Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Podcasting: Zero Dark Thirty

Good news! I thought that I was going to miss out on Out Now With Aaron and Abe's discussion of Zero Dark Thirty due to Sundance, but good fortune was on my side! I'm very glad to have been able to be a part of this one. The shownotes, in particular, are a veritable treasure trove of interesting bits of information. Make sure you take the time to check them out. 

You can listen to the entire podcast by clicking HERE to go to the episode's official page or by clicking the big ol' play button below. This discussion had a particularly good vibe. We were not only able to go into detail on the film, but also took the time to talk about Sundance/Slamdance as well as the upcoming Academy Awards.

Don't forget to share/post/link/tweet or whatever it is you do with things you like. Enjoy!

This episode features: 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Tales from Park City - The Whole Shebang (2013)

Now that I've had several days to recuperate/thaw, I thought it'd be useful to archive Tales from Park City in a single post. To that end, you'll find a link to each piece below.

Tales From Park City - 2013

If you're so inclined, you can find the full archive of last year's SmackDance column here.


Whenever I go to a festival, I take my notebook. There are just too many films to keep track of to trust my memory to keep everything straight. This year alone, I saw 13 feature-length and 30 short films. Unfortunately, I realized too late that I'd left my favorite notebook at home, so I had to pick up another one upon arrival. 

Despite not having my battle-tested notebook on hand, perhaps the single thing that's most special to me about this year's trip is that I was able to take notes all week with my mother's pen. It means more than words can express, and I am thinking of her tonight.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tales From Park City - Dreams Come True At The End

The last day! 

My morning started off far too early. In anticipation of my pre-7 AM alarm, I tried to get some sleep by going to bed early, but things are tough when you're bunking with someone on a different schedule. Plus, I never really slept that great the whole time I was in Utah. Whatever. On the last day, I decided to treat myself and go off the beaten path a little bit so I figured that a little extra work was worth it. 

Whenever I go to Park City, there's typically one or two movies that I have to see for me. There are tons that I need to see for my job and I'm fully aware that I'm there to work first and foremost, even if that job involves watching movies all day. (poor guy!) Last year, the "me" movie was 2 Days In New York, and this year, it was Before Midnight

What's ironic is that I had the opportunity to meet Julie Delpy through my job last year and heard a journalist ask her if there were any plans to make a third film with Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke. She kept quiet about it and said that it might happen . . . but all the while she knew that they had a script and were leaving to shoot it in a month!

Anyhow, I didn't have a ticket for the film. To rushline a film at Sundance, you're supposed to be there about 2 hours early. Fortunately for me, as it was the first screening of the day, I was only required to be there 1 hour in advance. As the film was scheduled to start at 8:30 AM, I was supremely grateful for this. At each venue, they post a sign with the average number of rushline people who got into screenings at the venue the year before. At the MARC, that number was 50, (not terribly encouraging) and thanks to a misleading bus driver, I ended up with #95 (again, not very encouraging) Fortunately for me, a kind woman who was somehow able to buy a ticket, flipped my number around by giving me her spot at #59. 


Now to the film . . .  (no spoilers per se, but don't read on if you don't want to know the basic premise, which I think is a kind of spoiler in the world of this series.)

  • Before Midnight: I have loved this series since I was in my late teens. Jesse and Celine feel like friends of mine, and that's not exaggeration on my part. The films are so so well-written and the performances are wonderfully authentic that you feel like you know these people. In this one, we find the two together for nine years following the events of Before Sunset. In many ways, Before Midnight is about what "happily ever after" is really like. It's a very different kind of story than the previous two. With those, the characters still have rose-colored glasses on with regard to each other. But here? Here, they've been together for years and years, and the gloves come off. If the first two were about the fight to get together, this one is about the fight to stay together. Not surprisingly, the writing's great and the performances are strong. That said, I do wish that I'd watched the other two again before watching this one, as it'd been a while, and I think that, to have the maximum effect, a 1-2-3 approach would work best. These films are growers, and while I don't think that Before Midnight is the best individual entry in the series, the impact that they have as a trio is undeniable.

