REVIEW: Carol

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Carol
Directed by: Todd Haynes
Written by: Phyllis Nagy (screenplay), Patricia Highsmith (book)
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson

When Therese (Rooney Mara) and Carol (Cate Blanchett) see each other for the first time, at a department store in 1950s New York City, their first shared look is a barrage of confusion and longing, of instant connection stifled by societal codes.  In other words, it’s love at first sight.

Moments after that frozen-in-time first glance, Carol shows up at the doll display where Therese works, and asks about Christmas gifts for her daughter.  Therese doesn’t have the doll she wants in stock, but she suggests a new state-of-the-art miniature train set.  “I like your hat,” Carol says of as she walks away, Therese’s eyes widening as as she stays behind with the other Santa hat-donning store clerks.

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BEST PICTURE NOMINEE: Zero Dark Thirty

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Zero Dark Thirty
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Written by: Mark Boal (screenplay)
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle and Joel Edgerton

In 2008’s The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal created a searingly suspenseful modern war movie about a bomb diffuser addicted to the rush of potential detonation, which became a history-making Oscar and critical darling in the process. It was a grimy and unsanitized piece of work, more obsessed with masculinity on the edge than serving up an overt political agenda.

Zero Dark Thirty is almost clinical by comparison, if no less nerve-wracking.  In chronicling the obsessive decade-long manhunt for Osama bin Laden, Boal and Bigelow re-examine the American psyche on a much broader scope.  Again they try to keep an agenda out of it and simply dramatize the facts, but the sensitivity and  weight of those findings make it impossible to avoid controversy.

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REVIEW: Super 8

Super 8
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler and Riley Griffiths

Science fiction might be a genre that appears to always be looking ahead, embracing the latest 3D technology, CGI backgrounds or scientific discoveries; but at its core it has always looked at its influences and initial pioneers to give direction to stories that span light years, universes or complex human-political analogies away.

With the names J.J. Abrams and Steven Steven Spielberg attached to a summer monster movie, it appeared we’d be expecting the same expectations-breaking story: big blockbuster, big effects, big noises and big disappointment. Collaborations like Spielberg and Bay’s Transformers series didn’t give us much hope, but Abram’s recent works like Star Trek certainly did. A young gun with a visual track record and a producer with the know-how is a great comparison to Peter Jackson apprenticing Neil Bloomkamp with his District 9, which isn’t the only comparison Super 8 draws with the movie.

To put it briefly: instead of attempting to rewrite the genre as Abrams has done with TV, they flip the pages back, finding the core and simplicity in great story telling with a soft $50 million budget. Continue reading