Monthly Archives: December 2012

‘See It’ and ‘Skip It’: Film Reviews from the Holiday Season

Movie Image collage

Well, dear readers, it has been a long time since I last posted on the ever-so popular Sorkin Notes. Due to my work schedule, homework, final exams, and the overall business of the Holidays, I haven’t had the opportunity to write about movies in my free time. This is disappointing for two reasons: The first being that the end of the year is nearly upon us and I’ve barely reviewed any of this year’s Oscar contenders (probably the only films reviewed that I would consider to be “contenders” are ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, ‘The Master’, and ‘Argo’), and the second being that since our last post, I’ve seen some really fantastic movies. So, instead of racking my brain, trying to write almost 10 in-depth of reviews of different movies in the next week. I’ve decided to knock it all out at once and give you a slew of reviews.

Each movie discussed has been given the decree of “See It’ or ‘Skip It’, so you can go to the cinema the next few weeks knowing which movies you need to catch and which ones are better left alone. Again, some of these movies might be long gone from your theaters, but even so, hold our suggestions in your heart until they come out on DVD.

Daniel Day Lincoln

See It: ‘Lincoln’

Steven Spielberg’s American epic ‘Lincoln’ is not only a must-see for the holiday season, but it is also one of the best, if not the best, of the entire year. Set in the closing months of the Civil War, the film centers around the sixteenth president and the passing of the 13th Amendment, forever abolishing slavery in the United States. Dealing with themes of unity and human dignity, this drama packs a punch and reminds us of a time when our nation, in the face of great division, accomplished something honorable.I have a great deal of confidence in saying that this is the best acted movie of 2012, with Lincoln being portrayed by Daniel-Day Lewis, who lights up every scene with hunched shoulders and a searing glare, and the always amazing Sally Field as the paranoid Mary Todd. However, the show is stolen by Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, who plays his part with an intense passion and gives the best performance of his career.

Although the performances are all near-perfect, Spielberg’s expert direction and Tony Kushner’s intelligent dialogue are what makes this film truly spectacular. Not since ‘Schindler’s List’ has Spielberg made a movie like this; a true character piece that captures the audience, not with onscreen wizardry, but with truly human interactions between characters. Also, something must be said about the director’s ability to create the world that the audience inhabits, and in the scenes within the Congressional Chambers, Mr. Spielberg seamlessly transports us into the heated deliberations.

I could not give this movie a higher recommendation. For everyone that loves film, you should feel compelled to buy a ticket. The Oscar nominations that you should expect Lincoln to receive: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Makeup, Costume Design.

My Grade: A+

Wreck-It Ralph

See It: ‘Wreck-It Ralph’

There is nothing more endearing than a lovable bad-guy that wants to change. Ralph (John C. Reilly)  is a warm-hearted, video game villain, who has a ‘Donkey-Kong-esque’ lot in life. Every day, Ralph gets up and destroys the 8-bit building that the tiny avatars live in, until the hero, Fix-It Felix, shows up and puts it back together again. Sleeping in a garbage dump every night, Ralph feels under-appreciated, and  looks for a change of scenery where, for once, he could be a hero.

When I saw the trailer for ‘Wreck-It Ralph’, I was immediately excited. It looked to have fun-loving excitement and a witty sense of humor. Being able to poke fun at the classic games of old is nostalgia at its finest, and the characters are so likable that you can’t help but root for them.  The movie did not disappoint in these categories, but where it also hit on a place that I did not expect; the heartstrings. Yes, not only is ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ the most original kid-friendly film of 2012, it is also the most heart-warming as well.

In my mind, this is far and away the Best Animated Film of 2012, and is 5 times the movie that ‘Brave’ was. Granted, it has ‘Paranorman’, ‘Rise of the Guardians’, and ‘Frankenweenie’ to compete with, so Oscar gold is far from a certainty. But, one thing is for certain; ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ is a fun-sized movie with a big heart that children and adults alike can enjoy.

My Grade: B+

Daniel Craig

See It: ‘Skyfall’ 

James Bond (Daniel Craig) is back in a big way in his latest adventure, ‘Skyfall’, where 007 must go toe-to-toe with the baddest baddie in the history of Bond baddies, played wonderfully by Javier Bardem. Like James Bond films of the past, this film takes you all over the world, but in a refreshing turn-of-events, spends most of its time in the United Kingdom. This gives the film a more close-to-home feel, even though it is an ocean away from where I viewed it. In ‘Skyfall’, Bond seemingly comes ‘back from the dead’ to defend MI6 Chief ‘M’, played by Dame Judi Dench, who is being targeted by cyber terrorist Silva (Bardem.) With action and excitement that has no equal, ‘Skyfall’ has so much going for it, and it really is a great movie, but I have two major qualms with it. Warning: There are spoilers in the rest of this segment. 

