Category: Film


I was in court.  I had an early morning arraignment in a Long Island Court house for a ticket I received for either driving w/o a license or insurance, I don’t really remember.  I heard it on the radio while roaming the parking lot for a space.  I heard the rest of it second-hand from the chit-chat from the populace filling the court-house.  The court-house sent everyone home an hour later or so.  I was home watching the news with my mother and grandmother growing more and more afraid as we couldn’t get in touch with my father who worked in the city.

After waiting for felt like eons we received news that my cousin, a NYC firefighter was among the fallen.  That’s where I was on 9/11.  What about you?

I was working.  Working a shitty job waiting tables in NYC with no access to the outside world beyond cell phones (which we were not allowed to have on our person while on the floor).  A customer told another employee and word got around the restaurant, but no one was really certain.  The crowds were yelling and cheering in Times Square an hour or so after the president made the announcement.  New York (and America) was delighted and overjoyed to hear that Bin Laden was killed by our troops.  That’s where I was, where were you?

Zero Dark Thirty (named for the military time in which the surgical attack took place : Thirty minutes after midnight (Zero Dark)) is the film  that tells the tale of the stalwart agent that for her entire time working the US government did nothing but search endlessly for Americas Most Wanted Man.

The film begins with what is extremely realistic 911 calls made on that fateful morning, against a black screen made for only our minds to harken back to the images that play relentlessly on every channel every Sept. 11.  Skip a few years to the belief that torture of the enemy combatants will lead us to viable information concerning future attacks.  Many people are (and will continue) to argue whether or not the director and screenwriter are advocating or protesting the effectiveness of torture.  I think they do both.  It is no secret that we as a government body (and it is assumed the films agents) received valuable information through torture.   However the film also shows, without any uncertainty that it didn’t always work.  The film is necessarily about whether it’s right or wrong, it’s more to the point that it happened and it was a part of the time line of what will be the climax of the film.  Bigelow does a great job of throwing us right into the (action, fire: they all sound so inappropriate) situation.  As a viewer you are instantly all three characters : you feel the power of the torturer, you feel the pain and humiliation of the victim (even though he is part of the killing of thousands of people) and you feel the disgust and confusion of the onlooker; here being Maya our hero agent.   These are things that Bigelow does best throughout the film, you are part of the investigations, you are part of the mystery and in the end you are part of mission.

The film, for me (and some others I have spoken with), falters in the second act.  Primarily due to the political and covert minutiae that takes place and is discussed at a rapid pace.  Names that many Americans are not used too (Hey let’s be honest, Arabic names are not easy to parse out if you don’t speak Arabic and even as Maya points out some of these bad guys have two names) I didn’t know who people were referring to or who we were going after; till after my second viewing of the film (and then I was still confused).

The third act, the mission itself was executed (again bad form but that’s what it was) wonderfully.  You just have to watch it unfold.  Then check out IMDB for a couple of factual inaccuracies that make for interesting reading, but none of it really effected the film in any way.

The film is a good film, it didn’t blow me away (impossible to avoid it now) but I was moved more the second time around.

You know the end of the movie, it’s not really a secret.  There was a sense of pride, national pride when it occurred in the film, yet the film makes you see and realize the cost at which it came.  The death and the reality of those who had to become collateral damage.  Innocents will bear the scars of that mission for years (you’ll know to whom I speaking of when you watch the scene).  The film captures the necessary deeds of our brave soldiers and the sometimes cold responses that they need to have to deal with their actions.

And how about Jessica Chastain?  She’s up for an Oscar.  She does a fine job.  My good friend L. feels that she is getting the nod more for the role itself and not for the portrayal.  I would have to agree.  The evolution (or devolution) of her characters view of the need of torture, as she herself begins the interrogations or as she watches our new president dismantle the use of it is well done, she changes as her character does.  A fine performance.

It’s the end that truly makes this a film that deserves to watched (two times).  It makes you think.  It makes you think instead of cheer.  It makes you think instead of jumping up from your couch (or movie seat) and begin chanting “USA, USA”.

