Category Archives: Politics

QuestForBestPic-Argo

Standard

Argo was the first of the Best Picture Nominees I saw, way back months ago. But, being the last-minute-mary that I am, I didn’t write the review until just now, the day of the awards show. But it’s done and up. I will be posting my Silver Linings Playbook review shortly (yes, I am strategically placing the happy ending films at the end.) Anyway, here it is:

article-2216161-1574A3EB000005DC-340_306x423

Whenever I see a film that is based on a true story, I am inevitably more interested and invested. The story of Argo is so incredible that it is hard to believe it was based on actual events, and it certainly could have been a great, highly entertaining film even if there were no truth behind it. With all the excitement of a fiction suspense set on the backdrop of a real historical political crisis, this movie was a home run for me.

The film takes place during the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis, in which the U.S. embassy in Tehran was overtaken by protestors, and the employees held hostage for 444 days. Six US diplomats escaped the embassy before seizure and sought refuge in the home of the Canadian Ambassador and his wife, hiding out and waiting to be rescued. Argo tells the story of this unlikely rescue mission.

image Iran hostage crisis

CIA operative Tony Mendez, played by Affleck, headed the impossible mission of retrieving these harbored escapees. The ingenious and extravagant plan involved creating a fake sci-fi movie, which came to be titled Argo, using the ruse of scouting film locations to evacuate the six diplomats undercover and in plain sight.

The movie keeps you on the edge of your seat, biting your nails or nervously clutching your bag-o-popcorn, right up until the last frame. The plan, so improbable and so intricate, that it almost seemed sure to fail, and almost did more than once. While I don’t particularly enjoy the feeling of panic or anxiety, I do like when a movie makes me feel. It kept me fretful, uneasy, and hopeful the entire time, conspicuously rooting for our Argo crew to make it out. And while the events of the movie are serious and daunting, the creators left room for comedic relief. And this I appreciated.

argo01

I personally found this to be Ben Affleck at his best. Both in direction and acting he was superb. Seeing him as a man named Tony Mendez, however, was a little less than believable. Maybe he should have gone tanning before or something. Alan Arkin (who played film producer Lester Siegel) and John Goodman (Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers) brought the funny. Their characters were a central piece to the movie and helped take the film from scene-by-scene docu-drama to a personal and entertaining experience.

John-Goodman-and-Alan-Arkin-in-Argo

I was very glad to see the happy ending, and left in amazement that something so far-fetched had actually occurred. Bravo for bringing history and entertainment together in a piece that was neither stuffy, nor campy, and for creating a film that I can and will recommend to anyone, regardless of age or personal taste in film.

<<insert nod of approval here>>

130108_CBOX_Argo_jpg_CROP_rectangle3-large

Advertisements

Zero Dark Thirty-QuestForBestPic

Standard

Here’s my Best Picture review for Zero Dark Thirty. Two more to go and we’re all set for the Awards tomorrow!

Zero_Dark_Thirty_66120-572x309

The beginning of Zero Dark Thirty was difficult for me to watch. Wincing, shifting my eyes to the side, and thinking this was going to be tough to get through, I felt immensely uncomfortable watching the torture and complete vulnerability of a human being.

Interestingly enough, by the end of the film, Jessica Chastain sitting alone in the back of a plane, a single tear rolling down her cheek, overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the fact that an intense eight-year chapter of her life had closed, you kind of forget about all that torture in the beginning.

The film follows Maya, played by understated powerhouse Jessica Chastain, who works on and ends up taking the lead in the CIA’s mission to find Osama Bin Laden. Her character is young and confident to the point of borderline naivety. But she is smart, she is dedicated and outspoken, and eventually she completes her mission. Chastain really makes this movie. Her sweet looks and demeanor coupled with the no-nonsense attitude of her character and the grim and grueling ranks of her work, create an intriguing and believable protagonist.

bscap0260

Seeing the background story, that was happening all around us and right under our noses, of the hunt for Bin Laden was sort of haunting. I like seeing the behind the scenes stuff, “what really happened”, and it was certainly fascinating to watch through the lense of this film. But it was incredibly dark, and at the end it left me feeling a kind of emptiness (much like Maya experiences in her plane ride home.)

Eight years she was on the case. Looking at all of her teammates on this endeavor, all of the money and manpower involved, all of the hours of sleep and number of lives lost…it makes you question whether it was worth it. Tucked away in a compound in Pakistan, was Bin Laden still heading Al Qaeda? Did he still have the access and plight to call the shots? Do we, in 2012, accept American government-sanctioned assassinations as valid channels of justice? And did this decade-long manhunt deliver us the justice we sought?