The first issue that I have with ‘Skyfall’ is not so much an issue as it is a personal preference. I am really growing tired of the generic plot twist where the bad-guy gets caught in the middle of the movie, followed by a dramatic scene of dialogue while he is in custody, only to find out that *SURPRISE* he wanted to get caught all along, and then escapes as his master plan begins to unfold. ‘The Dark Knight’ did it first, and best, then ‘The Avengers’ ripped it off, and finally ‘Skyfall’. So unoriginal. We need to get more creative with our blockbusters.

Stop reading if you do not want to know the end of the movie!

My second problem is this, and I think it is a pretty glaring flaw; the whole movie, Silva wants to kill ‘M’, and at the end tries to force ‘M’ to shoot herself while Silva’s head is right next to hers, which would have killed both of them. Bond comes in, obviously, and kills Silva before he gets the chance to do this. Then, ‘M’ dies from wounds that she suffered from the final conflict. So, in the end, our villain wins, getting what he wanted all along. So all of this conflict, everything the audience just endured, ends up being pretty unfulfilling.

Regardless, ‘Skyfall’ is a well-made and splendidly performed action flick, and one of the best Bond’s ever, but it is far from perfect.

My Grade: B+


Skip It: ‘Cloud Atlas’

This review is not going to make me very popular with some people, because many people loved this movie. It would have been very easy for me to walk out of that theater, pretending that I loved ‘Cloud Atlas’, spending time unraveling all the complexities and calling it a work of genius. But, alas, I could not lie to myself. I did not like this movie. But, I don’t want anyone to think that I disliked this movie because I was unwilling or unable to understand it. ‘He didn’t get it, so he didn’t like it.’ No, I get it, condescending reader. It was not a lack of understanding that turned me off, but it was because of what I had to go through to see this movie that left me going “What the heck did I just watch?”

Taking place in six different periods of time, where six separate but intersecting lines of story are taking place, ‘Cloud Atlas’ follows the adventures, trials, victories, and defeats of many different characters. Although we are seeing half-a-dozen different character arcs (who are all being played by a small cast of actors, all of whom have multiple roles), there is a common theme in all the stories; there is the dreamer, one who aspires to accomplish great things, the oppressor, who wants to stop the dreamer from reaching their aspirations, and a savior, who saves the dreamer from the oppressor. Good concept, very ambitious, but in ‘Cloud Atlas’, the idea is stretched way too thin.

This movie really does buckle under the weight of its own ambition. The audience does not feel lost as much as they feel overwhelmed, wondering why all of these stories are necessary. Because of the great number of protagonists, we really don’t care very much for any of them and are altogether detached. In reality, this is just 3 pretty good films and 3 not very good films, all blended together into one very ‘meh’ experience.

Out of all of this though, the thing that bothers me the most about this film is its piety, its attitude that it is the source of understanding for all of man’s struggles. It tries to dupe the audience into buying into this premise that it hasn’t even proven to us, while also trying to sell every line like it is soon to be a “quote for the ages”. It ends up being preachy, and in the process of trying to be a movie about everything, it ends up being a movie about absolutely nothing.

So, if you see an advertisement claiming that ‘Cloud Atlas’ is one of the great films of our time, I have two words for you: False advertising.

My Grade: D+


See It: ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’

I’ve really grown weary of the  heart-felt teen drama over the years, because lately there have been very few good ones. Not since ‘Juno’ (which was actually much more comedy than drama) has a really well-made high school movie been put out there, and after ‘Juno’ came a bunch of ‘Juno’ posers (did anyone see ‘Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist’? What a tragedy…) So, going to ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’, I really felt like it was a coin-flip’s chance that it was going to be an above average movie. I was more than pleasantly surprised, and although ‘Perks’ has a few moments that might be difficult to swallow, it is an emotional journey that discusses so many themes and subjects that the teen drama would usually sweep under the rug.

Written and Directed by Stephen Chbosky, who also wrote novel of the same title, ‘Perks’ centers around Charlie (Logan Lerman), a young high schooler who starts the year feeling alone and estranged. Dealing with past trauma and the loss of a friend, Charlie has all but given up on trying to belong. That is until he meets Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson), who soon connect him to a group of friends that becomes a second family to Charlie.

I would rather not reveal too much about all the directions that this movie goes, as to not repel anyone from giving it a chance, but I will say that this movie is not for the faint of heart, and it is often painful to see what these young people have to go through in order to feel accepted. But, the payoff is worth it. We can all relate to what it was like to be a teenager, hence the pull towards the teen movie, but the nostalgia becomes vivid , and it is clear that ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is much more about the reality than the fantasy.

