Sunday, January 20, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

Boy, I haven't written a movie blog review in a while.  In fact, it's been over a year.

A friend of mine posted on Facebook that he wanted to see Zero Dark Thirty and he was probing for interest.  I quickly swam to the bait and bit the hook.

We went to the somewhat unsafe Owings Mills theater.  Fortunatley there were few people there, thus reducing the probability that we would be mugged, robbed, assaulted, abused, molested, battered, pick-pocketed, slashed, beaten, stabbed, shot, sliced, knifed, or generally made uncomfortable.

Zero Dark Thirty is the movie about the search and capture of Osama bin Laden, the terrorist master mind behind al Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks on the United States, the bombing of the London subway, and the bombing of the Spanish trains, to name a few.

The movie is almost like a cinematic medley.  The first half of the movie is about the search for bin Laden.  Then there is the building of the case to make the strike against the compound where they suspected bin Laden was hiding, and then there was the actual military strike.

Zero Dark Thirty stars Jessica Chastain as Maya, the CIA agent assigned to the search for bin Laden, who through 12 years of stoic research, on-field experience, and a growing hostile and confident personality eventually becomes a regular bad-ass.

The movie displays some of the darker sides of the war on terror, such as torture and terrorist attacks. Many scenes are disturbing with a powerful images and sounds that will pound your chest.  As the intense screaming figure said in the old commercials for indoor lacrosse, 'we sell you a ticket for the whole seat, but you'll only need the edge!"  This was certainly the case for Zero Dark Thirty.

The movie also stars Jason Clark as a fellow investigator, Kyle Chandler as Jason Bradley, one of the field directors, Jennifer Ehle as Maya's closest friend in the desert, and Jeremy Strong as the jack-hole director over the search.  The movie is based on real events, but cannot be identified as a true story as much of it is still classified.

I remember reading of the political storm brewing because of the fear that classified information was leaked to help write and produce the movie, in addition to the movie containing and promoting pro-liberal viewpoints.  I cannot comment on the leaks as I obviously have no idea what information would have been classified.  However, as a right-wing conspiracy theorist myself, I am confident in saying that I found no pro-liberal viewpoints in the movie.  I think it was just political grandstanding and sensationalism to create a ruckus.

Zero Dark Thirty is Rated R for language, violence, including scenes or torture and death from terrorist attacks, and smoking.  Yes, smoking.

I highly recommend this movie and I give this movie 4.5 stars.  It is long, probably about 2 hours and 20 minutes long.  I would have given it a little higher rating, but I think that Jessica Chastain lacks energy.  Her characters are always sort of dry and restrained.  In what you would expect as an intense scene of highly charged emotion, Chastain was melancholy and seemingly disengaged.  Regardless, you should still see this movie.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

X-Men First Class

I have not seen any of the other X-Men movies, except for the Wolverine movie, which I think is a little different anyway, so I think I come into this movie sort of like someone would come into Star Wars Phantom Menace without seeing A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. I have no idea what the other movies are about.

I expected X-Men First Class to be like the wave of other super hero movies that have been in the theaters the past 5-10 years. And in many ways it is. Lots of computer-animated graphics. Lots of special sound effects. Unrealistic cinematic action. But this movie has something that the other movies didn't have - Kevin Bacon.

X-Men: First Class takes viewers back to World War II when the first mutants were discovered by evil Nazi scientists. Now they, the mutants, are older and various groups of mutants are discovering each other and banning together. Also in the mix are the bad mutants that are ready to take over the world.

Now set in the early 1960's with the Cuban Missile Crisis looming, the bad X-Men plan to use this to their advantage. Their weapons are deception, fear, and intimidation. Or were those the weapons of the Spanish Inquisition?

Also starring in this movie are James McAvoy as Dr. Charles Xavier, the chief of the good X-Men, Michael Fassbender as Magneto, January Jones as Emma Frost, Zoƫ Kravitz as Angel Salvadore, and Oliver Platt as "Man in Black Suit". I could list another dozen more of the actors playing super heroes. But I'm not going to.

There was one glaring flaw in the battle scene with the computer animated graphics. Any Navy man would probably notice it. Other keen or trained eyes may catch it, too.

X-Men: First Class is Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, language, some sexuality, an some partial nudity. Apparently naked aliens counts as nudity now. Maybe only if she has breasts. Blue ones.

Overall, I was impressed with X-Men: First Class. I didn't expect much from the movie, but it was actually not that bad. So if you like or can tolerate science fiction movies, I think you'll like this movie. I give X-Men: First Class 3.6 stars.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Hanna is a film about a young girl named Hanna (Saoirse Ronan - who I think makes a great young Cate Blanchett) who has been raised in solitude, but trained for combat and self-defense. But why? Her father, Erik Heller (Eric Bana), has been training her his whole life to be a multilingual fighter. But why? What Hanna does not know is that Erik has a secret and the CIA, and more importantly, agent Marissa Wiegle (Cate Blanchett) wants him and Hanna dead.

