Home Truths Will Out

The Imposter (2012)

Erik Wilson/Indomina Releasing

San Antonio, Texas, in 1994, mischievous 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay disappeared without a trace. For three years his family pined for him, searching, praying and holding out hope that he would one day be found alive and well. Then the seemingly miraculous happened as Nicholas appeared in Spain — afraid and alone, the apparent victim of a child prostitution ring. Except “Nicholas” was not whom he claimed to be and so transpires an utterly beguiling and completely baffling journey into the psyche of serial impersonator and eccentric con man Frédéric Bourdin.

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Planet Hollywood

The Expendables 2 (2012)

Frank Masi/Lionsgate

Whereas “The Expendables” somewhat benefited from the novelty of seeing the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis sharing the big screen in a dumb, explosive homage to the type of ’80s action films that made them household names, the same cannot be said for “The Expendables 2,” which is little more than a depressing embarrassment.

An overblown prologue reintroduces our mercenary mob that is up to its usual antics, this time embarking on a death-hungry, munitions-fueled rescue mission in Nepal. Goons are summarily executed in visceral fashion, while ears are aurally assaulted by gunfire and increasingly lame throwaway one-liners along the lines of “your ass is terminated.” If Mr. Stallone and Richard Wenk’s script wasn’t cringe-inducing enough, then the cheap ’80s look and feel beget the question of whether director Simon West chose to co-opt VHS as film stock of choice in order to transport his audience into some sort of meta nightmare.

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Bear, the Brunt

Ted (2012)

Iloura/Universal Pictures

Erstwhile funnyman Seth MacFarlane — who in recent years has been tediously flogging that perennial dead horse “Family Guy” into the ground — has redeemed himself somewhat with his directorial feature debut “Ted.” Perhaps conscious of where his success stems from, Mr. MacFarlane dips his toe into live-action film while maintaining the core facets of what has made him such a star: namely, a razor-sharp script and quirky animation.

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In Space No One Will Hear the End of It

Prometheus (2012)

Kerry Brown/20th Century Fox

Revisiting the “Alien” universe was always going to be a risk for Ridley Scott. “Alien” was the film that cemented his reputation as a visionary auteur and is rightly regarded as a classic, a sublime example of atmospheric horror. Three sequels of varying quality established a sprawling world, one that Mr. Scott had long hinted that he was interested in exploring further — his interest particularly piqued by the mysterious Space Jockey, whose fleeting glimpse in his original work posed questions that have never been answered. While “Prometheus” puts that quandary to bed, its ambitions and scale are far loftier than merely acting as a prequel to the series — which proves to be a refreshing yet frustrating approach.

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Emergency Exit Through a Fiery Escape

The Raid: Redemption (2012)

Akhirwan Nurhaidir/
Sony Pictures Classics

Artfully sadistic and elegantly hypnotic, Gareth Evans’s “The Raid: Redemption” is a master class in brutally stylistic and simplistic storytelling. Ostensibly a traditional cops-vs.-bad-guys frenetic beat-’em-up, Mr. Evans executed his tale with such flair and guile that this is far superior fare to comparable genre pictures. Mr. Evans’s appreciation of and fascination with the Indonesian martial art pencak silat ensures that every punch and kick hits the mark, subjecting his audience to a relentless assault on the senses.

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Revenge Is a Party Platter Best Served Cold

Marvel's The Avengers/Marvel Avengers Assemble (2012)

Zade Rosenthal/Marvel

Comic-book fans have eagerly awaited a cinematic outing for superhero troupe, the Avengers, ever since Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige announced in 2005 that Marvel would effectively take ownership of their universe and begin producing its own films. Five films later — two installments of “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Thor” — and the time has finally come for our heroic misfits to join forces and fight a common enemy in Joss Whedon’s “Marvel’s The Avengers” (released in Britain as “Marvel Avengers Assemble”).

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Rock of Age

This Must Be the Place (2011)


On paper, “This Must be the Place” is an intriguing proposition: This Italian-French-Irish co-production marks the English-language debut of Neapolitan director Paolo Sorrentino, utilizes eclectic filming locations — including Dublin, New York and New Mexico — and stars two of the finest actors working today — Sean Penn and Frances McDormand. It’s a crushing shame therefore that this cosmopolitan picture is such a muddled disappointment.

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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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Lives Wash Up on the Wasteland

Bombay Beach (2011)

Alma Har’el

The tiny settlement of Bombay Beach nestles on the eastern shore of the Salton Sea in southeastern California. It’s a fractured piece of Americana, a relic of an abortive 1950s tourism development that now lies neglected, forgotten and rapidly decaying. It’s also home to a small but eclectic posse of folk who exist very literally on the fringes of society. Confronted by death and decay at every turn, one could be forgiven for thinking this was a place shorn of hope, a haven for those who had given up on normal life. But Alma Ha’rel’s stunning documentary paints a very different and utterly beautiful picture of life lived on the edge.

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