REVIEW: ZERO DARK THIRTY

CAST

Jessica Chastain (The Huntsman)
Jason Clarke (Dawn of The Planet of The Apes)
Jennifer Ehle Fifty Shades Darker)
Kyle Chandler (Super 8)
Mark Strong (John Carter)
James Gandolfini (KIllThem Softly)
Harold Perrineau (Constantine)
Mark Duplass (Greenberg)
Fredric Lehne (Lost)
John Barrowman (Arrow)
Jessie Collins (Revolution)
Édgar Ramírez (Joy)
Fares Fares (KIll Your Darlings)
Scott Adkins (X-Men Origins)
Joel Edgerton (Exodus: Gods and Kings)
Chris Pratt (Jurassic World)
Callan Mulvey (300: Rise of an Empire)
Taylor Kinney (The Forest)
Mike Colter (Luke Cage)
Frank Grillo (The Purge 2 & 3)
Christopher Stanley (Argo)
Stephen Dillane (Game of Thrones)
Mark Valley (Human Target)

In 2003, Maya, a young U.S. Central Intelligence Agency analyst, has spent her entire brief career, since being recruited for the agency, focused solely on gathering intelligence related to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, following the terrorist organization’s September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001. She is reassigned to the U.S. embassy in Pakistan to work with a fellow officer, Dan. During the first months of her assignment, Maya often accompanies Dan to a black site for his continuing interrogation of Ammar al-Baluchi, a detainee with suspected links to several of the hijackers in the September 11 attacks. Dan subjects the detainee to approved torture interrogation techniques, i.e., stress positions, hooding, subjection to deafening noise, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, and humiliation.After failing to get al-Baluchi to give up information on an attack in Saudi Arabia, he and Maya eventually trick Ammar into divulging that an old acquaintance, who is using the alias Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, is working as a personal courier for bin Laden. Other detainees corroborate this, with some claiming Abu Ahmed delivers messages between bin Laden and a man known as Abu Faraj al-Libbi. In 2005, Abu Faraj is apprehended by the CIA and local police in Pakistan. Maya is allowed to interrogate him, but he continues to deny knowing a courier with such a name. Maya interprets this as an attempt by Faraj to conceal the importance of Abu Ahmed.Maya spends the next five years sifting through masses of data and information, using a variety of technology, hunches, and sharing insights. She concentrates on finding Abu Ahmed, theorizing that he is the best way to find bin Laden. In 2008, she is caught up in the Islamabad Marriott Hotel bombing. Dan, departing on reassignment, warns Maya about a possible change in politics, suggesting that the new administration may prosecute those officers who had been involved in interrogations. Maya’s fellow officer and friend Jessica is killed in the 2009 Camp Chapman attack. That same day, a grieving Maya receives an interrogation video of a Jordanian detainee, who claims the man previously identified from a photograph as Abu Ahmed is a man he personally buried in 2001. Several CIA officers – Maya’s seniors – conclude the target who could be Abu Ahmed is long dead, and that they have searched a false trail for nine years.Sometime later, a fellow analyst researching Moroccan intelligence archives comes to Maya and suggests that Abu Ahmed is Ibrahim Sayeed, a suspect who had come to CIA attention shortly after 9/11. Realizing her lead may still be alive, Maya contacts Dan, now a senior officer at the CIA headquarters. She theorizes that the CIA’s supposed photograph of Abu Ahmed was actually of his brother, Habib, as he was said to bear a striking resemblance to Ibrahim and was known to have been killed in Afghanistan, and points out that Abu Ahmed’s death in 2001 contradicts Ammar’s account.Dan uses CIA funds to purchase a Lamborghini for a Kuwaiti prince in exchange for the telephone number of Sayeed’s mother. The CIA traces calls to the mother and quickly identifies one suspicious caller who persistently uses tradecraft to avoid detection. Maya concludes that the caller is Abu Ahmed, and with the support of her supervisors, numerous CIA operatives are deployed to search for and identify the caller. They locate him in his vehicle and eventually track him to a large urban compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, near the Pakistan Military Academy. As Maya leaves her residence one morning, she is attacked by multiple gunmen, but the bullet-proof glass in her car saves her. Knowing that she has been blacklisted by al-Qaeda and there will be more attempts on her life if she stays, her superiors remove her from the field and send Maya home to Washington, D.C.The CIA puts the compound under heavy surveillance for several months, using a variety of methods. Although they are confident from circumstantial evidence that bin Laden is there, they cannot prove this photographically. Meanwhile, the President’s National Security Advisor tasks the CIA with producing a plan to capture or kill bin Laden if it can be confirmed that he is in the compound. An agency team devises a plan to use two top-secret stealth helicopters (developed at Area 51) flown by the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment to secretly enter Pakistan and insert members of DEVGRU and the CIA’s SAD/SOG to raid the compound. Before briefing President Barack Obama, the CIA Director holds a meeting of his top officials, who assess only a 60–80% chance that bin Laden, rather than another high-value target, is living in the compound. Maya, also in attendance, states the chances are 100%.The raid is approved and is executed on May 2, 2011. Although execution is complicated when one of the helicopters crashes, the SEALs gain entry and kill a number of people within the compound, among them a man on the compound’s top floor who is revealed to be bin Laden. They bring bin Laden’s body back to a U.S. base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, where Maya visually confirms the identity of the corpse. Maya is last seen boarding a military transport to return to the U.S. and sitting in its vast interior as its only passenger. The pilot asks her where she wants to go, but she does not reply. As the plane’s hangar door closes, Maya begins to cry softly.Considering the subject matter of Zero Dark Thirty, a film that follows the CIA’s decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden, it’d be little surprise were Hollywood to knock the edges off a little to make it easier for a broader audience. But director Kathryn Bigelow makes no such concession. Off the back of her Oscar-winning feature The Hurt Locker, her movie is a pulls-no-punches, under-your-skin drama. As such, it’s not always the easiest film to watch, but it is an utterly compelling one.

