Zero Dark Thirty – Review


Zero Dark Thirty (2012) rating 6.5/10

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Starring Jessica ChastainJoel EdgertonJason ClarkeKyle ChandlerJames GandolfiniMark Strong.

The film opens in darkness: almost two minutes of black screen as a sound montage made of screams, 911 calls and that all-too-familiar crying. There is no need for pictures, somehow those bits of sound are just as recognisable… And we get it straight away. It’s an effective, un-exploitive and subtle way to take us back to 9/11 without having to resort to the abused images of the collapsing towers… Also by using actual archive sound, talking about real about events, real dates, real names and victims, the film establishes certain boundaries of reality which makes it feel pretty much like a documentary… A dangerous and a rather questionable game to play… But more on that later.

Zero Dark Thirty essentially tries to do three things at once: to give us an account of the Osama Bin Laden manhunt “based on firsthand accounts of the events” leading up to his killing, but it’s also a look at black ops‘s modus operandi and their way of obtaining information by means of torture, and finally it paints a portrait of a woman who seems to have no other purpose in life than finding the Al Qaeda leader: unfortunately her character is really paper-thin (kudos for  Jessica Chastain for actually making something out of it and for that getting Oscar nominated too) and this ends up being the weakest part of the film, in my view.

There is no denying that Kathryne Bigelow is a skilled director who knows how to tell a complicated story in the clearest of terms, while at the same time cranking up the tension but without falling into the obvious Hollywood clichés. There are certainly interesting, riveting and compelling sequences throughout this handsomely made film, while a lot of serious, important and controversial issues are touched upon… But to me that’s the key problem: they’re just touched upon. Not only the film never really seems to ask any real question, but even when it looks like it does, it never actually gives any answer. Of course, a good movie doesn’t necessarily have to ask questions, nor give answers, but when the subject matter is something as serious as this (including the showing of graphic depictions of Americans torturing their prisoners in order to obtain information) and when you’re doing it in such a manner that the audience assumes this is all real, then you’re beginning to have certain responsibility too.

There are glimpses of an interesting and challenging film here and there, (including an extract from a news report showing Obama stating “America condemns torture”, which happens to be just after a torture sequence), but to me it was all too a bit too little and spare.

This is not meant to be a real documentary, in fact the end credits tell you that this is to be taken as a dramatisation… Well, if that’s the case, the characterisation of every single person in the film is pretty weak (including the already mentioned “super-woman” protagonist).

So if you take it as a drama, it’s all pretty standard fare and rather flat and superficial film. As a piece of documentary and a critique to the “American System”, it’s just too diluted in among all those bad lines of dialogue (“who are you?” -“I’m the motherfucker who found this place”, or “I believe I was spared so I could finish the job”) which in the end diminish the impact that such a subject could have had.

The last 25 minutes of the film follow the actual mission to capture and kill Bin Laden (sidelining even our main character, who completely disappears from the film). It is pretty much shown in real time, without any music (mercifully, because for the rest of the film the score is as obvious and bland as they come). It is a sequence which is meticulously executed and wisely stirs well away from easy heroism or American triumphalism and yet, because of course we all know how it ended, it felt to me not only a bit anticlimactic, slightly voyeuristic, but also a bit pointless, which in a way sums up my thoughts about the whole film.

Certainly a lot of people will talk about the issues raised, but mainly because of the issues themselves, not  because the film.

Of course we’ll never know the truth (In fact recently some criticism has been raised about the actual veracity of the facts), but as it often happens with these sort of real-case stories (whether it’s about the birth of Facebook with “the Social Network”, or a terrorist attack with “United 93” or simply Che Guevara’s road trip in the “Motorcycle Diaries”…), this film will eventually become THE VERSION of the truth we’ll all believe, which in this case might be a bit troubling and very questionable.


2 Days In New York – Review

2 Days In New York (2011) 

Director: Julie Delpy. Cast: Julie DelpyChris RockAlexia LandeauAlexandre NahonKate BurtonAlbert DelpyDylan Baker.

Strictly speaking this is a sequel of the 2007 Woody-Allen-esque 2 Days in Paris” (well…Woody Allen in his old days, of course), but it also stands on its own and works simply as a stand-alone story and certainly you won’t need to have seen the first part in order to find your bearings through this. However if you have seen “2 days in Paris“, you’ll probably come into “New York” with a certain baggage and knowledge which might help you in appreciating (and liking) the central character of Marion a bit more than this film gives you reason for.

