses very, very well Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 [2012] (PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars).
                Kelly Macdonald (V/CR) as the little girl Merida who'd like to change/ her destiny yet softens (grows) during the course of  Brave [2012] (PG / A-II - 4 Stars) 
               Sarah Silverman (V/CR) as Vanellope the cute-as-a-button tween-girl race car driver but called "a glitch" by the other tween-girl race car drivers in Wreck-It Ralph [2012] (PG / A-II - 4 Stars).
               Jane Lynch (V/CR) as Sgt Calhoun, one tough woman but "with the saddest back-story in all video-gaming world" in Wreck-It Ralph [2012] (PG / A-II - 4 Stars).

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2012 Denny Awards - Part 2 - Most Compelling Performances (Male)

Part 2/3 of my Annual "Denny Awards" ;-)
(Other Years' Awards)

Part I - Best Films
Part II - Most Compelling Performances / Character Roles (Male)
Part III - Most Compelling Performances / Character Roles (Female)

CHILD (male)

          Tom Holland (P) as the 10 year old Lucas in The Impossible [2012] (R - 4 Stars) who has to take care of his mother following the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.   
Honorable Mentions:
           Charlie Tahan (V/P) and Atticus Shaffer (V/P) as young Victor Frankenstein and Edgar E. Gore in Frankenweenie [2012] (PG / A-I - 3 1/2 Stars).
           Kodi Smit-McPhee (V/CR) as Norman and Tucker Albrizzi (V/P) his friend Niel in ParaNorman [2012] ( PG - 3 Stars)
           Daniel Huttlestone (P) as the little boy Gavroche who gets killed in Les Miserables (musical) [2012] (PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars)  

TEEN (male)
             Logan Lerman (P) as Charlie and Ezra Miller (P) as Patrick in the teenage high school drama The Perks of Being a Wall Flower [2012] (PG-13 - 4 Stars)Along with Patrick's step-sister Sam (played by Emma Watson) the three prove the value of friendship in those high school years..

    Honorable Mentions:   
             Dane DeHaan (P), Alex Russell  (P) and Michael B. Jordan (P) as the three friends Andrew, Matt and Steve in the more sci-fi-y teenage high school drama Chronicle [2012] (PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars).  Sometimes even "super powers" can't compensate for a tough life in a troubled home.
             Taylor Lautner (P) as Jacob Black in Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 [2012] (PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars).  Jacob didn't get the girl in the story but from what I can gather from watching these films in the theaters, he definitely has an adoring fan base of his own ;-).

             Zac Efron (P) in the film's title role as a directionless young man who at the beginning of the film had to return home to his parents in 1960s Florida after being expelled from college for some unclear offense in The Paper Boy [2012] (R - 3 1/2 Stars).
     Honorable Mentions: 
              Karan Soni (P) as the talented but somewhat nerdy college student Arnou who needed to be reminded that he's "not going to be 21 forever" in Safety Not Guaranteed [2012] (R - 3 1/2 Stars).
            Robert Pattison of "Twilight Saga" fame as a young "corporate vampire" who spends most of his time riding in the back of coffin-like limo while making decisions that "effect millions" in Cosmopolis [2012] (R - 4 Stars).
              Wojciech Zielinski [IMDb][FPL][ENG-trans] (P) as Michal who almost "made it" in today's Poland and Tomasz Schuchardt [IMDb][FPL][ENG trans] (P) as his childhood best friend Janek who has to watch him crash in The Christening (orig. Chrzest) [2010] (UR would be R - Poland / subtitled - 3 1/2 Stars)
              Bradley Cooper as a struggling young writer who finally got his break by cheating in The Words [2012] (PG-13 / A-III - 4 Stars).  He comes to regret it, but how to fix things now? 
              Muhammad Afzal (P) as the 20-something Afzal, a humble water taxi operator in the Kashmir but with  many deep thoughts in his mind Valley of Saints [2012] (UR would be PG-13 - subtitled - 4 Stars.
             Ovanes Torosian (P) as a young Bulgarian college student traveling to his best friend's funeral in Avé [2011] (UR would be R - Bulgaria/subtitled - 4 Stars) with many questions about what life is all about.
             Onur Tukel (P) as the somewhat irreverent (and unemployed) young man living in New York nicknamed "Tuna" heading to his best friend's wedding in Richard's Wedding [2012] (UR would be R - 3 Stars) 
              Paul Dano as a young writer who's both lonely and suffering from writer's block in Ruby Sparks [2012] (R - 3 1/2 Stars).  Finally, he gets inspired in his writing (about a woman, literally "of his dreams") and BOOM she appears.  But now even if she is truly "his creation" wouldn't she be happier/better off if he let her be free?
             Jake Johnson (P) at the far end of "young adulthood", this 30-something journalist takes two rudderless interns under his wing in Safety Not Guaranteed [2012] (R - 3 1/2 Stars)

