Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reel Facts & Opinions: The Death of Superman. Or is it?

Superman, arguably the most famed superhero of all time, will make his return to the big screen this summer in Zack Snyder’s MAN OF STEEL. Earlier this week, the film’s screenwriter, David S. Goyer, spoke about the differences between this new reboot of the character and the Richard Donner versions from the late 70’s and early 80’s which starred Christopher Reeve:

"We're approaching Superman as if it weren't a comic book movie as if it were real.... I adore the Donner films. Absolutely adore them. It just struck me that there was an idealist quality to them that may or may not work with today's audience. It just struck me that if Superman really existed in the world, first of all this story would be a story about first contact… If the world found out he existed, it would be the biggest thing that ever happened in human history."

There is a lot that be taken away from Goyer’s approach to the character. First of all, most people have a cemented image of Superman in their heads from those early films. From Donner’s direction, Reeve’s performance, and John Williams’ magnificent score, the first two SUPERMAN films are nearly perfect. It seems clear that Goyer and Snyder aren’t looking to top the earlier achievements, but to present Superman in a way we have never seen before. 

Looking at the latter-half of Goyer’s quote; it seems they are on the right track so far. Here’s a shocking fact: Superman is from outer space. He’s an alien! An illegal alien! This is one aspect that was quickly glossed over in the Donner films, and something that can go in many different directions. They are looking to make a man who flies around in blue tights more realistic, and what better way than to explore how a post-9/11 world would react to a man who is impervious to modern weapons and answers to no one. It’s a fascinating and fresh angle. 

Perhaps the most questionable of choices being made lies in Goyer’s initial comments, in which he says this version of Superman will not be as idealistic as the older films. Superman has always stood for truth, justice, and the American way…and Donner’s films never shied away from that; in fact, it was pushed in our faces nearly constantly. It wasn’t a bad thing, but the decision to veer away from the flag-waving seems to point towards a more realistic superhero. It’s a post-DARK KNIGHT world, where the audience numbers have pointed at a preference towards grounded heroes which don’t look or feel like they just fell out of a comic book. 

But realistic doesn’t necessarily mean darker. The ideals of Superman that we’ve known through all these years may still be there; they will just be presented differently. Think about this: what better way to test the goodness and decency of Superman than to put him up against a skeptical and fearful society; a world which will certainly not understand him and reject him at the outset. Perhaps Superman’s greatest foe isn’t another alien or a monster or a General Zod; maybe it’s the very people he’s trying to protect. 

The mythology and history of Superman is tough to get by when entering a new SUPERMAN film. However, if we aren’t open to filmmakers' attempts to make the character new and interesting, then Superman and all of his amazing friends will be restricted to the comic pages and the movies will be all the more dull without them. 


MAN OF STEEL opens on June 14th. It stars Henry Cavill, Russell Crowe, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, and Michael Shannon. It is directed by Zack Snyder (WATCHMEN, 300) and written by David S. Goyer, based on a story by Christopher Nolan (both of THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY). Check out the awesome trailer HERE

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Reel Review: AMOUR

Director Michael Haneke’s AMOUR may be a tough film to watch for most people; not because it is a two-hour long, French-speaking subtitled film, but because of how authentic and real it is. AMOUR is very generous in showing, or reminding us of what happens at the back end of old age; it does so masterfully and tactfully, and is very deserving of the five Oscars it has been nominated for.

Georges and Anne (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) are a retired couple in their eighties. One day, Anne has an attack which partially paralyzes her, and with their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) living far away, Georges is left as the only caregiver. The couple’s love and devotion are tested as Anne’s health deteriorates.

AMOUR is all about the senior couple combating the many hardships and challenges brought on by Anne’s failing health. If AMOUR were a superhero film, Georges and Anne would be the heroes, and old age would be the villain. Director Michael Haneke pulls back the curtain on the things we always knew were there but often choose to ignore; things like bathing and going to the bathroom, feeding and dressing, and eventually diaper changing. It is upsetting and unnerving material.

