Tag Archives: Academy Awards

Oscars 2018: Why ‘Get Out’ Could Win for Best Picture

After a startling presentation mix-up for the best picture award, Barry Jenkins, at the mic, and the Moonlight cast accept the award at the Oscars on Sunday.
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Not so long ago, the Academy Awards had to contend with the #OscarsSoWhite movement with its goal of greater diversity in movies. And, some may argue, that led to “Moonlight” winning for Best Picture in 2017. Now, we also have the #MeToo and the #TimesUp movements that all add up to the public demand for change from the status quo. In that spirit, to have “Get Out” win for Best Picture this year, would definitely further steer the Oscars on a more enlightened path. The Oscars ceremony this year is on Sunday, March 4, 2018 with predictions on the winners taking in all the factors.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) in the throes of an existential crisis.

If all movies are cut from the same cloth and we keep to the old and wrong ways, then serious problem remain. That said, any movie will ultimately need to be judged by the quality of its content. In the new era that is unfolding before us, we really can have it all. A good part of what makes “Get Out” an exceptional movie is how it subverts your expectations no matter your background or race. The viewer can empathize with a person thrust into meeting their lover’s parents. We all have our advantages and disadvantages, whether they are real or only perceived as such.

Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams

Now, let’s get to the heart of the matter. There are specifics to this story. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is African American and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), is Caucasian. From the moment Chris and Rose arrive at her parent’s home, it is emphasized in the extreme how race doesn’t matter but, in truth, it matters all too much–even to a life-threatening level. Everyone Chis comes into contact at this family gathering makes it painfully clear something is very wrong. This pushes Chris into an intense existential crisis.

Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton

For a new generation that believes it has seen it all, writer/director Jordan Peele brings something new. And this is not to say that we make a wholesale dismal of generations of moviemaking. No, what people are clamoring for now is a collective correction. When “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” came out in 1967, and presented viewers with a mixed race couple, it helped to stir a much needed discussion on race. Peele is able tap into that same energy. People are asking to tear down the old gods and build on all the good we have achieved. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” and “Get Out” are part of a continuum of moviemaking at its best.

“Get Out”

At least both of these movies were nominated. It’s interesting to note that Sidney Poitier was not nominated for Best Actor for his pivotal role. However, Daniel Kaluuya is up for Best Actor this year. Step by step, we continue to make progress. We are just asking to pick up the pace. This is certainly not lost on Jordan Peele. “Get Out” came out in 2017, on the 50th anniversary of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” a big studio movie of its time, a little more polite and a lot more circumspect than we will tolerate today.

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Filed under Academy Awards, Movie Reviews, movies, Oscars, Race, Race Relations

Movie Review: THE POST

Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham

The Washington Post is in an awkward spot as one of the objects of disdain for Donald Trump. However, the Trump White House requested copies of “The Post” and 20th Century Fox has obliged. So, despite the bad blood, apparently, the Donald is curious. And, if he should see it, he’ll discover that The Washington Post knows how to handle itself. Compelling stuff but the heavy-duty serious subject matter may bore Big Don. Besides, it won’t work for him if he’s rooting for Tricky Dick Nixon. For the rest of us, this movie about newspapers and freedom of the press is quite compelling.

We don’t really have spoilers to worry about too much. The Washington Post is inextricably linked in history with the Nixon White House, The Pentagon Papers, the paper’s owner and publisher Katharine Graham, and the paper’s executive editor Ben Bradlee. It’s all the peculiar facts that add up to show the courage involved for Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and especially for Graham (Meryl Streep). The tension resides in the nerve-racking decisions leading up to whether or not to publish material the government deems too sensitive for public, and political, consumption. The key word here is “political,” as the information in The Pentagon Papers was a political bombshell–but never put American lives in danger, as the Nixon White House claimed. In fact, it would save lives as it helped to put a stop to the war in Vietnam.

Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee

“The Post” is a perfect companion piece to Alan J. Pakula’s 1976, “All the President’s Men.” Director Steven Spielberg would certainly be mindful of comparisons. But the screenplay, written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, is on a decidedly different track. This is more of a character study and not so much a political thriller. That said, it certainly shares some of the same energy. As much as Hoffman, Redford, and Robards commanded the screen, so too does Streep and Hanks.

June 21, 1971: Ben Bradlee and Katharine Graham leave U.S. District Court in Washington.