A lot in the depiction of Julie Delpy‘s character Marion and her relationship with American boyfriend Mingus has to be taken for granted here, even if it’s all quite unbelieveable. Don’t take me wrong, it’s all rather charming and light enough to be entertaining, but the script lacks the subtlety, the romanticism and the sharpness from its predecessor, while at the same time it plays up all the possible French clichés one would expect: and so the French seem to have no sensitivity,nor social skills, no hygiene and of course they all love their fromage: these are all predictable targets and I suppose the only surprising twist  is that all comes from a French person willing to make fun at her own country (Julie Delpy also wrote and directed the film).

It’s all rather superficial but the jokes keep on coming, the culture clash at the centre of the film brings enough laughs and mercifully the overall lenght is only 96 minutes. There are some indulgences which I didn’t find particularly successful: Mingus’s monologues in front of a cardboard cut-out of Omaba are not as funny as they should be and the sequence where Marion tries to buy her soul back from a notoriously difficult actor playing himself (I won’t spoil here who it is, but if you google him you’ll be able to find out quite easily) is too indulgent, too knowy, and outstays its welcome  and in the end looses that potentially quirky charm it could have had.

But the biggest  and most refreshing surprise of the “2 Days in New York” is actually Chris Rock who despite the lack of chemistry with his co-star and an underwritten role, manages to pull out not just the best performance in the film (sweet, understated and charismatic) but possibly the most interesting and revealing of his career. Let’s just hope this is the first of many others to come.


Tomboy – Review


Directed by Céline Sciamma. Cast: Zoé HéranMalonn LévanaJeanne Disson.

This small independent film was made for peanuts (Filmed on a Canon 5D and just a handful of people in the crew) and it is unlikely to make any big impact on the box-office. However I’m sure it’ll leave a mark on those few who will actually manage to see it. In fact judging by the recently released long list from the 2012 BAFTA Awards Nominee, where TomBoy shows among some other nominees, it looks like I am not the only person who has been touched by it.

Zoé Héran is absolutely wonderful as Laure, the 10 years old girl who’s just moved into a new neighbourhood where nobody knows her and pretends to be a boy (Michaël) with her new friends. Her performance is one of the best of the year, and possibly among the best ever performances by a child: she not only perfectly captures that innocence that children of that age have, but at the same time she seems to have a deep understanding of the struggle and the pain of her character. Throughout the film she really acts as if she was a real boy in a way that’s so believable that at some point I really started to wonder whether “she” was actually a real “he”. The film knows that and it does play with you by stretching the lie as far as it possibly can, until it decides to show you the real truth in a beautifully handled scene where you do actually see briefly the girl naked. It’s a fleeting moment and the film obviously doesn’t linger on it, but it’s enough to put our minds at rest so that we can carry on enjoying the rest of the story.

The director Céline Sciamma’s ability to film children making it look real is incredible. It feels effortless as if the camera was one of the children themselves and we as the audience are left observing them playing in the forest as if we were spying on them, or as if it was all a documentary. Rarely I have seen scenes with such young children that feel so honest and real: the approach is subtle and light, the atmosphere is almost muted, dialogue to advance the story is used to a minimum and the silences are charged with meaning and intensity.

This is a subject that rarely makes the news, let alone the movie theatres. And it’s so refreshing not just to see it depicted in this film, but to have it told with such an understanding, honesty and open-mindedness.

All this together with the stellar acting from little Zoé make the internal drama of Laure/Michaël even more poignant and powerful.

Be warned, this is a slow film (a very short one too at only 82 minutes), that has “French independent” written all over it, from its pace, to its rough look and its lack of music score, but if you, like me, love films about children growing up, this sensitive, tender and never heavy-handed story might just melt your heart too.

I saw it months ago and I still remember it vividly, so it must have worked on me.


Troll Hunter – Review

TROLL HUNTER (2010) Trolljegeren 

Director André Øvredal. Writers: André ØvredalHåvard S. Johansen. Cast: Otto JespersenGlenn Erland Tosterud,Johanna MørckTomas Alf Larsen

C’mon, let’s just face it: the fake-documentary/found-footage genre which started off with the admittedly original Blair With Project, has probably been running its course for quite now while! Cloverfield sort-of worked for about half of its length, Paranormal Activity (which seemed to have scared everybody else but me) is a one-time-trick-type-of-film which felt a lot longer than it actually was, the last exorcism could have worked but was not only heavy-handed but also had one of the most terrible ending of recent memory, even the Spanish outing REC outstayed its welcome and actually went nowhere. In the end they all suffer from the shaky-cam exhaustion and from the fact that, being part of that found-footage genre, it’s pretty easy to see how they’re all going to end.