My Grade: B


See It: ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’

I posted this thought on my Facebook earlier this week (I know, probably a mistake), but the critical backlash for ‘The Hobbit’ has been more than outrageous. The same people who were calling Peter Jackson a filmmaking genius during the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy are now calling for the New Zealand director’s head. And why? ‘It’s too long.’ ‘It’s seems like it’s for kids.’ ‘Some scenes are just unnecessary.’ People, welcome to the world of Middle Earth, where everything is very long, detailed, and where silly dwarves do silly things. Why are you acting so surprised? Are you trying to tell me that ‘Return of the King’ wasn’t too long? It had 15 endings, for goodness sake. Just sit down, and enjoy the movie, because ‘The Hobbit’ is an amazing cinematic experience.

One thing that I loved about Jackson’s newest adaptation of the classic Tolkien novels is that it has a very different style and feel to it than the past trilogy. This was very intentional; in the same way that Tolkien’s LOTR series is more about the battle of good and evil, aimed more towards adults, ‘The Hobbit’ is more about the odyssey, the magical journey, and was written more to be read to children. As a prequel, ‘The Hobbit’ was meant to further color-in the world that Tolkien had already set in motion. I really believe that ‘An Unexpected Journey’ accomplishes that very thing. Jackson, however, does something really special with the material and pulls out subtle themes that might otherwise be overlooked.

This movie is about the concept of home, and how if you want a place to belong in this world, you must be willing to fight for it. The story opens with Bilbo Baggins, snug in his cozy hole at Bag End, until Gandalf comes to town and turns the hobbit’s world upside-down. Gandalf brings a company of dwarves to Bilbo’s door, and the merry bunch looks to set out on a quest to reclaim Erebor, the lost Dwarven kingdom, from the dragon Smaug. Although reluctant at first, Bilbo takes the courage to step out of the door, and thus begins a journey that will change his life forever.

Starring Martin Freeman and Sir Ian McKellan, this film isn’t exactly what you would expect, but ends up being more than you bargained for. Although it is long, I loved every one of its 175 minutes. Full of action and wonder, I highly recommend that you take the time to see ‘the master’ Peter Jackson at work yet again.

My Grade: A


Skip It: ‘Paranormal Activity 4’

This is a message to all movie makers around the world: I am sick of your ‘found footage’, shaky hand-cam, home video style movies. Enough is enough. It is lacking in creativity and makes the story of your film totally irrelevant. To say ‘Skip It’ to ‘Paranormal Activity 4’ is really not enough; I should say that there is no reason that this movie should have been made, period. Aren’t you sick of Katie’s dysfunctional demon family? Pretty soon its going to be like a reality show (probably titled ‘Here Comes Scary Boo-Boo’), and America will probably still go and watch it.

In this installment of the ‘Paranormal’ drama, Katie and Damian from ‘The Omen’ move in across the street from a seemingly normal family, and through the technological magic of Skype, we are able to watch all of the creepy, crawly, spooky, scary things that ensue when Katie’s ‘son’ comes to over to stay. Spoiler Alert: A bunch of stuff moves unexpectedly.

The first one was good. The second one was bad. The third one was totally irrelevant. Now it’s getting pathetic. But, if you stay after the credits, you’ll clearly see that they are definitely going to make another one of these things, probably in Mexico, and probably titled ‘Paranormal Activity: Cancun Vacation!’ I know this review is late, but if it keeps at least one person from renting this movie, then I’ve done my job.

My Grade: F


See It on DVD: ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’

In ve’Beasts of the Southern Wild’, we are able to view disaster and poverty  through the eyes of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis), a fierce young girl who lives in a flooded community called the Bathtub with her daddy, Wink (Dwight Henry). When her home is flooded and her father falls ill, Hushpuppy must do what she can to save her father and her home. Floating in and out of fantasy and reality, this is a tale of family, community, and finding the beast within your own soul. I would try to explain the plot more, but I believe that this story is told best through the sights and sounds that it provides it’s viewer. It is better for you to discover it for yourself then have me try and explain it until it makes sense.

Beautiful and poetic, this is a movie that is real artistry, and one thing that I love about it is that the director Benh Zeitlin really leaves the purpose open for interpretation, and creates a fantasy that isn’t set worlds away, but seems like it is in our own back yard. Many might say that this movie is really about Hurricane Katrina, the aftermath of that tragedy, but the way that I viewed it led me to believe that ‘Beasts’ is about the trials of all homeless people around the world, and how through the eyes of a child, not having a home can seem like a magical adventure.

This is one of those that demands a second viewing, and I suggest going to your local RedBox and picking up a copy of  ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild.’ I promise you that it will be 100% different from anything else that you’ve watched this year. It really is true inspiration. Okay, enough of the love fest; let’s wrap this thing up.

My Grade: A

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