home | blog | site map | reviews | bookstore traveler | book awards     24books.org
  2012-2013 edition
     filmfilms we've seen in the past few years

- seen in: 2016 / 2015 / 2014 / 2013 / 2012 / each year's favorite films 

FILMS of 2013

This was a film that didn't go the simple route, it didn't dumb itself down to an audience. It was a film that dared to force its viewers to experience many disturbing twists and turns, and showcased some actors in some very intense roles, portraying people on the very edge of breaking.
To describe where the two key characters—Hugh Jackman, playing a wigged-out working-class dad of one of the missing daughters, and Jake Gyllenhaul who has a fascinating role playing a detective investigating the kidnapping of Anna and Joy—ended up being by the film's ending, would seem unbelievable and contrived. Yet, the storyline took you for a ride that had major surprises, jolting turns, and some most bizarre side characters, but the plot's intervening steps made all the sense in the world for these people who were really bent out of shape over these missing girls ... it lead you there, and here, and there, and finally there.
Paul Dano plays a dysfunctional man/child who's suspected of the crime. He plays characters of this ilk perfectly. So many people dislike him for the simple fact that he plays so many social outcasts and disturbed people, they're unsettling folk. I can't say I "like" his characters, but he's most always interesting to watch.
There are no weak performances by anyone in the film, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, and Melissa Leo all keep the story on task and the film interesting. 
Jake Gyllenhaul plays Detective Loki with an intensity and an oddness that I found captivating. His unexplained tattoos, his shirt buttoned to the top button without a tie, and his strange manner with his fellow lawmen, were like so many other unexplained details of the whole film—including the possibly unresolved ending. It was a sophisticated movie that didn't have to signal what was happening all the time with looks, music, and a simplistic story. Life rarely gives you all the answers and neither does this fine film.  

blue jasmine
Woody Allen is 77, and after almost 50 films, has again proven that he is still most capable of putting out a very compelling film. This film was well written, cast, and crafted. I was moved. Yes, it was bleak and depressing at times—attributes that attract people like me—but it was also quite funny and allowed for a rare look at class in this country, something not common in Woody Allen films.

(It seems most of us feel comfortable calling him Woody, like he's our close friend. I've only had one friend named Woody, and she was a great girl I worked with in San Diego. When you come down to it, Woody is simply a fun name to say.)

Blanchett's Jasmine looks at the life of her working class sister, Ginger (the always brilliant Sally Hawkins), from the viewpoint of someone who, until very recently, had everything desired in her Park Avenue life, and now has nothing. Well, nothing is relative when you still have designer clothes, jewelry, and tip with a $100 bill. She sees her sister as settling for less in life, and love, but Jasmine does become more understanding as Woody moves her through the plot.

Bruce Handy wrote in Vanity Fair, that "Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine Is Perhaps His Cruelest-Ever Film." Well, Cate Blanchett's character is put through hell in the film, but she does move on from her miserable situation. She is also just a complete treat to watch in this film. She's the center of the story and she handled every emotion required of her without a flaw.

Jasmine has moved on from Hal (Alec Baldwin) and her 1% lifestyle, and is staying with Ginger in her small San Francisco apartment. Now her social life includes Ginger's "low-rent" boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), and her ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), and it's all a piece of work. Cannavale (remember him in The Station Agent?) is very good in his role, but I was even more impressed and surprised by how good Andrew Dice Clay was. Peter Sarsqaard played a charming role as Jasmine's love interest, so VERY different a character when compared to his recent, and incredibly intense role, awaiting death in The Killing TV series. It was also fun to see Louis C.K. on the big screen, but his role didn't seem much of a stretch from his TV show character. The last character I'll mention is the beautiful city of San Francisco.