ADULT (male/unattached/no kids)
              Daniel Craig (P) as Agent 007 James Bond in Skyfall [2012] (PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars).  Can there really be anybody else?  Well, maybe ... ;-)

             Liam Neeson (P) as the rifleman Ottway, stranded with seven others in the wilds of Alaska in The Grey [2012] (R/L - 3 1/2 Stars. Honestly, given the recent tragedies in Neeson's life perhaps, his current "Answer to Job."
    Honorable Mentions:
             Denzel Washington (P) as veteran airline pilot "Whip" Whitaker in Flight [2012] (R / O - 3 1/2 Stars) in a great Parable about someone who is both very talented and a mess.  Can even a "Miracle Worker" be Saved if he doesn't deal with his Demons first?
             Adel Yaraghi (P) as Adel, an amiable 40-something Iranian "ad exec" living in Tehran and getting married for the first time who doesn't understand why Leila, his fiancee' would be so insistent on him "quitting smoking" in Meeting Leila (orig. Ashnaee ba Leila) [2011] (UR would be PG-13 - Iran/Subtitled - 3 1/2 Stars)
             Tyler Perry (P) as Wesley Deeds, a good son, and a future good husband, who uses his position as a wealthy man to help young mother who comes into his life who is in need in Tyler Perry's Good Deeds [2012] (PG-13 - 3 1/2 Stars).  His involvement changes his life but changes it for the better allowing him to become "Good' Deeds.

ADULT (male/married/parent)
            Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña, two cops, one single later engaged, the other married with a family in End of Watch [2012] ( R / O - 4 Stars).  In a parish with some 100 families of police officers, I can attest, their dialogue is authentic ;-).

    Honorable Mentions:
           Liam Neeson (P) as the tough guy Brian Mills, a former CIA assassin trying to work his way back into his estranged family in Taken 2 [2012] (PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars).  Okay, he was rarely "there" for his wife and daughter in the past, but did they have any @$%# idea what he went through to "put dinner on their table?" ;-)  
           Hugh Jackman (P) as Jean Valjean, himself saved by a kindly grandfatherly Bishop, serving as the good adoptive father to Cossette in Les Miserables (musical) [2012] (PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars)

ELDER (male)
              Jonithen Jackson (P) as Jacob the grandfatherly patriarch of a family of Marshall Islanders who he had in good part moved from the Marshall Islands to the Big Island of Hawaii during his lifetime in The Land of Eb [2012] (UR would be PG-13 - 3 Stars).  Now Jacob was dying (of cancer) and has to come to terms with the fact that he's not going to be able to finish the various projects that he's started. 
    Honorable Mentions:
             Ian McCellen (P) as the Grand Wizard Gandalf in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012] (PG-13 / A-II - 4 Stars) who calls the reluctant hobbit Bilbo Baggins on "an Adventure."
             Frank Langella (P) as Frank in Robot & Frank [2012] ( PG-13 / 3 1/2 Stars). Okay, he wasn't the best of fathers.  Indeed, he spent most of his adult life in jail.  Now he's "out" but he's old and alone and his kids live far away.  At least his son though bought him "a robot" to take care of him... ;-).
             Billy Crystal (P) as Arty in Parental Guidance [2012] (PG / A-I - 3 Stars).  During most of his adult life, Arty "ruled" his family.  A radio announcer, Arty had dreamed of becoming the "voice" of his beloved (first New York then San Francisco) Giants.  Now near the end of his life, even he realizes that this isn't going to happen.  But what of his relationships wife, who did not mind traveling around the country as Arty pursued his dream, and now adult daughter with a family of her own, who did?

