Archive for the ‘ FILMS 2013 ’ Category

ZERO DARK THIRTY

Zero Dark Thirty

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Zero Dark Thirty is Kathryn Bigelow’s heavily Oscar nominated follow up to award winner The Hurt Locker but whereas that film dealt with the trials and tribulations of a bomb disposal squad with the tensions and perils that accompany such a task this latest offering focuses on the hunt and eventual killing of Osama Bin Laden in 2011. It is an extremely audacious film and its subject matter so fresh in everyone’s mind with little chance of historical perspective as the events are still relatively current with any after effects or comebacks  yet to emerge. Bigelow however has not let such matters cow her and the film is a thrilling, involving and detailed construction of the events leading up to that fateful historic day in May less than two years ago.

The film starts with recorded messages from victims trapped in the Twin Towers on 9/11 and we can hear the fear, pain and confusion in their voices before the action switches to two years on in 2003 and an undisclosed detainee camp where a CIA operative, Maya (Jessica Chastain), is taken into witness a prisoner being tortured. Being relatively new to this, her anxiety and discomfort with such methods are painfully obvious but she recognises that such methods bring results despite being highly attuned to the fact that they cannot continue once the rest of the world discovers such brutal measures are being deployed. Her desire in tracking down Bin Laden has been sealed however and her resolve only increases-to the point of obsession- after she is involved in a bomb attack herself and even more so when later a colleague and close acquaintance is killed in a suicide bomb incident. From this point on her passion for capturing Bin Laden is all consuming but her determination and unwavering belief she is on the right track eventually wins out over the indecisiveness of her superiors and eventually, after much soul searching, heartache and frustration, the night swoop-the Zero Dark Thirty of the title- which killed the world’s most wanted man is underway with the result the whole world is now aware of.

It would be hard to review this film without mentioning the TV series ‘Homeland’ which also features a female CIA operative –Carrie Mathieson- obsessed with tracking down a terrorist, also to the point of obsession, and Chastaine’s Maya unfortunately does not have weeks to build up a character unlike her TV counterpart who is a much more fully formed but just as irritating character. I couldn’t help but feel a bit of referencing going on though, in particular the scene where Maya’ has a confrontation with her superior and her passion could almost be mistaken for insane madness rather than conviction- similar to Carrie- and the word ‘Homeland’ is actually bandied about the scene repeatedly during this heated exchange.

Despite these similarities Zero Dark Thirty is still a wholly absorbing film which never lets up or disappoints. How accurate a portrayal it is –it is essentially America-centric and shows only their perspective but then again it is their story to tell in this instance- will be revealed once other facts about the actual mission eventually start to emerge. There has been some controversy concerning the torture sequences but ,to be honest, they are not too disturbing and suspicions linger they have actually been downplayed and cleaned up for public consumption. However as a knee jerk response to a great and extremely important part of our  recent history it is more than adequate for the moment and quite possibly even exceeds expectations.

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LINCOLN

Lincoln

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Arriving in a cloak of Oscar nominations-twelve to be precise- this latest Spielberg production detailing the trials and tribulations of the legendary American President as he tried to pass a bill to abolish slavery in a civil war torn America in the nineteenth century somehow, despite its length, fails to ever ignite. Therein lies the problem of this film from the outset as it has all the necessary ingredients to make it great including, probably, one of our greatest film makers, outstanding performances from his cast- Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Tommy Lee Jones provide only several of the great performances on show here- historical fact, and fantastic subject matter. Why then does the whole thing feel such a drudge ?

At two and a half hours long there is certainly enough time to delve behind and explore the man behind the myth but somehow Spielberg decides not to do this and forages a well worn path when approaching his subject –to the point of reverence- bringing nothing new to a familiar story. At various junctures Lincoln- perfectly captured by Lewis in a career high performance- drifts off into telling anecdotes strong on relevance and metaphor whilst his aides drift off into a semi coma-like state waiting for the end where they can show their appreciation by nodding their heads in agreement. Much of the film had me feeling like one of those aides during those moments as I was able to appreciate so much of it whilst nodding my head in recognition at the film making skills involved though never actually feeling involved.

