“THE GREAT GATSBY” (2013) Review

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“THE GREAT GATSBY” (2013) Review

Before the release of Baz Luhrmann’s recent adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, “The Great Gatsby”, there have been three previous movie adaptations and a television movie version. None of these versions have been well received by the critics. Even this latest adaptation has been receiving mixed reviews. I must admit that I had been reluctant to see the movie, myself. But dazzled by the movie’s MTV-style trailer, I decided to see it for the sake of the visual effects.

Many who have read Fitzgerald’s novel or seen any of the previous adaptations, know the story. “THE GREAT GATSBY” told the story of a mysterious young millionaire named Jay Gatsby who settles in a large house in the fictional town of West Egg (for thenoveau riche), on prosperous Long Island, during the summer of 1922 – the early years of the Jazz Age. Narrated by Gatsby’s neighbor; the well-born, yet impoverished Nick Carraway; audiences become aware of the millionaire’s desire to woo and win back the heart of Daisy Fay Buchanan, an old love he had first met during World War I and Nick’s cousin. Unfortunately for Gatsby, Daisy is married to one of Nick’s former Yale classmates, Tom Buchanan, who comes from old Chicago money. Tom is engaged in an extramarital affair with one Myrtle Wilson, who is the wife of a gas station owner located in the Valley of Ashes – a stretch of road between Long Island and Manhattan. Gatsby invites Nick to one of his nightly lavish parties, given to impress Daisy, who lives across Oyster Bay at East Egg, a neighborhood for those from old money. Nick learns from Jordan Baker, an old Louisville friend of Daisy’s, that Gatsby would like him to arrange a meeting with his former love over afternoon tea. The two former lovers reunite on a rainy afternoon and re-ignite their love affair that eventually ends in tragedy.

If critics were hoping that Baz Luhrmann would produce and direct a flawless or near flawless adaptation of Fitzgerald’s novel, they were bound to be disappointed. “THE GREAT GATSBY” is not flawless. There were times when I found the movie a bit too melodramatic – especially during the party sequences. And I never saw the need to open the film with Nick Carraway being treated for alcoholism in a sanatorium. Luhrmann and the movie’s other screenwriter, Craig Pearce, apparently included the sanatorium additions to transform Nick’s character into some F. Scott Fitzgerald clone. The movie even ended with Nick’s written recollections being given the title of Fitzgerald’s novel. Frankly, I found this dumb and unnecessary. I also found the party sequence held by Tom and his married lover Myrtle Wilson at a New York apartment rather frantic. I realize that Nick became drunk at this party. But this scene proved to be one in which Luhrmann’s colorful style nearly got the best of him.

I suspect that many expect me to complain about some of the music featured in “THE GREAT GATSBY” – namely the director’s use of hip hop music. However . . . I have no complaints about Luhrmann using modern day music in a film set in 1922. For some reason I cannot explain, I believe Luhrmann and composer Craig Armstrong did a pretty bang-up job in blending their occasional use of modern-day music with some of the movie’s scenes. There were also complaints that Catherine Martin’s costumes were not a complete accurate projection of 1920s fashion. I did notice that although the movie was set in 1922, the clothes seemed to be a reflection of the mid or late period of that decade. Then I saw images like the following:

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Or images like the following for the male characters:

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I had wept with exultation and joy at my first sight of Martin’s costumes. Her costumes for this film are some of the most gorgeous I have seen in a period drama in quite a while. Absolutely . . . bloody . . . gorgeous. The moment I set eyes on those costumes, I realized that I could not care less whether her work was an accurate reflection of 1922 fashion or not. Martin also served as the movie’s production designer. If there was any justice, this would earn double Academy Award nominations for both her costumes and the movie’s production designs. Baz Luhrmann filmed “THE GREAT GATSBY” in Australia, which means that he and his crew had to re-create 1922 Long Island and Manhattan from scratch. Martin was basically responsible for the movie’s early Art Deco look – especially for scenes set in Gatsby’s East Egg manor, his Manhattan speakeasy, the Manhattan restaurant where Nick and Jordan met, the Buchanans’ East Egg home and especially the bleak-looking Valley of Ashes, the location of George Wilson’s garage and the infamous Dr. T. J. Eckleburg billboard. Needless to say, I was more than impressed. I was dazzled.