              Chris Evans (P) as Captain America and Robert Downey, Jr (P) as Tony Stark in The Avengers [2012] ( PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars) two great visions of "America" (The United States) personified.
    Honorable Mentions:
             Javier Bardem (P) as the Julian Assange-like character Silva in Skyfall [2012] (PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars)
             Liam Neeson (P) as former CIA assassin Brian Mills just trying trying to be accepted by his wife and daughter again in Taken 2 [2012] (PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars).
             Daniel Craig (P) as Agent 007 James Bond in Skyfall [2012] (PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars)
             Ian McCellen (P) as the Grand Wizard Gandalf in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012] (PG-13 / A-II - 4 Stars).

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Monday, January 14, 2013

2012 Denny Awards - Part 1 - Best Films

Part 1/3 of my Annual "Denny Awards" ;-)
(Other Years' Awards)

Part I - Best Films of 2012
Part II - Most Compelling Performances (Male)
Part III - Most Compelling Performances (Female)

       Winners -       
             Brave [2012] PG / A-II - 4 Stars - More for families with girls as the lead character is a girl.  However, her toddler triplet brothers are hilarious as well.
             Frankenweenie [2012] - PG / A-I - 3 1/2 Stars - More for families with boys as except for the mom, there are almost no girls in the story.  HOWEVER both lead character little Victor Frankenstein and his best friend/nerdy/and yes "kinda creepy" Edgar E. Gore are just great ;-)
       Honorable Mentions -
              Dr. Seuss' The Lorax [2012] - G / A-I - 4 Stars - Can't go wrong with Dr. Seuss ;-)
              Chimpanzee [2012] - G / A-1 - 3 Stars - Cute nature film about a baby chimpanzee who gets adopted by the clan leader after his mother dies.
              Wreck-It Ralph [2012] - PG / A-II - 4 Stars - If Brave is a "mother/daughter" sort of a film, Wreck-It Ralph is a "father/adoptive daughter" sort of one.  One of the best original child oriented animated films of recent years.
               The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure [2012] - G / A-I - 3 Stars - Okay, it's super-commercial (and made by the makers of the Teletubbies of the past) but it is a brave and original sort of project (for 1 1/2 to 3 year olds) that may interest some parents and IMHO deserves mention here ;-).  

        Winners -
                The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012] - PG-13 / A-II - 4 Stars - More for families with young boys (as there are almost no women characters in the story).  IMHO BETTER than even the first LOTR film as it ends at a natural break in Tolkein's Hobbit story.
                Brave [2012] PG / A-II - 4 Stars - More for families with girls as the lead characters are really all women (Merida, her mother, and even the witch).  Picked this film also for families with littler girls but older-preteen girls will get even out of it.
         Honorable Mentions -
                 ParaNorman [2012] - PG - 3 Stars - Kinda like Frankenweenie [2012] but more developed / balanced family dynamics (Norman has an older teenage sister) and generally as a whole both boys and girls have significant roles.
                 Hotel Transylvania [2012] - PG / A-II - 3 1/2 Stars - A father / daughter story that a family with a pre-teen girl or two would appreciate (kids do inevitably ... grow up ...)

        Winners -
                 The Perks of Being a Wall Flower [2012] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - A classic "teenage angst" film, if at times quite sad, probably destined to be this generation's Breakfast Club [1985].
                 Taken 2 [2012] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars - Are you kinda angry at dad for "not always being around?" Well he may have a "story" of his own about what he's had to go through to put dinner on the table ;-) 
                 Girl in Progress [2012] - PG-13 - 3 Stars - A pretty good Mother/Daughter film particularly for Hispanic families, similar to the film above, only here it's a single mom who's going through a heck of a lot to give her daughter a better chance at life (but it's still hard when she's not always around and one realizes that "ma isn't perfect...")
        Honorable Mentions                
                 House at the End of the Street [2012] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars - another Mother/Daughter film.  The Daughter sees the boy next-door as "someone to fix", while Ma just sees "trouble."
                 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012] - PG-13 / A-II - 4 Stars - see above.  Though here I'd underline that this film tells a great "Call story."  Yes, child you can "stay at home" and lead a totally predictable life, but you may be Called to do far more than that.

