Paul Nicholas Carlson's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

The Fault In Our Stars

Walks the line between manipulative and honest -- teetering precariously between the two. Succeeds in pulling emotional chords, but gets away with some underhanded plot/dialogue cheats in its unyielding mission be the movie that 'makes people cry.'

Frozen
Frozen(2013)
½

not to be THAT guy but -- wow this odd, meandering musical is vastly, terribly and magnificently OVER-RATED. the only good parts = Olaf the snowman. It's marginally better than 'Tangled' (which was also just above mediocre)

Cheap Thrills

Like sweet and sour or chocolate and peanut butter, the combination of devilish fun and unnerving darkness comes together to form something unexpectedly incredible. At times hard to watch and simultaneously impossible to look away from, "Cheap Thrills" is an incredible ride.

Captain Phillips
½

Tom Hanks reminds everyone why he's a two-time Oscar winner -- but even he gets upstaged by the remarkable rookie performance of Barkhad Abdi. And director Paul Greengrass solidifies his place among today's elite filmmakers.

Aftershock
Aftershock(2013)
½

The half hour 'Aftershock' takes to getting into the real meat of the story is a really long wind up.

The concept of a natural disaster-horror flick is intriguing - but the execution is lazy. Basically this is a slasher, except falling buildings do a fair share of dismembering.

Upstream Color

If Terrence Malick made a sci-fi film, it would be 'Upstream Color.'

This abstract, edgy movie is part emotional drama, intriguing mystery and hypnotic analysis of identity.

'Upsteam' walks a very fine line - it's experimental film in execution, but surprisingly reveals a very structured mystery narrative. It maintains a trance-like tone and mystique as it allows the characters to unravel and the mystery to deepen. This is a beautifully executed and brave film that tells a very conventional story in the most unconventional manner. 'Upstream' employs timelapse, time jumps, whispering VO, long spans without much dialogue -- yet it succeeds in telling a story that's hard to look away from for even a second.

This genre-bending story is a trippy story that somehow never slips into confusion and an intriguing drama that allows the characters and narrative to twist, turn and evolve elegantly.

What Maisie Knew
½

Onata Aprile's nuanced, intelligent and incredible performance is the cornerstone of this sometimes hard-to-watch heartbreaking film. This is an actors' film - and this 6-yr-old child owns every frame :)

Mental
Mental(2013)

The greatest crime a film can commit: make no f*cking sense. But this disaster is a unfocused, schizophrenic bundle of frayed narratives NONE of which fit together or make much sense.

V/H/S
V/H/S(2012)

Effectively unsettling and shocking at times - but 'V/H/S' is too long. Easily 90% of this movie is young people acting like jackasses - then a brutally gory sequence occurs suddenly. Some creative vignettes simply take far too long to ramp up the tension - multiply that by 5-6 vignettes, and the cumulative effect drags the overall momentum down significantly. This is a solid concept that just needs leaner execution.

Kick-Ass 2
Kick-Ass 2(2013)

While the original 'Kick-Ass' was a refreshing blend of joyful violence, its sequel is a muddled, uninspired/meandering exercise in failed shock value and poor story narrative.

In short: Bored with everyday life, Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) resumes his superhero career and joins a group of inspired new heroes led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). Meanwhile, Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) is forced into retirement, where she struggles with life as a normal high school girl. And former hero Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) decides to become the world's first real super villain.

As evidenced by the lengthy 'in short' section above, 'Kick-Ass 2' suffers from an unfocused story that pulls in too many different directions at once.

This sequel's obvious theme is that of 'identity' - and 'Kick-Ass 2' never lets the audience forget that theme. An overgenerous peppering 'But that's not who you really are' lines of dialogue makes it quite clear the characters are often acting against their innate character. While this theme is admirable, constantly reminding the audience is mildly insulting and its execution is mishandled completely.

The first act is a long, winding and tiring slog of characters meeting each other ... and that's about it. They make few significant decisions - except that 'Kick-Ass wants to be a hero, Hit Girl tries hard to be a normal girl and former-Red Mist really wants to be bad.' The end result is Kick-Ass and former-Red Mist assemble a group of random heroes/villains with silly names. Meanwhile, Hit Girl seems as if she's in a whole other 'Mean Girls'-like movie altogether. Essentially everything that happens to Hit Girl for the first two acts bears little consequence on the broader narrative of growing good and evil.

By the time 'Kick-Ass 2' eventually starts to become interesting, the film is unfortunately populated by an army of underdeveloped characters, most of whom are little more than masked people with ridiculous names.

Anyone who has seen the original 'Kick Ass' knows main characters will be murdered - often by horrific and violent means. This sequel continues that MO, however, since too many characters have too little dimension to them, their inevitable/predictable deaths lack any meaningful emotional impact.

'Kick-Ass 2' is far more excessively violent and crass than the original. Characters are maimed, killed by lawn mowers and decapitated - which is par for the course for a 'Kick-Ass' movie. But the absurd shock value of violence, language and disgusting acts - which includes an attempted rape played for a laugh, a team of bad guys known as the 'Toxic Mega C**ts' and a character who simultaneously vomits and defecates - tires quickly and just becomes distracting.

Final verdict: 'Kick-Ass 2' fails to tap into the unique blend of intelligent, fun ultra-violence of the original, managing only a watered-down, 'meh' movie that fails to evolve the characters or franchise's tone.

Blue Jasmine
Blue Jasmine(2013)

Woody Allen's latest dramatic comedy features a superb cast and is highlighted by one of the great acting performances of 2013.

In short: a once wealthy Manhattan socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is forced to move in with her working class sister (Sally Hawkins) when Jasmine loses everything and suffers a nervous breakdown.

Mark these words: Cate Blanchett will receive serious consideration during Award Season. Her performance as Jasmine is captivating. She is charmingly confident one moment, then intensely emotionally fragile the next moment. She never hesitates in pointing out the failings of those around her, while remaining blissfully ignorant of her own shortcomings. These incredible swings never feel abrupt - they feel realistic and natural for the anxiety-ridden Jasmine.

Jasmine's downward spiral so hard to watch ... but harder to look away from, thanks to Blanchett's brilliance. She gives Jasmine so much sincere range - from hysterical to poised - and a constantly simmering volatility that makes Jasmine capable to doing anything at anytime.

And Blanchett doesn't do all the heavy lifting alone. She is a surrounded by an incredible supporting cast, which features great turns from Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins and - surprisingly - Andrew Dice Clay.

While the core narrative involving Jasmine is very strong, this film does wander a bit. An odd b-plot involving Jasmine's sister (Hawkins), Bobby Cannavale and (unfortunately) Louis C.K. saps focus and momentum from Jasmine's story, while not adding much to the film overall.

This latest Woody Allen gem is a masterfully crafted story, a film that weaves Jasmine's current attempt to rebuild her life with flashbacks of her former affluence. These parallel threads brilliantly tell Jasmine's story, revealing her character and establishing her past traumas as well as her continuing poor decisions. This masterful storytelling allows the completely unlikable Jasmine to make horrible, self-defeating choices - yet remain absolutely sympathetic.

Final verdict: 'Blue Jasmine' a riveting portrait of a woman's crumbling existence - and highlighted by an absolutely compelling performance from Cate Blanchett. Absolute must see for lovers of character-driven disaster movies.

Elysium
Elysium(2013)

This grim sci-fi flick amazes with its richly realized world and innovative ideas, however, it disappoints with a flat story at its core.

In short: In the future, the poor are left to live on a heavily polluted and rapidly deteriorating Earth while the wealthy live aboard Elysium, a luxurious space station. A struggling ex-con fights (Matt Damon) to make his way to Elysium, where medical technology there can save his life.

Without the a doubt, director Neill Blomkamp is the big draw for 'Elysium,' his first follow-up to the incredible 'District 9,' which is notably one of the few science fiction films to receive a Oscar nod for Best Picture. 'District 9' is acclaimed for its writing, visual effects, story and originality. Unfortunately, 'Elysium' does not live up to the expectations of 'District 9' fans.

Blomkamp once again creates a rich world to root his story in. The dilapidated, third-world vision of 22nd century Los Angeles is incredibly fleshed out and brilliantly realized. Likewise, the privileged and wealthy 'Elysium' environment is beautifully brought to life and impressive in its scale and opulence. The movie's visual effects are simply used for the fight scenes or space ships - much of it is wisely used to make these two contrasting worlds vividly come to life.

If the fundamental structure of 'Elysium'- that of 'afflicted hero fights to access life-saving technology' - feels familiar, it's because 'Elysium,' from a story structure standpoint, is strikingly similar to that of 'District 9.' No spoilers here, but this similarity is a disappointing because the originality of 'District 9' was one of its strengths.

At some point, the hero's journey is side-tracked when he acquires a 'MacGuffin' - which is code for 'lazily explained plot device that forces the story forward.' The protagonist's goal of saving his own life on Elysium gets lumped into a whole other story line involving a power struggle among Elysium's bureaucracy. While this serves in making Damon's character a marked man, it also muddies the core story.

Adding to the story problem are a number of questionably necessary characters - namely a hawkish Elysium government official rocking a weird affected accent (Jodie Foster) and a love interest who does little to actually contribute to the plot (Alice Braga).

Once again Sharlto Copley steals the show in a Blomkamp film - but this time as a bloodthirsty antagonist. Copley's mentally unstable and violently psychotic Elysium operative commands every scene he is in - he swings fluidly from unsettling to terrifying and even, at times, to bizarrely charming.

It must be mentioned that 'Elysium' is perhaps a little more violent and graphic than a moviegoer might expect. While plenty of nameless characters are shot, several are exploded, broken and one even has their face literally blown off. One medical surgery scene is particularly a little more graphic than anticipated.

Finally, by taking some easy but unearned shots at the wealthy, 'Elysium' squanders away an opportunity for some heady 'haves-have nots' social commentary. While the Elysium station/world is beautifully rendered in CGI, it's never fully explored or examined - other than to say, 'the rich people are withholding tech from the poor.' By making little-to-no effort in fleshing out the Elysium society, the film undermines its own themes of privilege, wealth gaps and citizenship.

The undeniable take away of 'Elysium' is Neill Blomkamp is a true visionary director - an artist whose films have a distinct and unique flavor.

Final verdict: 'Elysium' barely has more good aspects (thrilling action sequences and a fun villain) than failures (overall story and plot devices). That said, it's very entertaining if it's a little disappointing - but arguably worth the cinema ticket price.

We're The Millers
½

A potentially great comedic premise sadly resorts to cheap jokes and cobbling together a story out of a mountain of coincidental events.

In short: a low-level drug dealer (Jason Sudeikis) convinces a stripper (Jennifer Aniston), a runaway (Emma Roberts) and his dorky teen neighbor (Will Poulter) to pose as his fake family to smuggle drugs across the US-Mexico border.

'We're the Millers' unfortunately makes two critical mistakes: several main characters are little more than caricatures and the overall narrative is a mountain of incredibly convenient coincidences.

Before laying into the four main characters, it must be noted that Sudeikis, Aniston, Roberts and Poulter are solidly hilarious and touching when they need to be - which is even more impressive given the very little information given about any of their characters. Aniston effortlessly switches gears between sexy stripper and protective mother figure, while Sudeikis, Roberts and Poulter also hold their own in a film that's part dysfunctional family, part drug heist and part road trip comedy.

While Sudeikis and Aniston's characters get the most back story - thus informing their choices and attitudes - Roberts and Poulter are essentially just 'bad girl' and 'dorky guy.' Not fleshing out half the main characters, effectively limiting them to one-dimensional caricatures, cripples any sort of character development. In order to care about any character's choices and eventual development, the audience must know and care about a character beyond merely 'runaway girl curses a lot.'

This problem is much worse for every other character, which sadly diminishes supporting efforts from Ed Helms, Nick Offerman, Ken Marino and Kathryn Hahn. These characters are treated as plot points. But even this would be OK if only these thin characters were incredibly hilarious - but because they lack any depth, any humor from them only comes from outrageous dialogue (a cheap way to buy laughs).

Which brings up the film's major problem: 'Millers' only moves forward from scene-to-scene thanks to stupid characters and conveniently-timed coincidences. If this family is caught smuggling hundreds of pounds of marijuana, they will certainly be imprisoned for a very long time. 'Millers' is smart enough to realize these stakes for the 'family' and consistently throws obstacles in their path, any of which could result in prison or even death. But every single time the 'family' is nearly caught, never fear- for someone's stupidity or a miraculous coincidence will save them from peril. This is horrible because it reduces the narrative to a series of miracles and takes away an opportunity from the main cast to further the story with action.

The core of 'We're the Millers' is four distinctly different characters, who initially cannot stand each other, can form their own nontraditional family. Unfortunately, this core gets lost amid insanely random stripteases, swollen genitalia humor and swinging couples gags.

Final verdict: This dysfunctional 'family' / road trip comedy never lives up to its promising potential and the sparse solid laughs are too few and far between. A rental at best.

Prince Avalanche

Not quite a comedy and lacking enough plot to call it a drama, 'Prince Avalanche' is a slowly-moving film that defies convention or genre.

In short: Two mismatched men (Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch) work together painting road strips, in the lonely isolation of the Texas wilderness.

First and foremost, 'Prince Avalanche' has no obvious narrative. Knowing this prevents anticipating any sort of plot points and simply enjoy this odd series of events. The core of 'Avalanche' is how these two guys interact and bicker with each other as they are forced to work alongside each other in near total solitude.

Film history has a number of great movies without much or any plot ('My Dinner with Andre' or 'Napoleon Dynamite') - but these films unburdened by plot must craft interesting characters in lieu of telling a traditional story. In this regard, 'Avalanche' succeeds as Hirsch and Rudd create oddly captivating characters with a good dynamic. The script has almost no 'jokes,' however, these two actors are able to deliver great dialogue that's hilarious without relying solely on a set-up/punchline framework.

The film's main problem is its, at-times, tortuously slow pacing. There's literally a shot of a turtle walking - this particular shot comes amid a number of other glacially slow shots. 'Avalanche' allows these moments to breath, perhaps a little too long. This results in a film that is barely over 90 minutes feeling like a much longer movie - and it's never great for a film to feel much longer than its actual running time.

Final verdict: Great, subtle humor is overwhelmed by a lack of narrative and glacially slow pacing that rivals molasses flowing downhill.

The To Do List
½

This 90s-era comedy is essentially a girl version of 'American Pie,' only way less charming.

In short: Uptight, type-A high school senior Brandy Clark (Aubrey Plaza) with no sexual experiences decides she must prepare herself for college by cramming years worth of experimentation into one summer. (watch the trailer)

Remember how crazy the '90s were? If not, 'The To-Do List' will commit the crime that many flimsy 'period' movies do: shoehorn too many unnecessary pop culture references that never advance the story and only come off as snide jabs at the lameness of yesteryear. Movies stuck in VHS players, Trapper Keepers, 'Me So Horny,' skorts and other '90s era trappings take up far too many minutes in this already bloated running time.

Trailers: Must-see films of 2013

Unfortunately, the one joke about dated '90s technology that would have worked and also justified the entire movie's setting is glossed over very quickly. Brandy's entire reason for her list is to learn about sexuality before college - and her only resource in 1993 is either the library or personal experience. 'The To-Do List' wouldn't have worked if it was set in 2013 - a modern day Brandy could have just googled her way to a functional knowledge of the carnal. Sadly, this is all explained away in one-throwaway line, yet a ton of other 'wasn't 1993 wacky' gags made the final cut.

Brandy, as a character, is never endearing - she fluctuates between unbearably uptight to downright thoughtless/selfish. Her innocence, which is her primary driver of her story, is not made accessible or vulnerable, instead Brandy is bossy, snide or some combination of both.

See also: The 10 best films from the first half of 2013

The supporting cast is awesome on paper (Alia Shawkat, Bill Hader, Connie Britton, Donald Glover, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Andy Samberg and Clark Gregg) but only Hader leaves any sort of lasting impression. Brandy's friends do little other than crudely describe sex acts. The talents of Glover, Samberg and Mintz-Plasse are wasted on thin roles.

The better teen sex flicks can be crass and vulgar, but have a sympathetic character who audiences can cheer for and embrace. Brandy has all the charm of Spock and none of the charisma.

Final verdict: While occasionally very funny, long sections of the film are driven by a generally unsympathetic character surrounded by non-characters.