I have been so busy discussing the movie’s technical aspects that I failed to say anything about Luhrmann and Pearce’s adaptation of Fitzgerald’s film. I have already expressed my displeasure at their attempt to transform Nick Carraway into some kind of Fitzgerald clone at the movie’s beginning and end. But aside from this faux paus, I feel that the two did a pretty damn good job. Were they completely faithful to the novel? No. Did this spell disaster? For some moviegoers and fans of Fitzgerald’s novel, it did. But I do not share their feelings. I do not demand that a movie or television production re-create a novel or play in exact details. That road leads to insanity and sometimes, disaster. Aside from what was done to Nick’s character at the beginning and end, the movie featured a few other changes. In this movie, a grieving George Wilson learned from Tom Buchanan that Jay Gatsby owned the yellow car that killed Myrtle at the former’s gas station. Unless I am mistaken, Tom had conveyed this news to George, when the latter paid a visit to his East Egg mansion in the novel. The movie featured flashbacks of Gatsby’s life in North Dakota and his years spent with a millionaire named Dan Cody. But Gatsby’s father did not make an appearance near the end of the movie (for which I am utterly grateful). Did these changes bother me? Nope, they did not. I was too busy admiring the energy that Luhrmann injected into Fitzgerald’s tale. This was especially apparent in the pivotal scene featuring Gatsby and Tom’s showdown over Daisy’s affections in a Plaza Hotel suite. The scene crackled with emotions and an energy that seemed to be either lacking or at best, muted, in other adaptations. More importantly, Luhrmann and Pearce’s screenplay finally lifted a fog and allowed me to fully understand and appreciate Fitzgerald’s tale for the first time. I am afraid that the previous two adaptations (1974 and 2000) had bored me to the point that the emotions and theme behind the story had failed to elude me in the past. And that is the best part of Luhrmann’s adaptation. For the first time, I finally understood the pathetic nature of the Jay Gatsby/Daisy Buchanan love story. And I am being complimentary.

A movie review would not be complete with a discussion on the performances. Leonardo DiCaprio became the fifth actor to portray Jay Gatsby aka James Gatz. And as usual, he was magnificent. In fact, I believe his Gatsby was the best I have ever seen on screen. He managed to maintain the character’s mystery in the movie’s first half without eliminating any of the character’s strong emotions. Despite the attempt to transform Nick Carraway into a Fitzgerald clone, I had no problems with Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of the character. In fact, he did an excellent job of conveying both Nick’s observant nature and emotional attachment to Gatsby, while injecting a bit of warm humor and slight goofiness in the role. I realize that Maguire and DiCaprio had been friends for over two decades. I suspect that friendship made it easy for the pair to convey the growing friendship between Nick and Gatsby.

Carey Mulligan gave an exquisite performance as the quixotic Daisy Buchanan. Mulligan made it easy for viewers to understand how Gatsby fell so hard for her. She perfectly conveyed Daisy’s superficial idealism and warmth. But Mulligan also skillfully allowed Daisy’s more unpleasant side – her selfishness, mild snobbery and lack of courage – to ooze between the cracks in the character’s facade. Joel Edgerton really impressed me in his portrayal of the brutish Tom Buchanan. In the actor’s first scene, I felt as if he was laying it a bit thick in conveying the character’s unpleasant nature. But Edgerton quickly grew into the role and portrayed Tom’s brutality with more subtlety. He also did a great job in portraying the character’s surprising talent for manipulation and genuine feelings for the doomed Myrtle.

For the role of Daisy’s Louisville friend and golfer Jordan Baker, Luhrmann chose Australian-born stage-trained actress named Elizabeth Debicki for the role. And she did a pretty damn good job. In fact, I thought Debicki did a solid job of conveying Jordan’s fast-living and cynical personality with great skill. Isla Fisher knocked it out of the ballpark as the fun-loving Myrtle Fisher. Not only did she gave a first-rate portrayal of Myrtle’s garishness and warmth, but also the character’s grasping ambition and desperation to escape from her stagnant and dull marriage to gas station owner George. Myrtle is not highly regarded by many Fitzgerald fans. But Fisher made it easy for me to feel some sparks of pity toward the latter’s situation regarding her marriage to George. Speaking of the latter, “THE GREAT GATSBY” marked the third period drama in which I have seen Jason Clarke. His role as the pathetic George Wilson is a bit smaller, but Clarke made the best of it, especially in two scenes. One scene featured Clarke perfectly conveying George’s clumsy attempt to toady Tom for a business transaction regarding the latter’s car. And in another, he did a beautiful job in portraying George’s pathetic grief over a woman who had stopped loving him a long time ago. This movie also marked a reunion for Clarke and Edgerton. Both had appeared in “ZERO DARK THIRTY”. I also want to point out Amitabh Bachchan’s much talked about portrayal of Gatsby’s gambling friend, Meyer Wolfshiem – a fictionalized take on gambler/gangsterArnold Rothstein. No only did the actor looked unusual, he gave a lively, yet brief performance that I found quite captivating. And Jack Thompson gave a quiet (almost speechless) and subtle performance as Nick’s psychiatrist Dr. Walter Perkins. STAR WARSfans should take note that eleven years ago, Thompson portrayed Cliegg Lars – father to Edgerton’s Owen Lars – in “STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES”.

I am the last person who will ever claim that this latest “THE GREAT GATSBY” is perfect. Trust me, it is not. But it is a very entertaining film that I believe captured the emotions and theme behind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel better than any previous adaptation. More importantly, director Baz Luhrmann injected style and energy not only into the story itself, but also its visual look and the first-rate performances from a cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. I would have no qualms about watching this movie over and over again.