But beyond the harsh ugliness of the decaying human body, AMOUR presents a very strong and beautiful theme of love and devotion. Georges is very much dedicated to Anne, and seeing the great lengths he goes through to keep her comfortable is very touching. The film doesn’t fall into sappy-land; there is never a long-string of dialogue in which the characters stop what they are doing to tell each other (and the audience) just how they are feeling at a given moment. AMOUR lets things flow naturally, with many rewards and just as much heartbreak.                 

The organic blooming of AMOUR can be attributed to the gentle touch of Michael Heneke’s direction. The film is often presented in long static-shots and tracking moves; you can probably count the number of “cuts” on one hand in a given half-hour, and there are some sequences which are flat-out unbelievable. With so little edits, the actors are allowed to be free, and film feels very real because of it. But despite the stage-play feel of it, AMOUR never forgets to be intimate with its characters, and we are on board with them from heartbreaking start to finish.   

Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva are perfect in their roles and both put on a performance nothing short of wonderful and amazing. Besides the intimate moments, in which they both shine, they are both asked to do some “heavy lifting” in the form of physical work, and it is often hard to believe what you are seeing on the screen.

Because of its harsh subject matter, AMOUR falls into the territory of SCHINDLERS LIST; a finely crafted film which doesn’t entertain as much as shock, and most people will not want to see it again despite how fulfilling it ultimately is. Older audiences will certainly be reminded of what is coming for them, and younger audiences with loved ones reaching their golden years will be bothered by the peek into the near future. AMOUR is a powerful movie all about life and death, and should be required viewing for everyone, even just once.

BOTTOM LINE: See it                       


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Reel Facts & Opinions: STAR WARS EPISODE VII has a Director


Various sources are reporting that JJ Abrams is the Chosen One. 

Abrams has been selected to direct the next STAR WARS film, unofficially titled EPISODE VII. 

Abrams big-screen directing credits include STAR TREK (2009), SUPER 8 (2011), MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III (2006). His next film will be STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS coming this May. 

The script for EPISODE VII is being written by Michael Arndt, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006), and TOY STORY 3 (2010). 


This is tremendous news for this Blogger and STAR WARS fans. In the past few years, Abrams has shown the type of creativity, boldness, and most importantly, the spirit of adventure in his films that STAR WARS is all about. His work in STAR TREK shows his love for science fiction while not forgetting character, and as flawed as SUPER 8 might have been, it managed to speak to the kid in all of us. The Twin Suns are shining brightly!

What say you?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Reel Facts & Opinions: The Schwarzenegger Bomb

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the big screen arrived with an Austrian Oak-sized thud this past weekend, earning a miserable $6.3 million domestically, good enough for tenth place at the box office. The action film, THE LAST STAND, which was his first leading-role in nearly a decade after entering politics, was in essence a probe; sent out to test the waters for future Arnold films and franchises which includes a third CONAN film, a fifth TERMINATOR flick, and a possible sequel to TWINS (1988).
The box office failure of THE LAST STAND questions the possibility of future big-budget flicks with Arnold as the leading man, and also has fans and critics wondering what went wrong with the iconic actor whose films once always delivered the moolah. Defenders of the film are quick to point out that recent events have now put us into a more gun-shy America which will now veer away from violent films. However, the financial success by recent pro-violent films such as ZERO DARK THIRTY and DJANGO UNCHAINED says otherwise. Heck, even the critically drubbed GANGSTER SQUAD with all of its Tommy-Guns finished in fourth place in its second week of release.

