Stanley Kubrick himself once argued that making good movies and making cheap movies need not be mutually exclusive, but he all but disowned his own micro-budget debut feature FEAR AND DESIRE, which is released on Blu-ray and DVD on the Masters of Cinema label today after a limited UK theatrical release. Dismissing the film as a "bumbling, inept film school exercise", it's a great irony that as his budgets and relationships with major studios improved, so did the acclaim from critics: far from being blunted by the studio system, Kubrick seemed to thrive in it, bouncing off the commercial restraints to create some of the most enduring and enigmatic pieces of cinema of the 21st Century.
Left entirely to his own devices (as well as directing, he also served as editor, producer and cinematographer) as he is in FEAR AND DESIRE (and, to a lesser extent, in his noir thriller follow-up KILLER'S KISS), Kubrick's work doesn't feel as pointed or well-realised as his later work. It's somewhat understandable that the filmmaking would feel hesitant here: this is a debut feature, after all, with Kubrick still navigating a transition from still photographer to film-maker.
As much as I'd like to dive straight into the technical and aesthetic aspects of ZERO DARK THIRTY I'm going to mainly address the political stuff because, let's face it, that's what you've heard about and it's what you'll be left thinking about if you view the film yourself, which is- and I can't stress this enough - something you absolutely should do.
I'll also preface what I'm about to say by making it clear that I totally reject the idea that whatever conclusions you come to in regards to the film's stance on torture will automatically and inflexibly place you on one side of an ideological debate on the efficacy of torture (ie you're either pro or against). If you think that it advocates torture, fine. If you don't, that's also fine. That doesn't mean you're a flag-waving George Bush acolyte and apologist, as some would have you believe. That said, I also think that discussing the moral implications of the way this particular story is told is absolutely valid.
I became the last person in the universe to watch DJANGO UNCHAINED yesterday, and I really liked it. In fact it's growing on me the more I think about it: underneath all of the crash-zooms and splatter and incongrous music cues (aside from the use of some classic Morricone and the brilliant DJANGO and DAY OF ANGER themes, this is Tarantino's worst soundtrack by some distance - previously a master of picking exactly the right piece of music to accompany a scene, he's now definitely just giving the impression he's idly cycling through his iPod) there's a really thoughtful and interesting piece of film-making here. The setpieces, action and performances are so immediately exhilirating that the ambiguity of the decisions made by the likes of Django, Schulz, Stephen and Candie only begin to reveal themselves after you have a bit of distance from the film.
THE SESSIONS is an odd bird – a gentle disability drama in the vein of SCENT OF A WOMAN or the recent UNTOUCHABLE, it also features some of the frankest discussion of the mechanics of sex that I can remember seeing in a mainstream film.
The nature of plot demands this, obviously: it’s the story of severely disabled man who wants to lose his virginity before he hits his ‘use-by’ date, as he poignantly calls it. But whereas we are somewhat conditioned to expect a certain amount of blurring of the edges when it comes to discussion and the depiction of sexual activity itself in movies, THE SESSIONS doesn't pull its punches. As a result, it’s somewhat ironic that one of the frankest films about sex in years should be one that focuses on sex amongst the disabled, a subject that has remained one of a few remaining taboos in mainstream media until very recently.