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March 2012

Love Will Tear Us Apart

The Hunger Games (2012)

Murray Close/Lionsgate

“The Hunger Games” takes place in a future comprised of disparate historical influences. The grand spectacle of the ancients sits in company with totalitarian oppression and the deprivations of recession-hit America. It is as if the apocalyptic conflict that created this dystopia had shattered time itself only for the remnants to be hastily glued back together by a deity on a busy schedule. Similarly, “The Hunger Games” is born from a myriad of cultural sources so that nothing in it can be classed as wholly original.

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Love in the Afternoon, Every Afternoon

Bel Ami (2012)


Social climbing never goes out of fashion; and dubious press practices, Western countries bogged down in desert conflicts and unhappy war veterans are all about as current as it gets. So despite the outward signs of a musty costume drama, "Bel Ami" is never stale. In fact, it takes pains to stay sprightly throughout the tale of Georges Duroy (Robert Pattinson), skilled lothario and serial seducer — a man able to keep three mistresses warm at once and still find the energy to be rude to the servants. You could almost call it jaunty, as long as you ignore the lingering urge to kick the big Gallic jerk in the knee.

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Too Cool for Old School

21 Jump Street (2012)

Scott Garfield/Columbia Pictures

Arriving hot on the heels of the critically maligned “Project X” comes writer Michael Bacall’s interpretation of the ’80s teen-cop caper, “21 Jump Street” — the show that thrust Johnny Depp into the limelight. One might be forgiven for letting out an audible groan in the expectation of more equally crass fare. But this is a completely different beast; and it’s a bloody funny one at that.

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Remote and Controlled

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Diyah Pera/Lionsgate

Five years ago in a review of “28 Weeks Later,” I extolled the virtues of Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later,” describing it as “genre busting” and praising it for reviving and redefining the horror genre — even going so far as to call it “a wake up call” to the industry. Well, if Mr. Boyle’s intelligent and sophisticated zombie romp did indeed succeed in doing that, then Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s “The Cabin in the Woods” can only be described as a landmark, watershed moment in film history, because this is such an innovative, brave, inspired and original entry into the horror oeuvre that nothing will ever be the same again.

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Merely This and Nothing More

The Raven (2012)

Larry Horricks/Universal Pictures

Once upon a meeting dreary, full of pitches weak and weary,
Comes some bright spark speaking vaguely and invoking Alan Moore.
"Dusty books can still be thrilling, old ghost stories still be chilling,
Studio can make a killing with that story in the drawer,
If we ginger up that poem which we read at school before
Where the bird says "Nevermore."

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Save the Red Planet

John Carter (2012)

Frank Connor/Disney

Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’s story “A Princess of Mars” and directed by Andrew Stanton, who helmed “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E” for Disney/Pixar, the new Disney film “John Carter” tells the story of the titular character (played by Taylor Kitsch), an American Civil War soldier who is mysteriously transported from Earth to Mars (called Barsoom by the planet’s inhabitants). He soon encounters an alien race called the Thark, led by Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), and finds himself caught up in a conflict between the violent hordes of Zodanga and the peaceful people of Helium. At first Carter just wants to return to Earth; but after meeting Helium Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), he is slowly drawn further into the fight to save the planet.

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The House Party From Hell

Project X (2012)

Beth Dubber/Warner Brothers Pictures

The new teen comedy “Project X” is definitely not to be confused with the 1980s Matthew Broderick thriller of the same name. This “Project X” can be more aptly described as project mayhem, the “Fight Club”-style manifesto that wreaks havoc on property supposedly in the name of fun but which quickly turns serious. What begins as an epic but manageable 17th birthday party for high-school student Thomas (Thomas Mann) — organized by his friend Costa (Oliver Cooper) with another friend named JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown) in tow — quickly turns into a riotous night of partying, with sex, drugs and chaos in plentiful supply. The day is presented as a found-footage film shot by the mysterious cameraman Dax (Dax Flame), but as the party progresses and turmoil takes over, shots are taken from other cameras, including phones and TV crews, which chronicle the disintegration of the festivities, the destruction of the house and the devastation of the neighborhood.

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The Spies Who Loved Mean

This Means War (2012)

Kimberley French/20th Century Fox

If democracy ever comes to an end in the United States and future movie historians look back for the first indication that the fascists were taking over, “This Means War” will be a good place to start.

Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine) are lifelong besties who work for the C.I.A. — despite Tuck being British — but never mind. When they aren’t throwing Eurotrash villains from the top of Hong Kong skyscrapers, they are cleaning knives at their underground Batcave office in Los Angeles, to the great annoyance of their boss (Angela Bassett, stunning as ever but criminally underused). FDR is so much of a player that his apartment is built underneath a swimming pool. Tuck had a wife and kid once, but they got divorced. So, as FDR’s kindly grandmother (Rosemary Harris, of course) tells him, "That doesn’t count." As the thrills of seeing who has the bigger gun begin to pall, they decide to get back into the dating game.

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