Gollum meets The Riddler PLUS reviews of Zero Dark Thirty & Gangster Squad
Arkham Asylum – 11:35 PM
(Two security guards are escorting Arkham’s newest inmate, Edward Nygma, to his holding cell.)
Edward Nygma: Look, guys. This really isn’t necessary. I’ll pay fines. I’ll do community service. But I’m not crazy anymore. No need to lock me up here. I’m totally over that whole playing mind games with the law thing.
Guard: Doctor Burton will decide what’s necessary. In the meantime, we’ve got orders from the judge to keep you here until further notice.
*The guards lock Edward inside his cell.*
Edward: This is nuts. Okay, so maybe kidnapping the Commissioner’s daughter was a little over the line but that doesn’t make me insane.
Gollum: We are not insane. The outside world… insane.
Edward: (turns around) Whoa! Who the hell are you!?
Gollum: Prisoners. Prisoners in our minds. Prisoners between these walls. We can’t take it much longer.
Edward: Whoa, pal. You look bad. Like really bad. When’s the last time you had anything to eat?
Gollum: Eat? Yes. Time to eat. There is enough for the two of us.
Edward: Oh good. I’m starving.
Gollum: Not you! Us!
Gollum: We have a meal. You can’t have any.
Edward: Hey, I’ve got to eat something too. We’re in this same bogus situation together.
Gollum: Riddle us this. If all of us are the same, why are you there and we are here?
Edward: Riddle me this. If you don’t move aside, you won’t be the same much longer.
Gollum: Wicked! Tricksey! That wasn’t a question. You’re supposed to give me a question. You ask questions, don’t you? That’s why they call you Riddler?
Edward: How did you know?
Gollum: Policemans talk. They talk about Riddler that play games with law.
Edward: That’s me.
Gollum: Prove it. We challenge you to riddle duel. No, what are you doing? Be quiet. Don’t! Yes! No!
Edward: Riddle duel?
Gollum: Defeat us with a riddle, you share our soup. We defeat you, you share your clothes.
Edward: This is the only shirt I have!
Gollum: No deal!
Edward: Oh alright. Deal.
Gollum: We go first. Why is the letter “T’ like an island?
Edward: Um, let me see. Letter T….island…capital T kinda looks like a tree…
Edward: That wasn’t my guess. Let me think!
Edward: The letter “T” is like an island…because it’s in the middle of water!
Gollum: Good. Your turn.
Edward: Okay, um…sorry…a little rusty at this. What do you throw away that keeps returning?
Gollum: Boomerangs. They are everywhere in Middle Earth. The more you take away, the larger it grows. What is it?
Edward: A hole! Too easy. Try this one. What can drown a man yet keep him dry?
Gollum: Quicksands. What type of suits does nobody wish to have or to lose?
Edward: A lawsuit. Which office item has the most authority?
Gollum: The ruler. What has value but is worthless?
Edward: A Kardashian. What time is it in Los Angeles?
Gollum: 8:45 pm.
*Four hours later*
Gollum: Spell “Continuity.”
Edward: C-O-N-T-I-N-U-I-T-Y. How many fingers am I holding up?
Edward: Dammit! Forgot to hide them behind my back.
Gollum: A baker has two dozen eggs…
Edward: STOP! Look, we’ve been going at this all night. How about we call a truce and split the soup? It’s gotta be colder than hell right now anyway.
Gollum: Everythings is colder than hell.
Edward: You know what I mean. Let’s just eat. I’m starving.
Gollum: One more riddle! Just one more!
Edward: Fine. What is it?
Gollum: Who are we?
Edward: Huh? I know who I am but I still have no clue who you are.
Gollum: Wrong answer! We are prisoners inside minds! Each other’s minds! We are the same!
Edward: We are not the same! And I’m going to prove it! Riddle me this! Which vegetable is in the military?
Gollum: Colonel Corn! What do we return but never borrow?
Gollum: For what?.
Edward: No, that’s my answer. Thanks. Which musical notes are too young to vote?
Gollum: Minors. Where is the only place Friday comes before Thursday?
Edward: In the dictionary. Where is Gotham City on the map?
*The cell guards are watching in bewilderment as Edward continues talking to empty space.*
Guard 1: Too bad our shift is over in an hour. I could watch this all day.
Guard 2: Riddle me this. If Edward Nygma is insane, where are we?
Guard 1: Outsane.
Zero Dark Thirty
(The twenty-ninth sequel to the greatest manhunt in history.)
