FlixChatter Review: Zero Dark Thirty

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Apart from perhaps Point Break, Kathryn Bigelow’s films are often a one-time-viewing-only for me and this one is no exception. It’s not a dis mind you, it’s just that the subject matter she picks are usually so difficult to watch.

The beginning of the film took us back to September 11, 2001. With nothing appearing on screen, we hear the tape of the air controller and 911 operators responding to the people in the twin towers. It was an efficient way to remind us what’s really at stake in the investigations that take place two years later. A CIA officer named Maya has just been brought to the black site where an ongoing interrogation of an alleged terrorist takes place. It’s during the first 20 minutes of the torture and humiliation scenes, including waterboarding, that’s become the subject of tons of controversies. Kathryn Bigelow has since defended her film, saying that “…depiction is not endorsement, and if it was, no artist could ever portray inhumane practices.” Well said, I’d say.

This film definitely challenges us to ponder on various moral issues and as a viewer I was put into a roller coaster ride as all kinds of raw emotions run through me. At the center of it all, we have a relentless protagonist Maya, who’s become obsessed with this manhunt. What started out as an assignment straight out being recruited out of high school, her hunt for Bin Laden (nicknamed ‘UBL’ by her colleagues) quickly became a personal vendetta.

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It plays like a documentary at times in the way it depicts true events such as the various terrorist bombings, including one that Maya herself almost become a victim of at the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan. Despite its claim that it was based on true events though, of course it’s still a movie so creative liberties are obviously taken. As a thriller, it definitely works. Despite the 157-minute running time, Bigelow’s direction based on Mark Boal’s script managed to keep my attention throughout. There’s not a boring moment as even the slower moments are packed with tension. There’s also some humorous moments such as when Maya relentlessly writes on the glass window of her CIA boss how many days its been since she gave out her intel but nothing has been done about it. She also delivered the most bad-ass lines to Leon Panetta (played by Mr Soprano himself, James Gandolfini) when he asked who she was during a meeting discussing Bin Laden’s compound.

“I’m the motherf***** who found this place, sir!”

I don’t like to cuss but that is one heck of an awesome line delivered in such deadpan perfection by Jessica Chastain. She gave a credible performance in the role. Maya’s reserved, even aloof at times, but she’s definitely a fighter and she stops at nothing to get the job done. There’s a powerful scene where she tells her boss Joseph Bradley a piece of her mind, it was a ‘you go girl’ moment and Chastain nailed it.The supporting cast delivered a solid performance as well, most notably Jason Clarke (an Aussie who always play Americans), Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Edgar Ramirez and Mark Strong. Joel Edgerton plays one of the SEALS Team Six that appeared in the last 40 minutes of the actual raid in the compound in Abbottabad.

I thought that the whole sequence was well-directed. The views from night-vision goggles and the handheld camera movements offer quick cuts in a dark environment, but thankfully it didn’t make me feel nauseous watching it. I’m also glad that Bigelow didn’t over-dramatize the actual killing of Bin Laden with excessive slo-mo, what have you. Though we know how the end plays out, it’s still an edge-of-your-seat ride from start to finish.

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The end of such an exhilarating, dangerous, and not to mention expensive operation ends with a solemn moment of Maya alone on an airplane as she leaves the military base. It’s the right kind of sentiment I’d expect someone in her position would have. She’s spent years at the agency to finally get to this moment, to bring justice a man who has killed thousands of innocent victims. But yet, there’s no self-congratulatory cheer, no high-fives with the troops… it’s not a moment of celebration. It was such a relief for me that the whole ordeal is over and I had only been watching it for 2.5 hours, I can’t begin to imagine how the real ‘Maya’ must have felt.

As I said in my Oscar nominations reaction, I think Bigelow was snubbed and now I’m even more convinced of it. It was a well-crafted film all around, the non-flashy, no non-sense directing style works for this subject matter, and acting-wise it was top notch. The whole film was enhanced by the terrific score Alexander Desplat. It’s minimalistic but definitely effective in setting the mood. A riveting film that certainly leaves much to ponder about for days to come.

4.5 out of 5 reels

What are your thoughts on this film? I’d love to hear it.

The 85th Oscar Nominations: The Good, the Bad and the WTF

85thOscar

It’s a big morning in Hollywood… and it’s a life-changing moment for some filmmakers and actors alike. Take Bradley Cooper, he’s now going to have ‘Oscar nominee’ before his name is spoken in his movie trailers. Being nominated for the same film as Robert DeNiro’s got to be extra sweet!

Now, as I did last year, now that the cat’s out of the bag, it’s time to scrutinize analyze it to death, ahah. Before I get to that, I’m glad to report that my Oscar predictions is not too far off. I predicted 10 noms, but there are only nine and I didn’t have Amour on my list. I also predicted Moonrise Kingdom and The Master would make the list.

