[21 January 2013]
As much as we hate to admit it, these addictive missteps captured our attention in ways cinema shouldn’t. Others will condemn them. We can’t complain…not at all.
In his new film, Lee Daniels makes his own world out of Peter Dexter’s novel, The Paperboy. That world comes into a first focus when Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey), a well-known Miami journalist, comes to a small Florida town with his writing partner, a supercilious Brit named Yardley Achemanto (David Oyelowo). They mean to investigate the case of Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), a swamp-dwelling hick who is on death row for killing a local sheriff. Ward’s younger brother Jack (Zac Efron), just kicked out of college, takes a job as their driver.
The film remakes the book in its casting of black actors (including Oyelowo) as characters who were written as white. When we first see the movie’s narrator, Anita (Macy Gray), she seems a stereotype, slow-talking, entirely focused on getting paid, in this case by her interviewer. But as she tells the story of two brothers she raised as a servant for a white family, Anita becomes a deadpan, perceptive commentator on the action. She notes that Jack, whose mother left when he was little, fell in love with Charlotte because she was “his mom, high school sweetheart, and oversexed Barbie doll all rolled into one”. Much like Daniels’ Precious, The Paperboy urges viewers to sympathize with characters beyond the clichés they might seem to embody. Elena Razlogova
14Get the Gringo
Really the only guilt involved here is liking an angry, violent Mel Gibson. After all, real-life angry Mel has been well documented and clearly isn’t good for anyone, including Mel. Movie Mel, though, is still indisputably entertaining. Here he plays a thief trapped in a Mexican prison who befriends a young boy and then kills a whole bunch of people. Obviously, there’s more to it than that, but really it’s all about the body count in this darkly comedic old-timey action flick. Ben Travers
Even before you get to the movie, the DVD for writer/director/editor Ti West’s The Innkeepers already sets itself apart in an entertaining way. The screen just before the main menu features a message from producers of the disc, urging you to play it loud. This throwback to ‘80s metal albums, prodding listeners to pump up the volume, does a few things right out of the gate. It makes you smile, immediately drawing you into what is a fun, well put together package, and it readies you for the nostalgic nature of the film you are about to see.
West’s previous film, House of the Devil, was a homage to babysitter-in-trouble subgenre of horror that was popular in bygone decades. The Innkeepers operates in a similar manner, only this time West takes on the ghost story as his model. The Innkeepers is not a self-aware genre tribute, like a Scream or, more recently, Cabin in the Woods. Instead of wallowing in nerdiness and obscure minutiae, West crafts a simple, spooky, no-frills tale that both stands alone as an individual work, and plays into the overall tradition. Brent McKnight
OK, stay with me people. I listed The Vow as a guilty pleasure not because I felt at fault for liking it, but because I felt guilty about needing to feel guilty for loving the hell out of the Channing Tatum mega romance. In short, The Vow deserves respect.
1) It’s a true story, so some melodrama is acceptable.
2) It’s got Channing Tatum as a hipster. Yes, the 200-pound “Sexiest Man Alive” is doing his best impersonation of a plaid-wearing, cat-loving, Logan Square-living punk. And he pulls it off.
3) The film’s heart is in the right place.
It’s a stark reminder of what matters in life and how fragile so many of us hold it. Its resonance is as shocking as its quality. Ben Travers
Sometimes, a movie is so baffling in its agenda, so outrageously out of step with the reality of the cultural world around them, that you just have to sit back and wonder: WHO MADE THIS? Sadly, the answer to that question only continues the confused head scratching. A Russian-American mash-up purporting to be sci-fi, this dopey diatribe is so surreal, so resplendently ridiculous in its “capitalism is crap” core that you just have to laugh… and laugh… and laugh. Like the love affair over Ayn Rand and her ambling Atlas Shrugged, we’re sure that some political party will embrace this nonsense as something serious and profound. For us, it’s like They Live without the epic WWF smackdown subtext. Bill Gibron
As madly inventive as anything from Pixar yet geared toward the aging fright fan in all of us, ParaNorman is a godsend. It should be greeted with choirs and carnivals, not the cynical snubs of an Ice Age/Shrek/Madagascar brainwashed brood. This is smart, sophisticated storytelling, each little detail adding another layer of lovability to what is, already, a dread geek’s dream. The notion of boy vs. the undead drags up images both happy and horrifying and ParaNorman doesn’t shy away from either. This is not scary so much as unsettling, and the humor is gentle, not driven by already antiquated pop culture references and crude cracks at bodily functions. Everything centers around our undersized hero, his small circle of associations, and the immense burden placed on his delicate, dorky shoulders. Bill Gibron
Once upon a time, fairy tales were used to transport children of all ages to kingdoms filled with beautiful princesses, mischievous children in need of lessons, valiant princes, scary witches and an assortment of colorful characters that they only could visualize in the confines of their imaginations. With the arrival of mass media (especially television and movies) our ideas of how fairy tale characters looked and acted became standardized. Children born during the last two decades probably think that most of their beloved characters weren’t created by the Grimm brothers or Charles Perrault, but that they in fact came from the minds and computers of the artists working for Disney or some other media conglomerate.
