Tom Carson Reviews Zero Dark Thirty

What with all the raves Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty has been getting—and make no mistake, gang, you’re reading one more of them—it’s not hard to imagine that moviegoers misled by those “It’s all about the SEALs” action trailers will exit her phenomenal dramatization of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in a considerable snit. Not without sympathy, I can picture them grumbling about what whack priorities reviewers must have. Where are the thrills, where’s the crowing about our ultimate triumph? Why in hell does so much of this sucker—even the ending, for Pete’s sake!—feel like such a downer? Critics, sheesh.

That’s how it goes with Bigelow, who isn’t big on giving audiences what they think they want.

Spoiler: Bin Laden dies. Read Tom Carson’s Full Review Here.

Toronto Film Festival: Tom Carson reviews Argo

Tom Carson reviews Argo, Ben Affleck's take on the 1979 Iran hostage crisis:

It’s a safe bet that Ben Affleck, who directed and stars in Argo, didn’t conceive the movie as a salute to American-Canadian relations. But seeing it on my first day here in ever-lovely Toronto added an extra bounce to this nifty and suspenseful blend of Carter-era grit and La-La-Land uproariousness, since Argo does feature a heroic Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber) who successfully hid a half-dozen understandably rattled U.S. embassy employees inside his Teheran official residence, during the 1979 hostage crisis.

It’s not like our northern brethren rate too many tributes at festival time even from their own filmmakers—who, at their most patriotic, are a lot likelier to opt for either glum or devilishly puckish resignation about being the Other White-Meat Country instead. But that said, the true story from which the movie derives seesawed between grim and zany in ways that might make plenty of directors more seasoned than Affleck give up on finding the right tone.

When protesters stormed our Tehran diplomatic compound and took 59 Americans hostage to retaliate for Jimmy Carter granting asylum to the deposed Shah of Iran, launching the 444-day ordeal that doomed Whatsisname’s presidency and put Ronald Reagan—him, you remember, right, kids?—in the White House, one group of junior employees from the embassy’s consular section managed to find refuge with Canadian envoy Ken Taylor. (Argo actually skips over a lot of the hair-raising time they had getting to him.) Once alerted to their whereabouts, the CIA hatched various schemes to sneak them out of the country in one piece; the nuttiest was exfiltration expert Tony Mendez’s notion of disguising them as a film company scouting locations for a terrible Star Wars rip-off named Argo. Of course, that’s the one that worked.

Read the full review here.

God Save the Mods: Tom Carson on Quadrophenia

Director Franc Roddam's Quadrophenia, newly out on Blu-ray from Criterion, is set in roughly the same era—now half a century ago—as George Lucas's American Graffiti. But comparing the two is a crash course in the differences between American and British youth culture back in the days when both were kicking their way out of the womb. Our Transatlantic cousins never did set much value on innocence.

Celebrating innocence, you may remember, is the Lucas movie’s be-all and end-all. Beneficiaries of a post-World War II affluence that they have no idea isn’t how life usually works, the small-town kids in American Graffiti are feeling their generational oats without a clue about what’s coming at them—bad stuff like the JFK assassination and the war in Vietnam. But their Brit equivalents had no illusions except about the permanence of youth’s own supremacy.

(Or: Why Zombies Are American As Apple Pie)

The day I get fed up with zombies will be the day I become one, and I know I’m not alone. Sinatra’s voice, the electoral college, random squads of flesh-munching post-humans with Heinz 57 facial makeovers—these are the indigenous relics we all know will endure until Alpha Centauri scientists get busy sorting out our idea of fun. We’re in hock to Europe for vampires, werewolves, and Frankenstein’s monster, but sorry, world: Shaun of the Dead or no Shaun of the Dead, we own this turf. Ravenous dorks in bloodstained Dockers and cheerleader togs are as American as Adam’s-apple pie.

Partly because there’s no way to make ‘em elegant—sooner or later, even the most stylish director has to either show them chowing down or be accused of cheating—the planet’s most democratic monsters never used to get much respect. The latest cycle of the zombie meme also got pretty cutesy for a while, from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to Woody Harrelson and the pre-Social Network Jesse Eisenberg bashing in pumpkin-head skulls for laughs in 2009’s very funny, far from dumb Zombieland. But then AMC’s The Walking Dead came along, and whammo: America’s ultimate conspicuous consumers were back in all their foul, decaying glory. The reason zombies can’t jump the shark is that they are the shark, baby.

GQ’s film critic Tom Carson explains why he can’t get enough of the undead. There are many many great lines in this piece—the smartest essay about zombies we’ve ever read—but none better / funnier than that very first one. (We’re also fond of that delicious illustration by the peerless Zohar Lazar.)

Hot Prima-On-Prima Action!

For those of us who love the damn thing, watching Aronofsky’s uptight heroine lose her marbles under the strain of preparing to wow New York’s tux mob in Swan Lake is definitely an experience. We just can’t agree on what kind, since the two very different movies that fans come out raving about—the wrenching one that exalts Portman’s Nina and the sensational black comedy that’s all wised up about her hysteria’s provocations—are both on the screen. So is a lot of kink, given that one bright way our gal acts out her derangement is to either have or imagine having frantic, druggy sex with smokin’ Mila Kunis, who plays an uninhibited fellow dancer representing everything she’s not. If you prurient bastards think that’s the only scene that’ll rivet you, though, you don’t know Aronofsky: He’s got kinks in places where most people don’t even have opinions. 

—GQ’s Tom Carson on Black Swan [Illustration by Zohar Lazar]

Tom Carson On Irritating Indie Auteur Lena Dunham

Understand, to call Tiny Furniture narcissistic and inbred is like breaking the news that Switzerland has good skiing and a banking industry of some note. It’s typical of Dunham’s blinkers that she doesn’t have the wit—not conscience, just wit—to notice how fabulously lucky she, her posh family and her hipster friends are to live the way they do. Yep, folks, the ritzy Tribeca loft that Lena—sorry, “Aura”—keeps on moping around in is Dunham’s real-life home. Her mom owns it. Do you feel sorry for her yet?