Movies You Watched in February 2013
Ben Lott
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I've always been a big-time fan of the New-to-You geeklists that Grimwold puts together. It's just awesome to hear people talk about the games they have discovered. I'm also a big-time fan of movies, so this is a list where we can have similar discussions about films. But I won't limit you to just talking about movies that were new-to-you, in case you didn't manage to watch any this month. This list is simply for you to talk about Movies You Watched in February.

Enjoy...

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1. Board Game: Army of Zero [Average Rating:5.06 Unranked]
Ben Lott
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Frequently when a film is advertised as being "based on actual events" I look at the events with tons of skepticism. I figure that they've cleaned up the ugly parts and made a nice pretty package for movie-goers to enjoy, while in the process completely changing the story to make it more palatable. This is one of the first films where I didn't really feel like that happened. The dark gritty reality of torture by American intelligence officers is difficult to watch, but from what we saw at the time coming out of places like Gitmo, probably true. What made the movie even more intriguing was the contrast of investigation styles when the government banned the use of torture, and the CIA was forced to use other methods of extracting information. The way Zero Dark Thirty kept a narrative going despite the fact that the events depicted in it occurred over years of investigation is a credit to the writer and the editing staff. While the run-time was long I never felt bored, and the story arc never lost focus.

The primary reason the story was put together so nicely, is the fact that it wasn't a history lesson full of random events, but it was a story of a single person and her drive to get the job done. Jessica Chastain is the centerpiece of this film, and she is remarkable. She quickly becomes our point of entry into the story. The audience finds themselves empathizing with her as she struggles initially watching the torture. However, as she becomes hardened to the horror she watches, we find ourselves likewise desensitized. It is her drive and determination that kept me involved in the story. She passionately stands up to her superiors, and fights for what she believes so emphatically that I found myself thoroughly convinced she was 100% right. Despite all this grit she displayed, she also allowed us to see the vulnerability of her character, and the compassion she held for others. This kept her human in our eyes, instead of appearing robotic and too work-focused. It was a difficult part to play, particularly because most of her activity is behind a desk, not out in the field. I was thoroughly impressed with Jessica Chastain, and look forward to more from her in the future.

One of the coolest aspects of this film is that it never falls into political rhetoric. I mentioned before that it showed the shift in policies on torture as a form of interrogation, but it never took a side on what was right. They just showed the ugly truth of what happens, and allowed the audience to decide if this method was justifiable based on the results it garnered. Likewise, there were moments when soldiers would roam through a house full of bodies of their own victims, and at least one would look traumatized by the reality of what they had done. Of course the story naturally painted the US as the good guys and Bin Laden as the bad guy, because it is necessary to have a decent action film. But it never blatantly glorified the actions the US military took. My only complaint with this film would be that it was tough to watch. Torture is an ugly thing, and they didn't tone it down much for the sake of the viewers. I would be interested in watching Zero Dark Thirty again despite this, because the third act (the final assault) was basically one long, exciting action sequence. All around this was a quality film that told a difficult story in a very interesting way.


d10-2 - Amour =

I knew before I saw this film that it was going to be a tough one for me to watch.  I've lived through 3 grandparents dying the slow painful way, and it's not pretty.  Watching this film was almost traumatizing because it brought back all those unhappy memories and offered nothing in the way of hope.  In fact it suggested that the only hope in these situations is death...not exactly uplifting.  It was an interesting choice to tell the story the way they did in this film, and then title it "Love."  I do believe that word is only uttered once in the film, if that, and never by the lead actors.  Not that this is a bad thing, in fact I actually appreciated that the message was love through actions is more genuine than love in mere words.  Perhaps the actions are a little different than one might expect, but still it's a good lesson to learn.
 
What sells the sickness in this film, and draws some tears from the audience is Emmanuelle Riva's portrayal of a stroke victim.  Unlike many acting roles the skill wasn't in delivering lines with emotion, or having proper timing.  Instead this role required her to show physical limitations and a gradual decline in health.  The way she moved as if she genuinely lost all feeling in her right side was almost too realistic.  Her speech patterns as she started to lose control of her mouth were also eerily precise.  It was obvious that a great deal of study went into her preparation for this role.  On the flip side, Jean-Louis Trintignant's portrayal of Georges left me wanting more.  I suspect my issue might be related to the way the part was written, but he felt so cold and stone-faced.  While his actions were intended to imply affection, his attitude frequently came off as detached and emotionless.  I wanted to have this deep empathy for him, but I found him somewhat hard to connect with.
 