You can also make a favorable comparison with Adam McKay’s 2015 “The Big Short,” another movie that neatly presents a myriad of facts in an easily digestible form. Both movies are about confronting deception at an outrageous level. In one, the public has been duped into falling victim to Wall Street greed. In the other, the public has been duped into feeding the military industrial complex with the lives of its sons. The Pentagon Papers were, at their core, a study in failure intended for scholars at some future time. To have this study released to the public while the war was raging, was unthinkable. It uncovered deception at a massive scale going from Truman to Nixon. In order to publish, The Washington Post had to be willing to defy the courts’ understanding at the time that this act would amount to treason. To publish was an easy enough task for Bradlee to commit to. But for Graham, it was a gamble that put the very paper at risk of extinction.

Finally, “The Post” is an even closer companion piece to Spielberg’s own 2012 “Lincoln.” This all perfectly dovetails with Spielberg’s films of America at war as well as his biopics of American leaders in crisis. Katharine Graham is the pivotal character going against the status quo and conventional wisdom. Why can’t she just lay down and accept the Nixon White House’s demands, right? Streep gives a memorable performance that tenderly follows Graham’s journey from tentative caretaker of a vulnerable family business to a confident leader at a national, as well as an international level. For Hanks, he takes Bradlee from a man born confident to a man more modest and empathetic. Both must and do rise to the challenge of a White House that perceives the American free press as an enemy of the state. Sound familiar? Do you really think Donald Trump has watched this–as well as processed it?

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Filed under Academy Awards, Movie Reviews, movies, Oscars, Steven Spielberg, Vietnam War

Movie Review: ‘Toni Erdmann’

Peter Simonischek plays the role of Winfried Conradi (alias Toni Erdmann).

Peter Simonischek plays the role of Winfried Conradi (alias Toni Erdmann).

The poet, Philip Larkin, advised “don’t have any kids yourself” in his celebrated poem on parenting, “This Be The Verse.” In the film, “Toni Erdmann,” the dynamic between parent and child is explored to heroic, and hilarious, levels. Ines Conradi (played by Sandra Hüller) is all business and seems to be doing well in her corporate career. But her father, Winfried Conradi (played by Peter Simonischek), thinks he knows better.

Ines Conradi (played by Sandra Hüller)

Ines Conradi (played by Sandra Hüller)

Ines’s father knows his daughter is terribly unhappy and he aims to fix that. Part of his plan is to amuse her with his jokes. But the jokes keep getting more and more elaborate to the point that he dons an alter ego, Toni Erdmann, made up of fake clown teeth, fright wig, and nonstop blustering. It’s pretty maddening and just a matter of time before something has got to give.

“Toni Erdmann” is written and directed by Maren Ade. It is nominated for an Academy Award this year for Best Foreign Film. And it so inspired Jack Nicholson that he has come out of retirement to play the lead, alongside co-star Kristen Wiig, in the upcoming American remake. Indeed, there is something special about this film so go seek out the original. But be prepared for a European view that certainly runs counter to your typical mainstream American big studio movie. But if you enjoy offbeat/absurdist humor, then this is definitely for you.

"Toni Erdmann," written and directed by Maren Ade

“Toni Erdmann,” written and directed by Maren Ade

What I think may happen with the upcoming Americanized version is that all the playful and theatrical quality to this original film will be explained far more than necessary. The gritty European sensibility will most likely be wiped away in favor of something that seems to make more sense to most Americans. That said, dysfunctional families are every bit a part of the American scene as anywhere else. And, it is dysfunction that is at the root of this film. Ines, the daughter, is a mess. Winfried, the father, is a mess. But, despite a high level of tension between them, the two share a secret language and seem to be at their best in each other’s company. At least, there are enough positive signs to encourage the dad to keep trying to find his daughter.

Where it gets sort of weird is how insistent the dad is in his practical joke therapy path to winning over his daughter. Winfried Conradi cannot cope for very long without enacting some jarring gag. To say he is a compulsive jokester would be putting it mildly at best. No, this guy has some coping disorder and it’s pretty serious and kinda creepy. This film does address the dad’s problem but in a deceptively light way. It gradually builds. Before you know it, you’ve come to know this father and daughter in a truly remarkable way. And you come to realize that a rather heroic and rambling tale about a father and daughter can add up to a truly remarkable film.

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Filed under Academy Awards, Germany, Movie Reviews, movies, Oscars

Movie Review: ‘La La Land’

In love with the magic of Old Hollywood.

In love with the magic of Old Hollywood.