While this film didn't have all the splendid literary references that thrilled me in Midnight in Paris, this is easily my second favorite film of Mr. Allen's in years.


smurfs 2
Our big number three film for the year—is there a drum roll anywhere?—is another granddaughter-related movie. You just can't look at something like a Smurf movie with any serious plot analysis, it was cute, funny, and had a good heart. Grandpa Smurf (voice by the late, great Jonathan Winters) got to verbalize the Smurf ethos and philosophy—unconditional love and happiness are as good as you can get in any film, for any audience.
The animation was very pleasing, and very BLUE. All those huge heads on the screen were very trippy (I'm just saying this could be a pleasant herb film for some) and I found myself almost disappointed to have another scene with real people in it show up, though Hank Azaria (Gargamel), Brendan Gleeson (Victor), and Neil Patrick Harris (Patrick) all seem to be having fun playing humans, for the most part, what is Gargamel? Oh, and Gleeson is turned into a duck for part of the film, sorry if that's too much information.
As with most modern animated films, it's guessing who is playing all those voices that is so entertaining. Smurfs 2 gives you the fine vocal talents of the following: Jonathan Winters, John Oliver, Alan Cumming, Christina Ricci, Katy Perry, Fred Armisen, Shaquille O'Neil, Jimmy Kimmel, Paul Reubens, Jeff Foxworthy, George Lopez, and many more.
Our granddaughter was happy, and even though the storyline was a long and winding road, I came out to the light with a smile.

One aside: You know those shoes for young kids with the lights in the soles? Well, after the theater had gone dark for previews, a mother and two boys came in. The youngest had on lighted shoes and they were extra bright, and had four colors of lights. They really gave him a real presence. Every step in was an event, and all through the movie his family was lit up in a glow, and through the spaces between the seats, I got a great look at his happy little lightshow. Amusing, at least from a distance.

Moving closer to half way through the year...and we've now seen our second film of the year.
This was a lush bit of animation that our granddaughter loved and we both liked quite a bit. William Joyce wrote the story—based on his books, The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs — and it had a heart, but like many a kid's film, just too much non-stop action. Do the people doing these films feel that younger viewers will get bored that quickly otherwise? Let's give our kids more credit than 95% action. But frantic pace aside, it took place in the forest and had rich, vibrant colors and an imaginative look to everything from trees to many freaky characters.
In the very beginning the film speaks of looking very closely at the seemingly peaceful forest, to be able to see that it's all about a struggle between good and evil. That kind of bothered my sensitivities, but that was the plot. Yet, the Leaf Men riding their hummingbirds was a clever kick and the humor was mostly supplied by Mub and Grub, the snail and slug sidekicks. I've always felt that they just don't get enough screen time. Between slime and those wild eyes on long stalks, how can you lose?
The film is directed by Chris Wedge and features the voices of Colin Farrell, Beyoncé, Steven Tyler, Christoph Waltz, and Amanda Seyfried.
Spoiler alert, good wins and nature is saved. Judging by the six or more previews for other animated films, we could have really stepped in it with some of them. I'm glad to have sat in the dark for this—it has a good heart.  

side effects
Hard to believe, but this is March and this is the first movie we've seen in 2013.


filmFILMS of 2012

silver linings playbook
Yes, it's a love story...a unique love story between two people with mental problems. Bradley Cooper's character, Pat, has just been released from a mental institution, and the woman he's spending large amounts of time with, Tiffany (played by Jennifer Lawrence) has a fair share of her own mental problems. You know where this movie is going pretty much from the start, but I found it an interesting trip.
Robert De Niro is Pat's father, who's life goal, his own restaurant, now relies on major wagers. Pat has some odd friends, but, when you get down to it, aren't everyone's friends odd? These friends are most entertaining. One friend is well-played by John Ortiz, and Vicky picked right up on the fact that he was one of the major characters from the HBO series LUCK...a show that featured Dustin Hoffman and got canceled after three horses died in the filming of what was a clever show, with some fascinating plotlines going on.
Cooper played the entire film with a three day beard, and I keep looking at Jennifer's face and thinking that she really looked like Julia Stiles, who plays her sister in the movie ... good casting. Cooper always seems to put something real into his acting and the relationship between him and Lawrence was interesting to watch develop. Everyone in the film does a good job in the acting department, and it was very nice to see De Niro in a role that he didn't seem to just be phoning in, he acted.
I didn't think this was a great film, but it was well-acted, good entertainment, and had a inventive plot. Once again, it was a good time in a large dark room.

