film review: zero dark thirty

Warning: Some mild spoilers ahead (but nothing specific)

I saw the brilliant Zero Dark Thirty two weeks ago, and I still think it about it daily. Sure, this might be a reflection of my own obsessive tendencies, but I think it’s the sheer power of this film that makes it so enduring.

The film follows Maya, an obsessive CIA agent who is eventually successful in tracking down Osama bin Laden. Her success, however, is not absolute or unsullied; as we see in the film, this kind of success almost entirely lives in a moral grey area. There has already been controversy about the depiction of torture in the film, how the film is irresponsible for depicting “enhanced interrogation techniques” as productive. I usually hate when people say this, but I think it applies here: if you watch the film and think it’s endorsing torture, then you’re watching it wrong. Maybe Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal do think that torture is or was effective, but that’s completely irrelevant to the movie’s depiction of it. We see the terrible toll that torture takes both on the interrogator and the interrogated; and it’s ambiguous as to whether it was torture or kindness that eventually led to a detainee, Ammar, revealing the name of a courier to bin Laden who eventually leads Maya to his compound. Regardless of whether or not torture “worked,” the film does not depict it as anything but grueling and cruel, and that’s what’s most important.

Now that the elephant in the room has been addressed: I actually think that this film’s closest analogue is David Fincher’s criminally underrated Zodiac, which was able to mine terrific suspense and terror from a story that largely featured characters in rooms talking a lot. Aside from a couple of memorable scenes of shocking violence, Zodiac was really about the day-to-day groundwork professionals have to slog through to get to their eventual goal. This is where Zero Dark Thirty excels, as well. The film isn’t compelling despite sticking to the tedious daily work inherent in trying to track down a needle in a haystack; it’s compelling because of it. We are able to see professionals truly being professionals. These people are amazing at their jobs, and both admirable and sympathetic in how single-mindedly dedicated they are to their work. Zero Dark Thirty doesn’t delve into their personal lives, but that wouldn’t have been necessary. We see the human toll this soul-sucking journey takes in the eyes of the actors. They make some serious missteps and have to deal with the consequences. Jessica Chastain in particular gives a beautifully reserved performance. You never get the sense that she’s “acting,” she seems completely in the moment and natural at all times. She is the film’s grimly determined anchor amidst chaos.

When the film finally makes it to bin Laden’s compound after a decade of groundwork, the sequence is gripping and chilling despite our knowledge of the outcome. It’s here that Bigelow shows her hand as an assured and brilliant director. She strips the entire sequence back to its bare minimum. To me, the most powerful element was the lack of music, the absence of the film holding our hands and leading us through the emotions we should be feeling. It shows true confidence as a director to know that you can bring the audience into the scene without trying to make a grab for it. Instead, we slowly make our way into the situation just as the characters do, following the low hum of military helicopters through dark eerie mountains. Again, without going into characters’ back stories, we feel the human tension of the Navy SEALs in the helicopter, leading themselves into a life-or-death situation, cracking jokes in an attempt to distract themselves. And when they finally make it to the compound, the tension is derived not from artificial, Hollywood-ized stakes, but from the sheer craft that the Navy SEALs display, and from the stark silence of the compound broken only by gunshots. Going into the scene, I expected it to be triumphant and cathartic, but I felt queasy watching SEALs gunning down unarmed people in front of screaming, terrified children.

This ambiguity characterizes Maya’s reaction, as well. At the end of the film, now that she’s achieved the goal she’s been after for a decade, she’s unsure of what to do or how to move forward. This, too, characterizes our nation. Bin Laden is dead — what now? His death didn’t “solve” terrorism forever. This isn’t a movie where the good guys kill the bad guys and save the day. The good guys make many, many moral sacrifices to exact revenge, and now that the revenge done, there’s nothing but a void. Over the past few years I haven’t kept myself abreast of current affairs, so maybe this means nothing coming from me, but I truly feel that Zero Dark Thirty is a defining film of our time. The last ten years in America have been marked by a pervading feeling of uncertainty and doubt. No one feels safe. Happy endings are nowhere in sight. In Zero Dark Thirty, Maya killed Osama bin Laden, and now she’s left with nothing.

on being zen

(I wear glitter sunglasses and IDGAF.)

