Thursday, November 29, 2012


Directed by Uwe Boll Steven Spielberg

Who was the greatest American president? If you said James K. Polk, you're 100 % correct.

But a close second is Abraham Lincoln. There are a lot of people on the internet, aka the cesspool of humanity, that like to knock Lincoln off his pedestal, and say things like "He didn't REALLY hate slavery!" or "He was a TYRANT!" or "What's up with that BEARD?"

To those people I say: shut up, morons.

Yes, it's true that Lincoln has become a mythic figure, and that there is a more human, flawed side to that myth. But don't be a silly idiot. Lincoln was a great man, and a great president, and if you don't believe me, read a fucking book or two.

Sadly there haven't be many great films about the great man (except, of course, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure). People have tried, and made valiant efforts. But no film really seemed to take Lincoln from a marble statue and turn him into a living, breathing man.


LINCOLN, the latest film from Steven "the Beard" Spielberg, takes a unique approach to the story of the 16th president of the United States. Rather than your standard cradle-to-the-grave biopic, LINCOLN focuses instead on a period near the end of the Lincoln's presidency and life: specifically, the period where Lincoln is trying to get the 13th Amendment passed, thus ending slavery.

The Civil War is dying down, and the Union has all but declared victory. This is a mixed blessing for Lincoln: it's obviously great that the war is ending, however, he fears that once the war is completely ended, there will be no real rush to abolish slavery, and he'll have no chance getting his amendment passed. So, Lincoln tasks Secretary of State William Seward (a wonderful and warm David Strathairn) with rounding up three men (John Hawkes, Tim Blake Nelson and James Spader--all fantastic, especially Spader, who steals every scene he's in) with gathering enough votes to pull the whole thing off.

Be excellent to each other....and PARTY ON, DUDES!
Along the way Lincoln has to deal with his wife Mary Todd (Sally Field) who is slowly sinking into insanity and his rebellious son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is contractually required to be in all movies these days), who wants to go join the fight, much to his parents' chagrin.

Lincoln also has to reign in fiery abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones, who gives one of the best performances of his career). Stevens is seen as a "radical," and his outbursts could derail the whole process.

This movie is a delight to behold. It never feels dull, or slow. Every scene crackles with energy, thanks to Spielberg's rather reserved direction, Tony Kushner's fire-cracker of a script, and top-of-their-game performances from literally the entire cast.

But of course, the real attraction here is Daniel Day-Lewis. Day-Lewis is one of the best actors we have, and he seems to turn in "career best" performances in every single role he takes (with the weird misfire of the dull musical NINE). And once again, he comes through. Day-Lewis becomes Lincoln. We will never REALLY know how Lincoln talked, and walked, and acted--but watching Day-Lewis is probably the closest we'll ever get. His Lincoln is a tender, reserved man, with a high voice and a rumpled, unkempt appearance. And he loves to tell stories. Any time Lincoln wants to get a point across to his squabbling cabinet members, he regals them with a humour story, and you can't help but hang on every word. The real Lincoln suffered from depression, and his humor helped him work through the melancholy feelings that overcame him. Day-Lewis understands that, and embodies it fully.

Lincoln makes blankets a fashion statement.
LINCOLN isn't a flawless film, though. The very first scene of the film feels just a little too "staged," and doesn't really flow with the more realistic tone the rest of the film takes. Also, while his performance is fine, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Robert Lincoln feels useless here. I'm sure he was added to provide more glimpses into Lincoln's personal life, but the character doesn't seem to add much to the film, and could've easily been left on the sidelines.

There's also a brief shot near the end where the image of Lincoln appears inside the flame of a lantern that is almost painfully corny and on-the-nose, but thankfully it ends before you can roll your eyes too much. And while we're on the subject of the end, personally I think Spielberg could've ended things before the assassination (SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!). He makes a wise choice by having the assassination happen off-screen, but before the whole sequence, we are left with the image of Lincoln saying goodbye to his staff, uttering the words "I would like to stay, but I fear I must go," and quietly walking out of the White House, bathed in shadows. In my humble opinion, that would've been a perfect spot to cut to the credits. But the extra stuff doesn't diminish the impact of the film, so I can't complain too much.

"You're gonna love this next scene; it ends with a real BANG!"
"Ugh, terrible."
LINCOLN is that rare Hollywood biopic that is uplifting and inspirational without being cloying and overly manipulative. Daniel Day-Lewis should be going off to the store right about now to buy some extra Oscar Wax, because I can't think of a single actor this year who is more deserving of an Academy Award.

Until someone invents a time machine, we'll never really be able to see Abraham Lincoln as a living, breathing person. So while we wait for that day, this film will be the best option we have.

