Cinepub


2012 Best Picture Round Up: Lincoln by Jamie

Spielberg’s latest historical work hits the UK shores today and it did fairly well at the nomination announcement picking up 12 in total. The question, of course, is does it deserve them?

Steven Spielberg has, to some degree, contributed a great deal to defining my childhood. I grew up watching the films he directed and the films he produced and they are responsible, at least in some way, for the person I am today. Hell, Jaws is still my favourite film and as close to a perfect film as I believe you can get. Lately, however, I have found myself becoming more and more disappointed in Spielberg’s work. I believe we all remember the terrible CGI-fest that was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And the less said about that atrocious, manipulative piece of schlock called War Horse the better. Still, I was looking forward to Lincoln as I have recently started reading Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, upon which this film is somewhat based, and I am always a sucker for a good historical drama.

First off, I should say that this isn’t exactly a biopic and perhaps a better title for this film would have been The 13th Amendment (Or Abraham Lincoln and the 13th Amendment in a misguided attempt to appeal to Indiana Jones fans) because that’s the era of Lincoln’s presidency that this film focuses on. The Civil War is already well underway and Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) is beginning his second term as President. It is quite clear that the civil war is coming to a close and Lincoln wishes to get the 13th Amendment passed before it does because he fears that his Emancipation Proclamation, a war time measure, would be overturned by the courts when peace time resumes.

The film then focuses on all the political machinations that go on as the President attempts to get the prerequisite number of votes needed in order to ensure that the amendment passes. It also covers a few other aspects of his life such as the relationship with his wife (Sally Field) and his son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as well as the relationships between members of the House of Representatives who will be voting on the amendment, in particular the largely Republican abolitionists such as Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) and the largely Democratic opposition such as Fernando Wood (Lee Pace). So yes, this is not exactly a film about the civil war. The war is certainly going on and its presence is felt constantly throughout the film but make no mistake, this is a movie about the political transpirings of the time.

Political films can, of course, be great and can make for some very tense thrillers. But Lincoln isn’t a thriller and in terms of enjoyment, this film can be a little dry. Part of the problem is that Spielberg seems to be trying to make things tense anyway, particularly in the scene where the House finally votes on the amendment. Unfortunately it can be incredibly, incredibly difficult to make things tense when you already know what’s going to happen. Showing shots of people agonising over whether to vote yay or nay on a proposition falls a little flat when you know the outcome. Yes, I know these are also trying to show how difficult it can be to do what’s right in the face of opposition but cutting away from the Speaker of the House when he’s about to read the result is clearly an effort to increase tension in a situation where no tension can exist. The only people for who this scene can illicit such a reaction are those who are completely ignorant of history and believe slavery still exists in the United States. And to those people, I’d just like to say wow. This movie must have really come as a shock to you, non-existent person.

Another problem is some of the acting. Sally Field is decent enough though her weaknesses really shine through when acting against a power house such as Day-Lewis. He, of course, is brilliant bringing everything to the role that you’d expect including Lincoln’s vocal and ambulatory peculiarities mentioned in contemporary accounts. In fact, the only problem with the performance of Lincoln is that it’s Day-Lewis playing him. Honest Abe is such a reserved, quite personality who rarely raises his voice that you can’t help hope that at some point he might just fly off the handle like Bill The Butcher or Daniel Plainview but alas he never does. I suppose that’s fair given that it’s not really in the President’s character but still…

In conclusion, Lincoln is a perfectly serviceable film particularly if you have some interest in the topics and era that it discusses but I really don’t know how well it’s going to play in the UK. I’m sure part of the reason that it’s done so well in the US is not because it’s a particularly exceptional film but because it’s a competent film about a subject which is very close to the hearts of so many American, a man who is perhaps their most revered President. Outside those shores, it may just come of as a bit of an overwordy, bloated drama directed by a man who’s relying more and more on manipulative directing techniques but with a great actor in the leading role. Three pints out of five. Laterz.

Advertisements


2012 BEST PICTURE ROUND UP: Django Unchained by Jamie

Finally the UK has the chance to see the latest revenge epic from Quentin Tarantino. It’s a formula that we should all be pretty familiar with at this point. Take an established genre and weave a stylised revenge narrative through said genre’s filter. It was the kung-fu genre in Kill Bill, the World War 2 genre in Inglorious Basterds and it’s the turn of the Western (or Southern as it’s being promoted) in Django Unchained.

The film essentially follows the story of Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave freed by the German dentist/bounty hunter Dr King Schulz (Christoph Waltz). Schulz frees Django because he has need of his help hunting down some of his targets. Along the way Schulz makes Django his partner, training him in the ways of the bounty hunter with the promise that, when the winter passes they will go and free his enslaved wife who Django became separated from as punishment for trying to escape from a former owner. In order to rescue her they must travel to the Candyland plantation owned by Mandingo fighter trader Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

That’s probably about as bare-bones as I can keep the synopsis without giving away too much away so let’s get in to the meat of the proceedings. Django Unchained is Tarantino at his Tarntino-est. That’s probably the best way to sum up this film in a simple, single sentence. Basterds was the film that showed what he could get away with up to a point and Unchained is his next logical evolution. It’s the kind of film that no one else in Hollywood could get away with. In fact, if anyone else had tried to make this film it probably would have resembled something more like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a low budget affair which would have gone largely unwatched and rightfully so. With Tarantino at the helm, this is pure unadulterated awesome. Everything is over the top and it’s beautiful to revel in.

It has everything we’ve come to expect from the director. Gratuitous violence, excessive bad language, extreme nods to exploitation cinema (including an appearance from the actor who originally portrayed Django) and Samuel L. Jackson. It’s all here. Again, these are all elements that could add up to nothing more than a shitty B-movie under the eye of anyone else but amongst all these elements, Tarantino also manages to include an incredibly engaging story that’s beautifully shot and a joy to watch.