Zero Dark Thirty displays the answer of how we got Bin Laden, but the questions is provokes are far greater.

Viewing torture, assassination without trial, and the killing of unnamed women and children leaves you wondering about the integrity of our belief system. In our doctrine of democracy, these things are denounced, and yet, when it suits our needs we throw procedure and principle to the wayside and do what we feel is necessary. Is this case-by-case basis the right way to run the show? Or should we be strictly interpreting our codes?

Does this film, this story, make it worse for us as Americans facing a fed-up world?  It’s funny how we consider ourselves the good guys but partake in activities that are so out of line with who we think we are… and all in the name of justice, morals, and democracy. Or was it all about vengeance?

SUB-24ZERO-articleLarge

Writer Mark Boal and Director Kathryn Bigelow do a wonderfully careful job not to glorify this hunt and seizure, and I really appreciate the honesty.

Every American should see Zero Dark Thirty.

QuestForBestPic- Django Unchained

Standard

Django Unchained was a BAMF of a movie. It was one of the most entertaining of the Best Picture films, but who doesn’t love a good Tarantino?

The combination of humor and badassery that QT brings to his films keeps you watching and wanting more and makes the extreme violence seem like background noise so the bigger issues shine through.

Django Unchained TarantinoChristoph-Waltz-in-Django-Unchained-433x650

The acting was near perfect. Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, and Leonardo DiCaprio seriously brought it. I think I formed a crush on Waltz through this movie and am probably going to be looking to see all of his previous films. Because he, as the kind-hearted killer Dr. Schultz, was SO incredibly engaging. The character was brilliantly written, so I’m sure that is part of my bias. A German doctor-turned-bounty-hunter who kills for a living but draws his moral line at slavery? I’ll take two.

Django and Stephen, played by Jackson, were both, as far as I am concerned, unlikable characters. While they’re supposed to be on the good-guy, bad-guy spectrum, it seemed to me that they both had a little of each in them, and that they both leaned more towards the “bad”. Django, our protagonist, may have had good intentions (rescuing his wife), but in the process we see his total lack of regard for other humans  That’s fine, no one is perfect, but it harkens the same question I asked in my Lincoln post: Do the ends justify the means? Do they have to? (On a side note, when I mention the disregard for human life I’m referring to the other slaves and the man farming with his son, NOT the asshole slave-owners and cronies.)

Sam-jackson-as-stephen-in-django Jamie_Foxx_means_business_in_new_Django_Unchained_trailer

The film, inevitably and in true Tarantino fashion, turned into a bloodbath. But the fantastical shoot-em-up gore-spectacular towards the end was a cake walk when compared with a scene from earlier in the movie. The two most disturbing scenes for me offered less blood and less gore, Django-Unchained-28but made up for it in the unnerving vision of pure unfiltered evil played out on screen.

The first time Django and Dr. Schultz meet Calvin Candie (DiCaprio), the men are gathered in a smoking room, complete with bar and bartender, pool table, and snacks—a man-cave of sorts. The source of entertainment? Deathmatch-by-fireplace of two slaves. These two enormous black men were forced, by their owners, to fight one another to the death. Candie’s fighter wins, ending the match with a hammer.

I admit I’m a girl and I’m not big on violence. But there was something more sinister than two men fighting and one man dying. The fact that it was forced upon them, that they had to disavow any morals they may have had to quench their most basic human instinct of survival, made me absolutely sick with remorse.

Film Review-Django Unchained

When the prized fighter mentioned above is caught in his attempt to run away, he cries that he can’t do it, can’t fight anymore. The war waged on his morals, on his soul, through the mandingo fights was too much to bear. He is questioned, ridiculed, and subsequently ripped apart by dogs in front of a caravan of people including a line of slaves, Candie and his employees, Dr. Schultz, and Django, who doesn’t flinch.

This was the worst moment in the film for me. It was difficult to watch and stuck with me long after the film had ended.

Here’s what Django does: It gives us an exciting and entertaining excuse to take a look into our Country’s most shameful history. We all know it happened, we all learn in school that slavery was bad and that the days of freedom came. But putting into context the brutality of small day-to-day events, and the fact that the entire black American experience was formed out of this treacherous circumstance, creates an opportunity for one to think critically and in depth about slavery and the need for repentance that never came.

I hear the criticisms, but I’m a big fan of this film.

