Author Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw's comic-apocalyptic novel "Jam" pokes fun at military-industrial incompetence, an over-saturation of hipster irony, and the corporate hive mind--all pretty soft targets for the usually sharp and funny writer. Unfortunately, given its broadsides against such dull unworthies, a lead character who's a quivering moral vacuum (although that's not a bad thing in and of itself), and a weirdly languorous structure, this story of the carnivorous strawberry jam that ate Brisbane never really does justice to the absurdity of that pitch.

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A good friend, on seeing "Looper," accused it not being half as clever as it thought it was. That particular complaint is slippery, notoriously hard to quantify, and one that I've beeen guilty of making in the past. What I think it means, in this context, is that a thing is so concerned with impressing the audience on the basis of its construction--how complicated the puzzle box is--that this complexity comes at the expense of what's actually inside the box.

This complaint is, I think a fair one to a certain extent for Johnson's debut "Brick," and definitely applicable to the hard-to-sit-through grifter comedy "The Brothers Bloom," but it's so far off the mark when it comes to "Looper." The director's foray into sci-fi feels lived-in, real, and populated with characters this time around who aren't just slaves to the plot or genre. Plus, it happens to be a smart and efficient sci-fi movie to boot, giving us one of the strongest genre films of 2012.

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Even as the resident "Resident Evil" movie apologist, it's hard not to acknowledge the problems with the series' fifth entry "Resident Evil: Retribution," which serves as a deliberate return to some of the elements found in writer-director-producer Paul W. S. Anderson's 2002 film. "Retribution" resurrects and recycles characters and ideas from the previous movies, making it the first to really acknowledge the continuity of the past films but without expanding on them in any way.

It's weird to say this, but for the first time, I was actually...disappointed in a "Resident Evil" movie.

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Somewhere, high up on the top of Wu Dang mountain, there's a rumor of seven ancient treasures that could offer immense wealth to the person smart enough to find them and tough enough to brave the martial artists guarding it. In the 1930's, two treasure hunters--a western-educated expert on antiquities and a thief--compete and ultimately team up to find the prize in director Patrick Lueng's "Wu Dang."

What could have been a romantic martial arts comedy gets weighed down by dull melodrama and some scattershot storytelling, not at all helped by fights that just aren't that well-executed.

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The fantasy-as-Katrina allegory "Beasts of the Southern Wild" could have been terrible--on the one hand, it wants to be a heartfelt drama about a little girl discovering her place in the world in the flood-ravage ruin of her home while at the same time trading on the catastrophic imagery of a devastated bayou and its mix of poor black and white inhabitants. And from the start of director Benh Zeitlin's film, you're worried about the movie's motives or how easy it might be for a well-meaning indie blending magical realism and abject poverty to crash and burn with an excess of the kind of creepy/irritating/simple mythologizing of the poor that sometimes wash up on our screens.

But it's not that movie. In fact, this beautiful film, anchored by non-professional actors inside of a wrecked world is one of the most wrenchingly wonderful fantasies of 2012.

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It's hard to overstate the importance of "Ninja Scroll" in the U.S.. The Madhouse-produced feature was one of those titles that--for a certain segment of the population--was the first mainline injection of anime into their lives. Instead of something more artful or thoughtful like the works out of Studio Ghibli, the 1993 film was a shot of bloody, oversexed, fast-moving exploitation brilliance to a generation whose exposure to Japanese animation up to that point involved transforming robots.

Nearly 20 years on, Sentai Filmworks/Section23 Films has re-released "Ninja Scroll," and for this fan, it still feels as essential as ever.

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If we'd had a category for best re-release or collection among our Best of 2012 lists, Tezkua's WWII-era thriller "Message to Adolf" would likely be at the top. Not only is this first installment of the cross-crossing stories of two boys living in Japan named Adolf and a determined reporter out to avenge his brother's death an excellent read, but yet again, Vertical has reproduced one of the master manga-ka's work in a handsomely bound hardcover.

The story, which starts in 1936 and follows Japan and German's path to war, with Tezuka setting his murder mystery against the backdrop of the rise of his country's nationalistic fervor in time with the rumbling's of German's war machine and persecution of the Jewish people. Like his "Ayako," it's a story of murder and obsession as well as a cultural critique, although a broader look at its given period than the latter work.