Daniel Craig returns to play Bond, James Bond. This movie has everything that everyone expects from a Bond flick. While it goes for the laugh on many occasions, this isn't as silly as some of those Roger Moore Bonds from the past. Skyfall is very serious as it explodes, fights, shots, and races across the screen. Thrills and thrills surround a little less sex than many Bonds, but the relationship that James has here is more with M. Vicky liked this movie more that I did, but as I think it over—the film has grown on me—it was a real good time in the dark.

This film has one VERY intense beginning. Intense, as in an airliner seemingly out of control, hurtling towards earth. All I can say about that scene—is that it was scary as all hell and watching a jet airliner flying completely upside down is a unique thrill. Denzel Washington does a fabulous job playing the pilot. This particular pilot has the incredible skill that comes from massive experience and the ability to do it all while hung-over from a night of drinking, drugs, and sex. Oh, and don't forget those screwdrivers he drank in the cockpit that morning. Addiction is the real name of the film and Washington puts in another superb bit of acting.  

seven pychopaths
We saw this film with our dear friend Keith in Portland OR. Though we were the only warm bodies in the theater that rainy night, we, all three, filled that cinema hall with laughter. If you can laugh at famous people playing psychopaths, what can you find funny in life?  

the master
There are some outstanding performances in The Master. I couldn't take my eyes off the two male leads, and as they were on the screen 95% of the time, I was glued to that large white wall in the dark theater. 

ruby sparks
The previews hooked me—a writer writes up his dream girl and she turns up real and living in his house one day. She was created on this boy genius and first-novel-bestselling-literary-sensation's portable typewriter and she proceeds to fill up his life.
Paul Dano plays Calvin (the lonely and troubled author) and Ruby was written, directed, and played by Zoe Kazan. Dano's character is another rather strange role for him—I regretfully just saw his small part in the disaster movie Cowboys and Aliens last night on TV—and combined with Ruby, they make for an odd-looking and creepy couple.
The film is a sweet and rather creepy film, before it evolves into a darker and troubled, creepier film. It's not great. The writing angle of it kept me engaged, but even that got very twisted for a most uncomfortable scene or two. The ending is another switch, but it all left me thinking, and hoping that it had all been handled differently. What could some different actors have done? How could the plot have been tweaked?
Chris Messina plays Calvin's brother Harry, Annette Bening (Calvin's Mom), Antonia Banderas (her boyfriend) and Elliot Gould (his therapist) and only Harry has much screen time, but they're all good.
Vicky hasn't liked Dano in any of his other movies, yet I've always found him interesting from the standpoint of the kinds of roles he has taken over the years. Maybe he shouldn't have taken this part. I don't regret seeing the movie, I just wish that it had been better...still it was about books and writing. Oh well, creepy is the word.
It seems that I only see strong female leads in the movies I see with my granddaughter, but that aside, this was a fun film. There's a lot of humor—some pretty low—but it's got a great look and feel to it. Sure, it gets downright silly time and time again, but it also presents some nice historical information.  And while it's definitely sillier than the movie Braveheart, I found it more enjoyable because it does take itself so seriously.

This was a very enjoyable French film that just lifted our spirits high. We were sitting extremely close to the screen and that made the subtitles easy to read and those two great faces RIGHT THERE. And such faces they were! First you have the very wealthy man (played by François Cluzet) who is confined to a wheelchair and requires a new personal assistant/caregiver/driver and is limited to do all of his acting with his facial expressions and a few movements of his head. Sharing the screen is Omar Sy and his beaming face and smile, who is initially only looking for a signature on a benefits form, yet ends up with the job.
The contrasts are stark, yet it's a seemingly honest and close relationship that develops between them. Omar's character gets the job because he doesn't pity the rich cripple and brings his disadvantaged street life's directness and his nature playfulness to his work. The rest of the household staff doesn't know what to make of the situation, but the unusual relationship warms their hearts. While we have the backstory of this black man's troubled family coming into the rich man's house, it's not as much of a soap opera as any description of this plot would make it.
In 2011, in only nine weeks this became the second most popular French film of all time. It is my new standard of a well-done feel-good experience on the screen.