********************possible points that could be construed as Spoilers*************************

 

It’s the quiet smiles and handshakes and the lack of whooping and hollering that the soldiers have afterwards.  It’s all back to business, it’s not over; they have to sort out all the intel they have confiscated.  They didn’t celebrate the way we did in Times Square.  They had to deal with the fact they essentially murdered half a dozen people and almost got killed themselves to do it.

It is in the quietest moment, where Chastians character takes a step outside and realizes her mission, her life’s work, has not only come to fruition but is now … over, that this moment shines for me.

*********************end of that whole thing *********************

 

So where do we go?  Where were you at those two points in our nations history?  Where did you want to go from there?  Where do you want to go from here?

A great question posed, how do you answer?  That is the best part of this film.

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The sessions stars John Hawkes and Helen Hunt (who is up for best supporting actress in the ’12 Oscar race), and is quite a touching film about acceptance.  Acceptance from others, acceptance from God and most important of all acceptance of oneself.

John Hawkes stars as real life poet Mark O’Brien who lived most of his life in an Iron Lung due to early onset of Polio.  After being hired to write a journal piece on sex and the disabled, Mark is intrigued enough to  set off on his own journey of sexual awakening by hiring a sex therapist/surrogate, Cheryl  Cohen-Greene (played by Hunt).  Mark is accompanied  on his sojourn by his priest, confident and true friend Father Brendan, played by William H. Macy.

This film is so wonderful in it’s simplicity.  The script delicately covers all bases without ever becoming heavy handed or preachy.  In many other films I would have wanted a more narrow focus on either the religious implications or the therapist – patient relationship or the therapist and her own life and how it was being effected.  Yet the script and direction allow all of these issues to be covered so as not to leave any stone unturned but also let the weight of the story, that of man who wants to be loved (by others and himself), and that story be carried by the depth of the actors / actresses performances.

William H. Macy’s priest is the kind of priest that I think I would even get along with.  He understands the plight of the man he calls friend.  His character shows a hesitation as he gives his “permission/blessing” for Mark to seek out his sexual experiences, but calls upon the God of love and understanding that we always hear about, saying “In my heart, I think he’ll give you a pass on this one”.  He knows that the God he believes made Mark and allowed tragedy to befall him understands the desire and want of love that Mark seeks.  Father Brendan also is given to moments of silent pondering and humorous jealousy as he hears of Marks sexual adventures that he himself is denied.  None of this is in words, simply in Macy’s face.

While we are on the topic of emoting via the face and nothing else, I must turn to Hawkes wonderful portrayal of Mark O’Brien.  The entire movie Hawkes is lying prone on either a gurney or a bed.  His head is almost always turned slightly to the right; and that is it.  He give Mark the shallow wheezing voice of one whose chest is always fighting the weight of gravity and rasp of a man who needs an iron lung to live.  But it is in Hawkes sincerity that we love Mark and his journey.  We rally behind him with his humor and the levity in which Hawkes delivers it.  In his performance we see how pain is transformed into beauty and love of life with every thought and sensation he discovers.

And the sensations he discovers under the deft, silky touch of Helen Hunt.  Some may find her nomination undeserved, as they might see the Oscar nod given primarily due to her nakedness  and say that being nude isn’t brave.  And while nudity in and of itself isn’t a “brave” role and in and of itself is not Oscar worthy.  However it is in the bravery and confidence that Helen holds herself and her character that deserves the nod (if not the win).  Hunt has been naked before (1992’s Waterdance) but her performance here is strikingly poised and honest (I’m not comparing the roles, I’ve not seen Waterdance).  Hunt’s character in the Sessions is not about sexy (however she is quite sexy).  It is about how a woman can make a man take pride in his body when his body is not his own to command?  Cheryl shows a 38 year old man who cannot raise his own hand how to touch a women, how to caress, and what it is like to be caressed.  Helen portrays a women who has sex with men not to get them off but to be confident in them selves that they carry that over into their next relationship; “The difference between a surrogate and prostitute is that a prostitute wants your return business, I don’t”.  Helen plays this honestly and openly with no shame but also with a humanity that brought tears to my eyes.

