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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, April 17, 2014

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Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio star in "Django Unchained."
Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio star in "Django Unchained."
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in "Looper."
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in "Looper."

Matt's picks for the best (and worst) movies of 2012

2012 was a great year for movies, but then again, I'd argue every year is a great year for movies. Chicago critic Richard Roeper once said saying there are no good films out is like saying there are no good books in a bookstore. Of course there are; you just need to look around sometimes.

Thus, let's take one final look at the best movies 2012 had to offer. Some of my choices took a little bit of searching; others were hiding in plain sight. But they were all incredible (except for my bottom five movies of the year, which were incredible for other, less commendable reasons). So, with no further ado, I present a year in cinematic successes, as well as a few cinematic sins.

Top 10 Films of 2012

10. "Django Unchained"

As of writing this article, it's been less than 12 hours since I walked out of my particular showing of "Django Unchained." But I don't need a ton of time to determine that Quentin Tarantino's latest historical revenge epic is one of the most entertaining, unique and strangely satisfying films of the year. It's violent (delivering not one but two blood-soaked finales), it's profane and it's indulgent. "Django Unchained" is also brilliantly performed – Christoph Waltz is the bacon of the cinematic world: He makes everything better – and beautifully photographed, featuring dialogue that sings and a finessed balance of hilarious comedy, intense drama and brutal violence. It's a brave feature that feels like a Tarantino film, which is to say it feels like nothing else you've seen.

9. "Looper"

Science fiction is like my pet genre; I love it, even when it chews up my shoes, gets into the garbage, sheds on the couch and goes to the bathroom all over the house. There's plenty of bad sci-fi, but when it goes right, nothing makes my brain happier. Enter "Looper." Writer-director Rian Johnson creates a tantalizing, twisty time-travel tale that smartly blends several genres with a human story about people coping with their pasts, their futures and themselve…

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"Chasing Ice" is currently showing at the Oriental Theatre.
"Chasing Ice" is currently showing at the Oriental Theatre.

"Chasing Ice" a chilling case for climate change

Haven't we seen "Chasing Ice" before?

Why yes, in fact, we have. It came out six years ago, back when it was called "An Inconvenient Truth." Both films are nature themed documentaries, using intriguing evidence to warn audiences about climate change while also providing ample backstory to humanize our main environmental crusader in the hopes of making his message even more potent.

There is, however, a difference. Al Gore's Oscar-winning feature used plentiful charts, graphs and statistics, occasionally interrupted by startling visual proof. "Chasing Ice," on the other hand, centers the movie's case on its star's extensive and compelling collection of visual evidence, with charts and stats intermittently cutting in. Surprisingly, while "An Inconvenient Truth" may be the landmark movie that established the modern enviro-doc template, it's "Chasing Ice" that presents the more compelling and cinematic argument.

Director Jeff Orlowski's film follows renowned nature photographer James Balog as he attempts one of his most daring and expansive projects, the Extreme Ice Survey. The mission is to set up several dozen time-lapse cameras across several nations, chronicling years and years of changes to some of the globe's most visually arresting glacier formations. Balog's plan is to collect these photos into short vignettes, serving as clear, indisputable proof of humanity's staggering impact on some of the planet's most fragile natural wonders

Things don't always go as planned for the eco-conscious explorers. Many of their time-lapse cameras refuse to properly sync up, creating inconsistent footage. In other cases, the cameras' programming flat out refuses to work, mostly due to the beautiful but harsh conditions in locales like Alaska and Greenland. The equipment isn't the only thing taking a beating either. Throughout filming, the constant hiking and climbing takes a toll on Balog, resulting in numerous knee surgeries and several warnings from doctors to slow down, advi…

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"Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away" sailed into theaters this past Friday.
"Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away" sailed into theaters this past Friday.

Fan-pleasing trapezing abounds in "Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away"

In 2007's "Knocked Up," Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd memorably head off to Las Vegas to watch Cirque du Soleil under the influence of some psychedelic mushrooms. They sit and watch with giggly wonder as the troupe's members leap around, cling to poles at lofty heights and bend their muscular forms into shapes seemingly exclusive to gummi creations. Of course, the drugs eventually go bad, and the show turns into a nightmarish slurry of creepy costumes, weird sets and an oversized man-baby. 

I'm not just referencing this scene because it's almost impossible to think about "Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away" without also remembering Rudd and Rogen giggling like schoolboys – a feat made even more impossible considering "Knocked Up's" sort-of sequel, "This Is 40," was released on the same day, a scheduling quirk that absolutely had to have been on purpose. It's because the troupe's 3-D cinematic sampler can now offer fans a mild taste of the duo's dazed amazement, no shrooms necessary.

There is technically a story in "Worlds Away." A young girl named Mia (Cirque performer Erika Linz) is checking out an old-school traveling circus in her small town when she catches the eye of the handsome Aerialist (Igor Zaripov, another Cirque member), the star acrobat. Unfortunately, she gets his attention at the wrong time – in the middle of his trapeze act – and the Aerialist ends up falling to his death.

Or so you'd think. Instead of going splat, the Aerialist goes through the sandy ground and winds up in a strange circus-themed alternate dimension. In her panic, Mia follows and tries to find him while segments from Cirque du Soleil's portfolio of real life shows distract her. She's very motivated to find her true love ... just as soon as this sweet wirework routine is all done. And this trampoline number. And this water dance. And so on.

So yeah, the frame story is pretty flimsy, but if "Worlds Apart" was held together by floss for the first half, the second half is tied togethe…

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Jack Reacher hits theaters today.
Jack Reacher hits theaters today.

"Jack Reacher" an uneasy but entertaining mix

Those walking into "Jack Reacher" with little knowledge of author Lee Child’s popular book series are probably asking themselves "Who is Jack Reacher?" Moviegoers walking out of Tom Cruise’s latest action romp, on the other hand, are probably asking themselves "What is ‘Jack Reacher’?"

Because after 130 minutes, it’s hard to walk out of the theater knowing what kind of movie "Jack Reacher" intends to be. It’s all entertaining, but it’s also a combination of genres and tones that don’t quite sit well together.

Cruise stars as the title character, an army cop turned drifter for justice with a name seemingly made exclusively for action movie fame. He makes his way over to Pittsburgh (I don’t know if they ever say it’s Pittsburgh … but it’s clearly Pittsburgh) after a sniper guns down five random people in broad daylight with the kind of chilling, matter-of-fact realism that’s sure to make audience members uncomfortable after recent events. More on that in a second.

All the evidence points toward James Barr, a former military sniper who previously got in trouble in Iraq. Reacher, the officer behind the investigation in Iraq, is convinced of Barr’s guilt and wants to make sure he’s put away for good, either in a prison cell or a casket. After Barr’s attorney (the lovely Rosamund Pike from "An Education") talks him into taking a second look at the evidence, however, Reacher begins to think there might be something more going on than a simple gunman-gone-crazy. The mysterious cars and henchmen following him would seem to validate that theory.

But back to the sniper scene, the uncomfortable elephant in the room. The opening sequence will inevitably trouble many in the audience, more so than the filmmakers could’ve ever imagined while making the movie. If you’re looking for fun action escapism for the whole family this holiday, "Jack Reacher" doesn’t really qualify anymore.

Before any angry letters get written, however, remember the…

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