A series of short summaries, and ratings (out of five), of the films I’ve been to see recently…
Zero Dark Thirty
Dir. Kathryn Bigelow, written and produced by Mark Boal
Fiction based on (some) fact, this film documents the US government’s hunt for, and assassination of, Bin Laden. Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a CIA officer, who has spent her entire career thus far searching for the al-Qaeda leader. There are gruelling scenes of torture, plenty of Hollywood action and some well-timed twists in the plot. Chastain is fantastic as the lead, and this film highlights how rarely a woman plays the lead in a thriller.
The filmmaker’s motives are definitely questionable and, like all political films, it is propaganda – and this mustn’t be overlooked. But, as a film, it is thrilling and gripping.
Dir. Sacha Gervasi, based on Stephen Rebello’s non-fiction book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho
I do love a voyeuristic journey through the private life of a creative. And Hitchcock, being a perverted, creepy director who preyed on young female actresses, deserves to be scrutinised.
Anthony Hopkins plays Hitchcock so well – gluttonous, lecherous and needy. Helen Mirren plays his wife, Alma, who stood by him despite his constant attempts at adultery.
I hadn’t realised that Alma played such a vital role in Hitchcock’s films, and that she had also been a filmmaker – in her own right – before meeting Hitchcock; giving it up to support him.
This film is not ground-breaking – but it is informative and entertaining.
Dir. Ben Affleck, adaptation of CIA operative Tony Mendez’s book The Master of Disguise
Based on previously classified documents, Argo follows the story of a group of diplomats who are stranded in Iran following the storming of the American embassy – by militants. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is hired by the US government to find a way to get to the hostage diplomats and bring them home safely. He gets together with a couple of Hollywood directors and they start putting together a fake film – scripts, marketing material – that they will pretend the diplomats are starring in (disguising their political roles).
I won’t spoil the ending because this film is worth watching – great idea, well-structured plot, impressive acting.
Dir. Steven Spielberg
Daniel Day Lewis plays ex- US president Abraham Lincoln, with Sally Field as the First Lady: Mary Todd Lincoln.
The trailers for this film, which documents the political meetings leading up to the abolition of slavery, were grey, drab and depressing. The film was grey, drab and depressing. Middle-aged and old men, with grey hair, sit in a meeting room, grumbling inaudibly. They go to court and then they return to the meeting room for more inaudible grumbling.
This is such important subject matter – and this could have been an indispensable film for teaching about the atrocities of slavery and the political discussions leading to its abolition – but I couldn’t hear anything (it wasn’t the fault of the cinema, it was the film) and it was too boring to watch for more than about 20 minutes.
To the Wonder
Dir. Terrence Malick
Don’t be deluded by an impressive cast. Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams all appear in To the Wonder, a romance set in France and America. There is a relationship between Marina (Kurylenko), a passionate and free-spirited French woman with a young daughter, and Neil (Affleck) – who doesn’t say much, feel much or do much. There’s a brief interlude exploring Neil’s affair with country bumpkin Jane (McAdams) and the suggestion that he is finding it hard to choose between the two women, who to marry – plain Jane or wild child? This is resolved and then the film ends. But not before Father Quintana (Bardem) has dashed about doing some apparently religious things.
I love a romantic film but where there is little dialogue, the cinematography needs to be beautiful and enchanting to be worthy of replacing words. To the Wonder isn’t beautiful, or profound, or moving enough to get away with being so sparse and slow. The only redeeming aspect of this film is Kurylenko’s character, and her relationship with her daughter.