Pacific Rim
Pacific Rim(2013)
½

This robots-versus-monsters action flick will satisfy every fan of mecha, anime or the old 'Kaiju' Japanese monster movies.

In short: A small, but elite, group of pilots dare to pull off one last, desperate attack against an invading army of building-sized alien monsters. (watch the trailer)

'Pacific Rim' is a loving valentine to devoted fans of 'mecha' anime (such as 'Evangelion' or 'Escaflowne') and the classic 'kaiju movies' (such as 'Godzilla' and 'Rodan'). This summer blockbuster simply would not exist without these two genres of cult entertainment.

Searches: Find a 'Pacific Rim' showtime near you

Not surprisingly, 'Pacific Rim' is at its best when robots brawl with monsters and it tends to slow down quite a bit during the non-fighting scenes. Thankfully director Guillermo del Toro uses this down time to move the story along nicely, revealing a world tired of fighting and a pocket resistance serving as mankind's last hope.

Del Toro's world of Kaiju is a magnificently fleshed out and realized. Every detail of his world points to a global society that has focused virtually all its efforts in defending against the monsters and their devastating toll.

The same attention to detail is also invested in the fight scenes - and let's face it, the whole story is a simple excuse to watch skyscraper sized beasts throw down. These robotic behemoths operate with a logic and reality that makes sense for this world - while also offering fans great moments, such as rocket-powered punches, cool alien abilities and one robot uses a full-sized tanker ship like a baseball bat in a fight.

See also: The 10 best films from the first half of 2013
Unfortunately, the dialogue, acting and main story are of questionable quality. Some lines of dialogue are wince-inducing in their sheer corniness and some performances are equally cheesy. Idris Elba and Charlie Day deliver the two best performances - their characters could very easily be transplanted into an anime or classic monster movie. Ron Perlman's character, while slightly amusing, could have been cut or written around completely - it's a tangent that doesn't help the movie's momentum at all.

Last piece of advice - 'Pacific Rim' is definitely worth the upgrade to 3D. Much of the movie is dark, which makes some fights difficult to see, but this monster movie is worth the few extra bucks spent for the 3D premium.

Final verdict: While this is by no means Del Toro's finest movie, 'Pacific Rim' is a fun and totally entertaining summer blockbuster.

Stories We Tell
½

Simply calling 'Stories We Tell' a documentary is quite reductive. This is a masterpiece of storytelling and a layered, captivating look back at the lingering effects of 30-year old family secret.

In short: A filmmaker (Sarah Polley) follows rumors that her father may not actually be her biological father - in the process, she uncovers facets of her family and dead mother she had never known.

Writer-director Sarah Polley has masterfully crafted a heartfelt and honest recollection of her long-death actress mother Diane Polley, a story that is also a gripping mystery and an thoughtful analysis of memories and stories.

The simple framework of 'talking head' interviews of Diane's husband, collaborators, friends and children allows 'Stories' to present the intriguing idea of how various people remember the exact same person and events. Sometimes these people remember an event exactly the same way - sometimes their recollections differ.

These variances add compelling dimensions to an already dramatic story: that Diane Polley may have had an affair which, in turn, may have resulted in Sarah's birth. 'Stories' further injects greater depth into this drama by recalling the marital circumstances that could have compelled Diana toward infidelity and how this rumored affair continued to affect the Polley family decades after Diane's death.

It's worth noting that two of the central characters in this story, Diane and Sarah, do not take center stage. Instead, 'Stories' focuses on Diane's family and friends as they remember their lively, complex and flawed friend, mother and wife.

'Stories' is not satisfied with simply finding the answers to Sarah's lifelong, personal journey. The dramatic tension is totally invested in how Sarah and her family react to the secrets Diane kept. While a question of paternity is the catalyst for this deeply personal journey, 'Stories' broadens its scope to address of nature of memories, stories, fidelity and family. Even as Sarah uncovers one truth after another about her mom, 'Stories' takes the time to explore how the Polleys absorb these revelations about a woman they thought they knew.

Furthermore, this film isn't simply an arresting mystery told with the sensibility of a thriller - 'Stories' brilliantly takes on the concept of how elusive the truth becomes. Interviews with Diane's friends & family create a portrait of a complex woman in a complex situation. And despite that fact 'Stories' dutifully includes many interviews with Diane's loved ones, the only person who knew could fill in the gaps, and reveal the whole truth, was Diane Polley. Instead of just conceding in defeat that this mystery can never truly be solved, 'Stories' leverages the incomplete knowledge of Diane's motives and actions into its greatest strength: that stories, by their very nature, are fragmented and subjective accounts of the past.

In short: 'Stories We Tell' is a genre-bending work of art - which combines the conventions of documentary, mystery and dramatic narrative - in its relentless pursuit of an elusive truth.

White House Down

If you're able to turn your brain off for two hours, 'White House Down' is an incredibly fun summer action flick.

In short: A Capitol policeman (Channing Tatum) must save his daughter (Joey King) and the U.S. President (Jamie Foxx) after terrorists take over the White House.

The key to enjoying 'White House Down' is ignore or sedate the logic-center of your brain. This doesn't mean overlooking major plot holes, but rather, not questioning how terrorists are able to get powerful explosives and artillery within 5 miles of the White House in the first place.

Once the brain is sedated, this silly and absurd ride can be really entertaining. A tank battle at the White House gates, a crazy car chase/shootout on the WH lawn and attack helicopters flying just over the streets of DC are among the ridiculous/implausible sequences in his popcorn flick. And the President wields a rocket launcher - yeah, it's that kind of movie.

Even though Tatum and Foxx are on the movie's one-sheet poster, their characters are pretty thin. They're charming, which makes them easy to root for, but they're little more than 'the good guy' and 'the President.' Thankfully the great (if over-the-top) James Woods, Oscar-nominee Richard Jenkins and young actress Joey King pull more than their own weight. And 'White House' features one of the few child characters who is smart, fun to follow and capable of making decisions that keep the adventure moving forward - she isn't just a damsel in distress.

The engine of 'White House' is its escalating threat. What begins as a hostage crisis quickly becomes increasingly more dangerous - not just to the hostages within 1600 Pennsylvania, but DC as a whole and eventually the entire free world. In evolving the crisis beyond just a hostage situation allows 'White House' to maintain an entertaining energy and pace.

If one were to nitpick this intentional popcorn flick, then the film's brisk pacing is as much a blessing as it is a curse. By denying the characters even the slightest time for decision making - which would reveal their character or inner conflict - many of their decisions are simply survival instinct reactions.

In short: Very little about 'White House Down' is original or grounded in anything resembling reality, nevertheless, this action flick rides a wave of its own absurdity for a fun summer movie.

Monsters University

The latest Pixar offering is a two-headed monster - one head is an unspecial CGI kid's movie while the other head is a daring adventure and thoughtful story.

In short: Mike Wazowski and 'Sulley' Sullivan fight to attend the prestigious scaring program during their freshmen year at Monsters University.

The first half of 'University' is little more than visual gags and bumbling pratfalls. While it does set up the framework for the rest of the film, it unfortunately does so while making cheap, silly jokes designed solely to make easily amused children giggle.

The original 'Monsters, Inc' was able to punch out silly jokes that appealed to audiences of all ages - gags that were funny, but also contributed to character development or story progression. Many bits in the first half are shallow, stupid gags only aimed for knee-jerk chuckles.

Eventually, 'University' establishes very real stakes for Mike and Sully, while also fleshing out many of the supporting characters. Somehow, 'University' becomes an exciting story where Mike, Sully and their frat brothers evolve from one-note monsters into fun, engaging characters.

The second half of 'University' is a truly heartfelt, thrilling and surprisingly heartfelt film that salvages the overall film from being an over-the-top silly, low IQ kids flicks. Many of the supporting monsters languish as one-note writeoffs for much of the movie, but they unexpectedly blossom into interesting characters who each contribute directly to the heart of the overall narrative.

The core of this film (not surprisingly) is the Mike and Sully relationship - and 'University' works very well in establishing their character conflict and how they eventually become the close friends we know in 'Inc.' Even when this movie wallows in stupid jokes, these two characters have heart and clear personalities.

Despite however strong the second half of 'University' is, the insipid first half drastically drags down the overall quality of 'Monsters University' as a whole. Great animated films can be cute or silly - but they also tell a compelling story from beginning to end, rejecting the easy impulse to just cram a script with a ton of softball monster puns.

Final verdict: 'Monsters University' starts out of the blocks no better than any standard CGI childrens film, however, it eventually gains traction and becomes a story worthy the Pixar pedigree.

The Bling Ring
½

The latest Sofia Coppola offering lacks any the sentiment or nuance of her previous films, instead presenting her first straight-forward narrative.

In short: A group of high school friends begin breaking into the homes of Hollywood celebrities, stealing everything from clothes, cash to jewelry.

It's apparent the intent was to create a scathing commentary on those obsessed with celebrities - but in doing so, 'Bling Ring' sinks to the level of stupidity of those its taking aim at.

Barely a scene passes without one or more characters making incredibly stupid decisions. Moreover, they puke out insipid dialogue that gives none of the characters any depth beyond their own shallow personalities. This incredible lack-of-depth is clearly by design - however, that creative intention does not make their idiotic actions or dialogue any easier to swallow.

Understanding what makes these thieves tick is a worthwhile endeavor, however, this film presents these burglars are little more than kids obsessed with status updates, texting, shoes, blogs and jewelry. Reducing these burglars to such one-dimensional characters makes it difficult to care about these valley girl in the slightest.

Many great films have characters who are terrible people who make terrible choices - the difference between them and 'Bling Ring' it's hard to even root for or against this group of burglars.

'Lost in Translation' is a great nuanced film. 'Somewhere' is a thoughtful slice of Hollywood life that makes many similar swipes at the nature of celebrity that 'Bling Ring' attempts to make, albeit in a more artistic manner. 'The Bling Ring' is a straight-forward, simple story of greedy celeb hounds who steal pretty things.

'The Bling Ring' attempts to skewer narcissistic, thoughtless, fame-hungry borderline sociopaths - but results in a simple movie packed with characters who act with little-to-no regard for the consequences of their actions. In the end, it's hard to care about what happens to them - which is a hallmark of a poorly executed film.

Final verdict: Disappointing on nearly every level and annoying is almost every regard.

Gangster Squad

'Gangster Squad' is a cartoonishly uber-violent 'Untouchables' knockoff, but with 50-60 fewer IQ points. Everyone you think dies does die - usually a violent death. A film this predictable isn't entertaining or fun enough to offset its obvious narrative. Major leaps of logic or narrative are made just so 'Squad' hits its obligatory plot points. The all-star cast seems in a daze as they go through the motions of an unoriginal gangster flick.

Upside Down
Upside Down(2013)

At some point in 'Upside Down,' a character deliberately says 'all we have to do is CAREFULLY mix the two solutions.' He then immediately proceeds to mix the two fluids vigorously together like he's working a martini shaker.

It's this type of attentiveness to dialogue, action and its own ridiculous laws of physics that makes 'Upside Down' difficult to buy into.

In short: A man from one planet (Jim Sturgess) tries to find his lost love - a girl (Kirsten Dunst) who lives on a nearby planet, a world with an opposing gravitation pull.

Any film that starts off with 7 minutes of pure exposition voiceover starts with one foot in its own sci-fi grave. 'Upside Down' puts its other foot in the grave wrapping its own convoluted sci-fi premise with a thin story and even more meager screenplay.

The intriguing premise of two worlds proximate world with opposing gravity quickly gets lost in its own silly laws of nature. Like all bad science fiction, 'Upside Down' is obviously more impressed with its own camera moves and playing with its sci-fi rules than telling a compelling story. Great sci-fi puts characters and story first, allowing the sci-fi help tell the story. Poor sci-fi does exactly the opposite, relying on a sci-fi element push the story forward.

When sci-fi elements aren't forcing the movie forward, way-too-convenient plot points pick up the slack. Characters show up and leave at just the right moments. This unnatural chain of scenes disarms the characters of much decision making ability, thus robbing their actions of much significance.

The 'Have/Have-not' split between the two worlds reduces all but a few of the supporting characters into arch caricatures. The exposition-laden script allows very little room for any sort of nuanced acting.

But this movie's greatest crime is de-emphasizing the love story in what's clearly a sci-fi love story. The main couple share very little screen time together or interacting at all. This lack of contact makes the hero - whose entire journey is motivated by his love for a childhood love - seem crazy.

In short: convenient plot turns, shallow supporting characters, exposition-heavy dialogue and erratic time jumps sap all the wonder or emotion from 'Upside Down.'

Safe Haven
Safe Haven(2013)

Ninety-five percent of this slow-motion mystery, formulaic Nic Sparks 'romance' is bad - but not offensively bad, just par-for-the-Nicolas-Sparks-bad. But instead of coming to its inevitable, predictable end, 'Safe Haven' throws out an insane, unnecessary, ridiculous, way-past-retarded 'twist' ending that is more infuriating and absurd than can be expressed without diving into spoiler territory. Everything else that leads up to this ending is uninspired and tedious - but this final twist is so insanely stupid that it alone drops the overall score from a 2.0 to 1.0. Ending the film just 90 seconds earlier might have ended the film on a somewhat sweetish note, instead of resorting to the WTF-conclusion that only leaves a bile-like taste in the audience's mouth.

Side Effects
Side Effects(2013)
½

'Side Effects' is at its best when its characters slowly, gradually unravel - like a frayed thread pulled from a sweater. The movie wonderfully sets up the mystery while remaining very engaging/interesting - most thrillers fail to achieve this impressive feat. But the revelation - one that sheds new light on the overall scheme - is a sudden twist that sadly deflates the conclusion. This seemingly out-of-left-field twist is an unfortunate answer to an otherwise large plot hole. The excitement of any mystery is finally seeing the whole picture, then rooting for the hero to thwart the scheme. But when 'Side Effects' reveals the large, missing part of the puzzle, it leaves an underwhelming 'uh, okay' feeling rather than one of genuine surprise.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

'Witch Hunters' greatest flaw is its lack of conviction - it's not fun enough to be an enjoyable adventure, sly enough to be a self-aware spoof or scary enough to be a horror flick. In trying to be all these things, 'Witch Hunters' fails to be any one of these genres with much success. The one thing it does well is look very cheap: bad CGI and 80s-era makeup and masks give 'Witch Hunters' a very dated/frugal aesthetic. All that said, this film has a compact 87-min running time, which makes it perfectly OK as a throwaway, brainless shoot-em-up. In short: it's not as terrible as you'd think.

Broken City
Broken City(2013)

An ill-constructed throwback to the old gumshoe detective films -- but without the intrigue or mystique of the classic films. The larger pieces of this political/crime mystery puzzle never fit together quite right, which ultimately results in an unsatisfying feeling when the full picture is finally laid out. Further muddying the water are a ton of superfluous details that are introduced but never played out to their full extent or have much consequence, for example: the hero's sobriety, the entire arch with his girlfriend or a politician's secret relationship. These tantalizing/promising story threads are brought to let but not let to develop story line or substantially alter character. The final conflict/revelation for the hero - feels very manufactured rather than a genuine tactical move by the villain. In the end, this mystery isn't very fun to unravel.

Warm Bodies
Warm Bodies(2013)
½

The oddly sweet tone against the typically dark post-zombiepacalyse landscape works surprisingly well. A refreshingly hope-filled tone is a welcome change from the dreary zombie genre. Rob Corddry and John Malkovich must be recognized for adding more layered performances that add just enough dark humanity to their respective roles, which prevents 'Bodies' from becoming too saccharine. These 'cute' dynamic forces the characters beyond simple one-dimensional 'zombies! run for your lives' personalities.

Generation Um...

A pair of women debating 'shit' versus 'shat.' A drunken woman toss and turn as she sleeps off a hard night of drinking. A man eating late breakfast ... describe a dream ... ask for ketchup ... then pour a dab of ketchup on his breakfast. He later videotapes a squirrel and some dogs at the park.

'Generation Um...' is a series of long, tedious, meandering scenes with no clear agenda or narrative. There's a cynical undercurrent the permeates every frame of this debacle, but whatever heady critiques were intended are overwhelmed by amateur-hour direction.

There's no good summation of 'Generation,' except to say it's simply three New Yorkers being mundane for one day. None of the scenes flow together well. The film as a whole is essentially a home video of three uninteresting characters being less than interesting.