BEST INTERGENERATIONAL FILMS (for Older/Adult Children and their Parents) - 
         Winner -
                  People Like Us [2012] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars - Hard film to watch about a post-mortem reconciliation between a Father and Son and then a half-Sister that the Son never knew he had because the Father had two families... 
         Honorable Mentions -
                  This Must be the Place [2012] - R - 3 1/2 Stars - Reconciliation between Father and Son (again even after the death of the Father).  The Father was "a hero/martyr" in life, while all the Son (who actually had become a celebrated "rock star") felt was "unloved." Late for the Father's funeral, the Son with nothing to do decides to hunt down the (Nazi) who had made his Father into who he was.
                   Hick [2012] - R - 3 1/2 Stars - No chance for reconciliation here, just sadness.  A 13 year old growing-up in a truly dysfunctional family decides to run away from home.  Much often terrible and sad ensues ... (Parents, yes your personal behavior does matter ...)
                   Parental Guidance [2012] - PG / A-I - 3 Stars - When the Daughter was growing-up, Dad dominated the Family.  That was okay with Ma' but not okay with the Daughter.  Now the Daughter has her own family ...
                   The Guilt Trip [2012] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars - Fun Mother/grown Son film in which the Son has to forgive the Mother for her adoring "motherliness" while also coming to terms with his own limitations. 
                   Robot & Frank [2012] - PG-13 / 3 1/2 Stars - Perhaps he wasn't the best Dad in the world, but now he's old, alone and his two kids have their own lives far away.  But at least the Son buys Dad a "Robot" ... much ensues ... ;-)
                   Starlet [2012] - UR (would be R) - 3 Stars - Great story about two unrelated women, one "young and drifting," the other "old and widowed/alone."  They become friends. 

         Winners - 
                    The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012] - PG-13 / A-II - 4 Stars - see above. Obviously, I loved this film.  Great film about choices and destiny.  Do you want a "small life" in an already half-buried house "at the edge of the shire?"  Or are you willing to accept the Call when "Gandalf comes by" to invite you to something new/great?  "Will I come back?" the Hobbit Bilbo asks. "I can't guarantee that," answers Gandalf. "And if you do, you won't be the same as when you left."  What a GREAT story about Call.
                    Safety Not Guaranteed [2012] - R (note rating) - 3 1/2 Stars - For older teens.  Actually with a same message.  Folks, as you grow-up you make choices even if you think you're not.  You won't be young forever.
                    The Perks of Being a Wall Flower [2012] - PG-13 - 4 Stars -Wow, a "three way tie" :-) a film about why making those choices can be hard.   
         Honorable Mentions -
                    Avengers [2012] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars - The Marvel Comics stories generally have had good messages, this is no exception.  In this film, I loved the dialogue between Captain America and Tony Stark, two great embodiments of America (one that had been "frozen in time" from the 1940s, the other of today).
                    Frankenweenie [2012] - PG / A-I - 3 1/2 Stars.  If you find yourself "smart" and in a lot of AP classes here's your chance to tell the "cooler" kids "Be afraid, be very afraid ..." ;-) ;-)                   

          Winner -
                    Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 [2012] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars - Yes it was a GREAT SERIES about finding a SPECTACULARLY RICH/FULFILLING LIFE even in "the back woods" of dreary/rainy Washington state. 
           Honorable Mentions -
                     Hunger Games [2012] - PG-13 / A-III - 2 1/2 Stars - Honestly girls, embrace the "super-hero" within you.  There is an entire generation of boys (your piers) who will accept you/love you for it. ("Slaying dragons" is a lot cooler when you don't have to do it alone ...)
                     Girl in Progress [2012] - PG-13 - 3 Stars - Honestly, find the heart to give "Ma" a break.  She's almost always on your side.

         Winner - 
                 Lincoln [2012] - R / A-III - 4 Stars (as well as the more fictionalized Django Unchained [2012] - R / L - 4 Stars and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter [2012] - R / L - 3 Stars).  Folks, there honestly was no "other side" to Slavery.
         Honorable Mentions -
                 Anna Karenina [2012] - R / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars (based on Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina)
                 Trishna [2011] - R - UK / India (subtitled at times) - 3 1/2 Stars (based on Thomas Hardy's Tess of D'Urbervilles)
                 Les Miserables (musical) [2012] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars (based originally on Victor Hugo's Les Miserables)
                 Wuthering Heights [2011] - R - 3 Stars (based on Emily Brontë's novel Wuthering Heights)
          You really should know at least something about all these stories ... ;-)