    Look, there's a lot that I could say about the film, but I'm going to collect as much as I can and post it once the film's come out for people to see for themselves. I want to talk about individual details and plot-points, but there's no reason to put that up when only a few people around the world have seen the film. Stay tuned, ok?
While I was disappointed to have to come home before the end of the Festival, I'm really glad to have been a part of the experience at all. It's an amazing thing to be a part of a town filled with so much energy all focused in one direction. I said this last year, and I'll say it again. It restores your faith a little bit to see people lying on the ground in front of the screen instead of missing the movie and people who'd rather get in line before 8 AM than risk missing a movie. This is my tribe, and I'm proud to be part of it.

Over and out,

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tales From Park City - I Drank His Milkshake

Apologies for the late post. I needed to hit the hay early on Sunday night, and was busy yesterday tying up loose ends and getting ready to fly back. Monday's column will be up later today/tonight.


Sunday’s films at Slamdance:

  • Animation Showcase: As a medium, animation allows the filmmaker to create content without any connection to the physical world. It’s the rare place where the artist can literally create anything that he/she wants, regardless of how crazy it might sound. I found a few gems in this program, but on the whole, there were a lot of abstract pieces. I tend to fall a bit more on the narrative side of things with regard to form. That’s a personal preference of mine, and not a reflection on any of the filmmakers who, to a person, are all very talented artists. Here are a few that I really liked.

    -An Elegy for Eden – I’m not entirely sure what the proper term is for the technique director Jason Gay McLagan used to create this one, but it’s lovely. It’s ironic too, because I thought that the film was a strange take on the Eden myth, but it’s apparently meant to represent the breakdown of personality in the digital age.
    -Gum – hilarity. This is probably the best in the punch if you’re going pound for pound. There’s really just not any fat.
    -Home – A sweetly raunchy (or is “accurate” a better term?) look at what makes a house a home.
    -I Am Tom Moody – probably my favorite in the bunch. Tom Moody is about to play his first concert, but has to have a quick conversation with someone who doesn’t want him to. I guess I’m a sucker for pieces about self-actualization, particularly when they feel true to life and avoid the corny factor.
    -Noodle Fish – beautifully animated in what appears to be a sandbox. A story about a little fish who decides that he would like to see the world outside the water. He also encounters some aquatic philosophers, which was terrific.
    -Tap to Retry – this made me laugh. A series of quick vignettes (though I think that vignettes is a poor term to use for a description) related to the emotional impermeability of the modern world.
    -Triangle – wonderfully inventive piece more than a little inspired by the “Pink Elephants on Parade” sequence in Dumbo.

  • Between Us – anytime one of the Festival’s founders makes a film (and it’s actually programmed by the team!), they do what’s called a Founder’s Screening. You might recall last year’s Wild In The Streets? This time around, it’s Dan Mirvish. I was supposed to see another film, but after it sold out, I decided to watch Between Us instead of waiting in the rush line for something that wasn’t a sure thing. Plus, I didn’t want to sit on the floor, which people are wont to do at Slamdance if seats are no longer available. Mind you, I think it’s awesome when people do that. I just don’t want to do it myself. Also, Dan promised milkshakes to those who came to the screening. Honestly. I scored a vanilla shake that was pretty good too.  Props to editor Dean Gonzalez for going to the trouble to make them at all. Based on a play by Joe Hortua, Between Us is about the alternately ascending/descending relational trajectories of two different couples. One (Julia Stiles and Taye Diggs) seems like the better adjusted of the two at first, while the other (Melissa George and David Harbour) . . . not so much. Let’s just say that things get kinda out of hand at a reunion. Make that two reunions. The best thing about the film is the way that the two reunions (with two years between them) are intercut in such a way as to illuminate certain parallels and show just how much these people have changed over time. It’s a nice movie, but nothing to really write home about. The performances don’t really hit as hard as they might have been intended to, and I think that the writing could have stood a little more punch to make things a bit tougher. That said, I liked the film’s black sense of humor.

