Three movies reviewed

The Thinker by Rodin

I’ve been watching movies, just not quickly chronicling them. So here goes some more brief movie reviews.

Much Ado About Nothing

Eclectic director Joss Whedon, who gave us the gamut from the recent blockbuster The Avengers to TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly decided, what the heck, why not make a quick movie in his home over a couple of weeks between films? And why not make it Shakespeare, in particular his comedy Much Ado About Nothing? At least there were no royalties to pay. The result is half satisfying and half weird. In the comedy, friends conspire to bring together two people who loathe each other, Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedict (Alexis Denisof) but of course there are lots of other romantic side plots. The actors though are really just FOJ (Friend of Joss), so this feels like a reason to get them together for a few quick laughs and to see if they can make a successful artsy movie on the cheap (and in black and white).

What we see is that Joss has a nice house and is doing quite well by Hollywood standards. The characters get to drink a lot of wine so the wine budget alone must have been enormous for this movie. Perhaps it was the wine that explains why opposites like Beatrice and Benedict are coaxed to fall in love with each other. The incongruous setting with major plot points being handled in bedrooms with stuffed animals on the beds or in basements with file cabinets distract from plausibility. In addition, a movie in which virginity and chastity are key plot points doesn’t translate well for a bunch of thirty or forty-something mostly white actors.

If you are good at suspending disbelief then this is a pleasant enough, if not weird way to get a dose of Shakespeare. Its weirdness makes it hard to rate, but if you are a Joss fan you will probably like it for its daring and innovation. I have to think that William Shakespeare would be totally flummoxed by this interpretation.

Zero Dark Thirty

I have been dodging this 9/11 movie for a while because violent movies do not agree with me. In addition, I was in Washington D.C. on that day when a plane hit the Pentagon and my memories are hardly pleasant. This movie of course concentrates on the long and tedious hunt to find and kill Osama bin Laden and mostly occurs in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Director Kathryn Bigelow competently directs this complex story, which centers on CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) and her fanatical obsession to track bin Laden down while the rest of the CIA seems more intent on tracking down various other operatives, without a whole lot of success. We all know how it ends so the real suspense is the path to the inevitable resolution.

The scenes of torture are hard for any civilized person to endure, but so too are the equally plentiful scenes of Islamic terrorists blowing themselves and others up, which becomes particularly personal when Maya’s friend becomes a victim and she is nearly a casualty of a hotel bombing. Authenticity was ensured in two ways, first by close cooperation of the U.S. military, which provided actual Navy Seals and Blackhawk helicopters. Also, the bin Laden compound was replicated completely.

Ultimately the movie is a testament of Maya’s obsession and relentless detective work, but it won’t prove particularly surprising unless you are not familiar with the details of our war on terrorism. The death of bin Laden feels strangely anticlimactic. The movie is really far more a character study on Agent Maya than it is about bin Laden, terrorists, Special Forces or the CIA; she is one strong and determined woman. Still, it is surprisingly tense and eerily authentic, so it is worth watching if you have a strong stomach. It is also worth pondering just how wacked up some people are, and that includes our interrogation handlers. The U.S. government complained that the torture scenes were overdone. I really doubt they were, and it would not surprise me if the actual torture we inflicted was much worse. Black sites do not reveal their secrets.

3.3 out of 4 points.

Rating: ★★★¼ 

War Horse

Stephen Spielberg’s movies have a certain film noir to them. War Horse is the kind of movie where you get to the end with its glowing Welsh sunset and think to yourself, “Boy, this feels like a Spielberg movie” and there is his name rolling across the credits. The big difference is that the movie takes place in Europe and follows a well-loved plow horse that is sold to be a beast of burden in World War One. It also chronicles the adventures of the many people who come in contact with the horse before and during the war. Many movies have been written about soldiers who go to war and do exceptional things. The key difference this time is it’s about a horse instead. It is a compelling and often wrenching story where the horse acts as a frame for helping us appreciate the horrors of war. For horses in World War One, life was particularly precarious. When their stamina gave out they were usually unceremoniously shot.

One of the reasons you suspect this is a Spielberg movie is because of the implausible scenes. The horse Joey goes to war but so does its owner, a teen named Albert (Jeremy Irvine). France is a big country but not to give too much away horse and master will eventually reconnect near the battlefield. The horse’s struggle may have been harrowing and horrific, but if adversity can build a horse’s character, Joey emerges something of a horse saint.

While there are implausible aspects to the movie, it is so meticulously created and the characters are so finely drawn that you will willingly suspend disbelief and open your heart to this improbably horse adventure. In short, Spielberg delivers the goods. While his movies may feel a bit formulaic, you won’t mind that this one is as well. It’s a ripping good yarn.

3.4 out of four-points.

Rating: ★★★½ 

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