Beauty and the Best

Dec 2012

"Zero Dark Thirty" is Gripping - Movie Review

Anyone who saw The Hurt Locker knows that Kathryn Bigelow is a no-nonsense director, and Zero Dark Thirty proves this to be true yet again. ZD30 tells the story of how the CIA tracked down and eventually killed Osama Bin Laden on May 2, 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The movie’s focus is on a female CIA analyst named “Maya,” who relentlessly pursued Bin Laden, even when the trail had gone cold.

This is not a fast paced movie. In fact, at nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes, it has a plodding and deliberate pace which, intentionally or not, serves to underscore the single-minded purposefulness of its heroine. If we’re fidgeting seeing the story unfold over three hours, imagine how tough it was to stay the course over a decade. This is especially true after you consider that politics, the death of team members, and hopelessness nearly brought the entire operation crumbling down. We see just how close Bin Laden, code named “Geronimo,” was to slipping away forever.

It turns out that finding Bin Laden came down to tracking down one of his top level couriers, Abu Ahmed, who was hidden away in Pakistan and believed to be dead due to misinformation. Of course, after all the research and intense, closed-door meetings, the movie comes down to the 30 minutes that recounts the night the SEAL team infiltrated Bin Laden’s compound. Interestingly, that part of the film is especially restrained and feels near documentary like. There are very few theatrics to the SEAL team’s mission, which was executed with cold, ruthless precision (note how each person killed was “engaged” multiple times, just to be sure). Having watched the fascinating 60-Minutes interview with SEAL team leader Mark Bissonette, I was especially interested to see this play out in the film. Honestly, I think his retelling might have been more gripping.

I really enjoyed this movie. I have a great admiration for the men and women who serve in the US military and this story was of interest to me. I’m also highly opposed to bullshit at this stage in my life, and this movie had a no-frills, matter-of-fact storytelling that was like a salve to my weary, reality TV embattled psyche. Having said that, the prosaic narrative eventually betrayed Bigelow’s efforts to make Maya, austerely portrayed by Jessica Chastain, seem like a bad ass. Lines like “I'm the motherfucker that found him” seem particularly corny after you’ve just shown us a brutal 10-minute segment of a suspect being broken down through water boarding torture. Chris Pratt, who plays the the commander of the SEAL team, seems to be good in just about everything he does, but his innate likability undermines his credibility as a stone cold killer. Jason Clarke as one of the lead CIA ops is highly compelling and, for me, was the real stand out in the movie.

Overall, thumbs up. I think Chastain’s performance is being overrated (although look out for her confrontation scene with Kyle Chandler - it has Oscar written all over it), but in the end ZD30 caps off an extremely good year for movies with a figurative and literal BANG.

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A Christmas Carol (1951) Review

Everyone has their own traditions around the holidays. One of the ones my family and I share is annually watching Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. It's a classic piece of western literature which has been adapted and retold dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of times and we all have our definitive version. Some of you may most enjoy George C. Scott, Patrick SterwartMichael CaineScrooge McDuck or even (God forbid) Jim Carrey in the starring role. In my mind however, there is only one Ebenezer Scrooge and that is Alastair Sim from the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol.

Yes and I am talking about the original called "A Christmas Carol" and not that colorized BS version of the movie renamed "Scrooge". I find the original black and white adds a lot of atmosphere. That was how it was supposed to be seen and that's how I watch it. For those of you who aren't familiar with the story, let me first welcome you to the planet Earth. It's really a nice place in a lot of ways despite what our news broadcasts say. And A Christmas Carol is an 1843 novel about a miserly old businessman named Ebenezer Scrooge who has lost his connection with his fellow men & women and can no longer even enjoy holidays like Christmas.

After working late on Christmas Eve and retiring home for the night, he is met by the ghost his former business partner Jacob Marley. Marley tells him that his selfish and callous deeds will lead Scrooge to eternal torment in the thereafter but that there is still hope. Scrooge would then be visited upon by three more spirits of Christmas who would take him to his past, the present and future in order to show the folly of his ways. In the extremely off chance you haven't experienced the story before, I won't give away what happens next but instead talk about what makes this version so special.

As I touched upon before, this movie has great atmosphere. The old film grain and contrast really works to this film's advantage because frankly 19th century England was a pretty depressing place and it genuinely makes certain scenes frightening.
Michael Hordern as Jacob Marley is terrifying as he wails about how mankind was his business. And that brings me to the performances. The supporting cast ranges from competent to excellent. Tiny Tim seems a little spry for a dying child but others like Bob Cratchet, or Old Joe or Scrooge's business associates all add their own layer of personality to this film.

But it all hinges on the performance of Alastair Sim. He does a wonderful performance that gives the slightest hint that even though he really doesn't like Christmas that he says such over the top things (like how people who celebrate Christmas should be boiled in their own pudding) more-so because it amuses him to annoy them as they have him. He excellently portrays resentment, fear, contrition and glee and you do believe it's all coming form the same character, the same person.

That's why of all the versions to see, this is the one. But most of all, A Christmas Carol is a story of redemption. Afterwards "it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us".  And that's something that all people could learn from every day of the year, not just Christmas. I would most of all recommend reading the original novel but If you haven't seen this 1951 version of A Christmas Carol, do so. It's currently available on DVD or if you leave your television on long enough over the next week or so, it will definitely be on at some point. In any event, have happy holidays from all of us - at All Good Things.

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Batman: Mask of the Phantasm Review


December 4th marks the release of the third Christopher Nolan Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises for home release. It was a film met with mixed reactions from viewers though I don't think anyone would say that this was the best Batman movie ever. So then which one is? Many would reply its prequel The Dark Knight or Tim Burton's 1989 Batman as their answer and while both are very well made & enjoyable films I would have a different answer. Instead, I would say the often overlooked Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is in fact, the best Batman movie ever.

Released in 1993, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is part of the Batman: The Animated Series canon, which was already known for its mature storytelling, unique art design that painted on black paper instead of white paper to give the art deco Gotham City's night the long shadows it was known for, as well as its excellent voice work from actors like Kevin Conroy as Batman or Star Wars' Mark Hamill as The Joker. These two actor's performances proved to be so iconic that they both continued to provide their interpretations up until most recently 2011's hit game Batman: Arkham City and thankfully both are cast in this film.

All the elements that made the TV series so great are kept in place for this movie and it uses every moment of its running time to tell an excellent tale about Batman's origins as the Batman, a mysterious new vigilante called The Phantasm who is killing criminals for which Batman is being blamed and even some parts revealing of the enigmatic Joker's history before he became The Joker.

Also I should mention the incredible score composed by Shirley Walker who not only did a great job emulating the style set by Danny Elfman for the 1989 film but in many ways surpasses even him in setting the tone for Batman. Both epic and melancholy, her music will echo in the back of your head for hours or days after hearing it.  I find it leagues more appropriate than Hans Zimmer's frenetic drums used in the most recent films.

So why may have you not heard of this film if it's so great? Unfortunately it was released around the same time as Tim Burton's sequel 
Batman Returns so many people maligned this as the child friendly version of Batman. I assure you that is not true in the slightest. This is in every way the superior Batman movie and there are several ways for you to now watch it for yourself. It has been released to DVD both on its own and as part of a combo pack with the straight to video Batman & Mr. Freeze SubZero, along with your usual digital distribution services. For all you Batman lovers and especially those disappointed by The Dark Knight Rises, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is definitely something to see.

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