           Winner - 
                   Samsara [2012] - PG-13 / 4 Stars - Nobody knows Sorrow like the Buddhists know Sorrow ;-)
            Honorable Mentions - 
                    Cloud Atlas [2012] - R / O - 3 1/2 Stars - Ponderous film taking us from "100 years after the Fall" to "140 years into our future" asking the question "Are we in this world together?" or "Are the Weak simply Meat for the Strong to Eat?"
                    Band of Sisters [2012] - (UR would be PG-13) - Documentary - 4 Stars - Education has never been particularly respected in either Society or if we're honest, in the Church (think of the history of the Jesuits or even the Knights Templar before them...).  This is a documentary about the Catholic nuns in the United States (as a group always among the most educated women in the country ... heck they've always run schools, universities and hospitals) and (in their own words) about what they've been doing since the reforms of Vatican II.
                    Django Unchained [2012] - R / L - 4 Stars - Why 150 years after the American Civil War are we still trying to find excuses for the South and its legacy of Slavery?
                    Life of Pi [2012] - PG / A-III - 4 Stars - What would have been the better end to the story?
                    Russian Reserve (orig. Русский заповедник) [2010] - UR - Documentary - Russia (subtitled) - 4 Stars - I loved this film.  A calm, confident, classically Russian Orthodox response to the question of what's really needed to save the global village.
                    Avé [2011] - UR (would be R) - Bulgaria (subtitled) - 4 Stars - What if life really consists of simply (and more or less randomly) traveling from "point a" to "point b" under a dreary October sky in the rain? 

                     A Late Quartet [2012] - R - 4 Stars - "Nothing is as beautiful or as 'complicated' as ..." Even a group of four professionals who've been playing together forever can still really get on each other's nerves over the smallest things ... ;-)
               Honorable Mentions 
                     Meeting Leila (orig. Ashnaee ba Leila) [2011] - UR (would be PG-13) - Iranian (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars - If this film wasn't set in Tehran today, it could have starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in L.A. of the 1940s.  A film about a lonely 40-something couple living in Tehran preparing to get married.  She just wants him to quit smoking, and he doesn't understand why it would matter so much to her.
                     Lola Versus [2012] - R - 3 1/2 Stars - Three weeks before their wedding, 20-something Lola's similarly aged fiance' breaks up with her and if at least he could give her a reason, ANY reason.  What now?
                     Cosmopolis [2012] - R - 4 Stars - Great "dialogue driven" film about a young "corporate vampire" taking a limo-drive from work to his old neighborhood to get "a hair-cut."
                     Small, Beautifully Moving Parts [2012] - UR (would be R) - 3 Stars - About a young, 20-something woman of today who freely admits that she generally "relates better to technology than to people" who now finds herself pregnant (and obviously not by her computer ... ;-)
                     Day of Black (orig. Dia de Preto) [2011] - UR - Brazilian (subtitled) - 4 Stars -  A retelling of the story of the first African slave in Brazil to be given his freedom.  But okay, he's free, now what?
                     Footnote (orig. Hearat Shulayim) [2011] - PG - Israel (subtitled) - 4 Stars - A story of two contemporary Scripture scholars, father and son, one successful, the other not particularly, and how "footnotes" matter.
                      Avé [2011] - UR (would be R) - Bulgaria (subtitled) - 4 Stars - She's about 19 years old and basically running away from home.  He's in his 20s and heading to the village of his best friend for his best friend's funeral.  What if life just involves traveling in such sad and random ways under a dreary and rainy autumn sky?
                      The Land of Eb [2012] - 3 Stars - A simple tale about a Marshallese Islander grandfather/patriarch who's in his life-time moved most of his family to Hawaii.  Now he's dying (of cancer) and has to come to terms with all the dreams that he's realizing that he's never going to fulfill. 

            Winner -
                    Cloud Atlas [2012] - R / O - 3 1/2 Stars - (See above) a truly ponderous film asking about the fundamental nature of our relationships with each other and with the Cosmos.
            Honorable Mentions - 
                    Have you seen Lupita? (orig. ¿Alguien ha visto a Lupita?) [2012] - UR (would be PG-13/R) - - Mexico (subtitled) - 4 Stars - A brilliant youth oriented "retelling" of the story of Mary envisioned as contemporary and somewhat "flighty" upper middle class teenager named Lupita living in Mexico City today.