I’ve always been really into self-improvement. When I was in elementary/middle school, American Girl published a ton of “how-to” books that I bought and read vociferously. There were books on how to throw the perfect sleepover party, and how to have good manners, and how to make friends; they were like bibles to me. The thirst for self-improvement has only grown stronger the older I get. As a perpetually socially-awkward, self-doubting human being, I always feel like there’s some kind of piece of information that I’m missing, the key to finally understanding the world and people around me. I spend so much time feeling like I’m doing something wrong. Why can’t I dress perfectly everyday? Why can’t my drawings be more creative? Why aren’t I as good at writing comedy as I want to be? Why aren’t I more social and artsy and cool?

However, what I’m realizing more and more is that I’m perfectly fine as I am. I’m not missing any kind of essential piece of life; I have everything I need within me. I waste so much time wishing I could be someone else rather than living in the moment and appreciating what I have. Why expend so much effort to be something that doesn’t come naturally to me? Why not just accept myself as who I am?

(I love Disneyland and IDGAF.)

For example, last night I went to see the movie Perks of Being a Wallflower, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but is usually the kind of thing that would make me feel really insecure. I’d think, why wasn’t my high school experience like that? Am I weird for not going to any parties when I was a teenager, or not trying drugs and alcohol? Why weren’t my friends free-spirited types who used vintage typewriters and listened to The Smiths? But then I realize–it’s so dumb to think about things that way. Everything that that movie explores, all of those feelings of excitement and completion when you discover something new, something that feels you; these are all things that I felt in high school, just in different packaging. I had amazing friends, and went on amazing adventures, and experienced incredible things. So what if it’s different from what “most” teenagers did? I had a great time. I don’t regret anything.

And I feel like I’ve been putting off blogging, or drawing, or whatever because I feel like I’m not good enough. I wish I could be more like fashion bloggers who post impeccable outfit photos everyday, but the reality is that many days I just wear a t-shirt and jeans because I work full-time and I just want to be comfortable. I wish I could draw things that were more crazy and psychedelic and creative, but what I enjoy most is drawing cute girls wearing cute outfits. I wish I could write better straight-comedy, when I’m best at writing things that combine comedy and drama, and I have difficulty writing things that aren’t driven by story and character.

It’s weird to start finding myself in a place where I don’t feel unsatisfied all the time. I always felt like self-acceptance lived in direct opposition to self-improvement, and it’s strange to realize that they go hand in hand. Instead of focusing on things I can never be, I can focus on the things I do best, and get better and better at them. I’m okay with not being perfect–I’m okay with being okay.

the movie diaries: submarine

Lately I’ve been feeling more inspired to participate in life again. Whoa, that sounds way more melodramatic than I intended. What I mean is, for a while I was very much stuck in my own head and working very single-mindedly on a couple of particular goals, and I closed myself off for a while. I’m starting to crack open the shell and look at the outside world a little bit more lately. Whenever I get back into a metamorphic phase in my life, where I feel like everything is very lovely and I’m open to inspiration, I tend to rediscover my love of film. There is something so simple and beautiful about movies: at their best, they can be like 2-hour lyrical, visual poems.

That’s how I felt about Submarine. I’d always been interested in seeing the film because it’s written and directed by one of my favorite British comedians, Richard Ayoade, who’s in a bunch of awesome TV shows, and is now starring in The Watch. Anyway, he seems like a super awesome guy, so I figured a film by him was bound to be interesting–and I was right!

The film is about a precocious teenage boy, Oliver Tate, who starts to self-consciously usher himself into adolescence. It’s framed as an autobiographical film made by himself, which makes sense, because all of his notions of teenager-dom seem to be gleaned from books and movies, not from actual real life experience. I think this is an element anyone who was an artistically-inclined teenager can relate to. Hell, I still relate to it now–when I’m trying to make sense of the world around me, what better than books, movies and music to help me? I feel like art is all about codifying things that, by their very nature, cannot be codified.

However, what makes the film interesting is how it systematically shatters Oliver’s romantic illusions about life and adolescence by throwing him into messy, real-life situation. The film is divided into three acts: the first focuses on his courtship of a girl named Jordana. He calculates every move toward her very meticulously, dissecting her likes and dislikes, and using this information to win her affection. It’s not manipulative–they’re the actions of a very clueless boy who has no idea how to approach a girl. The montages where they’re experiencing impulsive, teenaged love are really beautiful and moving; they brought me back to when I was still a teenager, and things still felt new and exciting. This is what exactly what Oliver wanted out of a relationship with Jordana.

