R.I.P. James Gandolfini (1961-2013)

james

The last time I wrote anything on this little blog was when I felt compelled to post a brief compilation of quotes in honor of Roger Ebert. And now another hard-hitting death compels me to dust off the cobwebs of this long-dormant digital journal. The movie industry lost so much this year. Both of these losses alone will be deeply felt for years to come. Like so many of his other fans, James Gandolfini’s sudden death of a heart attack at age 51 has rattled me to my core.

So many thoughts swirled my head.

He died too young.

He left us a legacy of amazing performances.

I can’t imagine what his teenage son, who vacationing with him at the time, must be going through right now.

He was only 37 when he debuted as Tony Soprano. For some reason, that blows my mind. Maybe I always blindly assumed Tony Soprano was in his later 40s.

The common thought among mourners of those who die young is: what if he hadn’t peaked yet? What if, had he lived on, Tony Soprano was not his most iconic role? What if Gandolfini lived to be 81 and gave us 30 more years of indelible performances and memorable characters? What if?

All of the tributes I’ve read in the last few days say one thing: he was a big-hearted, kind man who touched so many lives. As an actor, as a family man, as a colleague. I really wish I had known him.

I also wish I had the chance to see him in theatre. I’m sure his magnetism was palpable on stage. Perusing through his filmography does offer comfort. I had seen and admired most of his work and I get a sense of fullness over his remarkable career in acting. He may always be remembered as Tony Soprano — which isn’t a knock; that role was a stunning achievement — but he left us with a treasure trove of smaller, indelible performances.

Two of my favorites roles in his pre-Sopranos era:

As Eddie in the hypnotic, trashy thriller The Juror, Gandolfini gave us a henchman we really empathized. In his little bit of screen time, we got the sense that Eddie did not enjoy working with such evil men (notably Alec Baldwin). When he lent a helping hand to our heroine (Demi Moore), I was moved. He wasn’t suddenly a “good guy” but you know he wanted to do the right thing. I got a jolt when his grim fate was revealed. Gandolfini managed to get this small, throwaway character under my skin.

In True Romance, a classic on so many levels, he played Virgil, a different kind of henchman, one with the blackest of hearts. Virgil was a frightening man and in his electrifying motel room showdown with Alabama (Patricia Arquette), I was floored by the amount of anger and hatred you can see in Virgil. There was no empathizing with this guy. You loved it when he got his due.

Nothing beats his work as Tony Soprano. In 86 episodes, Gandolfini has created a character so very few people in this world can do. I was a fan of the show and watched it every week without missing a beat, but I never truly loved The Sopranos. I had problems with it but Gandolfini was the one who kept me glued. I came back for him. I was in awe of what he was able to give us week after week. Only Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad has ever matched that level of quality acting on TV. No one else even comes close. And Cranston pointed out after he learned of Gandolfini’s death: “I owe him. If not for Tony Soprano, there would be no Walter White.”

We all owe him, quite frankly, a debt of gratitude. He may have left us too soon, but he leaves us with hours and hours of high-class acting. After you pore through his best work in that iconic HBO series, you’ll find gems in his movie work. Welcome to the Riley’s. The Taking of Pelham 123. Crimson Tide. Get Shorty. In the Loop. A Civil Action. The Last Castle. The Man Who Wasn’t There. Zero Dark Thirty. Where The Wild Things Are. All of these may not be great, but they are each very special. They offer us glimpses of a master at work. A master whose performances will forever live on.

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R.I.P. Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

“I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try.”

“What I believe is that all clear-minded people should remain two things throughout their lifetimes: Curious and teachable.”

“Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you.”

“I believe empathy is the most essential quality of civilization.”