to tome with love
It had been a long dry spell for available movies that seemed to have a chance of being good ... and then the new Woody Allen film was near. Yes, there are some funny parts, some good acting here and there (Penélope Cruz as a prostitute is simply wonderful), it has a lot of fine actors in it, and the main character of the beautiful city of Rome was spectacular, BUT it was very disappointing. There just didn't seem to be any spark to the film. His Midnight in Paris was one of my favorite films of recent years, but the trip to Rome was basically just pretty to look at.

Jack Black is in fine form with this role based on a true, and truly bizarre, tale out of Carthage, Texas that involves a mortician and his life-sized secret. Watching Black stay in character with his dressing, talking, and especially walking style, is worth half your ticket price right there. Everyone in this small town is crazy for the incredibly generous Bernie Tiede.
Director Richard Linklater has put together a funny and likable film that brings in Shirley MacLaine as the richest and most-hated widow in town and pairs her up with our man Bernie. What goes on between them is sweet, twisted, and finally deadly. Matthew McConaughey plays the town's publicity-loving district attorney and the case becomes the first trial ever moved to another town because the DA knew he had zero chance of getting a conviction in a town full of Bernie lovers.
This isn't a great film, but a good film that's fun to watch and gives you entertainment. The best part of the film are the many parts that are played to the hilt, by the actual residents of the small east-Texas town. I've never been to Texas, but it felt like I was really getting an authentic taste of small-town Texans, and if not, it got me laughing..  

dark shadows
Tim Burton always brings a stunning look to a film...and many time Johnny Depp. This film was based on the 1960s and 1970s TV series of the same name. But the storyline wandered and jumped around way too much. If only Burton could have tightened up the Seth Grahame-Smith's screenplay. It was very funny with the whole vampire locked in a coffin for almost two hundred years AND then his reaction to 1970s American culture. But in the end, it was a visual treat with some good laughs and not much more. Disappointing lurks in these dark shadows.

Johnny Depp as vampire Barnabas Collins—looking very stylish.
Michelle Pfeiffer the family matriarch—not called on to do much with her role.
Helena Bonham Carter as Dr. Julia Hoffman, the live-in psychiatrist—it was very strange to see her in a severe red/orange wig, always drunk and in those bright, close-fitting dresses of the times.
Eva Green as Angelique Bouchard—a lusty, vengeful witch.
Bella Heathcote as Maggie Evans / Victoria Winters, David's governess, as well as Josette du Pres.
Chloë Grace Moretz as Elizabeth's rebellious teenage daughter.
It even included Christopher Lee and Alice Cooper.


This was nature time with Tim Allen's amusing narration combined with some amazing jungle footage. 

jeff, who lives at home
I really enjoyed this film. It is definitely a quirky bit of work, but it has an honest heart. Jason Segel plays our lead character, Jeff, who lives in his mother's basement, is unemployed, is heavy, is heavy into weed, and is rather fixated on the movie Signs by Mel Gibson. The directors of Jeff, are Jay and Mark Duplass, and they have Jeff as a large Sasquatch version of Yoda, a Zen master who strongly believes in waiting for signs before acting in life.
There are lots of pregnant pauses as the camera moves in and out on Jeff's face, and yet, little really happens at these points in the film...it's a strange filming device. Jeff's older brother is played despicably by Ed Helms. It was interesting to watch Helms play the same character for such a stretch. Susan Sarandon plays the mother, and Rae Dawn Chong has a different sort of a role as one of Susan's office co-workers.
I don't have to have a film busy, moving and active all the time, and Jeff certainly goes right along with that train of thinking. There is quite a bit of action at the very end of the film, and it's completely unexpected and fascinating to watch it all roll out.
There are no true "wise grasshopper" moments in the film, but it's, like I said before, there's plenty of heart and it doesn't feel forced into being a movie—it's about people's lives. I would go again. 