Then, Oliver gets some things thrust his way that he doesn’t want: Jordana is dealing with some difficult family issues that Oliver is too immature and afraid to deal with, so he runs away and buries himself further in his own fantasies. He also starts to notice his parents’ marriage is fracturing, the focus of act two. Both of these experiences force Oliver to truly mature and grow up, but in a really fun and funny way.

The kid who plays Oliver is great–he hits that perfect combination of guilelessness and pretentiousness that, to me, recalls Max Fischer. The supporting cast really knocks the ball out of the park, though. The people who play his parents consummately portray a long-married couple who have drifted apart and don’t know why. And the girl who plays Jordana is perfect–she’s not too perfectly pretty, but is still very alluring and mysterious in her own way. What makes her character affecting, though, is that the script gives her an inner life. She’s not just there to usher Oliver through adolescent experiences; she has her own problems to deal with. The movie succeeds because it shows the problem with seeing people as players in the movie of your life, rather than as human beings with their own needs and desires. Luckily, I think Oliver is able to gain a little bit of self-awareness by the end of the film, and that’s all you can reasonably expect from a fanciful 15-year-old boy.

london & the end of the world

I’m not gonna lie, I’m a pretty obsessive person. Like, a couple months ago, when I listened to Pet Sounds for the first time, I didn’t merely like it. I read about it for hours online, watched Beach Boys videos over and over and over on YouTube, bought a Brian Wilson biography, went to the Beach Boys national landmark in Hawthorne…basically, I don’t do things halfway.

Since I consider myself an aesthetically-inclined type of person, I spend a lot of time obsessively thinking about the ~atmosphere~ I build around my life. It’s not as simple as what clothes I wear, what music I listen to, what movies I watch–it’s about everything coming together to create a consistent aesthetic whole. I want to recreate a feeling, a narrative I have in my mind…does this sound crazy yet? Probably.

So anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about the sixties, and gloomy British music, and the end of the world, and I’ve had a bunch of hazy inspirations floating around my head with nowhere to go. I thought maybe I’d try to bring together a bunch of my inspirations in one place so some of this can make some kind of sense to me. And hey, maybe it’ll make some kind of sense to you, too.

I totally want to try this rad mod eye make-up tutorial written by Hannah Johnson, who is awesome and who I am kind of obsessed with. She just keeps it real, you know? She also writes for xo Jane.

Speaking of xo Jane, I love this Edie Sedgwick beauty tutorial written by Gabi Rivera-Morales, who I am also becoming mildly obsessed with. I’ve never been a big beauty buff since my mom wasn’t really into the whole “gender conformity” thing (I wasn’t allowed to wear make-up/floral prints until I was, like, 18; my childhood bedroom was entirely hunter green) but recently I’ve been attempting to put more effort into my appearance…

More sixties make-up/hair (from Lula magazine).

Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin’s hair (here & here & here & here & here)

I love these sixties-esque photos from Rookie. Makes me want to cut my hair into a bob again.

I recently bought all of these things above. I think the London Olympics have kicked my London obsession into high gear again. I’ve always been an Anglophile, and studying abroad in London in my senior year of college only aggravated my condition. I miss it so.

London (here & here

Lauderee’s special edition Diamond Jubilee box

Japanese-British (here & here & here & here)

I’ve been jonesing for this bag since, like, the beginning of time.

Girlzzzz (here & here & here & here & here & here)

New Order and gloomy flowers. (here & here & here

An Education (here)

Jane Mai lookin’ all cool and stuff. Her art is super super awesome too. (here & here)

Cool clothes from Whitepepper.

Been reading and enjoying this a lot, in a depressing kind of way.