While Amour was difficult to watch because of the harsh memories it brought to mind, it also suffered from a severe pacing issue.  Were they trying to create empathy in the audience by making us suffer through a slow dragging film, while the characters were dealing with a slow dragging death?  They lost my interest several times, to the point where I was yawning and would be checking my watch if I wore one.  This was only compounded by the fact that the opening of the film is in the future, so we already know the end result, but must wait 2 hours to get there.  Now they did add some things to the story that were somewhat unexpected, and those moments were definitely the highlights.  That's when they grabbed my attention, but it almost seems like this film could have been a "Short Film" and still achieved the same thing.  However this will be a personal taste, some will enjoy it and others will side with me.  Still with how deeply I felt affected by the film, clearly they did something right.  I can't say I enjoyed the experience, but it stuck in my mind for days after I saw it.


Pure comedy films live and die on the jokes they deliver. Without a feasable plot to fall back on, you have to win the audience with nothing more than wit. It might have been useful if the writers of this film had any idea what wit is, because this movie was in desperate need of some jokes. Let's face it, they took the most ridiculous plot device imagineable to basically squash together 2 polar opposite characters in order to make a road trip film (obviously hilarity will ensue.) Basically it's Planes, Trains, and Automobiles except without the humor. Don't think I'm crazy when I talk about this plot being far-fetched, I do realize that identity theft is an everyday occurence that really does ruin many lives, in fact the early scenes made me uncomfortable because I've often feared I would end up in this dilemma. However the idea that the victim of this crime would travel crosscountry to find the perpetrator in order to bring her back to his hometown in order to force a confession? Absurd doesn't even begin to describe it. But I can take absurd in zany comedies, because the film isn't about reality, it's about the humor. So refer back to my 3rd sentence about this film being in desperate need of some jokes.

I don't really put this one on the actors. I think Jason Bateman did his best as the straight man, and Melissa McCarthy was trying. Unfortunately the best jokes they could wrangle together were physical gags like people constantly being punched in the throat, and fat jokes. It's like a middle school cafeteria, in fact if it weren't for the cheap sex jokes and language I might suspect this was made for middle schoolers. I admit I chuckled a few times because there were silly moments that appealed to my inner child, but that doesn't stop me from recognizing a bad joke when I see/hear it. The other characters added absolutely nothing worthwhile either. Some stupid bounty hunter, a pair of gangsters, a sugar daddy, and more, but none of these folks left an impression. They were just there as plot devices to keep the story moving. At the end there was no resolution to any of their storylines, it was as if they all disappeared once the police arrived.

I feel like I should clarify that I went to Identity Thief expecting a cheap laugh, not something high-brow. While the film certainly went for the cheap laugh, they kind of failed at the laugh part. The story, while ridiculous, had a couple moments where I was entertained and I liked the cast of actors. I think this review just comes off as so negative, because I walked away so disappointed. I'm perfectly capable of turning off my sense of shame and enjoying humor that I know I probably shouldn't find funny, but this movie didn't even deliver that. As a result I walked out angry, upset that they had robbed me of a decent laugh. As for you, well I would strongly recommend you think twice before subjecting yourself to this movie. Unless you think you'll be in fits of laughter over Melissa telling people Jason has no penis, punching people in the throat, or even telling little girls about lesbians attempting to molest her. As far as I was concerned this movie was barely entertaining enough to keep me in the theater. I followed the story, chuckled a few times when a joke was at least better than what a 12-year-old can think up, but left the theater a little dumber for having sat through this film.
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2. Board Game: Escape The Mad Mummy [Average Rating:4.45 Overall Rank:14598]
Tim Mossman
United States
Gaithersburg
Maryland
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New to me, but apparently released ~ a decade ago.

Bubba Ho-Tep

Part horror, part comedy. The main character in this film is Elvis . . . yes, the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley . . . who is now a resident in a nursing home in Texas. [There is a back-story to explain how this situation came to be.] Turns out, the nursing home residents are being preyed upon by a minor mummy wearing cowboy gear. [There is also a back-story for this.] Elvis and one of his fellow residents - who believes himself to be former President John F. Kennedy . . . but who is not - team up to attempt to defeat the mummy.

Obviously, this is a very different kind of movie. There is a mummy stealing souls, so it is technically in the "horror" genre. However, there is very little gore. There is Elvis in a nursing home talking about all sorts of bodily functions that do not work like they used to, so there is some (dark) comedy. Interestingly, in a number of Elvis' scenes, there are also some rather poignant reflections on the end-of-life.