The dialogue is sparse with an usually high ratio of 'profound' statements for every unremarkable line of poorly written crap. And every pseudo-philosophical thought sounds like it came out of an incredibly high stoner with an equally incredibly low IQ.

By the time the characters do have any meaningful, dramatic-ish interactions, these conversations - however 'honest' - are unearned. The three main characters spend the first third of the movie either not interacting or merely tolerating each other -- so it's incredibly abrupt when they suddenly open up to each other. Moreover, since the film makes almost no effort to establish any sympathetic moments for the main characters, it then becomes difficult to care about any of their 'heartfelt'/'honest' answers to personal questions late in the movie.

So, to put a bow on this - 'Generation Umm' makes little effort to make sense on any level, invents little time into establishing the characters with any sort of depth and results in a tangled mess of scenes that are absolutely not entertaining in any way.

But perhaps 'Generation, Um...' does the best job of summarizing the experience of suffering this movie: "Shit don't mean shit ... unless it means shit and it only means shit if you need it to mean shit."

And that is perhaps the most profound statement made in what is definitely one of the stupidest films of 2013. And it is very indicative of 'Generation Umm...' as a whole.

In short: 'Generation Umm...' is a failure of basic storytelling, resulting in a film not worth enduring.

Oz the Great and Powerful
½

Aims to impress and inject awe/wonder with its scale and effects - but fails with a joyless, flat 'adventure.' At times visually stunning - at other times incredibly fake/cartoony looking. Excessive number of forced nods to 'Wizard of Oz.' Whole Mila Kunis character storyline is rushed, which especially bad given her arch. Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz and Zach Braff are only redeeming aspects to this unnecessary prequel.

World War Z
World War Z(2013)
½

The action-thriller 'World War Z' earns very high marks for incredibly intense & thrilling action sequences while getting point deductions for paper-thin characters and forced plot points that shove the film forward.

In short: Retired United Nations investigator Gerry Lane (Pitt) travels the world trying to find a cure and a way to stop the zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and collapsing governments. (watch the trailer)

Searches: Find 'World War Z' showtimes

While the debate between 'running zombies vs. slow-moving/Romero zombies' may not be settled anytime soon, 'Z' opts for a borderline super-powered army of the undead. These zombies fling themselves toward their prey with absolutely no regard for their own safety - which creates absolutely intense and creative action sequences. This makes 'Z' a harrowing and emotionally intense ride during its incredible action scenes.

This film impressively delivers suspense and excitement on several scales - from massive action sequences to one-on-one zombie scenes. The opening New York City sequence is relentlessly terrifying and will leave audiences breathless. And even the smaller/quieter zombie sequences are taunt with nerve-destroying tension.

The PG-13 rating means much of the gruesome violence is off-screen - there are single episodes of 'The Walking Dead' far more graphic than this entire film. While 'Z' strongly alludes to terribly violent acts to individual characters, it makes up for dulled graphic imagery with an near-unstoppable undead army able to overwhelm entire cities and armies. This zombie flick completely delivers on a scale rarely witnessed in any previous zombie-themed flick.

In addition to being a roller coaster of thrills and suspense, 'Z' is also a very smart genre flick. It establishes several rules and conventions - from how quickly victims turn into zombies to the monster's animal-like traits - and consistently follows its own logic.

Trailers: Must-see films of 2013

'Z' totally succeeds at creating emotionally draining action scenes - but its characters and overall narrative are thin and forced.

Other than being a clearly devoted father and a multi-skilled UN worker (of vague background and skillset), it's never quite clear what makes Gerry (Pitt) such a critical part in the mission for a cure. He's often little more than a 'running guy who witnesses crazy stuff.'

As Gerry travels the globe, he meets a series of characters who seem to serve as mouthpieces for the various ways mankind would respond to such a catastrophe. These characters wax philosophical, offering some commentary on human nature. While interesting, these conversations are too shallow to leave much of a lasting impression.

It's very evident that 'Z' is an adaptation of a popular novel. The book itself chronicles a series of disconnected events that all relate to the zombie outbreak. The film feels like several of these sections were hastily patched together, with Gerry serving as the central through line connecting each segment. 'Z' successfully creates its own horrible iteration of a zombie outbreak, but the movie's connective tissue - what brings Gerry from one corner of the world to the next - is often a tortured piece of dialogue that forces the plot ahead unnaturally.

Basically, 'World War Z' is a cobbled together set of awesome zombie outbreak scenarios that are oddly stitched together by one man's global jet-setting adventures blessed with very convenient timing.

When it comes to overall excitement and scale, 'Z' is very similar to 'War of the Worlds' - in that both start off with incredible action sequences, but each successive set piece gets smaller and smaller, until limping awkwardly to an unsatisfying end.

Final verdict: the thrilling, entertaining and intense aspects of 'World War Z' far outweigh its odd composition and lack of character or narrative depth.

Before Midnight

In short: Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), who first met on a train nearly two decades ago and met again in 2002, now live together in Paris with their twin daughters. As they walk through a small Greek village, they ponder their relationship and their future.

'Before Sunrise' one of the great romances of all time. Its sequel, 'Before Sunset' ranks among the greatest film sequels of all time. Now 'Before Midnight' will cement the 'Before' series as one of - if not the - greatest film trilogies ever, while impressively also surpassing the greatness of 'Sunset.'

One of the first scenes is a simple conversation Jesse and Celine share while they drive. They chat about Celine's current job and how terrible Jesse feels after sending his 14-year-old son back on a plane to Jesse's ex-wife. They joke, laugh and share their thoughts on eachother's dilemmas.

The amazing brilliance of this one scene is that is all shot in one take. This long, winding, organic conversation perfectly captures their deeply initimate relationship. The perfectly at easy dynamic between Jesse and Celine is what sells this lengthy scene of two characters sharing a conversation that touches on a myriad of emotions.

While 'Midnight' lacks a conventional narrative of plot points, the story arch is aligned with the escalating truths and revelations Jesse and Celine share or throw at eachother as the film progresses. On the surface, 'Midnight' is just a series of conversations, most of which analyze the nature of being in love. But below that surface is an analysis of Jesse and Celine's entire relationship: from its idealic, romantic chance enounter on a train to their fateful reunion in 2004.

'Midnight' also perfectly builds off its previous films. They must live with the choices they made to be together after 'Sunset' and often allude to their romantic meeting in Vienna. It reveals how the Jesse and Celine have changed over the years and how they have fundamentally remained the same at their cores.

'Midnight' is essentially two characters dynamically interacting with eachother - a simple, but guaranteed forumula for incredible drama. What makes 'Midnight' work is the honestly and chemisty Jesse and Celine have with one another. Their admissions and reactions always seem to come from a natural place - none of the exchanges feel forced, as if to lead the pair toward an pre-determined ending.

If 'sunrise' was about the magic of truly meeting another person and 'Sunset' is about a lingering love that never dies, then 'Midnight' perfectly captures of the truth of what it actually means to be in a relationship.

Final verdict: This incredibly written, beautifully acted and brilliantly layered masterpiece is one of the best films of 2013.

Man of Steel
Man of Steel(2013)

The most substantial Superman film to date is exciting, but not without some serious structural flaws.

In short: While Clark Kent wanders the globe, searching for his place in the world, a dangerous threat arrives to Earth looking for Kal-El, one of the last of his alien race

'Man of Steel' presents Superman as a symbol of hope - the real protagonist is an adopted alien known as Clark Kent whose given birthname is Kal-El. This distinction is critically vital as 'Man of Steel' is primarily an immigrant's story with a central conflict of home versus heritage.

Superman's alien background creates his conflict, but his search for purpose is what pushes Clark Kent/Kal-El toward his destiny. This deeper, more meaningful core elevates 'Man of Steel' above other comic book characters who simply wear a spandex suit to fight bad guys.

But comic geeks rest assured, there's more action than all previous Superman films combined. This iteration of the Man of Steel is a being of raw power - and (thanks to modern effects) Superman now has extensive powers far greater than any of his previous incarnations. Even if previous cinematic versions of Superman lifted continents or turned back time, this Superman is forced to use all his abilities (strength, speed, heat vision, flight) in violent combat - a first for any Superman movie.

As Lex Luthor and kryptonite are left out of this movie, Superman finally faces villains who pose a very serious physical threat to him. He must defeat a squad of aliens as powerful as he is, which makes for some brutal and devastating battle/fight sequences.

The unfortunately hard-to-ignore problem with 'Man of Steel' is its incredibly jagged storytelling.

Many scenes feel abrupt in their transitions from one scene to the next. The movie's general narrative is clear, but plot points are slammed together with little to no room to breath. Compacting plot points too densely together shift priority from character development in favor of hitting necessary plot points. While this usually makes for more exciting, action-packed film - it comes at the cost of making the movie feel rushed and, at times, jarring.

Most of the movie is a series of events that do not smoothly flow from one scene to the next. The obvious reason for this clunky storytelling is 'Man of Steel' attempts to cover a lot of ground: Krypton's destruction, Clark Kent's childhood, his global wandering, Kal-El's alienation from humanity, the emergence of an invading alien threat and Clark/Kal-El's rise as Superman.

Coarse storytelling is a problem for any film that covers so many themes and vacillates between thoughtful immigrant story and 'everything blows up' action blockbuster. These contrasting themes and plot points never flow well between one another.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is no post-credits stinger scene, ala the Marvel films. But eagle-eyed viewers can catch fleeting glimpses of the larger DC universe as equipment bearing the logos of Wayne Enterprises and LexCorp appear periodically.

Final verdict: 'Man of Steel,' although imperfect in its execution, succeeds in finally realizing the Superman movie comic fans have wanted to see for more than 60 years.

A Band Called Death
½

This is not simply the story of rediscovering a lost gem. 'A Band Called Death' is the very human documentary accounting the birth, death and rebirth of a pioneering punk band named Death.

In short: Three African American brothers in Detroit form a band and record a pioneering punk single in the 1970s. However, it would be more than three decades for the whole world to finally hear their visionary protopunk music.

'A Band Called Death' is an energized, inspiring and joyous recount of a band almost completely forgotten by time. The bullet points of Death's history as a band is interesting enough: how they started playing rock, why interested record labels refused to sign them, how the band folded in the late '70s and what lead to their recent rediscovery. These particulars alone would have made a great music documentary.

But this doc aims higher. It looks at the expectations of the music culture after Motown and before punk. Where most stories end with the inevitable break-up of the band, 'Death' follows the story that continued well after the band's own death and how its rebirth started almost quite by accident.

On paper, the roadblocks that stopped Death from achieving fame in the '70s are easy to spot and easier to question in hindsight - but this documentary weaves a story that reveals the empassioned reasons they refused to yield and stay true to their then unique sound.

The film's focus, from beginning to end, remains locked on the three brothers. 'A Band Called Death' does not settle for recounting a band's history. This is more a story of the twists & turns their lives took through the decades. The band's initial struggles and eventual rebirth, although beautifully told, is the framework for this bittersweet narrative about a trio of bandmates/brothers.

Some life details are quickly glossed over - almost mentioned in passing - but this is a small complaint. This is a well focused/edited documentary that has a very human heart and a storyteller's mind.

Good documentaries educate its viewers. Better docs educate and evoke emotion. The best documentaries educate, evoke and inspire viewers into action. 'A Band Called Death' is the latter. When the final credits start to roll, just try resisting the urge to buy every track off the 'Death' album from iTunes.

Final verdict: 'A Band Called Death' is a high energy, human and joyous documentary that recalls the excitement of discovering wonderful new music. A absolute must-see film.

The Kings of Summer
½

Nostalgic without manipulation, funny without compromising dramatic elements and an overall fun adventure - 'The Kings of Summer' is a great addition to the coming-of-age genre.

In short: three teenage boys - Joe (Nick Robinson), his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and strange classmate Biaggio (Moises Arias) - frustrated with living with their 'oppressive' parents, decide to runaway and live together, alond in middle of the woods.

The greatest accomplishment of 'Kings' is its blend of comedy and drama. At its core, this is a drama about teens who feel so alienated from their parents they run away. This film, however, keeps an adventurous, fun tone by surrounding its main cast - who carry the more dramatic elements - with great comedic performances. A number of talented actors - including Alison Brie ('Mad Men,' 'Community'), Mary Lynn Rajskub ('24') and Megan Mullally ('Childrens Hospital') - are solid in their supporting roles.

While the main story focuses on Joe's relationship with his friends and family, 'Parks & Recreation' star Nick Offerman - who plays Joe's father - does a superb job of anchoring the film's more dramatic elements. Moises Arias is incredible as the peculiar, hilarious teen who tags along for Joe and Patrick's adventure. Offerman injects biting sarcasm to his miserable character and Arias has his own heartfelt moments.

'Kings' taps into a nostaglic feeling that most coming-of-age films try to force but never truly realize. Most of these movies use era-specific soundtracks or pop culture references to create an artificial sentimentality that is usually surface only. This film ties into the timeless feeling of wanting to be treated like an adult, while simultaneously having a lot of growing up left to do. It relates the frustration of being a teen at a deeper level than most of its competition achieves.

Final verdict: 'The Kings of Summer' is royalty within the coming-of-age movie genre.

The Purge
The Purge(2013)

'The Purge' review: Preachy commentary, poor acting undermine interesting premise

This is sadly another case of a film's premise deteriorating into a base, underwhelming flick.

In short: A group of killers threaten to break into a family's home on the one night a year when any and all crimes are legal.

The most interesting aspect of 'The Purge' is the idea of a night where even murder is completely legal. But sadly this potentially great premise is fleshed out in a most unsatisfying manner.

'The Purge' wants to be a cynical commentary on a world where class warfare is taken to the next step (actually 'purging' the poor), but this social insight is executed poorly through shallow acting and preachy dialogue. The film establishes a flourish America that succeeds only because of the annual purge - a society that has lost its soul via a 12-hour crime wave each year.

But these lofty concepts lost due to one-dimensional antagonists and preachy dialogue. Apparently all the bloodthirsty psychos trying to break into the family's home are all rich, highborn members of society 'entitled' to their purge - but all of them are played as little more than, well, bloodthirsty psychos. They deliver long monologues how the annual purge benefits society and how anyone sacrificed in the purged will be for the greater good.

None of the villains have any depth to them as individual characters - they simply act as one faceless flock bent on murder. This reduces them to simply monsters with no complexity. Their motivations for wanton violence are thin and sometimes outright ridiculous.

what's worse than poorly written villains is a family of protagonists who appear intent on making every single frustrating or stupid decision they can make to insure their own demise.

The father (Ethan Hawke) is a jerk who has made a fortune off the annual purge by selling home security systems. His wife ('Game of Thrones' star Lena Headey) is a rich homemaker whose mansion is the envy of her gated community. Their children (Adelaide Kane and Max Burkholder) do little more than constantly put the family in danger over and over and over again.

After a while, due to the family member's constant poor/horrible decision making, it's hard to not root for the murderous psychos.

On the plus side, the 85-minute running time is mercifully very short.

Final verdict: Not worth the trip to the theaters - a home rental at best.

The Internship
½

Facebook had 'The Social Network' ... and Google gets this unfunny, two-hour commercial.

In short: two out-of-work middle-aged men (Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson) jump start their careers by taking an internship at Google. A lucky few interns can earn a job offer at Google if they win enough team challenges.

'The Internship' has three enormous problems: 1) it's a commercial for Google, 2) almost every joke is shallow and 3) much of the dialogue feels like placeholder lines in a rushed first draft script.

The film, in general, makes little sense. First, and foremost, why Google would accept two guys who barely know how to work a webcam undermines the movie's meager credibility.

Apparently there's some sort of competition between teams for jobs at Google - but only a vague sense of rules are explained. This results in decreased story tension, making it hard to care about anything that happens because why many plot points matters is pretty unclear. When the rules are ambiguous or you don't know them, it's hard to care about the competition - be it football, ice skating or a Google internship.

Then there's the issue that each of the contests is tailor made for this overall predictable film - if Vaughn/Owen's team is supposed to win, then of course they get a softball of a contest. If the story clearly calls for them to fail, then they get a daunting task.

Exactly why the film has two protagonists is questionable. There's very little difference between Vaughn or Owen's characters - they could have very easily been morphed into one stronger character.

Great comedy comes from honest character interaction or situation reaction - 'The Internship,' however, opts for timely 'Terminator,' 'Flash Dance,' 'Harry Potter' and Alanis Morissette gags. While some subtle jokes land really strong, most of the obvious punchlines are not more substantial than 'Come on bro, fist me - get up in there.'