“La La Land” is as much a movie about movies as it is an exploration of a relationship, at least within the unique confines of a musical. That’s a tall order but back in the heyday of movie musicals, the best ones managed to strike a chord that rang true. Even today, if you’re in Hollywood working toward your big break, part of you has to believe in make believe. We all do. The best of the musicals of yesteryear intertwined a believable depiction of the everyday with the large-than-life. “La La Land” rises to that level.

Going in, I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a revamping of 1964’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” this time set in Los Angeles. By that, I mean that I was ready to hear every word of dialogue in song. That is not the case and I’m grateful. Maybe it would have worked but I cherish the moments the two leads have together. If two crazy kids aiming for the stars were ever meant for each other, it is Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone). I keep coming back to how the movie evokes a believable day-to-day reality. The fact is that this has more references to past musicals than any casual observer, including myself, would likely spot.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

Hollywood movie musicals used to be quite common, with a glorious run from 1929 to 1969, and occasional success ever since. With their unique capacity to fill the screen, a successful movie musical was easily a favorite pick for Best Picture come Oscar time. There have been some all-time greats that have done just that: 1951’s “An American in Paris,” 1965’s “The Sound of Music,” all the way to the most recent and last, 2002’s “Chicago.” Which brings us to “La La Land,” with its beautiful homage to that old Hollywood magic.

"La La Land," written and directed by Damien Chazelle

“La La Land,” written and directed by Damien Chazelle

“La La Land” wears its self-awareness well. Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, this musical provides that giddy feeling of uplift, a touch of irony, and a compelling contemporary narrative. These two star-crossed lovers don’t see stars for each other, at first. Aspiring actress Mia is too busy recovering from the latest humiliating audition. Aspiring jazz artist Sebastian is too busy trying to carve a place for himself with his idealism. It looks like boy will never meet girl and then they do meet and things get complicated as their relationship and dreams come into conflict. Interlaced within this story are songs to knock your songs off (music by Justin Hurwitz; lyrics by Damien Chazelle).

A special kind of fairy tale magic used to come more easily to Hollywood. The conflict between new and old is very much a theme here. Both Sebastian and Mia represent a standard of excellence that makes huge demands. The results are likely to be bittersweet. But when it looks like your dream will come true, then any hardship seems worth enduring. It’s a dream that may seem corny and unreal, but there are plenty of people in Hollywood right now that will attest to just how real it really is. Mia and Sebastian are wondrous, yet decidedly grounded, examples of contemporary, yet utterly timeless, star chasers. Sure, these characters were created from a runaway imagination filtered through some of the greatest musicals of the past. Ah, the stuff that dreams are made of!

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Filed under Academy Awards, Hollywood, Movie Reviews, movies, Musicals, Oscars

Oscars 2016: THE BIG SHORT

The Big Short

“The Big Short” is a movie that has earned its place among a unique set of movies that can really make a difference. Who knew that the more arcane details of the housing crisis and subsequent financial meltdown of 2008 could be rendered in an accessible and entertaining fashion? And with some of the best talent around to boot. I actually went to see this with my 19-year-old daughter. The roster of leading men and the offbeat intent of the movie made it very promising. So, it was about derivative swaps, well, okay then.

For anyone who has seen it, “The Big Short” not only delivers but leaves you feeling encouraged about the state of filmmaking today. I had assumed that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association would have heaped praise, and awards, upon it without giving it a second thought. It just goes to show what a heated race it is this year as we approach the Oscars on February 28th. It’s a hot race in the Best Picture category, and “The Big Short” is up against some stiff competition with the leading favorite, “The Revenant.” “The Big Short” is just the sort of significant movie that should win big on the big night.

The Big Short Adam McKay

Much has been said about this movie. Consider the spirited New York Times review here. I’ll give you my take on it. First off, it’s been a long time since the media has focused on the housing market and the major banks–almost as if nothing had happened at all. Sure, the news runs in odd cycles but it does leave one wondering. In fact, one of the points made in this film is the fact that the issues surrounding the financial crisis are far from resolved. How we got here, and why we don’t seem to learn, is at the heart of this story. The movie faithfully plumbs the depths of the famously entertaining nonfiction book, “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine,” by Michael Lewis.