And finally, some depressing music to send you off into the night. Hopefully this post has helped you feel suitably glum-but-stylish in preparation for the oncoming end of the world.

broke shopping #4: zine edition

I’m trying to catch up on a lot of things I’ve meant to post, but didn’t get around to because I was in a bit of a blogging rut. So, like, months ago I put together a little zine with a bunch of clothes that I couldn’t afford, and then it sat in my notebook where no one could see it, because that’s what you’re supposed to do with zines, right? Anyway, here it is, finally making its debut! They were all clothes that I thought captured the vibe of what I wanted my summer to be. I haven’t bought any of the clothes, but my summer is going swell.

the movie diaries: the dark knight rises


I’ve never been a huge fangirl of the Dark Knight Trilogy. I’m not saying I haven’t enjoyed the movies, but I kind of think all the hype around them has been completely overblown. Just because it’s a slightly more serious take on a superhero movie doesn’t automatically make it DEEP and DARK and AMBIGUOUS to me. Plus, I’m an ornery old lady and when hordes of people like something (except for, like, Harry Potter) I tend to sit in the corner and glower.

All that said, I enjoyed this film as much as I thought I would. It wasn’t a life-changing movie-going experience, but taken at face value it’s just a fun movie. However, the movie takes stabs at social commentary and some kind of deeper meaning than just being a superhero movie, so that’s how I’m going to analyze it.

First of all, despite many reviews to the contrary, I feel like this movie actually wasn’t dark enough. I thought that Bane was an appropriately badass villain, and with the weird mask-voice he was definitely off-putting and creepy. The first act climax where he and his cronies invade the stock market was actually pretty awesome. After that, though, things started to get kind of murky for me–I still don’t really understand what his purpose was throughout the film. He starts out terrorizing Gotham because he wants to destroy the class system or whatever, but then it’s revealed he did this all for ~love~? Huh?

When the movie starts to get into Ra’s al Ghul stuff, that’s when it loses me. To me, fear and darkness need to be rooted in something real. I’m not saying the movie has to be realistic, but the League of Shadows stuff feels so comic book-y and divorced from reality that I can’t take it seriously. Personally, I’m not worried about some people training to be ninjas in the middle of nowhere or whatever. I’m more afraid of a terrorist organization taking over a city and causing chaos, which I think wasn’t explored as fully as I wanted it to be. For me, Bane’s rule over the city was most frightening when they blew up the football field, killed the mayor, and trapped the police underground. After that, things get a little hazy. I’m not sure I fully understand why he tells the citizens of Gotham that one of them has the detonator to the atomic bomb. How does that tie in with his little speech to Bruce about how hope is what really drives people crazy? And then, after they take over the city, what exactly happens? I wanted chaos in the streets, not a bunch of anarchists putting people to trial while everyone else cowers in their homes. The whole siege over Gotham is strangely murky and ill-defined.

What I found really hokey is when the police officers are finally freed from underground and instantly there’s a showdown between the police and the anarchists. Did anyone else find the politics in this movie strangely conservative? For films famed for their ambiguity, I found this battle to be very black and white. On the good side, it’s the police; on the bad side, it’s the anarchists (who, while definitely going about things the wrong way, have a point about how fucked our class system is). That’s it? There’s no middle ground? Where are the civilians in this? Why are they only represented by a bus full of adorable orphans? Things should have been getting crazy, and I feel like this was kind of taking the easy way out. Also, I won’t even get into how that atomic bomb was still close enough when it went off to destroy Gotham, or at least, like, melt people’s skin and give them radiation poisoning forever.

But, you know, I know that I’m looking at this way too critically. It’s just a fun comic book movie, and Christopher Nolan is no genius. However, he’s really good at making blockbusters that aren’t totally insulting to people’s intelligence, and that’s something to be commended. In terms of things I liked, Anne Hathaway was actually super awesome and maybe the best part of the movie for me. I also thought the whole Robin reveal was kind of cool, but I think I’d like Joseph Gordon Levitt in pretty much anything. The ending was pretty satisfying as well; the super-super-serious Batman statue unveiling was lulz-worthy. I don’t know, I don’t have much more to say on the subject, but overall the film was fine. It was A-OK. Alright, bye.

whatever #12 is up! plus new page!

Yay, Whatever #12 is up! Here’s a preview, BUT the comics are now located at a whole new section of my site solely dedicated to Whatever! It has a header and everything!! Super exciting stuff. Check it out at the following link:


twenty-something problems

Since I am now firmly, irrevocably a “twenty-something,” my life is full of “twenty-something” problems, aka they’re not real problems at all. Questions plague me everyday: what is the meaning of my life? What am I trying to accomplish? What does my future hold? Why can’t I ever seem to make it to yoga class, despite telling everyone I know that this week, no really, I’m really going to go? The answer to all of these questions, after great preponderance and thought, is I DON’T KNOW.