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Notes and Observations of “STAR WARS: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith”

The following is a list of minor notes and observations that came to me, during my recent viewing of “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”. I hope that you enjoy them: 

Notes and Observations of “STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH”

*How ironic that this story begins with the “rescue” of Chancellor Palpatine – the very person who has exploited the Jedi’s weaknesses to bring about their downfall. I wonder if both Anakin and Obi-Wan ever came to regret the success of their mission.

*I noticed how both Anakin and Obi-Wan seemed to be flying in perfect sync with each other in the opening sequences. And yet, as they get closer to Palpatine (who is “being held prisoner” aboard Grievous’ ship), things begin to go wrong. Perhaps this situation is an allegory of their relationship at this stage of the story.

*”Flying is for droids.” – Odd comment for Obi-Wan to make, considering that his former padawan is such an excellent pilot. Does this mean that Anakin can be viewed as a future droid?

*Poor R4-D17. At least he had three good years with Obi-Wan

*The usually cautious Obi-Wan zips out of his starfighter cockpit in a flash and starts striking down droids. Meanwhile, Anakin takes his time to unfasten his safety restraint and climb out of his cockpit. This might possibly be a sign of how the two men have adopted each other’s way of handling matters. This also reminds me of how both men had dealt with their “animus” nature inside the Geonosis arena in AOTC.

*Notice how both Count Dooku and General Grievous seem to foreshadow Anakin’s future as Darth Vader. Count Dooku represented the Jedi Knight/Master who became Palpatine’s Sith apprentice. Grievous represented the cyborg that Anakin will become.

*R2-D2’s efforts to hide from the Separatist droids must be one of the funniest sequences I have ever seen in a STAR WARS movie.

*”Uh, no loose wire jokes.” – Dear Anakin. It’s nice to see there is one advocate for the droids.

*The Chancellor’s seat on Grievous’ ship strongly reminds me of his throne in ROTJ.

*”Chancellor Palpatine, Sith Lords are our specialty.” – Oh dear. Obi-Wan seemed to be in danger of becoming too self-assured. The last time he had believed that he and Anakin could take out Dooku, Yoda ended up saving them.

*”Good! Twice the pride. Double the fall.” – It seems that Count Dooku is also suffering from the same kind of arrogance.

*Anakin tells Dooku that he has become twice as powerful, since their last encounter on Geonosis. How is it that despite the loss of an arm, his connection to the Force has strengthened? Makes me wonder if Lucas’ comment that Anakin’s loss of limbs on Mustafar had weakened his connection to the Force is a lot of bull.

*Anakin and Obi-Wan’s pride and aggression nearly cost them in their second duel against Dooku. Only Dooku’s own pride and arrogance saved them in the long run.

*Dooku had been right to criticize Anakin for not using his anger in their lightsaber duel. When Anakin finally did, he pretty much had it in control . . . until Palpatine convinced him to lose that control and kill Dooku.

*I also noticed that unlike Obi-Wan and Dooku, Anakin’s lightsaber skills do not seem as flashy as theirs. His style seemed to be similar to Qui-Gon and Mace – very direct and with very little complicated moves.

*I could not help but wonder what was going through Palpatine’s mind, when his life – along with Anakin and Obi-Wan’s – were in danger, while trying to escape from Grievous’ ship.

*”General Grievous . . . you’re shorter than I had expected.” – Hmm, now I see from whom Leia had inherited her sardonic manner.

*Has Obi-Wan become a little too cocky about his skills? He had chopped off the head of a Magna guard and walked away . . . only to be surprised to learn that it could still fight.

*Meanwhile, Anakin managed to show a predilection for patience – only in the wrong situation. It almost seemed as if an alien spirit had taken control of his body. Obi-Wan noticed and quite wisely disapproved. He knew that Anakin was not being true to himself.

*General Grievous’s escape from his ship struck me as being quite daring and masterful. I could also say the same about how Anakin had landed Grievous’ ship on Coruscant. As Obi-Wan said, “Another happy landing.”

*For the first time, I had noticed that the skies of Coruscant were cloudy . . . overcast. They seemed to hint the rising storm that will eventually erupt throughout the Republic.

*Was that Lucas’ daughter – a blue-skinned alien – amongst the welcoming committee for Palpatine?

*This is rare – Leia’s future father and stepfather actually have a scene together.

*Although Padme seemed to be wearing Leia’s infamous bun hairdo, I noticed that her hairstyle is slightly different.

*The moment that Anakin expressed his desire to end the deception over his marriage to Padme, she quickly opposed the idea. She must have been afraid of facing the consequences of their deception.

*John Williams’ score for this movie seemed darker and more martial than anything else heard in a STAR WARS movie. Has anyone else noticed this?

*I simply love the shot of Padme brushing her hair on the balcony, while Anakin watches her. Very romantic.

*”So, love has blinded you?” –Padme may have been speaking of Anakin. Then again, she may have been speaking of herself. Or both.

