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I’m counting down all the movies released in 2012.  The ones I’ve seen, at any rate.  In what is unquestionably a timely manner.

#70.  A Royal Affair

I actually read The Royal Physician’s Visit (the book on which this film is based) a few years ago, so when this movie started generating buzz on its way to an Oscar nomination for Foreign Film, it took me a little to realize why it sounded so familiar.  It is a pretty good book, and I think the adaptation is faithful.  I think the story deceptively works better as a book than a film, though.  Because while a doctor coming to court and essentially seizing power and romancing the queen may sound cinematic, they are small moments amid the meat of the story, which is palace intrigue and less exciting on screen.  The role is absolutely perfect for Mads Mikkelsen, and Alicia Vikander seems on her way to a bright career.

#69.  Safe House

This was the first 2012 movie I saw, I believe.  Watched it in theaters with Adam about a year and a half ago.  So I’m not exactly prepared to give it the most trenchant analysis.  Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson were underused, which is a shame.  My biggest problem with the film, I think, is that they didn’t really nail down the relationship between the two leads.  Which would have been the key to success in this relatively generic-feeling film.

#68.  Celeste and Jesse Forever

I expected this one to be a little funnier and not quite so moody, I think.  Rashida Jones and Will McCormack’s take on a romantic comedy did feel relatively fresh, but also a little undercooked.  In particular, I have in mind the relationship with Emma Roberts’s character, which seemed like it had potential, but was instead used more as a prop.  But the relationship between Celeste and Jesse was definitely worth exploring.

#67.  God Bless America

Was actually just talking about this one with my brother.  In his words, the opening was one of those scenes where you can’t think they’ll actually go there, but then they do.  The premise of the movie: a normalish guy snaps a little and starts killing douchebags is one that seems like it would resonate with Adam.  I have to give credit to writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait, though.  This film easily could have been preachy, bogged down in its message.  Or it could have devolved into a cheap Tarantino ripoff.  But it stays true to its voice.  I’m just not certain if that voice had a point.  And if it did, what the point was, exactly.

#66.  This Means War

One of the most disappointing movies of the year.  The casting was perfect.  Chris Pine is a classic male lead, handsome, dreamy-eyed, capable of being a cocky action star with a quick quip.  And those of us who’ve seen Bottle Shock and Blind Dating know he can do romantic comedy.  Tom Hardy might be the most visceral actor working today.  More than just a big lug, in movies like Warrior and Bronson, he shows how he can expressively use his brawn in mesmerizingly impactful performances.  And although Reese Witherspoon has found herself in a series of bad movies since, geez, Walk the Line, there are few actresses who can carry a comedy the way she can.  Toss in a charming premise of Pine and Hardy being best friends, CIA spies, and fighting over Witherspoon without her knowing?  Should have been gold.  Somewhere along the way, the film lost its sense of fun.  And the decision to tack on a serious subplot with a bad guy seems like a poor choice, feeling shoehorned in and a poor attempt at, I dunno, 80s screwball?

#65.  A Girl Walks Into A Bar

So long as Sebatian Gutierrez keeps putting together these great ensembles, I’m going to keep watching.  Although I think he’s maybe fallen a little too much in love with the disparate stories and should consider either tightening up, or going to Showtime with a pitch for a TV show.  I will say, though, that the naked ping pong club was a thing of sheer brilliance.  One of the best reveals of the year.

#64.  Robot & Frank

It’d be a spoiler if anyone saw the movie, but Lovely, Still did this better.  Of course, this one has a robot and catburglary, so the movie does have a few points in its favor.  The robot was done very well, I thought.  It was a neat take on the concept of a helper robot in the near future.  Frank Langella’s performance was strong, and Susan Sarandon seemed to be having some fun.  The film, like others before it, does have some valid points to make about the elderly, but the plot is ultimately too lightweight to make a major impact.

#63.  The Five-Year Engagement

Was also recently talking about this one with my brothers.  We disagreed on its merits.  I thought the film started off strong, but then petered out.  Seemed to lose focus as it went on, as the beginning was funny, but then things went long and sprawling.  The film did have a mature, serious point, I suppose.  And the cast, which included Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Alison Brie, Chris Pratt, Jacki Weaver, and Dakota Johnson, was pretty fun.