The film overall may not be a sweeping epic of desire and love but in it’s scope to show one man’s heartache and desire to be touched by the world around him; it is a wonderful success.

The Five Year Engagement 2012 – Jason Segal, Emily Blunt & Alison Brie (Dir – Nicholas Stoller) (screenplay Jason Segal, Nicholas Stoller)

This was a very sweet movie with a ton of heart.  In the end, overall I did enjoy this movie.

So.. plot.

Jason Segal proposes to girlfriend Emily Blunt on their year anniversary.  Wedding planning begins but is held up by a number of inconveniences, the largest being a post-doc position for Emily in another state.  Jason, being the good guy boyfriend agrees to give up his job as head su chef at a high-end San Fran restaurant.  Becoming increasingly unhappy in his role and his life, Jason and Emily’s looming nuptials seem to be forever in suspended animation.  Hilarity and vulgarity ensues.

The Low down :

The first act show a wonderful hyper-reality story book romance that one comes to expect from rom-coms and it does it so well.  The comic timing of the script is enhanced not only by their talent but by Segal and Blunt’s chemistry together.  You not only want the relationship to continue and blossom but you want to have their relationship.  You want to have that yearning for one another, they really make it work on-screen.  You nod your head at the issue that are brought up, you agree with both of them as well as disagree; like life.  You laugh with the two of them throughout the (again hyper-realistic) engagement party; btw Alison Brie (from Community and Mad Men) is wonderful and hysterical as Blunt on-screen sister (not surprised).  Her speech at the party and her argument with Blunt in Elmo vs. Cookie monster speak is a laugh riot.  Here and there are some raunchy jokes and some antics that could have been left on the cutting room floor but the audiences today, many of them at least want that; so I think the level that Segal and Stoller brings it too is acceptable in comparison to other recent comedies.

The second act ramps up the antics, and the raunch much of it not needed (imo).  The hyper-reality of how things go wrong and to what extent also begins to verge on ridiculousness.  Hyper-reality can be accepted and is generally needed to push many of the jokes and gags along as to be acceptable in the Apatow Collection.  Would I have enjoyed it more w/o some of the jokes and the extent to which Segal becomes disillusioned; yes however it still worked in the long run.

The third act blended all that I liked and disliked from the first two acts very well, a little ridiculousness, a little vulgarity and tons of heart.  It even made me weep a little (then again, not hard; I’m a sap).

I’ll repeat, Overall I really enjoyed this movie, it was sweet, heart-felt and I left happy.

I’m putting it out there, if you didn’t enjoy Cabin in the Woods, I think you just didn’t “get it”.  I thoroughly enjoyed this romp through the annals of horror and sci-fi. Think of the movie in terms of Texas Chainsaw Massacre + Scream + Cube.  Throw in Joss Whedon and many time collaborator Drew Goddard (lost, Buffy, Angel, Cloverfield)  to write it and cast Whedon’s usual suspects; and finally give Drew the opportunity to direct his first film and you’ve got a great time.

We all know the story, five kids venture off with reckless abandon into unknown wooded territory to spend time with “nature”.  There they meet their DOOM!!!  Ah, but as the poster states “You think you know the story”.  And if you don’t pay attention you won’t.  However the script is not a mystery, the direction spells it out; if you care to listen.

The film starts with specific imagery (not to mention the parallel story line happening that fills in the gaps) and a vibe that tells you exactly what to expect.  If after the opening credit sequence you are still expecting your typical horror slasher flick; you’ve already missed the point.

The films goes through all the motions of the slasher genre, spooky house, kids fornicating, said kids being hacked to pieces by weapon wielding madmen.  However it adds spice by not only “redefining” why and how it’s all happening but never taking itself so seriously.  The downfall of many a horror film is when they take themselves so seriously.  Whedon and co. create a “prego” – esque sauce (it’s in there) giving doses of so many well-known horror elements.  Think Kill Bill lite, the more you know horror movies, the more you will giggle with the ingredients.