I had been hearing glorious things about “Troll Hunter” ever since the first screening in Norway last year. The trailer seemed intriguing enough and the first few reviews from several known newspapers here in the UK for some reason were all rather positive (I wonder if the film had been American whether it would have been embraced with as much warmth).

I must that say aside from the fairly good special effects, which nowadays don’t really surprise me anymore, I found it all rather predictable and actually quite boring.

Yes, the settings might be original (with those desolate, cold and yet glorious Norwegian landscapes) and there was a certain appeal about the way the director filmed everything in a certain matter-of-fact way as if this was all indeed a real documentary. I suppose there was an noble attempt to try to mix horror and comedy, but the main problem is that I didn’t find it particularly scary nor funny.

The concept is of course ludicrous and the Trolls are just way too silly looking to cause any real fear (in fact they are a lot more scary when they are just off camera), and as far as the comedy aspect is concerned, the jokes come much too late into the film and they are way too few (Well yes, the Muslim joke is rather enjoyable… but that was pretty much about it). Otherwise I felt I was left with a lot of running about in the forest (definitely too much for my taste) and not enough to care about.

Last but not least, even the big scary final Troll, instead of coming as a surprise is actually spoilt in the poster itself! Strange marketing campaign.


Monsters – Review

Monsters (2010) 

Directed by Gareth Edwards. Starring Whitney AbleScoot McNairy.

When reviewing a film like Monsters you can’t help dealing with 2 things: the film, of course, which is essentially a road movie with some added Alien Monsters. And then you’ve got the making of the film itself, which is the issue everyone has been talking about (and that’s somehow even more interesting).

The budget of “Monsters” is reported to be under $500.000, shot with a camera in the region of $15,000, which in Hollywood wouldn’t even be able to cover the rental of the main camera for a week. And yet Gareth Edwards has been able to come up with movie which looks like any of those blockbusters out there, if not even better.

His background is from Graphics and Visual effects and it clearly shows. Here we are dealing with somebody who really knows the tricks on his trade. There’s hardly a frame in the film which hasn’t been treated or altered in some sort of subtle way: whether it’s just in the grading and colour of the pictures themselves which really makes it look and feel like any feature films out there, or whether it’s a detail way off in the background (an helicopter flying in the distance, the wreck of a tank, smokey ruins) and finally, obviously, the title’s ‘monsters’ themselves (though this ones, are the more showy and, to a degree, less successful Visual effects).

Gareth Edwards is very aware of the limitations of his trade too. His handheld camera moves in such a way that he’s always able to diguise his effects and trick the audience. In the best tradition of great movies which have monsters in them (Alien, and to a degree, Jurassic Park and even Jaws), he wisely keeps them well hidden to the audience for most of the time (the monsters are only seen at night times or on TV newscasts), thus creating a sense of foreboding and adding a lot more tension to the story.

Unfortunately as a film, “Monsters” is a lot less groundbreaking. For some reason it has been compared to District 9, but it has neither the inventiveness, nor the humor, let alone the high concept and underlying subtext of Neill Blomkamp‘s sci-fi from 2009 (which I loved, by the way).

The story of Monsters is pretty simple. Right a the beginning a series of captions tells the following: Six Years ago…. Nasa discovered the possibility is alien life within our solar system. A space probe was launched to collect samples but broke up during re-entry over Mexico.  Soon after new life forms began to appear and half of the country was quarantined as an INFECTED ZONE. Today… The Mexican and US military still struggle to contain ‘the creatures’…

From there onwards the film is essentially a road movie where the two main characters have to reach the US border, crossing the so-called infected Zone in Mexico. That’s pretty much it.

Gareth Edwards is clearly in love with his pictures, since he spent a lot of time cleaning them up, but he probably forgot about pacing them. It is a fairly slow film which seems to be more interested about creating an atmosphere than actually telling a good story. However the film is short enough to just about get away with it. The acting is pretty good (with however little material they’re given) and the non

He’s clearly an interesting director: he’s good a framing his action, directing his actors and creating the right type of mood, so it will be interesting to see what he can achieve with a proper budget (and a better script) in the future: unfortunately it looks like he might be getting stuck with Monsters, as it just emerged that he will be directing a new Godzilla Movie (he’s been quoted in Variety saying “you just don’t say no to Godzilla”): not very imaginative, I’d say.

So now we’re only left to see how Hollywood will respond to a film like this which looks like any multimillion dollar flick, and yet it costs just a fraction of what Michael Bay would spend in taxis.

In the end, this will be the only legacy of this film: it cost nothing to make andyes  it’s watchable. I’ll take this over Transformers anytime.


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