‘Lincoln’: Review

Lincoln is a bio-pic, but it really isn’t a bio-pic. We’ve all seen the biography films of a big figure like Johnny Cash, and while it’s cool to see them rise up from nothing to become a star, it can also become quite boring. Spielberg knowing the immense effects of Lincoln’s administration, decides to only take on the emancipation proclamation of Lincoln’s life, and thus distills him to the main essentials. Sure, there is much more to talk about than just the freedom of African-American slaves, but Tony Kushner’s script boils it all down to something that is more concise and focused. Sure, the whole life story of Abraham Lincoln would be more fitting to a film titled Lincoln, but the intimate details make the man.

Daniel Day-Lewis’ acting is phenomenal of course, but not in the over-bearing or dominating way that you might think. Abraham Lincoln himself isn’t a boisterous or flamboyant man, and that’s exactly how Day-Lewis plays him. He plays Lincoln low-key, but not to a fault, that’s how he was, and perfectly replicates his subtle confidence and looming power. Out of this static quietness, Day-Lewis is able to bank credit for when Lincoln actually does act out, and these scenes are played even more powerfully off the juxtaposition of emotions. Day-Lewis is goddamn perfect in this, but I fear his characterization of a relatively boring and quiet man may fall by the wayside (in Awards season), but then again this is Daniel Day-Lewis we’re talking about.

Steven Spielberg is of course a fantastic director, but within Lincoln he proves it through a more subtle and introspective way. Lincoln is not really a grand movie, sure it stretches to a couple different places, but it is largely stagnant within the political dealings of the time. A lot of this movie is just watching old people talk in a room, quite literally. I hope you weren’t expecting an action-type Civil war battle movie, while there’s like half a scene of it, this is basically all dialogue. Spielberg somehow makes a grand bio-pic, while only focusing on the most certain and important details of Lincoln and his life. From a technical standpoint, Spielberg likes to focus on close-ups to create an intimacy and connection with the characters. This is great within this particular film though, as rather than wade through superfluous info on Lincoln, we focus on a bare bones concept, where Spielberg zero’s in the camera to create effect and double the severity of this motion. Graphic matchs are plentiful as well, where Spielberg doesn’t play with the movement of the camera too much, but more-so guides it into subtle points of focus or slowly massages it into a scene, never over-bearing, but rather a guiding hand through the film’s subjects, like only Spielberg could do. Making this film cover only a specific part of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency was absolutely phenomenal, and allowed them to avoid hovering over broad concepts, and really narrow in on an important one.

Of course, what everyone will always be waiting for in a Lincoln bio-pic will be the infamous “theater shooting” scene (death of Lincoln), and throughout watching the film I thought it would be increasingly cheap and obvious to show the execution so blatant, as this film was progressing in a way that it would actually make no sense in this film narrative to show it. And, brilliantly (spoiler alert) Spielberg never does show the killing, nor should he. The film never feels like it’s building towards the death of Lincoln, and nor should it, as this film is not about the death of Lincoln, but his transgressions beforehand. Of course, you have to cross that bridge (the studio would never let a Lincoln film go without at least dealing with the aftermath of his death), but Spielberg never exploits it, in fact he skips right over it to Lincoln’s’ dead body lying on a bed. On the one hand, Spielberg knows he could never make justice for that scene, but even larger than that, the film didn’t even need that, Spielberg knew what he was creating and subverted all expectations to his benefit.

I guess Spielberg almost made an anti-bio-pic, he picked up Lincoln’s story in his third term and literally only covered the emancipation of black people, even as big of an issue as it was. He skipped over everything else, including Lincoln’s infamous death, and it was all so much better for it. I knew that the death didn’t need to be shown, as the story didn’t call for it, but thought Spielberg might oblige for the pure historical fascination and curiosity of the whole event. But, fantastically Spielberg got to tell the Lincoln story he wanted, illuminating his human aspects, while not sinking to the cheap death thrills that may have been expected of him or a film of such a prominent figure and his “famous” death.