When the script calls for Vaughn and Owen to inspire and motivate their team, the script reads like a series of motivational posters. Most of the dialogue is a string of tired aphorisms about 'not giving up' and 'chasing your dream.' While on the subject of a sheer lack of creativity, the overall story is predictable to a fault. Two fun, free-wheeling old guys (who know nothing about computers) have to work with a group of uptight, eccentric computer nerds/outcasts - and they 'change' each other in every predictable manner.

So, besides being unoriginal and unfunny, 'The Internship' is also a 120-minute long commercial for all things Google. Long clips of this movie could be repurposed as ads for such 'great' services as Google maps, Google+ hangouts and Google Street View. This is often distracting and these shameless plugs rarely feel organic/necessary to the narrative.

The only part of 'The Internship' that works is the pure likeability of Vaughn and Owens. They are loveable and easy to root for, despite their utter cluelessness.

Final verdict: While not offensively terrible, the number of people who find 'The Internship' absolutely hysterical probably equals the number of people who actively use WebCrawler.

Frances Ha
Frances Ha(2013)
½

This off-beat, artful film does what 'The Mindy Project' and even 'Girls' fails to truly accomplish: present a truly focused, wonderfully executed story of sympathetic and realistic single girl living in the city.

In short: 'undateable' Francis (Greta Gerwig) lives in Manhattan and pursuing her dream of being a professional dancer -- she struggles to realize her dreams of career and friendship as those around her move on with their lives.

'Frances Ha' works for two simple reasons: Gerwig excels as the titular Francis and director Noah Baumbach has smartly assembled film that doesn't treat its audience like idiots.

If Francis was obnoxiously sloppy or frustratingly annoying, then 'Francis Ha' would have completely caved in on itself. Gerwig's performance must be noted because she allows Francis make frustrating, condescending and impulsive decisions, while always remaining sympathetic and human. Gerwig succeeds in a careful balancing act of allowing Francis to sometimes be her own worst enemy while simultaneously keeping her an awkward, loveable character. Most importantly, Francis is offbeat and quirky but she never feels like a caricature of the 'young single girl' protagonist.

Perhaps the best compliment is Francis would be a great character for a sitcom - but she is best used in this tightly written, focused film.

Co-writers Gerwig and Baumbach have elevated the 'single girl getting her life together' story to a refreshing new level of cinematic execution. Often, these films or TV shows talk down to the audience with unnecessary exposition and reducing the female protagonist's goal 'getting the guy' instead of character growth.

Baumbach has crafted a story that says more with visuals than with 'let me explain everything' dialogue. The intro montage shows the depth of the friendship between Francis and Sophie with minimal dialogue -- this effectively conveys more than words can simply state and reveals what is at stake for these women.

Final verdict: 'Frances Ha' ranks among the must-see films of 2013.

Now You See Me
½

Magic shows are designed to entertain and delight - and this fun caper flick is exciting from its first frame to its final act.In short: Four stage magicians begin a string of incredible heists, with vengeful victims, rival performers and federal agents quickly in pursuit of them.'Now You See Me' takes no time to quickly introduce each of the Four Horsemen- four street performers who quickly become a Vegas headline act. Each has a specialty and together they are a complete magician act.Oddly enough, the film never really develops any of the Four Horsemen as characters - they are simply masters in their respective fields (sleight of hand, illusions, mentalism, etc). But this works because the film never slows down enough to delve deep into their individual pasts - they are simply driven master illusion artists who are often two steps ahead of their pursuers. The film maintains its momentum by not focusing on character history - instead it wisely invests its time in presenting the illusions.The Horsemen continually succeed in impressive, grand heists while their pursuers are always left to figure out how the Horsemen accomplished their feats.The real character development comes from a former performer (Morgan Freeman) who debunks magicians and the two agents in charge of stopping the Horsemen: a surly skeptical FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) and an more open-minded Interpol agent (Mélanie Laurent). 'Now You See Me' has a lot of moving parts and a massive cast, however, the film never loses focus on its main narrative, never loses steam in its storytelling and allow all the characters to dynamically interact as their motives twist and turn.While the film goes to great lengths to explain how the Horsemen pull off their illusions, some of the explanations are glossed over really quickly. We don't need to see every detail of how the sausage was made, but a couple very important steps were explained away almost in passing.This is a very economical film - almost every single scene is important. Even banter that appears easy-to-write-off pays off. There's almost zero fat to this flick, which is why its energized from the very beginning.Final verdict: 'Now You See Me' is one of the first truly fun rides of 2013. Charismatic performances from the Horsemen and engaging performances from Ruffalo and Freeman.

The Hangover Part III

The first 'Hangover' was a fun ride. Its sequel was a much more dark, angry and much less fun slog through Bangkok. 'The Hangover Part III' is somewhere between the first two movies and brings the trilogy to a halfhearted close.

In short: a vengeful Vegas criminal forces the Wolfpack to track down and capture psychotic fugitive Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong), who has broken out of his Bangkok prison.

While not outright bad, 'Part III' just isn't as much fun as the first film and isn't as aggressively mean spirited as 'Part II.' The main problem is its overall tone - by raising the stakes, which include dealing with an increasingly unstable Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and saving Doug (Justin Bartha) from a murderous criminal -- 'Part III' straddles too many fences without committing to any one tone.

Although the movie has some huge laughs, they're too sparse to call 'Part III' a solid comedy. Alan's actions range from cruel to angry - which prevents the movie from being lighthearted and always pulls its back to being a somewhat dark comedy at best. The heist sequences - which put the Wolfpack stealing and breaking into buildings - are solid, but the dark/crime aspects of the film once again keep the movie from being fun and weigh its tone down with the very real threat that some or all of the Wolfpack could be murdered at any point in 'Part III.'

The claim that 'Part III' is the 'epic finale to the trilogy' is a halfhearted one at best. This story doesn't bring a fulfilling end to the 'Hangover' series. The core of the trilogy's 'conclusion' is centered completely on Alan's reluctance to change and let go of his beloved Wolfpack fraternity.

Although the Alan story is resolved, it comes at the cost of marginalizing Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms). If Alan is the heart of 'Part III,' Phil and Stu are only there to keep the story moving forward - they are tools/story mechanisms with no story arcs who just moan & groan for 90 mins. While two-thirds of the Wolfpack are wasted, a completely new character - played by 'Bridesmaids' star Melissa McCarthy - is added just to give Alan (forced) closure for the trilogy.

The film ultimately concludes with an ending that feels like a foot left in the door. That being said, the epilogue scene (which occurs just as the end credits begin to roll) is the best scene in the entire movie.

Final verdict: Watch 'Part III' to finish out the trilogy, but re-watch the first 'Hangover' to laugh.

Fast & Furious 6

More arch acting, more car chases and bigger explosions. The 'Fast & Furious 6' doesn't reinvent the wheel - it's as simple, but incredibly fun, as every other entry in the 'Fast & Furious' franchise.

In short: Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O'Conner's (Paul Walker) crew of pro criminals have all-but-retired in exile, settling down in Spain, when DSS agent Luke Hobb (Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson) asks Toretto's crew help in stopping a terrorist.

The latest 'Fast & Furious' film is as much fun as it is 'stupid.' That is to say, the none-too-deep plot is entirely an excuse for insane vehicle set pieces and fight sequences. Writing off the entire franchise as 'stupid' would be easy where it not for the 'Furious 6' sequences completely paying off in the entertainment department.

Unlike other franchises that simply have too many sequels, each film in the 'Fast & Furious' series works as an independent adventure while also serving as a piece of an ongoing story. The evolution of the series is quite interesting: while 'Fast Five' was a heist flick, 'Furious 6' serves as a 'take down the terrorists' movie. And the epilogue scene teases an exciting next entry for the series - no spoilers, but the actions of 'Furious 6' directly connect not only to 'Fast & Furious 7' but, oddly enough, 'Tokyo Drift.'

'Furious 6' features great banter between Toretto's crew - the cadance of a team that has pulled off heist after heist for years. This dynamic/chemistry is a strong part of why the 'Furious' series has endured - these characters are truly a family.

The first action set piece is an exciting car chase through London and each subsequent action sequence is more insane than the last. The penultimate sequence - involving a tank and a freeway chase - feels like it could have been the finale for any lesser action film ... but even 'Furious 6' has one more great sequence up its sleeve before the final credits.

The main failing of 'Furious 6' is its simple plot and forced story twists. The device to reintroduce Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) - who was believed to be killed during the fourth 'Furious' film - strains credibility to say the least. The third act reveal regarding one of the main characters is predictable and unnecessary (which is never a good combination). Brian O'Connor's storyline, which has him sent to prison - begins with a plot threat that is never paid off. And the final sequence is centered around a cargo plane preparing for takeoff - apparently from an impossibly long airport runway. Aside from Ludacris's character is the only one with a designated skill set (that of technical expert), none of the other members of Toretto's crew appear to contribute anything other than really good driving abilities.

The villain has no depth - it's simply another sell-to-the-highest-bidder terrorist who, of course, is trying to steal technology that threatens the world. The small bit of dimension given to the villain contrasts his 'I value no human life' outlook against Toretto's 'family is everything' philosophy. Furthermore it's incredibly clear which of the terrorists will end up fighting each of Torreto's crew.

'Furious 6' is not a master class in acting or subtly. Diesel and Walker prove once again why the 'Furious' series is their main paycheck. The no-nonsense Agent Hobbs ('The Rock') worked better as a character working against Toretto's crew in 'Fast Five' than as an agent alongside Toretto's crew. Dwayne Johnson can act - he was the best part of 'Pain & Gain' - however, when he's the strongest actor in a film with a very large cast, that film probably could use one or two more learned thespians.

The plot and even characters are a distant second to the action sequences - but the explosions, car chases and stunts are incredibly fun.

Final verdict: Very enjoyable if you're able to turn your completely brain off.

Star Trek Into Darkness

The 2009 'Star Trek' film is arguably the greatest reboot in movie history and 'Into Darkness' further explores this new alternate 'Trek' timeline, discovering an exciting new take on familiar, beloved franchise lore.

In short: Capt. Kirk leads the manhunt for a vengeful terrorist who has attacked Starfleet Headquarters who is intent on making Starfleet pay for its sins.

'Star Trek Into Darkness' is the next logical step after the 2009 film. It not only builds upon the concept of a new 'Trek' timeline, but it never loses the energy or incredible character dynamic from the Abrams' reboot.

The centerpiece of 'Into Darkness' is Benedict Cumberbatch's menacing performance as rogue Starfleet Commander John Harrison. Although it's initially difficult to imagine how just one man can pose a significant threat to the entire Federation and Starfleet, it's Cumberbatch's ever threatening gaze and cerebral character that embodies a man who is simultaneously tragic as he is incredibly dangerous. Harrison proves himself superior to Kirk and Spock at every turn - and Cumberbatch commands every scene he is in.

Much like the 2009 film, 'Into Darkness' keeps the Kirk-Spock relationship front and center. The peculiar, but deep friendship between the brash captain and logic-bound officer isn't simply a space version of 'The Odd Couple'- their often-contradictory dynamic not only entertains but also pushes the narrative forward. This sequel begins by quickly pointing out the flaws of Kirk's recklessness and Spock's strict adherence to Starfleet protocol. From this beginning these two characters are able to evolve and affect each other's character arches.

Even as the Enterprise faces a powerful terrorist, Klingons and a war monger, it is the Kirk-Spock dynamic that advances the narrative forward. These two opposites rarely agree on a course of action, however, action is always taken.

On a technical level, 'Into Darkness' is a film that should be viewed in 3D and IMAX 3D if at all possible. Several sequences and set pieces - notably the space jump from the Enterprise - take full advantage of the IMAX scale and exploit the immersive 3D experience.

Although the overall story is entertaining, certain elements and characters feel like they were somewhat shoehorned into the plot, leaving a sense that 'Into Darkness' is merely following familiar beats from previous 'Star Trek' stories. 'Into Darkness' is incredibly derivative of previous 'Star Trek' stories, down to some very familiar pieces of dialogue and story beats. Some narrative arcs (except with some slight tweaks) are repurposed wholesale from previous episodes and films, leaving 'Into Darkness' feeling like it was assembled from past 'Trek' stories.

One of the strengths of the 2009 reboot was how well balanced the plot was in allowing each crewmember of the Enterprise to contribute to the adventure. However, its sequel marginalizes all but Kirk and Spock for the most part. Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, Dr. McCoy and especially Chekov have incredibly reduced roles this time around. Although all Enterprise crewmembers have small scenes integral to the plot, most of the crew has been relegated to the background while Kirk, Spock and Harrison take center stage.

The secondary villain feels very thin in contrast to Kirk, Spock and Harrison. This is unfortunate, since a more fleshed out tertiary main character could have added a more fulfilling depth to the story - however, this secondary villain is very one note.

While the main characters are amazing, 'Into Darkness' has a first act that takes its time in unraveling the mystery of John Harrison - and the ultimate resolution is incredibly abrupt. The entirety of the third act is one breath-taking sequence after another galvanized by powerful character decisions - then the final action sequence jarringly brings the film to its anticlimactic conclusion. This resolution feels like a safety move for future sequels, however, in doing so, it pulls back from allowing 'Into Darkness' a truly exciting ending.

Final verdict: Abrams continues to master the formula of introducing classic 'Trek' lore to the general masses in an exciting new way while touching upon classic 'Trek' moments. Absolute must-see on the big screen.

The Great Gatsby
½

For all the meaningful thematic messages, its all-star cast, star-studded soundtrack and a director famed for his ability of inject infectious energy into love stories, 'The Great Gatsby' is ultimately ... underwhelming.
In short: At the height of the Roaring Twenties, a mysterious millionaire throws lavish parties, as his many guests wonder who exactly Jay Gatsby is or why he throws such large events.

The latest from director Baz Luhrmann isn't as unbearable as 'Australia,' but it isn't anywhere as energized and fun as 'Moulin Rouge' or 'Romeo + Juliet.'
To the credit of 'Gatsby,' this is an incredibly beautiful film to look at. The cinematography is grand in scale and flush with a vibrant palette. Just about every frame would make a great souvenir still of the movie. The intimate moments are close, the establishing shots are epic and the lively party scenes are packed with a pure kinetic energy.

That said, paying the extra fee to see 'Gatsby' in 3D is a waste of money. Most of the film is essentially people talking in mansions - the few scenes where 3D make sense simply do not justify the 3D scenes. Great 3D cinematic experiences make viewers either A) feel like they're actually in the scenes (ie, 'Avatar') or B) adds a compelling depth-of-field to action scenes (ie, 'Star Trek Into Darkness'). 'Gatsby' does neither, thus making its 3D scenes mostly a novelty not worth the 3D premium.
The strength of 'Gatsby' is creating a work of pure excess. This film doesn't just gloss over the fact that 'Gatsby' takes place during the Roaring Twenties - it revels in the wholly irresponsible decadence of parties, wealth and power brokers. Luhrmann wonderfully captures the essence of a world without responsibility. Its rich soundtrack of modern stars - including Beyonce, Lana del Rey and Gotye - makes this excess relatable to 2013 audiences.

Unfortunately, all these aesthetics wrap around an unfulfilling love story that drags on and made more irritating by odd plot twists and annoying characters.
When people say a movie is "too long," what is really being said is "the film doesn't justify its running time." The 'Great Gatsby' has a 2 hour, 23 minute running time - and this is simply too long for the few plot points involved. In drawing out the mystery of Gatsby's motivations and history, Luhrmann only succeeds removes the excitement of a secret revealed and replaces it with an impatience for answers withheld just a little too long. Combine this bloated running time with the fact that F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel is barely a compact 192 pages long, and it's clear Luhrmann's vision of 'Gatsby' has fat to trim.

Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) is simply not interesting enough of a character, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) is far too thinly developed and her husband Tom (Joel Edgerton) is far too over-the-top, even for a Luhrmann antagonist. For example, going out of the way to note that Tom Buchanan is a white supremacist is never paid off - his racism is never converted into a meaningful narrative conflict or choice, it simply says 'Tom is the bad guy.'
Then there's Myrtle (Isla Fisher), who basically shows up for a couple of scenes. The first scenes establishes one character's low morals, while the other (at the height of the third act) is a decision that seems more like random/poor storytelling than genuine character-driven drama.