salmom fishing in the yeman
I put up two different poster for this film directed by Lasse Hallström, to show all the lead characters, as well as the two main storylines. The central relationships are between Dr. Alfred "Fred" Jones (Ewan McGregor), Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) and a fly-fishing loving Yemeni billionaire sheik played by Amr Waked.
The sheik wants to create a fly-fishing mecca and irrigate his people's land in spite of opposition from some factions in his country. The fisheries expert, Dr. Jones, is forcefully brought into the project kicking and screaming (in an uptight English well-mannered way) and becomes quite taken with the sheik's London-based financial consultant. They are both in existing relationships that have their own problems.
The chemistry between the two major leads is very good and believable. The sheik is given some clever and philosophical lines that make his character much more interesting than the standard man-in-a-dress-Arab that fills up space in so many other films. Kristin Scott Thomas plays the press secretary to the British prime minister and is bustling around constantly.
This is an entertaining film, with: believable characters, a starkly different setting, some really bad music, a number of huge plot holes, but in the end, we both really liked it. It was a pleasure.



So here's a fun and unexpected film. We both a soft spot for both Paul "Guilty Pleasure" Rudd and Jennifer "She's Fun To Watch" Aniston. Overall, this was a fun film that was very funny at times and even ends up nears the book world. There is also a fun band of characters that includes Alan Alda, a nudist writer, and a whole commune's worth of interesting people. 
But the film jumps from being a light-hearted comedy, to something troubled, not quite dark and brooding, but definitely odd. There is a long scene when Paul is talking to himself in a mirror, while he's preparing himself for a new sexual experience. It is one of the funniest bits in the movie, but several times it moves off into gibberish, obscenity, and threats—it went beyond the pale...for a good time film. Maybe I'm too sensitive, but this, and several other parts of the film, exposed an underbelly of darkness that seemed like another screenwriter was taking over. Do you remember when Mr. Mike, on Saturday Night Live, started going on about plunging long steel needles, with really sharp points,  into his eyes? Kind of like that. It's very funny, but it's a tad troubling. There is also a surprising amount of full frontal nudity, several group nude shots, and male genitals swinging around.
But, I have to admit, I do like nudity, being troubled, and being amused. 


the grey
Here's a movie that didn't always go where you thought it would...and that was good. And, it didn't end the way I thought it might. The one weak area was the wolves themselves, I got to thinking about cardboard cutouts on Popsicle sticks at one point, but that was really the only weak spot in an intelligent film. I was so pleasantly surprised when some of the characters actually got down to talking philosophy, as they sensed how little hope there might be left for them. I resisted seeing this for a while, because I thought it would be just another one of those intense Liam Neeson films. He is so much of this movie, he is so very intense, and it all worked. Snow, ice, intense cold, plane crash, survival, death, plenty of testosterone, wolves, AND some very good acting, a smart screenplay, as well as a great look to all that cold.
This was directed by Joe Carnahan, has a screenplay by Joe Carnahan and Ian MacKenzie Jeffers, and was based on Ghost Walker by Ian MacKenzie Jeffers.
Its cast includes: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson and others.


big miracle
This was a outing to the movies with the granddaughter for a family film. Let me say that I am not much of a family film kind of guy...the term lowest common denominator comes to mind. Yet, I still have a soft spot for those rare, very clever, funny animated films...this isn't one of those.
Key problems with this film: Drew Barrymore seems to be channeling her acting abilities from her E.T. period, and since they couldn't have real whales breathing on cue in holes in the ice, they used some extremely fake-looking ones, oh, and the screenplay. But it was quite funny in parts and our granddaughter almost cried when the baby whale, Bamm-Bamm, died.
The movie was inspired by a true story of 1988's Operation Breakthrough that took over the world's media for days on end. This rescue brought together: big oil, Greenpeace, native Alaskans, the National Guard, the entire town of Point Barrow Alaska, inventers from Minnesota, Ronald Reagan, a Russian icebreaker, and seemingly all the world's media.
It's directed by Ken Kwapis, and stars Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski, as a Greenpeace activist and a local TV reporter. Also of note are: Ted Danson, Tim Blake Nelson, Rob Riggle, Dermot Mulroney, and Stephen Root.


