I watched a lot of films to put together my best of 2012 lists. There's only so much time in the day to spend with these features and still be able to function in the real world. As such, I'm condensing a bunch of the films into shorter capsule reviews. If I don't act fast, my notes won't make sense anymore. Better to give a short and accurate review than pad each film to a longer review as the memory quickly fades to gray.
Plot: A group of friends are abducted just outside of a gas station for a twisted medical experiment. They have been implanted with viles in the back of their skulls that collect the chemicals produced during intense pain. They have only a few hours to fill every vile and the only way to do it is to torture each other.
Thoughts: Vile manages to have a lot of heart for a film with such a grotesque concept. The actors really commit to their various roles, especially McKenzie Westmore as a traveling perfume saleswoman. The problem is that the level of gore and suffering in the film is not balanced at all by the concept. Vile is well-executed but ultimately unfulfilling.
Plot: Three best friends are reunited on the occasion of their fourth friend's wedding. The three friends are terrible, destructive human beings who humiliate the bride at her bachelorette party and then destroy her dress while making fun of her weight. They have only a few hours to make everything right for their friend's big day.
Thoughts: Bachelorette is a very mean-spirited film. Writer/director Leslye Headland adapts her own stageplay into a very bitter and nasty concoction of terrible people misbehaving. The cast puts in very strong performances--especially Rebel Wilson as Becky, the bride, and Lizzy Caplan as Gena, the damaged junkie--but watching the film is just a bad experience. These characters show no remorse for their terrible actions and actually revel in the chaos dthey create. Their only reason for acting at all is fear of finally getting in trouble for a lifetime of terrible behavior. That's not a very welcoming story.
Plot: Merida, a princess, is forced to chose between three potential suitors by her mother, the queen. Merida breaks tradition and rides into the forest for some time to think. Will-o'-the-wisps lead her to a witch who promises she can cast a spell that will change Merida's fate.
Thoughts: Brave has a beautiful screenplay and excellent voice acting. The quality and realism of the animation is admirable. The big problem is that the animation is at odds with itself. The backgrounds and props are photo-realistic while the actual characters look like they were pulled straight out of a low budget Saturday morning cartoon. The look of the people (and that horse that makes My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic look like Seabiscuit) is a huge distraction to a very strong and important story. They move like real living beings but look like Sunday morning comics.
Plot: Norman is a horror-obsessed young man who actually has the ability to talk to dead people. He begins to receive terrible warnings on the anniversary of the town's most famous witch execution about the end of the world. No one believes him until the dead rise and all hell breaks loose on the tiny town. Can Norman solve the centuries old curse in time?
Thoughts: Paranorman is a big miss for me. The stop-motion animation is really well done. The concept is strong. It just doesn't come together. Horror and slapstick can work really well together, but here they are on two different tracks that rarely meet in a satisfying way. The characters are all very flat and the story doesn't actually take an interesting turn until the final few minutes.
Plot: For over a decade, Bob Pickler has been the champion butter sculptor at the Iowa State Fair. The Iowa State Fair asked Bob to step down to let someone else win, but his wife Laura is not willing to lose the title so easily. Things are only complicated further when Laura catches Bob cheating on her with local stripper Brooke. Meanwhile, a young foster child named Destiny discovers she has a talent for butter sculpture herself and wants to enter the Iowa State Fair competition. Who will be the new champion?
Thoughts: Butter is a very hit or miss comedy. Jason A. Micallef's screenplay casts a wide net, like a Christopher Guest film without talking head interviews, that vaguely tells an ensemble story about the contest. The problem is that, no matter how hard Jennifer Garner tries, Laura is not a very compelling character. Neither is Destiny, but Yara Shahidi has a great presence that draws you in onscreen. The most interesting characters are Brooke (Olivia Wilde) and Laura's eccentric acquaintance Carol Ann (Kristen Schaal), but neither are given enough screen time to carry the less interesting storylines.
Plot: Kay and Arnold have been married for 30 years. Kay believes that their marriage is falling apart and enrolls the couple in a week long therapy intensive. This puts the seemingly stable relationship in a very rocky place as Arnold feels betrayed by Kay's actions.
Thoughts: Hope Springs is a very charming romantic comedy. The focus on an older couple rebuilding their relationship is enough novelty to keep even the most cliched elements from creaking onscreen. It doesn't hurt to have Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as the leads. The film is clever, cute, and funny. It's a sweet little diversion that rings true.
Plot: Sandra, the manager of a fast food restaurant, receives a disturbing phone call from the police. One of her shift employees, Becky, has been accused of stealing money from a customer's purse. The police are very busy, so Officer Daniels asks Sandra to keep Becky in the back office until the authorities can arrive. To speed up the process, he asks Sandra to take over the early part of the investigation.
Thoughts: Compliance is based on a true story and it feels real. The ensemble cast, anchored by Ann Dowd as the manager, is very natural in their roles. Writer/director Craig Zorbel wisely keeps the action moving between the investigation in the office and the rush of customers in the restaurant to make us constantly aware of the context of the story. The twists and turns are shocking but utterly believable because of the attention to detail. The film falls off the rails in the last few minutes, going for a far broader denouement than is necessary to finish off the story of Sandra's telephone encounter with Officer Daniels.
Snow White & The Huntsman
Plot: Queen Ravenna is obsessed with youth and beauty. A spell was cast on her at a young age to give her power over all mankind so long as she took the proper precautions to maintain her youth and beauty. Her last target is the rightful queen of the kingdom, Snow White, who possesses a heart so pure that no one will be able to defeat Ravenna if she consumes it. Snow White escapes from her years of imprisonment in her own castle to seek the help of a neighboring kingdom to finally end Queen Ravenna's tyrannical reign.
Thoughts: Snow White & The Huntsman has a lot of great ideas. The expansion of the evil stepmother is excellent. So, too, is the addition of a long-standing war. The variation on the apple temptation and quality of special effects alone could be worth the price of admission. Too bad the story is padded with unnecessary exposition. A 90 minute cut of Snow White & The Huntsman could be a masterpiece; the actual 127 minute cut is duller than it has any right to be.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Plot: As a boy, Abraham Lincoln witnesses the murder of his mother by vampires. Now a young man, he teams up with Henry Sturges to learn the art of killing vampires. Lincoln ascends in the political world by day and vanquishes some of the longest-standing vampire dynasties by night. His overzealous hunting leads to the secession of the Confederacy and the skills he has learned in decades of hunting are the only thing that can save the nation.
Thoughts: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter doesn't do anything wrong. The acting is good. The effects are good. The screenplay is good. It just doesn't do anything noteworthy or interesting. When it aims for a big set piece, it comes across as ridiculous and unbelievable. When it goes for a quiet moment of historical fiction, it is at odds with the core storyline of revenge and paranormal conflict. The film does not know what it wants to be.
Did you catch any of these titles? What did you think? Sound off below with your thoughts.