BEST PICTURE NOMINATIONS

  1. Amour
  2. Argo
  3. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  4. Django Unchained
  5. Lincoln
  6. Les Miserables
  7. Life of Pi
  8. Silver Linings Playbook
  9. Zero Dark Thirty

Anyway, you can see the full nominations here. Below’s my thoughts on most of the major nominations:

The Good

  • Nice to see David O. Russell got a nod for Silver Linings Playbook, his first film after The Fighter, which he also got directing nomination. It’s one of my favorite 2012 films and I do think it deserves the kudos. He captures the bizarre family dynamics brilliantly, and the film is both entertaining and deeply moving at the same time.
  • While we’re on the subject, I think it’s cool that Silver Linings Playbook get four-for-four noms.
    SLP_cast
    That is nominations in all FOUR acting categories: Best Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Supporting Actor (Robert DeNiro), and Best Supporting Actress (Jackie Weaver). It’s perhaps the first time in Oscar history that three actors portraying members of one family all got nominated!
  • I’ve always been a fan of Jessica Chastain, so even though I haven’t seen Zero Dark Thirty yet (will do VERY soon), I’ll go out of a limb to say that the nom was well-deserved.
  • Hunt_TheSessionsWoo hoo! Helen Hunt for Best Supporting Actress in The Sessions. She was tremendously brave in that role, I can’t say I’m too surprised to see her here. It wasn’t that she was brave to be fully nude, but it’s the emotional part of her role that I found really affecting. That scene on her last day of the session when she cried in her car, that was heartbreaking.
  • I think this is the first time I actually agree with pretty much ALL of the Best Actor nominations (and no overrated actor this time, yay!), even though I’ve only seen one of the performances. I just think all five of those talented actors have either been overlooked previously and based on what I’ve been reading, have amazing dedication to their roles (especially Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln).
  • YES for Brave in the Best Animated Feature category! You know I adore that movie!
  • YES for Mr. Roger Deakins for Skyfall!
    Deakins_SkyfallSet
    That’s the best looking movie I’ve seen in a long time, surely! I do hope he takes home the Oscar this time, I mean he’s the Susan Lucci of cinematographers, being nominated 9 times previously but never won once!
  • YES for The Hobbit for the Best Makeup and Visual Effects nods, very well-deserved I’d say. I’d love to see Richard Armitage and his band of dwarves make an appearance at the ceremony 😀

The Bad

  • As much as I like Joaquin Phoenix and that I think it’s good that the Academy voters disregard how he feels about award season, I’m still bummed that John Hawkes didn’t get an Oscar nod. I mean it was a tremendous performance to act just with your face alone!
    Hawkins_Sessions
    In case you didn’t know about Phoenix, he called Oscar campaigning utter and total bullsh*t in last year’s Interview Magazine, saying this about Award season: “I don’t want to be part of it. I don’t believe in it. It’s the worst-tasting carrot I’ve ever tasted in my whole life. I don’t want this carrot.” (per THR)
  • I guess there’s really room for TWO supporting actors in one film is there? I was really rooting for John Goodman to get a nod for ARGO, I think he was as excellent and memorable as Alan Arkin. He does it so effortlessly. I think he should’ve gotten a best supporting actor nod for The Artist as well.
  • None of my three favorite British Dames got nominated. I was hoping that Maggie Smith might get a nod for either Quartet or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Judi Dench for Marigold Hotel or Skyfall, and Helen Mirren for Hitchcock. The last one especially bummed me out, Mirren was truly the best thing about Hitchcock.
    ….

The WTF

Time for the most-uttered four-letter-word-during-award-season to make an appearance once again. Snub this, snub that… so who gets the dishonor this year? Well look no further than the Directing category… which brings me to the burning question I’ve always had during award season… perhaps one of you could enlighten me??

How could a movie get a Best Picture nomination but its director is NOT??
I mean, wasn’t the director the one who called the shots to make the film work the way it did?

  • Both Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow are both snubbed for ARGO and Zero Dark Thirty respectively.
    AffleckBigelowOscarSnubs
    I think a lot of people are very surprised since both are nominated by Directors Guild Awards! According to THR, the DGA has historically been the single best predictor of the nominees for and winners of the best director Oscar — and the best picture Oscar. It’s curious that both are political thrillers, and has their shares of controversies. Heh, I’m really rooting for ARGO for the win this year 😦
  • WOW, not a single nomination for Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises?? I’m not expecting it to nab a Best Picture nod (not that it deserved it), but at the very least in the Best Visual Effects, Best Cinematography for Wally Pfister, or Hanz Zimmer for Best Score?
    ….
  • The Intouchables absent from the Best Foreign Language category. WOW, all of the reviews I’ve read so far suggests that this is a shoo-in in this category. The story sounds really heartwarming and uplifting, plus since Amour has made it to the Best Picture category, shouldn’t this film replace that one in the Foreign Language category?? [scratch head]

Some 2013 Oscar Trivia:


This seems to be the nomination of ALL ages, from 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis (good luck to those who have to present the Best Actress category on pronouncing THAT!) for Beast of the Southern Wild to 85-year-old Amour‘s lead actress Emmanuelle Riva.
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Thomas Newman earns his 11th nomination with his score for the James Bond film Skyfall. The Newman family — Alfred, Lionel, Emil, Thomas, David and Randy — now have 87 nominations altogether.

Michael Kahn is the most nominated film editor; he receives his eighth nomination this year for Lincoln.

Similarly, Roman Coppola, who was nominated with Wes Anderson for their original screenplay for Moonrise Kingdom, is the sixth member of the Coppola clan to receive a nomination — he joins Carmine Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola, Talia Shire, Nicolas Cage and Sofia Coppola — bringing the family total to 24 nominations.

[Source: LA Times]


Well, that’s my reaction to the 2013 nominations. What are your Oscar delights and gripes?