*It is interesting that Anakin has been reluctant to express his troubles to Padme. This must have been the case ever since his murder of the Tusken Raiders on Tatooine. One would say that all is not paradise with their marriage. But I must say . . . if their marriage had seemed like paradise, I would have been suspicious.

*The scene between Anakin and Yoda struck me as being rather cold. I wonder if this had been the first time Anakin had sought the counsel of the Jedi Master.

*I am curious as to why Obi-Wan had never exerted more effort to discourage Anakin’s friendship with Palpatine.

*I find it interesting that Anakin seemed more disturbed by the Jedi Council’s suggestion that he spy upon Palpatine than he was by the latter’s suggestion that he does the same with the Jedi Council. Especially after he had insisted that Anakin join the Council.

*After Mace reveals the Jedi Council’s decision not to make Anakin a Master, I noticed that both he and Obi-Wan seemed to express momentary flashes of guilt. And Yoda seemed to be making an attempt to distance himself from Anakin’s reaction by closing his eyes for a brief moment.

*Of course, Anakin’s reaction to the decision did seem very immature, as indicated by Mace’s order that he take a seat. But after Anakin had apologized for his outburst, Obi-Wan shook his head in silent disapproval of his former padawan.

*”It’s what you wanted. Your friendship with Chancellor Palpatine seemed to have paid off.” – For those who claimed that Obi-Wan understood Anakin very well, really need to read the above statement or watch that scene again. Why would Obi-Wan assume that Anakin had used his friendship with Palpatine to become a member of the Jedi Council? Why would he accuse Anakin of harboring ambitions to become a Council member, when he had admonished Qui-Gon, years earlier, for failing to reach such an achievement? What a curious man.

*If Obi-Wan was against Anakin spying on Palpatine, why did he insist that the young Knight accept the assignment in the first place? And why didn’t Anakin act on his feelings and refuse the assignment? I believe this scene is a clear case of Obi-Wan failing Anakin . . . and Anakin failing himself.

*Someone once stated that Padme had maintained her idealism of the Republic to the bitter end. And yet, in one scene, she tries to convince Anakin that the Republic was in danger of becoming the very evil she had opposed for so long.

*Why did Padme ask Anakin to discuss ending the war with Palpatine? I can see why he was upset. Like the Jedi, Padme seemed willing to use Anakin to further her own agenda regarding Palpatine.

*I noticed that Padme managed to change the subject from politics to personal matters in the same way Anakin had done during the Naboo picnic scene in AOTC.

*”All who gain power are afraid to lose it.” – Who would have thought that Palpatine would utter the very words that seemed to be the theme of the Prequel Trilogy. His words – more or less – seemed to describe all of the major characters. Including himself.

*Anakin must have been very desperate to believe Palpatine’s claim that he had knowledge of a way to save Padme through the use of the Force.

*Why was the Jedi Council so determined to refrain Anakin from going to Utaapau? Was their decision a reaction to the revelation that Palpatine had suggested that Anakin take part in that military operation?

*I wonder what was going through Anakin’s mind when he and Obi-Wan spoke for the last time as friends.

*So, not only does Anakin believe that the Jedi Council mistrust him, but also Obi-Wan. And I don’t know if he was right or wrong.

*”You expect too much of yourself.” – Padme was right. No wonder Anakin was determined to save her from death. A way to make up for Shmi’s death, perhaps?

*I like the look and style of the official that greeted Obi-Wan on Utaapau.

*Once again, Obi-Wan manages to remind me that he can be a little too arrogant in dealing with opponents. Facing Grievous turned out to be more difficult than had possibly imagined. Even if the Separatist general could barely use a lightsaber with barely any skill.

*I find it fascinating that the Jedi Council would even consider getting rid of Palpatine without the Senate’s authority. Even if it meant accepting Ki-Adi Mundi’s suggestion that the Council take control of the Senate.

*Palpatine was right that one must accept all aspects of nature – both the light and the dark. What he had failed to add was that the Sith were just as narrow and dogmatic in their view of the Force, as the Jedi.

*”So uncivilized.” – There’s nothing like a good blaster at your side, eh Obi-Wan?

*”For your own good, stay out of this affair. I sense a great deal of confusion in you, young Skywalker. There is much fear that clouds your judgment.” – Many people believe that Mace was wrong not to include Anakin in Palpatine’s arrest. I feel differently. Just listening to his words, made me realize that he had accurately sensed Anakin’s emotional state. If only he had heeded Mace’s words, Anakin would not have ended up with more blood on his hands. For those who say that Anakin would have destroyed Palpatine if Mace had allowed him to participate in the arrest. In truth, no one really knows what would have happened. Unfortunately, no one wants to admit this.

*Mace and the other three Jedi Knights did activate their lightsabers first. If they were there to arrest Palpatine, surely they should have received permission from the Senate. However, I noticed that Palpatine was the first to attack. And he nearly paid the price for his act of aggression.

*Aside from Mace, Palpatine failed to immediately kill Kit Fisto. And all because Mace had briefly intervened.