So what happened? Smart moviegoers know that January and February are the traditional dumping-grounds for bad movies. No matter who the star is people know there isn’t much quality to see in these months, so they simply don’t buy a ticket. And the reason why it was released in this time of the year is that it is indeed a lousy movie. The critics gave it its rightful drubbing, and the negative word-of-mouth which followed kept people away.
There is also a possible cold hard truth; Arnold isn’t a box office hit anymore. Prior to entering his political career, his last eight movies ranged from mixed to outright stink; TERMINATOR 3, COLLATERAL DAMAGE, THE 6TH DAY, END OF DAYS, BATMAN & ROBIN, JINGLE ALL THE WAY, ERASER, and JUNIOR. In fact, you have to go all the way back to James Cameron’s TRUE LIES (1994) to find Arnold’s last good film. An argument could be made that he has picked up his career right where he left off; making crap. And all this doom and gloom for the nearly 66-year old action star doesn’t bode well for two other older fellas who are trying to keep their shoot-em-up film careers firing; Sylvester Stallone’s BULLET TO THE HEAD and Bruce Willis’ fifth DIE HARD film both open in the month of (ahem) February.

But Arnold and his pals shouldn’t be completely written off. If THE LAST STAND proved anything, it’s that the big guy still has the charisma and physical chops to provide entertainment. But what made his earlier films so successful is that he worked with good directors who knew exactly how to utilize him; James Cameron, James McTiernan, John Milus, and Paul Verhoeven practically built their films around him. Granted, we are into a new generation of filmmakers now, but hopefully Arnold can link himself up with the right ones who know how to utilize him, and give him and his fans the deserved quality.  Just make good movies.
What say you?

Friday, January 18, 2013


There are two ways in which one can look at THE LAST STAND; Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first leading-role in nearly a decade. The first way is how it holds up as an Arnold Film; with his classic quips and plenty of action. The second is how it fares as an actual movie, which of course, is what really matters. 

Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) is “da sheriff” in a sleepy town on the Mexican border. When a drug kingpin (Eduardo Noriega) escapes the FBI (led by Forest Whitaker) with the help of his right-hand man (Peter Stormare) and heads for the border, Owens rallies his rag-tag group of knucklehead deputies (Luis Guzman, Johnny Knoxville, Jaimie Alexander, Zach Gilford) to seal off the town and prevent his escape. 

THE LAST STAND works as a Schwarzenegger vehicle for exactly one-half of the film. Arnold gets to fire big guns, fist-fight, rip-off some great one-liners and look cool standing against the horizon. The cleverest thing about the film is that the entire script seems to be a statement on his career as it stands at this point. Owens is a character who once tackled the world with the enthusiasm and zeal of a young man, but is now taking things easy and is very much aware of his age and limitations…which is exactly how Arnold is now in his life. Between that interesting parallel and the standard quips  you expect from an Arnold film (except for one particular line), THE LAST STAND rears some great potential. 

Unfortunately, director Jee-woon Kim doesn’t keep the momentum going whenever he finds it. The film veers away from Arnold for long stretches of time; often putting the big guy and his never-ending charisma on the backburner while attention is given to useless and boring subplots involving the minor characters which no one ever cares about. Character development only happens whenever a character stands there and literally tells us about themselves (weak), and the main threat of the villain is never really felt. 

The action sequences range from pretty good to outrageously over the top. Blood is splattered in gallons and plenty of bodies are blown all over the place. As much we see of it, however, it feels very un-inspired and often grows tedious. 

Acting is ho-hum throughout. Arnold gives us exactly, if not a little less than what we’ve seen of him for the past three decades. He’s still very much a charmer, but seems to struggle more than usual with the comedy. He’s at his best when he’s paired with his natural sidekick in the form of Johnny Knoxville’s bug-nuts character, but the film never bothers to put the two together enough for it to be very effective. 

As an Arnold Schwarzenegger film, it easily ranks around the lower-tier of his extensive film credits. As an overall movie, the script is messy and relies on cliché too much. It comes off as dumb and boring, and no amount of Giant Movie Star can save it. 


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Reel Preview: The Year in Film 2013- Episode I

In this first Episode of previewing The Year in Film 2013, Reel Speak looks at the remainder of January and all of February.
The first two months of the year can easily be considered Movie Siberia; films that are not nearly good enough for Oscar Season (September thru December), and below the standards for the Summer Movie Season (May thru July), usually get banished to this desolate part of the world where they are seldom seen or heard from. However, every once in a while a few sparks of life can emerge from the barren wasteland; these are the films which have a little potential to rise above their exile.


