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: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011) by Jamie

I’ve never been the biggest fan of Tintin. When it came to that kind of comic book, I was definitely more inclined to read something like Asterix but apparently a lot of people do love the beautified, adventuring journalist because all I’ve heard for a while is how much people are looking forward to the big screen adaptation of Herge’s classic comic. Apparently the people who like Tintin really like Tintin.

So knowing that, keep in mind that I can’t really compare the film’s version of the characters with their comic book counterparts or indeed the general story to how it might have played out on the page. All I can do is judge the film on it’s own merits. Also I watched the film in 2D because, seriously, I’m sick of fucking 3D. It unnecessarily decreases the quality of the film because the stupid glasses make everything quite a bit darker which can really hamper the enjoyment of a bright, vibrant CGI film say, for example, Tintin.

Anyway, the film begins in what seems to be Paris although everyone talks with an English accent and things are paid for in pounds. Yeah, it doesn’t make much sense but whatever. There’s adventuring to be done and mysteries to be solved… Like maybe the mystery of why France has changed it’s currency to the pound… but no. Can’t dwell to much on that. The real mystery has to do with a model ship that Tintin (Jamie Bell) buys which immediately seems to attract the attention of a couple of other people including an American and the mysterious Sahkarine (Daniel Craig). The model ship is stolen and this leads Tintin on a globe spanning adventure that involves an ancient sunken treasure and leads to him meeting the bumbling alcoholic, Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis).

So that’s the basic gist of the film and saying too much more would give away a bit too much of the plot, what with it being a mystery and all. Overall, the film looks beautiful and really shows the leaps and bounds that CGI has come when it comes to creating human’s up on the screen. Gone are the creepy, dead-eyed days of something like ‘The Polar Express’. These characters work just as well as live action counterparts might have done and, for a film such as this, the style is completely appropriate. Motion capture technology certainly seems to have advanced quite far as well with each character managing to be just as expressive as a real person would have been. It all adds up to quite a believable world that at times reminded me of Indiana Jones. The good ones I mean, not that Crystal Skull shit.

The performances were all pretty much stellar. Serkis in particular completely nailed the part of a grizzled, drunken, down on his luck sea captain, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg bring their normal comic sensibilities to the role of the Thompson twins even though I feel they were slightly underused and Jamie Bell was completely believable as the optimistic, adventurous title character.

If there’s one criticism that I can really make about ‘Tintin’ it’s that the plot sometime moved forward a bit too quickly. It’s not a major problem but in a mystery you should perhaps take a little time to explain a few things a bit more clearly before just jumping into the next action set-piece. A prime example of this is Haddock and Sahkarine apparently both having memories of their ancestors. I never really understood quite how that worked but it’s a pretty minor problem in what is otherwise a fun little adventure movie. Overall, ‘Tintin’ gets four pints out of five. Laterz.



Review: True Grit by Jamie

I’ve been on a real Western kick lately and I think ‘Red Dead Redemption’ is entirely to blame. Yes, I’m still playing it, although to be fair I didn’t have my Xbox for about three months after Undead Nightmare was released. And so I went through and watched a few westerns like ‘3:10 to Yuma’ and kind of Westerny things like ‘There Will Be Blood’. To be fair, I loved those two films the first time I watched them but I’d never really liked Westerns as a kid. My thing was dinosaurs. Show me a cowboy who can beat up an Ankylosaurus and I’ll call you a liar. Still, they’ve weaselled a small way into my heart of recent times (and my head because I can’t get the fucking theme to ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’ out of it).

So I was really looking forward to ‘True Grit’. Was I disappointed? No sir, I was not. As such, this may be my shortest review in some time. I literally don’t wanna spoil anything in this film. I’ll say it’s very similar to the 1969 version that was based on the same book though there are some pretty big differences which I won’t get into, again, for fear of spoilers.

The story revolves around Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a headstrong fourteen year old girl who is determined to track down her father’s killer, Tim Chaney (Josh Brolin), and see him hanged. She seeks the help of a US Marshall who she hears has true grit, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and the party has an on-again, off-again third member in the form of Texas Ranger LaBouef (Matt Damon and here it’s pronounced LaBeef). They travel far and wide, dealing with nefarious outlaws from Lucky Ned Pepper’s (Barry Pepper) gang as well as growing closer together and learning a lot about each other… kinda.

That’s all I’m gonna give you synopsis wise. Seriously, go see the damn film. OK, so everyone is brilliant in this film. Jeff Bridges plays the gruff, drunken yet world-wise Cogburn perfectly. He grumbles and mutters his way through rambling stories about his past just enough that you get to learn about the character and how he came to be where he is but still manages to retain an air of legendary status… at least until a certain point in the film where you kind of get the sense of the kind of man he really is… or is he?

Hailee Steinfeld is truly incredible as Mattie. She portrays the character as someone who’s incredibly wise beyond her years, determined and willing to be just a little bit underhanded in order to get what she wants. In fact, you almost get the impression that she’s exactly what Cogburn himself would have been like at her age, before drink dulled his senses somewhat. Normally a young character who is so good at getting what she wants and goes about it in such an intelligent way would pull me out of the film a little. I’d find them a little bit unbelievable but Steinfeld managed to have me believing that such a character could exist from the beginning. I’m genuinely shocked that Natalie Portman beat her at the Baftas because, as I think I addressed in my Black Swan review, Portman’s good but the character was sometimes just a little too pathetic to the point where it stretched all reason. Steinfeld is literally just perfect. It’s also criminal that she’s been nominated as a Supporting Actress at the Oscars. As Mark Kermode said if she’s the supporting actress then that must make Matt Damon the lead actress.

Speaking of Matt Damon he’s also incredibly good as LaBeouf. He infuses the character with a kind of douchiness (and occasionally a kind of paedophilic creepiness) yet never pushes it to the point that you don’t like the character. Kind of like what Robert Downey Jr did in Iron Man (and if you wanna see what happens when it gets pushed to the point where you don’t like the character, watch Iron Man 2). He’s incredibly big headed and thinks that he deserves some kind of special respect because he’s a Texas Ranger much to the amusement of Mattie and especially Cogburn. There’s a turning point for this character as well where he kinda redeems himself though and it’s done very well.

As for the other aspects of the film, well, it looks great as we should probably all expect from the Coen Brothers by now. From big, sweeping Western vistas to close ups of characters standing silently and waiting in the snow for someone following them to catch up, it’s all shot perfectly. It looks bleak but somehow beautiful. And it all serves to tell a pretty damn interesting story of vengeance in the old west.

If I did have one problem with the film, it’s that occasionally Jeff Bridges mumbling was so severe that it could be kind of hard to understand at times. It’s just a little thing really and doesn’t take anything away from the awesome that is this film. Five pints out of five. Right, that’s all the Oscar season films I’ll probably see for now. Time to get back to reviews that aren’t gushing and terrible. Time to hopefully watch some films that I can really rip into… Oh Shyamalan, where are you when I need you most? Laterz.




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