Now, lets talk about how this movie was kind of shit, not really, but I gotta have some cons in here. The absolute worst thing I hate in “period” films/TV/books/anything is when they make subtle or more commonly glaringly blatant winks toward the future with their characters. Every dumb bio-pic does this at least once to get a cheap half-laugh out of the viewer and makes him go “Oh, hey! THAT IS REFERENCING A FUTURE EVENT THAT THEY ARE UNAWARE OF AT THE TIME, BUT WILL EFFECT THEM MAJORLY. IRONY!!!”. You can’t even play it off as foreshadowing, because it’s always just an off-handed remark or cute line to incite the whatever major event or happening this person is famous for. There’s a couple lines where Mary half-jokes that she’s gonna be sent to a mental institution and that’s all we’ll remember her for. Boy, wouldn’t you know it, THAT’S EXACTLY HOW WE REMEMBER HER. Another instance occurs right before Lincoln is leaving to go to the theatre where he (SPOILER ALERT!!!) gets shot. All dramatic-like he puts on his hat and says something like “I don’t want to leave, but I have to” (sue me, I can’t remember the exact quote). Get it, “leave” actually means to die, he doesn’t want to die, but he has to because he’s Lincoln and this is his bio-pic and he has to die, get it, good.

Lastly, I want to separate a whole other paragraph just to tell you how awful Joseph Gordon-Levitt is in this. I’m not actually that mean, but I didn’t know where else to include this, so it gets its own abbreviated paragraph. I’m kinda neutral on Gordon-Levitt, I don’t really hate him, but he is all sorts of smarmy, but I always try as best as I can to separate the actor’s personal traits from whichever character they’re playing (I’m kind of a saint in that way). He’s a solid enough actor, but he seemed to be way in over his head, to be fair, playing a whiny character doesn’t do him any justice, but nothing seemed to work here. He looked like an attention-seeking child who found old-timey clothes and decided to put on a show for his alcoholic mother. Don’t get me wrong, Gordon-Levitt can be a solid actor, and that’s why I’m surprised he was so bad in this, I’ll chalk a small part of it to the challenges of playing a bore of a son, but you gotta make a mountain out of a mole hill, buddy, that’s your job as an actor.

Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis combine to create an accurate and honest portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, while not as colourful and exploitive as one may expect from arguably the most celebrated and discussed president, it develops the truthful and real side of Lincoln that helped to form social and political doings that formulated the man more than we ever realize in today’s society. It argues for smaller moments within the man, and how these shaped his political doings, over grandeur and epicness just for the sake of a biographical film.

8/10

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‘Skyfall’: Review

Casino Royale was one of my favourite theatre going experiences, nothing beats a packed theatre for a legitimately good action film, has one of my favourite endings of recent memory, and fantastically introduced Craig as the new Bond and automatically set the bar mighty high. I never did see Quantum of Solace in theatres, but I did check it out on DVD, and while it’s nowhere close to Casino Royale’s quality, I never thought it was as bad as everyone else seems to think it is. This boring intro is all just to say, I’m not really sure what my relationship is with Bond films. I know I’ve seen a bunch of the older ones, but that was when I was younger and I hardly remember them. I’ve seen the earlier Brosnan ones, but again when I was younger and I only remember highlights. I like Bond films, yet don’t seem to have much of a deep history with them, beyond the Craig ones, which are obviously fresher in my mind.

Anyways, right, Skyfall. I was supremely excited for the film of course, especially when Sam Mendes came aboard and then even moreso seeing what Bardem looked like as the villain, it was going to be shown in IMAX and everything was going to be great! Eh, it was okay. I guess you could say I was highly disappointed in the film, coming from my standpoint of high expectations, but it wasn’t a bad film, just a completely average film that showcased nothing above and beyond that I thought it was going to.

