Zero Dark Thirty Review (Kirk Haviland)

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Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Mark Strong, Edgar Ramirez, Chris Pratt and James Gandolfini

Written by Mark Boal

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Returning to the big screen for the first time in four years, Academy Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow goes back behind enemy lines to bring us Zero Dark Thirty. Zero Dark Thirty is the tale of the hunt and eventual termination of the world’s most wanted terrorist: Osama Bin Laden. The real question is can Kathryn Bigelow deliver a film based on the saga of the hunt for Bin Laden that is as gripping and thought provoking as The Hurt Locker?

Starting from the attacks of September 11 2001, exhibited here as only sounds over a pitch black screen, we follow the career of CIA operative Maya (Chastain) as she starts her decade long obsession into finding Osama Bin Laden. From bleak interrogation rooms in CIA black sites, Maya quickly learns under master interrogator Dan (Clarke) the extremes her fellow countrymen are willing to go to for leads and answers. Maya’s own obsession starts with trying to find the Abu Ahmed, allegedly one of Bin Laden’s most trusted men. The search continues for a decade, until an oversight is discovered that sets the movements in motion for the raid that ended Bin Laden’s life.

Zero Dark Thirty

As much as director Bigelow’s last theatrical film, 2008’s The Hurt Locker, was a mainly insular and ultimately star-making turn for Jeremy Renner, Zero Dark Thirty belongs utterly and completely to Jessica Chastain, and she is more than up to the task. We see her Maya go from a young, enthusiastic, hopeful lady to a hard-edged, worn and ferociously tenacious woman through the course of the film. The supporting cast, aside from strong turns from Kyle Chandler and Jennifer Ehle, are mainly background characters who help push the story along – this is Maya’s story. The only other actor given ample time is the impeccable Jason Clarke who is fantastic here. Clarke’s Dan becomes one of Maya’s most trusted allies in the fight for her desire to chase after Abu Ahmed when everyone else thinks she is chasing a ghost. The final scene with a imploding Maya as she realizes she has done nothing but chase this man for a decade and has forsaken everything else, including a place to actually call ‘home’ is pure cinematic brilliance in her performance.

Zero Dark Thirty

Boal has crafted another intelligent script that makes you feel like an insider, behind the walls where all the decisions are made. Bigelow has made a smart choice in going with mainly traditional camera and not all handheld like Hurt Locker was, which plays so much better considering the more epic scale of the story being told. Her framing works very well and the steady hand behind the camera keeps the story focused and on point with Maya, even when it does go off on tangents like Ehle’s character, Jessica’s meeting with a potential spy within Al Queda, it returns it focus back to Maya almost immediately. The film is hardly short with a running time slightly over 2 ½ hours, but the time flies by as the film itself is enveloping and never feels like it is taking too long to get anywhere. In fact its running time will likely be shocking by the end of the film. The careful recreating and crafting of the sets and locations lends another level of authenticity, the Bin Laden compound looks pitch perfect and the other compounds and black sites are painstakingly recreated.

Zero Dark Thirty

Never feeling like an over the top propaganda film, in fact Zero Dark Thirty is pleasantly devoid of a lot of those politics and shines a harsh light on some of the practices of US interrogators. Zero Dark Thirty is an enthralling account of the hunt for one man and the obsession of one woman. A more complete, grand scale and satisfying film than Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty stands to be Bigelow’s most accomplished and rewarding film to date. Zero Dark Thirty is a strong recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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John Carter Review (Kirk Haviland)

John Carter (2012)

Starring Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Bryan Cranston and the voices of Willem Dafoe and Samantha Morton.

Written by Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon

Directed by Andrew Stanton

Hello All,

John Carter marks the live action film directorial debut of Pixar director and scribe Andrew Stanton. Much like his fellow Pixar alum, Brad Bird, Stanton has chosen a big budget action project for his first foray into live-action filmmaking. Unfortunately for Stanton, Bird hit big with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol while John Carter has stumbled out the gates.

We are introduced to the titular character (Kitsch) as he is followed down the street during the late 1800’s. He drops his tail to deliver a telegram to his nephew, writer Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara). When Burroughs arrives he finds Carter apparently dead with strange requests regarding his last rites and a journal left behind for him to read. This is the backdrop for our introduction to John Carter, a native Virginian who was a Captain in the civil war. By the time we meet him he is a ruff and tumble prospector looking for a “Cave of Gold” which is part of the local folklore. After a jailbreak and a run in with natives Carter does discover his cave. Unfortunately for John, he ends up being transported unknowingly to Barsoom (know on Earth as Mars) by a member of the mysterious “Thern” who have the ability to shift between space with the aid of a talisman. Carter awakes to discover that he can leap miles high and wide due to the different gravity he is under and that Mars is perfectly suitable to sustain human life.

Carter almost immediately stumbles on a nesting ground for the Tharks, a race of gigantic green tusked warriors, whose leader Tars Tarkas (Dafoe) quickly recognizes Carter’s abilities and adopts him as part of his tribe. While Tars Tarkas sees Carter’s abilities as an asset in Barsoom’s own Civil War, John has no desire to fight for anyone as the War took a heavy personal toll on him. Alas, trouble finds its way to Carter as he literally leaps to the rescue of Deja Thoris (Collins), the beautiful humanoid princess caught between two warring factions, as her father (Hinds) has promised her hand in marriage to end the bloodshed. Carter’s actions land him firmly in the middle of all the fighting and once again he must reluctantly choose a side and fight.

If that synopsis seems overlong and overstuffed then you’re absolutely right. There’s about three movies worth of plot and story crammed into this epic, and unfortunately the film feels muddled and rushed because of it. Somewhere I’m sure there is a kickass 3 1/2 hour cut of John Carter that was lost on the editing room floor. That said John Carter still packs enough fun and action to give it a mild recommendation. This film will captivate the kids who are patient enough with it as it packs some great effects work and well staged action set pieces, even if one is directly lifted from Attack of the Clones. Taylor Kitsch does good work here as the titular character; his charisma and likeability center the film and keep us involved. Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, and Bryan Cranston are given little to do though. Collins is fine as the love interest, but ultimately the entire film lands on Kitsch’s shoulders.

In the end, John Carter is a bit of a missed opportunity. This could have been the next great Science Fiction series if they had the patience to let it play out over a series of movies. Instead, it’s a passable film that will have a hard time recouping its cost, and unfortunately that will probably disuade any chance of this becoming that series.

Til next time,

The Movie Junkie TO

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