― Roger Ebert

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Tube Talk: Parenthood, Season 4

Parenthood, Season 4
Showrunner: Jason Katims

It deeply saddens me to say that the fourth season of this beautiful show is the weakest one we have seen so far. I’m unsure if it was due to the shortened season order or if showrunner Jason Katims is pressured by NBC to simply not take risks. Why must every Braverman have happy endings? It seems that everything always turns out ok for this family, despite being hit hard by troubling real-life issues like cancer, PTSD, abortion, job insecurity and autism. Whenever the show introduces a new arc for our characters, it’s easy to predict that everything will turn out just fine. “It’s just a two-episode shake up but all will be back to normal soon!” This hurts the show more than anything else. There are no real stakes here.

Despite that major misgiving, season 4 of Parenthood actually had some of the best moments I’ve seen on TV all year. Adam and Kristina juggled the show’s most wrenching plot: Kristina’s cancer. We can always count on Katims’ writing team to deliver such profound and achingly real moments, like when Kristina wanted to send off her son to prom, despite Max’s resistance. When the two danced in the living room while Adam looked on, my heart broke into a million pieces. Or when Adam and Kristina decided to go away, just the two of them, we were witnessing a couple with real hardships and genuine affection for one another. Even when I had so many issues with the show’s other story lines, I knew I could always count on Monica Potter and Peter Krause every week. They really deserve Emmys for their work this season. Hundreds of them!

Other things I loved about season 4:

Mae Whitman. In every scene she was in! Amber is one of the greatest pleasures of Parenthood. She is heartbreaking in her moments with new beau, Ryan (wonderfully played by Friday Night Lights vet Matt Lauria). Ryan is a fragile individual and watching the two perform an emotional, delicate dance every week was a treasure.

Crosby is growing up and that is always fun to watch. With Adam on the sidelines and focused on Kristina, he juggled overseeing The Luncheonette and being a husband and father to Jasmine and Jabbar. Their sincere moments discussing race and religion were quietly powerful. As the character of Crosby grows to become a substantial human being, Dax Shepard has grown to become an engaging performer.

While the outcome was rushed beyond believability, most of the stories involving Joel and Julia’s adoption of Victor were effectively done. You got a real sense of frustration within the Graham household and these arcs provided Erika Christensen and Sam Jaeger some of their best work yet. If he had more episodes to work with, Katims would have fleshed out Victor’s assimilation to the family far more believably than executed here.

Also getting the short shrift? Zeek and Camille, who barely had any screen time. You can never have too much Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia in your show, Mr. Katims. Ditto for Miles Heizer, whose abortion storyline barely made a blip in the series. A life event of this magnitude would never have gone away so quickly. Such a waste of great material here. And while I get that Sarah Ramos’s demotion from regular to recurring meant we’d be seeing less Haddie, it doesn’t make sense that Adam and Kristina would lie to her about Kristina’s cancer only to never be brought up again. It’s these inconsistencies that makes me wonder how much tighter this show would be if it had been on Showtime or FX instead of NBC. Makes me wonder, indeed.

The biggest problem with season 4 was the inability to give Sarah (the incomparable Lauren Graham) a backbone. Why does she need a man in her life? All season long, Sarah went back and forth with Hank (Ray Romano) and Mark (Jason Ritter). At the start of the season, I really enjoyed seeing both men in Sarah’s lives until it became inevitable that she would have to “choose” one. Why is this a competition? Why can’t Sarah just be happy with Mark? All of their scenes almost became unwatchable towards the last stretch. I didn’t want to see either of these guys again, which is a shame because Ritter and Romano are such pleasant actors to watch. Graham is usually perfect but she got unlucky with this terrible over-long arc that shouldn’t have lasted as long as it did. Wouldn’t it have been nice to see her deal with the fallout of Drew’s life-changing events, instead of being saddled with that non-story?

All said, Parenthood is still better than most dreck out there and it’s still one of my favorite shows on television. Hey, even Friday Night Lights stumbled a bit before regaining their footing and concluding the series on a high note. Should the show be renewed (and it damned well better!), I have faith in Katims to focus on the show’s strengths. If it means cutting out characters altogether (kill Kristina! Ship Drew off to school! Separate Zeek and Camille!), then perhaps that will allow Katims to step up and push through the longer arcs and play them out properly.

