Sunday, January 20, 2013

"Zero Dark Thirty" brings quiet, disturbed solitude

"Zero Dark Thirty" made me shocked, sad and distraught. It also left me amazed at Kathryn Bigelow's stratospheric talent.

This film is difficult to describe because it fits into no identifiable niche. And that ain't bad news.
It is about true events but does not fall into the trap of letting us in on the story with voice-overs or what we call in the theater "voice of the playwright." We aren't removed from the story and thereby the building tension, not for one second. Even though the end is hurtling towards us and we know what will happen, Kathryn Bigelow's masterful direction takes us out of our heads and into a kind of dream state, moving forward inexorably towards the end.

The script by Mark Boal is a powerhouse, lean and compelling. The actors are, with the exception of James Gandofini (excellent here as Leon Panetta), not recognizable movie stars, which allows us to stay with the story, not the actors.

Jessica Chastain's Maya is focused like a laser-beam--it's difficult to image that this is the same actress who played the Marilyn Monroe-like, giggly bombshell in "The Help." Chastain's character,  Maya,  has a single-minded purpose--find Bin Laden--since her recruitment to the CIA just out of high school. No one can stop her, no one can derail her. But they can doubt her, and refer to her as "girl" even in her moment of triumph. She doesn't care.

My favorite performance beyond Chastain's belongs to Jason Clarke, as Dan, the most gentle and humane interrogator I can imagine.

Why is everyone freaking out about the implication that the USA used the methods in this movie? Watch it, you'll see, we have known for a LONG TIME these methods were used, Kathryn Bigelow isn't pulling the curtain away from anything we didn't already know was there.

By the way, the torture scenes, which I feared mightily, are almost mild. Watch an episode of "Homeland" (which I adore-- everyone should be required to view it), the torture is much worse. The final 20 minutes of the movie are much more disturbing--and suspenseful.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

"Life of Pi" is shot in 3-D

I went to see "Life of Pi" at the fun new Parkway Theater in sketchy downtown Oakland. The new Parkway Theater is awesome, with beer, fresh popcorn, and a full bar menu. Only when we went,  the CO2 died and there was no beer or wine. Likely story. Still, a very groovy place.

I loved the middle section of this movie, with the gorgeous 3-D shots of the ocean, the boy, and the tiger. I felt moved by the boy's horrific experience and by his amazing ingenuity as he created ways to avoid the sun, trap fish, and train the tiger. I could relate to some of his troubles as I own a large German Shepherd puppy who believes she owns the home, much as Pi's tiger believes he owns the boat.

I wish director Ang Lee didn't feel the need to periodically leave the gorgeous story on the boat and return to the story-teller's home. Here we see an adult Indian man (Irrfan Khan) sharing his story with a really dull actor (Rafe Spall; a replacement for the more interesting Toby McGuire, who was dumped due to his excessive ability to be recognized and possibly pull focus). These two adult men share a lovely Indian lunch, then take a long walk, then come back to the living room. In these scenes we stop worrying about the boy on the boat and remember that the hero will be just fine, as here he is, a fine and healthy adult Indian man.

Back to the boat.

This is a visually gorgeous film with themes of surviving in spite of impossible odds, of belief in a higher power, of going into the heart of the storm and facing your demons so they can be tamed and stop their torment.

And those two good-looking men having lunch together? They are just writer David Magee's best effort at retaining the exposition from the book. Ignore them and let the ocean and the kid on the boat wash over you.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The bizarre LINCOLN love fest

I love Lumenick's take on LINCOLN, after all, we 1% of the film-going public who don't get all the hype gotta stick together.

 Love this quote from the review: "Actual depiction of the Civil War is pretty much limited to a single gory battle scene at the opening, followed by a corny sequence where Lincoln chats with some young soldiers. They include a black recruit who demands equal pay in dialogue that hardly seems to fit the time period and whites reciting the Gettsyburg Address like they’re quoting lines from their favorite movie."

I had forgotten that this sugar-coated moment occurs in the first moments of the movie, and it rang very false and manipulative to me. It occurs to me that audiences either become emotionally connected to this moment and then go for the LINCOLN ride, or check out right then and there.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

"The Impossible" will knock your socks off

Watching Juan Antonio Bayona's visual masterpiece The Impossible, I was so thunderstruck by the images, so swept away with the intense surround sound/look/feel of this film that I had to place my shirt over my mouth and hold my mouth shut for fear I would cry out.

No movie has impacted me on such a base level, and I wasn't the only one. Sniffles could be heard throughout the theater, from five minutes in until the credits were rolling.

Naomi Watts as Maria and Tom Holland as her eldest son, Lucas, are devastatingly good. Both performances are meticulously detailed, rich, and heart-breaking. Young Holland expresses more complexity in a single shot of his face than most acting students do in a lifetime.

I can't say anything more than this:  See it.