This commercialization of magic, led to an outburst of cynicism as seen in movies like the Shrek series, which makes a mission out of destroying the essence of fairy tales and imposing a system through which childhood becomes synonymous with flatulence jokes and intolerance. No wonder these kids turn into teenagers obsessed with celibate vampires on the verge of constant suicide, or become enthralled by mindless adventures in which destruction equals joy.
Upon first approaching Tarsem Singh’s Mirror Mirror, it’s almost impossible not to believe it’ll be a rehash of the joyless spirit that’s plagued fairy tales recently, but after watching it, it’s absolutely refreshing to see that fairy tales can still be told without recurring to Tim Burton’s necrophiliac aesthetics, Dreamworks’ pop culture references, and more so, that they can still feel magical. Jose Solís Mayén
Crude and laugh out loud funny, Seth MacFarlane’s big screen directorial debut takes a completely lewd and ludicrous concept and endows it with a surprisingly sweet heart… and drugs. Mark Wahlberg plays John Bennett, a Bostonian ne’er do well who, as a child, wished his teddy bear would come to life. Suffice to say, the bear (voiced by MacFarlane), did. What ensues is a fun buddy picture in which one of the buddies just happens to be stuffed. Thanks to snappy dialogue and believable performances all around,Ted makes it easy to forget that the film’s namesake isn’t real, merely the product of CG and a motion capture suit. Audiences willing to suspend disbelief and uptight notions of safe, inoffensive humor will find themselves rewarded with authentic belly laughs and a good-natured treatise on true love and friendship. Lana Cooper
721 Jump Street
Ridiculous and enjoyable in a way that lets you revel in the movie’s basic silliness. The threadbare plot—two mismatched cops going undercover as high school students to smoke out a drug ring—is secondary to the chemistry between Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, who are both self-effacing and brazen enough to be funny in all the right places. The success of the film relies on its underlying premise—our fundamental desire to recapture our lost youth. That premise is powerful enough in spite of all the movie’s cheery, crass comedy to make us root for these two inane characters. In some ways, comedies like 21 Jump Street help us make that awkward transition into our 30s. Tatum and Hill are tossed among the nubile and naive teenagers to realize just how callow and stupid they were in their teens and twenties. This 21 Jump Street lets you embrace your raucous inner teenager with abandon—your own inner Jeff Spicoli—which we all want to do at some point whether we care to admit it or not. Farisa Khalid
Look, the only reason anyone should feel guilty about liking John Carter is because they bought into the media-fueled idea that it was a flop at the box office because it was a terrible movie. John Carter‘s failure was more due to a series of marketing fiascoes and Disney’s ill-advised decision to give first-time live action director Andrew Stanton (he also did Finding Nemo and Wall-E) essentially unchecked power than anything to do with the film itself. The movie was a rip-roaring, swashbuckling adventure about a taciturn, badass Civil War veteran (Taylor Kitsch) who magically gets transported to Mars and essentially becomes a superhero. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original story set the action hero template for the rest of the 20th century, and Stanton brought it to life in an entertaining throwback sort of way. He used his experience at Pixar to make sure the CGI was top-notch, especially in the lifelike animation of the six-limbed, green Tharks. Yes, the plot itself was full of convoluted nonsense involving magical quests and the war between three different civilizations, not to mention the secret fourth civilization guiding things from the shadows. But that sort of thing is par for the course in space opera, and John Carter delivered where it really counted: it was full of great action, and it was a hell of a lot of fun. Chris Conaton
Dredd is exactly the movie it sets out to be. It’s a grimy, ultraviolent action flick set in the future dystopia of Mega City One. The only thing flashy about Dredd is its blatant 3D-specific conceit. The drug SLO-MO causes anyone who uses it to feel like time is passing at 1% of its normal speed, which allows for all sorts of crystalline 3D effects whenever someone is on it. Other than that, though, the movie gives both fans of the cult UK comic and action movie aficionados what they want. Karl Urban is intense and all-business as Dredd, and he never takes off his helmet. Olivia Thirlby hits the right blend of wide-eyed surprise and growing confidence as the rookie Judge Anderson. When the two of them get trapped in a 200-story slum tower, they fight their way to the top to stop the flow of SLO-MO and take down the drug lord (Lena Headey) who wants them dead. There’s no pretension here, just wall-to-wall action as the judges punch and shoot their way through one great action set piece after another. Chris Conaton
