Lincoln is One of the Year’s Best! A Must See.

Lincoln is a personal, private look at our 16th President.  We all know the legend and we all can conjure iconic images of Abraham Lincoln.  But, this is the first time I have felt like I got to know Lincoln as a man.  Flawed, intelligent, melancholy, strong, eloquent and funny–yeah…really funny.  I got an inside look at what it must have been like to carry the nation’s troubles on one’s shoulders and just how the political machine truly works .  It’s triumphant and sad.   Within the first five minutes I was choking up–yeah–I know!  I believe, that Steven Spielberg has given us an intimate portrait that will endure the test of time and is one of the best films of 2012.

A historical biography that focuses on Lincoln’s last few months in office and his push to pass the 13th Amendment before the end of the Civil War, is familiar territory.  Yet, Spielberg strays from the ordinary.  This is not a broad, sweeping saga.  Instead, he turns the camera inward.  The Civil War is a constant reality, but we do not get to see much of it.  We are entrenched in Washington with the political intrigue and drama of passing one of the most controversial amendments (at the time) attached to our constitution.  And I know I am a nerd when I say it was AWESOME!

Yes.  Quiet scenes with men sitting around discussing moral, complicated issues (that are still relevant today, by the way) is awesome–especially when the writing is amazing.  Tony Kushner has written a tight, clear and beautifully structured story that never loses focus, yet allows for humor and heart that keeps the pace entertaining.  There were several moments that I found myself nodding and soaking in the truth made in simple statements.  Other times I found myself marveling on how far we have come (as a nation) and how far we have yet to go, still.  (I love it when a film makes you think and later, discuss important topics–it’s so cool when that happens.)

The film itself is beautiful.  Spielberg sticks with his usual crew and again, they produce magic.  Cinematography credit to Janusz Kaminski, who again uses shadows and light with ethereal effect.  There are some gorgeous shots here.  The music is wonderful and of course, from the brilliant mind of John Williams.  Production design by Rick Carter and costumes by Joanna Johnston have to be mentioned because they’ve created an authentic world that feels real–there was nothing artificial or fake.  And let’s not forget the Make-Up team (too many to note) who created make-up effects so subtle, it’s almost unnoticeable.  Sometimes it is easy to overlook the crew–but I have to give them some kudos because they sold me on this universe–I was immersed in a reality that felt genuine.

And now the cast.  This is a dream team–for sure.  Everyone is perfectly suited for their roles.  From David Strathairn to James Spader–no role is too small for any of these fine actors to shine.  Check out the IMDb page and go down the list…all of them–fantastic.  There is not a weak showing among them.   I can list them and praise each performance, but it will take too long.  😀  Of course, the heart of the film belongs to Daniel Day-Lewis.  We all know he is brilliant.  He has proven it over and over.  Day-Lewis disappears and Lincoln emerges.  It is uncanny how much he, not only looks like Lincoln but embodies his essence.  For me, though, it was the eyes–he can say so much with just his eyes.  The other stand outs are Tommy Lee Jones (scene stealing good and hilarious) and Sally Field (powerful and heart-breaking).  I can sometimes forget how good these two are–well, they reminded me.  Both stellar outings.

Yes…yes…I loved it.  I walked out talking about history and Lincoln’s lasting legacy.  How the world would’ve have been different if he had lived to lead the reconstruction of our country.  We talked about modern politics and how current and appropriate the film is to our concerns of the day (another part of its genius).   We went on and on about performances and quoting favorite speeches (loved the “compass” analogy).  We acknowledged how Lincoln will stick with us–how it will make us think about our nation’s history and the steep price of freedom and equality.   Again, Spielberg gives us another important film (joining Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List) that will become part of our society’s consciousness.

OH!  PS–Our Sci-Fi tendencies wondered what those men would’ve had thought if we came from the future to tell them that in 147 years we will have re-elected an African-American President to a second term–we would have women in the highest positions of the Cabinet–and the first openly gay Senator.   o_O   We think some heads would literally explode!  LOL!

Lincoln Trailer

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Skyfall is a fine spy film, yet not quite Bond’s best…

 

I was excited.  The origin story of Agent 007, the incomparable James Bond would be coming full circle.  And all though there are plenty of strong aspects to Skyfall, overall I was left wanting more…Bond.  Despite some gorgeous cinematography, a beautiful score, well choreographed action sequences and strong performances–I still felt it was lacking in pacing and purpose and did not have the fun-factor that Bond usually provides.

I’ve watched Bond films for all of my life–I remember marathons during the holidays when I was a child and was always in line to see the latest in the 50 year franchise.  The last re-boot of the series with Daniel Craig as 007 has been interesting for me. I loved Casino Royale and loved the origin story concept.  It was clever and fresh to approach the character from a never seen before angle–before he was Bond–the possibilities were endless.  Quantum of Solace was okay (wonderful action sequences), but again…it was a direct continuation of CR and still part of the “origin”, so I made excuses for it.  Because of this approach I kept waiting for the evolution of Craig’s Bond.

Well…that doesn’t completely happen in Skyfall and I am a bit disappointed.  Again, we are in serious territory.  There are few witty moments, but overall this is heavy and about 20 minutes too long.  The pacing at times was painful and I am sorry, but long-lingering shots of Craig in a tuxedo does not make him Bond.  Okay–he is gritty, real and serious, but he will become Bond–confident, arrogant, playful and dangerous–right?  I do see more and more of that in Craig (fixing his cuff-links on the train is a good start), so I remain hopeful.

