Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty


  • Released Internationally on 01/11/12
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 27/02/13

Preview (first published 01/02/13 in VIDA Magazine)

Osama Bin Laden - quite a household name. My guess is that if there’s a more widely recognised name on the planet then it’s probably that of Barack Obama, who was lucky enough (or effective enough?) to be in office when Bin Laden was found. Jokes about being world hide-and-seek champion aside, Bin Laden’s decade in hiding is quite a feat, considering how his face was plastered all over the news, and considering how hungrily the Americans wanted to bring him to justice. Whether being shot by Navy Seals in your hideout is justice or not is another story, but I guess after publicly claiming responsibility for 9/11 he wasn’t expecting to have a fair, quiet, trial.

Anyway, his capture was big news, although the vague way in which it was announced, and in which the body was laid to rest, left a few of us guessing. But the US administration insisted that it was done in a way that would ensure minimal unrest, and we sort of had to take their word for it. In the age of social media, where Saddam Hussein’s hanging and Gaddafi’s last truck ride were splashed, disturbingly, across video sites worldwide, this equally newsworthy end happened in relative silence. That was May 2011.

Fast forward just over a year, and this is the most high-profile film to emerge from the proceedings, with none other than Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) at the helm. Since it’s release, two main focuses of attention have been the acting of Jessica Chastain (The Help), for which she is currently scooping awards, and the torture issue. Whether or not torture methods, such as waterboarding, were used to obtain the information leading to the success of the mission will probably never be known for sure, but the US administration is not too pleased about their inclusion in the film. It all helps the film’s publicity of course.



Review (23/02/13)

‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is military speak for half past midnight, which is when the raid on Bin Laden’s compound started. When that moment arrives, the film grows in stature and piles on the tension, and for the last half hour or so of this gripping tale we are treated to a more or less real-time re-enactment of the infamous raid, and Bin Laden’s last moments. An interview with the unnamed ‘shooter’ who was actually responsible for that all-important assassination has revealed that the filmmakers got remarkably close to how the actual raid unfolded, which is an impressive feat considering all the variables and secrecy involved.

This realism, this connection with the very recent past, and the far-reaching importance of the events concerned make this an engrossing and important film to watch, even during the occasional lulls in the narrative which might have crippled a similar effort if it were fiction. The lengthy build-up to the actual raid is of course necessary, and to be fair it is handled slickly, moving along with a brisk pace and managing to depict the duration, the immensity and the impossible odds of the task at hand. The script and direction, as well as convincing acting from even the tiniest roles, help make us care and worry about even minor, nameless characters in this worldwide drama. But ultimately, it is all just build-up, so thankfully the raid itself doesn’t disappoint.

The manhunt is depicted as a complex mix of impressive technology and good old fashioned human error, with an important dose of gut instinct thrown in. Chastain’s portrayal of the central figure of Maya is steely and determined, and in a way might be channelling director Kathryn Bigelow, as she makes spectacular headway in a business dominated by men. As the hunt gets warmer, it’s also great to see the message slowly creeping up the chain of command, with characters who were pushy and apparently all-powerful in the previous scene now humbly grovelling and trying to convince their superiors.

The myth of this infamous man is so great, so universal and so powerful, that only the tiniest glimpses of him are necessary throughout the film. His presence is everywhere, however, and every mention of ‘UBL’ helps remind us that what we are watching is not only highly entertaining, but also very relevant to the news we hear every day and the world we live in.




Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Wreck-It Ralph


  • Released Internationally on 01/11/12
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 20/02/13

Preview (first published 01/02/13 in VIDA Magazine)

Here’s one for the nostalgics. Wreck-It Ralph is the villain from an arcade video game, who gets tired of his repetitive, destructive life and breaks free. He travels through the colourful and crazy world of video game characters, trying to become a hero. The main vocal duties went to John C. Reilly (Magnolia, Step Brothers) who seems (and sounds) perfect for the role. The film’s concept allows for countless characters from the arcade games of the 90s to be brought back to life, and I suspect this animated Disney film will be as much a hit with parents as with their young children.



Review (19/02/13)

Before this film even starts, you’ll probably already be in a good mood. It’s preceded, like many of Pixar/Disney’s animated films of the past decade, by a short animated film. This time around it’s Paperman – a 7-minute-long, black and white (with a splash of red) whimsical love story, which is as wonderful as it is simple. We then delve into the world of video arcade games, where Street Fighter, Space Invaders and Pac-Man reign supreme, and which should bring back a lot of great memories, if you fondly remember the pre-Playstation days.

The concept is simple – all the characters in a video arcade ‘work’ during the arcade opening hours, trying to attract players to their game and giving a good show. After closing time, they all trudge off through the cables at the back, and are free to roam around, via ‘central station’ (the multiplug) until opening time next morning. Not all games get the same attention, and not everyone is happy with their role. Ralph, who is the bad guy is his game, yearns for a better life, and he sets off, against the rules, to try out a few heroic roles and earn himself a medal. This, of course, causes chaos in the arcade.

The film is warm and lovely from start to finish, despite a few action-packed interludes with the insect enemies from one particularly graphic video game. Ralph is brought wonderfully to life by John C. Reilly, and many other characters benefit similarly from great work by a number of actors who are mostly known from TV – 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer, Glee’s Jane Lynch, and especially Saturday Night Live’s Sarah Silverman. The latter helps create one of the cutest animated characters since Monsters Inc.’s Boo – a pint-sized, feisty, occasionally disgusting but overall adorable race car driver named Vanellope.

There’s endless eye candy, especially in the Willy Wonka-type world of the car racing game Sugar Rush. The grand finale is equally impressive, and of course everything turns out wonderfully for our heroes. This film knows exactly what it should aim for, both with children and adults. It even takes a moment to define the word ‘retro’ – old, but cool. Which is more or less why I enjoyed my time with these characters from start to exhilarating finish.




Friday, February 01, 2013

Past Perfect: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Home movie gems from the past few decades that need some dusting but never get old.


I was a latecomer to this timeless gem of a movie, and inevitably I had built up my own (incorrect) impressions of what the film would be like, based on the countless posters, imagery and little black dresses (not for me, of course) that have resulted from Audrey Hepburn’s look in this film. But when I actually sat down to savour it, without having any idea of the plot or concept, I was very pleasantly surprised. Despite looking like the most fragile and beautiful creature on earth Hepburn’s Miss Golightly is a feisty character if ever there was one, as she waltzes through life appearing tipsy but actually knowing exactly what she’s after. By the time Paul (George Peppard, or Hannibal from The A-Team before his hair turned white), falls for her, so had I. With the audience wrapped around her skinny finger, Hepburn can then cause all the more heartbreak and frustration with her seemingly spur-of-the-moment decisions. The ending veers slightly from that in Truman Capote’s book, which I then looked up and devoured. The film and the book seem like slightly different versions of the same story, but they’re both a showcase for artists at the height of their talent. There’s also a wonderful party scene thrown in, and of course Henry Mancini’s music, which you’ll be humming for days.