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Rating History

Zero Dark Thirty
20 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

Zero Dark Thirty, director Kathryn Bigelow's most ambitious project to date, centers on an the elite American intelligence units that worked for years on end to find an eliminate one of biggest faces of global terrorism: Osama Bin Laden. A favorite at the Oscars, like Bigelow and writer-producer Mark Boal's last effort The Hurt Locker, ZDT is an edge-of-your seat thrill ride that starts out slow and builds up to the final sucker punch that is the final thirty minutes of eerie calmness the perpetuates the famous (albeit mysterious) raid.

A superb work of cinema in many aspects, this "true story" thinks on it's feet for the opening and closing acts, but I can't get over how uneven the tone feels, especially in the thick of the film. The torture and raids were effective and concise, which was where the movie operated best. Unfortunately, when you toss in Boal's heavy dialogue that bridges those two reels you run into some problems, especially when Jessica Chastain flexes her proverbial muscles by proclaiming "I'm the motherf***** that found this place" to the director of the CIA. I get it, I really do. Maya was the driving force behind Bin Laden's death and she is a fearless, confident, and ruthless operative - one of the best. But damn! That line made me laugh out loud at how absurd it was, and then made me squirm in my seat for a second or two when I realized how awkward and out of place it sounded. By no means did Chastain do a bad job as Maya. By no means was Boal's script not good. And by no means should Bigelow's direction be called into question. I just couldn't get over little sections of the film like that, of which there were too many by the film's end.

I enjoyed Zero Dark Thirty, but it suffered from an abundance of over-hype from audiences and critics alike, and by the end of the film I was left wanting more. But I have to give credit where credit is due - unlike The Hurt Locker, Bigelow wasn't out to make a statement. She let the viewer decide what to make of the film, it's contents, and how the most notorious terrorist in American history was brought to justice, and ultimately, that's more powerful than any commentary could have been.

Argo
Argo (2012)
20 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Bravo, Ben Affleck.

He scored big in his first two directorial efforts Gone Baby Gone and The Town, and it appears that Argo will be no different. His attention to detail and instinct as a director is apparent in his latest feature, which chronicles the classified "Canadian Caper" CIA operation that took place in 1980 during the Iran hostage crisis.

The film opens up with the Iranian Revolution at a boiling point, as young revolutionaries storm the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in retaliation for America's sheltering of the Shah. As most of the staff is taken hostage, six evade capture and find refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. The opening scene takes a good ten minutes to play out, but the attention to detail is worth it. The anger and frustration of the Iranian people is palpable, as is the danger to the Americans inside. It's this early scene-setting that sets the tense mood for the rest of the film and really glues you to your seat.

The escapees' situation is kept a secret, and the State Department begins looking into extraction options. CIA specialist Tony Mendez (Affleck) is brought in on a consulting basis, and quickly exposes the weaknesses of the proposed ideas. While watching Battle for the Planet of the Apes that night, Mendez slowly puts together a cover story for the escapees, in which they are Canadian filmmakers scouting exotic locations in Iran. After consulting with his supervisor Jack O'Donnell (Bryan Cranston), the two contact Academy Award-winning make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman), who in turn puts them in contact with film producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin).

Thus, the fake film "Argo" is born. Mendez is to extract the six escapees under the guise that they are all scouting for the movie. Chambers and Siegel set up a phony production studio, and the plan is put into action as the entire State Department holds its collective breath.

Argo works not only as a thrilling rescue flick, but also as a sort of period piece. It captures the fear and resentment of the time, both within the U.S. and Iran. These two worlds are carefully connected through radio broadcasts and TV newsrooms, using actual footage to heighten the realism. The escapees are well written and they act accordingly - I found myself unwittingly gripping the armrest and silently pulling for the six scared Americans. The use of montage and quick cuts helps keep some of the slow scenes interesting and your attention focused, which really says something about Affleck's ability as a director. Goodman and Arkin do a great job as the make-up artist/producer duo, and provide some comedic relief that compliments the somber tone that the film carries for most of its run time.

In the end, Argo was what I expected it to be. There might not have been that "wow" factor to Argo, and there might have been a few underdeveloped characters, but perhaps that's what makes it such an awesome and inspiring tale. These were regular people whose lives were on the line, and all parties involved pulled off the improbable. These were fathers, mothers, husbands, friends, who simply wanted to make it home in one piece. I feel this was best exemplified by one of Mendez's last lines, as O'Donnell tells him that President Carter says he's a "great American." Mendez responds, "A great American what?" O'Donnell simply replies, "I dunno, he didn't say."

Django Unchained
20 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

Simply put, Django Unchained was the most fun I've had at the movies this year. Quentin Tarantino's slavery epic apologizes to no one, and is raw in an unabashed sense that I as a viewer appreciated. Of course, Django isn't without controversy - the film has been met with disdain for its gratuitous use of the N-word, and hyper violence in the midst of tragic shootings that question gun portrayal in modern media. Yet audiences and critics are, for the most part, willing to overlook those things.

The film has made $125 worldwide as of this past weekend, and at the Golden Globes, Django Unchained nabbed trophies for best screenplay and best supporting actor. In fact, this is Christoph Waltz's second win in this category in as many movies he's done for Tarantino, repeating the honors that he also won for his portrayal of Hans Landa in 2009's Inglorious Basterds, which is considered by many to be one of the most prolific roles in recent history.

Though the story might be focused on Jamie Foxx's title character, Waltz steals the show as Dr. King Schultz, a German bounty hunter. It is he who moves the narrative forward, needing Django's help to procure a group of men that have made his bounty list. As King mentors Django, the newly-freed man proves worthy of the profession, and eventually makes his way to his wife's plantation to set her free. Leonardo DiCaprio was spot on as the twisted plantation owner Calvin Candie, and Samuel L. Jackson was nothing short of spectacular as Stephen, the white-loving African American servant. Don Johnson and Jonah Hill also have a great scene together as members of a pre-KKK raiding party that can't decide on whether to wear their hoods during the raid. If that sounds absurd, don't worry - you're right, and you'll love it.

But it is Tarantino's directing that is the real winner here, as lays out the 19th century South in a surprisingly accurate, if not over-the-top manner (which is Tarantino's bread and butter if you're familiar with his other films). Really, Django Unchained is a spaghetti western set mainly in Mississippi, something that was stylistically engaging and entertaining, in addition to being quite daring.

Not only were the visuals bold, bloody, and fun, but the soundtrack was a breath of fresh air paired with its subject matter. The use of hip hop in a slavery/western context was risky, but as Tupac accompanied a slow-motion shootout towards the end of the film, I couldn't help but smile, knowing that it paid off.

Unfortunately, the end of the film was also its weakest segment. Django would have been a much stronger and more concise film had it just ended thirty minutes earlier. Without ruining anything for those who have yet to see it, the ending is a whirlwind of violence that would have just as well been left out of the film, but hey - it's Tarantino, he does what he wants Had the ending been trimmed down, I would have easily given this film a perfect score. But Tarantino's most ambitious and successful film to date was still a visceral and entertaining thrill ride, and one of the best of the year.