Earlier in the last paragraph I put redefining in quotations, the reason is that none of this is new.  The mash – up in and of itself is not new, but the flavor in which it is done is refreshing and feels new in light of the past several years of grotesque horror films in the Saw and Hostel variety.  this is not one of those, it is done with humor and a roll of the eyes.  It is also done with a sense of fun and a little bit of remembrance of good ole horror without getting on a high horse.

Just finished seeing the brand new x-men flick, and I wanted to enjoy it.  The film, first off, is not for purists.  The film, secondly, is not for film buffs either.  The film wants to be somewhere in the middle; it comes real close but ultimately, I feel it fails.

If your a purist when it comes to your uncanny heroes I feel you will be horrified when and if you see this movie.  The origins of the mutant heroes/villains are not necessarily changed but their relationships to one another are; drastically.  This is what I actually really enjoyed about the film.  The writers and directors really took a chance on re-vamping to some extent the characters that are well known while (re) introducing some we may have forgotten or simply are not known to the “general” populace.  It gave us a chance to re-see the polarizing views that the leaders of the X-Men and what would come be Brotherhood of Mutants, would come too.  By reintroducing the cast of Xaviers students prior to actually becoming his students, we have a deeper insight to why who comes to follow who.

That is what was meant to happen anyway.

This is where the film fell apart for me.  I really felt this was the thinking man’s X-Men.  It was set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis; an early 60’s political power play that could mirror the Xavier/Magneto strife.  There was not a lot of action, and that I really enjoyed, there was a lot of talking, relationship building, a slight show of deeper meanings and introspection for the characters; it wanted to be less shallow than it actually was.

But in the end; it was as if the writers realized what they had done was completely rewritten the universe people loved so much and said to themselves; “oh crap, we have to get it back to normal”.  And they made this crazy 90 degree turn and in order to set the story straight (back into the marvel universe, the comic geeks are familiar with) they made characters do things THAT MADE ALMOST NO SENSE TO DO.  After what these characters have been through, it would be highly unlikely for them to fall into the  allegiances  and make  decisions they end up making.

From a story standpoint, it was a failure (in my eyes).  It tried so hard, I can see that, but they were so concerned with making everyone happy and I feel that they should have stayed the course and created something new.

So I’m watching the season finale of Law & Order : SVU tonight and couldn’t help but laugh.

Now the series, in my opinion, has faulted quite a bit throughout the years, it’s just not as good as used to be.  I still watch it every once in awhile due to some interesting story ideas and I must admit I enjoy the characters.  When it comes to season finales, plot lines become heightened and it is my express wish that the scripts are more intense than the preceding episodes; not always so 😦

This episode was not that bad, it also wasn’t that great either.  However the end, while being set up to be intense, engrossing and shocking, it ended up being trite, typical and laughable.

The daughter of a raped and murdered woman visit her friendly neighborhood detectives who are searching effortlessly for the killer.  She is distraught but wants closure to this nightmare and asks to see the man who took her mothers life.  She has the rare opportunity to see the three men who each in their own way played a role in her mothers demise.  The three men are in a cage in the middle of the squad house and she looks on at them with sorrow and distaste.  She has had enough and begins to walk back to the elevator to exit the episode.  What could happen?  I don’t know, I mean after over a decade of this show a victim of rape or attack has never made a visit to the squad house, seen their rapist and then turned around taken a gun out of their jacket and shot dead their foe while the cops watch on in slow motion awe.  That has never happened and I was sure it wasn’t going to happen now.

The young lady walks to the elevator, the camera follows Benson (the female partner) back to her fellow officers and not a moment later … the young girl returns out of nowhere and begins shooting.  She fires continuously into the cage onto the three bad guys.  Everyone hits the deck, the girl turns the gun frantically and shoots an extra (why she has shot wildly to the right no where near the cage with the bad guys I don’t know other than that is what the script asks for) dead.  Stabler (male partner) takes out his gun and shouts for the girl to put the gun down.  She begins to listen and then the half dead baddy in the cage makes a fatal mistake … he shouts “I should have shot you after I killed your mother…”  and as she raises her gun for one… final… shot…Stabler shoots the teen.  Running to her side in shock and awe that he has just mortally shot a child he holds her and listens to her final words; “I just bought it on the street, it was so easy”.

