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Josh Reviews The Report

Amazon’s film The Report, written and directed by Scott Z. Burns, depicts the years-long process in which the Senate Intelligence Committee investigated the C.I.A.’s use of torture of detainees after September 11th.  The investigation was led by Daniel Jones, a staffer for Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein, who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee.  Mr. Jones worked with a small team for six years on the report, which wound up totaling more than 6,700 pages.  The full unreacted report remains classified to this day, although a 535 page “Executive Summary” was released by Senator Feinstein and the Committee in December, 2014.  The film is partially based on the Vanity Fair article “Rorshach and Awe” by Katherine Eban.

The subject matter of The Report is very challenging.  The film’s first half contains several flashbacks that present instances of the C.I.A.’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which I found extremely difficult to watch, even though the scenes are brief.  On the other hand, the rest of the film mostly depicts subject matter that can be extremely dry.  Daniel Jones worked for years with a small team in a windowless room, reading e-mails and files and other documents.  That’s a hard subject matter to dramatize.  The sequences of committee hearings and political back-room conversations aren’t much easier!  Mr. Burns and his team had quite a challenge to weave this all into something compelling that could sustain an audience’s interest.

I am impressed by what they have done.

Now, be warned: The Report doesn’t have the momentum of a film like Spotlight.  Despite the best efforts of Mr. Burns and his terrific cast, I have to admit that there are portions of this very talky film in which I struggled somewhat to remain focused.  At the other end of the spectrum, as I’d noted above, there were sequences — the flashback to the C.I.A. interrogations — that were extremely unpleasant and tough to get through.

But the power of this incredibly important and relevant story shone through.  And the terrific cast was a huge factor in bringing this story to life successfully.  Adam Driver is fantastic in the lead role as Daniel Jones.  This is the least flashy role I have ever seen Mr. Driver play.  There’s not a single moment of the type of explosive energy that has characterized many of his best roles, from Adam in Girls to Kylo Ren in the Star Wars sequel trilogy.  This is a very internal performance.  Mr. Driver keeps all of his energy tightly bottled up.  And yet, his charisma shines through his stillness.  Daniel is like a coiled spring throughout the film, and that intensity blazing forth behind Mr. Driver’s eyes kept me, as a viewer, riveted … [continued]

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Catching Up on 2010: Josh Reviews The Kids Are All Right

In Lisa Cholodenko’s film The Kids Are All Right, we meet Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), a loving lesbian couple who have been raising two kids together: Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson).  Their lives aren’t perfect, but over-all it’s a stable, happy family unit.  But when Laser convinces Joni to help him find their biological father (though Nic gave birth to Joni and Jules gave birth to Laser, they share the same sperm donor), the foundations of the family are shaken.

I was really quite taken with this film.  I think it’s an interesting story filled with complex, human characters, and all of the lead actors give terrific performances.  I was ultimately dissatisfied with where the narrative wound up (more on that later), which lessens the film’s total impact slightly for me, but it’s still a very solid, enjoyable, aimed-at-adults movie.

I’ve been complaining a lot recently about films with one-dimensional characters.  I don’t mind films having heroes and villains, and likable and unlikable characters.  I simply tend to prefer films where the characters aren’t completely black and white.  (Ex. This father is a TOTAL JERK with no redeeming qualities.)  So major props to writer/director Ms. Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg for crafting a story filled with truly human characters.  No one in The Kids Are All Right is a total saint.  The characters have positive qualities and some negative ones as well.  Likable characters make some bad decisions.  It’s thrillingly refreshing.

This top-notch material is elevated by a wonderful cast.  Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are both phenomenal as Nic and Jules.  These characters felt completely REAL to me, and their relationship felt equally honest.  It’s sweet and messy and complicated and feels really true.  I like that we get to see the two sharing some tender moments, as well as the times when they seem completely distant from one another.

Equally wonderful are the two kids.  Mia Wasikowska was one of the few good things in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (read my review here), and it’s delightful to see her looking and acting like a real human being without all of that accompanying Tim Burton weirdness.  Ms. Wasikowska is able to bring to life Joni’s innocence, as well as to her growing temptation to leave her childhood behind and step into the trappings of an adult.  Josh Hutcherson is also strong as her brother Laser (pronounced Lazer).  He’s already begun to push at the boundaries of conformity and acceptable behavior, but Mr. Hutcherson keeps reminding us of Laser’s good-natured side as well (a product, one can assume, of the strong upbringing he’s received from his two moms).

Then there is Paul … [continued]