With five Academy Award nominations, the gritty let’s-kill-Osama film Zero Dark Thirty is making its own killing at the box office. And notwithstanding the controversies — experts say the film’s claim that torture eventually led the CIA to Bin Laden is false; other critics opine that director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal were “seduced” by the CIA into making pro-Agency propaganda — this is undeniably a well-crafted and serious-minded film. And not only does Dark never indulge in jingoistic cheerleading, but any film that provokes a dialogue on the subject of the CIA’s torture policies is a good thing.
In many ways a “police procedural” set within the arcane world of the CIA, Dark begins with actual voices recorded during the nightmare of 9/11. It then jumps ahead a few years to a so-called “black site” in the Middle East where an Arab male with ties to al-Qaeda is strung up by ropes while being roughly interrogated by a CIA operative (Jason Clarke, in what could be a star-making role). This is where we meet Maya (Jessica Chastain, Tree of Life), a young, pretty, and whip-smart CIA analyst. At first she looks unlikely to stomach the proceedings — especially the horrific waterboarding — but Maya overcomes any scruples and even helps out.
The long middle of the movie chronicles the next seven years that Maya continues what becomes a personal quest to track down Osama bin Laden. Early on she becomes convinced that the key is a shadowy courier that no one seems to know anything about. Maya’s bosses become fed up with her obsession, which has led nowhere. And then other terrorist outrages — including the London bombings in 2005 and the 2008 Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad — put the hunt for bin Laden on the backburner.
As Maya reviews endless hours of footage of interrogations for clues to her mysterious courier, she seems to get somewhere only to run into dead ends. But then comes a possible breakthrough and Maya bullies her colleagues and bosses into full-on surveillance. Eventually they identify the courier, but it then takes weeks to trace him to a walled compound in northern Pakistan. It is only informed guesswork that bin Laden lives there, and it takes months of lobbying to get Washington politicians, the CIA, and military brass to consider mounting a secret and highly illegal raid. This becomes the climax of the film, as two stealth helicopters swoop at low altitude through the mountains of Pakistan carrying a payload of SEAL commandos whose combat gear and night-vision goggles make them appear inhuman. The next half-hour is fascinating as it depicts a methodical, sometimes-flawed operation that is nothing like the slick “black ops” we have seen in a hundred Hollywood action flicks.
The character of Maya is based on a real person, and we never learn anything about her private life — it almost seems possible she doesn’t have one. What is clear is that 10 years of hatred has damaged her soul and transformed her into an eager killer-by-proxy. Tough-minded, tension-filled, and dispassionate as regards the CIA, Dark deserves its status as an Oscar frontrunner. M
Zero Dark Thirty ★★★★
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Starring Jason Clarke, Reda Kateb
R – 157 minutes • Continues at the
Capitol, SilverCity, Westshore
It’s maybe bad karma to toast the death of even a germ like bin Laden, so instead let’s celebrate a great film by a talented director. Bring on the bubbly! If you’re down near my pay grade, then “Method Champenoise” is the way to go. In the $14-$16 range, I give top marks to Spain’s Freixenet Cordon Negro and France’s Veuve du Vernay. Add $10 and you can’t go wrong with Stellar’s Jay (B.C.) or Chandon (California). And if you insist on the real thing, then Pol Roger (at $66) has finesse and charm to spare.
★★★ QUARTET -(Odeon) Dustin Hoffman turns in his directorial debut with this droll and heartfelt comedy about a retirement home for classical musicians where the annual concert to celebrate Verdi’s birthday is disrupted by the arrival of a diva’s diva (Maggie Smith). The great cast includes Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon, Tom Courtenay, and Pauline Collins. Starts Fri.
THE LAST STAND -(SilverCity) Now that Arnold Schwarzenegger has been terminated as governor he’s back in front of the cameras, this time playing a past-his-prime small-town sheriff who is the only thing standing between a vicious gang of well-armed drug dealers on the lam and the Mexican border. Starts Fri.
BROKEN CITY -(Capitol/SilverCity/Westshore) Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe star in a crime thriller about an ex-cop out for redemption and revenge — and all he has to do is survive a corrupt city long enough to take down its corrupt mayor.Starts Fri.
MAMA -(Capitol/SilverCity/Westshore) In this creepy horror offering two little girls run away to the woods the day their mother is murdered by their father. Five years later they are found by an uncle, who takes them in. But were they really alone out there? Starts Fri.
★★★ FLIGHT -(Caprice) Denzel Washington is excellent in a morally complex drama about a heroic pilot who “impossibly” saves an airliner from certain destruction, only to find himself in a world of trouble for unexpected reasons. Starts Fri.
