Critical review

A look at the good, the bad and the complicated from our film writers

Jan 2, 2013 at 12:00 am

Promised Land | B

The Best


1) Silver Linings Playbook

A perfect romantic comedy cleverly embedded in a dysfunctional family drama, somehow managing to subvert both genres while delivering sheer moviegoing bliss. 

2) The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson's incredibly vivid exploration of the hidden desires, depravity, faith, trauma and ambition of the "Greatest Generation," manifested in the twisted grimace of Joaquin Phoenix's shell-shocked, self-medicating survivor. 

3) Turn Me On, Dammit!

A hilarious, squirmy, moving and bluntly honest comedy about teen female sexual awakening that comes from Norway, of all places, yet manages to be more immediately relatable than just about any domestic product.

4) Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow's morally dubious, shrewdly calculated procedural about the long hunt for Osama bin Laden pulls off the magic trick of simultaneously engaging and indicting the viewers for rooting on the devious tactics of their CIA anti-heroes. The eventual Seal Team Six raid on the terrorist's compound is no less mesmerizing for being ripped from recent headlines.

5) Argo

Ben Affleck's express pass to the directing A-list is a deftly crafted espionage thriller cannily spot-welded to a savvy showbiz satire that never relents or winks, and miraculously maintains nail-biting tension with real world events that happened three decades ago. Most amazingly, it makes polyester Jimmy Carter, me-generation malaise and inside-the-beltway cynicism seem somehow appealing.

6) Django Unchained

Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz exterminate vicious slave traders with extreme prejudice in Tarantino's giddily offensive, obscenely excessive "spaghetti Southern" — part action homage, part pointed civics lesson, it drops more N-bombs than Katt Williams in a full-on meltdown.

7) The Avengers

It only took 49 years and a half-dozen "prequel" movies to assemble a team of Marvel Comics' super-duper heavyweights into one flick, but the wait was nearly worth it, as fanboy savior Joss Whedon delivered the year's most purely enjoyable popcorn picture, one that was actually worthy of the hype, the budget and the extra bucks for a 3-D ticket. Hulk, smash!

8) Looper

A trippy time-travel caper that turns its own pretzel loop structure into a snarky commentary on genre tropes, all while providing edgy thrills, humor and a genuine emotional wallop. 

9) Starlet 

Out of the dingy, smut-soaked soil of the San Fernando Valley emerges a beautifully sweet inter-generational friendship between a budding porn actress (Dree Hemingway) and lonely, yet feisty widow (Besedka Johnson ). A startlingly fresh and achingly real indie from under-the-radar but quickly rising director Sean Baker. 

10) The Queen of Versailles

An utterly captivating and oddly sad documentary about a repellent train wreck of a family of real estate hucksters caught up in their own avarice and the collapsing paper castle of a fragile economy as they attempt to build the nation's most extravagant private home, all while their professional and personal worlds crumble into the Florida sand. 


The Worst

1) Rock of Ages 

Watching Tom Cruise parade around in a fur coat and leather cowboy hat is an embarrassment to hair metal, which was already the most shameful cultural chapter of the last half of the 20th century.

2) John Carter 

A nearly forgotten pulp novel icon is made even less relevant by sheer Hollywood incompetence, as shirtless himbo Taylor Kitsch bounces around the surface of Mars like a Super Ball, and gives an even more lifeless performance than the wonky CGI critters he grapples with. 

3) Alex Cross

Tyler Perry tries really, really hard to look macho as the ass-kicking criminologist formerly played by Morgan Freeman, but the schlock mogul was more threatening in a muumuu.

4) The Dark Knight Rises 

After reinvigorating the Caped Crusader's franchise with two brilliant entries, director Christopher Nolan huffs his own exhaust and turns in a plodding, poorly motivated, inexplicably plotted, grandiose and faux deep rumination on modern living in superhero drag. With a mopey Bruce Wayne, a drippy supporting cast, excess gloom, plot holes you could drive a bat tank through, and a goofy villain that sounds like Sean Connery on a cough syrup bender. 

5) Hit and Run

Dax Shepard cast his real-life fiancee and yet displays no discernible chemistry.

6) A Thousand Words

A wasted ghoul faintly resembling Eddie Murphy shambled his way through this painfully unfunny comedy about a soulless yuppie forced to shut his flapping gums until he learns his lesson.

7) The Odd Life of Timothy Green

A bizarre yarn about a couple of whiny, childless factory town humps who are "blessed" by the appearance of a wise-beyond-his-years miracle child who helps everyone in town with their personal problems and teaches us all about laughter and love. This treacly magic realist debacle is overloaded with enough syrup to drown Paul Bunyan's breakfast table.

8) Trouble with the Curve

Clint Eastwood also has trouble making anyone give a toss about the troubles of his curmudgeonly, dried-up baseball scout and his high-strung yuppie daughter (Amy Adams). Old soldiers never die, they just keep on haunting the multiplex and occasionally babbling to the furniture. 

9) This Means War

This crap rom-com means it's over for Reese Witherspoon.

10) Darling Companion 

I didn't suffer through Lawrence Kasdan's turgid act of baby boomer navel-gazing for nothing; I must remind the world of its flaccid awfulness lest anyone else be lured by the many charms of veteran leads Kevin Kline and Diane Keaton.
– Corey Hall



Who needs to read another Top 10 list? Every critic, reviewer, blogger fanboy, nightly news affiliate, and Roger Ebert wannabe Facebook friend has one, and three-quarters of the choices are the same. Zero Dark Thirty is important. Lincoln is literate and handsomely mounted. Beasts of the Southern Wild is wildly inventive. Blah-blah-blah. Instead, here's a rundown of stuff that happened in the movies this year. Some of it was interesting. Some of it was terrible. Some of it had me scratching my head. And some of it just pissed me off.