                    Flight [2012] - R / O - 3 1/2 Stars - A well formed / Protestant informed Parable asking the question: Can even a "miracle worker" who has some "issues" be saved without confronting them first?  
                    Band of Sisters [2012] - (UR would be PG-13) - Documentary - 4 Stars - (see above) - again, education often gets dissed.                  
                    Life of Pi [2012] - PG / A-III - 4 Stars - Yes, this story may help you see the Fundamental Choice between Believing and Not Believing more clearly.  
                    Samsara [2012] - PG-13 / 4 Stars - Nobody knows Sorrow like the Buddhists know Sorrow...
                    Footnote (orig. Hearat Shulayim) [2011] - PG - Israel (subtitled) - 4 Stars - Definitely not for everybody, but anyone who's ever seriously studied Scripture (in an academic environment) would appreciate this film.

               Winner -  
                     The Well Digger's Daughter (orig. La Fille du Puisatier) [2011] - UR (would be PG-13) - France (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars - Lovely story from France of the first half of the 20th-century about how an "unplanned/inconvenient pregrancy" can end up being a blessing / answer to the prayers of all.
               Honorable Mentions -
                     Lose to Win (orig. Nad Życie) - (UR would be R) - Poland (subtitled) - 4 Stars - A biopic about Polish volleyball star Agata Mróz-Olszewska who found herself diagnosed of having cancer and pregnant at almost the same time.  Against the advice of most of her doctors she brought her child to term and only afterwards began cancer treatment.  She died.  But she died of an infection that she could have gotten (and died of) anyway even if she had aborted her child.  Instead, she left a healthy child to her husband (their only child) and family... A remarkable story that leaves one with much to think about.
                     October Baby [2011] - PG-13 / A-II - Drama - 3 1/2 Stars - American and perhaps more edgy than the above two films.  However it's about an (adopted) teenager who finds-out that she was born while actually being aborted.  Yes, it's necessarily going to be an "edgier" / "angrier" story than the others.

               Winner -  
                     Celeste and Jesse Forever [2012] - R - 4 Stars - A film about a young couple Celeste and Jesse that's divorcing and asks all concerned (including the viewers) the very pointed question: "Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?"
               Honorable Mentions
                      Ruby Sparks [2012] - R - 3 1/2 Stars - A young writer previously facing "writer block" starts writing about a young woman who's appearing in his dreams.  Suddenly she appears in real life.  But even if he created her, if he loved her would he not let her go free? 
                      Valley of Saints [2102] - UR (would be PG-13/R) - India/USA (Subtitled) - 4 Stars - A lovely romance between a poor, 20-something and definitely Muslim Kashmiri water-taxi operator and a young, wealthier, better educated and possibly Hindu graduate student who's returned from the United States to study the water quality of the lake that's been his livelihood.  There are so many barriers and this appears to be a Muslim movie so they _don't_ hop into bed.  Instead, they smile, they talk.  And one gets the sense that they get to know each other quite well.  Is it enough?  But what difference would it have made if one or the other had 'tried for more'?
                       Jab Tak Hai Jaan [2012] - UR (would be PG-13) - Hindi (subtitled) - 4 Stars - Another movie from India, this time a true big-time Bollywood production directed by one of its masters.  The male protagonist is a legendary "sapper" in today's Indian army.  Stationed again in war-torn Kashmir, he diffuses the most complex of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in short order and he never ever wears any protective gear as he does so.  Why would someone so recklessly risk his life like that?  Well he must have a story... And what a story it is ;-)
                       Ted [2012] - R / O - 2 Stars - She's wants him to grow-up, but his best friend remains his childhood "teddy bear."  Often crude and very "basic" with its symbolism but may help young men realize that their girlfriends have friends and co-workers of their own to whom they have to justify why they are going-out with them.  And if one's boyfriend's "best friend" remains "his teddy bear" well, that's kinda embarrassing ... ;-)

