Reviews in Short: December 2012



21 Jump Street     Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum play cops who go undercover at a high school to bust drug dealers.  Hill, who co-wrote the story, apparently drew inspiration from preschool memories for this immature, offensive, painfully unfunny garbage.  Release:  2012  Grade:  F






The Hunger Games     Jennifer Lawrence brings the same rural charm she rode to an Oscar nomination (for Winter’s Bone) to this entertaining, if overlong, spring blockbuster.  The story — in the future, society’s upper class keeps the underclass in line by staging a televised battle to the death among selected young people — isn’t all that original, but Gary Ross’ stylish direction and Lawrence’s appeal produce riveting spectacle.  Release:  2012  Grade:  B+






The Descendants     George Clooney plays a Hawaiian lawyer who, after his wife is left comatose by a boating accident, must grapple with two rebellious daughters, greedy relatives, and one life-altering revelation.  Nobody does Middle-Aged-Man-Under-Stress stories better than writer-director Alexander Payne (Sideways), whose movies click because their characters, although often behaving foolishly, worm their way into your heart.  Release:  2011  Grade:  A-





A Separation     A tense, intimate look at honor and justice, Iranian-style, as a man separating from his wife faces prison for accidentally causing — or not — a miscarriage suffered by a family caretaker.  The clinical, faux-documentary style (shaky camera, no music) employed here adds to the story’s realism but also leaves what should be an emotional drama feeling a bit cold.  Release:  2011  Grade:  B+






Killer Joe     A black comedy that aims for twisted humor but mostly misses the mark.  Members of a Texas trailer-trash clan hire a hit-man (Matthew McConaughey) to bump off a family member for the life insurance — but double-crosses are afoot.  The acting is good, and the direction by old pro William Friedkin is slick, but any grins and giggles are drowned out by an off-putting abundance of sadistic sex and graphic violence.  Release:  2012  Grade:  B-






Magic Mike     The cable channel Cinemax used to specialize in movies like this (and maybe still does):  Innocent youth takes job at strip club; older stripper takes kid under wing; bad things happen, anyway.  Swap out the usual no-name cast for some Hollywood stars, add a slumming director (Steven Soderbergh) with a decent budget, trade all that girlish flesh for beefcake in thongs, and you have Magic Mike, voyeuristic claptrap that’s no better — or worse — than those late-night Cinemax flicks.  Release:  2012  Grade:  C-


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