albert nobbs
Glenn Close is spot on as Albert Nobbs, a woman forced to live as a man in 19th century Ireland after a terrible sexual experience as a child. Nobbs has lived this secret for many years and has been saving every coin towards a dream of a different life and a business. With the unusual Mr. Page's influence, Nobbs starts to think even more could be possible.
The housepainter, and more, Mr. Page is finely portrayed by Janet McTeer, Helen Dawes is the randy maid (Mia Wasikowska) who takes advantage of Nobbs, and is involved with Joe Makins, her lover played by Aaron Johnson. Personally, I could have done without Aaron, but he was useful plotwise. 
Close plays her character extremely tight and under control—often painfully so. This is a small film. It won't be filling the seats in suburban multiplexes. But Albert is a wonderfully played part that is the enormous center around which the rest of the cast and film revolve. I will long remember all those close ups of Close's face as she WAS Albert Nobbs.    


If you're hoping to see the movie you think you're going to see, based on the movie's preview, DON'T GO. If you want to see anything beyond kicking, punching, and bad acting by the movie's lead, DON'T GO. Unfortunately, we went, got burned, and saw the worst movie of our new year. Remember, I warned you.
The film is directed by Steven Soderbergh and has Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton, Michael Douglas in the cast. Those stars are "included", but given little screen time. Vicky and I are both big McGregor fans and his role is quite tiny. Instead, the movie is used as a vehicle to introduce MMA (mixed martial arts, think ultimate fighting) superstar Gina Carano, to punch and leap her way around the screen.
After seeing the 81% rating, and the following quote on Rotten Tomatoes, I'm absolutely certain that I'm not the audience for this film, and I'm alright with that.
"Haywire is a fast and spare thriller, with cleanly staged set pieces that immerse you in the action."
I just didn't get it.

What could be good about two rich, polite, civil, married couples getting together to discuss their fighting children? Just about everything. But for a little dialogue that needed editing, the film is filled with fine acting and shows how a "civil facade" can get "down and dirty" fairly quickly. I can still see Jodie Foster's face stretching and becoming more pointed and strained, until I was afraid it would explode or spear someone.
Roman Polanski put together a name-dropper of a cast with the Longstreets, played by Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly, up against the Cowans, played by Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet.
   In my book, Waltz stole scene after scene with the edge in his voice, and the look in his eyes—sarcasm, boredom, and wild amusement. The ultra-sophisticated character played by Kate Winslet, give it her all and really lets it all go. The transformation of Reilly's character was the weakest of the four. After he stopped being the polite liberal that his wife dressed him to be, his lines became pretty trite, predictable, but still occasionally funny.
This is a very funny film, and, as an added benefit, you don't end up feeling dirty along with the characters on the screen. Be amused by their pain.
This is a stunning vision of a film from Lars von Trier. You get to attend a huge, highly-dysfunctional wedding reception AND wonder what is reality, madness—all in a world full to the brim with depression. Oh yes, the newly-discovered planet Melancholia is headed straight towards the earth. Kirsten Dunst is at her very best as the bride Justine. Her sister, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, has another face that is hard to look away from—there is just so much emotion there. She is married to the wealthy John (Kiefer Sutherland) and is trying to help as much as she can with Justin's problems. Divorced parents, John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling are shortly on screen, but they're grand in those minutes.

The film's website may state it all best, "...a psychological disaster film...."

There are some striking similarities to Tree of Life in the film's pacing and visual  beauty, and I find myself liking it more and more the longer I reflect on it. This was quite a way to start out film going for a new year.

home | blog | site map | reviews | bookstore traveler | book awards |to the top