Season 4: B
Series to date: A-

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Quick Take Five: Argo, Killer Joe, Prosecuting Casey Anthony, Trouble with the Curve, Liberal Arts

argo-poster1. Argo (2012)
Written by Chris Terrio | Directed by Ben Affleck

My most anticipated film of 2012 and — for the most part — it didn’t disappoint. The great buzz, the high accolades and bushels of awards are all well-deserved. Argo is an extraordinarily well-made thriller from an actor I’ve always enjoyed watching and a director whose career I’m very excited about. Ben Affleck stars as a CIA agent who formulates a risky, convoluted plan to rescue six American hostages from Iran in the late 70’s. It’s one of Affleck’s best performances and I’m surprised we’re not seeing much acclaim on that front. Of course, he may be a better director than he is an actor, but that shouldn’t take away any appreciation for his sensitive portrayal of a man who puts his life on the line for his country.

There’s a lot to love about Argo. The cast of greats is a major highlight (I’m a sucker for massive ensembles of Hollywood’s best character actors, and Argo features one of the best casts I’ve seen in a long time). Affleck takes this subject very seriously and you get the sense that he and his team did their homework. The details are remarkable and the final credits sequence drives that home when we are shown comparisons of locations and persons and their on-screen counterparts.

If I’m going to nitpick about one thing in Argo, it is Affleck’s decision in the third act to rely on too many “saved at the very last minute!” plot devices in which our heroes escape from certain death by use of miraculous timing on more than one occasion. Argo then started to look more like a slick Hollywood thriller and less like a serious docudrama. It’s not a fatal flaw by any means but it did take me out of the experience for a little bit.

Otherwise, for a well-oiled high quality piece of entertainment, one cannot go wrong with Argo. It’s the kind of film I can recommend to just about everyone I know. A-

Killer-Joe-Poster22. Killer Joe (2012)
Written by Tracy Letts | Directed by William Friedkin

What a delightfully fucked up movie. Of course, the scene that generates the most dialogue on Killer Joe is its infamous “fried chicken” scene (no spoilers here), but the film is so much more than that. It’s a twisted, intense white trash thriller about murder, insurance money and trying to not get in the way of individuals who have immense power over you. Emile Hirsch is a sad sack who hatches up a brilliant plan to have his mother murdered so that his sister (Juno Temple, a terrific discovery) can claim the insurance money. Thomas Haden Church (in arguably his best performance) is Hirsch’s father and gets reluctantly involved, who then eventually drags his new wife (Gina Gershon, ditto) in on the scheme. They hire a cop who is a killer on the side to do the job. Matthew McConaughey plays Joe, a sleazy, manipulative contract killer who never performs a job he isn’t comfortable doing. He’s careful, he’s methodical, and he has no boundaries. He’s also a guy with urges in which he satisfies with maniacal glee, making for some very uncomfortable (and oddly compelling) viewing.

A few things I adore about this film. First, I love that some of the major characters don’t even speak or show up on-screen at all. The writing is clever and sneaky that way. Second, there’s no limit to the depths of depravity showcased in Killer Joe. It’s not about how far the filmmakers are willing to go, but about how these twisted acts truly define the characters and their motivations. Of course Sharla (Gershon) opens the door naked from the waist down. Of course Joe likes ‘em really young. Of course Ansel (Church) has no clue what goes on behind his back (his reaction to some incriminating photographs are priceless). The fried chicken scene is simultaneously incredibly fucked up and yet makes complete sense to the people involved.