THE LAST STAND – Arnold Schwarzenegger is back in his first leading role since 2003 as a small town sheriff who wages war against a drug kingpin (Peter Stormare). Packed full of violence and cliché characters, Johnny Knoxville and Forest Whitaker also star.

MAMA – This Guillermo del Toro produced (but not directed) horror flick embraces the notion that nothing works better in delivering scares than a creepy little kid. Jessica Chastain (ZERO DARK THIRTY) stars.

BROKEN CITY – In this drama directed by Allen Hughes (THE BOOK OF ELI), Mark Wahlberg is an ex-cop turned private eye who is hired to spy on the cheating wife of the Mayor (Catherine Zeta-Jones and Russell Crowe).


JOHN DIES AT THE END – This little indie flick, which involves two knuckleheads who are tasked with saving the world, has been gaining its own cult following at film festivals in the past year. Rob Mayes, Chase Williamson, and Paul Giamatti star in this Don Coscarelli (BUBBA HO-TEP) directed film.

BULLET TO THE HEAD – This film is a near carbon-copy of THE LAST STAND, right down to its leading man. Sylvester Stallone is a hit-man who teams up with a cop to wage war against the killers of their respective partners. Based on a graphic novel, BULLET TO THE HEAD is directed by Walter Hill (48 HRS., STREETS OF FIRE).

SIDE EFFECTS – In what may be the final film by Steven Soderbergh (OCEAN’S ELEVEN, TRAFFIC)…Rooney Mara (DRAGON TATTOO, THE SOCIAL NETWORK) suffers unexplained (ahem) side effects from her prescribed medications. Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Channing Tatum star in this psycho-sexual thriller.

A GLIMPSE INSIDE THE MIND OF CHARLES SWAN III – Take a look at the unique trailer (HERE) for this little flick written and directed by Roman Coppola, who has recently been Oscar nominated for the MOONRISE KINGDOM screenplay. This comedy promises a love story mixed with fantasy and stars Charlie Sheen, Jason Schwartzman, Patricia Arquette, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Bill Murray.

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD – This needless fifth entry into the once-proud DIE HARD franchise has recently been announced to have an R-rating; a relief for fans who were disappointed in the watered-down fourth DIE HARD film in 2007. The bad news is it is directed by John Moore (MAX PAYNE, THE OMEN remake), but the good news is Bruce Willis gets to act like a real John McClane again.

Next month: Episode II looks at March and April.


Monday, January 14, 2013

A Reel Opinion: Concerning the Oscar Nominations and Snubs

Nominations for the 85th Academy Awards were announced late last week. Every year seems to hold a few surprises in scattered categories, with this year bringing about a triple shocker in the Best Directing competition. 

The nominees for Best Director are Steven Spielberg (LINCOLN), Ang Lee (LIFE OF PI), David O. Russell (SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK), Benh Zeitlin (BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD), and Michael Haneke (AMOUR). 

What is shocking about the selections has to do with the people who aren’t there, more than the people who are. The entire world was expecting nominations for Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow, and Tom Hooper. Cries of “snub” have been up and all over the internet, and perhaps for good reason. Affleck turned in his best directing effort to date with ARGO; as a friend of Reel Speak has said; he made moments like the simple act of characters waiting in line a nail-biter. Bigelow put together not only a nail-biter but a stunningly realistic and significant film with ZERO DARK THIRTY, and Tom Hooper turned the genre of musicals on film up on its head with the innovative, singing-live-on-set filming technique with LES MISERABLES.  A strong argument could be made for all three of these fine filmmakers. 

The problem is there are only five spots to compete for in the Best Directing category. If any one of the omitted three were to get in, who would we swap out in their place? Spielberg may have just directed Daniel Day-Lewis to an unprecedented third Oscar. Ang Lee may have created the most visually stunning film ever made. Michael Haneke’s AMOUR is one of the best reviewed films of the year. David O. Russell got the best performance out of Robert DeNiro in decades, and Benh Zeitlin directed a six year old girl to a Best Leading Actress nomination. A strong argument could certainly be made for all five of these fine filmmakers.