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable things about this film is that Tarantino removes one of his most common reference points by the time period this film is set in: cinema. Now obviously the film is still peppered with cinematic references throughout but this time it’s merely through style. There’s no dialogue referencing film as there is in everything else. Hell, even Inglorious Basterds has it in spades. And yes, overall I think this makes Unchained all around a better film with Tarantino really having to focus on the script without having the particular crutch of characters just discussing film and film philosophy for minutes at a time to fall back on.

I guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the controversy surrounding the film. Yes, the word ‘nigger’ is used a lot in this film. It’s uttered 110 times to be exact. I can see how some people would find this offensive and it’s probably that style that I mentioned earlier that would make it seem that way. If this were a sedate, “serious” movie like Amistad which gets a sheen of legitimacy because it’s based on an actual historical event and portrays the horrors of the slave trade without the filter of exploitation film making. It’s because Tarantino makes his movies in this particular style that his decision to use the word so many times can be seen as gratuitous as his use of violence. It’s in this film, however, that the bad language does serve a purpose. It’s a representation of what the South was like during that time. Would it be OK to show white people treating black people as nothing more than property but not have them using racial slurs? It’d be unrealistic. Yes, you can be politically correct and all that jazz but what you can’t do is whitewash a politically incorrect past. To do so is to belittle the suffering of the people who lived through those times and to learn absolutely nothing from that shameful past. It also helps from the point of view of the film in making the revenge aspect that much more satisfying.

Hell, this review is getting all over the place a bit now so let’s try and wrap things up a bit succinctly. This might just be Tarantino’s best film yet. The music is, as always, great particularly that opening theme. It looks amazing with the kind of beautiful shots that often make Westerns just incredible to look at. The performances are all pure class. I was going to say that Waltz and Jackson in particular stand out but honestly everyone is on the top of their game with DiCaprio playing the charming yet sadistic slave owner Candie with almost mustache-twirling finesse and Foxx playing Django slightly subdued, yet with dreams of vengeance always simmering beneath the surface, which is a nice counterbalance to everything else that’s going on. (Jackson is great though. It’s nice to see him playing someone other than Samuel L. Motherfucking Jackson.) This might also be the funniest film the director has done is a while with the proto-KKK scene in particular standing out. If I do have one criticism, it’s Tarantino’s cameo. His Australian accent is fucking terrible. I mean, really, really bad. But thankfully it’s a small scene.

So yeah, in summation, fuck me this film is great. It’s really fucking great. It absolutely deserves it’s best picture nomination. Go and see it. See it now. Five pints out of five. Fuck me, what a great fucking film. Laterz.



2012 Best Picture Round Up: Argo (Repost) by Jamie

It’s Oscar time again and the nominees have been announced so it’s time to review the ones I’m able to. Luckily, I already had one in the bag from last year. So here it is again, my review of Argo. Enjoy.

I’ve really been getting in to films based on historical events lately. I’ve watched a ton of them in the past couple of months alone including Ben Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone”‘ which I enjoyed immensely. So I was pretty excited about the release of Affleck’s new film, “Argo”. Hell, throw in the fact that this also happens to be an historical event that has something to do with the film industry as well and it almost seems as though this damn film was made specifically to tickle my balls. Yes, it had everything that I could have asked for. So did I love it unapologetically like the movie/history geek that I am? Let’s find out.

The movie takes place during the Iran hostage crisis that stretched from late 1979 to early 1981 and deals with one specific event in particular, the so-called Canadian Caper because apparently missions where people risk their lives must have adorable nicknames. On the 4th of November, Iranian students took control of American embassy and took the staff hostage in order to protest the Americans given shelter to the former Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi ad have him returned to Iran to stand trial for crimes committed during his rule. Six hostages managed to escape and took shelter at the Canadian embassy and a plan was drawn up by the CIA and the Canadian government to try and get them safely out of the country. Tony Méndez, a disguise an exfiltration expert, came up with a plot to extract them. He employed the aid of John Chamber, a Hollywood make-up artist, to create a fake film production office. The cover story was that the six trapped in Iran were actually Canadians working on a film and they were in the country scouting for locations for a Star Wars-esque Sci-fi fantasy film, Argo.

And that’s about all I’m going to describer of the movie plot/actual events because to say much more would give away the plot. So, back to the original question: Did I love this film? Well, I cewrtainly enjoyed it but I did find it to be a bit slow going at points, particularly the moments where the trapped Americans are literally waiting around trying to get rescued. I suppose that this reflects the monotony of actually being trapped in a building for days on end and so in that regard I suppose it’s quite effective. Overall, however, this film was fucking awesome. Every time Ben Affleck directs something I’m always surprised by just how good he is. The pacing during some of the more intense sequences is impeccable. I was quite literally on the edge of my seat during some moments, so tense were some of the events that were playing out on screen.

There’s also a nice counterbalance to that intensity with quite a nice deal of humour provided by John Goodman as John Chambers and Alan Arkin as producer Lester Siegel. Not only are they great comic relief during some of the earlier scenes where they are trying to drum up publicity for a film that they know will be never filmed but that same humour actually comes to just rack things up later during one of the most tense scenes during the entire film.

If I have any complaint it’s that one I made earlier about some of the scenes just slowing things down a bit too much but really that’s a minor issue and about the only one I can really think of. I suppose it could be argued that the portrayal of Iranians is a bit one note, though I feel it delves deep enough into the politics behind their outrage that, whilst not outright justifying their actions, it certainly helps to explain them. So with all said and done, I’ll give Argo four and a half pints out of five. Now Argo fuck yourself and see it. Laterz.




%d bloggers like this: