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Films to See and Skip During Your "Staycation"

Posted by Kenneth Shinozuka on December 23, 2012 at 3:15 AM

Hello all,


Here's a list of films that you should definitely see or skip during your "staycation" this holiday season:



Films to See



Life of Pi


Director Ang Lee’s thirteenth directorial effort, “Life of Pi,” glows as an outstanding visual accomplishment, a testament to the director’s widely acclaimed aesthetic brilliance. The story he tells, adapted from Yann Martel's bestselling 2001 novel, depicts Piscine Molitor, who later adopts the name Pi, embarks upon his lifelong spiritual journey when he is exposed to four religions, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and his father’s Atheism, all at once during his childhood. His faith in God is tested when he and a Bengal tiger must survive over two hundred days in the Indian Ocean after their ship sinks, leaving them two as the only survivors. The compelling relationship between Pi and the tiger begins as a competition for survival but blossoms into a compassionate friendship where both depend upon the other for companionship and survival. The screenplay, while at times dull, punctuates moving scenes highlighting the solitude and hardships of a shipwreck with inspiring passages of hope. Cinematographer Claudio Miranda's utterly spectacular shots of blue whales leaping out of the ocean and of undiscovered, luminescent islands underscore the wonder of the sea even amid all its despair. Ang Lee's most recent composition of artistic melodies applies its visual mastery to convey greater themes of enduring hope and faith in the looming shadows of death. 91/100



Lincoln


Few films flow with such rich period detail yet possess the timeless quality of Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” a great ode to democracy that does not seek to glorify its subjects, but to depict them in their purest and often most devious forms. Daniel Day-Lewis inhabits the sixteenth president with uncanny ease, striving not to dignify his character to abstruse heights but to portray a man battered by family troubles and whose humble beginnings are evident in the many fables and parables he tells throughout the film. Yet the sometimes dense but often penetrating screenplay, written by a keen Tony Kushner, also searches for a facet of Lincoln that history has rarely illuminated. The Honest Abe that many of us thought we knew was a cunning politician who often used underhanded methods to procure the votes necessary to pass his bills, all of which would nevertheless go on to preserve the freedom of the nation. One of these bills was the Thirteenth Amendment, and its passage in Congress during the last four months of Lincoln’s presidency serves the central focus of the film. Spielberg’s quietly grand direction often illustrates Congress as an arena where partisan divisions have wrecked legislative deadlock and interfered with political decisions, a state that speaks to our own Congress today. The superb art direction and costume design bring period authenticity to a more modest America, an America that reminds us of the great leaders like Lincoln who protected the liberty of this nation at all costs. 97/100



Skyfall


This winter also marks the return of 007 in his best film yet, “Skyfall,” an exhilarating espionage adventure exuberantly enlivened by astonishing cinematography, exotic settings, and thrilling action sequences. Yet this 23rd installment in the 007 series is also darkened by themes of haunted pasts and somber yet superb performances by a cadre of outstanding actors that include Daniel Craig in his third stint as James Bond, Judi Dench as a beleaguered M, and Javier Bardem as one of the most memorable villains in Bond history, Raoul Silva. With shuddering conviction, Bardem vivifies the sadistic wickedness and haunting malice of his character, a former MI6 operative who seeks to disgrace and then kill M in revenge for her betrayal of him. As Bond pursues Silva, who leads audiences to electrifying fights in Shanghai skyscrapers and Istanbul rooftops, 007, now more human than suave or debonair, must confront his orphaned childhood, a haunted fragment of his past that torments his crumbling present. The removal of the excessive gadgetry that plagued newer installments precludes the action in "Skyfall" from eclipsing its numerous emotional attributes, one of which develops a bond - no pun intended - of trust and sympathy between M and Bond, the former of which often appeared to be little more than a stern chief of the latter. The roots of the series, many of which had been eroded by time, are recalled at last in “Skyfall,” which reintroduces Bond’s signature Aston Martin car and Walter PPK and revives several characters, such as Q, whose significance had waned as 007 aged. On the eve of Bond’s fiftieth anniversary, this gripping invigoration of the 007 series highlights James Bond as an eternal vehicle of entertainment that will thrill audiences for generations to come, rather than a remnant of the bygone era of espionage. 95/100



Argo


An exceptional political thriller that pulses with drama and exhilarates with suspense, Ben Affleck’s “Argo” engrosses viewers from its urgent opening minutes and firmly remains in their memories long after its profound ending scene. In 1979, at the height of Iran’s hostage crisis, CIA operative Tony Mendez planned a preposterous rescue of six American ambassadors, who, with Mendez, pretended to be a crew of Canadian filmmakers scouting for a filming location for their fake science fiction picture, “Argo” (hence the title). The absurdity of this idea, one that may seem as nothing more than a figment of Hollywood imagination, imbues an aura of farcical bizarreness exemplified by the film’s carefully interjected humor. This apparent lack of seriousness in the grim context of “Argo” ‘s story, however, does not undermine its sense of urgency. Chris Terrio’s masterful screenplay cleverly constructs a number of unexpected obstacles that Mendez and the ambassadors each must successfully overcome in order to protect the credibility of the CIA and far more importantly their own survival. Each viewer will come to experience not only a sense of taut suspense that will leap in his or her rapidly beating heart, but also a far deeper fear for the lives of these characters, whose loved ones, as the screenplay poignantly illuminates, may never see them again if they perish in the tremendously precarious operation. A feat of bold originality and stirring entertainment at their best, “Argo” captivates your mind with its crafty intelligence, seizes your attention with its immediacy, and captures your heart with its powerful emotional core. 99/100




Films To Skip



The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey


Of all the cinematic journeys offered this winter, Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” the first of three films adapted from J. R. R. Tolkein’s 1937 novel “The Hobbit,” stands out as one of the most unexpectedly terrible. Failing to even touch the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, also directed by Jackson, this monotonous and unfocused trudge replaces the glorious flights of imagination in J.R.R. Tolkein’s novel with stilted passages of contrived dialogue and strained acting. While the sweeping cinematography by Andrew Lesnie at times captures magnificent panoramas of Middle-Earth, the fictional land where “The Hobbit” takes place, Jackson’s baffling choice to shoot the film in a 48 FPS (frames per second) format causes the set designs to appear dismally artificial and visually synthesized rather than realistic or immersive. The abysmally lethargic pacing is a product of unending scenes of insipid dialogue during which the screenwriters fail to develop any one of their banal themes, which include the importance of friendship and teamwork in the face of hardship. The “team” concerned in “An Unexpected Journey” is one that includes the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (an unconvincing Martin Freeman), who is recruited by Gandalf the Wizard (a far more lighthearted Ian McKellen than the one in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy) to accompany thirteen blandly characterized dwarves on a journey to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from Smaurg the Dragon. Only Gollum (Andy Serkis), the creature from which Baggins steals the One Ring of invisibility, separates himself from the other indistinguishable characters as a captivatingly imagined, passionately performed coward who both loves and hates himself as a result of his corrupting ring. He at least makes this arduous trek slightly the worthwhile. 23/100

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1 Comment

Reply Thomas C.
10:14 PM on December 22, 2012 
Loving the reviews, and the list!
Keep them on coming.