  • Visitors (Die Besucher) – with a big tip of the cap to BigWords, this is the best film I’ve seen at Slamdance 2013. It’s a wonderfully mature look at family dynamics, the way they change over time, and the nature of child/parent interdependence in modern society. Jakob, in his late 50’s, goes to visit his three adult children in Berlin for the first time in years, but doesn’t tell his wife, Hanna. Let’s just say that they’re not on the best of terms, and the family has to deal with a lot of stuff that they’ve been sweeping under the rug. Part of what makes the film so interesting is the way that it explores the way that kids these days are having to rely financially on their parents much, much longer they used to, and the subsequent tension, resentment, confusion that can come as a result. There’s a particularly lovely scene in which one character makes one of the most heartfelt speeches I’ve heard in a film in a long time. I’d say more, but that would give away too much.  The performances are terrific, the writing is terrific, and I was really surprised to learn that Visitors is director/co-writer Constanze Knoche’s first feature film. This is one to look out for.

At the close of the night, I ended up at the Between Us party for a little while before heading back to the condo to try and catch some sleep before heading out early in the morning. Before Midnight was set to roll at 8:30 AM, and I needed to be there an hour early to get in the rushline. I’ll let you guess as to when this pillow hawk needed to get up to make that happen.

More later,

P.S. And here’s Rand’s Dave Grohl story in his own words . . .


Scene: VIP lounge pre Chef-Dance dinner/concert

Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters wonders behind the small bar to hand out beers.

Dave: Do you want a drink?

Me: I couldn't go back to my normal life on Orange County if I refused a drink from Dave Grohl... But you have to do a shot with us!

Dave: Only if it's whiskey.

Me: (trying not to look elated) Perfect!

Dave pours 3 shots. My boss, friend and I take a shot of Crown Royale. 

The end.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tales From Park City - Anger and Alternate Reality

The week is already starting to catch up with me. It’s probably a bit too early to admit this, but it behooves a writer to be honest.

The streets of Park City were the more crowded on Saturday than they have been all week. It’s understandable, given the arrival of first full day of weekend screenings and the coming of audience members enjoying their day off. It does make for a challenging time getting around, not only with foot traffic but also with the free shuttles.

That’s one of the single best things about Sundance. Not only is it easy to find out where you need to go, but there’s very little need to rent a car of any kind, provided you can just get to Park City in the first place. In fact, you’re actually discouraged from renting a car by the Festival itself. My friend, however, had to transport some stuff up here, and wasn’t so lucky. When he told me that he was driving up to Main Street to make a delivery, “good luck” were the only words I could think of to offer him. Fortunately, he found a great parking place. After driving around for 30 minutes.

Ok, onto today’s screenings at Slamdance:

Where I Am: another strong Slamdance documentary. The film tells the story of Robert Drake, an American writer, who was brutally attacked while living abroad in Ireland. The real tragedy is that the only reason he was attacked was because he is gay. While the film runs a little longer than it needs to and begins to repeat itself toward the end, it’s an emotional piece that does a good job of exploring the complex feelings that Robert and those around him have about the attack. I was struck by the idea of a man who has to depend on other people for just about everything being able to so readily forgive his attackers, even though they’d gotten off extremely easy and “justice” wasn’t done. He’s a remarkable man, and it was a pleasure to see him at the screening with his long-time assistant, Butch.

The Bitter Buddha: one of the funniest things I’ve seen this year. The Bitter Buddha takes a look at the career of comedian Eddie Pepitone. He’s one of those long-suffering guys that other comedians swear by, but just hasn’t had the big break that he deserves. A big part of what makes him so likable is he’s incredibly open about his anger and insecurity. There’s a more than ample supply of both. There’s a ton of interviews with other comics, most notably Patton Oswalt. The film goes to video-on-demand in February, and you’d do well to catch it. Here’s a link to Eddie’s Twitter page.