Where the hell were you?

Every year, it's the same old story: Great movie comes to town, 17 people show up for opening night, attendance dwindles over the next few days, great movie leaves before start of the following weekend. Look, not every film can star Kristen Stewart's furrowed brow or Channing Tatum's oiled pecs, but you've missed out on some seriously good movies this year. Thank goodness there's On Demand and Netflix. Many can be found there. Go, seek them out.


Take This Waltz — Sarah Polley's brilliant deconstruction of rom-com tropes boasts Michelle Williams in another amazing performance and a script that, despite a flirtation with too much quirk, actually has conversation-worthy observations to make about love and romance.


Headhunters — If the Coen brothers grew up in Norway, they probably would have come up with something like this tortuous, so-wrong-it's-right violent black comedy. I guarantee, this one will keep you guessing about where it's headed next. Extra points for writer Jo Nesbo's idea of airbags.


Killer Joe — You'll never look at a Kentucky Fried drumstick the same. Matthew McConaughey delivers an Oscar-caliber performance in a trailer park noir that's blacker than Wayne LaPierre's soul.


Premium Rush — Yeah, the movie posters sucked. And bike messenger movies took a hit they never recovered from with Kevin Bacon's 1986 Quicksilver. But, seriously, this is 90 minutes of lean, mean popcorn filmmaking.


Safety Not Guaranteed — Every under-the-radar list has got to include an oddball, earnestly droll indie flick, and while several releases (Ruby Sparks, Robot and Frank, etc.) this year could qualify, this is my choice. Supermarket clerk Mark Duplass takes out an ad for a companion to join him for time travel adventures. Reporter for the richest newsweekly ever goes on assignment to meet him. When the Hall of Fame for quirky flicks is finally established, Duplass will be on the short list.

Tim Riggins just can't cut a break

If you were a fan of NBC's Friday Night Lights then you know how engaging and charismatic Taylor Kitsch can be. None of those attributes were evident in his leap this year to the big screen. In the unfairly derided but still mediocre John Carter, Kitsch was hopelessly miscast. In Oliver Stone's here-then-gone Savages, he dared to achieve true mediocrity. But in the so-stupid-I-can't-believe-it-was-made-into-a-film Battleship, Kitsch irredeemably whored out both his talent and his soul. 2013 will most likely determine whether this promising young actor will join the ranks of such TV-movie flameouts as James Van Der Beek, Matthew Fox and Tom Selleck. Ashton Kutcher may finally leave this infamous list with his upcoming turn in the Steve Jobs biopic ... or not. Check back after opening.

The other, better Liam Neeson flick

Look, when a killer CIA agent loses a family member the first time, you can chalk up it up to bad luck. But when he loses a second four years later, it's time to revoke his license to kill. Taken 2 was a textbook example of a crappy sequel to an overpraised action flick. Sure, Neeson's aging operative took out a culturally offensive cliché with a rocket launcher, but his Bryan Mills just can't compare with his suicidal hunter John Ottway in The Grey. I mean, the dude tapes broken airline liquor bottles to his fists and mixes it up with a timber wolf. Joe Cranahan's ode to Darwinian fatalism and brooding badassery is ridiculously macho but undeniably exciting.

Let's talk about sex

Sure, the penis pump and male G-strings in Steven Soderbergh's better-than-it-seemed Magic Mike raised a few eyebrows, but movies like The Sessions and Hope Springs (which I didn't really like) had the balls to remind us that getting laid is more than just fluttery romantic yearnings or giggle-inducing naughtiness. Unlike the perverse anti-sex messaging of the Twilight films, these two movies acknowledged that sex is basic human need, one that brings with it complicated emotional issues and physical challenges.

Most disturbing prostate exam

David Cronenberg's intellectually challenging and oh-so tedious Cosmopolis owns this category for all eternity. Or so I hope.

Best animated film

I kind of loved ParaNorman and The Secret World of Arrietty, but I have to give it to Marvel's The Avengers. Robert Downey Jr. was so lifelike.

The more I think about it, the madder I get

Certainly the Twilight films fall into this category. And Prometheus, which astounded with its visuals and insulted with its plotting deserves a special mention. But the documentary Detropia gets the gold here. Not only does this intellectually empty documentary revel in Detroit's ruins (a banal approach if ever there were one) and indulge in monochromatic condescension, but its title is thematically meaningless. The filmmakers claim that their made-up word suggests two possible futures for the Motor City: utopia or dystopia. Please, Ms. Ewing and Ms. Grady, explain to me how anything in your despairingly vapid yet well-shot movie could be construed as utopian? Want a more thoughtful look at Detroit's woes? Check out BURN: One Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit.

They sound great but didn't play here

Foreign imports Holy Motors and Amour have made many a critic's year-end list. Alas, I cannot include them because, well, you read the title above right?

Movies I didn't have room to praise

The Cabin in the Woods, Looper, Skyfall, Argo, The House I Live In, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, The Imposter, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Silver Linings Playbook, Your Sister's Sister, Haywire, Robot and Frank, Django Unchained, Dark Horse, The Impossible, Compliance, This Is Not a Movie, The Kid With a Bike

Movies I had to scrape off
the bottom of my shoe:

Twilight: Breaking Dawn Pt. 2, That's My Boy, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, The Odd Life Of Timothy Green, Red Dawn, Alex Cross, Dark Shadows, Hit And Run, A Thousand Words, This Means War, Won't Back Down, ... Anything with Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler, Sam Worthington, Bette Midler or Queen Latifah.


Corey Hall and Jeff Meyers review films for MT. Send comments to [email protected].