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It's tough to address "Total Recall" 2012 without first going through all of the tortured motions of acknowledging that it's a remake and any debts it might owe to the 1990 film by the great director of bombast, Paul Verhoeven. It might be easy to separate the two movies, as different as they are, if the 2012 version didn't go out of its way to call back to its predecessor, a curious move that robs the update of a little of its identity while inviting unwelcome comparisons in terms vis a vis "who did it better--Len or Paul?"

Let's try to untangle the two movies from one another, though and see how director Len Wiseman's ("Underworld") take acquits itself.

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There's something beautiful and horrible about seeing children being brave and fending for one another. Beautiful because even at an early age, the smallest and weakest of us already have the strongest character and instinct to protect others; horrible because no child should be in life-or-death circumstances.

Based on the WWII memoir of Akiyuki Nosaka who wrote the story to chart his and his sister's own hardscrabble struggle to survive the American firebombings of Japan, this film isn't easy to watch but it's essential viewing among the great works of animation--or really of all film, for that matter.

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Image source: FMV Magazine

So there was that one time that Michael Caine starred was in an 80's movie where he was being terrorized by inbred pirates in the middle of the Caribbean based on a novel by the author of "Jaws" from the man who would go on to direct "Fletch" and "The Golden Child." And it's hard to imagine the movie in anyone's mind conjured up by the description synching up with 1980's "The Island," the latest thriller unearthed by Scream Factory and released to Blu-ray.

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In its third, post-revival season, "Futurama" has finally found its footing again. While the previous seasons of the series have tried to play catchup with the near-decade of pop culture the series missed while it was off the air (or going direct-to-DVD), 2013's batch of episodes have settled back into the groove of observational and sci-fi humor with one of the best voice casts currently working on TV.

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"Kids in peril" horror and thrillers have always been the most fascinating to me. A precocious young person matching wits against a charismatic killer in something like "Night of the Hunter" or even a literal murderous creature of pure as in "Silver Bullet" or the first two "Child's Play" films. I find the best of these kinds of movies play on us in two ways: first, by gaining our sympathy for the weakest among us and second by playing on some of our own buried childhood fears about very real boogeymen stalking in the night.

One-time photographer turned filmmaker Dick Richards took a stab at this mini-genre with the 1982 road kill thriller "Death Valley" with varying degrees of success, represented here in a pristine (if not feature-rich) disc from "Scream Factory."

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I've complained in the past about the found footage format often being the last refuge for filmmakers who don't like to set up a shot, writers uninterested in crafting dialog (all while trying to convince us that the person holding the camera would absolutely, never put it down), and actors not all that into delivering dialog beyond meandering "um's" and "like's." The horror anthology "V/H/S" mostly puts lie to that complaint with a series of clever (if not always fully-formed) horror shorts by a group of indie directors which makes use of the this particular style of feature and finds a way to draw horror from the low-resolution formats. Read More...

Even though it's been ten years since the last "Men In Black" movie gave us a Burger King in MIB HQ, Frank the Pug in a suit, and Johnny Knoxville's second talking head, the stink of the second movie in the series hung around just long enough to make the possibility of another one seem like more of a threat. And as news trickled out about "Men In Black 3"--Tommy Lee Jones was getting sidelined for most of the movie, chief among the problems--every indication was that we were headed for another disaster.

But this time traveling plot, which sees Will Smith's Agent J hurtle back to 1969 to save his partner and the timeline, doesn't just get the series back to its roots, but ends up being... touching?

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Like its villainous witch, "ParaNorman" is scary but it also has a warm good heart about it. The latest from Laika, the stop-motion animation studio behind "Coraline" is an original feature about tolerance and understanding that just happens to have ghosts, zombies, a vengeful witch, and some of the most gorgeous stop-motion work I've seen in a while.

The small New England town of Blithe Hollow is all set to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the execution of the notorious witch Agatha, who cursed her accusers and has become a kind of grotesque mascot for the town. Our hero is poor put-upon Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) whose problems include a sister that's perpetually embarrassed by him, a father that doesn't understand him, and the ability to see and talk to ghosts which make him an outcast--laughed at by his classmates and bullied by local tough Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).

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