The special effects budget for this film was a drop in the Avatar CGI bucket. [However, one might argue that more was spent on the script to this film than for Avatar, but that's a different discussion.] Bruce Campbell (Elvis) did a terrific job playing a geriatric version of The King. And, after seeing so many movies that do exactly the same things plot-wise, I really appreciated this movie as something quite different (and entertaining).
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3. Board Game: Mobile Frame Zero: Rapid Attack [Average Rating:7.67 Overall Rank:6591]
Alex H.
Germany
Berlin
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Finally an opportunity to contribute again:


Zero Dark Thirty

- Verdict still out -

Unfortunately, I watched it in a translated, German version. Have to re-watch it in the original English language before I actually rate it.

This is first of all an interesting movie in how it positions itself regarding a number of issues - the most discussed of course being torture.
So let's start with it. The movie shows the viewers a number of "enhanced interrogation methods". This euphemism never shows up so I don't think there can be any doubt that the team behind the movie sees these measures as anything else than torture. This alone goes a long way to counter the argument that they are defending this apporach to interrogations. Also, when the detainee finally breaks down, it happens not under torture but when soft and canny methods are used (much like what Ali Soufan describes in his book "The Black Banners"). However, while he doesn't break down while actually being tortured the previous experience of being subjected to such treatment still matters. Therefore, one could deduct from the scene that torture helped get information from him. One more thing regarding the torture-issue. The moviemakers decided to limit themselves to the infamous "enhanced interrogation methods" sanctioned by the Bush administration. What they left out was what happened in several black sites and especially in prisons of allied intelligence agencies (like Egypt). There, things happened that went well beyond the methods used in the movie.

The intelligence-gathering period was depiced in plausible ways. While it was clear where the story would lead to, the movie remained interesting and engaging. The raid, however, was a bit disappointing. We now have 5 different accounts of that night (one by Nicholas Schmidle in the New Yorker, the books by Bergen, Bissonnette alias Owen, Bowden and lastly the essay on "the shooter" on esquire.com). I haven't read all of them but it seems clear that the raid was not depiced very accurately. Like, if you try to advance in silence you just don't start shouting when you want the guy behind you to blow open a door. Or the fact that the operatives start calling "Osama" when they approach his room. Anyways, no biggie but still a small disappointment.

One last thing: in the German version, Maya tells her station chief that "if it were not for bin Laden, AQ would focus on targets other than the US." I'll have to check the English original but this strikes me as a very interesting statement. It suggests that the rest of AQ Central are now focused on the "near enemy" and that the affiliates like AQ in the Arabian Peninsula are not interested in attacking the US if it were not for bin Laden. Debatable.



Django Unchained

Not a big fan of Tarantino movies in general and Django didn't thrill me. Better than Inglorious Basterds but Django is just an ok movie. The story is not very innovative, the characters not overly interesting (Academy Award for Waltz, really?) and the violence hard to watch - not because it is very graphic but because it relates to historical events.
Rated on a scale from 1-5 stars, this one would probably get from me.


The Amazing Spiderman

Wasn't needed, really. Not a bad movie but it doesn't add anything particularly interesting to the older movies. And with the current constant stream of superhero movies this one remains one of the more forgettable ones.
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4. Board Game: Dandy Candy Game [Average Rating:5.00 Unranked]
Wendell
United States
Yellow Springs
Ohio
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STRANGERS WITH CANDY - This was the movie starring Amy Sedaris, Steve Colbert, Paul Dinello, based on the bizarre TV comedy of the same name. I really like the TV show. The movie was a bit of a disappointment. I had seen this some years ago; it wasn't any better the second time around.

THE DUST BOWL - This was the Ken Burns documentary about the Dust Bowl in the United States in the 1930s, focused on the western Oklahoma panhandle. Very well done. Some of the people he interviewed - who were young at the time and quite old when Burns spoke to them - were a real joy to listen to. Worth a watch.
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5. Board Game: Time Pirates [Average Rating:5.54 Overall Rank:12196]
Joe Gola
United States
Redding
Connecticut
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February was a mixed bag for me. I saw some really good stuff—Dogtooth being the standout—but then also a bunch of stuff that felt like a complete waste of time.

Avengers (2012) (again)
My wife wanted to see this one, so I watched it again with her.


