Zero Dark Thirty

The Best Film Of 2012

Source: rottentomatoes.com

How do you make a thriller that’s more than two-and-a-half hours long; keeps the audience in a constant state of tension, despite them knowing what’s going to happen next? Ask director, Kathryn Bigelow and screen-writer, Mark Boal – the Oscar winning duo who are all set to be contenders again after their win in 2010 for The Hurt Locker.  Zero Dark Thirty is easily the best film I have seen in 2012 and to put it mildly, it simply blew my mind.

Zero Dark Thirty spans a decade, following a team of CIA agents whose job is to find the world’s most wanted man, Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks and gather intelligence on any more acts of terrorism planned by Al Qaeda. The film focuses on one CIA agent, Maya (Jessica Chastain) who gets obsessed with one lead and despite many setbacks, stays firm on her trail to catch Bin Laden. We first meet her as a young agent, sent to the field (read Afghanistan and Pakistan) in 2001 where she’s visibly disturbed at the way detainees are tortured for information. We see her character’s growth over the course of the film as she stands her ground and is instrumental in creating history.

We all know what happens in the end with Bin Laden getting killed in a Seal Team Six operation in May 2011; but the build-up to that finale is what makes this film brilliant. For ten-years, not only Maya’s patience is tested but the audience is put to test too as the director puts together all the pieces slowly. She makes you re-live the horrors of the terror attacks around the world, staring from 9/11 to London to Islamabad, Saudi Arabia and the Camp Chapman suicide attack in Afghanistan. With his brilliant screenplay, Mark Boal depicts the frustration that the CIA operatives feel after every terrorist attack and their failed attempts to capture and kill the top brass at Al Qaeda.

Jessica Chastain is brilliant as Maya and this could very well be her shot at all the best actress trophies next year. From a nervous new recruit to a determined agent with nerves of steel, she plays the part perfectly. In the supporting cast, Jason Clarke as another CIA agent, Dan is very good and like Jennifer Ehle’s character (CIA agent, Jessica) you think there will be a romantic angle between him and Maya. However, the film-maker does not shift her focus a bit and it is all about getting the job done. Joel Edgerton has an interesting cameo where he plays the squadron team leader who leads the final attack on Osama in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Cinematography by Greig Fraser; editing by William Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor; music by Alexandre Desplat are all perfect. The film comes together as a well-researched docu-drama and a brilliant thriller that keeps your heart pounding hard. Do not miss watching this one on the big screen.

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Contagion

Don’t talk to anyone… don’t touch anyone…

Contagion; Pic: Warner Bros.

How many times you touch your face in a day? Three to five times every waking minute says Dr. Erin Mears, an epidemic investigating officer in the film, Contagion; which means about 4,800 times in a day.  What surfaces you touch that can give you a deadly virus… peanuts in a pub, door knobs, handshake with a colleague, your own desk at work… there is no way you can avoid touching things or people… what happens when a deadly virus spreads around the world through surface contact (fomite transmission, explained in the film)? Contagion, a riveting new thriller by Steven Soderbergh presents a similar scenario tracing the lives of the affected families, doctors, scientists and investigators as a global pandemic explodes.

The film begins with a dark screen where you hear a woman coughing. You see a business traveller, Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) at an airport bar sniffling and fighting a bad case of flu. ‘Day 2’ flashes on the screen and the camera focuses on the bowl of peanuts lying in front of her. You know it’s not good. Day 3 and she is dead along with the others in London, Japan and Hong Kong. The reason is unknown and the toll rising very fast. Professionals at the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are already having emergency meetings. The film begins at a tense note and stays like that throughout; though serious and scary, the director maintains restraint and avoids sensationalizing the subject. The screenplay moves at a breakneck pace except a few parts in the second half. Contagion scares but presents a very realistic picture of what may happen in a crisis situation of a global pandemic.

