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.



Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon by Jamie

After a few weeks of blip.tv issues and painfully slow internet connections, I finally present the Cinepub drunken video review of Transformers: Dark of the Moon.



Review: How To Train Your Dragon by Jamie

I’ve tried to stay away from spoilers but there are still a couple of things which people may consider to be a little spoilerish.

I must admit, I’m quite a fan of dragons. I’m assuming this is probably some kind of extension of my lifelong love of dinosaurs. There’s just something fascinating about the giant, mythical reptile beasts with their leathery bat-wings and their propensity for igniting their breath. Yet despite the fact that some kind of dragon legend or other permeates almost every culture on Earth, dragons on the big screen have always been a little hit and miss.

From the crap like D-War and Eragon to the pretty good like Reign of Fire, there’s never really been a dragon film that stood out. Well, I suppose there was ‘Pete’s Dragon’ but in terms of ‘realistic’ dragons, there’s never been anything great. I should probably define that term ‘realistic’ dragon. I mean something that makes somewhat sense biologically, with a slight hint of suspension of disbelief for things like flying, occasionally speech and fire-breathing, but something which looks like it could possibly exist without a ridiculous number of magical powers. That’s why Pete’s Dragon doesn’t count in this definition and Draco from ‘Dragonheart’ does.

So it was with some apprehension that I decided to watch ‘How To Train Your Dragon’. I’ll say that I watched in 2D because a) My last experience with 3D with ‘Clash of the Titans’ was so piss-poor that I’d rather just watch things in 2D and b) I think maybe 3D doesn’t work for me as well as it does for most people. Maybe it’s because I wear glasses, maybe it’s because I need to have my eyes tested again and get better glasses. I’m not sure but 2D is fine for me anyway.

Also, yes, I know this is based on a book. No, I haven’t read the book. From what I understand the film is quite different from the book in that the film has more of a mature edge. Right, that’s that out of the way. Let’s get on with the review.

So, ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ concerns the story of a young Viking named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), the son of Chieftain Stoic The Vast (Gerard Butler) and the village’s local fuck-up. In their particular clan it’s generally seen that the best thing you can be is a great and mighty Dragon Slayer. Sadly, due to the fact that he is a bit of a fuck-up, it seems as though Hiccup will never achieve such glory. However during a Dragon raid on their village, he manages to use a special bolas machine he has invented to take down the legendary Night Fury, a dragon so rare and that flies at such great speeds that no one has ever actually seen one. Of course, no one believes Hiccup and so he goes to the forest where his target crashed in order to prove himself to everyone.

Unfortunately when he finds the dragon it turns out that he’s only ensnared it in the giant bolas rather than actually kill it. He is about to stab it and cut out his heart but finds he pities the creature, sensing it’s fear and decides to free it instead. The dragon takes off into a valley, a valley that Hiccup finds that the dragon can’t get back out of because the bolas has damaged his tail and he isn’t able to fly properly anymore. Hiccup manages to gain the beasts trust by feeding it fish and gives it the name Toothless due to it’s ability to retract it’s teeth back into it’s gums. He slowly begins to train domesticate the dragon, inventing a kind of prosthetic tail-fin to enable it to fly again and allow him to control Toothless whilst riding him.

Whilst this is going on back in the Village, Hiccup is being trained to be a Dragon Slayer with his peers, braggart Snotlout (Jonah Hill), frantic fraternal twins Tuffnut (T.J. Miller) and Ruff nut (Kristen Wiig), nerdy Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and the object of his adolescent fantasies Astrid (America Ferrera). This training is carried out by the awesome Gobbler The Belch (Craig Ferguson), a Viking who’s run in with dragons in the past have left him with a metal leg and an arm which he can screw various different tools into including, most awesomely, a mead tankard. If I ever loose a hand, I’m so getting a tankard attached to my stump.

Anyway, to begin with Hiccup isn’t particularly great during these lessons but as time goes on, he gets to learn more about dragons from his experiences training Toothless. He uses these things to basically tame the dragons in the training pens in a similar manner and soon the Vikings think he has some mystical affinity with the beasts.

I’ll leave the plot discussion there for now. I don’t particularly want to give away the ending except to say that things happen on an incredible scale and it’s amazing to watch, especially compared with that fucking confusing Kraken from ‘Clash of the Titans’. (Though admittedly, the trailer below gives it away a little).

Let’s start of with the look of the film. It’s fucking amazing. Some of the scenes with the dragon in flight are some of the most incredible things I’ve seen in a CGI animated film and I’m even gonna include ’Avatar’ in that. It truly is beautiful and there are times when there are literally hundreds of dragons on screen and it’s truly a magnificent sight. I also really love the design of Toothless. He’s somewhat reminiscent of an axolotl and everyone loves axolotls. They rule. It’s a nice departure from something strictly lizard-esque though still recognisable as something close to the classical image of a dragon.

It’s also genuinely funny and it completely avoids any pop cultural references (Though you could say the little arena where Hiccup must fight a dragon looks a bit like the thunder dome for Mad Max 3) which have become the hallmark of the somewhat lacklustre recent ‘Shrek’ films and non-Pixar CGI films in general. Every piece of humour works perfectly well and consistently within the context of the films medieval/fantasy world. I’ll also say that this is probably the first family film that I’ve ever seen that contained the phrase “Breast Hat” and for that alone it must be applauded.

The actors providing the voices are all really quite brilliant, delivering believable performances. Perhaps the most enjoyable, besides Hiccup himself, was Gobbler played by Craig Ferguson. He managed to deliver just enough humour but also seemed to care for Hiccup in a way that his father really didn’t seem to. Speaking of his father, Stoic played by Gerard Butler , I was really surprised by this performance. Butler seems to have a more convincing emotional range in this then he’s ever had in any film where he’s actually appeared on screen. I honestly hope he does more of this kind of film because he was really, really good in it.

There is one thing that did seem a bit odd. Why is it that all the adults in this film have Scottish accents whilst all the children have American accents? I mean that’s odd on it’s own but aren’t these people supposed to be Vikings? Shouldn’t they all be talking like the Swedish Chef or something? No, no that’s stupid. I apologise. I suppose it’s fine the way it is… Just a bit odd is all…

Anyway, if I had to compare this to any other recent film of this type, I suppose I’d say it’s most like ‘Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs’. In fact the underlying emotional story is pretty similar. Both films are essentially about sons who want nothing more than their fathers approval and trust. I think that that particular story element is probably explored a bit more fully in ‘Cloudy…’ but in terms of overall enjoyment I think ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ just beats it for me personally. Maybe it’s just my natural love for all things Draconian. Four and a half pints out of five.




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