I seriously have no fucking clue what I’m doing with my life, and I spend way too much time thinking about it instead of, like, actually living it. Everyday I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. I have a pretty clear sense of what I want to accomplish, eventually: I want to get somewhere with Whatever. I want to write a pilot I’m happy with, and write for a TV show. I want to finish Outer Space. Oh, and I want to live a life that’s worthwhile and full of love and all of that fun stuff.

But how to balance it? I feel like the thing at the forefront of my mind, all the time, is: WORK. WORK HARDER. YOU’RE NOT WORKING HARD ENOUGH. I start to freak out – look at what people like Lena Dunham and Aubrey Plaza have accomplished, and they’re pretty much my age!! I’m only 23 and I’m already an over-the-hill failure! So the only solution, that I can see, is to work all the fucking time. Any free moment I have, I should be writing, or drawing. But when I think about doing creative things as WORK WORK WORK, suddenly it’s not fun anymore, and the reason why I wanted to do creative things in the first place is because they’re fun.

The other day I read this thing called “Craft is the Enemy,” written by comic book artist James Kochalka, and it totally blew my mind. What he’s saying is so true. I get bogged down all the time by feeling like I’m not good enough to be doing what I want to do. How can I finish an animated film if I’ve never animated anything before? How can I write a pilot without having written a pilot before? How can I do a comic if I’ve never done a comic before? (I think you get the idea.) This piece helped me realize: at some point, the thinking has to stop, and the doing has to start. If I think I have something somewhat valuable to say, then it’s not about the form, it’s not about the medium, it’s about expressing myself.

Anyway, I guess basically what I’m saying is I ordered The Cute Manifesto yesterday, in which this essay appears, and I’m super stoked about it. Oh, and I guess I learned a big lesson and I’m never going to over think anything again! Ha, yeah right. But I think being a twenty-something is about narrowing down the roads down which you will travel, until you hit the one road that’ll take you where you want to go. Until then, all you can do is keep moving forward.

my head is slowly disappearing down my navel

(Okay, first off: I’m sorry I’ve been away from this blog for so long! There’s been a lot going on (full time job, screenplay writing, etc) but I’m back now! And I promise I’ll post more! There is also definitely a new Whatever coming soon, so stay tuned…Now back to our regular programming!)

I kind of hate when twenty-somethings try to talk about the big things they’ve learned about life, because everything is always changing. What’s true today is probably not going to be true tomorrow, especially when it comes to what I believe about my life. However, this doesn’t stop me from trying to figure things out pretty much all the time. I like to read books about finding happiness and practicing meditation and unleashing your creativity. I try to glean bits and pieces that I can apply to my own life while I try to figure out what’s going on. Even though I’ve always appreciated ambiguity and open-ended-ness in movies and TV shows and books, I have a hard time viewing my own life that way. I don’t like grey areas in my brain. I like to figure everything out logically. Point A must lead to Point B.

Because of this, sometimes I’m afraid that I’m better at analyzing stories than writing them. I’ve always been really good at looking at a script and saying, this and this doesn’t work, but this does; this doesn’t feel very justified; this character needs more motivation here. I think, though, when it comes to my own writing, I do way too much analyzing up front. This can occur in two forms:

1) Over-analyzing the fundamental worth of my story. If it sucks, is it worth writing in the first place? Why does anyone care what I’m thinking, anyway?

2) Over-analyzing the plot. I want to figure out the entire plot of the story before doing any of the meat-and-potatoes writing.

This all usually happens before I ever actually put the pen to paper, which, as you might be able to tell, is not very conducive to writing, seeing as not a lot of writing is involved. However, over the past year or so I feel like I’ve made huge strides in allowing myself to express myself creatively, and I thought, hey, maybe I’ll share those things here. At worst, it couldn’t hurt, and at best, it could help someone. Who knows. So, without further ado, Hannah’s Handy-Dandy Guide to Doing Creative Stuff.