QuestForBestPic-Beasts of the Southern Wild

Standard

I’m on a quest to see and review all of the films nominated for Best Picture. I have one left to see (Amour) and a bunch of reviews to post before the Academy Awards on Sunday. Here is my review for Beasts of the Southern Wild:

beastsofthesouthernwild2_1

Beasts of the Southern Wild follows a father (Wink) and daughter (Hushpuppy) living on an island off the coast of Southern Louisiana through the hit and aftermath of a fierce storm. The film harkens Hurricane Katrina, and the fictional setting, Director Benh Zeitlin has said, was inspired by Louisiana’s Isle de Jean Charles.

The inhabitants of “The Bathtub”, as the island is referred, live in poverty and seem to have their own society completely separate from the main land. The houses are shacks made of scrap metal and wooden boards or an old boat converted with canvas and tarps. They are a tight-knit community, a tribe of sorts.

beasts-of-the-southern-wild03

The local teacher, of questionable qualification, tells the riffraff school children about a species of giant ancient beasts called Aurochs that apparently froze in the polar ice caps. These extinct creatures become our narrator’s vision of real-world struggles. Natural disaster, the subsequent “end of the world” and the necessary shift to a new way of living, broken family, illness and death are all displayed in the film. And in each case, not far behind is the Auroch, stalking, charging or retreating depending on scenario. It is in the context of these intangible beasts that Hushpuppy, our young narrator, is able to make sense of the world around her, with all its messy twists and injustices.

aurochs_beasts

They touch upon the real world issue of climate change here when, with the innocence and ignorance of a child, Hushpuppy says “Sometimes you break something, so bad that it can’t be put back together.”

In fact, this scrappy little ragamuffin is full of coarse grains of wisdom.

“The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece… the entire universe will get busted.”

“Strong animals know when your hearts are weak.”

All the time, everywhere, everything’s hearts are beating and squirting, and talking to each other the ways I can’t understand. Most of the time they probably be saying: I’m hungry, or I gotta poop. …but sometimes they be talkin’ in codes.”

Young Hushpuppy has an extraordinary way of putting things that are far too complex for her to understand into concepts which make perfect sense to her, and to us. She really is a remarkable character, and it seems a shame, when watching, that her stubborn alcoholic father doesn’t realize it.

The relationship between Hushpuppy and Wink is sad but interesting. You hate him for not taking her out of the Bathtub before the storm. For living with that beautiful child in filth. For drinking instead of nurturing. For yelling instead of hugging. By the end he’s not quite so bad. Dying men always seem more tolerable. But, I think it is less about the actual impending loss of life, and more about the interim. The life he has left. He becomes vulnerable. You see his weakness, his illness, his desperate attempts at denial, and the utter terror he feels about his way of life, his people, becoming extinct.

beast-it

In a scene towards the end, the whole tribe is taken to a hospital/shelter on the mainland. Wink, who is more sick than we realized, finds himself in a room alone, hooked up to IVs and machines, his family and tribe nowhere to be found. He makes a break for it, and the rest of the group follows. It is in this moment that we see the true intense care that Wink has not only for Hushpuppy, but for his home. We begin to see that perhaps Wink was being more heartfelt than originally assumed when he said “My only purpose in life is to teach her how to make it.”

You see, for Wink the Bathtub was not just a place, and the people around him were not merely neighbors. They were a separate species. The only one he’d ever known. And much like the Aurochs, they were on the brink of extinction. In the back of his mind, being hard on Hushpuppy was not merely an icy way of getting through his mandatory parental duties. Don’t get me wrong, he was cold and mean and unkind and certainly less than nurturing. But the more I examine this relationship, I begin to believe that Wink’s behavior was a demonstration of his most basic, beating parental drive: ensuring the survival of his offspring.

The world in which they lived required skills that we, the audience, felt so guilty for Hushpuppy having to acuire. The truth is they were different from me, and from you, and in some weird, fucked up way, Wink may have had her best interest at heart.

Could he have been more affectionate? Yes. And I still wish that little girl had someone to hug her and say “I love you” and protect her from the storm. But she didn’t. And she was a strong enough animal to survive.

BOTSW_Day1 (165 of 300).CR2

Now..

Beyond feeling like I was one step closer to Katrina, the film also held another point of reference for me. For anyone who has ever read The Road by Cormac McCarthy, this work has some striking similarities in theme. I know I’m not supposed to be reviewing The Road, but it was all I could think about after seeing this picture.

So The Road follows a father and son on their journey through the destitute streets of what used to be what we know as planet Earth. Some untold catastrophe occurred, destroying society and most of the inhabitants of the land. The father and the boy travel a long journey on foot, making their way south in order to survive the harsh winter. I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic and dystopian story lines, so, while the book was slow going, the theme kept me involved.

