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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Warrior (2011)

How Much Abuse Can One Man Take?

I felt like it was necessary to put off today’s review for as long as possible after the Rocky reviews went up.  This is a movie I’ve been thinking about seeing for a long time, but never really gotten around to it.  And it’s also a movie about underdog fighters trying to do something big.  That being the case, six Rocky movies were enough in one span of time.  I was able to mix it up for the two reviews that separated this movie from Rocky with a romantic comedy and a really old movie, but I’ve had the disk sitting here from RedBox for a couple of days already and didn’t want to keep getting charged for it, so today is the day for my review of Warrior, written by Anthony Tambakis, directed by Gavin O’Connor, and starring Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, Vanessa Martinez, Frank Grillo, Kevin Dunn, Bryan Callen, Kurt Angle, Erik Apple, Nate Marquardt, and Anthony Johnson.

AWOL US Marine Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy), though he tends to go by Tommy Riordan, returns home to visit his father, Paddy (Nick Nolte), to get him to train him for a winner-takes-all mixed martial arts tournament called Sparta, the winner of which takes home 5 million dollars.  Tommy wants this money to provide for the family of a friend of his that died in the Marine Corps.  Paddy’s older son, Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton), works as a physics teacher but, because of money troubles, he does small time fights on the side.  A bruise on his face gets him suspended from teaching, which is certainly not helping his money troubles.  Though his wife Tess (Jennifer Morrison) is against it, Brendan starts training to participate in Sparta so that the prize money can help him keep his house.

This movie is the Rocky for this generation, or at least it should be.  And hopefully that doesn’t mean they’ll dilute it with too many sequels of questionable quality.  This is a movie that women may avoid as they seem to do with Rocky, but that’s probably because they are making a very incorrect assumption about what this movie is.  Yes, it’s got MMA in it, but the real story is about a broken family somehow repairing itself through punches to the face.  Let’s focus first on the story that should be the reason you watch this.  Tommy’s side of the story is all about slowly unraveling his troubled past and how he deserted the Marines, saved the lives of a bunch of other marines, and the troubles he had with his family.  Brendan was dealing with his financial troubles, his career problems, his disapproving wife, and his family troubles.  Paddy is tying together the two sons who hate his guts.  It’s so well-written and so emotional.  The climax is so satisfying and emotional that I actually got a little choked up for it.  I would say that the beginning of the story is a little drawn out and doesn’t have a lot happening so that could’ve been shaved down a bit to benefit the story.  And I probably would’ve liked to have a little something more after the ending to wrap everything up with Tommy’s desertion problems, but it was still really good.  This is an MMA movie though, and the fights are pretty spectacular.  The first thing I appreciate about this is that I think boxing has lost a lot of its steam since the Rocky days.  I’ve never been that big of a fan of boxing, but I am all about MMA, and this movie does not disappoint.  Though it’s often to a lesser extent, MMA can suffer the same problems as boxing when the fights are moving too slow because the fighters aren’t willing to advance.  In a movie, you don’t have to worry about that.  All of the fights in this movie were intense and exciting.  One of the very first matches was Tommy absolutely embarrassing an experienced but douchey fighter.  He whoops that ass!  Tommy’s style was mostly wrestling and striking, and he won all of his fights with ease and brutality.  Brendan took more of a beating, but always won with some great submission moves.  I really liked his fight with Kurt Angle because Kurt was playing a Russian named Koba who was a force to be reckoned with, and it reminded me of the Rocky vs. Drago fight from Rocky IV.  One problem I had (without spoiling anything) was that there is no way a match would be allowed to continue when one of the fighters has a noticeably dislocated shoulder.  They would’ve stopped that shit and called the other guy the winner.

All of the performances in this movie were superb.  Joel Edgerton gave a very real and grounded performance.  It annoyed me that so many people doubted him because they thought of him only as a physics teacher and ignored the fact that he used to be in the UFC.  But in a world where the UFC actually exists, why are these guys not aware of Rich Franklin?  He used to be a teacher!  Tom Hardy’s performance was not openly emotional, but you could see that he was semi-constantly dealing with some inner turmoil.  And his fights were the most awesome for me to watch, though I do like a good submissions game.  I will say as well that I thought I couldn’t be more excited to see Dark Knight Rises, but now that I’ve seen this guy in this movie, I’m even more excited to see what he does with Bane.  Nick Nolte was fantastic in this movie.  He knew that he had fucked up royally in the past, but had gotten sober and wanted nothing more than for his sons to forgive him.  You feel really bad for him for the bulk of the movie.  If I had to say there was a bad performance in this movie, it would definitely be those douche ass announcers at the Sparta tournament.  When they were first fighting, the announcers said that both of the brothers were going to lose.  After they won, they warmed up to Tommy and kept saying Brendan was going to lose.  Maybe you two should just shut the hell up.  You’re no Miss Cleo.

I had a feeling I would like Warrior when I was going into it, but I didn’t really know that I would love it.  It’s the Rocky of this generation!  A fantastic and exciting fight story, but with a very good emotional storyline that should make even people that don’t like MMA love this movie.  I definitely recommend this movie, and with no caveats.  Everyone should love this movie.  You can probably still find it from a RedBox if you’re unsure, but I will probably be purchasing it post haste.  Warrior gets “I think I liked you better when you were a drunk” out of “C’mon, it’s not as bad as it looks.”

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The Thing (2011)

So, I’m Gonna Die Because I Floss?