If the CIA was serious about torturing detainees, they should have asked me to mail a recording of my best rendition of Alphaville’s “Forever Young”. Those guys would’ve confessed to anything then. But if so, could the information be trusted? Is inflicting inhuman suffering onto a human being the most sure method of learning the truth? Or is it just a way to get someone to say what you want to hear?
The early chapters of director Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty depict first-hand accounts of “enhanced interrogation methods” being used against suspects tied to Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist circle. These methods include but are not limited to starvation, physical abuse, sleep deprivation, loud music, sexual humiliation, waterboarding and confined spaces. These scenes are sure to turn the stomachs of everyone except the most ardent supporters of torture.
The chief CIA agents in charge of the events we see are named Dan (Jason Clarke) and Maya (Jessica Chastain). Going solely by the odds here, I’m not betting that the real people this film was supposed to parallel are as attractive as the actors that portray them. I guess even in a fact-based war drama with gritty imagery and political undertones, sex is still supposed to sell.
Dan and Maya are angry frustrated people. Their life is a mission to locate 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden and bring him to justice. Town after town, lead after lead, year after year, the damage against Bin Laden’s crew has fallen far short of expectations (as it’s made clear by an angry boss straight from the pages of Starsky and Hutch.). The only times we see Dan and Maya enjoying themselves are during the interrogations. They like to see evildoers get punished and they know the next big lead to Bin Laden’s whereabouts is right in front of them.
The true value of the information beaten out of the detainees is intentionally left ambiguous. Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal decline the chance to preach a morality commentary, opting instead for an objective approach based on facts. The facts are as follows: Torture was used in the hunt for Bin Laden. The revelation of Bin Laden’s final hideout was not uncovered by means of torture. That’s it. The rest is up to you. But that didn’t stop politicians and talk radio hosts from insisting that they know exactly what Bigelow and company wanted to tell us. “This movie promotes torture!” “This movie condemns torture!” This movie is unAmerican!” “This movie goes too far!” “This movie doesn’t go far enough!”
If the media hype was your only source of information regarding the content of this film, you’d think the entire picture was nothing but torture scenes. “Where is he!?” *pours water* *screams* *end credits*.
The reality is that torture is only a small piece of the big picture that has been blown out of proportion. A brief shot of President Barack Obama in a television interview vowing to end U.S. torture not only marks the end of those disturbing scenes but as the start of the main narrative: Maya’s obsession in finding Bin Laden. Early critical reports speculated that Maya’s character is not only the puzzle’s key but the symbolic epitome of post 9/11 United States. The country went from phases of fear, to anger, to suffering, to joining the dark side, to killing Mace Windu, to nearly getting burned to death, to forming a new galactic empire……I’m reading the wrong chart. Hold on a second.
Phases of fear, to anger, to the satisfaction of taking action, the frustration of it lasting so long, the thrill of success and the relief of a quest finally being completed. These phases are outlined by Maya’s moods and objectives set up through the plot. Maya is portrayed as a nervous standby in the opening interrogation scene (fear phase), quickly evolves into an efficient commander (anger phase) and finishes as a person of mixed emotions much like how the country reacted to Bin Laden’s death.
The objective direction sacrifices the luxury of manufactured emotion. In the few scenes that depend on speculation, character interactions sometimes come across as forced, thereby hurting the credibility of realism that the rest of the film does such a splendid job of selling. Did Maya really make a big scene every day by writing out the number of days of inaction on the latest Bin Laden lead on a transparent office window? More likely it was thrown in to compliment the “incompetent boss” theme that mainstream movies love to include. The casting of Jessica Chastain also bothered me. I never felt the aura of a commanding presence like what the other characters seem to recognize when Maya is around. Chastain doesn’t hold anything back, which leads me to believe that she was merely an imperfect choice for the role. The Academy however, sees it differently. I offer a sincere wish of best luck to her.
The final chapter, the raid on Bin Laden’s hideout, is the one that everyone should and will be talking about after the torture controversy smoke clears. Seen entirely from the perspective of Seal Team Six, the sequence reproduces the real-time suspense felt by the aforementioned party. As much as I love a good music score, the decision to omit one from this sequence was the right move because any outside manipulators to human emotion would have felt like cheating and taken away from the eerily real moment. If you have the ability to suspend enough disbelief to think you’re watching a documentary, the scene would be more thrilling than sitting in the President’s war room and only slightly less thrilling than actually being there. This is the reason Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar snub will become its own controversy long after this year’s award show airs.