The Institute: this is one of the single best things I’ve seen at the Festival so far this year. The Institute documents an “alternate reality game” that lasted for 3 years and had, at one time or another, over 10,000 participants in and around San Francisco. Jeff Hull, the game’s mastermind, created a convoluted narrative about rival organizations fighting over who was going to control the future of human happiness. Director Spencer McCall was initially hired by Mr. Hull to shoot footage that would become part of the gameplay, and after ending up with over 1000 hours of footage, decided to move forward with the film. It’s fascinating stuff, particularly as you begin to wonder if what you’re watching is even a documentary at all. At certain junctures, it seems impossible that some of these people could be serious about what they’re saying with a straight face. What makes the film really shine is that it’s able to create within the mind of the viewer the same effect that I’d imagine it had on the participants. On some level, you’re not only wondering how people could take this stuff seriously, you’re also wanting for this to be true on some level because it’s been so skillfully put together.

The Brotherhood of the Traveling Rants: Meh. This is the “official documentary” of Canadian comedian Gavin McInnes’ tour in promotion of his book. I’m not going to deny that he’s funny, but only sporadically. There’s also just far too much material that’s clearly been staged for the camera. His best friend comes along for the ride, and there are certain bits where they’re clearly riffing off of each other, and that’s fun to watch, but then later there are just far too many attempts at emotional authenticity that are being attempted by guys who aren’t the greatest actors. Additionally, the film’s introduction makes it seem like Gavin’s setting out to make a film about whether or not comedy is a learned behavior or instinctive ability, but this is quickly abandoned to document the tour. I wish that the film had either stuck with the framing device, or just allowed the camera to roll when the guys were out doing their thing. The latter would have been a lot more fun. There’s enough history between these two to make this thing a lot more fun than it ends up being.

No parties for me at the end of the night. I got out of my last film at 11:30 PM so my party connections were already kinda shut down. 

I’ve got 3 screenings on the docket for today, but am hoping to catch a bit of the 49er game. My buddy’s a HUGE fan and has been making new friends all over town with his authentic (and pretty stylish) Niner gear. I want to watch him watch the game more than anything. Also, he’s got a GREAT Dave Grohl story that I’m going to try and get on camera so I can share it with you tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s the big one for me. I’m going to rushline a screening of Before Midnight at 8:30 AM, which means that I’ll have to be there around 7 AM. Which means I’ll have to get up at . . .  ug. On top of all that, I fly out tomorrow night and have to move house tomorrow morning. Should be fun. Those films mean a lot to me, and I’m really hoping for another stellar entry in the series.

OK, off to a busy day.

More later,

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Tales from Park City - Unlikely Lunches, Jilted Lovers, and Broken Hearts

So, there's this place, and I'm surprised to say that I'm a fan. 

I've never been to Park City except for during the Festivals, but I'd imagine that Main Street would look very different at any other time of year. There's a plethora of vendors setting up pop-up stores, companies using retail space for lounges, heck, even pop-up nightclubs. 

And perhaps the best deal in town is Morning Star's veggie burger bar. Free veggie burger! Free chips! Free beverage! Tasted pretty good. Unfortunately, after going on Thursday before the place was very well known . . . the tables have turned, and now EVERYBODY wants one. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I can grab another before I have to head home.