The stakes of any story are only made worthwhile or dramatic if the filmmaker takes the time to establish what is at stake and why these stakes are important to the character or story. It's never clear what makes Daisy so irresistible or worth fighting for - she's simply a pretty girl who glides in and out of frame. DiCaprio's execution of a charismatic protagonist with an idealized vision is wonderful, but Luhrmann does him no favor by surrounding DiCaprio's rich performance against a rather thin cast of characters.
Daisy isn't just portrayed as an idiot, which would be fine - except most of her decisions and actions occur off-screen. It's one thing to be frustrated by a characters actions (some characters are supposed to be frustrating), but 'Gatsby' simply glosses over Daisy's actions. What's worse is it's Daisy's choices that dramatically change the story's direction and arguably frame the story's most important values.

Ultimately, these seemingly small film-making missteps result in a film where the audience doesn't so much care about how the story ends, just that the story resolves.
Final verdict: 'The Great Gatsby,' in Baz Luhrmann's hands becomes 'The Mediocre Gatsby.'

This Is the End

Some films are known as 'And then...' scripts. Even if the initial premise is semi interesting, movies of this type meander about and eventually stumble across the finish line.

The all-star apocalyptic comedy 'This is the End' is one of those scripts.

In short: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson (all playing fictionalized versions of themselves) are trapped together in a house during the apocalypse.

The problem with "And then..." scripts is they're most certainly not character-driven stories, yet the plot-driven elements feel forced, random or haphazard. What remains is a series of events primarily designed to entertain, with narrative relevance left as a seeming afterthought. Whole sections of 'the End' feel like they were written on napkins by guys who were clearly stoned, then cobbled together into something that vaguely resembles a story told in three acts.

The first act is simply actors playing a**hole versions of themselves at a party. While hilarious, very little of this content affects the rest of the film. The second act is a rudderless series of scenes- basically what six friends would do if trapped in a mansion while the world ends. Mostly they bicker, get high and insult each other's films. The third act finally remembers that 'the End' is a narrative and it manages to string together some sort of resolution. While the first and second acts are essentially comedic situations, the third act's action scenes and bizarre story elements feel out-of-place from the rest of the story.

OK, so the story isn't 'Casablanca' - the real question is: how funny is 'the End'? The good news is there are some very strong jokes. It's the pure strength of some of these hard-hitting jokes that raises 'the End' from a 2.5 rating to a 3.0. The bad news is some of the clearly heavily improv scenes drag on and on and on. At times, many scenes feel like awkward 'SNL' skits that last a little too long.

The wandering narrative of 'the End' could have been forgiven or even justified if the comedy was consistently stronger. Unfortunately the 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' approach to improvised comedy works for 20-min long sitcoms, but isn't as kind to feature-length comedies: many jokes sputter and scenes are overall slowed by improv banter. There's a lot of fat to trim from this flick.

The promise of collecting the biggest comedic stars of this generation and letting them riff back-and-forth is the selling point, but the end product is a mostly funny but directionless journey.

To the credit of 'the End,' the improvised banter does allow the characters to effortlessly bounce jokes between each other. This is clearly a group of real friends who interact very naturally on screen. While the surprise cameo at the very end doesn't work - it only further reinforces the very random nature of 'This is the End.' And the Channing Tatum cameo is absolutely comedy gold.

Final verdict: A harmlessly fun movie to see with friends, just not a well assembled comedy. The consistency of the jokes is uneven and the storytelling is random at best.

The Way Way Back
½

One of the strongest films of 2013 is a simple, brilliantly executed coming-of-age story of a teen's summer vacation to a seaside town.

In short: Teenager Duncan joins his divorced mother (Toni Collette) and her new boyfriend (Steve Carell) on a summer vacation. Although the new boyfriend says he wants to bond with Duncan, the quiet teen struggles to fit in with the overbearing boyfriend's friends and family. However, Duncan finds a place for him working at a nearby water park filled with eccentric employees.

'The Way, Way Back' works because it posits a sullen, introverted teenage boy in a dreadful situation - and reveals how/why Duncan is so isolated. The new boyfriend alienates Duncan thoroughly and Duncan finds himself surrounded by characters who treat him as either invisible or worthless. Although the first act takes a while to establish the story, a healthy amount of humor and setting dramatic tension never lets the momentum drag.

Duncan (Liam James) is an every teen character. He is initially an awkward teen of few words who is more likely to walk away dejectedly than assert himself at all. Even in his victories, he is not graceful. He doesn't always say exactly the right thing at the right moment. At no point does Duncan feel like a movie caricature of a brooding teen: Duncan is a relate-able, wonderful hero whose plight is understandable, which only makes his character growth more meaningful. As the narrative progresses, Duncan never completely loses his stooped over gait or his sheepish grin, even as Duncan evolves.

This coming-of-age comedy allows the characters to develop, flourish and dynamically affect each other. Although this is primarily Duncan's story, the story allows many other characters to evolve - and almost none of it feels forced. The best drama comes from character conflict, and relies less on external plot elements.

The only major flaw of 'Way Back,' however, is an odd plot element involving the new boyfriend. Without spoiling anything, this melodramatic plot point seemingly drops out of the sky. Although this story choice does reinforce the already deeply established d-bag status of the mom's new boyfriend, removing this major plot element could have achieved the same story resolution and only made 'Way Back' stronger.

The Oscar-winning writing duo of Nat Faxon & Jim Rash prove their success with 'The Descendents' wasn't a fluke. The 'Descendents' was not a flashy film and neither is 'The Way, Way Back' - Faxon and Rash are simply great storytellers who allow their characters to drive the story.

The incredibly entertaining performances from Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell must be noted. Their characters provide the film's biggest laugh breaks and keep the tone fun and at time poignant. Despite it's large cast size and modest running time (approx. 90 mins), just about every character contributes to Duncan's overall change in one-way or another. There's almost no wasted characters and very little fat to trim in this excellent film.

The focused storytelling keeps Duncan the focal point of this narrative - which allows 'The Way, Way Back' to tell a rich and moving story of a teenage boy's growth.

Final verdict: an absolute must-see film of 2013.

The Sapphires

On its surface 'The Sapphires' is about a quartet's dream of stardom set against '60s racism - but 'The Sapphires' works because it also weaves a complex web of character dynamic into its story.

In short: Set in the late '60s, four Aboriginal sisters dream of becoming pop superstars in Australia, but they must face rampant and destructive racism against Aboriginals. A washed-up, drunken piano player takes the four girls under his wing as they become singers in a USO tour of Vietnam, all in their pursuit of music super stardom.

'The Sapphires' is a sweet, fun, heartwarming but sometimes vulgar drama where the girls are the heart & soul, but rising star Chris O'Dowd ('Bridesmaids, 'The IT Crowd') keeps the story entertaining.

Simply put, this drama explores how far these girls are willing to go to become superstars like 'The Supremes.' The film's first half excellently navigates the Australian racism of the era. While the girls themselves are subjected to racial slurs and second-class citizenship, there is also discrimination within the group itself. Although all four girls in the group are Aboriginal, one of the girls - who had a Caucasian mother - passes for Caucasian herself ... this is perfectly played for dramatic conflict and an illustration of the complexity of Aussie racism.

The movie's second half follows the group as they join a USO tour across the incredibly dangerous terrain of Vietnam. These girls must become more and more professional in their performances as they face the horrors of the Vietnam conflict.

While the girls handle most of the dramatic elements, O'Dowd excellently injects humor in all the right places. In lesser hands, his slovenly and snarky manager could have been a drastic, out-of-place contrast to the earnest efforts of the girls group - but O'Dowd perfectly allows dramatic moments to breathe and knows just how to deliver a comedic jab without seeming inappropriate. He is charming and commands his scenes.

'The Sapphires' looks racism and war directly in the eyes and doesn't shy away from the ugliness of bigotry or violence. These young woman had lived insulated lives in their small Australian communities, however, this story thrusts them into the big city and Vietnam war zones. The film lets the girls experiences speak volumes and change each of the four girls as their journeys move forward.

But it is only the combined effort of the four girls and O'Dowd that results in such a joyous and entertaining film. The film's conflicts never descend into hopeless melodrama. 'The Sapphires' pulls the characters together in their most desperate moments - and its then the film truly shines.

From a narrative point of view, the epilogue-via-textblock was slightly dissatisfying. Biopics should be treated as self-contained narratives with a beginning, middle and end to the story - but the epilogue-via-textblock is a workaround used too often and usually in a matter-of-fact or manipulative manner. Without spoiling how 'Sapphires' ends, the film concludes on an upbeat note, while the epilogue text reveals what became of the girls later on in life. The problem with 'Sapphires' ending, however, is the epilogue carries far more emotional weight than the film's final scene.

Final verdict: This is a true hidden gem of a film - totally worth seeing.

Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3(2013)
½

The first post-'Avengers' Marvel film is more fun than 'Iron Man 2,' but suffers from underdeveloped villains and potholes that prevent 'Iron Man 3' from gaining a fun amount of traction.

In short: the events of 'The Avengers' have traumatized Tony Stark/Iron Man, who has become completely focused on building new suits in preparation for threats that may be more than his genius level intellect can overcome. Meanwhile a dangerous terrorist known only as The Mandarin sets his sights on Stark and the US president.

Tony Stark is the most interesting aspect of 'Iron Man 3.' In the past films, he's a very public and cocky genius who believed nothing can stop him - but '3' opens with a reclusive Stark working tirelessly to prepare for threats he never imagined prior to 'The Avengers.' The third 'Iron Man' film alludes to the 'Avengers' events as world changing - Stark now lives in a world of aliens, gods and monsters.

But beneath Stark's focus and preparation is the trauma of having almost died in the finale of 'The Avengers.' He now suffers from panic attacks and refuses to discuss New York, aliens or the Avengers themselves.

To move Stark forward, 'Iron Man 3' smartly returns Stark to his roots as 'the mechanic.' For all his wealth, power and even the Iron Man armor, Tony Stark's superpower is his incredible intellect. This film establishes that he is not merely a 'man in a can,' but a genius intellect who turns a shopping trip to the hardware store into a dangerous arsenal of weapons.

The past Marvel movies have equipped Stark with increasingly more refined, dangerous upgraded versions of his iconic Iron Man armor- but for much of 'Iron Man 3,' Stark must stop a global terrorist with only an ill-equipped prototype armor with none of the usual bells and whistles. One great sequence has Stark fighting enemies off while only wearing pieces of his armor: one glove and one boot.

This gets to the great creativity of 'Iron Man 3,' both in how Stark must creatively fight and how he can use his tech. Past movies reveal the clunky process of getting in-and-out of the Iron Man armor: Stark usually has to stand still while machines remove the suit piece by piece. In 'Iron Man 3,' Stark can jump directly from one armor into another and summon the suit with just a wave of his hand. He can now suit up while running. This may sound trivial, but it allows the film's creative team to find fun/exciting new ways for Stark to fight as Iron Man.

One of the strongest aspects of 'Iron Man 3' is its sharp dialogue. Director Shane Black also co-wrote the screenplay, which is saturated with his trademark wit and style (see 'Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang' or 'Lethal Weapon' as evidence). The verbal back-and-forth between characters is almost never boring.

But 'Iron Man 3' is not without its flaws, of which it has many.

The film's momentum shifts jarringly from slow to overdrive at times. This is mostly because the script is filled with funny, but momentum-killing scenes. Several scenes - including Stark discussing potato guns and engaging an overenthusiastic superfan - could have been rewritten, cut down or cut completely. This would have cut the pace-killing fat and created a more streamlined ride of a film. Instead, 'Iron Man 3' feels tedious at times - never to the point of being boring, but enough to kill the film's exciting tone.

Some peripheral characters and actors are wasted. Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle) and even the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) are pawns who simply fulfill plot points. They never feel like humans- they're limited to one-dimensional roles. This is bad because Hansen is critical to the very core of the film and Mandarin never feels as dangerous as a supervillian deserves.

If there's one flaw with the Marvel films, its that some incredibly important plot elements are left very ambiguous. In 'Iron Man 3,' it's the abilities of 'Extremis,' Maya Hansen's research into hacking human DNA. Throughout the film, Stark has to fight Extremis-powered soldiers, who enjoy unclear new superpowers, including super strength and even fire breathing. Not to sound like a stickler, but not establishing rules or limits for the Extremis abilities is lazy and annoying. The villains always have just the right Extremis superpower needed in that moment. And the writers know how invaluable defining a characters powers/limits are because they go to great length to establish just what Stark and his suits are capable of. We know when Tony's suit doesn't have enough power to fly or fire Repulsor beams, but little to no effort is made to define Extremis, other than to say it makes a normal human more than able to fight an Iron Man armor toe-to-toe.

'Iron Man 3' succeeds in evolving Tony Stark as a character, but only manages a fair job of constructing a meaningful or exciting plot.

In short: see the third 'Iron Man' film on the big screen, but don't go in expecting anything as fun as 'The Avengers' or awesome as the original 'Iron Man.'

To The Wonder

Beautiful to look at, but burdened with a threadbare narrative and exposition-heavy voiceover, 'To the Wonder' strives for deeply emotional truths - but its efforts feel forced.

Terrence Malick has a very distinct style: 90 percent voiceover, gorgeous cinematography and sparse, but meaningful, dialogue. This is true for Malick's previous films ('The Thin Red Line' and 'The Tree of Life') and 'To the Wonder' continues his stylistic streak.

The screenplay is the central flaw of 'Into the Wonder.' Films are stories - 'Wonder' is barely a story.

First, the narrative is minimal at best. 'Wonder' spends more time describing how the characters feel than about spending time on allowing the characters make justified decisions or reveal why they feel such deep pain. Events and characters seem to randomly occur. Characters are in love, out of love, in love and out of love. Scenes jarringly crash into each other, leaving the film with a disjointed story flow. On this note, characters - specifically the Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem characters - simply appear and disappear.

Second - and perhaps more damaging - is the flat out exposition voiceover crutch. Much of the voiceover simply declares a character's emotional states: 'I feel sad' or 'We fight' or 'I feel exhausted.' Even if emotionally true, this film makes little to no effort to justify its emotional core. 'Wonder' is more a collection of feelings and less a story of how or why these feels took such deep root within each of the characters.

Finally, making every line of dialogue sound poetically lyrical or profoundly insightful - given the absolute minimal amount of dialogue in the film - feels forced. Great spans of deliberate silence are broken up by occasional, but 'deep' dialogue. Very little of the words spoken feel conversational or natural. In its desperate bid to convey profound and honest emotional truths, 'To the Wonder' leaves little room to relate these emotions via narrative.

To its credit, 'To the Wonder' is incredibly beautiful to look at. Watching it, with the audio muted, would make for an interesting looking film - sadly, it is more interesting looking than well assembled story. Sometimes, 'Wonder' looks like a really long perfume ad - complete with over-the-top acting for the camera and whispered dialogue.

Final verdict: 'To the Wonder' deals with intense emotions, but does almost nothing, in terms of storytelling, to honestly justify such emotional drama. Sadly, pass on this film.

Mud
Mud(2013)
½

Part coming-of-age story, part fugitive adventure and part drama about losing faith in relationships, "Mud" succeeds wonderfully in its ambitious goal of working on so many levels.

In short: two Mississippi boys come across a man in hiding who hopes to be reunited with his girlfriend. All the while one of the boys faces upheaval within his family as he courts the girl of his dreams.

"Mud" is a story excellently well told. It has a clear and decisive voice/tone that is patient, detailed and sympathetic. This is not merely a series of events cobbled together into a narrative - this is a gripping drama with ever-present danger that simultaneously weaves complex, nuanced themes touching upon the very nature of human relationships.

The mastery of tone is incredible. "Mud" gracefully flows from touching to intense to introspective to funny without jarring transitions or manipulative cues. The fugitive-on-the-run plot is simply the framework for a story about fathers-and-sons, what it means to be in love and how to move forward after being abandoned.

Director Jeff Nichols creates a textured world, populated with very human characters and set in rich, weathered small town. Every character feels perfectly suited for the film's world. Most of the characters are poor southerners but none of them feel like caricatures. They are multi-dimensional beings believably exchanging loyalty, affection and mistrust.

With an incredible cast highlighted by Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon and Michael Shannon, it is impressive that two kids do most of the acting heavy lifting. Witherspoon and Shannon are excellent in their brief roles - they make the most out if their minimal screen time. And count this as another excellent outing for McConaughey, who is quietly turning out one great performance after another in recent years.