Let’s start with the most important thing, the action scenes. I’m not going to get into the story, because it was so bare-bones and forgetful, but it ultimately doesn’t matter to me in a Bond flick. Each action scene was executed well, and Mendes did a fine, yet unspectacular job of directing, but there was no scene or moment that awed me or will stay with me. Unlike say, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, with scenes like the chase in the dust and that Dubai building scene which I’m still trying to shake. I’m having a hard time recalling all the action scenes from the film even a few days past, and even in watching I remembered the scarcity of them. The climax was underwhelming as Bond scenes usually work better in motion, not under the static heading of being bogged down in a big manor. The momentum was sucked out of the film, as the detour to the final action setpiece was devoid of any building of identity, and just seemed to serve as a “cool place for an ending” that the writers lazily had to get to. And can we also please talk about that goddamn Komodo dragon scene? Like, I know what they wanted to do, bringing in a weird animal trap or booby trap environment for Bond to fight himself out of, harkening back to some of the older films, but it was just incessantly dumb and silly. I might have been able to get through that scene without laughing if the CGI’ed Komodo dragons hadn’t looked like the drawing of a pre-schooler.

Another thing that bugged me, what was up with the Bond girls, they were basically non-existent? Now this shouldn’t be a problem for me, as I think the concept of  “Bond girls” is juvenile and usually pretty exploitative. But, Sévérine, a member of Bardem’s villainous crew, is in like two scenes and serves no real purpose besides information and maybe it can be argued motivation for Bond, but I don’t buy that. Then there was Moneypenny who barely helps Bond in like two missions (basically almost kills him in one) and the shows up at the end. I get that this was basically just all setting up her characters’ position for future films, but she was absent for much of the film and added nothing, well, besides the attractiveness of Naomie Harris, which come to think of it was reason enough for her to be in the film.

Also, a quick note, why are they making this film kind of like a reboot and setting up all new characters, or a least positions, for future films. I get doing it, but this is Craig’s third film and it just seems weird doing it now, since it seems he only has a couple left in him. To be fair, I did hear rumours of the next films being more intrinsically linked, where this could all be paid off, but now it just seems unnecessary introducing these elements when typical Bond and MI6 circumstance were fine enough.

Man, I really didn’t think I had that much problems with the film, but writing it all out, more stuff just seems to come spilling out. Again, it was a fine film, if yet very average and forgetful, nothing really beyond Bardem that I imagine I’ll remember vividly from the film.

Okay, sooo, some good things now. Bardem was very good and entertaining as Silva, the main villain. He was perfectly able to stradle that line between “eccentric, funny type” and “actually menacing villain”. He wasn’t introduced until close to half-way in the film, and he was an immediate spark that injected some much needed energy to Bond’s drabness. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of him, and I was disappointed at how easily he was dispatched, but he remains the most memorable part of the movie, and probably my only real reason to want to re-watch.

I did also like the “Bond is getting too old for some of this shit” storyline that they tried to weave throughout, as I’m a sucker for older characters, who are increasingly past their prime, yet thrust into these circumstances. It wasn’t done entirely well, and I don’t know if it will really bode well for the future having a less spry Bond, than a younger athletic one, granted they actually follow through with all this in subsequent films. But, Craig definitely looked the part, as even at 44 he looks a lot older than his age would suggest.

This has gone on way too long, where basically all I really wanted to say is that Skyfall is a perfectly serviceable action film, but something which won’t have a lasting memory for me, even two days after watching it. And here I thought this would be my shortest review yet…

6.5/10

‘Flight’: Review

'Flight' Banner

It was Summer 2009, and I was awaiting the release of Brüno. I watched every goddamn clip and every goddamn trailer I could get my hands on, I was obsessed. Borat was a pivotal film for me and Brüno was just another hit off the crack pipe, and I consumed every ounce of released material. July 10th came (or somewhere close to that), I saw it with my mom (a story for another day), and I was thoroughly underwhelmed. Why? Because basically every funny bit in the film, I had already seen in a red-band trailer, green-band trailer, or from clips, talk shows or whatever else. I recognized it was a funny film, but I knew all the jokes and punchlines before they came. Ever since I stepped out of the theatre on that fateful day, I vowed to never watch another trailer, clip, or read another synopsis ever again. We’re nearing the end of 2012, and I’ve still held that promise, and have never regretted a single day of it. What does this have to do with Flight, you may ask, well, I’ll tell you.