Killer Joe features the best career work by almost everyone involved. Director Friedkin has done incredible work in the past, but this is the most assured and loosest effort of his storied career. I’ve already mentioned how I’ve never seen Church or Gershon better than I have seen them here, but McConaughey is the real star of the film. His focused intensity is amazing to watch. I always knew he had the talent to pull off this kind of role, but thought he just never had the right material (or the motivation) to show us. 2012 will be a very difficult year for him to top (he just nailed it in Bernie and Magic Mike, didn’t he?). And Killer Joe – the performances and the film itself — won’t be soon forgotten by me. A

ayout 13. Prosecuting Casey Anthony (2013)
Written by Allison Cross | Directed by Peter Werner

What is this? A Lifetime made-for-TV movie about a sensational ripped-from-the-headlines murder case? What the hell is this doing on here?!

Please, allow me to explain. Prosecuting Casey Anthony isn’t the kind (or caliber) of movie I’d normally seek out. In fact, I knew very little about the Casey Anthony case prior to watching this. I don’t typically follow these types of tabloid cases because, well, I just don’t care. What intrigued me about this particular production, however, was three things:

1) Rob Lowe. I’ve always liked this guy and I’m loving his work on Parks and Recreation. Seeing this occasionally serious actor in a comedic role on a very funny show every week makes me respect him as an actor. Lowe is not a movie star, but a TV one. And a very good one. He plays Jeff Ashton, a skilled lawyer who seems to enjoy the spotlight as the guy who tries to put Casey Anthony behind bars.

2) Elizabeth Mitchell. Yes, Mitchell has appeared in a variety of film and TV projects, but she will always, always be Juliet Burke to me. Lost changed my life; it consumed much of my obsessive traits in the last decade and Mitchell played a big part of that. (Her vending machine moment with Josh Holloway in the Lost finale made me cry harder than anything in recent memory). Anyway, she plays Ashton’s partner at his law firm and the two seemed to be an intriguing match.

3) The trade papers were kind to this film. I was expecting harsh reviews, but the word of mouth was positive enough for me to say, “Ok, I’ll give it a shot.”

And I’m glad I did. As expected, Lowe and Mitchell had terrific (and refreshingly platonic) chemistry as a team who were so determined that Anthony was guilty. As a newcomer to the case, I had very little knowledge to what actually happened so I was surprised to learn that no one really knows what the hell happened. Prosecuting Casey Anthony certainly doesn’t provide answers or insight on the case or the people involved, nor does it try to be a groundbreaking display of media journalism. It’s not a movie I will go out of my way to recommend since it doesn’t really offer much in the way of gritty filmmaking, but I can honestly say I was compelled by it and enjoyed the way Lowe and Mitchell played off one another as passionate prosecutors in search for justice. In fact, I’d be thrilled if someone would cast these two gorgeous specimen of the human race (did I just type that out loud?) in a legal drama pilot for next season. B

Trouble-with-the-Curve-Poster4. Trouble with the Curve (2012)
Written by Randy Brown | Directed by Robert Lorenz

I had a lot of problems with Trouble with the Curve, the directorial debut of Clint Eastwood’s long-time producer and assistant director, Robert Lorenz. Lazy writing, poorly realized supporting characters and a conveniently tidy finale are some of the major issues I had, but despite all of that, there’s a certain comfort to be had when you are going along for a ride in which you already know the way.

I just really enjoyed the company. Clint Eastwood is still playing the old, cranky guy with health issues, but he wears that role comfortably. It fits him. His daughter is the terrific Amy Adams, a career-driven woman with a deep passion for baseball. She has no time for love, but she makes time for her unstable father and attempts to make things work between them. John Goodman is especially endearing as Eastwood’s longtime friend, Pete. Goodman excels in these kinds of roles (remember him in Always?); he is just a joy to watch. Justin Timberlake also has a few good moments as a former ball player who strikes an emotional chord with Adams’s distant character.

