Two Shots & Some Words

…on Zero Dark Thirty.

I never thought that the sequel to Team America: World Police could be this good, much less the best 2012 movie.  This movie just shows and let’s you take it in.  It doesn’t take a stand on torture; it shows that the US tortured as a means to an end.  Showing does not equal condoning.  The debate that emerged as to its torture stance is as ridiculous as it is tendentious. 

If you accept that what this movie hews close to reality of what happened, this film reads as a “This is what we, America, do in this world.” It shows how “fuck yeah” awesome we are at dealing with complexity, sorting through information to find the UBL needle in the haystack, and finally professionally executing a hugely complicated mission successfully.  The competence as depicted in the movie is truly awesome.   Kathryn Bigelow competence is just as awesome in the rendering of the 40 minute set piece that capped this movie — the SEAL team member calling out “Usama, Usama” into the dark of the compound like he was calling for a kitty cat sticks with me.

But the movies leaves a lot of uncomfortable implicit questions.  Here is one: How many false positives killings of UBL happened (e.g. how many times did we kill innocent people on a collateral basis thinking we got UBL)?  Is that just?  Is that American? 

This movie shows and shows and by doing so makes the American viewer proud and uncomfortable in equal measure.

…on Les Misérables.

Does anyone feel like they have a good handle on French history from like 1750 to 1900?  I mean anyone?  It never ceases to confuse me.  Only 70% of France spoke actual French in 1863!  Never seen any version of Les Mis before, but “I Dreamed A Dream” and “On My Own” killed it.  The latter actress/singer, Samantha Banks, was the best thing of the movie.  The production values were great.  But it felt too long: I would have cut probably an hour worth of filler singing (especially the like 5min JVJ song to the young sleeping girl in the carriage).  I would also probably cast someone who could sing even a little instead of Russell Crowe, but at least *spoiler alert* they offed his character with a satisfying/ridiculous liquidy crunch sound.

…on Lincoln.

Daniel Day-Lewis possesses characters more than acts, and he used his powers to borrow Lincoln from antiquity.  I have trouble reconciling how awesome Lincoln was with how chilling lines like “I am the president of the United States of America, clothed in immense power! You will procure me those votes!” are in the context of a country founded on principles oppositional to tyranny.   Doesn’t that sound like something Nixon would have said and been shredded for 100yrs later?  War Horse had an amazing cameo, if you look for it.

…on Ted.

Fine and you get what you were expecting from a MacFarlane production.  The definitive peak was the party they had with Flash Gordon.

…on Premium Rush.

How did this movie get made?  It’s too bizarre for words.  JGL is a bike messenger in NY who gets caught up in the attempted theft of Jamie Chung’s immigrant Chinese mother character’s shady Chinatown bribe movie ticket, the attempted thief being a bi-polar Michael Shannon acted NYPD detective NAMED BOBBY MONDAY, who talks like a 30’s Dick Tracy villain and who obsessively bets on Pai Gow at illegal Chinese gambling dens.  JGL’s Wilee has this bit of life philosophy to share: “Brakes are death.”  And the whole show carries a video game aesthetic (in a good interesting way): when Wilee has to plot a route, the film switches to a Google Maps like streetview and zooms it in; when Wilee is about to hit an intersection, it pauses and shows what paths he projects in his head and what the results of each non-optimal path would be.  The movie is very bike centric, naturally, including special bike tricks in closed spaces and things right out of Quicksilver.  But this totally weird movie is totally weird.  I never would have guessed there were so many raucous illegal Chinese gambling dens in NY or that they would be such popular haunts for white NYPD detectives.

…on Pitch Perfect.

The most not for emetophobes movie I can remember.  But a pretty good, likeable, easy breasy Anna Kendrick light comedy vehicle.  The actor who played the sorta antagonist, Adam DeVine, apes Jack Black unabashedly.

…on Life of Pi.

From another world, one where tigers named Richard Parker can captivate and deserve to be nominated for Best Supporting Actor, and where the shots unfurl themselves like they were carved out of a dream.

…on Amour.

If you love love like I do…Amour will be really hard to watch in its depiction of amour.  The first Haneke movie that’s worthy of the praise; he captures something authentic, something that’s not just cynicism or nihilism (The White Ribbon:EVERYONE is cruel, everyone is a Nazi war criminal in waiting, especially German children shot in B&W).  Amour is evocative because it’s real.  It centers around a Parisian couple, an elderly one in which the woman has a stroke that paralyzes half her body.  How he deals with her, how she deals with it, and how they deal with each other is Amour.

…on Skyfall.

Aces apart from the last act, which felt out of place in the Bond universe.  Javier Bardem killed it as the villain.  The early action sequences were stunning, especially  the Shanghai one above.  Last act was Straw Dogs + Commando

Obviously, much better than Quantum Solace, the movie that was made without a script during the writer’s strike and therefore involved a plot for water in South America and ended in an eco-friendly hotel (real life ESO Hotel) that blew up far too easily and nonsensically and would not pass muster forany safety inspector even in the most kleptocratic of nations.  Like not even in Bolivia.

Skyfall featured the most disposable Bond girl in history, whose death causes neither the film nor Mr. Bond to bat an eye.  I wasn’t even sure she was dead, just that no one involved much cared that this innocent French philly died.  The film may have spared a second to pour salt on her death wound by cracking a snappy one-liner at the villain, I can’t quite remember.  The outcome she faced was a product of this and this.