The overall movie maintains a consistent, methodical pace from start to finish. Scenes are allowed to breath without feeling stale. If "Mud" was tightened up overall, with a scalpel and not a meat cleaver, then the films overall pace would be improved.

This is not just a movie well made. This is a wonderful drama beautifully crafted & told. And "Mud" ranks among the best films of 2013.

Final verdict: Absolute must-see film of 2013.

It's a Disaster
½

Most comedies rely solely on comedy hay-makers - large, over-the-top gags designed solely for applause break laughs. 'It's A Disaster,' however, is the rare comedy that scores a KO via sharp, hard-hitting comedy jabs.

In short: eight friends gather for their regular Sunday brunch when they get word of a horrible terrorist attack. This disaster, however, does not stop them from sniping and taking passive aggressive shots at each other.

The layering an indie comedy over a disaster backdrop works perfectly here. The consequences of the disaster plot are ever present from the beginning of the movie - but it's always in the background. The terrorist attacks highlight just how each of characters would react - from pragmatic fatalism, paranoia to catatonic shock. The characters' responses to a terrible terrorist attack takes center stage.

The key reason 'Disaster' works is the organic feeling back-and-forth dynamic between the characters. This genuinely feels like a group with years of history who communicate in almost a familial manner - often talking over each other and relating with ease. The comedy comes from its subtle, but hard-hitting script - many of the biggest laughs come from quick, surprising comedic jabs.

The first act, however, is pleasant but it is a little slow. The first act builds a solid foundation for the rest of the film to launch from - however, the early third works harder in establishing background and an indie/organic tone than actually delivering many punchlines. The jokes begin to pick up immediately as the second act begins. Some of the jokes are a little over-the-top and not all of the lines work, but the vast majority do work.

'It's a Disaster' is a strong comedy with great comedic timing -- but its slow start that takes up a significant portion of its 90-minute running time is the main reason it falls short of a 4-star rating.

Final verdict: Highly recommended for comedy fans.

Oblivion
Oblivion(2013)

Tom Cruise's new sci-fi flick is a visually beautiful piece of film wrapped around forced plot points and unmerited story twists.

In brief: 'Oblivion' is the story of a couple living alone on Earth, with only weeks left before joining Earth's refugees on a distant moon. But, of course, everything he believes is a lie.

In its effort to throw world-shattering plot twist after plot twist at the hero, 'Oblivion' is more a story forced upon a paper-thin character than a story initiated/pushed forward by its hero.

To clarify: plot-driven films that strive to slam the protagonist with one new twist after another should lay a strong foundation of history and story elements to make each successful plot twist truly surprising and meaningful. 'Oblivion' goes to no such effort - it simply justifies each and every plot surprise in the entire film with a rather clunky third-act story reveal via flashback. More effort is made to make the story 'mysterious' than to make its story at all compelling.

'Oblivion' burns zero calories crafting a framework to support each surprising plot element, thus leaving each plot twist unmerited and flat.

It's not bad enough that 'Oblivion' shoehorns its hero into its forced story - but incredible coincidences more-so-than character choices push the story forward. Jack Harper (Cruise) is out of radio contact exactly when he would have heard about an incoming crashing ship. His heroic actions are witnessed at just the right moments by just the right characters. The moment his ship is broken, he comes across a brand new one - especially impressive since this Earth is an eroded, weathered wasteland.

'Oblivion' is a lazy sci-fi flick propped up by convenient coincidence, under-developed characters and plot twists without punch.

Final verdict: Pass on 'Oblivion.'

Pain & Gain
Pain & Gain(2013)
½

Michael Bay's action-crime comedy 'Pain & Gain' is actually pretty boring for much of its running time, however, a strong third act and the charisma of Mark Wahlberg & Dwayne Johnson redeems much of its mistakes.

The comedy-action-crime flick 'Pain & Gain' is notably, and arguably, the first completely character-driven movie Bay has tackled. For this, Bay should receive a little positive acknowledgement, as this character driven flick is among his best work -- that said, the man behind 'Bad Boys II' and 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' has not raised the bar very high for himself. The idiotic trio of main characters continue to make one bone-headed decision that causes their next idiotic blunder.

Bay's decision to make this crime-caper true story into a very silly comedy is an interesting choice. The criminals are unbelievably stupid and the victims are terribly unlikable - but, successfully, to comedic effect. This overall comedic tone is what makes 'Pain & Gain' interesting if only because most action-crime flicks take themselves far too seriously.

That said, however, much of the film's problems come from a meandering plot that relies far too heavily on broad, out-of-place jokes that add nothing to the film's texture except to add some easy laughs. A hospitalized man explosively defecates all over a bathroom. A character must get injections directly into his penis. A main character walks into a warehouse and comments at length about its contents: porn store retail merchandise. A dwarf armed with a bat is grabbed, held just high enough for his legs to kick freely in midair. These jokes, while sorta chuckle-worthy, paper cut the film's pacing to death while adding nothing to it. Cheap laughs are a form of misdirection, as they often distract from meager stories without strong plot points.

The first two acts would be entirely lost without Mark Wahlberg and 'The Rock.' Their characters are lovable and charming, even as they commit increasingly despicable crimes. Their charisma carries the weight of 'Pain & Gain' and allows their viewers to root for their characters, despite the sheer number of poor decisions they make. Wahlberg is good as the moronic, but principled, ringleader and Johnson shows off his surprisingly sharp comedic timing.

'Pain & Gain' is harmless fun, but its storytelling has room for much improvement.

Final verdict: wait for this one to hit cable.

42
42(2013)
½

Most biopics fall into one of two categories: emotionally manipulative or overly ambitious to the extent of becoming grossly unfocused. These pitfalls burden many biopics and turn most of them into very broad morality tales.

The Jackie Robinson biopic '42' smartly keeps the scope limited to Robinson's first seasons as the first African-American baseball playing in the major leagues. It also deftly allows the horrific nature of racist acts create the dramatic tension - keeping overly manipulative elements to a minimum.

Relative newcomer Chadwick Boseman is great as the pioneering baseball player. The film does not cast Robinson as a wise, patient man - instead the hero of '42' is a reluctant loner who struggles mightily to keep his anger in check. Although this film's Robinson is undeniably a great baseball player, his patience is less honed. This combination of a fairly hot-headed player pit against an openly racist backdrop is strong drama.

Many of '42's strongest moments are simple examples of the revolting racism aimed at Robinson, from being kicked off a plane to his teammate's petition against him and even death threats. All of these examples are handled carefully, and they do not feel engineered solely for over-dramatic elements.

While the emotional core of '42' is very strong, its storytelling structure is very flawed. The film sometimes suddenly lunges forward in time several months. This makes for some jagged pacing overall. Then there are the dangling plot threads that are introduced with some amount of significance, but eventually fade away into the background unceremoniously. The arcs of the African-American reporter and the Dodger's shift at manager feel like forced attempts to shoehorn historically interesting events into the film's narrative without improving/changing the hero's overall journey. Finally, '42' isn't without an occasional cheesy line or manipulative musical cue - but fortunately these biopic trappings are minimal.

Overall, '42' is very enjoyable with some room to improve its overall narrative structure.

Trance
Trance(2013)
½

Nobody is perfect - even one of the great directors of the modern era, Danny Boyle. The man behind 'Trainspotting,' 'Slumdog Millionaire,' '127 Hours' and the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games has faltered with

Too many plot cheats undermine Danny Boyle's stylish, uneven heist-psychological thriller.

The Place Beyond The Pines

Don't be fooled by the ads: this not an all Ryan Gosling show. "The Place Beyond the Pines" is really three vignettes expertly woven together into one sprawling drama.

Although three different protagonists drive three different stories, each chapter is riveting in its own rite. An impulsive act launches each story and sends the hero in vastly different place than where he started.

'Pines' absolutely forces each lead character to act and each hero must react to the enduring consequences of their choices. And each lead character is dynamic: Gosling is as loving as he is brutal. Bradley Cooper's rookie cop is naiive as he is decisive. Dane DeHaan's troubled teen is awkward as he is undeniably resolute.

For a 2hr 20 min film told in three parts, the pace doesnt lull often and remains captivating from its opening to its final frame. Each scene and each choice wonderfully bleeds into the next scene and urges the next decision. This is how a film that is occasionally dialogue-light momentum - its energy is derived from true character conflict and not simply exterior plot events.

A major part of the film's energy comes from its unrelenting tension: desperation, fear, mistrust and family dynamic. A sense of dread permeates every moment - dread for each hero's safety and dread of what each hero is capable of doing.

Given the sprawling number of characters and span of time, the sheer number of abandoned story elements is unfortunate. Some supporting characters are barely one dimensional and some important story threads abruptly disappear as soon as their use ends - without so much as a nod to some dropped elements. This prevents from any one chapter from being a complete and fulfilled standalone story. 'Pines' only works because the sum is greater than its parts. The elements that do recur are beautifully and magnificently called back, often with great emotional power.

"The Place Beyond the Pines" is the first truly great film of 2013.

Ginger & Rosa

"Ginger & Rosa" manages articulate, subtle & great performances despite a story that borders on melodrama.

The highlight of this coming-of-age drama is the acting - notably the intricate and controlled Elle Fanning. Everything she conveys with her observant/aware glances and reality-denying smile are just as critical as what she chooses to wisely underplay. Fanning proves that a character who has a minimal amount of dialogue can say volumes. She is surrounded by a very solid cast that maintains nuanced performances from beginning to end.

The script is a superb example of storytelling with minimal exposition: instead of just stating how similar Ginger and Rosa are in the beginning, the film shows how close these lifelong friends are: they finish each other's sentences, they share intimidate experiences and appear as if soul mates. Film is a visual medium - where dialogue isn't absolutely critical to convey how plot unfolds.

The fatal flaws, however, are the film's overbearing reliance on the Cold War thread and a plot that drifts toward melodrama. The threat of nuclear war, to instill a sense of dread and mortality, is undermined by a constant reminder of nukes. Drinking a shot every time "we could all die tomorrow" is repeated would make for a terrible hangover the morning after watching this film. For a film that deals with political/social/sexual maturation, it is unfortunate for this story's reliance on broad/over dramatic plot points that feel out of place for a thoughtful indie film and more appropriate for a CW series.

Overall "Ginger & Rosa" is a potentially beautiful film about two childhood friends growing apart as they grow into women - but unfortunately, instead of feeling like a timeless story, this film feels very confined to a very specific era.

Evil Dead
Evil Dead(2013)

The 'Evil Dead' reboot is a fun, if imperfect, horror re-imagining of the cult classic. Like all film modernizations today, this reboot is more grounded than its predecessor. The group of young co-eds aren't in the middle of the woods for a fun weekend - this is a group of old friends detoxing their heroin-addicted friend. The dynamic of the group isn't cookie-cutter young people - these people have a long, personal history together. The new 'Evil Dead' succeeds in establishing dynamic characters, not just an troop of stereotypes.It's impossible to talk about the 'Evil Dead' without acknowledging the beloved, campy, 1981 classic. The original was a charming, tension-filled, creative bit of film. The reboot is brutally violent movie packed with 'jump-out-of-your-seat' moments. Comparing the 1981 original with the 2013 reboot is unfair, as the two films share only a core story - the original was a patient horror flick wracked with tension while this reboot is chiefly concerned with creating a credible, violent, undeniable evil.'Evil Dead' reboot succeeds with great production value, well-developed characters, improved overall story ... but it falters with an abrupt change of protagonists late in the third act, an unclear explanation of what is at stake with the 'Abomination' and unfortunately, in ratcheting up the violence to 11, feeling much like many other modern slasher horror flicks.In the end, the Sam Raimi 'Evil Dead' has endured because its low-budget effects are charming, its evil was entertaining/original and its tone was self aware of the genre and all the baggage of horror tropes. Although the reboot is a more beautiful, polished looking vision of the 'Evil Dead,' it will not remain timeless simply because it looks and sounds like so many modern slashers in theaters today.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

A series of set pieces cobbled together with a bizarrely uneven plot, clunky storytelling and almost-zero dimension characters minimalized down to codenames. Really like the stupid, but fun, first movie - but 'Retaliation' lacks the fun. Not as silly as the first 'GI Joe,' but at least the original established even the smallest amount of character. A perfect 'GI Joe' would combine the serial, mission-based plot of 'Retaliation' with the cartoony love for the characters in the original film.

The Debt
The Debt(2011)

Jessica Chastain, Helen Mirren (playing the same character) save this oddly paced movie. Uneven pacing is a common problem many films face - but 'The Debt' is odd in this movie has two well paced stories that don't fit too great together as one story. The scenes set in the late 60s are understandably more thrilling, while the late '90s scenes are more nuanced. So 'The Debt' abruptly shifts between exciting spy thriller and cerebral spy drama. In the end, this is more evidence supporting the argument to call Jessica Chastain the best actress working today.

Mama
Mama(2013)
½

The pure awesomeness of Jessica Chastain bumps up the score of this choppy, poorly edited film.

Act of Valor
Act of Valor(2012)

Awesome action sequences. Minimal plot. Terrible acting overwhelms all

Turn Me On, Dammit!

Hilarious, genuine coming-of-age story. Great take on fantasy vs. reality

Dredd
Dredd(2012)

Compact, focused narrative. Smart execution. Very strong sci-fi/action movie.

Project X
Project X(2012)
½

A poor excuse to cobble together too many scenes of drunken insanity

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
½

Quirky, nice, subtly sad look at bravery in the face of the end

Smashed
Smashed(2012)

Although predictable, this indie gem is driven by strong, honest performances

The Five-Year Engagement
½

Nice sentiment, just poor execution. Overly long- running time feels 5 yrs

Promised Land

Well-intentioned film totally undermined by a cheat/betrayal of a terrible final act

Killer Joe
Killer Joe(2012)
½

Great drama that pits desperate, fleshed out characters into a pressure-cooker conflict

Flight
Flight(2012)
½

Great character study of a flawed, unlikable hero. Poor plot device prompts forced resolution

The Vow
The Vow(2012)

Cheesy, w/ questionable dialogue - but harmless, surprisingly likeable w/ solid framework

Not Fade Away

Nostalgic, cliched wet dream for baby boomers. Annoying excuse for 60s rock soundtrack

Lola Versus
Lola Versus(2012)

Jarring transitions. Impossible to care abt Lola. Insanely poorly written/edited together

Safe House
Safe House(2012)

Cynical w/ minimal intelligence. Predictable. Formulaic. Watchable if your brain is off.

The Impossible

An emotionally exhausting disaster film that doesn't often ease off the pedal

Zero Dark Thirty
½

Sprawling, intelligent, epic, detective spy thriller sets up gripping final hour

Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away

Sampling performances from 7 Cirque = a film that makes almost no sense

People Like Us

Overall likeable, despite frayed story & some odd general narrative choices

ParaNorman
ParaNorman(2012)
½

This grim tale of the undead, unforgiving hate is filled with heart, lively characters

American Reunion
½

'Hey we're older' parts were eh/OK- references to 13-yr old 1st film were lame

Sound of My Voice
½

unsettling look at a charismatic cult leader's ability to replace doubt w/ faith

What to Expect When You're Expecting

too many clichà (C)d 'honest' storylines to care about any of them sufficiently

Pitch Perfect
½

Occassionally hilarous, overall entertaining. Rebel Wilson throws comedic haymakers

The Watch
The Watch(2012)

Aside from the rare chuckle, the onslaught of juvenile dick, orgy & piss gags is tiring

Arbitrage
Arbitrage(2012)

Gripping look at the character of a powerful man - a user whose empire is a house of cards

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Silly, ridiculous, forced excuse to hv Abe slaughter monsters.

Dark Shadows
Dark Shadows(2012)
½

A messy pile of random 'WTF' scenes. Events appear to occur w/ no cause or reason.

Looper
Looper(2012)
½

Great sci-fi prioritizes character, conflict above flashy CGI. Thrilling, intriguing, smart .

Take This Waltz

This truthful, bittersweet film wonderfully focuses on combustible human chemistry

Django Unchained
½

Over-the-top violent. Uncomfortable look at slavery. Awesome

End of Watch
End of Watch(2012)
½

Gritty, intense, human, real, sometimes silly. A great cop film.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

A beautiful fantasy fable set in a gritty real world.

The Cabin in the Woods

Not just a slasher. The most innovate horror film in years.

Seven Psychopaths

An intriguing, creative & fun story about criminals, not crime.