Today’s RedBox movie is another remake, but this time of a movie that I’ve actually seen.  The 1982 film is a classic Sci-Fi Horror movie that I was always pretty fond of.  Today’s movie calls itself a prequel, but the trailers made it look like it was pretty much the same movie.  That wouldn’t really be a bad thing though, as the original was a pretty cool movie.  There was only one way to find out, so I picked it up at the RedBox and started watching the prequel to the movie of the same name, The Thing, written by Ronald D. Moore and Eric Heisserer, directed by Matthijs van Heijningen, and starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Olsen, Joel Edgerton, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Trond Espen Seim, Kristoffer Hivju, Stig Henrik Hoff, Jorgen Langhelle, Paul Braunstein, and Kim Bubbs.

Paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recruited by Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) and his assistant Adam Finch (Eric Christian Olsen) to investigate the discovery of a spacecraft found under the ice in Antarctica.  She is shuttled to the base by helicopter pilot Carter (Joel Edgerton), and his copilots Derek (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Griggs (Paul Braunstein) to join Halvorson’s crew.  They find a creature encased in ice and take a tissue sample to find out if it’s Brendan Fraser.  Instead, it’s an alien creature that breaks free of the ice and goes missing, later surfacing and killing their dog.  They set it on fire, but it kills one of the researchers.  An autopsy reveals that the alien was copying the researcher’s cells and trying to imitate him.  The helicopter attempts to take one of the injured researchers away from the facility, but Kate finds some blood and discarded tooth fillings.  Figuring out that the alien has infected one of the people on the helicopter, she tries to flag it down, only to see the alien attack from inside and the helicopter crash miles away.  When she returns to the bathroom, the blood has been cleaned up.  Now the crew must figure out who amongst them is also an alien in disguise and try to stop the creature from reaching the mainland and infecting us all.

Even while watching the movie, I had a hard time figuring out if this was supposed to be a prequel or a remake.  If it was supposed to be a prequel, then history really repeats itself in the original because it starts off very similar.  The alien even decides that the dog should be the first to go, which is just a dick move on it’s part.  By the end of the movie, they tied it together, but only insomuch as they threw in the scene that opens the original movie over the credits of this movie, as if it was an afterthought.  It seemed like they were going to try to remake it, added a little stuff at the end, and then just decided to make it a prequel.  That being the case, this movie is inferior to the original.  Standing on it’s own, it would be a fine movie, but when you compare it to the original classic, it loses.  It’ll make me sound pretty hipster, but the story of this movie was good, but the original was better.  Being basically the same story, the first movie just told it better.  It’s one of the things I’ve noticed about movies from the 80’s in comparison to movies today.  See, back in the 80’s, technology and economy made it so these horror movies were unable to show their creature that much, either because it didn’t look that good or they just couldn’t afford it.  When I think back to the original Thing movie – as well as Jaws and Alien – what benefited them was their inability to show the creature.  The Thing showed their creature much more than the other two, but also didn’t have their creature running down the hall in broad daylight.  It made it much more psychologically intense for the audience.  In the original movie, we didn’t know any better than the people in the movie who was infected, but in this movie they don’t have to rely on that very much and they just have the guy say “No I’m not” and then have his face split in half.  The creature looks really good in this movie (in it’s various incarnations), but it’s not scary unless you consider gruesome scary.  What the original (as well as Jaws and Alien) did so much better was focusing on the characters and the atmosphere and having the creature affect everyone without actually being seen.  I didn’t care about anybody in this movie, so I could’ve given two shits when they got killed.  The movie’s just taking the basic premise of the original and filling it with gruesome money shots of what the writers always thought the alien could’ve done.  With all the tension and psychology covered up by lots of money and special effects, this movie is just barely better than any average slasher picture.  Much as in the first movie, they try to devise a test to find out who’s infected, but it gets sabotaged.  They then resort to looking into people’s mouths to see if they have fillings (as the creature can’t replicate inorganic material) and then just waiting for one of those guys to kill something so they can burn it (as it dies quickly in fire).  It occurred to me that, though it would be painful, having everyone hold their hand over a candle would’ve been a much more elegant solution to their problem.  If it just hurt, you’re okay.  If you split in half and killed everyone, I raise the possibility of you being infected to 20% sure.  To further ruin the original with money, they even go to the alien spaceship for the finale of the movie, which further takes me out of it.  I can’t relate to being chased down the halls of an alien spaceship.  The last time I was in one, I was strapped to a gurney and … I don’t wanna talk about it.  It just turns the movie into more of a sci-fi movie than a psychological horror.  The alien wasn’t the issue in the original; it was the infection.  It could’ve been just a regular disease in that movie and it wouldn’t have changed anything.  Also, the ending of this movie was kind of easy, quick, and lackluster.

The performances were all quality in this movie.  I can’t say I have any particular praises or criticisms for them.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead was good.  The Wikipedia page claimed that her character was supposed to have many traits in common with Lt. Ellen Ripley from Alien, and I can kind of see that.  She was a stronger character than most women are portrayed in movies as, and probably spent about as much time cowering in fear as any of the men, but she would also get behind the business end of a flamethrower when the moment called for it.  Plus, she was in Scott Pilgrim, so I already liked her.  Eric Christian Olsen, on the other hand, had to win me over.  He was in that awful prequel called Dumb and Dumberer, so I has a bad taste in my mouth for this guy.  But his performance in the movie was very real and I liked him.  I’ll forgive you for Dumb and Dumberer for now, but I’m keeping my eye on you!

I feel like, even though I didn’t really care for this movie, I can actually recommend it to you.  If you’re a fan of the original (as I am) then this movie might let you down by making a dumber version of what we already liked and calling it a prequel, when it was only barely a prequel.  If you’ve never seen the original, then you can go into this movie fresh and will probably enjoy yourself.  It’s a decent enough movie that’s hindered by it’s failure to succeed on it’s 30 year old successor.  And so the remake … I mean prequel … to the Thing gets “We found a fucking alien!” out of “You think they’re gonna pay a bonus for bringing home an alien instead of core samples?”

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