              Winner - 
                         Samsara [2012] - PG-13 / 4 Stars - Third film of its kind by the film makers.  Each time it is just an awesome visual spectacle to behold.
              Honorable Mentions -
                          Anna Karenina [2012] - R / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars - again a visual feast to behold.
                          Day of Black (orig. Dia de Preto) [2011] - UR - Brazilian (subtitled) - 4 Stars - Set almost entirely in an upscale Brazilian shopping at night, this parable about "becoming free" is once more visually stunning.
                          The Well Digger's Daughter (orig. La Fille du Puisatier) [2011] - UR (would be PG-13) - France (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars - Fundamentally optimistic and EVERY SINGLE SHOT could be a painting by one of France's late-19th century Impressionist painters.
                          Cosmopolis [2012] - R - 4 Stars - If the above films were all visually driven, this is a great dialogue driven film set almost entirely in a young "corporate vampire's" coffin-like limo as he takes a ride from his work to his childhood neighborhood to "get a haircut."
                          A Late Quartet [2012] - R - 4 Stars - just a lovely, perfectly cast, again largely dialogue driven film about the tensions that can exist even in the smallest, tightest knit communities ;-).
                          Meeting Leila (orig. Ashnaee ba Leila) [2011] - UR (would be PG-13) - Iranian (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars - I am free to say that Iran's regime is oppressive bordering on totalitarian.  But life for its people does go on, and this is a lovely human story about two lonely 40-somethings preparing to get married and trying to set things straight prior to taking the big plunge.
                          Avé [2011] - UR (would be R) - Bulgaria (subtitled) - 4 Stars - A simple film about two Bulgarian teenagers/young adults that asks sincere and pointed questions about the meaning of life under a dreary and rainy autumn Bulgarian sky. (I honestly loved this film ;-)
                          End of Watch [2012] - R / O - 4 Stars - Risky, but IMHO probably the best "shaky cam" film ever made.  The use of the hand-held and even clip-on cameras in this police drama made one honestly feel that one was _there_ in the squad car, in the room making the arrest, even being punched during an arrest ;-).  Not for everybody, but IMHO a great use of this technology.   
                          Safety Not Guaranteed [2012] - R - 3 1/2 Stars - A low-budget "science-fiction-y" film that tells a great story AND IT WORKS.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FILM - (Note this category may still change)
              Winner -
                      The Central Park Five [2012] - UR - 4 Stars - In a very strong year for documentaries I pick this one because it's probably the most challenging to our society now.  In the summer of 1989 a horrific crime was committed in New York's Central Park.  A 28-year old white woman jogger was raped and left for dead in the Park.  But in the frenzy for justice, five young teenagers (all Black or Hispanic) were rounded-up and accused of the crime.  And despite having no other evidence other than their own confessions (extracted without the presence of either their parents or a lawyer) they were convicted of the crime.  Some years later someone else, a serial rapist, arrested subsequently for other crimes freely confessed to it.  What a nightmare...
              Honorable Mentions -
                       Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry [2012] - R - 4 Stars - about the avant guard Chinese artist, who helped design Beijing's Olympic stadium only to become later one of China's most prominent dissidents.
                       Searching for Sugar Man [2012] - UR - 4 Stars- the story of a 60s era Hispanic blues singer from Detroit who went by the name of Rodriguez.  So shy that he would sing and play the guitar facing the the opposite direction from the audience, his career quickly fizzled.  HOWEVER, one of his albums made it to South Africa, where it became an enormous hit among the 60s era (white) Afrikaner folk/rock community.  But no one knew what happened to him... After the Apartheid regime fell, and the internet came to South Africa, someone created a website dedicated to finding out what happened to him.  The rest of the story follows ;-)  
                       Band of Sisters [2012] - (UR would be PG-13) - Documentary - 4 Stars - mentioned already several times above, a great documentary giving the American Catholic nuns "side" of what they've been doing since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.  Always among the most educated women in this country, they've been both spiritual guides and at the edge of defending the most marginalized of society.
                       The Other Dream Team [2012] - USA/Lithuania (at times subtitled) - UR - 4 Stars - about little Lithuania's 1992 Men's Olympic Basketball team and what it was like previously to be forced to represent another country (the former Soviet Union) prior to regaining independence (four out of five of the starters on former Soviet Union's 1988 gold medal men's Olympic team were actually Lithuanian)
              Not yet reviewed in this category (so these may still be included somewhere in the documentaries list)
                       Invisible War [2012] - about the under-reported epidemic of rape existing today within the U.S. military.
                       The Gatekeepers [2012] - interviews with the last 5-6 directors of Israel's "Shin Bet" domestic intelligence agency.        
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