*Anakin arrived when Mace declared Palpatine under arrest. Then the latter attacked the Jedi Master with Force electrokinesis. Because he had disobeyed Mace, Anakin took his final steps into becoming a Sith Lord.

*”To cheat death is a power that only one has achieved.” Who was Palpatine talking about? Surely not Plageuis, who had failed to cheat death, thanks to his apprentice. And Palpatine knew nothing of Qui-Gon’s spiritual achievement.

*Although Anakin seemed willing to assist and agree with Palpatine, his face seemed to express great reluctance.

*Magnificent shot of Anakin leading the clone troopers to the Jedi Temple.

*Probably one of the most heartbreaking sequences in the entire STAR WARS saga is the execution of Order 66.

*What sort of vehicles were the clone troopers riding during their search for Yoda on Kashyyyk?

*I wonder what would have happened if Anakin had not told Padme of his intent to travel to Mustafar?

*Yoda had expressed belief that it would be easy for him and Obi-Wan to infiltrate the Jedi Temple. Yet, the two Jedi Masters found themselves forced to battle clone troopers guarding the Temple.

*It is interesting that Anakin’s murder of the Separatists leaders occurred around the same time as Palpatine’s declaration as the galaxy’s first emperor.

*Once more, a Jedi Master decides to move against Palpatine without the Senate’s consent. This time, it is Yoda, who decides to kill the Sith Lord. No wonder it was easy for Anakin to view the Jedi as a threat to the galaxy.

*Padme looked particularly heartbroken when Obi-Wan informed her that Anakin had become a Sith Lord.

*Why couldn’t Obi-Wan simply planted a tracker on Padme’s ship, instead of stowing away?

*You can hear signs of the Anakin/Padme love theme from AOTC, when Padme arrived on Mustafar.

*Anakin had an odd, calm expression on his face, while Padme was talking to him. And when he began talking about ruling the galaxy, his expression became even odder.

*Boy, Obi-Wan’s appearance on Mustafar was badly time. Which makes me question his decision to stowaway aboard Padme’s skiff even more.

*I forgot that Padme had been unconscious during Anakin and Obi-Wan’s duel.

*It is interesting that Obi-Wan was the first to light up his lightsaber.

*I now realize that Anakin and Obi-Wan’s duel was not about good versus evil. I believe that it was about years of resentment and anger finally exploding between two men who once loved each other as brothers, despite their disagreements. Hence, the use of blue lightsabers by both and the exploding fire and lava that surrounded them.

*Anakin and Obi-Wan’s out-of-control emotions during the duel seemed like a clear indication of why both had failed to achieve their goals. Anakin’s rash move near the lava bank had resulted in the loss of his legs and his other arm – and spending the rest of his life in the suit. Obi-Wan’s failure to immediately kill Anakin on that lava bank resulted in Vader’s impact upon the galaxy for over the next twenty years . . . and Obi-Wan’s eventual death.

*Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor’s moved very fast in their duel scenes. And I’m not simply referring to what was shown on the movie screen. I’m also referring to their practice sessions shown in the DVD’s Special Features disk.

*”Your arrogance blinds you, Master Yoda.” – I hate to say this, but Palpatine was right. But he could have also been referring to himself. As for Yoda, he made the worse mistake of attacking Palpatine’s guards upon entering the Emperor’s office. He had attacked the guards in the presence of Mas Amedda, the Senate’s leader. An accusation of an assassination attempt by the Jedi would not be far from the truth.

*”My little green friend.” – I would not be surprised if those words had pissed off Yoda.

*Anakin and Obi-Wan’s duel lasted longer than Yoda and Palpatine’s.

*”You were the Chosen One!” – Obi-Wan went into full rant after chopping off Anakin’s limbs. This is an example that he was just as emotional as Anakin during the duel. Of course, I cannot help but wonder why he did not kill Anakin, and allowed the latter to suffer a possible prolonged death on the lava bank.

*Palpatine’s return to Coruscant with a wounded Anakin happened in the midst of fierce rain storm. This scene reminded of that old lady’s words to the nine year-old Anakin in TPM – “Storm’s comin, Ani!” This had occurred before Maul’s arrival on Tatooine. Palpatine and Anakin’s return in the first mentioned scene truly indicated that the storm has finally struck the Republic.

*The expression on Anakin’s face as his Vader mask was being lowered upon him was truly heartbreaking.

*”There’s still good in him.” – If only Obi-Wan had heeded Padme’s words. But . . . he thought that Anakin was dead. On the other hand, the infant Luke did listen. This was perhaps, Padme’s greatest contribution.

*Palpatine seemed pleased by Anakin’s show of power inside the infirmary, when the latter learned of Padme’s death.

*The movie’s last shot of Padme is the japoor snippet that Anakin had given her, years ago.

*I think I must have cried during the movie’s last ten to fifteen minutes. Oh well. On to A NEW HOPE.