Prior to 2008, there were only a few key players in a position to read the handwriting on the wall. Their anticipation of an impending financial collapse, had something to do with insider knowledge and everything to do with seeing what would someday become the obvious. Their collective response was to use specialized hedge funds to bet against Wall Street! And so we see our story play out. Among these special key players who could see what lay ahead, there is genius fund manager Michael Burry (played by Christian Bale) who is willing to take his position of authority at the firm he works for to bet the farm. As the pressure mounts on Burry from his bosses to retreat, we see a study in rebellion with other people’s money.

The point was, and remains, that money is not as abstract as some would like to believe. It is ultimately other people’s money that gets manipulated, stolen, and outright lost. The powers that be, the major banks, continue to take those sort of gambles that present little, if any, consequence.

But it’s not just consequences that those in power manage to sidestep. As this film repeatedly points out, the corruption is deeply entrenched and the major banks are masters of deflecting blame. Mirroring the activist spirit of the book, the message here goes above and beyond buyer beware.

We have had a few exceptional films dealing with the housing crisis. What makes this film remarkable is its fierce vision, its commitment to keep you engaged. And its timing, in an election year, is perfect. To have a film of this caliber is such a great opportunity to further the discussion. An Oscar win for Best Picture would seem to be most appropriate. In fact, in some circles, this film is considered a front-runner for Best Picture. With “The Big Short” taking the Producers Guild of America’s top prize this last weekend, the odds could very well be in favor of this film taking the top prize at the Oscars.

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Filed under Hollywood, Movie Reviews, movies, The Oscars, Wall Street

Blu-ray Review: BIG HERO 6

Big-Hero-6.jpg

I’d really been meaning to see “Big Hero 6.” Now is definitely the time with its Oscar win for Best Animated Feature and it just becoming available for home viewing.

Disney certainly knows how to create an uplifting experience and “Big Hero 6” (Directors: Don Hall and Chris Williams) is a beautiful example of it. I can imagine the Disney team, such as the Big Hero 6 team and character creators, Man of Action, and the screenwriters, Jordan Roberts, Robert L. Baird, and Daniel Gerson, first pondering over what could work for a feature. What are some things that kids are always into? Hmm, well, there’s all things to do with Japan, and robotics, and a curiosity over, uh, puberty. Those three items will always get their attention, for starters. And you find them here.

Producer Roy Conli, from left, Directors Don Hall, and Chris Williams accept the award for best animated feature film for Big Hero 6 at the Oscars on Sunday at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (John Shearer/Invision/The Associated Press)

Producer Roy Conli, from left, Directors Don Hall, and Chris Williams accept the award for best animated feature film for Big Hero 6 at the Oscars on Sunday at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (John Shearer/Invision/The Associated Press)

From the previews I’d seen, I wondered if this was going to be a fish-out-of-water comedy. You know, this Michelin Man robot is all blobby and out of his element, right? There’s some of that. Plenty of that, who am I kidding! But much more. Essentially, what you’ve got here is quite a compelling story about mind over matter.

The Michelin Man, a long lost relative to Baymax?

The Michelin Man, a long lost relative to Baymax?

Meet Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit). He may resemble our friend, the Michelin Man, but he’s a whole other deal. Baymax is at the heart of this story. He is a robot that was built to help. Basically, he’s a walking and talking medical dispensary and doctor. He knows what he’s about. That’s more than can be said, at least for a while, about Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter). Hiro is a 13-year-old genius, especially when it comes to robotics. However, Hiro will need some time before he realizes what to do with his skills. Baymax was built by Hiro’s older brother, Tadashi (voiced by Daniel Henney). Push comes to shove, and Hiro will need to rise to the occasion, with the help of Baymax. Do you see conflict on the horizon? Yes, plenty. There’s plenty of action and there’s plenty of soul-searching to keep you glued to your seat.

It won’t be spoiler to let you know that “Big Hero 6” refers to a six-member superhero team. With all the superheroes flying around, this movie proves there’s always room for more. After viewing it, you’ll welcome, wait for it…the sequel! Yes, I think we have us a sequel up ahead and probably more than one.

The original Big Hero 6 comic book series from Marvel Comics

The original Big Hero 6 comic book series from Marvel Comics

Home viewing is now available. Of course, the bonus features are very cool and include a behind-the-scenes look at how Big Hero 6 made the transition from a Marvel Comics comic book series to the big screen. For more details, including a free game, Baymax Sky Patrol, visit our friends at Disney right here.