On to today's films at Slamdance:
  • Bible Quiz: a documentary about the lives of a few kids from Tacoma Life Center in Washington that are heavily involved in competitive Bible memorization. This was one that was particularly interesting for me, having formerly been an active Christian for most of my life. Director Nicole Teeny manages to bring a perspective that's at once honest about what might seem to be very odd about these people's beliefs while remaining very respectful of a group of entirely sincere people. That's important. One of the main subjects, Mikayla, has a real star quality to her. She's alternately hilarious and wonderfully honest about her life and the people in it.
  • The Court of Shards: this one missed the mark. A German film about a group of people with varying degrees of physical and/or neurological problems that do . . . stuff. I found the whole thing pretty confusing. From what I can tell, Nora (Caroline Fricke) seems to have epilepsy, along with a host of other emotional problems, and lives with Isabel (Silvia Giehle), a paraplegic. It's tricky. One of the first credits on screen was "lip-synched" by, and that's an unfortunate thing. For the duration of the film, the dialogue seems to be entirely looped, and it's BAD looping at that. There are a multitude of cut-away shots, voice-overs, shots with other objects obscuring mouths, you name it. Anything to keep folks from seeing how out-of-sync it was.
  • Big Words: this won the day for me. It's got a wonderfully warm vitality to it that really didn't come through the synopsis that I'd seen when I was selecting my schedule. The narrative is set on the night of Barack Obama's first election, and involves three guys who used to be a part of a hip-hop group before life took them in different directions. Naturally, their day brings them together unexpectedly, but there's so much fun in the lead up to the inevitable meeting. Strong performances and a wonderful script from writer/director Neil Drumming.
  • Fynbos: a tricky one. It's a bit slow at first, but gets under your skin. The film definitely tips its cap to L'Avventura in its examination of what happens when a woman goes missing under very strange circumstances. Richard (Warrick Grier) is trying to sell his home in South Africa to keep himself afloat financially, but something is very wrong with Meryl (Jessica Haines), his wife. It's hard to figure out what's going on in that head of hers. I did find myself wishing that the filmmakers would have done more to keep things in focus, as characters often are out of focus before walking to their mark. I'm not sure what the technical term is, but I'm sure you understand. It's certainly a film that I admire, even if I'm not sure exactly how to pin it down.
The night ended at the Slamdance Opening Night Party, which was a lot of fun. Parties like that are really one of the best parts of my job, and I'm not talking about the free drinks. I really enjoy having the opportunity to talk to filmmakers/journalists/distributors, particularly at a festival like Slamdance. These people are incredibly passionate about what they do and it comes through in spades. Right before I left, I struck up the best conversation with a filmmaker with whom I had a lot in common. I think that's the biggest blessing of an environment like this. Sure, I was there for a practical purpose for my job, but I just made a new friend. 

More later,

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tales from Park City - Opening Day

Thanks to my good friend Efo, I was able to temporarily acquire a camera for a little video blogging action! I'm hoping to put it to good use over the next few days and provide a fun little sideshow to the column.

The wireless at my condo is super-sketchy. So I'm going to do my best to post daily, but if I miss a day, I know you'll forgive me. 

More later,

For more, don't forget . . . 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

I’m surprised by the society I live in more often than I’d like. Having gotten to the theater earlier than usual this time around, I had a chance to catch the “preshow.” There was an advertisement for a TV movie about the case to convict Casey Anthony, and I found myself amazed at our culture’s desire, perhaps need even, to regurgitate current events so quickly. Despite that, there I was, buying a ticket for a movie about an event that, for all intents and purposes, just happened. Having really enjoyed The Hurt Locker (despite being a little bit bitter about its Oscar win at the expense of Avatar!), I was willing to give Kathryn Bigelow the benefit of the doubt with Zero Dark Thirty, particularly given that she was working with the government to do everything that she could to get the story “right.”

Where The Hurt Locker really shines is in how tightly focused it is. Rather than bogging down on the justifications or lack thereof for the Iraqi conflict like so many other films of the past decade do, it manages to avoid the political in order to stay focused on the personal. It’s much more about Renner’s William and his addiction to a certain kind of lifestyle, and just how strange that lifestyle is. By that comparison, Zero Dark Thirty is, by necessity given its subject, unavoidably a child of its environment. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case, I think that it’s not quite as strong as it might have been.

Essentially, the first half of Zero Dark Thirty is a procedural, and whenever I think of procedurals, All The President’s Men comes to mind as the gold standard. That film does an incredible job of keeping the audience grounded in the facts (and there are a LOT of facts) without ever losing its dramatic impetus. Whenever I watch the film, I’m always impressed by how well the writers explain everything to the audience. If some of it goes over their heads at first, that’s understandable, but it’s all there. That’s often one of the hardest things about films dealing with historic events. You’ve got to stay grounded in the facts and you’ve also got to keep things interesting. If we’re going to use that standard, Zero Dark Thirty doesn’t quite measure up. There’s a lot that goes on that doesn’t all connect quite as organically as it could have. There are times when another Arabic name I’m not familiar with is uttered, and I find myself saying “who’s that again?” Still though, it’s not as bad as watching a Lord of the Rings movie.