So the similarities start:Book  The Road by Cormac McCarthy

  1. Father and child. In Beasts of the Southern Wild, the mother is nowhere to be found. Hushpuppy says that she left and often sees her through flashbacks. In The Road, the boy’s mother committed suicide shortly after he was born, unable to cope with the aftermath of the disaster.
  2. Nameless children. Throughout The Road, the son is never named and is referred to in his father’s thoughts as “the boy.” In Beasts of the Southern Wild, the main character, narrator, daughter is called by her nickname—Hushpuppy—by everyone in the community. (I suppose her parents could have actually named her Hushpuppy, but come on, let’s be serious.)
  3. Disaster and aftermath, “Us against the world”. The father and son in The Road must walk on through treacherous landscapes, scouring for just enough resources to last the night, knowing the next night will be just as cruel. In Beasts, Wink and Hushpuppy survive the storm, but are soon faced with the real struggle, the aftermath. The subsequent isolation, illness, and lack of resources threaten the survival of Wink, Hushpuppy, their community and their way of life. They trudge on, and fight the uphill battle to make it to a dryer day.

So I sort of went off on a tangent, but they’re both intriguing, depressing, and ultimately moving works.

The acting was fantastically convincing. Nine year old Quvenzhané Wallis (who was only five at the time of her audition) deserves every accolade she receives, including the her nomination for Best Actress. And Dwight Henry, the Louisianna bakery owner who played Wink gave a professional performance. Maybe more directors should take a cue from Zeitlin and go with amateur talent.

beasts-of-the-southern-wild-review-image-Quvenzhane-Wallis-dwight-henry-noscale

And that is Beasts of the Southern Wild. Poignant. Simple yet complex. Harsh, insightful, and emotional.

Watch it if you haven’t.

QuestForBestPic-Lincoln

Standard

Being that it’s  President’s Day, it seemed an appropriate time to finally post my Lincoln review. (And by this I mean it was President’s Day…before I finished at 12:20am.)

Lincoln2

In case you didn’t catch the other posts, I’m on a mission to see and review each film nominated for Best Picture…

After all the buzz and rave reviews Lincoln received, I was looking forward to seeing it. My dad, a big movie lover, was as well. So we did.

I’m not a history buff, but the older I get the more interested in politics and history I become. (Is it me or is it so unfair that we teach this stuff in school when kids don’t care about it and by the time we’re curious adults most of it has been forgotten…?) The film looks at President Lincoln’s struggle to get the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery, passed before the end of the Civil War. The direction and acting were fantastic, but there were two other things that really interested me when viewing this film.

First, it was really cool, I thought, to get a glimpse of the Republicans and Democrats of 1864 and their respective party stances. I’m not going to insult your intelligence (“you” being the maybe five people who will ever read this blog post). I’m a registered independent. But the truth is I can’t vote Republican because I have a soul a lot of the stances of the current party I just can’t jive with. “Who votes on social issues?” I know, I’ve heard it before. Try being gay. OK, the gay card was a bit much. But seriously.6a00d83451b74a69e20167659bac90970b-pi

I vote on economic issues too, I just don’t think that everything without a monetary value is worthless. I really believe that for our society to flourish and to be the great people we imagine ourselves to be, there are certain standards we must hold ourselves to, there are certain necessities to which everyone should be entitled (healthcare, for example), and there are certain investments we must make, not because the profit is great, but because they are just and because they will benefit our people as a whole.

Now, don’t go calling me a socialist. I’m a reasonable independent thinker. But that Tea Party shit is Fucking NUTS. Logical Republican Americans know this. Do yourselves a favor, band together and make those lunatics secede to form their own group…They could be the “Mad Hatters” or something, if they want to keep the tea theme.

Anyway, that being said, it was actually very fascinating for me to watch the Republicans as the good guys on screen in this film. I’m not demonizing anyone, but in all honesty in 2013 who would we expect to be holding onto racism? (Hint: not Democrats.) I know it’s a movie and so the truth was stretched to be formatted to fit the screen, but, similar to how I felt about Life of Pi, it was really cool for me to connect with and root for the opposition.

What also drew me in was the reality of the good guy/bad guy complex that is so palpably demonstrated in this film. I mean…none of us are all of one and none of the other, are we? Lincoln’s best intentions were realized by corrupt, illegal, even immoral measures.

The movie covers only the last four months of Lincoln’s life, the end of the Civil War, the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment, and his untimely death. The Emancipation Proclamation, which had been signed in 1863, a year prior to where the film begins, was of questionable legality. In one scene, Lincoln admits to this, pondering, himself, the legitimacy of the Proclamation and the potential legal quandary it could result in.