Look, Trouble With the Curve is not a particularly good film (how awful are the “villains” of this movie? All that is missing from Matthew Lillard [as Sanderson] and Joe Massingil [as Bo] are mustache twirlers), and I rolled my eyes when Adams made that last act “discovery,” but dammit, I felt happy for our lead characters when their emotional journey ended on a happy note (not a spoiler — you know it’s coming). There’s something about predictability that is strangely comforting. B-

liberal-arts-poster15. Liberal Arts (2012)
Written and Directed by Josh Radnor

Liberal Arts is a very minor film that thinks it has a lot to say but really doesn’t. For Josh Radnor’s character, it’s about realizing he’s not the man he’d thought he would become. For Elizabeth Olsen, the future is bright and full of promise. For Richard Jenkins, the end is near and there’s no stopping it. These actors are wonderful to watch as they realize that some things are just not always in their control.

Liberal Arts is the second feature from the gifted Radnor. In terms of quality, I’d say it is on par with his debut, happythankyoumoreplease, though that earlier film actually stayed with me longer than it had any right to (it has been over a year since I’ve seen it and some scenes still linger in the mind). Radnor writes well, he has an unobtrusive eye and his presence is welcoming.

Liberal Arts is engaging enough but unfortunately packs very little punch. They talk and talk and talk but sort of move in circles. I do hope Radnor continues to churn out these types of films because, well, I’m a fan. He just needs to build on his craftsmanship. He’s got potential just waiting to be fully realized. C+

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Tube Talk: Enlightened, Season 1

Enlightened, Season 1 (2010)
Created by Mike White and Laura Dern

The most vivid memory I have of Laura Dern is back in 1996 when I saw Citizen Ruth at Kendall Square in Cambridge. I was alone – which was not unusual during those college years where I spent countless hours in the movie theaters all around Boston – and I was enraptured by Dern’s presence. She WAS Ruth Stoops, the drug-addicted, flaky, irresponsible young woman who found herself in the middle of a political debate about abortion. I fell in love with Dern and it had been a long time since I’ve seen her this balls-out good.

That is, until I caught up with season one of HBO’s Enlightened, a half-hour dramedy about a woman named Amy Jellicoe (Dern) who gets a second chance on life and really, really takes advantage of it. You could say that Ruth Stoops has grown up become Amy. After all, Amy has made several irresponsible mistakes and is frowned upon by her discerning mother and exasperated colleagues. After returning from a months-long sabbatical at a treatment facility, Amy has a new outlook on life. She is relentlessly positive and is determined to find her purpose. Even if it makes everyone around her absolutely miserable.

Dern is astonishing here, just as she was 16 years ago in Citizen Ruth. She is full of vibrancy and buzz, as if she is a new star in the making. Where was this magnificent woman all these years? (Judging by her IMDb profile, despite some strong films here and there, Dern certainly kept busy away from the movie biz). And I gotta say, nearing 50, she looks downright fantastic. She is aging naturally and beautifully.

She defiantly anchors Enlightened, even though the brain behind the show belongs to the ever-versatile Mike White. I’ve been a big fan of White’s since Chuck & Buck and The Good Girl 10 years ago. This is the most spiritually rich work I have seen from him. He nails that feeling of going against the tide. For many people, change is a very difficult thing to go through, and when the obstacles are stacked up against Amy (her mother, her junkie ex-husband, her boss, her company), her quest to be a better person is damn near impossible. Fortunately, White doesn’t take it all too seriously. Enlightened is smart, funny, infinitely relatable and strangely moving.

The rest of the cast gels nicely. Diane Ladd, Dern’s real-life mother, plays Amy’s skeptical, hardened mom. Luke Wilson has a meaty role as her ex (their chemistry is remarkable; in their few scenes together, you get a sense that they have a long, troubled history). Then you have Mike White himself playing Amy’s colleague who actually looks up to Amy, despite not having the courage to admit it. The luminous Robin Wright turned up midway in the season for a brief memorable stint (in a pair of episodes directed by the great Jonathan Demme) as Amy’s spiritual friend Sandy. Like Dern, Wright just lights up the screen with her grace and beauty.