The film boasts of an enviable ensemble cast of Academy Award® and Emmy® winners and nominees, but the director ensures that none get precedence over the film’s lead, the deadly virus. Matt Damon plays Mitch Emhoff, a grieving husband who is concerned about his daughter’s safety; Kate Winslet plays Dr. Erin Mears, a scientist for whom duty comes first; Marion Cotillard is WHO’s Dr. Leonora Orantes who is on the job to trace the virus’ origin; Jude Law, a conspiracy theorist and blogger; Laurence Fishburne, Dr. Ellis Cheever, head of CDC who finds himself in moral dilemma; and Jennifer Ehle is Dr. Ally Hextall who is working round the clock to develop a vaccine to fight the virus. There are many plots in this global drama that Soderbergh brings together perfectly without giving too much importance to a particular star or character. Look out for the scene where two scientists in isolation suits discuss their weekend while investigating a deadly virus strain. Also, the scene where Mitch checks his wife’s pictures of her fateful trip to Hong Kong, months after her death.

Contagion’s success lies in creating fear in the minds of the audience without making it appear over the top like other disaster flicks. Scott Z Burns’ screenplay is taut and editing superb (Stephen Mirrione), which along with the gripping background score (Cliff Martinez) makes it a must watch thriller.

My rating: *** ½ Three and a half on five

Romance On Screen

 

Before Sunrise, Before Sunset
and some of the best celluloid romances

Before Sunrise; Picture Courtesy: www.movieposter.com

Before Sunrise; Picture Courtesy: http://www.movieposter.com

I watched two beautiful films today, Before Sunrise (1995) and its sequel, Before Sunset (2004) starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. ‘Before Sunrise’ is about an American guy, Jesse (Hawke) and a French girl, Celine (Delpy) who meet on a train in Europe. They decide to spend an evening together, exploring the city (Vienna) before going their own ways in the morning. As they spend time together, talking to each other about things ranging from the gender war, sex, family, ex-boyfriend/girlfriend and more, they fall in love. However, they realise that they have different lives in different parts of the world and only have that one evening to spend together. They do not want to end what they have started and promise to see each other after six months at the same place, the train station. That is how the film ends and it is up to the viewer to decide whether they meet or not. There are only these two characters and the whole film is about the conversations they have. That is where the brilliance of the film lays, the script (Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan) and the effortless acting by the lead pair. You almost believe that these are two people who have just met and you get to know them better as each scene unfolds.

Director, Richard Linklater returns with the sequel, ‘Before Sunset’ with the same mood that the first film had set, nine years earlier (Delpy and Hawke share the writing credits with Linklater in this one). Set in Paris this time, Jesse and Celine meet again and as earlier, they have a few hours before Jesse returns to America. The film retains the freshness of the first one with an equally engaging screenplay. I strongly recommend both these films to all, even those who are not big fans of romantic films.

On the topic of celluloid romance, let me list down some fine romantic films both in Hollywood and Bollywood (fairly recent ones)…

Pic: WikipediaPic: movieposter.com
pics: movieposter.com

As Good As It Gets  (1997) – It is a comedy and a romance but not like any other rom-coms that Hollywood produces. A homophobic-racist-OCD suffering novelist, a waitress who is a single mother, a gay artist and a dog… this is a weird film. Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear give performances that light up the screen. I have only one word to describe this film: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Shakespeare In Love (1998) – Was Shakespeare in love when he wrote Romeo & Juliet? Joseph Fiennes as Will Shakespeare and Gwyneth Paltrow as his muse are a delight to watch. Judi Dench, Ben Affleck, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush form a brilliant supporting cast.

Pic: movieposter.com

pic: movieposter.com

Love Story (1970) – Ok, this film is not that new but it inspired many more romantic movies, especially in India. Rich boy (Ryan O’Neal) meets poor girl (Ali MacGraw), they fall in love and marry against his parents’ wishes… the girl dies of leukemia. One of most romantic and tragic films, it is scripted by Erich Segal who wrote his best-selling novel of the same name while the film was being made. Francis Lai’s background score is simply outstanding.