I decided that the Constitution gives me war powers, but no one knows just exactly what those powers are. Some say they don’t exist. I don’t know. I decided I needed them to exist to uphold my oath to protect the Constitution, which I decided meant that I could take the rebel’s slaves from them as property confiscated in war. That might recommend to suspicion that I agree with the rebs that their slaves are property in the first place. Of course I don’t, never have, I’m glad to see any man free, and if calling a man property, or war contraband, does the trick… Why I caught at the opportunity.

09lincoln-span-articleLarge

Lincoln, a figure for the people, oversteps his executive power—the power granted him by the people– to ensure that his objective is advanced. A pure intention it may have been, and reflectively we forgive him this transgression. But it makes it awfully difficult, looking at the actions of one of our most beloved historical figures, to discern where the line of right and wrong lie, whether they’re rigidly set by some ultimate guide, or whether, more likely, they’re relative, bending and swaying as necessary, meeting at some eventual plot on the map of existence.

Honest Abe did whatever it took to get his Amendment passed, including cheating, lying, and bribery. His actions would get him thrown in prison in 2013, but, luckily for us, it was 1864 and the man took care of business.

Dad thought the movie was a little dry. He said he would have preferred more action. I found the dialogue, the back-and-fourth verbal jousting, to be quite entertaining. But I was a Legal Studies major in college and spent my days reading and deciphering case law and legal journals and debating absolutely EVERYTHING for years. And now I spend my time in the car listening to talk radio, catching up on the ins and outs of the day’s current events and political happenings. Soooo this film was right up my alley. I think Dad thought there would be more war scenes, which I was quite happy to do without. The presentation of the factual legal and political arguments tied in with the humor of Lincoln’s long-winded stories or of Thaddeus Stevens’ political trash-talking was enough to keep me entertained.

The acting was wonderful. I cannot say truthfully that the “character portrayals” were excellent because, if I’m quite honest, I’ve never seen footage of Abraham Lincoln or Mary Todd Lincoln or Thaddeus Stevens or any of the other characters. And yes, I did list these three as examples because they are the stand-outs for me.

Daniel Day Lewis is getting more praise than maybe Lincoln did himself. His performance was captivating. Lincoln’s quirks, his lengthy, at times exasperating stories, his manner of avoiding difficult subjects when he saw fit, and his soft spoken and distinctive speech and mannerisms all helped to solidify the idea that this historical figure was no ordinary man. And yet, at the same time, the honesty of the scenes of his and Mary Todd Lincoln’s arguments, the visual of a strained relationship between a father and son (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and the clear inner turmoil and uncertainty about his actions and the potential for success, show the true humanity of our treasured monument. Bravo Daniel Day Lewis, and Bravo Steven Spielberg, and Bravo Doris Kearns Goodwin.

sally-field-as-mary-todd-lincolnSally Field. As with the multidimensional qualities I mentioned above when discussing Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln was also a woman of many hats, so to speak. She was difficult to like at times. She was very emotional. Screaming, crying, giving her husband absolute hell when she thought it necessary, aiding to her long-standing reputation as a crazy woman. But this fiery disposition came in handy as she used it to put Thaddeus Stevens (played by Tommy Lee Jones) firmly in his place at the President’s Ball. Another side of Mary Todd Lincoln was shown in the film. While emotionally charged and undoubtedly fragile, she also was a woman of concrete opinions and ideas. She was not merely a devoted supporter of her husband, but she was a powerful force behind him. She, a woman, knew of the goings-on of the presidency, of the political battlefield, she had her own thoughts about the best use of her husband’s power, and she was indeed one to be reckoned with. So another complex character gets my approval.

Tommy Lee Jones as the Asshole-With-a-Heart sort of melted mine. I liked that Thaddeus Stevens was disagreeable. I liked that his intentions were pure, outspoken, and unyielding. And I liked that when he came to that ultimate bridge where principle meets action, which he probably never imagined crossing, he crossed it. And I really liked the “twist” at the end, showing his personal stake in abolishing slavery.

It may have been long and it may have been dry, but I found myself emotionally and intellectually involved throughout Lincoln, and that is something of great importance to me.

daniel-day-lewis_original

This theme of actions vs. words, the blurring of the lines of good and bad, the sight of honorable intentions and dishonorable actions brings about the age old question of whether the means justify the ends. Do they always have to? Are victories less sweet when you’ve jabbed a hole in your moral compass to achieve them? Are pure and just goals reason enough to commit dishonest acts? Or do those ends become less pure, less just, in the process of objectionable procurement?

These are questions I cannot answer. But ones that I, and probably all of you, have wondered about.