Tag Archives: Movie Review

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

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Only recently has the bond between war and honor begun to fray. For millenia men have treated that most basic equation as gospel, but we’ve reached a point where the anti-war proselytizing, the media exposure, and the blurred lines between right and wrong have engineered a far more nuanced view. The realities of war have been planted deep into the fiber of our consciousness, allowing us to ponder the ways that it can adversely alter a man, even degrade him, without the interference of combat’s putative virtues. T.E. Lawrence is a man changed by war, and this volatile metamorphosis from intellectual dandy to merciless leader of desert warriors lies at the center of David Lean‘s arresting classic, Lawrence of Arabia.

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The 2012 Wertzies : Part One

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2012 was a year to remember.

An exceptional and exceptionally diverse collection of film makers put together an array of movies that were, more often than not, pretty damn good. It’s years like this that remind a guy why he fell in love with film in the first place.

And with another year comes another Wertzies.

For this, my 3rd annual collection of the year’s Best Movie Stuff, I’ve added a few categories: Part One will include my picks for Best Visual Effects, and Part Three will feature a list of the year’s 10 Best Moments. Otherwise you can expect to see my favorite Screenplays, Directors, Actors & Actresses, the Most Overrated, and of course, the Best Movies of the Year*.

Enjoy.

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Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

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We tell ourselves that we deserve to know everything. That we can manage the truth, however burdensome it may be. The reality is that we want to hear a great story, and if the truth is part of it than all the better. Zero Dark Thirty is eager to give us both, revealing the epic tale behind the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden, and uncovering just enough gory detail to establish the film’s verisimilitude without melodramatics. Director Kathryn Bigelow and Writer Mark Boal aren’t interested in the mythology of this already mythologized tale, and their composure results in a deeply enthralling story. A story about a woman who spent the better part of her life hunting a man, and the considerable toll that process took.

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Bernie (2012)

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While a majority of “Based on a True Story” projects tend to overindulge their artistic license, occasionally something happens in real life that requires little to no alteration on its way to the big screen. Bernie–the tale of a 39-year-old funeral director named Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) who murders his 81-year-old, millionaire companion, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine)–is such a story, Tiede a perpetually winning idealist pushed to his limit by a tyrannical misanthropist. The relationship between these two opposites provides ample fodder for the town’s yakity-yaks, but it’s the murder that sets the community to a boil, pitting the pro-Bernie public against their puffed-up DA, Danny Buck (Matthew McConaughey). Director Richard Linklater keys in on the communal aspect of this story, bringing in a mix of actors and real people to serve as the townspeople in a collection of interviews that form the bulk of the film. While the expository nature of the interviews may feel like a shortcut, it’s crucial to conveying the role of the story’s small-town denizens, along with articulating the kind of person Bernie Tiede truly was. (A pretty damned good one, by all accounts.)

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In addition to selling its audience on the kindness and virtue of a convicted murderer, Bernie features a seminal performance from Jack Black, and a fascinating glimpse into the politics of a small town.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

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Drawing comparisons between a David O. Russell film and the film of another, more boilerplate Oscar-season director is kind of like comparing the X Games to the Olympics, the latter more prepared to sweep us up in its comforting and controlled familiarity, the former astonishing with its mercurial brilliance. This is not a compliment or critique, but a comment on the thrilling messiness David O. Russell brings as a storyteller. Silver Linings Playbook–Russell’s follow up to the Academy-nominated The Fighter–thrives in this mess, bringing its sundry characters together in a collection of manic fits and starts–appropriate for a film so preoccupied with mental health issues. Playbook is a film with the heart of a romantic comedy and the head of a black comedy, and of this collision is born a visceral, cerebral story about a family with a lot to fix.

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Killing Them Softly (2012)

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We like to imagine that we’ve cleared the orbit of the circle of life. That we’ve achieved a degree of self-awareness far greater than that of our savage forbears, and a good distance from the antiquated notion of hunters and prey. The reality is that we’ve created a new circle of life, one in which we are the sole patrons, and the money is the mission. This is the world according to Writer/Director Andrew Dominik‘s latest, Killing Them Softly, a film as well-made and intriguing as it is heavy-handed and bleak. Softly is a gritty crime allegory, allowing a hierarchy of gangsters to stand in for our nation’s government and its people, and as the film unfolds it expends loads of energy conveying this connection, asking blood and gore to serve as a proxy for dollars and cents.

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Speed Racer (2008)

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To make a kid’s movie that isn’t just a kid’s movie, you have to establish a balance between the simple stuff that appeals to kids on an instinctual level, and the more complex, allegorical stuff that parents want their kids to see. Speed Racer is a boisterous example of this, coupling a potent visual experience with themes of family and honor. At the film’s heart is Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch), a once-in-a-generation driver whose love of the sport is matched only by a steadfast devotion to family. When his roots put him at odds with a corrupt sponsor (Roger Allam), Speed is forced to defy his father (John Goodman) and follow in the footsteps of his disreputable older brother (Scott Porter), threatening his own standing in a series of dangerous, underground races. Along with most of the film’s race sequences, these less-than scrupulous events provide the film’s most exciting moments, and reveal the Wachowskis as not just dynamic, but remarkably efficient filmmakers.

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Watch it with kids or don’t, but understand that Speed Racer was created with them in mind. It’s a film with a heart, and a lesson: through anything and everything, your family will be there for you, and you must be there for them.

Life of Pi (2012)

There’s something terribly thrilling about a character stranded in a lifeboat, adrift on the perpetual sea. It’s a simple device, yet it contains the potential for all manner of tragedies and comedies, and so often with a necessarily limited number of characters to play out the action. Inside of these stories, the paltry refuge of a lifeboat becomes a metaphor for the world at large, and the characters within tend to serve as archetypes of our basest motives. The idea present in nearly all of these stories is simple: only when we are faced with our own mortality can we come to truly know ourselves. While this notion isn’t unique to the “lifeboat” story, it is rarely depicted with such purity. In Life of Pi, this conceit bears up most of the film, pitting the titular Pi against a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, as they cling to life and hope, and to each other.

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