The bottom line is that this is a very competitive year, with many films and filmmakers eligible for mention in any internet argument or late-night drunken debate. With the Academy nominating between five and ten films for Best Picture with only five Best Director nominees, someone is bound to be left standing without a chair when the music stops; which doesn’t necessarily mean a knock or a jab against their filmmaking skills.

Despite not having a Directing nomination, ARGO, ZERO DARK THIRTY, and LES MISERABLES were still nominated for Best Picture. In the eighty-five year history of the Oscars, only three films have won Best Picture without a Best Director nomination, with the most recent being DRIVING MISS DAISY (1989).  So, there is hope for these movies, small as it is. If these nominations are any indication, Oscar Night (Feb. 24) should be full of surprises. 

What say you? 

Friday, January 11, 2013


GANGSTER SQUAD was originally set to be released in September of 2012 before being delayed in order to re-shoot footage and edit around a scene involving a movie theatre shooting. (Read More) The big question going into the film on its new release is if the last-minute edits would be noticeable and possibly derail the film. Fear not, movie-buffs. The new scenes don’t do anything to ruin GANGSTER SQUAD, because the film has much bigger problems than that. 

In 1949 Los Angeles, ruthless gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is running the city. The Chief of Police (Nick Nolte) assigns hard-nosed cop Sgt. O’Mara (Josh Brolin) to form a squad to take down Cohen. The squad involves Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who falls into an affair with Cohen’s dame, Grace (Emma Stone). 

GANGSTER SQUAD is loaded up with every gangster cliché ever adapted. Everything from disfigured gangsters, whiskey flasks, tilted fedoras and dangling cigarettes are never off the screen. The film is very heavy on style. Normally that wouldn’t be a bad thing as the characters are fairly cool (and sexy) to look at, but director Ruben Fleischer relies on that style for everything. With so many familiar themes going on, the film falls into a generic, by-the-numbers story. The plot and characters become highly predictable, and GANGSTER SQUAD quickly becomes mundane. And for a film with so much reliance on look and style, there is very little zip or energy present. 

Fleischer doesn’t seem to know if he’s supposed to be making a parody or a serious drama, so he tries to do both and the confusion seems to trickle down to the characters. Everyone over-acts their parts to the point where the film feels like a STAR TREK episode in which the time-displaced crew has to dress up in costumes and act the parts out. 

The characters are very one-dimensional and never go any deeper than their wooden lines of dialogue. Attempts to wedge in a love story and a family life are made, but they come off as lame attempts because there just isn’t any heart to it. The character who suffers the most is the main villain. For as often as we see Cohen ruthlessly kill off rivals or his own men, we are never given a sense as to why it is so important that the city of L.A. be rid of him; how his actions or plans are affecting the city or the people is never explored. 

Acting is a mixed bag. Sean Penn chews up the scenery almost comically, and the heavy prosthetic makeup he has to wear completely buries his facial expressions. Ryan Gosling seems to just want to play Ryan Gosling, and Josh Brolin never gets to do anything but not smile the entire film. Nick Nolte must have been snockered when filming considering his grumble-garble, marbles-in-my-mouth performance, and the rest of the squad (Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena, Robert Patrick), while entertaining, don’t get to do much. Faring the best is Emma Stone, who doesn’t have to do a lot other than wink and charm her way right off the screen and she does that perfectly. 

Despite some decent action scenes, GANGSTER SQUAD just feels very un-inspired and lazy. No risks are taken and no attempts are made to get beyond how cool people look in fedoras. There is nothing here to get shot up about. 


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Reel Opinion: The Best & Worst Movies of 2012, Episode II

Last week, in Episode I, Reel Speak explored the biggest stinkers of 2012.(here) This second and final Episode praises the achievements.
2012 was a good year for film. This Blogger screened nearly 50 movies in the theatre this year, with 18 of them rising to the top. It was agonizing work whittling that 18 down to 10, and any one of those ten could be debated or argued into the No. 1 position. Some Very Honorable Mention needs to go to the films that just missed the Top 10 cut: BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, ROBOT & FRANK, KILLER JOE, LOOPER, CLOUD ATLAS, SKYFALL, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, and James Cameron’s outstanding TITANIC 3D conversion; all great experiences at the theatre.