When Hanna is ready to face the world, she flips a switch indicating to the CIA of Erik's presence. Hanna is soon captured, but not for long. The CIA and Marissa learn that Hanna is fully trained and will be difficult to stop.

The rest of the movie depicts Marissa chasing Hanna and Hanna beating up people, while befriending a family on a vacation in the desert Southwest.

I think I got sort of lost with the movie. I understand why Hanna was running, but what was she running to, other than to kill Marissa before she kills her? I understand the secret, so I guess exposing the secret will destroy Marissa's career, so is that basically it? Is this movie too cerebra for me?

I'll admit that the action was pretty cool and persistent, though the plot was a bit too science fiction to be believable.

Hanna is Rated R for violence, a bit of language, and some sexual situations. The movie was directed by Joe Wright, who also directed Atonement (another Saoirse Ronan movie), and Pride and Prejudice (of the most recent remake). He's currently working on Anna Karenina, which I think will be 200 hours long.

Also starring in the movie are Jessica Barden as Hanna friend, Tom Hollander, Olivia Williams, and Jason Flemying, mostly actors I do not know.

Overall, I thought that the movie was decent. I just wish that I wasn't so confused at the end. Sometimes I just need someone to explain things to me at the end. I give Hanna and her blond eyebrows 3.4 stars.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Quiet Man

I've never been a big fan of John Wayne. I think that's mostly because he did westerns and I don't really care for westerns. However, he did make a few movies where he didn't wear a cowboy hat. The Quiet Man was one of them.

Many actors have a counterpart of the opposite sex that often play opposite them in many movies. There's Bogey and Bacall, Tracey and Hepburn, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. John Wayne's Katharine Hepburn is Maureen O'Hara. Her most popular movie was probably Miracle on 34th Street. Other big titles were Alfred Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, How Green Was My Valley, and the original The Parent Trap.

In The Quiet Man, Wayne is an Irishman, Sean Thornton, returning to Ireland after living most of his life in America, to reclaim his family's property. Neighboring property owner Red Danaher (Victor McLaglen) wants the property, but Sean outbids him. Meanwhile, Sean falls in love with Red's sister Mary Kate (O'Hara), but Red refuses to allow him to marry her.

Sean, a former boxer, eventually wins approval, but as Sean is unaccustomed to the pride of the Irish and their customs, he has a difficult time appreciating what is important to others, which strains his marriage. He eventually loses respect from many, in addition to losing Mary Kate, and must fight to win her and everyone's respect back.

The best line of the movie is when someone asks Sean Thorton where he lived in America. He said he lived in Pittsburgh, if you can call that living. Hysterical!

The movie was filmed in color, but not by a high quality color film, so by today's standards it looks pretty bad. I initially thought it was a colorized black and white movie. The movie was mostly filmed in Ireland, home to many of the actors, including supporting actor Barry Fitzgerald.

The Quiet Man is 2 hours and ten minutes long. The movie was made in 1952 and directed by the famous John Ford, often considered the best director of all time. In fact, he won an Oscar for Best Director in The Quiet Man. The movie also won an Academy Award for Best Cinemotography. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Victor McLaglen), Best Art Direction, Best Sound, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

I found the movie to be a bit long and without a clear direction. As acclaimed as the movie was, I only thought it to be moderately good. I did, however, enjoy the culturally appropriate music. And I always enjoy Barry Fitzgerald, especially when he's been a wee bit to the bottle.

I give The Quiet Man an even 3 stars.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

When I speak of William Holden being the lead man of his era, I can say that Matt Damon is the lead man of his era. At only 41 years old, Damon continues to put out movies year after year that capture your imagination or your attention, regardless of its material. And he can also successfully slide over to television (Liz Lemon's boyfriend on 30 Rock).

The Adjustment Bureau is Damon's newest movie to be released on DVD (remember I rarely go to the movie theater. Too expensive and people just won't shut the funk up!)

In this movie, Damon is a young Congressman David Norris running for the U.S. Senate. While reflecting upon the day and mentally preparing for his speech, Norris runs into a young lady named Elise (Emily Blunt) and instantly falls in love. Norris' speach is considered a dramatic success, though he loses the election after some frivilous behavior is exposed.