“ZERO DARK THIRTY” (2012) Review

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“ZERO DARK THIRTY” (2012) Review

Following the release of her 2009 movie, “THE HURT LOCKER”, director hit Oscar gold when the movie won Best Picture and she picked up a Best Director statuette. Three years later, Bigelow returned to the setting of the Middle East in this historical drama about the operation of the C.I.A. for the manhunt of Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Quaeda whom the U.S. government held responsible for the terrorist attacks on this country in September 2001. 

The movie begins two years after the September 11 attacks with the arrival of a C.I.A. agent named “Maya” to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. Although she had been gathering information on al-Queda for two years, Maya becomes familiar with interrogation methods used by fellow agent Dan on several Islamic detainees, including one named Anmar. Maya evolves into a hardened, yet overzealous veteran. Over the next several years, Dan transfers to the C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Virginia; Maya and her friend and fellow agent Jessica survive the 2008 bombing of the Islamabad Mariott Hotel; and Jessica is killed during a suicide bomber’s attack on Camp Chapman, Afghanistan in 2009. Although Maya is eventually reassigned to Langley following a personal attack on her outside her home, she continues the search for bin Laden. The efforts of Maya, Dan and two other agents named Hakim and Larry eventually leads the Agency to bin Laden’s location in a suburban compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The movie ends with an attack on the compound on May 2, 2011 authorized by President Barack Obama.

“ZERO DARK THIRTY” has acquired a good deal of acclaim and accolades since its release. Conservative critics of the Obama Administration accused Bigelow and her fellow producers of plans to release the movie before the 2012 Presidential election as a boost for the President’s re-election campaign. GOP Congressional leaders also accused the Obama Administration of providing Bigelow and her team access to classified information during their research for the film. More liberal critics accused the director of using the movie’s torture scenes as justification for U.S. intelligence use of torture on his prisoners. Bigelow and Columbia scheduled the movie’s release date to December 2012 for a limited release to theater and January 2013 for a wide release. It has been proven that Bigelow and her team never received any classified information from the Obama Administration. As for the accusation that Bigelow is pro-torture . . . I believe it depends upon the individual moviegoer’s point of view.

How do I feel about “ZERO DARK THIRTY”? Generally, I believe it is an excellent movie that benefited from a talented director and cast. Bigelow did an excellent job in capturing the tense, yet meticulous methods that the C.I.A. used to track down bin Laden. Bigelow’s direction and Mark Boal’s screenplay pretty much did solid work in giving the movie a documentary style aura in this historical drama. The character of Maya is supposed to be based on an actual C.I.A. agent who had worked on the bin Laden manhunt. Thanks to Bigelow, Boal and a superb and award-winning performance by Jessica Chastain, audiences saw the gradual development of Maya’s character from C.I.A. newbie to hardened intelligence agent and negotiator, and finally to a woman obsessed with the capture of the man she not only held responsible for the September 11 attacks, but also for the death of the close friend who was killed at the Camp Chapman attack.

“ZERO DARK THIRTY” also featured some top-notch performances from the rest of the cast. Jason Clarke, who had previously worked with Chastain in “LAWLESS”, gave an excellent performance as Dan, the intense and ruthless C.I.A. agent who initiated Maya into the brutal world of intelligence interrogations. Kyle Chandler handed in another top-notch and complex performance as former C.I.A. Islamabad Station Chief, Joseph Bradley, who seemed to be at turns both impressed and exasperated by Maya’s obsession with the bin Laden hunt. I was surprised to see Jennifer Ehle in this movie. Then again, I have been seeing her in a great deal of American productions, lately. In “ZERO DARK THIRTY”, she gave a first-rate as Maya’s friend and colleague, Jessica. The movie also boasted some solid work from the likes of Mark Strong, Joel Edgerton, Harold Perrineau, Édgar Ramírez, Fares Fares, Stephen Dillane (who did possess a shaky American accent) and James Gandolfino.

I am perplexed about one thing about the cast. Could someone explain why Joel Edgerton was billed over Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle and Mark Strong? All three had bigger roles than Edgerton. I realized that the latter portrayed one of the U.S. Navy SEALs that conducted the raid on bin Laden’s compound. But I do not see this as a reason for him to receive billing over Chandler, Ehle and Strong. Another problem I have with “ZERO DARK THIRTY” is that the movie struck me as a bit schizophrenic in its style. The movie’s first hour – which featured Maya and Dan’s interrogations of Ammar and other detainees and some detailed investigations struck me as rather dry. I would have fallen asleep within an hour if it were not for the torture scenes. And honestly? I find that rather disturbing. The movie’s second half seemed to shift in tone with the Islamabad Marriott Hotel and Camp Chapman bombings. The major characters – especially Maya – became more emotional. The second half also featured verbal conflict between Maya and Bradley, and also an attempt on her life. Once the Navy SEALs raided bin Laden’s compound, the movie’s tone shifted back to its dry and documentary style.

