2012 log (12)

(5 Dec) Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012, John Hyams) 64
[ The opening sequence, shot entirely from the point of view of Scott Adkins’ character, is truly harrowing. Not only because of its violence, but because it’s the first time we see that Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Luc Deveraux is actually the bad guy in this fourth film in the “Universal Soldier” franchise. Or is he? The sequence introducing Dolph Lundgren is equally unsettling. It starts as a shoot-out in some kind of sex club (a bloody intense little action scene), before turning into an hypnotic mindfuck. But who’s hypnotizing who? The government? Deveraux? And what exactly are the Universal Soldiers up to now? This is about as weird as sequels go, it’s hardly just more of the same – it’s more like a nightmarish, quasi-experimental spin on some of the elements of the series, which have been repurposed into… I’m not sure what! “Your mind is not your own,” Deveraux says in an almost seizure-inducing “vision” at the end of the first act. Clearly, we’re supposed to be as confused as Adkins is, but the film might take this too far. At least director John Hyams throws in a badass, gory fight sequence once in a while… And by the time we reach the third act and we begin to understand better what’s going on, we also get an absolutely awesome extended action sequence, as Adkins raids Deveraux’ lair. ]

(7 Dec)    Casino Royale  (2006, Martin Campbell)  [ review ]   75

(9 Dec)  Hitchcock  (2012, Sacha Gervasi) 54 
[ This is the kind of biopic that’s all about playing with the public persona of its subject, throwing knowing nods and sly references around, dropping names and whatnot, which makes it enjoyable enough but also rather superficial, maybe even a little phony. The film depicts the making of “Psycho” in a way that doesn’t come off so much like what really must have happened but more like what film historians and critics’ fantasy of that moment in cinema history would be like, you know what I mean? But again, that doesn’t really make “Hitchcock” less watchable, quite to the contrary. I liked the way it sometimes took on the look and feel of an actual picture from the Master of Suspense (though the visions of Ed Gein don’t quite work), and the cast is solid, from Anthony Hopkins in the title role to Helen Mirren as his wife, Toni Collette as his assistant, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins…  So basically this is worth seeing for movie fans if only because of the subject, even though it’s not that good a movie in and of itself. ]

(10 Dec)  Argo  (2012, Ben Affleck) 63 
[ From the get-go, it has many things going for it: amazingly convincing period recreation that sometimes makes us wonder whether we’re watching archival footage, a strong dose of suspense and energy, a great cast… It made me think a bit of something like “United 93” at first, but then comes the twist, i.e. the whole thing about how Affleck’s CIA agent character schemes to free some hostages from Iran by creating a cover story for them as a Canadian film crew supposedly there to scout locations for a sci-fi movie. This leads to a bunch of Hollywood stuff that’s stylish and fun, makes you think of maybe “Wag the Dog”, with Alan Arkin and John Goodman doing wonderful work as film industry bigwigs…  And then there’s more suspenseful stuff during the third act, which may or may not stretch the way things really happened for maximum tension. In any case, “Argo” is a gripping watch and a really well put together production. I wouldn’t call it one of the year’s best like many folks have, but it remains well worth checking out. ]

(11 Dec)  Anna Karenina  (2012, Joe Wright) 66 
[ I’m not particularly into 19th century Imperial Russia nor am I much of a fan of Keira Knightley, but this film still won me over early on thanks to what I can only describe as Red Curtain filmmaking, i.e. the sort of overt theatricality Baz Luhrmann used in movies like “Moulin Rouge!” It’s quite amazing the intricate way the sets fold in and out of themselves, the meticulous way the action is choreographed, the amusing way some scenes sometimes seem on the verge of turning into musical numbers… Later on, the film becomes a bit more conventionally dramatic and less playful, though it always remains gorgeous to look at. ]

(16 Dec)  This Is 40  (2012, Judd Apatow) 45 
[ I’m a Judd Apatow fan, so I don’t know why this movie didn’t work for me… Maybe it just rubbed me the wrong way, maybe I’m just not at that place in my life? Basically, for the most part, I could hardly like these characters and laugh with them. I was totally bummed by this depiction of an aging married couple that’s growing ever more resentful of each other while also dealing with all kinds of shit regarding their kids, their parents, money and whatnot. I love Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s great as well, so that went a long way towards keeping me involved, but ultimately, I can’t say I enjoyed spending time with their characters. There’s also the fact that the screenplay is pretty shapeless, with no clear beginning, middle and end. It’s all just a bunch of mostly unfortunate turns of event piled up one on top of each other. Again, I’m doubting myself here because I’m not used to not having a lot of fun when I’m watching an Apatow flick, but that’s that.  ]

(17 Dec)  Django Unchained  (2012, Quentin Tarantino) 71 
[ I don’t know if it’s me or if it’s the season, but movies aren’t thrilling me all that much this fall. I mean, I’m usually a diehard Quentin Tarantino fan, so how come his latest isn’t instantly one of my favorites of the year? Not that it’s a bad film. There’s plenty to enjoy in “Django Unchained”, a well crafted Western that notably features a bunch of ultra bloody shootouts, while also interestingly dealing with the reality of slavery in an overt way, something you rarely see in this genre. Then again, whereas QT movies are usually full of wild twists and surprises, this one is rather straightforward. There’s also the fact that I didn’t fall in love with any of the characters. Jamie Foxx is okay as Django, but not as badass and cool as one might expect. As for Christoph Waltz, he’s pretty great, but this is hardly as refreshing and unforgettable a performance as the one he gave in “Inglourious Basterds”. I wish I had as much fun with Leonardo DiCaprio’s villainous part as he clearly did, but again, I only moderately enjoyed it. I’m used to loving the hell out of everything in a Tarantino movie, but it wasn’t the case this time. As I wrote above, the jury’s still out on whether it’s the film or just me that wasn’t in the right mood. Bummer…  ]

(20 Dec)  Les Misérables (2012, Tom Hooper) 67 
[ Stretching over decades and featuring a large ensemble of characters, this epic musical is nevertheless at its best when it focuses on a single, intimate moment as, say, Hugh Jackman or Anne Hathaway sings a song with all of their heart and soul. Otherwise the emotion kind of gets lost, though the scope of the filmmaking remains impressive. ]

 (23 Dec)  Le Père Noël est une ordure (1982, Jean-Marie Poiré) ??? 
[ Really? Folks love this French comedy? I’d never seen it until now, and I can’t say I was impressed. To each his own, I guess, but I found it to be obnoxious, crass and unfunny. ]

November / January