All the while, the audience watches as these men in hats seem to be following him around. Several years later, Harry (Anthony Mackie), one of these hatted men, is instructed to make Norris spill his coffee so that he misses the bus. Harry falls asleep, Norris makes the bus and again runs into Elise. Then he runs into men in his office that seem to be lobotomizing his coworkers. After an unsuccessful flight attempt, Norris is detained and told that the hatted men are from the Adjustment Bureau, men instructed to keep certain people's fate in line. Norris, not wanting to be tied to a predetermined fate which he disagrees with, spends the rest of the movie trying to outrun and mislead the hatted men.

The Adjustment Bureau is based on the romantic science fiction thriller book The Adjustment Team by Philip K. Dick. This movie was captivating to me. I only intended on watching half of it one night and the other half the following night. Instead I found myself watching it through to 11:30pm, which is late for me. I suffered for it the next day at work.

In addition to Damon and Blunt, the movie also stars John Slattery from Mad Men, Anthony Ruivivar, who you may recognize from Third Watch, Michael Kelly, an absolute knock-off for Elliot "Spitz or Swallows" Spitzer, the disgraced former governor of New York. Oh, and left-wing liberal fake news comedian John Stewart's in it, too.

The Adjustment Bureau is an hour and 40 minutes long and Rated R for some strong language, violence, and some minor sexuality.

I really enjoyed The Adjustment Bureau and I think you will, too. You do not have to be a science fiction fan to appreciate this movie. There's romance, action, drama....something for everyone. I'll give The Adjustment Bureau 4.2 stars. Check it out.

The Gallant Hours

I love watching war movies. Mostly movies from World War II. I wish there were more movies about the American Revolution and the Civil War, but there are not. From a cinematic perspective, it's good that World War II occurred when it did because film photography was finally advanced enough to get great footage of the actual war, and to recreate many of the battles that had occurred only months or years prior.

The Gallant Hours is a World War II movie about Admiral "Bull" Halsey. I think the most significant observation of this movie is that James Cagney looks remarkably similar to the actual person he portrayed in the movie. I wonder if the two men ever met. (I just looked it up and they did meet on the set of the movie!)

The movie starts off with Halsey getting ready to retire from the Navy, then goes into a reflection of his years as an Admiral in the Pacific Fleet. The film highlights a critical era in the War in the Pacific as the United States tries to stave off the Japanese in the Philippines.

Counter to the story of Admiral Halsey is the story of Japanese Admiral Yamamoto. What I found interesting is that the dialog in those scenes was in Japanese with no subtitles. The movie is narrated by Robert Montgomery (close friend of Cagney and father of Samantha from Bewitched, Elizabeth Montgomery). During the Japanese dialog, Montgomery only provides what I assume to be cursory narration.

The Gallant Hours, which was made in 1960, is just under 2 hours long. It was made in black and white. Also starring in the movie are Dennis Weaver (McCloud and Gunsmoke), Les Tremayne, Richard Burton, and Raymond Bailey, whom you may remember as Mr. Drysdale from the Beverly Hillbillies.

The Gallant Hours is a great World War II-era movie, though the film depicts no battle scenes. I read that the movie was very accurate except for a few minor details. Cagney and The Gallant Hours were good enough for me to give them the coveted 5 stars. This is a great movie to watch for Veteran's Day!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Union Station

William Holden is one of my favorite actors of all time. I really didn't know anything about him until I was watching an old rerun of Magnum P.I. and Thomas Magnum said that William Holden was one of his favorite actors and his favorite movie was Stalag 17. I then got Stalag 17 from the library and loved it. I then got other Holden movies such as Sunset Boulevard and Sabrina and decided that Thomas Magnum was right - this guy is a great actor. Since then I've seen about 20 or more of his movies. And this is one of them.

In this classic crime drama, Union Station starts with a train ride where a young lady (Nancy Olson, who also starred in Sunset Boulevard) notices two suspicious characters getting on the train that she is riding, then notices one of them has a gun. She reports the issue to one of the conductors, but gets little empathy. Begrudgingly, the issue is reported and Lt. William Calhoun of the train police is brought in to investigate. Once the police get hot on the trail, they realize that another young lady may have been kidnapped and it becomes a cat and mouse chase.

Made in 1950, Union Station is a classic film noir. These are the types of movies your parents grew up on. I'm acting more like my parent's age than my own - I really liked this movie.

The movie also stars the famous Irish character actor Barry Fitzgerald as Inspector Donnelly, whom you may recognize from The Quiet Man and Going My Way. Others include Jan Sterling and Parley Baer, probably best known as the voice of Ernie Keebler of the cookie world.

Union Station has a decent plot, though there are no dramatic plot twists or spans of anxious tension (by today's standards). However, for being a classic crima drama, Union Station fills that niche and fills it well. Holden, as always, is strong, yet romantic.

I give Union Station 4.4 stars.
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