Denzel Washington’s been starring in some semi-shit movies of late. Well, not entire shit, but films that are enjoyable, but nowhere close to his skill and talent-level. Because, I don’t watch trailers, clips or whatever for upcoming films, I saw the poster for Flight, heard Denzel was in it, he was playing a pilot and assumed it was just another bullshit action flick like Denzel’s been making for the past few years, in the vein of Safe House, Unstoppable and The Book Of Eli. Then something weird happened a few days ago, I stumbled on some talk about Denzel possibly being in consideration for being nominated for an Oscar for this film, and I was like whatttttt?!?!?! I read some more and found out this film was nothing like what I thought it was, it wasn’t a dumb action film, but rather a crafted drama and character study of an alcoholic dealing with the fallout of a crash landing.

That’s my favourite part of avoiding trailers, clips and synopses, I really don’t entirely know what I’m getting myself into when I see a new film, and Flight was the perfect example where I didn’t know what to expect, and it was all the better for it. It starts like an action film though, there’s a goddamn phenomenal scene within the first 15 minutes, which is really the only action scene of the entire 135 minute or so film, where the plane that Washington is flying is going down and he has to stop it. He’s drunk at the time, but he’s the goddamn man, and we’ve hardly got to know any of these characters, but you’re on the edge of your seat. They’re going down, Denzel tells Tamara Tunie’s character to tell her son she loves her, for the black box recording, it just kills, and we’re maybe like 20 minutes into the film. Following the crash, everything ascends (or descends, depending who you talk to) as Washington’s character Whitaker is a hero for saving all these lives in the face of the crash, but is being investigated for his possible drunk and alcoholic misconduct that possibly was at fault for the crash.

Whenever, I’m watching a good film, or a great actor do work, I always focus squarely on the face, and love to read reactions directly off their expressions. I usually focus on the eyes as they tend to be the most expression filled and vocal (in a visual way), but Denzel Washington’s mouth stole the show. Yeah, you heard me, Denzel’s mouth and jaw out-acted like 90% of the actors of the past year. He’s an alcoholic, you see, he’s fidgety, he stumbles through words and sentences, and his mouth contorts and stretches to show you even more of his soul and feelings than his eyes ever could. It’s obviously a choice by Washington and it works phenomenally, his ticks add even more to the character and it’s a master class. I could talk about how outstanding Washington is in this film for days, I miss this Denzel and am dumbly surprised he still has this in him, but of course he does. Denzel Washington is one of the greatest actors of the past twenty years, and sadly some of his recent decisions have clouded this, but he’s still the goddamn man.

This is Robert Zemeckis’ first live-action film since Castaway in 2000, and he never flaunts it or does some dumb camera work that distracts from the drama of the filmic content. The only scenes that show any distinguishable flair are a few of the “intake of drugs” scenes where he does a super cool quick-zoom or extreme close-up, but other than that he remains un-obstructive. What I love about Zemeckis’ camera work in this film, is that he just lets the camera exist. It floats in scenes like a voyeur and eventually finds itself to a focal point or symbol to anchor the scene, but it’s largely just hanging out. It doesn’t really feel like a typical Zemeckis film, but what really is that even anymore?

I’ll probably criticize the end for being to after-school and too pat, where everything was wrapped up and resolved too neatly, even though I knew from the beginning that this was the type of ending we would get. I’ll probably also criticize Robert Zemeckis for seemingly thinking Joe Cocker and The Rolling Stones are the only music artists who ever lived, but there’s so much lead by Washington’s performance that makes this void, no matter how sweet and “hitting at the heartstrings” it may be. Great film, Denzel is the man, Flight probably isn’t the film you’re thinking it is (I haven’t really seen how they’re promoting it, but I assume it’s more “actiony” than “dramatic”), but, oh jeez, there’s all kinds of great stuff happening in here, from acting, camera work, and subject matter that lend a lot of credence. So, basically just watch this film for the acting prowess of Denzel Washington’s mouth, zero regrets.

8.5/10