Sleepwalk With Me

Many films try to incorporate more than one plot line into a script. Ideally, every narrative/plot line would weave together and line up with the film's overriding theme. Many films try this lofty feat - few succeed. 'Sleepwalk with Me' keeps a laser focus on two interlocked storylines - one does not exist without the other -- and it manages to convey a slightly sad, human voice and genuine sense of humor.

Goon
Goon(2012)
½

This oddly existential comedy works mainly due to the strength of its main character - if he's not convincingly sweet and kind, then this whole house of cards collapses. Luckily Sean William Scott nails it as a man who wants to be more than just a bar security guard -- so he becomes sort of a security guard on ice. 'Goon' isn't about the team winning the championship - it's about the team wanting to win the championship -- which is why this film works so well.

Mirror Mirror

There's little to no setup for anything in the movie - so everything just feels like random sh*t happening to Snow White.

This is 40
This is 40(2012)
½

Apatow's fourth film gets an 'A' for its very real, raw and human moments - but they are too few, fleeting and lost amid dick jokes and a meandering story. 'This is 40' gets an 'F-' for editing and 'F-' for overrall storytelling -- the movie is just too fat in every way. Everything regarding personal trainer, small business theft, struggling record label and mooch dad could have been trimmed if not completely cut out. There's no one strong, clear narrative -- the end result is too many muddy weird b-plots that never form one unified story. And clearly Apatow's 'trump card'/crutch is a good dick joke.

Les Misérables
½

This might be the purest stage-film musical translation to date. 'Les Mis' is grand in scale in almost every way a film musical can aspire. Most of the incredible singing performances are composed in one prolonged take - or at least a minimal number of long takes. The incredible cast is able to perform nuanced/touching variations of familiar 'Les Mis' songs (which, due to the nature of stage productions, often sound like they are being yelled at the audience). But even at almost 3 hours long, this film feels rushed - some major plot points are glossed over. Instead of feeling like one cohesive narrative, 'Les Mis' feels like three shorter episodes (Valjean's transformation, Fantine's descent and Cosette's 'love at first sight') crammed together into one movie. That said, each 'episode' has incredibly captivating moments and just about each character is afforded at least one incredibly moving scene.

A Christmas Story

Annoying kid wont shut up about gun for 90 mins. Nostalgia doesn't equal quality.

Savages
Savages(2012)

This alleged crime 'thriller' is tedious, boring & pedestrian. You'd think the story of a polyamorous drug dealer trio neck deep in the drug war would be exciting - however, very little about 'Savages' is even interesting. And the third act 'device' used in 'Savages'is very similar to the turn featured in 'Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part II' ... but at least the 'twist ending' in 'Breaking Dawn' wasn't a complete betrayal. Like its twist ending, this flawed crime drama is a story not worth telling wrapped in a gimmick.

Total Recall
Total Recall(2012)

"Good sci-fi" tells a compelling story that happens to incorporate science-fiction elements. "Bad sci-fi" treats story and character as afterthoughts - less a priority than creating the setting, not weaving a story. 'Total Recall' spends far too time establishing the futuristic, nonsensical world of the late 21st century. It feels like the writers first brainstormed a number of 'cool' futuristic technologies that look cooler than they are functional/realistic -- then cobbled together some hastily written reasons to incorporate said ideas into something resembling a movie. And when it looks bleak for Farrell/Biel, don't worry: there's always a random, conveniently placed hole to jump/fall into.

The Dictator
The Dictator(2012)
½

Less an attempt to tell a story, more a series of unnecessary scenes. 'The Dictator' is a proof that any number of sequential punchlines, however funny or unfunny, simply does not make it a good film. If that were the case, then why not just have a comic actor stand in front of a camera and tell jokes & anecdotes for 90 mins, and completely scrap the facade of trying to tell some sort of story. Films are the attempts to tell stories - the best comedies tell entertaining stories while stringing together hilarious moments and punchlines.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
½

HFR hurts pretty visuals, bloated story, OK overall. This deliberately paced fantasy truly feels like a movie near 3 hours long. Roughly 30-45 mins could have been cut out and improved 'The Hobbit' drastically - every scene seems to drag on just a little too long. Martin Freeman's take on Bilbo Baggins is the strength of 'The Hobbit.' Most of the Company of Dwarves are just funny sounding names - it's hard to care about what happens to any of them on this journey. One of the most frustrating aspects is: whenever the dwarves & Bilbo are in trouble, you can count on Gandalf to save them all at the last moment. That consistency gradually robs all danger from the equation. Overall an okay film that only offers any sense of an epic scale when it directly relates to events in the superior 'LoTRs' trilogy.

Rock of Ages
Rock of Ages(2012)

Detestable, unoriginal, brainless & exploitative. It's not enough to defend 'Rock of Ages' as a 'fun' movie because all the fun and energy comes from its soundtrack of time-tested hits, while everything else in the film is just a poor excuse to play Journey and Twisted Sister songs. This whole movie exploits the goodwill/nostalgia afforded glam metal songs. It feels like the writer listed some 80s songs, then shoehorned a 'story' between the songs to justify the script. While not the worst movie of 2012 (not for lack of trying), absolutely nothing about 'Rock of Ages' is original: from its 'sweetheart with superstar dreams' framework, its cliched script, bad pun dialogue and, of course, its classic soundtrack. In the race to the bottom, the only films worse than 'Rock of Ages' deliberately try to make little-to-no sense - this idiotic musical is arguably the worst film that remotely attempts anything resembling narrative. If you love 80s hair noise - put $10 in a dive bar juke box and skip 'Rock of Ages.'

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Nice story set in a rich world - just wish the writing wasn't so simple. A classic 'fish out of water' story - 'Marigold' brilliantly crafts a lush world filled with a rich cast of characters. This is the transformative story of growth and understanding that 'Eat Pray Love' wanted to be. It's weakness, however, is in its very direct storytelling: not-so-subtle dialogue and voice over does the narrative heavy lifting. Besides the sharp British wit, 'Marigold' just has a little too much exposition for its own good.

Magic Mike
Magic Mike(2012)
½

This is more than eye candy for girls - it's smart, charismatic and more dramatic that you'd think. It's easy to ignore 'Mike' as just a stupid, shallow flick about male strippers - but much like the 'Magic Mike' character himself, the overall movie proves to have a respectable depth of humanity and drama.

Save The Date

Honest and best in its quiet moments. 'Save the Date' allows the actors to perform beyond just the dialogue. The characters relate and react to each other in a very organic way -- at times it feels like a real conversation rather than scripted words on a page. Caplan and Brie put this movie on their backs and show that they can carry a movie, while adding genuine humanity. The only serious weakness is the little too 'adorable' and 'cute' rebound boyfriend -- he feels more like a plot device with legs than a character with any real depth.

The Campaign
The Campaign(2012)
½

Dull satire / excuse to make silly faux political ads. The main characters shift erratically between insanely stupid or incredibly amoral. The funniest jokes are shoe-horned into this bizarre not-so-smart send-up of the U.S. political system. The best comedies have hilarious moments that seem to come FROM the characters real actions/motivations -- 'The Campaign' feels like all the jokes were written, then some broad, idiotic characters were written after-the-fact.

One for the Money

The worst gunshoe stories drop all the clues right into the detective's hands. This is one of those movies. Characters are treated like disposable plot movers, who only conveniently show up just when needed and disappear just as quickly. The appeal of the Stephanie Plum is understandable, but the rest of movie is just terrible storytelling. Voiceover that cuts in every few minutes with 'This is (blank),' 'I am (blank)' and 'This is personal' is insulting. An unemployed lingerie sales associate instantly becoming a bullseye-hitting bounty hunter strains credibility. The movie is packed with unnecessary scenes and dialogue that do nothing to advance the plot or develop character. Thankfully they're brief -- but these pace-killing moments papercut 'One for the Money' to death.

Lockout
Lockout(2012)

Idiotic movie w/ a serviceable, one-note hero. Guy Pearce is the only redeemable aspect to 'Lockout' - a cheesy, poorly written action flick completely dependent on events that happen at just the most opportune moment. It's overall production value for a so-called scifi-thriller makes 'Lockout' feel dated.

Bernie
Bernie(2012)

Hilarious, masterful black comedy focused on a complex protagonist set in a rich backdrop of East Texas populated with colorful, real people. Jack Black fleshes out a character who is outwardly charitable, in a sympathetic plight with a subtle calculating evil. Richard Linklater ('Waking Life,' 'Before Sunset') -- is quietly one of the great directors of today. Although voice over is usually a crutch that most films abuse, the unusual hybrid of talking head interviews and narrative scenes makes 'Bernie' is a great example of unconventional storytelling. That said, one of the few negatives of 'Bernie' is, on a few occasions, the voice-over runs over into excessive exposition. In the end: 'Bernie' is easily among the best films of 2012.

Mansome
Mansome(2012)
½

Want to see a good doc about hair? See 'Good Hair' - avoid 'Mansome.' The theoretical superteam of Morgan Spurlock, Will Arnett & Jason Bateman join forces to film a doc that (forgive the pun) splits hairs on the should-be-interesting topic of masculinity. But 'Mansome' plods along slowly, switching tracks from one group of hair weirdos to pointlessly celeb interviews to an odd framing device following Arnett/Bateman at a day spa -- none of which adds anything the least bit interesting to the discussion. End message: guys like to look good.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
½

Strong cast w/ a moving character driven story. 'Wallflower' allows the characters to make honest choices and refrains from dropping too many plot-driven elements (a trap most 'coming-of-age' movies fall into). Absolutely captures the tone of the isolation of high school, the wonder of discovering new music/books and the comfort of friendship. My only knock against 'Wallflower' is the storyline involving the Aunt ... probably could have been removed entirely, which would have allowed the focus to remain completely on Charlie's growth.

Ruby Sparks
Ruby Sparks(2012)

One of my favorite films of 2012 despite its questionable resolution/ending. This idiosyncratic little indie begins with a charming and fantastical premise -- and the idea itself is wonderfully brought to life by Zoe Kazan, the titular character and movie's writer. The strength of 'Ruby Sparks' isn't just its premise, however - its how Kazan creates a fleshed out character who evolves beyond being just the ideal girlfriend. 'Sparks' would be higher on this list were it not for its ultimate resolution: which betrays the film's honesty in the movie's the final moments.

Men in Black III
½

Watchable - but, ironically, forgettable. The sequel no one asked for is better than 'Men in Black II' ... but that wasn't a hard benchmark to clear. Lazily written: plot points conveniently connect scenes via random events, chance meetings, etc -- this feels like a 'what happens next' script. The 'MiB' series is clearly more interested in showing off freaky aliens & outing historical pop icons (as either aliens/MiB) rather than a compelling story.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2
½

bad FX, worse dialogue, troubled narrative - about par for the 'Twilight' series. Even superpowered Bella is inert as a so-called 'heroine.' It is worth calling out the 3rd act narrative...'device' used to address the major change from the book. This is no storytelling cheat - it drastically improves the climax by 1,000 %. Finally - the best part of 'Breaking Dawn 2.0' is that it's the last 'Twilight' movie.

Killing Them Softly

stylish, cynical and, at times, incredibly intense and violent. but it's rarely a good sign when a movie thats barely 1hr30m feels too long. the slowed down pacing works during some scenes, effectively ratcheting up the tension and setting up explosive moments -- but that same pacing makes transitional scenes - like two guys talking about prison sex ... for way too long -- feel tedious and annoying. the overall dark tone works and Pitt's enforcer character is by far the most entertaining, but just about everyone else in the cast just spits out a couple lines of witty dialogue and that's it.

Silver Linings Playbook
½

this film could have gone really dark really easily - instead this human and funny story is told with perfect precision between drama & comedy :) one of the stronger, complete casts of 2012 - even Chris Tucker ('Rush Hour') is endearing.

Friends With Kids
½

well worn story -- predictable frame with some nice moments. Wiig/Hamm are pretty wasted, with very little to do. the scope of the narrative is perhaps a little too ambitious -- 3 couples, over 6-7 years, as they traverse marriage & children -- which results in a diluted story w/ secondary characters who are reduced to one-note caricatures who simply pop in/out of the narrative with only expository dialogue in passing to explain their sudden disappearance. in its defense, 'Friends with Kids' does walk the tightrope between drama & comedy seamlessly - which is a feat most 'dramedies' do not succeed

Life of Pi
Life of Pi(2012)

I feel the same way about 'Life of Pi' as I did about 'Hugo' last year. I can understand/respect the appeal -- it's just not my cup of tea. It's a fantastical story that leans a little too much on impressive visuals, voiceover and sorta-insulting expository dialogue. A fine enough movie -- just a bit overrated.

Wreck-it Ralph
½

The 1st act is a fun nostalgia ride. the 2nd act is slow, meandering and pace-killing. But the pure strength of its 3rd act - which manages to right the ship and pull the various story threads together - raises this retro game flick's overall score. This isn't treated as a silly video game movie - it establishes very real stakes for the story.

Lincoln
Lincoln(2012)
½

Daniel Day-Lewis single-handedly raises 'Lincoln' to a 4.5. To watch his arresting performance is to watch a master craftsman at work. Remove Day-Lewis from the equation and 'Lincoln' could be a 3 or or even a 2.5 movie. The sign of a great performance is being absolutely compelled whenever Day-Lewis is on screen - and impatiently waiting for Lincoln's next scene whenever Day-Lewis is off screen. As a film, 'Lincoln' succeeds in layering multiple conflicts and pitting one man into a seemingly impossible scenario.

Skyfall
Skyfall(2012)

'Skyfall' is the perfect release for Bond 50 that succeeds in telling the single strongest 007 story yet -- and it may very well be the best James Bond film of all. ... 22 Bond films precede 'Skyfall.' Some have bigger set pieces, examined the antiquated spy game, had more outrageous chase sequences and featured more dangerous, diabolical plots that threatened Queen, country and the world. But 'Skyfall' is not about world domination or a grab for wealth. This is a personal story - one that examines the very nature of what makes 007 tick, what M's long career has wrought and their complex relationship. This is no throwaway action flick like so many Bond movies before it. This a wonderful nod to the Bond legacy while simultaneously telling a story full of heart and dry wit.

Cloud Atlas
Cloud Atlas(2012)
½

(insert Icarus analogy here) incredibly ambitious in its storytelling and thematic efforts - perhaps to a fault. the six very different stories are crosscut/woven together brilliantly and its brisk pacing makes the near 3 hr running time almost unnoticeable. the ending falls flat, limping to a conclusion that isn't as satisfying as the first act establishes/promises. honestly, giving this (sometimes uneven) film with its share of misfires a 3.5 is generous - this is a '3' in terms of an overall film but 'Atlas' deserves a degree of difficulty bonus for the sheer audacity in attempting to execute such a epic and unconventional narrative. 'Atlas' will polarize between those who appreciate its inherent complexity and those who are frustrated by a seemingly meandering through line.

Argo
Argo(2012)

Affleck now has 3 solid films as a director under his belt - he is for real. 3rd act has more convenient plot sustaining roadblocks than I'd like to see, but this a well controlled, paced thriller. :)

Before Sunset

Every frame and moment of this film is incredible. One of the greatest sequels of all time - possibly one of the strongest sequels that overshadow the original. I've watched this a million times - cant wait for 'before midnight' next year :)

Samsara
Samsara(2012)
½

this not merely a movie or even a captivating film -- this is a cinematic experience. 'samsara' will be remembered as a monumental landmark of this decade in motion picture history

The Expendables 2

by no means is 'Expendables 2' a good movie -- but it is retarded fun :) ... which is fine by me :)

Crazy, Stupid, Love.
½

meh. 'lazy writing' defined

Never Let Me Go

beautiful and human -- with a dark undercurrent. more science fiction should strive toward this emphasis on storytelling :)

One Day
One Day(2011)
½

wanna know how to make a wildly uneven movie: cram 23 yrs worth of two people's lives in 108 mins ... each scene is exposition: 'what's happened to these 2 in the past year (straighforward exposition dialogue) - smash cut to the next year -- so what's happened to these 2 in the past year (straighforward exposition dialogue) ... repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat ...

The Dark Knight Rises
½

'DKR' succeeds where 'The Godfather, Part III' and 'Return of the Jedi' failed (miserably) - it triumphantly caps a superb series with a brilliant final chapter and completes one of the very best film trilogies of all-time.