1) If you start working on a project, eventually something will come of it – just go with the flow. Like, when I was first thinking about Whatever, all I had was a hazy idea about how I wanted to do an overblown-guilty-pleasure high school TV drama in the style of Gossip Girl. At first I was thinking it would be about a pregnant high schooler, and then it morphed into something about a performing arts high school with a bunch of over dramatic theater kids with active libidos. Then I realized that all of these ideas weren’t really true to myself at all. I scaled back, and started thinking about what high school meant to me in my own life. Then I scaled it further back and was like, well, a) I have enough distance from high school now to see what it meant to me, and what I really got from it and b) I’m still really young and this is the only period of my life that I have fully formed thoughts on at this point, so I decided to make the project a loosely autobiographical story about my high school years. After further hemming and hawing, I finally sat myself down in a coffee shop for a couple of hours and pounded out a pilot script. I wasn’t crazy about it, and did a lot of revisions. Then I visited home in Los Angeles and happened to pick up a comic called Hopeless Savages. I’ve always been casually into comics, but this sparked a huge obsession with comics for me, and I started reading comics all the time. I realized that making a comic is kind of like filmmaking for broke, antisocial people, so I thought I’d make a comic instead of trying to further refine this pilot script. I thought about making a graphic novel, and wrote up a lot of stories for that, but I wasn’t really feeling any of them. Actually, this is a good transition into another important thing I learned about my own creative process:

2) Break things down into small, easily digestible parts. I realized that when I started working on a big project, I’d get overwhelmed with all of the work I thought would be involved, and would shut myself down before I could even start. This was a pretty inefficient way to work. I decided that instead of doing a big graphic novel when I’d never done a comic before in my life, I’d instead do a web comic. Even after making this decision I continued to procrastinate for a long time, not feeling that essential connection to my story, and unsure what sort of style to use to draw the comic. Then, one day I was sitting on the train listening to this song when all of a sudden a scene popped into my head. Soon my mind was flooded with ideas, coming faster than I could write them down. I went home, sat down and banged out the first installment, deciding that just doing the damn thing was more important than sitting around, trying to figure out the perfect style or the perfect story. As I’ve been with the story longer and longer, I’m learning more and more about my characters and world every day. This all brings me to my third point:

3) Plant the seed, and the rest will come. I had to stop thinking about the story consciously for my brain to sort things out. Whatever I need is lying dormant in the recesses of my mind, and sometimes I can’t force it out; I just need to wait for the right trigger. Obviously, you can’t just sit around all the time waiting for divine inspiration, but on the other hand, there’s only so much logical thinking you can do. The value in a good story comes from its humanity and raw emotion, and that can’t be forced. I’m an overthinker, so sometimes it’s hard for me to let go and allow some feelings to get involved. However, on the other hand, this brings me to my most important point:

4) Put away the excuses and just do it. There are a million trillion excuses that I’ve used to keep myself from doing something: I don’t have the time, the money, the space, the talent, whatever. Eventually it all comes down to a very simple decision: either you do it, or you don’t. It’s not going to magically happen. Unless you somehow become a millionaire overnight, it’s highly doubtful that you will be in the perfect circumstances under which to work. You just have to put everything else aside and do it. Yes, sometimes this involves sacrifices. Sometimes this involves turning down things you’d like to do so you can get work done. It also means putting the perfectionism aside. Nothing will ever be perfect, and it’s better to accept that up front. I think that in the long run, it’s all worth it. I’m so afraid of another year passing with me looking back and thinking, what did I accomplish?

Really, as silly and cliche as it sounds, what it all comes down to is believing in yourself and your abilities. If I decided to become an ~artiste~ in the first place, I must have believed there was some value in the things I did. And if any of this doesn’t work in motivating me, I can push myself forward using my immense fear of failure. It all leads to the same end result, right?

paper darts!

So, I’m really lucky and have a ton of talented friends, and sometimes we work together. My awesome friend Holly is a senior editor of Paper Darts, a really cool literary/arts magazine. She asked me to do illustrations for her blog posts on Paper Darts, and the first article I ended up illustrating was about FAN FICTION, a subject near and dear to my heart. How near and dear? You will never, ever know. Anyway, check it out HERE!!!!!!. (Have I mentioned that Holly is hilarious and awesome?)