Zero Dark Thirty (2012)


I’m the Mother Fucker that Found this Place

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)I tried to get to the theaters to see today’s movie numerous times, but it never worked out.  I think I must not have wanted to see it that badly.  It looked interesting enough, it was talked up a great deal, and it was subject matter that should be of interest to any American, but something about the movie didn’t seem like it would suit me that much.  I put the movie off so much that it eventually came out on DVD.  At this point, the movie had already been nominated for five Academy Awards, so it was pretty much cemented; I didn’t want to watch this movie.  I generally don’t watch anything that gets nominated.  They’re usually depressing dramas and are no fun to watch.  But I saw the movie in a RedBox and decided it must be done.  This movie is Zero Dark Thirty, written by Mark Boal, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, and starring Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, Édgar Ramirez, James Gandolfini, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Mark Duplass, and John Barrowman.

In the fiction of this movie, something really bad went down in 2001.  I’m sure I’d have heard about it if it was real.  Because of this event, the American government is looking for some dude named Osama bin Laden.  Maya (Jessica Chastain) and Dan (Jason Clarke) are interrogating a guy named Ammar about his involvement, and they use this information to find the personal courier of Osama bin Laden.  …That’s pretty much it…

This is probably going to be a really short review, because I just don’t have anything to say about this movie.  I don’t get it.  I really don’t know what everyone was talking about with this movie.  I didn’t hate the movie, but I was really bored through the greater majority of the movie and just could not fathom its popularity.  I was just pretty bored by most of the movie.  The first three quarters of the movie is all the investigation to find bin Laden, which had a few interesting scenes of torture, but was mostly Maya watching movies.  I do that all day, and I don’t think anyone is that interested in a streaming feed of my day.  They tried to keep it interesting with a couple of sparse, action moments throughout, but there were not enough and most of them ended with a whimper.  Like when the guys were trying to locate the courier with his cell phone signal.  They basically just drove around in circles until they found him, and then they took a picture and he drove off.  And there was one part where a car blew up that was kind of tense, but I was too busy laughing because a black cat ran in front of the car as it approached, in some of the bluntest symbolism I have ever seen in movies.  I suppose you could make the argument that the point of the movie was to almost be a documentary about the death of bin Laden, and that’s fine and everything.  But I think most Americans had already read about how that went down.  I never read the news, but I was already aware of that.  So that means that the movie is just wasting time up until the point where they invade bin Laden’s compound.  That scene was an exciting recreation that I enjoyed thoroughly.  And it’s probably an argument that movies can do much better when they end really strong, but I had not forgotten what I went through to get to that point.  If I were to watch this again, I’d skip to the invasion.

I think the one thing about this movie that I can get behind are the performances.  Everyone did a great job, so the movie deserves some eyes getting on it just for that.  Jessica Chastain was great.  She was a strong character for the bulk of the movie, but I never really saw her embody what everyone kept saying about her being “a killer” or anything.  She was tough when it came to getting in the faces of her superiors, but she also couldn’t stomach the torture early on in the movie.  After that, I was impressed with how many people were in this movie that I didn’t know about.  Going in, I only knew Chastain and Chris Pratt were in this movie.  And he was a really small part in the movie.  But I recognized Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong from Sherlock Holmes, Édgar Ramirez, Mark Duplass, James Gandolfini, and John Barrowman.  I shouldn’t even really recognize Barrowman since I’ve never seen Doctor Who or its spinoff show Torchwood, but Chris Hardwick has given me so much more Doctor Who knowledge than most people with no firsthand knowledge of the show.

Zero Dark Thirty is a movie I respect, but not a movie that I like.  Personally, I felt very bored watching the live action remake of stories I had read a year ago that never really felt like much more than a lady watching movies and looking at pictures.  But the scene of the invasion of bin Laden’s compound, as well as some great performances, does stand as a reason to watch this movie.  Plus, lots of other people love this movie, so it’s more than likely just not a movie that does anything for me.  Zero Dark Thirty gets “This is what defeat looks like” out of “You can help yourself by being truthful.”

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Mama (2013)


A Ghost is an Emotion Bent Out of Shape.

Mama (2013)I was very excited to get back to the theaters recently. Actually, at the time of writing this, I WAS happy to get back to the theaters about two weeks ago. When I saw Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, I was able to make it a double feature. But I didn’t find a great amount of talent in the theaters. I really wanted to see Zero Dark Thirty, but Hansel & Gretel’s run time cut too deep into the start time of that movie to make it. But there was another movie that tickled my fancy. That’s probably a little too gay of a way to say that, but it was true. I did not expect much out of this movie based on what little I knew about it. I knew only two people involved with the movie. One of the producers of the movie has made movies that have not impressed me with their story, but always had a great visual style to them. And one of the actresses was in The Help and Zero Dark Thirty. That has nothing to do with anything. But let’s see how it turned out when I went to see Mama, based on story by Andres Muschietti who also directed and co-wrote, co-written by Neil Cross and Barbara Muschietti, and starring Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse, Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Daniel Kash, Javier Botet, and Hannah Cheesman.

