Quick Takes – Early 2013

New releases that I’ve caught in theaters from January through April, concluding with my favorite film of the year thus far.

 

January

Texas Chainsaw [3D]   ★ 1/2

Hilariously perpetuating all the stereotypes of terrible horror film remakes/reboots (from shortening the title to pitifully attempting to make the villain sympathetic), this shabby effort to revamp the series is awfully two-dimensional.  The only good part about it is glimpses from the original in the opening segment.

Mama   ★★

This Guillermo del Toro-produced horror flick is decently well-acted (hey there, Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain) and bathed in an excellent sensibility for neo-gothic tone and atmosphere.  Unfortunately, the terribly constructed, credibility-lacking script tends to jut audiences out of the story with several giggles to spare; which is a real bummer, considering the scares often consist of little more than ‘gotcha’ moments.

February

Side Effects  ★★★★

A wonderfully interesting thriller, marred only by one too many false endings and some irksome performances, directed by Steven Soderbergh and with a screenplay from his Contagion collaborator, Scott Z. Burns.  The crafty script accompanies the now-perfected digital aesthetic from the prior, also including a contemporary Hitchcock vibe that introduces greater suspense, thematic intrigue, and genuine fun.

March

Oz the Great and Powerful [3D]   ★★ 1/2

One cannot help but marvel at the virtual (and as a much-needed relief, occasionally practical) environments of this return to Oz, but we are also welcomed to the land of terrible casting, obnoxious characters, and people/actions that just don’t gel within a beyond trippy, 3D landscape that steals the show.  It is spontaneously fun, but there’s no heart, mind, or courage here.  The whole thing feels just a bit illogical, and entirely uncomfortable.

Spring Breakers   ★★★★ 1/2

Harmony Korine grabs mainstream Hollywood by the balls with his dark, scathing satire on our fascination with party culture and our subconscious encouragement to corrupt the angelic, youthful figures (the Disney crowd, y’all) we hold on a higher pedestal.  Featuring James Franco in his most hilariously unhinged performance, Korine sends a generation of young adult viewers straight to the hell it romanticizes.

April

Evil Dead   ★★★ 1/2

Although it turns down the wit and vamps up the harshness of Sam Raimi’s horror saga, this quirky gorefest is still extraordinarily fun, despite the fact that it really presents nothing new.  Good thing the raw terror, extreme violence, eccentric cinematography, and hilarious absurdity of it all is still just as effective.  Hopefully, it lives to serve both fans and those who have never heard the name Bruce Campbell ever mentioned in non-ironic regard.

To the Wonder   ★★★★ 1/2          Terrence Malick has never come so close to visualizing a love poem of his own hand, held together by strained faith like cinematic glue.  The end result has a singular beauty.

The Place Beyond the Pines   ★★★★

Precisely what modern filmmaking needs.  Derek Cianfrance has proved himself as an extraordinarily capable storyteller, weaving through a three-act tale of fathers and their sons with tremendous performances from the lead players.  Some may argue that the material is stretched too thin, yet it has the poetic soul of a Greek tragedy, construction reminiscent of great literature, and a dreamlike tone that meshes with deliberately straightforward dialogue, allowing the audience to hinge on climactic, yet inevitable moments, both those of searingly fast motorcycles and hidden whispers of conscience.  This is an epic film with a remarkably independent aesthetic, and as just consequence, the emotional thrill ride it provides is a satisfying, unpredictable experience.

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