In order to do a best and worst movie list for 2012, I’ll have to finish watching and reviewing all my 2012 films first. So I’ve decided to commence yet another movie blitz, delivering four reviews at a time. I’ll try and keep ‘em short.
One of my most anticipated movies last year because it’s directed by Aussie John Hillcoat, whose grim and gritty vision gave us The Road and The Proposition. It’s also based on a true story about the three Bondurant brothers who ran a moonshine business during the prohibition era. And it’s got a ridiculous cast featuring Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman and Mia Wasikowska. The cast is so good I even forgave the fact that Shia LeBeouf is in it.
The brothers, Clarke, Hardy and LeBeouf, run a moonshine business in Virginia in the 1930s. The money is supposedly good, but the work is dangerous because, well, it’s illegal, and there are lawmen wanting a cut and ruthless competitors encroaching on their territory, and vice versa. One of the nastiest fellows is Guy Pearce, a special deputy, who commendably made himself look like a creepy psychopath, albeit a slightly one-dimensional one. Jessica and Mia play lovely ladies who get involved with the lads. Stuff gets nasty and violent; like a good old western, but brutally violent.
The verdict? Lawless is good, but not quite the epic western I had been expecting. It had all the elements — brotherhood, romance, run-ins with the law, a nasty villain, and lots of brutal, unflinching violence, and of course the acting is top notch — but for whatever reason the film felt like it just couldn’t elevate itself to where it wanted to go. I was interested but not captivated, attentive but not enthralled. Was it because it was just following a bunch of rough fellows around without any real sense of purpose? Or was it because the characters were not fully developed?
I blame it on Shia LeDouche.
3.5 stars out of 5
On the Road (2012)
Super-hyped film from last year. I’d like to think it’s because it’s a long-awaited adaptation of the classic Jack Kerouac semi-autobiographical novel of the same name (first published in 1957), and features a star-studded cast including Garrett Hedlund (of Tron: Legacy fame), Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst, Steve Buscemi, Viggo Mortensen and Terrence Howard. But let’s face it — On the Road got most of its publicity because Bella Swan loses her top and executes a double-barreled sex act. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
And I admit, I didn’t get the film. Was it a very difficult film to adapt (hence explaining the 50+ year gap between book and movie)? Was it because it was set so many years ago that I couldn’t connect with the characters or their world? Was I trying too hard to find meaning? I don’t know. But all I saw was a confused kid, Sal Paradise (played by Sam Riley) becoming infatuated with his carefree, hedonistic friend, Dean Moriaty (Hedlund), who keeps screwing him over and over because he only cares about himself. They go places, they talk, they get drunk, they dance, they have fun, the fight, they separate, they meet up again. And it just goes on and on for more than two hours.
So unfortunately, On the Road bored me often despite my best intentions to enjoy it. I do have to admit that Hedlund is awesome in this — charming and magnetic — and Kristen Stewart showed, despite Twilight, that she actually can act and is excellent in the right role. But you’ll have to count me as one of those people who didn’t like this movie. Perhaps I need to read the book.
2 stars out of 5
Ruby Sparks (2012)
Romantic comedies are not usually my thing, but Ruby Sparks is supposed to be one of the good ones because of its originality, quirkiness and chemistry between the two leads, real-life couple Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano. Kazan (who is nearly unrecognizable from when she played Leo’s slightly chubby mistress in Revolutionary Road) supposedly wrote the script for Dano, who electrified me in There Will Be Blood.
Dano plays Calvin, an anxious novelist who is struggling to recreate the success he enjoyed with his debut novel years ago. He has a dream about a woman (the titular Ruby Sparks) and decides to write about her as his therapist suggested, and boom, she appears in real life, exactly the way he describes her.
After the initial shock wears out, the writer and his creation enjoy what seems like a normal relationship — until Calvin realizes that even your dream girl can become your worst nightmare. It’s a be-careful-what-you-wish-for morality tale wrapped in a seemingly innocent love story. It’s about free will and loving your idea of a person rather than who the person really is. The deeper the movie goes the darker it becomes, and there are some scenes towards the end that are rather upsetting and heartbreaking.
The writing is excellent, as are the performances, and there is a sweetness about the relationship that feels genuine. But as far as resonance goes, I think the film fell a little short for me, failing to reach the depth of emotions conjured up by one of my favorite romantic comedies in recent years, 500 Days of Summer. Still, this is a delightfully fresh film with some interesting ideas. I found it to be an enjoyable, amusing, frightening and thoughtful experience.
4 stars out of 5
The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012)
I’ll be blunt. This Disney film about a barren couple wishing for a child and then having that wish miraculously realized is a clunker. While the intentions were good, The Odd Life of Timothy Green is everything I had feared it would be — predictable, saccharine, cringeworthy and overly sentimental.
Aussie Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner want a child but they’ve tried everything and nothing’s happening. One night, they write down all the things they would hope for in an imaginary child, chuck it in a box, and bury it in the yard. Out comes Timothy Green, a boy who fulfills all the qualities they had written down and, as the poster suggests, has leaves growing out of his calves.
At first, all is perfect, but then they start having the same anxieties as all parents do about their children, and they learn a few lessons along the way in typical Disney fashion. My guess is that Timothy Green wanted to be an old-fashioned family film that teaches us some life lessons while tugging our heart strings along the way. It’s a noble goal because such wholesome, non-animated, children-friendly films are rare these days, but unfortunately the film comes across as cliched and lacking in emotional depth. Everything that happens is predictable and even the crafted quarrels and tensions feel forced and heavy-handed. I blame a lot of it on the thin script and the character of Timothy Green (played by CJ Adams), who never endears himself to the audience like he should have.
The end result is a bland, not-very-funny or touching movie that doesn’t really teach us much.
2 stars out of 5