Enlightened is a terrific discovery and I cannot wait to see where White and Dern take us next season.

Season 1: A-

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Quick Take Five: Safety Not Guaranteed, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Five Year Engagement, Savages, The Dark Knight Rises

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
I was looking forward to this one for a really long time but ended up being very disappointed with it. It had a lot of things going for it: a time travel story, TV darlings Audrey Plaza and Jake Johnson in leading roles, and another meaty role for rising star Mark Duplass. To say the film underwhelmed me is an understatement. There is very little substance here and the situations our characters get involved in are clumsily executed.

A man (Duplass) puts out an ad in the hopes he would find a partner to travel through time with. For starters, it took a huge leap of faith for me to buy that a small magazine would pay for these reporters to cover such a non-story. These three reporters basically had a mini-vacation at the magazine’s expense while receiving no concrete answers or information for several days on end. The film just collapses under the weight of this premise. Of course, that the movie inevitably has very little actual time travel didn’t sit too well with me.

Safety Not Guaranteed is really about faith and believing in the impossible. It’s just unfortunate that I didn’t believe in this movie. C

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
The indie sensation of 2012, Beasts of the Southern Wild is something of an anomaly. When I sat down to watch this film last week, I was transfixed by its unique storytelling, lyrical scoring and a magnificent central performance by Quvenzhane Wallis. But what really surprised me about this film was how much it was being embraced by audiences worldwide. Beasts of the Southern Wild isn’t an easy film to sit through; it’s a bit on the arty side (meaning: it challenges you) and there’s nothing conventional about it. This is not a knock against the film by any means, but it’s the fact that so many people in all walks of life are so taken by this offbeat, colorful film. Even the surliest of moviegoers are finding something to take away from this movie. So what does that really mean? For me, it means that – as of 2013 – the cinema is alive and well. Our favorite art form continues to thrive. B+

The Five Year Engagement (2012)
Sometimes all it takes is a thoughtful script and two engaging leads. On paper, The Five Year Engagement sounds as bland as any other rom-com you’ve seen in the last 10 years. Even the title fails to pop out. But when you get to it, the film takes you in. Nicholas Stoller directs this observant dramedy about a couple who adore one another but continue to find ways to put off their wedding. Emily Blunt continues to excel in leading roles (she has certainly had a very busy year) and her chemistry with the adorable Jason Segel is beautifully matched. I cared about this couple. I rooted for them to be together. It wasn’t just about the laughs or the hijinks but about their resilience. Come to think of it, perhaps The Five Year Engagement would make a perfect companion piece with Haneke’s Amour. No? Too far? B

Savages (2012)
Yay! An Oliver Stone film without any political or social agendas! I’m not Stone’s biggest fan but I’ve always admired his craftsmanship. He’s a director who embraces film as a way to spin a remarkable story. So that said, Savages is nothing more than a genre piece about a group of drug dealers who are in over their heads when they get into business with a high-powered Mexican drug cartel. The two best buds (well-matched Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson) share a bed with the lovely Blake Lively, and when she’s kidnapped, things get ugly. The great cast also includes a surprisingly good Salma Hayek as the ruthless cartel boss, Benicio Del Toro as her sadistic lieutenant and John Travolta as a sleazy cop (good to see him playing for laughs; Travolta has a lighter side that is not used often enough). The film moves at an urgent clip, thanks to Stone’s penchant for nasty violence, a frenetic camera and showy editing techniques. It’s kind of refreshing to see a master at work on a meaningless project. Stone is just letting loose and having fun. Savages isn’t a great film by any means but it dares you to look away. B

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Finally. A Batman film I can wrap my head around. Until now, I have only been a distant admirer of Nolan’s previous Batflicks. Batman Begins was so heavy-handed and brooding that I found it nearly impossible to enjoy. Sure, it’s a technical marvel but there was very little heart and soul. The Dark Knight was a vast improvement, much thanks to Heath Ledger’s maniacal and inspired performance. The Dark Knight also featured a propulsive energy that was completely lacking in the trilogy’s first entry.