Speaking of both the torture and bin Laden compound raid sequences, both seemed to stretch out a bit too long. I understand that the C.I.A. used torture to gather information for their manhunt. Honestly, I am not surprised. I did not believe that the scandal over the Guantanamo Bay detention camp would end such interrogation methods. Personally, I find them repulsive. But I doubt that the C.I.A. or the U.S. government would care less about my feelings. But the torture scenes struck me as too long. I could have dealt with a minor on-screen torture scene. But I think Bigelow stretched it too far. I could also say the same about the SEALs’ raid on the bin Laden compound. I realize that Bigelow was trying to milk the suspense for all it was worth. I am sorry, but I found it difficult to accept the idea that the SEALs were in so much danger. I was not that impressed by the Camp Chapman sequence. I never knew about the attack until I saw this movie. But I pretty much guessed what was about to happen in this sequence at least five minutes before the actual attack. How disappointing.

I have noticed that the media has been consistently labeling Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, “DJANGO UNCHAINED”, has been labeled by the media as a “revenge tale”. I find this ironic, considering that the movie’s protagonist seemed more interested in saving a loved one than revenge. On the other hand, “ZERO DARK THIRTY” practically reeks of revenge. Some movie critics have noted this, but the movie has not really acquired a reputation as a “revenge tale”. I find this odd. Very odd.

I understand that “ZERO DARK THIRTY” earned both Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations. On one level, I believe the movie earned those nominations. Thanks to Kathryn Bigelow’s direction and Mark Boal, it is basically a well made movie that featured some top-notch performances from a cast led by Jessica Chastain. Unfortunately, I cannot say that I loved the flim. I barely liked it. It strikes me as a bit too cold for my tastes.

Notes on “STAR WARS: Episode II – Attack of the Clones”

The following is a list of minor notes and observations that came to me, during my recent viewing of “Episode II: Attack of the Clones”. I hope that you enjoy them: 

Notes on “STAR WARS: Episode II – Attack of the Clones”

*It is interesting that the story starts out with Coruscant – the seat of the Republic’s power – covered in a shroud of fog. Was this an allegory of the Republic’s impending doom? Or a sign of hidden secrets within the seats of power?

*Why did the Jedi believe they would have to protect the Republic in a military action, if the Separatists broke away? It seems as if the Republic and the Jedi were prepared to consider using military force to draw the Separatists back into the Republic, against their will.

*I noticed that both Mace and Ki-Adi had the same condescending attitude that the entire Council had in TPM, when explaining to Padme that Dooku could never be behind her assassination attempt.

*Why was it so important to Obi-Wan that he and Anakin follow the Council’s instructions regarding Padme, to the letter?

*I wonder if Jango would have killed Zam if she had succeeded in killing Padme.

*Are dreams usually dismissed by the Jedi in such a cavalier fashion?

*No wonder the Jedi and senators like Bail Organa had never formed a strong bond by ROTS, if Obi-Wan’s general attitude toward all politicians (which the Order shares, I suspect) is anything to go by.

*The more I look at Anakin and Obi-Wan’s interactions in AOTC, the more I realize how unsuited they were for a master/padawan relationship. Anakin would have been better off being trained by someone more suited to deal with his emotional and non-conformist personality. However, I see nothing wrong with Anakin and Obi-Wan forming a strong friendship, once Anakin becomes a Jedi Knight.

*I wonder if Anakin’s feelings about Palpatine would have remained the same if Obi-Wan had been less strident in his teaching.

*How interesting. Obi-Wan ended up following Anakin’s suggested mandate regarding Padme’s would-be assassin, after all.

*The Coruscant chase sequence is another major favorite with me. Note the slightly chubby woman with Ahmed Best and a silver-blond woman with too much eye make-up, both giving Anakin lust-filled glances in the nightclub scene. Come to think of it, I believe I had spotted two other women doing the same.

*”Until caught this killer is, our judgement she must respect.” – Why did Yoda believe that Padme MUST accept the Jedi’s decision that she return to Naboo? I realize that he is concerned for her safety. But why would he assume that she had no choice but to accept the Council’s decision on where she should be? At least Mace seemed to realize that Padme would obey if Palpatine, as the Supreme Chancellor, had given the order.

*When discussing his abilities with Palpatine, Anakin is polite and practically modest. Yet, whenever he is around Obi-Wan or discussing the latter, he becomes arrogant about his abilities and bitter at what he perceives as Obi-Wan’s inability to recognize them.

*”Anakin . . . don’t try to grow up too fast.” – It is ironic that Padme would say this to Anakin, considering that she has been trying to do this very thing for most of her life.

*Although Captain Typho’s assumption on the safety of Padme’s arrival on Coruscant proved to be false, his fear that she might do something foolish or rash proved to be very accurate.

*”If an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist.” – ah, another prime example of the Jedi’s arrogant belief in themselves. Who would have thought it would come from the Archives’ librarian?

*Anakin might be pretty close to the truth in the definition of love he had given to Padme.

*Despite the sweet and charming overtones of the younglings scene, it still has a sinister sense of the foreboding.