 

REVIEW: CONTAGION (2011)

CAST

Gwyneth Paltrow (Iron Man)
Laurence Fishburne (Hannibal TV)
Kate Winslet (Divergent)
Marion Cotillrd (La Vie En Rose)
Jude Law (Spy)
Matt Damon (Jason Bourne)
John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone)
Monique Gabriela Curnen (Lie to Me)
Jennifer Ehle (The Ides of March)
Elliott Gould (OCean’s Eleven)
Enrico Colantoni (Veronica Mars)
Bryan Cranston (Godzilla)
Chin Han (Arrow)
Sanaa Lathan (Blade)
Kara Zediker (Rock Star)
Jim Ortlieb (Roswell)

Returning from a Hong Kong business trip, Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) has a layover in Chicago to have sex with a former lover before returning to her family in suburban Minneapolis. She appears to have contracted a cold during her trip. Her six-year-old son from a previous marriage, Clark, also becomes symptomatic and is sent home from school. Beth’s condition worsens and two days later she collapses with severe seizures. Her husband, Mitch (Matt Damon), rushes her to the hospital, but she dies of an unknown cause.

Mitch returns home and finds that Clark has also died from a similar infection. Mitch is put in isolation but seems to be immune to the disease. He is released and returns home to his teenaged daughter Jory, who had been living with Mitch’s former wife and her husband and has decided to stay with Mitch since he’s now all alone. They face decaying social order and rampant looting of stores and homes. Mitch is unsure if Jory has inherited his immunity and he struggles with the frustration of quarantine, his desire to protect his daughter and learning that his wife was cheating on him immediately prior to both her death and that of his stepson.

In Atlanta, representatives of the Department of Homeland Security meet with Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) of the CDC and express fears that the disease is a bio weapon intended to cause terror over the Thanksgiving weekend. Dr. Cheever dispatches Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer, to Minneapolis to begin investigating. Mears traces the outbreak back to Emhoff while negotiating with local bureaucrats initially reluctant to commit resources for a proper public health response to the virus. Dr. Mears later becomes infected and dies.

At the CDC, Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) determines the virus is a mix of genetic material from pig and bat viruses. Work on a cure stalls because scientists cannot discover a cell culture within which to grow the newly identified Meningoencephalitis Virus One (MEV-1). UCSF professor Dr. Ian Sussman (Elliott Gould) violates orders from Cheever (relayed through Hextall) to destroy his samples, and identifies a usable MEV-1 cell culture using bat cells. Hextall uses the breakthrough to work on a vaccine. Other scientists determine the virus is spread by fomites, with a basic reproduction number of four when the virus mutates, with projections of one in twelve of the population being infected, and a 25-30% mortality rate.