In fact every scene looks and feels as if it is a scene from a great artwork or historical masterpiece but this is a film not a painting and requires other methods to bring it to life. Instead one notable scene when Lincoln strolls around a battle ground where dead bodies are piled up in mounds invokes nothing of the horror which has preceded these circumstances and the bodies all look too artfully arranged to be actually convincing. As he meanders into the distance one can almost hear Spielberg yell ‘Cut’ as yet another perfect scene is committed to celluloid history and the whole scene feels as though it has been captured by brush strokes rather than a camera.

The narrative centres on a civil war torn America and the desires of its President to pass a controversial amendment to abolish slavery. Being a moderate Republican he faced strong opposition from the Democratic Party as well s some of the more right wing members of his own party. Unable to secure a convincing majority he has to resort to underhand tactics and promises to end the war to seal the deal. Being the president there is no way he can be involved in such methods so it is left to others to do his bidding for him whilst he remains blissfully unaware of any subterfuge which can return at a later to date to compromise his presidency. The methods are all to complete the bigger picture- another art reference perhaps?- and the abolition of slavery is only the beginning of a greater more extensive plan but he is aware that sacrifices must be made before they can be put into operation even if he does not see the result of his labours in his own lifetime.

As it is such a familiar story it would not be spoiling it to reveal that his bill is passed successfully and his prophecy that he would not see all the fruits of his labours rang true following his subsequent assassination.

Lincoln follows hot on the heels of Tarantino’s Django Unchained which also deals with slavery but in a totally irreverent and historically inaccurate way. Slavery must be the Oscar subject du jour but whilst Speilberg’s film has powerhouse performances, unblemished cinematography and historical fact Tarantino’s is the one I would choose to sit through again as it at least has wit, style, verve and entertainment value. ‘Lincoln’ therefore is a worthwhile and perfectly executed film but unfortunately it is also something of a bore.

DJANGO UNCHAINED

Django Unchained

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After the over extended and ultimately disappointing-by Quentin Tarantino’s remarkably high standards that is- Inglourious Basterds  the film loving director returns very much to form with Django Unchained , his very own individual take on slavery issues. Of course being Tarantino he does not let authenticity, it could be said he actually embraces a flagrant disregard for historical fact, stand in his way when the objective of his desires is to create a great film.

Thus we are entreated to the usual line up of Tarantino trademarks which include a sketchy outline with the bare bones of a narrative held together by several interesting sub plots, extreme violence, an impeccable soundtrack which captures perfectly the required atmosphere at any given moment, great dialogue and verbal exchanges, dark humour as black as molasses-a phrase lifted from the film-and, of course, the prerequisite and essential bloodbath following a shoot out of epic proportions. Jamie Foxx, Christopher Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and, most especially, Samuel.l.Jackson all turn in excellent performances lifting the film to the higher echelons of cinema experiences.  What is most surprising though is how all these disparate elements all pull together to create a fantastic, brilliant, totally cohesive and thoroughly entertaining whole.

The plot revolves around the bonding relationship between bounty hunter Doc Schultz (Waltz) and Django (Foxx) the slave he releases and adopts as his protégé and erstwhile partner as they pursue the ‘flesh for cash’ business of delivering wanted criminals-usually dead rather than alive- to the authorities in exchange for financial reward. As a friendship and appreciation evolves between the two, Django reveals he has a wife , Broomhilda ( a doe-eyed Kerry Washington) still in slavery under the watchful eye of the malignant  Calvin Candie( DiCaprio) and his even more malignant  man servant Stephen((Jackson), who is perhaps the most despicable character of the piece as his disregard for the interests of his fellow black man is beyond comprehension.