4Rock of Ages
Rock of Ages is undeniably terrible. I mean, it’s ungodly awful. Just a calamity on almost every level. Almost. The one level it exists and—dare I say thrives—is the one where Tom Cruise wanders around shirtless singing “Pour Some Sugar on Me” while he mock-masturbates in front of a packed house of classic rock fans. Yeah. That part I’m not ashamed of at all. Cruise is so committed to playing the drugged-out rock god he manages to make the part unforgettably magnetic despite everything and everyone surrounding it being absolute crap. It certainly helps he has the voice of 1,000 angels born from the deceased souls of Italian opera singers, too. Ben Travers
3Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Neveldine/Taylor are responsible for the gonzo Crank series, but trash movie aficionados should banish any thoughts of an electric-shock-powered Nicolas Cage. To be clear: this is still a PG-13 sequel with some presumed fidelity to the comics (David Goyer, who has worked on the Blade and Batman series, is a cowriter), and contains few to none of Crank‘s winking transgressions.
Instead, the film offers other pleasures. Just as Neveldine/Taylor is a sillier, more self-aware directing entity than Mark Steven Johnson, Spirit of Vengeance is a tighter, weirder, funnier enterprise than its predecessor. The story is supernatural-thriller boilerplate: there’s a child (Fergus Riordan) who could bring about the apocalypse (or something) if the devil, in human form called Roarke (Ciarán Hinds), gets ahold of him. The child and his protective mother Nadya (Violante Placido) go on the run from the devil’s minions, and the rogue priest Moreau (Idris Elba) seeks Blaze’s help, promising to rid him of the Ghost Rider curse. Vehicular chases and battles with various demonic superpowers ensue, all shot with scrappy energy. Jesse Hassenger
Aaron Cohen, the former IDF soldier who served as a technical advisor and weapons trainer on Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, has said of his work on the film, “You can’t sell a B-action movie to an A-action audience.” On the surface, the convoluted exposition, thin characterization, and modest production values of Haywire all contribute to the film’s B-movie patina. But the combat scenes featuring Gina Carano as heroine Mallory Kane are among the most genuinely thrilling set pieces of the year. Soderbergh built the movie around MMA star Carano, and she’s unforgettable in her debut starring role.
The second act of the film begins with Mallory stating that she doesn’t like loose ends, and the remaining plot strictly consists of her settling those loose ends and avenging double- (triple-?) crosses. Soderbergh’s reunion with screenwriter Lem Dobbs prompts a return to the zigzagging vengeance plot of The Limey, and the visual design owes much to the globetrotting aesthetic of his underrated Ocean’s Twelve. Shooting and editing the film himself but substituting his parents’ names as pseudonyms, Soderbergh is back in fighting form after nearly a decade of middling efforts. Each sitting-down-and-talking scene of Haywire is by design a prelude to another outburst of action. Each of Mallory’s combatants is played by an A-list leading man in a supporting role. From a commercial standpoint, nearly everything about the film is a risk, but the film succeeds as a test of Cohen’s maxim: In its committed and accomplished embrace of so-called B-movie pleasures, Haywire is a grade “A” Soderbergh effort. Thomas Britt
1Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter
The fantastically-titled Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is every bit the messy exercise that a film about an icon of American history dispatching undead bloodsuckers directed by a former Red Army artillery officer (Timur Bekmambetov) was likely to be. But this sincerely-mounted collage of genre influences, ludicrous quasi-history, and performances of unconvincing conviction does boast wildly creative action sequences and buckets of spurting, artful blood. It was both a pulpier alternative to Spielberg’s later prestige drama about the 16th President and a wholly inadvertent critique of the distortions perpetrated on historical fact by the popular mythmaking impulse of American culture. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter amused some of the people some of the time, and was totally ridiculous all of the time. Ross Langanger