And now, with The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan upped the stakes and turned his Batman trilogy into something really special. This final entry gets it completely right. I’m still not crazy about Christian Bale’s performance under the mask — his voice is haltingly irritating, his features dramatically stuff — but his Bruce Wayne has become an intriguingly well-rounded figure.

The biggest surprise in The Dark Knight Rises was Anne Hathaway as the sneaky, vulnerable Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. The film just lights up when she’s on-screen and she is precisely what this trilogy was missing. A terrific character, a terrific performance. Less successful, though impressively foreboding, was Tom Hardy as Bane, a character that was only frightening in his physicality. In all fairness, you can’t top Ledger’s Joker, but Hardy and Nolan created a worthy adversary to wrap up this trilogy.

Everything else here really worked for me. Caine’s heartbreaking work as Wayne’s loyal servant, Alfred. The brilliant set pieces involving the shut-down and imminent destruction of Gotham. The inner turmoil eating at Commissioner Gordon (a great Oldman performance). Not one, not two, but three delightfully surprising twists in the final act — the first twist drew a huge gasp from me, the second one left my mouth wide open and the last one gave me some serious goose bumps.

So, to my complete surprise, The Dark Knight Rises finally brought some life into the Batman franchise; it provided a much-needed jolt of adrenaline and high stakes. I didn’t think it would top The Avengers as my favorite superhero film of 2012, but damn, it sure gave those Marvel guys a run for their money.

Batman Begins: C
The Dark Knight: B
The Dark Knight Rises: A

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20 Quick Takes: Wrapping Up 2012 in Style

I spent the last few weeks of 2012 doing an insane amount of movie-watching. That means I’ve been ignoring more important tasks like surfing the Internet, blogging and shaving. Sometimes, life just throws you a few curveballs. You just gotta go with the flow, man.

That being said, these are the last 20 films I’ve seen in 2012.

Happy New Year!

Wreck It Ralph (2012)
A spirited, joyful experience. By far the best animated experience I’ve had in 2012. It’s almost Pixar-at-its-peak quality, but nevertheless, Disney strikes again. A-

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)
A group of British seniors retire to India to live out their golden years. Loved this cast. Judi Dench, specifically, is just remarkable. It’s a simple, straight-forward dramedy that won’t win any awards but it sure charmed the hell out of me. B+

Battleship (2012)
I wanted to dig this one. Peter Berg makes fun films. He even recruited some of his Friday Night Lights vets (Taylor Kitsch, Jesse Plemons). But what a dumb, dumb plot. Nothing in this film made a lick of sense. D

Brave (2012)
Brave is a sweet family film about a Scottish princess who must undo a curse that turned her mother and brothers into bears. Not Pixar’s finest, but a really solid entry in the massive, ever-growing Disney canon. B

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Wholly unnecessary but delicately crafted action blockbuster pits a game Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man against Rhys Ifans’s Curt Connors/Dr. Lizard. Marc Webb spins a slick and fairly entertaining piece of pop. B-

Perfect Sense (2012)
My fascination with Ewan McGregor continues with this odd and intriguing drama about how our five senses are so integral to our everyday lives. Sure, it’s a bit obvious but director David Mackenzie crafted a unique and absorbing picture. B

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
I just can’t get into the mind of Wes Anderson. I find his films very difficult to penetrate. Moonrise Kingdom is actually his most accessible work to date but I still cannot get past the preciousness of his tone. There’s genuine charm in some of these frames but not enough to win me over. C

Life of Pi (2012)
Life of Pi will be yet another one of Ang Lee’s pictures on my year-end list of favorites. I just adored this fantastical journey about a young man who is stranded at sea with a Bengal tiger. The 3D is astonishing and the frames continue to linger on my mind even weeks later. A-