Also, although Javier Bardem is an excellent actor, I did not believe he was the incarnation of evil.  His motivation is so single-minded that it is almost too simple and yet, it takes the entire film for him to try to exact his revenge.  A major problem with his Silva is that I never believe he is any of the things they claim him to be and he doesn’t really live up to the hype that surrounds him.  At least I can say he is entertaining.

That said…there are a lot of positives, too.  I was surprised by Director Sam Mendes skill of handling action.  Mendes is known for intimate character studies and he uses that well here–but he also creates some intense, well structured action (the opening is brilliant).  Thomas Newman’s score is beautiful and haunting.  One of the best this year.  What really blew me away was the cinematography!  Roger Deakins continues to impress.  His use of bold colors, bright hues, shadows and silhouettes is breathtaking.  WOW!  There is a fight scene in a building in Shanghai that is amazing.  (I hope this finally wins him an Oscar.)

Judi Dench and Ralph Fiennes are, as usual, wonderful.  As the authority figures they fit their roles perfectly. Dench is a stand out here–her M is one of the movie’s strengths.  The Bond girls are almost non-existent in this film–but Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe are both good.  I was really looking forward to the new Q (one of my favorite characters), and I liked Ben Whishaw, who is perfectly nerdy and awkward.  I wish there was more playful interaction between him and Bond, but maybe that will come with time.

And that is pretty much it–maybe that will come with time–seems to be my mantra.  I keep waiting for the Bond I love to return to the screen.  I appreciate that these last 3 are good spy films yet they’re not quite my Bond.  Skyfall is fun and entertaining and will be a fine addition to the series, but I can not join the crowds praising it as the “best Bond film ever” (that is still Goldfinger, with Casino Royale a close second).  Hopefully though, if the ending is any indication, maybe my Bond will show up the next time.

Wreck-It Ralph is a new Disney Classic!

Theatrical release poster depicting the protagonist, Ralph, along with various video game characters

You know how I go on about lack of original ideas?  Well…Wreck-It Ralph is proof that it still exists.  It is one of the most clever, original stories I’ve ever seen.  It may have familiar themes, but in execution it is all creative and awesome! 😀  I loved it.

Before I jump into Ralph, I must begin with the animated short that runs in front of the featured attraction…Paperman.  It is truly a beautiful mixture of hand drawn and CG images and 100% brilliant.  Do not be late–it is worth the extra minutes.

Okay.  Animation is powerful.  You can use it to tell stories that would be impossible to tell in live action and it also ups the ante on possibilities.  W-IR takes full advantage of this and creates a world that only animation could capture–the video game world. It is rich and full of tiny details that only helps to sell the entire universe.  (Side note: Children will love the colorful images and understand the narrative, but adults will relish every game reference and classic character cameo, too.)

Writers Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston (with story help from John C. Reilly) focus on classic themes of loneliness, isolation, rejection and self-image but they wrap it in a unique package–a 10 foot tall 64-bit video game villain, with “freakishly big hands” and an annoying little girl with candy stuck in her hair.  Director Rich Moore makes all the right choices.  The pace is quick and tight (never a dull moment) and he cleverly allows Ralph to evolve organically, while staying true to his nature.

The voice cast is perfect.  John C. Reilly is Ralph.  His intonations and inflections just fit.  Sarah Silverman (who I usually do not care for) is wonderful as Vanellope.  Jane Lynch hits it out of the park and Jack McBrayer‘s typical one-note character (sorry…but he is) actually works here.

What elevates Wreck-It Ralph from the standard kids movie is its attention to more than just funny gags and clever cameos.  It tells a real human story.  A story about what it is like to be without a home and trying to identify who you are.  There were a few moments that choked me up a bit and others that had me laughing out loud. The social media keeps saying that Disney has finally put out a Pixar quality film and I may have to agree with them.

Wreck-It Ralph will stick with you–for all the right, wonderful reasons!  And yeah…I am going to see it again!

Wreck-It Ralph Trailer

Flight could have been a truly great film, if only…

It started strong.  The first hour of Flight is captivating, tense and thought-provoking.  Denzel Washington is in top form and the flight sequences are nail-bitingly good.  Unfortunately, the film never seems to find the “story” it wants to tell.  It is nice to see Director Robert Zemeckis back in live-action and he still has some serious skills creating human drama, but I was never totally invested in this one as I was with some of his other films which I love–like Cast Away and Contact.

There were several narrative options it could have taken: A straight-up drama about airline politics (especially after a crash)–a truthful look into an alcoholic’s struggle with sobriety–a character study that explored the dichotomy of our society’s definitions of hero and villain or even a love story of two broken souls seeking a bit of solace.  Any of those would have interested me and with each possible idea I would get excited…but, none of those paths were taken.  Instead, we get an uneven, over-long spiral into self-destruction that never quite gripped me–emotionally or intellectually.  You are left with a series of dramatic moments that are never earned, therefore you are not impacted by them.

The performances are the reason to go see this.  Washington is easily one of our finest actors and this is a meaty role for him (I am sure there will be some Oscar buzz).  John Goodman is a much-needed breath of fresh (comical) air, anytime he is on-screen.   Don Cheadle and Bruce Greenwood are solid, as always.  The knock out performance though, belongs to Kelly Reilly, as an unexpected love interest.  She is vulnerable and broken and yet, strong and full of hope.  I am looking forward to see Ms. Reilly in more.

Overall, I can say Flight is a bad film…it has enough to be okay–but it could have been more.  If only…