I give LINCOLN Four out of Four Stovepipe Hats.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Directed by Sam Mendes 

SKYFALL is the INSERT NUMBER HERE! James Bond film, and the third film to feature Daniel Craig as 007. Critics have been going Double-O-CRAAAAZY for this film--so how good is it? 

I'm not a huge Bond fan. I like "Goldfinger," and "Casino Royale," and the one with the gadgets! But SKYFALL is certainly one of the better Bond films, especially after the weird disaster that was QUANTUM OF SOLACE, which was about James Bond trying to stop some guy from stealing water or something. 

There are two big things SKYFALL has going for it: one, they decided to let Sam Mendes direct, and two, after the two rather dull villains of the previous Craig-Bond films, Javier Bardem turns in one of the most memorable Bond Villain performances of all time. 

Mendes brings with him master cinematographer Roger Deakins, who makes every single frame of this film look gorgeous. He also works hard to bring some fun back into the franchise. 

SKYFALL's story is one of the simplest of all the Bond films. For one thing, there's no ice hotel or invisible car. The plot is this: Creepy bad-guy Silva (Bardem) has stolen files that will reveal the identities of undercover spies. He's doing this because he has a grudge against MI6 head M (Judi Dench). Bond tries to stop him. Things blow up. Bond looks great in suits. Ralph Finnes has a badass scene where he shoots a gun. Naomie Harris is gorgeous. Bond has a spooky old family mansion. More things blow up. The End.

Oh mamma....
Of course there is more to it. The film's overall theme seems to be about how Bond (and M) just doesn't fit into the "modern world." Bond is getting old; he's lost a step or two. He drinks a lot more (and still maintains that amazing physique!) 

Mendes wisely strips everything down. While there is the usual globe-hopping and exotic locals of the Bond films, the plot is so simple that we don't get lost or bored. And who knew Mendes could film such thrilling action scenes. Unlike other action films, we can actually see what the hell is going on here. The camera doesn't shake all over the place. The stunts (for the most part) look real. 

Original Gangsta
That said, SKYFALL left me a little cold. For one thing, there's a strange disconnect with what's going on here. One of the side-effects of stripping the story down is that the stakes aren't very high. Yeah, our bad-guy Silva is clearly crazy and evil, but really he just wants to kill M. And sure, that's not good, but it doesn't really have the same effect as "WORLD DOMINATION," which is what most Bond villains are out to achieve. Bond almost feels unnecessary to the story. Anyone who is good with a gun could just as easily protect M here. 

The other problem I have with this film is that it's almost beat-for-beat an adaptation of THE DARK KNIGHT. Before the film came out, Mendes said in several interviews how heavily influenced he was by Nolan's film. Afterwards, he seemed to quiet down about this--probably because the film is just too damn similar. 

Javier Bardem is a great actor, especially when it comes to playing lunatics, but Silva is straight out of the Heath Ledger Joker Playbook. Bond has a dreary old family mansion (like Batman!). He has an old, trusty housekeeper (like Batman!) who helped raise him after his parents were killed (like Batman!). 

M takes on the Harvey Dent role as the person trying to change things who is targeted by a lunatic. Hell, Silva even has facial/mouth scars (like the Joker). Silva even lets himself get captured, just so he can pull of this big elaborate scheme (again, like the Joker.) 

You wanna know how I got this hair??
I get it; THE DARK KNIGHT was a game-changing film, so it was only natural it would influence other films. But the influence here is just a little too on-the-nose. 

All that said, I can't deny SKYFALL is a lot of fun. He may be a Joker-clone, but Silva is a really entertaining villain. A particular scene where he tries to "seduce" Bond is hilarious and incredibly well acted between Bardem and Craig. For the "final battle," Bond and co. transform his family's mansion into a Home Alone-like boobytrap factory, which results in a lot of fun scenes of nameless henchmen flipping on light switches only to end up exploding. As mentioned before, the direction and cinematography is fantastic. All of the actors are great (Dench is always good, as is Ralph Finnes; Ben Whishaw makes a nice, nerdy Q; oh, and did I mention Naomie Harris is gorgeous? Because she is).

SKYFALL also acts as a sort of "greatest hits" of the Bond franchise. I won't spoil things, but let's just say the last half of the movie is filled with fan service, from characters to vehicles.

SKYFALL is a fun film. It's entertaining, and it's never boring. Yet it somehow left me a little cold. Maybe the hype got to me; or maybe I'm just not a big enough Bond fan to get bowled over.

All in all, I give SKYFALL three Javier Bardem's out of four.