…on The Master (again).

Original Two Shots The Master post from when I saw it in the theater.  Six more now, mainly because I couldn’t find Phoenix running across the fields before.

Beast of the Southern Wild.

A six yo girl navigates a world of real magical-realism in a fictitious post-Katrina New Orleans outcast community called the Bathtub.  There isn’t a great narrative here, but, shit, this is a masterpiece of world creation, and the lead girl has tremendous presence.  Houses built on stilts, the better to be ready for future floods; a community that has chosen to live in the abandoned sections of the world, carving out their own freedom and despair and non-stop parties, harvesting buckets of shrimp or hand-caught-then-punched-fish for dinner, igniting a gas stove with a flamethrower (it all feels real in the moment but, sure, it’s a little preposterous when you think about basic efficiency); boats made from pick-up truck beds; magical giant beasts called aurochs that return to the world after being encased in ice.  The real feat is that the world feels organic.  And its score affects and propels you into it, like Arcade Fire-lite.  Some of the scenes are just beautiful: the fireworks show with Hushpuppy, the six yo lead, running about with roman candles firing from her arms; the twinkling lights when Hushpuppy is in a possibly imagined night club.  Very much worthwhile, even if the story isn’t much and is layered under non-cohesive declarations by Hushpuppy that sound more powerful and deep than make sense.

And if you’ve seen it and liked it, check out this short the director made before it, Glory at Sea.  Similar feel, pretty great.

…on The Island President.

The Maldives is the most beautiful place on Earth.  Let’s get that out of the way.  The capital of the Maldives is pictured in the first shot.  Consider that in the context of global warming and you have this movie’s prime tension.  The actual president who was “The Island President” is/was an Obama-like character named Mohamed Nasheed, who oversaw the downfall of the previous ruler’s 30 year dictatorship.  The most beautiful place on Earth was for most of this century a brutal dictatorship where people were tortured with ants and disappeared.  So this Island President takes over for that Island Dictator and now faces the much more horrible prospect that climate change will continue to erode the Maldives until they are wiped off the map.  The Island President tackles the Maldivean existential threat by being vocal in the global community, rabble-rousing at small island state conferences, climate change negotiations, and doing stunts like having a  cabinet session underwater to show what the Maldives is facing.  He’s great and charismatic, an astute politician.  So this movie tackles all that.  Stick around for the postscript.

On the one hand, I want to save Maldives being that it’s the most beautiful place on Earth and has cities that look ripped from an outlandish dream or Calvino’s Invisible Cities.  On the other hand, the people of the Maldives should be making the appropriate arrangements to not live there.  No one has a positive right to live in any environment on Earth.  Nature changes, whether by the hand of man or the hand of God; islands, land masses, come into being and are sucked backed from where they came;  arable regions become deserts, rivers move, etc.  So whether you are deciding to repopulate New Orleans, or live in the Maldives, or you’re just some rich Malibuean who wants to have a beachfront house, you are responsible for your economic decisions and you need to make good ones.  People and life are everything; land is just land.  The Island President makes a comment along the lines of “the fragility of human life here” and if he can acknowledge that it is fragile, maybe it’s time to allocate resources towards getting his people in a place that is more robust.

It’s embarrassing that a movie as beautiful as this is not available on Blu-Ray. It’s embarrassing in general that so many entities acquire the rights to modern movies only to release them DVD only.  WTF is the point of owning/buying something if you don’t want to maximize its value?  Is it that much more to author a Blu-Ray?  I honestly don’t know, but I’m floored by how many high quality movies released in the last couple years are not available on Blu-Ray.  Don’t even get me started on older movies that still aren’t on Blu-Ray or for that matter CLASSICS that are not even available on DVD like Greed or Kings of the Road.

…on The Sessions.

Classic indie movie, straight forward and character drive. An adult man, mostly crippled and confined to an iron lung, wants to lose his virginity.  Spoiler alert: he does.  Based on a true story! so you know it’s good.

Killing Them Softly.

Heavy-handed symbolism that doesn’t justify its pretensions.  Do you want a movie set in 2008 where most scenes take place with Bush or Obama or Hank Paulson yammering about America and the economy and The Great Recession in the background?  Where a pivotal scene features not only Obama yammering on a TV in the background but also an American flag SPLITTING the space between the two characters, representing the divide of America or some other shit?  Well then, have at it.  The foreground is generic low-level crime gone wrong and being cleaned up.  Here is a a paraphrased sample of what’s discussed: “we have to kill this guy because people aren’t making money, killing him will restore confidence and get the money flowing, doesn’t matter if he doesn’t deserve it, the people in charge are like retarded children, and in America you’re on your own, we kill this guy and get the game started again.”  Like I said, heavy-handed.  But there’s good stuff.  Brad Pitt’s hitman character’s interactions, especially with Richard Jenkins, amused.  And there are beautiful and haunting shots all over the place.  But I’m also neglecting many indulgences the director engages in, from the gimmicky rendering of drug sequences to a stunt soundtrack to the main character launching himself down the highway in a classic GTO with a cigarette dangling from his mouth.

…on Argo.

Tightly constructed 70’s political/spy thriller.  Also Best Picture per The Academy.  Minimal connection to the characters.