2012 log (10)

(2 Oct) Carnage (2011, Roman Polanski) 65
[ An adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s play “Le Dieu du carnage”, this is quite a taut piece of writing, depicting in real time the meeting between two couples, one of whose son hit the other with a stick. Now they’re all trying to be civil about it, to act like grown-ups and not quarrell like their kids… But their interaction slowly but surely slides into more antagonistic territory, as each set of parents can’t help but side with their child and blame the others in some way, which leads to a series of increasingly awkward little moments between the four of them. Since this is practically a filmed play, all set in and around a single location (one of the couples’ apartment), it was important for the actors to all be at the top of their game, and they are. You can’t do much better than Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz, right? ]

(5 Oct) The Master (2012, Paul Thomas Anderson) [ review ] 94 

(8 Oct) Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock) [ review ] 100 

(9 Oct) Holy Motors (2012, Leos Carax) 58
[ It probably doesn’t help that I went into this movie knowing that 3 or 4 of my favourite critics were calling it the best film of the year, but still: what the hell. Oh, there are many memorable moments and star Denis Lavant’s metamorphosing physicality is thoroughly captivating as his character keeps taking on different guises, but the whole thing is rather uneven and, to me anyway, it never felt like it really added up to anything. Trying to write a plot summary is beyond the point, obviously – you don’t need to know more than the fact that Lavant’s character sits in the back of a limo, being driven to a series of rendezvous and using various wigs, makeup effects and costumes to prepare for each role. I particularly enjoyed the part in which he’s a monster who abducts a model played by Eva Mendes. “Weird… So weird! He’s so weird!” Yeah, so weird… I loved the accordion “entracte” as well… And some other stuff here and there… I don’t even care that there’s no clear story or logic, at least on a superficial level. The film seems to be about the unpredictable nature of…and the randomness of… you know, chaos and whatnot? But I wish that there was more of an emotional, visceral buildup to it, a sense of it growing more and more intense one way or another. Oh well. ]

(10 Oct) In Time  (2011, Andrew Niccol) 54
[ The premise – a world in which people stop aging at 25 but then have only one more year to live unless they can earn more – is intriguing enough and early on, the film finds all kinds of thought-provoking ways to play around with it. It’s simple enough: time is already sort of a currency in our lives, and it’s clear enough that rich people tend to live longer, not to mention spend more time on holiday, than poor people…  And the fact that everyone looks 25 or under does seem to be where our society’s obsession with youth would lead if taken to the extreme. There are others of interesting ideas like that throughout “In Time”, it’s modestly well crafted and the cast – Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, etc. – is solid, but it oddly lacks urgency for a movie about people running out of time. Not that it necessarily should have been action-packed, but sci-fi flicks like “Minority Report”, “Children of Men” and this year’s “Looper” achieved a better balance between ideas and thrills. There’s also a sense that “In Time” is front-loaded – the last act is rather so-so in every way, as if writer-director Andrew Niccol didn’t really know where to go with this premise.  ]

(11 Oct) My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done  (2009, Wernerg Herzog) 73
[ “Ever since he came back from Peru he’s been strange. Well, not so much strange as… different.” Cut to a shot of a foggy mountainscape in Peru, where Herzog famously shot such films as “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” and “Fitzcarraldo” with glorious madman Klaus Kinski… And to a degree, you could put the great Michael Shannon in that category. What an intense, unsettling presence this guy can have! Especially when he’s playing a character as strange/different as the protagonist of this film, a deeply disturbed individual obsessed with his inner voice, visions of God, Greek tragedy and whatnot. The stop-and-go, flashback-littered structure is a bit iffy, but “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done” almost always remains engrossing from scene to scene thanks to offbeat dialogue, striking cinematography and that towering performance from Shannon, plus strong supporting performances from the likes of Willem Dafoe, Chloë Sevigny, Michael Peña, Grace Zabriskie, Brad Dourif and Udo Kier. “Why is the whole world staring at me?”  ]

(12 Oct) Sharktopus (2010, Declan O’Brien) 35
[ This Roger Corman production is grade Z all the way: dumb plotting, awful dialogue, shoddy direction, terrible acting… But the actual Sharktopus – yes, a half-shark, half-octopus creature – is so ridiculous it’s awesome. Or so awesome it’s ridiculous? Either way, it makes the flick worth checking out. That and the extended cameo by Ralph Garman!. ]

(15 Oct) The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel  (2012, John Madden) 56
[ At its core, this is a pleasant but rather middlebrow dramedy, most notable for its endearing ensemble of veteran British actors –  Judi Dench, Celia Imrie, Bill Nighy, Ronald Pickup, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton. It’s elevated somewhat by the Indian setting, which is so colorful, warm, lively… But ultimately, it’s just a nice little movie, nothing less, nothing more. And that’s all right.  ]

(16 Oct) Conan the Barbarian (1982, John Milius) 91 
[   The film opens with the Nietzche quote “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”, and Crom damn it if the brutal tale which follows doesn’t make a strong case for it.  Conan goes through all kinds of hell, watching Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) and his snake cult slaughter everyone he loves, being enslaved, pitted in gladiator death matches, bred like an animal and eventually even crucified!  Conan certainly comes out of all this suffering stronger – and mad as hell!  This is a ruthless gore-soaked revenge story, but one that unfolds through high adventure, fantasy, romance and some deadpan humor.  Add great imagery, a rousing score and a great physical performance from Arnold Schwarzenegger and you got one kick ass flick.  ]