Conspiracy theorist Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) posts videos about the virus on his popular blog. In one video, he shows himself sick and later claims he recovered using a homeopathic cure derived from forsythia. In a panic, people seeking forsythia overwhelm pharmacies, spreading and accelerating the contagion as the infected come into contact with healthy people. Krumwiede’s claims attract national attention. During a television interview he discloses that Dr. Cheever had secretly informed friends and family to leave Chicago just before the city was quarantined. Cheever is then informed the government will investigate and may charge him for leaking information. Later it is revealed Krumwiede had faked being infected by the virus in an attempt to increase profits for shareholders in companies producing and selling forsythia. Krumwiede is arrested for conspiracy and securities fraud, only to walk free when his many supporters successfully raise funds to provide for his bail.

Using an attenuated virus Dr. Hextall identifies a possible vaccine. To cut out the lengthy time it would take to obtain informed consent from infected patients, Dr. Hextall inoculates herself with the experimental vaccine and immediately visits her gravely ill father, who has been infected with MEV-1. The doctor does not contract MEV-1 and the vaccine is declared a success. The vaccine’s production is rapidly increased, but due to limited production, the CDC awards vaccinations by lottery based on birth date. Inoculations take place for one full year until every survivor is vaccinated. First responders, doctors and others designated by the government are declared exempt from the lottery. Dr. Cheever gives his fast-tracked MEV-1 vaccination to the son of Roger (John Hawkes), a CDC janitor who had overheard Dr. Cheever’s phone call warning his girlfriend to leave Chicago.

Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard), a WHO epidemiologist, travels to Hong Kong to follow the Beth Emhoff lead. She collaborates with Sun Feng (Chin Han) and other local epidemiologists and public health officials; they identify Emhoff as patient zero. As the virus spreads, Feng kidnaps Orantes to use her as leverage to obtain MEV-1 vaccine doses for his village. Orantes spends months living with the villagers until the vaccine is announced. Feng exchanges Orantes for the vaccine doses. Her colleague mentions that the exchanged doses were placebos and Orantes rushes away to warn them. The death toll reached 2.5 million in the U.S. and 26 million worldwide. Dr. Hextall places samples of MEV-1 in cryogenic storage, alongside samples of H1N1 and SARS.

The source of the virus is revealed to viewers. A bulldozer (coincidently, operating for the company Emhoff works for) knocks down a palm tree disturbing some bats, with one finding shelter and food in a banana tree. That bat then flies over a pig pen, dropping a chunk of banana from its mouth, which was then eaten by a piglet. Chinese chefs later collected pigs from the pen and took them to a casino where one chef was called away from his preparations of the piglet, casually wiping his hands on his apron. The chef then shook hands with Beth Emhoff, giving her the mix of bat and pig viruses that makes her patient zero and the origin of the MEV-1 virus.

This was an interesting film. It is very realistic and while there is no major action plot, the realism keeps you hooked.

 

REVIEW: THE KING’S SPEECH

CAST

Colin Firth (Love Actually)
Helena Bonham Carter (Alice In Wonderland)
Derek Jacobi (Gladiator)
Geoffrey Rush (Quills)
Jennifer Ehle (The Ides of March)
Michael Gambon (Sleepy Hollow)
Guy Pearce (Prometheus)
Claire Bloom (The Haunting)
Timothy Spall (Sweeney Todd)
Robert Portal (The Iron Lady)
Prince Albert, Duke of York, the second son of King George V, stammers through his speech closing the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium. The Duke has given up hope of a cure, but his wife Elizabeth persuades him to see Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist living in London. During their first session, Logue insists on being called Lionel by his patient and on breaching royal etiquette by calling the Prince “Bertie”, a name used only by his family. When the Duke decides Logue’s treatment is unsuitable, Logue bets him that he can recite Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy without trouble and distracts him by playing music through headphones while recording his performance on an acetate record. Prince Albert leaves in anger but Logue offers him the recording as a keepsake.