To business…
Musicals on film can be a tough egg to crack, but Tom Hooper’s LES MISERABLES adaptation finishes as satisfying and filling as a ten-egg omelet. It has a perfect balance of being grand in scale and intimate with the characters; offering a gentle yet effective emotional journey.

Peter Jackson’s return to Middle-Earth with THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY may speak more to the JRR Tolkien fans and die-hard LORD OF THE RINGS film-buffs, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. Jackson lays down a thick and lush foundation for the next two chapters, while never forgetting to take care of enough business to make the first film a fulfilling journey.
For his second film in a row, Paul Thomas Anderson proves his superior skill in the craft of filmmaking, and in fleshing out a story involving characters who love to battle for another’s soul in THE MASTER. The will of wits between Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams makes for the best ensemble acting performance of the year. Between the performances and the brilliant cinematography, it is tough to pull your eyes away from Anderson’s screen.

There are two ways to look at Steven Spielberg’s LINCOLN. The first is as if Steven found a way to get a C-SPAN camera into the chambers of Congress in the 1860’s. The second is a stageplay on screen. Either method works, as LINCOLN succeeds as an overall movie by having an important story to tell using characters with strong motivations. The heart of it all is Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of Abe himself. Everyone expected a fire-and-brimstone performance, but instead got a gentle soul with a penchant for light jokes and good stories. Day-Lewis not only made the character human, but also the type of uncle, father, or grandfather you can’t wait to spend the holidays with; lovable yet demanding of your respect.
There are not enough words in the dictionary to describe the visual impact of Ang Lee’s LIFE OF PI; words like stunning, breathtaking, and beautiful only begin to scratch the surface. There are images here which the eyes can process but the brain will disbelieve, including a few which will tear out your heart. In addition to the visuals, Lee weaves a remarkable tale of survival while offering a thing or two about life as a whole. The ending may be frustrating upon first viewing, but the power of LIFE OF PI will eventually sink in upon some careful thought; for this is a story all about the magic and power of storytelling. There are many levels at work with this film, and that is a sign of greatness.

Joe Carnahan’s THE GREY looks like a great survival film, but similar to LIFE OF PI, it would be dismissive to call it just that. THE GREY above all else is one man’s spiritual journey to rediscover life, and he does so by facing death. At the center of it all is Liam Neeson’s deep and powerful performance; his best to date.  
Kathryn Bigelow’s ZERO DARK THIRTY is a remarkable film which will hang around your head for a long time. The climatic, harrowing raid on the compound feels so important because of the great steps taken to get there by its main character and gripping plot. It is innovating in its approach, masterful in its execution, and relentless in its honesty.

Joss Whedon’s THE AVENGERS deserves major praise for being the only film this year which had the ability to transform a movie-theatre into a frenzied Super Bowl crowd; cheering and clapping and losing their minds. AVENGERS has many crowd-pleasing moments but also works as an overall film because of its ability to give its many characters ample screentime and development. Characters are allowed to be themselves and their interactions and conflicts with each other drive the plot and never fails to entertain. Whedon’s final solution to bring all the heroes together is clever, appropriate, and one of the best cinematic themes of 2012. On top of it all, outsiders were more than welcome; not much comic-book homework was required to enjoy it.
Wes Anderson’s MOONRISE KINGDOM is hard evidence that even the oldest of all stories can still be effective, for as long as you keep the presentation fresh. MOONRISE is Anderson’s take on ROMEO AND JULIET; two young lovers being kept apart by the classes they belong to. In this case the setting is a quaint island village, and the young lovers are a pair of 12 year olds who seem to understand love and life better than their adult families and neighbors. It is Anderson’s “out of the mouths of babes” statement, and it makes for the most charming and sweetest film experience of 2012. Fans of Wes Anderson and his distinct style will lap this up, but it has just enough charm to bring in a newcomer or two.