*It is interesting how ALL of the Separatists are tainted with the same brush as the Trade Federation and the Banking Union, because they had sought the latter for help. Guilt by association.

*When Sio Biddle had asked Anakin a question about Padme’s safety, Padme rudely interrupts and brushes off Anakin. Now, why did she do that? And in such a rude manner?

*It’s interesting how the imagery and symbolism on Kamino seemed to be of the fertile kind.

*I just realized that if Palpatine had eventually accused the Jedi of creating the Clone Army, he would have been correct. Especially since Master Sifo-Dyas really did order the creation of the clones for the Republic.

*For someone with hardly any experience in romance, Anakin managed to do a good job in winning over Padme without resorting to smooth lines and a cocky manner.

*Of course . . . Padme seemed to be a bit of a flirt, herself. She certainly knows how to use her voice effectively.

*In an article on Anakin and Padme’s relationship, I read a segment from a poem or story written hundreds of years ago that was compared to Anakin’s fireside speech. What amazed me was how similar Anakin’s speech was to what is considered courtly love.

*I noticed that once Padme had rejected Anakin’s offer of love, he turned away from her. And she, in turn, began to pursue him in a very subtle manner.

*It is ironic that Anakin believes that he did not have a choice in leaving Naboo to help his mother. In reality, he did have a choice . . . and he exercised it. Like the other characters around him, Anakin has become adept at deluding himself.

*I see that Obi-Wan had made the first move in his fight with Jango Fett on Kamino. Not only did it result in him nearly falling over a ledge, it was the movie’s first sign of the “good guys” acting as the aggressors.

*”Those Tusken Raiders. They may walk like men, but they’re nothing more than vicious, mindless monsters.” – Judging from Cliegg Lars’ words, I cannot help but wonder if Anakin’s murder of the Tusken Raiders was something rare on Tatooine. Would Anakin’s actions have been condoned by Tatooine’s moisture farmers? Cliegg’s words seemed to have a xenophobic ring to them.

*When Padme told Anakin that it was okay to be angry, she was right. It was okay. It would have been a lot unhealthier for Anakin to pretend otherwise. But where Anakin went wrong was that he had allowed his anger to overwhelm him . . . which led to his murder of the Tuskens.

*Anakin’s claim that he would even learn to stop people from dying seemed to foreshadow his opera conversation with Palpatine in ROTS.

*If Jar-Jar had not proposed that Palpatine should be given emergency powers, I wonder who would have made the proposition? Bail Organa had been certain that the Senate would never grant such powers to the Chancellor or authorize a clone army. Boy, was he wrong!

*Did Obi-Wan’s own prejudices and beliefs in the Jedi’s infallibility led him to easily dismiss Dooku’s claim that a Sith Lord had control over the Senate?

*I think that Padme’s arrogant belief in her diplomatic skills were in overdrive, when she and Anakin learned about Obi-Wan’s predicament. I can see why Typho had been worried that she would do something rash.

*It seems interesting that Anakin was the only one who had managed to control the attacking him in the Geonosis area, without resorting to brute force. Was this a metaphor of his potential to control (but not suppress) the animus within himself? A potential that he had failed to attain until the end of his life?

*Obi-Wan, on the other hand, succeeded in dealing with his animal attacker with brute force . . . just as he had succeeded with Maul and Anakin. Was this a foreshadow of his advocacy of Luke using violence to deal with Vader/Anakin in the Original Trilogy?

*I suspect that Jango’s success in killing Jedi Master Coleman Trebor had gone to his head, when he had decided to attack Mace. Just as many of the Jedi have discovered in this movie and will discover in ROTS, Jango will learn that it does not pay to be the aggressor.

*I did not realize that the Republic and the Jedi had acquired both troops and weapons from the Kaminoans.

*It is interesting that Obi-Wan’s threat of expulsion from the Jedi Order did not faze Anakin one bit, in his concern for the fallen Padme. Either the Jedi Order was never that important enough to Anakin . . . or it was too important to Obi-Wan. Or perhaps it was both.

*Both Anakin and Obi-Wan made the mistake of aggressively moving against Dooku, first. And both had failed. Again, this seemed to be another example of the Jedi’s acceptance of using aggression in this movie.

*Anakin vs. Dooku – it’s ironic that this was the first duel between Palpatine’s present and future apprentices.

*Dooku, who had wisely allowed both Obi-Wan and Anakin to be the aggressors, became the aggressor, himself, in his duel against Yoda. He had barely managed to escape with his life.

*The failure of aggression committed by our heroes and by villains like Dooku and Jango seemed to be the theme for this movie . . . and perhaps the Prequel Trilogy overall. This theme seems especially true for the Jedi, who had agreed to use the clone troopers against the Separatists. The same clone troopers that will become the tools of their destruction. Irony at its most tragic.

*Looking back on AOTC, it strikes me as being a very nourish story, despite the some of the usual STAR WARS elements. Perhaps that is why so many people have difficulty in accepting it. Film noir can be highly regarded – or not. But people rarely understand it, or bother to watch it in the movie theaters.