Learn to Leave the Past Alone

MOVIE REVIEW
Dark Shadows (2012)

Dark-shadows-johnny-depp
Peter Mountain/Warner Brothers Pictures

One might imagine that a partnership between Tim Burton and vampires would yield compelling results. Mr. Burton’s appeal derives from his distinct imagination and the way he combines dark themes and youthful exuberance into genre movies. Films such as “Alice in Wonderland,” “Big Fish” and “Ed Wood,” illustrate Mr. Burton’s signature brand of aestheticism and complexity. Good or bad, few would describe Mr. Burton as conventional. But his newest film, “Dark Shadows,” never establishes any sort of originality. Flat characters, predictable plotting and boring action sequences make Mr. Burton’s latest an ordinary waste of two hours.

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Forgive and Forget

MOVIE REVIEW
The Vow (2012)

The-vow-rachel-mcadams-channing-tatum
Kerry Hayes/Screen Gems

Disclaimer: Nicholas Sparks had nothing to do with the production of this film. Such a warning is necessary before examining “The Vow,” because all of the movie’s marketing begs potential viewers to believe they are about to see some second coming of “The Notebook.” This type of ploy may result in financial success in the coming weeks: Valentine’s Day is close by; and the two leads — Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum — have previously succeeded in Nicholas Sparks adaptations. But, herein lies the most crucial problem with “The Vow”: The obligation to a specific target audience steers the plot into chick-flick territory that has been mechanically repeated into monotony.

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Don’t Leave the Safety On

MOVIE REVIEW
Safe House (2012)

Safe-house-denzel-washington-ryan-reynolds
Universal Pictures

Clichés in “Safe House”: skilled C.I.A. agent gone rogue, naïve rookie agent with superb talents, bureaucratic director, gruff and mysterious senior officer, unnecessary blonde girlfriend, shaky camera, fight sequences with quick cuts, an obligatory car chase, poor character development, a double cross, a triple cross, an action-thriller without thrills, boredom.

Most of the film’s opening act focuses on the illegal trade of a high-security file in South Africa. The buyer is Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), a rogue C.I.A. agent who is also wanted for treasonous activities in ten different countries. Frost plans to sell the ambiguous file for millions of dollars on the black market, but he is ambushed by armed men and only escapes death by turning himself in at the American embassy.

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A Little Too Much Black and White

MOVIE REVIEW
Red Tails (2012)

Red-tails-elijah-kelley
Tina Mills/20th Century Fox

The true story of the Tuskegee Airmen is a fascinating examination of bravery and patriotism. These black men enlisted in the U.S. military during World War II and became successful fighter pilots to protect a country that would not even give them basic human rights. This slice of American history has all of the ammunition necessary for meaningful filmmaking. Think of the complexity of such a narrative; think of the conflicting emotions the young black soldiers must’ve had at the time; try to empathize with them. George Lucas, the executive producer and architect of “Red Tails” needs to go back to his dictionary, because empathy and sympathy are not the same things. His new creation is an unsophisticated World War II action film stripped of all gravitas. ”Red Tails” is little more than a superficial Hollywood product that cheapens the real achievements of the Tuskegee Airmen.

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The Darkness of Mere Being

Martha-marcy-may-marlene-elizabeth-olsen-sarah-paulson
Jody Lee Lipes/Fox Searchlight Pictures

A year full of darkness in and out of the theater — I’m not talking about full-fledged apocalypses, but rather broken worlds that our heroes and villains must navigate for survival. Escape was probably the most popular theme among the movies in my top 10: escape from death, marriage, heartbreak and even economic collapse. By going to see these films, I was able to escape writing papers and completing problems sets in the Tufts University computer labs. Without further ado, I gladly share these with you:

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Cult of Personality Disorder

MOVIE REVIEW
Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

Martha-marcy-may-marlene-elizabeth-olsen-john-hawkes-louisa-krause-christopher-abbott
Jody Lee Lipes/Fox Searchlight Pictures

Excuse the title. It is confusing, long-winded, and it conjures images of haughty avant-garde cinema at its worst. A film’s title is supposed to lure in the viewer — it is a brand name — and “Martha Marcy May Marlene” reads like a list of names for Jewish grandmothers. So roll your eyes and shake your head, but then get over it quickly, because if you can look past the title, you will be rewarded with one of the best films of the year.

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Do Be a Menace to South London

MOVIE REVIEW
Attack the Block (2011)

Attack-the-block-john-boyega-simon-howard-franz-drameh-leeon-jones-alex-esmail
Optimum Releasing

It turns out the British sci-fi horror genre blender “Attack the Block” is largely a virginal affair. Most of the main players — including the writer-director, cinematographer, composer and a handful of young unknown actors — have never done a feature film before. And because of the relative inexperience of the cast and crew and the possibility the lack of season could have led to a complete disaster on screen, this film deserves some degree of kudos for being halfway decent. But mediocrity can only be praised so much.

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Accidents Will Happen, Even When Love Is by Design

MOVIE REVIEW
Submarine (2011)

Submarine-craig-roberts-yasmin-paige-joe-dunthorne
Dean Rogers/The Weinstein Company

Oliver Tate — the 15-year-old protagonist played by Craig Roberts in Richard Ayoade’s feature-length directorial debut “Submarine” — expresses one of his desires to the audience early on in the film through voice-over narration: “I suppose it’s a bit of an affectation, but I often wish there was a film crew following my every move.” It’s a (sort of) clever gag since Mr. Ayoade is doing just that during the film’s 97-minute running time, and it’s also a standard representation of the type of comedy to follow: quirky, droll, almost mature, supposedly original. But while this kind of comedic bildungsroman has been repeatedly overdone, what saves “Submarine” from becoming the ugly sister to “Napoleon Dynamite” is its smart and strongly developed central character.

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Big Sky Country Mile

MOVIE REVIEW
Sweetgrass (2009)

Sweetgrass-pat-connolly
Cinema Guild

“Sweetgrass” may be the most unusual movie you’ve never seen. It is a documentary with no narration, no soundtrack, minimal dialogue and a lot of sheep. Here, we have extreme avant-garde filmmaking: creative partners Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor have created a 101-minute work of art stripped of all common technique and polish. What remains is a slim and imperfect examination of sheepherders in the American Northwest.

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