For years, he was the biggest laughing stock and late-show joke in Hollywood. Today, he is one of the most respected directors in the business. His name is Ben Affleck, and his new film is ARGO. Based on the true events in which a CIA operative extracted U.S. hostages from Iran using a Hollywood sci-fi movie production as a cover story, ARGO reaches for and grabs many things all at once in its storytelling. It is a spy drama, a behind-the-scenes Hollywood flick, and a character piece with a sprinkle of well-timed comedy. It is the most well-rounded film of the year, and it re-creates an important part of history without getting preachy or self-important. As an added bonus, the eventual wrap drives home its theme by way of sci-fi film-geek twin-sun passion, the type of passion which ARGO oozes with.
Ar-Go see this movie without hesitation.




Monday, January 7, 2013


Understand this about ZERO DARK THIRTY: during the final thirty minutes, which portrays the now infamous Navy SEAL raid on Osama Bin-Laden’s fortified compound…you will not blink. You will not move. You will not flex a muscle. You may even forget to breathe. It is realistically tense and scary; dropping you right into the situation as if you were a fly on the muzzle of a rifle. It is a remarkable, gripping piece of filmmaking which is unforgettable not just because of the way it is filmed and presented, but also because of the journey taken to get there. 

Maya (Jessica Chastain), is a CIA operative who spends the first seven years of her career hunting down Osama Bin-Laden (referred to as UBL); the man responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

Director Kathryn Bigelow pulls you into the moment right away with ZERO DARK THIRTY by re-living the events of 9/11 by simply using the sounds of the actual 9-1-1 distress calls. From that harrowing opening on, you are hooked and along for the ride now that you’ve been reminded about the importance of the film’s ultimate goal: find and kill UBL. From there the film slowly unfolds the many events which took place during the near-decade long manhunt, from dead-end leads to CIA interrogation/torture to political in-fighting. The film is presented as if we are a fly-on-the-wall during the proceedings; there is no over-acting, over-scoring or over-dramatic moments. Everything is presented in real-time and makes for a very engaging trip. 

At the heart of it all is Maya. We don’t get to know her very well as far as personal life or backstory (we don’t even know if Maya is her real name or a code-name), as ZERO DARK THIRTY is all about business. We see the film and the events through Maya’s eyes, and with her we feel every stumble and roadblock, and are with her as she loses friends and colleagues during the seemingly insurmountable task she is assigned. Furthering the thickness of the plot is Maya’s struggles to prove herself in a male-dominated society. It is never heavy-handed and doesn’t derail the film or stick out like a sore thumb, and adds to the eventual relief and emotional elation we feel with her once the destination is reached. 

ZERO DARK THIRTY’s destination, the raid on the compound, is nothing short of a cinematic miracle. In the moments leading up to the landing, Bigelow builds a slow tension which will have hearts beating through chests. Once the engagement begins, the darkness of the environment and the unfolds like a great horror film; who or what is behind the next door or corner has never been more frightening or breathtaking. The raid also has excellent use of the night-vision; putting us right in the moment and on the ground with the troops. 

Jessica Chastain owns the film, and there is never a moment when we’re not on board with everything she has to overcome. The cast is quite large, and many characters flux in and out of the story as the years go by. Everyone nails their parts perfectly; Kyle Chandler, James Gandolfini, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Mark Strong, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Duplass, and Edgar Ramirez are all excellent, and the smaller parts never feel like an intrusive cameo. As great as Chastain is, the film is nearly stolen by Jason Clarke, who as a CIA interrogator is a fearsome force to be reckoned with. 

The real triumph of ZERO DARK THIRTY is not just its realism, but that even though we already know the outcome, we are often left to wonder just how in the heck our characters will pull off that outcome. The end of the manhunt is an emotional punch, made effective by the long and worthwhile journey taken to get there. ZERO DARK THIRTY isn’t just a film to watch, but a film to experience; an experience that won’t leave you easily. That is a mark of great filmmaking.