Dogtooth (2009)
A little something for fans of the bizarre. An overprotective father keeps his wife and children locked away behind the high walls of their yard; the children have been fed misinformation about the outside world all their lives, and they pass the time with pointless competitions orchestrated by their parents. The children are now adults, however, and they are gradually growing beyond their parents' control…

The movie is sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing, and uniformly weird. The world that the father has created is strange, and as result the grown-up children are strange as well, but at the same time they are human and sympathetic. There are also moments that are horrific, but I never got the feeling that the movie is only there to abuse the audience (as I did with Lar's Von Trier's Antichrist, for example).

I would recommend the film to anyone who likes stuff that is way, way, waaaaaaay different from the typical Hollywood product, but be warned: it's not for the wimpy.


Biutiful (2010)
This movie is a big metal dump truck loaded with tragedy. If it's tragic, it's in there! And the crazy thing is, it's called Biutiful. Whaaaat?

But, truth to tell, the story was pretty well told, so I have to give it some credit for that. Also, it reminded me that my life could be ninety times worse than it is.


Sweetgrass (2010)
A documentary about some sheep farmers in Montana. Practically the whole soundtrack is one long "baaaa." My favorite part was the bit where one of the guys finally snaps and starts screaming obscenities at the sheep when they go the wrong way up a hill. I'm surprised these guys don't just periodically start firing their rifles at them. Just the baaing alone would drive me up a wall.


Rosemary's Baby (1968) (again)
A classic. What do you need to say?


Looper (2012)
Generally I dislike movies about time travel, because they tend to be all wide-eyed and serious about their stupid little paradoxes, but I thought this one was excellent. I found it weird, though, that the "hero" is basically a remorseless mass murderer, and the movie is pretty much okay with that.


Star Trek (2011) (again)
My wife wanted to see it. She enjoyed it.


Quantum of Solace (2008)
You'll have to take my rating with a grain of salt, because I missed a lot of the dialogue, but we found this to be completely incomprehensible; even the action scenes were a little hard to follow. Also, it featured the most impractical villain of all time; he has a clandestine meeting via walkie-talkie while in the audience at the opera (why did nobody shush him?), and his secret desert lair pretty much explodes at the drop of a hat.


Faces (1968)
In the documentary that came with the Rosemary's Baby DVD it mentioned that Polanski and Cassavetes had a hard time getting along professionally, which makes perfect sense because Polanski is a perfectionist and Cassavetes was an improvisor. Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to watch Cassavetes's Faces as a contrast, since it also came out in 1968.

Well, I didn't enjoy it. It's very much an actor's movie; there are long, grueling scenes of characters having emotional switchbacks—sometimes inexplicably—but there's not very much by the way of story. The gist of it all could be told in painfully few words: a couple's marriage is on the rocks (for reasons that are never quite made clear), and over the course of two nights the two each commit an act of adultery, the husband with a beautiful prostitute and the wife with a free-spirited young man she meets at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go. There is edginess and confrontation but not drama, and the overall impression it delivers is that people are basically gross.

Still, though, it's interesting in its historical context.


The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008)
A based-on-actual-events movie about the RAF, a German radical group that crossed the line from protest to terrorism. It was pretty damn interesting; I liked the fact that the group members were neither demonized nor apologized for.


The Song Remains the Same (1976) (again)
You would think that a film of a 1973 Led Zeppelin concert would have to be pretty kick-ass, but for some reason it doesn't quite deliver. It has its moments, to be sure, but there are also bits that are just kind of flat or boring. It doesn't help that there are goofy and amateurish fantasy sequences, plus buzz-harshing footage of their manager berating venue staff, drugged fans getting dragged off by security, hotel safe robberies, irritated NYC cops, et cetera.


The Good Shepherd (2006)
A plodding fictionalization of the birth of the CIA. It's a great subject, but the film fails to tell an engaging story; there are too many characters, too many events, and nothing for the viewer to latch onto except Matt Damon's grim, emotionless character. The human dramas were too hastily sketched to hold a viewer's interest, but meanwhile the movie demads that viewer's rapt attention to follow the oblique clues as to what is happening in espionage-land. In the end the main point seemed to only be that you can't trust anyone when you're a spy, and I kinda already figured that. Afterwards I was kinda pissed off that I sat through the whole thing.


Saftety Not Guaranteed (2012)
Offbeat romance about a trio from a magazine doing a story on a guy who puts an advertisement in a newspaper for a partner in his time-travel scheme. In some ways it is just Standard Romance Material, but I found it kind of sweet and endearing, actually.
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