Given a certain amount of freedom in his role as Schultz’s partner, Django and he then set out to re-unite the separated couple by trying to dupe Candie into selling them back Broomhilda at a knockdown price and by means of deception which will appeal to the financial greed of the egotistical plantation owner. Their plan to fleece Candie is foiled at the last moment by Stephen-who plays his servants role as a knowing and suspicious underling perfectly whilst intent on maintaining and revealing his superior intelligence to that of his, blinded by greed, master- resulting in a confrontation inevitably leading to a shoot out of gargantuan proportions.

Django Unchained therefore has all the elements which are to be expected of a Tarantino film including the fact that it makes no apologies for what it is. The fact  it has already been attacked for trivialising slavery and glorifying violence –the gun shoot outs come hot on the heels of the massacre in a Connecticut school last month- and could be seen to be distasteful  but that is missing the point;  a Tarantino film is always a cinematic experience which blatantly shows itself up for being exactly that.Thus there are those touches which are almost vaudevillian in some aspects as well as flippant remarks to downplay certain moments and inject humour out of a situation or scene which in any other director’s hands would most likely fail. It is a film which despite its length (2hrs 45 minutes) never outstays its welcome and throughout its duration sweeps itself along on its own interpretation of epic grandeur whilst at its conclusion there is no doubt that you have been well and truly Tarantino’ed.

GANGSTER SQUAD

Gangster Squad

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Unlike the last few years which have seen some outstanding January releases at the cinema 2013 has offered very little way in interest to me. The  musical Les Miserables– the clue is in the title I believe- sounds like being exactly that and I have already sat through the stage production so therefore have little intention of repeating that tortuous experience even if Hugh Jackman and Helena Bonham Carter appear. Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ seems predictable Oscar fare and only the release of ‘Hitchcock’ in February offers a glimmer of hope in lifting my spirits. The release of Ruben Flescher’s ‘Gangster Squad’ starring Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn and Josh Brolin seemed like the best of January’s mainstream offerings. However although it is not a great movie-it trades authenticity for entertainment value, cliché and stylisation a little too often for that- it is an enjoyable experience with some of Hollywood’s greatest leading men being allowed to indulge so many of their boyhood fantasies.

Set in Los Angeles in the nineteen forties at a time when the mafia, in particular Mickey Cohen (Penn), were moving in from the east set on establishing as firm a stronghold in the west coast. Unfortunately they had not reckoned on opposition from a group of police officers assembled by Sgt. John O’Mara ( Brolin) intent on blocking this take over using any means at their disposal including some as corrupt as those deployed by the mob themselves. Ably assisted by disillusioned cop Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Gosling) who is also having an affair with Cohen’s girlfriend Grace Faraday (Emma Stone) matters can only become more complicated as the destruction of Cohen’s empire escalates and the violence increases.

Matters come to a head when Cohen murders Jack Whalen who is sheltering an on the run Grace and she is horrified by what she witnesses and turns states evidence as a means of assisting the police and somehow hopefully seeking some form of asylum and safety for herself.

What ensues at this juncture is an extended shootout followed by an equally long slugging it out to the bitter end facsimile of a boxing match-Cohen was a former boxer- that stretches the audience’s belief in credibility to extraordinary lengths.

Therein lay this film’s greatest strengths and weaknesses in a nutshell. It is extremely stylised- Gosling is the epitome of cool in expertly worn fedoras, slick suits whilst twirling and flicking lighters towards perpetually dangling cigarettes- and extremely violent to the point of being unnecessarily so. It is essentially a male-centric film and one suspects Gosling is there mainly to tempt females into the theatre and provide them with a bit of much needed eye candy as the carnage plays itself out.

Having said that I must maintain that I really enjoyed this film and it is hugely entertaining despite all its shortcomings. However at the same time I also have no desire to see it ever again although it is probably the best film on release at the moment if you discount the Christmas blockbusters and the fantastical and heavily Oscar nominated Life of Pi.

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