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Filed under animation, Disney, Movie Reviews

‘Gahan Wilson: Born Dead Still Weird’ Campaign Kicks Off August 18, 2013

Gahan-Wilson-Born-Dead-Still-Weird-2013

“We’re going all the way!” says filmmaker Steven-Charles Jaffe about his fundraising campaign in support of his documentary on master cartoonist Gahan Wilson, “Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird.”

Beginning on Sunday, August 18, 2013, at noon PST, fundraising for the documentary resumes after the Kickstarter effort.

Many of the original pledgers are now renewing their pledges on the official “Born Dead, Still Weird” website which you can visit here.

Gahan-Wilson-art-Born-Dead-Still-Weird

Gahan-Wilson-The-New-Yorker

From the “Born Dead, Still Weird” site:

We have launched this new funding website for our ACADEMY AWARD® campaign to enable all of you awesome supporters to renew your pledges and receive your rewards.

Please browse through our rewards and choose one or more. Note: some previously listed rewards have changed, so take a look and choose one or more. There is also the option to make a pledge without a reward. You can purchase using Paypal or credit card.

The reasons we need your help remain the same. We’re in a tough race to get the documentary submitted to the Academy® so we must reach our goal of $26,000 by Monday September 16.

Thanks again for your continued enthusiasm and support. We will do this!

Sincerely,

Steven

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Filed under Academy Awards, cartoon, Cartooning, Cartoonists, Cartoons, Comics, Documentaries, Gahan Wilson, Illustration, Kickstarter, Playboy, Steven-Charles Jaffe, The New Yorker

INTERVIEW: Filmmaker Steven-Charles Jaffe and ‘Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird’

Gahan-Wilson-Steven-Charles-Jaffe-2013

“If Crumb can have a documentary, then so can Gahan Wilson!” The decision had been made.

Gahan Wilson is a force of nature. And so is filmmaker Steven-Charles Jaffe. Wilson found in Jaffe someone who would do justice to his legendary career that spans over 50 years of cartoons for The New Yorker, Playboy, and National Lampoon. Who else even comes close to such an output? That’s why a documentary had to be made. It is called, “Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird.” Yes, you read that right, “Born Dead, Still Weird,” and it is currently the subject of a Kickstarter campaign that you can join here.

It was upon seeing “Crumb,” Terry Zwigoff’s landmark 1995 documentary on underground cartoonist Robert Crumb, that Jaffe resolved he needed to create a similarly worthy documentary of his friend and idol, Gahan Wilson. The idea of Jaffe and Wilson working together had already been kicking around for a few years. One plan that continues to interest them is a feature length animated movie based on Wilson’s illustrated book, “Eddy Deco’s Last Caper.” Jaffe and director Nicholas Meyer have approached IMAX about the project so we shall see. A Gahan Wilson animated movie in 3-D would be worth the wait.

For a taste of what it’s like for Wilson and Jaffe to work together, you can view the 2008 animated short, “It Was a Dark and Silly Night.” A story about children determined to have a jello war, even if it’s in a cemetery, this animated short is based on a collaboration between Neil Gaiman and Gathan Wilson for an illustrated anthology, compiled and edited by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly, “Little Lit: It Was a Dark and Silly Night.”

There is so much to a Gahan Wilson cartoon: it is entertaining, memorable, scary, and above all else, it won’t let go. “I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a Gahan Wilson cartoon that relates right back to his own life.” Jaffe makes the observation with awe and admiration. An artist of the caliber of Wilson has both a keen sense of whimsy and a backbone made of steel. He was a child of two out of control alcoholic parents. For him, he had to grow up fast while holding on ever tighter to his dreams.

The dream behind “Born Dead, Still Weird” is to give it as wide an audience as possible. Much in the same way that “Crumb” was transcendent, so too this documentary aims to show you the real man and artist. “That’s what struck such a chord with people, to see Robert Crumb on a human level,” says Jaffe. Both Crumb and Wilson climbed their ways out of adversity to unprecedented success. If Jaffe can accomplish his goal of stirring up the pot and getting his documentary considered for an Academy Award nomination, it will go a long way in securing a high profile for “Born Dead, Still Weird.” The essential stage, getting the documentary made is done. But the last stage, marketing and distribution, and just making sure the documentary is known about, is still ahead.

Jaffe recalls the kind words from Robert Redford in support of “Born Dead, Still Weird.” After viewing it, Redford wrote back to Jaffe, “I’m a huge proponent of art not only getting into the educational system but for its ability to save some lives and enhance some lives. It is a fine piece of work and I thank you.” Saving lives. What a joy to be able to make such a difference. This is something that has genuinely stuck with Jaffe. He’s the first to say that he did not set out to make an inspirational film and yet Gahan’s life attracts just that.