Flipped (2010)
A sweet low budget Rob Reiner family dramedy about a young boy and a young girl who grow up together as friends, despite their true feelings being hidden from one another. The great cast, including John Mahoney, Aidan Quinn, and Penelope Ann Miller, elevate this plain-spoken film to something kind of sweet. B

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)
I had an unusual reaction to this film. The tone was all over the place — it was a dead serious broad comedy with a typical romantic arc that kinda dragged down the whole affair. There’s a lot here that I liked but there’s also lot I didn’t. C+

The Queen of Versailles (2012)
Man, the things some people do just boggle the mind. This doc is disturbing in a lot of ways but it’s also a fascinating “riches to rags” story that made me glad I’m not a billionaire. Money. Who needs it? A-

The Expendables 2 (2012)
Just as ridiculously fun as the original. These generic shoot-em-ups are direct-to-VHS quality right out of the 80s and that’s its appeal. They don’t try to be anything more. Schwarzenegger is terrible but he does have a few good zingers (“This car is as big as my shoe!”). B

Magic Mike (2012)
After this and Haywire, Soderbergh is having a banner year. Both films are stylish and fun, and Magic Mike features really strong work from McConaughey, Tatum, and especially newcomer (to me, anyway) Cody Horn. Loved it. A-

Hope Springs (2012)
Despite its pedestrian direction and clunky screenwriting, Hope Springs has some painful truths about marriage without the sparks. Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep, old pros who still “got it,” elevate the film from drowning in hokiness. B-

Rock of Ages (2012)
Atrocious, putrid and insanely dull, Rock of Ages is a complete failure in every way. I love this cast, but everyone is so over the top in smarm and hamminess that I wondered if they knew what the hell this movie was all about. The young leads had zero charm and personality. I rarely give out F’s, but I can’t think of a more likely contender. F

Your Sister’s Sister (2012)
I loved this movie. I was weary of how they were gonna handle the big secret presented almost midway in the film, but I was so surprised at how delicate the writing and performances were. You can pretty much predict how it all wraps up but everything was just beautifully handled. All three actors – Mark Duplass, Rosemarie Dewitt and Emily Blunt – are exquisite and absolutely perfect. A-

Men in Black III (2012)
Jones again, strangely looking a decade older than he did in Hope Springs. This time, he takes a backseat to let his younger doppelgänger (Josh Brolin) entertain the hell out of us with his dead-on Jones impersonation. I don’t have much of an opinion of the first two Men in Black films – I liked them enough, I suppose, but don’t remember squat about ‘em – but this one was surprisingly a lot of fun. Smith, especially, as is spry and funny as ever. B+

10 Years (2012)
Channing Tatum concludes his impressive 2012 bid for stardom with this low-key drama about a 10 year high school reunion that brings back a flood of memories for a group of once-close friends. The cast is huge and full of talent, but the standouts are Kate Mara, Oscar Isaac and Rosario Dawson. Not great but engaging and kind of sweet. B-

Sleepwalk with Me (2012)
I had never seen anything from Mike Birbiglia until a few days ago when he showed up briefly in Your Sister’s Sister, but I had heard about his breakthrough comedy earlier this year. I wasn’t all that impressed with Sleepwalk with Me but I do find Birbiglia appealing and even a little insightful. And any film that has a juicy part for perennially underused Lauren Ambrose is automatically worthy a look. C+

Take This Waltz (2012)
A challenging indie that takes bold steps in presenting a love story we’ve seen before countless times. Director Sarah Polley lovingly directs Michelle Williams (who I just adore) as a woman who is torn between a stubbornly comfortable marriage and an exciting affair with a neighbor. There are too many missteps along the way for me to like this film overall (for example, Sarah Silverman’s entire arc, especially in the lay-it-on-thick climax, rang completely false), but I dug the three lead performances and the film’s attempt to show us the intimacy of a marriage. C+

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