#62.  Red Dawn

The original is, of course, an American treasure.  Which I’ve seen many, many times.  I wasn’t immediately opposed to the remake, though, because I think the story is even more resonant today.  The thought of an foreign nation parachuting into the country and knocking out all electronics is a frightening thought.  So I was disappointed to see this version emulate so much of the original.  I didn’t really see the point.  Especially with this cast, I mean, Chris Hemsworth can clearly carry a movie heavy on action, and Adrianne Palicki is also wonderful at the more physical roles.

#61. Superclasico

Saw this one at DC Filmfest with John.  It has some funny moments.  And there’s a good story in there not too far below the surface.  But the movie could stand some tightening up, it gets a little lost among the myriad subplots.  The one about wine, for example, doesn’t really go anywhere and chews up a significant chunk of time.

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Many people (including John) quite liked Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  A common reason for their appreciation of the film seems to focus on how the movie kept peeling back layers upon layers of spy intrigue to eventually reveal which of the four people represented by the codenames (or actually five, Poorman is a suspect as well), high up in the British spy department, is actually a mole, reporting back to the KGB.  That’s a generalization, of course, but I think a fair one.  And anyway, I come not to attack a strawman, because I think this argument is perfectly logical and reasonable.  The film does slowly reveal information, I don’t want to say in the style of Rashomon but we learn more and more about certain things, until it arrives at a rather satisfactory answer.

For me, however, that’s like saying a present was good because it was packaged in a whole lot of wrapping paper, even if it did end up being a pair of socks.

The overaching problem, for me, is that the “suspects” were on screen for so little time that it was impossible to be emotionally invested in the outcome of the investigation.  Ciaran Hinds, for example, is in maybe five scenes, and has more than one line in two of them?  Colin Firth and Toby Jones each have maybe three or four scenes.  It is telling that none of these superb actors are even on the periphery of the Oscar conversation and haven’t been cited by any awards so far.  And that lack of presence was an unhurdled stumbling block for me.

The script focuses more on the process and events that lead Gary Oldman to his conclusion.  Which is why, in part, the two supporting actors nominated by the British Independent Film Awards were Tom Hardy, playing an agent in the field, and Benedict Cumberbatch, who becomes Oldman’s right hand man.  If you’ll indulge me (and you really shouldn’t), let’s take a brief detour here.  In pretty much every review/news item about this film, Cumberbatch’s name will be mentioned in the same breath as Sherlock, the BBC series where he plays the famous detective.  As pretty much everyone else says, the first three episodes of Sherlock were simply fantastic and deserve to be watched.  So I’m happy, in that sense.  But, excuse me?  Ever hear of a little movie called Starter for Ten, where Cumberbatch plays the mildly annoying captain of a college quiz bowl team?  Well, you should have.  Look, I’m not saying I’m a better person than everyone else for being in love with this movie and thus being on (if you will) Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall, and Alice Eve before their current rise to fame.  But I think it is pretty well implied.

Like every other decent human being, I’m a big Gary Oldman fan.  It is so rare that we get to see an actor disappear into such a wide swath of roles.  How many other people could play over the top villains in things like The Fifth Element or The Professional or maybe Red Riding Hood (seriously, he’s INSANE in that one) and also be so serenely restrained in The Dark Knight?  Here he’s much more the latter.  Seemingly cold and emotionless but never quite veering onto the cruel side of the fence, he’s everything you’d expect from a British spymaster.  But here again, I think the script gets in the way of the awards, preventing him from showing something truly top-notch.  Believe me, I wouldn’t be unhappy to see a Gary Oldman nomination, and if he gets it, he won’t be the worst nominee.  But I don’t really see how someone could pick this role over, for example, Brendan Gleeson’s in The Guard.

For me, the script substitutes vagueness and confusion for misdirection and half-truths.  The plot (and maybe this is on Le Carre, I haven’t read the novel) is actually relatively straightforward. But needing to kill a couple hours, the film takes its sweet time getting to any useful information.  By which point, the intel barely seems relevant.

August 2019
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