From Jaffe’s first encounter with a Gahan Wilson cartoon in Playboy at the tender age of 10, up to today, Jaffe’s felt his own life enriched by Wilson. “He is a total nonconformist,” Jaffe says with delight. In a world where being different can have harsh consequences, as with bullies in school, Gahan Wilson is a shining example of someone who is going to live his life his way.

I hope you enjoy the podcast below that includes the entire interview with Steven-Charles Jaffe. Just click below:

Steven-Charles Jaffe

Be sure to stop by and visit the Kickstarter campaign for “Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird” right here.

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Filed under Art, Cartoons, Comics, Documentaries, Gahan Wilson, Humor, Illustration, Kickstarter, National Lampoon, Playboy, Steven-Charles Jaffe, The New Yorker

ACADEMY AWARDS: HEAD OVER HEELS WINS 2013 ANNIE AWARD

Head Over Heels animated short 2013

Academy Award-nominated animated short, “Head Over Heels” has won a 2013 Annie Award, the most prestigious animation award in the world, and could very well be on its way to an Oscar. The story about a most unusual old married couple is decidedly original and twisted good fun. It is a major achievement for its director, Timothy Reckart. See the trailer here. This is a student film that has made a spectacular debut onto the entertainment scene. Learn more about the National Film and Television School here.

Press release follows:

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Review: ZERO DARK THIRTY

zero-dark-dirty-cinema-2013
Hollywood welcomes sending a message to the world. That is why “Zero Dark Thirty” is a formidable contender for Best Picture. But, the night I went to see it, I had a man next to me perpetually munching on popcorn, even during the waterboarding scene. How do you munch your way through popcorn during something like that? You have to wonder if that may say something about our collective confusion over 9/11 and its aftermath. Anything can be turned into entertainment. “Zero Dark Thirty,” despite boorish popcorn munchers, is a different kind of entertainment. It is the kind of activist entertainment intended to spur action and thought, in the same spirit as “All The President’s Men.”

Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal are up to the task of presenting to the world the hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and what happened along the way to finding and killing him. Just as they captured the sense of what was going on in the U.S. invasion of Iraq with “The Hurt Locker,” Bigelow and Boal again give shape to recent history with the powerful medium of cinema.

Zero Dark Thirty 2013 Best Picture

In order to make better sense of a complex issue, the film focuses on two CIA officers that represent the Central Intelligence Agency through this process. There is Dan, played by Jason Clarke, who vigorously pursues “enhanced interrogation techniques,” in other words, torture, to gain information. And then there is Maya, played by Jessica Chastain, who transitions from torture to a better way, in other words, persistent detective work. The film has its share of controversy. Complaints have come from U.S. senators and the CIA, that the film inaccurately shows torture as resulting in useful information towards finding Osama bin Laden. Perhaps the CIA felt that torture had its place.

The fact is that this film objectively shows Dan and Maya essentially failing with the torture route. If it coughed up any information, it was insignificant. It’s enough to make a red meat true believer like Dan decide it’s time to quit. “You don’t want to be the last one holding the dog collar when the oversight committee comes,” he advises Maya. Maybe to hedge its bet, the film implies that any specs of info that Maya gleaned off the backs of detainees may have helped to narrow down her search for the legendary mystery man, the infamous “Abu Ahmed,” the trusted courier of Osama bin Laden. But, more to the point, the film gives human error its own title card for playing the role of inadvertently suppressing vital information, information that could have been found without any torture in the first place.

If there is too much of an air of ambiguity for the first part of this film, you could hear a pin drop and not one munch of popcorn when we get down to crunch time. We reach zero hour about two thirds in once bin Laden’s compound in Abbotabad is confirmed: the skeptics at the White House are satisfied, special super secret choppers are untethered at Area 51, and SEAL Team 6 is assembled, locked, and loaded. The definition of “zero dark thirty” is a military term describing a time between midnight and dawn. While it is a unspecified time, it inspires certainty and resolve. The good guys are moving at a sure pace under the cover of dark. The chopper will, at first, fail, as we all know. There will be casualties. But, on that fateful night in Pakistan, despite the Pakistani air force ready to fire in retaliation, the United States regained much lost ground and turned a page of history. It’s enough, for that moment, to keep the popcorn untouched.

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Filed under 9/11, Movie Reviews, movies