(22 Oct)    Conan the Destroyer  (1984, Richard Fleischer) 42 
[    Way cheesier and less cool than the original, notably because instead of being an epic tale of revenge, it’s just an ordinary sword and sorcery quest that happens to feature Conan.  It’s still an okay, rather action-packed piece of heroic fantasy, despite somewhat ridiculous sequences like the fights between Schwarzenegger and rubber creatures.   ]

(23 Oct)  Knight and Day (2010, James Mangold) 39 
[    James Mangold is kinda like one of those old journeyman studio filmmakers, guys who pretty much tackle every genre over the years. So far he’s explored romance (“Heavy”), cop drama (“Cop Land”), fantasy (“Kate & Leopold”), thriller (“Identity”), biopic (“Walk the Line”), Western (“3:10 to Yuma”), and in this here case, action comedy. Now, while Mangold generally does more or less solid work, I can’t say anything he’s made has knocked me on my ass. And there’s often a sense that in other hands, each of his project might have been better. Like in this case, obviously it would have helped to have a genuine action filmmaker at the helm of this “True Lies”-style flick, say, James Cameron in a best-case scenario.  That way the fights and shootouts and chases might have felt more grounded and truly thrilling instead of being over the top in a not unenjoyable but nevertheless monumentally silly way, you know? The film also tends to flatline in between set pieces, when it gets boggled in its mess of a plot. Fortunately, Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz provide much movie star wattage, but not quite enough to make up for these flaws.  ]

(24 Oct)  Play It Again, Sam  (1972, Herbert Ross) 60 
[ Back when Woody Allen had barely started directing movies, he also played in this adaptation of one of his plays. You can recognize his voice, though hardly on the level of his best work… The whole thing feels a bit staged and stuffy, what with Woody constantly talking to himself, director Herbert Ross could have kept things snappier and there’s too much (bad) slapstick for my taste. Then again, I dig the idea that the typically neurotic protagonist gets advice in old school machismo from a vision of Humphrey Bogart, there are witty lines sprinkled throughout and, even though it’s ultimately a hit-and-miss affair, the easygoing rapport between Allen and Diane Keaton makes it enjoyable enough. Kudos also for the way it sets up its twist on the “Casablanca” ending.  ]  

(25 Oct)  And Everything Is Going Fine  (2010, Steven Soderbergh ) 83 
[ In this follow-up of sorts to “Gray’s Anatomy”, which was made after Spalding Gray’s death, Soderbergh assembles a “new” monologue out of excerpts of 20 years’ worth of archival footage of live performances and interviews. The result is impressively fluid, as if it was really all the same story Gray is telling, which makes sense since his material is autobiographical – this is is the story of his life, more or less. It’s all very captivating, alternately troubling and amusing, with all kinds of insights and clever asides… There’s also a self-reflective level to it, what with storytelling being a way of imposing order to the chaos of everyday life, of fictionalizing things somewhat, one way or another. And the fact that Soderbergh is mix and matching all these little bits and pieces out of context further makes this an artificial construction, in an interesting way. ]

(26 Oct)  Cloud Atlas  (2012, Andy & Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer) [ review ] 59 

(26 Oct)  The Band Wagon  (1953, Vincente Minnelli) 64 
[ A fun backstage musical in gorgeous Technicolor, without much of a story, but with plenty of enjoyable song and dance numbers starring the great Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Jack Buchanan, Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant. “That’s Entertainment!” ]

(28 Oct)  Date Night  (2010, Shawn Levy) 53 
[ There’s something to be said about about smoothly effective middlebrow filmmaking à la Shawn Levy’s. You watch a movie like “Date Night” and you can just about see the Screenwriting 101 gears turning. 7 minutes in, all the necessary exposition has been painlessly laid out via a series of moderately amusing beats. So okay, these are your two lead characters: a married couple with two kids, stuck in a family life routine, with seemingly no romantic fire left between them. Even when they go out on “date night”, their heart isn’t into it, it’s just another thing they do almost because they have to. That’s your setup – like I said, 7 minutes sharp and it’s done. Then boom, inciting incident: they learn that friends of them are splitting up because they’re bored with what their marriage has become, which is pretty much exactly the same situation our protagonists are in. Uh-oh. Needless to say, when they go on date night the next day, they feel like they have something to prove to themselves and each other. They can still be passionate and spontaneous, right? This leads to a series of relatively wild and unpredictable situations, that is, as wild and unpredictable as a mainstream comedy can be. This isn’t a Tarantino or Coen brothers flick, we’re still talking about a Shawn Levy movie, remember. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Not every film has to be fucked up and crazy and in your face, sometimes it’s nice to just watch an agreeable little Hollywood comedy that moves along nicely and delivers a few decent laughs. Especially when it can count on a rather awesome cast, starting with leads Steve Carell and Tina Fey, who are joined by the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Kristen Wiig, Common, Jimmi Simpson, Taraji P. Henson, Ray Liotta, Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, Mila Kunis, J.B. Smoove and William Fichtner. Basically what I’m saying is that while this is clearly not a great movie, I had a good enough time with it. There. ]

(31 Oct)  The Deep Blue Sea (2012, Terence Davies) 67 
[ The first 10 minutes – the opening movement, I want to say – is quite something. Through evocative visuals and minimal dialogue, we gather that the protagonist, a woman in London circa 1950, played by Rachel Weisz, wants to put an end to her life because of the complicated feelings she has for her husband (Simon Russell Beale) and the man she’s been having an affair with (Tom Hiddleston). This is conveyed through a deeply melancholy yet sensual sequence, with shots flowing into each other and a violin’s lament overwhelming the soundtrack. Classical filmmaking, but it works. Later on the film grows more talky and it becomes more apparent that it’s adapted from a stage play, but it remains a formally interesting, engrossing period melodrama. Splendid acting, too. ]

September / November