After King George V makes his 1934 Christmas radio address, he explains to his son the importance of broadcasting to a modern monarchy and demands that Albert train himself, starting with a reading of his father’s speech. His attempt to do so is a failure. Later, the Duke plays Logue’s recording and hears himself reciting unhesitatingly. He therefore returns to Logue, where he and his wife both insist that Logue focus only on physical exercises, not therapy. Logue teaches his patient muscle relaxation and breath control but continues to probe gently and persistently at the psychological roots of the stutter. Albert eventually reveals some of the pressures of his childhood and the two men start to become friends. With George V’s death in 1936, his eldest son David ascends the throne as King Edward VIII, but causes a constitutional crisis with his determination to marry Wallis Simpson, an American socialite divorcée who is still legally married to her second husband. It is pointed out that Edward, as head of the Church of England, cannot marry her, even if she receives her second divorce, because both her previous husbands are alive.
At his next session, Albert expresses his frustration that while his speech has improved when talking to most people, he still stammers when talking to his own brother and reveals the extent of Edward VIII’s folly with Simpson. When Logue insists that Albert could be a good king instead, the latter labels such a suggestion as treason and dismisses Logue. When King Edward decides to abdicate in order to marry Simpson, Albert reluctantly succeeds as King George VI. The new king and queen visit Logue to make up the quarrel, startling Mrs. Logue, who was unaware that the new King had been her husband’s patient. During preparations for his coronation in Westminster Abbey, George learns that Logue has no formal qualifications. When confronted, Logue explains how he was asked to help shell-shocked Australian soldiers returning from The Great War. Since George remains unconvinced of his own fitness for the throne, Logue sits in King Edward’s Chair and dismisses the underlying Stone of Scone as a trifle. Goaded by Logue’s seeming disrespect, the King surprises himself with his own sudden burst of outraged eloquence and allows Logue to rehearse him for the ceremony.
Upon Britain’s declaration of war with Nazi Germany in 1939, King George summons Logue to Buckingham Palace to prepare for his upcoming radio address to Britain and the Empire. Knowing the challenge that lies before him, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Winston Churchill and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain are present to offer support. George and Logue are then left in the broadcasting room. He delivers his speech with Logue conducting him, but by end is speaking freely. Preparing to leave the room for the congratulations of those present in the palace, Logue mentions to the King that he still had difficulty enunciating ‘w’ and the King jokes back, “I had to leave something in or no one would have believed it was me”.  After the King and his family step onto the balcony of the palace and are applauded by the crowd, a title card explains that Logue was always present at King George VI’s speeches during the war and that they remained friends for the rest of their lives.
I enjoyed watching this more than I thought I would. It’s respectful but truthful in its content and subject and gives an interesting insight into the miseries of stuttering. On the other hand the pace of the film was never impaired by what could have been unexciting content. It was lively and maintained interest throughout.

 

 

REVIEW: THE IDES OF MARCH

CAST

George Clooney (Out of Sight)
Ryan Gosling (Gangster Squad)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
Paul Giamatti (The Amazing Spider-Man 2)
Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen)
Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler)
Jeffrey Wright (Source Code)
Max Minghella (The Internship)
Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty)
Gregory Itzin (Adaptation.)
Michael Mantell (Secretary)

MV5BMTkxMTU3MTY4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTMwODQ3Ng@@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_Clooney’s story  is set during the week of the Ohio primary race for the Democratic presidential candidate, which has basically come down to a two-man contest between Senator Ted Pullman (Michael Mantell), whose campaign is run by shrewd Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), and Governor Morris (Clooney). Morris’s campaign manager is longtime operative Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman); Stephen Meyers (Gosling) is his number two man. The decisive race in Ohio is close, which much riding on who will get the endorsement (and delegates) of Senator Franklin Thompson, who is angling for a cabinet post. In the midst of all of this, Stephen begins a campaign trail romance with intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), who turns out to be the daughter of the head of the DNC. And then things get complicated.The film’s early scenes are its best. The script talks plain and names names, throwing around smart political talk; Meyers and Duffy’s conversation about learning to how to play the game from Republicans is sharp and lucid, while Morris’s comments from the stump about taxation and “socialism” (as well as Zara’s crack that the Republicans “can’t find a nominee that’s not a world-class fuck-up”) are tartly timely. Though some of the details of the campaign stretch credibility (no candidate could proclaim himself as indifferent to religion as Morris does and actually survive a primary for either party), its portrayl of primary politics and their backstage byplay feel authentic;  Gosling and Wood’s two-scenes have a nice zing to them (reminsicent of the screwball comedy homages in his underrated Leatherheads), Clooney’s offhand sense of humor is disarming–see Hoffman and Gosling’s offstage compliments after the first debate, or the business with Wood and Gosling’s tie the morning after their first date–and he draws out some nice directorial flourishes, like the way he handles a late scene with Hoffman going into an SUV.Every member of the cast is utterly convincing. Clooney’s smooth persona has rarely been better employed–both his playful charm and his steely directness. Gosling gets a good, hard arc to play, and he wails on it; the speed which his idealism loop-the-loops into cynicism is dazzling . It’s a memorable turn, even if he calls up a wide-eyed, manic look that will make Drive viewers fear he’s about to break out the hammer. Hoffman gets a showcase scene in his hotel room, a footlights monologue that betrays the film’s stage roots, but he’s so compelling you don’t notice the scaffolding; the way he pivots from cool contempt to utter rage is what good screen acting is all about. Wright is underused, but Clooney juggles the rest of the ensemble cast with ease.