Dirty Dancing (1987) – A girl-meets-boy story with dance as the backdrop… Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze star in this stellar film with a fantastic background score (remember the song, ‘Time of my life’) and dance sequences.  

Pretty Woman (1990) – Ladies and gentlemen… presenting Julia Roberts. By the way, Richard Gere was also there. Everything about this film is iconic… this is the baap of so-called ‘chick flicks’.

Pic: movieposter.com  

pics: movieposter.com

Pride and Prejudice (1995) – Not the one starring Keira Knightley, actually I am not talking about the film. I am talking about BBC’s short series starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. With six hour-long episodes, the series does full justice to Jane Austen’s most famous novel. The tension between Darcy and Lizzy, the witty exchanges and the feel of that era is very well captured here. CD / DVD sets are easily available at all leading music/film stores.

Pic: bbc.co.uk
Pride and Prejudice; Pic: bbc.co.uk

Lamhe (1991) – This film is the reason behind me writing this blog. I watched it first when I was just eight years old. I loved the colours, the funny portions in the second half set in London; as I grew up and watched it again and again, I understood the film and the emotions. This is probably Yash Chopra’s finest film till date and also one of the biggest commercial flops of his career. While it failed in India, Lamhe worked extremely well in the UK and other overseas market. Written by Honey Irani, the film has career best performances by Sridevi and Anil Kapoor. The film is about unexpressed love and has a complicated plot involving a girl who loves a much older man, who was in love with her mother. The film was even labeled incestuous at the time of its release. 

Pic: planetbollywood.com

Lamhe; pic: planetbollywood.com

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) – Jesse aka Ethan Hawke met Celine aka Julie Delpy on a Eurorail journey in Before Sunrise; in the same year Raj (Shah Rukh Khan) met Simran (Kajol) on a Eurorail trip again. Aditya Chopra’s DDLJ changed the way Bollywood made films… NRIs came into focus and Indian values were in vogue again. Simran wanted to elope with Raj and her mother was more than willing to help; Raj on the other hand wanted her father’s blessings…  

DDLJ; Pic: planetbollywood.com

DDLJ; pic: planetbollywood.com

Hum Tum (2004) – When Harry Met Sally meets Before Sunrise meets Before Sunset… there is not much original about the film apart from the chemistry between the lead pair. Rani Mukherjee dominates every frame in which she appears, sidelining Saif Ali Khan who also does a good job. It is probably the first Hindi film where the heroine does not think that pre-marital sex is a good enough reason to get married.

Hum Tum; Pic: planetbollywood.com

Hum Tum; pic: planetbollywood.com

Saathiya (2002) – What happens when Mani Ratnam (Producer, Screenplay), Yash Chopra (Producer), A R Rahman (Music), Gulzar (Lyrics, Dialogues), Anil Mehta (Cinematography) and Rani Mukherjee get together for a film? Saathiya takes an intimate and realistic look at a young married couple’s life. First time director, Shaad Ali did a great job and so did the lead pair, Rani and Vivek Oberoi.

Saathiya; Pic: planetbollywood.com

Saathiya; pic: planetbollywood.com

Silsila (1981) – Another Yash Chopra romance that failed to set the cash registers ringing. Just like Lamhe, it is one of his finest works. Amitabh Bachchan is married to Jaya Bachchan and Rekha is married to Sanjeev Kumar; yet sparks fly between Rekha and Amitabh. Fact and fiction merged with this extra marital affair saga. As a nation are we not ready to see infidelity on screen? Both Silsila and Karan Johar’s recent Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna faced criticism due to the same reason.

Silsila; Pic: planetbollywood.com

Silsila; pic: planetbollywood.com

These are some of my favourite romantic flicks. Interestingly all Hindi ones have come out from the same production house, Yash Raj Films. Some of the other romantic movies I like include Notting Hill (1999), Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Titanic (1997), Chandni (1989; Yash Raj again), Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) and Saawariya (2007), amongst others. Do share what you think about these films and any others that you think fit the list.

– Shrey Khetarpal