Now earlier in the episode there was a parallel story line concerning how one bad guy got the gun to kill the woman and Stabler said “Don’t you know that we have a hand gun problem in this country?…”  Okay so there is the message in this final episode of the season.   WE HAVE A GUN PROBLEM!!  noted.

So the teens comment brings us full circle in the message, it was just soo easy for a girl to buy a gun on the city streets.  We should be aware of this and I should be proud of this tv show bringing this important fact to the public’s attention.

However…. I’m wondering if anyone reading the script before and during the script noticed that not only are they saying that it’s just so easy to buy a gun on the streets in this country but apparently it’s also incredibly easy for a teen to bring a handgun into a police precinct.   Anyone??  just silly; and I’ve finally had enough of this show.  No more for Dusty.

Valhalla Rising is a film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.  Refn is the director of Bronson which is a truly enjoyable film in my opinion.  With this film he continues to fascinate me.  Valhalla rising takes place in 1000 AD and tells the story of One-eye (played stoically by Mads Mikkelsen).  One – eye is a slave warrior who is a savage fighter that is unbeatable in what can only be compared to the fight club of the Viking era.  This film was like Gladiator meets the 13th Warrior (that atrocious Antonio Banderas movie from ’99, which is based on a decent Michael Crichton novel; Eaters of the Dead (which was based loosely on Beowulf)).   Anyway, One-way extracts his bloody revenge on his captures and becomes the protector of a young boy who was part of the clan.  They meet up with some Christian Vikings on their way to Jerusalem.  The group has an uneasy alliance until they get caught up in “the mist” and arrive “in hell” (the New world before it became known as such).  They fight, some die, one-eye sees glimpses of a bloody future and the boy becomes “psychically connected”??  to one-eye able to speak for him.

That’s the plot.

That’s it, that’s all that happens story wise.

I don’t even know what it means, I don’t know how to explain the images in a way to connect to a conclusion to the story.  I honestly don’t really understand what happened in the end.  Hell I only knew it took place in 1000 AD due to a synopsis I read.

But what was awesome about the movie was the style.  While the plot and meaning of the movie is up for debate it was how the tale was told, visually and mostly; silently.  The film was almost a montage of beautifully framed shots and then edited consequently to show the passage of linear time.  Each and every shot was like looking a painting showing the visage of  Crusade era highlands.  When men are part of the shot they are framed with the misty mountains, and fire and smoke beside and behind them.  You can feel how the mud feels at their feet and how fresh the water feels when they wash the caked mud of off their faces.  Each individual shot could be a framed piece of artwork that a writer wrote a story too.  Every once in a while a character says something to break the haunting silence.

The film is broken up into six chapters which created an opera -esque environment for me.  The chapter headings aided in at least understanding where you were in the story.  The music was low and ominous and crescendoed, not always to a bloody climax of visual violence, but mostly to the end of an emotional voyage of a character.

All in all, the film confused me as I watched it.  However, ultimately I truly enjoyed the film making itself.  Whether viewed as self-important and possibly pretentious, I truly do not believe one can belittle the cinematography and how it was used as the primary source of telling the story.

I would not recommend this to every one, I don’t even know when I would watch it again.  If I could have almost every scene as a picture on my wall I would be happy and if you can find beauty in “fluid still shot” film making, you will be too.  I can only wish that one day the director will do a commentary for the film, because at that point I’d buy the dvd in an instant.

Update 5/10/11 l- Recently I watched this directors’ first film and I was riveted once again.  This has only made me rethink how good V.Rising actually was and may very well revisit the review.

Quickies

Ok.  So I just finished :

  1. A Discovery of Witches by Deb Harkness
  2. Gideon’s Sword by Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston
  3. The Machine Crusade [Legends of Dune #2] by Brian Herbert & Kevin Anderson
  4. History of a Suicide by Jill Bialosky

Just recently watched :

  1. Red
  2. Enter the Void
  3. Catfish
  4. Get Low
  5. Sherlock [New BBC; first two episodes]

going to try and write up some brief reviews over the next few days.

