Zero Dark Thirty is a masterwork of political and military espionage, at once the story of the search for the most wanted man in the world and the personal journey of the woman whose crusade against common wisdom helped find Osama bin Laden. Jessica Chastain gives an Oscar-worthy leading performance and the culminating raid is starkly realistic. A movie that gives an account of history without moralizing or whitewashing, ZDT has earned every piece of praise it has been given.
Jessica Chastain stars as Maya, a CIA analyst who is on the hunt for bin Laden. Her character journey is a fascinating one, going from a rookie (though not wide-eyed) to a jaded pro without ever falling into the broad acting traps that would have ensnared a lesser actor. She’s never too feminine or masculine, instead playing an honest, realistic human being.
Chastain’s successes are due in no small part to a tight script by Mark Boal who previously teamed with director Katheryn Bigelow in their Oscar-winning effort The Hurt Locker. ZDT shares many similarities with that picture but on a macro scale. Instead of looking into the mind of a damaged character during one incident Bigelow and Boal crack into the mindset of a driven agent whose quest takes many years to complete and hits many roadblocks from both domestic and foreign sources.
Zero Dark Thirty does not moralize about the means of gleaning information from prisoners, instead presenting the method and allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions. No character stands in either defiance or support of the practice. This presentation gives the moments some wonderful emotional resonance.
The film’s final act features the infamous raid on UBL’s compound in Pakistan and is an intense scene. While the film’s marketing is focusing largely on this moment it is just a small part of the proceedings. A military procedural film with fantastic characters, performances, and direction ZDT is a brilliant telling of recent history.
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Oh, the movie that Gangster Squad could have been. A violent true story of the pulp heroes who cleaned up Los Angeles and swept out the organized crime rackets of Mickey Cohen, GS constantly threatens to go over-the-top but winds up being frustratingly inconsistent as the director pulls back the reigns to a dull, if stylish, reality.
Josh Brolin stars as Sgt. John O’Mara and honest-to-a-fault cop who is hamstrung by a corrupt system controlled by the villainous Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). O’Mara is tasked by the chief (Nick Nolte who may not be aware he’s in a movie) to put together a covert squad that will fight fire with fire and do things the law doesn’t allow.
The superteam is composed a sharpshooter (Robert Duvall), his tagalong (Michael Pena), a knife-man with underworld connections (Anthony Mackie), and a mechanical master with a family (so you know he’s the first to die (Giovanni Ribisi)). They stumble along until joined by the suave, soft-spoken vet (Ryan Gosling) who is having a fling with the villain’s special lady friend (Emma Stone) and then barrel forward without so much as a second glance to reality.
Only Gosling and Penn seem to have a grip on how ludicrous this is supposed to be and, perhaps understandably, they have the best over-the-top one-liners and back-and-forth dialogue. And there are some good zingers in the script, each one giving hope that the movie will rise to their level. It never does. Each time the movie approaches a cliff of awesomeness it is yanked back into a predictable reality. What should be Dick Tracy meets The Untouchables is entirely too scattered and uneven despite its flashes of brilliance.
I’m usually more interested in character than plot so am the last one to acknowledge plot holes. And yet I wondered several times how we got from point A to B, not a good sign for this movie and director Ruben Fleischer. While I understand the movie went through radical revisions after the Colorado movie theater shooting, it shouldn’t have been given the green light in its current form. Plenty of great talent is involved and there is potential but this action noir falls far short of coherent success.
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I liked the Wayans' Scary Movie. It was low-brow but it was clever. A Haunted House, meanwhile, is the kind of comedy I hate: Instead of saying funny things they say things in a funny way.
The issue is that they are parodying movies that are already completely over-the-top.
Matt Damon is renowned for being an intense, unyielding political activist. When he was announced as the star of a movie about the impact of “fracking” or natural gas extraction on a distressed farming community I saw it easily straying into preachy territory—a cardinal sin for any movie. But director Gus Van Sant keeps the focus on the human drama instead of the charged politics of energy and that is where the movie finds its biggest successes.
The film never forgets, however, that the true villain is not the man who is just doing a job selling natural gas contracts but instead is the evil, shadowy corporation—a point reinforced by the surprising twist in the third act. That third act, however, is incongruous with what has come before and throws a curve that is neither expected nor wanted by the audience.
Fortunately the remainder of the film is a decent personal drama. Damon deals with his nomadic lifestyle by falling in—then back out, then back in—love with a local woman (Rosemary Dewitt). Francis McDormand plays an exasperated mother who tries her best to stay connected with her family despite her lack of proximity.
While the filmmakers want Promised Land to be some sort of morality play and corporate thriller like A Civil Action, Michael Clayton, or Erin Brockovich, it isn’t nearly as sleek or compelling as those stories. Well made and performed, Promised Land lacks a point: If you have a political purpose, don’t obscure it so that it becomes unrecognizable. That only leaves a muddled film that never finds traction.
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The Impossible is a beautifully made melodrama about a family surviving one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the modern world. What it belies, however, is the tens of thousands of people killed in the tsunami and the hundreds of thousands of natives who survived. While it’s a good story and a well-made film, The Impossible seems to be the kind of egocentric revisionist history (or myopic history) that are the center of complaints about how Hollywood operates.
Great performances are logged from Ewan McGreggor and Naomi Watts but the biggest revelation comes from newcomer Tom Holland who holds his own in this survival story when isolated with Watts. It is a solid debut that gives us hope for what his future holds.
This is not a disaster movie, despite the scene being used to market the film. There are no staggering moments of heroism in the face of tragedy. This is the story of the basic instinct to fight for survival. While it’s a good drama and well-made, I had issues with the way the indigenous people were marginalized in favor of rich white people. An ancillary concern, certainly, but worth noting.
Another movie that’s coming out on end-of-year top 10 lists that nobody has yet seen, The Impossible is deserving of the accolades and while not one of my favorite movies of the year, it’s a solid film.
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So...this exists. But it stars Alexandra Daddario who is wicked hot. Might check this out if only for the spectacle.