Jeff Who Lives at Home
½

Apparently Jason Segal's awesomeness is proportional to the screen he's playing to- he's great in feature films and god awful in abortion worthy CBS sitcoms starring Doogie Howser (not to get too specific). "Jeff" remains devoted to its thematic core from start to finish - all hail the Duplass brothers!

Katy Perry: Part of Me

"Part of Me" succeeds in 3 key areas: it follows the narrative of Perry on tour, establishes how she became a pop star and conveys the Katy Perry-tone. Not the best use of 3D ever but surprisingly manages to create a multi-dimensional movie about an entertainer. PS: we now live in a world where the Katy Perry movie is one of my favorite summer movies so far :)

Ted
Ted(2012)
½

Nothing special - Ted is the best part of the movie, which itself feels like a 90-min excuse for a teddy bear to swear and hit the bong. Really dragged down by senseless side gags: the needlessly gay coworker, the uber creepy Ted stalker and other odd bits that seem random.

Inside Job
Inside Job(2010)

I haven't had such a visceral physical reaction in a long, long time.

The Amazing Spider-Man

meh. best part = Emma Stone/Gwen Stacy. The 'Spidey-in-action' sequences are impressive and the dire sense of urgency is well established in the climactic sequences ... but it's well-covered ground that posits a lot of questions, moves a little too quickly to answer any of them adequately and plays REALLY loose with the whole secret identity bit. In trying to establish too much new mythology with its running time, no genuine heart/emotion gets any real solid traction. Good/entertaining - not great.

21 Jump Street

No better endorsement for a comedy than to say I laughed out loud and often :) also, hv a new found respect for Channing Tatum

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Another sequel < the original. The first two acts would hv dragged "Game of Shadows" into 2-star territory - where more calories are burned in making Sherlock idiosyncratic than are spent in crafting a solid story - but the third act does well enough to at least bring this heartless "action" flick to its end.

Life in a Day
½

concept > end result ... for as many sweet/surprising moments, there are as many places where it grinds to a halt. generally uneven, but overall less a film/not a movie / very close to an amazing experience

Safety Not Guaranteed

oh yeah, this is what a well crafted movie looks like :) well written & well executed, this surprising little movie strives to work on several levels - and succeeds wonderfully

Adventureland

Why does this pointless movie exist? Only the scenes w bill hader/kristen wiig are worth a damn. 'blah' just about sums it up

Moonrise Kingdom

I don't worship at the temple of Wes Anderson - but when he gets it right, he justifies his place among today's best directors. "Moonrise" isn't overwhelmed by excessively quirky characters or story - allowing Anderson to tell a genuine love story

OSS 117: Le Caire Nid d'Espions (OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies)

one of the few spoof movies where i genuinely laughed out loud - a near perfect send up of the classic spy genre :) wouldn't expect less from the director-actor-actress team from 'the artist'

Prometheus
Prometheus(2012)

Sorry nerds - it's not the mindblowing epic you want it to be. Elba and Theron are wasted talent here - but Fassbender is clearly the star of this show. The whole zealot/faith angle is unfulfilled and could hv been cut or retooled. Cool sci fi ideas that are never realized to any great degree of satisfaction

Brave
Brave(2012)

Fun family-style movie - but disappointing for Pixar. A lot of padding-wheel spinning for time - already short movie cld hv even been shorter. Some pretty childish humor - Pixar makes films - this is a just a good movie.

God Bless America

a little too long on the cynical/bitter "Americans are stupid" diatribes and suffers from pacing issues that culminate in some serious third act problems -- but still pretty funny :)

Marvel's The Avengers
½

Mind.Blown. Amazing. Will pay to see this one several times more.

The Hunger Games
½

engaging, suspenseful and more proof that Jennifer Lawrence is absolutely superb -- a little heavy on the 'shaky cam' (think 'Bourne Supremacy') and some odd pacing, but ultimately very entertaining

Hugo
Hugo(2011)

yes, it is possible to care/love EVERY aspect of a movie (music, cinematography, characters) except for the titular character himself

Attack the Block

alien invasion in 'the hood' sounds like it should be a parody -- but this straight-forward take is genuinely and intelligently entertaining on almost every level :)

Chronicle
Chronicle(2012)

Interesting - and the filmmakers were smart enough to keep the running time below 90 mins ... all the fat has been trimmed, leaving a lean/fun lil movie

I Love You Phillip Morris

a few things: 1st) storytelling by voiceover is the weakest form of storytelling on earth ... 2nd) there's no way to describe Jim Carrey's performance as a gay con men w/o sounding homophobic. lets just say it's cartoonishly/offensively over-the-top ... 3rd) the movie improves in its 2nd half (which has noticeably less voiceover - see 1st item)

Margin Call
Margin Call(2011)

tense, focused and complex :)

The Tree of Life
½

this is what poetry realized on screen looks like -- an amazing, beautiful work of art at its best, but sometimes just a little tedious in its very ambitious effort to capture every scale of life (from vastness of the entire universe - to the beauty of everyday life) -- be warned: 'structure'/linear storytelling is not this film's strength

The Grey
The Grey(2012)

thoughtful, thrilling and scary -- the studio is smart to re-release this one for consideration next fall

Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie

surreal sketch comedy does not translate into full-length feature vehicle ... sacrificing all but the very minimal sense of structure for mainly scatological, non sequitur jokes/bits that last a few beats too long makes for a tiring watch

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

will only refer to this as 'Intellectually Insulting & Emotionally Manipulative' -- the only reason to see this cloying, frustating, trying-WAY-too hard timesink is Max Von Sydow (who doesn't even really show up until the 1 hr mark)

The Descendants

An undeniably strong, complex and human screenplay populated with a full crew of interesting characters. Unfortunate that Shailene Woodley didn't get a supp actress nomination. Can't argue its place in the Best Picture field.

Tangled
Tangled(2010)

a lot more fun/sweet than i thought it would be -- a solid fairy tale/adventure and the best Disney, non-Pixar film since the late 90s :) only critiques: songs felt a little shoehorned in and the stakes never felt concrete/threatening (the villain is essentially a knife-wielding old woman)

The Future
The Future(2011)

Long on quirkiness, short on narrative - remains interesting despite talking cats, talking moons and a guy w/ the power to stop time for some reason

Beginners
Beginners(2011)

Quirky without feeling like schtick. Sweet and creative - but with a grim undertone that allows the story feel more human without overwhelming it's undeniable charm. Plus - Chris Plummer for president!

I'm Still Here

i imagine the genesis of this movie was Joaquin and Casey getting really stoned/wasted, coming up with a 'great' idea for a movie about how 'fake' hollywood is -- they then sober up just enough to make a confused, unfocused, bizarre waste-of-time that goes nowhere and says nothing of consequence

The Next Three Days
½

other than a pretty solid 30 mins in the last third, this thriller erratically shifts between tedious and pretty entertaining -- but the crime that sets up the whole movie and the escape the entire film is based around are both pretty farfetched

Senna
Senna(2011)

the best docs don't just tell us about new or historical events -- they also tell wonderfully crafted stories

Another Year
Another Year(2010)
½

What a nice, sweet lil movie :) usually I don't dig on films that feature weak, lost characters but this one succeeds in crafting a nuanced, humane story without making the sadder characters intolerable

Hobo With a Shotgun

pretty good for what it is -- that being an insanely violent throwback to the old ultra-gore exploitation flicks ... complete with scantily clad woman showering the blood spurting from a recently decapitated man, a schoolbus full of kids hit with a flamethrower and a torture victim's abdomen being split open like a pinata with the single swing of a razor blade modified baseball bat. in short: not for everyone.

Morning Glory

wow - Indiana Jones just doesn't give a f*ck anymore ... as pedestrian/unoriginal as 'morning glory' maybe, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with the movie's core -- but it's plagued with storytelling-by-explaining EVERYTHING thru dialogue (aka - exposition overload) ... and there's no reason to believe Rachel McAdams' character is credible until 21 mins in. (up 'til that point, we're simply told she is awesome at her job)

Moonlight Serenade

how could a movie featuring two of my favorite things in the world - jazz and Amy Adams - be-SO-BAD -- too many things to mention ... can't think of a single reason to watch this abominable POS

Moon
Moon(2009)

this is how to make a human, tense sci-fi thriller -- satisfying on so many levels!

American: The Bill Hicks Story
½

meh - vaguely interesting doc about an incredibly brilliant comedian ... feels like the filmmakers were a little TOO in love with the doc subject

The Closet (Le Placard)

incredibly funny comedy that feels like a throwback to the old '50s-'60s era 'mistaken identity/living a lie' comedies :)

Passengers
Passengers(2008)
½

not much is worse than a tension-less, chore of a "thriller" -- the only way to make it worse is to add a senseless 'twist' ending that defies any sense of logic and does nothing but undermine the 1st/2nd acts

Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol

the odd series that keeps getting better with each subsequent sequel ... a lot of fun/thrills -- but the human component was flat, too many moments lost that pandered to the audience (implausible edits and annoying one liners)

The Artist
The Artist(2011)
½

See this movie. See this movie. See this movie! To see this movie is know the pure joy of loving cinema :)

Another Earth

excellent example of a movie that is carried by a strong dramatic core and an incredibly interesting sci-fi foundation ... but is undermined by some hammy scenes-lines ... not many, but this is just a few nip/tucks from being a really good movie.

it's the film equivalent of the Miami Heat -- all the pieces are there, but at the end of the season there's no NBA title.

Melancholia
Melancholia(2011)

a beautiful, bleak anti-fairy tale of depression and the end of the world :)

The Muppets
The Muppets(2011)

The Muppets + Amy Adams + directed by 'Flight of the Conchords' co-creator James Bobin + songs written by 'Conchords' star Bret McKenzie = silly, sweet and all-round awesome movie :)

Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1
½

look beyond the silted dialogue and forgettable 'acting' ... and you still get a 2hr movie where 2 things happen (wedding & horrible birthing scene) ... with a whole lotta nothing in the middle

Wild Target
Wild Target(2010)

fun setup, rough 2nd act, silly conclusion ... but what can i say, i'm partial to movies about hitmen, featuring quirky characters and any film with Emily Blunt :)

A Little Help

wanted so much to like this little movie that just couldn't ... aside from a couple of solid sequences, this unfocused story had just a few too many grating characters making a few too many unlikable decisions

50/50
50/50(2011)

one of my favorite films of 2011 so far :)

Moneyball
Moneyball(2011)

a great sports movie -- and it features very little sports action at all ... of course aaron sorkin would help craft one of the smartest sports flicks of all time

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop

conan comes off as a needy, whiny & moody comedian who suffers through 44 SOLD OUT live performances -- that said, this is an awesome behind-the-scenes look at the relentless pace of a performer's life on the road

Frozen
Frozen(2010)
½

a reliable horror movie doesn't require a knife-wielding psycho -- this is a small, claustrophobic little movie focused on 3 characters ... but even at a brief 90-mins, there's quite a bit of filler

Drive
Drive(2011)
½

the feel of a throwback gritty 70s flick + the sensibility of a thoughtful indie film + a laser-focused/relentless protagonist + graphic (but story/character appropriate) violence = one of my favorite movies of 2011 :)

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
½

great premise, mildly funny -- but enjoyable

Contagion
Contagion(2011)

a few b-plot loose ends aside, count this as yet another reliably entertaining Soderbergh flick :) doesn't fall into the same holes that plague most other 'killer virus' movies - more grounded and focused on how people react in the face of a global pandemic :)

The Deal
The Deal(2003)
½

interesting topic undermined by snail-like pacing

The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

and now i've lost all faith in humanity -- this abomination isn't just horribly executed - it's truly sickening that any person would dream up this nightmare of a script - much less spend time/resources to actually commit it to film ... wanted to give it 0 stars ... that said - a total 'must see' for those who think they are desensitized

Everything Must Go

understated will farrell rules ... and who knew Biggie's son can really act!? ... not a farrell comedy but not a wholly depressing spiral of self-destruction - he perfectly fits a good guy who has made some very poor life decisions

Hereafter
Hereafter(2010)

meh. slow, plodding pace. disparate, isolated storylines that are mashed together in the third act. predictable. especially disappointing since it's a Clint Eastwood movie.

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
½

POM just bought themselves one more loyal customer ... (p.s. i still crave a big mac every time i see 'super size me')

The Guard
The Guard(2011)
½

Brendan Gleason's whoring, racist and unorthodox Irish police officer is probably the single best movie character this summer - he edges out David Carr in 'Page One' -- who is a real person, but a character nonetheless :)

The Help
The Help(2011)
½

a few loose ends from being a solid 4 out of 5 :) good storytelling goes a long way!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
½

one of the two summer movies i didn't expect much from -- and both are among my fav movies from this summer :)

Page One: Inside the New York Times
½

suck it print media - basic Darwinism at work here: evolve or die

Crank 2: High Voltage
½

what a insanely visceral and randomly racist movie -- and a whore gets shot in her breast implant ... 90 minutes of 'wtf!?'

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen is hit or miss -- file this in the 'hit' category

Horrible Bosses

Charlie Day for president!

The Trip
The Trip(2011)

this is what a meandering tale, on its surface about nothing, is supposed to be -- hilarious with a bleak undertone, 'the trip' gets bonus points for what may be my favorite movie line of the year so far ("You're stuck in a metaphor!")

Green Lantern
½

what a wildly disjointed series of plot points and odd action sequences - in a word: lame

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

the first hour has serious pacing problems, the last hour is an explod-gasm -- that said, it's a lot fun ... but it's still jarring to see some major characters get blowed up pretty violently

Cars 2
Cars 2(2011)

a shockingly high body count -- one car is essentially tortured to death and a few are crushed ... but far more offensive than any violence were the sheer number of plot holes and weak narrative choices

Just Go with It
½

Sandler should just do the honorable thing and fall on his own sword

X-Men: First Class

Magneto is one of the great comic book characters of all time ... and Fassbender is pretty bad ass as Magneto -- even though the trailers for 'first class' were pretty unflattering, the movie is surprisingly solid.

Casino Jack And The United States Of Money

Alex Gibney is a master of the documentary format -- can't wait to see his upcoming film about Julian Assange

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer

Spitzer would have been a great national political leader ...

Crazy Heart
Crazy Heart(2009)
½

i'm now officially p*ssed at myself for not watching this awesome piece of film until now

The Adjustment Bureau

aside from some pacing issues, this sci-fi 'thriller' is pretty intriguing -- even if it's nothing stellar, 'adjustment bureau' is easily one of the best of films of 2011 Q1 (that said, Jan-March was a cinema graveyard)

Sucker Punch
Sucker Punch(2011)
½

Nonsensical. Devoid of logic. Absurd. This ridiculous cobbled together series of cool-looking CGI scenes was just a poor excuse to put young girls in skimpy outfits and have them do backflips & blow sh*t up. I'm pretty forgiving of 'stupid action' -- but this is ridiculous. And most disappointing (to me) was the total waste of Jon Hamm -- his 90 secs in the film was pointless. -- 'Sucker Punch' got a 1.5 instead of a 0.5 simply because it is really cool looking.

Grown Ups
Grown Ups(2010)

death to Adam Sandler -- what a poor excuse to give Sandler's washed up SNL pals a movie gig -- nothing but fart jokes, 'ain't Kevin James fat' jokes and some poop gags.

Star Trek
Star Trek(2009)
½

Freed from the shackles of uber-geek Trek jibberish and no longer mired in its own mythology, this is just a good space cowboy adventure. Could have used a little bit of character arch instead of being a complete reboot.

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

'Revenge' is the best Star Wars film ... 2nd only to 'Empire' ... 'Revenge' moves ... the characters are forced to make decisions .. the story is complete!

I Am Comic
I Am Comic(2010)
½

the odd b-plot involving an old comic's comeback tour is kinda lame - but the ins and outs of stand-up comedy are pretty awesome

Summer Wars (Sama Wozu)

Mamoru Hosoda: the heir apparent to Miyazaki

Sunshine Cleaning

Grounded, creative and full of hope. A good rental if nothing else.

Watchmen
Watchmen(2009)

Proof that slavish allegiance is inferior to adaptation.

Religulous
Religulous(2008)

Bill Maher=agnostic ... This film certainly has an agenda, but exceeds even the most cynical expectations with Maher's surprising (if sometimes glib) understanding- but he's still armed with his cutting edge.

Slumdog Millionaire

This cements Danny Boyle's position as one of today's great filmmakers ('The Beach' aside)