“We call them the American Taliban,” says a grim faced Afghani elder to investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill. The man is speaking of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), an arm of the military that lead a night raid on his village killing his daughter in law and her children. The United States had claimed that his village harbored terrorists but, as the Afghani man decries, “if children are terrorists then we are all terrorists.” Such is the bleak world presented in Jeremy Scahill’s documentary Dirty Wars – a world which many would rather avoid seeing. But with the unflinching gaze of Scahill and director Rick Rowley in a mere 87 minutes what was once hidden becomes painfully clear. The film, which is based on Scahill’s book Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield released last April, chronicles Scahill’s attempts to peer beyond the world the US Military wants him to see and into the shifty realm of US counter terrorism operations. Scahill begins in small villages in Afghanistan trying to figure out the source of the constant night raids – NATO reports often blame the Taliban yet his own findings suggest something else – and slowly expands his investigation into the world as a whole traveling to Yemen and southern Africa.Read More
Love or hate it, Zero Dark Thirty is one of the year’s most discussable films. Less than two full years after it happened in May 2011, Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal have already immortalized the assassination of Osama Bin Laden in film (I mean digital). This incredibly rapid turnover from real life events to movie dramatization provides for a rather bizarre viewing experience that makes it impossible to watch the film simply as a piece of art. One’s enjoyment of the movie is constantly interrupted by a nagging voice going: Is that what really happened? Is that what she was really like? The she, in this case, is Maya (Jessica Chastain), the film’s representation of the CIA Officer known only as “Jen” who played a key role in the decade long manhunt for Bin Laden. Chastain plays Jen as a fiery, cocky heroine who’s as smart as she is brash. She’s entertaining to watch but sometimes feels a little bit too Hollywood. For example, did the real life “Jen,” in answer to the CIA director’s question “Who are you?” reply: “I’m the mother fucker that found the guy”? It’s a funny line for something meant as entertainment, but Zero Dark Thirty isn’t just that. Given our nation’s closeness with the subject matter it can’t be.Read More
The Enlightenment came to Denmark in 1768 when King Christian VII took on a German physician by the name of Johan Struensee. Originally just hired to help the King with his mental issues, Struensee quickly won the favor of the King and convinced him to pass a series of reforms to end censorship and improve the lives of the grossly mistreated Danish peasantry. With the help of the King’s wife, who he was also having an affair with, Struensee challenged the conservative laws of the time and helped create a period of Enlightenment for the Danish people. However, as Queen Catherine Mathilde explains at the beginning of Nikolaj Arcel’s film about the events, it could not last: “We thought we could have it all… We were wrong.” If the actual history of what came to pass sounds juicy enough to make a good movie, that’s because it is, and Arcel’s film is just that: a good movie. Not great, not okay, but very solidly a good movie with a few great scenes here and there. It is hard to point to any one thing that holds the movie back from greatness – all the elements are there – yet as a whole it never quite achieves the power of other historical dramas.Read More
Though many will probably hail The Loneliest Planet as a quiet, gripping drama, describing it with words like “contemplative” and “meditative,” what it really is, is a tedious overlong film with too many shots of the mountains. In writer/director Julia Loktev’s new film Gael García Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries) and Hani Furstenberg play a young couple, engaged to be married, who decide to take a backpacking trip through the Georgian mountains. Why exactly these mountains isn’t clear. They don’t really seem the dare devil type – Furstenberg’s character is actually kind of clumsy – and the Georgian mountains don’t particularly strike one as a place for sightseeing. They have their fair share of striking scenery, which Loktev is only too eager to capture, yet, after the first forty-five minutes the viewer already feels exhausted by this lonely environment so one can only imagine how the characters must feel. Whatever the reason, they are there, hiking through the mountains with Bidzinia Gujabidze as their guide. The mountains are a green but barren place with little to see and less to do, so very little happens in the course of the movie, save one or two small incidents which have a large impact on the character’s relationships. Here, finally, is something the viewer can enjoy. When, halfway to the end, the incident (shall we call it) does finally happen, our mouths salivate; finally some food for thought in this barren wasteland. And delicious food it is. The tiny incident, is realistically the kind of thing that could change the course of an entire relationship. It’s the kind of thing, as the film’s trailer rightly puts it, that makes one question just how well one knows someone. On top of this it calls into question numerous assumptions about gender roles and what society expects of each sex, but the problem remains that it’s only food for thought. It’s like conceptual art or a Duchamp ready-made piece: It’s lots of fun to talk about but not so much fun to watch. Yet, this is exactly what Loktev wants – forces – the viewer to do. The result is less a movie going experience and more a conversation piece; for some this may work, for others it may not.
To continue reading please go to MediumRare
Woody Allen is an anomaly in cinematic history. Aside from Chaplin, no other filmmaker has left such a unique mark on film history both as a character and an auteur. Much like Chaplin, Allen appears, even stars, in most of his films, always playing the same neurotic character, and bringing mucho of the comedy to his films. His style is infectious. So much so, that even when Allen is not in his films it’s clear which actor is playing his stand-in. Since the start of his career in 1965 Allen has made nearly one film a year in a wide range of genres from zany bizarre comedies like Sleeper, to more grounded romances like Manhattan, and even some full on dramatic films like Match Point, though mostly remaining within his signature comedy-drama blend. Two of his films, which are perhaps best representative of his comic style, are Annie Hall (1977) and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). In the following essay I would like to examine the nature of comedy within each of these films and the way in which Allen approaches comedy as both a director and a character. As with all Allen’s work, Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters share a sort of comic thesis statement about the nature of life. Like early filmmaker Mack Sennet, Allen understood that there was something inherently comedic about death. For Senett this comedy often came in the narrow escape from death, but for Allen the comedy was in inescapability of death; eventually everyone dies.Read More