Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Seen in March 

Scene from Zero Dark Thirty whereby a team of Navy SEALs do what they do. Image via the Hollywood Reporter

Steven Spielberg's epic portrayal of Lincoln's struggle to pass the constitutional amendment that would emancipate slaves and abolish slavery in America feels at times like a period piece version of C-Span. The climatic vote is stirring though full of dramatic pause, but Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln is very, very good. He made an almost mythical historical figure a real person yet still iconic. It's hard to believe that abolishing slavery had to be argued at all but it is shown here with all its dirty laundry.

Ben Affleck's Argo tells the story of the six American hostages who escaped from Iran in 1979 during the Tehran hostage crisis. It is told from the point of view of the CIA agent who conceived of the idea of disguising the six Americans as members of a Canadian film crew. So the Canadians involved don't get their due, Iranians involved don't get their due and frankly anyone not named Tony Mendez doesn't get their due. But that is kind of the point; Tony Mendez never got his due and this is his story. It's an effective drama that shows just how little we know about the intelligence agency and just how much they sometimes give. It might be interesting to see this period of history depicted more deeply as a mini-series rather than a 2 hour film.

Seven Psychopaths
Martin McDonagh's follow up to In Brugges is a similarly funny, intelligent and violent thriller about writer's block that doesn't work quite as well. As much as I wanted to like this, I can't really recommend it.

The Dictator
Sacha Baron Cohen is a troublemaker who likes making anti-gay and anti-Semitic jokes to prove a point. This film about a fictitious Arabic dictator walks the line, many times crossing it but it's all in good fun isn't it? Cohen has been described as shameless or impossible to embarrass and you may have to find some of those qualities in yourself to enjoy this movie.

Black Mirror
Cross Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected with The Twilight Zone mixed with the moral morass of an age of mobile phones, ubiquitous video and photography without privacy and you may have a good picture of what this intelligent and surprising British drama is like. It is very good.

Louis C.K.: Live at the Beacon Theater
Excellent hour of stand-up comedy from a man who is more artist than clown. I'm a fan. Not everyone is. His absurdist humour is intelligent but can be blunt at times which I think, is the point. This production is also a standout for its quality and the fact that the comedian did it all himself. He rented the hall, hired the camera and sound crew, directed, produced and edited it himself. Film and television are often thought of as collaborative arts but Louis C.K. has shown how a singular vision it can be. He is the The Singularity of Hilarity.

The Errol Morris documentary about Joyce McKinney, a one time beauty queen (apparently) with a (self reported IQ) of 168 who became obsessed with a pudgy Mormon missionary, Kirk Anderson (sp?) in the late 70s. She loved him so much that she followed him to England where she abducted him, keeping him in a countryside cottage for 3 days, having sex to break him from his Mormon "cult", while believing he would marry her. Kirk so feared excommunication from the church he later claimed to be kidnapped and an unwilling participant triggering Mckinney's arrest. As always with Morris documentaries, the subject is given more than enough rope to hang themselves. My only problem is the film purports to be about the Tabloid press' fascination with a sex scandal but it really is more about the truth we tell ourselves versus the truth as others see it.

Zero Dark Thirty
Intense is probably not the right word for this film. There are moments of a quiet procedure interrupted by horrible violence. The story of Osama Bin Laden's capture and death could only ever be that way. Much has been made of the torture scenes and its role in the plot but it is pretty clear how fruitless any information garnered from torture was. The really useful information seemed to come from interrogations in confinement and not torture (though the threat is present). The rest of the story is "old fashioned police work" and new fangled technology. The dramatic Navy Seal operation is intense but surprisingly the soldiers are depicted as working confidently, assuredly and with focus. When the moment does come it is without fanfare. "Geronimo. For God and country. Geronimo." Maya, the agent who tracked the courier that led to success is poignantly shown crying without an answer to the question "Where do you want to go?"

The Story of Film. An Odyssey.
A meditative, philosophical and international series that looks at the history and significance of movies. From the British Film Institute. At times a bit esoteric but comes across as an enlightening love poem to movies and filmmakers.

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