REVIEW: THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU

CAST

Matt Damon (Jason Bourne)
Emily Blunt (Looper)
Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Civil War)
John Slattery (Iron Man 2)
Michael Kelly (Man of Steel)
Terence Stamp (Superman 2)
Donnie Keshawarz (Lost)
Anthony Ruivivar (Scream: The Series)
Jennifer Ehle (The Blacklist)
Pedro Pascal (The Great Wall)

It is the directorial debut of George Nolfi, whose previous credits include the screenplay for the much-derided (though not by this writer) Ocean’s Twelve and the third Boune movie (he co-wrote with series regular Tony Gilroy). His screenplay here is based on the Philip K. Dick story “Adjustment Team,” and as with the best of Dick’s work, it is science fiction in the best sense–keenly interested in ideas rather than ray guns. Nolfi introduces us to New York congressman David Norris (Matt Damon) in an opening montage deliberately played like a campaign ad; the smiling, handsome young Brooklyn politico is seemingly poised to float into a New York Senate seat. But Norris has a bit of an impulse problem, and a sketchy past that comes back to haunt him in the campaign’s eleventh hour. He ends up losing the race, but the night isn’t a total bust: as he’s preparing his concession speech, he meets Elise (Emily Blunt), a beautiful dancer, and the spark is immediate. She disappears, but he is inspired to give a no-nonsense takedown of politics-as-usal that becomes a viral sensation and immediately resurrects his political possibilities.But this is where it gets complicated. Due to circumstances too complicated to summarize here, Norris becomes aware that he is under the surveillance of a team of “adjusters”–dark-suited men in fedoras who occasionally step in to ensure that the lives of everyday people progress according to “the plan,” as set forth by “the chairman.” Are they angels? Is the chairman God? Perhaps; the movie is too interesting to do more than hint. What is certain is that David and Elise meeting again and falling in love is not part of “the plan,” and if David bucks the plan, there will be consequences–particularly once Thompson (aka “The Hammer”) takes over the case, and since Thompson is played by Terence Stamp, we’re inclined to believe he means business. On some level, this could all be seen as fundamentally silly. The dialogue of the adjusters, who are played as varying levels of middle managers (at one point, John Slattery’s Richardson shrugs “It’s above my pay grade”), is full of talk of getting “a briefcase” for “a reset” or even “a full recalibration,” since the “ripple effects” are too great; the adjusters also have the ability to use regular doors to portal from one part of New York to another, as long as they have on their magic fedoras. None of this should work, but it does, primarily because Nolfi basically takes the story seriously, but still maintains a sense of humor that punctures the deadly solemnity that so often sinks this kind of picture.Much of that humor is found in the terrific relationship between Damon and Blunt, who couldn’t be better together; their chemistry is wickedly good, as it must be for the story to work, and when he says “holy shit” at the end of their first scene, you can’t imagine a more appropriate response. Blunt is a perpetually underrated actress, but she puts across exactly the right combination of romantic longing and bad-girl recklessness; you don’t question for a moment that he would spend three years hoping to find her again.The supporting cast is aces (the wonderful Anthony Mackie and always-welcome David Kelly provide able support), and Nolfi’s direction is brisk, confident, and effective. He does so many things so well, all at the same time, that the film is a minor miracle (if you’ll pardon the expression)–it asks the eternal questions of free will within religious dogma, creates a genuine rooting interest in a romantic coupling, and includes an electrifying chase sequence where you actually care about the outcome. The fact that all of this not only works, but works so well, is downright thrilling