Next up :

  1. Revisiting the Sherlock Cannon
  2. Sherlock Holmes : the Unauthorized Biography by Nick Rennison – started, read some reviews and stopped.
  3. the Battle of Corrin [Legends of Dune #3] by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson – Crap!!
  4. How to read Literature like a Professor by  Thomas Foster – I’ll get back to this.  I started but felt much of it was stuff I already know.
  5. Point & Edge both by Thomas Blackthorne [these look interesting]
  6. Vicious Circle by Mike Carey [book two; see previous review of The Devil You Know]

True Grit minus the Grit

I’m not much of a western fan, I’ve never seen many John Wayne films, but I love a good hero story.  I love those shots where the hero stands tall after a moment of adversity and the music swells and I want to get out of my seat and cheer.  By this point in most hero stories I’m fist pounding the air and breathing heavily waiting for the hero to over come the odds.  In True Grit, an adaptation of a novel (of which I’ve never read) by the time these “hero” moments take place; I could care less about what has happened over the course of the movie.

The first thing that struck me in this film was the use of comedy.  Some movies, when seen over opening weekend with the general public, unsettling dramatic moments can be misinterpreted as comedy.  A prime example of this is the opening shot of 28 Days, when the main character awakes naked from a hospital bed and saunters out to a desolate city street.  The crowd, when I saw it opening night, was hysterical with laughter, giggling relentlessly at the actors .. non porn worthy genitalia.  This moment should have been reflecting how newly born into this horrific new world the character was and how unprotected, isolated and alone he would be throughout the film.   When the audience first laughed aloud during ‘True Grit’, when an american Indian’s final words are interrupted by a burlap sack before being hanged, I wondered if the crowd wasn’t getting it; already.  Was this showing the racism of the day, the view of ethnicity of the times?  That’s what I assumed, being that this was a movie about a young girl who’s father was murdered and who was out for revenge.  Not a funny premise.  But it sure was a funny movie.  That quick, quirky humor that only the Cohen bros can foster in dramatic times, but for me, this time around; it just didn’t fit.

For me films need a thesis; a focal point that the whole movie culminates in.  A point, or points to reflect on after the film is done.  Sometimes it’s a moral, others it’s the arc of a character or characters, still other times it is how you can reflect on your own life compared to the film you have just watched.  I didn’t see any of that in this movie.  There was no arc, you didn’t necessarily dislike any character in the beginning and then love them at the end.  Nor did you think you loved a character in the beginning and realized you hated them in the end.  To me, the characterizations were just as inconsistent as the drama/comedy of the story itself.  This film contained little to no drama, no fear for what was about to happen next.  Every time something dramatic was about to happen, humor was infused so much to dilute any fear for the main characters.

The script itself didn’t help the cause either.  I don’t know if stilted is the right word but it feels right for the moment.  Every line spoken was as if an uneducated man was trying to speak in the tongue of a wig wearing Englishmen.  It was almost Shakespearean in it’s delivery.  Not to say it was hard to follow, you understood what was being said, even through a dirty drawl concocted by the dude himself, Jeff Bridges.  Rooster sounded like he was the original Tom Waits while Matt Damon made Texans sound dumb (that was the point however).  Hailey who plays the darling precocious young lass who is willing to kill a man does a decent job with what she is given.  However I’m confused, as I am with this whole film, is she really beyond her years or hiding innocence, the whole character is very unsubstantiated and inconsistent and I feel it’s the script and story not her performance.

While I’m not really a fan of this film, I’m hesitant to say that it was a ‘bad’ movie.  The Cohen brothers know what they are doing, it just may be that I didn’t care for what they did, no matter how ‘right’ they may have done it.  True Grit’s real shine was in the cinematography, beyond that this is a movie that I will forget about very soon.  It truly had, for me, no grit.  The final showdown(s) didn’t have me excited.  Who were the bad guys?  Why weren’t we supposed to like them?  Did I miss something, when new bad guys were introduced at the very end of the film?  I’d rather sit and watch Once Upon A Time in the West, a film that no matter how many times I watch it; at the end of almost three hours I’m crying, cheering, shouting only wishing that more films were like it.