The Act of Killing

Joshua Oppenheimer’s Oscar nominated The Act of Killing has got to be one of the most unsettling documentaries ever made. In it, men who murdered thousands (some estimates are 1 million) of Communists back in the mid-1960s in Indonesia are asked to reenact their crimes, and rather than show any remorse for the horror they inflicted, they act as if they were doing something great and fun, and they take pride in showing the filmmakers how and where they murdered their countrymen. It is surreal and bizarre and unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Winter’s Tale

Winter’s Tale is an okay chick flick that never quite finds its way. It’s part time travel, part fantasy, part drama, part romance. Sometimes sad, sometimes funny, sometimes very odd… like when a horse sprouts wings or Will Smith pops up as the devil.

Fans of the 1983 book by Mark Helprin will be shocked at how much the movie diverts from the lengthy novel. Many of the major characters from the book are changed, omitted or made into composites that don’t make much sense. Like why do so many of the characters affect various accents? And what’s with Colin Farrell’s hair? But I digress…

The Monuments Men

It was hard not to wonder WHY the release of The Monuments Men was delayed by several months, missing out on the awards-season bru-ha-ha. Now I (think I) know. It simply isn’t good enough. It’s not bad by any means, but it is disappointing, especially when you consider the raw materials that included an interesting story and an A-list cast led by George Clooney, who also directed the film.

The Monuments Men is based on the true story of an unlikely platoon of soldiers– museum directors, architects, artists, curators and art historians – who went to the front lines during World War II to help rescue, preserve and return some of the world’s greatest artistic masterpieces, jeopardized by Nazi thieves.

The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza)

One of the five films nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, The Great Beauty is an amazingly wonderful dip into the pool of modern Roman decadence. The story is told from the perspective of Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), a journalist who turns 65 at the beginning of the film, and who despite being known for his great first novel decades earlier, is still searching for his inspiration for a second. The film owes a great debt to Fellini. You cannot help but think of La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2, but Jep is much more world weary than Marcello, and the movie is much more than mere homage. It has some of the most striking imagery of any recent film. And if you love Rome, this is a must see!

The Square (Al Midan)

The Square is an extremely engaging documentary that puts you right in the middle of Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the first 2 years of the still unfolding Egyptian revolution. It follows a handful of young revolutionaries as they and their vast herd of comrades take over the square, oust their President, elect another and then get rid of him. Directed by Egyptian-American filmmaker Jehane Noujaim (Control Room), the film centers on the experiences of 4 different people who were living through the upheaval and have very different perspectives on their country: Ahmed Hassan, a young working-class Egyptian and the film’s narrator; expat actor Khalid Abdalla who starred in The Kite Runner and whose good English and notoriety make him attractive to Western media; Muslim Brotherhood member Magdy Ashour, who was tortured by Mubarak’s thugs; and singer Ramy Essam, whose revolutionary songs stir the crowd.

Ride Along

Ride Along is a typical, formulaic, middle-of-the-road January offering. Not exactly a must see, but harmless entertainment. A sort of Beverly Hills Cop light. In Atlanta. Kevin Hart plays Ben, a fast-talking high-school security guard and video-game junkie with aspirations to join the police academy. But his potential future brother-in-law (Ice Cube), a hot-tempered Atlanta detective, doesn’t think Ben has what it takes to be a cop, or to marry his sister Angela (Tika Sumpter). So he takes Ben on a ride-along that’s essentially been ‘fixed’ to include only the most annoying and obnoxious runs. Of course, the plan goes awry and comedy and ‘drama’ ensue.

Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor is difficult to watch. So difficult, in fact, that I covered my eyes for the majority of the second half. It’s a hard-core war movie. It’s intense. Brutal. Bloody. And depressing. So unless you have the stomach for long battle scenes pitting a small band of brothers against a largely unseen enemy in the mountains of Afghanistan, then I suggest you take a pass.

Her

Her is really all about him, him being Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with his personalized operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). If this sounds a bit weird, it is, but only for a bit. In this film set in the very near future, true love is as elusive as ever, and a new technology allows people to become intimately entwined with their computers’ operating systems. Lonely Theodore is still recovering from breaking up with his wife (Rooney Mara) and isn’t having a lot of success in the dating world, so when Samantha enters his life through an earpiece and a mic, her ability to see and appreciate him is incredibly attractive.

August: Osage County

In the battle of Meryl vs Julia, who will chew more scenery? August: Osage County pits them against each other as the drug addicted Mom versus the only person in her large extended family capable of taking her on. Based on a stage play of the same name, it is a star-studded dramedy about what must be the most dysfunctional family in the state of Oklahoma all coming together after a tragedy. None of them want to be there, and I started to feel the same way, but stuck with it because it’s one of those acting slugfests you just have to see through.

Mainstream Chick’s 2013 Year in Review

I don’t particularly like lists – especially where movies are concerned because so much depends on what you’re hoping to gain, and the kind of mood you’re in. I generally want to be entertained. If I leave a theater happy, or at least content with what I saw, then the movie did its job. With that said, here’s my list of the best, worst and not bad flicks from among the dozens I happened to see in 2013. Click on the titles to see the full review (don’t worry – they’re short and sweet).

THE BEST:

1. The Way, Way Back 2. Rush 3. Side Effects 4. The Conjuring 5. 12 Years a Slave 6. American Hustle 7. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire 8. Saving Mr. Banks 9. Man of Steel 10. A 10-way tie among the following: Frozen, Philomena, Captain Phillips, Gravity, Enough Said, The Butler, The Kings of Summer, 20 Feet from Stardom, The Book Thief, Prisoners