Chronicling nearly a decade's worth of investigations and an endless amount of headaches on the part of CIA operatives Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty burns slowly through America's turbulent search for Osama bin Laden. Where Hurt Locker brewed tension from red-or-blue-wire bomb scenarios and military action the Oscar winner's follow-up finds it in a maelstrom of intel the temperamental conditions of the Middle East and the bureaucracy of back home.
Jessica Chastain's Maya goes from bright newcomer to the obsessed soldier of justice giving Javert a run for his money in pursuit of a criminal in one's crosshairs. When Seal Team Six finally receives their infamous assignment Bigelow and writer Mark Boal continue to ask questions — imperative in a film that speaks to one of U.S.'s murkiest zeitgeists.
Maya is first introduced dressed up in a clean well-fitting suit preparing to witness her very first interrogation. The scene escalates quickly with her coworker Dan (Jason Clarke) employing the waterboarding technique against the close-lipped detainee Ammar (Reda Kateb A Prophet).
Zero Dark Thirty has come under fire for its portrayal of torture but nothing in Bigelow's film comes close to condoning the process. Instead the film focuses in on the ramifications. Months of pressure eventually breaks Ammar — and his interrogator. A distraught Dan heads back to Washington leaving Maya even more committed to chasing leads and finding bin Laden on her own.
The careful orchestration of details — names locations dates and any other shred of evidence that could lead Maya and her team to bin Laden — turns Zero Dark Thirty into a thriller by way of a New Yorker essay. Boal finds emotion in cut and dry information; Chastain's determination ferocity and at times exhaustion speak volumes — even when the dialogue is laying down facts.
Bigelow surrounds her with an inspired cast: Kyle Chandler as the dapper politico chief Jennifer Ehle as a intelligence officer who draws out Maya's last few drops of friendship and Mark Strong as a ball-buster who loses his stance above the team as Maya pours herself entirely into the operation and asserts dominance.
Bigelow has an eye for action and the Seal Team Six infiltration that caps the film is expertly crafted thanks to tactical movements lit dimly and paced with Alexandre Desplat's rumbling score. But Bigelow also respects the personalities of soldiers.
They speak like people act like people and in moments of bloodshed (decisions made in morally grey zones) they respond and react like people.
Zero Dark Thirty is awe-inspiring for its ability to chronicle a long-gestating investigation but it's one of 2012's best because it digs deeper and examines both sides of the coin. No decision is made without consequences even the ones that feel so right in the moment.
The death of Osama bin Laden was a momentous occasion in the United States. As Chastain reveals with unflinching elegance pulling it off cost more than anyone could ever know.
Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.
Michael Jackson made a rare appearance in court last week in a $21 million breach-of-contract lawsuit, but it wasn't the case that had everyone talking; it was his face. Reuters reports when Superior Court Judge Zel Canter told the pop oddity to remove his surgical mask, his bizarre appearance prompted gasps from the courtroom audience. Photos of Jackson, who sported eyeliner, lipstick, a spotty goatee and bandage over his nose, caused a brouhaha on the Internet and now plastic surgeons are weighing in. "He is almost a fantasy figure or a cartoon character," Dr Edward Domanskis, a Newport Beach, Calif., plastic surgeon, told Reuters. "At the age of 40, people don't...look that way." Chicago plastic surgeon Dr. Laurie Casas added, "You have to wonder how someone has gotten in a situation where they look very abnormal. He's got kind of a shrunken skin, but it's impossible to speculate on how it happened."
Jason Alexander, best known for his portrayal of George Costanza on Seinfeld, has a new gig. The actor, who dropped out of Boston University in his junior year, is teaching undergraduates at the University of Southern California as the School of Theatre's first George Burns Visiting Professor, The Associated Press Reports.
A wad of Elvis Presley's hair sold at auction Saturday for $115,120 to an anonymous bidder, the AP reports. Presley's former hairstylist Homer "Mr. Gill" Gilleland collected the hair, about the size of a baseball. Before Gilleland died, he gave the hair to friend Tom Morgan, who sold it through the auction house MastroNet Inc.
The anti-smoking lobby is outraged that James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan agreed to smoke cigars in the latest film Die Another Day because it is set in Cuba. According to Britain's Sunday Times, critics have dubbed the film Buy Another Day, saying it is littered with blatant plugs for a variety of brand names. Britain is expected to outlaw the use of cigarettes in films and TV dramas next year.
Denzel Washington will reprise Frank Sinatra's role in Paramount Pictures' remake of the 1962 political thriller The Manchurian Candidate, Variety reports. No director is attached to the project, which was penned by Sum of All Fears scribe Dan Payne. The film, based on the 1959 novel Candidate by Richard Condon, is about a Korean War veteran brainwashed into trying to assassinate the president.
Cable TV's Sci Fi channel sent a team of archeologists to conduct a study on the southern New Mexico desert to find out whether a UFO actually crash-landed there in 1947. According to Reuters, the program promises never-before-seen eyewitness interviews, late-breaking revelations and a "smoking gun bombshell." Viewers will have to wait until the channel airs The Roswell Crash: Startling New Evidence on Nov. 22 for answers.
ABC News anchor Peter Jennings has formed an independent production company that allows him to make documentaries for other networks, the AP reports. The deal gives Jennings ownership of his series and allows him and his executive producer, Tom Yellin, to sell documentaries to other networks, with the exclusion of competitors NBC and CBS. ABC has agreed to pay for and air at least four reports in primetime each year.
Astute TV viewers may have noticed an influx of Elton John songs in their favorite shows lately, including NBC's Scrubs, UPN's Enterprise and HBO's Six Feet Under. According to Variety, Universal Music Enterprises offered extended terms and dramatically lower-than-usual licensing costs to networks in a bid to market last week's release of Elton John: Greatest Hits 1970-2002.
Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell said her latest album, Travelogue, may be her last. Mitchell, 59, blasted music industry executives in the December issue of W magazine, saying, "They're not looking for talent. They're looking for a look and a willingness to cooperate. And a woman my age, no matter how well-preserved, no longer has the look." She added, "What would I do? Show my tits? Grab my crotch? Get hair extensions and a choreographer? It's not my world."