Zero Dark Thirty is very much a film of two halves. The first half is the aforementioned procedural where they tackle the logistics of the manhunt. It’s solid, and manages to pull the rug out right when you’re starting to get settled. There’s one moment where something BIG happens unexpectedly, and it was one of the biggest surprises I’ve experienced in a movie theater in a long, long time. I was expecting a similar event that happened later, having seen the event in the trailer and being relatively good at those matching card games when I was a kid, but the earlier one comes without warning.

The last hour or so feels very different from what’s come before, as the focus shifts entirely to the manhunt to kill Bin Laden. Fortunately, it’s not an inorganic shift. If the film’s accurate, then the administration took a huge risk in going in, because the evidence really is incredibly sparse.

Essentially, there’s this guy. He takes messages to Bin Laden. He lives in this house, and we can tell that there are a lot of women and children inside the house. We can tell all of this from surveillance video that’s really, helpful. There’s an extra woman inside the house. There shouldn’t be an extra woman inside the house. The guy who must be her husband NEVER COMES OUT OF THE HOUSE, so he’s probably Bin Laden. It’s striking that Zero Dark Thirty billed as being about the “largest manhunt in history” and, in spite of all of our society’s technological advances, they go into battle on a hunch.

In the movie, other folks are a bit unsure about whether or not the guy is Bin Laden, most leaning toward “probably.” On the other hand, Jessica Chastain’s Maya is completely convinced. I don’t know entirely why. She would certainly like for it to be true, but that doesn’t mean that it is. That’s one thing that I would have liked more of in the script: motivational factors for Maya. I don’t know exactly why she did her job, aside from the fact that she cared a LOT about doing it. It almost seemed to be a means to an end, as opposed to a reason to fully develop the character in a three-dimensional way. As much as I have lamented scenes where a filmmaker has the obligatory “so this happened to me when I was a child, and that’s why I’ll never get married” scene, this is one case where it would have been a welcome addition. Toward the end, I figured that she was doing it (at least partially) for reasons of vengeance, but it’s still a bit murky. She’s purported to be a “killer” and yet she tells someone late in the film that she hasn’t actually done anything special for the CIA except for look for Bin Laden. It seems strange to me that she would be made a major part of a team in a field that intense, much less part of the unit trying to track down Bin Laden, on such a scant record. Chastain herself is solid, but the lack of information about her character’s motivation make it a little bit harder than it should be to empathize with her.

Back to the second half . . . the raid itself is easily the most exciting part of the film, even if there are a few logical inconsistencies. I didn’t know that one of the helicopters actually crashed! That’s not something that I had expected, and it certainly provides for a fly in the ointment. There are a few other bits that come across as a bit strange, particularly when the soldiers’ natural human instincts come to bear on some innocents that have just witnessed them kill some people they loved dearly.

I’d wondered how much of the raid would actually be depicted. A few of us had thought that perhaps the team would show the team going in, and then the team coming out. Nope. There’s a fair amount of detail in the way they go in, what happens inside, and how they leave. It’s exciting stuff. I had no idea that the compound was so large. On that front, I think that Bigelow and Boal could have made things a bit more clear. It’s insinuated that there are only 2 choppers, but then there are clearly more than that, as soldiers that seem to be stranded are back at base later, and an endless numbers of doors are blown off by an ever-increasing group of soldiers.

Zero Dark Thirty has quickly become one of the most controversial films of the last year, perhaps even last several years, and I’m not quite sure why that is. A lot of folks seem to think that the film supports the use of torture as an acceptable interrogation tactic. Personally, I don’t really think that the film is advocating a course of action so much as it’s depicting actual events. In the case of these operatives, it’s apparent that they’re willing to do just about anything for their cause, and Chastain’s transformation is quick and complete. Even though she’s not comfortable with it at first, she’s more than willing to keep things moving if it means that she gets more information and shifts from uneasy observer to willing participant very quickly. Even as they realize that the rest of the world won’t like it, these people see this course of action as completely necessary. Fortunately, the film doesn’t shy away from explicitly depicting the horrible things that many American operatives did to those in their charge. At first, I thought that the filmmakers weren’t going to actually show anybody being waterboarded, as the start of the process is seen in a long shot with soldiers blocking the audience’s view of what’s happening. Fortunately, they get up close and personal with the nasty business, which I think is necessary, given the horrible price that these poor guys had to pay.

It’s a tough sequence to watch too, because your feelings as a moviegoer bump up against your feelings as a human being. It’s only natural to want the protagonists of whatever film you’re watching to succeed, or, in this case, to get the information that they need. Given the nature of the process they’re using, at first I was surprised to find myself on their “side.” That changed, partially because of how explicit the scene is. You see a poor man screaming and struggling when he knows that he’s going to be waterboarded. You see his face, completely drenched, spitting water up in the desperate struggle to breathe. You see him fighting to keep from being put in a box. The POV shot that’s used when he’s shut in is perfect.

I think it’s pivotal to realize that Bigelow and Boal are not shying away from the horror of what happened. If they were trying to advocate the use of torture, it wouldn’t have been hard to frame the scene in such a way that might make it easier on the eyes. It’s because of how explicit it is that you realize the terrible price that comes from stripping away another person’s human dignity so completely that you’re walking around with that person on a leash. And this is AFTER he’s been just been released from the restraints that kept him on his feet all night long with his arms outstretched.

It’s also important that the prisoner starts shouting random days of the week as he’s screaming in an attempt to stay out of the box. How reliable is information given in these circumstances? Khalid Sheik Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times. It’s been determined since that a victim is willing to say just about anything just to get people to stop hurting him. The only time that I think that the film solidifies any kind of pro-torture stance is in a meeting that the National Security Advisor has with the task force’s leader. After the leader is asked if they can get any proof that Bin Laden is actually in the house in question, he responds, “by asking who? The detainee program’s shut down.” That’s the only occasion in the film where I felt that the use of torture was being supported in any other world except the crazy one that these operatives live in.

In Zero Dark Thirty, I was surprised to be reminded of an age-old question. “What hath god wrought?” Perhaps that’s the real debate that should be had here. There is something wrong with a group of people doing terrible things in the name of their god and another group of people responding by saying that their god has told them what they must do in retaliation. We’re not talking about that part anymore, are we?


4 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Happy New Year. 

I'm particularly glad to have escaped 2012. It's funny. The most obvious sentiment to express is one that 2013 will have great things in store, but that seems too obvious. As arbitrary as a flipping of the calendar is, I suppose that I'll take any inspiration I can get to re-focus on goals both personal and professional. 

There's no rest for the weary, 'cause 2013's starting with a bang! That's right, I'm headed back to Park City! I've got a badge for the Slamdance Film Festival and will mostly covering their lineup, though I'm working on a few angles that might get me into a Sundance screening or two. I'll be there from the start of the Festival(s) until Monday (1/21). I had a great experience last year, and had been very disappointed at the (all-too-real) prospect of not being able to make the trip this year. Fortunately, things worked out at the eleventh hour. Needless to say, I'm very excited! We'll see how many films I can squeeze into a short period of time, though I've got to say that I'm particularly excited to have the chance to see friends of mine from around the country. 

Each year tends to move me in different directions than I'd intended, and I'm sure that this one will be no exception. I've got a few ideas as to where I'd like to take the site over the next 12 months. In particular, I've been struck by how little the site reflects my love of certain films and filmmakers. While my focus has been on reviewing contemporary films, I'd like to change that a bit and take the time to share a bit more of what I'm most passionate about. 

Thank you so much for your support of Things I Know About The Movies in 2012. That anyone would take the time to read something I've written is something I do not take for granted, particularly given how saturated the web is with film content. As always, I welcome your comments, and would love to hear from you if there's something in particular you'd like to see on the site. 

Here's to you.