Years it took to locate and kill Osama Bin Laden: 10
Days it took for the loony conspiracy theorists to insist he didn’t die: Less than 1
Torture victims: 6
Jigsaw cameos: 0
Jessica Chastain’s sex appeal: 6 (out of 10)
Outraged MSNBC Democrats: Too many
Outraged Fox News Republicans: Too many
Outraged independent critical thinkers: Few
Overall: 7 (out of 10)
(When a gangster shoots,
up the neighborhood,
Who you gonna call!?)
I guess George A Romero flicks wasn’t the only thing that influenced director Ruben Fleischer’s career. He watched Dick Tracy in 1990, liked what he saw, read a script twenty years later about gang wars set in Hollywood, remembered that he loved Dick Tracy twenty years ago, and knocked himself out. Probably none of that is true but it puts the part of my brain that needs perfect explanations at ease.
Inspired by the legends of famed Los Angeles mob boss Mickey Cohen, Gangster Squad is a stylized tale of events that conceivably could’ve happened but didn’t.
Cohen (Sean Penn) is Hollywood’s overlord. Everyone in town fears him. We’re supposed to fear him too because he likes to murder people in outrageous ways. First by stealing an idea from The Hitcher and attaching some poor soul to a pair of semi-trucks so he can do the ole “saw a guy in half trick” without the saw part. Then he throws some guy into an elevator just as that particular section of the building becomes engulfed in flames while still finding enough time to get himself downstairs. (Maybe being an illusionist is his day job.) And then he instructs his men to shove an electrical drill into his former henchman’s face by using the code phrase “You know the drill.” So yeah, I’d say this guy is pretty evil. Probably the safe bet, no?
The general public loves Cohen for some reason, even granting him a red carpet style interview outside a club. The ladies have a thing for him too as evidenced by the presence of etiquette coach Grace Faraday (Emma Stone) always being at his side during dinner meetings. Cohen needs an etiquette coach because there’s no reason a drug dealing citizen murdering cop bribing money plundering whiskey binge drinker can’t be classy too. The bad cops love him because he pays them well. But the good cops don’t love him because he’s the main menace to their job.
Police chief Parker (Nick Nolte) has had enough of Cohen’s shenanigans. He summons his loyal Sergeants John (Josh Brolin) and Jerry (Ryan Gosling) to work around the limitations of the law and beat Cohen at his own game. By posing as a rival gang, Parker’s squad can get legally closer to Cohen’s crime sprees and sabotage his operations without risking an act of retaliation against the police force. It’s as easy as pie…until Cohen sniffs out the play and gives each member of the self-proclaimed “gangster squad” a taste of personal suffering. Maybe sneaking the etiquette coach off to bed wasn’t such a good idea after all, eh Jerry?
Gangster Squad is old-fashioned in tone but offers a hybrid of new and old school shot sequences to captivate the viewers. I am still debating whether or not the uneven style was meant to pay tribute to its setting by imitating the old and modern Hollywood techniques popularized by the city’s visionaries. If not that, then the movie is just plain silly. There are easy cases for the latter. The costumes seem like they were taken from Wal-Mart’s warehouse backstock of Dick Tracy Halloween costumes. And Sean Penn plays Mickey Cohen like he’s Al Pacino playing Big Boy. Yet the murder scenes are too gruesome to laugh at and the characters (especially Brolin’s) are often too moody to root for. Yet there is a charm to the elaboration of night settings and interior shadows; reminiscent with mild exaggeration of the film noir style common in the 1940′s.
If Zero Dark Thirty was the manhunt for today’s world, that makes Gangster Squad the manhunt for a cartoon world. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing because it opens the door for some old-fashioned fun. The good guys have James Bond levels of strength and smarts while the bad guys bumble around like morons. Horizontal tracking shots in chase scenes involving retro cars is an interesting touch that helps link the balance of dueling eras. And even the music score likes to time travel. The jazzy nightclub sounds are neighbored with modern synthesized percussion.
If you like your action films fast-paced and a little over the top, Gangster Squad might be enough to satisfy what the boss craves.
Gangster Squad members: 7 (One of them is a former Terminator)
Emma Stone sex appeal: 8 (out of 10) (Make it a 9 if cigarette smoking turns you on)
Body Count: Generous amount (I don’t actually count these things in case you haven’t noticed yet)
Squad’s favorite California locale: Chinatown
Squad’s least favorite California locale: Burbank
Mickey Cohen likes his whiskey: On the rocks
Sergeant John likes his whiskey: Straight from the bottle
Sergeant John: More respectable than Mickey Cohen due to above reason
Overall: 6 (out of 10)