★★½ TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN PART 2 -(Caprice) This most underwhelming vampire-werewolf soap opera finally comes to an end. The good news, such as it is, is that this is the best of a lame series, mostly because droopy emo-girl Bella has now transformed into a kick-ass vampire. Starts Fri.
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA -(Caprice) A hotel where vampires and sundry other monsters hide out from humans gets a big scare when a backpacking dude shows up looking for a room. This animated comedy features the voices of Adam Sandler, Kevin James, and Andy Samberg. Starts Fri.
★★★ DJANGO UNCHAINED -(Odeon/SilverCity/Westshore) Quentin Tarantino’s latest is a gory tale about a freed slave-turned-bounty-hunter (Jamie Foxx) tracking down the brutal plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio) who has bought his wife. This mash-up of spaghetti western and blaxploitation flick is clever, but many people will find the idea of Tarantino riffing on a holocaust for his own movie-making amusement rather offensive.
★★ GANGSTER SQUAD -(Odeon) A great cast gets to overact while playing with guns in a luridly fictionalized and very brutal crime thriller about the struggle of the LAPD in 1949 to run mobster Mickey Cohen and all his goons out of town. With Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, and Emma Stone.
★★★ THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY -(Capitol/SilverCity/Uni 4/Westshore) This long-expected Lord of the Rings prequel has a young Bilbo Baggins head off with a posse of dwarves to reclaim some treasure stolen by a mean old dragon named Smaug. Hobbit fans will love it, people with less of a passion for those with hairy feet should merely be entertained. With Ian McKellen, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, and Andy Serkis as the perfidious Gollum.
★★ HYDE PARK ON HUDSON -(Capitol) Bill Murray makes a rather quirky Franklin Roosevelt in this muted comedy of manners that focuses on a 1939 visit from the King and Queen of England and is told from the perspective of a dowdy fifth cousin (a wasted Laura Linney) with whom FDR had a secret affair.
★★½ THE IMPOSSIBLE -(Odeon) Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts are superb as the parents of a family that gets torn apart in the devastating 2004 tsunami that was one of the worst natural disasters of all time. Aside from being distressing to watch, this would-be-uplifting drama is surprisingly flatfooted and predictable.
★★★½ LIFE OF PI -(Odeon/Uni 4/SilverCity/Caprice) Oscar winning director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) helms this visually gorgeous adaptation of Yann Martel’s magical and spiritual novel about a young man’s epic adventures while lost at sea — most of which are shared with a terrifying Bengal tiger.
★★★★ LINCOLN -(Odeon) Stephen Spielberg directs award-winning playwright Tony (Angels in America) Kushner’s account of Abraham Lincoln’s darkest days as he fights the Civil War and also fights political battles in his cabinet over plans to free America’s black slaves. The superb cast includes Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field.
★★★½ LES MISERABLES -(Capitoll/SilverCity/Uni 4/Westshore) Victor Hugo’s sweeping tale of love, poverty and an obsessed policeman stalking a reformed criminal in 19th century France inspired the best of the mega-musicals, and now makes a stylish migration to the silver screen. This elegant, emotionally powerful film manages to be both epic and intimate. Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway. NOTE: Moves to the Capitol from the Odeon on Friday.
★★ PARENTAL GUIDANCE -(Caprice) Billy Crystal and Bette Midler play grandparents who agree to look after their grandkids, only to get into trouble when their old-style parenting approach comes into conflict with that of their progressive kids. Lame but harmless, and occasionally good for a giggle.
★★★ SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK -(Odeon/Uni 4) A bi-polar man (Bradley Cooper, The Hangover) is trying to put his life — and his marriage — back together when he meets a fascinating woman (Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games) with problems of her own. This quirky romantic comedy is directed by David O. Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter).
★★★ THIS IS 40 -(SilverCity/Caprice) This sequel to the raunchy Judd Apatow comedy Knocked Up shows an older Pete and Debbie, complete with two kids, who now find themselves colliding with a mid-life crisis. Despite some sloppiness, this is an insightful, touching, and very funny movie. Note: moves from the Odeon to the Capitol on Friday.
★★★ WRECK–IT RALPH -(Caprice) John C. Reilly provides the voice for a video-game villain who tires of being a bad guy and sets out on a quest that throws an entire video arcade into chaos. This occasionally-inspired animation lark includes the voices of Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch.
★★★★ ZERO DARK THIRTY -(Capitol/SilverCity) This grapping thriller about the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden is now on the hunt for a handful of Oscars. Directed by Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) and starring Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life). See review.
CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: WORLDS AWAY -(Westshore)
MONSTERS, INC. -(Westshore)
THE GUILT TRIP -(Caprice)
★★★ JACK REACHER -(Capitol/SilverCity)
★★★★ SKYFALL -(Capitol/SilverCity)
★½ TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D -(Capitol/SilverCity)
★★★★ EVEREST -(11 am, 4 pm)
FIRES OF KUWAIT -(noon, 6 pm)
JANE GOODALL’S WILD CHIMPANZEES -(5 pm)
MYSTERIES OF THE GREAT LAKES -(10 am, 3 pm)
SHARKS -(2 pm)
★★★★ SKYFALL -(7 pm)
super speedway -(1 pm)
MOVIE MONDAY – Is screening Bobby Fischer Against the World, a portrait of the chess master who had the classic “Cold War” battle with Boris Spassky in 1972 before becoming increasingly eccentric and eventually leading a life in exile. 6:30pm MONDAY in the 1900-block Fort. By donation. 595-FLIC. moviemonday.ca.
SOCIAL JUSTICE FILM NIGHT -presents Eyes of the Rainbow, a documentary about Assata Shakur, the Black Panther leader who escaped from U.S. prison and found asylum in Cuba, where she has lived for nearly 30 years. THURSDAY, 7 pm, 2994 Douglas St. (BCGEU Hall).
IMAX FILM festival -IMAX is having its second annual film festival from this Friday through to February 28. On offer are six films, either classics or ones new to Victoria, and interested patrons can buy single admissions or else a six-pack Festival Pass. The films include Sharks, Everest, and Mysteries of the Great Lakes.
AMNESTY HUMAN RIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL- features four films in separate screening sessions. At 2 pm they’re screening Umoja: No Men Allowed, about a village in Kenya where only women can live; and The War No One Sees, which examines the role of journalism in armed conflict. At 7 pm, Third World Canada shows the grim reality of First Nations children whose parents have committed suicide; and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, the fascinating portrait of China’s most famous artist-turned-political-dissident. SATURDAY, at Victoria Event Centre, 1415 Broad Street.
People VS the State of Illusion -Film by Austin Vickers featuring expert witnesses in the fields of neuroscience, biochemistry, psychology, quantum physics, and consciousness theory. Set in an old prison in New Mexico, the movie follows the arrest and trial of a single father. THURSDAY, JAN. 17 at 7pm at Alix Goolden Hall (907 Pandora). $15 at unityvictoria.ca, 838 Pandora or 250-382-1613. $20 limited at the door. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a double guest pass.
In Organic We Trust – Open Cinema, MediaNet and Food Roots team up to screen In Organic We Trust, a doc about organics certification in the USA. WEDNESDAY, JAN. 23 at the Victoria Event Centre (1415 Broad). $10-20. Doors at 5:30pm, show at 7pm.
Cinecenta at UVic screens its films in the Student Union Building. Info: 721-8365. cinecenta.com.
TABU -(Wed.-Thurs., Jan. 16-17: 7:00, 9:10) This elegant romantic drama, shot in black and white, features an old woman in Portugal remembering a dangerous love affair decades ago in Africa, during the dying days of Portuguese colonialism.
★★½ MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN -(Fri.-Sat., Jan. 18-19: 3:00, 7:00, 9:45 & Sun., Jan. 20: 3:00, 7:00 & Mon., Jan. 21: 7:00 only) Deepa Mehta (Water) directs a competent but less-than-engaging adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s award-winning novel, a sprawling and epic account of 60 years of recent East Indian history.
★★½ CHARLOTTE’S WEB -(Sat.-Sun., Jan. 19-20: 1:00 matinee) The timeless classic by New Yorker writer E.B. White about Wilbur the Pig and the efforts of various barnyard animals to keep him off the menu for Christmas dinner gets a well-meaning but occasionally ho-hum treatment. This mix of animation and live action stars Dakota Fanning.
★★★★★ LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS (CHILDREN OF PARADISE) -(Tues., Jan. 22: 7:00 only) Described by Andrew Sarris as “the Gone With The Wind of art films,” Marcel Carné’s epic tale of romantic tragedy set in the theatrical demimonde of 19th century Paris is sublime.
back to the future TRILOGY -(Wed.-Thurs., Jan. 23-24: 6:00/8:00/10:00) This classic comedy series from the 1980s stars Michael J. Fox as a time traveller having some very weird experiences, from the 1950s to the Wild West.