During a financial crisis that apparently happened in 2008, a man named Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) overreacts a tad by killing his business partners, his estranged wife, and kidnapping his two children – 3-year old Victoria (Morgan McGarry) and 1-year old Lilly (Maya and Sierra Dawe) – taking them on a drive to an abandoned cabin where he’ll probably kill them too. Before he gets the opportunity, something grabs him, pulls him out of frame, and kills the bejesus out of him. Also arguably a bit of an overreaction. Five years later, Jeffrey’s brother (who is also him), Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau again) is going broke searching for them. His search crew finally stumbles across the children, still alive but almost entirely feral, and now being played by Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse. After a psychiatric rehabilitation, the girls’ doctor, Dr. Gerald Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) suggests that the girls live with Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain). But there’s a problem. The girls seem to have manifested a protector that they call “Mama” … OR HAVE THEY!?!?!?

I kinda liked this movie, but that may also have been mainly because I had just seen Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. This movie was better than that one, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a good movie. Just good by comparison. With time, I find that I’m getting better at predicting my feelings about movies as my movie-watching wang becomes more prodigious. Turns out, when I see Guillermo del Toro’s name associated with something and I instantly assume I’ll be unimpressed with the story but find the visual style pretty interesting, it’s a pretty safe assumption. It’s not bad, but it’s also nothing special. It’s a ghost story two feral kids. I think one of the biggest points of contention I had was that I never understood Mama’s motivations. I realize that she was the ghost of a crazy person, but shouldn’t she appreciate the people that were taking care of the children that she loved? I understand the possibility that Mama would get jealous that the kids were liking the living family better than the creepy ghost lady, but why would she try to kill them when they were treating the kids well? I also didn’t understand the people that acted like they shouldn’t be a little bit cautious around the kids. Sure, the kids are really young, but even young kids can pick up a knife and stab someone to death in their sleep. And, since they were feral, they probably wouldn’t even realize that killing these people in their sleep was wrong. That’s just survival to them. I also didn’t understand how Annabel was so against the kids. I would’ve though those feral kids were rad! They’re like tiny, female Wolverine’s!

The visual style of the movie was very effective. That is all. Moving on.

As with many movies, I don’t pass a lot of judgment on the performances. They all did really good jobs. What I do take issue with more often is the characters themselves. Jessica Chastain did a good job, and I was happy to see her looking Goth because she’s much more attractive with visible eyebrows. But I was also disappointed that she wasn’t a more likeable character. She really didn’t want anything to do with these kids. That probably stemmed from her trying way too hard to be a badass rocker chick. This was cemented for me when we heard her answering machine message. It was like, “Hey, this is Annabel. I’m not here. Leave a message or whatever. Then fuck yourself. Party on, Wayne.” It’s the sign to me that neither Chastain nor the writers of this movie are rockers in the slightest. I also liked Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse as the feral girls. They did cute and creepy in equal degrees of quality.

I enjoyed Mama, but I’m also aware of the fact that it wasn’t that substantial. It was just super passionate about being mediocre. The story was nothing special and the characters were hit and miss, but the people playing those characters and the art director did a great job. I cannot really recommend this movie for purchase or viewing in the theaters, but I’d get behind recommending a rental. A dollar at RedBox is right up its alley. Mama gets “What’s under the bed?” out of “Leave a message after the beep. Fuck you. Beep.”

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The Help (2011)


You is Kind. You is Smart. And You Really Want to Be More Important Than You Probably is.

I was not excited to watch today’s movie, and not just for fear of how many racist/sexist jokes I might make. I liked who I knew in the cast, had been told really good things about other people in the cast, but I have gone on record in saying that I am not a fan of dramas. I don’t know why I would want to pay money to go somewhere and feel bad for myself. And to make that worse, why would I pay money to have a movie make me feel bad for being white? And that’s exactly what I expected out of The Help. Either that, or a movie about how liberated and progressive Emma Stone is, and how she should be praised as a superhero for black people. Either way, I didn’t want to do that. So when my coworker, Samrizon, suggested that I watch and review this movie, I said okay. ‘Cause that’s how I do, people! The Help was an adaptation of a novel by Kathryn Stockett, written and directed for screen by Tate Taylor, and stars Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia L. Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, Mary Steenburgen, Aunjanue Ellis, Sissy Spacek, Ahna O’Reilly, and Cicely Tyson. Let’s find out how many times I yelled “Go on, Soul Sister!” during this movie.

Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone) has just moved back home after graduating, and takes up employment with a “homemaker hints” column in the local newspaper. She goes to the maid, Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis), for advice for the column, but this is short lived as Aibileen’s boss, Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O’Reilly), thinks it’s getting in the way of Aibileen’s work. Meanwhile, another white woman named Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a dirty, racist bitch. She fires her maid, Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), for using her white people toilet with Minny’s black booty, just ’cause there was a hurricane going on outside and Minny didn’t want to go out there to use the outdoors, black people toilet. Publisher Elain Stein (Mary Steenburgen) gives Skeeter the idea that she should write something she cares about that no one wants to talk about. That gives Skeeter the idea to interview all of the black maids and put their stories into a book that she can take credit for, but the maids argue her down to not giving anyone credit for it and just telling the stories.

This movie is thoroughly okay. I think it’s probably the story that held me back the most. I mean, we had a good arrangement going and Skeeter had to go and muck it all up. Okay, that’s not what I meant. It just all seemed a little obvious, and I wasn’t able to connect to it. I know that things were shitty for black people back in the 50’s or 60’s, but I wasn’t there and I wasn’t black so I can’t connect. I could connect with white males, sure, but there were barely any in this movie. All this being the case, I couldn’t judge my feelings about what was happening in the movie from experience. Judging it from today’s standards and all of the white people are pretty on the nose in their depictions, and the situations all seem a bit melodramatic. There’s the white girl that is super progressive for her time and regards the black people as equals or better, there’s the white girl who is openly and aggressively racist, there’s the old mother who seems to have found the error of her ways in her old age, and the old mother who loves her maid but is too afraid to be different in order to defend her. There’s also a good deal of Breakfast Club-style archetypes in this movie with Howard as the leader of the popular club, Stone as the artsy quasi-outcast, and Jessica Chastain as the girl that’s an outcast because she’s with the queen bee’s ex-boyfriend. It does have a good message, but one that is nowhere near as powerful today as it would have been back then. Not that racism is gone today or anything, but most people going to see this movie probably don’t have experience dealing with racism on that level. Then again, I’m a white guy, so what do I know? If I was writing this review in the 60’s, I would only be seeing status quo and not racism, and I would be worshiped as a God because I owned a computer and had the internet.

There were a couple of things that didn’t make any sense to me in this movie. First off, why put a shot of a good lookin woman like Emma Stone in her underwear if you’re gonna make her wear that gross, period-correct underwear. Underwear was gross back in the day. There’s also a scene where Emma Stone’s mother, Allison Janney, wakes Emma up and her reaction is so weird that it threw me off. She yelled “No” as she was waking up in a way that seemed more like her mom was killing a puppy in front of her than just her not wanting to wake up yet. There was a major storyline going on in the movie about Bryce Dallas Howard hating Jessica Chastain, but I never really understood why. They mentioned that Howard thought Chastain had been fucking Howard’s boyfriend while they were still dating, but her reaction seemed a little much for something that wasn’t actually happening. There’s also a part in the movie where Minnie gets back at Hilly by feeding her a pie with her shit in it. That’s real. Howard was such a bitch in the movie that my problem clearly isn’t the fact that she ate shit, but how much sugar would it take to make a pie not only edible with shit in it, but Howard seemed to think it was delicious!

The performances in the movie range from pretty good to fantastic. Emma Stone was pretty good, and had a couple good moments based around her maid Constantine (Cicely Tyson), who had raised her more than her mother, but was recently fired by her mother. The rest of the time she was fine, but not spellbinding. Viola Davis was almost always spellbinding. I don’t know that I’ve seen her in a movie before, but she was good as shit. When she told the story about her son to Skeeter, it was heartbreaking. I hated Bryce Dallas Howard’s guts throughout the movie, but it’s not a negative for her because that’s the reaction you’re supposed to have to that character. She’s always got this happy, nice facade up, but underneath she’s a snooty, hateful bitch. She’s not so much a racist, but only because she seems to be shitty to everyone. I guess she does kick it up a notch for black people. Octavia Spencer was good, but I don’t recall any parts where she really caught my attention except in the scenes where she interacted with Jessica Chastain. I liked their relationship a lot. Chastain’s character was probably the second white person who wasn’t a racist in the movie, not because she was taking a stand like Emma Stone, but because she just seemed too innocent, as if she just wasn’t aware of the fact that she was supposed to be racist. Sissy Spacek was as good as she always is, but she didn’t have many emotional scenes. She actually worked mostly as comic relief in this movie. She was losing her memory, but having fun with it. And I totally believe Spacek as Howard’s mother. Them’s good casting.

The Help is a fine movie that just doesn’t connect with this shut-in white guy. The story’s fine but perhaps a bit obvious, with characters that are well-performed but written a little heavy with the archetypes. I got this movie from a RedBox and I feel satisfied with the experience for a dollar. I think you will be too. And if you have to wait for it to arrive from Netflix, probably the same. I can’t say that I like this movie enough to run out and buy it, but if I see it on sale, maybe. The Help gets “Fried chicken just tend to make you feel better about life” out of “That’s a quote from the movie. Don’t call me a racist!”

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